Sunday, October 12, 2003

OSHA Regional Administrator Accuses OSHA of Refusing To Test OSHA Inspectors for Beryllium Disease

OSHA is neglecting the health of its own employees, according to Region 8 Director Adam Finkel.

Finkel has accused the agency, specifically Assistant Secretary for Labor John Henshaw, of refusing to provide testing for OSHA inspectors who may have been exposed to beryllium dust while conducting inspections.
Beryllium is an extremely toxic metal that carries a high risk of disease following even very low exposure. Hundreds have already died of chronic beryllium disease (CBD); a fast-progressing and potentially fatal lung disease, the only known cause of which is exposure to beryllium. A blood test used by industry and the U.S. Department of Energy can detect whether a person has been sensitized to beryllium, a necessary condition for the onset of CBD. The test costs approximately $150 per application.
Finkel is one of only 10 OSHA Regional Administrators. He is in charge of the 6-State Rocky Mountain region. According to the whistleblower compliant filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on behalf of Finkel,
Beginning in 1999, OSHA scientists developed a protocol for testing active and retired inspectors. In March 2001, the agency rejected a recommendation to set up a pilot-testing program for beryllium. Then, in April 2002, Assistant Secretary Henshaw announced that the agency would not even provide information or counseling to potentially affected agency employees and retirees.
According to Finkel,
The risks of delay or failure to test are so substantial, and the costs of testing so minimal, that in my view, the only plausible reason to defer or deny testing is fear of tort liability. Such a concern is inappropriate for a public agency.
OSHA had previously accuse Finkel of leaking to the press information about OSHA's refusal to provide testing of inspectors, and was attempting to transfer him out of RA position back to Washington. The transfer was stayed last June by the Merit Systems Protection Board. There are rumors that he has not been transferred back to Washington, but that information has not been confirmed.
More here and here.