Risks of cancer and other illnesses that are considered acceptable at American workplaces wouldn’t be tolerated outside them, says the Center for Public Integrity after an 18-month investigation.
For years, the best the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been able to do is set chemical limits so no more than one extra cancer case would be expected among every 1,000 workers exposed at the legal maximum over their entire careers, says the center.
But EPA’s standards for the public are 10 to 1,000 times more protective, the center says. The real gap often is worse, according to a former OSHA official.
David Michaels, head of OSHA since 2009, says, “With a few exceptions, OSHA’s standards to protect workers from chemical exposures are weak and out of date, or simply non-existent.”
“The law under which OSHA operates … forces us to go through a very, very complex, onerous process for regulating any individual chemical,” Michaels says. “It takes many years and millions of dollars in studies to issue one standard. And that’s why we’ve got only a few dozen standards.”
Here, from the center, are stories of ways job-related illnesses have upended some people’s lives.