Occupational Illness - The Broken System
The New York Times published a very interesting article about the limitations of OSHA specifically regarding occupational exposures to toxic substances and latent illness. Contrary to what may be popular belief, there seems to be few protections in place. Many of us might have trouble believing events discussed in the article could occur in today's environment.
According to the article, "OSHA devotes most of its budget and attention to responding to here-and-now dangers rather than preventing [latent illnesses]...Over the past four decades, the agency has written new standards with exposure limits for 16 of the most deadly workplace hazards, including lead, asbestos and arsenic. But for the tens of thousands of other dangerous substances American workers handle each day, employers are largely left to decide what exposure level is safe. By contrast, OSHA has two dozen pages of regulations just on ladders and stairs."
Keep in mind that several hundred new chemicals are added to the market place annually. Many of these are destined for the workplace. OSHA seems almost hopelessly behind the curve.
When fines are levied against employers, they may, in some cases, be too small to be effective. According to the article, "the maximum penalty for a violation that causes a 'substantial probability of death - or serious physical harm' is $7,000. The highest fine for a willful and repeated violation is $70,000."
Occupational exposure to toxic substances prematurely kills tens of thousands of Americans. Many more become ill, affecting their ability to work and seriously degrading their quality of life.
This article highlights the importance of loss control when providing Workers' Compensation coverage including facility inspections and interviewing the employer's management team about their attitude towards worker protections.