Concerns Skyrocket Over Supreme Court’s Potential Attack on Workplace Safety

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: Jul 01, 2024

Many analysts have now grown concerned that, thanks to the Supreme Court’s recent Chevron tossing, a challenge to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could be successful.

If the court indeed agrees to hear a challenge to OSHA, many are worried that this could completely destroy what the federal agency has done for workplace safety for the last 50 years.

About OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was first signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon. Since then, the Labor Department has used this law to set up safety standards and workplace procedures to protect all workers around the country.

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Therefore, if workers suffer from falls, electric shock, fires, or being hurt by something while on the job, the Labor Department ensures they are protected.

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Attacks on OSHA

Many conservative and business groups have long tried to go after OSHA, as they have claimed that it interferes with their business. They also don’t believe that the federal government has any right to give unlimited power to an agency when it comes to workplace safety.

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However, all previous attacks on OSHA — particularly those seen in 1978 and 2011 — have failed.

A Conservative Majority in the Supreme Court

However, this current Supreme Court is led by conservative justices who have clearly revealed that they’re not against limiting federal agency powers. As a result, many conservatives feel hopeful that they may finally get to take down OSHA.

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Soon, the court will decide whether it will actually hear a challenge to take on OSHA. If they do, detractors are worried that workplace safety, as mandated by the federal government, could be taken away.

The Chevron Case

These worries come only days after the Supreme Court successfully struck down the Chevron case, which allowed government regulators to have the power to make guidelines on labor and environmental laws, among others.

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The destruction of this 40-year principle has many legal analysts sounding the alarm, as it could completely change the way the country functions.

Shrinking the Government

While many have decried the end of Chevron, many conservatives have applauded the Supreme Court’s decision, as it can help to shrink down the federal government — something that Republicans have long wanted.

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Conservatives have always believed that there should be less government. Now, after this Chevron ruling, they’re hoping to bring an OSHA case forward that could dismantle the federal agency.

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A New OSHA Case

This new OSHA case argues that Congress violated the Constitution with the allowance of the creation of OSHA, which regulates workplace safety, more than 50 years ago.

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Thanks to Congress, OSHA has the legal power to fine companies if they endanger their workers.

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Allstates vs OSHA

Allstates Refractory Contractors is the lead challenger in this case. Represented by Don McGahn, former President Donald Trump’s White House counsel, Allstates is arguing that Congress illegally gave the agency power over all businesses in the U.S.

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This case revolves around a 2019 penalty OSHA gave the company after a catwalk brace fell on a construction worker, leaving them injured. Allstates paid a fine of $5,097 — but then sued OSHA.

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The Appeals Court

So far, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with McGahn’s case. Now, the Supreme Court could decide on it.

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McGahn said, “If there is any case in which the Court should stand up for the principle that Congress, not agencies, must write major rules affecting the American people, this is it.”

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An Unlimited Agency?

Republicans who want OSHA gone have claimed that Congress has given this one federal agency an unlimited amount of power over American businesses.

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Those in favor of OSHA disagree with this assessment, as they claim that OSHA does have limits to its power. It cannot do anything it wants and it must still follow certain guidelines.

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Circuit Judge Rulings

This latest court ruling has shown a divide between liberal and conservative Circuit judges. Circuit Judge Richard Griffin wrote, “So while Congress has conferred significant power to OSHA to oversee large sections of our economy, the discretion conferred by the OSH Act nowhere near approaches the line where the scope of its power is too great for the standard imposed.”

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Meanwhile, Trump appointee Judge John Nalbandian disagreed with this opinion and claimed that Congress gives the Labor Department “nearly unfettered discretion.”

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How This Could Affect Workplace Safety

Those fighting against OSHA have claimed that most of OSHA’s regulations wouldn’t be impacted, as other authorities have power over workplace safety, as well.

The U.S. Supreme Court building seen underneath a cloudy sky.

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However, the Labor Department has explained that many safety standards that protect workers from physical harm in the workplace would fall were the court to rule against them.

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