OSHA's Steel Alliance Draws Criticism From Union

A new alliance between OSHA and three major trade associations representing basic and specialty steel producers in North America has drawn criticism from the United Steel Workers of America.

OSHA formed the alliance with a group known collectively as the Steel Group, which include the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), and the Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA). The union complains that it should have been included in any alliance developed for the industry.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to work together to continue to improve injury and illness prevention for thousands of workers in the steel industry," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "This alliance is the beginning of what I hope to be a long and productive association with the steel industry that focuses on the value of worker safety and health."

David S. Sutherland, chairman, American Iron and Steel Institute, spoke for the group when he said that they were pleased that OSHA is "committed to expanding its cooperative approach to improve workplace safety. OSHA working with steel producers to help employees understand the value of safety can only serve to enhance benefits for both employees and their employers."

United Steelworkers of America President Leo W. Gerard said he was astonished that the alliance did not include union involvement. "OSHA and the industry both need help, but they're not going to find it from each other," he claimed. "The trade associations have opposed every OSHA standard that applies to the steel industry. So far as we know, they have no full-time professional safety staff. And OSHA's only recent activity in the industry was to propose a weakening of the Coke Oven Standard."

Gerard pointed out that many steel companies have made deep cuts in their own safety and health staff. "At this point," he added, "most large steel plants have more full-time union safety representatives than management safety personnel. And the union has a bigger headquarters safety and health staff than most or all steel companies."

OSHA said the goal of the alliance is to provide the steel manufacturing industry, including downstream manufacturers, with information, guidance and mentoring to further employees' health and safety. Key elements of the alliance are the development of a steel industry safety and health management process reference tool for the industry, and the development of electronic assistance tools relative to safety and health issues in the industry.

OSHA and the Steel Group will develop and disseminate information through print and electronic media that serve the steel industry, including links to web sites maintained by OSHA and each of the groups' individual organizations. Additionally, cross training will be offered between OSHA personnel and steel industry safety and health professionals in issues specific to the industry, as jointly determined by the Steel Group and the agency.

The Steel Group and OSHA will also explore opportunities to establish forums at steel-related conferences and meetings to discuss injuries and illnesses that may occur in steel industry plants. Finally, the alliance also calls for the participants to speak, exhibit or appear at various conferences, local meetings or other events that serve the steel industry to promote the prevention of workplace injuries or illnesses.

An OSHA spokesperson added the agency "would welcome discussions with any organization" about an alliance "that would be mutually beneficial to the organization, the agency, and, most importantly, workers." In other words, said the spokesperson, the Steelworkers are welcome to approach OSHA with an alliance opportunity. A new document available on the agency's Web site at www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3190.pdf notes that groups that can form an alliance with OSHA include employers, employees, labor unions, trade or professional groups, educational institutions and government agencies.

"If they were really interested in safety, they would have turned to the men and women who make these plants run," countered Gerard. Apparently taking a stab at Henshaw, who was a Bush administration appointee, Gerard added, "I want to make it clear that our criticism applies to the political appointees running OSHA. The dedicated career inspectors in the field had no part in this charade. They know who their allies are."

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