Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Battle for Workplace Safety: Short Stuff

dispatches safety
Photo by Earl Dotter. www.earldotter.com

The Scott Mugno Show: Reviews continue to dribble in about Trump’s nomination of Scott Mugno to head OSHA.  Katie Tracy at the Center for Progressive Reform lays out a number of  questions that Mugno needs to answer when he goes before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for his confirmation hearing. Questions like what new or updated standards he thinks are most urgently needed and his timetable for issuance, what he will do to strengthen workers’ whistleblower protections and whether he thinks OSHA has enough inspectors?  And for the management perspective, check out Eric Conn’s article predicting that Mugno will be “a dynamic and successful leader at OSHA.”  The National Association of Tower Erectors congratulated Mugno on his nomination and encouraged the Senate to quickly confirm him. They may also be interested in how he moves forward on OSHA’s cell tower standard, which they have promoted.  The American Trucking Association, the very anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, and the National Association of Home Builders, which opposed many of OSHA’s fall protection initiatives in the last administration, also announced support for Mugno’s nomination.  And the Chamber of Commerce has called Mugno “an outstanding nominee.”  With friends like that, what could possibly go wrong?

From Science to Science Fiction: Just to ensure that actual science, perpetrated by real scientific experts doesn’t muck up the government policy making process, EPA’s Scott Pruitt has forbidden any researchers receiving EPA funding from sitting on any of EPA’s science boards.  Receiving money from EPA to study environmental issues is apparently a conflict of interest, but receiving support from chemical industry sponsors, of course, is not.  A little good news on the science front, however.  Sam Clovis, a former conservative talk-show host who Trump nominated to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist — even though he has no background in science or agriculture — has withdrawn his nomination. Not because he’s completely unqualified, but because he’s managed to get himself wrapped up in the growing Russia scandal.   It’s all for the best. As William Ruckelshaus, Nixon and Reagan’s EPA chief warns: A strong, credible and fair regulatory regime is essential to the smooth functioning of our economy.”  Trump and Pruitt should take heed. But they won’t. They cite a higher source than Ruckelshaus: The bible. According to BuzzFeed News, Pruitt pointed out that “Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,” Pruitt “This is sort of like the Joshua principle — that as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do.” But not to worry, Trump can always rely on experts at the White House Science Adviser, except that more than 9 months into his first term, Trump has not nominated anyone to the position.

Faster Chickens, Hurt Workers, Sick Consumers: A number of workers rights and food safety advocacy groups are fighting a renewed effort by the poultry industry (the National Chicken Council) and the Department of Agriculture to allow an even faster rate of work in parts of some processing facilities. According to an excellent NPR story, the groups are warning that “higher line speeds increase the risks for foodborne illness and worker injuries in an industry that has an already spotty safety record.”  Workers are hurting. “Federal statistics show that animal slaughtering and processing facilities are the 6th most dangerous workplaces for severe injuries. According to a Government Accountability Office report, most musculoskeletal injuries caused by repetitive movement, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are not reported by workers.”  And it’s not good for people who eat chicken either.   Under a pilot project, according to a former USDA inspector,  only one federal inspector is responsible for viewing birds that come through the chicken evisceration line. “‘You had less than 30 seconds to inspect the chicken. How can you look at the front, back, up and down and inside a chicken in 30 seconds? [retired USDA inspector Phyllis] McKelvey asks before answering her own question: ‘There’s no way.'” Thirteen non-profit organizations and unions, including 1worker rights, civil rights, consumer safety, public health, and animal welfare groups—met with top officials last month to “to urge them to reject a poultry industry petition to allow faster and unrestricted line speeds in poultry plants.”  And last August, the groups sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue ” oppose any proposed rule that would increase line speeds in poultry plants within the United States above the current 140 birds per minute (bpm).”  But none of that’s important, according to the Chicken Council: “Spokesperson Tom Super says the motivation behind the higher line speeds is to keep up with international competitors.”  And the race to the bottom continues.

Panic in Hotel Rooms: On the workplace violence front, in order to protect certain hotel workers from sexual assault, the Chicago City Council has approved an ordinance requiring hotels to provide panic buttons to hotel housekeepers, as well as developing  anti-sexual harassment policies. “By July 1, 2018, Chicago hotels must equip employees who work alone in guest rooms or restrooms with a “panic button” or notification device that can be used to summon help if the employee reasonably believes that an ongoing crime, sexual harassment, sexual assault or other emergency is occurring. These devices must be provided at no cost to the employee.”  The ordinance also prohibits hotels from retaliating against employees for actually using the device.  Not a bad idea. Maybe we need a similar law requiring panic buttons for women in the entertainment and media industry.

Prison Warzone: “It’s a warzone every time you step in there,” says a North Carolina corrections officer about working conditions in North Carolina prisons. ” Veronica Darden, Justin Smith and Wendy Shannon died after inmates set a fire in a portion of the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in northeastern North Carolina in early October. Darden and Smith died in the immediate after math of the fire. Shannon died several weeks later of injuries sustained in the attempted prison escape. Nine other prison employees were injured in the incident. In April, Sergeant Meggan Callahan, a corrections officer at the Bertie Correctional Institution, was killed by an inmate who, an autopsy says, scalded her with boiling water and beat her to death with a fire hydrant.”

Protecting Cell Tower Workers — One State at a Time: OSHA may be moving forward very slowly (or not at all) on a new standard to protect cell tower workers, but that hasn’t stopped Washington State OSHA from issuing new protections.  “The rules contain requirements covering expected hazards of tower work, host employer/contractor responsibilities, microwave/laser technology, control of hazardous energy, working during darkness, fall protection, remote cell tower sites, and emergency response and rescue.” North Carolina and Michigan also have telecommunication safety rules. The agency’s press release notes that “Communication-tower worker deaths in the U.S. are increasing exponentially; for tower climbers the death rate is 10 times the average for construction workers. Since the original telecommunication rules were adopted in 1973, the industry has grown rapidly, and safety and health hazards have emerged that didn’t exist 40 years ago.”  In September,  three Miami men died while working on a TV transmission tower. There is a cell tower standard on federal OSHA’s regulatory agenda, but it may fall victim to Trumps “One-in-Two-out” Executive Order which would require two worker protections to be removed for every one that’s added.

And Elsewhere….: Forty-seven workers were killed in a fireworks factory explosion in Indonesia. One of the victims was only 14 years old.  And in India, a crackdown on slavery conditions on farms rescued “25 workers, including children, who worked 15 hour days for seven years.”  Rescued workers said while they worked in the fields, their children worked at the employer’s house for no money. “The employers did not give them wages, but only packets of wheat. This too was to ensure they stayed alive to continue working on their fields,” Gorana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

 

Environmental Protection Agency Poultry Industry Scott Mugno Short Stuff Workplace Violence

1 Comment

  1. Particularly good edition (they’re all good). Thanks for keeping track of the scoundrel nominees being put up.

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