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News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Friday, October 31, 2003


Industry Butchers Perform Back-Alley Late Term Abortion on ANSI Ergonomics Standard

As predicted a couple of weeks ago, after 13 years and over a half million dollars, industry hacks have succeeded in pressuring the National Safety Council (NSC) into surrendering its position as Secretariat to the ANSI Management of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders committee.

A labor spokesperson criticized the NSC for succumbing to industry pressure and stated that if the NSC doesn't care about workes, then labor wouldn't bother participating in its activities.

The committee had been working since 1990 to adopt a "consensus" standard on upper extremity musculoskeletal injuries. Finally, after 13 years, the ANSI “Z365” committee was close to finalizing an ergonomics standard.

The final draft of the late standard can be found here. May it rest in peace.

For the few of you who don't read every word I write, you can read my previous rantings about this subject here.

In respect for the dead, I have nothing else to say. In lieu of flowers, send money to the Washington State No on 841 campaign.

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Happy Halloween: More Scary Stuff About Evil And The Wicked Rulers Of Our Fair Land

While we're on the subject of ergonomics and Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, here's a review of Bushwacked (as well as Joe Conason's book Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth) by another of our heros, Paul Krugman.

Here's one excerpt from the review, in reference to a recent Interior Department ruling in favor of the mining industry:
The point about the mining-waste ruling is that it isn't at all exceptional. Instead, it is typical of the Bush administration—in its callousness toward the general welfare, in the brazenness with which special interests were able to buy a decision to their liking, and in the contempt officials showed toward the public and the press. (Indeed, the ruling received only brief mention in the national press.) We're living in a replay of the Gilded Age, in which robber barons openly bought and sold government officials and their policies. And just as the Gilded Age brought forth a golden age of muckraking, our modern descent into money politics has brought forth a new wave of outraged reporters. Ivins and Dubose are worthy heirs of an honorable tradition.



Thursday, October 30, 2003


Ergonomics: From Washington to Belzoni, Mississippi -- The Full Story

This is an excerpt from the complete chapter on the struggle for an ergonomics standard the the role of Eugene Scalia in killing it from BUSHWACKED by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose.
On the same March morning in 2000 when lawyer/lobbyist Eugene Scalia raced to the front of the Department of Labor hearing room to take the lead in the industry fight against ergonomic protection for workers, Durst got up and took her three-year-old son to the neighbor who takes care of him while she works. She then drove twenty miles to the Freshwater Farms catfish processing plant, just east of the Yazoo River in Belzoni. She put on an apron, a hair net, special latex gloves, and a pair of rubber boots. She walked into the refrigerated plant and took her station on the thin black rubber mat next to the conveyor belt. At the start of the conveyor belt, live catfish spilled out of holding tanks and began to move in Durst’s direction.

By the time the judge made his opening remarks and Scalia finished his first twenty minutes of testimony, Sherry Durst had skinned one thousand catfish. For eight to ten hours a day, Durst grabs a catfish off the conveyor belt, presses one of its sides against a set of blades mounted on a high-speed rotor, then flips the fish and repeats the process. Then she grabs another, and another, and another. If the line was running fast on March 13, 2000, Durst would have skinned twelve hundred fish before Scalia completed his brief morning testimony.

By the time Judge Vittone adjourned the ergonomics hearing at noon and the lawyers and lobbyists scrambled for cabs to make their lunches at the Red Sage or Olives, Durst had skinned between thirty-six hundred and four thousand catfish. Moments before each live fish arrives at the skinning station, it is stunned by electric shock, beheaded by one woman, and eviscerated by another, who jams each fish’s intestinal cavity against a stationary vacuum pipe called a "long gun." In order to keep her job at Freshwater Farms, Durst has to skin a minimum of twelve fish a minute. At times, a white supervisor stands behind her with a stopwatch, calculating minutes and catfish. Durst never falls below fifteen, at times hits twenty, and has skinned more than twenty-five catfish a minute.
'nuff said. Read this chapter, then buy the book.

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Seattle Paper Opposes I-841

Good editorial in the Seattle Post Intelligencer opposing Washington State Initiative 841 which would repeal the state’s ergonomics standard:
Washington voters could strain themselves trying to figure out the debate over the ergonomics initiative.

But let's go to the bottom line: Initiative 841 deserves a no vote. It represents more of the ballot nonsense that has paralyzed the state.

Initiative 841 runs roughshod over the working public's right to safety, the normal processes of government and the state's power. Instead of fine-tuning ergonomics rules adopted by the state Department of Labor and Industries, the initiative asks voters to bulldoze aside protections against repetitive injuries.

We have sympathy with business concerns over the state's ergonomics rules. Common sense, good will and modest adjustments limit most problems.

There may well be a case for eliminating or slowing the rules' implementation. But that should be based on study by Labor and Industries or by the Legislature.

The initiative is so sweeping because its writers couldn't restrain themselves from effectively throwing away the state's right to protect workers. The initiative says that Labor and Industries can't adopt new rules against ergonomic injuries except as required by the federal government. Legislators could still act -- but they don't typically write workplace rules.
Voters should resist I-841's quick fix. It will only buy us more trouble.
Time grows short. Call ALL of your friends in Washington and urge them and their friends to VOTE NO on I-841. I did.

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Aiming for the Amish?

The United Food and Commerical Workers union is mounting a legislative offensive against legislation, HR 1943 and S 974, that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow Amish children as young as 14 to work in sawmills for religious reasons.

This issue was covered a couple of weeks ago in a lengthy article in the New York Times (which you are downloading from the Taipai Times because the @#$@# Times charges for web articles after a week.)
"This is the 21st century," said John R. Fraser, who headed the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division in the Clinton administration and opposed the Amish exemption when it was first proposed in the late 1990s. "We should certainly respect and tolerate religious and cultural beliefs that date from centuries ago, but it would be irresponsible and dangerous to begin to tolerate 17th- and 18th-century practices with respect to child labor."

But while child-labor opponents seek to keep teenagers away from hazardous machinery, the Amish have an additional goal: to keep those teenagers busy with gainful work and so away from hazardous enticements.
In a letter to Congress, UFCW argues that
This legislation would undermine the existing child labor laws in a direct and simple manner. It would create a loophole in the existing law by permitting Amish youth as young as 14 years of age to be employed in Amish owned sawmills.

There are numerous problems with this proposal. It undercuts the existing child labor laws; it opens up what is already one of the most dangerous industries for adults; it has potential constitutional problems regarding the First and Fourteenth Amendments; and it would lead to unequal treatment of Amish-owned sawmills vis-à-vis non-Amish-owned sawmills. In addition, it would lead to the difficult and confusing situation of Department of Labor inspectors trying to verify the religious faith of the owners and the youth involved in potential child labor violations.
If your group would like to sign on to a letter opposing this legislation, please contact Tim Schlittner (pr10001@ufcw.org) or Michael J. Wilson (mwilson@ufcw.org) by this Friday October 31.



Wednesday, October 29, 2003


If It Ain't Broke, Break It

OSHA Training Grants Can Do Good; Let's Cut Them

"One thing they're teaching is not only training, but how to fight for our rights," Hernandez said. "It was awesome. Really awesome."

That statement is from Juan Carlos Hernandez,
a 22-year-old Mexican immigrant, was working as a line cook at a restaurant a couple of years ago when he sliced his index finger with a knife.

His manager rushed him, bleeding and in pain, to the hospital, sat with him while he waited, and paid for his stitches. And then he took him right back to the restaurant to resume his work.

"I thought he would drive me home to my house," Hernandez, dumbfounded, recalled one day last week. "He drove me back to the restaurant and said, 'Do what you can do.' "....

After the accident, he returned to the restaurant in pain, his hand wrapped in bandages, unable to lift boxes or hold a knife. The battle with his manager continued for days, he said, until he quit.
Hernandez was lucky enough to be part of the Latino Occupational Safety and Health Initiative, a project with New Labor, a New Brunswick worker training group and Rutgers University, funded by a $212,000 OSHA training grant.

