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GAO Report Confirms Dangers in Poultry Processing Plants

USDA Multimedia by Lance Cheung.

As Chicken Council Pushes for Fewer Regulations, Investigation Reveals Lax Enforcement of Existing Rules

Earlier this year, the National Chicken Council petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate the processing line speed limits imposed on poultry processing plants.  This request sparked outrage from Mark Perrone, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who represents workers inside these processing plants.

“With the health and safety of over 250,000 thousand hard-working poultry workers in mind, 70,000 of whom are members of our union family, we write to urge you to reject a petition submitted by the National Chicken Council (NCC) to run food processing lines with no speed limits,” wrote Perrone in a letter to Acting Deputy Undersecretary Rottenberg. “For the sake of keeping hard-working families safe – whether they’re preparing, buying, or eating chicken – the USDA must reject this petition.”

“According to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) data, in 2015 the meat and poultry industry had the 8th-highest number of severe injury reports of all industries. In 2016, we reported that workers in meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants continue to face hazardous conditions, including sharp knives used in close quarters, slippery floors, and chemical exposures. In the 2016 report, we found that additional data are needed to address these hazardous conditions and recommended that DOL improve its data on musculoskeletal disorders and sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry,” wrote the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Today, GAO released their findings related to the health and safety of workers in poultry processing plants and the results show significant problems for workers in these facilities.

“The hard-working people who work in poultry plants have some of the most dangerous and physically demanding jobs in America,” said Perrone. “This report sadly confirms that many of these skilled professionals who keep our food safe are struggling to keep themselves safe at work. They have earned and deserve better.”

  • This GAO report confirms the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t consider worker safety when allowing new and dangerous chemicals to be used in poultry plants, and that OSHA can’t or won’t adequately protect poultry workers from injury.
  • The GAO also found a pattern of poultry companies repeatedly denying access to federal safety and health inspectors, leaving workers in at least 15 plants across the South working in potentially dangerous environments.
  • This report supports findings by Oxfam that poultry workers struggle to get adequate bathroom breaks, even to the point of endangering their health.
  • Other GAO reports in 2005 and 2016 also found significant problems with safety and health in the poultry industry.
  • In addition to worker risks, countries with higher line speeds have higher rates of foodborne contamination in poultry plants.

“The dangers endured by poultry workers that are highlighted in this report also underscore why a recent request by the National Chicken Council to increase line speeds defies common sense and is being clearly driven by greed. We urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take this report seriously and reject that request so that poultry workers and the food we all consume can be kept safe,” Perrone concluded.

 

Read the full GAO report here.

National COSH on OSHA, Bureau of Labor Statistics Nominees: Transparency Saves Lives

 Advocates call for “open source” policy on workplace fatalities and renewed action on silica, temp workers

SAN DIEGO: As the U.S. Senate prepares for a hearing on nominees to head the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, safety advocates are calling for the two agencies to boost efforts to save lives in U.S. workplaces by collecting and disseminating full information about on-the-job fatalities.

“Transparency saves lives,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH.) “The more we know about how and why workers are dying on the job, the more we can do to prevent future tragedies.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) will hold a hearing this coming Tuesday, December 5th at 10:00 am ET to consider the nominations of FedEx safety executive Scott Mugno to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and William Beach of George Mason University to serve as Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

“Every day, workers are at risk because of hazards that can be controlled and prevented,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, also a co-executive director of National COSH. “It’s time for OSHA and BLS to adopt an open source policy and tell us all they know about workplace fatalities. That includes identifying – and publicizing – what goes wrong when workers lose their lives because employers fail to provide safe working conditions.”

The BLS conducts an annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), which publishes aggregate information about worker deaths, but does not includes names of workers, employers or additional details. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, BLS identified more than 4,800 fatalities due to traumatic events in U.S. workplaces. U.S. OSHA is responsible for investigating workplace deaths.

National COSH is also urging senators to ask Mugno about his plans to limit worker exposure to silica dust and whether he will continue OSHA’s initiative to offer enhanced protection for temporary and contract workers.

