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#60: The Legacy of Dr. Eula Bingham

June 24, 2020 | 59 minutes 36 seconds

In this episode, podcast series host Jill James is joined by Mark Catlin, an industrial hygienist from Maryland. This episode is a memorial dedicated to health and safety professionals—and workers—whose lives and professions were impacted by the work, research, and advocacy of Dr. Eula Bingham. Dr. Bingham passed away recently at the age of 90. She began her career as a toxicologist. She was the first woman to head federal OSHA under the Carter administration. She was a fierce advocate for worker training. If you’ve ever wondered how hazardous substance labeling came to be, well, that was Dr. Bingham. This is a can’t miss episode of the podcast.

Links and Show Notes

Mark's Youtube Channel 

YouTube playlist with 21 videos of Dr. Bingham's work

Access to employee exposure and medical records OSHA Standard

Access to employee exposure and medical records booklet

California Workplace Guide to Aerosol Transmissible Diseases

California’s ATD Standard

2019 Study on the Use of Elastomeric Respirators in Health Care

Transcript

Jill:

This is The Accidental Safety Probe brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and The Health and Safety Institute. This special edition of the podcast was recorded June 18th, 2020. My name is Jill James, the Health and Safety Institute's Chief Safety Officer. Today's episode is a memorial and reflection dedicated to the family, health and safety professionals, and workers whose lives and professions were impacted by the work, research ,and advocacy of, Dr. Eula Bingham, who passed away five days ago at the age of 90.

Dr. Bingham began her career as a toxicologist. She was the first woman to head federal OSHA under the Carter Administration. She was a fierce advocate for worker training, and if you've ever wondered how labeling hazardous substances got its start, well, that was Dr. Bingham, too. There is so much more to her work and legacy, which is why I've asked Mark Catlin to join me today.

Many of you listening know Mark. Some of you may recall him as a guest from episode 11 and many more of you know Mark as an industrial hygienist from Maryland. Many, many of us in this field regard Mark as our health and safety historian. Many of us have used, enjoyed, and taught with the historical health and safety films he's curated on his YouTube channel, including some on Dr. Bingham. Mark also knew and was mentored by Dr. Bingham, having first met her in 1989 when she came to Alaska to investigate worker health concerns during the early days of the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup. Mark, thank you for being here today and honoring Dr. Bingham's legacy.

Mark:

Thank you very much, Jill. Thanks for doing this. It's a great honor to be here and talk about Dr. Bingham.

Jill:

Who was Dr. Bingham, Mark?

Mark:

She was this really larger-than-life figure, but when you got to know her, she was very down to earth and encouraging and supportive. She was a wonderful sort of mentor and probably mentored hundreds and hundreds of health and safety professionals in her day. I was fortunate enough to be one of those.

Jill:

Yeah. What was that first interaction like in 1989? How did that come about?

Mark:

Well, I was working for a nonprofit doing occupational environmental health in Anchorage and the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in March of 1989. It was the first oil spill that actually had a lot of worker health and safety as a focus. What had happened before that oil spill kind of in quick succession was the HazCom standard had passed, so workers had a right to know and employers had to provide information on hazardous exposures on the job. That was part of the oil spill. The benzene standard had recently been updated after a 10 year fight, and so the new standard was in place. That was an issue during the oil spill was the benzene exposure from the weather or from the crude oil and the weathered crude oil.

Mark:

Then, the third one is the HAZWOPER standard had just gone into effect a few months before, the final version, and so that also affected emergency response. There was an early question as to whether oil spills fell under HAZWOPER and it was determined by both state and federal OSHA that it did. Those sort of three issues raised health and safety to a more prominent position than in any other oil spill before that and also how large it was in the State of Alaska.

I was working with the labor's union, the building trades, and a lot of their members were working on the oil spill. We had actually been doing HAZWOPER training under a federal OSHA grant for their members in the two years before the oil spill. We got then pulled into all sorts of questions about health and safety issues and protocols and procedures from those workers who were out in the field who'd been trained and who started calling back to their union office and started calling my office. We were then responding and trying to deal with this. It was a pretty chaotic time. If anyone has been involved in an oil spill or these other disasters that we've all faced more recently, it's a lot of chaos.

Well, we reached out to the labor's union at the international back in D.C. for assistance. They put together a team of health and safety experts to come up and assist us and they needed to get a look at what was happening out of Valdez and on the oil spill. They said, "Well, we're going to send this team up and you'll meet her and work with her and we'll see what we can do." It was headed by Eula Bingham. They had recruited her from the University of Cincinnati. This was about a decade after she left federal OSHA.

It was the first time I'd worked with her. We met for breakfast at a hotel in Anchorage before we all flew to Valdez that day. She had these penetrating questions about what was going on. She knew lots of people in both Exxon and other oil industries that were participating in the response, and so I was sort of in awe as a young hygienist. Like, "Here's Dr. Bingham and-

Jill:

You knew who she was before you met her that first time at that breakfast?

Mark:

Yeah, yeah [crosstalk 00:05:44]-

Jill:

You knew of her legacy?

