Enforcement and Inspection

Navy Should Avoid Unsafe Shipbuilders, Says Former OSHA Head

David Michaels, PhD, who recently left the top job at OSHA after leading the agency for eight years, has expressed concern to top Navy officials about doing business with dangerous shipbuilders.

Michaels called on the Navy to take action following an investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting. Michaels, who has returned to a faculty position at George Washington University said, “It is unconscionable that Navy contractors that kill workers are performing peacetime work for the government.”

According to the investigation, the Navy and Coast Guard’s seven top private shipbuilders have received more than $100 billion in public funds despite serious safety lapses that have endangered, injured, and killed workers. Shipbuilders would comply with safety regulations if the Navy refused to offer them contracts unless they ensured the protection of their workers, Michaels suggested.

The Center for Investigative Reporting cited the example of one shipbuilder that experienced an explosion that killed two workers and injured five others in 2009. OSHA fined the company, but it paid only a modest penalty compared with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts that followed.

A proposal to require federal contractors to disclose workplace safety violations from the prior three years was considered under the Obama administration, but was rejected by the House of Representatives. The Senate is expected to vote on a similar measure in the near future.