When safety becomes voluntary: workplace self-policing program under scrutiny
What’s the value of a worker’s life? According to the calculus of corporate efficiency, it’s often still cheaper to put workers at risk than to spend money to protect them. And the federal government generously rewards those who have perfected this cost-containment strategy in industries where workplace hazards are just part of business as usual.

Female House GOP staffers make $10K less than male counterparts
Women on the Hill make thousands less than their male counterparts each year, with the gap particularly pronounced amongst Republican staffers. On average, women in the House make $5,862.56 less each year than male staffers. But for GOP women, that number increases to $10,093.09, according to an analysis by National Journal.

3 ex-managers sue Wet Seal, asserting bias against blacks
Three former managers at Wet Seal, a nationwide apparel retailer for young women, filed a federal race discrimination lawsuit on Thursday, asserting that the company had a high-level policy of firing and denying pay increases and promotions to African-African employees because they did not fit the retailer’s “brand image.” The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., includes a copy of a March 2009 e-mail sent by the company’s then senior vice president for store operations to lower-level managers after she had inspected several stores, saying “African American dominate — huge issue.”

OSHA declines to issue rule protecting workers from heat
As high temperature records are broken across the United States, health and public safety advocates are calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to finally issue a rule protecting workers from extreme heat. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended a heat standard, but OSHA has still failed to implement it. With global warming likely to make heat related deaths more common, public safety advocates say OSHA must act immediately.

BP spill workers say dispersant made them sick
The 1.8 million gallons of dispersant that BP and federal responders spread on the massive Gulf oil spill in 2010 are already coming back to haunt them. FuelFix.com, a Houston Chronicle spinoff devoted to covering energy, reports today that the company that manufactures Corexit, the chemical sprayed on the surface of the Gulf and at the wellhead to disperse the oil in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is trying to get out of a proposed settlement with plaintiffs who say they have health problems resulting from the spill and cleanup.

Is your small business exempt from OSHA?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act covers most businesses that have employees. It has specific rules and regulations but it also specifies a number of industries that are exempt from the OSH Act. Not everyone has to follow OSH Act regulations and many small businesses are exempt from the requirements.

Big week looms ahead for SeaWorld
The week of July 16 will be crunch time for America’s favorite marine theme park, as SeaWorld braces for the next grueling phase in the aftermath of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death, two and a half years ago in Orlando. The company will have much to contend with.

BP agrees to pay more than $13M and abate violations in settlement agreement with US Department of Labor
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced that OSHA and BP Products North America Inc. have resolved 409 of the 439 citations issued by the agency in October 2009 for willful violations of OSHA’s process safety management standard at BP’s refinery in Texas City, Texas. Under the agreement, BP will pay $13M in penalties, and already has abated or will abate all existing violations by the end of 2012.

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Black-lung rule loopholes leave miners vulnerable
Thousands of coal miners continued to suffer and die from black lung during the 40 years that tough new limits on exposure to coal dust were supposed to provide protection. Control of the mine dust was plagued by weak enforcement by regulators and loopholes exploited by mining companies, according to a joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI). The protections were “set up for failure,” says Dennis O’Dell, the safety and health administrator at the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

Reaffirming the legal rights of miners
Among the most critical provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 is the protection of miners against retaliation for raising health and safety concerns. Two recent decisions by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission have affirmed the legal rights of miners to be protected against discrimination in the workplace.

Black lung: Why respirators are not a solution
Respirators and other breathing devices may seem useful for protecting coal miners from the dust that causes black lung. But federal law does not permit using respirators as a way of complying with dust exposure limits.

US Labor Department focusing on compliance of wage laws in Virginia construction industry
According to the department, large companies such as developers and prime contractors are increasingly subcontracting work to smaller companies that employ workers on-site or to other workers with skills like masonry, carpentry and electrical work.

