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Archive for April, 2011

Today is Workers Memorial Day. It’s a day to remember those who’ve been hurt or killed on the job. And it’s a day to recommit to making worksites safer across the nation. Every day in America, 12 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, 3.3 million people suffer a workplace injury from which they may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy.

Yesterday was Workers Memorial Day, a day set aside by worker safety and health advocates to remember men and women who are killed on the job across this country. The Obama administration’s worker safety regulators and agencies are making a big deal about this day of commemoration, and tying it to the 40th anniversary of the creation of OSHA. But as I read the speeches, and studied the AFL-CIO report, something just jumping out at me … it was the list of terrible workplace disasters that our nation has suffered over the last two years. Those things didn’t happen when George W. Bush was president. They happened on President Obama’s watch. And they happened after Hilda Solis was confirmed as Labor Secretary.

Since the Tucson shootings, U.S. Capitol Police have urged members of Congress to be more vigilant. Lawmakers’ aides now coordinate public activities in home districts with local law enforcement authorities. There are new protocols for reporting death threats, strange phone calls and suspicious Facebook postings.

The Federal Aviation Administration is shaking up the management of the nation’s air traffic control system following embarrassing incidents of controllers sleeping on the job and making errors. The FAA said Friday it has appointed new managers to oversee the operation of airport towers and regional radar centers that handle planes flying at high altitudes as well as approaches and departures. The previous managers are being reassigned.

Retired captain Chesley Sullenberger warned in an interview published Thursday by the DailyBeast.com, that cuts to FAA funding may have an impact on safety and that the government should be forthcoming about potential consequences. According to Sullenberger, cuts could translate to reductions in staffing at regulatory agencies and represent a decision to accept something less than the highest standards. He said such cuts would lead to an increased risk that someone will come to harm who otherwise would not have. Sullenberger stated that the industry has made a promise to passengers that it will do the best it can, even when that is not easy, expedient, or inexpensive. He also raised concerns about pilot fatigue regulation.

OSHA has started conducting inspections of outpatient care centers in four states — Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Florida — in an effort to reduce needlesticks and sharps hazards, according to a report from the ASC Association in its ASCA Government Affairs Update.

Workers in Louisiana face a higher chance of dying during an accident on the job compared to workers in other states, but are also are less likely to endure minor injuries or catch an illness while in the workplace.

When older workers are injured on the job, they’re sidelined for longer periods of time than their younger co-workers, CDC researchers found.

CBS correspondent Lara Logan says she believed she was going to die while she was being sexually assaulted and beaten in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

There are so many college students willing to work as interns — and, often, willing to work for free. (There are even some students who pay for their internships.) The number of unpaid internships has steadily increased in recent years, prompting questions about the legality and ethics of unpaid internships. Last year the U.S. Labor Department released a list of six criteria that must be met for an unpaid internship to be legal and some states launched investigations into internship programs. Some university officials worry that cracking down on unpaid internships could mean fewer opportunities for students hungry for real world experience. But researcher Ross Perlin says colleges and universities have failed to “inform young people of their rights or protect them from the miserly calculus of employers.”

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Each year on April 28, Workers Memorial Day, working people throughout the world remember those who were hurt or killed on the job and renew our struggle for safe workplaces. In town squares and union halls, at worksites and memorials, in community after community—we are gathering to remember our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives and to fight for safe workplaces and for good jobs for all workers. This year is especially noteworthy. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, where 146 workers were killed after being trapped behind locked doors with no way to escape. This year is also the 40th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the right of workers to a safe job. Find a Workers Memorial Day event near you.

“Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living” was the rallying cry of community organizer Mother Jones (a.k.a. Mary Harris Jones, 1837-1930) to fire up workers as they demanded better working conditions and labor rights. The motto still resonates today, especially this week when workers, human rights, and public health advocates commemorate International Worker Memorial Day. Hazards magazine offers a list of events scheduled across the globe and the AFL-CIO provides a list of activities here in the U.S., as does the victims’ support group United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF).

The number of workplace-related deaths and injuries decreased slightly in 2009 according to the nation’s largest labor union, but that’s not because of any significant changes in safety regulations. Instead, the loss of jobs due to the recession has simply kept many employees away from the most harmful workplaces.

President Obama can direct ICE not to interfere in workplaces where workers have fought to improve conditions or are currently doing so. ICE should target employers that exploit workers, not employers trying to do the right thing. And the President can implement a humane and common-sense new prosecutorial discretion policy in keeping with ICE’s existing enforcement priorities.

