OSHA Ordered to Release Toxic Chemical Exposure Data

July 09, 2007

 As a result, the world’s largest compendium of measurements of occupational exposures to toxic substances – more than 2 million analyses conducted during some 75,000 OSHA workplace inspections since 1979 – should now be available to researchers and policymakers. Each year, an estimated 40,000 U.S. workers die prematurely because of exposures to toxic substances on the job.

The June 29, 2007, federal court ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Dr. Adam M. Finkel, a former chief regulator and regional administrator at OSHA from 1995 to 2003, and now a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, School of Public Health, and a visiting professor at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. His career at OSHA came to an end after disclosing OSHA’s secret decision in 2002 not to offer medical testing to its own inspectors who had been exposed to beryllium dust. Beryllium dust can cause a unique and often-fatal lung disease, known as chronic beryllium disease (CBD).

In June 2005, Dr. Finkel filed a request under FOIA for release of the entire contents of the OSHA database on toxic exposures, which contains the concentration of each substance found (e.g., asbestos, lead, benzene, silica dust), the company where the sample was taken, and an encrypted code for the inspector who took the sample. He also requested coded information about the results of beryllium sensitization tests conducted on OSHA inspectors. OSHA denied both requests, claiming that among the sampling results there may have been trade secrets and that releasing the encrypted codes could somehow compromise inspectors’ privacy.

Judge Mary L. Cooper of the Federal District Court in Trenton, N.J., held that the rationales offered up by OSHA to justify withholding the data lacked any merit. Moreover, she found that “the public interest in disclosing information that will increase understanding about beryllium sensitization and OSHA’s response thereto is significant.”

“OSHA forgot a long time ago that it exists to protect workers, not to protect its own executives,” stated Dr. Finkel, noting his gratitude to Peter Dickson from the Princeton law firm of Potter & Dickson who argued the case. “Ordinary citizens paid to collect these data, and I look forward to analyzing this public database to help OSHA find its way back to its original mission.” According to Peter Dickson, “This well-balanced and thoughtful decision is a welcome brake on efforts by the government to prevent public scrutiny of what agencies are doing, and more importantly in this case, not doing.”

The validity of Dr. Finkel’s disclosures has been confirmed in tests showing an unexpectedly high incidence of blood abnormalities among a small group of OSHA inspectors, who finally were offered the medical tests in 2004.  OSHA’s permissible beryllium exposure limit was developed almost 60 years ago and has not been updated. Experts agree that the equivalent of one day’s exposure at the current limit can cause CBD.

OSHA/EPA Occupational Chemical Database

This database compiles information from several government agencies and organizations. Available database reports include: "Physical Properties," "Exposure Guidelines," "NIOSH Pocket Guide," and "Emergency Response Information," including the DOT Emergency Response Guide. In addition, an all-in-one report, "Full Report," is available.

Advice for Working in Summer Heat

Every summer, thousands of Americans are hospitalized for heat-related illnesses. Many of these cases are employees who work outdoors where heat stress is potentially dangerous. Now that summer has begun, OSHA is reminding all employers and employees nationwide about its safety and health resources, especially those offering best practices for working in hot weather.

"Every outdoor jobsite faces hazards posed by the sun and heat," said OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "We are encouraging employers and employees to take advantage of our published resources that offer sound advice to recognize and prevent heat stress and other heat-related illnesses."

The two most serious forms of heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion (primarily from dehydration) and the more severe heat stroke, which could be fatal. Symptoms include headaches, weakness, nausea, and dizziness. Recognizing those warning signs and taking quick action can help prevent a fatality.

 The document also features information for teenagers working at summer jobs to learn more about safety and health.

Available in English and Spanish, this laminated card is free to employers for distribution to their employees. It is a quick reference tool on heat-related illnesses, including warning signs, symptoms, and early treatment.

Protecting Yourself in the Sun is a pocket card that explains how to perform self-examinations that may detect early stages of skin cancer. 


New OSHA QuickCard Focuses on Carbon Monoxide Hazards

. The card contains a list of common sources, symptoms, and effects of carbon monoxide exposure; along with a list of preventive measures employees can take to protect themselves from carbon monoxide hazards. 

OSHA Issues 15 Serious Citations to Michael Bianco Inc. following Inspections

OSHA cited Michael Bianco Inc. for 15 alleged serious violations of workplace health and safety standards and has proposed a total of $45,000 in fines against the New Bedford, Mass., leather goods manufacturer.

The citations and fines address chemical, electrical, and mechanical hazards identified during OSHA safety and health inspections that began March 15 in response to reports of possible hazards. OSHA issues a serious citation when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

"Left uncorrected, the conditions cited at the plant expose employees to the hazards of lacerations, amputation, burns, electrocution, eye and face injuries, and to being caught in moving machine parts or struck by machinery," said Robert B. Hooper, OSHA's acting area director for southeastern Massachusetts.

OSHA's inspection found that the company had not determined what types of personal protective equipment were needed for employees whose duties exposed them to hazardous chemicals and flying particles from machinery, and had not supplied those employees with the required eye, face, and hand protection.

