October 21, 2010 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 3Comment

Updated (below) 10/22/2010

Industry trade association are masters of using scare tactics and misinformation about environment, health and safety regulations to recruit and retain members. The latest evidence is the Chamber of Commerce’s “This Way to Jobs” propaganda campaign, with the worn out message: regulations on workers’ safety and environmental protection hurt the economy and businesses. A video cartoon promoting the campaign says: “

Washington isn’t good at everything but recently it’s been great at issuing regulations.”

The sites features a photo of a small businessman, Ronald Myers of Hot Shot Equipment, who suggests that workplace safety regulations forced him out of business. He’s seen standing behind a chain link fence, presumably his now shuttered small manufacturing shop.

The Chamber says:

“in the past two years we’ve seen a dramatic acceleration of regulations, rulemakings, and mandates.”

I don’t see it that way. The Obama Administration took office about 20 months. Since then, OSHA has only issue one, just ONE new regulation.

It was a safety rule for cranes and derricks published this July. The crane rule had been in the works since 2003, and was called for by manufacturers, suppliers and users of cranes because the previous OSHA standard dated back to 1971 and was seriously out of date with current construction practices. I’d hardly call one rule that applies to a specific type of construction equipment an avalanche of new OSHA regulations.

The Chamber of Commerce’s scare tactic language says

“OSHA is moving forward on an expansive safety and health program regulation that could require businesses to revamp their existing programs.”

A little fact-checking tells us that OSHA hasn’t actually proposed anything of the sort. OSHA’s assistant secretary has talked about proposing a rule that would requiring employers to find and fix hazards, a responsibility that already underlies the OSH Act. The agency invited the public to participate in stakeholder meetings held in June, July and August to discuss the concept of an injury and illness prevention program. But, no such regulation has been officially proposed yet by OSHA. In fact, the Dept of Labor’s most recent regulatory agenda doesn’t even have a target date for PROPOSING such a rule. It’s hard to imagine that informed business people would fall for the trade association’s rhetoric, especially with respect to OSHA which issues only a couple of major rules each decade.

Unbeknowst perhaps to the Chamber of Commerce, they actually make the case for the benefit of workplace safety regulations. The small businessman Ronald Myers featured on the site complained about OSHA requirements that machines be guarded. We know machine guarding is a common-sense equipment design so that workers don’t lose fingers, hands, or arms in moving machinery. Mr. Myers’ complains that such safety rules make it tough for him to compete with foreign suppliers, whose workers use their hands freely in the equipment, and don’t have the burden (in his view) or the benefit (my view) of machine guarding. The businessman acknowledges, however, that he and his crew have worked “more than 17,000 jobs without any workplace claims or complaints.” I take that to mean that his employees’ kept all their digits, thanks in part, to the guarding and other hazard precautions provided by Mr. Myers. No workers’ compensation claims or other costs related to injuries on the job means that the safety regulations have SAVED him money.

As for the foreigner suppliers who don’t provide a safe workplace for their employees—- and put Mr. Myers business at a competitive disadvantage—now that would be a worthwhile campaign for business trade associations. This problem stems from global economic policies that encourage the production and trade of cheap goods and products made by exploited workers. Despite what the Chamber of Commerce may claim, safety protections for U.S. workers are not the enemy, and they are not responsible for the downfall of the U.S. economy.

Updated 10/22/2010: Reporters Eric Lipton, Mike McIntire and Don Van Natta Jr. of the New York Times explain in “Top Corporations Aid US Chamber of Commerce Campaign” that nearly half of the trade association’s $140 million in donations came from just 45 donors. Contributors to the Chambers’ lobbying campaigns include Chevron, Goldman Sachs, Prudential Insurance and Dow Chemical. A Dow Chemical donation of $1.7 million was targeted at efforts to oppose tougher regulations for chemical plants.

3 thoughts on “Chamber of Commerce’s misinformation campaign about worker safety regulations

  1. I think you touch on a vital point. Competitiveness shouldn’t drive us to lower our standards. Regulations were imposed to deal with horrendous workplace safety issues that effected the entire society. Poisoned and mangled workers cannot support a family or contribute to society.

    Workplace safety has become so successful that people forget the days when meeting someone missing their hands or debilitated by black lung was common. When most families had lost some relative to an industrial accident. We forget the days when every union and many major industrial plant had an associated widow’s and orphans fund.

    They forget that the US in the 30s was like China is now. Men went off to work and came back damaged, if they came back at all.

    Workplace regulations were instituted for really good reasons and other than the businesses, who resist every regulation, and claim every regulation from the eight hour work day to fair pay will ‘put them out of business’, pretty much everyone understood the need.

    What is needed is to raise safety standards in China. Not lower them here.

  2. I know this isn’t OSHA, but how about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008? Remember, it was passed in response to several toy recalls in 2007 for lead and other chemicals. It requires expensive third-party testing of nearly every object intended for a child’s use. Six recalls were on toys made by Mattel. Mattel won an exception to the testing requirements. Small-scale makers of books, toys, and jewelry for kids have no exception and have to deal with expensive testing and labeling requirements largely irrelevant to the kind of products they produce. Many, and I do mean many, have simply gone out of business. If you make wooden toys by hand and give them away to children, you are in violation of Federal Law. You first need to send each custom toy for thousands of dollars of third-party testing, get the toy approved. Then you can sell your single toy. Or, your small batch of toys.

  3. Speaking as a cabinet-maker, I notice that it is quite common for British reviews of U.S. written books on wood-working to carry the caveat “this method is illegal in the European Union”. (For instance the use of wobble blades for dado-saws). One also notes photos of techniques that (in European editions) are annotated “Guard removed” in a disapproving sort of way.
    I think I object to these exploited workers in the U.S. getting a financial advantage at a risk of , if not life, at least limb!

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