Worker safety

Worker safety

Obama administration to offer health coverage for part-time firefighters

After public outcry, the Obama administration confirmed that it will offer health insurance to the government's seasonal firefighters, many of whom have been battling fierce blazes in the West.

A White House official told Reuters that the administration would formally announce the policy change soon.

Thousands of federal firefighters are considered temporary employees of the U.S. Forest Service because they work six months out of the year. 


Unions, watchdogs decry delays on workplace safety rules

Unions, public health scholars and Washington watchdogs pushed Thursday for a simpler and more transparent regulatory process for creating workplace health and safety rules.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is bogged down under more procedural requirements and higher evidence standards than other agencies, witnesses argued at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. 

“In the years since its creation, OSHA’s charge to protect workers from harm has been undermined by Kafkaesque demands for additional reviews of existing rules mandated by new statutes and executive orders,” said Randy Rabinowitz, OMB Watch’s director of regulatory policy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce shot back that the real problem is OSHA’s inability to prioritize and follow through on regulations. 


Report faults federal agency in deadly W.Va. mine accident

The top House Democrat with jurisdiction over worker safety renewed his call for Congress to pass mine safety legislation after a new report found understaffed and inexperienced federal officials missed warning signs ahead of the deadliest mining accident in 40 years.

The panel's Republican chairman, meanwhile, vowed to hold a hearing "in the coming weeks" with Mine Safety and Health Administration director Joe Main.

"Today's report is critical to our understanding of the worst mining disaster in more than 40 years," said Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.). "The numerous investigations and reviews will help inform efforts in Washington and across the country to enhance mine safety."

The MSHA internal review found that federal officials' shortcomings did not cause the explosion that killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia two years ago. It did, however, fault the agency for missing problems and failing to inspect at-risk areas.


Democrats urge high court to uphold state workers' right to sue over medical leave

Two high-ranking Democrats involved in the drafting of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act are urging the Supreme Court not to strike down state workers' ability to sue under the law.

The high court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case brought by a former Maryland state court worker who said he was fired in 2007 after taking 10 days off to treat hypertension and diabetes. The law requires certain employers to allow workers to take up to 12 unpaid weeks off per year to deal for qualified medical and family issues.

The fired man sued for damages, but a lower court tossed out his complaint. Maryland and 26 other states say he should never have been able to sue for damages in the first place, however.


Worker-safety hearing sparks debate over House HHS spending bill

Wednesday's House hearing on worker-safety regulations sparked sharp debate over Republicans' recently released FY 2012 spending bill for the departments of Health, Labor and Education.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Education and Workforce panel on workforce protections, said the "timely" hearing comes with backdrop of an "irresponsible appropriations bill." The $153.4 million draft spending bill released last week contains several workplace safety riders that would block regulators from finalizing an injury and illness prevention program and halt tougher safety rules at residential construction sites.

Simultaneously, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen released a report contradicting Republicans' contention that burdensome regulations are preventing companies from hiring. The report says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has produced fewer regulations under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama than at any time during the agency's existence.