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Labor Secretary Solis comes out swinging on OSHA standards front (4/30)

April 29, 2009
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Who says OSHA needs a full-time administrator, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, to steer the agency? Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is taking it upon herself to be the kind of job safety activist the Labor Department has not seen in years, if not decades.

Solis is set to announce the Labor Department is moving forward to develop two new major workplace safety rules to protect workers from combustible dust explosions — such as the one that killed 13 workers at a Georgia sugar plant last year—and from a dangerous chemical that causes “popcorn lung,” sources tell ISHN.

Final rules would probably see the light of day in 2011, according to sources.

According to an AFL-CIO safety blog, these new rules “mark a major departure from the Bush Department of Labor’s refusal to address serious workplace safety issues.

“For eight years, the Bush administration failed to take action to address major safety and health problems. Many [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] OSHA and [Mine Safety and Health Administration] MSHA rules were withdrawn or blocked.

Dangerous levels of combustible sugar dust at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., fueled the Feb. 7, 2008, blast that killed 13 workers and seriously injured dozens of others.

More than 130 workers have been killed and hundreds more seriously injured in combustible explosions in the United States since 1980. In 2006, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) urged OSHA to adopt combustible dust standards. But the Bush administration’s OSHA did not move on a rule to set dust level standards, according to the AFL-CIO. The new rule is expected to set those standards.

Diacetyl is the chemical flavoring additive in microwave popcorn that causes a severe and sometimes fatal lung disease known as “popcorn lung” and other respiratory illnesses, according to the AFL-CIO.

The Bush administration’s OSHA refused in September 2007 to issue an emergency standard setting diacetyl exposure limits for workers. In a last-minute move before leaving office, the Bush administration used a procedure known as an advance notice of proposed rule that could have added two years to the diacetyl standard-setting process, according to the union.

In March, OSHA announced it was withdrawing the Bush order and fast-tracking a diacetyl standard.

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