A major stumbling block in protecting workers from occupational illnesses and diseases is the crumbling political discourse, according to some stakeholders.
Although Republicans often have been blamed for impeding occupational health protections, delays in promulgating new standards are not strictly limited to partisanship.
Calling current OSHA administrator David Michaels a “luminary” in the occupational health field, Celeste Monforton said the trained epidemiologist’s agenda has been hindered by resistance from the Obama administration. That resistance, she said, is a result of the political climate seen today when regulations are viewed by some people as barriers to job creation and economic growth.
“The evidence of harm to workers from work exposures is there, but we see an Obama administration that is quite timid to talk about controlling these hazards so the harm is prevented,” said Monforton, a professional lecturer at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University. “That’s really an unfortunate consequence of the very damaging anti-regulatory rhetoric.”
One example is a prolonged delay in the development of an updated silica standard. Given the devastating effect the compound can have on workers, many stakeholders insist a stronger permissible exposure limit is necessary. The current standard is decades old and includes PELs based on research that is even older.
When Safety+Health went to press, a proposed rule updating OSHA’s silica standard had been under review by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget since Feb. 14, 2011. A review typically takes 90 days.
Some stakeholders have suggested the delay will continue into at least November due to politics.
“This bickering back and forth … that is really what is holding back any progress in any area,” said a foundry worker suffering from silicosis caused by nearly two decades of silica dust exposure who asked not to be named. “That’s not the way a government is supposed to work. It’s supposed to come to a solution.”