The project has had some success helping workers -- most of whom are day-laborers -- who are difficult to reach.
New Labor ... has done what few other groups have been able to: It's become a gathering point for
the Spanish-speaking work force by offering English classes, social functions and, recently, workplace safety training.
Now let's take a moment and put all this in context. OSHA has been attempting, since the beginning of the Bush Administration to replace the $11 million worker training grant program with a $4 million web-based program. In fact, this scaled back training program was somehow justified as a major expansion of their immigrant outreach program. According to Assistant Secretary for Labor, John Henshaw,
Safety and health training grants are another tool OSHA will use to address the unique problems of non-English-speaking workers. In its FY 2003 budget, the Agency proposes to change the focus of its training grant program. Workplaces have changed significantly, and are employing an increasing number of workers from a myriad of cultures with different languages, literacy and educational levels. OSHA will provide grants to non-profit organizations and professional organizations, colleges, universities and community colleges as well as faith-based and community-based organizations. Grants will enable these groups to establish programs to train employees and small business employers in selected occupational safety and health topics; programs that can continue after the grant has ended. Materials posted on the web will have broad applicability and allow for easy access and training at the convenience of both employers and employees.
Now tell me please how that statement corresponds with the reality that immigrant workers face:
"It's the type of employment, the temp agency and day labor scene, where employees may be digging ditches one day or in a chemical warehouse pouring bleach the next," said Michele Ochsner, assistant director of the Rutgers Occupational Training and Education Consortium. "Contract labor or day labor tends to fall through the cracks."
Happily, the Senate has restored the full $11 million every year, realizing that Henshaw's fantasy of immigrant workers coming home from their day jobs and settling down for the evening in front of a their computer for a little web-based training in whatever job they may be doing the next day makes little sense in the real world.

New Labor uses the "small group" method of peer training where "participants not only learn technical information and skills, but also the problem solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork skills."

As Juan Carlos Hernandez said at the beginning of this artice:"One thing they're teaching is not only training, but how to fight for our rights,"

Try learning that from a web page.




Wal-Martian Chronicles

The combination of the grocery strikes in California and other states, along with the arrest of hundreds of illegal immigrants at Wal-Mart stores last week has inspired a number of good articles about Wal-Mart, how it's abusing its workers, what it's dong to the economy and how it's forcing American citizens to subsidize its profit margin.

The holidays are approaching and lots of us will be heading back to the homestead where the friends and family will be jumping in the SUV to shop at Wal-Mart. Before they jump in the car, ask them if they knew that:
  • "Wal-Mart pays its in-house workers only $7 to $8 an hour. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $8.70 an hour. Wal-Mart's health insurance is so costly that fewer than half its workers can afford it. Many aren't even eligible." (1)

  • "Lawsuits pending against the company in 30 states charge that Wal-Mart routinely forces workers to work off the clock without pay, locking them in stores until they finish cleaning up." (1)

    But isn't the point to keep prices low for consumers?

  • That's irrelevant. "A recent calculation based on payroll data showed if Wal-Mart gave all of its workers a $1-an-hour raise, the impact on prices would be one half of one cent." (1)

  • "Last year, Wal-Mart had profits of $8 billion. The CEO received $18 million in total compensation." (1)

  • Nearly 50 complaints have been issued against Wal-Mart by the National Labor Relations Board, "showing that Wal-Mart has prevented its employees from distributing union materials, interrogated and threatened employees who are trying to organize, taken unlawful disciplinary action and fired union supporters, and even gone to the extreme of closing entire departments in a community like Jacksonville, Texas, when Wal-Mart meat workers voted for a union." (1)

  • "With no health insurance, low wage workers are forced to go to emergency rooms for routine care. To make ends meet, they must apply for food stamps and rental assistance, use subsidized child care vouchers and draw on other government services. This means we the taxpayers are involuntarily subsidizing low-wage employers." (1)

  • "Wal-Mart's relentless drive to deliver low prices now directly saves American consumers $20 billion a year by one estimate -- and probably several times that sum once the indirect effect on competitors is factored in." (2)

  • But, "to win Wal-Mart's business, suppliers have been forced to close U.S. factories and source overseas, with millions of American jobs lost in the process." (2)

  • "Wal-Mart alone accounts for 10 percent of all imports from China, and its shelves bear little trace of the "Buy America" philosophy of its founder." (2)

  • Wal-Mart "now accounts for 35 percent of food sales, 30 percent of consumer staples, 25 percent of drug store products and 15 percent of magazines, books and apparel. Entire chambers of commerce have been wiped out with the arrival of a new "superstore," while "greeting customers at Wal-Mart" has replaced "hamburger flipping" in the national debate over wages and trade. " (2)
Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post attempts to answer the question how "a wealthy society to assure all workers a minimal standard of living."
I'm talking about a minimum wage that would put a family with two full-time workers above the poverty line in high-cost metropolitan areas -- and no doubt put upward pressure on wages at places like Wal-Mart.

Or how about requiring employers like Wal-Mart to provide all workers with affordable health insurance, including part-timers and recent hires.

And what about labor laws effective enough to prevent companies such as Wal-Mart that instruct managers never to hire anyone who once belonged to a union, that routinely fire any employee seen talking to a union organizer and that fly in special teams whenever a store's employees score too high on a "union probability index."

Yes, such measures would likely force Wal-Mart to raise the price of jeans and chicken wings by a nickel or two, slow its growth, and maybe even shave a fraction of a point off real GDP.

But that's not the issue. The issue we ought to be debating is what is an acceptable price to pay to restore a measure of fairness, equality and economic security to Wal-Mart nation. That is fundamentally a political issue, not an economic one.
My feeling is, if you can't beat 'em, organize 'em.

For more information about Wal-Mart and the grocery strikes, check out You Are Worth More.




Washington Ergo Vote A Week Away

As the final countdown begins in Washington state, the battle rages over the nation's only effective, comprehensive ergonomics ergonomics standard. If Yes on 841 wins, the ergonomics standard will be repealed, and the state would be barred from ever adopting another ergonomics rule unless required to by the federal government.

The vote on Initiative 841 comes a week from today. There has been no recent polling and there are no other major issues on the ballot, so both sides expect turnout to make the difference.

Before I proceed to rant and rave, a review of recent developments:
  • The U.S. Navy adopted the Washington State ergonomics rule last week. So much for the argument that the rule is based on junk science. (The Department of Defense, by the way, has also has very good ergonomics policies for some time.)
    "We saw Washington's rule as a great tool to identify risk factors (for ergonomic injuries) so we wanted to adopt it for the Navy," said Cathy Rothwell, a Navy Ergonomics Program Manager based in San Diego. "The feedback we've gotten from people in the field is that they like the checklist. It is widely accepted and widely used as an easy way to identify hazards."
  • The bad news is that business lobbying groups financing Initiative 841 have launched a $1 million TV and radio advertising campaign. They are trying to scare Washington voters into repealing an important work safety rule and forbid the state from adopting another rule to prevent debilitating ergonomic-related injuries.

    The I-841 campaign's high-priced California political consultants have recommended playing upon people's biggest fears: Loss of their jobs and loss of health care benefits. So I-841 TV and radio ads claim jobs will be lost and children will lose health insurance.

  • The good news is that the "Yes" side is falling short of their fundraising goals, having blown a good part of their wad on getting signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. To the rescue rides the National Coalition on Ergonomics, the D.C. based, Chamber of Commerce sponsored group that brought us the repeal of the federal standard. NCE has been actively fundraising, urging members to send check to "Workers Against Job Killing Rules, Yes on I-841." (Do I sense a whiff of job blackmail here?)

    And what are they using to strike fear into the hearts of potential donors? The specter of labor advertisements. "If previous congressional ad-campaigns are anything to go by, you can expect ads with mothers unable to lift their children and other disabled workers who blame the lack of ergonomics rules for their situations." Such ads would not be surprising, considering the number of actual mothers who can't lift their children and other workers who are disabled because of the lack of ergonomics standards.

    But even with their money problems, the good guys are still being outspent. Feel free to contribute.

  • You may recall a posting I wrote last month about an article written by confessed serial corporate "expert witness" Steven Moss where Moss admitted to being part of a group of highly paid expert witnesses who are hired and paid by one side in a case, and "get compensated for saying what the lawyers want to hear." And that Moss's firm, M.Cubed, was the consultant that came up with the notorious estimate that the Washington State ergonomics standard would costs the state $750 million.

    Turns out the Association of Washington Business (AWB), one of the main backers of Prop 841, is SHOCKED, SHOCKED that a business consultant could possibly ever think that his lucrative contract might depend on his williness to "say what the lawyers want to hear."

