Workplace safety often flies under the radar. It may even seem like an unnecessary burden—until something goes wrong. Someone slips or loses their fingers or hand or life. Then the importance of following safety standards is etched in the memories of the coworkers who saw the accident, who begin to wonder if they are adequately protected.
Working to ensure that protection is the purpose of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Thanks to OSHA the average number of worker deaths per day in the United States has fallen from 38 in 1970, the year before the administration was founded, to 14 in 2016. And OSHA’s ability to continue to protect worker safety depends on its ability to inspect workplaces and issue fines for violations. Unfortunately, de-regulation efforts in Washington will likely take a toll on worker safety.
On Jan. 8, NBC News released a report “raising questions about the government’s efforts to protect workers and the long-term impact of the White House’s move to slow hiring.” According to the news source, OSHA has lost 40 inspectors or 4 percent of its inspection force and as of Oct. 2, 2017, had not filled the vacancies. From January through September of 2016, OSHA’s permanent, full-time employees dropped below 2,000, with 116 fewer total staff than December 2016. The number fell below 1,000 in October 2017.
“It means there’s greater pressure to quickly reach a settlement with the employer, which often means reduced fines,” David Michaels, a former OSHA director, told the news source. “The lack of new inspectors makes OSHA invisible. If employers don’t think OSHA will come, workers are much more likely to be hurt.”
What part of the country will be most affected? More than likely, employees in the Southeast will pay the price, according to NBC. And it’s a tragically high one.
This past year, Alabama has come under fire for unsafe working conditions, prompted by a daughter and soon-to-be bride’s death in a robotics machine at an auto parts manufacturing plant in Cusseta. Her case, which is scheduled for trial next month, highlights the tragic results when safety procedures aren’t followed and how OSHA fines work to correct employer practices.
This case is sadly not the first of its kind and won’t be the last. Mississippi, which has one of the highest worker fatality rates in the country, experienced a 26 percent drop in the number of inspections in January through September 2017, according to public data acquired by NBC. Alabama saw a 5 percent drop, and Georgia saw a 1 percent drop.
Though more OSHA inspectors have been hired since October 2017, the Department of Labor would not specify exactly how many. This likely will allow large corporations to continue to place profits over ensuring worker safety, a move that will continue to leave more employees with on-the-job injuries.