Background on silica:

  • Millions of workers every year are exposed to silica dust, a known carcinogen and primary cause of silicosis – a potentially fatal lung disease. OSHA issued a new safety standard in 2016 that limits exposure to silica dust and will save an estimated 700 lives each year.
  • Industry groups have urged Congress to reverse the new standard, issued after years of careful research, with thousands of pages of testimony from scientists and labor and industry stakeholders. OSHA is currently limiting enforcement of the new standard to those employers not acting in “good faith.”

Questions for Scott Mugno on Silica Dust:

What are his views of this life-saving regulation?
What are his plans to carry out inspections and enforcement?

Background on temporary workers:

  • Temporary workers, who represent about two percent of the U.S. workforce, accounted for 17 percent of fatalities from workplace trauma in 2015.
  • Temp and contract workers often do not receive adequate training and have little or no job security.  These and other factors combine to make temp work more hazardous than permanent, full-time employment.
  • In 2013, OSHA began an initiative to protect temporary workers, holding both host employers and contract agencies responsible for following safety laws, including the duty to provide a safe workplace.
  • In September 2017, Patrick Kapust, OSHA’s deputy director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs, told the National Safety Council: “We are continuing this initiative. We are trying to get forth that staffing employers and host employers both have joint responsibility for their workplaces.”

Questions for Scott Mugno on Temporary Workers:

Does he support OSHA’s temporary worker initiative?
Will he continue the emphasis on joint responsibility for both host employers and contract agencies?

“Nominations to these crucial positions deserve a rigorous review by the U.S. Senate,” said Martinez, “because so much is at stake for American worker and our families.”

NH COSH: A Deadly Week For NH Workers

Hooksett, NH – Two New Hampshire workers were killed this week in unrelated incidents bringing the number of NH work related deaths to at least 10 for 2017. Eric LaFramboise, 35, of Epsom was killed on Sunday when a gust of wind blew down a tree he was harvesting, crushing him. Dakota LaBrecque, 23, of Loudon was pulled into a conveyor and killed at the Springfield Power LLC, in Springfield, NH late Monday. Both incidents are under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Eric LaFramboise is the second tree service fatality in New Hampshire this year. Frederick Wilhelmi, 32, of Hudson died May 23rd while working for a tree service company. The tree service industry is a high-risk industry with NH worker deaths almost every year. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the fatality rate for the landscape services industry, about 80 deaths per year nationally, is similar to that for more recognized high-risk industries such as agriculture and mining.

Dakota LaBrecque was on 23 years old which would qualify him as a “young worker”. Young workers, ages 14-24, are at higher risk of workplace injury because of their inexperience at work and their physical, cognitive, and emotional developmental characteristics. They often hesitate to ask questions and may fail to recognize workplace dangers. According to NIOSH, in 2014 the rate of work-related injuries treated in emergency departments for workers, ages 20–24, was 1.76 times greater than the rate for workers 25 years of age and older.

“Workplace fatalities are rarely random accidents,” said Brian Mitchell of the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, “Most of these incidents can be prevented with proper safety training and protective equipment. Two worker deaths is a terrible way to begin the holiday season and we mourn the loss of our fallen brothers.”


Editors note: This Tuesday was #GivingTuesday and I started a fundraiser on Facebook for the NH COSH.  If you missed Giving Tuesday and would like to make a donation, please consider donating to the NH COSH.

NH COSH: Jose Valdicieso’s Death Was Preventable With Proper Precautions And Safety Training

NASHUA, NH    On Thursday, November 2, Jose Valdivieso, age 37, was killed on the job in Nashua when the hydraulic lift he was assigned to use came in contact with a power line. According to the OSHA Public Affairs Office, Mr. Valdivieso, of Somerville, MA, was working for Prime Touch Services of Natick, MA at the time of his death. He was originally from El Salvador and is survived by two children.

“Jose’s death is a double tragedy – both for his family and loved ones, and because it was 100% preventable with proper safety precautions and training,” said Susi Nord, co-director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. “2017 has been a particularly deadly year for construction workers in New Hampshire, with 6 out of 7 work-related fatalities this year occurring in the industry.”

