Sunday, May 01, 2005

WA State OSHA Says "Screw You" to Rep. Wicker

You may be familiar with the ongoing "scandal" involving Congressman Roger Wicker's (R-MS)successful effort to stop OSHA from enforcing annual fit testing of respirators for workers exposed to tuberculosis. Well, the chickens may be coming home to roost -- in the form of infected workers. One state, at least, is doing something about it.

OSHA's respirator standard require annual fit-test of all workers who must wear respirators to protect themselves from air-borne contaminants. Without a good fit, respirators don't work. For some reason (probably having to do with campaign contributions from the American Hospital Association (AHA) and Association of Professionals in Infection Control (APIC), Congressman Wicker has decided that workers exposed to tuberculosis should not receive the same protection as all other workers, and managed to pass a rider to federal OSHA's 2005 appropriations bill forbidding the agency to use any funds to enforce the respirator standard against employers who do not fit-test their employees exposed to TB. He has so far been unsuccessful in convincing OSHA to permanently change the respirator standard.

Washington state, one of the roughly two dozen states that run their own OSHA programs, is not bound by Congressional riders, however. Last week, WISHA cited a laboratory for failing to protect its employees from being exposed to TB. Three workers in a downtown Seattle research laboratory were infected with tuberculosis while working on a vaccine for the deadly disease, although none have contracted the active disease.

Among the citations against the lab was one
for not making sure respirators worn by the employees fit properly. But Webster said he was assured when he bought the chamber that respirators weren't needed because the chamber operates under a vacuum. He said he doesn't remember who told him that.

Webster and Dr. Rhea Coler, lead researcher, said workers now are required to wear powered respirators that force air out of the mask, rather than the fiber, surgical-type masks they previously used. They said a protection program for workers is now in writing and each worker is required to undergo a medical evaluation before using the new respirators.
For the life of me, I can't figure out why Congressman Wicker, AHA and APIC think that health care workers and lab workers -- unlike every other employee in the United States that uses a respirator (including hospital employees that use respirators to protect themselves against toxic chemicals) don't need proper respiratory protection.

And I can't see why putting these workers at risk from a deadly disease isn't a bigger scandal than a certain Congressional leader going on golf trips paid by his lobbyist friends.

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