Hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ unexpected request on Thursday for lawmakers to return to Tallahassee and pass laws against vaccination warrants, Florida’s top GOP lawmakers had their own surprise.
Florida should withdraw from direct federal oversight by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, they said. The proposal was a reaction to President Joe Biden’s administration announcement of a rule, to be enforced by that agency, that private companies with 100 or more employees must require their employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo weekly tests.
Instead of submitting directly to federal regulation, Florida would create its own workforce safety program – an idea that could cost millions and make the state the first to step out of direct oversight of the workforce. OSHA in nearly 40 years.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, wrote in a joint statement that the federal agency’s regulations are “onerous” and that a The state could “lighten up” employers and state employees.
Simpson has a history with these regulations. The environmental cleaning company he owned was fined $ 18,000 by the agency after a worker fell and died in 2014.
The roofing company owned by another top GOP senator, Keith Perry of Gainesville, was fined nearly $ 50,000 for six incidents between 2011 and 2017, including two in which employees fell and were injured. been hospitalized for serious injuries. The fines were then reduced to just over $ 21,000.
State lawmakers had not offered to leave the federal agency until Thursday, within hours of DeSantis calling for a special legislative session.
Florida’s conservative leaders have bristled at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new rule. Attorney General Ashley Moody and DeSantis have said they plan to fight him in court.
But Simpson and Sprowls took DeSantis’ ideas a step further, proposing to exempt Florida from OSHA oversight and create a state labor agency instead.
“Unfortunately, [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] is now militarized by the Biden administration not to protect workers, but to institute an illegal and unconstitutional nationwide vaccine mandate that robs the American people of the dignity of work, âSimpson said in a statement Friday. “If Florida withdraws from [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration], our state plan would certainly maintain or exceed the current safety standards that currently protect our state’s employees and employers.
Former OSHA officials say Florida’s training in its own program would do little to reduce the burden supposedly caused by federal regulations – for two reasons.
First, any state program would still have to be approved by the federal government. Second, as Simpson noted, the agency’s rules state that the program should “be at least as effective” as federal workplace standards.
“You won’t get very far if you tell federal authorities that you are going to adopt a state OSHA plan so that you don’t have to adopt federal OSHA standards,” said Jordan Barab, who was deputy assistant secretary. . work at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2009 to 2017. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Under agency rules, states are allowed to form their own worker safety programs. Twenty-one states and Puerto Rico have programs protecting workers in the private and public sectors. The most recent of these plans to be certified was that of New Mexico, in 1984. Six other states have plans covering only public sector employees, but they rely on OSHA’s federal regulators for the private sector. .
Currently, Florida’s private sector is regulated by the federal government, and state and local government employees have no workplace regulations, Barab noted. This means that whatever type of plan Simpson and Sprowls submit to the federal government, more workplaces in Florida would be subject to regulations.
Debbie Berkowitz, another former senior OSHA official during President Barack Obama’s administration, said some states with their own workforce programs enforce regulations more lax than federal inspectors. But even these states must maintain a certain level of enforcement, otherwise the federal government can intervene.
âIf you decide you want to operate in a world where employers can do whatever they want to workersâ¦ you won’t get that with a state plan,â Berkowitz said.
A more relaxed regulatory environment could be what Simpson and Sprowls ultimately want from a potential program in Florida. But even if a state proposal gets federal approval, that process would take years. California, for example, waited four years between the initial approval of its plan and its certification. In addition, Florida is expected to create a new agency dedicated to enforcing standards, which would cost taxpayers millions each year.
In a statement released Friday, Sprowls said any state program “will reflect our state’s values ââwhile upholding worker safety standards.”
It’s not clear that federal regulations in Florida are that onerous. A 2021 report from the AFL-CIO union showed Florida had the fewest inspectors per worker in the country. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration only had one inspector for 164,520 workers, the union reported.
Sometimes the federal government misses major workplace hazards in Florida. A 2021 series of articles published in the Tampa Bay Times highlighted how OSHA failed to detect serious problems at a lead smelter in Tampa. It was only after the Times series detailed numerous worker safety risks that federal regulators conducted a thorough investigation into the plant. Ultimately, the company that owns the plant, Gopher Resource, was fined more than $ 319,000 by the agency.
Simpson’s asbestos cleaning company, Simpson Environmental Services, was fined $ 25,200 after a worker fell on the job and later died in 2014.
According to security administration records available online, the worker was scraping the asbestos and removing the fire retardant material from the beams when the person fell. The worker was taken to hospital and died of a head injury six days later.
The fine against Simpson Environmental Services was then reduced to $ 18,270. The four infractions listed online include the lack of scaffolding guardrails that could prevent a fall.
Simpson has since sold the company and he has not been able to discuss the matter, spokeswoman Katie Betta said. Betta added that Simpson has owned numerous businesses over the years and that they have an “impeccable safety record.”
“As a business owner for over 30 years, I have always respected and relied on the right role [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] plays in occupational safety oversight, âSimpson said in a statement.
Perry, who introduced two bills against the mask and vaccine warrants on Thursday, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The roofing company he owns has been cited by OSHA six times since 2011, including twice after workers fell and were seriously injured.
In 2017, an employee working on the roof of a two-story residential building fell while carrying roofing materials, according to the agency’s website. The rope portion of his fall protection system was too long and he fell 21 feet. He was rushed to hospital and treated for a fractured back vertebrae. The company was initially fined $ 5,926 for not reporting the incident within 24 hours, but was later reduced to $ 0.
Later that year, an employee stood on the roof of a three-story building on old shingles and debris, throwing the materials into a trash can, according to the agency’s website. As the materials he was standing on shifted, the employee fell 25 feet and was taken to hospital with a fractured pelvis, dislocation of his left wrist and torn tendons in his left hand.
The company was fined $ 18,108 for failing to implement a fall protection system, which was later reduced to $ 9,054.
Herald / Times Tallahassee bureau chief, Mary Ellen Klas, contributed to this report.
This story was originally published 22 October 2021 7:06 pm.