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President Obama Should Veto Funding Cuts That Would Harm American Workers

FY 2016 Budget Cuts and Riders Targeting
Worker Health and Safety Are Poison Pills
 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama should veto the proposed fiscal year 2016 funding cuts to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), said Public Citizen, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and 74 worker safety, labor, good government, public health, environmental and community groups. Combined, the 76 groups represent more than 6.4 million U.S. members and supporters

 

Versions of the bill in both chambers of Congress contain funding cuts targeting OSHA and MSHA, as well as poison pill policy riders that would put American workers at further risk of death and injury. The U.S. Senate bill (S. 1695) would cut each agency’s funding by approximately $19 million, while the U.S. House bill (H.R. 3020) would cut OSHA funding by 3 percent.

 

“These are devastating cuts that will make it harder to protect workers exposed to dangerous hazards on the job,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of National COSH. “Today, there is only enough capacity for the average workplace to see an inspector once a century thanks to low staffing and incessantly inadequate budgets. It’s unacceptable that Congress is trying to make the problem even worse.”

 

Each year 4,500 workers are killed on the job. Over 3 million workers suffer serious occupational injuries, and 50,000 die of occupational illnesses attributable to workplace exposure to hazardous substances. The cost of job injuries and illnesses to the American economy is estimated at $250 billion to $360 billion a year.

 

One of the harmful riders included in the Senate bill would block the use of funds to promulgate or implement regulations relating to occupational exposure to silica without additional studies, even though OSHA’s proposed rule is based on decades of extensive, peer-reviewed research on the hazards of silica exposure. Approximately 2.2 million workers currently are exposed to silica, which, in addition to causing lung cancer, has contributed to 1,437 silicosis-related deaths between 2001 and 2010. OSHA estimates that the new standard will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year once the full effects of the rule are realized.

 

Additionally, language added to the House bill committee report would defund OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations to train employees and employers on the recognition, avoidance and prevention of health and safety hazards in their workplaces. The program targets audiences who might not otherwise receive training, including small business workers and employers, hard-to-reach or low-literacy workers, and workers in vulnerable and high-hazard industries. Since 1978, over 1.8 million workers have been trained through this program.

 

“If the proposed budget cuts are enacted, we will undoubtedly lose the worker safety and health improvements we’ve made over the years, as well as the opportunity for new achievements,” said Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Also, if the harmful policy riders are included in the bill, workers will face more injuries and deaths, and Americans will face higher economic and social costs in the long run. It’s far past time for our government to live up to its promise to ensure all workers are safe on the job.”

 

Read the letter to President Obama.

New Report Highlights Dangers To Workers In Recycling Facilities

U.S. Recycling Workers Exposed to Safety Hazards and High Injury Rates, But Cities Can Protect the Workers Who Protect the Planet

17 Recent Fatalities; Injured at More than Twice the Rate as the Average Worker

[BERKELEY, CA:] A new study, released Tuesday, June 23 by environmental, occupational safety, and community benefits experts in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, finds that recycling work is unnecessarily hazardous to workers’ health and safety. Seventeen American recycling workers died on the job from 2011 to 2013. Recycling workers are more than twice as likely to be injured at work as the average worker.

By ensuring health and safety compliance across the industry, the study’s authors say cities can create good and safe recycling jobs, and they offer concrete policy recommendations for cities.

“Recycling is the right thing to do, but we have to do it the right way,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “That means educating and empowering recycling workers, and using proven prevention strategies which we know will reduce exposure to hazardous conditions. That’s how we can avoid tragedies like the death of a recycling worker just last week in Florida.”

Key findings from the report, Safe & Sustainable Recycling: Protecting Workers who Protect the Planet, include:

●     The industry’s high injury and fatality rates are a result of unsafe working conditions around heavy machinery and exposure to hazardous items on the sort line, like hypodermic needles, toxic chemicals, and animal carcasses.

●     Many waste and recycling companies rely heavily on temporary workers, who have fewer workplace protections and are less likely to be informed of their legal right to a safe and healthy workplace.

“People put dangerous stuff in recycling bins,” said Mirna Santizo, who worked at a Casella recycling facility for 12 years, sorting recycling from Boston and other cities. “We found lots of broken glass and needles. Sometimes workers were punctured and hurt from the needles.”