Mark:

Yeah, I knew of her legacy. My first boss had worked for fed OSHA for a long time and would talk praises about Eula's work and things that she had been doing during the Carter Administration. Then, my first job was funded by one of her legacy programs, which was a New Directions training grant program, so that my first job was paid for by this funding that the union got through federal OSHA.

Jill:

Oh.

Mark:

I didn't know her directly because of that, but that program gave me my start in this profession.

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

Running into her in 1989 and going over to this really immediate crisis of the oil spill and worker exposures was really quite amazing, and so to spend several days with her in pretty austere conditions because there were no places to stay. We stayed at one of the union reps' houses. We all slept on the floor. She got the bed because she was former Head of OSHA and so she got the bed and the rest of us slept on the floor around the house.

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

She just lead us through a series of meetings with the oil industry, with the state officials, with other people, and asked these really amazing, good questions about the oil spill and what was being done to protect workers. We had been raising questions like that both in Anchorage and a little bit in Valdez and not getting a whole lot of traction, but having Dr. Bingham next to us got everyone's attention and got people to actually answer questions or at least say they would go get information for us in a way that [crosstalk] we could never get because she had the legacy and she knew people and she had the respect of so many. That was my first time working with her and it's been a joy ever since to have spent time with her and been helped by her.

Jill:

Yeah, so she really opened some doors for your work at that time-

Mark:

Yeah, yeah.

Jill:

By just the fact that she showed up and, as you said, asked the right questions. You had mentioned that she was 10 years past OSHA by the time that you met her, but her career started way before that and even before OSHA as a toxicologist. What do you know about her work as a toxicologist, too?

Mark:

Yeah. Well, I had read some of her papers because she was well known in occupational health and toxicology for her work. Early on, she did a lot of work on carcinogens, especially PAHs. She had done a lot of work in that area and had led advisory committees and other work before she went to work for OSHA. I had read her work, but it's always different to read someone's work and then actually meet them and spend time working with them. Again, then, I was more familiar with her work during her time as heading OSHA from both my first boss and other people that I had gotten to know who had worked with her at the time. I had heard these wonderful stories about her vision of what OSHA should be, could be, and what she tried to do in her time at OSHA. She left OSHA and then went back to the University of Cincinnati where she come out of and went back and resumed her public health work there and-

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. It sounds like from what I've been able to read and videos, thank you, by the way, for curating those that I've been able to watch about her, that she was really surprised about this ask to head OSHA. Can you fill in some of those blanks as to how did all of that happen? How did it happen that President Carter reached out to her?

Mark:

Yeah. Well, it was interesting. The last five or 10 years, I spent more time with her and a lot of it was because of my historical channel and work on gathering materials I was finding that involved her. I always sent her materials and we talked about those, and so she would tell me stories I hadn't heard before. The story-

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

On how she came to OSHA was very interesting because she was the first woman to head OSHA. What she said was she had gotten to know a lot of union safety and health people, Tony Mazzochi. She had gotten to know Dr. Epstein, who was famous for his asbestos work, and others because of her health and safety work and her willingness to be on advisory committees and involved in policy. She talked about a trip to Sweden to look at occupational health in Sweden that was sponsored by some Congressional offices and the United Auto Workers in probably 1974/75, and she went with a whole group of people from academia, government, and unions to spend a couple of weeks in Sweden talking to labor and management and government folks about how they did occupational health there.

She said, "That really was how I met a lot of the people that were involved later with the Carter Administration and that they seemed to remember me and they reached out to me as a possible head of OSHA." She said she actually turned them down because she said, "I had a lot of success. My career at the university was taking off. I had a brand new lab, a lot of financial support." She also said, "I was a newly-divorced single mother and I had little kids, and so I just couldn't see how I could go to OSHA and be Assistant Secretary." She said she finally realized that women and people that essentially weren't white men weren't often offered these kind of positions and she had to say yes, and so she figured out how to make it work with a lot of help, she said, from her mother and relatives-

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

And other folks who helped her back. She did lots of travel back and forth from Cincinnati area to D.C. and then home on the weekends, and so she said it was pretty hectic, but they made it work. She-

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

Did a remarkable amount of work for all of us in occupational health by taking on that role.

Jill:

Yeah. You had mentioned your first job came by way of funding that she had advocated for, and I've heard a bit about the fact that she did a pretty big ask not knowing it was sort of inappropriate about what [crosstalk 00:12:31]. Can you talk about that?

Mark:

Yeah I can, and there's actually a recording of her that was put out the last couple of years by The Center to Protect Worker Rights where she expands on this story. I know we're going to give people links to some of these recordings so people can go hear her speak in her own voice. I know toward the end of her life she would tell me and others, she said, "I want to make sure my legacy is what I remember it being, not somebody else telling everybody what my legacy was." She spent a lot of effort wanting to be remembered in the way that she thought was important, but I'll remember this story as best I can and try to do her justice.

She had accepted the nomination to be the Assistant Secretary for OSHA and she was making her rounds among the senators and House members who she was going to have to work with and who needed to approve her. She said she went to meet with Congressman Obey who was on the Budget Committee, and he also had a strong interest in occupational safety and health and OSHA matters. At some point in their discussion where she was supposed to just get to know him and listen to him, he asked her, what was the most important thing that she thought that she could do at her time? What came out is she said, "I think we need a training program to train workers and managers. Other than health and safety professionals, we need to train other people about OSHA if we're going to have a broader reach and be able to accomplish more."

