I have three pictures side by side in my house: John L. Lewis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jesus. I draw Social Security on account of FDR. I draw a pension on account of John L. Lewis, and I'm going to Heaven because of Jesus.
-- Jack McReynolds, 70, retired miner, West Frankfort, KY
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the inspiring NYCOSH Awards Ceremony that I was lucky enough to attend, and how I was too busy listening to the speeches and talking with people to act like a reporter and carefully record the greatest hits.
Luckily, several of the awardees have provided me with the text of their speeches which I will be reprinting over the next few days or weeks. The first is by SEIU Immigration Campaign coordinator Omar Henriquez. Omar, who worked for NYCOSH before moving to SEIU, was introduced by NYCOSH Director Joel Shufro, whose introduction is also excerpted below.
INTRODUCTION OF OMAR HENRIQUEZ, BY JOEL SHUFRO
[From the day he started at NYCOSH], Omar became a national spokesperson on the issue of immigrant safety and health. He has testified in front of numerous Congressional Hearings – a role in which he continues – having just testified at a hearing on Wednesday held by Congressman Major Owens (who is in the audience tonight) on Workplace Fatalities. Through his extraordinary talent working with press, he has brought public attention to the issue of the health and safety for immigrant workers He has become the “go-to” person on this issue.
Omar played a key role in bringing to public attention the plight of day laborers at the World Trade Center. It was Omar who brought a New York Times reporter down to the site at which day laborers were shaping up which resulted in the newspaper stories revealing that not only were the day laborers being hired to clean up the dust in buildings surrounding Ground Zero without being provided with training or protective equipment – but they were being cheated out of their wages – which resulted in action by New York State’s Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
At the same time, Omar tirelessly met with organizations which provide services to immigrants throughout the city and state urging them to provide training to their staffs and the individuals whom they served about workplace safety and health.
Omar has gone on to work for the Service Employees International Union in the campaign for legalization of immigrant workers, because as he put it to me – it is the pre-condition for organizing immigrant workers in any fight for workplace rights. But he remains a formidable, forceful spokesperson for the rights of immigrant workers –and all workers – for safe and healthful workplaces.
ACCEPTANCE SPEECH OF OMAR HENRIQUEZ
As I stand here before you, humbled by this occasion, faithfully remaining committed to the causes and the work for which we are being recognized, I must say, that although this award is so very special, since its given by you, my peers, I found myself feeling awkward since it is something that I, and I venture to say, all of us that participate in the struggle for social justice, do naturally.
I could not accept this award without recognizing the people that I’ve dedicated my life to defend, the unsung everyday heroes, the ones claimed to be in the shadows, yet toil under the hot sun, the ones claimed to be invisible, though we need and see their work daily, the ones that roar for justice, but are not being heard, the ones who keep the struggle for freedom vibrant, alive and well, my brothers, my sisters, the undocumented immigrant workers that shamefully have no full rights in the United States.
I accept this award on their behalf and will eagerly and anxiously await for the time when we, as the nation of immigrants we profess to be, when we, as a country that claims freedom and justice to be its foundations, when we finally live up to our nation’s creed and recognize the terrible injustices perpetuated against undocumented immigrant workers and award them with their hard earned rights to fully participate in our society.
I am grateful to NYCOSH, for having first trusted in me and then provided me with the tools needed to do our work. And I must tell you Joel, for also letting me share the spotlight with such great and wonderful fellow honoree’s who command so much inspiration, respect and admiration for the work they do, to advance social justice.
And the spotlight I will share, but only by saying that it is an exciting and challenging time not only to be an immigrant and to be living in the United States, but also as Americans. We are facing serious and difficult times. We need to make serious and difficult decisions, but not by undermining the principles that have made America what it is today. We need to protect our nation, but at the same time we need to protect our nation’s most precious resource, our workers. We need to grow but not at the expense of trampling people’s human rights. We need to be strong but not by taking advantage of the weak. We need to secure our present, but without losing our vision for the future. We need to stand together, for divided we are sure to fail.
Lastly, I have been given an extra bonus. I am not only accompanied and supported by my labor family SEIU and you, but also by my dear and lovely family. My first born Erick Izalco as well as my youngest Max Antonio are here to feel and be proud of their immigrant heritage. My wife Alizabeth whose patience, understanding and love I need to survive is here along with a formidable woman Renee her mother and Paul, dear grandpa. It’s been a long journey for an undocumented, illegal alien for El Salvador. The Struggle continues.
Congressman Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) introduced legislation last week that would require OSHA to issue citations within 30 days of an inspection, rather than withing 6 months as currently required by law. It would also double the time that employers have to contest a citation, from 15 days to 30 days.
I'm not exactly sure what brought this about, something about some construction companies having to shut down job sites rather than pay penalties. Last year, Tiahrt held a press conference with a number of construction executives.
Builders told Tiahrt that with better construction equipment and technology, the 30-year-old regulations have become outdated and should be revamped. And the rules should be more reasonable, they said.
And many subcontractors simply are not aware of the reams of regulations, they said.
"You wouldn't know how they are going to interpret it anyway," [longtime Wichita home builder Steve]Robl said.
The builders want to build an alliance with OSHA, he said.
"The real issue of safety is, it should be an education process that we continue to do over a long period of time -- not just show up and start throwing out (thousands of dollars in) fines."
So if this new equipment is so great, why, according to OSHA, were 21.8 percent of all construction fatalities in Kansas from Oct. 1, 1998, to Nov. 11, 2002, in residential construction?
And I always find it interesting when employers claim they can't figure out how to interpret OSHA regulations and they just want there to be an education process, and "alliance" instead of all of these adversarial penalties. Try doing a good search for "construction safety." I come up with more than 5 million hits. If that's not enough information and education and interpretation, these guys need more than a stiff fine.
Anyway, I'm all for Tiahrt's legislation. If OSHA has to hand down citations in 1/6th the time it takes now, they can do six times as many inspections in a year. Or maybe they need six times more staff, which I'm sure Congressman Tiahrt would be happy to request. Congressman Tiahrt, you have the thanks of a grateful nation.
Health and Safety Major Issue of UNITE Organizing Campaign
UNITE, along with Duke Students Against Sweatshops, is attempting to organize Angelika Laundry Services which has the laundry contract for the Duke University Health System. The groups allege Angelica has a history of unsafe working conditions and mistreating its workers and are trying to get the university to pressure the laundry service into recognizing the union.
In a May 26 letter to Duke health system vice President Bill Donelan, UNITE, Duke Students Against Sweatshops, Triangle Jobs with Justice and the Student Employee Relations Committee said a recent investigation by the union found that the linen-handling practices in Angelica's plants did not meet the standards set forth by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
The letter also repeated earlier complaints that Angelica violated Occupational Safety and Health Administration's standards.
The most significant of the complaints included fines for health and safety violations at Angelica's Los Angeles plant dating back to December 2001. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Web site, five of those 19 violations were "serious," including an incident in which an employee's fingers were amputated in a machine.
Duke, however, is refusing to get involved in the campaign, arguing that the issue is between the union and the company.
Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising.
Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate.
Why so negative and so dishonest? He doesn't have anwhere else to go.
Scott Reed, who ran Robert J. Dole's presidential campaign that year, said the Bush campaign has little choice but to deliver a constant stream of such negative charges. With low poll numbers and a volatile situation in Iraq, Bush has more hope of tarnishing Kerry's image than promoting his own.
