Is Trump gutting on-the-job protections?

Executive Summary

While much of President Trump’s agenda has stalled in Congress and the courts, he has made substantial progress fulfilling one campaign promise: to undo much of his predecessor’s regulatory legacy, especially in the area of occupational health and safety. The Trump administration has delayed, postponed or repealed dozens of regulations in this area, and has indicated that more actions are on the way. The administration, and much of the business community, call the deregulation drive a long-overdue move to eliminate rules that they say stifle competition, hamper economic growth and kill jobs. Critics counter that Trump’s moves represent a frontal assault on workers’ health and safety, and are preparing to fight the administration in court.

Among the key takeaways:

  • The rolled-back rules include measures regulating exposure to potentially hazardous substances such as beryllium, crystalline silica and combustible dust.

  • Republican lawmakers have made use of a previously obscure law called the Congressional Review Act to repeal regulations enacted under President Barack Obama.

  • The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget calls for deep cuts in spending on chemical plant accident investigations and safety training for workers in high-risk industries.

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Resources for Further Study



Balmert, Paul, “Alive and Well at the End of the Day: The Supervisor’s Guide to Managing Safety in Operations,” Wiley, 2010. A workers safety consultant details strategies and tactics learned over his 30-year career in the chemical industry.

Reese, Charles D., “Occupational Health and Safety Management: A Practical Approach,” Third Edition, CRC Press, 2015. An occupational health and safety expert explains how managers can provide safe workplaces that comply with federal rules.


Biesecker, Michael, “Dow Chemical tries to kill pesticide-risk study,” The Associated Press/The Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 2017, After helping finance Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration festivities, Dow Chemical urged his administration to ignore government studies showing a Dow-manufactured pesticide harmed children. Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, later reversed an Obama administration decision to ban the pesticide

Eilperin, Juliet, “OSHA suspends rule requiring firms report injury and illness data electronically,” The Washington Post, May 17, 2017, A reporter looks at one of the Trump administration’s decisions to relax safety standards for businesses.

Grabell, Michael, and Howard Berkes, “The Demolition of Workers’ Comp,” ProPublica, March 4, 2015, A ProPublica reporter (Grabell) and a correspondent for National Public Radio (Berkes) say states have slashed workers’ compensation benefits over the past decade, “with disastrous consequences” for employees hurt on the job.

Higgins, Sean, “Trump is dismantling Obama’s workplace law legacy,” The Washington Examiner, July 9, 2017, A journalist summarizes President Trump’s actions to undo Obama-era occupational safety regulations.

Jamieson, Dave, “Trump Signs Bill Making It Easier For Employers To Hide Workplace Injuries,” Huffington Post, April 4, 2017, President Trump signs legislation repealing an Obama-era regulation that had helped the Occupational Safety and Health Administration catch employers who failed to report workplace injuries.

Kindy, Kimberly, “Senate votes to kill worker safety rule aimed at federal contractors,” The Washington Post, March 6, 2017, A Senate vote sets up repeal of a regulation denying federal contracts to companies cited by the government for worker safety violations.

Levine, Marianne, “The regulation that took more than four decades to finalize,” Politico, March 23, 2016, A story chronicles why it took the government so long to develop a safety standard for crystalline silica dust, a carcinogen linked to a wide variety of lung diseases.

Meier, Barry, and Danielle Ivory, “Under Trump, Worker Protections Are Viewed with New Skepticism,” The New York Times, June 5, 2017, Two journalists look at the many steps the Trump administration has taken to dismantle worker health and safety regulations.

Meier, Barry, “OSHA to Roll Back Rules on Toxic Mineral at Construction Sites,” The New York Times, June 23, 2017, The Trump administration announces it will roll back safety standards for the toxic metal beryllium.

Restuccia, Andrew, “White House trumpets early success in wiping out regulations,” Politico, July 19, 2017, The Trump administration summarizes its progress reversing President Obama’s regulatory legacy.

