Workplace Exposures Rise as OSHA Inspections Fall

Workplace Exposures Rise as OSHA Inspections Fall
Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is doing fewer health inspections despite more workplace exposures to toxic and hazardous substances, according to an analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While workplace exposures are linked to the premature deaths of 10 times more workers than all workplace accidents combined, OSHA now spends less than 5% of its limited resources on workplace health protection.

Occupational exposures are the eighth leading cause of death in this country, resulting in more than 40,000 premature deaths per year from cancer, neurological disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and other maladies. Yet OSHA figures show a slump in health sampling that began in 1991:

  • The number of exposure measurements taken is few and getting fewer. For the most recent year (2007), OSHA took about 53,000 samples nationwide, whereas it was collecting nearly three times as many samples in 1988, at the end of the Reagan administration;
  • At its current rate of health inspections, it would take OSHA about 600 more years to make any chemical exposure measurements at half the nation’s industrial facilities that handle hazardous substances; and
  • Obama officials have taken no steps to reverse this trend, and continue to stress targets for the total number of inspections completed. This provides a powerful disincentive for inspectors to conduct toxic-substance sampling, which can take several days to complete, while an inspector can perform several construction safety inspections in a single day.
  • The figures were derived from preliminary analyses of a massive database of exposure measurements for all federal and state inspections obtained by Dr. Adam Finkel, PEER Board member and former director of health rulemaking for OSHA, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

+ View the decline in health inspection sampling (PDF; 14 KB)
+ Look at the methylene chloride (MC) figures (PDF; 35 KB)
+ Read about the OSHA database

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