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NACOSH Presses OSHA on Rulemaking, Whistleblowers, Smallpox

Members of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) sharply criticized a number of OSHA policies and procedures, near the close of the second and final day of meetings held at OSHA headquarters in Washington, DC.

The committee placed the following items on the agenda for its next meeting, and told OSHA it wants answers concerning:

  • OSHA's administration of "Whistleblower" statutes;
  • Accuracy of material safety data sheets (MSDS); and
  • The removal of items from OSHA's regulatory agenda, especially safety and health programs.

"I want to make it clear: this is an advisory, not an oversight committee," replied a somewhat beleaguered John Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. Henshaw did not elaborate on his understanding of the difference between oversight and advice, but after the meeting some NACOSH members privately rejected Henshaw's distinction between the two.

But the meeting ended on a more harmonious note, as NACOSH also agreed to offer help in three areas requested by Henshaw and John Howard, the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The committee established small work groups that will focus on:

  • Hispanic and immigrant workers;
  • Validity of safety and health data used to target inspections and evaluate OSHA programs; and
  • Dissemination of information, especially from NIOSH, but including OSHA as well.

Several committee members criticized OSHA for dropping safety and health programs from its regulatory agenda. "Every employer should have a safety and health program," said safety representative James Stanley, vice president of safety and health at AK Steel. "I think the agency should come out and say as a principle, every employer should have these programs."

Public representative Letitia Davis, of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health worried that by not working on this standard, the agency was simply postponing the inevitable.

Health representative James Blessman, assistant professor at Wayne State University, pressed Henshaw to explain why the safety and health program standard was removed from the agenda. Henshaw replied the agency made the judgment that its resources were better employed elsewhere.

Public representative Ron Hayes, founder of Families in Grief Hold Together, raised a number of issues at today's meeting, including MSD sheets, whistleblower protections and NACOSH procedures.

"I was short-changed last year," complained Hayes. "Congress says NACOSH must meet twice each calendar year, and last year it met only once." Henshaw replied that this year NACOSH could meet as often as it likes.

Hayes also wondered why management representative Judith Freyman chairs the meetings, since rules call for the chair to be a public representative.

Near the end of the meeting, labor representative Richard Duffy made a motion asking OSHA and NIOSH to address worker safety and health issues raised by the government's smallpox vaccination program.

"The silence on this issue from these two agencies is deafening," he said. Although the motion was seconded, no vote was taken. Neither Henshaw nor Howard offered a response to the motion.

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