In a last minute action, political operatives at the US Department of Labor are rushing to lock in new requirements that would make it harder for the next administration to develop and issue protective workplace health rules. This new rule would change the procedures and criteria OSHA and MSHA use to assess worker health risks when developing new standards. It would add years of delay to the standard setting process and weaken protections for workers.

This cynical move by the Bush administration comes after eight years of failing to protect workers from job hazards, starting with the repeal of OSHA’s ergonomics standard in 2001. Since then, the Bush administration has withdrawn dozens of pending rules, and refused to set needed standards on crane safety, silica, tuberculosis and noise. The administration has issued only one OSHA health rule – on hexavalent chromium – and that was a result of a court order.

This risk assessment rule was never listed on the public regulatory agenda. It was developed in secret by political operatives without the involvement of OSHA and MSHA scientists, and sent in July to the Office and Management and Budget (OMB) for review. If this measure goes into effect, it will cripple future efforts to set workplace standards for chemical hazards. The proposal would:

* Require a new unnecessary extra step to seek comments on risk assessments before issuing any proposed health rules, adding years of delay to setting new standards.
* Change the criteria that OSHA and MSHA standards protect workers if exposed over a working lifetime of 45 years, and instead base exposures on the average of years working in an industry. This would increase permissible exposures for all workers and put long-term workers, including coal miners, construction workers and chemical workers at much greater risk of developing disease.
* Go into effect without the public hearings, which have been conducted for all other OSHA health standards.

We need to act now to stop the Bush Administration’s Secret Rule:

* Send a letter or e-mail to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao demanding that she withdraw this rule that will put workers in danger. (1-866-4-USA-DOL; TTY: 1-877-889-5627;
* Contact your and urge them to support and cosponsor legislation to block the DOL secret rule (H.R. 6660).
* Share this information with your co-workers and urge them to take action.

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