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OSHA seeks to relax maritime worker protections

The Trump administration has been giving signs that it is not a friend to the concept of worker safety at sea.

This past summer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it was lightening safety restrictions for major shippers.

OSHA has issued several statements indicating a different attitude than the previous administration about protecting shipbuilders, seamen and dockworkers from toxic substances.

The beryllium problem

The Obama administration had intended to lower permissible workplace exposure to beryllium, an alloying agent used to produce beryllium copper, which goes into springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes, and non-sparking tools.

Beryllium is also used in constructing high-speed aircraft, missiles, spacecraft, and communication satellites.

The problem with beryllium is that it is also linked to causing lung disease. It is believed to be responsible for over 100 people every year - many of whom were involved in shipbuilding. Levels of beryllium detected exceeded the proposed limit.

OSHA under Trump evidently decided that 100 deaths of shipbuilders and other maritime workers were not so many, and industry had lobbied for the exemption.

Proponents of the change say that chronic beryllium disease, the lung ailment caused by the substance, occurs in only a handful of workers with a genetic susceptibility to the disease.

Other regulation-cutting measures

In the same way, OSHA is backing away from a safety standard set several years ago for silica, which is likewise connected to lung disease and cancer.

OSHA has also not acted to require employers to make public workplace injury incidents.

It's not a surprise that a business-friendly administration would chip away at safety regulations it finds excessive. But it's a false economy if abandoning safety regulations today leads over time to an increase in disease and a probable rise in subsequent lawsuits.

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