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In news that should surprise absolutely no one, political appointees at the Department of Labor, working in secrecy and over the objection of department experts, are trying to ram through a proposal in the waning days of the Bush administration which would make it harder to regulate workplace toxin exposure.

Sources told the Washington Post that the proposal, which was not disclosed in public notices as required and has not yet been made available to the public, calls for change in the way the government assesses workplace-safety regulations and “would also require the agency to take an extra step before setting new limits on chemicals in the workplace by allowing an additional round of challenges to agency risk assessments.” This extra step, George Washington University epidemiologist and professor David Michaels told the Post, “is a guarantee to keep any more worker safety regulation from ever coming out of OSHA… This is being done in secrecy, to be sprung before President Bush leaves office, to cripple the next administration.”

This effort has been spearheaded by Deborah Misir, a former ethics adviser to President Bush and a deputy in the department’s policy office, who “did not consult scientific and workplace-risk-assessment experts in OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, according to sources briefed on her work.” When she did consult the experts, “they objected to the legality and substance of the proposal.”

No matter, the department simply didn’t include the proposal in its semiannual agenda, and as if by magic, the risk-assessment overhaul, which happens to benefit businesses who complain that the risk of workplace toxin exposure is overestimated, suddenly became top priority, vaulting over trifling matters like of reducing on-the-job deaths, injuries and illnesses caused by various toxins.

While it can be argued, as a consultant who worked with the department on a study of the risk-assessment process does here, that the changes in the proposal will cut down on bureaucratic red-tape and preserve jobs, the last-minute nature of the proposed regulation, after almost eight years of nearly total inaction, is suspicious, to say the least. Peg Seminario, director of health and safety policy at the AFL-CIO, related these suspicions to the Post: “They are trying to essentially change the job safety and health laws and reduce required workplace protections through a midnight regulation.”

Thomas Connell

Summer Intern 2008

J.D. Candidate 2010

University of Colorado

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