Apparently, Obey came back and said, "How about $2 million for a program?" She said, "Okay." She said, "I was new to this world." She said, "I got back to"... whatever office she was at within OSHA and they said, "You're not supposed to talk to congressmen about money. That's not something we do. That's not proper." She said, "Well, he asked me and I just answered." Congressman Obey-

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

Put $2 million I believe was the number in 1978 into OSHA's budget for a New Directions training grant program to allow universities, unions, employer associations to hire health and safety staff, with an idea it would be seed money and that these organizations would then continue the programs after the seed money was finished. The seed money was three to five years, and so that went into effect as this New Directions grant program. That was what funded my first job with the Allied Industrial Workers Union that I got in 1981 pretty much after I got out of college and was looking for safety and health jobs. There were probably hundreds of us who ended up working at one point or another in our early careers under that grant program, which-

Jill:

Fascinating.

Mark:

Yeah, and so you look back and you say, "Wow, I was so lucky to have had that opportunity." I worked for that union for three years and I got industrial hygiene experience. I did factory inspections, I did sampling, I conducted classes for our members. I was involved in lots of what we call technical assistance requests where people would call you with questions. I worked with our employers in labor management settings where we tried to improve conditions. Many times the employers for our union were happy to have our help because it was free consulting service.

Jill:

Sure, sure.

Mark:

The AIW, the Allied Industrial Workers Union, was originally an auto parts union, but they had come to represent a much wider swath of workers. We had workers in foundries and auto parts plants, but we also had workers in grain elevators and in sort of office work. It was a really broad experience where I saw a lot of small employers, some large employers, and it was a wonderful way to get started in this career and then let me into the rest of my work for almost 40 years after that, so-

Jill:

Wow, wow.

Mark:

Thanks to Dr. Bingham for talking to Congressman Obey and getting this program started. A lot of us [crosstalk 00:16:57]-

Jill:

Isn't that fab? Yeah. Does that program live on today? Does it have a new name? I'm kind of guessing what it might be.

Mark:

Yeah, it [crosstalk 00:17:06]-

Jill:

Does it?

Mark:

It does live on. The New Directions Program continued on into after Dr. Bingham left OSHA and when Ronald Reagan came in and he had various Assistant Secretaries. There was enough Congressional support and other support for the program that it continued on. It dwindled. The money wasn't as much and the focus changed some, but the money actually continued on until the early 1990s before it sort of finally ended. Actually, when I was working with the Laborers Union in Alaska and I had moved to Alaska and gotten a job, as I mentioned, we had done this HAZWOPER training that was pre-oil spill, but that was actually a New Directions training grant also, and so I worked with the the Laborers Union in Alaska.

We trained hundreds of construction workers about HAZWOPER. We thought we were training people to clean up hazardous waste sites, which there were many in Alaska, and the Union saw this as a big source of potential work. They had seen the growth of the asbestos industry and saw the growth of hazardous waste work, but wanted it done safely, and so we were doing this training and didn't think about oil spills directly as a big area we'd work in and it turned out it was. When that program dwindled, OSHA then in the mid-1990s renamed it The Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, and then that program continues to today until today.

The focus is different. When I was under New Directions, if you were hired under the grant, you were expected to do a full range of, say, occupational safety and health work, on-site inspections, technical assistance requests, and teaching and training was one part of it. The Susan Harwood Program, for various reasons, is focused almost entirely on training and training numbers. It's a much more narrow-focused program than what I was lucky enough to work under. I think to myself, if I would have worked under something that was more narrow like the current program, would I have stayed in occupational health? Or might I have moved on? I was originally going to work in larger environmental health issues, and I might have moved on, but because the New Directions Program and the work was so interesting, that I made it my career, so-

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. You got to see a lot of everything.

Mark:

Yeah, yeah.

Jill:

Mark, you had mentioned that you have spent quite a bit of time with Dr. Bingham. It sounds like toward the end of her life-

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

And talking about her legacy. What were some of those things that she wanted to be remembered for and to live on in her own words?

Mark:

Yeah, yeah. Well, it's interesting because when she was the Assistant Secretary, she had a Communications Director who thought that videotaping a lot of her press conferences... She did a lot of press conferences as Assistant Secretary, and so there's this large body of video recordings which I have been able to find in the National Archives and she also had copies of things that I had never seen before that she had kept in her personal records that she provided. There's this really probably most extensive legacy of any Assistant Secretary up till probably David Michaels was with the Obama Administration about her public pronouncements and a lot of her work.

I think the New Directions Program was something she was really proud of and proud that it really accomplished a lot of what the goal was in terms of both supporting young health and safety professionals who were brought into the field and stayed and that we've all had our own various legacies. It also trained a lot of frontline workers and managers about safety and health so that they were better able to both figure out problems and solve problems and also ask better questions when they needed help from the health and safety professionals. I think she always saw the real value of the training/education piece of involving workers.

