Monday, July 14, 2003

Let My People Breathe

Bill Borwegen from SEIU reports that the final House Appropriations Committee report includes language urging OSHA to consider an airborne disease standard. This language recognizes that OSHA has clearly not done enough to require employers to protect healthcare workers from intentional and unintentional airborne biological threats.

Readers of Confined Space may remember that instead of addressing these issues, OSHA recently trashed its proposed Tuberculosis Standard, the closest proxy to an airborne disease standard, despite a conclusion from the Institute of Medicine that a standard was needed.

Here is the text from the House bill. Not sure what's happening on the Senate side yet.
House Report 108-188 - DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATION BILL, 2004

OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION

In the face of uncertain risk to their own health and that of their families, our country's doctors, nurses and other health care workers have courageously stepped forward to provide professional and compassionate care to patients with a variety of newly emerging, naturally occurring airborne infectious diseases such as SARS and monkeypox. With SARS, approximately half of all suspected and probable SARS cases in Canada are among health care workers who become infected while caring for their patients.

With our country confronting these new airborne biological threats, we have asked our health care professionals to do more to protect all of us. These workers have responded. The Committee believes that the Congress now owes a debt of gratitude and has a responsibility to protect these same health care workers from the occupational hazards they face, so that they can focus on doing the best job possible in caring for, and treating their patients.

To protect health care workers from newly emerging intentional and unintentional airborne infectious disease threats, the Committee urges OSHA to consider an airborne disease standard.



Bush's Environmental Policy: Lie, Hide, Deceive, Dissemble, Obfuscate, Distort

It seems the Bush Administration's attempts to deceive the American public regarding the threat posed by Iraq were not limited to foreign policy. The same tactics are being used for environmental policy.
Agency employees say they have been told either not to analyze or not to release information about mercury, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants. This has prompted inquiries and complaints from environmental groups, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress
Jeremy Symons, former EPA climate policy adviser in the Office of Air and Radiation, noted in a Washington Post article the Administration's inclination to head in the exact opposite direction of what was needed to address global warming:
With more than 80 percent of the nation's global warming pollution coming from the use of fossil fuels, the Bush energy plan dashed all hope for proposals to ease global warming. The plan, released in May 2001, made increased supplies of coal, oil and natural gas the priority in the coming decades.
What's the difference between the present time and past Republican efforts to weaken environmental protections? They have become very good at hiding and distorting the science:
When President Reagan pursued a more overt agenda of undermining the EPA's ability to regulate industry, aggressive congressional oversight led to the resignation of the EPA head, Ann Gorsuch Burford. Despite the similarly far reaching impact of the current administration's proposed rollbacks in clean water and air protections, Congress has been largely held at bay by the White House's adept control of information.
Hearkening back to the old days when even Republicans had some honor and respect for the science,
Former EPA administrator Russell Train responded in a letter to the New York Times. "Having served as EPA administrator under both Presidents Nixon and Ford, I can state categorically that there never was such White House intrusion into the business of the EPA during my tenure," he wrote. "The EPA was established as an independent agency in the executive branch, and so it should remain. There appears today to be a steady erosion in its independent status."
Congress will soon have an opportunity to reassert its respect for good science-based policy:
Soon Bush will pick a new head for the EPA. In the confirmation hearings, it will be incumbent upon senators to demand accountability not just from the nominee, but from the White House itself.
If that doesn't work, there's always an election coming up.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Can't We all Just Get Along?

I don't even know what to say about this. It seems like a health and safety problem, but I've never seen a fact sheet for it.
For longer than anyone cares to remember, unseemly jurisdictional disputes between some New York City police officers and firefighters have led occasionally to angry words at rescue and recovery operations, sometimes to scuffling between the uniformed forces and even to arrests and charges of interference.

Just two weeks ago, a firefighter involved in efforts to extricate a burglar trapped in a chimney in Queens said he was thrown down, handcuffed and arrested by a police officer for obstructing a crime scene.

And on Wednesday night, the simmering tensions - often referred to as the Battle of the Badges - boiled over again, this time at the scene of a man's drowning in Newtown Creek on the border of Queens and Brooklyn, where fire and police scuba teams went into the water to search for the victim.
Maybe an organizational counselor or something?

Friday, July 11, 2003

Let's Be Careful Out There

Colleagues fearful after Minneapolis cabby slain

BY AMY MAYRON
Pioneer Press

A 38-year-old cabdriver, the father of a toddler with another child on the way, was shot and killed on duty early Thursday in North Minneapolis.

Police released little information about the killing of Ahmed H. Ahmed and couldn't say what the motive was or whether it was random. The shooting of a taxi driver, a rare occurrence in Minneapolis, had drivers in the city fearful.
If you drive a taxi and your (justifiably) nervous check, here and here. Please not that the latter item, an OSHA Fact Sheet (issued when I was there with the good guys) "no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only."

I guess it's OK for cabbies to get killed now.

Employers to Workers: Kick 'em While They're Down

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a strike at a Wisconsin Tysons plant and the strong local support it was generating. That struggle and many more made the New York Times today.

The economy's down, labor is fighting desparately just to hang on to what it's got and the Republicans are in power in Washington like never before. Some businesses and most state governments are having a hard time making it, and are asking their empoyees for wage and benefit concessions.

But what if you happend to run a business that's doing quite well? The answer is clear: demand wage and benefit concessions from your workers. Why? Not because you need them, but just because you can.
For the 470 workers on strike at the Tyson Foods sausage and pepperoni plant here, the big question is why the company is so eager to cut starting salaries, freeze pensions and adopt a health plan with less coverage when the plant is so profitable....

Healthy profits or not, Tyson has joined hundreds of companies nationwide demanding concessions from organized labor....

The examples extend far beyond this southern Wisconsin town, where Tyson officials say concessions are needed to keep costs in line with those of its other plants. Verizon, the telephone company, wants concessions from 75,000 employees. New York City has demanded wage freezes from nearly 300,000 municipal workers. In Pennsylvania, 48,000 state employees have had to accept a two-year pay freeze.
So, what it to be done?
Some unions have successfully rebuffed concessions — G.E.'s two main unions beat back the company's demand that they pay 30 percent of health-care costs, up from the current 18 percent. But many other unions have reluctantly accepted them, fearful that a prolonged strike could mean months without paychecks and perhaps the loss of jobs to permanent replacement workers....

Labor leaders boast of examples where unions have obtained impressive contracts, notably in cities where unions have organized the vast majority of the workers in a nonmanufacturing industry. In Chicago, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union mobilized 7,300 workers at 27 hotels, threatened a strike and obtained a 54 percent increase in wages and benefits over four years. In recent talks involving janitors in Boston, Denver and Washington, the Service Employees International Union won raises of 25 percent over five years and health insurance for many part-time workers.

"In 1985, we took concessions in 23 out of 25 agreements," said Stephen Lerner, director of the union's Justice for Janitors campaign. "Nowadays we represent 70 to 90 percent of building service workers in these cities. That means a lot in terms of bargaining power."
Nearly forgotten in the discussion of important business issues is how concessions affect workers
[Tyson's employee Chuck] Moehling, who has worked at the plant for 22 years, said: "The company asked, `Why should we be sitting on this pedestal in Wisconsin?' Well, we're just scraping by. We're making $27,000 a year. That's not a lot of money. It's just enough to survive in this state. We have high heating bills and some of the highest tax rates in the nation."

If the union accepted Tyson's demands, he said, the lower pension and higher health premiums would force him to take a second job. "We can't afford to live on the concessions they're demanding," he said.

"If you take a second job, you end up with less time for your family," Mr. Moehling continued. "I have an 11-year-old girl and 9-year-old twin boys, and I do a lot of coaching, but if I have to take a second job, you can forget about the coaching."
But clearly there are more important matters to consider:
[Ken Kimbro, Tyson's senior vice president for human resources] said Tyson was mindful of such considerations. "We're not pleading poverty," he said. "We're not saying the Jefferson facility is losing money. We're saying the cost in Jefferson is out of line and we have to make adjustments."
And if kids don't get to spend as much time with their parents, 'hey, that's the way the system works. Deal with it.'

Asbestos Comp Bill Passes Committee

A Senate Committee late last night passed Orin Hatch's asbestos compensation bill by a mostly party line vote of 10-8. But all is not well.
Organized labor, whose support is seen as key to getting broad Democratic backing, withheld its assent. AFL-CIO counsel Jonathan Hiatt said the planned awards, as low as $25,000 for a smoking lung cancer victim, were not enough.

