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Millions Of Workers Are Still In Danger From Asbestos

  Mesothelioma Awareness Day Is September 26th

Nearly 20 million people will develop Mesothelioma in their lifetime due to exposure to asbestos


For over forty years workers’ health and safety groups have been fighting to ban asbestos in the United States and throughout the world. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, has been proven to cause substantial harm, even death to workers. Only 30% of countries have outright banned asbestos even after it was proven to cause mesothelioma, a deadly disease that has a one year mortality rate of nearly 64%.

History of Asbestos

For many years, asbestos was used in building construction mainly for its fire retardant properties. Internal structures were coated with asbestos fibers making them almost fire proof. It was not until many years later that the dangers of using asbestos began to surface. Materials containing asbestos are easily damaged and causes the microscopic, fibers to become airborne. Inhaling or ingesting these fibers, cause serious damage to the body, eventually developing into cancer or other diseases.

Though the first official case of a worker’s death stemming from asbestos exposure was in 1924, it would not be until 1976 before Congress would take action by passing the Toxic Substances Control Act to reduce asbestos exposure. In 1989, Congress went one step further and outright banned the use of asbestos. The ban was subsequently overturned, but asbestos use has been limited to less than 1% of the overall product. In spite of their good intentions, workers are still at risk from asbestos and an estimated 20 million people will develop mesothelioma within their lifetime.

Asbestos Exposure At Work

Though the United States has limited asbestos use, those in the construction industry are especially still at risk for exposure. Asbestos is still commonly used in cement, insulation, caulking, and roofing shingles. It’s estimated that over 1 million construction workers are exposed to asbestos-containing materials each year and according to the NIOSH work-related lung disease report, nearly 15% of all malignant mesothelioma deaths in 1999 were workers in the construction industry.

Shipyard workers are also at high risk for developing mesothelioma due to a high exposure to asbestos. During WWII as America was building warships as fast as they could, asbestos became a key ingredient, finding use in gaskets and within boiler components. Nearly 4 million individuals working in naval yards or on ships during World War II were exposed to asbestos. However, construction and shipyard workers are not the only ones with an elevated risk of developing mesothelioma. Others include firefighters, mechanics, plant workers, railroad workers, sheet metal workers, hairdressers and many more. More information on what industries pose a greater risk for mesothelioma and occupational asbestos exposure can be found here.

Recently, reconstruction was halted at the Schiller Power Plant in Portsmouth, NH when OSHA received an anonymous tip that workers exposure to asbestos and mercury. OSHA quickly responded to the Manaford Brothers Inc employee who tipped them off. Manaford was then required to “immediately investigate the allegations and make any necessary correction.” Unscrupulous employers do not care about the health and welfare of their employees, they only care about reducing their costs and increasing their profits. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that our employers are following OSHA regulations for asbestos exposure.


This year, September 26th has been designated as Mesothelioma Awareness Day.

On Mesothelioma Awareness Day, groups like the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) are working to get people involved in the discussion, hosting a Twitter Chat on September 26th to discuss asbestos and raise awareness of this rare disease. Join in and spread the word to help advocate for a ban on asbestos in the United States and around the world.

Please use the Twitter hashtag #ENDmeso 

Senator-Elect Hassan’s Initial Senate Committee Assignments Important to New Hampshire

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator-elect Maggie Hassan today announced two initial Senate committee assignments for the 115th Congress, with additional committee assignments expected in the coming weeks. She will serve on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).

These committee appointments are subject to ratification by the Democratic Caucus and the full Senate.

“I’m honored to be appointed to these important Senate committees that will allow me to continue to focus on critical New Hampshire priorities,” said Governor and Senator-elect Maggie Hassan. “I look forward to hitting the ground running in January and bringing my bipartisan approach and commitment to problem solving to the U.S. Senate to expand economic opportunity, support innovative small businesses, and keep New Hampshire and America safe, secure, and strong.”

Senator-elect Hassan’s initial committee assignments will enable her to continue her efforts to combat the heroin, fentanyl and opioid crisis; ensure access to quality and affordable health care; make higher education and job training more affordable and accessible; and keep our communities safe.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is the principal oversight committee of the United States Senate, overseeing homeland security policies and reviewing government efficiency and effectiveness more broadly. As Governor, Senator-elect Hassan worked with state homeland security and emergency management officials, local police departments, fire fighters and public safety officials, and federal partners to keep Granite Staters safe. In addition to overseeing the Department of Homeland Security and other critical homeland security priorities to keep America safe and secure – including cybersecurity efforts – Senator-elect Hassan’s appointment to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will also allow her to continue efforts to improve government efficiency and protect taxpayer dollars.  

