Workplace injuries and illnesses must not force families out of the middle class. That’s the message from Labor Secretary Thomas Perez as he prepares to leave office.
In a Memorandum to the American People, Perez uses his “Cabinet Exit Memo” to summarize the work of the Labor Department in the last eight years and also list challenges ahead for U.S. workers and businesses. The document addresses a wide range of labor issues, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the sections that deal with workplace safety.
Some of the accomplishments listed:
- Creation and use of the Severe Violator Enforcement Program to focus on the violators that “demonstrate indifference to their legal responsibilities”
- Increased use of corporate-wide settlement agreements
- Engaging employers to adopt safety and health management programs to mitigate hazards before workers are injured, and
- Adoption of a revised Silica Rule that OSHA estimates will save more than 600 lives a year and protect the health of thousands of other workers.
As Perez looks to the future, he lists the following workplace safety challenges:
- “Push back against the notion that some jobs are inherently dangerous, that workplace injuries in some circumstances are unavoidable”
- Change occupational safety and health practices as technology evolves
- Prevent injuries from leading to poverty. The document notes some states have chipped away at their workers’ compensation systems. Perez calls on states to preserve workers’ compensation “to give employers incentives to utilize injury and illness prevention programs,” i.e. prevent injuries in the first place to keep workers’ compensation insurance costs down
- Prevent workplace illnesses by creatively figuring out a way to ensure that, as more chemicals are developed and brought to the market much faster than regulators are able to write rules, workers aren’t harmed by the new substances
- Bolster the regulatory structure for agricultural workers who suffer injury rates above that of many other industries, and
- Develop tougher criminal penalties that can act as a deterrent to target the small number of employers who still view employee injuries and civil penalties as a cost of doing business.
What do you think about this list of accomplishments and challenges? Let us know in the comments.