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Trump's OSHA: 5k Complain Only 1 Citation

OSHA is failing to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Brian Young's picture
May 29, 2020

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and labor organizations have been calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to put out guidelines to protect workers. Not only has the agency failed to issue guidelines, but a new investigation by Congress shows that they are failing to act to protect workers.

According to testimony in front of Congress on Thursday, 5,000 complaints have been filed with OSHA pertaining to COVID-19. This number is significantly higher than the number of complaints that would come in during a similar time frame in any other year. OSHA has received 18,283 complaints since Oct. 1, the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year. At this time last year, it had received 16,021 complaints.

Yet even with an increase in complaints, inspections and citations are way down. The agency says that of the 5,000 cases only 375 inspections were conducted, and 3,131 cases have been closed. Only one case out of the 5,000 has resulted in a citation from OSHA. Senator Elizabeth Warren has also noted that since Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, OSHA citations are down nearly 70%.

While OSHA officials argue that they are doing the best they can during this unprecedented crisis, former leaders of the agency disagree.

“We’re facing a massive worker safety crisis. OSHA did not have adequate resources to assure the safety and health of American workers before this crisis began,” former OSHA Administrator David Michaels, who served during the Obama administration, told The Hill. “OSHA’s failure to take stronger actions will result in more workers being made sick and killed by this virus.”

According to the National Employment Law Project, OSHA has consistently lost inspectors over the last ten years, with 1,016 in 2010, 952 in 2016 and just 875 in 2020. This would allow the agency to visit every workplace in the nation only once every 165 years said Michaels.

“[OSHA has] received complaints from terrified workers that their companies are not following CDC guidelines — and all OSHA has done is send a letter to the company apprising them of the complaint – sometimes waiting a week to get it out,” said Debbie Berkowitz, former chief of staff and senior policy adviser for OSHA during the Obama administration. “When OSHA fails, there are consequences: Workers get sick and many die.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the subcommittee that is responsible for funding OSHA and the Labor Department called the uptick in cases disturbing. She noted that the increase came as many businesses were closed or working from home due to state quarantine restrictions. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration has shifted OSHA’s focus away from enforcement and worker protection to compliance assistance for businesses,” DeLauro said. “OSHA’s approach of issuing voluntary guidance and scaling back enforcement has sent a signal to businesses that they can expect a slap on the wrist at most if any wrongdoing occurs.”

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