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Workers’ Safety News Roundup: Supreme Court rulings, Chemical Safety Board findings, Bangladesh trade status, Shelanski confirmation

It’s been a big news week when it comes to workers’ rights, health and safety. Here’s a quick roundup.

1. We wrote earlier this week about recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that make it harder for employees to prove on-the-job discrimination. Catch up here.  

2. The Chemical Safety Board, one of several agencies investigating April’s explosion at a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas, reported its preliminary findings to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. What did the agency find? The decades-old standards used to regulate potentially dangerous fertilizer chemicals are far weaker than those used by other countries, the Associated Press reported.  

“The safety of ammonium nitrate fertilizer storage falls under a patchwork of U.S. regulatory standards and guidance — a patchwork that has many large holes,” according to the report presented to the panel by Rafael Moure-Eraso, the board’s chairman.

National COSH has been saying since the very day of the explosion that it likely could have been prevented.  

“The tragic explosion points to the need for stricter regulations of plants that store and use large quantities of hazardous chemicals,” Tom O” Connor, executive director of National COSH, said in a press release. “We need a system in which facilities that are inherently dangerous are required to develop detailed disaster prevention plans before they” re allowed to operate.” Such plans can be modeled after the “Safety Case” model used by European regulators of refineries and other hazardous operations.”

3. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced plans to suspend trade privileges for Bangladesh over concerns about safety problems and labor rights violations in the country’s garment industry.  

In the wake of the devastating collapse in Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza and fires at garment factories bookending the collapse, the death tolls of which topping more than 1,200 workers, National COSH called on the Obama administration to pressure the Bangladeshi government to protect workers’ rights.  

Obama’s revocation of Bangladesh’s trade privileges is a good first step, but it affects less than 1 percent of exports from Bangladesh to the U.S.- and it excludes garments from the trade deal. More needs to be done to ensure workers’ safety on the job. This includes enforcing its building and fire safety codes; affording workers the right to refuse to work in unsafe buildings without fear of retaliation, blacklisting or loss of a paycheck; and protecting workers from retaliation if they try to register a union and collectively bargain.

4. The U.S. Senate yesterday confirmed Howard Shelanski to be Obama’s next “regulatory czar,” or more specifically, to head the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  

Shelanski will be tasked with reviewing dozens of proposed rules that have gotten stuck at the agency, many of which are beyond their congressionally mandated deadlines for review. This includes a proposed silica rule, which was supposed to be reviewed in 90 days, but has been stuck at the agency for more than two years.

“Shelanski needs to move forward critical worker safety rules currently stalled at his agency, including a long-delayed silica rule that would protect workers from exposure to dangerous levels of silica dust on the job,” said Tom O” Connor, executive director of National COSH.


National COSH will stay on top of these issues and will provide updates and analysis as they become available.