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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

 

National COSH Says 4,800 Workplace Deaths In 2015 Is A “National Disgrace”

National COSH on 4,800+ Workplace Deaths in 2015:  A “National Disgrace” That Demands Tougher Regulation and Enforcement

Nominee for Labor Secretary Must Address Safety Issues During Confirmation Hearings

San Diego, CA – The toll of 4,836 deaths in 2015 due to traumatic workplace injuries, released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the need for tough regulations and strict enforcement of safety laws, says the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).

“It’s a tragedy – and a national disgrace – that almost all of these deaths could have been prevented, using safety protocols that are well-known across the industries and workplaces where workers lost their lives,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH. “These numbers are horrible, but even more heartbreaking are the stories of the workers and their families who will suffer from lapses in health and safety. This is no time to roll back safety regulations. Instead, we need tough enforcement, including criminal prosecution of employers who willfully ignore safety laws. And the best practice – by far – to improve workplace safety is to empower workers to recognize and prevent occupational hazards.” 

The number of deaths due to workplace trauma was the highest recorded since 2008. In addition, more African American workers died on the job than in any year since 2008, and more Hispanic or Latino workers were killed at work than in any year since 2007.

The continued epidemic of preventable deaths in the workplace, said National COSH co-executive director Jessica Martinez, must be addressed during upcoming confirmation hearings for secretary of labor nominee Andrew Puzder.

“Mr. Puzder is chief executive of a fast food company, and we know that fast food is an industry with a very high rate of worker injuries,” said Martinez. A survey of fast food workers, conducted by National COSH in March 2015 showed that 79 percent of fast food workers had suffered burns on the job, with 73 percent suffering multiple burns.

One-third of fast food workers surveyed reported inappropriate treatment for their injuries, including suggestions from managers to use condiments such as mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise instead of a burn cream. 

“It’s important to hear from Mr. Puzder about what action he has taken to reduce workplace injuries and fatalities during his tenure in the fast food industry,” said Martinez. “American workers and families are counting on strong protections, so every worker can come home safely at the end of his or her shift. We’d like to hear a specific plan from the nominee for secretary of labor about steps to reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.” 

The next secretary of labor, when confirmed, will appoint a new chief for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 

The annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), compiled by the BLS, includes workplace deaths from across the United States resulting from traumatic events such as falls from height, roadway incidents, workers struck by objects and equipment, and homicides.  It does not include workers who die from long-term exposure to workplace hazards, such as toxic chemicals that cause fatal diseases of the lung, kidney, heart and other organs.

According to one recent estimate, more than 98,000 U.S. workers died in 2012 from long-term illnesses linked to hazardous working conditions.

National COSH maintains the U.S. Worker Fatality Database at www.nationalcosh.org.  It features data on workplace deaths from 2014 and 2015, with some information not included in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. This includes –where available – names of fallen workers and circumstances of their deaths.

 

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. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

National COSH Honors Fallen Worker And Wants To Know What DOL Nominee Will Do To Protect Workers

BALTIMORE –At a meeting with hundreds of health and safety activists just outside Baltimore, Maryland, The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) last night honored the family of Roendy Granillo, a construction worker who died from heat exhaustion during a heat wave in Dallas in July, 2015. 

Today, National COSH called on President-elect Trump’s expected nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, to address critical job safety issues as his nomination is reviewed by the U.S. Senate.

National COSH presented the Family Activist award to Roendy’s sister Jasmine and his father Gustavo during the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health (#COSHCON16).  Following Roendy’s death, his family led a campaign to win a new ordinance guaranteeing the right to rest breaks for construction workers. The new law passed the Dallas City Council in December 2015, less than six months after Roendy died on the job.   

“My son is in heaven now,” Gustavo told attendees at #COSHCON16.  “I’m sure he is happy to know other workers will not have to suffer the same way he did.” 

More than 250 family members, union safety representatives, members of COSH groups and workers’ centers and occupational safety and health professionals gathered at #COSHCON16 over the past three days to discuss the need for better safety protections for U.S. workers. Each year, more than 4,500 U.S. workers die at work due to traumatic events, and up to 100,000 more lose their lives from occupational diseases caused by long-term workplace exposures. 

