Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Henhouse, Meet Mr. Fox

This administration rewards those who contribute dollars or time to the GOP with plum jobs in federal agencies. Once there, the appointees are expected to toe the adminstration's line, which usually involves favors to big business. An absolutely chilling article in today's NY Times details the effects of such cronyism on Americans.

The story details the actions, or, more properly, lack of action, of the Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) of a documented illness which struck workers at a microwave popcorn plant:

Seven years ago, a Missouri doctor discovered a troubling pattern at a microwave popcorn plant in the town of Jasper. After an additive was modified to produce a more buttery taste, nine workers came down with a rare, life-threatening disease that was ravaging their lungs.

The additive is diacetyl, and the disease is bronchiolitis obliterans, an incurable lung disease which in the case of one 35-year old worker requires a double lung transplant.

NIOSH quickly discovered the potential link and turned the matter over to OSHA, which did ... nothing. The response is typical of how OSHA has operated since the Bush administration took office.

That response reflects OSHA’s practices under the Bush administration, which vowed to limit new rules and roll back what it considered cumbersome regulations that imposed unnecessary costs on businesses and consumers. Across Washington, political appointees — often former officials of the industries they now oversee — have eased regulations or weakened enforcement of rules on issues like driving hours for truckers, logging in forests and corporate mergers.

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. ...

By the end of 2001, OSHA had withdrawn more than a dozen proposed regulations. The agency, though, soon identified several safety priorities: rules on the hazards posed by dust from silica, used as a blasting agent, and noise from construction sites, which was causing a growing number of workers to suffer hearing loss. The agency has yet to produce either standard, though OSHA officials say they are working on them.
[Emphasis added]

OSHA officials claim they're doing their job and point to statistics showing lower injury and health problem rates in the last several years. What those officials don't mention is that under the Bush administration, the types of injuries which have to be reported have been reduced, thus skewing the statistics.

OSHA officials also claim that by working with industry for voluntary compliance instead of issuing rules, the costs of doing business have been reduced, leading to the creation of more jobs. No surprise there, eh?

OSHA has been getting away with this for over six years because there has been no congressional oversight. That has changed as the 110th Congress has taken over. Unfortunately, it may be too late for that 35-year old microwave popcorn worker, unless, of course, he gets that double lung transplant.

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