"The Bush campaign is faced with the hard, true fact that they have to keep their boot on his neck and define him on their terms," Reed said. That might risk alienating some moderate voters or depressing turnout, "but they don't have a choice," he said.
Now, most of the country isn't going to be reading this article and won't realize they're being fed a steady stream of lies.
So your mission is to clip, send or e-mail this article far and wide.
Hazardous Technique Used For Years to Remove Asbestos
This is a truly amazing story about the blatant endangerment of peoples' health in violation of Environmental Protection Agency policy, but directly sanctioned by Bush EPA officials. Amazing, but perhaps not surprising or unbelievable after the irresponsible neglect of the safety and health of the public and of workers over the past three years of the Bush administration.
First, a little background. Asbestos exposure causes cancer. Tens of thousands of workers are still dying every year from asbestos exposures they received decades ago and the U.S. Congress has spent most of the past year trying and failing to develop a program for compensating victims of asbestos exposure.
Because of its toxicity, it has to be carefully removed. OSHA regulates worker exposure to asbestos during removal operations, and EPA regulates removal to prevent community contamination. EPA regulations state that before a building that contains asbestos is torn down, all of the asbestos must be safely removed. Needless to say, it can be rather expensive to do it safely. Such is life.
This sordid story began with an article in the NY Times last week about a controversial request from the city of Fort Worth, Texas to demolish the Cowtown Inn, and abandoned dilapidated hotel, using the "wet method." Instead of using the more costly method of removing the asbestos before tearing down the building, the "wet method" involves soaking the building with water, then tearing it down with bulldozers and cranes, under the theory that wet asbestos won't become airborne. The city maintains that the wet method is just as safe as asbestos removal and wants to use the demolition fo the Inn as an experiment to show the safety of the method that could then be used for additional demolitions. EPA has in the past occasionally permitted the wet method to be used if the building is in danger of collapse, for example after an earthquake, but had not yet made a final decision whether to approve the Forth Worth "experiment" or not, but it doesn't look likely.
Travel with me now to the city of St. Louis, Missouri which is faced with tearing down hundreds of asbestos-containing houses and other buildings in order to expand its airport. It turns out, according to a story yesterday in the St. Louis Dispatch by Andrew Schneider, that the city hadn't waited for the experiment to receive approval. (You may recall that Schneider has a history of revealing asbestos-related tragedies across the country over the past several years.)
Instead of using the legal, safe, but more costly method of removing the asbestos before tearing down buildings, the city had been using the illegal, unapproved wet method for over three years to tear down hundreds of buildings.
Just one or two problems. First, there's no evidence that the wet method is actually safe::
The EPA said the wet theory has never been fully tested for safety or effectiveness in controlling the release of asbestos.
....One short series of tests on the wet method was found in EPA files. In 1994, the agency released a study on demolition done after the earthquake that damaged much of Santa Cruz and Watsonville, Calif. The researchers reported finding "significant elevations of downwind asbestos concentrations" where the water method was used on buildings with asbestos.
EPA asbestos experts, asked by their agency earlier this year to review the safety of the wet method, denounced going forward without extensive testing. Their report emphasizes what is well-known about asbestos: that the chance of exposure is remote while the material is wet; that when the debris from the runoff dries, fibers can be carried by the wind, even a gentle breeze, for long distances, thus endangering those working on the project site or living far from the demolition site.
The second problem is that it's illegal...or at least it was until the city wrote to Missouri Senator Kit Bond who complained to EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman that the regional office has ordered the city to stop using the wet method. Bond wrote
"There have been no reports of any negative health impacts related to this activity."
The senator ended his letter to Whitman with: "I hope this uncooperative attitude will not continue."
This comment about the health impact infuriated EPA health experts, who said it is common knowledge that asbestos, lung cancer and the quick-killing mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure don't become obvious for 15 to 20 years or more.
The Kansas City EPA office objected. The office:
reminded headquarters that nothing in any of agency's laws or regulations allow wet removal as an alternative.
"Because there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure, there is no standard against which to assess risk presented by an alternative method," the briefing document said.
Despite the absurdity of Bond's statement and the objections of EPA staff,
Seven weeks after receiving Bond's letter, Whitman told him that the EPA and the airport authority had reached an agreement and that work had resumed. The wet method could be used.
Why did EPA permit this drastic change to its near-sacred asbestos regulations?
"We received a congressional (inquiry). We checked into more facts and as a result came up with this solution," .
Martha Steincamp, the top lawyer in agency's regional office in Kansas City said. And on what factors did EPA base this exemption? Proof that the method was safe perhaps? Not quite.
"The airport had already gone through the bidding process and signed their contracts. We were told they had already done a number of homes and had more homes to do," she added.
Steincamp also maintains that there is no problem because no one lives in the area where the demolition is taking place, a contention disputed by Schneider who observed that "Five other houses on the street were still occupied as the demolition continued.
Not everyone is convinced about the safety of this procedures.
"St. Louis has been flouting the law for years; and the EPA is not only refusing to prosecute their past environmental crimes, but by giving them an extension, has promised a get-out-of-jail-free card for future crimes," said Jim Hecker of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
"This lawlessness threatens the health and safety of demolition workers and nearby residents," said Hecker, environmental enforcement director for the public-interest law firm that monitors government agencies for environmental transgressions.
Eric Schaeffer, the EPA's former top enforcer, called the extension "a disaster."
"You can't have EPA professionals and experts saying it's a really bad thing and then have the agency's managers just shrugging and saying, 'Oh, well, what could we do, they'd already started.' That's not an answer."
Read the whole article. It's all worse and more absurd than I can even summarize here. Bottom line, as usual, is that we need to get some people running our government who actually care about the health of American citizens.
Dr. Richard Lemen, former deputy director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said: "This untested method could unnecessarily expose citizens and workers to hazardous concentrations of asbestos.
"Why would EPA grant an extension in St. Louis and say it's too dangerous in Fort Worth? That is not only inconsistent but it's unconscionable."
Oakland Garment Workers Spark an Ergonomics Revolution
This is a wonderful story about a group of garment workers and teenage girls tired of seeing their seamstress mothers suffer, who joined with a team of medical professionals, ergonomics experts, state health officials and product designers to bring customized ergonomic chairs to Oakland garment factories.
For nearly a decade, Kwei Fong Lin tolerated numbness in her forearms. Like a great many Chinese immigrants who work in this city's cramped and poorly equipped garment factories, her neck and back ached from long days spent hunched over a sewing machine while perched on rickety folding chairs, stools or even crates.
"We just took the pain as it came," the 52-year-old Hong Kong native said in Cantonese.
But an unlikely revolution has taken root here. Today, dozens of women work in relative comfort while seated on customized ergonomic chairs. Simple table extensions relieve their tired shoulders. Wooden footrests keep their legs from dangling. Padded sleeves cushion the metal rods they must press hundreds of times a day with their knees to clamp and release fabric.
A city grant will soon bring the ergonomic equipment to other garment shops that dot Oakland's Chinatown and other commercial strips. And the project has spawned a much larger study now underway in Los Angeles County — the heart of California's rag trade.
Never have so many people written so much to be read by so few.
Ever wonder what the glamorous life of the blogger must be like? Well, behind the fame, wealth and beautiful women that one usually associates with us big-time bloggers, the New York Times reveals a private, darker side.
Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.
"It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.
In fact, for some, blogging can become an addiction:
Where some frequent bloggers might label themselves merely ardent, Mr. Pierce is more realistic. "I wouldn't call it dedicated, I would call it a problem," he said. "If this were beer, I'd be an alcoholic."
Mr. Pierce, who lives in Hollywood and works as a scheduler in the entertainment industry, said blogging began to feel like an addiction when he noticed that he would rather be with his computer than with his girlfriend.
But not me. No sir. I don't have a problem. I can stop any time. Really. Whenever I want. I just don't choose to stop right now. But I could if I wanted to.
Bowing to pressure from millions (take or leave)of concerned Confined Space readers, OSHA is once again running its Inspections Data database 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This database is one of the most useful parts of the OSHA web site. You can look up citations by employer, by SIC (industry) code, and citation number. You can find out what the most cited violations in any given industry sector, you can look up accident investigations and even General Duty Clause citations.
But I wouldn't go away. No, I wouldn't back down. So they've surrendered and put the page back on line, 24 hours a day. And to make up for the pain and suffering they've caused me and countless other working types who are not able to do research between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., they have significantly improved the site. It's faster and you can now sort reports on several different fields.
Good work guys.
Now about those standards....
Bizarre Footnote: I'm not sure what this is about, but at the same time they put the Inspection Data page back on line, they headline this statement on their webpage:
OSHA Web Site - There When You Need It
To illustrate the reliability and availability of the OSHA Public Web Site, the site has been available continuously for the past year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with only a brief 19 minute break in service on May 14. Over the past two years the OSHA Public Web Site has been available more than 99.99% of the time. On average, the site receives more than 4 million visitors and 50 million hits per month.
So what is this all about? I assume they're distinguishing their "public" web site from the Inspection Data website that was closed down 14 hours a day for almost 4 months. But what point are they trying to make? Are they just being a wee bit thin skinned and defensive about my withering criticism 4 months ago or was this intended to be the announcement that they were re-launching the Inspection Data page, but web gremlins hijacked it and turned it into gibberish?
And what was going on during those 19 minutes on May 14?
UAW and AAOHN Letters to CDC Director Julie Gerberding Regarding NIOSH Reorganization
Below are letters from UAW Health and Safety Director Frank Mirer and American Association of Occupational Health Nurses President Susan Randolf expressing concern about the NIOSH reorganization discussed earlier this week.
May 25, 2004
Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, Director
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road, NE
Building 1, Room 3053, MS-D30
Atlanta, GA 30333
Re: Fate of NIOSH in the reorganization of CDC
Dear Dr. Gerberding:
I write to express the concerns of the UAW with the impact on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the impending reorganization of CDC. The announced plan appears to downgrade NIOSH from a Center directly reporting to the Director of CDC, to a unit reporting to you through a new layer of management.
NIOSH plays a critical role in the health of the nation. Working Americans spend upwards of 40% of their waking hours at work. The working environment is a locus of many unique exposures to health and safety hazards, as well as a potential arena for many prevention programs. The working environment is not the primary mission of the traditional stakeholders in CDC, such as state and local health departments, or health care institutions.
The UAW has long been an active partner with NIOSH in matters of occupational health research. We, and others in the occupational health community had limited input into the CDC reorganization discussion, and were unaware any decision so substantially impacting NIOSH was under consideration. This may be because efforts to elicit stakeholder input were more directed toward the "traditional" stakeholders. To our knowledge, this plan never arose in public meetings.
We don't understand the value of inserting a new layer of management, placing NIOSH a level down. Our dialogue should start with a statement of what problem regarding NIOSH the reorganization is intended to solve.
NIOSH is by statute a sister and equal agency to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Each of these is led by an Assistant Secretary of Labor. The placement of NIOSH within the CDC is an administrative choice by HHS. The further reduced level of NIOSH in the CDC will reduce the influence of public health science in the agendas of these agencies, and in consideration by Congress.
We are concerned that NIOSH is placed under group/cluster with environmental focus. Historically, this combination has lead to neglect of the occupational environment. We are concerned that reduced status will lead to reduced importance of the occupational environment, and possibly reduced funding. NIOSH funding is usually decided by Congress in conjunction with that for OSHA and MSHA. Each year the occupational health community has gone to Congress just to keep funding flat, sometimes in the face of proposed reductions.
The National Occupational Research Agenda has been an excellent example of business-labor-academic partnership. This process and the reduced position of NIOSH will discourage partnerships.
For these reasons, the UAW urges that the announced new organizational structure relative to NIOSH be rescinded.
Franklin E. Mirer, Ph.D.
Director * Health and Safety Department
International Union, UAW
Dear Dr. Gerberding:
On behalf of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc. (AAOHN), we are extremely concerned about the proposed reorganization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the negative impact it would have on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health(NIOSH). Our specific concerns are:
1. Lack of awareness that the reorganization would affect NIOSH.
While AAOHN provided comments about the reorganization and proposed
prototypes, we were not aware that the reorganization would affect NIOSH butrather just the programs and services within the CDC. From the materials we reviewed about the CDC's Futures Initiative, nothing was mentioned about independent institutes, such as NIOSH, within CDC. Because the reorganization affects the placement of NIOSH within the CDC structure, opportunity for input by key stakeholders would have been essential. Had AAOHN been aware of this, our comments would have been much different.
2. Lack of visibility of NIOSH.
By placing NIOSH into the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health, Injury Prevention, and Occupational Health, NIOSH is moved down one level within the CDC structure and thus loses its identity as an independently created entity by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. As a result, the Director of NIOSH would report to the head of the Coordinating Center and not the Director of CDC. This has implications on input to decision makers on key policy initiatives and funding. The budgetary implications of this move are unknown. Each year key NIOSH stakeholders have gone to Congress to advocate for same level of funding. The reorganization will not assist in this effort; in fact, it would be inappropriate for NIOSH to go directly to Congress.
3. Decrease of importance of occupational safety and health.
This reorganization significantly weakens and diminishes the importance of occupational safety and health. It is not clear to us why NIOSH would be placed in the cluster with environmental health and injury prevention.
NIOSH was created as the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. It should not be watered down under an environmental sub-group.
Additionally, NIOSH and over 500 business, labor, and academic partners created the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) in 1996. The reorganization will discourage partnerships and the lower level of NIOSH in the CDC structure will inhibit participation. NORA has been effective in translating occupational health research into practice.
AAOHN requests that the reorganization of the CDC be placed "on hold" until input from NIOSH stakeholders has been received and evaluated. We also look forward to participating on a conference call later this week with other members of NIOSH stakeholders who are equally concerned about the recent CDC reorganization. We want to better understand your decision and rationale for this move while sharing our concerns about its ramifications on safety and health of US workers.
Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN
I promised last night to write more this evening about the Special Interest Takeover press conference and report. Well, who do you think I am, your mother? Read the damn thing yourselves. Sheesh!
OK, ok, a few observations.
The theme of the report is encapsulated in the subtitle: "The Bush Administration and the Dismantling of Public Safeguards." It's a meticulously documented, in-depth review of the attacks by corporate America and the Bush administration on the workplace, environmental, food safety and other protections that Americans have come to expect, and take for granted.
