U.S. Firms Balk at European Plan for Safety at Bangladesh Garment Factories, Chart Their Own Courses

Wal-Mart announces its own workplace safety plan for Bangladesh. The giant retailer’s plan is billed as a commitment, but differs from the legally binding pact embraced by European companies to prevent disasters like last month’s building collapse that killed more than 1,100 garment workers. Under its plan, Wal-Mart would hire an outside auditor to inspect factories and publish results by June 1. When fire and building safety issues are found, Wal-Mart would require factory owners to make renovations or risk being removed from its list of authorized factories. In declining to follow the European plan, Wal-Mart—like Gap Inc. earlier this week—cited that accord’s binding provisions. Other U.S. firms are drafting yet another plan. The Wall Street Journal

Japan’s nuclear watchdog blocks the restart of a next-generation test reactor.  The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s decision, based on safety violations, is the latest blow to the Monju fast-breeder reactor. Monju uses plutonium fuel instead of conventional uranium and produces radioactive substances that can be reused as fuel. But after nearly 50 years in the works, the reactor, located in western Japan, is still struggling to get online. The watchdog’s five commissioners agreed that the reactor’s operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, is falling short on safety. Also, a panel of geologists concluded that a seismic fault beneath a separate commercial reactor near Monju is active, in a rare ruling that could force the scrapping of that reactor. The Associated Press

States urged to lower thresholds for drunken driving to cut alcohol-related fatal crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states change the minimum blood-alcohol concentration from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent or less. Since Utah became the first state to adopt the 0.08 standard 30 years ago, the number of Americans killed in alcohol-related crashes has fallen by nearly half, but almost 10,000 still die every year. The head of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman, said the U.S. lags other nations in cutting drunken-driving fatalities. The NTSB has no enforcement power over the states, but Congress in 2000 prompted holdout states to adopt the 0.08 level by moving to withhold highway construction money. McClatchy Newspapers, The New York Times

Food and Drug Administration approves new labels calling for lower dosages of sleep medicines. The change applies to sleep medications containing zolpidem, a drug that can continue to affect patients’ mental alertness even a day after its use. The affected products are Sanofi SA’s Ambien, Ambien CR and Meda AB’s Edluar. The agency said patients who take zolpidem extended-release drugs, such as Ambien CR, should not drive or take part in activities that require complete mental alertness the next day. The FDA in January asked zolpidem manufacturers to reduce recommended dosages on the drugs’ labels. The regulator also said that women were more susceptible to the risk as they eliminated the drug from the blood more slowly than men. Reuters

Panel questions U.S. guidelines for very low-salt diets. The Institute of Medicine said there isn’t enough evidence that cutting sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams a day reduces heart disease risks. The panel also said there is no evidence that people who already have heart disease or diabetes should further cut their intake of  sodium, a component of table salt. Current guidelines urge Americans to limit sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams daily, or about a teaspoon of salt. For people 51 and older or African-American, or who have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, guidelines call for no more than 1,500 milligrams. The new report challenges the 1,500-milligram threshold. Still, most Americans far exceed recommended levels. The Wall Street Journal

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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