EHS OutLoud Blog

The Trump Administration's Anti-Regulation Rhetoric Is Putting American Workers and the Environment at Risk

by Russell Carr
Mar 17, 2017

As is well known by now, one of President Donald Trump’s major campaign platforms was his promise to eliminate regulations that “bloat government and kill jobs.” It still remains to be seen how he intends to act on this promise, and how this might impact environmental, health and safety regulations, but his appointees to run the EPA, Scott Pruitt, and original appointee to run the DOL (OSHA), Andrew Puzder, are worrying signs due to their anti-regulation records. (See related blog post, “The New Appointees: What Donald Trump’s Choices for his Cabinet Say to Me.”)

Trump since has appointed Alexander Acosta to run DOL, after Puzder bowed out under pressure, but Acosta’s record on regulation is less clear. Adding to the concerns were last week’s dramatic proposed budget cuts to the EPA, which apparently will negatively impact a wide range of water and air quality regulations, among others.

Regardless of the final “anti-regulation” policies undertaken by the Trump administration, there’s another emerging concern: that the administration’s anti-regulation rhetoric could create a “perception problem” among leadership and management of U.S. businesses that potentially could lead to significant risk for worker health and safety and the environment. This especially is worrying for those businesses operating in high-hazard industries such as manufacturing, construction, energy and industrial services.  

The Trump administration has a responsibility to manage their messaging and ensure that vital environmental, health and safety regulations remain intact or risk a loss of focus and commitment to these issues. If that happens, it almost certainly would lead to unnecessary loss of life and injuries for American workers and damage to the environment and local communities. (See related blog post, “Will The Trump Administration's Regulatory Reform Agenda Include Rollback of EHS Regulations?”)

Why is this perception component so criticial? It’s a well-established fact that management commitment is the key underlying factor in determining the success – or failure – of any environmental, health and safety compliance program. Without this top-down commitment from senior leadership, EHS compliance effectively is doomed to failure. 

Without going into great detail on this subject, it essentially boils down to the fact that EHS compliance is costly and inconvenient for business. Money must be spent on EHS compliance resources (consulting/expertise, training, equipment, testing, engineering and the list goes on), and time and resources must be spent towards implementation and ongoing management efforts. If senior leadership and management don’t accept and understand this reality and do not consistently support compliance efforts despite these barriers, then again, it’s all doomed to failure. 

If senior leadership of impacted U.S. businesses take the Trump administration’s anti-regulation rhetoric to heart and believe that EHS regulations no longer apply, this could create unnecessary risk. This perception problem seriously could undermine the management commitment component that’s so vital to the success of EHS compliance, which ultimately protects worker safety, the environment and local communities.

Impact on Small Businesses

This perception threat becomes even more worrying for small businesses, which make up the vast majority of our economy. 

Big companies typically realize the overall value proposition associated with EHS compliance. For example, they recognize the well-established link between things like quality performance and safety performance (i.e. if you want to improve quality, then start by improving safety), and that U.S. companies lose an estimated $1.4 billion each year to all direct and indirect costs associated with workplace injuries and fatalities.  Those losses include not only regulatory fines and penalties, but civil and even criminal liabilities, legal fees, lost production, retraining of lost employees, reputational and PR damage and increased insurance premiums. 

Small companies aren’t nearly as evolved and resourced as their larger counterparts, and more often than not, are so consumed with surviving from one payroll to the next, that they rarely have the opportunity to address these EHS issue. In other words, even in the best of times, it’s tough to find solid EHS management commitment in small business. Now add to this the perception that EHS compliance no longer is a priority of the federal government, and the resulting risk to employees, the environment and local communities rises dramatically.

What do you get when there’s no commitment to the environment and worker safety? I’ll start with some big international examples, then point out some “big industry” examples and then expand on to how it negatively can impact small business. 

You don’t need to look far to see the smog-infested air of China, the raw sewage-infested waters of Rio during the recent Olympics or the estimated 7,000 construction workers anticipated to be killed or injured by the time the soccer stadiums are built for the upcoming world cup in in Qatar (according to an article in Fortune magazine). These countries and their governments either don’t have EHS regulations in place to control these hazards and threats or don’t enforce the ones they do have, and their leaders either don’t seem to care or don’t have the authority to make positive change. 

I don’t mean to sound overly alarmist and I am not suggesting that the United States is headed that way or doomed to the same fate, but I am saying that it’s a spectrum of risk and a potentially slippery slope of decline if we’re not careful. I think we all can agree that our country is better than that, and that none of us want such an outcome.

If these international examples don’t resonate, then consider the recent North American EHS disasters at West, Texas, when 14 people died when a fertilizer plant exploded; the huge BP gulf oil spill that not only killed 11 workers but created one of the biggest environmental disasters in U.S. history; or the 47 people who were incinerated after a train carrying crude oil exploded in Quebec, Canada last year. Not only did many people needlessly lose their lives, but there was major property damage associated with each of these events. 

These disasters illustrate what can happen when there’s a lack of commitment to managing environmental, health and safety issues in industry. This is what happens when companies lose focus, interest and concern over EHS compliance.   

What’s true for countries and big industry equally is true for small business. As previously stated, small businesses are at higher risk given their common lack of time, resources and expertise needed to manage these issues. 

