May 19, 2017

Senators Call on DOL Inspector General to Review Delay of Rules Protecting Workers from Lethal Substances, Reversal of Policy Publicizing Workplace Safety Violations

Text of the letter here (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), today raised a number of concerns with recent decisions by the Department of Labor (DOL) to delay the implementation of two safety regulations to protect workers from lethal and carcinogenic substances, and an apparent reversal in OSHA policy of announcing major workplace safety violations.

In the past four months, DOL has repeatedly delayed two final rules, designed to protect workers from the lethal and carcinogenic effects of silica and beryllium, from being fully implemented. In a letter to the DOL Inspector General, the senators asked for a review of the department's rationale for the delays, their impact on the effectiveness of the rules, and whether lobbyists had improper influence in the decision-making process.  

"The precipitous nature of the delays to these two rules, the lack of public input into these decisions and the failure of DOL to provide any substantive rationalization of the delays, raise questions about the reasons for and process by which these rules were delayed - and about whether the new DOL leadership ever fully intends to implement them," wrote the senators. "Every worker should be able to go to their job without the fear of dangerous substances putting their health at risk."

After 15 years of study and extensive public debate, a rule updating a 40-year-old standard of acceptable levels of beryllium exposure for workers was finalized during the Obama Administration to protect the 62,000 American workers exposed to the element, potentially saving 90 lives a year. The Trump administration has delayed implementation of the Beryllium Rule twice. OSHA provided little rationale for the delays, but has submitted a revision that would loosen regulations for the shipbuilding and construction industries.

Another rule to protect the hundreds of thousands of Americans exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces was similarly subject to years of review and public debate before being finalized in March of 2016. DOL has since delayed its full implementation from June to September of 2017 without providing a substantive explanation.

Additionally, the senators requested a review of DOL's failure to issue press releases when it imposes large penalties for safety violations discovered during OSHA investigations. Prior to January 2017, OSHA publicized penalties for safety and health violations greater than $40,000, informing employers, workers and consumers about companies that have endangered their workers. Despite issuing more than a hundred applicable penalties between January 20 and April 12, OSHA did not issue a single press release regarding the results of its investigations during that period. DOL has yet to publicly acknowledge or explain this apparent change of policy.