Worker Safety Advocate George Taylor
George H. R. Taylor, 95, an AFL- CIO labor leader who helped draft the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, died of pneumonia March 23 at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville. He was a longtime resident of Bethesda.
A staunch defender of workers’ rights, Mr. Taylor dedicated his life to making sure employees had safe workplaces. He worked for the AFL- CIO from 1959 until his retirement in 1983, the last eight years as its director of occupational safety and health.
OSHA “ never would have passed without him,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ( D- Mass.) said in a statement, but Mr. Taylor felt that the legislation never lived up to the expectations of workers.
“ We thought the law, if aggressively administered, would do a great deal,” he said in 1976. “ But it just hasn’t lived up to its promise.”
That never stopped Mr. Taylor from fighting for improvements in either the law or federal policies. A member of the Communication Workers of America, he attacked efforts in the 1980s to quantify the costs of safety measures.
“ It is an arid exercise in controlling lives,” he told The Washington Post. “ You don’t make policy concerning human lives based on dollar costs. That lets systems economists, any that have the gall, become the decision makers.
“ If there is a reasonable belief that a large number of people are going to be put at risk, you try to prevent it. You don’t wait until you can count the last pair of lungs on the dissecting table.”
Mr. Taylor “ helped build the foundation for the workplace and environmental protections in place today,” AFL- CIO President John J. Sweeney said in a statement. “ He was an unreconstructed and unrepentant ‘ New Dealer’ who spent his life’s work fighting for justice and fairness and demanding that government serve the interest of ordinary citizens. Millions of workers have been protected from injury and illness because of his tireless work.”
Born in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1911, he told his family that as a child he sat in Buffalo Bill Cody’s lap. Mr. Taylor, a graduate of the University of Virginia, served in the Army Air Forces during World War II. After the war, he was active in the battle over the proposed construction of a dam in the Hells Canyon of Idaho’s Snake River. He was one of the founders of the National Hell’s Canyon Association, which Time magazine said “ blossomed and bristled like a desert cactus” in opposition to the construction of a privately owned dam.
By 1954, Mr. Taylor was legislative assistant to Sen. Wayne Morse ( D- Ore.) and also worked for the Democratic National Committee as director of natural resources. From 1955 to 1959, he was executive director of the Electric Consumers Information Committee. He then went to work for organized labor.
Mr. Taylor pushed for protections for workers from ionizing radiation in the early 1960s and for preservation of family farms on federal reclamation projects. He battled overly noisy factory floors. He represented the AFL- CIO at the first national conferences on water and air pollution. He represented organized labor on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Clean Air Commission and a special committee of the U. S. Public Health Commission, calling attention to the dangers to workers from occupational exposure to toxic substances.
A member of the national and federal advisory committees on occupational safety and health, Mr. Taylor served as chairman of the labor division of the Labor Department’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health Research. He also chaired the old Atomic Energy Commission’s labor- management committee.
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists gave him its William Steiger Memorial Award in 1982, and the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety honored him with its Alice Hamilton Award in the early 1980s.
A voracious reader, he sought out the Koran on Sept. 12, 2001, and read through it in the following days, because “ he wanted to have a greater understanding of what we were facing and how the Koran might be misinterpreted by those seeking to undermine peace,” said his daughter, Caroline V. Taylor, with whom he lived for the past seven years in Seneca. His wife, Valorie, died in 1998.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, John G. Taylor of Glenns Ferry, Idaho; and two grandchildren.
AFL-CIO official George Taylor called attention to such workplace dangers as exposure to ionizing radiation.