Democratic News

The Energy Department has announced that it is considering dismantling the Office of Environment, Safety & Health (ES&H) and transferring the oversight and enforcement responsibilities of that office to another office that deals mostly with security. DOE believes that the overhaul will strengthen and improve worker safety.  Not everyone agrees. 
Safety groups, health experts, unions and lawmakers (including Sen. Bingaman) have taken a dim view of the proposed reorganization.  What’s more, security failures at DOE over the past few weeks have drawn new attention to the fact that DOE’s Office of Security and Safety Performance Assurance has more than enough to manage without also having to oversee workplace safety, health and environmental protection.
Three letters to Energy Secretary Bodman make a strong case that merging the two offices, is ill advised.  The respected American Society of Safety Engineers wrote, “We have seen nothing to support the idea that this reorganization will bring about improvements in DOE safety and health capabilities,” adding that the organization is concerned “that the merger of these two offices will only confuse the two vitally important safety missions of DOE.”  Three former heads of ES&H (Drs. Paul Ziemer, Tara O’Toole and David Michaels) warned that eliminating ES&H as an entity “will be perceived … as a move to downgrade the importance of ES&H issues.”  Finally, the head of the United Steelworkers Union, which represents workers involved in nuclear weapons production and environmental clean-up at DOE facilities, told the Secretary that ES&H “has proven to be a strong champion of worker safety, and we do not want to lose that protection and see our safety protection swallowed up by another office with multiple responsibilities and lesser authority.”

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