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New York Times keeps pressure on worker health and safety

It’s been a big week for covering workplace safety at the New York Times. Last weekend, the Gray Lady published a major, front-page, above-the-fold investigation into a chemical used in workplaces across the country that is known to make workers sick- and how regulators have done little to stop its use.

On Friday, the Times’ editorial board published a scathing editorial calling for more safeguards to prevent this chemical’s use and to protect workers.

“Medical experts and even companies that once made nPB had long warned that the chemical can cause neurological damage when inhaled at low doses for long periods. So how could it happen that Royale Comfort’s workers, whose plight was described in painful detail by Ian Urbina in The Times last Sunday, were exposed to it?” the editorial posited. “There is plenty of blame to go around — a company trying to save a buck, timid regulators and weak laws.”

And on Saturday, the Times published a letter to the editor written by Tom O” Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

“To the editor,” O” Connor wrote, “” As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester” (front page, March 31) highlights a very real and rarely discussed issue in worker safety: occupational illness.

While nearly 5,000 workers die on the job each year, an estimated 50,000 more develop an occupational illness. Yet despite this toll, the federal government sits on rules that could help prevent workers from developing occupational illnesses. A proposed rule that would prevent workers from being exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust on the job has remained mired at the Office of Management and Budget for more than two years.

Additionally, the article points to the critical importance of strict oversight by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure that state OSHA programs be “at least as effective” as federal OSHA, as required by law. In the case depicted, North Carolina OSHA — not the federal agency — failed the workers.”

National COSH commends the Gray Lady for keeping much-needed attention and pressure on regulators to protect workers’ safety.