OSHA's Decline in Workplace Health and Safety Inspections
October 2, 2009
According to a report released last week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (PEER), the national alliance of local, state, and federal resource professionals, The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has reduced the number of health inspections in the workplace, despite more employee exposure to hazardous and toxic substances.
As California Employment and Labor Lawyers, we have been watching this report, in its aim to protect the health and safety rights of employees in the workplace. The PEER report states that exposures to toxic substances are connected to 10 times more premature deaths of workers than all accidents in the workplace combined. OSHA currently allocates less than 5% of its already scarce funding on protecting employee health in the workplace.
PEER discovered that the eighth leading cause of death in the US is occupational exposure--with premature deaths totaling more than 40,000 per year from neurological disease, cancer, cardiopulmonary disease, and other illnesses. According to an analysis of OSHA figures, there has been a decline in health inspection since 1991.
The report details that:
- OSHA's exposure inspections are declining. OSHA took roughly 53,000 national samples in 1997, as compared to the number samples taken in 1988--three times as many.
- At this present chemical exposure inspection rate, OSHA would need nearly 600 years or more to inspection just half of the nation's industrial facilities, where hazardous and toxic substances are handled.
- Officials in the Obama administration have not yet taken steps to change this direction, and continue to push for the quantity of completed inspections. According to the report, this gives inspectors "disincentive" to perform toxic-substance sampling, as it can often take multiple days to complete--whereas an inspector can perform several construction safety inspections in one day.
PEER is a non-profit national alliance, acting as a "watch-dog" for public interest. These figures were uncovered by PEER Board member and former director of health rulemaking for OSHA, Dr. Adam Finkel. Finkel obtained the figures from the preliminary analysis of a massive exposure measurements database for all federal and state inspections.
Finkel stated that while the EPA has lowered concentrations of harmful substances in homes across the country, workers are still exposed to extreme levels of the same harmful substances in the workplace.
When breaking down the report to individual substances, the results were startling. Methylene chloride (MC), a solvent used to strip paint, degrease metal, glue urethane foam products, as well as other applications, is a neurotoxin and likely human carcinogen. Nearly 250,000 workers in more than 90,000 establishments have exposure to MC.
Finkel reported that in 1997, OSHA issued a final regulation lowering the allowable level of MC concentration in the workplace from 500 parts per million (ppm) to 25 ppm. At that exposure limit, OSHA estimated that workers exposed for a lifetime to MC had around 3 chances per 1000 of developing cancer as a result of the exposure.
The report published last week states that as of today, OSHA is still testing for MC at the same rate that it was before the regulation--around 30 nationwide companies a year. This would take 1,600 years to sample just half of the establishments who use MC in their facilities. According to the preliminary calculations, nearly one-third of the establishments tested in 2007 have average MC concentrations above 100 parts per million--which amounts to four times the legal limit--a level so high that the lifetime cancer risk association is roughly 1 chance in 100.
According to PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, the health risks associated with many national occupations are high enough that one career choice can determine an employee's life expectancy.
At Howard Law, PC, our experienced team of California Labor and Employment Attorneys aggressively protect your safety and health rights in the workplace. Contact us today, for a free consultation, so we can help fight for your recovery.
Workplace Exposures Rise As OSHA Health Inspections Fall, PEER Press Release, September 24, 2009
OSHA Ordered to Release Toxic Exposure Database, PEER Press Release, July 2, 2007
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