Houston, we have a workers’ rights problem: Profile of a worker justice center in Texas’ biggest city
Last month, more than 70 ironworkers walked off an ExxonMobil construction site near Houston, Texas. The workers, known as rodbusters in the industry, weren’t members of a union or backed by powerful organizers; they decided amongst themselves to unite in protest of unsafe working conditions in a state that has the highest construction worker fatality rate in the country.

SeaWorld appeals killer-whale safety ruling
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that its animal trainers be forbidden from having unprotected contact with killer whales during public performances. The Orlando-based marine park operator said Monday that it has submitted a petition to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission asking the panel to review the May 30 ruling.

Workplace safety regulators cite recycling companies in Texas and Ohio
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused Electronic Recycling and Trading Co. of 14 violations in connection with a combustible dust explosion in January that severely burned two workers at a company site in Austin, Texas. The alleged violations included failing to provide suitable dust collection and fire suppression systems. The agency is proposing penalties totaling $60K. Separately, OSHA accused Toxco Inc. of 14 violations at its battery recycling plant in Lancaster, Ohio, including failing to protect workers from overexposure to lead and cadmium. Proposed penalties total $59K.

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As mine protections fail, black lung cases surge
A joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has found that incidence of the disease that steals the breath of coal miners doubled in the last decade, according to data analyzed by epidemiologist Scott Laney at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Black lung experts and mine safety advocates have warned of the resurgence of the disease since 1995. New reporting by CPI and NPR reveals the extent to which federal regulators and the mining industry failed to protect coal miners in the intervening years.

Dust reforms stalled by years of inaction
For more than a quarter-century, government efforts to end deadly black lung disease have hit various brick walls, built by opposition from one side or the other. Industry lobbyists object that tougher dust limits and more rigorous sampling requirements go too far. Labor leaders complain those same proposals are far too weak. Miners are left with the same system that experts have agreed hasn’t worked for decades.

Black lung disease, once on the brink of extinction, is back. Thank the coal industry.
In February 1969, miners in West Virginia launched an illegal wildcat strike. The action halted extraction for half of the mines in the northern part of the state for days. The miners had one demand: end black lung disease. The action worked. But new research into the disease by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity reveals that black lung is far from eradicated.

Forced labor on American shores
It is time to banish the idea that forced labor and sweatshop exploitation are problems of bygone eras or distant countries. These conditions exist within America’s borders. New rules protecting workers’ rights were supposed to have taken effect in April, but have been blocked after business owners sued the Department of Labor and a group of senators from both parties shamefully voted to deny the department funding to enforce them.

Wal-Mart’s dirty partners
Wal-Mart’s low prices come at a high cost. You can measure it in environmental impact, crowded-out competitors or its employees’ miserly benefits. Or you can consider Wal-Mart’s other army: workers employed by Wal-Mart’s contractors and subcontractors, whose labor makes Wal-Mart possible and whose working conditions are shaped by the company’s lust for savings. As Wal-Mart celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, some of them are raising alarms.

Labor activists peer into shadows of Apple’s factory empire
Our gadgets and tablets make our lives easier, but those palm-sized miracles of convenience are built by hard work in a metastisizing global chain of low-wage labor. Apple has received much criticism lately over the exploitation of workers in China, particularly at the manufacturing behemoth Foxconn, where several worker suicides have stirred public outrage. But Apple’s power over China’s assemblyline workforce extends to many other suppliers. A new report by China Labor Watch drills down to the lesser-known plants that piece together our hand-held devices.

DOJ probing whether ‘Fast and Furious’ whistleblowers are safe from retaliation
The Justice Department’s inspector general is probing whether two federal agents could face retaliation for blowing the whistle on operation “Fast and Furious.” In a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), made public on Monday, IG Michael Horowitz said he was investigating their concerns that two federal officials could be at risk of retaliatory action for speaking out against the botched gun-tracking operation.

