AIHA Urges Solis to Consider Worker Safety, Health Issues

In a March 9 letter, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) asked Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to consider three issues when addressing occupational safety and health: appointing an OSHA leader; ensuring the stimulus package will help create new jobs and offer workplace protections for workers; and striving to update permissible exposure limits (PELs).

AIHA President Lindsay E. Booher wrote in the letter that appointing an assistant secretary of labor for OSHA is of “immediate importance” and that AIHA believes this individual must possess, at a minimum, the following qualifications:

  • A lifelong commitment to health and safety, preferably a health and safety professional;
  • Comprehensive academic training in occupational health and safety;
  • At least 15 years of technical experience in occupational health and safety;
  • Proven management experience in implementing health and safety programs; and
  • The vision and ability to build coalitions and consensus among diverse groups to effectively promote a health and safety agenda accepted by all.

Stimulating Safety, Updating PELs

The letter also discussed the new jobs that will be created by the economic stimulus package. Up to 600,000 of these jobs are intended for the construction industry and another 400,000 for manufacturing, making workplace health and safety vital.

The stimulus package contained $80 million as an additional appropriation to the Secretary of Labor to address workplace issues. AIHA urged Solis to appropriate a portion of this funding to OSHA for the purpose of hiring additional OSHA personnel to work on the nation’s new job creation projects. Such positions could include inspectors, consultation experts or compliance assistance personnel.

“We also urge you to do whatever possible to work with the President and others to require contracts awarded for new stimulus construction and manufacturing projects include the hiring of an appropriate number of occupational safety and health professionals to oversee the day to day workplace health and safety of the workers,” Booher wrote. “No contract should be awarded unless it includes adequate personnel to oversee worker health and safety.”

Booher also outlined the long-term goal of directing OSHA to assume a leadership position working with stakeholders to seek out a solution of how best to update permissible exposure limits (PELs).

“It is unconscionable that workers in the United States are covered by PELs adopted some 40 or more years ago,” Booher wrote, adding that this effort could only succeed with the support of Solis and the administration.

“As the workplace continues to change and become more diversified and as the need for workplace health and safety continues to expand globally, AIHA believes your appointment as Secretary of Labor is one of the most important appointments of the new administration,” Booher wrote. “The worker health and safety agenda is a long one, and we believe one of the ways it needs to be addressed is to carry out one of the major themes of the Obama-Biden campaign, that being an ability to bring diverse viewpoints together.”
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