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Worker-Safety Agency Under Review

April 14, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The fathers of two men killed in accidents on the job are urging senators to help the government meet its mandate to protect the health and safety of the nation’s work force.

But while blaming the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for their sons’ deaths, both said Tuesday they want to help, not hurt, the agency.

``OSHA is needed but it needs reform,″ said Ron Hayes, of Fairhope, Ala., whose 19-year-old son died in 1993 after being sucked into a Florida grain elevator.

The Labor Department said the charges leveled against the agency, which it oversees, and some of its staff, were ``groundless and untrue.″

Hayes and Charles LeCroy of Tallahassee, Fla., testified for a proposal by Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., to help the agency by enlisting private consultants to inspect work sites, freeing federal workers to concentrate on the most dangerous sites.

Enzi, chairman of the employment, safety and training panel of the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said workers are at risk because of the agency’s inability to police the more than 6 million places of employment.

``Serious and potentially deadly practices go uninspected and unstopped,″ he said. ``The result is disastrous and, unfortunately, is often fatal.″

LeCroy, whose son died in a 1994 explosion at a Florida paper mill, said inspectors visited the site several times and knew the equipment was inferior.

``Yet OSHA did not force the mill to correct the problems, nor did they declare the work area to be unsafe,″ LeCroy said.

In a statement distributed after the hearing, Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, defended the agency and criticized what he called the ``one-sided, inaccurate testimony″ presented.

``OSHA sets high professional standards and holds its staff to them,″ he said. ``Our compliance officers are dedicated to enforcing the law, not breaking it.″

Labor Department officials did not testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

At a hearing in March, Jeffress said Enzi’s plan would undermine the agency’s mandate because of inherent conflict of interest and accountability problems.

He said inspectors are concentrating on the most hazardous workplaces, spending less time at safer ones and are using Labor Department data to target inspections to industries with the highest injury and illness rates.

Jeffress also announced the appointment Tuesday of Art DeCoursey as a special liaison to help victims and their families get information from OSHA. DeCoursey is Jeffress’ liaison for small business.

___

DeCoursey can be reached by telephone, at 1-202-693-1900, or by e-mail, at decoursey-arthur(at)dol.gov.

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