Tuesday, November 23, 2004

How Did Workplace Safety & Health Fare in the Budget?

Well, the budget deeds are done and according to the AFL-CIO, it appears that the Safety and Health agencies fared pretty well this time around, particularly given the tight budgets and conservative bent of Congress.

All the particulars are not yet available, but here are highlights:
  • OSHA was funded at $468.1 million (The Bush request was $461.6 million).

  • OSHA Institutional Cometency Training Grants continue for a 6th year. These were the 5-year grants that were originally issued during the Clinton administration, and thanks largely to Arlen Specter (R-PA), have survived despite the annual effort by the administration to get rid of them and cut the entire worker training grant budget by 60%.

  • The OSHA budget includes the Congressman Roger Wicker (R-MS) rider prohibiting enforcement of annual fit-testing for workers who wear respirators to protect themselves from tuberculosis. In the report OSHA is directed to withhold action on respirators until CDC updates its TB guidelines. Wicker, you may remember, is the Congressman from Mississippi whose life seems to revolve around making sure that OSHA is not able to protect health care workers against tuberculosis. (More on that here and here.)

  • MSHA was funded at $281.5 million (Bush's request was $275.6 million).

  • NIOSH was funded at $287.745 million (Bush proposed $278.9, the Senate proposed $294.6).

  • NIOSH has a separate line item in the budget opposing the controversial reorganization that would have sunk NIOSH further down into the CDC bureaucracy. The manager's statement says that House and Senate conferees agree with Senate language that states that
    the identity and stature of NIOSH should be maintained in the CDC reorganization, The committee report directs CDC to make no changes to NIOSH's operating procedure or organizational structure and to ensure that no funds or personnel will be transferred from NIOSH to other components of CDC other than by traditional reprogramming of funds.
    This victory is the result of the incredible bi-partisan support behind the effort to maintain the integrity of NIOSH.

(The manager's statement is here. OSHA and NIOSH are at p. 17-18. The CDC portion's begin at page 64 of the pdf file, the NIOSH sections at p. 81.The legislative text is here. The OSHA section at p. 15, MSHA at p. 18, and the CDC section starts at p. 29. )

So, all in all, as long as you're not a health care worker exposed to tuberculosis, the budget didn't come out too badly. And if you are a health care worker exposed to tuberculosis, there's always hope that the CDC will come out with guidelines recommending annual fit testing.

On the other hand, SEIU's Health and Safety Director Bill Borwegen reports that CDC is misleading health care workers, telling them that surgical masks may protect them against the flu.

. .. having health-care personnel mask (with a surgical mask) for close contact with the patient may prevent nose and mouth contact with respiratory droplets. However, no studies have definitively shown that mask use by either infectious patients or health-care personnel prevents influenza transmission.
Well duh! The reason that no studies have shown surgical masks to be effective is that they aren't designed to be effective. Surgical masks do not form a seal over the face and are essentially sneeze guards intended to keep the health care worker from contaminating the patient, not the other way around. How, after all of these years, CDC still doesn't understand some of these most basic industrial hygiene facts is beyond me.

Sure makes it easier to understand why there is so much opposition to burying NIOSH deeper within the agency, doesn't it?