Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that the Reagan administration blocked a draft of a Labor Department safety standard because it put "too much value on a human life." An Office of Management and Budget official immediately denied the accusation.
Obey released internal correspondence showing that the OMB had stopped the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from issuing a new standard to protect workers in concrete and masonry construction, in part because it questioned how OSHA arrived at the standard's "value of life" figures.
The figures estimate the value of a construction worker's life for purposes of calculating disability and death benefits and are also used in developing cost-benefit analysis, Obey explained.
OSHA recommended using $3.5 million as the estimated worth of a worker's life based on research by economist Kip Viscusi of Duke University. Obey contended that a more realistic figure would be $7 million. But he said the OMB complained to OSHA about the $3.5 million figure and recommended it be set at $1 million.
Obey based his claim on an April 20 internal OSHA memo that said, "OMB has questioned the use of $3.5 million . . . and has suggested that $1 million may be a more appropriate amount."
OMB spokesman Edwin L. Dale Jr. denied that the OMB tried to force OSHA to adopt the lower figure. "We understand that they OSHA have used the $3.5 million in the past and all we have asked them to do is a sensitivity analysis . . . " to explain and justify the calculations.
Dale said the OMB probably gave OSHA a "number of high and low figures," but he said he could not confirm that the OMB had recommended the $1 million figure.
The regulation still has not been proposed.