“President-elect Trump has identified protecting U.S. jobs as one of his top priorities,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH. “We believe safety on the job is also crucial, so that every worker can go home safely at the end of his or her shift. If Andrew Puzder is nominated as secretary of labor, it’s important that Americans hear about his plans to reduce workplaces illnesses, injuries and fatalities.”

Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants, a major fast-food employer. In March 2015, National COSH – in partnership with the Fight for $15 campaign –conducted a survey of fast food workers which revealed that 4 out of 5 fast food workers had suffered burns on the job during the previous 12 months. More than half of fast food employees suffered multiple burns.

“If Mr. Puzder is nominated as secretary of labor, we’d like to hear what he’s learned about workplace safety during his tenure in the fast food industry,” said National COSH co-director Jessica Martinez, who currently serves on the national advisory committee for U.S. OSHA.

 During this week’s three-day conference, activists worked on developing a long-term platform for workplace safety. Top priorities include enforcement of existing regulations, new protections to prevent known hazards, and additional research on causes of workplace injuries, illness and fatalities.

“We’ve heard a tremendous range of ideas this week from people who are fighting every day to improve conditions in their workplaces,” said Martinez. “We’re eager to share this information with the new secretary of labor and other nominees for federal office with responsibility for safety on the job. We’re also inspired by the courage of the Granillo family to take action in states, cities and local communities.” 

In addition to honoring the Granillo family last night, National COSH also recognized:

  • Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health: Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Lee Clark, Special Assistant to the President of Local 1549, District Council 37, AFSCME: Tony Mazzochi Award, named for the legendary health and safety activist who helped pass the original OSH Act.
  • Randy Rodriguez, Occupational Safety and Health Committee Chair, CWA Local 6222, Houston Texas: Health and Safety Trainer Award.
  • Nicole Marquez and Jora Trang, Worksafe: Social Justice Award.

1 In 6 Workers That Die On The Job In US Are Temporary Or Contract Workers

Hazards of the Gig Economy:
Temp Industry Trade Association Whitewashes Safety Issues, Says National COSH

SAN DIEGO, CA – The American Staffing Association, trade group for the fast-growing temporary and contract worker industry, has ignored critical safety issues at “Staffing World 2016,” a national conference taking place this week in San Diego.

“One out of every six workers who dies on the job in the United States is a temporary or contract worker,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), which advocates nationwide for workplace safety. “Saving lives and reducing injuries should be at the top of the industry’s agenda. But with thousands of attendees and dozens of conference sessions, the American Staffing Association is paying scant attention to safety, training, employer responsibility and other issues that can make workplaces safer.”

More than 800 temporary or contract workers died on the job in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earlier this week, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) renewed a safety partnership with ASA, with the goal of “protecting temporary employees from workplace hazards.”  But with almost no content on safety at their annual conference, and no worker representatives on the organization’s safety committee, it is unclear whether ASA is fulfilling the terms of its partnership.

A review of the three-day conference agenda – more than 60 workshops, plenaries and panels – shows just one session at Staffing World 2016 devoted to safety – a walkaround of the San Diego Convention Center.

“Temp workers often don’t get the training they need and constantly face hazards on the job,” said Dave DeSario, a former temp employee and producer of “A Day’s Work,” an award-winning film about the death of temporary worker Day Davis. “Unfortunately, the industry seems more interested in cleaning up its image than in cleaning up the workplaces where temp workers are exposed to injuries, illnesses and sometimes life-threatening conditions.”

“ASA’s Employee Safety Committee includes only management representatives and zero employees,” DeSario said, “although OSHA alliances require union or worker participation.”

“We’ve learned time and again that the way to make workplaces safer is to empower workers,” said Lou Kimmel, executive director of New Labor, a New Jersey-based workers’ center that assists temporary workers, immigrants and undocumented workers in organizing to improve their working conditions. “Workers know where the problems are and they know how to fix them. When we organize, workers can win their right to a safe workplace, so everyone can go home safely to their families.”