The other two pieces I think she was really proud of were sort of really landmark standards that really either got started or got passed during her administration. You had mentioned the HazCom Standard, which during her day when they started to focus on that was on labeling of hazardous materials in the work site and what she would call the right to know, workers having a right to know. It also gave employers the right to know what was in the products that they were buying, which wasn't always something employers knew about, especially small- and medium-sized employers.

That didn't finish under administration. They put out at the very last of her administration before the Reagan Administration took over, they put out their version of a labeling HazCom Standard, and it was one of the first things that the Reagan Administration did was to pull that back. They had an ability to pull back regulations that were promulgated toward the end of the previous administration. They could pull those back and they did, but that, then, started a movement of unions and nonprofit organizations called Cash Groups. Started a movement to have right to know laws passed at the state level across the country.

By '83, '84, probably half the states in the country had some version of a state New Directions labeling program. What happened then was a lot of the large chemical corporations that have national operations, they were faced with having to comply with all of these multiple different state regulations. They, then, went to federal OSHA and asked the Reagan Administration under [inaudible] say, "We need a national right to know", a national HazCom Standard, which is what eventually got passed a few years later and what we all have today. That was really an amazing legacy that-

Jill:

Yeah, that's really interesting, Mark. In my home State of Minnesota, the law that supersedes the Hazard Communication Law, because we're a state-run OSHA agency, it's called the Right to Know Law. It sounds like it came directly from what Eula had started a long time ago, so thank you for that history lesson. I didn't know that myself. I know when the law was adopted in my home state, and it was right around the same time period that you're talking about.

Mark:

Yeah. It finished up around '86 or so and there was some nuanced legal issues after that, but mostly until the more recent change with the updating of the MSDSs and the labeling up until the last couple of years. The other regulation I think she took great pride in that often isn't mentioned a lot is OSHA in 1980 promulgated the access to medical and exposure records. That was-

Jill:

Oh, wow.

Mark:

A regulation that provided that workers and their representative unions had a right to the exposure information that employers had and also that workers had access to their medical information for physical exams and other medical testing that was done on workers. Some of the individual OSHA standards had requirements that information be collected and that unions and workers would have rights to it, but what her administration did under her guidance was to make that a generic standard. When it first came out in 1980, it didn't require employers to collect any additional, say, exposure records, air sampling, other things, or any other medical testing.

It simply said that if the employer had these, whether they were required by existing or future OSHA standards or the company policy, that if they had those then they had to make those available on request if workers or their unions made a written request. There's some restrictions like there always are, but it became a very broad way for workers. When I worked for various unions, it was a very important standard for us to get information about internal air sampling that employers had done if we were investigating a problem or consultants had done from the outside. It allowed for a lot of action and improvement of workplace condition because sometimes employers would have hired consultants and they had gotten a consultant report, but their report might not be very good.

We could get a copy of it from the union side. I would then analyze it and we'd go have discussions about, "Well, the consultants, for example, they found that the air sampling showed everything was legal", but we would show the employer that while OSHA was working on a new standard, or that the TLVs had a much lower exposure limit, and so why not do better? We could then use that information to push for better conditions. I was always surprised by how often we could convince employers to do the right thing.

Jill:

Yeah, fascinating. What has that been? Medical records for like blood lead testing and asbestos exposures and-

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

Things like that?

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

It would have included audiometric screening, kind of like all of those things, all those little, they're not little, but all of the regulations that have those requirements in them?

Mark:

Yeah, yeah, so-

Jill:

Then, kind of funnel into this access to records?

Mark:

Yeah, so it was any sort of medical record that the employer kept, which is interesting now because with the pandemic and all of the-

Jill:

Yeah, I was just [crosstalk] going to ask about that.

Mark:

Well, with [crosstalk] all of the pandemic and the medical screening or the other testing that's being done, those things, even the temperature screening falls under those requirements of having to be made accessible to workers and kept as a historical file up to 30 years. It's an interesting far-reaching regulation that I think those of us in the field are just kind of used to it. We just know it's there, but many workers and many frontline managers have never heard of it before, even though there's a requirement for annual notification and some training about the standard.

It's not a very well-known standard, but it's an incredibly useful and powerful standard, not just for people like me who are advocates from the worker site from a union, but for employers who then if you're working inside a corporation, then there's a reason they have to keep records for a long time that allow you to see if you're working for them as a consultant or on staff to see what has happened in the past. Many times, those records would get lost or disappeared, and so it's a quite remarkable piece of regulation.

Dr. Bingham saw the need for OSHA to come up with generic standards that applied across the board to big areas of health and safety work instead of the model of working on individual issues like things she did-

Jill:

More vertical.

Mark:

Yeah. She worked on like the benzene standard and the lead standard and the cotton dust standard, which were really important standards, but these generic standards could cut across all industries and have a much wider swath and much wider impact over time.

Jill:

Fascinating, and what a good thing to be talking about today with medical records, Mark. Safety and health professionals who might not have known about that piece or known about that regulation, like you said, who really can be leaning into it right now as so many employers are doing wellness screenings and all of the things that we're doing to monitor the health of employees across all companies right now. That's powerful knowledge and started with Dr. Bingham [crosstalk] and how wonderful is that?

