Sunday, April 28, 2013

Americans Want Tougher Enforcement Of Workplace Safety Laws After Texas Explosion

In the wake of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people, a plurality of Americans say the United States’ current workplace safety regulations are not strict enough to prevent such disasters, according to a new poll from YouGov and the Huffington Post. A majority, though, said tougher enforcement of existing laws would be more effective at preventing future disasters than new laws, the poll found:

According to the new survey, 44 percent of Americans say that current workplace safety regulations are not strict enough, compared to 26 percent who said that they are about right and 7 percent who said they are too strict.

But asked which they thought would do more to prevent another accident like the one in Texas, 52 percent of respondents said that better enforcement of existing regulations would be the most effective, while 18 percent said stricter safety regulations would be more effective.

Indeed, existing laws may have prevented the explosion at West Fertilizer had they been enforced. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hadn’t inspected the plant since 1985, and it slipped through the cracks of at least seven regulatory agencies. Despite fines and citations, it had not improved its handling of dangerous explosive chemicals like ammonia. The plant failed to alert federal regulators that it had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on site, according to records examined by CNN.

Instead of tougher enforcement, however, lawmakers at both the state and federal level have moved to weaken regulatory agencies tasked with preventing such disasters. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has bragged extensively that his state has fewer business regulations than other states, and Texas lawmakers had attempted to weaken the regulatory agency that oversees the plant before the explosion. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in fact, had lost $305 million and 235 employees because of recent budget cuts. At the federal level, 11 lawmakers have led efforts to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s monitoring of dangerous chemical sites like West Fertilizer.

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