Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Major Owens on Congressional TB Language

Following is a statement that Rep. Major Owens (D-NY) submitted in the Congressional Record on the TB respirator fit test language that was attached to the House Labor, HHS bill. As you will recall, Labor Department Appropriations bill included a "rider," introduced by Congressman Roger Wicker (R-MS), that would prohibit OSHA from enforcing fit testing for respirators designed to protect health care workers against tuberculosis.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to express grave concern over a clause in this bill that would seriously erode worker protections against tuberculosis (TB) and bio-terrorism. This provision prohibits the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from fully enforcing its respirator standard for workers at risk of exposure to TB and other deadly infections. At a time when the Bush Administration is invoking daily, color-coded terrorist alerts, it makes absolutely no sense to weaken the only standard we have to protect health care workers against air-borne pathogens or air-borne "weapons of mass destruction." By prohibiting OSHA from enforcing the annual fit test for workers' respirators or masks, that is exactly what is possible.

According to Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Vice President for Biological Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, biological agents that might be used as weapons include small pox, pneumonic plague, and drug-resistant TB, among others. To undercut the only protection that front-line health care workers would have against such agents -- namely, their respirators -- is absolutely unconscionable.

Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that a letter on this critical issue from the Director of Occupational Health and Safety at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) be included in the Record at this point. I trust and hope my colleagues in the Senate will see the wisdom of opposing any such effort to weaken workers’ protections against TB and bioterrorism.