Some companies might not do enough for workplace safety

Some companies might not do enough for workplace safety

A University of Maryland law professor says federal laws that allow companies to regulate themselves in the workers’ compensation arena only look out for one party: big business.

The federal government, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), long has allowed companies to bypass federal regulation if it installs its own Voluntary Protection Program. Companies with good safety records that start their own program are not subjected to the same federal oversight that other businesses receive. Big companies with thousands of workers are among those that have started their own safety programs.

The professor, however, says the government has let companies escape the government’s eye at the risk of employee health and safety. She says occupational safety laws give greater rights to corporate America than they do to working-class people who put their safety at risk in heavy industrial occupations.

Critics like the professor contend that the laws have allowed corporations to set the rules, rather than the government setting rules for workers’ rights, which some said now seem optional at best. Such critics charge that putting workers in danger doesn’t cost money, but protecting them does.

Instead, critics say that employers spin their voluntary programs as a partnership with the government. A congressional subcommittee recently reviewed the Voluntary Protection Program amid charges that the program has failed to protect workers.

Opponents of the program contend that workers at companies with the voluntary plans have died in preventable accidents like explosions and crane accidents. Investigators who have visited work sites in the wake of such deaths have found numerous safety violations, and the government has allowed the workplaces to remain in the program, according to critics. At more than 65 percent of the workplaces where a worker has died since 2000, the Voluntary Protection Program remains in effect.

Finding jobs is tough in today’s economy. However, if workers have a choice of employers or job openings, they might want to consider whether the company has a program allowing for self oversight or one for government monitoring. They could feel safer working in a location that is more closely watched by an outside entity.

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