Where OSHA Falls Short of Protecting Workers, the Civil Justice System Can Help

The federal agency known as OSHA came into being in 1970, with the passage of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Its stated mission is to ensure every American worker a workplace free of known health and safety hazards. Unfortunately, that noble goal has never come close to being a reality.

According to one analysis published in The American Journal of Public Health, the rate of serious, nonfatal, on-the-job accidents declined only slightly between the founding of OSHA and the year 2008. During that time, OSHA failed to mitigate the rapid introduction of hazardous new chemicals in low-income workplaces, and between the years 1993 and 2008 alone, occupational fatalities among immigrant workers from Latin America more than tripled. Today, this group is still routinely exposed to some of the most dangerous working conditions of all.

OSHA Has Never Been Given the Necessary Power to Protect People

Most of OSHA’s problems over the years have boiled down to a simple lack of authority and funding. As of that 2008 analysis, OSHA was only equipped to perform about 100,000 inspections per year, out of an estimated 8 million workplaces in the U.S.

Then and now, most workplaces have essentially remained on the honor system. Even when OSHA does visit, it’s far cheaper for most companies to pay off the relatively small fines they receive than it would be to make their workplaces safer. As a result of OSHA’s limited reach and the outright contempt most employers have for it, OSHA itself estimates that more than half of serious workplace injuries never reach its attention.

Reduced Regulations Are Poised to Destroy Even More Lives

Now, more than a decade after 2008 and nearly half a century after OSHA’s founding, there’s no sign of improvement on the horizon. In fact, in 2017, OSHA was denied the authority to cite workplaces for failing to keep adequate injury and fatality records.

The organization has also suffered badly under the 2017 executive order requiring regulatory agencies to eliminate two old regulations for every new one introduced. This anti-regulatory rule forces organizations like OSHA to make impossible, unconscionable choices between updating their regulations to protect workers from new threats and holding on to vital, timeless requirements concerning fall hazards and unguarded industrial equipment.

Following these deregulatory changes, serious workplace accidents rose between 2017 and 2018, breaking a five-year streak of slow but steady improvements.

Civil Law Is a Worker’s Most Powerful Avenue of Recourse

While OSHA’s power to protect workers may be barely more than ceremonial, the law does still recognize an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace. If you’ve been injured due to your employer’s negligence, you’re entitled to compensation.

Litigation is about more than just covering your medical expenses. By choosing to pursue justice after a preventable accident, you send a message to the responsible party, and all similarly situated negligent actors, that their ill-gotten gains do not belong to them. Civil litigation has the power to impose much more severe financial consequences that OSHA does, meaning that you, as a survivor of corporate greed, can help create a world in which ignoring regulations and endangering workers is no longer profitable. Reach out to The Stoddard Firm today to learn more.

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