Monday, November 21, 2005

NY City Board Of Ed Fails To Protect Workers From Hepatitis

More than fifteen years after OSHA's bloodborne pathogens standard was issued to protect workers against contracting bloodborne diseases like AIDS and hepatitis B and C, some employers still haven't gotten the idea.
United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten accused the [New York City] Department of Education on Nov. 15 of ignoring federal law requiring it to protect educators at risk of exposure to life-threatening pathogens in blood or bodily fluid.

Weingarten introduced Queens paraprofessional Lori Baron who contracted the potentially deadly Hepatitis C virus while working with special education children.

“Lori is sick because of the neglect and indifference of the Department of Education,” Weingarten told reporters at a crowded news conference outside the Tweed Courthouse. “Educators are not being adequately trained. They are not being routinely offered the Hepatitis B vaccine.”

Weingarten contended that the Department of Education is flouting the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act and New York State guidelines that require employers, like hospitals and schools, to provide training and protective clothing, such as latex gloves, to workers at risk of being exposed to blood in the course of their duties. These workers are also supposed to get a vaccination for Hepatitis B, she said.

“The Board of Education routinely ignores these standards,” Weingarten said. “As a result, both staff, and in some instances children, have gotten sick.”

As many as 128 UFT members in schools have been exposed to blood-borne pathogens through scratches or bites, Weingarten said.

The union filed its first major complaint 10 years ago with the state Labor Department about the DOE’s lack of compliance with federal standards. After conducting investigations at several special education sites, the state has issued 13 citations against the DOE and levied fines totaling more than $50,000. The DOE is currently being fined $1,280 a week for failing to improve conditions at Beach Channel HS, where Baron works.
Hepatitis C is a particularly virulent, often fatal, type of hepatitis that can often lead to the need for a liver transplant.

As usual, the employer says it is doing all it can, but the workers and the state don't agree say that all is not what it seems. The Department of Education won't even give Baron workers comp:
After Barron’s diagnosis, the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau conducted an investigation and found her school guilty of 14 violations, for which the Board of Education was fined tens of thousands of dollars.

The board asserts that it has practices in place, such as the use of gloves that should protect employees, but Baron claimed, “We were told directly that there were not enough gloves, so please use them sparingly. Or, we were told not to use them at all, because they make the children feel bad.”

Lou Heller, the chief attorney representing Baron’s case, said that his client is simply demanding that the Board of Education admit its negligence and take the necessary steps to right the situation.

“Correct the problem. Workers’ compensation doesn’t cure Hepatitis C,” said Heller.