Hello, and Happy New Year. We took a bit of a sabbatical for the holidays, but we are back and ready to go for a dynamic 2018, after a full year of significant change in the political winds – and in the workplace-safety arena – in both the U.S. and Canada.
This year, I’ve decided to not only discuss some of the latest topics in workplace safety, but I also will check out items in the news that are related to workplace safety and bring those to a broader audience, as many of these kinds of stories are limited to local news items even though they may have far-reaching implications.
News You Can Use
This week, we get back into the blog by touching on some recent headlines. Today we’ll discuss what the Trump Administration is doing in regards to workplace safety in the U.S., and Friday we’ll have a piece about a way that a minimum-wage hike is actually punishing some people in Ontario, and how that might spread into other parts of the North American continent where minimum wages are hiking up in many places.
Bigger Paychecks, Smaller Government
Over the course of the last year in the United States, there has been a clear push to lower the influence of the federal government on much of life in America. It was bragged at one point late last year that 22 federal regulations have been repealed for every one new regulation put in place, and that the Federal Registry, which is the official document listing all federal regulations, has been cut in half just 12 months after it had reached its highest level at nearly 7,000 pages.
And now with the recently passed tax-cut bill which is putting more money in workers’ pockets and lowering the tax burden on most companies, President Trump has also been showing commitment to lowering the federal government footprint in many aspects of life by cutting back on staff in virtually every agency and department. With that comes the concept of less federal spending, which may mean a chance for the U.S. to start digging out from its $21 trillion debt.
Is Worker Safety Being Trumped?
While a smaller government in general is good for individuals and companies to have more freedom to choose their destinies, there may be a drawback to this improved freedom – at least, that is being claimed by many who are in the workplace-safety arena.
Two news items that have come out recently are tied directly to workplace safety, and they seem to be raising flags in some corners. The first is tied to the deregulation push, noting that a couple of key worker-safety rules have been repealed or scaled back, which is leading some to believe that worker safety is taking a backseat to the lucrative opportunities of federal contracts.
These repealed rules open competition for these contracts by not requiring a company’s safety record to be considered in contract bids. Opponents claim that repealing these rules in the bid process may actually put workers at risk while these companies fight for multi-million-dollar contracts with no regard for worker safety – the idea of profit coming over safety.
A second item that came to the fore is the story that revealed a shortage of OSHA inspectors, as the agency has been slow to fill positions that have been vacated through retirement or attrition. There was a belief that the agency was already short-handed in enforcement capability, and the U.S. Department of Labor has not filled those positions because of a leaner budget that would leave a number of positions unfilled. President Trump also imposed a hiring freeze all across the government, and there has been no update as to whether there will be hiring of any “essential” personnel, or how “essential” will be defined.
What Does This Mean for Workers?
Fortunately for many workers, a lack of federal oversight doesn’t mean safety is compromised. There are nearly half the states have their own OSHA-style agencies complete with inspectors to cover many of the same duties and roles that OSHA has, while virtually all states have some type of workplace safety laws or regulations on the books, thanks to the work of labor unions and lobbyists over the last 100 years.
Are we saying that this is much ado about nothing? Not exactly, but we do think it will be less apocalyptic than what may be talked about in this hyper-political, hyper-partisan, hyperbolic world we now live in (which has been in place long before Trump, by the way). The hope is that there is enough of a safety culture in place in many companies that they will self-police, and workers will get a boost in morale by having larger paychecks thanks to lowered regulation and lower taxes. Higher morale tends to lead to more safety at the end of the day.
Let us trust our safety-officer brethren and our workers to continue to do the right thing without expectation of government oversight. We have creative ways when we have more freedom.