    As might have been expected, the AWB was not amused by Moss's article because it makes them and their cost figure look like idiots. In fact, they are so displeased that they are threatening to sue Moss to get back the money they paid for the "study." They didn't pay him to give them what they wanted to hear. No, no, they paid him for an accurate study done in good faith.

    Accurate. Yeah, that's the ticket.

    Moss is now claiming that when he wrote about his slimy profession and his foul deeds, he didn't mean this study. No, no no. This study was, in fact, accurate and done in good faith.

    OK, that clears it all up.
Now, it's almost too easy to make fun of these organizations and their stupid arguments. But, as we have learned, stupid sometimes wins, especially when combined with money and organization. So make no mistake. This is deadly serious. As I've written before,
The stakes here are extremely high for a number of reasons. First, the ergo foes have failed so far to repeal the standard in the legislature or in the lower courts. The Washington Supreme Court is still considering an appeal by business to overturn the rule, but the good guys expect to win. The referendum is their last chance. If they lose, they are out of options. A win will have nationwide implications for workplace safety: the already difficult task of getting other states to issue ergonomics standards -- a process that could put pressure on the federal level -- will become very nearly impossible

But there are other reasons that it is imperative to defeat this referendum. Like the California gubernatorial recall, Initiative 841 is another example of big right-wing dollars being used to distort the referendum process and democracy itself. If not for the huge amounts of money used to hire professional canvassers and flood the media with misinformation, the referendum never would have reached the ballot.

Finally, like the repeal of the federal ergonomics standard, right wing ideologues are using lies, distortions and massive amounts of money to subvert the administrative process by which agencies comply with their mandates to do what Congress and the state legislatures intended for worker protection laws to do -- protect workers.
Having been through this fight a number of times before, it never ceases to amaze me how all the same stupid arguments continue to show up:
Businesses do accept that ergonomics standards are a good practice, but they would prefer to voluntarily adopt them. An enterprise could follow guidelines that would be customized to its specific type of business rather than be forced to follow Labor and Industries' strict approach.

In theory, this could work. There are indeed incentives to strong self-imposed standards. These include the avoidance of lawsuits by injured workers, higher workers' compensation rates, sick leave expense and the cost of training and replacing injured workers. No one wants injuries
What planet is this guy from? Sure voluntary is great. It would be great if we could have voluntary speed limits, voluntary securities rules, voluntary assault guidelines. We wouldn't need all of those damn police with their one-size-fits-all laws.

And since when can workers sue their employers for musculoskeletal injuries? And don't even get me started on how well workers comp functions as a safety motivator -- especially for musculoskeletal injuries. But hey, "in theory," voluntary standards could work. It could happen. Anything's possible.

But the people who actually do the work, like nurses, aren't buying it:
The American Nurses Association says every year, 12 percent of the nation's RN's leave their jobs because of back injuries. Maggie Flanagan blew out her back moving a hospital monitor and spent 8 months rehabbing.

"It was so bad, I didn't think I was coming back to work, that's why I'm so passionate, I know people that did not come back," says Maggie Flanagan.

***

"Bottom line, you take care of your workers and make sure they're protected," says Washington State Nurses Association's Barbara Blakeney.

But the nurses worry without ergonomic mandates, companies won't voluntarily comply, leaving no one to watch their backs.
And Judy Middleton isn't buying it either:
The ergonomics rule was intended to help people like Judy Middleton, a 60-year-old grocery checker from Kent. Middleton started working as a checker nearly 40 years ago and still puts in at least 80 hours a month to keep her health insurance.

With all of the bending, lifting and repetitive motions they have to do, grocery workers are among those most vulnerable to ergonomic hazards.

Over the past decade, Middleton said she has undergone surgeries for two hernias and for carpal-tunnel syndrome in both wrists. "My arms were sleeping and I wasn't," she said.

She had to miss six weeks of work for each of the carpal-tunnel operations.

Middleton, who until recently was oblivious to the fight over ergonomics, said she isn't sure whether it's something government should be trying to enforce. But she is convinced there are things grocery stores can do, such as better designs for check stands, to reduce the risk of injury.

At the QFC store where she works, checkers must lift items out of the customer's shopping cart and slide them across the scale or scanner. "All of it," she said. "The pumpkins, the turkeys, the watermelons, the six cases of beer. You ache when you go home."
Bottom line, of course, is that this thing has to be stopped. As most of you faithful readers can't vote in Washington State, you may be wondering what to do. Aside from sending money, call or e-mail any friends or relatives you have in Washington. Direct them to the No on 841 website. Urge them to vote against 841 and to spread the word to their friends as well.

One industry representative described Initiative 841 as their "last, best chance" to kill ergonomics rules in this country once and for all. Let's make sure that this will be the last we'll ever hear from them.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003


Hepatitis C Plagues Inmates and Officers in Michigan Prisons

There was a chilling series in the Lansing State Journal reporting that
Between 12,000 and 18,000 of Michigan's 48,800 prisoners are believed to harbor the hepatitis C virus. Yet the state - citing cost and effectiveness of available drugs - is treating just 55. Prison officials say they don't know how many guards are infected.
Hello? Why don't they know how many guards are affected? How about confidential screening? Seems like important information to have.

Hepatitis C is nothing to scoff at:
Four times more prevalent than HIV, health experts say hepatitis C, a potentially fatal virus that attacks the liver, is now the infection causing the greatest threat to public health in modern times.

A third of all cases are among prisoners.

Consider these facts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • In the 14 years since its discovery, hepatitis C has become the most chronic blood-borne infection in the United States.

  • It's the No. 1 reason for liver transplants nationwide, accounting for about 1,000 procedures a year - about 50 of those in Michigan.

  • By 2010, hepatitis C will kill 30,000 people a year - twice as many Americans as AIDS.
"This is a huge public health issue that must be addressed, or it will only get worse," said Dr. Robert Griefinger, former chief medical officer for the New York State Department of Correctional Medical Services.

Hepatitis C is the only strain of the virus for which there is no vaccine or cure. But drug therapy can reduce the virus to undetectable levels in up to 80 percent of patients.




All The News That's Fit For Spit

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Buy Them

When I look at the situation that working people find themselves in today -- plant closings and unemployment, lack of health care insurance, weak health and safety protections, attacks on pensions and overtime -- as well as the general state of the economy, the balooning deficit, the war in Iraq, corporate/oil industry influence at the EPA and Department of Interior that is doing irreversable damage to the environment (OK, take a breath), I wonder why that joker in the White House has even a 5% approval rating, much less a 50% approval.

Then I ask myself, "Jordan, where do think most Americans get their news about government the economy? And what kind of news do they get?" The answer is that too many get it from the right-wingernuts (Limbaugh, O'Reilly, etc) on cable T.V. and radio.

The problem is that even those who actually still read the newspapers and watch "objective" T.V. news are getting a skewed view.

There are two excellent -- but disturbing -- MUST READ articles this week covering this issue. (Must Read means that you must click on the links below, print out these articles (the trees will forgive you), sit down in a quiet room with a highlighter, and study them. Then send them to friends.)

First, read the interview with national treasure Bill Moyers on Buzzflash. (I had been considering starting a Moyers For President campaign, but now I'm thinking that a Moyers for God campaign may be more appropriate.)

Moyers notes that the news (T.V. and print) is covering many fewer stories dealing with government and many more "entertainment" pieces:
Does it matter? Well, governments can send us to war, pick our pockets, slap us in jail, run a highway through our back yard, look the other way as polluters do their dirty work, slip tax breaks and subsidies to the privileged at the expense of those who can't afford lawyers, lobbyists, or time to be vigilant. Right now, as we speak, House Republicans are trying to sneak into the energy bill a plan that would prohibit water pollution lawsuits against oil and chemical companies. Millions of consumers and their water utilities in 25 states will be forced to pay billions of dollars to remove the toxic gasoline additive MTBE from drinking water if the House gives the polluters what they want. I can't find this story in the mainstream press, only on niche websites. You see, it matters who's pulling the strings, and I don't know how we hold governments accountable if journalism doesn't tell us who that is.

You get what James Squires, the long-time editor of the Chicago Tribune, calls "the death of journalism." We're getting so little coverage of the stories that matter to our lives and our democracy: government secrecy, the environment, health care, the state of working America, the hollowing out of the middle class, what it means to be poor in America. It's not that the censorship is overt. It's more that the national agenda is being hijacked. They're deciding what we know and talk about, and it's not often the truth behind the news.

