Notifying Workers at Risk of Occupational Disease
HRD-87-90BR, May 11, 1987
In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on legislative proposals to establish a federal health risk notification program for workers exposed to hazardous substances, focusing on: (1) the federal government's difficulties in carrying out risk notification; (2) the potential benefits and disadvantages to workers of risk notification; and (3) the possibility of expanding the Department of Labor's hazard communication standard.
GAO found that: (1) several National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) pilot programs showed that identifying and notifying individual workers that they might be at risk of occupational disease were feasible; (2) the proposed legislation would establish a risk assessment board to determine which employee populations were at risk of work-related diseases; (3) there are no comprehensive cost estimates for implementing the legislation's notification program; (4) NIOSH estimates that the federal government could spend $25 million annually to notify 300,000 workers, implement the legislation's other provisions, and improve methods for identifying and treating workers at risk; and (5) the legislation's indirect costs could be substantial if notified workers initiate a large number of lawsuits and compensation claims. GAO also found that: (1) the principal benefit to workers of notification is the possibility of quicker and improved medical treatment; (2) industry representatives contend that federal, state, and private programs provide workers with adequate information on workplace hazards; (3) supporters of the notification concept believe that current regulations cover only workers in certain industries who are exposed to a hazard; and (4) expansion of the hazard communication standard as an alternative to the legislation may advance the legislation's goal of disease prevention, but the expansion proposal does not include many of the legislation's key features and would not achieve many of its other goals.