Workers have a right to expect a safe environment at their places of employment. But apparently Gov. George Deukmejian doesn't think so.
After three years of weakening California's worker safety program the governor is now proposing to dismantle altogether Cal-OSHA, the model state agency that operates in place of the less effective federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In keeping with this skinflint image the "Duke" hopes to save a paltry $8 million of his $39 billion budget by transfering the responsibility of worker safety to the federal government, which presently lacks the resources and manpower to do even a minimally adequate job.
An outraged attorney general, John Van de Kamp, accurately charges "what the governor is proposing is nothing less than a lethal game of buck-passing. It would send a message of indifference bordering on contempt to California's working men and women."
In former Gov. Jerry Brown's last year in office (fiscal year 1981-82) Cal-OSHA completed 1,214 preventive safety inspections. By 1984-85, however, Cal-OSHA conducted only 321 such inspections, a 400% decrease from 1981-82. And in the general building construction industry, which employes more than 140,000 Californians among 15,600 firms, Cal-OSHA in 1985 did only eight safety inspections. That year 10,418 persons employed in this industry suffered injuries, many were permanently maimed, and some were even killed.
In 1983 Deukmejian fired 83 staff members of Cal-OSHA and the following year he ordered a hiring freeze. Overall, in Deukmejian's first term in office work-related injuries increased more than 20% as Cal-OSHA's on-site inspections decreased by 74%.
The governor's anti-worker record is appalling. Not coincidentally, Deukmejian received $8 million in political contributions for his reelection campaign from big business. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that the governor now wants to shut Cal-OSHA's doors for good, despite the overall inferiority of the federal government's worker safety program.
While California, for example, regulates worker safety in oil drilling, logging and the construction industry the federal government offers "little or no protection," reports Van de Kamp. Worse yet, federal authorities have prosecuted just 14 cases in 15 years compared to California's record of more than 200 prosecutions in 10 years. In addition, the federal OSHA can only inspect about 1% of the nation's 5.5 million workplaces each year.
Unless California's labor unions and elected representatives can pressure the governor to reverse his position, California Medical Assn. spokesman Tim Shannon expects "there will be less regulation, less enforcement and probably a higher increase in worker injuries" in the picture.