United Steelworkers: House bill endangers DOE worker health

Pittsburgh – Proposed legislation that would fund the Department of Defense for the next fiscal year includes language that would reduce worker protections at Department of Energy weapons sites, the United Steelworkers claims.

The National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310) would transfer worker safety and health enforcement duties at the sites from DOE to the National Nuclear Security Administration, and would make the safety and health oversight structure performance-based. While the change would be based on OSHA standards, it would eliminate current DOE-specific safety and health standards not covered by OSHA, USW International President Leo Gerard said in a letter (.pdf file) to Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and NDAA bill sponsor.

“This legislation would strip away the gains in radiation safety that have been made over the past half-century and instead implement lessor protections that are as low as reasonably practical,” leading to more radiation exposure among workers, Gerard said in the letter.

The bill passed the Armed Services Committee on May 9 in a 56-5 vote, and moved to the full House. At press time, the House had not voted on the bill.

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