Meanwhile support for Hatch's proposal was eroding among some of its earlier backers. Insurers announced they were opposed after senators decided to ask industry and insurers for $52 billion each in contributions to the fund -- $7 billion more than the $45 billion each side had agreed to pay.

"We will oppose this," American Insurance Association spokeswoman Julie Rochman said.


Bad Day

Worker dies in crane accident at steel mill

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio - A 2,000-pound crane block fell and killed a man operating a forklift at the AK Steel mill on Thursday, investigators and the company said.

AK Steel later identified the victim as Ralph E. Jones, 41, of Waynesville. He had been employed by the company since 1985 and worked in maintenance.


Man Crushed To Death In Gelatin Factory
Machine Accidently Turned On While Man Was Cleaning


CHICAGO -- A 43-year-old man was crushed to death Wednesday night while cleaning a machine at a gelatin factory in Calumet City.

The worker was identified as Roland Robley, of Highland, Ind., according to a spokesman for the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.


OSHA fines company over worker's death

July 10, 2003, 8:44 AM EDT

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. -- The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined a company $2,500 in connection with a fatal workplace accident.

Gerald Smith, 49, of Norwood, died June 4 when he was using a cherry-picker-type lift to inspect upper elevators and the unit tipped over.

$2,500? Hello?


Thursday, July 10, 2003

Cintas, Immigrant Workers, Slavery and NAFTA

I've written before about UNITE's efforts to organize Cintas Corp., a Cincinnati-based laundry and uniform rental company. New developments:
Ninety members of Congress signed a letter sent to Cintas Corporation CEO Robert Kohlhepp urging the company to enter into a card-check neutrality agreement after hearing numerous reports about how Cintas management has responded to employees' efforts to organize a union. As stated in the letter, "Workers report that Cintas has mounted an extensive campaign aimed at dissuading employees from supporting the union through retaliatory firings, harassment, surveillance...it is our belief that employees cannot freely exercise their right to join a union in an environment where employers are coercing or trying to sway employee opinion."
Most of Cintas' employees are immigrants. The American Prospect has an excellent series this month on Immigrants in the New Economy. One article byuses Cintas as an example of how labor unions have taken the place of old time political machines in championing the rights of immigrant workers.

Other articles cover the health and safety hazards faced by immigrant workers, the failure of NAFTA, slavery-like conditions in the South


Who Needs Talk Radio?

The web as the liberal talk radio? Ron Brownstein of the LA Times makes the point that the web (like this Blog) will be to the left, what talk radio has become to the right.

Asbestos Comp Fund Still Stalled

Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) still can't seem to reach an agreement with Senate Democrats and Labor over the size of the Asbestos compensation fund.

Hatch fears that
a Democratic proposal for awards to asbestos victims was so generous it would "bankrupt" the proposed fund, and led Republicans in voting it down 10-9 on party lines.

The proposal, by the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, would have paid people sickened by asbestos awards totaling an estimated $128 billion to $185 billion over the 27-year life of the fund.
Meanwhile, stock of companies involved in asbestos litigation dropped.

One company, Haliburton, and a certain U.S. Vice President who I will be polite enough not to name, will be quite pleased if an asbestos compensation bill passes. According to the Financial Times
Halliburton, the oil services company formerly run by Dick Cheney, US vice-president, could save more than $3.5bn under proposed asbestos legislation, according to a report to the Senate judiciary committee.

The company has agreed to pay $4.25bn to settle claims from victims of asbestos exposure. But under laws the committee is considering to create a trust fund to curb asbestos litigation, Halliburton would pay at most $675m, says Caplin & Drysdale, a New York law firm.
I knew there was money to be made doing health and safety work. I'm just on the wrong side.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Combustible Dust Probable Cause of Corbin KY Blast

Like the January explosion at West Pharmaceutical that claimed the lives of six workers, the February 20 explosion at CTA Acoustics in Corbin, KY that killed seven was also caused by combustible dust, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
Bill Hoyle, who led the investigation of the CTA Acoustics plant explosion for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, told the audience of plant employees and families of burn victims that maintenance had been scheduled for the production line but that the repairs had been delayed in the days before the blast.

The explosion at the plant, which manufactures thermal and acoustic insulation used in automobiles, ranks as the most deadly industrial-chemical accident since the board began investigating such cases in 1998. In all, 44 people were hurt or killed, and three workers continue to struggle with severe burns.
According to the report, dust that had been stirred up by routine cleaning was ignited by an oven that was left open to cool because the controls were malfunctioning.

Over 200 people -- many CTA workers and family members of those injured and killed -- attended the meeting sponsored by the CSB in Corbin.

According to Hoyle,
It is likely flames escaped from the open door and ignited dust from the resin, the safety board said in a news release.

The thunderous explosion stirred up dust that had settled elsewhere in the plant, touching off secondary explosions and fueling the fire, Hoyle said.
Those who died were Clarence Davis Jr., 35; Michael Anthony Reeves, 41; David Messer, 43; Joe Hamilton, 37; Arnold Peters, 57; Jimmy Lemmings, 42; and Paul Newman, 50.

Many of those attending were upset by the report.
Annette Daniels, whose husband, Billy Daniels, spent three months in a burn unit recuperating from his injuries in the explosion, said the production line should have been shut down because of the malfunctioning oven.

"That should be standard procedure," she said. "They didn't follow standard procedure."

Doug Cupp of Manchester, who also was burned in the blast, said: "No one expected a fire like that. I'm angry. I'm hurt. Everybody has different emotions."
According to CSB Board Member Gerald Poje,
"Preventing industrial dust explosions is probably our biggest priority right now, beyond finding out exactly what happened in Corbin and in Kinston," he said.

Poje said there is growing concern among workplace-safety experts that flammable dust in factories represents the same kind of danger that was identified two decades ago in grain elevators. Stringent safety standards were adopted in the wake of deadly explosions linked to combustible dust in the silos.

Poje said the board's work isn't complete. Investigators will continue to study the accident, and then the board will begin looking into possible ways to help strengthen federal standards for handling industrial dust.

Republican Malpractice

Senate Democrats, with the help of a couple of Republicans (Lindsey Graham (SC) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.)), killed an Administration bill that would have capped medical malpractice awards at $250,000. Medical malpractice rates have been skyrocketing for some more risky medical professions, and the insurance industry, the AMA and strapped doctors are screaming that outrageous punitive judgments for "pain and suffering" are to blame.

The Republican leadership knew very well that it would lose the vote, but
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) told reporters earlier this week that GOP senators wanted to bring up the bill, even though they knew they would lose, to "turn up the heat back home on senators who are not being responsive to the problems in their own states."
So what's the real story here? An article in the most recent American Prospect refutes many of the myths being propagated by the insurance industry and the Bush Administration.

First, rising premiums have little to do with giant awards fro pain and suffering.
But contrary to the administration's line, increasing jury awards are not single-handedly driving premiums through the roof. Rather, a steep decline in insurers' projected investment income is largely responsible for rising rates...And when investment income evaporates, it hits hard. Americans for Insurance Reform's J. Robert Hunter, an actuary and former Texas insurance commissioner, tracked premiums and insurance-industry investment returns over the last 30 years. He found that each of the three malpractice insurance "crises" directly coincided with declining insurance investment returns.
Another myth is that awards for pain and suffering are not needed to compensate victims of malpractice.
But critics of caps insist that pain and suffering damages are necessary to deter careless medical practice and compensate for injuries such as blindness, disfigurement and the loss of sex function, which cannot be quantified in economic terms. Limiting these awards, they argue, will do nothing to reduce costs to doctors and will only trample patients' rights. Linda McDougal, the Minnesota woman whose breasts were mistakenly removed after she was incorrectly diagnosed with cancer because her files were mixed up with another patient's, suffered few quantifiable economic losses. She had health insurance, and her employer covered medical bills and lost wages. But "she will have to go through life mutilated for no reason," says Carlton Carl of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America
It is also a myth that pain and suffering caps will bring malpractice rates down.
Remarkably enough, insurance companies don't even promise that a cap on lawsuits will solve the problem. In 2002, the American Insurance Association noted, "The insurance industry never promised that tort reform would achieve specific premium savings."
Will insurance companies agree to reduce their premiums by one dollar for every dollar they save as a result of tort reform? Don't bet the practice on it.

