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The Trump administration has abandoned or withdrawn regulations and policies that would protect employees in the workplace, including an effort to adopt a federal workplace violence standard for health care and social assistance workers, according to a new report by the AFL-CIO.
In 2016, 5,190 workers were killed on the job in the United States, an increase from the 4,836 deaths the previous year, while the job fatality rate rose to 3.6 per 100,000 workers from 3.4 per 100,000 workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited in the 2018 edition of Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect – the 27th annual report the union has produced on the state of safety and health protections.
“The Obama administration had a strong record on improving working conditions – strengthening enforcement, issuing key safety and health standards and improving anti-retaliation protections and other rights for workers,” the report stated. “With the election of President Trump, the political landscape shifted dramatically, and many of these gains are threatened. President Trump has moved aggressively on his deregulatory agenda, repealing and delaying job safety and other rules, and proposing deep cuts in the budget and the elimination of worker safety and health training and other programs.”
Workplace violence is now the second-leading cause of workplace death, rising to 866 worker deaths from 703, and was responsible for more than 27,000 lost-time injuries, according to data featured in the report.
“More workers are dying from workplace violence incidents than from falls, which is very sobering,” said Margaret Seminario, director of safety and health at the union AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C.
In the last weeks of the Obama administration, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it would commence rule-making for a federal standard to protect health care and social assistance workers who are disproportionately affected by workplace violence. But the Trump administration “sidelined” this regulatory effort by moving it off its main regulatory agenda and placing it on a long-term actions list, meaning it is under development, but the agency does not expect to have a regulatory action within the 12 months after publication of the current edition of the Unified Agenda.
“This obviously does not bode well for the federal government taking action to put in place a standard,” Ms. Seminario said.
The Trump administration also withdrew OSHA's walkaround policy that gave nonunion workers the right to have a representative participate in OSHA inspections. The administration also stopped posting information on all worker fatalities reported to OSHA and issuing press releases on many significant OSHA enforcement cases, according to the report.
“American workers’ health and safety must be protected, and every American worker should return home at the end of each and every workday, safe and unharmed,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt said in a statement Friday. “Workplace safety needs to be everyone’s priority. We will continue to work with our partners across the country – job creators, trade associations, labor unions, safety and health professionals and individual workers – to make every workplace safe and healthful. Working together, we can continue to improve working conditions in this country and create more good, safe family-sustaining jobs for all Americans.”
The AFL-CIO is focusing on drawing attention to these policy shifts, particularly with the release of its report ahead of April 28, which is Workers’ Memorial Day, Ms. Seminario said.
The union is also protecting and strengthening existing regulations, sometimes through court action, as it did with the OSHA’s silica standard, Ms. Seminario said. In December, the D.C. Circuit Court rejected an industry challenge to that standard and ordered the agency to explain why it omitted medical removal provisions.
In March, Rep. Ro Khanna, D- California, introduced the Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act, which would require the Secretary of Labor to issue an OSHA rule that requires health care employers to adopt a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan.
“Obviously, with Republicans in control, that’s not going to move forward, but I think we need to just keep pushing forward,” she said, adding that using litigation to force OSHA to move forward with the workplace violence or other proposed rules is also difficult.
“The agency has a lot of discretion as to what it does,” she said.
The union has encouraged regulatory action at the state level, with California already adopting workplace violence standard for health care and beginning to develop a similar standard for general industry, she said.
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