With regard to workplace safety, the report notes the rollbacks of worker protections, such as the ergonomics standard, as well as the 21 other planned regulations dropped off the regulatory agenda, including the tuberculosis standard that was on the verge of issuance. It discusses the failure of OSHA to develop any new regulations to fill existing gaps -- areas such as silica and chemical reactive hazards. It discusses the lack of resources available to OSHA to effectively enforce the law.
More broadly, the report reviews the administration's increasing restrictions on the public's access to information, and industry's growing control of the science that underpins government protections.
The Press Conference
The highlight of the press conference was a panel consisting almost entirely of government whistleblowers, long-time career employees who had resigned -- from OSHA, EPA, Interior -- in frustration and disgust. Almost all were non-political career employees who had served in every government since the Reagan administration or before, and all told of how this administration was far worse than Reagan or Bush I. Even during the dark days of James Watt, Thorne Auchter and Anne Gorsuch Burford, the politicals would at least discuss policy with the career staff before making their (generally wrong) decisions. In this administration, however, the political appointees simply decide what must be done (after consulting with business associations and industry associations) and simply pass the orders along to the career staff to implement.'
One panelist described the different scientific criteria needed for regulations that needed to be rolled back, versus those under consideration for strengthening. Safeguards are rolled back based on "faith-based science" -- the background justification is filled with paragraphs that begin with the words "we believe...," but devoid of actual data or analysis.
On the other hand, there is no amount of science in existence that could ever justify strengthening a regulation. More study, over many decades, is needed to achieve the "sound science" needed to justify any stronger safeguards, even for hazards that we know a lot about, like mercury.
But don't take my word for it, you can see the press conference here. Do it. It will be time well spent.
Huh? What press coverage? The "trade press" was there, but I saw nothing in any newspaper today.
What Does It All Mean?
The lack of press coverage may be indicative of the fact that with Iraq and the economy dominating the news cycles and election debate, these issues may not be top election issues this year -- at least as far as the press is concerned.
Nevertheless, Americans -- even those of a more conservative persuasion -- have a certain well-founded distaste for pollution of their drinking water and fishing streams, poisoning their children, fouling their air and killing their husbands and wives and children and parents in the workplace. As long as the stories we tell are of real people experiencing real suffering, and as long as we put the blame where it belongs: on corporate abuse and neglect, and on the rolling back of safeguards and enforcement by this administration, we can win this debate -- and perhaps make it an election issue.
Unfortunately, the Republicans and business associations have been extremely effective over the past decade in making the debate not about people, but about big versus small government, and about Democrats, environmentalists and worker advocates being anti-business. Even more unfortunately, some Democrats have fallen for these arguments. Six Democrats voted for the repeal of the ergonomics standard in 2001.
But as E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in the June issue of the American Prospect (article not linked, go buy it), "the big versus small government argument miscasts what's at stake. There is nothing wrong with favoring a strong and active government that operates within limits. You might even say that this is the American way."
As far as being anti-business, Dionne points out that business has generally fared better under Democrats than Republicans. It's just that Democrats, environmentalists, labor, and consumer activists want business not to cheat and mistreat people while it prospers.
Ultimately, Dionne concludes, government is here to stay. "The real question before voters is whom will the government serve." What this report proves, based on this administration's record over the past three and a half years, is that the Bush administration is turning out government into a tool that serves corporate America at the expense of citizens who still believe they have a right to a safe workplace, clean air and water, and safe food.
For people who are looking for information about what's happened to our safeguards, or for the press who one day might wake up to the fact that people are interested in what's happening in their workplaces and backyards, this publication will be an invaluable resource.
OSHA has announced $5.2 million in safety and health "training" grants.
While $1.2 million are dedicated to OSHA's traditional worker training grants (recipient uses grant money to develop training materials and train workers), $4 million will be awarded to develop training materials.
$4 million for training materials. Does this figure ring a bell? Yes, this is the launch of OSHA's brave new "training" world. You may recall that the Bush administration has attempted to cut the $11.1 million Harwood training grant program -- where workers receive training from actual trainers --to a $4 million training materials program, based on the assumption that it is more effective for workers to train themselves on the computer after work than to receive live, interactive training on work time.
As Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw dissembled said about the cuts in a recent interview:
"I would not use the word "'cutting,'" Henshaw said referring to the proposed $6 million decrease in the training grant program. "We do not feel the training program should be based on one-on-one training. We are developing materials and technology to get information out to more people."
Back in the days when we expected the federal government to follow the letter and the spirit of the law, health and safety training was done on worktime, with live trainers who could actually answer questions and engage the workers in learning instead of sticking them in front of a computer or expecting them to take a CD home with them.
It's the "neutron bomb" theory of training -- worker training without the workers.
An effective training program allows employees to participate in the training process and to practice their skills or knowledge. This will help to ensure that they are learning the required knowledge or skills and permit correction if necessary. Employees can become involved in the training process by participating in discussions, asking questions, contributing their knowledge and expertise, learning through hands-on experiences, and through role-playing exercises.
Truly effective training is about how to change the conditions in the workplace so that unsafe conditions are recognized and eliminated or controlled. And even if training information is accurate and understood, it isn't too useful for workers who have little knowledge of OSHA and little understanding of their rights.
I've been in the training "business" for a long time, and I haven't met one training expert who has argued that computer -- or even book -- training is superior to interactive training with an instructor who can engage the students, discuss the issues and answer questions.
OSHA has previously funded training materials as a tool to provide effective training. This program is fundamentally different, as described in the Federal Register notice:
While limited on-site training may be proposed for evaluation and validation purposes, the conduct of training programs should not be a significant workplan element in the grant proposal. The training materials are to be developed in portable formats that are suitable for hard-copy publication and distribution and Internet publication and distribution.
As always, OSHA will review the materials for technical accuracy. Otherwise, "success will be based solely on how many copies are distributed or downloaded from the internet.
Grantees developing training materials under the OSHA Training Materials Development grant category will be required to post the training materials on their organization's Web site for two years after receiving OSHA approval of their final products, and provide access to users at no cost....In addition, these grantees will also be required to track and report quarterly to OSHA on the distribution and use of these training materials during the two years the materials are posted on their Web site. Grantees will collect and report on training materials product usage by tracking the number of times the grantee's training materials Web site was visited, and the number of times the training materials were downloaded.
No interest in measuring who is actually using the material (as opposed to just downloading it), how it is being used, or whether it is effecting beneficial change in the workplace. Just the numbers please.
One of the main targets of this program is Hispanic workers. This is a good thing given their high fatality rates, but this is just about the last group of workers who you'd expect to run home after work to fire up their computers and learn their safety lessons.
The only thing I can figure is that the Bush administration must be getting its training advisors in the same joint it gets its "sound science" advisors.
The tragedy here is that while OSHA attempts to cut funding for its worker training program, and then confine what little is left to "materials development," it continues to increase resources devoted to its employer focused voluntary programs.
As I've said before (ad nauseum), unless we have a regime change next Fall, we've probably seen the last of OSHA's worker oriented programs. All that we'll have left is a pat-ourselves-on-the-back, safety-pays, good-old-boys club -- no dirty worker types allowed.
UPDATE: On further reflection, I see a silver lining to these training materials-only grants.
Back in the old days, when you actually had to train real people, you may have found yourself in trouble if, at the end of a quarter, you hadn't trained as many people as you had promised. Nothing to do but develop a good excuse and promise to do better next quarter.
