U.S. Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta has been busy since his appointment to the position on April 27, 2017.
Acosta detailed his efforts to enforce laws protecting workers at the 34th annual Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ (VPPPA) Safety+ Symposium in Nashville.
“This administration and the department of labor enforce vigorously, but we’re not interested in playing a game of gotcha,” he told a record-setting crowd.
Employers who fail to comply with OSHA’s standards and are investigation because of a worker injury or death should be criminally prosecuted, Acosta said.
The 27th secretary of labor used stories he witnessed as the former U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Florida to demonstrate his point.
In one case, a water boiler on a cruise ship exploded, severely injuring 10 crew members and killing an additional 8 workers. The boiler had a history of cracks, but the cruise line neglected to fix the issues prior to the incident.
“If you knowingly disregard laws that are in place to protect working Americans, the costs are more than dollars,” he explained.
Acosta also stressed compliance and prevention throughout his speech, saying that enforcement is only one step to a safer workplace.
“It makes neither dollars nor cents to play gotcha when we can prevent it in the first place,” he repeated. “Prevention should be the first goal.”
Participation in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) not only keeps workers safe, but it also gives employers an edge, allowing companies to focus on business once compliance is achieved.
Because enforcement and compliance assistance must go hand in hand, Acosta cited steps he is taking to incorporate assistance into the U.S. Department of Labor’s culture.
He told the crowd he assumes Americans are good hearted and want to do the right thing, his reason for increasing assistance.
“Together we are going to find a way to work with businesses who want to be part of compliance efforts,” he said.
One step to this is a revamp of the U.S. government’s website Worker.gov, which contains information from workers’ rights to federal laws. Acosta plans to show the fruits of this program by measuring web metrics and marketing efforts.
“The goal is to help the individual or the company that is trying in good faith to comply,” he explained.
Lastly, Acosta addressed his critics. He encouraged those who wish to comment or respond to submit letters and “thoughtful questions” to the DOL.
“Broad statements to score political points do not foster compliance,” he said.