Congressman Still Waiting for 9/11 Answers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has still not responded to Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D, N.Y.)June 3 letter requesting an explanation as to why the agency did not use its enforcement authority during rescue and recovery operations at the World Trade Center (WTC) site.

When questioned about the matter, an OSHA spokesperson stated that the agency would respond to Nadler's letter, but offered no indication of when or how. Although the letter appears for now to be buried in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy, it has attracted the attention of some members of New York's labor movement, concerned about the precedents that may have been established by OSHA's decision to suspend enforcement at the former WTC site.

"We believe the letter raises significant issues of public policy, and we're pleased Congressman Nadler sent it," commented Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. "We hope it begins a public discussion about what OSHA's role should be during these public catastrophes."

A second concern voiced by Shufro is the possible precedent established by the WTC decision, given the Bush administration's emphasis on voluntary compliance measures. Sufro explained that because New York is a "union town," labor groups were able to enforce relatively strong safety provisions at the site.

The injury rate at Ground Zero was below the national average for similar projects despite the unusual hazards of the project. NYCOSH and others have raised concerns about health issues affecting Ground Zero workers.

"We would be very concerned if, in the future, the agency decides not to enforce the law in Peoria, or Arkansas, where you don't have a strong union presence - we think this would be a disaster for working people," Shufro said.

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