With the new training material grants, you have another option. Say you're approaching the end of the quarter and your new web publication has only received 5 hits, but you had promised 30,000. Just get a bunch of your staff to sit around and open up the document 29,995 times over the next couple of days. Goal met.
Hmmm. Those Republicans are smarter than I thought.
The indictment charges that senior McWane managers, including Charles Robison, the corporation's vice president for environmental affairs, conspired to dump huge quantities of polluted wastewater into a creek that runs through McWane's oldest foundry, the McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company, on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham.
According to the indictment, the defendants conspired over several years to routinely dump thousands of gallons of polluted wastewater generated daily by the foundry. They then repeatedly lied to environmental regulators to cover up the violations, the indictment states.
McWane was indicted last December in New Jersey for conspiring to violate workplace safety and environmental laws, as well as "obstructing government investigations by lying, intimidating workers and altering accident scenes."
Great press conference today to release a report on how corporate America has rolled back and stalled workplace, environmental and consumer protections, politicized science and is implementing measures to keep the public in the dark.
Unfortunately, my kids' school sports awards night was tonight and I was the organizer, so I'll write more about his tomorrow. (Yes, contrary to popular opinion, I actually do have a life.)
I have a friend in Massachusetts who found this left on the computer from a friend of his daughter.
Hi. My name is Tina Cheepleighbor. I started my new job yesterday as a life guard. A bunch of us kids have gotten jobs during the last few weeks, trying to make enough money for college next year.
Before we started, our principal, Mr. Johnson showed us this neat new webpage -- the OSHA TeenWorkers web site -- and told us to check it before we go to work every day so that we can find out how to stay healthy and safe at work. He said our motto should be "OSHA, never leave home without it!"
I like being a lifeguard and watching out for the kids. And it's not too hard and doesn't seem too dangerous. The OSHA site warns against drowning (hello?) and sunburn (well duh!) as well as parasites caused by fecal accidents or diarrhea in the pool (yecch!).
The only problem I had the first day was when my boss, Joey (he'd be cute except for his beer belly) told us to go mix some chemicals to put in the pool. They made my throat hurt and eyes burn, but he said don't worry, it will go away. He was right. I feel fine now. Except that my hands are all dried out and I have this funny taste in my mouth. Maybe I should see if they have any gloves tomorrow.
Then he told us we couldn't go home until we collected all the twigs and sticks that fell off the trees during the storm the other night and tossed them into the mulcher.
That made me a bit nervous because I just read about a kid who fell into a mulcher and died. Bummer.
Before work I stopped in at the TeenWorkers web site again. I couldn't find anything about swimming pool chemicals. Oops, here it is. (My ritalin must be wearing off) I'm also trying to find something about that mulcher. The Parks and Recreation page only has stuff about clean drinking water and parasites (what is it with these people and fecal contamination anyway?) and boating safety. I did finally find something about not being allowed to work with saws and power tools.
Hmm, I wonder what to do when I find out they're making me do something I shouldn't be doing? It took me the longest time to find out, but finally, way, way way down at the bottom of the For Teen Workers page I found a link to "Do You Know Your Rights?"
It says that I should talk to my employer about any safety problems I might have and if he doesn't do something I can just call OSHA or refuse to do the work.
And I surfed around a little more and found a neat California website from the Labor Occupational Health Program in Berkeley that says I even have the right to join a union!
I can hardly wait to get to work tomorrow and talk to Joey.
Better get to bed. It's storming out there. Probably have more mulching to do tomorrow. And it's taken me so long to find stuff on this web page that my wrists are starting to hurt. I wonder what that's all about?
Monday (Memorial Day)
Got to work early today. Sure enough, Joey told us to go gather the fallen branches from the storm and throw them into the mulcher.
I showed him the stuff I downloaded last night about how we weren't supposed to be doing that kind of stuff. He said those were just dumb government rules that treat everyone like sissies. The mulcher was perfectly safe as long as we were careful.
I told him about the part where the website said I should refuse to work and call OSHA. He thought that was pretty funny -- for a while. Then he told me to get to work or get out. I asked him if he knew where there was a union I could join.
Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Julie Gerberding has announced a reorganization of CDC which would put the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) into Coordinating Center for Environmental Health, Injury Prevention, and Occupational Health "cluster" with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry/National Center for Environmental Health (ATSDR/
According to an accompanying announcement from NIOSH,
The new organization provides a framework for the CDC to meet its overarching health protection goals of preparedness, health promotion and prevention of disease, injury and disability through more effective coordination of the programs of its centers, institutes and offices…. The coordination of the NIOSH program activities within the CDC environment/occupation/injury coordination center will provide opportunities for many more productive collaborations to better achieve our common goals.
What does this mean? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I have compiled below a summary of the comments of some who have worked in and close to NIOSH. According to them, things don’t look good.
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 originally envisioned NIOSH as an independent institute like one of the National Institutes of Health, it was put under the Centers for Disease Control umbrella where it has struggled for its independence. This organizational miscarriage has been at the root of NIOSH’s problems since its birth.
Originally located in Washington D.C, the Reagan administration further buried NIOSH by moving it down to CDC headquarters in Atlanta. Clinton brought it back to Washington D.C., helping the agency become a bigger player in the occupational safety and health debates that raged throughout the 1990’s. During this time, NIOSH’s director, Dr. Linda Rosenstock created the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) which sought to prioritize and guide occupational safety and health research over the next decade.
Among the current concerns:
This is the latest of several attempts made over the past 30 years to "absorb" NIOSH into CDC, eliminating its individual identity.
An attempt was made in the early 70's to bundle NIOSH with other CDC programs, which failed because there was an outcry from unions. In the last few years CDC has succeeded in making NIOSH more and more invisible. With their current "branding" policy, everything coming out of NIOSH has a very large CDC logo and a tiny NIOSH logo. This reorganization puts the finishing touches on this decades long CDC effort to gain control of NIOSH and merge it with its environmental programs. The Bush Administration has attempted to bury NIOSH's image even deeper within CDC. The CDC logo has grown, while the NIOSH logo shrinks.
This reorganization further buries NIOSH within CDC and further erodes the existence of NIOSH as an independently created entity whose sole mission is occupational safety and health. The NIOSH Director now reporting to the cluster head, instead of to the Director of CDC.
Under the Bush administration, CDC does not recognize the labor constituency and barely recognizes the worker health mission of NIOSH. A brief review of the materials they have put out in the "Futures Initiative," as well as their website, demonstrate this. The list of customers and partners includes "Public Health Systems and Communities, Business, Education, Health Care Delivery, and Federal Agencies. Their "customers" or "people whose health we can improve," doesn’t seem to include workers.
The budgetary implications of the re-organization are unclear at this point. NIOSH is the largest entity within CDC, but its budget has been increasingly siphoned off by CDC for administrative purposes.
Of particular concern is what effect the reorganization may have on NIOSH’s worker-oriented research agenda: Here’s what the National Occupational Research Agenda currently focuses on:
NORA arose from the recognition that occupational safety and health research in both the public and private sectors would benefit from targeting limited resources. The creators of the Agenda also recognized the need to address changes in the U.S. workplace, as well as the increasingly diversified workforce. The distribution of jobs in our economy continues to shift from manufacturing to services. Longer hours, compressed work weeks, shift work, reduced job security, and part-time and temporary work are realities of the modern workplace. By the year 2008, the U.S. workforce will grow to an estimated 155 million, with minorities representing 28 percent of the workforce and with women representing 48 percent.
