OSHA issues statement on the death of former OSHA chief Eula Bingham

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt issued the following statement on the passing of former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Eula Bingham:

“We are saddened to learn of the passing of former Assistant Secretary Eula Bingham. During her tenure from 1977 to 1981, she led a young agency in important new directions by initiating programs such as the “right to know” rule, which gave workers access to their workplace medical and exposure records. She oversaw the development of critical health standards for toxic industrial substances, including cotton dust, lead and benzene.

Her administration also initiated the New Directions Training and Education grant program to educate and train workers and employers in high hazard workplaces.

“Ms. Bingham was a pioneer in many ways, not the least of which was serving as the only female to hold the position of Assistant Secretary for OSHA. Though the field of occupational safety and health has lost a devoted advocate for worker safety and health, her legacy will live on for years to come.

“Our thoughts are with her family and loved ones.”

Bingham, a University of Cincinnati scientist, died June 13, according to an article in the Cincinnati Business Courier. She was 90.

Bingham was an associate professor and associate director of UC College of Medicine’s Department of Environmental Health when President Jimmy Carter personally interviewed her for the job as assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. She became the fourth person to lead OSHA since its inception in 1970.

A Ph.D. who rose to be distinguished professor emerita with the UC Department of Environmental and Public Health Sciences, Bingham “helped eliminate barriers to women in the workforce,” Carter said in 2015. “Eula deserves credit as one of the unsung heroes giving women an important voice and place in our nation’s history.”

While at OSHA, she focused on clarifying and simplifying safety rules as well as helping businesses comply, according to UC.

“Dr. Bingham was fearless if she felt that someone was being harmed by either an occupational hazard or by a hazard to the community,” said Susan Pinney, a professor in the UC Department of Environmental and Public Health Sciences.

“She advocated for protections for workers nationally and locally, including members of the building trades who encountered exposures to radiation, uranium, asbestos and many other substances working throughout the U.S. Department of Energy nuclear weapons production complex, both in production and cleanup,” Pinney said. “Likewise, she advocated for members of the community who lived around the Fernald plant and were exposed to uranium emissions.”

Workers at the Fernald plant in Crosby Township processed uranium for use in nuclear bombs from 1951-89. Tons of radioactive uranium dust were released into the air by the plant, and radioactive materials also contaminated the soil, ground water and surface water.

Bingham was a member of the technical advisory board of the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights from 1992-2015.

After receiving undergraduate degrees in chemistry and biology from Eastern Kentucky in 1951, Bingham worked for two years as an analytical chemist at Hilton-Davis Chemical Co. in Pleasant Ridge.

“It was an eye opener,” she said, noting that it could be hazardous for employees working with cancer-causing chemicals. “Every day, the fire department came at least once, sometimes twice. I had a pretty good job there really. Mine was not very hazardous really, unless the building went up.”

During her first three years at UC, Bingham was the only female graduate student in her department. Her fellow grad students nicknamed her “Max.” She was paid just $900 a month as a UC teacher while a grad student, so she moonlighted at Jewish Hospital.

She joined the UC faculty in 1961, and from 1972-77 she was the associate director of the Department of Environmental Health. Bingham was vice president for graduate studies and research from 1981 to 1990.

She retired from UC in 2000 but maintained an office at the university.

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