Investigations

In the wake of an investigative report that revealed Kentucky is failing to properly investigate worker fatalities, Democrats are criticizing a silent Bevin administration and calling for changes.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement that Kentucky families “deserve a governor who cares about the safety of our Kentucky workers.”

Kentucky’s worker safety agency failed to properly investigate nearly every worker fatality in a two year period, according to a series published this month by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource and the Center for Public Integrity.

Shortcomings in these investigations, like failing to interview eyewitnesses, not identifying worker safety violations and cutting financial penalties for companies, leave workers at continued risk, according to an audit conducted by federal OSHA.

Beshear echoed a call he made earlier this year for Bevin to reinstate the OSHA standards board he eliminated in July, and called on Gov. Matt Bevin to “direct his Labor Cabinet Secretary to follow the law and properly investigate these injuries and deaths.”

The Kentucky Democratic Party said in a statement that Bevin has “placed corporate greed over worker needs” and should instead shore up workplace safety in Kentucky.

”It is clear that Bevin cares more about a company’s bottom line than the safety of his constituents,” said Democratic spokeswoman Marisa McNee.

A spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky referred questions to the Labor Cabinet.

State Rep. Phillip Pratt, a Republican from Georgetown and the chair of the House Economic Development and Workforce Investment committee, said in a statement that protecting the safety of workers should be a top priority. He said he recently became aware of the problems outlined in the KyCIR investigation.

“[I] plan to do my due diligence in researching and asking questions of our state officials in charge of workplace safety,” said Pratt, a small businessman who owns a lawn care business.

Other members of House and Senate leadership from both parties, including State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Rep. Rocky Adkins, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Labor Cabinet, which oversees Kentucky’s occupational safety and health program, and Bevin won’t comment on the issue, either.

Susan West, a spokesperson for the Labor Cabinet, declined to make state officials available for an interview before the investigation published, and she has not responded to requests for comment in the days since.

Gov. Matt Bevin spoke at the ribbon cutting of a new Appriss location in Jeffersontown on Nov. 19.

In Jeffersontown for a ribbon-cutting on Monday, Bevin ignored a series of questions from a reporter about worker safety. Instead, he praised the tech company Appriss and its new location.

Asked whether he was happy with his Labor Cabinet’s handling of worker fatalities, he responded, “The reason we come and cut ribbons for things like this is to celebrate the fact that a tech company in this town, growing with this kind of success…”

To a follow-up question about keeping workers safe in Kentucky, he said, “I love the fact that we have this capability in this town.”

When asked whether he was concerned about a possible federal takeover of Kentucky’s state OSHA plan, Bevin said he thought the company Appriss had a great future.

He then closed his car door, and his SUV pulled away.

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