Opinion: Safety regulations should be lawfully promoted

Jeff Wiggins

As the hardworking men and women of Michigan’s construction industry return to job sites across the state, the health and safety of their workplaces is top priority.

Construction workers get jobsite safety. They live it. They breathe it. It’s why they helped pioneer healthy and safe changes to worksites in the midst of the COVID-19 public health crisis, helping blaze a trail for other workers in other industries.

Of course, for any skilled trade worker to make a living, regulatory certainty matters, too. Unfortunately, while professionals in the construction industry were pioneering new healthy workplace changes, their regulatory certainty was threatened last month by an unclear and improper pair of executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

In short, the governor decided, via executive order and in direct conflict with multiple state laws, that she could issue any workplace requirement she deemed necessary without notice or input, and that she could unilaterally change the penalty for violating those requirements, even if they were unclear or unrelated to worker safety. 

Under her rules, anyone in the state — even a competitor or disgruntled former employee — could file an anonymous complaint with the state alleging a worksite wasn’t following a COVID-19 health order — any order, however minor, unclear, or unsubstantiated. This only served to muddy the water on the clarity of enforcement, as all other executive order’s are enforced by local law enforcement. 

That’s why the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan joined with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and DJ Landscape Management to file suit in the Michigan Court of Claims, in an effort to defend small businesses and the hardworking men and women they employ in communities across our state.

The arguments we made were quite clear and in support of stability and the rule of law. Any governor, regardless of the situation, should not be allowed to arbitrarily pick and choose how to implement and enforce rules and regulations on Michigan citizens and businesses, especially when there are relevant laws already in place to do precisely that. The lawsuit sought to require the governor to follow existing laws, including the plain text of any applicable laws from which she was attempting to derive authority and enforcement measures.

The Michigan judiciary has now spoken, and it agreed. 

More:Judge: Penalties in Whitmer's workplace safety orders excessive

In a landmark decision this week, the Court of Claims Court ruled that the governor overstepped her authority when she attempted to circumvent the important rule-making procedures for Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration standards that have existed for decades. In the ruling, Judge Christopher Murray struck down these enforcement provisions as “plainly outside the Governor’s authority.” 

As this crisis has developed, ABC and other construction industry leaders took immediate action, pursuing necessary changes and upgrades for all safety protocols, as construction job sites were deemed essential and part of our critical infrastructure in many states across the country. 

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition, comprised of more than 25 construction industry trade associations, set out to create a template plan utilizing the most current information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on the COVID-19 virus. The template provided and continues to provide a comprehensive layout for businesses regarding exposure prevention, preparedness, and response.

Safety was, is, and always will be priority number one. ABC welcomes ways to promote and implement best practices on job sites across our state. Regulatory certainty matters, though, too.

It just needs to be done according to the law.

Jeff Wiggins is the state director for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan.