By Sally Greenberg, National Consumers League
The Trump Administration is waging war on regulations. The President signed an Executive Order this week demanding that with every new regulation, two must be rescinded. This is one of the most arbitrary and dangerous edicts ever sprung on Americans. We call on Mr. Trump to rethink this reckless Executive Order.
The premise of this edict is that regulations are red tape inflicted on well-intentioned corporations by bureaucrats who have nothing better to do than entangle business in useless red tape. That premise is false. Regulations ensure the safety and health of the public, including consumers of all ages. They provide critical protections for babies, toddlers, adult consumers, and workers; they protect our marshlands, wetlands, and wilderness; keep our air and water clean and healthy; ensure that we respect animals and wildlife, and so much more. To propose a blanket policy of eliminating two for every new one without knowing why is foolhardy.
A case in point: this week, three people testified at a hearing organized by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Bill Nelson, (D-FL), and moderated by Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America. Relatives from two families who had lost a child and another with a near miss caused by dangerously designed products. Regulations are intended to address these gaps.
Think slats in cribs that were so wide that kids heads got caught and they strangled. Not anymore due to regulations. Think regulations requiring child proof caps on bottles of bleach or medicine . Thousands of kids are alive today because of these regulations. The truth of the matter is–regulations save lives.
One of the witnesses at the hearing rescued his daughter from what could have been a fatal accident. Turns out, the company had already had 80+ incidents, but denied there was a problem when the Dad called to report it. A mother told of her infant son’s death due to a supplemental mattress in a portable crib that suffocated him. The Grandfather of a girl strangled by a cord in a window blind – a hazard consumer advocates have been in trying to address for years – is one that has killed too many children. He talked about being pro-life, just like VP Mike Pence, but wondered protecting the kids already here isn’t getting the same attention.
Regulations don’t come out of left field. I’ve read and commented on scores of them. They are vitally important, developed in a thoughtful and deliberative manner under the Administrative Procedures Act; they require open comment periods and are frequently revised based on feedback from industry and consumers. Most require a cost-benefit analysis
The National Consumers League has a long record of advocating for consumer protections on products and in the workplace. Safe design of children’s toys and nursery items, such as cribs and high chairs, keep children and teens from working in the fields, where they are exposed to pesticides, heat, and tobacco poisoning. NCL supported regs to reduce worker exposure to coal or silica, which causes illness and sometimes death. We support the CPSC’s proposal for newly designed table saws that will prevent the 35,000 amputations each year from these devices. New technology can prevent nearly 100% of these excruciating injuries that cause lifelong pain and disability. Why wouldn’t we jump at this chance to have this groundbreaking injury prevention?
Let’s imagine a scenario in which we had no regulations to ensure our air quality. Would American cities become like those in India and China where citizens can’t go outside many days? Or imagine that we had no regulations on water quality. Our children might ingest high levels of lead or chemical runoff, leading to high incidences of cancer, which is exactly what happened to the residents of Woburn, MA because of industrial run off in their water. Rather than repealing these vital regulations, Americans should be grateful that we have a democratic process for keeping our families safe.
Below are examples of but a few regulations that save and protect consumers’ and workers’ lives:
- The Refrigerator Safety Act (1956): This rule required all refrigerator doors to open from the inside to prevent children from being trapped and suffocating inside of them. The number of children suffocating in refrigerators has dwindled to almost none since refrigerators were redesigned under this rule.
- Automatic garage door sensor (1990): A regulation that required garage door sensors preventing children from being entrapped. Since 1982, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had reports of 54 children between the ages of two and 14 who died after becoming entrapped under doors with automatic openers. There have been zero reports of children becoming entrapped under garage doors since this rule went into effect.
- Trunk Release (2001): During July-August 1998, at least 11 American children died in three separate incidents of car trunk entrapment. Many individuals have died entrapped in trunks over the decades. Consumer advocates succeeded in getting florescent yellow trunk releases required in every vehicle model in the years after 1998. Since trunk releases have been installed, advocates haven’t found a single case of death in cars where those releases were put in. The cost of these trunk releases is de minimus.
- Hard hats: An OSHA regulation requires hard hats to be worn in workplaces where there is a potential for injury from falling objects, such as in construction zones or other hazardous locations. There have been many cases in sectors such as industrial, construction, and mining, where hard hats have prevented workers from suffering serious head injuries and sometimes-fatal accidents. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 almost 393 fatal injuries were caused by exposure to falling or flying objects and equipment at workplaces. Hard hats generally cost less than $10 each.
- Rule to reduce miners’ exposure to respirable coal dust (2014): According to data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (also known as black lung) was a cause or contributing factor in the death of more than 76,000 miners since 1968. Caused by breathing unhealthy coal mine dust, this disease has cost more than $45 billion dollars in federal compensation benefits. After the 2014 rule’s enactment, we’ve seen the lowest fatal and injury rates in mining history.
- OSHA rule requiring safety belts and harness working on stored materials in silos, grain bins, or other similar storage areas: Three workers (from Iowa, Michigan, and North Dakota) were killed in 2011 when they were engulfed (buried or trapped) by grain while on the job. In Texas, a fourth worker was also buried in grain, but was rescued and survived. Suffocation from engulfment is a leading cause of death in grain bins and the number of these deaths continues to rise. In fact, the number of deaths more than doubled between 2006 and 2010. These fatalities are preventable if employers follow work practices and provide training and equipment as required by OSHA’s Grain Handling Facilities standard, 29 CFR 1910.272.
Regulations save lives. Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If there are unnecessary regulations, let the President and his cabinet secretaries tell us why and make their case. No one wants unnecessary red tape, but if this Executive Order is an excuse to repeal safety and health protections, that’s not okay, and all Americans – including the most vulnerable consumers – our children – will pay the price.