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) has broad jurisdiction over America’s health care, education, employment and retirement policies. Senator-elect Hassan’s appointment to the HELP Committee will allow her to build on her work as Governor to combat the heroin, fentanyl and opioid crisis, to ensure that every Granite Stater has access to quality, affordable health care and to hold down the cost of college tuition and reduce the burden of student loan debt. She will fight to protect New Hampshire’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion program and preserve benefits for seniors, including standing up to those trying to turn Medicare into a voucher system, which would undermine retirement security and is expected to be debated in the upcoming Congress.

Advocates Gather June 2nd thru 4th to Focus on Worker Safety, Empowerment and Prevention Strategies

OSHA’s Jordan Barab and AFL-CIO’s Tefere Gebre are Keynote Speakers at Nat’l Conference on Worker Safety and Health Meeting in Maryland will Include Screening of “A Day’s Work,” New Doc on Temp Workers

NCOSH 300X250

Linthicum Heights, MarylandThe National Conference on Worker Safety and Health, bringing together workers, safety advocates and health professionals from across the country, will take place this coming Tuesday June 2nd through Thursday June 4th at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.

“Our mission is to empower workers and make our workplaces safer,” said Barbara Rahke, board chair of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).  “This is a great opportunity to share ideas, learn best practices and work together to reduce the terrible toll caused by preventable illnesses, injuries and deaths in American workplaces.”

Who:               300+ Health and Safety Advocates

What:              Nat’l Conference on Worker Safety and Health

When:             Tuesday June 2 at 11:00 am thru Thursday, June 4 at 5 pm

Where:            Conference Center at the Maritime Institute,

692 Maritime Blvd, Linthicum Heights, MD 21090

Plus:                Lobby Day in DC and Action at U.S. Chamber of Commerce

on Friday, June 5 (More details to follow).

A complete conference agenda is available here. The program includes dozens of workshops by leading organizers and health and safety practitioners on Basic Health and Safety Rights; Building Capacity for Disasters; Bilingual Worker Education; Lessons from Fatality Cases; Making OSHA Work; Whistleblower Protections, and many other critical topics.

Highlights include:

Tuesday, June 2, 7:00 p.m.: Screening of “A Day’s Work,” a new documentary about the lives of temporary workers, with a follow-up talk by producer Dave DeSario and Tim Bell of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, a non-profit organization which advocates for temps and other low-wage workers.

Wednesday. June 3rd at 1:00 p.m.:  Keynote address by Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Wednesday. June 3rd at 7:00 pm:  National COSH Awards Banquet, recognizing local activists for innovation, organizing, activism and training. Also: The Annual Tony Mazzocchi Award, honoring a legendary health and safety pioneer.

Thursday June 4 at 8:45 a.m.: Media panel with Lydia DePillis, workplace reporter at the Washington Post; Howard Berkes, correspondent for National Public Radio’s investigative unit; and Michael Grabell, investigative reporter at ProPublica.org

Thursday, June 4 at 12:30 p.m. Keynote address by Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO.

“This is more than a conference. It’s a movement,” said Mary Vogel, Executive Director of National COSH.  “This will be a tremendously exciting event, bringing together people from different organizations, speaking different languages, with wide and varied experience on safety issues. We share a passion for doing all we can to make sure workers’ voices are heard, so that every worker can come home safely, every day, to his or her family.”

National COSH is the convenor and lead sponsor of this event.  Additional sponsors include LaborSafe Consulting, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the United Auto Workers, the Communication Workers of America, the Service Employees International Union, and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (IBT).

Note to reporters and editors: Media are invited to attend the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health, but not all sessions will be open. Please contact Roger Kerson, roger@rkcommunications.net to register in advance and for further information.


OSHA Releases New Standards On Silica Exposure, The AFL-CIO Says It’s “Long Overdue”

Silica Dust Worker Mask Full

Every day across the country workers put themselves in potential danger from Silica dust. Crystalline silica, a compound found in sand, quartz, flint, slate and other elements. Silica isn’t hazardous until it’s airborne, like when it is crushed, ground or cut with a saw.

