AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Since Trump takeover, less public shaming for companies that put workers at risk

Since President Trump took office, not a single worker killed on the job has been added to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's online death tally.

The last entry on OSHA's worker fatality page was for two men shot to death in an Indianapolis restaurant robbery in early January.

So missing among the dead is Derrick Douglas, 41, a construction worker killed April 25 when a bucket boom lift machine tipped over at Wellington Point Apartments in Cobb County. And Trevor Bryan, 20, a contractor killed April 1 at a Georgia Power plant in Monroe County. And Javier Padraza-Perez, 44, who fell to his death April 4 at Pinewood Studios. And countless others across the country who get killed on the job every day.

The backlog is unusual for OSHA, which in recent years has used its website to publicly shame companies over workplace deaths and injuries. Without the death reports, and with OSHA's press releases turned to fluff, the public can't easily track which companies put their workers at risk.

The new silence points toward what some call the Trump administration's more marshmallowy approach to corporate regulation. Fears abound that under Trump, the federal agency that stands between the working class and Dickensian job conditions will be stifled through a combination of budget cuts, rule rollbacks and a shift in culture.

An OSHA spokeswoman said that's not what's causing the holdup in announcing workplace deaths.

"It probably seems suspicious, but it actually has nothing to do with that," OSHA's Nancy Cleeland said.

Rather, a clerical worker who handled a key step in the posting process retired, then the whole process came to a halt, Cleeland said.

"Because of some staffing issues, there has been a delay in getting those posted," she said. "So there will be some more recent ones posted soon, probably by the end of the week."

OSHA falls under the Department of Labor, whose budget Trump wants to slash by about a fifth. His labor secretary nominee, Alexander Acosta, was confirmed by the Senate last week and hasn't assumed the position yet.

While the spokeswoman attributed the lack of death postings to staffing issues, she said the switchover from Obama to Trump has been the cause of OSHA's noticeable softening on press releases. Click here to see the change in tone from pre- to post-inauguration for press releases from Region 4, which covers the Southeast.

Under Obama, OSHA regularly issued statements about enforcement actions; but for months after Trump took office, they focused on safety events. Since the website doesn't have a database of amputations or other serious injuries, OSHA's press releases offered the best way for the public to monitor employers who flout safety rules.

Finally, in mid-April, enforcement-related news releases started trickling out again. OSHA admonished a drain service company for a trench collapse that killed two workers in Boston, proposing nearly $1.5 million in fines and pointing out that the company had already been fined twice in the past for trench-related hazards. The company's owner faces criminal charges.

"We used to issue a lot of press releases on cases, on inspections and citations that we issued," Cleeland said. "And after Jan. 20, we almost completely stopped doing that, because that was a policy of the prior administration and, I think they just wanted to put a hold on things and see what the new administration wanted to do."

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