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Clinton Administration’s ‘Reinventing Government’ Program Risks Workplace Health, Safety

Sept. 6, 1999

Clinton Administration’s ‘Reinventing Government’ Program Risks Workplace Health, Safety

Number of OSHA Inspections Under Clinton Less Than During Any Prior Administration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lack of enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by the Clinton administration has resulted in fewer inspections and fewer violations cited compared to prior administrations, according to a report released today by Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. Public Citizen used data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to analyze the number of inspections, violations, the nature of violations and penalties imposed from 1972 to 1998.

The report shows that, depending on which of the enforcement measures Public Citizen analyzed, Clinton’s record on enforcing the OSH Act is either the worst in the history of the OSH Act, worse than the Bush administration or no better than the Bush administration.

It documents that every year Clinton has been in office, the number of inspections has been lower than at any point during any prior administration.

“On this Labor Day, as we honor the contributions of U.S. workers, it is time to admit that Clinton’s occupational health policy has been a failure that has left workers dangerously unprotected,” said Dr. Peter Lurie of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

The report also shows the following lax enforcement at OSHA during Clinton’s watch:

  • Shortly after Vice President Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government” program went into effect there was a sudden decrease in several indices of enforcement. Between 1994 and 1995, “Serious, Willful and Repeat” (SWR) violations decreased 51 percent; inspections decreased 35 percent; and the amount penalized decreased 47 percent.

  • The percentage of SWR violations downgraded to non-SWR or dismissed entirely (5 percent; 4,224 in 1998) has been higher under the Clinton administration than under any previous administration.
  • While the Clinton administration may claim that the “efficiency” of inspections has improved, all of the three indices of efficiency examined in the report (ratio of unprogrammed to programmed inspections, number of violations per inspection and average penalty per OSHA inspection) actually had improved during previous Republican administrations and have not improved further under Clinton.
  • Since 1972, there have been 17 health standards enacted under the “final standards” process defined in the OSH Act. The rates of standards promulgated per year by presidents serving at least one full term in office are: Jimmy Carter: 1.5/year, Ronald Reagan: 0.25/year, George Bush: 0.75/year, Bill Clinton: 0.33/year. The Clinton administration has not proposed a single new health standard.

“The data show that Clinton’s ‘Reinventing Government’ program has led to weaker enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which in turn threatens the health and safety of American workers,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

In 1996 the number of confirmed deaths due to occupational injuries was 6,026, approximately one-tenth the estimated number of deaths due to occupational illnesses (60,000 – 70,000). The agency is not paying enough attention to occupational health (as opposed to safety), the report concluded.

The OSH Act was signed into law by President Nixon on Dec. 29, 1970, and created three federal agencies: OSHA (within the Department of Labor); the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission; and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (within the Department of Health and Human Services). It covers the private but not the public sector.