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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.

 

Leo W Gerard: Trade Abuse

America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations.

Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different. President Obama and the CEO of Nike, a company that doesn’t manufacture one shoe in the United States, got together in Oregon on Friday to urge Americans to fall once again for a trade deal.

The trade fanatics say everything will be different under the TPP – even though it is based on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that lured American factories across the border, destroyed good-paying jobs and devastated communities. They plead: “Just come back for one more deal and see how great it will be this time!” And, like all batterers, they say: “Sorry about the terrible past; trust me about the future.”

This is trade abuse.

2015-05-10-1431274691-5818652-JustDontDoIt.jpg

At the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the chief executive officer of Air Jordans told the chief executive passenger of Air Force One that Americans should believe in the TPP because it’ll be like Santa Claus stuffing jobs down chimneys across America.

CEO Mark Parker promised that the TPP would miraculously prompt Nike, the brand that is the icon for shipping production overseas, to create 10,000 U.S. manufacturing and engineering jobs – over a decade, that is.  Not only that, Parker pronounced, the TPP will generate thousands of construction jobs and as many as 40,000 indirect positions with suppliers and service companies – again, over a decade.

Now those are some great-sounding promises! Nike employs 26,000 American workers now, a few of whom make soles in Oregon and Missouri. But presto, Parker says, the TPP will increase that number by nearly 40 percent!

The thing is, Nike could easily create 10,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the United States right now. No TPP required. It employs 1 million overseas, the vast majority in low-wage, high-worker-abuse countries like Vietnam, China and Indonesia. To bring 1 percent of those jobs – 10,000 – to the United States doesn’t seem like such a Herculean, TPP-requiring task, especially considering Nike’s massive profit margin.

The average cost to make a pair of Nike shoes is $30. The American sneaker consumer, who may pay $130 to swoosh, is certainly not getting the benefit of low prices from Nike’s cheap overseas production.

Instead of manufacturing in America, Nike chooses to “just do it” in countries where it knows workers are abused. In the 1990s, the media slammed the corporation for sweatshop conditions in its foreign factories. Like a typical abuser, Nike promised to reform its ways. It said in a news release last week, “Our past lessons have fundamentally changed the way we do business.”

Well, not really. The company admitted in 2011 that two Indonesian factories making its shoes subjected workers to “serious and egregious” physical and verbal abuse. Nike told the San Francisco Chronicle then that there was “little it could do to stop” the cruelty.

And it accomplished exactly that – little. Just last month, a three-part series in the Modesto Bee described sickening conditions in Indonesian factories producing Nike shoes: Workers paid $212 a month for six-day, 55-hour work weeks. Workers denied the country’s minimum wage and overtime pay. Workers paid so little they couldn’t afford to care for their children. Workers fired for trying to improve conditions.

Last week, the world’s largest athletic gear maker said, “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions (in the TPP) because we believe that will drive higher industry standards and create economic growth that benefits everyone.”

Promises, promises. Why doesn’t Nike simply insist on higher standards at its factories? What exactly is there in a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that is essential to Nike establishing higher standards and stopping the abuse of workers in factories making its shoes?

Oh, yeah, the American middle class, which has suffered most from past trade deals, is not allowed to know that.  The TPP is secret. Well, except to the privileged corporate CEOs who helped write the thing.

In pushing for “Fast Track” authority to shove the deal through a Congress that has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to oversee foreign trade, President Obama admitted “past deals did not always live up to the hype.”

That’s not quite right. It’s actually way worse than that. Past deals killed U.S. factories and jobs. Since NAFTA, they’ve cost Americans 57,000 factories and 5 million good, family-supporting jobs.

Just three years ago, trade fanatics promised that the Korean deal, called KORUS, would definitely provide more exports and more jobs. Instead, U.S. goods exports to Korea dropped 6 percent, while imports from Korea surged 19 percent. So the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 104 percent. That means the loss of 93,000 America jobs in just the first three years of KORUS.

It’s the same story with the other trade deals that followed NAFTA, including the agreements that enabled China to enter the World Trade Organization. The Commerce Department announced just last week the largest monthly expansion in the trade deficit in 19 years. The deficit with China for March was the biggest ever.

What this means is that instead of exporting goods, America is exporting jobs. Foreign workers get the jobs making the stuff Americans buy. And they’re often employed by factories producing products for so-called American corporations like Nike. They’re employed by factories that collapse and kill hundreds. Factories that catch on fire and immolate workers trapped inside. Factories where workers are ill-paid, overworked and slapped when they can’t meet unrealistic production quotas. Factories that pollute grievously.

