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

Dispatches OSHA“They Treat Us Like Mules”: “They will break you down and then throw you away.” That’s what construction worker Ernesto Rivera told the Mike Elk at the Guardian about how construction workers are treated in Tennessee. Nashville is booming, but workers are paying the price.”In 2016 and 2017, 16 workers were killed on construction sites in the city – the deadliest two-year stretch in over three decades according to an analysis performed by the Tennessean. Half of those killed in the job were Latino in a city where Latinos make up only 10% of the population.” But workers are fighting back. A new coalition of Latino, black and white workers pushed Major League Soccer to agree to a series of improvements for workers on its football stadium. And last spring,, the painters union launched a new worker center  that will allow workers in non-union workplaces to join the union as an affiliate member at half the dues of those covered by the union contract.

Health Hazards of Floods: Survivors of Hurricane Florence flooding in the Carolinas may want to read this Houston Chronicle article about whether flooding after Hurricane Harvey was making people in Houston sick after sewage trapped in bathroom pipes, medicines in cabinets, cleaning supplies under sinks, chemicals in garages, as well as chemicals from 13 Superfund sites all mixed together with floodwater to form a toxic brew. High levels of E. coli, antibiotic-resistant bacteria up to 250 times higher than even the floodwater outside have concerned residents and health professionals.  Rice University, the Houston Health Department and the Environmental Defense Fund have launched a Hurricane Harvey Registry to collect information on health impacts.

Manslaughter for Steamroller Death: After an unqualified worker was allowed to operate a heavy steamroller that fatally crushed another employee in San Francisco in January 2016, the company’s owner and the foreman were arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. The worker had lost control of the roller and ran over another employee, Maurilio Rojas. The company had also received a Cal/OSHA fine of $52,810. Construction Dive writes that “This is the latest example of local authorities going above and beyond fines and penalties in an effort to make an example of construction companies that they believe have not taken enough care to ensure the safety of their employees.”

Criminal Prosecution for Killing Workers and Then Lying About It: Meanwhile, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services (NRCS) and its top executives were hit with a federal 22-count criminal indictment for the deaths of two of its employees while cleaning rail tank cars three years ago. “The charges include criminal conspiracy, violating safety standards resulting in worker deaths, violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by dumping hazardous waste, and for submitting false documents to a federal agency.” The employees had been sent into the tank despite evidence that air quality inside a tank car indicated a serious risk of an explosion. OSHA had cited the company for almost $1 million and placed them in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The company also lied to OSHA and falsified documents.

Baby It’s Hot Outside: If you’re a podcast fan and workplace safety fanatic, check out this podcast on Keeping Workers Safe in the Era of Climate Change with Sid Shapiro and Katie Tracy from the Center for Progressive Reform. Farmworkers, construction workers, workers in unairconditioned warehouses all potentially risk heat-related illness. Add new and more widespread infectious diseases and insects. And speaking of heat, Public Citizen, United Farm Workers (UFW), UFW Foundation and Friends of the Earth delivered a petition with 61,620 signatures to OSHA, calling for the agency to establish protections for workers who are subject to extreme heat. Last July, more than 130 organizations submitted a regulatory petition to OSHA requesting the agency to issue a standard that would protect workers from the hazards of high heat.

Tesla– “We care.” — Tesla, Elon Musk’s car company, continues to have problems making cars and keeping its workers safe at the same time. CalOSHA launched two new investigations this month. One came after a contract worker became stuck between two garbage bins after a forklift pushed one of the bins and the second came after an incident reported in which a contract worker’s fingers were caught in a torque gun. There are currently six open inspections into Tesla’s Fremont factory, according to Business Insider. CalOSHA has cited Tesla a number of times over the past year. “We care deeply about the well-being of our employees and we will continue to work with them until we have the safest factory in the world,” according to a Tesla spokesperson. Tesla has had numerous safety and health problems, and is running an anti-union campaign to fight organizing attempts by the United Auto Workers.

Small Farms, Big Risks: Just in time for National Farm Safety and Health Week, (Sept 16-22) a consortium of newspapers (the Decatur Herald and Review, the Bloomington Pantagraph; and the Matoon Journal Gazette & Times Courier) have published a four-part series on the hazards of small farms. Despite advancements in technology, farming remains one of the most hazardous industries in America. According to NIOSH, “Out of every 100,000 farmers, 21 will die each year from a work-related  injury” and almost 60,000 injured every year and that doesn’t take into account significant under-reporting of injuries. Vehicle and machinery incidents, along with grain suffocations lead the fatality list. And it doesn’t help that Congress forbids OSHA from enforcing safe workplaces on farms of 10 or fewer employees.

Chemical Plant Safety Regs On and Off Again: We reported last month that the DC Court of Appeals had called EPA’s delay in implementation of an Obama administration chemical plant safety regulation to be “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered it to take effect immediately.  The original rule had enhanced requirements for safety analysis, emergency response and for post-incident investigations.  But earlier this month, the court, which had originally called for immediate implementation of the rule, changed its mind and gave industry until until Oct. 8 and asked the parties to submit briefs on whether or not to immediately enforce the decision.

Workplace Violence — Time for action: Late last month a mental health patient assaulted and stomped the head of AFSCME Local 793 member Christa Butters at Western State Hospital (WSH) in Lakewood, Washington. According to Rick Hertzog, a mental health technician at WSH, assaults at the hospital are increasing and are on pace to easily pass last year’s total of 355.  And, according to Hertzog, “the actual number of assaults may be higher than the official count since they believe many assaults go unreported because of the two hours of paperwork required to log in every incident. Caregivers likely decide against documenting the case because that would take time away from the patients and leave their co-workers even more short-staffed.” AFSCME have been trying to get management to address the issue. Members are calling on the hospital to create a timeline for addressing the staffing issues and stop admitting patients with violent records to the civil side of the facility “The time for talking is over,” said Mike Yestramski, a psychiatric social worker at the hospital. “It’s time for action.”

Agriculture Construction Criminal Prosecution Environmental Protection Agency Heat Short Stuff Workplace Violence

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