OSHA Compromised Under Bush


Photo of Peter Infante from Bill Moyer’s 2001 program, Trade Secrets (transcript) about the compromise of health by the chemical industry.

One wonders about due diligence of the mainstream press, when we have an example of the Bush Administration pandering to industry in 2001 and 2002 appearing today in the Washington Post. In case you missed the significance of the chronology, that’s over two years before Mr. Bush won re-election to his second term. Of course, as Bill Moyers showed in his 2001 program, “Trade Secrets,” the dangers posed by the chemical industry was nothing new. What was new was the that political appointees

ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.

This according to “Under Bush, OSHA Mired in Inaction” by the WaPo’s R. Jeffrey Smith.

In fact, the agency’s first director under Bush, John L. Henshaw,

startled career officials by telling them in an early meeting that employers were OSHA’s real customers, not the nation’s workers. “Everybody was pretty amazed,” one of those present recalled. “Our purpose is to ensure employee safety and health. … He just looked at things differently.”

Within two years, Henshaw, an industrial hygienist who had worked for Monsanto and another chemical firm, withdrew 26 draft regulations on OSHA’s public calendar, including rules meant to limit workplace exposure to air contaminants, highly hazardous chemicals, and shipyard and scaffolding hazards.

Smith tells of Peter Infante (bio, Moyers interview, email), an epidemiologist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (actually, although Smith doesn’t mention it, the Director of the Office of Standards Review) who tried to publish a bulletin

warning dental technicians that they could be exposed to dangerous beryllium alloys while grinding fillings. Health studies showed that even a single day’s exposure at the agency’s permitted level could lead to incurable lung disease.


Political appointees at the agency gave his copy to a lobbying firm for the country’s principal beryllium manufacturer. Infante made what he deemed reasonable changes only to have the th elobbyists complain again. Eventually, despite objections from the senion staff, the politicos decided to publish the bulletin with a footnote challenging a key recommendation the firm opposed.

At that point Infante wrote the agency’s director of standards in March 2002:

In my 24 years at the Agency, I have never experienced such indecision and delay

Infante ended up resigning in protest. Smith writes that that the result is

a legacy of unregulation common to several health-protection agencies under Bush: From 2001 to the end of 2007, OSHA officials issued 86 percent fewer rules or regulations termed economically significant by the Office of Management and Budget than their counterparts did during a similar period in President Bill Clinton’s tenure, according to White House lists.

White House officials say their “objective is quality, not quantity,” and that heavy restrictions on corporations harm economic performance.

Robert Harrison, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco and chairman of the occupational health section of the American Public Health Association disputes this:

The legacy of the Bush administration has been one of dismal inaction….like turning a ketchup bottle upside down, banging the bottom of the container, and nothing comes out. You shake and shake and nothing comes out.

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