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Where a Non-Functional OSHA Leads


OSHA is just a nearly non-functional regulatory agency at this point. In 2012, it had enough inspectors to inspect every workplace in America….once in every 129 years. Things have not improved since. So what you have is quite unhealthy workplaces that go years without an expansion. The story of this lead plant in Tampa is just outrageous. Dangerous, it took local reporting for finally get anything done, and then OSHA finally wanders around.

Federal safety regulators descended on the Gopher Resource lead smelter in Tampa, reviewing company documents, collecting dust samples and hooking up workers to monitoring devices so that air quality could be measured. Inspectors arrived Monday and stayed all week.

They combed through the plant, where hundreds of workers have been exposed to high levels of the neurotoxin and other chemicals.

For weeks, Gopher’s leaders had been preparing, factory workers said.

The company made repairs to the plant’s troubled ventilation system, attempting to fix long-standing issues that increased the amount of lead in the air, according to interviews with four workers and photographs shared with the Tampa Bay Times.

Gopher fixed malfunctioning devices designed to blow lead dust off workers as they exited some of the most contaminated areas of the plant. It put down sticky mats to pull particles from the soles of workers’ shoes as they left the dusty factory to head home after their shifts.

And just days before inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived, the company had begun another endeavor: replacing the sludge-covered floor where batteries are cracked open to salvage the lead inside.

The recent improvements cameafter the Times started asking Gopher executives about employee exposures and mechanical problems late last year. Work intensified, several workers said, as the Times neared completion of an 18-month investigationand after publication of its two-part series. The repairs included tearing out lead-clogged ventilation pipes that workers said had rarely been cleaned.

OSHA’s inspection followed mounting calls for government action in response to the newsroom’s investigation, which detailed dangerous conditions inside the factory that spanned years and went unnoticed by regulators.

Before this week, OSHA inspectors hadn’t set foot in the plant in five years.

I would argue that OSHA should be inspecting a facility like this once a month.

OSHA is one of those regulatory agencies that has become hopelessly mired in both regulatory capture and the sharply divergent parties so that everytime power shifts, so does even the slightest attention paid to making it work better. And even when Democrats do have power, OSHA isn’t that high of a priority so that presidents don’t make it a centerpiece of the changes they want to see and it just continues to languish. What we need is vastly more funding, a huge hiring program, and independent inspectors. This story is Tampa is just beyond unacceptable.

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