Posts from Jordan Barab

Protecting America’s Workers Act Introduced, Would Strengthen OSHA and Workers’ Rights

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

A new and improved Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT). Similar versions of this bill has been introduced every year for over a decade.  The bill number is H.R.1074 and a copy of it can soon be found here. (In the meantime, here is a PDF and a Section-by-Section analysis.)

As with past PAWA bills, this version, which has 27 co-sponsors, extends OSHA coverage to public sector employees in those states where they’re not currently covered (as well as federal employees), strengthens anti-retaliation protections for workers, requires the abatement of hazards during contests by employers and toughens criminal penalties.

In addition, this year’s bill also includes provisions to codify OSHA’s severe injury and electronic injury reporting requirements (including the detailed reporting by large employers recently withdrawn by OSHA). It reverses the revocation of the “Volks Rule” which was repealed by Congress and the President under the Congressional Review Act at the beginning of the Trump administration.

PAWA significantly expands workers’ rights to participate in improving health and safety in their workplaces, and enhances the ability of OSHA to effectively enforce safe working conditions. 

The bill significantly expands workers’ rights to participate in improving health and safety in their workplaces, and enhances the ability of OSHA to effectively enforce safe working conditions.

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Today in Workplace Safety: Imperial Sugar and Kleen Energy

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

February 7 was a bad day for worker safety.

On February 7, 2008, 14 workers were killed and 38 were injured — many with severe burns — when the Imperial Sugar plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia exploded as a result of combustible dust accumulations.

Exactly two years later, on February 7, 2010, 6 workers were killed and at least 50 injured when the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, CT exploded after natural gas was used to blow debris from the plant’s pipes.

I remember both of those tragedies well. I was working in the House of Representatives when news of Imperial Sugar came across my desk, and snowed in on Superbowl Sunday during “Snowmageddon” when the Kleen Energy plant exploded.

Both of these tragedies were easily preventable. The hazards of combustible dust were well known, and massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust existed throughout the packaging building prior to the explosion.  Similarly, the hazards of using huge amounts of natural gas to blow debris from a power plant under construction were well known. Also well know was that all potential sources of ignition had to be eliminated before the blow — yet potential ignition sources from welding, electrical equipment and other practices had not been eliminated in an attempt to finish construction of the plant on schedule.

The Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) report on the Imperial Sugar investigation can be found here, and the CSB’s full combustible dust report can be found here. The CSB’s report on Kleen Energy can be found here.

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OSHA’s Mugno: Delayed Again

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

If the nomination of Scott Mugno to head OSHA was an airplane flight, the endless delays would have driven you to give up air travel by now.

As we last reported, Mugno had been re-re-nominated to the post of Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. Mugno was originally nominated by Trump in October 2017, testified before Congress on December 5, 2017 and was approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on December 13, 2017. But because his nomination didn’t come to a vote before the end of that year, the White House was forced to renominate him on January 16, 2018 and he was again approved by the HELP Committee shortly thereafter. But yet again, the full Senate did not vote on his nomination due issues not related to his qualifications, forcing him to be re-re-nominated on January 16, 2019. The HELP Committee was scheduled to re-re-approve him (along with a number of other Department of Labor nominees) in a mark-up scheduled for tomorrow, but that session was inexplicably postponed to a date yet-to-be-determined.

No word yet about why the mark-up was postponed. Just a scheduling issue? Time needed to go back and look at old yearbooks? Who knows?

It’s Bad All Over

But Mugno should not feel alone. The Washington Post reports today that even Republican Senators are growing concerned about the unprecedented number of vacancies still existing:  “The Partnership for Public Service, which has tracked nominations as far back as 30 years, estimates that only 54 percent of Trump’s civilian executive-branch nominations have been confirmed, compared with 77 percent under President Barack Obama at the same point in his administration.”

And the Labor Department is one of the worst: “Only 41 percent of the Interior and Justice departments’ Senate-confirmed posts are filled, and just 43 percent of such positions have been filled at the Labor Department.”

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Update: OSHA Sued Over Recordkeeping Rollback

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

As expected, a lawsuit has already been filed opposing OSHA’s rollback of its electronic recordkeeping rule that we discussed here last week, and in more detail here.

For those of you just tuning in, OSHA last week repealed a major section of the Obama era recordkeeping rule that would have required certain businesses with 250 or more employees and employers in high-risk industries with 20 or more employees to send in to OSHA detailed non-confidential injury and illness information contained on OSHA Forms 300 and 301.  Injury and illness summary information contained on From 300A will still have to be sent to OSHA on an annual basis. OSHA’s poorly supported excuse for rolling back these requirements was concerned about employee confidentiality, even though the program was specifically designed so that OSHA would receive no confidential information

Public Citizen Lawsuit

Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, the American Public Health Association and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists filed a lawsuit last Friday asking the US District Court for the District of Columbia to overturn OSHA’s rollback of the recordkeeping regulation.

