Tuesday, October 21, 2003

UAW & USWA Sue OSHA over Metalworking Fluids

The United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers Unions filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao over OSHA's failure to issue a standard protecting workers against the hazards of metalworking fluids.
"The UAW petitioned OSHA to take action on metalworking fluids 10 years ago," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. "Since then, millions of factory workers have been exposed to these hazardous chemicals. Tragically, some have developed asthma, pulmonary fibrosis or other severe respiratory ailments, while others have cancer because of the metalworking fluid mists they've been forced to breathe at work."

"The United Steelworkers is proud to join with the UAW in helping the working men and women who are being exposed to these hazardous chemicals in their workplaces," said USWA President Leo Gerard. "All we are asking is that OSHA do its job and take needed action to protect the health and safety of American workers."
According to OSHA
Metalworking fluids (MWFs) can cause adverse health effects through skin contact with contaminated materials, spray, or mist and through inhalation from breathing MWF mist or aerosol. Millions of workers engaged in the manufacture of automobiles, farm equipment, aircraft, heavy machinery, and other hardware are exposed to machining fluids.

Skin and airborne exposures to MWFs have been implicated in health problems including irritation of the skin, lungs, eyes, nose and throat. Conditions such as dermatitis, acne, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, and a variety of cancers have been associated with exposure to MWFs (NIOSH 1998a). The severity of health problems is dependent on a variety of factors such as the kind of fluid, the degree and type of contamination, and the level and duration of the exposure.
The current 5 milligrams per cubic meter, although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has recommended a standard 10 times more stringent -- 0.5 milligram per cubic meter. The UAW first petitioned OSHA for a standard in 1993 and in 1999 OSHA's Standards Advisory Committee voted to recommend that OSHA adopt the same standard suggested by NIOSH. Nevertheless, OSHA took metalworking fluids off of its regulatory agenda last year.
"OSHA has failed miserably in its responsibility to protect American workers," Gettelfinger continued. "Our lawsuit with the Steelworkers seeks to right this wrong, and offer our members and other workers who are exposed to these chemicals the protection they deserve."