In the 4th Year of the Obama Administration, the Health and Safety of American Workers Remains “Open”

In October 2009, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report about the parlous state of government monitoring and investigations of occupational health and safety practices in the workplace. Among the report’s findings:

Stakeholders most often cited workers’ fear of job loss and other disciplinary actions as disincentives that can affect workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses. Occupational health practitioners concurred: 67 percent reported observing worker fear of disciplinary action for reporting an injury or illness, and 46 percent said that this fear of disciplinary action has at least a minor impact on the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records. (p. 22)

Got that? 2/3 of the people involved in making sure that workplaces are safe claim that they’ve witnessed workers reluctant to report their injuries and illnesses for fear of retaliation.

The report made a series of recommendations to deal with this and other problems related to gathering data on workplace health and safety practices.

What has the Obama administration done with those recommendations? According to the GAO’s website, the status of each of those recommendations is “open.”  That is, nearly three years after the fact, OSHA has not yet implemented the report’s recommendations. To be fair, it has not yet not implemented those recommendations either. It just seems to be, well, doing stuff like this:

OSHA reported that during the one-year suspension of the record keeping audit program, it will officially revise its audit procedures to address this issue. OSHA Directive CPL 02-00-138, “Audit and Verification Program of Occupational Injury and Illness Records,” establishes the program and the procedures used to conduct data verification audits. OSHA will develop and implement a revised Directive during FY10 that will require worker interviews beginning with the audit cycle for the CY09 injury and illness data. The agency suspended the record keeping audits program for FY10 (auditing of CY08 data) to initiate a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Record keeping that will identify and correct record keeping inaccuracies among employers included in the OSHA Data Initiative. OSHA noted that NEP, which was implemented in October 2009, involves extensive interviews of employees and company officials.

In other words, in the fourth year of the Obama Administration, the health and safety of American workers remains “open.”

h/t Mike Elk and Ken Libby

Update (1 pm)

Three days ago, the indispensable Mike Elk reported that the Obama administration had dropped a proposed rule that would have banned children as young as 12 from taking on very dangerous farm jobs. Democratic Senator Al Franken helped pressure the administration to drop the rule.


  1. Brahmski May 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm | #

    The condition of workers is appalling in this country. I guess you were always right about that. Now that I’ve been teaching at a working-class state university, I see it much more than I did during my own education and early teaching assignments at a middle-class institution (lower-upper middle class, perhaps, but wealthy and privileged by comparison, certainly). It’s like a factory where I am now. And Foucauldian Panopticism is in place. Where I work, too, the “employees” — which is, I’m afraid, what we are, although I always imagined teaching as a vocation — are afraid to speak against corruption and abuse. You would think tenure would help with this, but it only seems to help some. And there are so many contingent people, never mind junior folks.

    • Paul May 16, 2012 at 8:40 am | #

      What do you mean by “working-class state university”. Are you referring to public university in a working-class state – if such a thing exists? Do you mean that the student body is predominately working-class? I find that one exceptionally hard to believe. I am working-class, when I am lucky enough to get work, and my brother was the first person in our family to get a degree (my mom didn’t even graduate high school) and he got it from a tech school – you know like Devry or ITT tech. That’s the closest thing in my mind to what might be a “working-class” college – the predatory schools that promise job placement, instead of self edification.

      • Brahmski May 16, 2012 at 10:07 am | #

        Thanks for asking, Paul. I mean a mediocre (not bad in some ways, but without any real emphasis on either excellence or learning for its own sake) tax-subsidized regional 4-year institution, with a lot of vocational training (cosmetology, nursing, welding, etc.), as well as more traditional science and humanities — as far as the school itself goes. But by working-class I was referring more to the area we serve (a remote place where the mines are the chief employers, along with Walmart, the hospital, and the school itself which hires of course a lot of office workers and food-service people) and the people from the area who attend my school. Few are from educated backgrounds, many if not most are the first in their families to go to college, and though the student body is mainly poor white there is a sizable disadvantaged minority population too. The profs are of course lower-upper-middle class, by definition. In spite of the tyranny we live under at work, we make a very decent living, all things considered, by any reasonable standard. It was the “discipline” (Foucault) that we seem to share with the students that I was noticing in my reply to Corey. I was griping about the lack of freedom and democracy in my workplace, something which to my mind is antithetical to the mission of a university especially. The market/corporate model of education seems to impose this on the “managers” (administration), “workers” (faculty and staff), and “raw materials” (students) alike. As Foucault says, power spreads through the capillaries of modern institutions: So the administration deploys a proliferation of bureaucratic regulation onto us, and most respond by doing the same to their students, who are thus habituated to servility and in turn get tapped in various ways to monitor their teachers (try telling them you don’t give weekly quizzes on the reading, for example, and they will practically demand them because they want to know their “points” every minute). These positions in the network of relations of domination are certainly not equal, but hierarchical, and guess which of them I blame the most. But anyway, if you ever visited my school or a school like it, you would have to be blind not to see it is defined predominantly by its working-class character — as compared/contrasted with, say, really fine public (middle and upper-middle class) institutions like the UC, UofM, UMin, UW, etc., not to mention the splendid ivies and others, serving the real elites. You can see it on my students’ faces. That and most of them work at low-wage jobs because the income-level of their families is so relatively low, never mind wealth (which they don’t have any of), and so they are supporting themselves as best they can in quest of “a degree.” We also have a lot of military, ROTC, and folks back from serving in the war(s). That’s what I meant. It’s pretty brutal for a lot of them. And what frustrates me is seeing their need for someone to pay attention to them, while the school (administration) seems more interested in infrastructure and squeezing every penny — new buildings, more technology, larger class sizes and about half contingent faculty — than quality of instruction, which no one has a clue how to measure or encourage.

  2. Samir Chopra May 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm | #

    ‘Open’ as in ‘open wound.’

  3. rolandah502 May 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm | #

    As a farm laborer at age seven and an employer later in life, I believe it paramount that health and safety are maintained. I have also been exposed to abuse through the staging of injuries on the job (witnessed by others) and the willful damage to equipment, both of which embroiled me in several years of litigation with significant cost just to clear our name. As a consequence we terminated a program to rehabilitate and retrain workers with previous injury claims which were referred to us by government agencies. Ergo:
    The objective is clear, the implementation is fraught with the potential of volumes of regs.

    • Sherparick May 14, 2012 at 5:14 pm | #

      Will as single Republican lose a primary or general election because of their opposition to this regulation? Will Steve King not be reelected from his rural districk in Western Iowa despite views that would embarass an Neandertal? Could a rural Democrat, or a Democrat that depends on getting at least some rural votes (see Franken, Minnesota) get reelected if they had championed this rule. I am not saying the Obama administration was right to kill this rule, but lack of popular support shows the lack of grass roots organizing and hard work done by the left over the last 30 years as we have surrendered the local communities to the Right.

  4. schizoidist (@schizoidist) May 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm | #

    This may not be the appropriate place to ask it, but has anyone else noticed how totally anti-labor reactionary the Thomas the Tank Engine cartoons are? Here is one which specifically propagandizes against worker-led health and safety efforts:

    (The author, one Rev. Ayworth, was assisted in writing it by his brother, the librarian of the parliamentary Liberal party.)

  5. Sheldon May 27, 2012 at 11:31 pm | #

    Some years ago I was working at UPS as a package truck loader. I reported a very minor injury, pulled muscle in my back, just in case it developed into something more serious. The response, management basically goes overboard in interrogating me and subjecting me to surveillance. They say it was all in the name of promoting safety, but mainly to cover their asses of course. But they really crawl up peoples ass, turning it into a form of harassment.

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