The Hill • Deborah Berokwitz
Twenty-year old Regina Elsea was employed as a temporary worker in an auto parts plant in Alabama. When she wasn’t working, she was planning her wedding for the summer of 2016. But just two weeks before the big day, her plans came to a horrific end while she was at work. The plant assembly line stopped, and she and three coworkers entered a robotic station to clear a sensor fault. While she was inside the machine, the robot restarted abruptly, crushing her to death.
An investigation by the government’s workplace safety agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), found that her tragic death could have been prevented had Regina’s employers followed basic safety precautions. Her employers had never implemented the basic safety procedures, around for decades, to prevent machines from starting up when workers are inside. This is one of the oldest and most basic of all safety rules. In December, OSHA levied more than $2.5 million in fines against the company.
As the Senate gets ready to consider the President Trump’s nomination of Andrew Puzder for U.S. secretary of Labor, it’s important that worker safety issues get the full attention they deserve during his confirmation hearings. Puzder is an outspoken critic of regulations who fails to acknowledge the crucial role that regulations play in saving lives, protecting workers’ health, and even saving businesses money through lower insurance costs, for example. In more than 50 percent of the OSHA investigations in CKE restaurants and franchises since 2000, OSHA has found violations.
Last year, 4,850 American workers were killed on the job. That’s an astonishing 13 workers a day who, like Regina, went to work and never came home. Without strong enforcement of safety regulations, the casualties would be much higher. The fact is that workplace fatalities and serious injuries are preventable when employers follow common-sense safety rules. The Obama administration, through OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, has worked tirelessly to keep workers safe by acting on its strong belief that no worker should have to sacrifice health or life for a job.
After OSHA’s resources were depleted during the George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration came in and immediately sought a substantial increase in the number of workplace safety inspectors. Even with these added resources, however, it would still take OSHA more than 145 years to visit every workplace under its jurisdiction just once. The number of OSHA inspectors is lower now than at the beginning of the Reagan administration.
To use these new resources smartly, OSHA implemented new enforcement initiatives, including targeting programs to protect workers in workplaces where there is a hostile attitude to even basic compliance with safety rules. With a commitment to holding business accountable when they cut corners and endanger America’s workers, the Obama administration issued nearly 1,200 enforcement actions involving serious penalties versus less than 800 in the previous administration.