According to Public Citizen attorney Michael Kirkpatrick,.

When it issued the electronic reporting rule after an exhaustive process, OSHA concluded that requiring the submission of workplace injury and illness data would greatly enhance worker health and safety. OSHA has now rushed through a new rule drawing exactly the opposite conclusion, but OSHA has failed to provide any good reason for reversing itself.

Chamber to OSHA: What Have You Done For Us Lately?

Despite the OSHA cave-in to employer attempts to cover-up injury and illness information, the Chamber of Commerce thinks the agency should have gone further. According to Politico, Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the Chamber of Commerce, is “disappointed” with the rollback rule, because it failed to address the continuing obligation to send in injury and illness summary information, and because it didn’t eliminate language that prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who report injuries and illnesses.

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OSHA’s Sorry Justification for Repealing Recordkeeping Requirements

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Neither government shutdowns, requests for meetings by stakeholders, nor lack of evidence can stop an agency like OSHA from rolling back a regulation that would have increased our understanding of workplace injuries and illnesses, and made work safer for millions of American workers. As Robert Weissman of Public Citizen observed, “Although shut down, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is apparently still open for business – that is, for business:

Last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget cleared OSHA’s rollback of significant parts of the Obama administration’s electronic recordkeeping regulation and today the text of that regulation was released. The rollback, nothing less than a cover-up of worker injury and illness data at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce and friends, was rushed through OSHA and OMB review in record time. The rush is apparent from reading the regulation — numerous paragraphs and argument are repeated, evidence is incorrectly cited, evidence is lacking and the arguments are laughable.

Furthermore, because of the rush or the government shutdown, the AFL-CIO’s request for a meeting with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs was ignored — an unprecedented action that resulted in the labor federation’s request to recall the regulation until a meeting takes place.

Furthermore, the Federal Register is scheduled to officially publish the regulation this morning, despite the Register’s government shutdown guidance document that states that

"Under DOJ guidance received January 11, 2019, we are also allowed to publish documents from funded agencies if delaying publication until the end of the appropriations lapse would prevent or significantly damage the execution of funded functions at the agency.  Agencies must submit a letter certifying that delaying publication of their documents would result in this situation. This certification provides OFR with documentation that publication in the Federal Register is a function or service excepted under the Antideficiency Act."

What “significant damage” will OSHA suffer if recordkeeping requirements aren’t rolled back today?

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Weakening Beryllium Protections: How Business Influence Affects Regulatory Process

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Reuters reporters Julia Harte and Peter Eisler have assembled a powerful investigative article on how “the Trump administration’s plan to weaken the beryllium rule offers a case study in the renewed power businesses can wield in the regulatory process.”

OSHA’s standard to protect workers from the disabling and deadly effects of beryllium exposure was issued in the waning days of the Obama administration.  Exposure to beryllium dust causes chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer. Symptoms include difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, joint pain, cough and fever. Over time it may lead to disability and death.

OSHA had been working on a new standard to update it’s seriously outdated beryllium standard for 20 years, and it was an agreement between the main beryllium producer Materion and the United Steelworkers that enabled OSHA to push the new standard over the line before Trump took over.  The labor-industry agreement reduced the Permissible Exposure Limit, added “ancillary provisions” requiring exposure monitoring, training, medical surveillance and other provisions, and covered general industry (e.g. manufacturing) worker. OSHA also added protections for construction and maritime workers who are mainly exposed during the process of abrasive blasting using ground coal slag to remove rust and paint from ships and other structures.

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OSHA Announces Rollback of Recordkeeping Requirements

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

In its first completed rollback of a previously issued regulation in the Trump administration*, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced its final recordkeeping regulation that eliminates the requirement that certain employers send in to OSHA detailed information about injuries and illnesses that employers already collect.  The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs announced that it had rushed to clear the rule last week. The full 104 page text of the new rule and the preamble can be found here.

The main excuse OSHA uses for the rollback is “to protect worker privacy.” Ignoring the fact that employers were not required to send any confidential information to OSHA in the first place, the agency’s press release argues that

By preventing routine government collection of information that may be quite sensitive, including descriptions of workers’ injuries and body parts affected, OSHA is avoiding the risk that such information might be publicly disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This rule will better protect personally identifiable information or data that could be re-identified with a particular worker by removing the requirement for covered employers to submit their information from Forms 300 and 301.