I'm quoting here rather extensively, because it's important for people to understand what's going on this country, and why we need to dig deep than just calling voters "idiots" when they vote against their own interests:
Look, the founders of our government, the fellows who gave us the First Amendment, didn't count on the rise of these megamedia conglomerates. They didn't count on huge private corporations that would own not only the means of journalism but vast swaths of the territory that journalism is supposed to cover. When you get a handful of conglomerates owning more and more of our news outlets, you're not going to find them covering the intersection where their power meets political power.

The fact is that big money and big business, corporations and commerce, are the undisputed overlords of politics and government today. Barry Diller came on my PBS program and talked about what can happen when the media and political elites gang up on the public. Diller says we have a media oligopoly. Kevin Phillips says we have a political oligarchy. Talk about a marriage made in hell! Listen, these guys are reshaping our news environment. They're down in Washington wining and dining the powers-that-be insisting that any restriction on their ability to own media properties is a violation of their corporate First Amendment rights. They want to be the gatekeepers not only over what we see on television and hear on the radio but how we travel online.

Journalists feel squeezed -- those who simply believe we are here to practice our craft as if society needs what we do and expects us to do it as honorably as possible. There's another study around here somewhere done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and The Columbia Journalism Review. More than a quarter of journalists polled said they had avoided pursuing some important stories that might conflict with the financial interests of their news organizations or advertisers
And when you're done with the Moyers, check out Frank Rich in the "Arts" section of the Sunday New York Times. (He was moved off of the Editorial Page recently. The good news is, he is able to write longer articles in the "Arts" section.)

Rich's argues that the Bush Administration's effort to cover up the bad news by "going over the heads" of national journalists is doomed to failure. After describing a rare, but especially agressive interview with an Administration official by Nightline's Ted Koppel, Rich observes that
There will be others, because this administration doesn't realize that trying to control the news is always a loser. Most of the press was as slow to challenge Joe McCarthy, the Robert McNamara Pentagon and the Nixon administration as it has been to challenge the wartime Bush White House. But in America, at least, history always catches up with those who try to falsify it in real time. That's what L.B.J. and Nixon both learned the hard way.
Let's just hope history catches up the current round of bad guys before next November.




U.S. and Europe: Can't We All Just Get Along?

I’ve written now several times about the REACH (most recently here), the European Union's efforts to reform chemical policy, and the opposition to these changes from the American chemical industry and the U.S. government. Now, as involved citizens, I think it’s necessary for all of us to help our European friends understand the American position on all of this.

First, in the way of background, a little good and a little bad news. The most recent bad news is in this October 24, 2003 Wall St. Journal article (for which I have no link):
European Union officials significantly narrowed the scope of a proposal to test tens of thousands of chemicals for health and environmental hazards, lowering the estimated cost of the measure by billions of dollars.

The move by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, comes amid a lengthy and aggressive campaign against the proposed measure by President Bush's administration and the chemical industry.
The good news is:
Despite the changes, the U.S. government and the chemical industry remain critical of the proposed measure, which shifts responsibility for testing to manufacturers from government and requires registration and authorization for thousands of high-use chemicals. U.S. policy permits the use of about 30,000 chemicals that predate testing requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976….Commerce Secretary Don Evans called the latest draft a serious blow to the chemical industry.
The changes, according to the Journal:
The final draft, for now, excludes chemical products known as polymers. In addition, if less than 10,000 metric tons of a chemical is produced world-wide, it would be subject to less scrutiny, a change that affects as many as two-thirds of all chemicals. The proposal also relaxes requirements for companies that use intermediaries, or chemicals to make other chemicals, and allows manufacturers some confidentiality surrounding the data that testing may yield.

Environmentalists say the proposed measure still restricts dangerous chemicals and places the onus for safety on industry. But they accuse the commission of creating loopholes to satisfy the Bush administration.
So, as I said, we need to help our Euro-buddies understand why our government and our chemical industry (without whom, life itself would be impossible) think the way they do.

First a speech by U.S. Ambassador to the EU Rockwell A. Schnabel
Many of the conflicts that exist in the economic relationship between the United States and the European Union are rooted in divergent regulatory approaches, says U.S. Ambassador to the EU Rockwell A. Schnabel at a Sept. 15 conference on “Understanding Chemical Control Policies: International Perspectives” in Stockholm, Sweden: “These divergences often arise from different attitudes about risk and safety, and the respective roles of governments and private actors in minimizing the former and maximizing the latter,”.


Let's look at the real meaning of some of this diplomat-speak:

"Different attitudes about risk and safety": Schnabel explained what this means before: “European regulators did not take enough business input into their decisions and that they were concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade.”

"Respective roles of governments and private actors in minimizing the former [risk] and maximizing the latter" [safety]: In the U.S., affected industries spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and advertising to persuade lawmakers that regulation restricts the free market and hurts American businesses, and therefore, jobs. American businesses also give huge sums of money to candidates as campaign contributions. According to a recent conversation I had with a European diplomat, this process would be considered bribery in his country, but in the United States it's considered “being accountable to the public.”

And don’t let the ongoing American corporate scandals scare you off. American businesses really know what’s best for you.

OK, now that that’s clear, let’s move on
The big danger in all of this, of course, is that an economic relationship on the scale of the U.S.-EU relationship simply can’t afford to get bogged down in these regulatory divergences. Even if our regulatory policies are not explicitly designed to disrupt trade, differences in regulatory approach can all too easily result in trade problems. And that’s not good for our relationship, nor for the 8 to 10 million people on both sides of the Atlantic whose jobs depend on transatlantic trade and investment.
"Differences in regulatory approach can all too easily result in trade problems." This one’s easy. If you all don’t shape up, two words: Trade war

OK, now we’re going to get a bit more sophisticated:
The role of science in the development of regulatory policy is also a major issue. We are particularly concerned over the threat that the EU' s expansive use of "precaution" poses for the principle that risks need to be carefully assessed on the basis of sound science. (emphasis added)
And then there’s this by Charles P. Ries, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Of State For European And Eurasian Affairs:
Earlier this year, the Commission unveiled its first draft proposal that, to put it plainly, was riddled with problems. First of all, it was grounded on their problematic "precautionary principle" instead of science-based risk assessment.
Let's look at some more definitions.

Precaution: (1) Not assuming that chemicals are innocent until proven guilty through sickness, death and environmental degradation (2) Not assuming that chemicals are “safe” just because they were in use before the passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act. (3) Paying up front to prevent health effects and environmental damage, instead of paying much more later to clean up the environment and bring people back to life (oh, never mind.)

Sound Science: There’s more to these two words than I have time to deal with here. Basically, the words “sound science” mean ignoring, changing, or selectively using science to fit industry’s political objective, generally to defeat or reverse environmental and public health and safety rules and protections.(See here and here and here for more). In other words, “sound science” is what the industry can use to undermine regulations, as opposed to “junk science” which is what all current and proposed workplace safety, environmental and public health regulations are based on.

The sound science argument is not just used in the chemical debate. It was also a favorite among the anti-ergonomics wingnuts. This from a National Coalition on Ergonomics fact sheet.
MYTH: "Ergonomic programs in individual companies are working; thus an ergonomic standard will work."

FACT: There is a huge and unbridgeable gap between anecdotal evidence and a sound scientific foundation. Individual companies are well positioned to study and determine what works for their employees. However, anecdotal examples do not support imposition of a regulation across an entire economy. Absent sound scientific evidence, OSHA cannot extrapolate from these isolated examples to a national rule.
And this from a speech by NCE spokesperson Laurie T. Baulig
We are not "the just say no" coalition. What we oppose is an ergonomics standard that is not science-based. After all, any standard that does not have sound science behind it cannot achieve its intended objective of reducing workplace injuries and illnesses...morning. At this time, the science simply does not exist to regulate ergonomics.
What seems to be missing from this analysis is that fact that the science behind ergonomics was not only voluminous, but backed by major literature reviews by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and twice from the National Academy of Sciences.

"Whose jobs depend on transatlantic trade and investment" This can be summed up in two more words – and listen up labor unions: Job Blackmail

Ok, enough seriousness. Now it’s time for a little comic relief, courtesy of “Rocky” Schnable:
And let me emphasize here parenthetically how important it is – as we develop standards which protect consumers at the lowest cost to our producers - that we work in international organizations such as the WTO to ensure that developing countries, especially China, also adhere to these standards, bear the same costs and level the playing field.