So, what is to be done?
Far more effective than an arbitrary cap on damages would be a more systematic effort to weed out bad doctors and prevent malpractice in the first place. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, says, "You should protect patients with doctor discipline and protect good doctors with low premiums." Public Citizen ranks state medical boards according to their records of disciplining negligent doctors. "Five percent of the doctors account for 50 percent of the malpractice payouts," he says. "The primary failing is at disciplining doctors. A lot could be remedied by taking bad doctors out of practice."
And there are other remedies:
AMA President-elect Dr. Donald Palmisano concedes that other remedies are available. In Massachusetts, Indiana and Louisiana, malpractice lawsuits undergo a pre-screening process, substantially reducing the number of questionable lawsuits without restricting the rights of patients to sue.
The great danger is that
If the AMA succeeds in passing a $250,000 cap without a provision forcing insurance companies to pass their savings on to doctors, rates may well continue to climb, in which case growing numbers of obstetricians will stop delivering babies, more neurosurgeons will retire early or shy away from risky procedures, and more mutilated patients will be denied compensation.
Bottom line: The Republicans are really interested in two things: helping their insurance industry friends and curtailing the power (and money) of trail lawyers who donate overwhelmingly to Democrats, especially to former trial lawyer (and current Presidential Candidate) John Edwards of North Carolina.

New Resource

A new resource, brought to my attention by our invaluable English resource, Rory O'Neil: The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) website.
Rory calls IJOEH "the most impressive and useful academic journal on occupational and environmental health issues. Highly recommended. "

IJOEH is an excellent resource for international OHSE work, is authoritative and includes papers on working conditions across the world, and is now providing many of its articles online. Recent themes covered in the journal have included:

* Industry-efforts to influence (or direct involvement with) organisations including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH)

* Pesticides and human rights

* International asbestos industry and government lobbying against asbestos bans

* Hazards in the microelectronics industry

The website also includes a useful "world news" page.

Google "Hacker" Speaks the Truth

Check this out before it goes away!

Go to www.google.com and type "weapons of mass destruction" into the search block and then hit "I'm Feeling Lucky" instead of "Search". Read carefully the error message.

A Hacker has taken it over!

Addendum: Actually, this wasn't a hacker, just a clever web page. Check out the story here:

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Great New Health & Safety Website

Rory O'Neil of Hazards brings us the good word about a great new website called Worksafe Reps, a new website that is a joint initiative between New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.

The site is targeted specifically at workers who have been elected as health and safety representatives under the amended Health and Safety in Employment Act.

The site provides reps with health and safety news, information about workplace hazards, legislation, campaigns and information about safety resources resources about workplace health and safety campaigns.

The most interesting part is the "Sharing Solutions" page where Reps will also be able to discuss their experiences through the 'sharing solutions' forums on the site. So far, not much sharing, but I think it has potential.

This is the kind of website that American Unions and the AFL-CIO should have. Basic health and safety information, up-to-date news about events and legislation, a helpdesk and an interactive forum. No offense to my friends in labor, but most of the unions' health and safety pages are dull, stale and nothing that anyone is going to go out of their way to check out too often.

As we've seen from Howard Dean's successes and Move On's campaigns, the web can be used for much more than just providing information. If used creatively, it can also help inform, organize and activate workers. The Worksafe Reps site comes about as close to that as I've seen. Check it out.

China: The Human Costs of Modernization

Another in a continuing series of tragic articles about deadly conditions in China's coal mines.

Far from the soaring glass towers of Shanghai and Beijing, China's often-primitive coal mines epitomize the human cost of the nation's rising living standards. Last year, 6,995 coal miners were killed in explosions, roof collapses and floods, according to government statistics. (By comparison, 27 American coal miners lost their lives in 2002.) Independent experts say China's death toll is actually closer to 10,000, because some mine owners routinely minimize casualty figures and pay victims' families to keep quiet.

What's So Freak About It?

One of the many things that piss me off is workplace accidents being labeled "freak" when, like the one in this article, they're actually well-known, preventable and often well-regulated hazards.
1 killed, 5 injured in freak electrical accident

REHOBOTH -- An accident on Baker Street yesterday afternoon involving electrical workers left one man dead and five others injured, one critically, police said.

Subcontractors for Massachusetts Electric were doing routine pole work at about 3:30 p.m. when the boom from a bucket truck came in contact with a high tension wire, sending 115,000 volts of electricity through the boom, Acting Chief Lt. James Trombetta said.
And it only gets worse:
Lineman from Connecticut second to die in Rehoboth accident

By Associated Press, 7/2/2003 14:03
REHOBOTH, Mass. (AP) A second electrical lineman injured after his crew's equipment contacted live power lines Monday has died.

Walter Shaw, 44, died Tuesday afternoon at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence where he had been taken when critically injured, hospital spokeswoman Polly Stiness said Wednesday. A woman answering the phone at the home of Walter Shaw, in Columbia, Conn., confirmed he was the man involved in the accident.

On Monday, Joshua Ladd of Belfast, Maine, died at Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton.
Labeling something like this a "freak accident" implies that there was no way anyone could possibly have predicted it. And if you couldn't have predicted it, there's no way anyone could have done anything to prevent it. Instead of public anger that might have been stimulated by a more accurate headline like "Lack of Precautions Kills Two Workers," the public is left with the impression that "shit happens." Some people just don't have very good luck.

Six months down the line there will probably be an OSHA citation, but it probably won't make big headlines.

There was nothing at all "freak" about this electrocution. There are a number of OSHA publications about how to prevent electrocutions from overhead power lines: the lines can be de-energized or they can be shielded. If neither of these alternatives is possible, a designated spotter can monitor the job to make sure that nothing comes within ten feet of the energized line.

Try doing a Google search for "freak accident." Some of them will actually be freak e.g. A guy is walking down the street, minding his own business when a tree falls on him. But I'd wager that almost every single "freak accident" that occurs in a workplace was predictable and preventable.

I did such a search recently while doing research for an article I was writing. One of the many articles I came up with was about a "freak" confined space asphyxiation in a winery. Late in the article the writer noted that a similar incident had occurred a few years before. Two identical "freak" accidents? Pretty freaky.

Don't let the media or employers ever get away with dismissing a preventable workplace tragedy as "freak." Don't let them leave the impression that there was nothing that could have been done, or the worker's luck had just run out. What to do? Reporters need to be educated about how such tragedies can be prevented. And employers need to be challenged when they assert that no one could have forseen what happened. That's almost never the case and it certainly wasn't the case in the incident mentioned above. Don't let them get away with it.

Two men found dead inside Guilford manhole

Another unfortunately NOT "Freak" Accident.
7/6/2003 9:30 AM

(WHITSETT) -- Sheriff's deputies and safety regulators want to know how a father and his adult son died inside a manhole in Guilford County....

The two men had been helping install a water line for the City of Burlington. They were last seen alive Thursday night.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Walmart: You Can Work Here, You Can Even Be Gay, But You Can't Shop Here

You may have noticed recent news articles about how Walmart has decided not to discriminate against gay people. How 21st century of them!

Unfortunately, their wages and benefits are still back in the 19th century.Here's a very interesting article found on the Kansas City AFL-CIO website about how impossible it is for Walmart employees to actually be able to afford to shop at Walmart.
On a June Sunday, my adult son and daughter joined me for a visit to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Salina. We spent an hour and a half wandering among the hundreds of red, blue, and yellow "Always Low Prices" signs. We checked many of those prices and then went home to do some calculating.

Our conclusion: A single parent employed full-time at Salina’s Wal-Mart and raising children aged 4 and 12 does not earn enough money to supply the family’s basic needs by shopping at that same Wal-Mart.
Luckily, the federal government (e.g. taxpayers) is subsidizing Walmart's low wages.
Back here in America, the government implicitly recognizes the insufficiency of Wal-Mart wages. Our cashier’s family would be eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) of $4140 in 2002. That would close the gap between the cashier’s wage and bare survival, and provide enough additional income to lift the family just above the poverty line.

EITC, food stamps, Medicaid, and state programs like Kansas’ childcare allowance are needed because corporations like Wal-Mart refuse to pay their employees a sufficient wage for the work they do. Seen from that angle, those programs are simply corporate welfare.
But Walmart doesn't think its employees need a union. Seems like the Bush administration should be supporting organizing efforts just to get Walmart off of corporate welfare.

Independence (from Blogging) Day

I'm out of here for the long weekend. Probably no computer and probably no blogging until Monday.

Deal with it.

