Occupational safety and health professionals nationwide are mourning the passing last month of John Martonik, one of the “old hands” at OSHA and the U.S. Department of Labor. The outpouring of email after his July 11 death is powerful testimony to the respect he earned among his peers.

“John was one of the best friends labor had at OSHA,” says Scott Schneider, the LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director. “He was the person we went to to find out what was going on there and how we could most effectively get things done. He was a great supporter for us and for worker safety.”

Peg Seminaro, the AFL-CIO’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health, wrote, “There was no one individual who has worked at OSHA who had a greater impact on protecting the health of workers.  Because of his dedication, perseverance and determination, millions of workers have been protected from lead, asbestos, benzene, cadmium and many other workplace hazards.  It is hard to think of any OSHA health standard that John did not have a major role in crafting.”

Former counsel for the United Auto Workers (UAW) Randy Rabinowitz added, “And work doggedly to make sure it came out with the right conclusion, even if it meant taking a lot of heat inside OSHA and alerting those outside to internal shenanigans that needed to be dealt with.  It’s fair to say that the lead standard would probably not still be in place nor the formaldehyde standard issued in a worker protective way without John’s contribution.”

Dr. Franklin Mirer, former head of safety and health at the UAW and now a professor at Hunter College in New York City, said, “John Martonik was the person who could bring an OSHA standard to conclusion. He would work in the background, out of public view, making sure that every issue was addressed in the rule and supported in the justification. Few outside the small group who care for OSHA standards knew of his quiet contributions to the health of workers.”

Finally, according to Bill Borwegen of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), “John possessed a deep understanding and abiding commitment to the words contained with the OSH Act and to the mission of OSHA.  He demonstrated this most elegantly through his role in shepherding through a series of critically important standards to protect the nation’s workers.  His legacy is that countless millions of workers who will remain unaware of his efforts return home each day without suffering the consequences of an impairment to their health or safety. “

Martonik’s career at the Mine Safety and Health Administration and at OSHA spanned 32 years. His accomplishments are detailed in the Washington Post’s July 18 obituary.

[Steve Clark]