|Lose Something At Work? (Image by scottypimpin)
Working in These Times recently published a pretty good partial history of workplace safety regulations. Knowing this history is important in the struggle to defend working conditions, as bosses and their lobbyists try to fast-track anti-regulatory legislation.
Obama, in particular, has been singing the praises of deregulation, suggesting that worker protections are merely “red tape” that hampers growth. The data in the article (from Public Citizen) is particularly interesting, as it shows just how significantly workplace safety regulations have reduced workplace fatalities and injuries. You should check out the article, but I’ll present a summary below:
Byssinosis, or “brown lung,” affected thousands of women who worked in poorly ventilated dust-clogged textile mills. It was virtually ignored until the 1960s and 1970s. By 1978, a new OSHA rule required lung-friendlier machinery. Within a few years the incidence of brown lung fell by 97%.
In the 1980s, bosses sued to block the Lockout/Tagout rule, which would have forced employers to mark potentially hazardous equipment with colored tags and provide safety training for workers. Despite their protestations, the rule passed. As a result, hazardous energy-related fatalities declined by between 30% and 55% in the years following the enactment of the rule, preventing 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities per year.
Despite opposition from agribusiness and the Reagan administration, OSHA enacted the Grain Handling Facilities Standard, which established environmental controls for dust and gas and required protective gear for workers and led to a 95% decline in explosion-related fatalities for certain facilities. There was also a dramatic reduction in coal mine-related deaths since Congress passed the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969.