March 21, 2011
Secunda on OSHA and Japan's Nuclear Crisis
Proving yet again that he is a man of many specialties, our Paul Secunda was cited in a recent MSNBC article on safety issues as they relate to the nuclear crisis in Japan:
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which created the federal safety agency, OSHA, covers all private sector employees and federal employees, but not state and or local government workers, said Paul Secunda, associate law professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wis. There are 21 states, he added, that cover public employees, and many of those employees are in industrial states. . . .
At nuclear facilities OSHA has partial jurisdiction on worker safety, but not when it comes to radiation exposure. According to a 1988 memorandum between the two agencies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees radiation and chemical risks at NRC-licensed facilities, while OSHA handles general occupational risks at plants.
This doesn’t mean protections for those workers when it comes to radiation exposure are any less stringent than employee safety safeguards in any other industry, Secunda maintained. “You are not required to work in conditions [that] would either cause you serious health problems or death,” Secunda said, although he said there may be some exemptions for public emergencies, such as the one in Japan. . . .
Also, if a worker thinks he or she is in imminent danger at work, he continued, that employee doesn’t have to even notify OSHA. The worker can just walk off the job and be protected from being fired or demoted as a result. “OSHA has the ability to close down workplaces that are too hazardous,” Secunda said. Workers may not understand the risks they’re taking, or they may have been coerced into doing a dangerous job with the promise of a big payoff, he noted.
In the case of the Japanese nuclear plant workers, “a communitarian standard and the fear of shaming your family” may be driving the decisions to go back into the nuclear plant, said Secunda, who spent time in Japan and has written papers on Japanese dispute resolution. “There’s a sense of social responsibility the Japanese have that we are lacking,” he noted. They see it, he said, “as glorious to give your life for a greater cause. They came up with Kamikazes, after all.”
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