Jobs report’s thin silver lining: real wages are rising
There was one bright spot in this morning’s monthly nonfarm jobs report: wages are rising. As per the nonfarm payrolls report from the BLS, average hourly wages rose 6 cents, to $23.50. That’s up 2% from a year ago.

A grueling course for training Marine officers will open its doors to women
This was one sequence in the Combat Endurance Test, the opening exercise in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course — one of the most redoubtable male-only domains in the American military. And this session of the course could be the last male-only class. Beginning in September, the corps says, female officer volunteers will participate here, part of a study to gauge the feasibility of allowing female Marines to serve in more extensive combat roles.

Feds investigate Oshkosh crane collapse
Federal workplace safety officials are investigating the collapse of a crane on an expressway bridge near Oshkosh yesterday that killed a worker and injured another.

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With hundreds of workers dying, OSHA’s denial of petition for a heat stress standard is shortsighted
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has denied yet another petition from Public Citizen calling for a life-saving regulation – an action particularly shortsighted given the searing temperatures we are seeing in the summer and the number of workers who are dying from heat, Public Citizen said today.

Who’s watching out for farm workers left out in the heat?
Farm worker organizing led to California’s first-in-the-nation heat illness regulation, which was passed in 2005 after five heat-related deaths that year. It’s supposed to guarantee water, shade, and rest for all outdoor workers, including the state’s 650,000 farm workers. So why are people still getting sick and dying?

House probes NY restaurant-harass group
The House investigations panel has opened a probe into a controversial labor-activist group accused of harassing New York City eateries, The Post has learned. The organization, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), was formed after 9/11 to help displaced restaurant workers, including those from Windows of the World.

GOP Rep. tells constituent who asks about raising the minimum wage to ‘get a job’
House Democrats earlier this month proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour, which would catch the minimum wage up to the buying power it had in 1968. The proposal hasn’t gone anywhere, though, since Republicans who control the House of Representatives oppose any increase. Asked by a constituent at a Fourth of July parade yesterday, Florida Rep. Bill Young (R) revealed that he is, predictably, opposed to the Democratic proposal. When a constituent asked him why he opposed boosting worker wages, Young replied simply, “Get a job.”

If former Massey Energy is now “Running Right,” why keep secret its safety progress report?
“We’re still in the dark,” explained one family whose son was killed 27 months ago at Alpha Natural Resources (formerly Massey Energy’s) Upper Big Branch mine (UBB). That comment came two weeks ago after learning that Alpha, one of the world’s largest coal companies, provided its first progress report to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin as required by the December 2011 Non-Prosecution Agreement. The report was dated June 4, 2012. This family member and others feel “still in the dark” because a copy of that report has not been shared with them.

Can you be fired for what you post on Facebook?
Which Facebook posts can get you fired? As more and more of our daily speech migrates online, business groups are hoping that the NLRB will make it easier for employers to control that speech. It shouldn’t.

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Voluntary enforcement of workplace safety isn’t enough
Lawmakers in today’s U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee hearing are misguided if they think that voluntary enforcement of workplace safety is enough to keep employees safe from harm, Public Citizen said.

House Republicans say ‘nay’ to new mine safety reforms, no questions left about which side they’re on
Just two weeks ago, families of the 29 men who were killed on April 5, 2010 at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine traveled to Washington DC to urge lawmakers to improve our nation’s mine safety law. The West Virginia natives met with Republican and Democratic Members of Congress and asked for four simple reforms targeted at the mining industry’s bad actors. They weren’t asking anything for themselves. Only for new laws to help deter unscrupulous employers from causing another disaster and causing other communities to suffer the same pain and loss the UBB families have endured.

Underground mine ribs are focus of MSHA’s 2012 roof control campaign
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration once again will focus its annual mine roof control program on efforts to improve mine rib control during the 2012 Preventive Roof Rib Outreach Program, known as PROP. For the second consecutive year, in 2011, fatal rib roll accidents in underground coal mines outnumbered more typical fatal roof fall accidents. Most recently, on June 25, a coal miner in eastern Kentucky suffered fatal injuries when he was crushed by a rib roll.

