Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Washington Post article explores safety at popcorn plants

Workers at the Jasper popcorn plant have won a number of lawsuits against makers of a butter flavoring that has caused severe respiratory problems over the past few years.
That problem was recently addressed by OSHA and is the topic of a column in today's Washington Post:

Sept. 24, as the House was about to mandate action, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it would begin making a rule and taking other steps to protect workers from inhaling the chemical, diacetyl.

"All of these things could have been done years ago," David Michaels, director of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services' Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, said of OSHA's plan. "And they wouldn't do anything but for fear of legislation.''

The response by the agency, which has almost completely refrained from regulating during the Bush administration, suggests that Democrats in Congress may force more attention on worker safety in the closing months of the administration.

The Democrats are using oversight hearings to pressure officials at OSHA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. They have criticized the agencies' reluctance -- and in some cases, refusal -- to create and enforce health and safety rules.

The flavored-popcorn dispute includes unusual political and economic splits. The administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed the House bill, in part because they don't want Congress writing the terms of the rule. The flavoring industry and 47 House Republicans favored the bill.

OSHA has scheduled an Oct. 17 meeting to discuss the issue but has not said when it will complete the rule.

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