According to the 2017 AFL-CIO report on workplace fatalities, Latino and immigrant workers are at a higher risk of death on the job that other workers. The fatality rate for Latino workers in the U.S. was 18% higher than the national average overall and increased significantly in 2015, with 903 deaths compared to 804 in the prior year. Of the 943 immigrant workers killed on the job in 2015, 2 out of 3 were Latinos.

Employers and construction contractors in New Hampshire are required by federal law to provide a reasonably safe workplace for all workers including proper safety training and protective equipment. They must also ensure the work environment does not prevent or discourage workers from using safe work practices.

Prime Touch Services was cited by OSHA for two serious safety violations in 2013.

Concerns About Workplace Safety Needs To Be Addressed At Amazon Warehouses

Two Deaths in September at Amazon Warehouses Show Need for Accountability as Company Chases Incentives for New HQ  

SAN DIEGO and WASHINGTON, DC – Two recent deaths within a single week at Amazon.com. warehouses in Pennsylvania and Indiana show the need for strict accountability in exchange for public subsidies, say workplace safety and economic development experts.

  1. Devan Michael Shoemaker, age 28, was killed on September 19th, when he was run over by a truck at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
  2. Phillip Terry, 59, was killed on September 24th, when his head was crushed by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, Indiana.

Amazon is currently chasing a mammoth taxpayer-funded incentive package for its proposed “HQ2,” or second headquarters building, with an October 19th deadline for proposals from metro areas.

Including the recent deaths of Shoemaker and Terry, six workers have died in Amazon warehouses since 2013. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the company and temporary agencies it uses to staff its facilities on multiple occasions for safety violations.

“Getting consumer goods dropped right on your doorstep is nice, but who is paying the price?” asked Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “There is a disturbing pattern of preventable deaths at Amazon. Two workers have been crushed to death by forklifts, one dragged into a conveyor belt, another crushed by a pallet loader and one run over by a truck. The company monitors every move of both permanent and temporary employees to meet intense demands for high-speed delivery. But is it paying enough attention to workplace safety?”

“Taxpayers should not subsidize low-road employers with dangerous working conditions, high turnover and poverty wages,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First. “Governments considering whether to bid for white-collar jobs at Amazon should first look at how the company and its temp agency subcontractors treat blue-collar workers.”

Amazon CEO and 17 percent owner Jeff Bezos is ranked the third richest person on earth, with a fortune worth over $80 billion. According to an analysis by Good Jobs First, the company has received a minimum of $1.1 billion in subsidies from U.S. taxpayers to build its warehouses and data centers since 2000. The actual figure is certainly higher, since more than a dozen cities and states have not disclosed the amount of taxpayer subsidies provided to Amazon.

There is little or no net job creation associated with these facilities. Amazon captures sales and revenue from retail competitors, resulting in large-scale layoffs from existing businesses. The Institute for Local Self Reliance estimates that as of 2015, Amazon’s operations have caused net loss of some 149,000 U.S. jobs.

Amazon’s projection of 50,000 jobs at its new second headquarters has set off an intense bidding war, with the state of New Jersey considering a $5 billion incentive package. The current largest corporate subsidy on record is an $8.7 billion giveaway to Boeing by the state of Washington in 2013, intended to secure aircraft production jobs. After receiving the tax breaks, however, Boeing reduced employment in the state by 12,000 jobs.

“Taxpayers need to watch their wallets,” said LeRoy. “Any tax giveaway must be measured against the increased costs – in transportation, housing, schools and other services – that will be induced by an influx of thousands of new workers.”

“When Amazon lobbies for lucrative tax breaks, it is asking the public to become partners in its business – to the tune of billions of dollars,” said Martinez. “If we’re partners, we have a right to demand the highest standards for workplace safety.”

