Reading Today’s Confined Space

Exporting Cancer and Miscarriages:  An upsetting but must-read article by Cam Simpson at Bloomberg Business Week looks at American semi-conductor companies who discovered in the 1980’s that chemicals they were using in the production of micro chips were causing cancer and reproductive problems in women working in their plants. So they did the honorable thing and announced that the chemicals would be phased out. Thirty years later, however, Simpson reports that semi-conductor production, along with the hazardous chemicals — have simply been exported abroad where The solution, shift production overseas, along with the toxic chemicals, subjecting untold numbers of women in South Korea and other countries to severe health problems.  Read it.

Meanwhile, I ran across this: “Another Samsung semiconductor worker dies of leukemia,” an article that discusses the work of Protector of Health and Human Rights of Semiconductor Workers (SHARP), an advocacy group representing the victims who fell ill or died while working at Samsung’s chip plants. “In May, Samsung Electronics officially apologized for the first time for the deaths and suffering of its semiconductor workers and promised compensation. Since then, the two parties have held negotiations, but there has been no meaningful progress as of their last meeting on July 30. SHARP is demanding, among other things, that Samsung allow a third-party inspection of its facilities, which the company has yet to agree to.”

The World Cup of Death: Seventeen workers have died while building stadiums for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.  This sad toll continues the deadly record of previous sporting events, according to the New York Times: “At least 70 workers died during construction for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia; 13 before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro; six before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing; and zero during the building of the Olympic Park at the 2012 Olympics in London, according to trade union officials and news accounts.” In addition, Human Rights watch documented workers who were not provided with employment contracts, others who were not paid at all, received partial pay or had to wait months to receive their wages. Some workers were forced to work in temperatures as low as 13 degrees below zero Fahrenheit without sufficient protections against the cold.  Meanwhile, let’s not forget the problems preparing for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

They hate me, they really hate me: Bergen Regional Medical Center spokesperson Donnalee Corrieri didn’t appreciate my recent post about OSHA caving in on a workplace violence citation against the hospital. Calling the Confined Space post “ill-informed commentary,” Corrieri accused me of thinking that “that even a single instance of workplace violence means an employer’s [workplace violence prevention program] is somehow insufficient.” Not true, and BRMC unfortunately had far more than a single case of workplace violence. In fact, the union reports that so far this year, 62 incidents have been reported to a workplace violence committee. Confined Space stands by its contention that the hospital has serious workplace violence problems, and that a workplace violence citation wouldn’t have looked good in its effort to retain its lease as  hospital operator. (P.St. For those of you on Twitter,  check out the debate between @jbarab and @osha_guy who is BRMC’s attorney.)

Federal OSHA may be backing off workplace violence cases, but Vermont is picking up the slack. The Vermont State OSHA Program issued three workplace violence citations totaling $14,000 to the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin “for what state inspectors say was a failure to protect front-line workers from patients who become dangerous.”  The VOSH inspection was the result of a complaint filed by the Vermont State Employees’ Association after discovering that there had been over 200 incidents at the hospital in 2015 and 2016. “The majority of those were nominal, but there were some that required medical attention, even trips to the hospital,” a union spokesman said. “We’ve heard about it from employees for years. It’s been an ongoing issue.”

No DJT at DOL: Because of the Congressional Baseball shooting Wednesday, the Donald canceled his trip to the Department of Labor’s Frances Perkins building where he and First Daughter were expected to launch his apprenticeship initiative. Oh well.  Last week was supposed to be Infrastructure Week and instead it was Comey Week. This week was supposed to be Workforce Week, and instead it’s Sessions-Scalise Week. The poor guy just can’t catch a break.

Are Arizona Workers Second Class Citizens?  Last month I wrote a post about federal OSHA’s objections to Arizona OSHA’s procedures that allow a board appointed by the governor to reduce OSHA penalties without following approved procedures. Arizona resident and National COSH activist Peter Dooley, who filed the original complaint with federal OSHA asks in the Arizona Daily Star “Is a worker’s life worth less here than in the rest of the United States?”  Peter’s answer is “no.”  “This controversy isn’t about the competing rights of an individual state versus the federal government. It’s about the right of every worker, in every kind of workplace, to go home safely at the end of his or her shift. Consistent fines and penalties are an effective deterrent against employers who might be tempted to cut corners on health and safety.”

There are Heroes in Congress; Just Not Enough: Reveal discusses legislation introduced in the Senate and House that would strengthen worker protections.  The article focuses on two pieces of legislation, a revised Protecting America’s Workers Act, introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) that would increase OSHA criminal penalties from misdemeanors to felonies and provide OSHA coverage for public employees.  Meanwhile, a bill introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) would resurrect OSHA’s ability to enforce recordkeeping violations that were removed when the Congress repealed OSHA’s Volks rule earlier this year. While the article focuses on the Senate, similar bills were introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Mark Takano (D-CA) and

Making a Really Bad Situation Worse: The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, the largest U.S. site of waste from nuclear weapons production, is having problems. Last May a rail tunnel collapsed into a huge sinkhole, dropping  eight railroad cars and a tunnel containing a lethal mix of waste from plutonium production into the hole. Then in June, radiation warnings sounded as workers removed outdoor equipment from a plant that once churned out disks of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.  A cleanup of the site has been going on since 1989, but now Doug Shoop, who runs the department’s operations office at Hanford, fears that “The infrastructure is not going to last long enough for the cleanup.”  At current funding levels,  “It will be another 50 years before it is all demolished.”  The federal government is currently spending $2.3 billion a year to clean up the site and more money would speed up the clean-up. Unfortunately, however, the Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget is proposing a $128 million cut in Hanford cleanup spending. That will  require more luck to finish the clean-up successfully — and that’s assuming they don’t have a major earthquake over the next 50 years. The 580-square mile site produced up to 70 percent of the plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal since it was established in World War II.

Killing us Softly – More Bad Budget News: We’ve focused here on the Trump FY2018 budget proposal’s impact on OSHA, NIOSH and the Chemical Safety Board, but Kim Krisberg at the Pump Handle describes how Trump’s budget is trying to kill us in many other ways with a $1.2 billion, or 17 percent cut in the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In summary, there will be severe cuts to  chronic disease prevention, public health preparedness and response,  work related to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, STDs and tuberculosis,  immunization programs, the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program, the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant, global health programs (with most of those cuts coming from global HIV/AIDS efforts),emerging and zoonotic diseases, including cuts to efforts to combat antibiotic resistance. And that’s in addition to huge cuts in the budget of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which comes out of the CDC budget.



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