President Trump’s Labor Dept. Has Quietly Gutted Workplace Safety Panels
Their work has stopped, recommendations are now stalled
March 30, 2018
(NATIONAL) – While much of the media and the world has been focused on either a porn star’s lawsuit against President Donald Trump and/or hirings and firings in the White House and elsewhere in the Trump administration, something was going on quietly under the media radar that has a direct bearing on worker and workplace safety across the country.
The work of five expert committees that were created by law to advise the U.S. Labor Secretary on how to improve health, safety and whistle-blower protections in almost every area of the workforce, has been stopped under the Trump administration and their recommendations are now in limbo, according to a new report published by the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, produced in partnership with the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.
The report says under President Trump those boards “have been mothballed or outright killed.” None of the boards has met for at least nine months and some haven’t met for more than a year.
The report quotes David Michaels, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and the assistant labor secretary in charge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama as saying, ““The boards are tremendously important for the functioning of OSHA. Each one is vital...clearly the Department of Labor doesn’t value expert advice. That is the message here.”
Items from the report:
~ In October, Gregory Junemann, a labor union president who was also a member of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health, established by President Richard Nixon got a brief email from an official at the U.S. Department of Labor effectively firing him and 15 others from a volunteer board that helps the government reduce hazards to workers.
~ A few days before they all got their emails Trump issued an executive order disbanding the board that had been working on a variety of recommendations that have now stalled.
~ One of the boards that was shut down, the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health was in the process of recommending ways to prevent workers from being killed by large trucks backing up. The recommendations were meant to prevent some of the most common accidents that occur nationwide (the panel had studied worksite traffic plans and new technologies, such as wearable beepers that alert workers when they are in the path of a hulking vehicle).
~ The ‘Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee’ had been working on improving the culture for railroad workers, an out-sized number of whom “had been fired after reporting serious occupational injuries.”
~ Other committees had planned to work on guidelines to help construction and other industries implement new rules, finalized by the Obama administration, that limit the amount of beryllium workers can be exposed to. The rule was meant to prevent workers from developing lung disease and cancer from the widely used metal, but the Trump administration delayed enforcement for a year, until this May.
~ Earlier this month, ProPublica and The New Mexican reported that a nuclear advisory board, created by President Obama to help sick workers get medical benefits, had lapsed. Numerous sick workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and other national labs have struggled for years to get compensation. “No new members have been appointed or meetings scheduled, and a laundry list of the board’s recommendations remain in limbo with little communication from the Labor Department about the board’s future.”
~ The newspaper said the Department of Labor “did not answer questions about why the committees have not met or if they will be convened in the future.” The report says committee members and former labor officials say they worry that without the advisory committees, “labor officials are more likely to make policy decisions in a vacuum, without the best technical expertise about how regulations might impact workers in the field.”
Read the full report here .