Wednesday, December 07, 2005

OSHA In The Gulf: From Bad To Worse

I reported a couple of days ago about how OSHA is failing to protect immigrant day laborers in the Gulf, spending most of its time and resources focusing on "Annex work" -- addressing the generally less severe safety problems with federal employees and FEMA contractors who fall under the Worker Safety and Health Support Annex of Homeland Security's National Response Plan.

Meanwhile, thousands of mostly immigrant day laborers are doing the extremely dangerous job of demolishing buildings without basic personal protective equipment (like respirators).

Turns out the situation is even worse than I had heard.

You may recall that OSHA awarded (with much fanfare) $5 million in Disaster Response and Recovery Training Grants at the end of September

to provide critical health and safety training for workers who are engaged in disaster response, clean-up and rebuilding activities in the hurricane-impacted Gulf States region. The grants will help train workers to avoid hazards related to confined spaces, electrical work, construction, hand and power tools, heavy equipment operation, slips, trips and falls, mold, water contamination, respiratory, chemical and biological hazards, and animal and insect bites.
Well according to one observer working in the Gulf region, OSHA didn't really mean training for all workers down there in the Gulf states.
The training dollars recently provided by OSHA to train hurricane workers will not allow us to train non-federally funded groups, the ones who need the training the most. The double irony here is that we've made every effort to entice those federally-led contractors to offer appropriate training by giving them free training or even pay their people to do the training-- they refused!
And, according to the same observer, things aren't so great for employees of the big contractors either:
I witnessed a so called "HAZCOM" (hazard communication) training session for un-skilled debris removal/demolition workers, conducted by EE&G, a lead subcontractor to Philips and Jordan, a $500 million US Army Corps prime contractor. The training was 15 minutes long conducted under a crowded tent. The instructor informed the workers that they neither need to wear Tyvek suites nor go through decontamination because hazardous conditions no longer exist.
Sounds to me that unless you're lucky enough to be working for one of the companies who happen to give a shit, you're may be out of luck down there when it comes to training, proper personal protective equipment or safe working conditions.

One thing that's missing here: Any idea of how many workers in the Gulf -- especially immigrant day-laborers -- are getting hurt. Even in the best of times and circumstances, it's difficult to get an accurate picture of workplace injuries among immigrants because they're afraid to report or too intimidated.

In the Gulf, however, it's worse. First aid and hospitals are few and far between, there is still no easy way to communicate or telephone in many areas and the community organizations and churches that provide some support elsewhere don't exist in many parts of the recovery area. On top of all this, they aren't even getting support from OSHA or OSHA grantees if they're not working for one of the "official" Annex contractors.

As I often remind people, we are in a situation in this country right now where we have no effective Congressional oversight of what OSHA is -- or is not -- doing down in the Gulf right now. Democrats can't call hearings without Republican permission. And the Republicans are not about to allow anyone to look into more malfeasance when they're already have a few, um, er problems with ethics, corruption and mismanagement. All we're left with is a lousy blogger, and hopefully some journalists who are concerned enough to pick up on this.

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