“If we are serious about solving the world’s ecological crises, we need to invest in protecting the lives and livelihoods of workers whose daily efforts are reducing pollution, conserving precious resources, and mitigating climate change,” said Monica Wilson of GAIA, a contributor to the report.

To create good and safe recycling jobs, the authors recommend:

·      City governments evaluate the health and safety records of recycling companies and require these companies to have comprehensive worker safety programs,

·      The recycling industry ends the use of temporary workers, and

·      Cities enact strong community education programs for greater household separation of waste to minimize dangerous contaminants entering the recycling stream.

The report notes that unionized workers, with negotiated contracts in place enjoy more effective enforcement of legally mandated health and safety protections and also have the ability to bargain for additional safeguards to improve working conditions.

“Many cities have figured out how to collect recycling in ways that help our environment, and create good, safe jobs. It’s time to extend that approach to every city, and to every step of the recycling chain, starting with recycling sorting facilities,” said Hays Witt with the Partnership for Working Families, a report contributor.

Since this report went to press, a Florida man was crushed to death on June 15, 2015 in a cardboard compactor while working at a recycling plant in Winter Garden, outside of Orlando.

 “Safe and Sustainable Recycling” is being released today with events in 10 cities. The report notes important economic and climate benefits from expanding recycling nationally, including climate benefits equivalent to shutting down one-fifth of U.S. coal power plants and sustaining a total of 2.3 million jobs. That is more than 10 times the number of jobs than sending the same material to garbage incinerators and landfills.

National COSH Announces 2015 Safety Award Winners

National COSH Announces 2015 Health and Safety Awards:
Walmart Worker, Scientist Sleuths and Others Honored for Grass-Roots Activism

NCOSH 300X250Longmeadow, Massachusetts – Activists, researchers and worker advocates from across the United States won National COSH and COSH Network awards at the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.

The 2015 National COSH Awards, based on nominations from local COSH and other worker health and safety groups around the country, were presented on Wednesday, June 3.  COSH Network awards, recognizing grass roots activists in local COSH groups, were presented at a COSH Network awards dinner on Monday, June 1.

“These health and safety heroes are making a difference,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of National COSH.  “We’re proud to recognize their efforts on behalf of workers and families all across the country.”

“Workers deserve a voice, and workplaces don’t become safer by themselves,” said Jessica Martinez, deputy director of National COSH. “These awardees are setting an example for all of us, showing how together we can reduce and eliminate preventable injuries and deaths in the workplace.”

This year’s National COSH Health and Safety award winners include:

  • Bethany Boggess of the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas won the Health and Safety Innovation Award for her work on the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, a volunteer-led program that amassed data on over 1800 worker deaths from 2014. Bethany and a team of citizen scientists have created the most comprehensive listing ever about women and men who have lost their lives on the job in the United States. The Worker Fatality Database team also included Gavin West, Tammy Miser, Katelyn Parady, Anne Marie Gibson, Celeste Monforton, and Rebecca Reindel.
  • Barbara Gertz of Denver, Colorado, received the Health and Safety Organizer Award for creating and spearheading the OURWalmart safety and health committee. Barbara has worked at Walmart for over six years.  Two and a half years ago, she joined OURWalmart, an employee group working to improve labor standards at the retail giant. Barb, who herself suffers from work-related tendonitis due to her job at Walmart, has helped co-workers raise their voices to advocate for better working conditions.
  • Rod Hitchler of United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities is the recipient of the Health and Safety Community Activist Award. The Grand Island, Nebraska resident lost his son Ryan in May of 2009 to a preventable work-related incident. Ryan and a co-worker were working to repair a roof at the Nebraska Air National Guard when a makeshift platform they were standing on collapsed. Since then, Rod and his wife have advocated for safer workplaces and worked closely with victims’ families at annual events such as Workers’ Memorial Day and the Harvest of Harmony Parade.
  • Alejandro Zuñiga, who heads the health and safety program at the Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston, Texas, won the Health and Safety Trainer Award.  As an immigrant worker and survivor of workplace carbon monoxide poisoning, Alejandro knows personally how a family suffers when employers ignore workers’ rights. Alejandro sees training as a strategy for expanding awareness and engaging new players in the broader struggle for systemic change to benefit immigrant workers.
  • Roger Cook, co-founder of Western New York COSH (WNYCOSH), received the Tony Mazzocchi Award, named in honor of legendary health and safety pioneer Tony Mazzocchi.  A leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (now part of the United Steelworkers) Tony helped pass the original Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) in 1970.

