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Agency recommendations threaten Michigan worker safety rules

The full range of legal protections for workers - from workers' compensation claims to personal injury lawsuits and long-term disability benefits claims - is backed up by a set of federal and state workplace safety rules that detail steps employers must take to minimize hazards.

The Michigan Office of Regulatory Reinvention (ORR) recently recommended a long list of changes to Michigan's workplace safety regulations. The list includes 624 alterations to 334 separate rules maintained by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) that provide protections beyond the federal OSHA standards.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has reviewed the ORR's recommendations and directed the agency to work with MIOSHA to implement the changes. The process for compiling the list included input from many stakeholders, including construction companies, pharmaceutical companies, utilities, municipal authorities, manufacturers and unions.

MIOSHA Director Martha Yoder claimed in a press release that the project will eliminate duplicative and obsolete rules, while improving MIOSHA effectiveness by simplifying workplace safety and health systems. The plan also replaces separate state standards commissions for construction safety, industry practices and occupational health.

One clear motivation for the changes is to reduce costs for businesses and supposedly make Michigan more competitive. But such reforms also present the danger of gutting meaningful standards in a headlong race to the bottom, all at the expense of increased injuries to Michigan workers.

Future drastic changes have been proposed, including a Michigan Senate bill that eliminates MIOSHA entirely to rely only on federal standards. As worker safety rules are red-lined, streamlined and undermined, the services of Michigan workers' rights lawyers who protect workers after harm has occurred become increasingly important.

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