The Politics of Safety


As a Committeeman, I can see to it that you are paid if a supervisor makes a mistake on the overtime list or get you placed into a job opening that was improperly filled. I should be able to get a shift preference honored, but there are some things I can’t do. As the Safety Representative for Local 974, I can’t help you heal you if you’re hurt at work or help you feel better if you become sick due to exposure to hazardous chemicals. This is why we all need to do our part to keep us safe and healthy by preventing injuries and illnesses in the first place.


Almost every aspect of your work-life health and safety is regulated by laws intended to protect you. I’m sure you’ve heard the jokes about how ridiculous some of the OSHA regulations are or how it is impossible to protect you from every hazard. Best yet, you can’t make a job “idiot-proof”—I agree, because we’re not idiots! We are not idiots unless we accept or believe that there is nothing wrong with the continued erosion of health and safety laws that protect us from day to day.


By the time you read this, the smoke will have begun to clear from the midterm elections. Hopefully, the voters in this country will recognize at last what we’ve known for the last twelve years—everything is politics. We have to face the fact that the politics of safety have turned against us. The Ergonomics Standard was repealed by the President and your Congressmen (and big business). This was the first time ever a safety standard was repealed. There is no OSHA standard for metalworking fluids (MWF) even though coolants have long been recognized to be a source of workplace health hazards. The UAW and the Steelworkers sued OSHA to force the development of a MWF standard only to have it thrown out by an “activist” judge.


Do you realize, due to funding cuts, it would take 111 years for OSHA to do a workplace inspection of every employer in Illinois? You only need to look back to the Sago mine tragedy and all the rest of the tragic mine incidents (they were not accidents) to see the effect of funding cuts. Mining industry officials were put in control of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and look at the results.


This election of 2006 was critical for all of us. I hope the newly elected representatives will work for us, for our best interests and for our safety and health. I hope you weren’t swayed by the usual labels. Conservative, Liberal, Democrat or Republican, we always need to look at what the person we’re voting for has done for us or more importantly, to us, and hold them accountable.


We’re supposed to have a representative form of government and it’s high time they started representing us. Beware of those saying they want to get “big government” off of our backs or those who want to “cut the red tape”, because often times it is the very laws that protect us that are cut. Remember, your vote counts, so please, always vote for candidates that support your right to a safe and healthy workplace.


Steve Mitchell