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Overseeing Agency Indifferent to Workplace Safety in US

If war is too serious a matter to be left in the hands of generals, so also the safety of workers cannot be left to the care of labour department officials. At least such// seems to be the case in the US.

Latest trends show that agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are more concerned with promoting the interests of the industries than with the safety of the workers themselves.

Seven years ago, a Missouri doctor discovered a troubling pattern at a microwave popcorn plant in the town of Jasper. After an additive was modified to produce a more buttery taste, nine workers came down with a rare, life-threatening disease that was ravaging their lungs.

After painstaking investigation, scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that the workers became ill after exposure to diacetyl, a food-flavoring agent.

But the (OSHA), charged with overseeing workplace safety, did not step up plant inspections or mandate safety standards for businesses, even as more workers became ill.

Two days ago a top official at the agency told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing that it would prepare a safety bulletin and planned to inspect a few dozen of the thousands of food plants that use the additive.

That response reflects OSHA’s practices under the Bush administration. Across Washington, political appointees — often former officials of the industries they now oversee — have eased regulations or weakened enforcement of rules on issues like driving hours for truckers, logging in forests and corporate mergers, critics say.

Since George W. Bush became president, OSHA has killed dozens of existing and proposed regulations and delayed adopting others. For example, it has repeatedly identified silica dust, which can cause lung cancer, and construction site noise as health hazards that warrant new safeguards for nearly three million workers, but it has
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