Elias Isquith has a Q&A with Jamie Smith Hopkins and Jim Morrison from the Center for Public Integrity, which has released a new series of reports on workplace safety in the United States. They have pretty harsh words for President Obama:
Were you surprised to hear David Michaels, the head of OSHA, speak so frankly to his agency’s lack of capability? That isn’t something you hear from government officials especially often, regardless of whether it’s true.
JM: I found that striking. They’ve actually been saying that for several years. In 2013, OSHA put out a press release saying as much. They said that our limits don’t protect workers in the vast majority of cases. I’ve told Jamie and my co-workers that I can’t recall another federal agency publicly saying, Sorry, but we really can’t do a whole lot. You are on your own. That’s pretty much what OSHA has been saying for a couple of years. It’s amazing.
JSH: What they’re arguing is not that they don’t want to do anything, but that they’ve been hemmed in by core decisions and other things that prevent them from issuing rules in a timely fashion. Rules do get put out, but very slowly.
People assume Democratic presidents are more pro-regulation than Republican ones. Has that proven to be the case during the Obama years?
JSH: There has been one health rule that has been put out during the Obama administration. Certainly when you compare it to 20 or 30 years ago.
JM: Simply put, the Obama administration really isn’t any better or much better than the Bush [administration]. It’s not a good record.
No it’s not. Now, one issue is of course OSHA funding. And while Obama has not made this, or workplace safety generally, a high priority, certainly Congress holds no small amount of fault here. Still, the Obama administration could do a lot more through reorienting OSHA toward more efficient ways of dealing with risks on the job and through executive orders. The only president who ever really valued OSHA to the point of making it a political priority was Jimmy Carter. And that’s too bad. One would have hoped that an event like the West, Texas factory explosion would have put a jolt into American politics that we need to take safety and health more seriously, but it completely disappeared from the national conversation by the next news cycle.