Roger Cook served as the director of WNYCOSH for three decades, and has spent his life devoted to organizing campaigns for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice. He currently co-chairs the New York State Zero Lift Task Force and serves on the WNYCOSH Worker Center Advisory Board and the executive boards of the Western New York Working Families Party and his local Sierra Club.

Winners of the COSH Network awards include:

  • Germain Harnden, executive director of WNYCOSH, received the COSH Legacy Award. She has been with WNYCOSH for over 25 years, working on Workers’ Comp reform, the EPA Tools for Schools program, advocacy and training on indoor air quality issues, safe patient handling, and hazard abatement. As executive director, she has expanded the organization’s reach to low-wage workers and helped to establish the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Buffalo.
  • Fran Ansley of the Knox Area Workers Memorial Day Committee received the New COSH Activist Award. An emeritus professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, Fran has worked with the Committee to author two Workers’ Memorial Day reports, highlighting preventable workplace deaths in Knoxville and surrounding communities.
  • Nicole Marquez, Staff Attorney for Worksafe in Oakland, California, and a National COSH board member, won the COSH Board Activist Award. Nicole has worked to assist low-wage Latina workers, helping to ensure compliance with labor laws and health and safety standards. For National COSH, Nicole was a leader in creating the new Board committee on Inclusiveness and Diversity, with a commitment to expand the organization’s reach to underserved communities.
  • Educator and Trainer Awards were given to members of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network: Levis Torres of WeCount!; Betzy Rega of El Sol; Ignacio Paramo of VOZ; Mark Day of the San Diego Day Laborers and Household Workers Association; and the Union Latina de Chicago.

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.  “Preventable Deaths 2015,” a National COSH report, describes workplace fatalities in the United States and how they can be prevented. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org.  Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH

RALLY June 5th: Activists to Call on U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Stop Blocking Life-Saving Silica Rule

Silica Dust Worker Mask Full

WASHINGTON DC – A delegation of health and safety activists will deliver a NCOSH 300X250petition to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday, June 5th, calling on the Chamber to drop its opposition to OSHA’s proposed rule limiting worker exposure to silica dust.

“Workers are getting sick and dying every day from exposure to silica dust,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a non-profit advocacy group that will lead the delegation. “It’s long past time to put an affordable, practical rule in place that can protect workers and save lives.

Who:        Health and Safety Activists

What:       Delegation to U.S. Chamber of Commerce

When:      Friday, June 5th at 12:15 p.m.

Where:    Lafayette Park, H St. and Connecticut Avenue  

Dust from silica, widely used in construction, masonry, foundries, fracking and other industries, is a known carcinogen and can also cause tuberculosis, silicosis, lung infections and other potentially fatal disease.

OSHA proposed final rule requiring use of currently available and affordable technologies to limit exposure to silica dust in 2013. The new standard, based on years of research and sound science, could save an estimated 700 lives a year. It has been stalled for two years in large part due to efforts of business lobbyists, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Workers and their families have waited long enough,” said Barbara Rahke, executive director of PhilaPOSH and board chair of National COSH. “The U.S. Chamber is putting workers at risk – and turning its back on responsible employers who are using currently available technology to limit silica dust.”

Friday’s delegation will present hundreds of signatures gathered at the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health, which is taking place through June 4th at the Maritime Training Center in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.

Activists will hear keynote speeches from Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Department of Labor and Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. The National Conference also features 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 other critical topics.

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.  “Preventable Deaths 2014,” a National COSH report, describes workplace fatalities in the United States and how they can be prevented. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org.  Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

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.

 

New AFL-CIO Report, ‘Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,’ Shows 150 Workers Killed on the Job Every Day

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According to a report released today by the AFL-CIO, 4,585 workers were killed in the United States during 2013 due to workplace injuries. An additional estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of nearly 150 workers each day from preventable workplace conditions.

“America’s workers shouldn’t have to choose between earning a livelihood and risking their life, yet every day too many end up on the wrong end of that choice,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Corporations are prospering while working people suffer because of corporate negligence and insufficient government oversight. We must go beyond mourning those we’ve lost, and take bold, decisive action to ensure that a day’s work brings opportunity, not the risk of death or injury.”