In addition to the recent deaths of Devan Michael Shoemaker and Phillip Terry, other workers who have lost their lives while working at Amazon include:

  • Jeff Lockhart, 29, a temporary employee, found collapsed and dead from a cardiac event after an overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, VA on January 19th, 2013.
  • Ronald Smith, 57, a temporary employee, killed after being dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt at an Amazon warehouse in Avenel, New Jersey on December 4th, 2013.
  • Jody Rhoads, 52, crushed and pinned to death by a pallet loader at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on June 1st, 2014. (This is the same facility where Shoemaker was killed in September).
  • Name unknown, crushed to death by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Fernley, NV on November 4th, 2014.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

Workplace Safety Groups Head To Houston To Train Reconstruction Workers

After Harvey, Immigrant and Labor Rights Groups Team Up to Provide Ongoing Health and Safety Training for Reconstruction Workers 

Harvey Flood and Damage by Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) FLIKR CC

Fe y Justicia Worker Center, National COSH, Chemical Workers Union and National Day Laborer Organizing Network deliver “Train-the-Trainers” sessions and prepare Reconstruction Works campaign to support recovery workers facing severe toxic health and safety hazards in the workplace 

HOUSTON, TX:  With recovery efforts underway from the devastating effect of Hurricane Harvey – and new storm damage now confronting Puerto Rico, Florida and the Caribbean – health and safety trainers as well as workers and immigrant rights advocates from local and national safety groups will be in Houston this week to train workers and community members on safe clean up procedures and their rights to a safe workplace.

Ongoing efforts are currently underway to expand and build upon past “Reconstruction Works” campaigns that have played a critical role in supporting reconstruction workers after Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Rita and other disasters.

During previous cleanup efforts recovery workers exposed to flood waters suffered skin infections, lesions, asthma attacks, allergic reactions and other conditions. Workers are also exposed to the risk of lead poisoning and asbestos exposure when working in damaged or collapsed buildings.

This week, experienced health and safety trainers from National COSH and other COSH affiliates from around the country will join local advocates from the Houston-based COSH affiliate Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center to provide “Train-the-Trainer” classes for workers and advocates, who will in turn provide awareness training in workplaces and communities throughout Houston.

“The response from COSH groups and our allies to the emergency on the Gulf Coast has been amazing,” said National COSH co-executive director Jessica Martinez, who is joining the “Train-the-Trainer” session in Houston. “Groups are sending people, sharing information and resources and helping to raise funds so that recovery workers can stay safe while rebuilding their communities.”

“Most Houston neighborhoods were somehow impacted, so workers and neighbors are cleaning up a wide range of water and wind damage that can get people seriously hurt,” said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, executive director of Faith and Justice Worker Center (Centro de Trabajadores Fe y Justicia), the premier worker center in the Houston area coordinating local efforts.

“Day laborers, construction workers, utility workers, domestic workers, as well as neighbors and volunteers, are already going into flooded and damaged buildings, where they will encounter mold, sewage, and air and water that may have been contaminated with toxic pollutants,” said Acuña Arreaza. “Our goal is to equip them with the tools and information they need to reduce the risk of getting sick, injured or killed while taking on these difficult assignments.”

“Gulf Coast communities face a massive, urgent rebuilding job, as will Florida, Puerto Rico and Caribbean islands,” said Frank Cyphers, President of the Akron, Ohio-based International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC). The ICWUC, a council of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is assisting the worker and community training effort in Houston, with support from federal grants from the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS).

“This is no time to cut corners on worker safety,” said Cyphers. “We need to build on lessons learned during recovery from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and other disasters: Workers must know their rights – and know how to assess and prevent potential hazards.”

BACKGROUND: The three-day, bilingual “Train-the-Trainer” sessions, in English and Spanish, begins today, September 13th at the Dominican Sisters of Houston campus. The curriculum will develop trainers to teach safety awareness, workplace safety rights, and information about mold, sewage, airborne and waterborne contaminants, and other hazards associated with disaster recovery.

In addition to upcoming training sessions, National COSH has partnered with NYCOSH to provide a series of fact sheets on safe clean up procedures. The fact sheets describe known hazards experienced during previous recovery efforts, including asphyxiation, building collapse, electrocution, explosion, mold, sewage, toxic contaminants and other conditions.

As recovery efforts continue in the coming weeks and months, Fe y Justicia Worker Center will operate a hotline for affected workers and provide ongoing safety awareness training at worksites and community centers.  A donation page at youcaring.com gives concerned citizens a way to support safe and sustainable recovery efforts.


Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center, based in Houston, campaigns for justice and dignity for day laborers, domestic workers and other vulnerable workers.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org

The International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC), based in Akron, Ohio, represents workers in the chemical industry and other occupations in the U.S. The ICWUC has six worker health and safety federal grants and collaborates with 10 other union partners, including National COSH, to conduct a range of worker safety and health programs and develop rank and file worker trainers.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network works to improve the lives of day laborers in the United States. NDLON works to unify and strengthen its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize and organize day laborers.

Trump Threatens The Safety Of Millions Of Workers With Cuts To Dept of Labor And OSHA

The health and safety of millions of American workers should be one of the highest priorities to Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, but based on the department’s massive budget cuts, that does not appear to be the case.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is one of the most important areas within the federal government for ensuring that regular workers like you and me, can go to work in a safe environment. It is OSHA’s regulations, inspections, and training that protect millions of workers in every workplace, from hotel housekeepers to the ironworkers who work hundreds of feet in the air.

Despite the hard work the of OSHA and the Department of Labor approximately 4,500 US workers die each year from traumatic events in the workplace, such as falls from a height, drowning in trenches, getting crushed by machinery, and roadway collisions.

However now, OSHA is in serious peril as the Trump administration looks to slash the Department of Labor’s budget as well as many other “workplace safety” divisions within the government.

Every day, thirteen US workers are killed on the job. Instead of providing resources to prevent these tragedies, the proposed Department of Labor budget for FY 2018:

  • Projects 2,300 fewer inspections of U.S. workplaces by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA);
  • Cuts $6 million for safety inspections from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration which has already seen more coal miner deaths (9) in the first half of 2017 than in all of 2016 (8); and
  • Eliminates the successful Susan Harwood training grants, which have a proven track record of helping workers in dangerous industries avoid workplace hazards that can lead to illnesses, injuries and fatalities.

“Workers in New Hampshire can’t afford cutbacks in safety inspections or workplace training,” said Brian Mitchell, Director of New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NH COSH). “The price we pay for unsafe working conditions can’t be measured in dollars and cents. We pay with our lungs, our limbs – and sometimes our lives.”

Trump’s budget proposal took an axe to the Department of Labor’s funding cutting away $9 billion dollars, a 21% decrease. Trump praise how he would save taxpayers $11 million dollars by cutting the Susan Harwood grant program.

Just to be clear, President Trump spent more golfing in Florida this spring than this program, that serves tens of thousands of workers annually, needs to operate.

The Harwood Grant program provides “training and education for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces, and to inform workers of their rights and employers of their responsibilities under the OSH Act.” These programs are specifically targeted to “underserved, low-literacy, and workers in high-hazard industries.” Over the 40 years since the Harwood grants began over 2.1 million workers across the country have utilized this training program.

The New Hampshire COSH, Interfaith Worker Justice, and the National Safety Council are just a few of the many organizations that helped to train over 88,000 workers in 2016.

Outside the 21% cuts to the USDOL budget, other key agencies tasked with protecting workers and communities face drastic cutbacks, including elimination of the US Chemical Safety Board. The Nation magazine explained in a recent article why the Chemical Safety Board is so vitally important.

“If the small agency is indeed defunded, the results could be catastrophic—and we might be left wondering, as the bodies are counted after some large chemical disaster, why nobody was angry when the CSB went away.”

Along with OSHA and the CSB, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is facing at a 40% cutback ($139 million) in Trump’s budget. NIOSH is the leading workplace safety research that leads to many of the new OSHA safety standards.

Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta

Secretary Acosta Defends Budget Cuts

This week, Secretary of Labor, Alex Acosta, went before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies committee to talk about the DOL’s proposed budget cuts.

Sec. Acosta began his testimony by saying:

“Too many Americans struggle to get by. Too many Americans have seen good jobs in their communities disappear. Too many Americans see jobs that are available, but require skills that they do not possess. We at the Department look forward to working with you in the Legislative Branch to fulfill the Department of Labor’s critical mission: to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of our Nation’s workers, job seekers, and retirees.”

