(Beyond Pesticides, July 24, 2008) Although the text of the Department of Labor’s proposal on workplace safety standards has not been made public, the Washington Post reports that the proposal will likely weaken an already inadequate risk assessment process, thus putting workers at an even greater risk of health effects from toxic chemical exposure. This proposal follows on the heels of news that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently lowered its value of a human life, which will make it easier to avoid environmental regulations.
Peg Seminario, director of health and safety policy at the AFL-CIO, accused the Department of Labor of secrecy and said, “They are trying to essentially change the job safety and health laws and reduce required workplace protections through a midnight regulation.” According to the Post, changing the risk assessment process for workplace safety has become the priority for the Department of Labor. Undoubtedly, this prioritization came under pressure from industries, which claim that the risk assessment process overestimates worker risk. However, risk assessments, like those that the EPA employs in regulating pesticides, already allow for a 10-fold increase in risk of health effects for workers than they do for the general public. Risk assessments also often fail to account for long-term effects of toxic exposure because they frequently do not consider epidemiological studies to be sufficient evidence for drawing conclusions about health effects.
Examples of failed pesticide risk assessments for worker safety include the EPA’s recent release of fumigant regulations, and the revised risk assessment for heavy duty wood preservatives. In some of these risk assessments, the occupational cancer risks calculated by the EPA are higher than one in a thousand, which is much higher than the EPA’s own target of keeping increased cancer risks to less than one in a million. Often, these risk assessments are based on industry-funded science that is not peer-reviewed and does not adequately reflect real-world exposures to chemicals for workers and communities.
Toxic chemicals such as pesticides threaten workers’ health. Currently, worker protection standards in many areas are inadequate at reducing risks. Implementing stronger controls costs money, and rather than implementing controls to protect workers’ health, industries have been lobbying for years to change the risk assessments. Doing so will have long-term consequences on occupational safety and health, and regulation of toxic chemicals.
Source: Washington Post