Thursday, July 08, 2004

Who Best Understands the Value of Safety?

Leo Gerard is pissed. Girard, President of the United Steelworkers of America,
today expressed astonishment that OSHA and several steel industry trade associations had formed an "alliance" on safety without any union involvement.

"OSHA and the industry both need help," Gerard said, "but they're not going to find it from each other. The trade associations have opposed every OSHA standard that applies to the steel industry. So far as we know, they have no full-time professional safety staff. And OSHA's only recent activity in the industry was to propose a weakening of the Coke Oven Standard."

"Meanwhile, many steel companies have made deep cuts in their own safety and health staff," Gerard said. "At this point, most large steel plants have more full-time union safety representatives than management safety personnel. And the union has a bigger headquarters safety and health staff than most or all steel companies."

"If they were really interested in safety, they would have turned to the men and women who make these plants run," Gerard said. "Apparently, OSHA's political bosses and the industry trade associations are more anti-union than they are pro-safety."
An OSHA alliance with union participation? Are you serious? While OSHA states that unions are allowed to participate in alliances, the small print says that one of the goals of alliances is to "build trusting, cooperative relationships with the Agency." No wonder that virtually none of OSHA's alliances include labor unions.

This alliance, made up of American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), and the Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA), apparently don't think much of Gerard's members:
"We are pleased that OSHA is committed to expanding its cooperative approach to improve workplace safety," added David S. Sutherland, Chairman, American Iron and Steel Institute, speaking for the group. "OSHA working with steel producers to help employees understand the value of safety can only serve to enhance benefits for both employees and their employers."[emphasis added]
Hello? The steel producers and OSHA are helping employees understand the value of safety? Anyone read the OSHA act recently? Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. And who needs to "understand the value of safety?" The employees who risk their lives, their limbs and their health at work, or the employers who control the working conditions in steel plants.

Alliances are one of the prime tools that OSHA is using to transform itself from an enforcement agency, as Congress created it, to an advisory body that works with industry associations to issue press releases, educational materials and encouragement to workers to "understand the value of safety."

Over the past three years, OSHA has formed over 140 alliances with "organizations committed to workplace safety and health to collaborate with OSHA to prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace." Last month OSHA even formed an alliance with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), one of the leading opponents of the ergonomics standard which was repealed in March 2001. Following the repeal, NFIB boasted that its members had sent out 70,000 fax alerts against the ergonomics regulation.