Or you can talk among yourselves. See that No Comment or comment or 2 comments link right below this. Click on that and tell everyone what you think about anything or comment on what the previous person wrote.

It's a long holiday weekend, the weather is great and it's summer. Where else would you rather be than staring at your computer?

Have a happy holiday.

Happy 4th: 3 feared dead in Fireworks blast


Friday, July 4, 2003

KILGORE -- Investigators think three people died when an explosion tore through a fireworks company Thursday as workers prepared for Fourth of July celebrations.



NYCOSH Update

Health and Safety news from around New York and the country. Check it out.

CONTENTS

Congress Takes Up Legislation to Overhaul the Asbestos Compensation System

New York State Hazard Abatement Board Holds Hearings on Workplace Violence

NY State Sen. Libous Proposes Major Workers’ Compensation Cuts

Smallpox Vaccination Program Slows to a Near Halt

OSHA Homes In on Home Depot

At the beginning of April I wrote posted an Atlanta Business Chronicle article about health and safety problems at Home Depot. Seems that from 1999 to 2002 and nine workers have died in accidents at Home Depots and in 2002 Home Depot was cited for 86 violations of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards in 2002.

Seems they haven't quite cleaned up their act. The Atlanta Business Chronicle has another article about CalOSHA's interest in Home Depot because five Home Depot employees have been injured in the company's California stores since February.
The three employees injured by falling merchandise at California Home Depot stores this year include an 18-year-old employee in a North Hollywood, Calif., store who was hospitalized with a broken pelvis in February after he was struck by a bundle of wood fencing that fell from a shelf above him. In March, a 25-year-old store supervisor in Newbury Park, Calif., was injured when he was struck on the head by falling merchandise. In May, a 39-year-old employee suffered a broken bone when merchandise fell on him as he was cleaning in the company's Elk Grove, Calif., store, Cal/OSHA records show.

The other accidents involved a 56-year-old employee in the company's Santa Clarita store whose ring finger on his left hand was amputated when it was caught between a ladder and the store's shelving and an employee in the company's Cerritos, Calif., store who was hit by a car in the parking lot of the store, according to Cal/OSHA's records.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Overtime, Over Easy

Good NY Times column by Bob Herbert on Bush's attempt to abolish the 8-hour day.

Ergo Man

I'm tired. Over a decade working on an ergonomics standard, then it gets repealed. Bush gives us an embarassingly anemic "comprehensive program" and what do we have for all the work. Not much except millions of ergonomic injuries every year.

Well, Jay Herzmark, AFSCME Local 1488 member, industrial hygienist to the stars, and all around mad scientist says "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

If you can't make them fit the workplace to the worker, let's just remake the worker. The result: ERGOMAN .

Why didn't anyone think of this before?

And Speaking of Asbestos....

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

(From Grist Magazine) For decades, residents of Libby, Mont., had a love affair with mining. They bragged that Zonolite -- the brand-name insulation produced at their hometown mine -- had "a hundred and one uses"; to prove the point, they put it in their garden soil, their Little League ball fields, and even their bread. Then the love affair turned sour; current and former mine workers developed shortness of breath, became tethered to oxygen tanks, and developed rare, excruciating cancers. Worse, their wives, kids, and even some Libby residents with no connection to the mine started to develop similar problems -- all of them bearing the unmistakable symptoms of asbestosis. Still, it took dozens of deaths for Libby residents to admit that "their" company, W.R. Grace, had knowingly allowed mine workers and town residents to be poisoned with tremolite, a particularly nasty form of asbestos. In "Libby, Montana: Asbestos and the Deadly Silence of an American Corporation," journalist Andrea Peacock tells the Libby story; Michelle Nijhuis reviews the results, only on the Grist Magazine website.

Michelle Nijhuis reviews "Libby, Montana: Asbestos and the Deadly Silence of an American Corporation" -- in Books Unbound

Who Will Tell The People?

Covering Up The Corporate Coverups?

David Egilman MD, MPH, Clinical Associate Professor Brown University, wrote last week on the Occupational and Environmental Medicine listserve that he
recently had a manuscript rejected without review because the editor of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) thought the topic of the corporate cover-up of adverse toxicologic study results was not a "high priority" for the readers of the journal.
Not to be silenced, he placed the material in a two- page advertisement in the back of the journal along with a poll coupon that seeks to survey the readership on the interest that they have in this topic. A copy of the advertisement can be found here.

I found his article/advertisement interesting and upsetting for a number of reasons. First, we live in a country where chemicals are treated like people: they are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. The Toxic Substances Control Act was intended to require some screening of new and old chemicals, but it is ineffective. Recent court rulings and Congressional actions have made it almost impossible for regulatory agencies like EPA and OSHA to adequately regulate toxic chemicals.

Europeans, on the other hand, are now adopting the “precautionary principle” requiring companies (European and American) to test chemicals and prove them safe before humans are exposed to them. (See here and “Business Meets Its Match” in the current American Prospect –July/August 2003 Electronic version not available.)

Most chemical testing in this country is done by the companies that manufucture the chemicals. Egilman points out that “Dow Chemical Company operates one of the largest private toxicology research units in the United States.” In an ideal world, this information will be peer-reviewed and then publicized. The regulatory authorities could then use the information to decide whether or not exposure to the substance needs to be controlled or eliminated. Even without regulation, workers and consumers could use the information to take some kind of action.

In fact, some conservative think tanks argue that we don’t even need regulations because once workers obtain information that a substance they are working with is hazardous, they can either quit their jobs and find another safer job, or they can demand higher wages to make up for the fact that their work may affect their health or kill them. (You think I’m joking? Check this and this out.)

But none of this works – the regulatory process or (mythical) worker choice – if scientific information about the health effects of chemicals is covered up. Egilman has uncovered results of animal studies kept secret by Dow that show that certain forms of asbestos may be more toxic than previously thought when they're heated and mixed with other substances. Dow also tried to explain away the results of an epidemiological study of workers that showed increased incidence of mesothelioma – an 100% fatal cancer of the lining of the lung caused only be asbestos -- as not work-related even though the employees worked in areas with high exposures. These studies were only discovered as the result of a law suit filed against Dow.

Why the cover-up? According to Egilman, “Dow explained its reluctance to publish adverse study result …due to its desire to protect sales and shield itself from liability suits.” Translation: Why would we tell people our products kill them? People wouldn't buy them and we'd get sued -- and lose. Do you think we're complete idiots?

Right

“Unfortunately," Egilman points out, "while keeping study data secret might have decreased Dow’s vulnerability to liability claims, it is likely to have increased the number and severity of injuries that resulted from exposure to Dow’s products and manufacturing processes.”

Now, it's hardly surprising that chemical companies are not anxious to have workers, consumers and communities learn that their products will kill them. Although it still does sometimes amaze me.

Anyone with a pulse who reads the newspapers knows that there is currently a battle raging in Congress over how to compensate million of asbestos victims, after dozens of huge companies have gone bankrupt attempting to compensate their former employees (or employees of firms they purchased) and all because the fact that asbestos causes cancer was covered up for decades by the corporations that produced asbestos-containing products.

But still, it’s disappointing. It’s stupid. It’s criminal (or it should be.) But it’s not surprising.

Anyway, even if the corporations cover it up, we have scholarly journals that will reveal this information once it’s uncovered and expose the evildoers. Right?

I guess not, according to the editors of the JOEM. What is surprising – and disappointing – is the fact that the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine thought that this article “is not likely to be a high priority for the majority of JOEM readers.”

Compare that with the Mission and Vision of the Academy of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), which publishes the JOEM:

ACOEM Vision:

ACOEM is the pre-eminent organization of physicians who champion the health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

ACOEM Mission:

ACOEM provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments by:

· educating health professionals and the public;
· stimulating research:
· enhancing the quality of practice; guiding public policy;
· and advancing the field of occupational and environmental medicine.
And the JOEM is supposed to be
a leading scientific, peer-reviewed monthly publication in the specialty of occupational and environmental medicine. It serves as an indispensable source to in-depth, clinically oriented research articles and technical reports that keep readers up-to-date on cutting-edge medical developments in the field.
So one might ask how ACOEM thinks its members can “champion the health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments” when it won’t even consider Egilman’s article. Nor does this action seem to “educating health professionals and the public” or "keep readers up-to-date on cutting-edge medical developments in the field." Finally, how much respect can the editors of the JOEM have for their readers if they think that an article about corporate cover-ups of workplace health and safety information “is not likely to be a high priority for the majority of JOEM readers?”

