Murray Examines OSHA's Failures Under Bush Administration at Senate Hearing

Apr 26 2007

Testimony from experts, WA state healthcare worker highlight OSHA's inaction and inadequate protections under Bush administration

Watch the Hearing

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) chaired a hearing of her HELP Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee to examine the shortcomings of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Today's hearing was the first comprehensive Senate oversight hearing on OSHA under the Bush administration. The hearing featured testimony from an injured Washington state nurse and experts on worker's safety. Senator Murray questioned the administration's enforcement of regulations and their inability to set new standards. She also described the human cost of OSHA's policies.

"Over the last 6 years, I have grown deeply concerned that OSHA is no longer living up to its mission to 'assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women'," Murray said quoting the original OSHA goals outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. "Health care, construction, and low-wage workers come to my office and tell me that they don't have the protections they deserve. Sixteen people a day and nearly 6,000 people a year are still dying in work-related accidents across this country. This is way too many. It is abundantly clear that much more work needs to be done to reform OSHA so we can begin to make OSHA work for working Americans."

WA State Worker Knows There Is Work to Be Done

Today's hearing included testimony from Konnie Compagna, a nurse at Valley Medical Center in Renton, Washington. Ms. Compagna is a labor and delivery nurse. She suffers from shoulder and elbow injuries that prevent her from working almost anywhere else in the hospital. Ms. Compagna spoke about many of the difficulties healthcare workers have in getting adequate protection from OSHA.

"I am here to tell you what my co-workers and I want you to know: our government's safety net to protect workers from health and safety hazards is broken," Ms. Compagna said. "In the past decade, hospital workers have eclipsed the injury and illness rates of workers in mining, manufacturing, or even construction. There are no standards to stem the tide of neck, back, and shoulder injuries caused by the manual lifting and transferring of patients. There are no standards to protect workers from tuberculosis, SARS, weapons of mass destruction, pandemic flu, or other airborne biological agents. I call upon this committee to push the federal government to expand standard setting and enforcement to protect workers in the largely neglected fastest growing sectors of the economy."

Government Statistics Miss 66 Percent of Workplace Injuries

Dr. David Michaels, a research professor and Acting Chairman of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University, cited research showing that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) dramatically undercounts the number of injured workers.

"Two-thirds are simply missed," Dr. Michaels said. "The number and cost of preventable work related injuries and illnesses occurring in the United States are unacceptably high. Furthermore, the true incidence of these conditions is far higher than reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since these data do not include approximately two-thirds of occupational injuries and illnesses."

Dr. Michaels said that while the BLS says injury rates are falling, "most of this decrease can be attributable to changes in OSHA recordkeeping rules."

Lax Enforcement from OSHA

Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO, testified that OSHA has too few resources, and it's enforcement has been infrequent and weak.

"In 2007, the promise of a safe job for every American worker is far from being fulfilled," Ms. Seminario testified. "Under the Bush Administration, voluntary partnerships and consultations with employers have been favored over setting new standards and industry-wide enforcement initiatives. With this approach, OSHA has abandoned its leadership role in safety and health, choosing to work with individual employers, rather than taking bold action to bring about broad and meaningful change in working conditions on an industry-wide and national level."

Ms. Seminario also noted that OSHA has too few inspectors.

"At its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 133 years inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once," Ms. Seminario said.

Working to Reform OSHA

Senator Murray is a co-sponsor of Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) Protecting America's Workers Act, which would institute critical OSHA reforms.