Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law has accused the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of "bureaucratic surrender," saying the agency has given in to "powerful corporate disinterests in advancing safety and health" in the work place.
The report, compiled by staffer Philip Simon on the basis of a year's interviews with labor officials, managers and OSHA field inspectors, charges:
The number of workers "guaranteed protection" by the agency dropped 40 percent between 1980 and 1982 as a result of OSHA's new policy of "targeting" inspections to high-hazard industries and allowing full inspections only of work places with worse-than-average illness or accident rates.
The number of inspections prompted by worker complaints dropped 58 percent in the same period. Complaints dropped about 50 percent.
OSHA managers are downgrading an increasing number of complaints recommended by on-site inspectors. The number of citations for "willful" violations, OSHA's most serious category, dropped 90 percent, from 1,238 in 1980 to 112 in 1982. The number of "serious" citations category dropped 50 percent.
Doug Clark, a spokesman for OSHA Administrator Thorne G. Auchter, issued a statement in Auchter's name Friday criticizing the report as "a collection of lies, distortions and generalizations based on isolated and unrepresentative cases, wrapped in the philosophy that the free enterprise system is out to squeeze profits from the very blood and bones of workers.
"That is a philosophy foreign to the ideals of President Reagan and most Americans. . . . This administration does not accept the Ralph Nader belief that government should exist as adversary . . . "
Clark cited several facts in the report he believed to be erroneous, including a quote attributed to Auchter about the agency's reasons for the delays in establishing a new standard for exposure to the carcinogenic chemical benzene. The agency's original standard for benzene, a chemical widely used in manufacturing, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1980.
The report quotes Auchter as saying the pace had been slow because "benzene isn't a hot enough press item." The quote, reported by Sidney Wolfe, who heads another Nader group, was denied by Auchter.
However, American Public Health Association President Tony Robbins confirmed the substance, though not the exact wording, of the quote.
The report, which relies in part on anonymous quotes from field inspectors and on documented cases of weakened citations or inadequate inspections, repeatedly criticizes the agency's new "nonadversarial" policies.
One unnamed inspector said Auchter's policy of stressing "informal conferences" to settle disputes arising from citations amounts to an open invitation to employers to "come and get your citation at bargain-basement discount prices."
In another case, the report said, timely inspection of a potential work place hazard was thwarted by Auchter's refusal to allow his inspectors to get search warrants unless they were denied entry to a plant.
The case involved a St. Louis coke-manufacturing firm where employes allegedly were prohibited from taking water breaks even though they worked during the summer months near coke ovens where temperatures reached 140 degrees Farenheit. Three employes allegedly collapsed from the heat.
The OSHA inspector who responded to an employe complaint was denied entry. He got a search warrant but was unable to enter until October, more than two months after the original complaint.
The report also blasted Auchter's failure to issue new work place exposure standards for a variety of chemicals besides benzene, including the sterilant ethylene oxide, which is known to cause cancer in animals, and the fumigant ethylene dibromide, a highly toxic chemical used in the insecticide sprayed to combat California's "Medfly" infestation in 1981.