OSHA May Regulate Toxic Waste Cleanups
Mar. 28, 1985
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says his agency is considering ways to protect workers who clean up toxic chemical dumps.
Robert A. Rowland made the statement at a House hearing Wednesday after OSHA came under fire for failing to set health and safety rules for such workers and for not routinely inspecting toxic cleanup operations.
Rowland said that OSHA now does regular inspections only at ''Superfund'' sites in Idaho under a pilot program begun in 1983. The Superfund, operated by the Environmental Protection Agency, targets the nation's worst toxic waste dumps.
Rowland said that based on a preliminary report from that program, OSHA will consider making regular inspections at Superfund dumps across the nation and writing regulations covering worker safety, possibly as early as this fall.
Rowland added, however, that OSHA has no ''timeframe'' for considering whether to conduct regular worker safety inspections at the thousands of other waste sites not under the Superfund cleanup program.
The criticism against OSHA was leveled by representatives of organized labor and members of the House Government Operations employment subcommittee.
''Given the hazardous nature of these dumps, it is incredible that there are no OSHA standards governing cleanup work and very little OSHA inspection and enforcement activities at dump sites,'' said J.C. Turner, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
Margaret Seminario of the AFL-CIO's occupational safety department said that organized labor has been trying since 1979 to get OSHA to adopt rules to protect toxic site workers.
She testified that OSHA has had legal authority since 1971 to set standards covering toxic dump workers and that a 1980 law required OSHA, working with other federal agencies, to draft a worker protection plan within two years.
Ms. Seminario said the lack of worker standards is in sharp contrast to OSHA practices requiring its own employees to be trained and have protective gear before visiting waste sites.
''On the enforcement side, OSHA's record is just as dismal,'' Ms. Seminario said. ''The agency has not established any real enforcement program to inspect hazardous waste sites. Inspections are scheduled only in response to complaints or requests for assistance from other agencies.''
Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y., said that ''we need some radical action. We ought not sit back and allow OSHA to flaunt the law and not enforce the law.'' Subcommittee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said workers are getting ''inadequate protections.''
T. Louis Brown, shop steward for Teamsters Local 270 at a hazardous waste processing firm in New Orleans, said he called the local OSHA office after a co-worker was blinded when a chemical-carrying pipe burst.
''I was told no inspector would come out unless a fatality was involved or there was a continuing health hazard,'' said Brown, who also testified that OSHA refused to send an inspector to an asbestos disposal site unless he filed a signed complaint. He refused.
''People do not want to jeopardize their jobs to get an inspector out who may or may not do anything,'' said Brown, who refused to identify his employer because of possible ''reprisals.''
John Miles, director of OSHA field operations, said inspectors should have responded to both instances cited by Brown.