Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What The Next Congress Holds In Store For Workplace Safety

This week's Inside OSHA (paid subscription) has a number of articles about what we might be looking forward to as a result of the elections. To summarize --
  • Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who will chair the Senate labor committee, will reintroduce OSHA reform legislation that will increase penalties and provide coverage to many workers who are not currently covered by OSHA, like public employees. He can look forward to support from Rep. George Miller (D-CA) who will head the House Education and Workforce Committee. Miller, you will recall, was pushing a much stronger version of the MINER Act that was passed and signed by Bush last June following a series of mine disasters.

  • On the other side of the coin, OSHA "deform" legislation," passed in the House by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), and pushed in the Senate by outgoing Labor chair Mike Enzi (R-WY) will gather dust.

  • Congressman Roger Wicker's (R-MS) appropriations rider prohibiting OSHA from enforcing a requirement for fit-testing of respirators designed to protect health care workers from tuberculosis will be lifted. The American Hospital Association, which pushed the ban, will not be happy.

  • Safe patient handling legislation to protect the backs of health care workers may gain headway. Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced safety patient handling bill in the last Congress. At least nine states have all passed patient handling legislation.

  • With Dems in charge of the budget (except for the fact that Bush has to sign it), we may be able to look forward to larger OSHA budgets to reverse an 8.6% drop in OSHA positions since Fiscal Year 2001, and more money for worker training grants.

  • Michigan GovernorJennifer Granholm was re-elected. Granholm has been pushing through a state ergonomics standard despite fierce opposition from Republicans in the state legislature.

  • Business assocations have been busy sending out alarms that the sky is falling, fearing that Democrats will try to push national ergonomics standards and force OSHA to scale back its volunatry programs. Not bad ideas, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

  • Finally, let's not forget about oversite hearings.


All of these sound like great ideas and you probably read them here first. In fact, unless you subscribe to Inside OSHA, the BNA Occupational Saety and Health Report, or other professional publications, you haven't read any of this anywhere else. That's because no one is talking about them except us. It's been a long 12 years, and there are a lot of interests out there who have been waiting a long time to get something done. Workplace safety is just one of those issues. And aside from the continuing problem in the White House and the fact that it takes 6O votes to pass most legislation in the Senate, there are a few other potential obstacles.

In order for any of these great ideas to happen, unions and Democratic politicians need to get behind them in a big way. And in order for that to happen, all of you reading this -- workers, union members, union staff, injured workers, families of injured and killed workers -- all of need to talk (write, phone, fax, e-mail) to your elected representatives, union officials, newspapers, television and anyone else who will listen.