The report, entitled Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, marks the 24th year the AFL-CIO has produced its findings on safety and health protections for workers in the United States. The report shows the highest workplace fatality rates were found in North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, West Virginia, and New Mexico.

While workplace deaths and injuries were high in many private sector industries, such as oil and gas extraction, the injury rate for public sector workers was 58 percent higher than for private sector workers. In fact, 8 million state and local public employees lack any OSHA protections. OSHA oversight and enforcement remains weak. Federal OSHA has the resources and staff to inspect workplaces on average only once every 140 years. The average penalty for serious violations was only $1,895, and the median penalty for worker deaths was only $5,050.

Other report highlights include the startling rise of Latino worker deaths, as the Latino fatality rate was 18 percent greater than the overall rate, and the urgent need to update OSHA silica safety standards based on near-century old research.

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect was released after numerous Workers Memorial Day vigils, rallies, and actions were held across the country, and can be found online here: aflcio.org/death-on-the-job.

Prosecution, Penalties and Prevention Needed to Address Annual Toll of 54,000 Workplace Deaths

Construction Workers Houston Tx (FLIKR Bill Jacobus)

Construction Workers Houston Tx (FLIKR Bill Jacobus)

Upcoming Trial of ex-Coal Company Exec a “Wake-Up Call”
Say Safety Experts; Tougher Penalties, Prevention Can Save Lives

LONGMEADOW, MA – The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, responding to the annual toll of more than 50,000 on-the-job deaths in the United States, said today that an aggressive NCOSH 300X250program of prevention strategies in the workplace can reduce exposure to hazards and save lives in U.S. workplaces.

“54,000 deaths a year is way too many,” said National COSH Executive Director Mary Vogel.  “We need tougher penalties. We need prosecutions for criminal violations.  And we need to listen to workers, and use proven strategies that protect all workers, reduce injuries and save lives.”

Marking the beginning of Workers Memorial Week, which will be observed around the country and around the globe from April 25th through May 2nd, National COSH released “Not an Accident: Preventable Deaths 2015.”

Key information from this year’s report:

  • 4,585 U.S. workers died on the job due to unsafe working conditions in 2013 the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • An estimated 50,000 workers die each year from long-term exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos, silica and benzene.
  • Hispanic workers continue to be at greater risk than other groups, showing a nine percent increase in sudden workplace fatalities between 2012 and 2013.  During the same period, the incidence of fatalities decreased for African-American, Asian and white workers.
  • Proven prevention strategies are available for all the major categories which result in worker deaths, including transportation incidents, contacts with objects and equipment, falls to a lower level, workplace violence, exposure to harmful substances and environments and fires and explosions.
  • Making Work Safer:  Local COSH groups around the country are responding to fatalities and injuries on the job through advocacy, research, training and organizing; we highlight actions taken by organizations across the country during the past year.

The report also presents case studies of seven workers who died on the job in 2014, from different industries and different parts of the country, with each case illustrating how workplace hazards can be reduced and lives saved if proper safety protocols are followed.

During a media briefing to announce the release of today’s report, Celeste Monforton, DrPH, a public health consultant and professorial lecturer at George Washington University, discussed the upcoming trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. He has been indicted for conspiracy to violate mine safety laws, following the death of 29 miners at the Massey-owned Upper Big Branch mine in 2010.

 “This trial will be a wake-up call for corporate America,” said Monforton. “If you cut corners, if you operate unsafely and people get hurt as a result, you can be held accountable in a court of law. I’m not sure many companies understood that before; I hope they understand it now.”

Three former Massey executives are currently serving prison terms after pleading guilty or being convicted on charges stemming from the Upper Big Branch disaster.

Mary Jane Collins of Sheridan Wyoming, who lost her 20-year old grandson Brett on a construction site 2012, talked about her efforts to increase penalties for safety violations in the state of Wyoming.  Brett Collins died when struck by an excavator while working in a trench. After penalties for Brett’s death were reduced to less than $3,000, family members were outraged.

 “My grandson died just a few days before he was going back to school,” said Collins. “We don’t want anyone else to suffer a loss like we have.  Our thinking is, if employers have to pay a real fine when something goes wrong, they’ll make sure to the job right in the first place.”

Wyoming legislators, working with the Collins family, have introduced a bill that would require a $50,000 fine for safety violations that lead to the death of a worker.

 “In 2015, there’s no reason for a worker to die in a trench or due to a fall from a building or any other workplace hazard,” said Peter Dooley, a project consultant for National COSH. He has investigated dozens of workplace fatalities during a decades-long career as a workplace safety specialist.  “I’ve seen every hazard you can think of in every kind of workplace.  I haven’t seen one yet that can’t be controlled or eliminated – if you establish health and safety programs with proven components such as worker participation.”

Workers Memorial Week will be observed this year in 80 local communities in 29 states with vigils, rallies, marches and other events to honor fallen workers and advocate for better safety protections. A listing of events is available on the National COSH website.

On April 28th, National COSH will release the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, the most comprehensive effort to date to gather specific information about workplace deaths.  It will cover some 1,500 fatalities, about one-third of all workers who died on the job in 2014, with an interactive map feature to show where the incidents took place.  The new database, linked from the National COSH website, will be available to the public, policy makers and news media.


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. Audio of today’s National COSH press call is available here.

McDonald’s Workers File OSHA Complaint After 79% Report Being Burn On The Job

Mcdonalds ‘Put mayonnaise on it, you’ll be good’ 

McDonald’s Workers Nationwide File OSHA Complaints Alleging Hazardous Work Conditions

Understaffing and pressure to work too fast lead to serious injuries;
Workers call on DOL to investigate

Faced with widespread hazards on the job, including bubbling hot oil, white hot grills, and greasy, slippery floors, McDonald’s workers who have suffered severe burns announced Monday that they have filed 28 health and safety complaints against the fast-food giant in 19 cities.

They allege that understaffing and pressure to work too fast – hazardous conditions often created by the company’s computer system that dictates staffing levels and the pace of work – are the main drivers responsible for the injuries. The complaints further reveal that many McDonald’s stores lack basic first aid or protective gear necessary to ensure workers’ safety, and that managers often tell workers to treat burns with condiments like mustard rather than burn cream.

“My managers kept pushing me to work faster, and while trying to meet their demands I slipped on a wet floor, catching my arm on a hot grill,” said Brittney Berry, who has worked at McDonald’s in Chicago, Ill., since 2011, and who suffered a severe burn on her forearm and nerve damage from the accident. “The managers told me to put mustard on it, but I ended up having to get rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. This is exactly why workers at McDonald’s need union rights, so we have a voice to make the company take responsibility for the dangers it creates in its stores.”

The complaints, filed with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as state safety and health authorities, point to a wide range of serious dangers at the workplace, including: pressure to clean and filter the fryer while the oil is hot; lack of proper protective equipment; floors that are greasy or wet; and missing or empty first aid kits. Complaints were filed at both corporate and franchised locations.

“One of my coworkers and I have to empty the grease trap without protective gear, and since we were never given the proper equipment or training, we just dump the hot grease into a plastic bag in a box of ice,” said Martisse Campbell, who works at McDonald’s in Philadelphia, Penn., whose hand was severely burned by boiling grease from a fryer. “Once, my coworker got badly burned, and our manager told him ‘put mayonnaise on it, you’ll be good.’ McDonald’s needs to be held accountable, and that’s why workers around the country are joining together.”

Burns have been reported as a widespread problem since fast-food workers started organizing in New York City more than two years ago: “In our first meeting, there were 50 workers in a room in New York City who held up their arms covered in burns and said ‘this is what it means to be a fast-food worker,’” said Kendall Fells,Organizing Director of the Fight for $15. “As this campaign has spread to cities across the country, it’s become painfully clear that unsafe conditions go hand in hand with the industry’s low wages.”

McDonald’s sets minimal health and safety standards for all franchisees, but even these modest measures are not properly enforced. The company watches like a hawk nearly every aspect of its franchisees’ business operations via regular inspections, but it too often ignores health and safety problems. Moreover, workers in corporate-owned stores report the same health and safety hazards as workers in franchised restaurants.

“It’s a problem that only McDonald’s can fix, and the time to fix it is now,” Mr. Fells added.