Hopefully the JOEM editors are not correct about their readers' priorities. Workers may not expect complete honesty from chemical manufacturers. (This is not a prejudice. It's history.) But they are in far worse off than I ever imagined if the JOEM is correct and this country’s leading occupational physicans don’t consider the need to fight against these cover-ups to be essential to "advancing the field of occupational and environmental medicine.”

If this seems like a problem to you, print out the coupon and send it back in to Dr. Egilman.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Workers Comp Costs

Here is one more unpublished letter to the NY times by John F. Burton about the workers comp article that I wrote about here, here, here and here. Burton argues workers comp costs have actually only risen 14% or less over the past several years, and not the 50% quoted in the Times.
To the Editor:

Re "Cost of Insurance for Work Injuries Soars Across U.S." (news article, June 23):
The article provides examples of rapidly increasing workers' compensation insurance rates in California, which may be accurate. However, the assertion that nationally the average cost "has risen 50 percent in the last three years" must be used with caution.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics samples almost 7,000 private sector establishments nationally in order to prepare the Employment Cost Index. Employers' expenditures on workers' compensation in the private sector as a percent of payroll in March of the last four years were 2.02% in 2000, 1.92% in 2001, 1.96% in 2002, and 2.19% in 2003. By this measure, employers' costs have increased about 14% from the low point in 2001 to 2003. The increase would be even less for the three years since 2000. Moreover, the March 2003 figure is lower than for any year in the 1990s and is well below the peak of 2.99% reached in 1994.

These figures, provided to your reporter prior to publication, convey a different picture about the national developments in workers' compensation costs. Unfortunately, the impression conveyed by the article of runaway costs and vanishing employers provides inappropriate ammunition to proponents of workers' compensation "reforms" that reduce benefits and limit eligibility.

Sincerely yours,

John F. Burton, Jr.
Professor
Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations
School of Management and Labor Relations
Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey

Burton is Chair of the Workers' Compensation Steering Committee of the National Academy of Social Insurance. He was Chairman of the National Commission on State Workmen's Compensation Laws, which submitted its report to the President and Congress in 1972.



First nurse dies from SARS

Ontario’s first health-care worker died of SARS yesterday, taking the death toll to 39, the Ontario Health ministry said.

The 51-year-old nurse worked at North York General Hospital—the epicentre of the latest outbreak. The ministry did not say if the nurse was a man or woman.

Make My Day

Did he forget his presidential medication today? This quote must make the G.I.s in Baghdad feel real good. Maybe the AWOL Macho Macho Man should get on over there and show 'em how it's done.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Ergonomic Injuries: Now You See 'em, Now You Don't

Throughout the decade-long campaign against a federal ergonomics standard, the business community and Republicans in Congress have had one major problem. The could rant about big government and rave about the Gestapo OSHA and regulations and international competitiveness and lazy workers and corrupt union bosses, but they could never get away from the fact that MSDs (ergonomic injuries), amounted to a full third of all injuries and illnesses suffered by American workers.

Until now, that is.

On Monday, OSHA announced that it had decided not to put a separate column for MSDs on the log that employers are required to use to record workplace injuries and illnesses. The revoked requirement -- for employers to check a box for MSDs -- was a simple measure issued in 2001, designed to help employers and workers identify and address ergonomic hazards. A similar requirement -- a column to log repeated trauma -- had been in place since 1971. The administration also decided not to develop a definition of MSDs (which had also been included in the 2001 regulation) and leave it up to employers to figure it out for themselves.

In its decision, OSHA stated that the agency had
concluded that an additional recordkeeping column would not substantially improve the national injury statistics, nor would it be of benefit to employers and workers because the column would not provide additional information useful to identifying possible causes or methods to prevent injury."
Translation: Eat my shorts, working people. If you can't count 'em, they don't exist.

According to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney:
Today's decision continues the Bush administration's dangerous "head in the sand" approach to ergonomic injuries. Just because the government is not going to require employers to track these injuries, and just because the government is not going to enforce a safety standard, doesn't mean that workers will stop becoming ill or permanently disabled on the job. Cutting off all information about MSDs exposes the Bush administration's "comprehensive approach" as meaningless.
Well, actually, Bush's "comprehensive approach" (voluntary guidelines, research, enforcement and compliance assistance) was exposed as meaningless a long long time ago.

Or maybe not. The bottom line on this announcement is that employers will find it more difficult to report MSDs (or easier not to report MSDs). The numbers will go down, the "comprehensive approach" will be hailed as a success and we can all just stop whining and get on board.

OR

Let's start thinking about fighting back.

Repeal of OSHA's ergonomics standard in March 2001 was one of the first high crimes of the Bush administration. Being among the first, however, also means that it risks being forgotten (There have been so many more crimes since then.) Let's not let that happen.

You may have heard that there's an election coming up next year where Bush will try to get reelected. I propose a campaign (or we could just start with a button) with the simple theme "Remember Ergonomics" Then workers wearing the buttons show up at every Republican campaign event. The political tide will turn and our long national nightmare will at long last be over!

Well, at least we can make sure it's an issue that won't be forgotten.

Is there anyone creative out there who wants to design a button? Any rich union health and safety departments? I'll even front some money to pay for the first batch.

According to the statistics (back when they meant something) roughly three and a half million workers have suffered ergonomic injuries since Bush signed the repeal of the ergonomics standard. Let's do it for them and for the million and a half who will suffer from preventable MSDs this year and every year until we have some real protections.

Investment Opportunities. Mideast Country. Some Renovation Required

The Yorkshire Ranter (that would be in England) has an interesting take on U.S. plans to privatize Iraq now that we’ve conquered it, just as the Bush Administration is planning to privatize the U.S. federal government, now that the Republico-Taliban party has conquered America.
The deaths of the 6 military policemen in al-Amara have pointed up just how dangerous and - especially- unpredictable Iraq has become. Despite the weird, heroic old-empire nature of the incident - the last stand in the police station against a thousand-strong armed mob - it shows yet again how politically and technically poor the Anglo-American administration of Iraq has been. Paul Bremer, the US civil governor, is quoted as telling a WEF meeting in Jordan that one of his first priorities is "diverting people and resources from state enterprises to more productive private firms...ending special deals and subsidies to force state enterprises to face hard budget constraints". What is wrong with the man? Can he not look out of the fucking window? There is no "more productive, private" power or water company to supply Baghdad. How could massive reorganisation possibly help those infrastructure enterprises - on top of everything else? What if the Free Democratic Iraqi Parliament - whenever Mr. Bremer decides the natives are sufficiently evolved to elect it - doesn't want its water privatising? Who the hell would buy a broken power network in a country without a worthwhile currency or a government, where they shoot at you?
All good questions. Any right wingnuts out there want to respond?

Monday, June 30, 2003

More Truth About Workers Comp

Linked here is an unpublished letter to the NY Times by Ed Welch, Director of the Workers' Compensation Center at Michigan State University, regarding the workers comp article that I have written about here and here and here.

He makes some very good points:

The rise in workers comp costs averaged over the past ten years is actually not that bad. It looks bad because it was sudden. The WC insurance companies set their rates below cost while making money in the stock market and now they're in trouble, trying to make up for lost earnings. In addition, adds Welch, some of the current cost increase is a result of insurance companies spreading the cost of 9/11 over all carriers. Between these factors and rising health care costs, little of the rate increase actually goes into workers' benefits.

Welch also takes issue with the Chamber of Commerce statement quoted in the NYT article that “The only way to reduce your cost is to reduce your payroll.” And cites research showing that “employers can control their costs through safety. Many employers have dramatically reduced their costs in the last ten years by serious efforts to prevent injuries” as well as return to work programs."
In fact nearly all workers' compensation insurance rates are “experience rated.” That means that an employer’s premiums are based on its own experience. Employers that control losses through safety and return to work programs pay less. Employers that injure more workers and refuse to take them back to work pay more.
Welch concludes by warning that
Sometimes insurance commissioners and chambers of commerce are tempted to tell employers that the only way to deal with high workers' compensation costs is to support politicians and trade associations who will change the law and take benefits away from workers. In fact those employers who are willing to take responsibility for their own experience can control costs themselves.
Politicians should resist the temptation to “lead another bandwagon to reduce benefits further.”
There is a much better solution. If employers will prevent injuries, provide good health care when they do occur and help injured workers back to reasonable productive jobs as soon as possible, they will reduce their own costs and help their employees at the same time.

Nightmare on K St.

