US work safety chief calls for good safe green jobs

WORKPLACE REVOLUTION David Michaels says the assumption that green jobs are necessarily good jobs is an unsafe one.

WORKPLACE REVOLUTION David Michaels says the assumption that green jobs are necessarily good jobs is an unsafe one.

The newly installed leader of the US government’s workplace safety watchdog has made his first public act a call for green jobs to be good, safe jobs.

On 9 December 2009 David Michaels was  confirmed as the Obama administration’s Assistant Secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health.

The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) told a ‘Going green’ workshop, run by the US government’s workplace health research arm NIOSH on 16 December 2009, it was “very fitting and proper that my first speech as Assistant Secretary should address the issue of green jobs – what green jobs mean for the earth, for our economy and for American workers.”

He said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis “has provided the Department of Labor with her vision, which is simply and profoundly: ‘Good jobs for everyone.’ And everyone at this conference understands all too well that green jobs cannot be good jobs unless they are safe jobs.”

Michaels acknowledged the many voices supporting a “green revolution” to reform the economy, but warned: “Employers who race into this green economy without paying attention to worker safety will blunder into many preventable injuries and deaths. We can’t afford this. We can’t allow this to happen.”

Instead, he outlined his plan to ensure workplace safety is an integral part of the new greener economy. “It is vital, now, that we integrate worker safety and health concerns into green manufacturing, green construction and green energy,” he told the NIOSH workshop.

“Most importantly: We must push worker health and safety as a critical, necessary, and recognized element of green design, green lifecycle analysis and green contracts.

“It’s not a matter of choosing either a green future or safe jobs. It’s both. It’s all or nothing, and NIOSH, OSHA and everyone else needs to play a role in building this sustainable economy – an economy that will provide sufficient jobs, green jobs, and jobs that are safe for all workers.”

Workers should not be overlooked when planning safer, green ways of working, he added, saying this was OSHA’s ‘Green Reform Principle Number One.’
“Clearly one of the best ways to move forward on worker safety at the same time that we move forward on green jobs is to ensure that workers are more engaged in the work process and in the development of green jobs,” he told workshop delegates.

“It’s clear that we must move toward a permanent system where employers and workers come together, on a basis of mutual respect, to assess and abate hazards.”

His action list of five ‘green reform principles’ also included ditching the assumption that chemicals are “considered innocent until proven guilty – and all too often proven guilty by the sick and dead bodies of American workers.”

Third on the reform principles list comes ‘prevention through design’, an approach that “is about fundamental change that integrates safety efficiently and thoroughly.”

Listed at four is decent standards – something that had been neglected under the Bush administration, when rule making ground to a dangerous halt.

And green reform principle number five comes full circulate to the workers’ facing the risks: Enhancing workers’ voice in the workplace.

“To get us up to date and move into a safer, healthier future, it’s also clear that workers must have a stronger voice in workplace safety than they have now,” said Michaels. “Giving that voice impact and value means that workers must have much better information about their rights, the hazards they face and controls for those hazards.”

He concluded: “The challenge now is to get everyone else on board across the nation. We need to make the expression ‘green jobs’ synonymous with ‘safe jobs’ – because green jobs are good jobs only when they are safe jobs.”




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