The new rule does not affect the current requirement that employer send in to OSHA the summary of injuries and illnesses (OSHA Form 300A), although the agency makes clear that they do not intend to release the summary information to the public for at least 4 years because they allege that the data is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act which would normally require public disclosure. OSHA’s reason is that “disclosure of 300A data through FOIA may jeopardize OSHA’s enforcement efforts by enabling employers to identify industry trends and anticipate the inspection of their particular workplaces.” [emphasis added]

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Workplace Safety for the Week of January 7

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Freedom of the Press is not Free — or Safe: Reporters Without Borders released its annual report last month of deadly violence and abusive treatment of journalists and the news isn’t good: “A total of 80 journalists were killed this year, 348 are currently in prison, and 60 are being held hostage.” And it’s getting worse. Murders, imprisonment, hostage-taking and disappearances have all increased. According to RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, “The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.” I know at least one unscrupulous politician who should read this and reflect.

Spreading the Pain: Some federal employers are luckier than others because their agencies are still funded and they’re actually getting paid for their work. Instead of urging them to urge their elected leaders to end Trump’s vanity wall shutdown, “the Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for administration and management, Bryan Slater, sent an email urging department staff to help out workers at agencies affected by the partial U.S. government shutdown,” according to Bloomberg. Slater reminded those lucky DOL employees that ““This is a great opportunity to help fellow colleagues manage their bills, their child care and other everyday needs!” So instead of their employers paying them for the work they’re doing (or want to be doing), their fellow employees are now being asked to support them while the billionaire President sits in his bed, watching Fox “News” all day and tweeting lies after lie. Perhaps Labor Secretary Alex Acosta should do something real for the federal labor force and tell his boss to end the shutdown.

ADM Cutting Back on Safety?  ADM has been having problems. Or more precisely, those working in and around ADM have been having problems — deadly ones. Last weekend, OSHA launched two separate investigations into grain dust explosions at ADM corn processing plants in Iowa and Decatur, Illinois. A firefighter was killed responding to the explosion and fire in Iowa. The Decatur plant had experienced another fire and explosion just two months ago in the grain elevator that serves the company’s corn and soybean plants. As former OSHA Policy Director Debbie Berkowitz observed, “The standard to prevent explosions in grain elevators is 30 years old. There are no excuses here for these deadly explosions.”

Mining Fatalities Down Slightly in 2018: MSHA is boasting the second lowest number of fatalities n the nation’s history. 27 miners were killed in 2018 — 12 coal miners, and 27 metal/non-metal miners. Last year 15 coal miners were killed and 13 metal/non-metal miners. 2016 saw the lowest number with 25 killed — 8 coal miners and 17 metal/non-metal miners.  Unfortunately, it only took a few days into 2019 for the first mining fatality: John Ditterline, 55, of Equality, Illinois, was killed January 4. Ditterline was a contract employee in the underground mine, working for Clay, Kentucky-based S & L Industries. The mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, LP.

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Death on the Job: 2017 Fatality Numbers Released

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

The Bureau of Labor Statistics today released its 2017 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries— and it contained good news and bad news. 

The good news is that workplace fatalities fell slightly, less than 1% last year from 5,190 fatal injuries reported in 2016 to 5,147 last year. The fatality rate also declined slightly from 3.6 to 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.

That bad news is that still means more than 14 workers are killed on the job every day in this country (in addition to the roughly 135 who die each day from diseases related to work like silicosis, black lung and asbestos-related disease.)

According to the AFL-CIO’s Peg Seminario,

Today’s sobering report comes at a time when the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors is at the lowest point in decades and the Mine Safety and Health Administration inspection force has dwindled. 

Instead of increasing life-saving measures aimed at protecting working people at their workplaces, the Trump administration is rolling back existing safety and health rules and has failed to move forward on any new safety and health protections.

Most of these job deaths were preventable, caused by well-recognized hazards.

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Final OSHA Recordkeeping Rollback Goes to OMB Review

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

SHA just made history. For the first time in human memory, an OSHA regulation has gone over to the White House for OMB review earlier than predicted in the Regulatory Agenda.

You may recall last July, OSHA proposed to rescind the part of the agency’s “Electronic Recordkeeping” regulation, issued under the Obama administration, that would have required certain employers to send to OSHA detailed information on injuries and illnesses from the OSHA 300 Form and the  more detailed 301 form.

The Fall 2018 Regulatory agenda had predicted that the regulation would go over to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on time for the standard to be issued in June 2019. OIRA is generally given 90 days to review a standard or regulation and often takes longer. In order to meet the June schedule, OSHA would have had to send it to OIRA by the end of March. The agency is running three months ahead of schedule.

Now, as I’ve said many times, no matter what party controls the agency. OSHA almost never meets — much less exceeds — the schedule set in the Regulatory Agenda, especially in the middle of a Presidential term when there’s no pressure to finalize regulations before the clock runs out. Everything always takes longer than expected and other priorities tend to get in the way.

So, you might ask, what’s the rush?

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Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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Health Care Should Not Be A Bargaining Weapon

Health Care Should Not Be A Bargaining Weapon