I’ve got it made in Hollywood. How’s this for a screenplay? Republicans who are in full control of the Federal government get D.C. lobbying firms to fire any Democrats they may still be employing and hire Republicans. Lobbyists are then so indebted to R’s that they push Republican agenda even harder than they normally would and contribute more money. Republicans then contract out huge parts of the federal government, hiring big business (represented by D.C. lobbying firms) to pick up the profitable slack. Your tax dollars (what’s left of them) are now not just going to the Military-Industrial Complex, but to the growing Government-Industrial Complex. Businesses return the favor (and the money) to Republicans as campaign contributions. Republicans soon control EVERYTHING!

Maybe a little too conspiratorial and far-fetched, but I think it’s got potential in a weird, futuristic, Robocop, Orwellian sort of way.

But wait! It’s already been written (here). Worse, IT’S ALL TRUE! Aieee!! Someone wake me up!!!!



Death by Fraud?

They're Americans. They're doing their jobs. They're dying. For what?

Ten Appalling Lies We Were Told About Iraq"
The young, late O.J. Smith was almost certainly named after the legendary running back, Orenthal J. Simpson, before that dashing American hero was charged for a double-murder. Now his namesake has died in far-off Mesopotamia in a noble mission to, as our president put it on March 19, 'disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.' "

Happy Days Are Gone Again

I somehow missed this very depressing article, but luckily Susan Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla (a funny, informative and irreverent political Blog that you should all read) picked it up. (If you've read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, it's kind of like getting trapped in the book with no way out):

A heartbreaking story, one that's all too common these days:
He had been out of work 14 months. His unemployment benefits had long run out. His savings were gone. His retirement account was gone. Three-hundred-fifty résumés. Three responses. Zero jobs. Depression. Overeating. Thirty pounds. In 14 months, he says, he had gone from someone who would accept only a legal position, to someone who swallowed his pride and said he was willing to work for the lowly sum of $25 an hour, to someone willing to take any full-time job, to someone trying to make a skeptical woman at a temporary agency understand that a one-time lawyer would gladly take anything she had.

"I have no money, and I need food," he said that day. "So you give me anything you can."

"So you just need some cash," the woman said.

"Exactly," he said. "Cash."

"Well," the woman said, "we can do that," and soon after he had his first paying job since his layoff.

It was five days, at $8 an hour, in a distribution center. He opened boxes. He took out underwear. He sorted the underwear into piles. "I wasn't going to screw it up," he says of how diligently he did this, hoping that he would be asked back for a second week.

He wasn't.

Hard Week

Losing Atticus Finch and Eleanor of Aquitaine in one week. Almost too much.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Working Families Locked Out of Labor Department

I thought perhaps a new day of openness, partnership and constructive dialogue was dawning when I saw an announcement this morning in the Washington Post about an AFL-CIO forum on overtime to be held at the Labor Department. Naah! I should have known it was too good to be true.
June 27, 2003

The fight to protect overtime is heating up. At the last minute, the Bush Labor Department barred working family advocates from holding a forum on overtime in the department's Washington, D.C. auditorium. The auditorium had already been booked and paid for but now we've been LOCKED OUT.

So, we're holding our forum anyway--on the sidewalk right in front of the Labor Department and YOU'RE INVITED. Workers and others plan to discuss the Bush administration's outrageous attack on overtime pay at the forum.

What: Forum Opposing Bush Overtime Pay Cuts

When: Monday, June 30, Noon

Where: 200 Constitution Ave., N.W. Washington, D.C. (in front of the Labor Department's Frances Perkins Building)

The Bush administration's move to take away overtime pay from 8 million workers could become law as soon as September of this year. Make your voice heard. Please attend and bring your friends, family and co-workers. Placards and signs are encouraged.
If you're in the neighborhood, come on down.

Workers Compensation Letters to the Editor

Printed below are letters to the editor of the NY Times in response to the article about the current workers comp article that I wrote about last Monday.


To the Editor:
Re "Cost of Insurance for Work Injuries Soars Across U.S." (front page, June 23):

Fraud is a real problem. Rising medical costs trouble Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance as well as workers' compensation. The insurance industry has only itself to blame for speculative investments and ill-advised premium wars.

But readers should know that large numbers of injured workers never claim compensation, out of ignorance or fear of employer reprisals; employers and insurers systematically reject valid claims, hoping workers will abandon them or accept low settlements; and state laws compensate workers for less than their lost wages (typically two-thirds, with a ceiling); death payments are low (often shockingly); and there is no explicit payment for pain and suffering.

Before we rush to reduce workers' compensation, we must address the fact that it neither compensates nor deters employers from creating unsafe workplaces.

RICHARD L. ABEL
Los Angeles, June 23, 2003
The writer is a professor at U.C.L.A. Law School.

To the Editor:
Your report about the soaring cost of workers' compensation insurance (front page, June 23) is yet more evidence that the current malpractice insurance crisis is predominantly a result of the insurance industry and its 10-year roller coaster cycles.

If the sudden substantial premium costs were spread out over a 10-year period, they would look far less remarkable.

While reforming the malpractice system by imposing caps on damages recovery can make the system less costly, the fairness of taming the industry's volatility on the backs of the most seriously injured victims is highly questionable.

Reform of the method by which damages are determined to reduce the substantial variations and extreme awards would be desirable. So would reform of the insurance industry to avoid the cyclical crisis in insurance premiums.

MICHAEL D. GREEN
Winston-Salem, N.C., June 24, 2003
The writer is a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law.


To the Editor:

Re "Cost of Insurance for Workplace Injuries Soars Across U.S." (front page, June 23):

Bad labor relations is a component of employee fraud in many cases. Employees who don't like their jobs or their employers are more likely to fake injuries or exaggerate claims than those who are more satisfied with their jobs. Added to this mix are layoffs and pressure from management on fewer workers to produce more. Speeding up the assembly line has a cost.

STEVEN KALOW
Glenmont, N.Y. June 24, 2003

To the Editor:

Re your June 23 front-page article about the rising costs of workers' compensation insurance:

The California Legislature deregulated the workers' compensation insurance industry in 1993 at the behest of the state Chamber of Commerce. This action spurred a frenzy of predatory pricing among insurance companies that saved employers $3 billion to $5 billion per year during the mid-to-late 1990's, but also drove more than two dozen insurance companies out of business.

These price wars have ended, rates are skyrocketing, and employers are confronting the repercussions of the free-market reforms they pushed through in 1993. Yet California businesses are trying to attribute higher rates to recent benefit increases for injured workers. In addition, a bill sponsored by the state A.F.L.-C.I.O. to curb excessive rate increases has won no business support.

If the free-market ideologues win the current battle in the California Legislature, it will be injured workers and their families who suffer the consequences.

TOM RANKIN
President, California Labor
Federation, A.F.L.-C.I.O.
Sacramento, June 25, 2003

The Weekly Toll

Utility Worker Electrocuted During Maintenance Check

ROCHESUER - Glen A. Hopkins, 41, was electrocuted while performing an annual maintenance check on a high-voltage electrical unit at the Turnkey Landfill on Thursday morning.

Portsmouth man dies from construction accident

YORK, Maine - William Frommer, 49, injured in a construction accident at a local residence died Thursday night at Maine Medical Center. He had been in critical condition after he was pinned beneath collapsed roof rafters 10 days earlier.

Mail carrier shot to death in Ingram

A U.S. postal carrier, Clayton J. Smith, 45, was shot and killed yesterday afternoon as he stood next to his postal van in a shady spot in the Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center, apparently taking a midday break from the heat.

WTC Site Worker Killed
Death in accident is first since 9/11


Hugo Martinez, 36, became the first worker in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site to die on the job when he was crushed while painting part of a commuter rail station, authorities said.

Martinez was being carried in a construction lift about 20 feet off the ground when he was crushed. He was found dead yesterday morning by other workers.

Construction worker dies in forklift accident

TIGARD -- Noel Lira Sanchez, 32, was killed in a forklift accident at a Bull Mountain home construction site early Monday.

A forklift crane lifting a heavy pallet of lumber and construction products fell forward and hit him.

Worker killed at Rock Hill chemical plant

Emerson Sturgil, a 70-year-old Fountain Inn man was killed early Saturday after authorities say he was struck by a 7-foot-tall metal tank that collapsed at a Rock Hill chemical company. More here.

Construction worker dies of injuries

Sean McDonough, 28, who was pinned under a 300-ton construction crane for more than half an hour Thursday afternoon died yesterday.