One word should do for this one: Bwa ha ha ho heh he snort – wait, let me catch my breath – ho ha ha hee hee, ho! Hee, hee… Oh, Rocky, what a card! You slay me!

One more
We are committed to engaging to share our own experiences with chemical regulation in ways that we hope will be constructive.
Translation: Our experience with chemical regulation is that: (1) We have regulations that are almost completely ineffective and we like it that way, and (2) We have intimidated the Democrats out of even talking about more effective workplace safety or environmental regulations. That’s our experience and we're trying to "share" it with you. Deal with it.

More from Assistant Deputy Secretary Ries
As such, it [REACH]effectively shifted the burden of proof for industry to unworkable levels. Just as importantly, it would have required testing all new and existing chemicals, to even those that have been in everyday use for decades, and it would have imposed these testing requirements even on downstream users of chemicals.
"Even those that have been in everyday use for decades:"OK, students of the Toxic Substance Control Act, what strikes you here? Tick tock. Time's up. Yes, Johnnie, you’re right. You’ve clearly been reading past issues of Confined Space. You knew that when TSCA was passed, it “grandfathered” in chemicals in commerce prior to December 1979, which still make up 99% by volume of all chemicals used in the United States today. These chemicals are considered safe unless the Environmental Protection Agency can demonstrate that they present an “unreasonable risk” to human health and the environment on a chemical by chemical basis.

Finally, to bring all parties together, European Commission Delegate Gerard Depayre stated at a recent Congressional hearing his fervent hope that
A solution to both these problems can only be reached through dialogue and close cooperation between regulators. The ideal result of such a dialogue should be to arrive at harmonised regulations. Failing this, efforts should be made to ensure maximum convergence of regulations on both sides of the Atlantic which makes possible the mutual recognition of equivalence of regulations
To which Gary Littman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce graciously responded
We have no intention to advocate the importation of the European regulatory practice in the U.S. Nor do we wish our problems on our European partners. The business community is not advocating the creation of supranational regulators for the Transatlantic market. Our goal is to rid this market of duplicative or incompatible rules.

It is up to the U.S. Congress and its counterparts in Europe to both compel and enable regulators to cooperate
Yeah, and the horse you rode in on!

Translation: You can take your "convergence" and "harmonization" and shove it up your )*&*(). It's our way or the highway. You've got a problem with your enviro-green-weenies and your corporate concern for society, we've got our own enviros and the plague of trial lawyers. You need to control your own brats. We've managed to control the runaway regulators in this country and you need to do the same if you want good trade relations with us.

So there.



Monday, October 27, 2003


EPA Lies. Lungs Die

So does this kind of stuff really surprise anyone anymore?
The top Environmental Protection Agency official charged with protecting air quality was warned repeatedly by staff that proposed changes to a Clean Air Act rule could undermine efforts to force certain power plants to add anti-pollution equipment, according to a report by the General Accounting Office.

Nonetheless, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation, told two congressional committees in July 2002 that the revisions the administration was considering would not hurt those efforts, which involved agency lawsuits against owners of 35 coal-fired power plants.
More here.




We Have Mail!

Sometimes people read this blog and get quite exercised. (Which is the point of this exercise.)

This is in response to the posting I did on OSHA’s cancellation of the nursing home inititiative.
What a farce! If we don't need this how come our Workers' Compensation rates continue to soar in this area? If the money employers spent on controvert claims was put into enough good ergonomic equipment, training and staff we could all become winners. OSHA has sold the workers out. Why put money into equipment and staff when it's a lot cheaper to pay a $1600 penalty and then controvert any injured workers' claim with one your Corporate lawyers?

Diane Moats RN
Health and Safety Director
CWA 1168/Nurses United
Couldn't have said it better myself.




Acts of God, Acts of Man

I have written an article for Working USA which is linked here. Here is the intro provided by Working USA:
In one sense, the tremendous improvements in workplace safety over the past 90 years seem to have made deaths on the job less remarkable. However, Barab points out how we take our cues from the mass media, which highlights the deaths of astronauts, but virtually ignores the deaths of day laborers or construction. Barab also observes that the most expendable Americans— immigrants and the poor— do some of the nation’s dirtiest and most dangerous work, and might be considered less expendable if both media and society treated the dangers they face with greater respect. He calls on the labor movement and the safety and health community to confront this problem head-on and develop an educational strategy to rectify the distorted idea that some lives are more valuable than others.



Sunday, October 26, 2003


The Weekly Toll

Two Mine Fatalities: An Alarming Trend

ORANGEBURG, SC --- ...The first metal and non-metal fatality occurred Sept. 22 at Holcim when Antonio Gonzalez, 39, of Ridgeville was using a back-hoe to dig out along the side of a building to replace a retaining wall. The victim and the two co-workers were in a 15-foot-deep hole when the bank caved in, burying the victim. A second employee received minor injuries while a third co-worker escaped injury.

Farmer dies in fall from his tractor

JONESVILLE, Mich. — A man died Thursday while working in the field on his Jonesville farm, the Michigan State Police said.

Troopers from the Jonesville post were dispatched to a N. Cronk Road farm just after 11 a.m. where they found Manual Lavern Peiffer, 68, in a field. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The investigation revealed that a seat malfunctioned on Mr. Peiffer’s standard tractor, causing him to fall backward and strike his head and neck on a hard object, authorities said. Although they are uncertain as to what he hit, investigators believe it was a part of the equipment he was driving.

The fatal accident was the second at the plant in under two years. A worker was killed in February 2002 during the construction of a cement kiln at the site.

No violations of standards were found, and no citations were issued for that incident.

The other state fatality occurred Sept. 26 at the Greenville Hanson Aggregates Southeast Inc. Sandy Flat Quarry when a 17-year veteran road tire technician was injured
while using a truck-mounted tire handling crane.

Construction Workers Killed in Fall

LEOMINSTER,MA (AP) -- A construction worker died Friday when he plunged 170 feet from a communications tower being built off Route 2 in Leominster, Massachusetts. More here.

Tyson's Food Worker Killed by Hydrogen Sulfide

The death of 31-year-old Jason Edward Kelley remains under investigation by the Occupational Hazard Safety Administration, said Miller County Investigator Tom West.

Kelley was working at the Tyson River Valley animal foods plant between Fulton and Texarkana when he reportedly collapsed and died at 1:30 a.m. Oct. 10.

Derrell Reynolds, coordinator for Miller County Emergency Management, said plant officials notified them that they were dealing with a possible hydrogen sulfide leak. Hydrogen sulfide is colorless and has the smell of rotten eggs. It is lethal in small doses.

Auto Worker Crushed in Machinery

NORMAL, IL - A supportive father of his sports-playing sons and excellent parent to all five of his children is how John Foster of Metamora is described by school officials who knew him.

Foster, 42, of 204 N. Prairie St. was killed on the job Thursday at the Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America plant in Normal after becoming trapped on a conveyor system.

Worker Crushed by Forklift

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. -- A worker died in the hospital after he was crushed by a forklift he was driving. Police say the man was working at Wojac's Nursery in Rockledge.

Butcher Shop Worker Killed

Summit, PA . A butcher shop worker was killed yesterday when a deer hunter ran over him as he backed up his vehicle near the Summit facility.

Woman, injured at work, gives birth, dies

A Cloverdale, Ohio, woman who was hurt in a factory accident early yesterday gave birth to a 26-week-old baby by cesarean section before dying of her injuries.

Following the accident, which occurred shortly after midnight at Progressive Stamping, , Inc., a metal-stamping plant in Ottoville, Ohio, Monica Boecker, 23, had her baby at St. Rita’s Medical Center, Lima, Ohio.

The headline of another article cited "worker error" as the cause, although later in the article, OSHA inspector Dick Tracy explained:it is a company’s responsibility to provide a safe working environment for its employees. Included in that requirement is ensuring that devices are in place to shut machines down when employees are put in dangerous situations. Often this involves a device placed on the operating controls that prevents the machine from accidentally being turned on.

This requirement, referred to as "lock out, tag out," means that each employee controls the power to the machine they are working on.

"The purpose of lock out, tag out is to ensure that every employee exposed to danger while working on a machine controls the release of that machine’s energy," he said, adding that each employee should have a control to shut down the machine.

