Sunday, January 04, 2004

2003 In Review: The Top Ten Fourteen Health And Safety Stories of the Year

In no particular order....

  1. Dangerous Business Series in the NY Times & Frontline: Evil walks the earth, and one of its names is McWane. David Barstow of the NY Times, working with Lowell Bergman of Frontline documents in a three-part series how one of the bad guys gets away with murder and mayhem while OSHA has few tools, and even less political desire to do anything about it.

  2. Washington State Ergonomics Standard Repealed: After repeated failures in the legislature and courts, anti-ergonomics industry interests buy and lie their way to repeal of Washington State’s ergonomics standard. More here and here, and here, and here

  3. Ergonomics Experts Boycott OSHA Symposium: In the year's rare act of collective courage, a group of the nation's leading ergonomics experts, most of whom had participated in previous National Academy of Sciences studies in support of the ill-fated OSHA ergonomics standard, decided to boycott an upcoming OSHA ergonomics research symposium called by OSHA as part of its CompRehensive APproach to ergonomics (CRAP). The message: “Been there, done that, now stop wasting our time until you get serious about actually doing something”

  4. When Workers Die New York Times Series: Employers are literally getting away with murder. So what else is new? An exhaustively-documented three part NY Times series by David Barstow reveals not just OSHA’s sorry enforcement practices, but also tells us the tragic stories of the victims behind them.

  5. Europe REACHes Out to Protect Someone: The European Commission issues a draft plan that reverses the current U.S. and European practice of considering chemicals to be innocent until proven guilty -- by death, illness or environmental damage. The U.S. chemical industry and U.S. government are having fits, threatening a trade war. More information here, here, here , here and here.

  6. National Safety Council Drops ANSI Ergonomics Standard: Even voluntary ergonomics standards are too much for business foes of ergonomics protections who, as I said before, remind me of the Barbarian hordes early in the first part of the last millennium: behead the men, rape the women, enslave the children, burn the village, mow down the crops and then sow the earth with salt. Kill the farm animals and throw them down the wells. And eat their pets. More here.

  7. OSHA Drops the Proposed TB Standard: Last week OSHA withdrew its TB proposal (see below) arguing that it was no longer necessary because the disease is under control. As I wrote before, “ditching the TB standard could probably have not come at a worse time with a public health system approaching the breaking point between new demands placed upon it by preparations for SARS, new homeland security requirements, gigantic state budget problems and the Bush tax cuts eating up any chance of significant federal assistance. The TB standard could have been an important measure to help prepare this country not just to prevent a possible future increase in TB infections, but to also confront assaults from other air-borne diseases like SARS.” More here.

  8. OSHA Suppresses Ergonomics Recordkeeping: “Eat my shorts, working people. If you can't count 'em, they don't exist,” OSHA tells those who still think ergonomics is a problem. In July, the agency announced that it had decided not to put a separate column for MSDs on the log that employers are required to use to record workplace injuries and illnesses. The revoked requirement -- for employers to check a box for MSDs -- was a simple measure issued in 2001, designed to help employers and workers identify and address ergonomic hazards. The administration also decided not to develop a definition of MSDs (which had also been included in the 2001 regulation) and leave it up to employers to figure it out for themselves.

  9. OSHA Drops Nursing Home Initiative: Over half the injuries in nursing homes result from ergonomics hazards. But despite citing only 7 nursing homes for ergonomics hazards out of almost 1000 inspections on the list of 2500 nursing homes with above-average injury and illness statistics, OSHA declared "mission accomplished" and canceled its nursing home initiative. Announced with great fanfare in response to criticisms of its CRAP (CompRehensive APproach to Ergonomics), the nursing home initiative was intended to address the massive back injury problem in nursing homes, as well as bloodborne pathogens, tuberculosis and slips, trips & falls.

  10. OSHA Declines to Revise its Process Safety Management Standard to Cover Reactive Chemicals: In September, OSHA announced that because there is no consensus on how to revise the process safety standard to include reactive hazards (as the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board had recommended after an exhaustive investigation), the agency will instead put more information on its web site.

  11. Court Orders OSHA To Issue Hexavalent Chromium Standard: In April, the courts say that OSHA lied about being too busy with 9/11 to begin work on a standard protecting workers against hexavalent chromium. The court order was in response to a lawsuit filed last year by Public Citizen and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union. A proposal must be issued by October.

  12. Data Quality Regs Threaten Workplace and Environmental Protections: The Office of Management and Budget says that “peer review” of the environmental and workplace safety studies that form the basis of regulations and informational documents is a good thing -- as long as the “peers” are the industries that are being regulated. Everything else is suspect, including evidence that suggests that asbestos in brake linings is bad for auto mechanics.
  13. More here.

  14. EPA & OSHA Drop the Ball in World Trade Center Response: EPA is found to have toned down a press release – at the White House’s request -- addressing possible asbestos hazards following the World Trade Centers collapse, but the real scandal may have been OSHA’s failure to enforce its respirator requirements on the workers subjected to high levels of toxic dust during the cleanup.

  15. Saving the best for last:

  16. Founding of Confined Space: The first (and so far only) weblog dealing with health and safety issues. The rest is history.