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OSHA under pressure to respond more purposefully to toxic air

The Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) is the nation’s watchdog safety agency overseeing businesses and industries across the country. Charged by a congressional mandate to promote workers’ safety in Ohio and every other state through safety inspections, guidance to employers, safety rules and regulations, and punitive enforcement when necessary, OSHA has both fans and harsh critics.

Advocates say that the agency is conscientious and doing all it can to curb workplace accidents and on-the-job injuries, despite operating with an overly limited budget and inadequate resources.

Many persons who criticize the agency say that many of its initiatives, and much of its focus, is misplaced. They note, for example, that OSHA tends to fixate on small fixes of immediate problems rather than looking at the truly big safety issues that confront workers across the county.

Here’s one example, critics say. It has been noted that the agency has written more than 20 pages of rules on the use of ladders. Conversely, it has largely abstained from meaningful scrutiny, rulemaking and enforcement action when it comes to gaining control over thousands of dangerous — sometimes toxic — gases, chemicals and other substances that workers in wide-ranging industries routinely work amidst.

“I’m the first to admit this is broken,” says OSHA administrator David Michaels. The agency has argued often in recent years for a larger budget and more inspectors.

A special concern is the aforementioned toxic air that many workers breathe during the work day. One estimate pegs workplace deaths resulting from such exposure at around 40,000 nationally each year, a number that spells a ten-fold increase over fatalities resulting from explosions, mine collapses and other worksite accidents.

Source: The New York Times, “As OSHA emphasizes safety, long-term health risks fester,” Ian Urbina, March 30, 2013