Occupational Health News Roundup

Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a proposed rule that would make public much of the injury and illness data employers are already required to collect. Large employers (those with 250 or more employees) would be required to electronically submit their injury and illness records to OSHA each quarter. In certain industries with high injury and illness rates, establishments with 20 or more employees would have to submit summary data to OSHA on an annual basis. "OSHA plans to eventually post the data online, as encouraged by President Obama's Open Government Initiative," explains the agency's news release.

Sean Hananel of the Associated Press notes that "Congress has resisted calls to increase the agency's authority to impose greater fines. Public disclosure of accident reports could be another way for OSHA to increase pressure on companies to comply with safety rules." Hananel quotes The Pump Handle's Celeste Monforton, who points out that mine operators long had to do this kind of reporting, and "the world did not come to an end" because of it.

OSHA also recently released two new online resources to help reduce workers' exposures to hazardous chemicals. The Transitioning to Safer Chemicals Toolkit offers step-by-step information, methods, tools, and guidance for eliminating harmful workplace chemicals and making informed substitutions of safer products or processes. The Annotated Permissible Exposure Limits (PELS) shows OSHA PELs next to exposure limits required or recommended by other entitites -- the California Divsion of Occupational Safety and Health, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

"There is no question that many of OSHA's chemical standards are not adequately protective," OSHA head David Michaels explained in the news release about these online resources. "I advise employers, who want to ensure that their workplaces are safe, to utilize the occupational exposure limits on these annotated tables, since simply complying with OSHA's antiquated PELs will not guarantee that workers will be safe."

The tools are great for employers who are already motivated to assure safe workplaces, but what about "low road" employers? Matt Shudtz at CPRBlog thinks the online resources can be useful in those cases, too: "With some enterprising work by enforcement officials and strong support from the Solicitor of Labor the tools could be the basis for a new wave of enforcement under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause." For OSHA to cite an employer under the General Duty Clause, the hazard in question needs to be one that's recognized and has a feasible means of abatement. The presence of these online resources can help make the case.

In other news:

Center for Public Integrity: After Chris Hamby's amazing "Breathless and Burdened" Center for Public Integrity series about doctors and lawyers' actions preventing miners from getting black lung benefits came out, Johns Hopkins Medicine suspended its black lung program pending a review. A Center-ABC News investigation found that Hopkins radiologists, especially Dr. Paul Wheeler, have consistently reported not seeing severe black lung disease in miners seeking benefits -- even as other doctors have made that diagnosis for the same miners. Such negative findings can tip the balance and result in suffering miners being denied benefits.

The Salinas Californian: EPA has sent proposed revisions to its worker protection standard to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The EPA regulation addresses how growers protect workers from pesticide exposures, and advocates have been urging the agency to strengthen the standard for several years.

Salon: A new Economic Policy Institute report highlights the many states that have weakened worker protections over the span of just two years. These include 15 states passing restrictions on union collective bargaining or paycheck deductions and four states reducing their child-labor limitations.

Huffington Post: With more than 60% of low-wage workers reporting having some pay illegally held by their employers, wage theft robs workers of an estimated $185 million every year. With inadequate federal enforcement resources, though, the average employer has around a 0.001% chance of being investigated in any one year.

In These Times: A candy factory explosion in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico killed four workers and injured dozens more. (Update, 11/18: The death toll has risen to eight workers.) The Dulces Blueberry maquiladora is associated with the US brand Sunrise Confection, which is a division of Mount Franklin Foods. A week after the explosion, the company hadn't responded to employees families or In These Times.



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