Mark:

Yeah, and I'm sure she would have never imagined that it was going to apply to a worldwide pandemic in terms of [crosstalk] these issues, but I'm sure you've seen these, too, Jill. I've seen reports over the last month or so as more employers are reopening and they're doing more temperature screening. There have been some reports of employers who refuse to tell workers what their temperatures are-

Jill:

Oh, wow.

Mark:

And so that's actually been a violation of this standard because you have to let workers know. Now, workers have to make the written request, and so workers have to have some knowledge about the standard, but my experience is it's a really good standard and it's been really helpful to have it, both during this pandemic and lots of other areas I've worked in in the past. We used it during the Exxon Valdez oil spill to make requests for medical... not for medical records but for the exposure records that Exxon and their contractors were... of all of the sampling that they were taking during the oil spill. We would use this generic standard to get access to those records.

Jill:

Fascinating, fascinating. Yeah, so what else did you learn sitting at the feet of a legend, Mark?

Mark:

Well, it was-

Jill:

That's what I imagine, you know? Like I'm picturing-

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

You and she having these conversations about her life. I mean, what an honor and what an opportunity to be able to listen-

Mark:

Yeah-

Jill:

And collect stories.

Mark:

It really was and I have colleagues who are older who actually either worked at OSHA at the time and worked for her who have their own sets of really amazing stories, and then other colleagues who were active in safety and health during her administration who have lots of other really amazing, wonderful stories. Mine mostly came from the work I did with her, but then the work over the past decade or so with her remembering the past and also commenting on what was currently happening. She was always an astute observer of what was happening in safety and health, both within OSHA and beyond. She was always willing to provide her opinion and advice about when she thought things should be done better, faster, bigger.

She saw, I think, her role in her later life as really pushing our profession along and pushing us all to do more. She was also really kind, and what I remember is how kind she was and how much fun she was to be around with. I had the pleasure a couple of times with the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences Worker Training Program. She was a strong supporter of that kind of big worker education program that I know you've been a part of us and I was a part of for many years. She was an advisor to their program and they would invite her in to provide advice and a historical perspective on a lot of things.

I remember two specific times I was on panels with her, and one was a panel where she was basically giving some of her historical experience to help us understand how we got to where we were and think about the future. At one point, I remember she said to all of us because we're thrilled she's there and we're all wanting to learn from her, and she said, "You all sort of think that I had a plan when I started back with OSHA." She said, "I had an overall plan to what I wanted to do, but I didn't have any specific plan."

She said, "You just have to jump in and whatever shows up, you start working on it and you respond and you think about it." She said, "The New Directions Program, which so many of you worked under", she said, "That was not quite an accident, but it could have easily never happened, but I was willing to say during my meeting with Congressman Obey that this would be an important thing to work on and he responded." She said, "That was the serendipity of that was something that wasn't planned." She said, "That happened over and over again." She said her advice to us was, "Go out and do stuff and do what's in front of you. Don't think that somehow you have to have a master plan to move forward." She said, "There's enough"... We're all seeing that with the pandemic, right? How many of us-

Jill:

Yes, yes.

Mark:

Planned to respond to the pandemic, so we're all running as fast as we can to respond and keep up and we're dealing with questions that we haven't thought of before or we don't have strong answers to. She would have said, "Yeah, that's the way this field is", and that's part of the joy of it and it's part of the frustration.

Jill:

Yeah, and not wait for someone to tell you what to do but-

Mark:

Just-

Jill:

Walk and do it [crosstalk 00:34:40]-

Mark:

Just go do it, yeah, and then I had another chance on another panel in 2013 where there was actually the NIHS and NIOSH and other agencies held a multi-day conference basically on safety culture and what is safety culture and how do you think about it and how you define it. How do you use the idea of safety culture? I was paired up with her to do a summary talk at the end of those discussions, and so her focus was to kind of look at it from a historical perspective, and my focus was to look at it kind of moving forward and what vision maybe for the future.

It was both very fun because I spent a lot of time with her over several days as we listened and talked about what the presenters had talked about and how we might summarize this at the end, and that was just a great joy, but at the same time, it was sort of like slightly terrifying because I have to sit with her and sound like really I know what I'm talking about. I had been doing this work for 25 years or more at that point, but it was intimidating to be on a panel with Dr. Bingham. She was incredibly kind and we spent a couple of really fun nights late into the night over wine, drinking and talking about occupational health and it was a wonderful-

Jill:

Wow, wow.

Mark:

Graduate program, an informal graduate program-

Jill:

I'll say.

Mark:

In occupational health, yeah.

Jill:

Do you recall what she had to say about safety culture?

Mark:

She had some kind of concerns about how it was being defined because what she would often say was she often didn't see a single safety culture at an organization, right? There were often lots of-

Jill:

Yeah.

Mark:

Different safety culture. Workers might have one safety culture, the frontline supervisors had a second one, maybe top management had a third one. She said it was harder for her to think about how to think about culture as a single entity. There were a lot of people years ago that were thinking more about culture as a single entity as opposed to multiple cultures, but I think she thought the idea made a sense in terms of how you create change.

