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Corporate Assault on Safety

The corporate-financed and Republican-engineered assault on safety continues, according to recent articles in the national media.  In Missouri, newspaper accounts of the death of 62 year old Dorris Edwards on her way home from visiting relatives over Thanksgiving, highlight some of the problems encountered when regulators refuse to act in the public's interest.

Ms. Edwards was killed by a rookie truckdriver on his first cross-country trip.  He had been driving nonstop for 8 hours and in the cab for nearly 12.  His "instructor", a 22 -year old with one year of driving experience, was asleep in the berth behind him when his groggy reactions resulted in the death of Ms. Edwards. 

In 2003, the Bush administration responded to repeated requests from insurers and safety groups for greater regulation of the trucking industry by actually INCREASING the number of hours a driver could work and relaxing regulations they described as "cumbersome".  Not surprisingly, the regulators who were installed by the Bush administration and who have "unbound" the trucking industry, come directly from that industry, pledged to work on its behalf.  In a pattern repeated throughout the Bush administration, the top appointments are all of people who had previously pledged their loyalty to the trucking industry and served as executives and lobbyists acting to defeat regulation.  The former head of a trucking firm who had previously claimed that fatigue is not a factor in trucking accidents serves as the Bush-appointed head of the Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  The rather ironic bookend to this failure to regulate was the Bush Administration's decision to limit truck owner liability in an amendment to another statute adopted in 2004:  in this way, insurance company pressure to make trucking more safe could be eliminated.  With Republicans in control of both branches of Congress, there was no outcry over this cynical approach to safety.

The same pattern is evident at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration--the Federal agency charged with protecting worker safety that was created by the Nixon administration.  In another highly-cynical appointment, the Bush people chose Edwin Foulke to head OSHA.  Foulke was a Republican Party fundraiser from South Carolina who had previously advised corporations attempting to prevent unionization.  He is a lawyer who had represented the Chamber of Commerce in efforts to promote the concept of "voluntary compliance"--rather than mandatory compliance with OSHA worker-safety standards.

So how effective is Foulke?  Precisely as effective as one would expect--as an inhibitor of workplace safety.    When doctors examining workers at a microwave popcorn plant showed a troubling pattern of lung disease (nine developed the disease at a single plant within months after a new "buttery-flavor" additive was introduced, the National Institute for Occupational Health rather quickly identified diacetyl--the new additive--as the life-threatening culprit.  Although it was quickly armed with this determination of cause, OSHA failed to take action, despite the fact that additional workers were afflicted on a monthly basis.  Foulke claims "the science is murky" on whether diacetyl causes bronciolitis obliterans, however, it is murky only to industry executives, apparently. Physicians and scientists are so confident of the causation issue that they refer to the disease, now, colloquially, as "popcorn worker's lung".

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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