When Californians go to work each day, they have the right to know that they are able to do their jobs as safely as possible. They have not had that assurance ever since Gov. George Deukmejian used his line-item veto back in 1987 to abolish the California Occupational Safety and Health Division within the Department of Industrial Relations. California voters can rectify this dangerous error in judgment and common sense by voting to approve Proposition 97 at the Nov. 8 general election. Proposition 97 would revive the excellent Cal/OSHA program as it applies to private employers and provide for an adequate budget in the future.
Stripped of the state protections, workers had to rely on federal inspection and enforcement of the workplace for safeguards against sloppy safety standards and exposure to toxics and other materials that posed a health hazard. The governor insisted that federal protections would be just as good as the state program had been, and would save the state money.
Given federal budget cutbacks, it is no wonder that there were skeptics. And the facts quickly proved the skeptics to be right. During the first nine months under federal-only workplace protection there were one-third as many inspections as the state made in the same period of time before the state program was axed. Accident and follow-up inspections were only a fraction of the previous state record. On-the-job accidents and death soared, according to Congress' General Accounting Office.
The remnants of the state agency still have jurisdiction over the public work force, and during the same nine-month period, job-related deaths and accidents within its jurisdiction declined, according to the state Senate Office of Research.
A broad coalition of organizations, led by labor unions but also including the California Medical Assn., is supporting Proposition 97. Opposition is virtually non-existent. The opposition to the ballot arguments for Proposition 97 had to be signed by the governor himself and his own appointee to what is left of Cal/OSHA, along with a former president of the state Chamber of Commerce. Most California business leaders know that a strong worker-safety program is in their own interest.
The governor still insists that he is only cutting out government waste and duplication. But the victims of on-the-job accidents in California and their loved ones know that there is no duplication for a strong, California-oriented OSHA program. There can be no scrimping on the health and safety of all Californians. Voters should support Proposition 97 for the restoration of a truly effective safety program.