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National COSH on OSHA, Bureau of Labor Statistics Nominees: Transparency Saves Lives

Monday, December 4, 2017
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, roger@nationalcosh.org, (734) 645-0535

Advocates call for “open source” policy on workplace fatalities and renewed action on silica, temp workers

SAN DIEGO: As the U.S. Senate prepares for a hearing on nominees to head the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, safety advocates are calling for the two agencies to boost efforts to save lives in U.S. workplaces by collecting and disseminating full information about on-the-job fatalities.

“Transparency saves lives,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “The more we know about how and why workers are dying on the job, the more we can do to prevent future tragedies.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) will hold a hearing this coming Tuesday, December 5th at 10:00 am ET to consider the nominations of FedEx safety executive Scott Mugno to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and William Beach of George Mason University to serve as Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

“Every day, workers are at risk because of hazards that can be controlled and prevented,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, also a co-executive director of National COSH. “It’s time for OSHA and BLS to adopt an open source policy and tell us all they know about workplace fatalities. That includes identifying – and publicizing – what goes wrong when workers lose their lives because employers fail to provide safe working conditions. 

The BLS conducts an annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), which publishes aggregate information about worker deaths, but does not includes names of workers, employers or additional details. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, BLS identified more than 4,800 fatalities due to traumatic events in U.S. workplaces. U.S. OSHA is responsible for investigating workplace deaths.

National COSH is also urging senators to ask Mugno about his plans to limit worker exposure to silica dust and whether he will continue OSHA’s initiative to offer enhanced protection for temporary and contract workers.

Background on silica:

  • Millions of workers every year are exposed to silica dust, a known carcinogen and primary cause of silicosis - a potentially fatal lung disease. OSHA issued a new safety standard in 2016 that limits exposure to silica dust and will save an estimated 700 lives each year.
  • Industry groups have urged Congress to reverse the new standard, issued after years of careful research, with thousands of pages of testimony from scientists and labor and industry stakeholders. OSHA is currently limiting enforcement of the new standard to those employers not acting in “good faith.”

Questions for Scott Mugno:
What are his views on this life-saving regulation? What are his plans to carry out inspections and enforcement?

Background on temporary workers:

  • Temporary workers, who represent about two percent of the U.S. workforce, accounted for 17 percent of fatalities from workplace trauma in 2015.
  • Temp and contract workers often do not receive adequate training and have little or no job security. These and other factors combine to make temp work more hazardous than permanent, full-time employment.
  • In 2013, OSHA began an initiative to protect temporary workers, holding both host employers and contract agencies responsible for following safety laws, including the duty to provide a safe workplace.
  • In September 2017, Patrick Kapust, OSHA’s deputy director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs, told the National Safety Council: “We are continuing this initiative. We are trying to get forth that staffing employers and host employers both have joint responsibility for their workplaces.” 

Questions for Scott Mugno:
Does he support OSHA’s temporary worker initiative? Will he continue the emphasis on joint responsibility for both host employers and contract agencies?

“Nominations to these crucial positions deserve a rigorous review by the U.S. Senate,” said Martinez, “because so much is at stake for American worker and our families.”

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit nationalcosh.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.