AB 515 beefs up safety protections
Each year, 23,000 Californians are diagnosed with a chronic, deadly disease attributed to chemical exposure at work. And about 6,500 workers die each year due to chronic diseases associated with workplace exposures.
A bill now under consideration in the California Legislature would provide workers with better protection against chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive or developmental damage.
The California Environmental Protection Agency sets standards for environmental exposure for many chemicals. AB 515 focuses on several dozen substances which the California EPA has already determined to be either carcinogens, reproductive or developmental hazards.
Despite the fact that the State of California knows these substances are harmful, workers may legally be exposed to these toxic chemicals in the workplace in amounts that are far greater than a person may be legally exposed to in the general environment.
These toxics are either completely unregulated in the work place or are regulated only to protect workers from short term effects such as headaches or dizziness or irritation–not protection from cancer or reproductive or developmental harm.
This also means that for some of these substances, workers do not even know if the chemical they are using can cause cancer.
The State of California Environmental Protection Agency has already determined a number of chemicals to cause cancer, reproductive or developmental harm. It has determined health-based risk assessments (prepared by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which is part of Cal EPA). It knows how many excess deaths or illnesses will result when workers are exposed over their working life (40 years, 50 weeks/year, 8 hours/day) and can provide a range of numbers for the health-based risk assessment.
AB 515 will require the OSH Standards Board to use the health-based risk assessments (adjusted for working life) already determined by the State of California. It will not permit the OSH Standards Board or Cal/OSHA to re-invent the wheel, but will require it to utilize the health-based risk assessment already vetted publicly by the Cal EPA process.
Too many workers die each year because of inadequate protections against toxic exposures. By reducing the risks, AB 515 will save lives, and will reduce the costs associated with disease and disability by preventing them from happening in the first place.
The occupational health group Worksafe! contributed this report.
May 10, 2007