Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Battle For Workplace Safety: Short Stuff

dispatchesPork Processing Workers — From Bad to Worse: US meat workers are already three times more likely to suffer serious injury than the average American worker, and pork and beef workers nearly seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries. Add to that amputations, fractured fingers, second-degree burns and head trauma and you have a work population that needs more protections, not fewer. But fewer is what they may be getting if the USDA has its way and allows pork employers to speed up their processing lines, according to the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. “The New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) will re-allocate some of the line inspection duties, and remove speed caps from the processing lines. USDA estimates that it could potentially save the agency more than $6 million a year.” According Mark Lauritsen, head of the meatpacking division for the United Food and Commercial Workers,m  “When it’s production at all costs, people are going to get hurt.”

Jailtime: I wrote recently about the tragic death of Zachary Hess, crushed to death in a 16 foot deep trench last December in Warren, Ohio. Last month, OSHA issued citations against JK Excavating, fining the company $202,201, including one willful and one repeat violation. OSHA had cited the company before for trenching violations. Now Cindy Hess, Zach’s mother is calling for stronger state laws and asking the prosecutor to pursue criminal charges against the company. OSHA may also be able to pursue criminal charges, although the Justice Department, which prosecutes federal OSHA cases, is often reluctant to bring criminal charges because a conviction under the OSHAct is only a misdemeanor.  Hess has been speaking publicly about her son’s death and the hazards of trench collapses.  “I feel like I owe him that,” she said. “I don’t want him to be a statistic. I don’t want his death to be in vain.”

Let Miners Breathe: A National Academy of Sciences Report has called for mine operators should go above and beyond current regulations in order to address recent spikes in black lung disease, including better monitoring of silica dust and development of air monitors that can provide a real-time measurement of the hazardous dust that miners inhale. The report states that “even though mine operators today are complying with regulatory requirements for monitoring conditions that affect miner health, these approaches may not guarantee that exposures will be controlled adequately or that future disease rates will decline.”  Last February, epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) say they had identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, after the disease was almost eradicated in the late 1990’s.

Former Mine Safety and Health director Joe Main has called for “a change in the way our mining industry operates in this country” and former OSHA head David Michaels called on MSHA to issue a silica standard. MSHA issued sweeping regulatory reforms in 2014 to combat black lung diseases that had caused over 78,000 deaths since 1968. The rule was opposed by the National Mining Association. The Trump administration has indicated it wants to take another look at the protections, although OSHA director David Zatezalo told Bloomberg Environment in January that he was “not proposing to weaken” the 2014 dust rule. A previous NAS study  of how surface coal mining was affecting the health of people who lived nearby was canceled by the Interior Department in August 2017.

dispatches powhatanRemembering Powhatan Coal Miners: And speaking of mine safety (or lack thereof,) on this day in 1944, a fire at the North American Coal’s Powhatan Mine in Ohio killed 66 coal miners, Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward reminds us.

Public Sector Unions Fighting Back: It’s not enough that the Supreme Court seriously undermined public employees’ collective bargaining rights, now corporations and right-wing think-tanks like the State Policy Network (SPN) are going door to door to try to get union members to drop their membership. Unions are good for safety, and workers will get hurt and die because of the recent Janus decision, particularly public employee unions because half of the states don’t give public employees the right to a safety workplace. But now public employees are fighting back, building on successful models, and pushing back against the union busters and employing new ways to build and activate unions, as Chris Brooks writes in In These Times.  “We are making the case to our members that our all in campaign and our contract campaign are inextricably linked,” says Jeff Good, United Teachers of Los Angeles executive director. “If you want good contracts with good working conditions, then you need a strong union, and we can’t have a strong union if people are choosing to sit out.

Peeing in a bottle. And not for drug tests: Beware of any bottles of yellow liquid you may find in your Amazon packages. Amazon warehouse workers in Great Britain report that only get five or six minutes in the bathroom before their rate of tasks (and pay) drops. That’s difficult if the bathroom is four flights of stairs below and bottles of urine have been found stashed around the warehose. Workers also get points off for taking a sick day or leaving early to see a child in the hospital.  One worker compares the warehouse to a prison and a totalitarian state.

And in other Amazon-related news, Alana Samuels in The Atlantic discusses the real price paid by workers for those packages that you need to have delivered the next day. As former Obama Wage and Hour head David Weil says, the next day deliveries at the expense of the fissured workers who deliver them.

The Plight of Domestic Workers: Sarah Holder of CityLab describes the working conditions of immigrant domestic workers on the US border. “Over a third of domestic workers reported going hungry at least once that year, and more than half couldn’t pay for medical care when someone in their family needed it, they found. Live-in workers were exposed to some of the worst conditions: Almost a third had been pushed or physically hurt by an employer, and 45 percent had been injured on the job.” The report was based on 516  interviews conducted in 2016 by three community-based organizations—Adult and Youth United Development Association Inc (AYUDA) in San Elizario; Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center in Alamo; and Comité de Justicia Laboral in El Paso.

Grants to Help Workers: Federal OSHA is not the only agency that provides grants to organizations to address worker safety and health. The Washington Department of has announced a program to provide grants up to $175,000 to promote ideas to help make Washington workers and workplaces safer. The press release notes that “Past grants have been used to develop safety-related smartphone apps, create projects to prevent injuries to special education teachers, and to develop a manual for firefighters that helps reduce cancer risk; the manual is used by several fire departments across the country. Safety videos and training programs can also be eligible for grants.” Grants are also available for projects that develop new ways to help injured workers return to work. Applications are due by September 21, 2018.

Tuberculosis Release: I’ve heard of chemical releases, but now Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore alerts hospital employees to a “Tuberculosis Release” in the Koch Cancer Research Building. (Yes, those Kochs.) According to an internal message to hospital personnel “a limited number of employees were in the are will be evaluated by the Baltimore Fire Department.” This was apparently some kind of lab-related incident. Not sure why the Fire Department is evaluating employees. Generally, after tuberculosis exposures, testing by medical personnel must be done months later to ensure that there’s been no infection.

 

Mine Safety MSHA Short Stuff

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