Protections against exposure to beryllium allotted to workers are far too weak, especially in the construction industry, where an estimated 23,000 construction workers come in contact with beryllium every day while performing open-air blasting.
Beryllium levels can be extremely elevated due to high dust concentrations on construction sites and can result in chronic beryllium disorder. Patients gradually develop cough, chest pain, progressive shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue. Loss of appetite, weight loss, lung and right-sided heart failure may occur in people with advanced disease.
On September 4, 2014, the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) received the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed rule to allow the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update the Beryllium standard. As detailed in Executive Order 12866, OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is required to complete its review of such rules within 90 days of receipt, with an additional 30-day review extension allowed if needed.
But eight months have passed, and there is no sign that OMB is close to completing its review.
By Robert Craycraft
Asbestos was once used as a flame-retardant and for electrical insulation in buildings, ships and homes. Before it was discovered to cause cancer, millions of American workers and veterans handled and were otherwise exposed to deadly asbestos fibers.
An unknown amount of the hazardous material is still present in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 3,000 people continue to die from mesothelioma and asbestosis every year; some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 annually when other types of asbestos-linked diseases and cancers are included.
In early February, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on H.R. 526, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (or FACT Act). Generally speaking, the more transparency the better. However, in this case, the asbestos industry is using the guise of “transparency” to push the FACT Act as a way to delay compensation to asbestos victims and their families. The bill would require the trusts that manage victim compensation to retroactively compile information on all claims they’ve paid and to require the trusts to answer any and all information requests by asbestos company defendants.
These paperwork requirements could have the effect of slowing or even stopping the important work of the trusts to compensate victims that have developed deadly diseases like mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called the FACT Act a “Trojan horse” which “guarantees that the insurance companies pay as little as possible.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) heard a presentation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on employers’ continuing obligation to make and maintain accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses.
OSHA has said that “the duty to record an injury or illness … does not expire just because the employer fails to create the necessary records when first required to do so.” In other words, being fined by OSHA for violating a record-keeping rule does not absolve the employer of its ongoing responsibility to keep up-to-date records. Employers that continue to fail to keep the legally required records continue to be subject to fines.
This should be a matter of common sense – arguing the contrary is like saying a driver pulled over on the highway and fined for speeding should no longer be required to obey speed limits.
But this commonsense obligation to keep accurate records (and obey the law) apparently is not enough for some employers. That’s why OSHA is planning to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the end of the year seeking to amend its record-keeping regulations to clarify that the duty to make and maintain accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses is an ongoing obligation.
This Labor Day, I’ll be thinking about my family.
My great grandfather, an immigrant from eastern Europe who crossed the Atlantic to work in a western Pennsylvania steel mill, died in that mill in 1929 when a piece of industrial equipment came crashing down on him.
His daughter – my grandmother – was less than a year old.
How many millions of families have suffered similar tragedies? The deadly nature of work in the “Steel Valley” is well documented. Local histories and literary classics such as Blood on the Forge and Out of This Furnace testify to this bloody past.
Clearly, we’ve come a long way since 1929, most significantly with the formation of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in 1971.
Nevertheless, tragic workplace deaths occur in America almost every day. Scroll through OSHA’s 2014 document recording “FY14 Fatalities and Catastrophes to Date” (PDF), and you’ll begin to get a sense of the lives lost each day that may have been prevented.