This well crafted statement makes it appear that Acosta is fighting for working people who need retraining to find better jobs and continued training for those who already possess a job. This is in complete contrast to the budget cuts Acosta is supporting within the DOL.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo), called Sec. Acosta out for his cuts to worker training programs.

“I have serious concerns with the worker training program reductions – particularly the proposals to cut state grants by 40 percent and close Job Corps Centers. The President has recognized that there are millions of vacant jobs in this country and I hear about the difficulty finding work in the sectors impacting building trades all the time. We need to make certain that our workforce training programs and apprenticeships equip individuals with the skills they need to meet the workforce needs of today and tomorrow.”

Sec Acosta tried (and failed) to explain away the $10 million dollar cuts to the Harwood grant program by saying that a “$4 million dollar increase to OSHA’s federal compliance assistance budget” eliminated the need for the grant program. The blog, Confined Space, explains in great detail how the compliance assistance program is completely different from what the Harwood grants provide.

New Hampshire has long been one of the safest states to work. Last year Brian Mitchell from the NH COSH, identified 16 workers who died on the job in 2016. However in May of 2017, three workers died on the job in one week.

“After the deaths of three New Hampshire workers in one week in May, this is no time for a budget that makes job sites less safe for working men and women who have a right to come home safely to their families at the end of their workday,” Mitchell stated.

It is time to take action!

Now is the time to contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them that you oppose these cuts to worker safety programs as well as the elimination of the Susan Harwood Grants.

You can take action by signing the petition from the National COSH reminding Congressional members about how failing to properly train workers led to the death of Ricardo Oliveira in Boston, Massachusetts last year.

You can also take action by sending a letter directly to your Senator created by Interfaith Worker Justice, urging them to keep funding for the Susan Harwood Grants.

We cannot stand by while the Trump administration attempts to desimate worker safety programs and the Department of Labor.


Read more about the cuts to OSHA and workplace safety programs from ISHN.

Read more about Acosta’s testimony to the Senate from Confined Space.

National COSH Announces Action Agenda: “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs”

90+ Groups Endorse New Workplace Safety Protections
to Save Thousands of Lives, Billions of Dollars

Advocates also call for action in local communities and workplaces

San Diego – Today the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) announced a new action agenda: “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs.”

Advocates say the comprehensive platform for strong worker safety protections can save thousands of workers’ lives and reduce costs to employers by billions of dollars. Delegations of safety advocates from 12 communities will schedule visits to present the platform to members of Congress in ten states in the coming weeks. 

“Out-of-touch politicians are misreading the results of the last election,” said Jora Trang, managing attorney at San Francisco-based Worksafe and president of the National COSH board of directors. “Nobody voted to get sick or die at work. We need stronger safety protections and tougher enforcement – not weaker laws and fewer life-saving regulations.”

On a typical day, 13 U.S. workers die from preventable hazards in the workplace.  Among those who have lost their lives in March 2017 are:

·      Construction worker David Williams, 36, killed when a trench collapsed at a building site in San Antonio, TX

·      Roberto Cortez, 36, died after a fall from an unmanned tree service truck in Bell Canyon, CA

·      Timothy Dragon, 42, lost his life at the Granite City Steelworks in Granite City, MO

 Recent Congressional actions have put workers at risk by taking steps to reverse longstanding recordkeeping rules and eliminate sanctions against federal contractors who violate safety laws. Delegations led by local COSH groups will schedule visit to Congressional offices as safety activists prepare to observe Workers Memorial Week. The observance, marked in communities around the world from April 23 through April 30, honors workers who have died on the job.

“Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs” has been endorsed by 92 local, regional and statewide organizations representing workers, unions, environmentalists and civic groups. Key elements of the platform include: ensuring health and safety protections for all workers, reducing and working to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals; ensuring injured workers access to quality medical care; accurate counting of all occupational injuries and illnesses, and measures to adapt to – and reduce – further climate change.

“Every day in this country, workers are dying from conditions we know how to prevent,” said Joseph Zanoni, PhD, director of continuing education at the Illinois Health and Safety Education and Research Center and chair of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA). The OHS Section of APHA is one of the endorsers of “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs.”

