Little Fires Everywhere…at Amazon
Neither rain, no sleet, nor snow stops the US mail. Apparently for Amazon, that also includes fires. On Monday, a fire broke out in a trash compactor at the JFK8 Amazon fulfillment in Statin Island, New York and in a separate event, the second fire in a week broke out at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Madison, Alabama, not once, but twice in the past week — and in the same area of the warehouse.
At the New York facility, over 100 night shift workers refused to go back to work because the warehouse smelled of smoke and that they couldn’t breathe. One worker went to the hospital, according to the Washington Post. The next day, Amazon suspended at least 50 workers involved in a work stoppage, claiming that “it respected employees’ rights to protest working conditions but that occupying work spaces was inappropriate.” This is the same union that voted to organize last April, although Amazon has refused to bargain with the union. The union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Meanwhile, the source of the Madison fires has not been identified, although workers speculate that it may be lithium batteries. Needless to say, as one Amazon employee stated, “We don’t feel safe, I mean, we think they sent us back to work too soon.” No shit.
Of Rats and Sinking Ships: Amazon Safety Head Throws in the Towel
Even the safety pros at Amazon may be having second thoughts about the company’s safety record. Amazon scored quite a prize in 2019 when they hired Heather McDougall as the giant company’s top executive overseeing workplace health and safety. Prior to the Amazon gig, McDougall was chair of the Occupational Safety and Health Review commission — sort of the Supreme Court of disputed OSHA citations. The appointment cam shortly after OSHRC overturned an OSHA heat citation. Not unrelated, Amazon, then and now, had come under criticism for failing to address serious safety problems in their warehouses, including those related to heat.
Last week, Amazon announced that McDougall would be moving on. “After building with us for over three years as an important member of our leadership team, Heather has decided to pursue other opportunities outside Amazon,” according to John Felton, Amazon’s head of operations. During her time heading up Amazon’s health and safety operations, the company had come under criticism for high rates of musculoskeletal and other injuries, heat hazards, failure to respond adequately to COVID-19. In 2021, 6 Amazon employees were killed when a tornado hit their warehouse in Illinois. OSHA later sent a letter to the company criticizing them for inadequate emergency response programs.
So, greener (and more profitable) pastures? Or did she find it increasingly hard to look herself in the mirror every morning?
Democratic Commissioners Finally Confirmed to Mine Safety Commission
Until last week, almost two years into the Biden administration, Republicans still controlled the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, holding two seats, while the other three were vacant after the term of Chairman Art Traynor expired on August 30. FMSHRC is an independent 5 member agency that serves as the high court of the Mine Safety and Health Agency.
That anomaly ended last week when the Senate finally confirmed two Democratic appointees — Mary Lu Jordan and Timothy Baker — by voice vote. In June, President Biden also nominated Moshe Marvit to the fifth seat on the Commission, but the Senate has not yet acted on his nomination.
The Commission had been plagued by controversy over the past two years as the Republican Commissioners upended FMSHRC precedents, undermining the rights to miners. The Republicans had declared war on Commission Chair (and Democratic appointee) Art Traynor, and fired up Senate Republicans to obstruct the confirmations of Jordan and Baker. Now that Traynor’s term has expired, Republicans have apparently dropped their opposition to the Biden nominations.
So for now, there is a 2-2 split on FMSHRC, which may spell deadlock over major decisions, but should at least stop the undermining of miners’ rights. When will Marvit be confirmed? That may depend on how the mid-term elections go.
Healthcare Workers: COVID, Monkeypox and Every Disease Everywhere
I often write that healthcare workers are on the front lines of every disease outbreak, epidemic and pandemic. Indeed, healthcare workers have higher injury rates than construction workers or coal miners, and thousands needlessly died from COVID-19 while caring for those most impacted by the pandemic without the needed protections. In the latest issue of AFT’s Health Care Magazine, I review the history of OSHA’s efforts to protect healthcare workers and the need for more standards and enforcement to protect America’s caregivers.
Meanwhile, the first U.S. healthcare worker to be infected with Monkeypox while on the job has been reported in Los Angeles County. According to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the case was the result of a “needle stick injury.”
Washington State Gets Serious About Residential Fall Protection
Washington OSHA has cited two roofing companies for more than a million dollars in total fines for repeatedly putting workers at risk of dangerous falls.
Allways Roofing, Inc. in Snohomish has been inspected 11 times in the past three years resulting from reports of roofers not wearing fall protection. The two most recent citations include $788,000 in fines. Allways Roofing has amassed nearly $2.5 million in penalties over the past 15 months. United Roofing Solutions has been inspected a dozen times since it opened in 2009 and has been cited and fined more than $500,000 for workers not wearing fall protection. The most recent case resulted in a $305,254 penalty for repeat, willful, serious violations for not using fall protection.
Just over ten years ago, the residential construction industry went berserk when federal OSHA reinstated fall protection rules for residential construction which had been “temporarily” waived in 1995. The industry accused OSHA of creating unnecessary hardships on the roofing industry and driving small construction companies out of business. Despite withering pressure from some members of Congress, OSHA persisted in enforcing the requirement, although it delayed enforcement of the new requirements over many months.
COVID-19 Causing Burnout Among Healthcare Workers
At least a quarter of health and care workers surveyed reported anxiety, depression and burnout symptoms as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic according to a report released today by by the Qatar Foundation, World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO).
The report found that 23 to 46 percent of health and care workers reported symptoms of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic and 20 to 37 percent experienced depressive symptoms.
Burnout among health and care workers during the pandemic ranged from 41 to 52 percent in pooled estimates. Women, young people and parents of dependent children were found to be at greater risk of psychological distress — significant considering that women make up 67 percent of the global health workforce and are subject to inequalities in the sector, such as unequal pay.
The report also highlights 10 policy actions to address the problem, including investing in workplace environments and culture that prevent burnout, promoting staff wellbeing, and supporting quality care. This includes the obligations and roles of governments and employers for occupational safety and health.