 According to the American Staffing Association, more than three million workers are on assignment for U.S. staffing companies during a typical work week. A multi-state investigation of the hazards of temporary work by ProPublica found workplace injury rates 36 to 72 percent higher for temporary and contract workers than for full-time employers.  

National COSH Hosts Webinar On Chemicals In Food Manufacturing Facilities

Join National COSH on Thursday, October 13 at 12 Noon ET for a free webinar on flavoring chemical hazards for workers in manufacturing facilities. 

webinar-graphic1-1Attorneys Anne McGinness Kearse and Scott Hall of Motley Rice are helping workers learn more about these potential dangers. They also represent workers who may have developed diseases as a result of harmful exposure. They will discuss how workers who work in facilities that process coffee, candy, microwave popcorn, and other products can be exposed to flavoring chemicals linked to dangerous lung diseases. 

Robert Harrison, MD, MPH, director of the University of California, San Francisco Occupational Health Services and director of the worker tracking investigation program for the California Department of Public Health will discuss the medical issues involved in flavoring exposures and his involvement in the development of California’s regulations for flavoring chemicals.” 

Mark Nicas, PhD, MPH, CIH, is an adjunct professor and director of the Industrial Hygiene Program in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California Berkeley. He will discuss some of the specific job tasks and conditions that expose workers to flavoring chemicals. 

The flavoring industry has stated that flavoring ingredients have the potential to be respiratory hazards due to their possible volatility and irritant properties. Despite this, workers are exposed to flavoring chemicals on a daily basis with few or no safeguards in place.

To date, there are no federal regulations in place to protect workers who are exposed to these chemicals. This is a unique opportunity to learn the risks and how workers can protect themselves on the job.

More information is available here: bit.ly/FlavoringChemicals

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.

Under New OSHA Rule, OSHA Will Post Injury And Illness Data From Employers, On Agency’s Website

OSHA-logo

New Rule Takes Effect On Aug. 10th 2016

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today issued a final rule to modernize injury data collection to better inform workers, employers, the public and OSHA about workplace hazards. With this new rule, OSHA is applying the insights of behavioral economics to improve workplace safety and prevent injuries and illnesses.

OSHA requires many employers to keep a record* of injuries and illnesses to help these employers and their employees identify hazards, fix problems and prevent additional injuries and illnesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than three million workers suffer a workplace injury or illness every year. Currently, little or no information about worker injuries and illnesses at individual employers is made public or available to OSHA. Under the new rule, employers in high-hazard industries will send OSHA injury and illness data that the employers are already required to collect, for posting on the agency’s website.

Just as public disclosure of their kitchens’ sanitary conditions encourages restaurant owners to improve food safety, OSHA expects that public disclosure of work injury data will encourage employers to increase their efforts to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.

“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities. Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at greatest risk, and enable ‘big data’ researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer.”

After OSHA announced the rule, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, released the following statement:

Until now, most workplace injury records have only been available at the workplace, making it impossible to know which employers have bad or good injury records.  Employers in high hazard industries will now have to electronically submit a summary of their firms’ injuries and illnesses to OSHA each year, and large employers will have to submit more detailed injury and illness information.  OSHA, workers and the public will have access to this information.

This new transparency will assist OSHA and workers in identifying hazardous workplaces. In addition, employers will be able to compare their records with other employers in their industry and public health officials and researchers will be able to identify emerging trends. Most importantly, this data will help prevent future injuries, illnesses and deaths.

We are pleased that the new rules also include important protections to ensure that workers can report injuries without fear of retaliation. For far too long, in an effort to keep reported injury rates low, employers have retaliated against workers for reporting injuries, disciplining them for every injury or creating barriers to reporting. Now these violations will be subject to citations and penalties.  With these stronger protections, workers will be more willing to report injuries, which will help with overall prevention.

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s Acting Executive Director, Jessica Martinez, was also pleased to hear of the rule change stating, “Accurate and timely reporting of on-the-job injuries and illnesses is one of the best tools we have to learn how to make workplaces safer.” 

Martinez continued, “The new OSHA recordkeeping rule, announced today in the Federal Register, is an important step towards transparency. By requiring electronic submissions every quarter and making the data public, this common-sense regulation will help us learn more about how workers are hurt and become sick on the job. 

“The more we know, the more we can do to prevent injuries and illnesses from happening in the first place, with effective safety programs centered on worker participation,” Martinez concluded. 

The availability of this data will enable prospective employees to identify workplaces where their risk of injury is lowest; as a result, employers competing to hire the best workers will make injury prevention a higher priority. Access to this data will also enable employers to benchmark their safety and health performance against industry leaders, to improve their own safety programs.

Using data collected under the new rule, OSHA will create the largest publicly available data set on work injuries and illnesses, enabling researchers to better study injury causation, identify new workplace safety hazards before they become widespread and evaluate the effectiveness of injury and illness prevention activities. OSHA will remove all personally identifiable information associated with the data before it is publicly accessible.

To ensure that the injury data on OSHA logs are accurate and complete, the final rule also promotes an employee’s right to report injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation, and clarifies that an employer must have a reasonable procedure for reporting work-related injuries that does not discourage employees from reporting. This aspect of the rule targets employer programs and policies that, while nominally promoting safety, have the effect of discouraging workers from reporting injuries and, in turn leading to incomplete or inaccurate records of workplace hazards.

The new requirements take effect Aug. 10, 2016, with phased in data submissions beginning in 2017.

Department of Labor Passes New Silica Dust Regulations

Millions of Workers Can Breathe Easier as Life-Saving Rule Limits Exposure to Deadly Silica Dust

Safety Experts Say Training for At-Risk Workers is Crucial to Preventing Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities

SAN DIEGO, CA – Safety experts from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today that new federal limits on exposure to deadly silica dust will save hundreds of lives every year and make workplaces safer for millions of workers. 

“Workers across America can breathe easier today,” said National COSH Acting Executive Director Jessica Martinez. “We’ve known for decades that silica dust is deadly. With new common-sense rules in place to limit exposure, we can save lives and reduce suffering from silicosis, cancer and other life-threatening diseases.”

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced today final implementation of a new rule, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which will sharply lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for worker exposure to silica dust. The new limit, 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter, reduces dust levels two to five times lower than the current permissible exposure.

“This is a great victory and a step forward towards safer workplaces,” said Javier Garcia Hernandez, a construction worker and former consultant for the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH). Garcia Hernandez testified at an OSHA hearing on silica in April 2014. “Safety advocates worked for years to get this rule in place,” he said. “Controlling silica dust is especially important to immigrant workers and other vulnerable groups, who are often assigned the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs on any worksite.”

Statement of AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka on OSHA’s new workplace silica standards:

Today millions of workers can literally breathe easier knowing that they will not have to sacrifice their lungs and their lives by working in deadly silica dust. The new OSHA silica rules – nearly 20 years in the making – will save hundreds of workers’ lives a year.  

Silica dust is a killer that causes silicosis, lung cancer and other disabling diseases. Workers in construction, foundries and ship building are exposed, and thousands of workers get sick each year. The current OSHA silica standards are 50 years old and are too weak to protect workers. 

The new silica rules are the most significant OSHA standards issued in decades. They cut permissible dust exposures in half for manufacturing workers and even more for construction workers. The rules require employers to control dust through common sense measures like ventilation and water, to monitor exposures, train workers and conduct medical exams.  

We applaud the Obama administration for issuing these lifesaving measures and commend Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels for their tremendous leadership and dedication to bring the silica rules to completion. The labor movement has fought for these standards for decades. We will continue to fight to defend these rules from the certain industry attacks that will come, so that workers are finally protected from this deadly dust.

Silica is found in stone, rock, brick and other common building materials. Cutting, drilling, shaping, molding and other operations expose more than two million workers each year to the hazards of silica dust in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and other industries.

Silica dust is a known human carcinogen. Exposure can also lead to silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal disease that interferes with basic lung functions, making it difficult for an affected worker to breathe. Between 1999 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 2,000 workers died from silicosis, just one of the diseases linked to exposure to silica dust.

