Guess who’s championing worker safety?

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You’ll have to excuse me for being so jumpy, but every single time I hear that the Bush administration has done something good, I scrunch my eyes and wonder what the catch is. So it goes with this New York Times report today that various federal agencies are increasing cooperation to crack down on workplace violations:

With little fanfare and some adept bureaucratic maneuvering, a partnership between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA], the Environmental Protection Agency and a select group of Justice Department prosecutors has been forged to identify and single out for prosecution the nation’s most flagrant workplace safety violators.

The initiative does not entail new legislation or regulation. Instead, it seeks to marshal a spectrum of existing laws that carry considerably stiffer penalties than those governing workplace safety alone. They include environmental laws, criminal statutes more commonly used in racketeering and white-collar crime cases, and even some provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a corporate reform law.

Nathan Newman explains that the reason why this sort of coordination can be so effective is that when companies are found to be trampling all over workplace safety laws, “it’s a good bet that the company is also violating environmental laws.” Certainly something to keep in mind. But hey, why has there been so little fanfare about this? The OSHA administrator won’t speak on the record about the initiative, and neither will the Labor Department’s top lawyer. Are the technocrats in OSHA and the EPA, who are reportedly very enthusiastic about this new initiative, all afraid that Bush’s corporate allies will get wind of what’s going on and raise Big Business hell? More to the point, OSHA under the Bush administration has been notoriously awful on workplace protection issues, so one wonders why the sudden change of heart. At any rate, good news on the surface.


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