Researchers challenge Labor Dept to fix its annual count of injuries, misses 70% of burns work-related burns
It’s not the first time that Kenneth Rosenman, MD has provided scientific evidence on the deficiencies in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual survey of occupational injuries and illnesses, and it won’t be the last. His latest study, written with Joanna Kica, MPA, with Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Medicine ,reports that the Labor Department’s methods for estimating work-related burns misses about 70% of them.

FLSA: 74 years fighting child labor and still going
Last month activists all over the planet shined a light on the persistence of child labor on the World Day Against Child Labor. As many as 215 million children world-wide lose the chance to learn, play and grow as they instead are compelled to join the workforce, often under grueling conditions. As we in the United States celebrate the anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) passed in 1938, we should recommit to the part of its mission dedicated to fighting oppressive child labor in our own country.

Sex workers and cabbies swept into New York’s anti-prostitution dragnet
Two quintessential cliches of New York City street life are heading into more trouble with the law: yellow cabs and prostitutes. The newly signed legislation aims to punish cab drivers who abet prostitution, with a focus on those who “knowingly engage in a business of transporting individuals to patrons for purposes of prostitution, procuring and/or soliciting patrons for the prostitution, and receiving proceeds from such business in collaboration with traffickers and pimps.” The law imposes new criminal penalties, including fines or the loss of a license, for various forms of “promoting prostitution” while using the taxi.

Labor rights advocates: a dozen Wal-Mart suppliers received 482 federal citations
The National Guestworker Alliance said Tuesday it has uncovered “482 federal citations for safety, health, wage, and hour violations,” among 12 of the 18 suppliers of Wal-Mart Stores that the organization has been investigating.

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A breath of fresh air for hydraulic fracturing workers
Since 1997, the American workplace has been left with no direction for appropriate protections regarding crystalline silica. Now, long-awaited guidance for protections from exposure to crystalline silica for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) workers will help those in the industry breathe a little easier, Public Citizen said.

OSHA and NIOSH issue hazard alert for silica exposure in fracking operations
In response to results of the recently released National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) field studies that found workers at hydraulic fracturing operations exposed to high levels of respirable crystalline silica, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and NIOSH have issued a Hazard Alert. The alert outlines the health hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing and focuses specifically on exposures to airborne silica, saying that “employers must ensure that workers are properly protected from overexposure to silica.” It also describes a combination of measures that can be used to protect workers, including engineering controls, protective equipment, and product substitution.

Fracking concerns turn to worker health hazards and potential silica exposure
To-date, concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, have been focused mainly on environmental risks. Now it appears federal agencies have concerns about worker health hazards in this fast-growing industry, specifically with regard to potential worker exposure to dust with high levels of respirable crystalline silica.

Billion dollar mining company hasn’t paid fine for safety violations in 2010 deaths of two workers
It’s been almost two years since Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38, went to work at Barrick Goldstrike’s Meikle mine near Elko, Nevada, but never made it back home to their families. They were fatally crushed on August 12, 2010 in a mine shaft by tons of falling aggregate and pipe. As I wrote last year, management at this mine — an operation owned by the largest gold producer in the world, with a stock market value of tens of billions of dollars — had jerry-rigged a reset button with a broom handle and failed to replace missing clamp bolts and load-bearing plates on the aggregate carrying pipe system, factors directly contributing to the workers’ deaths.

Ground Zero workers may get cancer coverage, but the health disaster remains
More than a decade after the Twin Towers came crashing down, the disaster still weighs heavily on the bodies of workers and survivors. A federal panel’s recent decision on cancers related to 9/11 could bring some long awaited relief, as well as new challenges for sick survivors of Ground Zero. The panel’s analysis may open a channel for covering various forms of cancer through the healthcare fund of the federal Zadroga Act, which offers compensation for sicknesses resulting from the disaster.