When it comes to small business, the biggest risks involve worker health and safety (as opposed to environmental damage, for the simple reason that small businesses/manufacturers don’t often create the same potentially devastating environmental risks such as the ones described above). This especially is true in the construction industry, where on average, 937 workers die each year as a result of falls, struck-by’s and electrocutions. The vast majority of these fatalities occur with small “mom-and-pop” construction companies.

So there you have it, really bad things can happen when senior leadership and management lose focus on the importance of managing environmental, health and safety regulations. And that focus depends almost entirely on the management commitment component that we’ve been discussing. This equally is true for countries (ie: governments) as it is for big industry and small business. 

The Trump administration has a responsibility to carefully manage their anti-regulation rhetoric and messaging, while at the same time maintaining a firm commitment to the underlying environmental, health and safety regulations that are managed and mandated by EPA and OSHA, as well as state-level regulatory agencies.  It’s important to remember that these regulations are designed and intended to provide basic underlying preventative and protective measures to help ensure the wellbeing of American workers, our environment and local communities.

These regulations don’t kill jobs, but ignoring them will kill the very workers that Trump has promised to protect and advocate for, and damage their local  communities. The Trump administration must recognize this and act accordingly. 

Russell Carr is an entrepreneur and president of Berg Compliance Solutions, LLC, an environmental, health and safety consulting business located in Austin, TX.  He previously owned and operated three small industrial service companies, each of which operated in extremely dangerous environments that exposed his employees to a wide range of significant health and safety hazards on a regular basis. He learned early and quickly the critical importance of managing EHS issues so as to ensure the well being of his employees, as well as minimizing risks associated with the businesses. He also learned how difficult and challenging managing these issues can be.  These experiences inspired him to found Berg Compliance Solutions, LLC that specializes in helping small manufacturing, construction and industrial services companies manage EHS compliance. Carr has over 18 years of combined RCRA, DOT, OSHA, DOT and TCEQ/EPA compliance experience and has served as an expert witness in environmental enforcement cases. He can be reached at rcarr@bes-corp.com or by calling 512-457-0374. Read other blog posts from Carr.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Mar 23, 2017

Neither regulations nor "Compliance with regulations" makes the workplace safe, and the environment healthy.
The responsibility always falls on the worker, and his commitment to the safe and healthy completion of his duties.
His commitment is most influenced by his supervisor and his commitment to safe and healthy work.
The supervisor's commitment...and so forth, until the CEO is committed.
Compliance is a reaction to an external influence; real safety and health are the result of an internal, sincerely-held commitment to those goals.

on Mar 23, 2017

Make America Polluted Again.

Make Rain Acidic Again.
Make the Santa Barbara Coast Oily again.
Make the Cuyahoga River Catch Fire Again.
Make Beaches Un-swimmable Again

on Mar 31, 2017

Wow, even if the Trump administration killed the EPA, responsible companies will still be caring for the environment and the worker. In your "sky is falling" post and responses, I did not see any posts on how the Obama administration implemented thousands of regulations on business over the years they held office. Did you ever think that if we rolled back some of the strangle hold the EPA has on business, we might get the country working again? No, you would prefer to get on the band wagon of Trump is going to destroy the Earth. I just don't know why intelligent people would not think through the fact that there are enough regulations in place to kill business and put Americans out on the street. Have you ever tried to do some of the reporting required for a Large Quantity Generator? The government has their hands so deep in the pockets of the American Industry that we are being over ran with products from countries that don't follow any of the EPA regulations. If we want to protect the planet, we should not buy products from countries that are major polluters until they clean up their act. This will make a difference and the Trump administration could eliminate the EPA and the US will still be the most regulated country in the world. I can respect your opinion to a point but you have got to realize that the people of the United States will not allow companies to be bad citizens and that is regardless of who is in office. All it takes is social media to call out violators of clean air or water and the American people will stop the pollution with their buying power. Kind of like all the people that won't buy a GM product because they took a bail out and they will buy a Ford because they didn't. The government takes a huge amount of money from business for permits and compliance. Why don't you get some of these facts and then keep track of what the Trump administration gets rid of an what effect it has on the country. I would never vote for anyone that had a plan to leave the world worse off for my grand children and most people reading your magazine or your blog would not either. You write like we are helpless to Trump's every whim. We will still keep our companies from dumping solvents down the drain regardless of the rules. As a professional, I rarely even consult what the rules are, I do what is right for the worker, community, and planet. Stop and think about it, what do we need to survive, air and water? What does a professional fight for everyday, clean air and clean water. I would do this if the EPA never existed and many of the readers out here would do the same. You and the magazine that you work for need additional opinions so that you have both sides of each issue. You need to give American people some credit. Do you really think Trump wants his grand children to inherit a dying planet? I could go on and on about the things that are wrong and Trump has nothing to do with any of it. He has been in office less than a 100 days.

on May 4, 2017

Very Well Said! We ALL want a safe workplace, healthy, happy workers, and clean air and water. This is NOT a one-sided opinion, as this article leads us to believe, as does other media outlets. Your post is about time and it's truly a breath of fresh air!

on May 12, 2017

As a safety professional I tell workers that it is not my responsibility to keep them safe or alive. (read: babysitting)
I provide the information, training, and the PPE.
If one decides to ignore that information and/or refuse to don PPE and they are injured due to their recklessness, I feel no sympathy for them whatsoever.

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