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Will GOP Victory Gut OSHA and Kill More Workers on the Job?

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Heading into the final weekend of getting out the vote before the mid-terms, advocates of workplace safety are raising alarms about the prospect of even more deaths and injuries on the job if the Republicans gain control of either the House or Senate. That's because OSHA and other, still-underfunded workplace protections will become Republican and corporate targets.

Ironically, though, amid all the misery spawned by the recession, there is one silver lining that has emerged, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics: a sharp drop in workplace injuries and deaths due to accidents. As the BLS dryly noted when it first reported this phenomenon in August,

Economic factors played a major role in the fatal work injury decrease in 2009. Total hours worked fell by 6 percent in 2009...and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of fatal work injuries, such as construction, experienced even larger declines [16 percent] in employment or hours worked.

This week, the BLS reported a decline of 400,000 injuries in 2009 from the previous year, while Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and her Labor Solicitor Patricia Smith credited in part a changing culture of enforcement at the Department of Labor. Smith vowed to end a "culture of noncompliance," the BNA Daily Labor Report (subscription only) reported. As a result of reduced enforcement, “many employers developed a ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ attitude,’’ Smith said. “Our challenge is to change that attitude."

At the same time, though, the lingering high unemployment rate is fueling a rage at the Democrats and Obama that could lead to Republicans taking back nearly 60 seats or more in the House—and, workplace safety advocates say, that would be a disaster for an already under-funded and hobbled Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the Labor Department.

A GOP-led House would--spurred by its Chamber of Commerce paymasters--certainly slash enforcement funds even as OSHA's current dedicated leadership is facing steep obstacles in achieving reform. The AFL-CIO's workplace safety director, Peg Seminario, told In These Times in a statement:

"When the Republicans were in power, they pushed for less regulation, less funding for agencies that protect workers' safety, and voluntary compliance and weaker enforcement for corporations who do break the law. Working people simply can't afford that kind of governing."

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You can read more about politics and workplace safety threats in this article at the Working In These Times blog.