Thursday, November 30, 2006

More Foxes Infest OSHA's Chicken Coop

The Bush administration is still being, well, the Bush administration.

We have a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration who thinks that ergonomics hazards are caused by obesity, accidents are caused by negligent workers and we don't need OSHA investigations of farm deaths because the sheriff and country coroner can take care of the problems.

Last week, Assistant Secretary of Labor Ed Foulke (who came to OSHA directly from the notorious union-busting law firm Jackson-Lewis) appointed two new Deputy Assistant Secretaries at OSHA. Deputy Assistants are the next level down from the Assistant Secretary (just a heartbeat away). One of the new Deputies is C. Bryan Little. As the OSHA press release says, Little is
formerly of the Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs (OCIA).

Little served for more than four years as a senior legislative officer in OCIA managing Congressional contacts for activities of OSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and immigration-related issues relevant to DOL. Prior to arriving at the Labor Department, Little served for six years as senior director for government relations with the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The American Farm Bureau calls itself the "voice of agriculture." Its legislative priorities include exempting farms from environemental regulations, opposing action to address climate change, and supporting Rep. Charlie Norwood's OSHA deform legislation. Most recentlythe Farm Bureau has been known for strongly favoring repeal of the estate tax, claiming that it has dire consequences for family farms and small businesses. But as the Center For Budget and Policy Priorities reminds us:
the American Farm Bureau Federation acknowledged to the New York Times that it could not cite a single example of a farm having to be sold to pay estate taxes.
While at the Farm Bureau, Little was involved in issues closer to the hearts of Confined Space readers: opposing the ergonomics standard.

A press release issued by the Farm Bureau in 1997 repeated the tired old claim that there was no science to support an ergonomics rule and quoted Little about the National Academy of Science study that the Republican Congress mandated in an effort to stall the ergonomics rule:
"It is good news for farm employers, because there is no way to reasonably redesign dozens of jobs on farms across the country to eliminate what OSHA says are ergonomic hazards."
Little went on to minimize the hazard, saying:
"Until scientists can figure out how to give farmers eyes in the backs of their heads, those driving tractors will have to turn their heads in order to safely operate a variety of towed farm equipment. When the driver's neck gets sore from doing this, a standard like that envisioned by OSHA will require farmers to somehow redesign that job. This will not be possible at a price agricultural producers, and therefore consumers, can afford."
Little didn't have much good to say about the OSHA inspectors he'll be working with either. In a June 2000 interview, Little responded to a Congressional effort to pass an amendment that would have stopped OSHA from finishing the ergonomics standard.
Depending on what side of bed the OSHA inspector got out of in the morning, you might or might not be in compliance, and that's bad regulatory policy. You ought to give the regulated community an opportunity to know exactly what they need to do in order to be in compliance.
He then went on to claim that ergonomic problems are due to obesity. The ironic thing was that Clinton's ergonomics standard didn't even cover agriculture. But Little claimed that it did cover "agriculture" that didn't occur in the fields, "like packaging and processing and things like that" - in other words basic manufacturing processes.

The Farm Bureau went on to join a lawsuit against the standard after it was issued in November 2000, and actively supported efforts to repeal the standard in March 2001.

And it gets worse. Every year Congress adds language to OSHA's budget bill prohibiting the agency from conducting any enforcement activity on farms that employ fewer than 10 people. In 1998, following the death of Rhode Island teenager who was killed in a tractor accident, Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed (D) and John Chafee (R) proposed a change to law that would permit OSHA inspectors to investigate fatal accidents and prepare a report on the causes of the accident.

Predicting that an OSHA investigation (even without citations!) would certainly lead to the fall of Western Civilization, Little sympathetically explained that
Unfortunately, accidents are going to happen where you mix people with heavy machines and large animals.”
Hey, shit happens.

And anyway, we don't need no stinkin' OSHA inspectors. A little common sense and the local sheriff will do:
Little questions why the proposal is necessary when local authorities already conduct accident investigations. “No fatal accident is going to occur on a farm where the sheriff and the county coroner don’t look into it. Safety in agriculture is not complicated, and serious negligence will be clear to anyone with a little common sense. You don’t need someone from Washington to tell you to keep your loose clothing out of an auger or PTO shaft.”
Damn straight. And you don't need someone from Washington to tell you not to fall off a building or get crushed in a trench collapse or get electrocuted by a live wire or get poisoned by chemicals either.

Oh, incidentally, Bryan, they make shields for PTO shafts. They cost about $50. But I guess the local sheriff knew that already.

Anyway, welcome to OSHA. You'll fit right in.