The editorial in The New York Times states the truth — “OSHA Needs Support, but Gets Roadblocks.” As a nation, the men and women who work each day in our businesses and factories are our greatest resource. Yet, we have too often failed these workers and their families when it comes to safety. In human terms, an emphasis on safety should be our most important goal. In simple dollars and cents, the costs to us of injuries, disabilities, and deaths from workplace accidents, is tremendous. The costs of injuries far exceed the costs of investing properly in safety.
The editorial writer discusses the recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas and concludes:
We don’t yet know the details of how the explosion occurred in West, Tex. But one thing is certain: either the regulations weren’t good enough, or they weren’t enforced well enough. The answer is better regulations or better enforcement – probably both.
I agree. Far from dragging business down, an effective safety system promotes long-term success and growth. It is an investment in our people. It is an investment in businesses that focus on growth and success instead of short-term profit.
In my Alabama accident and injury practice, I have seen several problems with OSHA similar to those discussed by the editorial writer. They are:
- Not Enough Inspectors — According to the editorial writer, OSHA has fewer inspectors now than it did in 1975. Yet, our economy and population have grown tremendously in the over 3 decades since then. In Texas where the explosion occurred, it would take 98 years for OSHA to inspect all the existing facilities because of its lack of inspectors. I have represented many people who were injured in accidents that could have been prevented by a prior safety inspection.
- Weak Enforcement — With too few inspectors, enforcement of reasonable safety rules is very difficult. But, that is not the only enforcement problem OSHA faces. Too often, OSHA fails to enforce or collect the fines resulting from unsafe workplaces it has cited. OSHA often reduces fines. What’s more, OSHA does not even collect a huge percentage of fines. In short, many unsafe companies simply avoid or evade the rules. In my practice, I have handled personal injury cases where the facility was cited by OSHA over the unsafe practices that led to the injury. I have seen first-hand how OSHA’s legal enforcement is not adequate to face a large company with good attorneys. Why can’t our government devote some legal talent to enforcing its rules? OSHA’s failures in this area make it more difficult for the injured worker to seek full justice later.
- Lack of Reasonable Rules — The Times editorial writer sums it up nicely. “Congress has made it so hard to set new regulations that it takes OSHA many years and many millions of dollars to establish a single new rule for a single hazard.” OSHA should be responsive to developments in business and industry. Hazards that exist in the workplaces of 2013 are different than those 0f 1975. Technology changes rapidly. New processes and equipment are the result. Yet, OSHA’s rules can remain locked in the past.
Our state, Alabama, lacks any real safety system. Because of this, a working OSHA is essential. Safety is important. We should demand a system that protects our workers from needless injuries.
by Jeff Blackwell