Labor Advocate Online
Kansas City's Cyber Labor Newsletter

April 2002 Safety First

by Mary Erio, PE, CIH, CSP

HEARTLAND LABOR FORUM - APRIL 18, 2002

Hello, this is Mary Erio for Safety First

1.    OSHA Issues Press Release Concerning Plan to Develop Voluntary Ergonomics Guidelines - From the New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health April 12th Update at www.nycosh.org 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's announcement last week of its "comprehensive program" to protect workers from repetitive strains and other ergonomic injures received almost uniformly negative reviews, except for praise from a small number of employer organizations and from politicians aligned closely with the Bush administration. 

"When the Bush administration killed OSHA's ergonomics standard last year, it claimed that the repealed standard was the wrong solution to a very serious problem, and promised to produce an alternative program within six months to control musculoskeletal hazards," said NYCOSH Executive Director Joel Shufro. "No one in the labor movement had expectations that the Bush substitute would amount to anything, but I am frankly surprised at the Labor Department's display of what is effectively contempt for the urgency of preventing more than 600,000 lost‑time injuries a year." 

"Instead of an enforceable regulation, OSHA says that it will now, nearly a year after it promised to protect workers from ergonomic hazards, start to develop ‘industry‑specific guidelines' to prevent ergonomic injuries," said NYCOSH Assistant Director Susan O'Brien.  It's hard to believe how little they have to show for something that has allegedly been in the works for nearly a year,"  O'Brien added. 

When Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced the plan to develop an ergonomics program on April 5th, she claimed that the Labor Department's  policy was superior to the repealed ergonomics standard in two ways: "This plan is a major improvement over the rejected old rule," Chao said, "because it will prevent ergonomics injuries before they occur and reach a much larger number of at‑risk workers." 

"I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I can't imagine what she was talking about," says NYCOSH ergonomics coordinator Elizabeth Kelleher.  If they are going to develop the guidelines industry-by-industry, there are probably more than 300 industries  they will need to produce guidelines for. They haven't even identified any of the industries to target, so it is going to be a very, very long time before they have developed guidelines that apply to as many workers as were covered by the repealed standard." 

2.      The Bush Administration Kills Safety Regulation Opposed by Donors - A special report from the Center For Public Integrity 

The Bush administration quietly shelved a proposal to tighten regulations on a group of hazardous chemicals despite evidence linking dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries to accidents involving those chemicals, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found. 

At issue in the shelved proposal is a particular group of hazardous materials that can produce runaway reactions. Some of these "reactive" chemicals become unstable, for instance, when they're subjected to heat, pressure, air or water. Others can react dangerously when mixed  with other chemicals in uncontrolled ways. A particularly serious example of such chemical combinations was a 1995 explosion and fire that  claimed five lives at a Lodi, N.J., plant.  The Bush administration abandoned a proposal to address such dangers after the Process Safety Management standard it was meant to expand appeared on a "hit list" of 57 regulations targeted by business groups. This government list was solicited for White House budget officials. 

A spokesperson for OSHA said the agency was "unaware of any industry objections" to the chemical proposal. But a government source told the Center that three industry trade groups ‑  the American Chemistry Council (or Chemical Manufacturers Association), the American Petroleum Institute and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association ‑ all opposed the initiative. Employees of those groups and their member companies, and their political action committees, contributed more than $216,000 to Bush's presidential campaign. 

Eric Frumin, safety and health director for UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial   and Textile Employees, charged that the decision to drop the proposal shows how "regulated industries are determining administration policies." UNITE, which represented workers at the Napp Technologies, Lodi, N.J., plant where five lost their lives, has been in the forefront of efforts by industrial and firefighters unions to have more chemicals covered by the OSHA Process Safety Management standard. 

The original PSM standard was adopted to comply with the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments signed by the first President Bush. The standard requires various safe=management procedures to protect workers against accidental releases of those reactive, toxic, flammable or explosive chemicals that qualify as "highly hazardous." 

The plant explosion at Lodi, N.J., resulted from the mixture of sodium hydrosulfite and aluminum powder.  Neither is regulated under the current PSM standard. 

An unpublished study, commissioned by OSHA, determined that 44 reactive chemicals that aren't covered by its standard were implicated in 408 documented workplace accidents from 1992 through 1997. These incidents resulted in 66 deaths and 404 injuries, including 225 injuries that required hospital treatment, according to a draft copy of the shelved proposal obtained by the Center. 

On Dec. 3rd, a new regulatory agenda posted in the Federal Register contained a terse item saying the reactive chemicals initiative was being dropped because of "resource constraints and other priorities." "Basically, OSHA had a very ambitious schedule of projects" at the time the Bush administration took office, explained the OSHA spokesperson, who asked not to be identified. 

Read the entire report at under “the public”. 

3.    Workers Memorial Day, April 28th 

Each year more than 60,000 workers die from job injuries and illnesses and another 6 million are injured. Unions and job safety activists remember these workers on April 28, Workers Memorial Day. For more information on Workers Memorial Day, check out  

This is Mary Erio for Safety First