Poisoning workers at the bottom of the food chain
Laboring in the blackberry fields of central Arkansas, the 18-year-old Mexican immigrant suddenly turned ill. Her nose began to bleed, her skin developed a rash, and she vomited. The doctor told her it was most likely flu or bacterial infection, but farmworker Tania Banda-Rodriguez suspected pesticides. Under federal law, growers must promptly report the chemicals they spray. The Environmental Protection Agency administers a Worker Protection Standard meant to regulate pesticides and protect workers and handlers. Yet the agency maintains no comprehensive database to track pesticide exposure incidents nationwide.

Heat safety in spotlight as AZ probes worker death
Roofing, landscaping, agricultural and construction companies typically start their workdays at dawn to avoid the hottest part of the day and take other steps to avoid heat-related illness. The danger remains, however, as evidenced by the death this week of a construction worker on the northwest side after showing symptoms of heat-related illness. The death of the worker, 44-year-old Mark Geise of Indiana, is under investigation by ADOSH, said Jessie Atencio, Tucson-based assistant director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH).

Feds to investigate dumbwaiter death
Federal workplace safety investigators are looking into the death of a Schenectady restaurant co-owner who died after his head became wedged in the kitchen dumbwaiter. Schenectady Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco says it appears Israel Silva was trying to repair the dumbwaiter at Bangkok Bistro early Saturday when it suddenly became activated. The small elevator is used to carry food from the basement kitchen to the first-floor dining room.

Some employers and Republicans want to lower the minimum wage — here’s why they’re completely out of touch
It seems unfathomable that anyone would consider the minimum wage — which, for a full-time worker, provides a yearly salary that is thousands of dollars below the poverty line for a family of three or four — to be too high. But in Arizona, Republican legislators are pushing a bill that would allow employers to pay teenagers working part-time a full three dollars per hour less than the state minimum wage, which works out to a mere $4.65 per hour. And the Florida legislature is considering lowering the state minimum wage for tipped employees by more than half.

Most minimum wage earners are women
One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today. Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Queer issues are class issues: Where next for the LGBTQ movement?
Economics and sexual identity are not unconnected. The Center for American Progress reported back in 2010, “Besides disproportionate rates of homelessness as youth, a root cause of lower incomes and poverty among adult gay and transgender Americans is the high rate of workplace discrimination they face. This discrimination includes unequal pay, barriers to health insurance, unfair hiring and promotion practices, and verbal and sexual harassment that create hostile and unsafe working environment.”

Top Obama energy aide: ‘Fracking’ rules coming by year’s end
The administration Monday sought to reassure green groups “fracking” regulations are on track despite extending the public comment period. Heather Zichal, the top White House energy aide, told reporters that she expects the Interior Department rules regulating hydraulic fracturing, dubbed fracking, to be completed by year’s end.

Airline crash deaths too few to make new safety rules pay
More than a decade has passed since the last major-airline accident on U.S. soil. That’s great news for aviation companies and their passengers — and a complication for rule makers trying to improve flight safety. The benefits of aviation rules are calculated primarily on how many deaths they may prevent, so the safest decade in modern airline history is making it harder to justify the cost of new requirements.

Monitoring government employee email could lead to repercussions for whistleblowers
Let’s say that you work for a government agency, and happen to witness fraud, waste or abuse—but you know that your employer is reading your email, and might use the information to retaliate against you. Would this affect your decision to blow the whistle? That’s the concern Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner raised in a memorandum sent last week to government agency heads and general counsels. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC)—which is responsible for investigating whistleblower claims—asked agencies in the memorandum to evaluate their monitoring practices to ensure employees are not discouraged from exercising their legal rights to disclose wrongdoing.

CDC considers outside checks on bioterror labs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering having U.S. Army scientists or another outside agency inspect its bioterror labs in the wake of a USA TODAY report this month. The agency plans to install safety equipment to address fire code violations from December 2010 that could trap workers in an emergency, an agency spokesman said Monday.

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