"No other employee should have control of turning the machine on if someone is in a danger zone. If that condition occurs, a violation exists."

Mr. Tracy would not comment on whether this requirement was a factor.


School bus hits, kills workman

A construction worker died Wednesday after he was struck by a school bus on the Near Northside. Indianapolis police said the worker had just stepped out of a truck when he was hit by the passing bus.

Construction Worker Killed

CABAZON, CA - A worker died Monday at the new Casino Morongo construction project when an object struck him on the head, according to authorities.

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department identified the man as Bobby Holmes, 22, of Whittier.


Worker Killed on Skid-Steering Vehicle

MILLERSBURG, OH – A Millersburg man was killed in a work-related accident on Saturday.

Ernesto Solis, 23, was fatally injured apparently while operating a skid-steering vehicle at Holmes Byproducts, 3175 Township Rd. 412, Millersburg, said Nathan Fritz, Holmes County chief deputy. Solis was originally from Honduras.

Solis was working by himself in an area at the company and was found by other employees, Fritz said.


Diver Killed

St Louis, MO -- A diver doing contract services for the Ameren Energy Generating Facility in Coffeen, Illinois when killed in a diving accident Monday.

The facility, about 65 miles northeast of St. Louis, is a subsidiary of Ameren. It uses water from Coffeen Lake in part of the cooling process as electricity is generated.

The diver, Paul Patterson, 29, of Hebron, Indiana,
and two helpers were part of a team hired by
Ameren Energy to provide routine maintenance.

Ameren officials say a miscommunication between Ameren Energy and the dive team was to blame for the accident. They say Patterson may have been placed down the wrong hatch, into an intake for the facility. This apprently made an already dangerous situation deadly.


Long Island Railroad Worker Killed

A deadly accident on the Long Island Railroad: A worker was killed when he was hit by a train. The victim is a 41-year-old flagman for a work crew, it was his job to alert the crew when a train approaches.

The victim is a 41-year-old flagman for a work crew. It was his job to alert the crew when a train approaches.

The train hit him near the Copiague station. The crew was just about to start work on the third rail when the the train ran the over the worker.

Worker Killed at Steel Plant

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) -- A worker died at an Ottawa steel plant Friday when he was pinned between a steel post and a 4,000-pound steel plate, authorities said.

Ottawa Police Chief Jeff Herrman said Chet M. Fredericks, 20, of Williamsburg, was killed in the accident at about 8 a.m. at the Ottawa Havens Steel plant.

Fredericks was operating a remote-controlled crane to move steel plates from a storage yard to the steel-fabrication plant when one of the plates fell and pinned him against a steel post, Herrman said. Fredericks was working alone in the yard and was found by another employee.


Employee killed in pipe-plant accident

A 36-year-old worker was killed Thursday morning when he was pinned between a cart and catwalk at a Saginaw plant.

Ramiro Gonzalez, whose chest was crushed in the impact, was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:40 a.m. despite efforts by another worker to resuscitate him, said
homicide Sgt. J.D. Thornton.


Worker Killed in Front End Loader Accident

ANDOVER, Mass. -- Police say a construction worker was killed in an accident at a school construction site Wednesday afternoon.

Lt. Kevin Winters said the worker, a 23-year-old male, as killed at about 5 p.m. when the small front-loader he was operating fell through a second floor wall to the ground.

Construction Worker Killed In Backhoe Incident

COLUMBIANA — A construction worker who was injured in an accident on West Railroad Street died Monday.

Rick Repp, 45, Youngstown, died Monday afternoon from internal injuries suffered from a work accident that occurred Monday morning.

A bucket from a track backhoe fell to the ground and then rolled on Repp. The bucket apparently came loose where the quick-connect pins attach it to the arm, according to a worker who witnessed the accident.


Worker Killed in Trench Explosion/Coillapse

PAGE, AZ -- A city of Page employee was killed and another injured Tuesday morning when an explosion collapsed a trench in the city's industrial area.

City Manager Bo Thomas said Ritchie Singer, 49, was pronounced dead at Page Hospital at 9:35 a.m., after being buried for 15 minutes in the water-line trench near the ISG Block Plant on Highway 98 about 8:24 a.m.


Worker Killed in Roof Collapse

An apartment pool-house in Gulfport collapsed Friday afternoon. One man was trapped underneath the crushed roof and died, another man got out alive.

The men worked for M.B. Demolition and Construction of Biloxi. They were trying to tear down the old pool-house at the "Brittany Apartments" on DeBuys Road when the structure suddenly collapsed.

37-year old Donald McClain of Biloxi died. The other worker, 51-year old Frederick Foster, was hurt. He was treated for minor leg injuries and released.

Man Struck and Killed by Garbage Truck

WANDO, SC--State investigators continued Wednesday probing safety issues at B.P. Cooper River Chemical Plant in Wando, where a 50-year-old employee died after being struck by a garbage container truck, the second such incident in the Lowcountry this week.

Edward Coaxum, a 25-year employee of B.P., was outside the plant at 7:20 a.m. Tuesday when he was struck by a Fennell Container Co. truck. He died at Medical University Hospital, said Berkeley County Coroner Glenn Rhoad

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America Going Socialist?

Americans Favor Single Payer Health Care System

This is a fascinating conversation between ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings and ABC News' Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson:
Jennings: The conventional wisdom is Americans like to think that we have the best health-care system in the world.

Johnson: And we do, certainly for people that are very rich or who have very good health insurance and who have very good connections into the health-care system. But for too large a number, 43 million, and many who are underinsured, it is not the very best system in the world.

Jennings: So what was notable in that regard in this poll this time?

Johnson: What was notable is that 62 percent of our population said that they would favor a system of universal health insurance financed by the government, paid for by the tax payers, as opposed to the system we now have, the employer based system where many people are uninsured. I was stunned by that figure.

Jennings: I think conventional wisdom has it that in America, land of the free, that the marketplace is where the price is best established.

Johnson: That's true for commodities like a car, where you can go in and make choices and you can even walk out of the showroom if you want. You can't do that when you're sick. You can't do that with health care. So, for health care, you're talking about a service and here I think the private sector has some real shortcomings. They have to spend a lot of overhead on sales and marketing and choosing the patients they're going to serve. They shuffle a lot of paperwork.

Jennings: Now, I think that the conventional wisdom is still the single-payer system, as you and others have described it, is socialized medicine and that isn't for the U.S.

Johnson: Socialized medicine means that the government both finances healthcare and owns and operates the doctors and the hospitals.

Jennings: Like Britain?

Johnson: Like Britain. In Canada, it's a split system. The government indeed does collect the money and disperse it. They run the financial part of health care. But the delivery system is free. People can choose whatever doctor or hospital they want to go to. So, we have a system like that in this country. It's called Medicare. That's exactly what happens with Medicare. So, to call the Canadian system socialized is to call Medicare socialized. I think it's a pejorative word and inaccurate.

Jennings: When I walk past people who know that we're doing this series this week and I mention the single-payer system, they just say, "Never in America."

Johnson: I've talked to elderly people who say they love Medicare but they don't want the government involved. They forget that the government has a role to play in setting standards, maybe in handling the money with lower administrative costs. It would be a tragedy for the government to try to run the health-care system in terms of delivery.

Jennings: On top of which, many Americans hold it to be conventional wisdom that private is better than public. Period.

Johnson: In fact the government does a few things well. And I'll hold up one example in the health-care system: The NIH, the National Institutes of Health, is the shining gem of medical research in this entire world. It's owned and run by the government. They can do some things well, especially when it comes to health care. Not everything, but some things.
OK. So now all we have to do is convince the insurance industry (and those in Congress that they support) to go away.



Friday, October 24, 2003


Chemical Plant Security: More Compromises

Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., have reached an agreement on a compromise chemical plant security bill. I have written before (here and here and here) about the chemical plant security debate and the competing bills sponsored by Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Senator Inhofe. Chafee, a moderate Republican, has been opposing Inhofe's bill until this agreement was reached.

As you will recall, Senator Jon Corzine's chemical security bill called for regulations that, among other things, would have required chemical facilities to move toward "inherently safer" production -- for example substituting safer chemicals for potentially hazardous ones and reducing the quantity of hazardous chemicals kept in the plant.

