Labor - And A Whole Lot More

18 Dead, More To Come
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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 reason.

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 immoral."

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 corporate friends.

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 industry."

Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister