Monday, April 25, 2005

Workers Memorial Day Up North

Some excerpts from a Workers Memorial Day column by Canadian Autoworkers President Buzz Hargrove:

New chemicals are introduced into workplaces every day without adequate testing to prove they will not cause harm to workers. For centuries, workers have been the guinea pigs of health hazards. Toxic substances, which are concentrated in workplaces, find their way in greatly reduced concentrations to the environment where they may harm others.

We now know there are 25 carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) that cause lung cancer, the most common cancer among men and women in Canada. Twenty four of these carcinogens were discovered by counting excess deaths among workers. The only exception is cigarette smoke, but it too causes deaths among workers who are exposed at work.

What is to be done? Among Hargrove's suggestions:
  • We can forbid use in the workplace of substances we know are harmful. We've begun to do that with cigarette smoke and we can do it for so many other substances. The Canadian Auto Workers has bargained a prohibition on the use of a number of carcinogens in our collective agreements with General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler. These prohibitions should be written into law.

  • We can use the precautionary principle for new hazards. This principle states: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. It is wrong to wait for a body count of workers before we take action.

  • We can use the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable) to reduce workers' exposure to harmful substances.

  • We can support workers who have the courage to stand up to employers by refusing to work with substances they know will harm their health and by insisting on the control of these substances or their replacement by safer substitutes.