The announcement comes as a new national survey finds that a staggering share of fast-food workers have been burned on the job: 79% of fast-food workers in the U.S. have been burned in the past year, most repeatedly, according to a survey conducted by Hart Research Associates and released Monday by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. Workers cited understaffing and pressure to work too fast as the top reasons they are getting burned on the job.

The survey found that 36% of workers report that first aid kits are missing, inaccessible, or empty, and one-third of fast-food workers in the U.S. had been told to treat burns with condiments like mustard or mayonnaise rather than burn cream.

The Fight for $15 announced Monday the launch of a petition calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate widespread health and safety hazards in the fast-food industry. And it launched a video and website, burnedbyfastfood.org, to call attention to the prevalence of severe burns in the industry.

Workers announced that they would be holding protests at McDonald’s stores across the country Tuesday to demand that the company be held accountable for the widespread dangers at its stores.

The 19 cities where complaints were filed include Kansas City, Mo., Miramar, Fla., Nanuet, N.Y., New York, N.Y., New Orleans, La., and Philadelphia, Penn. The announcement comes as McDonald’s faces mounting challenges domestically and abroad over working conditions, tax avoidance, and racial discrimination.

Safety Groups Call for OSHA Reforms

Workers and Public Should Have Enhanced Access

to Review Commission, says National COSH

NCOSH 300X250LONGMEADOW, MA – The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) has filed a petition before the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), calling for greater worker and public participation in Commission proceedings.

“Workers know best how to prevent the hazards that cause injuries, illnesses and death on the job,” said Mary Vogel, Executive Director of National COSH. “To make sure our workplaces are safer, workers’ voices must be heard loud and clear. And we need to shine as much light as possible on what is too often hidden from view – the unsafe practices that put workers at unnecessary risk on every shift, day and night, every day of the week.”

“For 44 years, the OSH Act has explicitly given workers the clear right to be involved when employers appeal OSHA citations,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Director for the labor union coalition Change to Win. “As conditions change and employers try to narrow worker participation, the Commission must keep its rules current and preserve this fundamental right.”

“When employees appear before the Review Commission, they should get a fair shake and be full participants,” said Randy Rabinowitz, Co-Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Law Project.

According to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 4,400 workers died in 2013 following on-the-job incidents. BLS data shows more than 3 million non-fatal workplace injuries in 2013, and a University of California study estimates more than 50,000 U.S. deaths annually from long-term illnesses related to workplace exposure.

The Review Commission, created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, hears appeals of OSHA violations and penalties issued against employers following OSHA inspections. With OSHA doing nearly 40,000 inspections annually, the Commission hears some 2,700 employer appeals every year. Many of these cases involve critical issues for the workers affected. The outcome can literally determine whether workers will suffer serious injury or die if employers don’t fix the violations.

The OSHRC is currently considering revisions to its procedural rules. In a petition filed Friday, Jan. 23rd by the Occupational Safety and Health Law Project, National COSH joined North America’s Building Trades Unions, Change to Win and the United Steelworkers, calling for specific changes to enhance worker and public participation.

National COSH and its partners in this petition filing are calling for:

An expanded definition of “affected employee”

As of now, only a worker who is directly employed by an employer with a case before the Review Commission can participate as a party to OSHRC proceedings. With more and more companies using temporary and contract workers — who may be “directly” employed by a different company such as a staffing agency– National COSH and fellow petitioners argue that OSHRC should allow full participation by any worker at a multi-employer worksite who is affected by the hazard or violation under appeal.

This is similar to the existing standard used by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) when assessing safety hazards at construction sites, which typically involve multiple employers.

A consistent right for workers to select their own representatives at Review Commission hearings

Although the OSH Act allows employees the right to select individuals or organizations to represent them during Commission proceedings, this provision of Federal law is not always honored in practice. “OSHRC judges,” the petition states, “have expressed skepticism, if not downright hostility, to the individuals who have sought to represent workers before OSHRC, or have imposed unreasonable limits on a representative’s participation.”

The petitioners seek to clarify that the Review Commission’s existing rules allow a worker to choose an attorney, pastor, community organization, union or other representative to act on their behalf, with no limits placed on participation by chosen representatives.

More sunlight on Review Commission proceedings:

Under current Commission rules, any statement or information offered during settlement talks regarding major cases before the Review Commission is treated as confidential, regardless of the source of the information.

