Investigations Politics

Democratic legislators have proposed reinstating a worker safety standards board that Gov. Matt Bevin disbanded last year.

House Bill 322 would restore the OSHA Standards Board and require it to meet more frequently. House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins is spearheading the bill, which the rest of the house Democratic caucus is supporting as additional sponsors.

Courtesy LRC Public Information

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook

“It’s important to have that board in place,” said Adkins. “I think it sends a strong message across Kentucky that we are here for a safe workplace, we demand it and it’s a priority.”

As a state-run OSHA program, Kentucky’s worker safety standards must be “at least as effective” as those adopted by the federal government. The OSHA Standards Board adopted, modified and eliminated worker safety rules to keep the state compliant with federal standards.

The 12-member board was chaired by the Labor secretary and had representatives from industry, labor, agriculture and safety and health.

Bevin disbanded the board in July and transferred all the powers to the Labor Secretary as part of his “red tape reduction” initiative. Attorney General Andy Beshear called on Democratic lawmakers to push to reinstate the board.

Both Beshear and Adkins are seeking the Democratic nomination for governor to oppose Bevin.

After legislators asked Bevin for reinstatement, Acting Labor Secretary David Dickerson responded on Bevin’s behalf and declined.

Dickerson wrote in a letter to Democratic leaders that the board met too infrequently to quickly adopt and modify standards. The Labor secretary already had the power to adopt standards when necessary to meet federal deadlines.

“With the overwhelming majority of OSH regulations in the past decade coming on the heels of federal action, there appears to be no real need to have the board,” Dickerson wrote.

Neither the Labor Cabinet nor Bevin’s office responded to requests for comment.

The new bill, filed Tuesday, would require the board to meet quarterly to approve, modify and eliminate worker safety standards.

This is the first legislative action since a scathing federal audit of Kentucky’s worker safety program. The audit was first publicized in a joint investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource and the Center for Public Integrity.

The audit found that Kentucky had failed to properly investigate nearly every workplace fatality in a two-year period. Inspectors often failed to interview eyewitnesses, missed worker safety violations or improperly blamed employees for their own deaths.

The Labor Cabinet has promised reforms, including salary raises, additional training and new equipment for inspectors, in the wake of that investigation.

The Labor Cabinet has not responded to KyCIR requests for information about how much salaries have increased, although a press release said they went into effect Feb. 1.

Dickerson has also petitioned legislators for help, though not with the OSHA Standards Board. Last week, he asked that they consider disbanding the Labor Cabinet and merging its functions with the Public Protection Cabinet.

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eklibanoff@kycir.org or (502) 814.6544.

Eleanor Klibanoff covered Rust Belt decline and revival in Pennsylvania. She also worked for NPR and attended the George Washington University.