The Union of Southern Service Workers has lodged a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, claiming the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration has engaged in discrimination by excluding Black workers from the protection of programmed work site inspections.
Attorneys for the union wrote Tuesday that South Carolina OSHA exposed Black workers to an “unacceptable and inequitable risk of injuries and illnesses” by conducting little or no programmed inspections in the food services, general merchandise and warehousing industries, which employ large numbers of Black South Carolina workers.
“While neglecting these industries, SC OSHA has devoted its enforcement resources to industries that employ far fewer Black workers,” the complaint reads. “There is no legitimate justification for this severe racial disparity.”
The union said it conducted an analysis of South Carolina’s OSHA inspections by industry from 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022 – leaving out 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint says South Carolina OSHA does a vast majority of its programmed inspections in the construction and specialty trade contractor industries, which employ “far fewer” Black state residents than the service industries.
“SC OSHA neglects key industries whose workforce is 42% black employees, while focusing the vast majority of its programmed inspections on industries made up of only 18% Black workers” the complaint states.
The union claims the inspection disparity cannot be explained by a difference in the dangers faced by workers in the various industries.
South Carolina is one of 22 states that have state-level OSHA plans that cover the public and private sectors.