This overly restrictive confidentiality rule, petitioners point out, is narrower than Federal Rules of Evidence.  It has the unfortunate side effect of preventing workers from using information obtained outside of Review Commission proceedings as part of ongoing efforts to improve workplace conditions. As petitioners argue, employees

“[L]earn about everyday working conditions, hazards employees face and violations during their daily work activities. They… have a right to demand improvements in working conditions and to bargain with employers to gain safer workplaces. They also have a right to communicate with the public in their efforts to improve their working conditions.”

“No worker should be silenced just because his or her employer tries to hide unsafe practices behind a cloak of so-called ‘confidentiality’ while trying to settle an OSHA citation,” said Vogel. “As the Review Commission seeks to update its procedures, the common sense reforms we are suggesting will help it function more effectively for all parties and uphold the public’s interest in creating safer workplaces.” 

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.  “Preventable Deaths 2014,” a National COSH report, describes workplace fatalities in the United States and how they can be prevented. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org.  Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

Worker Safety Activists Honored At American Public Health Annual Meeting

Wyoming COSH Founder Dan Neal and SoCalCOSH Board Member Linda Delp
win Awards from American Public Health Association 

NCOSH 300X250NEW ORLEANS – Two veteran worker safety activists, Dan Neal and Linda Delp, were recognized today with prestigious awards at the American Public Health Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Neal, executive director of the Casper-based Equality State Policy Center and founder of the Wyoming Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health (Wyoming COSH) was honored with the APHA Lorin Kerr award, which recognizes outstanding public policy advocacy.

Delp, director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program and a board member of the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH), was honored with the Alice Hamilton Award.

“Dan Neal and Linda Delp are exactly the kind of people who deserve these high professional honors,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “Both of them work tirelessly to advocate for workers’ rights and safer workplaces – and to build strong organizations like WYCOSH and SoCALCOSH, which ensure that workers have a voice in winning safer working conditions.”

Neal became executive director of the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) in 2005 after a decades-long career as a reporter and editor at the Casper Star-Tribune. For many years, Wyoming has been one of the most dangerous states for workers, as measured by the rate of on-the-job fatalities. In 2013 Neal spearheaded creation of Wyoming COSH as a project of ESPC, and affiliation of the state group with National COSH.

In 2014, Neal authored a state-wide report featuring stories of worker fatalities to illustrate how Wyoming families are devastated by these deaths, and outlining concrete steps to improve the state’s dismal safety record. ESPC and Wyoming COSH are currently leading efforts to require stiffer penalties against employers for violations of workplace safety regulations.

“Dan’s leadership and coalition-building skills have made him an effective advocate,” said Marcia Shanor, the executive director of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, who serves as the chair of the ESPC Board of Directors. “His vision and hard work have changed the political landscape in Wyoming.  Worker safety is now on the agenda and our elected leaders know it must be addressed. We’re thrilled that leading public health professionals are recognizing the impact of Dan’s work on the lives of Wyoming workers and families.”

Linda Delp has been a leader and innovator in the field of worker health and safety for nearly 30 years, beginning as Western Region Health and Safety Director for the Service Employees International Union. As director of UCLA’s Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program since 1990, she has created bilingual education and participatory research programs in both the U.S. and Mexico and developed union and labor-management health and safety initiatives in industries ranging from manufacturing to meatpacking to healthcare.

As a volunteer board member at SoCalCOSH, Linda has played a key role in strengthening the organization’s advocacy and education programs. An author of numerous peer-reviewed occupational health studies and a participant in academic, government and community advisory committees, Linda is also known for her ongoing efforts to mentor young scholars and activists seeking to enter the field of public health and worker safety.

“Linda is a high-energy, committed and pragmatic leader who inspires a collective vision and the ability to transform that vision into reality,” said Jessica Martinez, deputy director of National COSH, who is based in California and has worked closely with Delp. “She is devoted to expanding worker safety by identifying resources and offering opportunities to up and coming leaders of diverse backgrounds. Her dedication to create safer and healthier workplaces has been a major contribution to the labor movement.”

Wyoming COSH and SoCalCOSH are part of the COSH Network, which includes 20 groups across the United States advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. National COSH links the efforts of local coalitions and coordinates a national policy agenda on worker health and safety.

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