September 30, 2011 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 6Comment

Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and his Republican members of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Labor Department don’t think coal miner deserve better protection from black lung disease. In their FY 2012 appopriations bill they would prohibit the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from using any funds to develop, promulgate, enforce or otherwise implement a new rule to protect miners from exposure respirable coal dust. (See page 36 in the bill.) This is a rule that has been in the works since at least 1996 when a federal advisory committee made comprehensive recommendations toward the goal of eliminating black lung disease in U.S. coal miners. It’s a sad day in the U.S.A. when lobbyists from Big Coal and Members of Congress decide behind closed doors that coal miners don’t deserve protection. I guarantee that there were no black lung victims or their spouses in the room when this nasty deal was struck. How quick these Members of Congress are at dismissing the appalling evidence from the 29 victims of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster—-71% of the men, including deceased men under age 40—-had coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.

But coal miners aren’t the only working people these Members of Congress and special interest lobbyists throw under the bus. They don’t care much about workers doing roofing jobs on residential construction sites.

Language in this bill would prohibit OSHA from using any funds to fully enforce its fall protection standards for these workers, a rule that has been on the book since 1995. Hundreds of US workers are killed on-the-job every year because of falls from elevated work areas. Construction workers employed at residential construction sites are especially at risk of fall-related deaths. It is the #1 cause of death for these workers and also a cause of serious and disabling injuries. The National Roofing Contractors Association wants its member-employers to be able to continue to skimp on safety.

These Republican lawmakers also don’t feel any responsibilty to ensure fair working conditions for guest workers who are in the U.S. temporarily at companies’ requests to tend crops, pick crabs, serve as ranch hands, or do other jobs. Language in this bill would prohibit the Labor Department from using any funds to enforce certain labor protections for H-2A and H-2B workers. As I’ve written previously, (here, here) too many of these workers experience wage theft, harassment, unsafe working conditions, and live in substandard housing. Who are these lawmakers trying to fool by suggesting that our nation’s economic troubles can be solved on the backs of the guest workers? Foreign workers in the U.S on H-2A and H-2B visas are some of the most powerless groups in our society.

I count more than a dozen of these anti-public health, anti-science, anti-middle class, anti-worker riders in just the Labor Department’s portion of the bill. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the ranking minority member of the appropriations subcommittee said the bill contains at least 40 of these partisan, highly controversial provisions.

6 thoughts on “House Republican Appropriators don’t think coal miners need protection from black lung disease

  1. I have told people for years that the Republicans are the enemy of the working people of the country. Unfortunate some morons and foos insist that you can trust the Republican party. The 2012 fall election are our last line of defense to stop the greedy crooked cheating (remember 2000 electio) racist Republ;icans. I do not trust the Republicans. When I tell people that President Abraham Lincoln is ashamed of the Rebublican party of 2011/2012 they act like they do not know what i am talking about. The Republicans are crooked, corrupt, and bigoted. The Tea Party is the Republican Party and unless we fight with all of our strenght these dogs will control the House, the Senate, the White House, and the Supreme Court. Democrats and all good people need to stand united and be prepared to fight the Republicans to the last persons. To many Democrats are pure yellow-bellied cowards. If you ain’t helping President Obama and the Democrats, then you are an enemy of the people and deserve your fate. Vote or Die!!!!

  2. I am a life-long liberal and I know very little about coal dust, but I assure you the fact on residential fall-protection harnesses is that it has not “been on the books since 1995” except as a suspended rule and that is because it is an unconscionably stupid rule that will never be universally followed. The forty or so people (not “hundreds”) are not properly trained or slide-guards would have prevented every single one of them from dying. You need to know what you are talking about before you spout rhetoric.

  3. Eric,
    OSHA’s fall protection standard for the construction industry was issued in August 1994 and took affect in February 1995. The rule required employers engaged in residential home construction to use conventional fall protection systems unless they demonstrate that it is “infeasible (impossible to get the work done or technologically impossible) or would create a greater hazard and then they must implement a fall protection plan that complies with Sec. 1926.502(k) of the final rule.” (Preamble to final rule) After the legally promulgated rule was adopted, the home builders industry continued to complain about the OSHA rule. Without engaging in rulemaking, OSHA gave a buy to the industry by issuing instructions to its inspectors telling them not to issue citations against home builder employers if they were using alternative (not as protective) fall protection even without demonstrating that conventional means were infeasible. I don’t see that as a “suspended rule” but a rule that OSHA decided it wasn’t going to enforce. I stand by my statement that the rule has been on the books for decades.
    My statement that hundreds of workers die every year from falls is correct, too. BLS’s CFOI puts the number in 2010 at 635. The number in 2010 for construction workers is 260, of which 50 deaths were specifically in residential construction.
    My statement is accurate: “Hundreds of US workers are killed on-the-job every year because of falls from elevated work areas. Construction workers employed at residential construction sites are especially at risk of fall-related deaths. It is the #1 cause of death for these workers and also a cause of serious and disabling injuries.” See also the National Associatinon of Home Builders’ presentation (page 11) which says essentially the same thing.

  4. We just had a roof installed on our house in California. The roofers walked all over the roof while they were working and never slipped or seemed endangered. They work by placing bundles of shingles and rolls of roof capping material around the roof so they can reach the materials they need without getting down from the roof. As they work they pile up scrap pieces of shingle material to be removed all at one time. One of the workers told my husband that he has been told thay they would have to wear harnesses in the future, and he said he would quit if that happened, because he considered them dangerous and he couldn’t work that way. Harnesses and ropes to support them would clearly become entangled with the roofing supplies, and would create a much more hazardous work environment. I’m an advocate of worker safety, and safety regulation, but this rule is obviously counterproductive and would endanger workers rather than protect them.

  5. I would like an explanation of how a harness could possibly work in a way that will not cause even greater risk to the roofers or others. And if it slows down the roofers it will increase the costs, it will mean the poorer people will simply have to live without getting a needed roof which will result in leaks which will result in mildew which itself is a serious health hazard.

    That being said, the risk of a fall during roofing is real. I had my roof replaced this year. A very lucky worker put his weight on a structure, not part of the roof itself, that was not designed for it and it fell off. He was not hurt by the fall.

  6. Thank you for responding, Celeste.
    The issue of safety is so contaminated by a general knee-jerk belief that Republicans are systematically against it and Democrats are universally for it that I am compelled to guard against misleading recitation of data. When you say “…of which 50 deaths were specifically in residential construction….” you are getting much closer to the specific issue raised, by far, than when you say, “…Hundreds of US workers are killed on-the-job every year because of falls…” and juxtapose that with “The National Roofing Contractors Association wants its member-employers to be able to continue to skimp on safety.” Requiring full body harnesses or full scaffolding at every location of every job site where a fall of six feet could occur is absurd at the very least in that it will not and would not ever be complied with on any consistent basis. Not now and not ever. This law, however well-meaning, is on a par with Prohibition. Since it can’t and won’t ever be effectively implemented, since it is so unbelievably burdensome, and since residential roof fall deaths will no doubt remain unchanged in spite of it, it is a fruitless drama at best, and politically devisive (something we can ill-afford more of) at worst, to struggle with it further. I predict it will be re-suspended, hopefully sooner than later, but that does not mean I am endorsing unsafe working conditions. I read Upton Sinclair fifty years ago, believed in it, and this is not similar.

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