Navigating the Legislative Process in Austin for Teen Workplace Safety
I grew up in Texas, so Austin is familiar. I stayed at a hotel right off South Congress Avenue, about six blocks away from the Capitol. I woke an hour earlier than I would otherwise so I could go over my notes again – Mark Ames from AIHA government relations had prepared a draft of my written testimony, and then I worked to put it into my own words.
The Texas State Legislature only meets for a handful of months on odd numbered years, so things move fast. Such was the case with the legislation I’ve been working on – House Bill 2010, which would help teach teens about workplace safety. In early May I was there to testify before the House Committee on Public Education, which considered and successfully advanced the bill. I quickly found myself back to address the Senate Committee. Since so little time had passed, the major points of my testimony were still fresh. And the written comments were short, too – you only get a couple of minutes to make your point.
You start by introducing yourself…Good morning to the committee…My name is Steven Lacey, I am the President of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, and I am here to support House Bill 2010…Thank you for letting me address workplace health and safety training for young people…
I went on to describe AIHA – that our members keep people from getting sick, injured, or killed at work; that we help drive the economy by ensuring a healthy work force; and that we have a strong Local Section presence across Texas. Then I explained how teens are twice as likely as adults to be injured at work, that these injuries can permanently damage kids and their families, cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars each year, and that they are all preventable. I explained our partnership with NIOSH to build content that is free and easy to use – our Safety Matters program. Judging by the head nods of the committee members, it seemed my message was well-received.
After you give your remarks, there is time for comments and questions from the committee. The Vice-Chairman wondered aloud, "How have we not done this earlier?"
I received a little polite but clear pushback from one of the committee members – he had a very legitimate concern about how much time it would take away from reading, writing, and mathematics. Since what we were advocating for is scalable from a single one-hour module to a series of modules, I think my response satisfied him. He then went on to ask, “Isn’t this the employer’s responsibility?”, which gave me a chance to say something I didn’t have time for in my prepared comments. I responded, “Of course it is. But if you really want to look to upstream prevention, we need to start this conversation earlier. This lets us do that. Someone shouldn’t be first hearing about workplace health and safety for the first time from one of our members when they are showing up to a jobsite. And what we are doing right now obviously isn’t cutting it, or we wouldn’t have 60,000 teenagers going to the emergency room each year with workplace injuries.”
I worried I came across a little defensive…or too assertive? But in an exchange of words like this, if someone starts to take you away from your point, you’ve got to politely be even more clear.
And that was it. I followed up with one of the Senator’s staff members the next day, just to make sure they didn’t need anything from me. It was very near the end of the legislative session, so these folks had a lot of additional important things to get done besides our request, but the outlook seemed positive. A bit later the Senate passed the bill, sending it to the Governor, who signed it into law last Friday as I was leaving AIHce in Seattle.
I will admit to you that I loved doing this. Industrial hygienists (myself included) get super focused on technical solutions to problems, but that is usually only half of the equation. Advocacy and policy are the other half.
And do you know how my trip to Texas even came about? With one member. AIHA member Linda Bridges knew we needed local leaders to get this done, so she strolled across the street to her neighbor’s house – a State Representative – and pitched the idea. These guys want to hear about good ideas. If you aren’t neighbors with your Rep, you are probably two connecting points away through friends and colleagues – just ask around a bit.