Reports and Studies

“Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2017,” AFL-CIO, April 26, 2017, The labor federation issues its 26th annual report on safety and health protections for U.S. workers.

“Delay of Enforcement of the Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction under 29 CFR 1926.1153,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration memorandum, April 6, 2017, OSHA explains its decision to delay enforcement of crystalline silica exposure standards for the construction industry.

“Holding US Back: Regulation of the U.S. Manufacturing Sector,” Pareto Policy Solutions report to the National Association of Manufacturers, undated, A policy analysis firm details how regulations have harmed U.S. manufacturing companies.

“Materion Corporation and United Steelworkers Applaud Proposed OSHA Standard for Beryllium,” press release, Materion Corp., Aug. 6, 2015, The country’s largest producer of beryllium touts its agreement with the United Steelworkers union on a proposed exposure standard for the toxic metal.

“Occupational Exposure: Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds in Construction and Shipyard Sectors,”, June 27, 2017, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration explains its proposal to partially revoke Obama administration rules on beryllium exposure for certain workers.

“Small Business Impact: Ronald Myers, Hot Shot Equipment Company,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, undated, Chamber officials use the story of a defunct Arizona fence company to show what businesses have to fear from overregulation.

The Next Step

Company Practices

Caskey, Judson, and N. Bugra Ozel, “Research: Workplace Injuries Are More Common When Companies Face Earnings Pressure,” Harvard Business Review, May 18, 2017, A new study found that worker injury and illness rates are 5 to 15 percent higher during periods when a firm meets or just beats earnings expectations, because of higher workloads and cuts to safety-related expenditures.

DePass, Dee, “Minnesota companies put safety as a top priority,” Star Tribune, Feb. 4, 2017, Many small Minnesota companies have taken advantage of government and industry programs, such as free consultations and $10,000 safety grants, to reduce the number of workplace injuries.

Lasco, Kate, and Mike Wallace, “The corporate case for a healthy workforce,” GreenBiz, March 1, 2017, Professionals in the field of occupational safety and health are recognizing that worker health and safety are related to a company’s financial performance.

Global Regulation

Bain, Marc, “The international effort to fix Bangladesh’s deadly factories has a basic math problem,” Quartz, July 5, 2017, Disagreements over where financial responsibility lies for improving industry safety standards in Bangladesh have slowed international efforts to make the upgrades.

Taylor, Ed, “Brazil: Labor Reform Signed into Law, Opposition Remains,” Bloomberg BNA, July 20, 2017, Despite opposition, Brazilian President Michel Temer signed into law a labor reform measure that among other things protects pregnant women’s health in work environments.

Yip, Paul, “Hong Kong regulator must come down hard on firms that put profit before worker safety,” South China Morning Post, April 9, 2017, Hong Kong should heavily penalize companies that fail to comply with safety standards, argues Paul Yip, a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong.


815 16th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20006
The nation’s largest federation of unions, representing more than 12 million active and retired workers. Its annual reports provide useful data on deaths and injuries on the job, as well as state and federal penalties for violations of worker safety regulations.

Center for Economic and Policy Research
1611 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20009
Economic policy think tank that works to increase public understanding of major domestic and international economic issues. Its Revolving Door Project tracks the connection between political candidates and corporate contributions.

Economic Policy Institute
1225 I St, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005
Think tank that works to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions.

Institution of Occupational Safety and Health
The Grange, Highfield Drive, Wigston, Leicestershire, LE18, 1NN, United Kingdom
+44 (0) 116 257 3100
British organization that calls itself the world’s leading advocate for health and safety in the workplace. It runs training courses, petitions governments, provides online forums and conducts campaigns to promote awareness of the issue.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20210
Labor Department agency that works to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

Public Citizen
1600 20th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20009
Progressive think tank and consumer rights lobbying group that advocates strong government regulation, particularly in transportation and health care.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
1615 H Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20062-2000
World’s largest business lobbying organization, representing more than 3 million companies of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680328.n1