Regular readers of this blog know that workplace safety is regulated by the state and federal governments But even within the federal government, agencies besides OSHA regulate workplace safety. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have proposed rule and procedure changes that could have an impact on workplace safety.
The USDA has proposed relaxing rules about line speeds in pork plants. Employee advocates have opposed the change because of the well-known link between line speed and musculo-skeletal injuries. In a relatively rare bit of good news, under public pressure the USDA rejected proposed rule changes that would have speed up lines in poultry plants. Public pressure for workers can be effective even in the Trump administration.
The EPA has proposed delaying implementation of two Obama era-rules regarding the prevention of chemical plant explosions and rules on training workers who are exposed to agricultural chemicals. (5)
The rules concerning exposure to farm chemicals are particularly concerning from a workplace safety perspective. Chemical exposure injuries can take years to manifest and that delayed manifestation can make it more difficult for employees to collect workers’ compensation benefits.
The delays in implementation of the chemical plant and chemical handling training rules have both been subject to court challenges. If the USDA approved an increase in line speed for pork plants, that change would likely be challenged in court as well. Though the Supreme Court is viewed as friendly to business, the court is open to arguments that the actions of administrative agencies can violate the constitutionally-mandated separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch. In other words court challenges to changes in USDA and EPA rules could succeed.
The chemical safety rules are also an example of how delay of a rule or implementation of a rule can effectively kill a rule. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been the target of well-deserved criticism of his administration of the agency. But, as pointed out by Mike Elk of Payday Report, the Obama administration slow-walked some chemical safety rules which them vulnerable to repeal and delay by the Trump administration.