Hundreds of lives lost while Washington gives lip to common sense safeguards

"crane accident" Six construction workers and a bystander died and 24 suffered injuries when a crane collapsed in New York City on March 15, 2008. Ten days later, a 20-foot crane section in Miami fell 30 stories, killing two construction workers and injuring five. On May 30, another crane fell in New York City, killing two construction workers and injuring a worker and a bystander. All and all, 750 people died due to crane-related accidents over the course of twelve years it has taken to get a simple safeguard ruling passed through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

If you listen to a lot of the talking heads on TV or Congress (pick your poison) — the average person might come to think that agencies like OSHA are the enemy, issuing rules left and right in that awful “big government” style way. This is exactly the kind of lip many corporate executives would love everyone to believe without question. Better yet if you believe what the corporate lobbyists and PR firms get paid the big bucks to push — that big government issuing burdensome safety rules will keep our economy from ever recovering.

For years, corporate interests have tried to paint federal agency employees as unaccountable autocrats who issue burdensome safety rules with little concern for those affected, however, Public Citizen’s research on one relatively uncontroversial rule – one to boost safety for cranes and derricks workers- shows that corporate interests are consulted numerous times and that the process to get a rule passed through many agencies is already cumbersome and lengthy.

Today, as the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affair holds a hearing titled, “Federal Regulation: How Best to Advance the Public Interest?” Public Citizen is releasing a report that details the many steps that OSHA had to take to pass a rule relating to crane safety.

“If ever there was a rule that seemingly should have breezed to adoption, this was it,” said Taylor Lincoln, director of research for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and one of the report’s authors. “Problems with the existing standard were widely acknowledged, the urgency of preventing avoidable deaths and injuries was clear, and the regulated industries were among the loudest advocates for a new standard.”

Despite those factors, the process to revise the cranes and derricks rule spanned a dozen years and three presidential administrations – and more than 750 construction workers died from crane-related incidents during that time. It didn’t help that during President George W. Bush’s tenure, rulemaking virtually ground to a halt because of that administration’s ideological opposition to public safeguards. By OSHA’s most conservative estimate, the new rule would have saved about 220 of those lives had it taken effect in 2000 instead of 2010; the delay meanwhile cost more than $600 million.

Taylor Lincoln said,

The regulatory process repeatedly afforded the concerns of businesses a higher priority than the lives of workers that would be saved by simply completing the rule

Read our report, The Prolonged Creation of Key Public Safety Rule. And, as the so-called “war on regulations” continues on the Hill, stay tuned to the work of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch and our ongoing fight for common sense safeguards.

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