WASHINGTON, DC — The Trump administration has made changes to various safety rules that some worker advocates say could harm workers. An article in the The New York Times titled “Worker Safety Rules Are Among Those Under Fire in Trump Era” cites new policies that the administration and legislators have put in place to roll back regulation and, in some cases, enforcement of worker safety rules. The first example of the new policy stance is that the Labor Department has stopped issuing news releases publicizing fines levied against companies, a tactic used in the past to publicly shame violators and to try and prompt other companies to follow rules and regulations. Another recently implemented rule on preventing employer retaliation against employees who report workplace hazards is currently being challenged in court. However, Jillian Rogers, a spokesperson for the Labor Department, says that the agency wouldn’t comment on the lack of press releases publicizing OSHA violations and that the agency’s enforcement efforts were unchanged from past efforts.
Beyond the worker retaliation rule, several rules and standards face delay or elimination. Specifically, a new rule requiring companies seeking federal contracts to disclose violations of labor standards — for example safety rules and even allegations of such violations — has been repealed in the Senate. In response to those upset about the rule change loosening contractor requirements against companies, some industry groups have said that the rule was a burden and unfair because allegations aren’t proven evidence of wrongdoing.
Another source of contention between industry and regulators are OSHA’s Obama-era regulations that require companies to better comply with record-keeping rules. For example, one key provision set to go into effect in February would have required companies to electronically submit accident data to OSHA for posting on a public website. However, the agency has changed the wording on the site to say that it isn’t accepting electronic submissions. This means that the rule isn’t being put into effect though it was supposed to go live in February.
Even the time period given to OSHA to issue citations after an alleged violation is being questioned. In the past, OSHA asserted that it had up to 5 ½ years to issue citations after an alleged violation. In 2012, the courts found this stance to be inconsistent with the law, which meant OSHA had only 6 months after an incident to issue citations. The agency’s citation window was again increased by a rule issued by the Obama administration, but the House recently repealed this rule and the Senate is expected to do the same. In defense of the rule, David Michaels, the former head of OSHA, said that if this rule died, safety recording would effectively become voluntary because finding violations and bringing charges within 6 months was nearly impossible. “Responsible companies will keep good records, but the low-road companies won’t, and that will put responsible companies at a disadvantage,” he said.
OSHA has also said that it will delay a rule intended to lower occupational exposure to beryllium, a mineral connected with deadly lung disease. The rule limiting exposure was supposed to take effect in March 2017 but was delayed until at least May. Safety advocates hope that the rule, the work for which has been underway for four decades, will still be put in place with only minor changes.