Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Political Outrage: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Workplace safety has long been one of the issues I get really riled up about, perhaps from seeing Silkwood (1983) at an impressionable age--an era when the Three Mile Island (1979) disaster was a recent memory (especially for one whose mother worked for the company that built the reactor!)--not to mention Chernobyl (1986) and the poisonous gas leak in Bhopal, India (1984), that ultimately killed an estimated 20,000 people. And then, of course, are all the songs about coal mining disasters....

The main sticking point this article discusses is much smaller-scale, though no less cataclysmic for the people involved: fatal lung disease caused by exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used to flavor microwave popcorn and other products. I first heard about the problem in the Milwaukee newspaper while at the American Folklore Society conference last October--the article featured several workers who were trying to collect damages and who were calling for regulatory measures.

Here are a few quotations from the article in this morning's Times, "OSHA Leaves Worker Safety in Hands of Industry." Not surprisingly, Bush and his administration are doing yet more to line the pockets of the rich while fucking over the working classes even more.

Since George W. Bush became president, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in its history, public health experts say. It has imposed only one major safety rule. The only significant health standard it issued was ordered by a federal court.

The agency has killed dozens of existing and proposed regulations and delayed adopting others. For example, OSHA has repeatedly identified silica dust, which can cause lung cancer, and construction site noise as health hazards that warrant new safeguards for nearly three million workers, but it has yet to require them.

“The people at OSHA have no interest in running a regulatory agency,” said Dr. David Michaels, an occupational health expert at George Washington University who has written extensively about workplace safety. “If they ever knew how to issue regulations, they’ve forgotten. The concern about protecting workers has gone out the window.”

Labor leaders and health experts say those numbers significantly undercount the problem, in part because the Bush administration has reduced the categories of recognized injuries and because many dangerous jobs are now performed by undocumented workers who do not report problems.

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