Short Stuff: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Battle for Safe Workplaces

Bad News For Supporters of Silica-related Disease: As of October 23, OSHA’s Silica rule has finally come into full effect. The silica standard, issued in 2016 will save hundreds of workers every year from death due to silicosis, lung cancer and kidney disease, and help thousands of others who would have suffered other diseases.  OSHA was originally supposed to begin enforcing the standard on June 23, 2017, but the agency then postponed enforcement until Sept. 23, 2017.  Shortly before that date, OSHA announced another 30 day delay in full enforcement for those employers found by OSHA to be out of compliance, but acting in good faith. It is unknown how many employers slipped through the “good faith” exemption during the past month. OSHA has also issued Interim Enforcement Guidance for the Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction Standard which help enforcement staff determine if an employer is in compliance. While such guidance is primarily for the use of OSHA enforcement personnel, it also provides guidance to employers who want to know what to expect form OSHA. A final silica compliance directive will be issued later.

Good News For Supporters of Dirty Air and Silica Related Disease:  The Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee voted to move forward on the nominations of probably two of the worst EPA appointees in the agencies history: William Wehrum, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and Michael Dourson, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the EPA. You may remember Wehrum who argued the industry case against OSHA’s silica standard a few weeks ago. Wehrum will go down in history as the “expert” who said about deadly silica dust: “People are designed to deal with dust. People are in dusty apartments all the time and it doesn’t kill them.” As former OSHA and MSHA leaders David Michaels and Greg Wagner just wrote, “It takes your breath away to think that Wehrum would be placed in charge of protecting Americans from air pollution.”

Dourson, meanwhile, once employed by Big Tobacco to tout the benefits of smoking, “has repeatedly recommended chemical exposure levels hundreds of times above established limits and worked to protect corporate profits at the expense of the public’s health,” as David Michaels writes in The Hill. Dourson is supposedly a scientist, but as Michaels writes “his studies are mercenary efforts whose results are pre-ordained: If he is hired to study a chemical, you can be sure he will conclude that chemical isn’t really all that dangerous.”  The full Senate will vote on the nominees in the coming weeks. I’m sure your Senators will want to know who they’re being asked to vote for. Tell them.

Gravity Comes Calling in Miami: Two more Miami workers were killed in falls this week after three men died last month while working on a TV transmission tower. One man was inspecting an overpass when he slipped and fell about 25 feet and the other “plunged 10 floors from the former Versailles Hotel.” And that’s not all according to the Miami Herald: ” The two deaths follow an increasing trend of construction deaths in South Florida since February, when a construction worker was killed and another injured in a crash between their boom lift and a Metromover car. In March, a man died after falling from the seventh floor of another Miami Beach condominium under construction, the L´Excellence.” Might be time for some kind of OSHA local emphasis program, although I assume the agency is still tied down with Hurricane work.

House to OSHA: Keep up the Good Work: House Republicans seem very happy with what OSHA is doing under the Trump administration. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL), chair of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections has said that he plans no oversite hearings this year, according to Inside OSHA. Byrne told Inside OSHA that “We don’t have anything planned for the rest of this year As we get prepared for next year, I know we will be looking at some workplace safety issues,” he added, “I just can’t tell you right now what they will be.” I have a few hearing suggestions for Congressman Byrne: How about OSHA’s failure to move forward on some important rules, like infectious diseases, workplace violence and cell tower safety? The legality (or lack thereof) of Trump’s one-in-two-out regulatory Executive Order and how that will hurt workers? How about OSHA’s chronic under funding which makes it impossible to fully enforce the law? The administration’s failure to nominate an Assistant Secretary? The agency’s failure to issue any more than a handful of enforcement-related press releases? I’m sure you can all come up with others.

And speaking of hurricane work: Mike Elk writes in the Guardian that workers continue to face serious hazards during clean-up work and OSHA has not been as helpful as they could reaching out to groups who work with day laborers and other vulnerable cleanup workers.  Elk writes that José Garza, former associate deputy assistant secretary for policy at Department of Labor under Obama, and now executive director of the Texas-based Workers Defense Project, said he had been working with more than 60 organizers in communities in Texas since the storm and had yet to meet with any high-ranking government officials. “Ultimately, the lives of workers are too important for us to sit back and do nothing,” he said.  Meanwhile, we’re hearing reports that the Governor of Puerto Rico has suspended the health and safety provisions of AFSCME’s contract. AFSCME represents state employees on the island. State employees have been told to assist in the recovery, but have not been provided with training or safety equipment. \

Organizing for safe workplaces:  Health and safety issues are playing a major role in two organizing campaigns. After an incredibly intense anti-union campaign waged by management, tire workers at Kumho Tire in Macon, Georgia recently voted down the union with a vote of 164–136. “Workers in the plant complain that they are exposed to toxic chemicals and receive no training in how to properly protect themselves. Worse, workers routinely complain that if they show up late for the shift starting at 5 p.m. that the office containing masks and gloves would be locked—forcing many workers to work in the dangerous environment without protection.”  Meanwhile, , Tesla, which is having serious safety problems that we’ve written about before has issued a wave of terminations, citing “performance issues” among its 33,000 employees. The UAW has been trying to organize workers at the plant. “I don’t regret speaking up about safety publicly, even if it cost me my job,” said fired worker Daniel Grant. “I have a responsibility to myself and my family to be healthy enough to earn an income for a lifetime.”

Technical Assistance: And finally, as I mentioned earlier this week, I’ve been having some technical problems reaching my own site and wonder if anyone else is having problems as well? If you are having problems getting on the site that last more than an hour, I’d like to ask if you can send me some information to confinedspace2017@gmail.com.

  1. Who is your provider (e.g. Verizon, Time-Warner?)
  2. What is your ISP number (Type “Whatismyisp.com” in your browser.)
  3. I’ll let you know if I need anything else.

Thanks!

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