Terry O’Sullivan, General President of LIUNA – the Laborers’ International Union of North America – made the following statement in reaction to the issuance of a new OSHA standard for silica:

The new OSHA standard for silica is a welcome and long overdue step towards safer job sites for the many millions of workers who suffer from its deadly impacts. LIUNA has advocated with our allies in the Building Trades for a stronger standard on silica exposure for many years. The agency should be applauded for their efforts in finalizing the rule and consideration of stakeholder input.  We look forward to reviewing the rule in greater detail.

For too long, workers in the construction industry have been needlessly exposed to silica-related diseases. With implementation of this rule, millions of construction workers – including the hardworking men and women of LIUNA – will be safer on the job.

OSHA estimates the new rule issued today will prevent nearly 700 deaths each year, saving the U.S. economy between $2.8 and $4.5 billion a year due to reduced costs for illness, injury and death of affected workers.

The new OSHA standard requires employers to use cost-effective measures to reduce silica dust, including wetting down affected areas, vacuuming up dust before workers can inhale it, and improved ventilation. Employers must also monitor workers’ exposure to silica, provide medical exams for those with high exposure, and train all potentially exposed workers about the hazards of silica dust and how to avoid them.

“Our next step is to make sure workers and employers know how to control silica dust at the worksite,” said Peter Dooley, a health and safety project consultant at National COSH.  “That means training and materials provided in language workers can understand. It also means informing workers about their right to a safe and healthy workplace – and the actions they can take to enforce their rights.”

A National COSH Fact Sheet on silica dust is available at http://bit.ly/Silica-Backgrounder


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.

Whistleblower Protections Help Find Solutions In Flint

National COSH Says Michigan Public Workers Should Speak Out About Flint Water Crisis And Are Protected Under Whistleblower Protection 

 Front-Line Workers Can Help Resolve Man-Made Disaster – Made by Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder

ANN ARBOR, MIThe National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today that as investigations of the ongoing Flint water crisis continue, public workers have a right to know that they are protected by state and federal whistleblower statutes, as well as civil service rules.

“We need to get to the bottom of what happened in Flint and find out why tens of thousands of people, including workers, have been exposed to contaminated water,” said Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of National COSH. “Public employees should know they can step forward and report any information they have about this public health crisis. Whistleblower laws protect them from any retaliation whatsoever if they share information about potential wrongdoing.”

Both Michigan and federal statutes, Martinez said, make it illegal to fire, demote, or otherwise harass employees who report possible violations of state and federal law. 

“With multiple investigations underway,” said Martinez, “now is the time for U.S., Michigan and local officials to remind workers of their whistleblower rights and to make sure that relevant laws and regulations are rigorously enforced.” 

U.S. statutes specifically protect workers who report violations of the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. State of Michigan law protects employees of all political subdivisions of the state, including city, county and township workers. State workers are also protected, including protections for classified state employees under rules of the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which have the force of law. Federal whistleblower law can add additional protections over and beyond those available under state of Michigan statutes.

Recent action to suspend two employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said Martinez, does not change the ultimate accountability for the crisis in Flint.

“Flint is a man-made disaster,” said Martinez, “and the man who made it is Governor Rick Snyder.” Emails and other documents show that key decisions leading to the contamination of drinking water in Flint were made by Snyder appointees, including former state Treasurer Andrew Dillon and former Flint Emergency Managers Ed Kurtz and Darnell Earley. 

When Miguel del Toral, a regulations manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, wrote a memo in July of 2015 raising concerns about high levels of lead in the Flint water supply, state of Michigan officials dismissed him as a “rogue employee.” 

“Front-line workers often have crucial information about sources of environmental contamination that threaten workers and communities,” said Peter Dooley, a safety project coordinator at National COSH. “It’s important for workers to know they have a legal right to come forward – and anybody who tries to intimidate or silence them is breaking the law.” 

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and the Michigan Attorney General are investigating the Flint water crisis to determine any possible violations of state or federal law. 


Michigan’s whistleblower statute can be found here.

Rules of the Michigan Civil Service Commission are here.  See Section 2-10, p. 34, “Whistleblower Protection.”

Information on federal whistleblower protection programs can be found 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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