OSHA looking into death at truss plant

TAVARES -- The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration is investigating the death of a 21-year-old Mascotte man who died last week while operating machinery at a Tavares truss plant, authorities said.

Carlos Reyes died Thursday around 11:30 a.m. after getting stuck under a roof-fabrication press at Casmin Inc.'s Tavares plant, according to reports.

Bizarre accident kills construction worker

TIGARD - One man is dead after an accident at a home construction project in Tigard(OR) .

Noe Lira Sanchez was inside the house climbing up a ladder to the roof. At the same time Sanchez was on the ladder, a forklift driver was positioning a pallet of 2-by-6s on the roof.

The heavy load, weighing approximately 3,600 pounds, caused the forklift to become unbalanced. Its back tires came off the ground, and the load shifted forward, pinning Sanchez against the building.

The forklift shifted again, and Sanchez fell 10 to 12 feet to the floor.

Who's to Blame?

Female Corrections Officer Killed

Darla Kay Lathrem, a 38-year-old rookie corrections officer, was
beaten to death
with a sledgehammer June 11 by escaping inmates while supervising five male inmates as they worked on dormitory renovations at Charlotte Correctional Institution in Florida.

In an example of profound insight, Governor Jeb Bush stated that "If anyone thinks being a correctional officer is easy work, sadly that's not the case." Nope. Dangerous places. Shit happens. Too bad.

The Governor asked the people not to blame the legislature (or its budget cuts), and presumably not to blame the Governor either. But that wasn't good enough for the Gainesville Sun
And don't go pointing fingers at the $45 million in Department of Corrections budget cuts contained in the new, not-yet-signed state budget. After all, those cuts haven't even kicked in yet.

But what about the cuts already made?

Over the past three years, the Bush administration, in the name of efficiency and to help finance politically popular tax cuts, has reportedly eliminated 1,292 correctional positions. State prisons no longer even keep guards posted in the towers because they are deemed superfluous.

Over that same period, while Bush and the Legislature were "getting tough on crime" by ratcheting up penalties, the state's inmate population increased by 2,320 inmates.
Correctional facilites can probably never be termed totally "safe," but there are always measures that can be taken to make conditions safer: better staffing, "man down" alarms, improved emergency procedures. Much of that takes funding. And if the funding isn't there, there is someone to blame.
We do blame Bush and we do blame the Legislature for making the corrections business more dangerous than ever. These days, the rallying cry in Tallahassee ought to be: Billions for tax cuts, but pennies for public safety.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Workers are From Mars, Environmentalists are From Venus?

Solution: Just Transition

The alleged conflict between people who are tired of polluted air and water and people who need to work for a living -- especially in the energy producing industry -- is as old as the conflict between dogs and cats. And as unnecessary. Do environmentalists and unions need to be on opposing sides fighting over drilling in Alaska, global warming and automobile fuel efficiency standards?

Not necessarily, argues Jim Young in an article about the Just Transition movement in the Sierra Club magazine.

Just Transition "advocates financial support, health care, and retraining for employees displaced by environmental regulation, and would be funded by a tax on pollution." And how does that work?
One recent transition proposal calls for two years of full, unconditional wage replacement and up to four years of full-time training or educational benefits, stipends for another two years for those who remain in training, health insurance, and retirement contributions. The proposal estimates its cost would average $122,000 per worker, or about 150 percent of the average amount lost by a dislocated worker. The tax–on fossil-fuel production and energy-intensive manufacturing–plus a small surcharge on nuclear and hydroelectric power, would be phased in over a five-year period, increasing to $50 per ton of carbon emitted, roughly equal to 13 cents per gallon of gasoline.
Costly? Perhaps, but why should workers be the only ones to pay (with their jobs) for a clean environment that benefits everyone?
It's supported by the Blue/Green Working Group, which includes the United Steelworkers of America, District 11; the Service Employees International Union; and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE!). It is led on the environmental side by the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
It won't be easy, but ultimately, it's the only way we will protect the environment, workers' livelihoods AND put workers and environmentalists on the same side where they belong.





Thursday, June 26, 2003

Keep The Stolen Loot, Just Try Not To Let It Happen Again

That apparently is what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is telling the nation's largest power companies as they "today rejected a request by California to invalidate more than $12 billion in energy contracts signed at the height of the state's electricity crisis, even though they have determined that widespread manipulation helped drive prices higher. "

The reasoning?
The two commissioners who voted to sustain the contracts, Patrick Wood III and Nora Brownell, both appointees of President Bush, said the state had failed to meet a high standard of proof that would allow for such drastic action.

Mr. Wood said that voiding the contracts was not in the public interest and noted that California officials had said at the time the contracts were signed that they were good deals for the state.
Yeah, well if someone had a knife to my throat, saying "Your money or your life," I'd probably consider it a very "good deal" to give him my wallet. But that doesn't mean that the thief doesn't have to give it back when he's caught.

In addition, the Commission
found that while manipulation helped drive prices higher, the root cause of the crisis was the state's deeply flawed deregulation plan and a severe shortage of electricity. Taken together, the two factors made possible many of the abuses that later occurred, commission officials have said.
So if I accidentally leave my back door open and someone robs me, they don't have to return the loot when they get caught?

I remember when Republicans wanted to be known as the law and order party. That must have been back when they thought the sky would fall if we didn't balance the federal budget.

BACK TO THE YELLOWSTONE AGE

From The Daily Grist

The Bush administration has asked the United Nations to remove Yellowstone National Park from a list of endangered World Heritage sites. "Yellowstone is no longer in danger," wrote the Interior Department's Paul Hoffman in a letter to the World Heritage Committee. There's just one snag: The park staff disagree with Hoffman, saying Yellowstone still faces the kinds of problems -- threats to water quality, bison, and trout populations, among others -- that put it on the endangered list in the first place, back in 1995. But in its recent report to the U.N. committee, the Bush administration diluted or deleted those problems, in a move critics say is emblematic of White House efforts to water down, sugarcoat, or deny environmental problems across the board. "Tinkering with scientific information, either striking it from reports or altering it, is becoming a pattern of behavior," said former National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy.

Chemical Industry Steps Up To the Plate...And Strikes Out

The most effective weapon of mass destruction ever used in the United States was the commercial airliner, with the assistance of a few boxcutters. One way to effectively address that threat would have been to eliminate the source: ban airplanes from the skies. But that probably would have generated some public opposition, So the next best action was to heighten security at the gate (more guns, better inspections, etc.) so that no passenger has the means to hijack a plane.

With chemical plants, however, where the "right" accident could kill many more people than died on 9/11, the situation is different. On one had we can't eliminate chemical plants. But on the other hand, we can (unlike air travel) eliminate much of that hazard at its source by replacing highly hazardous chemicals or processes with less hazardous chemicals or processes, or by storing smaller quantities of hazardous chemicals on site. These and other measures form the basis of what is known as "inherently safer" production. One advantage of this method is that it not only minimizes the effectiveness of any terrorist incident. A bigger advantage is that it also minimizes the existing day-to-day threat of catastrophic chemical plant accidents that may be caused by management system errors or equipment failure.

So it was rather disconcerting to read about a recent chemical plant security summit attended by the largest chemical manufacturers and associations.
Throughout the day, industry leaders agreed, conceding that many of their largest and most dangerous facilities still lack armed guards, perimeter fencing or even nighttime patrols.

But they also insist they have upgraded protections for their workers and neighbors. Dozens of companies told about adding lights, barbed wire, hiring round-the-clock guards and, in a few instances, even substituting less-dangerous chemicals for toxic chemicals.(emphasis added)
Note what is listed last (and probably least) It's not that the attendees don't understand the threat from terrorism. The problem is that they seem to ignore the fact that the hazardous chemicals and unsafe conditions at many of these plants present the same level of threat to U.S. citizens as exists after 9/11 and will continue to exist even if Al Qaeda and their brethren are eliminated. Accidents happen, and as long as the potential is there, we are all at risk. Bhopal, remember, was not a result of terrorism.
An unprecedented national Chemical Security Summit in Philadelphia wrapped up Thursday, with federal counterterrorism experts and corporate executives insisting that, while much has been done to improve security, more must be done, quickly, to protect citizens from terrorists seeking to turn chemical tanks into the "poor man's atomic bomb."

"You've heard about sarin and other chemical weapons in the news. But it's far easier to attack a rail car full of toxic industrial chemicals than it is to compromise the security of a military base and obtain these materials," said FBI Special Agent Troy Morgan, a weapons-of-mass-destruction specialist who spoke at the summit.

