Sunday, February 20, 2005

"We can't protect ourselves if we are not part of the plan"

If there's one principle that seems to unite labor and management (at least rhetorically) it's the importance of encouraging employee participation in any matters dealing with workplace safety, health and security issues. All OSHA standards and the health and safety programs required by OSHA's voluntary protection program require worker participation. While debates often rage about the form such participation should take, how effective worker participation can be without a union, and how much influence employees should have in decision making, you would be hard-pressed to find any legitimate labor or management health & safety experts that would argue against the need for and usefulness of employee participation. Who knows better what happens on the plant floor than the workers who spend eight or ten hours a day there?

So you can imagine the disappointment of chemical industry unions in New Jersey when the state government moves forward on a post 9/11 chemical plant security management plan with the New Jersey Chemistry Council, but without any worker input.

A group of unions and environmental organizations held a press conference last week:

Demanding "security, not secrecy" environmental and labor groups Thursday asked acting Gov. Richard J. Codey to intervene in the drafting of rules designed to protect New Jersey industries using hazardous substances from accidents and attacks.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has teamed with the Chemical Council of New Jersey and other chemical industry trade groups to draft a plan to ensure Garden State chemical facilities remain secure, but Thursday others, including chemical industry workers, called for their own say in the process.

"We can't protect ourselves if we are not part of the plan," said Amy Goldsmith, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Union workers employed in the chemical field said they have not been consulted about the proposal. "Nobody understands the potential for hazards better than the worker," said John Shinn of the United Steelworkers District 4.

Rick Engler, director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, explained that without worker participation, there was no way to verify what is being done for the public or emergency responders.
We have 400 facilities scattered across our state which can cause catastrophic risks to workers and communities or can pose serious environmental harm. We need to make sure the safety of these facilities is the best it can be, as well as the appropriate security precautions are taken.
An editorial in the Press of Atlantic City agrees:
We're pretty sure you don't need to be experts in chemical- plant safety to know this:

In our post-Sept 11, 2001, world, letting chemical plants regulate themselves, which has been the norm, can't be the wisest way to go.

And any plan for better regulation that has environmentalists and chemical workers complaining they have been left out of the process, which is what's happening right now in New Jersey, can't be a particularly wise move either.

New Jersey's Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force and the state Department of Environmental Protection are working on a chemical-plant security agreement that critics say relies too much on the industry's own guidelines. Though the agreement apparently does give the state the authority to require additional security measures, the New Jersey Work Environment Council and chemical-workers unions are demanding tougher rules -- and more input -- into the process.
Some state government officials seem to be seeing the error of their ways:
DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell said the environmental groups and unions have raised relevant points.

The agreement has not been put into effect, in part because the state is looking at how it can increase public participation and provide a more significant role to labor, Campbell said.
But the NJ Chemistry Council is having none of it:
Hal Bozarth, executive director of Chemistry Council of New Jersey, an industry trade group, said Engler and the others were using the guise of security to press an environmental agenda.

Bozarth defended chemical industry's record on security and said the activists were also trying to advance provisions of U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine's unsuccessful federal legislation to regulate security at chemical plants. Corzine, D-N.J., is now running for New Jersey governor.
Corzine has introduced a bill into Congress calling for enforceable regulations that would force the chemical industry to implement better security measures and, where possible, to install inherently safer technologies. The American Chemistry Council spent millions of dollars to kill the bill.

An editorial in today's New York Times condemned the Bush administration's "lack of political will and failure to carry out the most effective policies":
After Sept. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency identified 123 chemical plants that could, in a worst-case attack, endanger one million or more people. There is an urgent need for greater action to protect them. But the chemical industry, a major Bush-Cheney campaign contributor, has bitterly fought needed safeguards. In her recent book "It's My Party Too," the former administrator of the E.P.A., Christie Whitman, said that chemical industry lobbyists thwarted the reasonable safety rules that she and the Department of Homeland Security tried to impose.

Related Stories

NY Chem Company Decides Terrorism Threat Is Over, February 6, 2005
Department of Homeland Security: Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?, September 27, 2004
Weapons of Mass Destruction Found -- In Our Backyards, November 17, 2003
The War for Chemical Plant Safety, May 4, 2003