NORA addresses the broadly recognized need to focus research in the areas with the highest likelihood of reducing the still significant toll of workplace injury and illness.
Contrast this, with the new CDC approach:
The feedback we have received from CDC’s partners and especially from our customers, the people whose health we are trying to improve, indicates that they want information about the whole person. How can we affect the health of children? How can we improve the quality of life among the aging population of baby boomers? How can seniors stay healthy and maintain good quality of life as long as possible?
Apparently, in preparation for the brave new world, “working” is no longer included in life’s stages.
Wait, it gets worse:
Approaching public health issues from a life stages perspective means that we deliver health information and interventions to our customers, the American public, by targeting their current life circumstances. This perspective provides the opportunity to move beyond an approach that seeks to avoid disease to on that emphasizes health and well-being approach. A holistic, life stage approach differs from the traditional medical model that focuses on preventing or treating a specific disease or condition. By seeking to understand more about how people behave at different stages of their lives, we can better match our interventions and information to the needs of our audiences. We can better respond to key priorities and needs and make our health information more relevant and more useful. (emphasis added)
Deepening the suspicion is the fact that one of Dr. Gerberding's primary advisors on this reorganization has been Kent C. "Oz" Nelson, chairman of the CDC Foundation board of directors and former chair and CEO of UPS, the company that led the charge against the OSHA ergonomics standard.
Bottom line: This re-organization will hamper worker safety and health rather than enhance it. The lack of visibility of NIOSH as an organization in recent years, along with a do-nothing OSHA, has translated into a lack of focus on occupational safety and health and a weakening of the intent of Congress in passing the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
While a general strategy to minimize the damage caused by this reorganization is being organized, you can contact NIOSH Director John Howard here. It is unclear whether CDC is still actively soliciting comments, but the general comment address for the futures initiative is here. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you.
You might think this was taken from the Onion or maybe an particularly sick episode of South Park.
A Brooklyn principal directed students and a teacher to tear down library walls and shelves even though he knew the room contained asbestos, then tried to cover up the incident, teachers union officials said yesterday.
Ivor Neuschotz, principal of Grady Vocational High School, received a letter of reprimand, a Department of Education spokeswoman said, with more disciplinary action pending an investigation.
Neuschotz ordered the work done last month after getting a $300,000 grant to renovate the library, but union officials say the costs have climbed to $500,000 for cleanup instead of a $90,000 asbestos removal.
They say everything in the library, including books and computers, will have to be thrown out, and they fear that other grants will be withdrawn.
"He said the abatement was too expensive," said Michael Mulgrew, the school's union rep. "It wouldn't allow him to do what he wanted to do in the library - cappuccino machines? I don't know."
A letter of reprimand? A bit harsh, don't you think?
Last Wednesday, fifth- and sixth-grade students in the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program at Lacey's Pleasant Glade Elementary School took over a real courtroom at the Thurston County Courthouse for a mock trial in the fictional case of the State of Washington versus Donna McDonald. Former TAG students played members of the jury.
In the case, McDonald, the owner of Olympia Excavation Co., was accused of causing the death of an employee by not taking appropriate worker safety precautions that are required by the state. She was charged with first-degree manslaughter
I'm not sure if I agree with the outcome of the trial (acquitted on 1st degree manslaughter, convicted on 2nd degree), but they've meted out a better response than OSHA or the Justice Department generally get around to.
Over 1700 firefighters and police officers are suing the city of New York, claiming that clean-up work at the World Trade Centers and Fresh Kills landfill sickened them.
The illnesses include sarcoidosis, a permanent lung condition; asthma; reactive airway disorders; chronic coughs, and emergency workers with glass lodged in their lung tissue, according to medical records reviewed by the Daily News.
More than 300 firefighters have retired with disabilities related to injuries and illnesses related to their work at Ground Zero, Gribbon said. There are an additional 300 disability pension cases pending, meaning that 600 firefighters are on track to retire with three-quarter pensions.
"The Fire Department is concerned about health risks. We gave medicals to every one of our people since 9/11 - active and retired firefighters," Gribbon said.
The FDNY received a $25 million federal grant to monitor health issues with firefighters. The NYPD was denied a similar grant
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said a 1999 Ford driven crossed the center line at 4:05 p.m. and struck a 1998 Pontiac driven by Capt. Cevie Due, 57, of Richmond, nearly head-on.
Due, who was off-duty in his personal vehicle, was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife, 44-year-old Linda Due, suffered serious injuries in the collision. The driver of the Ford suffered minor injuries, the patrol said.
The slain court officer, Francisco Rosa, 32, was supposed to get married three days ago but the nuptials were postponed a week because his fiancee's birth certificate had not yet been translated from Spanish, a source told Newsday.
Man, 66, killed in elevator shaft fall
Sacramento, CA -- A downtown building manager whose tenants knew him to cash $100 bills so he could pass dollars out to children died Friday in a freak accident at the Masonic Temple where he spent most of his days during the last decade.
Apparently the man, whom friends identified as Vernon Leeper, 66, fell into an open elevator shaft and dropped about four stories to the basement at 1123 J St., police Sgt. Marc Codog said.
Fire officials said that one of the workers was pronounced dead on arrival at Victory Memorial Hospital. They did not release his name, but a construction worker identified him as Angelo Segoria, an Ecuadorean immigrant who lived in Queens. Hospital officials declined requests for any information whatsoever.
Florida Highway Patrol investigators said Tyrone Hinkle, 39, was struck by the side-view mirror of the passing rig last Thursday. He was critically injured and flown to Shands-Jacksonville Medical Center, but his condition never improved.
Raymond L. Tassinari, 22, was using an air-powered nail gun at a job site Monday when one nail "just took a wrong turn," his father said. The gun can drive nails with a force of 100 pounds per square inch.
"It was just a tragic accident," Tassinari's father, also named Raymond, told the Patriot Ledger
Tree trimmer killed in accident worked for unlicensed company
Charles Baker Wilson, 35, died after being pinned 60 feet above the ground by a tree limb he had just cut with a chain saw on Friday afternoon.
Worker Dies in Train-Semi Accident
Semi driver James Hazel of Illinois was leaving the Red Gold plant when he began to cross the railroad tracks. Hazel told police the last car of the train was behind him, which offered enough space to cross, and was unaware that the train began to back up.
Jeff York, 35, of Muncie, was standing on the ladder located at the rear of the boxcar and became pinned. Officials took York to Mercy Hospital in Elwood where he was pronounced dead.
State transportation worker dies in forklift accident
The victim, whose name is being withheld pending notification of family, was employed with Edson's Construction, one of many subcontractors working the Tribune project. The company was cutting a hole in a concrete wall on the north side of the building at the basement level when the piece of concrete fell on the victim.
Fifth employee dies from explosion-related injuries
Fifty-year-old Randy Hancock of Decatur died this afternoon in the burn unit at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.
Hancock is the fifth employee of the Formosa Plastics Plant in Illiopolis to die from injuries suffered in the April 23rd explosion.
Roofer dies in fall at school
TRENTON - A 26-year-old roofer working his next to last day on a roofing job here fell to his death yesterday morning when a ladder collapsed from under him outside a one-story section of Trenton Central High School.
