OSHA Protecting Industry, Not Workers

Under the Bush Administration, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in its history. It has only imposed one major safety rule. The only significant health standard OSHA has issued in recent years was ordered by a federal court. The cold hard fact is that OSHA is being run by political appointees with strong ties to industry.

One of George Bush’s first acts in office was to repeal the OSHA ergonomics standard. This standard was intended to reduce repetitive work injuries. Big business had lobbied against the ergonomics standard, alleging that it would cost $100 billion to carry out.

The current OSHA chief, Edwin G. Foulke, is a former Republican Party state chairman, top fundraiser, and a former anti-union legal consultant. One of Mr. Foulke’s early speeches as OSHA chief was titled “Adults Do the Darndest Things.” The speech alleged that many work injuries were due to worker carelessness. He described “safety and health bloopers that are both humorous and horrible.” The entire speech, and Mr. Foulke’s “horrible and humorous” visual aids are available at the following website: http://tinyurl.com/2myaup.

Even more disturbing is the lack of action on OSHA’s part regarding diacetyl and a condition commonly called “popcorn lung.” As early as 1996, there was an increasing linkage between diacetyl work exposure and a potentially fatal lung condition. After an increasing number of workers at a Jasper, Missouri popcorn plant became ill, NIOSH, another federal, occupational health agency, linked diacetyl work exposure and lung disease. OSHA, however, did very little. Rather than do a complete site inspection, OSHA did not test the air at the Jasper plant, stating that air testing had been performed four years earlier by an insurance company. The case was closed.

Even after a legal action was filed with OSHA, the agency claimed it could do nothing because there was no OSHA safety standard for diacetyl. In July, 2006, the UFCW and Teamsters petitioned OSHA for an emergency standard regarding diacetyl. Congressional hearings were held on April 27, 2007 about OSHA’s lack of a diacetyl and other standards. Mr. Foulke’s testimony can be viewed at: http://tinyurl.com/3dnfhj. To date, no standard has been issued, and countless workers are still being exposed to a potentially dangerous chemical.

Working people cannot be complacent about their legal rights. Even though workplace injuries and deaths have decreased over the years, the need for strong legal protections still remains. OSHA’s inactivity is a reminder that we must be diligent. Neither workers nor industry benefit if our workforce is sick, injured, and unproductive.

Fortunately, Congressional oversight over OSHA has increased. It is important to keep worker safety on our lawmakers’ minds; contact your state and federal elected officials and voice your opinions.

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