You had to understand the cultures within organizations and within a workforce if you're going to make lasting change. Her historical idea of both generic standards and of giving workers and frontline supervisors access to information and responsibility to deal with safety and health was really, I think, a part of her legacy.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. Interesting and what an astute observation for her about that.

Mark:

Yeah. Yeah. You know from my historic work, I've done a lot of looking at the life of Alice Hamilton and especially with her passing the last couple of days, I've really been thinking about in probably a lot of ways, she really was and is the Alice Hamilton of our generation and-

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

I say that with incredible respect to both Dr. Hamilton but also to Dr. Bingham. Dr. Hamilton, from my reading of history, was known to be quite a mentor of occupational medicine docs, industrial hygienists, and others, but I think of the much larger probably impact that Dr. Bingham had because there was an OSHA program, there was an expanded health and safety program in the U.S. into the '70s, '80s, and beyond. There were hundreds and thousands of us doing this work, and probably in Alice Hamilton's day, there were maybe hundreds of people doing this work, right? There were-

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

Way more people doing this work that she could impact than Dr. Hamilton probably ever envisioned would be doing this work.

Jill:

Fascinating. There's a larger footprint by the time Dr. Bingham came around.

Mark:

Yeah. I mean, some of the NIHS and other meetings I've been at over the years as she was getting older, we would sort of have discussions and say, "We ought to make a list of everybody who worked under the New Directions Grant Program. Who got their start or early part to see how many of us there really were and maybe even do like a genealogy of where we all ended up and so it's-

Jill:

Oh-

Mark:

And-

Jill:

Wouldn't that be fun?

Mark:

Yeah, and we never did it because when you started talking about the names of people that we all knew, it kept expanding and getting bigger and bigger and bigger and it would become almost like, "Wow, that's such a big project. Maybe we'll do it next year." You know?

Jill:

What [crosstalk] big ripoff.

Mark:

It was so large and so... yeah.

Jill:

When she left the Carter Administration, she went back into teaching? Is that right?

Mark:

She did. She returned to the University of Cincinnati and back to her toxicology lab research, but also, I believe she was Dean of the School of Public Health. She continued on with some of her research, but she also really continued on with her policy work and her advocacy-

Jill:

Sure.

Mark:

Work. I remember-

Jill:

Stayed connected in that regard?

Mark:

Yeah, yeah, because I think coming out of OSHA with all of that policy work, it would just be natural to continue that. She certainly was a figure that people were looking at and she had lots of opportunities to speak about her both OSHA experience and beyond. I can remember her speaking out in the middle 1980s as part of a coalition of occupational and environmental health advocates looking at the connection between occupational and environmental health issues. She certainly was someone who saw that connection, both from her time at OSHA and I think before that.

One of the things I remember she did at OSHA was before she left OSHA, because of her toxicology experience studying carcinogens, that she had a done a lot of work in that area. When she was at OSHA, one of the things that she said she worked on was trying to develop a generic carcinogen standard to try to deal with carcinogens in the same way that the HazCom Standard and the Medical Access Rule, rather than deal with individual exposures, deal with the whole issue.

She had been working on a generic carcinogen standard. It never went into effect, but part of the standard was to reach out and try to develop a uniform generic cancer standard across EPA and other agencies that dealt with carcinogens so that the federal approach was uniform and that everybody didn't have their own version of a carcinogen standard or that the standards were different for each carcinogen. You sort of see that with the differences-

Jill:

Yes, that's the [crosstalk 00:42:10]-

Mark:

I mean, you can look back to some of the vinyl chloride and benzene, and then some of the more modern standards of formaldehyde and silica dust. The standards aren't uniform. There's a lot of similarities but they're not uniform. She had, I think, this vision that we could develop a uniform standard that would, number one, represent the way to regulate carcinogens so that employers and workers kind of what that framework looked like, but would also allow us to more quickly regulate carcinogens because if you had a certain animal and human data, then you could say it fell under the carcinogen standard and then something was regulated.

Without going through the 12 or more years of standard setting, the benzene standard took over 12 years to get into place. The silica dust standard took decades to be put into place. One of her frustrations was the difficulty OSHA had of promulgating standards in a timely manner when they needed to protect workers.

Jill:

Isn't that the case?

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

I think that's one of the misconceptions of the agency. Employers believe like, "How am I supposed to keep up with this stuff? It changes so often." Which it does not, it does not, and you're testifying to that now.

Mark:

Yeah, and I remembered that when I was in Alaska during the oil spill because the benzene standard at recently been updated in '87, '88. I remember I was, again, working with the Laborers Union, the Painters Union, and their contractors and I would hear both union members and their contractors say, "Wow, this OSHA standard, we never heard of it. It's just brand new. How did this get sprung on us at the last minute?"

I remember saying, "Well, OSHA started this in 1977. This isn't brand new. The large employer associations, the industries, the oil companies had been involved in this for a long time. This isn't something brand new." Of course, if you're a frontline worker or frontline supervisor, that's not something you're going to be watching. Once they heard about it, they said, "Oh, well, we wish we would have been involved earlier. We could have given some good advice on how to write the standard or how to do this."