Employees were not provided information and training on the hazardous chemicals with which they work and the company's hazard communication program lacked information and data sheets about those chemicals. The plant also lacked adequate safeguards, including machine-specific procedures, employee training, and periodic inspections to prevent the accidental startup of machinery during maintenance.

Finally, the inspection identified several instances of unguarded machinery, improperly used or guarded electrical wiring and equipment, and untrained pallet jack operators.

OSHA Fines Marine Cargo Company $113,400 for Repeat and Willful Violations

OSHA cited Florida Transportation Services of Port Everglades, Fla., for repeat, willful, and serious safety violations following inspections in January and March 2007. Proposed penalties total $113,400.

In January 2007, an employee suffered a fatal injury after being struck by a powered industrial truck that was working in tandem with a second vehicle, unloading steel bars from a cargo vessel. The employee died after being crushed between one of the vehicles and a collision barrier.

OSHA's subsequent inspection found that employees operating industrial trucks were not properly trained and evaluated, and vehicles were operated while employees walked and worked near them. Repeat violations were issued to the company for allowing vehicles to be driven near employees standing in front of stationary objects and for allowing vehicles without functional horns and headlights to be operated near employees. The one serious and two repeat serious violations resulted in proposed penalties of $28,000.

The second inspection resulted in OSHA issuing four serious and two willful violations with proposed penalties of $85,400 for operating an industrial truck with a personnel platform not secured to the lifting carriage, using a personnel platform without a complete guardrail system, not providing personal flotation devices to employees near the water's edge, and not having a fall protection system for employees working on top of intermodal containers.

"OSHA has inspected this company five times in the past three years and has found serious safety violations," said Darlene Fossum, OSHA's area director in Fort Lauderdale. "The employer has failed to keep the workplace free of recognized hazards that were likely to cause death or serious physical harm."

MIOSHA Fines M&W Industries of Detroit $236,890 for Failure to Protect Employees from Amputations and Other Safety Hazards

Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG) Director Keith W. Cooley announced week that the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has cited M&W Industries of Detroit with $236,890 in proposed penalties for allegedly failing to adequately protect employees from amputations and other safety hazards, and failing to comply with commitments to improve overall safety and health for employees.

Six amputations have occurred at M&W Industries since June 2006:

  • On 01/05/2007, an employee amputated the first three fingers on his left hand while he was operating a hydraulic press
  • On 12/19/2006, an employee amputated his left ring finger while he was operating a hydraulic squaring shear
  • On 09/23/2006, an employee nearly severed his left hand (partial amputation) while he was operating a horizontal band saw
  • On 06/28/2006, an employee amputated her left index finger while she was operating a hydraulic press
  • Also on 06/28/2006, another employee amputated his right index finger while he was operating the same hydraulic press as above
  • On 06/07/2006, an employee amputated his left index finger while he was operating a horizontal band saw


"M&W Industries has been given ample opportunity to correct the serious hazards which are endangering the health and well being of their employees. Their failure to protect their workers will not be tolerated," said Cooley. "Not only did M&W Industries not comply with MIOSHA requirements, their continued disregard for employee safety led to six employees suffering amputation injuries since June 2006. We are sending a clear message to all employers that they must be proactive and consistently protect their workers."

In 2005, the MIOSHA General Industry Safety and Health Division conducted a planned, wall-to-wall inspection at the 13550 Helen Street location that resulted in 20 serious, one willful, eight repeat-serious, and 13 other-than-serious violations. Because the inspection findings included willful and repeat-serious violations, it is agency practice to conduct a follow-up inspection to ensure that items are corrected and corrections are maintained.

Between March 5, and April 9, 2007, MIOSHA conducted four inspections at two M&W Industries sites. Despite a settlement agreement from the 2005 inspection, the follow-up inspections found that the firm failed to abate identified hazards. Specifically, the company failed to install needed guards, provide required employee training on worksite chemicals, provide audiometric testing and training, train employees on the safe operation of overhead and gantry cranes, and enforce the use of lockout.

Inspection Citations − 13550 Helen Street:

2 Follow-up Inspections 9 Fail-to-Abate Notices $79,290

1 Planned Partial Inspection 3 Repeat-Serious 24,000


Inspection Citations − 20101 Hoover Street:

1 Employee Complaint 2 Willful 112,000

3 Serious 12,000

1 Repeat-Serious 8,000

2 Other-than-Serious 1,600

Total Proposed Penalties: $236,890

MIOSHA scheduled inspections target establishments with high injury/illness rates and a high incidence of lost workday cases, based on Michigan data. The intent of the scheduled inspections is to identify hazardous conditions, so that the hazards can be corrected before injuries and illnesses occur.

"Taking the time to follow MIOSHA regulations can not only protect workers, it can greatly enhance a company's bottom line," said MIOSHA Director Doug Kalinowski. "Successful Michigan companies have shown that a strong safety and health program contributes to increased production, improved quality and greater profits."


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