House Republicans throw their weight behind an OSHA reform plan that the Labor Department says would cripple the agency. More than 60 co-sponsors backed the Safety and Health Improvement and Regulatory Reform Act of 1995, introduced in the House June 14 by Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC), chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Subcommittee on Work Force Protection.

The bill aims to: merge OSHA with MSHA; establish a standards-setting board within the Labor Department; eliminate NIOSH; expand the role of the Voluntary Protection Program; let employers fix alleged violations before a citation can be issued; and, target half OSHA's funding toward consultation, training, education, and compliance assistance programs.

Labor Secretary Reich says the proposed legislation revokes workers' rights to a safe and healthy workplace. At press time, hearings on the bill were set for June 20 and 28.

NIOSH takes over air-purifying respirator testing and certifying July 10 as 42 CFR part 84 replaces MSHA rule 30 CFR part 11. The new rule upgrades standards for particulate-filter air-purifying respirators commonly used in welding, sanding, grinding and chipping operations.

Respirator classification by hazard type such as dust, mist, and fume will be replaced by three classes based on filters' efficiency in trapping certain laboratory test particulates. Employers have until June 10, 1998 to upgrade respirators to comply with the rule published in the Federal Register June 8.

Few safety and hygiene managers expect the new standard to improve their respirator program, according to a 3M Company survey of 150 professionals conducted in April, 1995. 19 percent expect the new rule to increase their respirator costs; and to require refitting and training of the work force.

Overexertion, being struck by objects, and falls to the same level account for over half of the 2.25 million nonfatal job injuries and illnesses suffered in 1993, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics national survey of work-related injuries and illnesses in private industry.

BLS also reports carpal tunnel injuries, amputations, and fractures lead to lost work days 3 to 5 times the national median of 6 days; and repetitive motion injuries result in the longest absence at a median of 20 days.

Conagra subsidiary Monfort, Inc. pleads guilty to a criminal violation of OSHA's machine guarding standard and agrees to pay a $625,000 fine. A worker was killed at the Grand Island, Neb., beef processing facility in 1990 when his head was crushed by a machine that processes cattle hides.

OSHA proposes nearly $1.4 million in penalties against Lyndhurst, N.J., firm Omega Plastics for alleged safety violations that resulted in injuries including mutilations and amputations. Employees' hands, fingers, and arms were caught in moving or rotating parts while working on unguarded printing presses, resulting in ten serious injuries in a 13-month period. According to OSHA, the company was in possession of the necessary machine guards, but had not installed them.

OSHA cites Tower Systems, Inc. of Watertown, South Dakota, for a willful safety violation following a worker's fatal fall from a communication tower under construction by the firm in Huntsville, Arkansas. The proposed fine amounts to $56,000.

NAFTA hasn't affected worker health and safety for many businesses in Mexico, finds a Liberty Mutual survey of safety, risk and personnel managers from 68 leading Mexican firms and Mexican subsidiaries of U.S. multinationals finds. More than half of those surveyed said NAFTA would not change their emphasis on safety. And 85 percent of survey respondents said their health and safety programs help reduce costs and increase productivity.

Environmental spending and worker safety are up, chemical releases and oil spills are down in the petroleum industry, the American Petroleum Industry reports. An industry performance survey finds that petroleum industry workers are now, on average, less likely to have their health adversely affected by their jobs. Environmental spending in the petroleum industry rose $100 million in 1993.