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

That helped because then they didn't feel the animosity toward OSHA that, "Oh, you just sprung this on us." It was like, "Oh, well, we need to figure out how to get more involved early on and [crosstalk 00:44:41]-

Jill:

Yeah, and have a hand in it.

Mark:

It shouldn't just be the large corporations that have a hand in it, smaller construction firms and others. I think OSHA, to its credit over the years, has done a better job probably of reaching out to stakeholders [crosstalk 00:44:57]-

Jill:

Yeah.

Mark:

To try to get that, but they still have the same problem with it taking decades to update or set a new standard. I mean, we're now facing that there's a push for a pandemic infectious disease standard that OSHA's actually had a draft standard they've been working on for almost a decade since after H1N1-

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

And it doesn't look like it's going anywhere soon. It would be helpful if it was enacted now, but maybe sometime in the future.

Jill:

Gosh, I hope so, and this carcinogen standard you're talking about, that has not seen the full legs that Dr. Bingham intended?

Mark:

Yeah, it was one of those things that they didn't get into place before they finished her administration. If she would have had a second term, we probably would have seen a lot more of these generic standards I suspect coming out.

Jill:

Yeah, right.

Mark:

OHSA had already drafted a benzene standard. They'd already been working on a lead standard and they were already working on a cotton dust standard, and she got those major standards through for specific toxins.

Jill:

That's a lot.

Mark:

That was a lot, and the one that I think that she was the proudest of and the one that I think she has really an amazing legacy on is really the cotton dust standard, which isn't looked at much anymore because that industry, it's really died down as a major industry in our country, sadly. This standard was a major internal and external fight with OSHA. As they were developing their final draft in the late 1970s, that was at the same time there was a lot of pushback from employers but also from economists inside the Carter Administration and other places that there needed to be cost-benefit analysis done on all OSHA standards and other agency standards so that you would look at the costs versus the savings in workers' lives in the old days. She was opposed to that kind of very defined proposition, but not-

Jill:

Yeah, right. Define a value of life.

Mark:

Yeah, so at one point there was... She said it wasn't quite a showdown, but it's always described as sort of a showdown where she needed final approval from the White House to promulgate a cotton dust standard, which looks a lot like the one that's on the books now, which focuses on engineering controls and work practice controls, and then respirators as a final option, which we in industrial hygiene would call our hierarchy of controls and it's the way we look at these things, right? You do engineering-

Jill:

Yeah.

Mark:

Controls first and PPE last. There were economic advisors in the Carter Administration that really wanted President Carter to tell her that she had to do PPE as the primary focus and not require engineering controls. That would have lowered the cost of employer compliance with the standard, and she steadfastly refused to do that. She describes a meeting at one point where she and Ray Marshall, who was her boss at the head of the Department of Labor were called to a meeting with President Carter and the economic advisors. He was going to make his decision on this point. She had decided that if he decided against her, she would resign.

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

Her staff knew that, so when she went off to the White House, they expected [crosstalk 00:48:47]-

Jill:

Held their breath.

Mark:

Yeah, they didn't know if this was the end. She said, "We went to this meeting." This was a big deal to go to the White House. She had met the President when she got confirmed and she had met him on the Willow Island tower collapse that happened in West Virginia in her administration and she had gone to talk to him about that. He had asked to talk to her about that, but this was a meeting. She said what she took with her as a prop but to buttress her argument on engineering controls is she took a diagram that showed the industrial hygiene hierarchy of controls, you know, the standard triangle that we all know-

Jill:

Yes.

Mark:

Right? The pyramid-

Jill:

Yes [crosstalk] and that so many people suddenly outside of our profession know now because of the pandemic.

Mark:

Right, and the CDC has now used it. She said she went to that. Now, she knew that President Carter was an engineer and she had known that from some of her earlier discussions. He was really at heart an engineer. She showed him and she described the hierarchy of controls and defended why they wanted to use engineering controls first and the other hierarchy of controls. She said, "You could see it resonate with him and it made sense as an engineer." At that meeting, he said, "We're going to do what Dr. Bingham wants", and much to the dismay [crosstalk] of his economic advisors, she said she was grateful, but she said, "I got back to the office. We came back to the office."

Mark:

She said, "It's such a different experience to go to the White House and be in the Oval Office and have the President make decisions. When I came back to the office and I got out of the elevator, that all of my staff were lined up on either side of the elevator." She said, "Everybody looked at me and they thought that I had lost and they all were upset. They thought I had resigned and I said, 'No, we won.'" She said it was such an overwhelming experience that she was so serious when the elevator doors opened that then they celebrated. They put out the cotton dust standard that... It has some changes but it was upheld with a Supreme Court decision and the basic idea of cost-benefit analysis strictly was not upheld. The idea of engineering controls was upheld, and-

Jill:

Wow, what a great story.

Mark:

Yeah, and had that not happened, we might be facing a generation of OSHA standards that really saw PPE as the first response to worker health hazard rather than the hierarchy of controls that our professions really has shown to be an important part of our work, right?

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. What a legacy, and yet there's more to be done for everyone who's listening, there's much more to pick up from where Dr. Bingham and others have left off. Mark, when you talked with her, you had mentioned that she was a Mom-

Mark:

Yeah, sure.

