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December 29th, 2008 By | News | Posted In: Business, Public Policy, News

Post: Workplace Safety Suffers Under Bush

It’s not just Cintas that’s getting a break from federal workplace safety regulators, according to The Washington Post.

Last week’s issue of CityBeat included a Porkopolis column examining a last-minute settlement that Cintas Corp. entered into with the U.S. Labor Department before President Bush left office, and how some congressional members believe it was a cynical ploy to avoid harsher penalties and oversight that likely would’ve come later.

Regular readers know that Cintas has a long history of citations for workplace safety violations by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Since 2003, Cintas has been cited for more than 170 safety violations in its facilities, including more than 70 citations that regulators deemed could cause “death or serious physical harm.”

Because of the ongoing nature of the safety problems, a congressional subcommittee has urged regulators to conduct a comprehensive review of all Cintas facilities nationwide but the agency, which currently answers to the Bush Administration, has resisted the request.

A report in today’s Washington Post shows that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dissatisfaction with OSHA’s record in recent years.

Current and former OSHA employees detail how the Bush Administration’s political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations and altered the effectiveness of its rules in response to industry pressure, the article states.

“The legacy of the Bush administration has been one of dismal inaction,” said Robert Harrison, chairman of the occupational health section of the American Public Health Association, in The Post. It has been “like turning a ketchup bottle upside down, banging the bottom of the container, and nothing comes out. You shake and shake and nothing comes out,” Harrison added.

In the recent settlement between the Labor Department and Cintas, the Mason-based company has up to two years to install certain safety equipment like guardrails on the robotic conveyor belts used in the wash alleys in its industrial laundry facilities. Such a conveyor caused the death of a Cintas worker last year. Further, the settlement doesn’t provide any OSHA schedule for oversight and inspections.

Also, the severity of 43 “willful” violations issued against Cintas since last spring were downgraded to the more benign “unclassified.” Willful violations are committed with “intentional disregard” for the law or “plain indifference” to worker safety, according to OSHA guidelines.

Two congressional members called the settlement “insufficient.” The Post’s article reveals just how lackadaisical OSHA’s attitude is regarding protecting American workers.

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