The audience of 2500 delegates to the 71st National Safety Congress listened closely to the views of four panelists, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) administrator, Thorne Auchter’, and myself, on the future of Washington’s job safety and health programs. Looking out at the large gathering in a Chicago hotel last week, I wished I could listen to many of the candid observations that the corporate, union, and other safety officials could provide.
Think what they could sax about what is really going on in these slogan-ridden safety and health programs. Give n the annual toll of some 100,000 fatalities from work-related diseases and around 14,000 traumatic fatalities or, the job in this country, the truth could be quite significant.
No sooner had the spirited exchange on the dais ended, then some of the audience began sharing their’ candor. A man from a large federal department said that as soon as the White House directive came down to reduce injuries by 3% per year, he was told that parking lot injuries were r: longer to be counted in the casualty reports. Another government employee from one of the military services was told not to count slip-and-fall injuries as workplace injuries. I was also reliably informed that a large computer company no longer reports motor vehicle casualties incurred on the job. Fully a third of the fatal workplace traumas in the U.S. occur in vehicle accidents.
Reagan’s permissive OSHA gives off signals that under-reporting of casualties by companies can be committed more easily than in the past. This, together with the recession, is providing misleadingly restrained injury statistic that Reaganites will use in next year’s Presidential campaign.
In the occupational health standards area, involving cancer, emphysema, and other ailments, the do-nothing OSHA will escape any quantitative judgment. But assuredly, doing nothing can riot lead to a reduction in toxic chemicals or dust exposures to millions of workers daily. And thus far, Reagan’s OSHA has not issued a single standard curbing a single disease-bearing chemical or particulate matter hundreds of which are in need of rigorous curbs.
Whether it the deadly fumigant, ethylene dibromide, or the hospital disinfectant, ethylene oxide or stronger standards for asbestos, grain dust, cadmium, lead, fickle, OSHA, Mr. Auchter, and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget are simply unwilling to press the corporations into meeting modest new levels of worker protection. None of this is surprising for an OSHA that has drastically reduced its enforcement actions regarding compliance with already existing standards.
Another person in the audience was a. safety director of a major chemical company. “Is it accurate to say,” I asked him, “that because of the Reagan Administration’s go-easy policies, the priority of yen, workplace safety and health research’ and programs by companies has diminished?” “No question about that,” he replied. The damage done by OSHA is not reserved to its inactivity but extends to its dominoes effect through much of industry. Moreover, in a time of high unemployment, workers with jobs are less apt to complain.
Labor delegates to the Safety Congress told me about their difficulty in getting their medical records at the plants, while access many in management have unfettered access to worker records. These delegates. thought that this was an unfair practice and an invasion of their privacy.
Back in Washington OSHA still has not issued a right to know rule giving workers access to chemicals and other polluting exposures where they work. Auchter also is proposing weakening revisions to a 1980 standard (little enforced) giving workers a right to obtain their medical files.
Last month, an OSHA task force memorandum was leaked to the press. It proposed that the agency cease further rulemaking on 116 toxics substances which have been the subject of deliberation for as many as ten years. Auchter, questioned by the press, disavowed any intention to drop these rulemaking proceedings.
One would think that government officials of either party would want to look back on their public service with pride over saving worker’s lives and health. This ambition seems to escape Ronald Reagan and his appointees. I use to think that visits by Reaganites to some hazardous mines and -Factories and with disabled Workers would give these men the needed sensitivities. They have chosen instead to visit corporate executives convening at luxurious hotels. They choose to be sensitized by the perpetrators, not by the victims.