Eighteen workers have died this year in construction
crane accidents, and it seems certain that at least that many more will die in
other crane accidents before year's end. Yet the Bush administration continues
its callous refusal to approve long-pending safety regulations that could
significantly lessen the death toll.
The administration's inaction mirrors its do-nothing
stance on job safety generally. It has stood by while the number of workers
dying on the job has reached almost 6,000 per year and the number seriously
injured has grown to more than two million . At least 50,000 others have been
dying from cancer, lung and heart ailments and other occupational diseases
caused by exposure to toxic substances.
That, mind you, is an average of at least 16 workers
killed and nearly 5,500 badly hurt every day of the year, plus 135 or more
workers dying daily from job-related illness.
The administration's refusal to approve regulations and
standards aimed at lowering those dreadful totals is yet another example of its
reluctance to crack down on its corporate employer allies for just about any
Employer representatives actually joined union
representatives to draft the proposed new crane safety regulations for the
federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But Bush has made
certain they have not been adopted.
Although the proposed regulations were drafted four years
ago, there's still been no move by the administration to approve them - and no
sign that it will ever move on them.
The existing, clearly inadequate crane safety rules have
been almost unchanged for a quarter-century. A few state and local governments
have enacted their own rules, but most have done nothing. In nearly three-dozen
states, crane operators don't even have to be licensed.
The proposed regulations would require that crane
operators be trained and government certified. The proposals don't go nearly
far enough, but as the New York Times concluded, "That's a start. Doing
nothing, for four long years, to prevent unnecessary deaths is shameful and
It is. But that's quite consistent with the Bush
administration approach to job safety. Despite the many deaths and serious
illnesses caused by workers' exposure to toxic substances and dangerous
chemicals, for instance, Bush's Labor Department has in 7 1/2 years issued only
one major health rule covering the use of workplace toxins. And the department
issued that regulation only after ordered to do so by a court.
Worse, the Labor Department is now rushing to weaken the
existing regulations for toxins. The new regulations would allow workers to be
exposed to higher amounts of toxins and make it much easier for employers to
challenge any regulations on the exposure of workers to toxins or any other
hazards. The administration, of course, is acting at the request of some of its
You want blatant? Bush's Labor Department has made
weakening the regulations its top priority, more important than the many
serious actions that safety experts, workers' representatives, members of
Congress and others want.
To the Labor Department, weakening the regulations is
more important than developing new safety regulations for construction cranes
and new standards sought for more than three-dozen other areas of particular concern.
More important, for example, than reducing workers'
exposure to silica, which is causing serious respiratory diseases. More
important than new standards for exposure to berllium, a light metal that has
done serious harm to the lungs of dental and metal workers. More important than
the many other urgent job safety needs.
More important, in short, than trying to at least slow
the mounting toll of on-the-job death, injury and illness.
The New York Times had it right: "It's pathetic to
discover President Bush's team investing its closing months on one more sop to
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister