Bush Labor Dept. Secretly Writes Rule on Worker Exposure to Toxins
For seven and a half years, the Bush administration has delayed and sometimes just refused to act on workplace safety and health rules that could save lives and prevent serious injuries. Had the administration acted on those stalled rules, it may have prevented the deaths of 13 workers in a Georgia sugar plant explosion in February and the more than a dozen crane accident deaths this year in New York City, Las Vegas, Miami and Houston.
Now, with time running out on the Bush White House, it is fast-tracking a secretly written rule—long sought by the business community—that could increase workers’ exposure to dangerous chemicals and toxic substances on the job and tie the hands of future administrations trying to improve workplace safety.
Says Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO health and safety director:
This is flat-out secrecy. They are trying to essentially change the job safety and health laws and reduce required workplace protections through a midnight regulation.
The Washington Post reports this morning that political appointees in the Department of Labor are behind the drive to rewrite the rule on how to measure risks to workers posed by dangerous workplace chemicals.
The risk assessment proposal, which the Labor Department refuses to make public, also would add an extra step to the rulemaking process for any new rules restricting the amount of chemical and toxic substance exposure to workers—in effect, giving corporations another tool to fight and delay safety regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The extra step would be especially valuable to Big Business under a new, more worker-safety-aggressive administration.
David Michaels, an epidemiologist and workplace safety professor at George Washington University, told the Post:
This is a guarantee to keep any worker safety regulation from every coming out of OSHA. This is being done in secrecy, to be sprung before President Bush leaves office, to cripple the next administration.
In 2006, a similar proposed new risk assessment standard was shot down, the Post reports, when the National Academy of Sciences called it “fatally flawed” and lacking scientific grounding.
The Department of Labor kept secret its plans to revive the rules. According to the Post:
The agency did not disclose the proposal, as required, in public notices of regulatory plans that it filed in December and May. Instead, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao’s intention to push for the rule first surfaced on July 7, when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posted on its Web site that it was reviewing the proposal, identified only by its nine-word title.
Celeste Monforton, who writes for the workplace safety and health blog The Pump Handle, was one of the first to publicize the July 7 announcement. She writes that the proposal is likely the “brainchild” of Chao and her political appointees.
Is this a last-ditch effort to impose their anti-worker, anti-public health philosophy on OSHA and MSHA rulemaking on health hazards?…Whenever the term risk assessment is uttered by the Bush administration, I know they are up to no good.
When the Bush administration’s move to fast track the chemical and toxic substances risk rule became public, its backers tried to defend it, including with the absurd justification that it would protect U.S. jobs.
Diane Furchtgott-Roth, a fellow at the conservative Hudson Foundation, who was also a consultant to the Department of Labor in a $349,000 outside study of the risk assessment rule, wrote in the New York Sun that strong job safety rules send U.S. jobs overseas.
Some OSHA rules have more stringent standards than do American trading partners, with the result that businesses have an incentive to move production offshore. This results in lost jobs for Americans.
By that logic, if more workers are poisoned, we’ll keep and create more jobs. Take it a step further—if today’s already stagnant wages are cut in half, we’ll be in the middle of a new job boom.
The Post also reports that one of the major players in drafting the new rule to increase exposure limits is Deborah Misir, a political appointee and a former “ethics adviser” to President Bush—ponder that for a minute. The Post said:
Typically, before drafting a rule, agency officials consult with staff members, lawyers and outside experts, and sometimes industry and other interested parties. But Misir initially did not consult scientific and workplace-risk-assessment experts in OSHA and the MSHA, according to sources briefed on her work.
The paper also reports that in April, career Labor Department health and safety experts and lawyers objected to both the substance and legality of the proposal and recommended Chao not pursue it. Several weeks later, the proposal did not appear in a public list of rules and regulations that were under review. But drafts were being circulated among a small group of top advisers to Chao, according to the Post.
Meanwhile, dozens of important workplace safety and health rules remain buried in the Bush administration, including crane safety and combustible dust rules along with rules to protect workers from exposure to dangerous substances and chemicals such as silica, which can cause serious respiratory disease; diacetyl, a flavoring additive linked to “popcorn lung”; and beryllium, a light metal that can cause lung damage, especially to metal and dental workers.
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