Workers Comp Zone


Strange brew-what’s inside of you may kill ya. Strange brew. Strange brew.

I’m sitting here pondering the fate of AB 515, a bill currently under consideration in the California legislature that would regulate worker chemical exposures.

I can hear the guitar riffs now. Strange brew, strange brew, strange brew-

Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker. Cream, one of the British pop super groups. Lotsa wailing guitars.

OK. Alright. You caught me. I’m taking artistic license. Perhaps Cream wasn’t singing about toxic sludge, carcinogenic emissions, or workplace exposures. For them, it was strange brew-kill what’s inside of you.

But it got me thinking about strange toxic brews that thousands of California workers are exposed to at work. Who sets standards for acceptable exposures? Is the seven -member California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board adopting standards tough enough to protect California workers?

AB 515 would require the Board to set long term exposure limits in addition to standards limiting short term exposures.

As many as 44 chemicals on the Prop 65 list as cancer-causers are not subject to any standards for worker exposure.

The result? The public receives general Prop 65 warnings of the presence of cancer causing substances, but workers dealing with the substances day in and day out have little or no protection from the effects of long term exposure. Many of these workers will find themselves on workers’ compensation years later, their health in shambles.

The availability of a Material Data Safety Sheet doesn’t protect workers from long term exposures.

I know. One of my favorite clients died recently of a form of brain cancer, a cancer quite likely linked to his years of service at a Bay Area oil refinery. I visited him at the Walnut Creek skilled nursing facility where-barely able to sit straight in a chair-he gave a two hour deposition detailing his exposures to a long list of chemicals for over 20 years. At the end, he slumped over, barely able to speak. About a month later he was gone.

It’s a debate which is playing out under slightly different circumstances on the Potomac. For background on the Bush administration’s attempt to change the standard for measuring worklife exposures, check out the post I did earlier this week. Bush appointees are clearly intent on pushing through the agenda of oil and chemical industry lobbyists.

Here in California, AB 515 sits in a precarious political balance. A similar bill was withdrawn last year. Forces opposing AB 515 include the California Chamber of Commerce and California Manufacturers and Technology Association, groups behind the SB 899 workers’ comp reform. These are groups who have a virtual hotline to the Governor’s office.

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View) has lined up a labor and environmental coalition behind the bill. But it will be yeoman’s work to keep the coalition from fracturing since some labor groups have concerns about the effect on jobs in the industries they serve.
It’s common for groups to sign on or sign off of major bills like this depending on how they see their interests being affected.

Environmental groups have a big stake in this bill and are are likely to continue the push each year until this bill gets done.

Seeking a legacy of environmental progress, Schwarzenegger might sign the bill? It’s not clear.

Want to see an example of why the bill is needed? Look at the investigative series by Susan Sward in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Sward detailed the effects of cancer causing chemicals on workers at a Mojave Desert chemical plant, Searles Valley Minerals: … amp;hw=sus

Strange and ugly brew.

Stay tuned.

Julius Young
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Category: Political developments