White House throws OSHA under the bus, says activist blogger (2/18)
February 18, 2011
“It's a sad day when OSHA becomes the whipping boy for a Democratic Administration” writes Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH, a professorial lecturer at the George Washington University School of Public Health's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and former colleague of OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels, in her blog posted on “The Pump Handle.”
Monforton is referring specifically to two OSHA proposals that she says have been a target for months of the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and other industry lobbyists. “But that didn't stop the White House from bowing to business,” she writes..
One proposal withdrawn was OSHA's revision to its existing injury recording requirements. The Labor Department has been working on a proposal to get better data on work-related musculoskeletal disorders like tendinitis, low back pain, carpet layers knee, trigger finger, and carpal tunnel syndrome, according to Monforton. OSHA proposed a simple revision to its paper form---called the OSHA 300 log---on which just a fraction of U.S. employers are required to record work-related injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects a sample of these forms annually to estimate national rates of work-related injuries.
“The OSHA proposal would not have changed existing requirements for when or under what circumstances employers record injuries or illness on the logs. (The OIRA chief got it wrong when he said ‘the Department of Labor has withdrawn its rule requiring reporting of musculoskeletal disorders.’ Employers are already required to report musculoskeletal disorders. The only modification was that employers would place a check mark in a column on the log to distinguish musculosekeletal disorders from other injuries, such as burns or amputations. The estimated annual total cost for the change for all the affected employers: a measly $1.739 million. The benefits?? Ah, that's the rub. “
Monforton continued: “Businesses want no part of any effort that would give public health agencies, researchers, the public, and workers, better data on work-related musculoskeletal disorders. We might learn something about the magnitude of the problem and the industries in which workers face the greatest risk of injury. With that information, employers might be compelled to do something to prevent these injuries. That's the moral, social, economic, down-the-road burden they want to avoid. But a check mark, in a column, on a form you are already required to fill out.....sorry Mr. Obama, that's not a burden.”
The other withdrawn proposal was a “long-overdue and much-needed change” in the way that OSHA enforces its noise standard, according to Monforton. The agency's 90 dBA 8-hour time-weighted average permissible exposure limit for excessive noise dates back to 1969. Says Monforton: “In fact, this level isn't even adequate to prevent hearing loss; it should be 85 dBA The manner in which employers were expected to comply with the noise exposure limit was unequivocal.”
Cites Monforton: "When employees are subjected to sound exceeding [the limit], ...feasible administration or engineering controls shall be utilized. If such controls fail to reduce sound levels....personal protective equipment ...shall be provided and used to reduce sound levels..."
For years, OSHA enforced the standard as written, but during the anti-regulatory Reagan Administration, inspectors were told they should ignore what was written in the standard. Employers could now comply with the regulation by putting their workers in hearing protectors if it reduced their exposure to acceptable levels and was less costly than fixing the noise at its source, according to Montforton..