American workers no longer are willing to engage in this abusive relationship with trade fanatics. They no longer believe the promises of change. They don’t want the federal money TPP fanatics promise them to pay for retraining as underpaid burger flippers after their middle class-supporting factory jobs are shipped overseas. They’re over trade pacts that benefit only multi-national corporations like Nike.

To Fast Track and the TPP, they say, “Just Don’t Do It!”

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.

Worker Safety Groups Release New U.S. Worker Fatality Database

More than 1,780 cases identified for 2014, likely one-third of total;
Data and accompanying maps can be sorted by state and industry 

LONGMEADOW, MA Observing Worker Memorial Day, a coalition of safety groups has released the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, with accompanying maps and infographics.  

The database, which shows the names, people and stories behind statistical reports of deaths on the job, is the largest open-access data set of individual workplace fatalities ever collected in the United States.

imageU.S.Worker Deaths by Industry,2014. Available through the map and infographic function of the U.S. Worker Fatality Database. Data can also be mapped by state.

“This Worker Memorial Day, we’re launching a unique, collaborative online database, with information about the lives – and the deaths – of workers who died on the job in 2014,” said Bethany Boggess of Global Worker Watch. “To prevent future tragedies, we need to know all we can about who died on the job, and under what circumstances.”

The U.S. Worker Fatality Database identifies more than 1,780 workplace fatalities in 2014, with additional data still being collected. Based on previous data, this is likely to represent over one-third of the total cases of workplace deaths from traumatic events for that year.

The final toll for 2013, released last week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 4,585 deaths on the job from sudden traumatic events. An additional 50,000 workers are expected to die each year from long-term exposure to toxic chemicals and other occupational hazards.

The database is a joint effort of workplace safety groups and advocates, including:

  • National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH
  • AFL-CIO
  • Center for Construction Research and Training
  • Fe Y Justicia
  • Global Worker Watch
  • Knox Area Worker Memorial Day Committee
  • Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health  (MassCOSH)
  • Northeastern New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NENYCOSH)
  • United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF)
  • Beyond OSHA Project

The U.S. Worker Fatality Database was created when workplace safety advocates, seeking information about workers killed in their state, region or local community, found that important details about these tragic cases were not consistently available.

The resulting database offers more specific detail than the annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from the BLS, which reports aggregate statistics. The U.S. Worker Fatality Database includes, where available, the name of the deceased, employer, circumstances of death. It contains links to sources of public documents related to the incidents on how and where workers were killed, including OSHA reports and news media accounts.

The data can be sorted by age, gender, city, state, industry and keywords such as “fall elevation,” “electrocuted,”  “explosion” and other terms linked to the cause of death.

Using the accompanying map function on the Tableau Public platform, maps showing the incidence of fatalities can be zoomed and captured by industry and by individual states. These maps are licensed under Creative Commons, and can be modified, reproduced and redistributed, with credit to: U.S. Workers Fatality Database.

Workers Memorial Day, which coincides with the day the Occupational Safety and Health Act took effect in the United States in 1971, is part of a week-long series of activities across the country to honor workers who have died on the job and advocate for better safety protections. Workers Memorial Week is being observed this year in more than 100 local communities with vigils, rallies, marches and other events. A full listing is available on the National COSH website.


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.  “Not an Accident: 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 on Twitter.

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.

New Report Highlights Injuries Suffered By Healthcare Workers In Massachusetts

WGBH Story on Injuries to Nurses and DPH/MHA Efforts to Suppress Findings of Report on the Issue Highlights MNA-Filed Bill to Address this Crisis

 By David Schildmeier of the Mass Nurses Association

In conjunction with a major NPR story on the shocking rate of injuries to nurses and other health care workers, WGBH produced a feature on the issue here in Massachusetts (access radio and TV clips at link below).  Nurses and health care workers suffer more back/shoulder injuries than any other profession, and in Massachusetts the rate of injury among nursing personnel is twice the national average, among the highest in the nation.

The WGBH report highlights a report on this issue that documented this crisis for nurses, which called for the implementation of safer patient handling practices by the health care industry.  It also documents how the DPH, under pressure from the MHA suppressed the release of the report as the MHA is concerned about the costs of providing adequate safe patient handling equipment and practices to protect its workers.

This story highlights legislation filed by the MNA, An Act Related to Safe Patient Handling, which would require hospitals to provide the equipment and practices to prevent these debilitating injuries.  Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, lead sponsor for the bill, provided powerful arguments for the bill’s passage and countered the MHA’s appalling rationale for opposing the measure.

Read more from WGBH 

Injured Nurses: Concerns Over Health Care Protocols (Video)

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.

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