Friday, May 12, 2006

OSHA To Adam Finkel: "You Can't Handle The Truth!"

Princeton University Professor (and former OSHA official) Adam Finkel continues to be a royal pain in the ass for the leaders of his former agency. The problem is that Finkel insists on doing the job that OSHA should be doing itself, assuming the agency had the sense, political will, funding and people to do it: protecting workers (including its own employees) and conducting evaluation and research to determine the effectiveness of OSHA's programs.

Finkel, you may recall, was removed from his job as OSHA Regional Administrator in Denver in 2003 because he blew the whistle on the agency for not establishing a testing program for OSHA inspectors who were exposed to beryllium in the course of their inspections. Due to Finkel's efforts, OSHA tested a number of its inspectors and last year, The Chicago Tribune obtained an internal OSHA memo stating that ten OSHA employees out of 271 tested have confirmed postive results for beryllium sensitization. Finkel filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request for data needed to determine how much beryllium the inspectors were exposed to and how many other OSHA employees and retirees may developed signs of beryillium-related disease.

Finkel has also made a second FOIA request for data relating to OSHA inspections that dealt with exposure to chemicals. He is interested in investigating the resources that OSHA is dedicating to investigating workers' exposure to toxic chemicals in the wake of evidence that such inspections are declining while the number of employers found out of compliance is rising.

Another area Finkel is investigating is whether workers' exposures increase when firms modify their production process to comply with environmental mandates. In other words, are the chemicals that are not being released into the outside air exposing workers instead?

All of these sound like worthwhile projects, projects that OSHA should be doing itself, or at least research it would want to encourage others to conduct, especially if it's not even at government expense.

But that makes far too much sense, especially for a government far more interested in protecting the business community than it is in protecting workers. So OSHA has issued a notice in the Federal Register "to all employers that were subject to air sampling by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 1979 to June 1, 2005" whether the disclosure of company names, along with air sampling information, would reveal any "trade secrets." (hint, hint, wink, wink.)

Without company names, according to Finkel, the information is useless.

Note also the absence of any equivalent Federal Register notice to the millions of employees exposed to hazardous chemicals every day on the job, asking them whether withholding this information and impeding this research might lead to cancer and other work-related disease from the chemicals they're exposed to.

By the way, if anyone out there in web-land has ever received air sampling data from OSHA that included company names, let me know. E-mail me or leave a comment below. Not that OSHA would suddenly change its mind or anything because of the identity, past history or political persuasion of those who may want the information.