“There’s no reason for a worker to drown in a trench or get crushed to death by a machine without proper guarding,” said Zanoni. “We can prevent these tragedies by engaging workers in training and applying proven safety practices – and if we do, we’ll save lives, increase productivity and reduce the high cost of caring for sick, injured and fallen workers.” 

More than 4,500 U.S. workers die every year from preventable workplace trauma and an estimated 95,000 die from long-term occupational illnesses. Millions more are injured after exposure to preventable safety hazards. The cost to U.S. employers for workers’ compensation alone was $91.8 billion in 2014, representing a fraction of the total cost of workplace deaths injuries and illnesses.

In addition to meeting with members of Congress, health and safety activists plan to push for better safety practices in U.S. workplaces and enhanced protections in state and municipal law.

For example, following a recent tragedy, the Boston City Council passed a new ordinance giving city officials authority to deny construction permits to companies with a record of poor safety practices. Boston construction workers Kelvin Mattocks and Robert Higgins drowned to death in a trench in October 2016 because their employer, Atlantic Drain Services, failed to follow required safety precautions by shoring up the excavation site. Atlantic Drain had a long history of safety violations; the company and its owner, Kevin Otto have been indicted for manslaughter. The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill to increase penalties against employers when a worker is killed on the job.

In Dallas, after construction worker Roendy Granillo died of heat exhaustion in 2015 during a triple-digit heat wave, his family joined a successful campaign to pass a new city ordinance requiring mandatory rest and water breaks on building sites.

We can’t wait for tragedy to strike before we take action,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH. “We have to improve our safety laws and insist on tough enforcement before workers are hurt or killed on the job.”

“We’re going to make it clear to public officials, if you stall on safety legislation or cut back on regulations, you are putting people’s lives at risk,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, also a co-executive director of National COSH. “If a worker dies from a cause you failed to prevent, that’s on your watch – so you better start thinking about what you will say to that person’s family.”

“Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs” is available in English and Spanish on the National COSH website here and below.

A list of the 92 organizations endorsing the platform is here and below. 

Protecting Workers' Lives and Limbs -3-15-17 3-30 pm(2).compressed

Protecting Workers' Lives and Limbs Endorsements_0

 

Preventing Workplace Violence: National COSH and Local Groups Join Call for OSHA Standard for Health Care and Social Service Workers

NCOSH 300X250San Diego – In solidarity with labor unions representing millions of American workers, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NHCOSH) and other local COSH organizations have endorsed petitions calling for a comprehensive federal standard to prevent workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sectors.

“With an issue like workplace violence, it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, how can you stop a person who wants to hurt somebody?’” said Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of National COSH. “But that’s just wrong and ignores documented best practices. If you address issues like adequate staffing and lines of communication, worksite security, proper training and safety protocols, there’s no question you can reduce the risks faced by health care and social service workers.”

Workplace violence is a problem across all sectors of the economy. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than two million workers each year report that they are victims of violent incidents on the job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported more than 400 workplace homicides in 2014, making homicide the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.

Health care and social service workers are among those most at risk. Fifty-two percent of victims of workplace violence, according to the BLS, are health care and social service workers.

On July 12, a coalition of unions filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Labor, calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a “comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard to protect all workers in healthcare and social service settings.” The coalition of labor unions includes the AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Government Employees; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Service Employees International Union; the United Steelworkers and National Nurses United.

“Like other on-the-job hazards, workplace violence can be prevented – in health care, social services and in other sectors” said National COSH Senior Organizer Peter Dooley. “To be effective, a workplace violence prevention standard must be part of a comprehensive, systems approach to workplace safety, with workers involved in every step of the process.  That includes evaluating risks, assessing remedies, reporting incidents without fear of retaliation, and design of rigorous training.”

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels, National COSH and local COSH groups point to the proven effectiveness of prevention programs. “A comprehensive workplace violence prevention program,” the letter states, “reduced rates of assault at Veterans Health Administration hospitals between 2004 and 2009.”  The letter also notes that the states of California and Minnesota have recently passed legislation requiring health care employers to implement workplace violence prevention programs.