“Exposure to airborne crystalline silica can put workers at risk of developing silicosis, a non-curable lung disease caused by accumulation of silica dust in the lungs. The dust embeds itself in the lungs and causes scar tissue to form. The scar tissue reduces the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.” (source)

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced a proposed rule aimed at curbing lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s workers. The proposal seeks to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica, which kills hundreds of workers and sickens thousands more each year. After publication of the proposal, the public will have 90 days to submit written comments, followed by public hearings.

“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis-an incurable and progressive disease-as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease. We’re looking forward to public comment on the proposal.”

Once the full effects of the rule are realized, OSHA estimates that the proposed rule would result in saving nearly 700 lives per year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually.

“The proposed rule uses common sense measures that will protect workers’ lives and lungs-like keeping the material wet so dust doesn’t become airborne,” added Michaels. “It is designed to give employers flexibility in selecting ways to meet the standard.”

The AFL-CIO released this statement after OSHA announced proposed rule
to protect workers exposed to crystalline silica.

The AFL-CIO welcomes today’s release of OSHA’s proposed silica standard. This rule when finalized will help protect more than 2 million workers exposed to this deadly dust and save hundreds of workers lives each year. It is particularly important for workers in construction, foundries, shipyards and in oil and gas drilling who face the highest exposures.

This rule is long overdue. The development of the silica standard began more than 16 years ago.  Meanwhile workers have continued to suffer unnecessary disease and death.

Silica dust is a killer. It causes silicosis a disabling lung disease that literally suffocates workers to death. It also causes lung cancer and other diseases. The current OSHA silica standard was adopted decades ago and fails to protect workers.  It allows very high levels of exposure and has no requirements to train workers or monitor exposure levels. Simply enforcing the current rule, as some in industry have called for won’t protect workers.

But this new standard will. The proposed rule will cut permitted dust exposure levels in half, require exposure monitoring and medical exams for exposed workers and require the implementation of well-established dust control methods, like the use of water and ventilation.

But this rule is only a proposal – workers exposed to silica dust will only be protected when a final rule is issued.  Some industry groups are certain to attack the rule and try to stop it in its tracks. The AFL-CIO will do everything we can to see that does not happen. We urge the Obama administration to continue moving forward with the public rulemaking process without delay. The final silica rule should be issued as fast as humanly possible, to protect the health and lives of American workers.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka Reflects On Workers Memorial Day

On Workers Memorial Day, we come together to recognize the inherent dignity and value of every person and to remember all those who have perished on the job. As a third-generation coal miner, I’ve known firsthand the uncertainty of whether my loved ones would return home at the end of the day safe and healthy, and my heart goes out to all the communities who have endured terrible losses.

Each day in this country, 150 workers die from job injuries and occupational diseases. Last year in the United States more than 3.8 million workers were reported injured on the job, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is likely two to three times greater. Around the globe, the toll is vast, with 2.3 million workers dying and 317 million workers injured on the job each year.

This year our thoughts are particularly with the families of West, Texas, where two weeks ago a horrific explosion at a fertilizer plant killed 15 people, injured hundreds more and caused widespread destruction. While the investigation is still under way, from all reports regulatory authorities had not inspected this dangerous facility in years.

We are outraged by the deaths of our sisters and brothers in Bangladesh, where over three hundred workers have perished, and hundreds have been injured, in the collapse of a building that housed garment factories.  Despite warnings by authorities that there were cracks in the building that made it unsafe, factory owners told the workers there was no danger and ordered them to work.  No worker should have to sacrifice life, limbs or health to earn an honest day’s pay – not here in the United States, not in Bangladesh or anywhere else. Yet, corporations continue the push for profits, seeking to avoid regulation and oversight.  They claim that stronger worker protections and enforcement kill profit, when the reality is that failure to act kills workers.

This is especially true for the millions of immigrant workers who live in the shadows and face even greater risks of death and injury on the job. Until all workers, regardless of where they were born or what country they live in, have the ability to come together on the job and speak out against dangerous conditions, we will continue to mourn needless deaths and preventable tragedies.

This Workers Memorial Day we must speak out against all those who value profit over life and wealth for the few over prosperity for all. Corporations that exploit workers and put them in danger must be held accountable.  We call on the Obama Administration to act without further delay to implement important regulations on silica, coal dust and other hazards.  And we must strengthen our job safety laws to give all workers the protection they need and deserve.

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