The victim, Brian M. Finne of Albany, N.Y., struck his head on a piece of metal that protruded about a foot from the side of the school's vocational wing on Greenwood Avenue as the ladder gave way, said police Lt. Joseph Juniak.
It was the second construction-related fatality in Mercer County this month.
The victim was declared dead at 11:54 a.m. at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, a little more than half an hour after police were called to Crown Corned Beef and Foods Inc., 1350 W. Randolph St., said police Officer Carlos Herrera. The Cook County medical examiner's office declined to identify the man pending notification of relatives.
Crown workers told police they heard a scream and found the victim stuck between a freight elevator platform and the wall of the elevator shaft, Herrera said.
Curtis Howard Darnell, 64, of Madison County, was performing maintenance on a piece of equipment Tuesday when an inch-thick, 4-foot-by-8-foot steel plate broke loose and fell about 10 feet onto Darnell, according to Orange County Sheriff C.G. Feldman.
“It probably weighed over a half-ton,” the sheriff said.
It happened this morning at tile house on north freeway road.
Police say when they arrived they found one man dead and another seriously injured.
Both were working in the back of a large trailer. The coroner says 62-year old Billy Joe Petross died after having his chest crushed by the granite slab.
GARBAGE TRUCK KILLS WORKER
NEW CASSEL, NY -- A trash company worker died yesterday when a garbage truck struck him, the Nassau County police said. The victim, Josaphat Pierre-Louis, 71, was working at a Long Island recycling yard for the Jamaica Ash and Rubble Removal Company yesterday morning when he stepped behind the truck. The truck's hydraulic arm, which is used to maneuver Dumpsters, struck him in the head, the police said. The driver, not realizing that Mr. Pierre-Louis lay injured, continued backing up, Detective Ray Birney said. Mr. Pierre-Louis, a 20-year employee, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Missing employee's body found after sewage tank rupture
Efforts were being made to recover the body, she said.
Workers had been emptying the 2 million gallon tank at the Spokane Wastewater Treatment Plant beside the Spokane River, where an apparent pressure surge caused the tank's lid to collapse Monday afternoon, Fire Chief Bobby Williams said.
Williams earlier identified the missing man as Mike Cmos Jr., 46, a 24-year city employee and plant mechanic. More here.
Cabbie shot to death in University City
Maninovsky Lubin was an out-of-work engineer and immigrant from Haiti who drove a taxicab to make a living here in Philadelphia.
He preferred the safety of daylight and heavily traveled areas like the airport, anxious to avoid the crime and other dangers that plagued some cabbie colleagues who worked nights, his roommate said.
But his rare decision to work into the wee hours Sunday night was one that would cost him his life.
Too often, by the time we take a moment to reflect on someone's contributions to making this world a better place, they're dead and we're remembering them in some church or memorial service. So, it was with great pleasure that a number of us got together with the very alive Eric Frumin the other evening to celebrate his 30th anniversary as health and safety director of UNITE, and ACTWU before that (and soon to be UNITE-HERE.) (Rumor has it that Eric was hired as a mere child, having impressed his elders with his snappy dressing and his gift for understatement.)
Eric regaled a crowd of friends with his stories of labor safety & health struggles over the past decades, including the landmark 1981 Cotton Dust decision by the Supreme Court which upheld OSHA's Cotton Dust standard.
Eric's co-workers told of the lessons they learned from him, lessons not just confined to health and safety, but also the politics of the workplace, the importance of workplace conditions for organizing campaigns and, when necessary, the need to take those battles from the workplace to the Capital and White House.
Eric's reputation far exceeded his ACTWU/UNITE environment. He was chair of DOL's Labor Research Advisory Committee for over two decades, where he was the major mover behind improvements in data collection on workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although most of ACTWU and UNITES members were in the textile industry, ACTWU also had members at Napp Technologies in Lodi, New Jersey, which exploded in 1995 killing 5 employees. The Napp explosion was caused by chemical reactions that were not covered by OSHA's Process Safety Management Standard and Eric has been instrumental in pressuring (so far unsuccessfully) OSHA to amend the standard. He played an instrumental role in promoting OSHA's ergonomics standard, not just by bringing disabled UNITE members to the hearings, but also employers that UNITE had sold on the merits of ergonomics programs.
Eric's greatest contribution to the labor movement and the struggle for workplace safety is still being written. There has been much discussion over the past decades about increasing the role of health and safety in organizing. For most unions, that discussion began and ended as....discussion. But Eric and UNITE are currently building the model for the use of health and safety issues in organizing. Safety issues are critical to UNITE's Cintas organizing campaign, as well as several others.
So, happy anniversary Eric. It's been a great almost third of a century, and we're all looking forward to many more decades of your inspiration, wisdom, enthusiasm and fighting spirit.
He was 15, his relatives said, not old enough for a driver's license. He had yet to even shave. But he was eager to work -- to buy a Ford Mustang, bright yellow, and a big house with a pool for his family. And when he got his next paycheck, he told his younger cousins, they would have a pizza party and go to the fair around the corner from his Wheaton home.
Instead, three weeks after he found work, Michael Francisco Barrios is a case file at the Maryland medical examiner's office, a victim of a freak accident Tuesday in North Potomac. During a landscaping job, authorities said, he fell into the grinding machinery of a mulch-spreading truck. A co-worker found his remains a short while later.
As I've written before, the words "freak" and "accident" imply "unexpected." This is clearly not the first worker who has fallen into a grinder -- which is why 15-year olds aren't allowed to operate them.
According to the employer, TopMulch, Barrios had papers showing that he was 17.
I wrote yesterday about the tragic death of Willie Hodges, who died in a hospital after being buried to the waist for four hours after a trench collapsed on top of him. Hodge was conscious during most of the rescue attempt and his family had come down to the site.
Willie Lewis Hodges, 44, of Lee Road 72, was pronounced dead at East Alabama Medical Center, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said.
Harris said Hodges died from massive bleeding because of a severe pelvis fracture. Workers tried to dig Hodges out of the ditch, Harris said, and they were only able to free him by amputating part of his right leg.
"It was either he was going to die, or they were going to cut his leg off to try to save his life," Harris said.
The company owner had these comments:
"We're still trying to determine what happened," said Billy Cleveland, owner of Cleveland Brothers Construction. "It was a very unfortunate accident."
What happened is that an apparently unshored 10 foot deep trench (which was in violation of an OSHA standard which requires shoring or trench boxes for trenches over 5 feet deep) collapsed on top of Willie Hodges. Trenches often do this. It's a well known hazard. It was certainly "unfortunate," but it was no "accident."
Cleveland said Hodges had worked for the company for less than two months. Cleveland, who has been in the construction business for 20 years, said this is the first time one of his workers has been killed on the job.
"It was just not a good situation," Cleveland said.
So this guy's been in the construction business for 20 years and doesn't know about shoring trenches? I find this hard to believe. As I've said before, there's really no excuse. You're in the business -- especially for 20 years -- either you know, or you should know how to protect your employees. Either way, deaths in unprotected trenches should be automatic jail time.
I wrote last week about the very moving hearing organized by New York Congressman Major Owens that highlighted witnesses' stories of losing their loved ones in workplace "accidents," the paltry fines their employers recieved from OSHA and the need to strengthen penalties in the OSHAct.
One of the most moving witnesses was Holly Shaw, widow of Scott Shaw. If her story doesn't bring tears of sorrow and rage to your eyes, you're tougher than I am.
