Target: David Michaels, United States Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Health and Safety
Goal: Enforce stricter penalties for employer health and safety violations to reduce the incidence of serious injuries and exploitation of temporary employees
A temporary sugar plant employee lost his life in early July, buried alive in sugar as he attempted to break up clumps. Less than two weeks earlier the company, CSC Sugar, removed a safety screen meant to prevent such horrific accidents. According to news outlet ProPublica a supervisor at the plant was concerned that the safety device was slowing down production. Such tragedies expose the many dangers facing temporary workers, who often receive little or no training despite being asked to perform hi-risk and technical tasks. The sector has seen tremendous growth since the start of the recession as companies look to cut costs at the expense of training, pay, benefits and safety precautions.
The U.S. maintains the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure employers, including temporary staffing agencies, keep their workers safe. Many temp workers are immigrants and non-English speakers, and companies face minimal consequences even in instances of obvious neglect such as the CSC Sugar tragedy. Following an investigation, CSC Sugar was not found to be “willfully in violation” of safety laws. Although staff removed the safety screen, and although the company had been fined in the past for failing to train its temp workers, ProPublica reports the company received a reduced penalty of just $18,098.
Without the threat of real consequences companies like CSC Sugar will continue to exploit temp workers as a cheap, disposable source of labor without ensuring their safety or even their readiness for work. Demand that OSHA focus its efforts on enforcing existing safety laws in the workplace, including training requirements, and on enforcing stricter penalties for employer violations.
Dear Assistant Secretary Michaels,
The recent death of Janio Salinas in the CSC Sugar tragedy was, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. As you are well aware the last few years have seen an increase in injuries among temporary workers. Senator Robert Casey, who heads the Senate’s workplace safety subcommittee, has written to you to express his deep concerns: “While I appreciate that OSHA has limited jurisdiction in prosecuting workplace accidents, the growing number of accidents and fatalities involving temporary workers is clearly unacceptable.”
Senator Casey has also expressed concerns about “possible regulatory or legislative impediments to OSHA’s ability to ensure safe and healthful workplaces for temporary workers.” For example, ProPublica notes that the Protecting America’s Workers Act has been brought before congress each year since 2004 but has never once made it to a vote.
Recent efforts to educate employers about their responsibilities are admirable, but without enforcement such initiatives do little to protect workers. Many employers are well aware of their responsibilities but see no reason to comply. I urge you to focus your energies on the enforcement of existing workplace health and safety laws, and to push for stricter penalties to help reduce the number of temporary workers injured, exploited and killed on the job.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Compliance and Safety LLC via Wikimedia Commons