Thursday, October 06, 2005

Experts Call On Congress To Protect Hurricane Recovery Workers

One hundred of the nation’s foremost labor, religious, environmental, community, public health and public interest organizations and more than 100 academic, medical, religious and public health leaders have called on Congress to act immediately to protect the health and safety of workers and residents engaged in the cleanup of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

The letter, sent by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, comes in response to reports by worker advocates that health and safety protections are being ignored for cleanup workers:
"We're seeing who gets hurt when you ignore safety and health protections," said Juan Alvarez, Director, Latin American Organization for Immigrant Rights in Houston. "Contractors are hiring immigrant workers right here in Houston and taking them to New Orleans to do cleanup. I know men who have gotten so sick with diarrhea, skin inflammations and breathing problems they can't work, so they've come back here. The contractors just hire more. Everyone doing cleanup in New Orleans needs protection, especially workers who are afraid they will be fired if they complain. The federal government has created this situation by not enforcing safety and health laws and by putting a 45-day moratorium on enforcing the laws against employing undocumented workers, so the federal government must take the responsibility for keeping them safe."
The letter outlines concrete steps the federal government should take to protect workers from the millions of gallons of petroleum, toxic substances from Superfund sites, bacteria, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic and pesticides that contaminated the floodwaters. These include:
  • adoption of "appropriate precautionary measures to be implemented until the work environment is demonstrated to be safe;"
  • initiation of a comprehensive environmental sampling plan;
  • worker training about occupational and environmental health and safety hazards;
    medical surveillance of clean up workers; and
  • appropriate decontamination.
  • In addition, the letter calls for special protection for immigrant and temporary workers who are least likely to be provided with proper training and respiratory protection.