America’s Toxic Workplace Rules


Last month, President Trump’s nomination of R. Alexander Acosta to be secretary of labor was approved by a Senate committee, even though the nominee’s testimony had left unclear whether he would be more interested in protecting employers’ prerogatives than in guarding workers’ interests.

We may soon find out, and here’s one test — an issue of worker health that President Barack Obama’s Labor Department tried to resolve, without much success: Why does the department’s Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration allow workers to be exposed to dangerous chemicals at limits far higher than those set for everyone by the Environmental Protection Agency?

Mr. Acosta should know that issue. He served on the National Labor Relations Board during George W. Bush’s presidency. And OSHA was making slow progress toward equalizing some standards when Mr. Obama’s presidency ended.

The issue of toxic hazards at work went national nearly 20 years ago, when former employees brought more than 200 lawsuits against IBM, accusing it of having concealed knowledge that it was exposing them to carcinogenic chemicals. Ultimately, IBM settled the suits, with the details sealed.

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