Jill:

And a single mom. Did she ever tell stories about what it was like being a mother and a safety professional? How things those things crossed over if ever?

Mark:

What she talked about was when she was telling her reluctance to take on the position at OSHA was that when she decided to do it, she knew this was going to be hard and hard on her children and that this was a real concern she had. What she described was how she would work hard all during the week and then she would take all of her work on the plane with her and fly back to Cincinnati. I believe she lived in Kentucky at the time and she would fly back to spend the weekend to be a mom and to be with her kids, and also to work. Then, she would fly back on Monday and she'd fly back to D.C.

She did this for a greater part of her time at OSHA and so she said it was really hard, but she said really kind things about the tolerance of her children to put up with that life and her mother was a big help to help with the children, and lots of other friends and colleagues who were both supportive and helpful and how important that was. She always felt like she had some regret that she did that, but she also knew it was important to do this work. Her life would have certainly been really different. It would have been an amazing life, I think, as a toxicologist and a researcher at the university, but her life was certainly really different because of going to work for OSHA and making that decision, so-

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Wow, it'd be interesting to hear from her family as well and what they call their Mom back then.

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

They were little when she took that job, too.

Mark:

Yeah, they were, and I didn't know her family. I met one of her daughters later in life when I was in Santa Netti a few times and I knew that her daughter would help her get to the airport and make sure she got on the plane to fly to some advisory committee meeting or other things. Then, other people would meet her on the other end and we would make sure she was well taken care of because towards the end of her life, she was still actively working on advisory panels and committees and doing work at 89. She just turned 90 recently. She had macular-

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

Degeneration, which made all of that much more difficult, and she had some other ailments of age, and as I'm turning 64, 65, I'm seeing how much harder it is to do this kind of work now than it was 20 years ago. I'm just impressed that she was doing this at that stage of her life-

Jill:

No kidding.

Mark:

And more power to her. I was really honored to have spent the time I spent with her and worked on projects with her in those last 15 years and, you know, it [crosstalk 00:55:01]-

Jill:

Yeah. A full life contribution for sure.

Mark:

Yeah, yeah, and-

Jill:

For sure.

Mark:

I always think of her saying-

Jill:

You know-

Mark:

"Just get out and do stuff. Just go do what's in front of you and go do it and make an impact and do something that helps."

Jill:

Yeah, that's fantastic. Mark, as we're getting ready to close today, I want to make sure that in our show notes that we include not only a link to your YouTube channel where people will be able to check out some of the footage and hear Eula Bingham's voice in her own words, but also, I think I would like to include the link to the medical access, to that regulation. If anyone's listening, isn't familiar with it, that they have it right at the ready as well.

Mark:

Wonderful. That would be a wonderful thing to do, I think, a link to that regulation. OSHA has some good documents and guidance documents on it also, but I'd really encourage people to go to the YouTube channel. I'll be able to set up a special tab which will have the videos that include her, Dr. Bingham, speaking from back in the '70s and into the '80s. I'll have the link to that that people can go to and if you'll put it with the podcast.

Jill:

Yes.

Mark:

Then, people can go and I'd really encourage people to go hear Dr. Bingham in her own words speaking as both Assistant Secretary and after that about safety and health because she's really an important figure in our work. We can still learn from her after all of these years.

Jill:

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I was listening to a video and she was asked to give advice to anyone who was starting out in the health and safety career and her answer was, "If you really care about people, you'll care about workers."

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

She said, "You have to go into terrible workplaces." She said, "If it grabs you, you'll have it your whole life." She said, "You have to have it with your heart." Truly, she did.

Mark:

Yeah. Thank you, Jill. That's a great quote from her. I remember her talking about her when the Willow Island cooling towers collapsed and 50-some workers were killed and she got to the scene. They went immediately to the scene and it was a long OSHA investigation, but she talked about how just horrific it was and the death an desolation, and then talking with the families and talking with coworkers. The impact of that really was a huge impact on her.

In her press conferences months later talking about OSHA's role, she really started off by remembering the workers and their families and not wanting us to forget that there are people that are part of why we do this work. It's not just regulations and workplace settings, it's people.

Jill:

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. That's the way to lead. Mark, thank you so much for sharing your stories today, for sharing the history and work of Dr. Bingham. What an honor and privilege to be able to archive some of her stories today. Thank you.

Mark:

Thank you, Jill. It's been an honor to be talking to you about Dr. Bingham.

Jill:

Thank you all for spending your time listening today, and more importantly, thank you for your contribution and making sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day. If you'd like to join the conversation about this episode or any of our previous episodes, you can follow our page and join The Accidental Safety Pro Community Group on Facebook. If you're not subscribed and want to hear past or future episodes, you can subscribe in iTunes, the Apple Podcast app, or any other podcast player that you'd like.

You can also find all of the episodes at vividlearningsystems.com/podcast. We'd love it if you leave a rating and review us at iTunes. It helps us connect the show with more and more safety and health professionals like Mark and I. If you'd like to have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's you, you can connect me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. Until next time, thanks for listening.