But regulations are a major no-no for this Administration, so Senator Inhofe came up with a more voluntary approach that would have required chemical companies to simply submit vulnerability or security-improvement plans to Homeland Security, but not require companies to consider using alternatives to current chemicals and practices.

Corzine's bill was passed unanimously in Committee last, but later dropped by Senate leadership when the American Chemistry Council launched a multi-million dollar campaign against it.

To win votes from holdouts such as Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Inhofe agreed that chemical plant operators should have to make what he called "a good-faith effort" to at least consider using safer technologies and less toxic chemicals.

The bill would also make chemical plants submit annual status reports on their vulnerability to the Homeland Security Department.

Corzine was not impressed, arguing that the "compromise" between Chafee and Inhofe "would not require firms operating plants near population centers to replace volatile chemicals with safer compounds -- when and where possible and cost-effective. "

"The legislation approved today continues to provide far too many loopholes," Corzine said. "The bill fails to require review and approval of industry security plans, which may end up on a shelf, collecting dust. It also fails to require implementation of safer technologies, even in cases when they are cost-effective and their use could save many lives."
In addition, Corzine blasted the Inhofe bill for imposing criminal penalties on federal employees who publicly disclose a company's security plans but calling only for civil penalties if companies violate the law.

Corzine did not say he would oppose the bill, but rather claimed he would work to improve it during debate on the Senate floor.

The bad news is that the committee is expect to pass the bill. The good news is that, even if the committee and the full Senate pass the bill, the House is unlikely to act this year.

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Maybe They Need Some Real Unions

Things are bad in Chinese workplaces:
BEIJING, Oct. 23 — New work safety rules and beefed-up enforcement have failed to reduce the death toll in China's mines and factories so far this year, and a government official acknowledged that the problem "has not been completely addressed."

Accidents took the lives of 11,449 workers through September, an increase of 9 percent over the corresponding period a year earlier, according to national data released Thursday. The official tally shows the number of deaths dropping slightly in notorious coal mines, but rising in other mines and jumping by 19 percent at factories and construction sites.

The undiminished carnage reflects the relatively low priority that China's government puts on safety. There is heavy emphasis on raising production, and workers are forbidden to form independent unions.

Although China's new leaders have promised to overhaul the way they manage the economy to better reflect the needs of workers and peasants, top leaders rarely speak about the enormous numbers of casualties in a wide variety of industries. They have continued to repress workers who voice concerns about poor labor conditions as potential threats to the Communist Party's hold on power.
What's interesting is the important role that strong, independent unions are assumed to have in assuring safer working conditions...in China.

In this country one rarely sees the link made between strong unions and safer working conditions.



Thursday, October 23, 2003


REACH For Chemical Safety

Every year, more than 60,000 people in the United States die from preventable diseases caused by exposure to chemicals and other agents in the workplace…. Together, workplace illnesses and injuries are estimated to cost more than $145 billion annually in the United States, on par with the cost of all cancers combined or the total cost of heart disease and stroke.

This sounds like something that our compassionate government would want to do something about, doesn’t it?

Well, the European Union is about to address this problem through its REACH program, an shocking idea that tosses out the notion, promoted by the chemical industry, that chemicals should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, and is intended to address both workplace exposures and environmental pollution in the European Union.
Under REACH, chemical manufacturers and importers would be required to gather and report the quantity, uses and potential health effects of approximately 30,000 chemicals. About 1,400 of these chemicals are known or suspected to be carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, persist in the environment or to accumulate in body tissues. The initiative would subject these 1,400 chemicals to an authorization review similar to that used in the regulation of pharmaceuticals. Approval of any use that could result in human exposures would be predicated on a thorough assessment of safety considerations and alternative products.
I have written before about the "precautionary principle" and the fits it is causing among U.S. chemical manufacturers here and here, which also link to some excellent articles in the American Prospect.

REACH is based on a 2001 European Commission “White Paper on a Future Chemicals Strategy,” outlining the Commission’s intentions for a fundamentally new integrated chemicals policy. The specific objectives include:
  • Making industry responsible for generating knowledge on chemicals, evaluating risk, and maintaining safety—a duty of care;

  • Extending responsibility for testing and management along the entire manufacturing chain;

  • Substitution of substances of very high concern and innovation in safer chemicals; and

  • Minimization of animal testing.

EU officials are currently touring the United States, traveling to Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and Boston where they will be meeting with U.S. government officials, environmentalists, academics, union staff and workers to explain the initiative. The tour is being sponsored by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell's Center for Sustainable Production which you should check out for much more information.

The tour comes only days before the European Commission is expected to issue its proposal for debate by the European Parliament and Council over the next year. As might be expected, these developments are generating a considerable amount of concern among American chemical companies and other businesses. And they're not taking it lying down.

A report issued recently by the Environmental Health Fund revealed a major campaign on the part of the Bush Administration and the U.S. chemical industry to weaken the European program: “As these documents show, the US government essentially operated as a branch office of the US chemical industry.” And for the usual reasons: it would cost too much money, put jobs at risk and it would restrict trade by banning certain chemicals.

The American attitude was put most succinctly last year, as I’ve reported before, by the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel who

complained in a Wall Street Journal Europe op-ed that European regulators did not take enough business input into their decisions and that they were concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade.
Schnabel has also warned the Europeans that
The EU has a right and a duty to protect its citizens, but must do so in a way to avoid excessive or inappropriate regulations which increase the cost of producing goods and services and place jobs at risk.
Organizations like the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), representing over 300 large companies, have joined in. The NFTC calls REACH "a growing attempt to limit trade through the use of technical barriers:"
The EU is intent upon protecting the public from all potential risks associated with industrial and technological advancement. Suspect activities include not only those conducted by longstanding industries applying advanced technologies (e.g., chemicals, autos, aeronautics, electronic and electrical equipment, cosmetics and all related downstream industries), but also those engaged in by newer industries themselves defined by the cutting-edge technologies they employ (e.g., biotechnology, nanotechnology, biocides, etc.)...What is apparent is that the EU has once again created a ‘strawman’ of hazard for the purpose of protecting the public against an unidentifiable and unmeasurable harm to humans or the environment that has not yet materialized.
Well, I don’t know about a “strawman,” but addressing harm “that has not yet materialized” is what the “precautionary principle” is all about.

Some industry representatives have even called REACH a national security threat to the United States because foreign governments will have control over the chemicals U.S. companies can sell, without our input.

Of course what American companies may really be worried about is not what those crazy Europeans do over there, but that their ideas may spread over here. Chemical safety in this country is largely regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Passed in 1976, TSCA does a fairly good job requiring chemical manufacturers to test and prove the safety of new chemicals.

The main problem with TSCA is that when it was passed, it “grandfathered” in chemicals in commerce prior to December 1979, which still make up 99% by volume of all chemicals used in the United States today. These chemicals are considered safe unless the Environmental Protection Agency can demonstrate that they present an “unreasonable risk” to human health and the environment on a chemical by chemical basis.

The ineffectiveness of TSCA was made clear in a 1994 Report by the U.S. Government Accounting Office that found that since TSCA was passed, EPA has only been able to restrict only five chemicals (PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos and hexavalent chromium.)

According to the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that less than ten percent of the approximately 2,800 high production volume chemicals (those produced over one million pounds per year) have a basic set of publicly available toxicity information;more than forty percent lack any toxicity information at all. Even less is known about chemicals produced in smaller volumes or mixtures of chemicals. Yet, this lack of evidence of toxicity is often misinterpreted as evidence of safety.
Europe currently has a similar system where only new chemicals require testing and approval. The European REACH program, does not grandfather chemicals, but bases their regulatory requirements on the amount in use, as well as the hazard category they fall into. In addition to making the environment and the workplace safer, the Europeans hope that requiring the registration and testing of all chemicals will encourage companies to innovate and find safer substitutions.

The American companies’ fears of imitation be not be totally unfounded. According to the Lowell Center, San Francisco passed its own precautionary principle ordinance in June 2003 which integrates precautionary principles into the city’s purchasing policies by choosing only the safest alternatives for specific product categories such as cleaners and pesticides.

A group of scientists, public health advocates, labor unions and environmental advocates in Massachusetts have developed a bill, Act for a Healthy Massachusetts was introduced (which I’ve written about before.) that would require substitution of 10 priority chemicals where safer alternatives exist.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that the American pressure, along with growing fears of the European chemical industry may be having some effect, with the British, French and German government becoming increasingly critical of REACH. Debate is raging across Europe.
'Given our understanding of the way chemicals interact with the environment,' noted the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in a recent report, 'you could say we are running a gigantic experiment with humans and all other living things as the subject.'

