Workplace Deaths are Preventable: New OSHA Region 8 Administrator Jennifer Rouse, writing in the Colorado Sun points out that almost all workplace deaths are preventable. “OSHA believes there is no such thing as an unpreventable workplace accident. With proper care, planning and detailed focus on prevention, workers should end each workday safely. OSHA investigations find that fatalities and serious injuries occur when a series of missteps combine, often when an employer fails to ensure it has complied with regulations and has followed required procedures.”
And she optimistically reminds us that “Workers with complaints should never fear reporting a safety and health concern.” “Should” is the operative word here, but with OSHA’s weak and aging anti-retaliation language, a legislative fix is needed to remove the word “should.”
Nail Salon Workers: Nail salon workers work for low pay, long hours and unsafe conditions due to chemicals, dust and poor ventilation. Now, Adhikaar, a non-profit worker center organizing Nepali-speaking communities and other groups are advocating for a bill in the New York senate and assembly that would create a nail salon industry council with powers to establish workplace standards throughout the industry in the state. The council would be the first of its kind in the nail salon industry in the US and would “workers, salon owners and the state together to bargain and establish a uniform set of expectations and standards is how we ensure that every worker has recourse and authority to fight back against their exploitation.” There are about 4,000 nail salons in New York City and 7,000 throughout the state.
Been There, Done That: In January 2021, six workers at the Foundation Food Group chicken process plant were killed and a dozen others had to be hospitalized as a result of a nitrogen leak. Susan Ferriss at the Center for Public Integrity describes how “Five of the six people killed were Mexican nationals — as were many survivors at the plant. Some were reluctant to accept medical aid or speak to federal investigators.” Ferriss points out that fear among immigrant workers is not uncommon; many are undocumented or have undocumented family members. But advocates argue there is a way to address that reluctance to cooperate in investigations;
To address that, advocates are urging Labor and Homeland Security officials to work together more often to grant temporary protection from deportation to undocumented workers who cooperate with investigators. Temporary work permits would also help ensure workers won’t fear losing livelihoods if they speak up, advocates say. IF undocumented workers are victims of crimes, officials could also help by more often obtaining residency visas for those who cooperate with investigations, said Shelly Anand, a former Labor Department attorney with Sur Legal Collaborative, a group that represents immigrant workers.
Meanwhile, earlier this month a bleach leak at the Gold Creek chicken processing plant forced employees to evacuate. That plant is the same Foundation Foods plant were 6 workers were killed, after which it was sold to Gold Creek. Is the plant jinxed, or are chicken processing plant owners chronic workplace safety violators?
Weapons of Mass Destruction — in Your Back Yard: Last January, a massive fire broke out at the Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The plant was storing more than 2,000 tons — roughly 4.5 million pounds — of chemicals, including 500 tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer component that killed 15 people and destroyed much of the town of West, Texas when the West Fertilizer plant caught fire and exploded in 2013. Lisa Sorg, Environmental Reporter, for N.C. Policy Watch writes here and here about the impact of the fire on the surrounding low-income neighborhoods. 6,500 people within a mile of the plant were asked to evacuate, the air was heavily polluted and it was discovered that the plant had also been contaminating and killing fish in the town’s Yadkin River.
It’s Not Easy, or Safe Being a Mine Inspector: Last August, Westly Partridge, owner of the Partridge Sand & Gravel mine in Stone, Missouri used loading equipment filled with rocks and dirt to force the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors’ vehicle off the road as they drove toward the mine. Partridge then verbally harassed the inspectors and ordered them off the property. Earlier this month, a federal district court judge issued an injunction to prevent Partridge from stopping federal inspectors from completing workplace safety inspections now and in the future.