Thank you for letting me have the honor of speaking to you. I am here because I lost my husband to a workplace accident. He was killed on the job. He was too young, and it should not of happened.
Scott Shaw celebrated his 38th birthday on July 13, 2002. Scott and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary on August 14, 2002. Our son, Nicholas, celebrated his 3rd birthday on September 12, 2002. His Daddy wasn't there. His Daddy died 5 days before, when he fell into the Schuylkill River. Scott fell off a barge he was working on, helping to dredge the river. There were only two other employees on both the barges at the time. Scott walked from one barge to another to get oil. He was missed after several minutes, and his hat was discovered floating in the water. Scott's body was found two days later.
Scott didn't have a life jacket on. He wasn't required by his company to wear one. There were no life preservers on the barge. When Scott walked from one barge to another, he navigated tires that were attached between the barges. This is how the employees traveled between the barges. No one saw Scott go in the water. I like to think he hit his head and didn't know what happened. He was 6'3", handsome, strong, and was an excellent swimmer.
This was not the first time Scott had fallen off of the barge. I can remember two times that Scott came home soaking wet, complaining that he had fallen in. The company should have known then that there was a problem.
Scott's death was needless. The company Scott was working for neglected to follow safety regulations. OSHA completed an investigation into Scott's death, and found the company had committed 6 serious violations. This was defined as 1 citation, with 6 items violated. The company was fined $4,950.00. That's what my husband's life was worth??
The first violation was committed, as OSHA says in their report, the employer did not assure that all affected personnel were instructed on the recognition and avoidance of hazardous conditions while working on the Hopper Barge and/or the Work Barge, especially around the unguarded edges of the same and when traveling between barges. For this, his company was fined $2,100.
The second violation was found when the employees weren't checked and confirmed that they were wearing life jackets. As OSHA says, Employees walking or working on the unguarded decks of barges were not protected with U.S. Coast Guard approved vest or buoyant vest. The company was not fined for this violation.
The third violation was for the way that the "bobcat" front-end loader was not stored safely, and workers were not instructed in the dangers of hazardous fumes. Again, this was termed a "serious" violation. The company was fined $750 for this item.
The fourth item was that ring buoys with at least 90 feet of line were not provided and readily available for emergency rescue operations. The cost for this item was $1050. I'll never know if having life preservers on deck could have saved my husband's life.
Item number five concerned the way that the workers traveled from one barge to another. As OSHA says, employees were made to negotiate an approximate eight foot difference in elevation, while climbing on the rubber tire fenders, to pass from one barge to another. This fine was a measly $1,050.
The last violation found concerned the way workers came back on top of the barge, after stowing the front-end loader in the hold of the scow. Again, no fine for this violation.
I am here today to personalize the fact that a worker's life is worth more than the fines that OSHA places on these companies that are at fault. Scott and I have two sons, who are now 7 and 4 years old. Ryan, my 7 year old, doesn't have a dad to watch him play baseball, to practice throwing and catching with him. He sees a therapist weekly, because of grief issues. Ryan and I also attend weekly peer grief counseling sessions. Nicholas is starting to ask about his dad. Every balloon he gets he wants to let go into the sky so it can go to Daddy in Heaven. My sons are without a father. I am without a husband. I will never buy my first house with my husband. We will never sit together and watch our sons graduate from high school, and then college. I will never feel my husband's arms around me again. I will never again be able to hear his voice.
According to the fines OSHA levied on Scott's company, Scott's life was worth $4,950.00. The company owner was not prosecuted. If he had been charged criminally, he would have been convicted of a misdemeanor. That's it. Not a felony. He could walk away, and live his life. My husband didn't walk away. Scott left behind a wife, three sons (two sons from our marriage, and one from a previous marriage)., two sisters, one brother, a mother, and many family members and friends who loved him tremendously.
A bill is being introduced that will raise the fines that OSHA can levy against a company, when there is an accident. The company can be criminally prosecuted, and can be convicted of a felony. I believe it is imperative that a message is sent that a worker's life is worth more than a couple of dollars. Companies that do not practice safety precautions should be convicted, and sent to prison. They must be punished.
As a teacher and as a parent, I know that it is important that a child understand there are consequences to their actions, and they must accept responsibility for what they have done. Adults must face their responsibility, and must be held accountable for their actions. Please, don't let another family suffer as we have. The more that companies are actually punished, the more they realize they must practice workplace safety, and must protect their workers.
As I reported earlier, these bills, sponsored by Georgia Congressman Charlie Norwood would give employers more time to appeal OSHA citations, reimburse them for their costs if they win a case, add more members to the OSHA Review Commission, and increase the Commission's power.
But never fear,
the prospect for passage is slim in the Senate - also controlled by Republicans but by a narrower margin. That chamber does not have similar legislation pending. In fact, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., is pushing a bill that would expand OSHA worker protections and increase penalties for violations.
From the beginning, rescuers could talk with Hodge, even provide him with basic emergency care. What they couldn't provide was an easy way out. Shortly after the accident happened, Hodge's family came to the scene, very upset. At first, rescuers told family members he was alright, even though he was trapped by tons of dirt. Hodge was talking, awake, even trying to help free himself. And his injuries didn't seem all that serious.
After four hours, he was removed from the trench and sent to the hospital where he died in the ER shortly after he arrived.
The intrepid reporter asks the right questions:
There are so many questions left to answer. First, what happened inside the ditch? You can expect state and federal safety officials to look into that. Next, why did Willie Hodge die, if he was only buried to his waist? Lee County Coroner Bill Harris says state doctors will try to answer that question when they do an autopsy here in Montgomery.
Unfortunately, the reporter doesn't take the time to actually answer the questions for his readers. So I'll do it for him.
1. What happened inside the trench? Gravity happened. Trench walls tend to collapse unless they're supported by shoring or trench boxes. That's why OSHA requires all trenches over 5 feet deep to be protected. Nothing too surprising. Workers are killed every week when illegal, unprotected trenches collapse.
2. Why did Will Hodge die if he was only buried to his waist? Soil is heavy. According to Trenchsafety.org
A cube of soil measuring 1 ft. on a side weighs around 100 lb. A cubic yard of soil contains 27 of these, or 2700 lbs. total. This weighs about as much as a mid-sized automobile. A trench wall collapse might contain 3 to 5 cubic yards of soil, weighing from 8,000 to 14,000 lbs.
A person buried under only a couple of feet of soil would experience enough pressure on the chest area to prevent their lungs from expanding. Suffocation would take place within about 3 minutes. Even if the person is rescued in time, the heavy soil loads are likely to inflict serious internal injuries. A person buried in earth as high as his diaphragm, would not be able to dig himself out, and his chances of survival are low. If the face is even partially covered, death is almost certain.
It wouldn't have taken the reporter too much time to come up with the answers to these questions. If he couldn't spend 15 minutes on the web, he might have even called OSHA for some general information about trench collapses.
And then the readers would have known that:
a) This tragedy was preventable
b) The employer was probably breaking the law.
c) Trench collapses are not to be taken lightly.
So instead of getting pissed off and wondering why OSHA doesn't have more funding and more teeth, and why that employer doesn't get thrown in jail for killing this guy, readers are likely left thinking, "Shit happens. Too bad."
Not hard to understand why there isn't enough concern about workplace safety in this country.
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