A federal regulation that allows the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to pursue companies for violations up to five years after an employee injury or death has been repealed by the Trump Administration.
The rollback of OSHA’s “Volks Rule” potentially exposes Alabama workers, and workers throughout the country, to uncorrected workplace hazards. Its repeal means that now OSHA regulators have just six months from the time of an incident to hold a company accountable.
With just 24 OSHA inspectors overseeing the safety of every business in the state, the six-month statute of limitations makes it impossible for them to hold the vast majority of violators accountable, effectively allowing these violators to expose workers to threats of illness, injury, and death virtually unchecked.
Peg Seminario, Safety and Health director at AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., explained the repeal to AL.com:
“This means that in the worst cases OSHA won’t be able to take enforcement action, and the employers are going to be able to keep doing what they are doing because there are no consequences,” she said. “It essentially takes away OSHA’s ability to enforce patterns of recordkeeping violations, and what that means is that … employers that have a pattern of hiding injuries or falsifying records will escape punishment.”
OSHA will still be able to view all of the injury data going back five years and will still be able to identify trends within companies and industries that compromise the health and safety of workers. The agency won’t be able to take any meaningful action to bring violators into line, other than to suggest ways companies can protect their workers. The only way enforcement can happen under the repeal is if OSHA inspectors identify, investigate, and act on an issue within the six-month time frame.
AL.com points out that the implications of this repeal could be particularly harsh for shipyard workers in Alabama and elsewhere. According to federal labor statistics, the injury-accident rate for shipyard workers is 80 percent higher than it is in general construction, one of the deadliest industries for workers.
According to AL.com, an investigation of work practices at Austal’s shipyard in Mobile “uncovered dozens of injuries being sustained by employees using a cutting tool known as the ‘widowmaker.’” Workers injured by the tool are involved in a court case alleging the company “forced them to swap out the original blade in the tool for another blade with larger cutting teeth in order to hasten the manufacturing process,” AL.com reported.
Manufacturer’s instructions for the tool warn against swapping the machine’s blade. This misuse of the machine resulted in finger amputations, and severe lacerations of the face, neck, and upper body.