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Workplace Hazards

September 20, 1993

In its recent series, "Sweat and Blood: Latinos in the Factories" (Sept. 5-7), The Times was critical of inspections performed by Cal/OSHA in the manufacturing industry in L.A. County, and the low number of Cal/OSHA inspectors available to perform them. Perhaps because The Times' articles were so long in the making, it paints a less than accurate picture of Cal/OSHA's current inspection performance and staffing patterns.

Over the last eight months, Cal/OSHA has almost tripled the proportion of programmed inspections carried out in high-hazard industries--from 11% to 32%. Contrary to what The Times asserts, California has not increased high-hazard industry inspections "by declining to investigate many complaints." Cal/OSHA's policy, in conformance with the labor code, is to investigate every complaint. Because some complaints are non-serious and can be investigated without conducting an on-site inspection, Cal/OSHA has begun, with federal approval, to concentrate its on-site inspection resources on more serious hazards.

In commenting on Cal/OSHA staffing in the L.A. area, The Times stated that " . . . Cal/OSHA assigns proportionately far fewer safety and health personnel here than in other areas." The articles consider only the manufacturing industry and ignore the higher prevalence of other industries, such as agriculture, forestry and mining, in Northern California. Even so, Cal/OSHA recognizes that additional resources are needed in L.A. County, and in addition to filling all vacant safety and health positions in the L.A. area, has recently transferred several positions from Northern California to L.A.

The articles made slight mention of the severe budgetary constraints Cal/OSHA has been operating under for the past three years. In the worst possible of coincidences, the state's gaping budgetary shortfalls began to appear just as Cal/OSHA re-emerged after the passage of Proposition 97. On July 16, the Legislature passed, and Gov. Pete Wilson signed, AB 110, which will provide several million dollars in additional funding to enable Cal/OSHA to hire more compliance and consultation personnel to target high-hazard manufacturing sites in L.A. County for injury prevention activities. With the additional funding, Cal/OSHA is looking forward to continuing to address the concerns expressed by The Times.

JOHN HOWARD

Chief, Department of Industrial Relations

Division of Occupational Safety and Health

San Francisco

* I want to thank The Times for its series. Latino workers have long been subjected to the most miserable conditions of employment both in physical and economic terms. In the midst of the most recent backlash against immigrants, this series is a sad reminder of the high price many workers are paying for a minimum wage job.

RENE CASTRO, Chair

Los Angeles Committee on Occupational Safety & Health

* Those of us who see these problems on a regular basis know that the recent publicity regarding fraud in the workers' compensation system neglected the fact that there really are significant industrial injuries and there really are potential dangers in the workplace.

I do not agree, however, with the quotes of some of my colleagues who imply these dangers are yet largely unknown, and no research has been done, or is being done, on toxics. The literature is jammed with known toxic effects of solvents and other toxics, and in each case a trained occupational physician has means to study the patient for any ill effects.

Yes, there are cases where people do develop respiratory, neurological and even reproductive abnormalities with toxics; there are also many who file a claim for a back injury but also "tack on" a toxic claim because solvents were in the workplace and really are found to have "nothing."

The "aura" that toxics are a big mystery does a disservice. Each case can be evaluated scientifically as to its merits.

ALVIN MARKOVITZ MD

West Los Angeles

* It is indeed a tragedy for any employee to suffer a serious injury or lose a life on the job, but the tone and nature of your series are a negative attack on industry. To compare the tragic circumstances of 10 individuals to the daily activities of 875,000 workers, "those who go home dirty at the end of the night," and portray manufacturing as both dangerous and an undesirable occupation is wrong.

Articles such as this have created public and legislative opinion that has shackled industry and driven thousands of companies out of business or out of state. The Times would be serving the community to a higher degree if your energies were spent promoting interest in manufacturing rather than trashing this vital economic pillar. There are solutions. Industrial arts in our schools, apprenticeship programs, immigration restraints, English literacy improvements, fewer regulations that drain investment capital and more incentives to upgrade older equipment are but a few!

DAVID GOODREAU, Chairman

California Industrial Leadership Council

Glendale

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