Corporate and government leaders worry that terrorist cells could unleash toxins on a major American city -- a disaster that could rival the Bhopal, India, industrial accident that killed more than 20,000 in 1984.

The chief culprits stalling faster reforms, executives and federal counterterrorism experts agree, are a corporate culture that embraces slow, incremental changes rather than sweeping innovations, and an economic downturn that's left little cash for security.
But nothing is likely to be done about the concept of inherently safer production if the American Chemical Council has its way:
The ACC represents the interests of the nation's largest chemical manufacturers on Capitol Hill. In October, it spearheaded a successful drive to crush the Chemical Security Act, a bill that would have federalized securing at nearly 13,000 sites nationwide. Key to the bill was a measure forcing major manufacturers to shift production to "inherently safer" materials and technologies. Without federal legislation, chemical security is being addressed by the new Department of Homeland Security.
I've written previously here, here and here about the legislative battles -- Jon Corzine's bill (S. 157) which requires the chemical industry to consider inherently safer technologies vs. Senator James Inhofe's (D-OK) bill which pretty much leaves it up to voluntary efforts by the chemical industry, its slow corporate culture and the economic downturn.

Congress will soon be bringing up the issue again. Unfortunately, given who is in control and has the largest lobbying budget, the prospects for Corzine's bill are not good -- unless the public decides that eliminating the potential for a "poor man's atomic bomb" at the source will make them feel more secure than more armed guards and higher barbed-wire fences. And then making their opinions known to their Congressional representatives.



Wednesday, June 25, 2003

CSB Releases Nitrogen Hazard Bulletin

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released a new safety bulletin that presents a series of good safety practices to prevent nitrogen-related incidents. Asphyxiations, many of which occurred in confined spaces, cause 80 fatalities in the U.S. over the last decade. In addition to the full safety bulletin, the CSB has developed a one-page safety brochure and a downloadable Powerpoint® presentation on nitrogen hazards.
As part of this project, the CSB reviewed a number of nitrogen asphyxiation incidents that have occurred in the past decade. Findings from this study included the following:

  • 85 incidents occurred in the past decade that resulted in an average of 8 deaths and 5 injuries each year;

  • Causes of the incidents included personnel not knowing they were entering an oxygen-depleted environment or not realizing that the environment had changed, and also mistaking nitrogen gas for breathing air;

  • Incidents occurred in a variety of settings including chemical plants, food processing and storage facilities, laboratories, and medical facilities;

  • Almost half the incidents and over 60% of the fatalities involved contractors, including construction workers;

  • A number of deaths were caused by personnel attempting rescue without proper training and equipment.

Daubert, Junk Science and Polluters

Back when I was at OSHA working on ergonomics, the biggest argument we had with opponents of the regulation were allegations by the business associations and conservative Republicans that ergonomics was based on “junk science.” The argument was put most forcefully by soon-to-be Labor Department Solicitor Eugene Scalia who claimed in an article that OSHA was violating the “Daubert Decision.”

Today, a group of experts in the legal and scientific community released a report entitled "Daubert: The Most Influential Supreme Court Ruling You've Never Heard Of" (Full Report here.)

Daubert was originally intended to assist judges in determining what evidence could be admitted into a trial. But as the authors explain:
The 1993 Daubert ruling directed federal judges to act as "gatekeepers" in the courtroom, using a standard that requires expert testimony to be both reliable and relevant before allowing it to be presented to juries. However, over the past 10 years, some judges have misinterpreted and broadened the reach of Daubert. Some have excluded scientific opinions when there is (or appears to be) disagreement among legitimate scientists; while others pick apart each piece of the scientific evidence presented by an expert rather than assessing the evidence as a whole, the way scientists do.
What this means is that when corporate attorneys manage to cloud the science and confuse the judges, the evidence gets labeled as “junk science” and good cases often get dismissed by the judge before they even get to a jury. Victims of toxic chemicals and drugs are the losers.

Or, as in the case of ergonomics, the “junk science” argument is used to obstruct the regulatory process.
One example of how Daubert has kept legitimate science out of the courtroom came from Peter Infante, former director of OSHA’s Office of Standards Review. He was prevented from testifying in Chambers v. Exxon Corp., a lawsuit involving a contractor at an oil refinery in Baton Rouge who was exposed to benzene and then developed chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a rare form of cancer. He was to have testified as the author of a 1977 study that confirmed that benzene caused leukemia and as the author of a later analysis that found a four-fold increase in the risk of developing CML from exposure to benzene.

But the judge excluded his testimony (saying it wasn’t strong enough) and issued a summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Dr. Infante said the judge not only made a factual error – his analysis was the first to show a more than two-fold increase in risk plus statistical significance – he asked for more than anyone else in the field would have required for such a rare disease. Benzene was considered a cause of leukemia, including CML, long before any epidemiological study showed a two-fold increase in risk.

"It seems to me the judge was making a scientific determination when he didn’t have the expertise to do that," Dr. Infante said. “It’s a matter of fairness. A worker wasn’t protected from toxic exposure, from a chemical known to cause a disease. He was damaged by the product, and his case wasn’t allowed to get to a jury.”
So what is to be done about this problem? Beyond "becoming aware," or getting better judges (by getting rid of you-know-who) that's not entirely clear.
On the tenth anniversary of Daubert, the scientific community needs to become
much more aware that an obscure procedural decision intended to provide clarity has instead given rise to a serious social imbalance. It has led to unreasonable legal demands of scientific certainty when considering expert testimony that right otherwise demonstrate harm of individual plaintiffs by defendants, often wealthy and powerful companies. At the same time, inappropriate or inaccurate interpretations of science are becoming embedded in legal precedent. Yet in contrast, Daubert has failed to demand from criminal prosecutors better science in the face of weak forensic methods, resulting in the potential conviction of innocent people. And now, the application of Daubert and Daubert-like challenges threaten to paralyze the systems we use to protect public health and the environment.

One Big Sector

Harold Meyerson ponders how a bunch of low-paid, immigrant, janitors are gaining health care benefits while the rest of America watches their health care benefits fade away or become unaffordable.
If this runs counter to everything you know about power in America, you probably have forgotten about unions. At minimum, you have forgotten about unions that organize so many workers in a single sector that those workers can win some real power over the conditions of their work.
Meyerson lavishes praise on unions like SEIU, UNITE and the Hotel and Restaurant workers who are working hard to organize and maximize bargaining power in their hard-to-organize sectors rather than go for the easy members like public employees (as some unions are doing.)

Meanwhile, In a Parallel Universe, Somewhere in the Midwest....

John Ashcroft and his Washington acolytes may be winning their war against unions terrorism inside the Beltway (See below), but somewhere in the heartland live a whole bunch of union terrorist sympathizers.

In Jefferson, Wisconsin, UFCW Local 538 is on strike against Tysons Foods. But in these allegedly anti-union times, the people of Jefferson are sticking with the union.

  • A gas station owner "gave strikers and their families 328 gallons of milk from the Shell station and convenience store he co-owns on the south side"

  • The Citgo station near the factory gate keeps its bathrooms open for the pickets.

  • Many merchants, including d.b. Puffins restaurant, offer discounts for the strikers.

  • Oak Ridge Golf Course in Milton charges no green fees for the union members on Tuesdays.

  • The Jefferson Jaycees and Capn's Corner catering recently raised $3,500 for the strikers, serving 600 chicken and fish dinners in the rain at the park next to the factory.

  • Local eateries, including Subway, promote that their food is "Tyson-free."

  • Ken's Towne Inn gives pickets leftovers from catering jobs

  • Because of the strike, the credit union is letting its members defer loan payments.
It's like a bygone era, back when "compassion" still meant something:
"These workers have supported me for 21 years in this community," Dave Lorbecki, owner of Dave's Piggly Wiggly says. Sticking up for the workers has brought him more customers, he says, but like at other businesses, his sales are down because those shoppers have less money to spend.

Lorbecki is part of a campaign to keep a Wal-Mart SuperCenter from coming to Jefferson, and he hopes boosterism for the strikers spills over to that cause.

"This really woke people up to what community spirit is all about," Lorbecki says.
What explains all of the support? According to the article,
the strike has provided citizens here with a rallying point through which they can rail against the inevitable encroachment of global capitalism.
"Railing against the encroachment of global capitalism? Solidarity? If there's any more of that out there, can we bottle it and use it in the next presidential election?