Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday that he has reinstated the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, which former Governor Matt Bevin abolished in July 2018.
“This is just one step that we are going to take to make sure that when our Kentuckians leave their family in the morning and head to work, it’s in the safest environment possible and that they know that they’ve got a state government that is looking out for their safety,” Beshear told KyCIR.
The OSH Standards Board is responsible for adopting, modifying or suspending the state’s worker safety regulations. As a state-run OSHA plan, Kentucky’s worker safety regulations must be “as effective as” the federal standards.
The board is chaired by Labor Secretary Larry Roberts. Beshear appointed 12 members, representing industry, agriculture, safety and health and labor.
Bevin abolished the OSH Standards Board through executive order and transferred all of its powers to the labor secretary. Beshear, who was the attorney general at the time, and Senate Democrats called for the board to be reinstated.
The labor secretary at the time, David Dickerson, wrote in a July 2018 letter to Senate Democrats that disbanding the board was “consistent” with Bevin’s agenda “to eliminate ‘business as usual’ in Frankfort, to implement meaningful and reasonable reforms to the size and scope of state government and to serve the people…through more economical and efficient means.”
A November 2018 KyCIR investigation found that Kentucky’s OSHA agency had failed to properly investigate nearly every workplace fatality in a two-year period. Inspectors often failed to interview eyewitnesses, ignored worker safety violations and, in some cases, improperly blamed the deceased employee for the incident.
KyCIR reported that Kentucky was facing potential federal action for these, and other, shortcomings in its state-run OSHA program. When Bevin disbanded the OSH Standards Board, Beshear questioned whether it could violate the state-federal agreement and incite further action from the feds.
Dickerson said it would not.
In the wake of that investigation, the state promised salary raises, additional training and new equipment for inspectors. House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, now senior advisor to Beshear, proposed a bill to reinstate the OSH Standards Board during the 2019 legislative session. It died in committee.
“It’s important to have that board in place,” Adkins told KyCIR in February 2019. “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.”
Donna Ringo, a former member of the board and a safety and health consultant, applauded the reinstatement of the board. She said a board made up of people from different areas of expertise is more valuable than vesting that power in one person.
She said she had been alarmed by some of the deregulation efforts she saw under Bevin, and hopes this is the beginning of Beshear’s efforts to reinvest in worker safety.
“The cost of cleanup of a problem that you ignore is so much more expensive that the cost of regulation,” Ringo said. “It’s always easier to put in place systems and regulations so people don’t get hurt.”