President Bill Clinton's "Reinventing Government" program has "reinvented" the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and placed risks on workplace safety and health, according to the Public Citizen's Health Research Group.
Lack of enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act of 1970) by the Clinton administration has resulted in fewer inspections and fewer violations compared to prior administrations, Public Citizen's report showed. The group indicated it used OSHA data to analyze the number of inspections, violations, nature of violations and penalties imposed from 1972 to 1998.
"On this Labor Day, as we honor the contributions of U.S. workers, it is time to admit that Clinton's occupational health policy has been a failure that has left workers dangerously unprotected," Dr. Peter Lurie of Public Citizen's Health Research Group said Sept. 6 in a prepared statement.
Depending on which of the enforcement measures was analyzed, the report shows that Clinton's record of enforcing the OSH Act either is the worst in the history of the act, worse than the Bush administration or no better than the Bush administration.
Not so, OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said. He countered that America's workplaces have never been safer. Job-related injury, illness and fatality rates are down significantly, Jeffress added.
"Under the Clinton administration, OSHA continues working aggressively to protect the safety and health of America's workers," he said. "Enforcement remains strong."
Significant cases are up 187 percent since 1993, penalty rates per inspection are higher under the Clinton administration than any other, and targeting work sites with high injury and illness rates is paying off, Jeffress said. Education, partnerships and compliance assistance are growing, he added. OSHA funded more than 127,000 consultation visits in the past five years.
Public Citizen countered that, in every year Clinton has been in office, the number of inspections has been lower than at any point during any prior administration. The report also shows other examples of lax enforcement:
- Shortly after Vice President Al Gore's "Reinventing Government" program went into effect, there was a sudden decrease in several indices of enforcement. Between 1994 and 1995, "serious, willful and repeat" (SWR) violations decreased 51 percent, inspections decreased 35 percent, and the amount penalized decreased 47 percent.
- The percentage of SWR violations downgraded to non-SWR or dismissed 5 percent, or 4,224 violations, in 1998 has been higher under the Clinton administration than under any previous administration.
- While the administration may claim that the efficiency of inspections has improved, all of the three indices of efficiency examined in the report improved during previous Republican administrations, but have not improved further under Clinton. The three indices are ratio of unprogrammed to programmed inspections, number of violations per inspection and average penalty per inspection.
- Since 1972, there have been 17 health standards enacted under the "final standards" process defined in the OSH Act. The Clinton administration has not proposed any new health standards.
In addition, Public Citizen claims OSHA is not paying enough attention to occupational health, as opposed to safety. In 1996, the number of confirmed deaths due to occupational injuries was 6,026, one-10th the estimated number of deaths due to occupational illness.
Reinvention of government, Jeffress said, provides a balanced approach to job safety and health that is working.
"The measure of OSHA's success is not told through inspection numbers and flawed research," he said. "The real measure is in making the workplace more safe and healthful. Thanks to work completed in the past seven years, new standards are in place."
The new standards include respiratory protection, guarding against exposure to dangerous chemicals such as methylene chloride and butadiene. In the works are standards to protect workers exposed to tuberculosis and silica. An ergonomics proposal, expected to be released in the fall, would protect more than 600,000 workers who suffer stress, strain and disability of repetitive motion and overexertion on the job, Jeffress said.
"The results prove that a strong mix of enforcement, partnership, rulemaking and outreach provide the balance needed to ensure the safety and health of America's work force as we move into the next century," Jeffress said.