Silent Epidemic of Workplace Chemical Exposures Rages On
New Worker Right-to-Know Database Maps All OSHA Health Inspection Readings
Washington, DC — Workplace chemical exposures are the nation’s eighth leading cause of death but the U.S. lacks any strategy for preventing the more than 40,000 premature deaths each year, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today the group unveiled a Worker Right-to-Know website displaying 30 years of Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) chemical exposure readings from inspections back to 1984 so workers can see what substances they encountered and to help guide OSHA in improving safeguards for worker health.
Occupational exposures kill malignantly, from cancer, neurological breakdown, cardiopulmonary disease, and other chronic maladies. While this toll claims the lives of more than 10 times the workers killed in all on-the-job accidents combined, OSHA spends in excess of 90% of its budget on safety issues.
“More Americans die each year from workplace chemical exposure than from all highway accidents, yet we have no national effort to stem this silent occupational epidemic,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that allowed chemical exposure on-the-job is roughly 1000 times higher than in the general ambient environment. “In the U.S., environmental protection stops at the factory door.”
The new PEER database allows comprehensive workplace exposure data to be searched by year, by state, by establishment type and by substances detected. Individual inspection data may also be viewed. It also provides a geospatial display of all OSHA workplace monitoring sampling results. PEER hopes the readings will give workers and their doctors clues about the origins of otherwise mysterious illnesses.
These occupational risks may be on the rise as thousands of new chemicals are introduced in U.S. workplaces each year. Yet OSHA figures show a slow decline in health sampling. At its current rate of health inspections, it would take OSHA nearly 600 years to sample chemical exposure at half the nation’s industrial facilities that handle hazardous substances.
On a policy level, PEER is asking responsible agencies to come to grips with the problem by calling for –
- OSHA to start using its own air sampling data to pinpoint where health inspections are most needed and to increase the number of such inspections; and
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to conduct an updated national survey of occupational exposures, a survey it last did thirty-five years ago.
“Reversing this long lethal trend requires a national commitment to ‘green’ the American workplace,” added Ruch. “Above all, OSHA needs to rediscover its ‘H’ by taking affirmative steps to sharply reduce the slow poisoning of American workers.”