In addition to National COSH, local groups signing on to yesterday’s letter include:

  • Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health (ConnectiCOSH)
  • Fe y Justicia Worker Center (Houston COSH)
  • Maine Labor Group on Health
  • Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH)
  • Mid-State Education and Service Foundation
  • New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NHCOSH)
  • New Jersey Work Environment Council (NJWEC)
  • New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH)
  • NorthEast New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NENYCOSH)
  • Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (RICOSH)
  • South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice
  • Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH)
  • Western Massachusetts Coalition for Workplace Safety and Health (WesternMassCOSH)
  • Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH)
  • Worksafe

Yesterday’s letter to Secretary Perez and Assistant Secretary Michaels is available here.

* * *

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org.  Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

A Thanksgiving Appeal to CEOs: Raise Wages, Improve Conditions for Poultry Workers

LemonChicken2 

San Diego, CA – As Americans from coast-to-coast prepare for Thanksgiving, worker advocates are calling on CEOs of America’s largest poultry companies to raise wages, improve safety conditions and guarantee fair treatment for workers who help feed millions of American families.

Three advocacy organizations – Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and the Western North Carolina Workers Center – today released copies of letters to: 

·      Jim Perdue, CEO of Perdue Farms, Salisbury, MD

·      Joe F. Sanderson, CEO of Sanderson Farms, Laurel, MS

·      Bill Lovette, President and CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, Greeley, CO

Advocates cite low wages with scant benefits; high rates of injury among poultry workers; and a climate of fear and intimidation inside poultry plants as conditions that require immediate attention.

“We are the workers who make the holidays happen,” said Omar Hassan, a former employee at a turkey processing plant in Minnesota. A Somali immigrant, Hassan was discharged after suffering an on-the-job injury.  “We are treated as if we are disposable; all of us should be valued for our work.”

Extensive research into the poultry industry by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2013 and Oxfam America in October of this year shows that:

Poultry workers earn low wages, with real value declining by almost 40 percent since the 1980s.

Poultry workers suffer extremely high rates of injury, especially repetitive strain injuries.  The rate of carpal tunnel syndrome for poultry workers is seven times higher than the national average.

Many poultry workers are afraid to speak up and advocate for better conditions. The industry has a history of hiring immigrant workers and others from vulnerable populations, using intimidation tactics to interfere with workplace rights. “Employees believe at any moment they can and will be fired,” says an attorney familiar with industry conditions. 

Just prior to the release of Oxfam’s October 2015 report, Lives on the Line, Tyson Foods, a major poultry processor, announced an initiative to raise wages. In addition, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced a new regional emphasis to investigate unsafe working conditions in the poultry processing industry. 

“Tyson has made a first start, but this process is by no means finished.  The company must do much more to meet the needs of its workers and live up to its core values,” said Rudy Lopez, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice. “The other major firms in the industry – Perdue, Sanderson and Pilgrim’s – haven’t budged an inch. We hope consumers take note of that.” 

“OSHA’s regional emphasis on poultry, with more comprehensive inspections in the workplaces where so many injuries take place, is a step in the right direction,” said Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of National COSH. “But it only covers 10 southern states, even though there are poultry plants all over the country. We need to focus on health and safety for all workers, no matter where they live and work.” 

“Consumers have already had a big impact on the poultry industry, by expressing a preference for less antibiotics and more free range birds,” said Hunter Ogletree of the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center. “When we gather with our families next week, let’s give thanks to the people who bring food to our tables – and raise our voices to raise industry standards.” 

Letters to Jim Perdue, Joe F. Sanderson and Bill Lovette can be found on the National COSH website, along with a PowerPoint presentation highlighting concerns about the poultry industry.

Consumers can sign an online petition calling for higher wages, improved safety and fair treatment in the poultry industry at the upper right “Take Action” tab on Oxfam America’s website here.


National COSH, based in San Diego, links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. More information at coshnetwork.org. 

Interfaith Worker Justice, based in Chicago, has been organizing, educating and advocating at the intersection of work and faith since 1996. There are 70 affiliated organizations in the United States. For more information, visit IWJ.org 

The mission of the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center is to develop leadership among workers through organizing and education to resolve issues of labor rights and promote fair working conditions in Western North Carolina. More information at wncworkerscenter.org

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