Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is moving quickly to deliver on her promise that the Obama administration would be more vigorous in protecting workers’ safety than the Bush administration. As proof, the Labor Department sped up the process of establishing rules to protect workers from exposure to a harmful chemical sometimes used in making microwave-popcorn flavoring, which has been linked to a condition called “popcorn lung.” This is a total reversal of the Bush Administration’s approach to the issue. It’s a good and early sign that the OSHA will be reinvigorated. The newly-appointed Secretary withdrew a Bush Administration initiative that unions said would have delayed the process of diacetyl standard-setting. That initiative, called an advance notice of proposed rule-making, was made just as former President Bush left office.
The Labor Department said diacetyl has been linked to the deaths of three workers exposed while manufacturing food flavorings. The exposure has been associated with a serious and potentially fatal lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans. The chemical is also used in flavorings for baked goods, snacks, dairy products, fats and oil for cooking, and certain beverages. Most exposure to workers is from manufacturing processes using butter and cheese flavorings, and sour cream, egg or yogurt flavors. Scientists have found that harmful exposure to diacetyl in the general population is rare.
Ms. Solis said she was “alarmed” that workers could still be at risk of developing a disease she tried to prevent when she was a member of Congress. “These deaths are preventable,” she said in a statement. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.), who presides over a workforce-protection subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee, applauded the action, saying: “Because of the Bush Administration’s foot dragging on this issue, this disease has already sickened and killed a number of workers nationwide.”
The Bush Administration also stalled on setting safety standards on issues such as mine injuries and hazards to nursing-home workers. President Obama has vowed to increase OSHA regulation. In his budget blueprint issued in February, he sought more money for the agency’s enforcement operations. Typically the Labor Department doesn’t ban chemicals, but OSHA does set permissible exposure levels for some.
Source: Wall Street Journal
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