RISK NOTIFICATION BILL FAILS AGAIN

RISK NOTIFICATION BILL FAILS AGAIN

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, threw in the towel Tuesday and pulled legislation, requiring notice to workers exposed to high risk substances, off the Senate floor.

He acted after the Senate failed for a fourth time to gain the 60 votes necessary to choke off extended debate on the bill.After only 42 senators voted in favor of curtailing debate, Sen. Metzenbaum withdrew the bill, vowing that the issue will not die.

Talking the bill the death was the strategy of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., backed by the considerable clout of the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The American Insurance Association and the Alliance of American Insurers.

The legislation is guaranteed to cause a liability crisis for many employers, Sen. Hatch charged in outlining his opposition.

Support for action on the bill, which passed the House in October, was led by organized labor and a number of prominent medical researchers, but several well-known companies, including International Business Machines and, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and Crum & Forster, approved the effort.

The legislation was designed to create a program to identify both former and current workers and warn them that they have been exposed to dangerous substances. A newly formed risk assessment board would identify such substances as possible causes of disease.

Employers would be responsible for the costs of medically monitoring those current workers identified as being at risk and providing a less hazardous job if the employee's physician determines this to be necessary.

Ten existing health centers would be designated to provide education, training and technical assistance to health care personnel who have notified workers as patients.

Workers are dying from cancer and we have it in our power to help them, Sen. Metzenbaum, author of the bill, told the Senate.

He charged that the Senate had been tied up for days talking about the measure but opponents did not discuss worker health, but tort reform, which he insisted has nothing to do with the bill.

Sen. Metzenbaum quoted scientific supporters saying that notification of workers is feasible. He quoted, too, a letter from the chairman of Hercules Inc. supporting medical monitoring of high-risk workers.

The administration and business opponents argued that the bill will result in increased litigation as workers sue for damages and claim worker compensation benefits due to stress after notification.

Sen. Hatch maintained that the scientific basis for notification is inadequate and that the costs imposed on business would be enormous.

The bill is unnecessary duplication of other government programs such as those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he told his colleagues before the vote.

He argued that the bill embodies bad science and that liability problems have not been resolved.

He repeatedly challenged Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, to include passive smoking in the bill as a major danger in the work place.

But Sen. Metzenbaum did not want to use limited dollars to warn of the dangers of passive smoking. He envisioned the bill as one to warn workers that they were exposed to chemicals, pesticides and other manufacturing processes that are linked to cancer and other diseases.

Sen. Hatch argued that this is telling workers you have to be exposed to the right fumes and substances to be protected.