Vital economic interests are at stake, too. Chemicals are Europe's third-largest manufacturing industry and a large and profitable exporter. But although Reach has often been portrayed (not least by the DTI) as 'a threat' to a successful employment and export sector, the reality is that the current regime has done it no favours.

Because today's rules implicitly favour existing products, which don't have to be tested, over new ones, the European industry lags behind Japan and the US in innovation.

Meanwhile, its poor image has become a major handicap in the competition to woo talented graduates to take up a chemical career.
REACH still has a long way to go before it becomes law. It has to be considered by the European Parliament and Council, which will be debating it through next year's parliamentary elections as well as the addition of ten new countries into the EU next year.

Despite the obvious debate between European environmentalists and the chemical industry, it is amazing to this reporter, a scarred and battleshocked veteran of numerous American regulatory wars, how substantive and civilized the discussions in Europe are. While the final shape of REACH is still unclear, all parties seem to agree that the current system is broken and something needs to be done.

It's that consensus that may be the most worrysome development to American companies who are used to getting their way through lies and blackmail.



Wednesday, October 22, 2003


OSHA Puts Reactives Guidebook on Web

Cheapskate Companies Applaud.

As promised by Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA John Henshaw, the OSHA webpage is now providing free access to the Center for Chemical Process Safety's book Essential Practices for Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards. This is apparently being done instead of revising OSHA's Process Safety Management Standard, as recommended by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

I already wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. So I'll just paraphrase what I wrote then:

Anyone who can't afford to buy a book (even a really expensive book) on their own has no earthly business running a plant that processes hazardous reactive chemicals.

So on behalf of the Hooterville General Store and Petroleum Refinery, thanks OSHA.

P.S. Do you think we're all idiots?

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New "Zero Lift" Web Discussion Forum

As OSHA cancels its Nursing Home Initiative, the Work Injured Nurses Group (WING USA) has stepped into the breach, starting a new web discussion forum "offered in hopes of being helpful to those working toward safe patient handling."

The forum is designed "to facilitate communication and collaboration among those working toward safe patient handling."

Check it out here.

Wing USA was started by Anne Hudson, an R.N. who suffered a career-ending back injury from lifting patients
Since suffering a work-related spinal injury in June of 2000, and losing my position solely because I was unable to continue heavy lifting, I want to help increase awareness of what can and does happen to back-injured nurses across the country.
Check out the WING USA main site here. The site contains an enormous amount of helpful information and ammunition for nurses seeking to improve their working conditions.



Tuesday, October 21, 2003


Asbestos Agreement: Almost Out of Time and Patience

Imagine my pleasure and surprise the other day when I read in the New York Times: "Agreement Reached on Asbestos Bill."

Labor, industry, trial lawyers, and insurance companies have been trying, in vain, for years to reach an agreement on fair and affordable compensation for victims of asbestos exposure. An agreement had been reached on the concept of a trust fund, but there was no agreement on the size. Until now?

So you can imagine my disappointment when I actually read beyond the headline and discovered that the only participants in teh agreement were the insurers and manufacturers -- but no labor. What did they agree to? A trust fund that was $40 billion smaller than the already too small version agreed to by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Neither the AFL-CIO nor the Washington Post were amused.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist badly wants an agreement before Congress adjourns next month, but time and tempers are growing short:
Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, sponsor of an earlier proposal for an asbestos victims' fund that congressional auditors say would be worth about $136 billion, was more blunt.

"They (the unions) have to get off their duffs and tell us what they want," Hatch told Reuters in a Capitol hallway.

"That's not what they told us last week. They told us that (the $114 billion proposal) was their final offer," Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO's occupational health official, said when told of Frist's and Hatch's comments.

Seminario, speaking by telephone to Reuters, said it was not fair to say that labor had not made its position clear. Months ago, she said, the AFL-CIO said it favored a proposal by Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy that would provide a compensation fund for asbestos victims of between $128 billion and $185 billion.

She said AFL-CIO officials were prepared to continue talking to senators about the issue, but doubted a bill of such complexity could be finished in the waning weeks of this year.

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Shop 'Til Workers Drop: The Specter of Wal-Mart

Strikes Spread. AFL-CIO Issues Report on Wal-Mart Health Care Abuse

Los Angeles isn't the only city where grocery workers are on strike (or being locked out) and Wal-Mart is being blamed
Officials at Kroger and the nation's other dominant supermarket chains -- Ahold, Albertsons and Safeway -- cite competition from Wal-Mart Stores and other box stores moving into the grocery business as a reason to hold the line on labor costs.

Those costs include health care benefits that are the sticking point in United Food and Commercial Workers union strikes of 3,300 workers at 44 Kroger stores in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio; 70,000 workers at three Southern California chains; and 10,000 workers at three chains in Missouri.
And it's not good for workers' health either:
At the Cross Lanes Kroger, striking UFCW workers say Wal-Mart's opening five years ago cost their store $100,000 in weekly receipts, between a third and a half of the store's income.

In response, workers say, Kroger has slashed the store's payroll from 86 to 45 full- and part-time workers.

"All we hear from management is, 'Do more,' " said Kay Underwood, 49, a 29-year Kroger employee. "We did an employee survey, and the number of us on Paxil, Prozac, blood pressure medicines -- you name it -- has gone sky-high. We're killing ourselves for this company."
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO has just released a study on "Wal-Mart's Race to the Bottom on Health Coverage"
As 70,000 grocery store workers are on strike to keep affordable health care, Wal-Mart’s role as the force driving the race to the bottom in health care benefits has risen to center stage. “The grocery store workers striking with the UFCW are taking a stand for all American working families who are being squeezed beyond their limits by our broken and inadequate health care system,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “As Wal-Mart continues to leech off communities, forcing taxpayers and workers to pick up health care costs, it does tremendous damage as it drives other companies to do the same.” While historically providing good health benefits to their employees, the supermarkets now argue that they must shift greater costs onto workers in order to counter the cutthroat competition they face from Wal-Mart.
I've written several pieces on Wal-Mart and the grocery strikes (see below), and you can also find more comprehensive information on these strikes as well as other retail store strikes and organizing campaigns at You Are Worth More, a webpage created by UFCW Local 789.




UAW & USWA Sue OSHA over Metalworking Fluids

The United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers Unions filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao over OSHA's failure to issue a standard protecting workers against the hazards of metalworking fluids.
"The UAW petitioned OSHA to take action on metalworking fluids 10 years ago," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. "Since then, millions of factory workers have been exposed to these hazardous chemicals. Tragically, some have developed asthma, pulmonary fibrosis or other severe respiratory ailments, while others have cancer because of the metalworking fluid mists they've been forced to breathe at work."

"The United Steelworkers is proud to join with the UAW in helping the working men and women who are being exposed to these hazardous chemicals in their workplaces," said USWA President Leo Gerard. "All we are asking is that OSHA do its job and take needed action to protect the health and safety of American workers."
According to OSHA
Metalworking fluids (MWFs) can cause adverse health effects through skin contact with contaminated materials, spray, or mist and through inhalation from breathing MWF mist or aerosol. Millions of workers engaged in the manufacture of automobiles, farm equipment, aircraft, heavy machinery, and other hardware are exposed to machining fluids.

Skin and airborne exposures to MWFs have been implicated in health problems including irritation of the skin, lungs, eyes, nose and throat. Conditions such as dermatitis, acne, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, and a variety of cancers have been associated with exposure to MWFs (NIOSH 1998a). The severity of health problems is dependent on a variety of factors such as the kind of fluid, the degree and type of contamination, and the level and duration of the exposure.
The current 5 milligrams per cubic meter, although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has recommended a standard 10 times more stringent -- 0.5 milligram per cubic meter. The UAW first petitioned OSHA for a standard in 1993 and in 1999 OSHA's Standards Advisory Committee voted to recommend that OSHA adopt the same standard suggested by NIOSH. Nevertheless, OSHA took metalworking fluids off of its regulatory agenda last year.
"OSHA has failed miserably in its responsibility to protect American workers," Gettelfinger continued. "Our lawsuit with the Steelworkers seeks to right this wrong, and offer our members and other workers who are exposed to these chemicals the protection they deserve."





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