Many long-dormant personnel issues have re-emerged in the states this year as Republican governors seek to change the rules for managing the public workforce. But nobody expected controversy over the personnel issue that has come to the surface in Maine: child labor. Governor Paul LePage is promoting legislation this year that would move toward deregulating non-adult employment. The Maine legislature is considering bills that would remove any limit on the number of hours children 16 or older can work on school days, raise their maximum hours each week to 24, up from 20, and allow them to work until 11 p.m., rather than 10 p.m.

Every day on his way to and from work at Clearwater, John Bergen III drove past a billboard in the company parking lot sporting a picture of a king cobra and the explanation that it represented the company’s behavior-based safety program – Changing Our Behavior Reduces Accidents – COBRA. Behavior-based workplace safety programs like COBRA are attempts by corporations to shirk responsibility to eliminate hazards by blaming workers instead. When workers die, behavior-based programs disrespect the deceased by blaming them for their own deaths.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was established in 1971. Since then, OSHA and our state partners, coupled with the efforts of employers, safety and health professionals, unions and advocates, have had a dramatic effect on workplace safety. Fatality and injury rates have dropped markedly. Although accurate statistics were not kept at the time, it is estimated that in 1970 around 14,000 workers were killed on the job. That number fell to approximately 4,340 in 2009. This timeline highlights key milestones in occupational safety and health history since the creation of OSHA.

A provision in the new 9/11 health bill may be adding insult to injury for people who fell sick after their service in the aftermath of the 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, The Huffington Post has learned. The tens of thousands of cops, firefighters, construction workers and others who survived the worst terrorist assault in U.S. history and risked their lives in its wake will soon be informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s terrorism watch list, according to a letter obtained by HuffPost. As you might imagine, this wasn’t the sort of thing that Stewart would let slide.

Dozens of workers protested at Honeywell’s shareholder meeting on Monday, accusing the company of putting employees and the public in danger at its uranium enrichment plant in Metropolis, Illinois. Major U.S. defense contractor, Honeywell, pleaded guilty last month to illegally storing hazardous radioactive waste without a permit. The company kept highly radioactive mud in drums in the open air behind its facility near the Ohio River. Workers at the facility say they notified Honeywell of the problem on many occasions.

Two workplace deaths and a hostage crisis in Montgomery County in one year has prompted Bethesda businesses to host a seminar on workplace safety, to be held Tuesday.

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Out today, in preparation for tomorrow’s annual Workers Memorial Day commemoration, is the annual AFL-CIO report, Death on the Job. As usual, this year’s report offers a variety of reform-minded suggestions for improved job protections — more inspectors, tougher laws and regulations, even something as simple as a better accounting of how many workers are hurt or killed on the job. But there’s also something missing from the report. At least it jumped out at me … and that’s any sort of discussion of the ways that the agency charged with protecting the health and safety of the nation’s miners could on its own do a better job.

At least 15 million Americans work full time on irregular shifts in the late evenings or overnight, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The perk of more freedom during the daytime is one of the biggest draws, as is the serenity that often comes with the darker, slower hours. But there is also a cost, paid by the body in the form of stress and fatigue, the perils of which have been exposed anew in air traffic control towers across the nation.

The NRC published in the Federal Register today a call for public comments on a proposed amendment to its fitness-for-duty rule that would allow nuclear power plants to use a different method to determine when employees must be given time off from work. The current fitness-for-duty regulations (10 CFR Part 26) went into effect in March 2008. They established, among other requirements, limits on work hours to ensure worker fatigue did not affect plant safety and security. The regulations required licensees to manage cumulative fatigue primarily by providing workers with a minimum number of days off within certain time frames.

New national regulations will reduce the number of consecutive hours they can work from 30 to just 16. The regulations, issued by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, also restructure the supervision residents receive. Although the regulations only affect first-year residents, they will not be cheap.

Conservative and anti-porn groups can talk about shutting the whole system down, but if there is one lesson history has taught us about sex work, it’s that it will just go underground. Like many controversial and illegal things in this country, legalization and regulation is far more helpful than a complete ban.

One of the most persistent problems facing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is workers unprotected in trenching and excavation projects. All excavations are hazardous because they are inherently unstable. That’s why pre-job planning is vital to accident-free trenching; safety cannot be improvised as work progresses.

A quarter-century later, no one knows what their heroism cost. It isn’t clear how many deaths and illnesses among liquidators can truly be linked to radiation exposure. Of the 20 men in Kotlyar’s fire brigade, four have died. One man had a brain tumor, another leukemia. Kotlyar is convinced at least that those two died because of radiation.

Undergraduate students working at Yale University’s Sterling Chemistry Laboratory made a shocking discovery. There in the lab’s machine shop was the dead body of 22-year-old undergraduate student Michele Dufault, who had apparently died of asphyxiation. Within days, federal health and safety officials had started to investigate. Details are scarce, but it is already clear that Dufault was not inexperienced with the equipment; she had taken a training course and had used the lathe safely many times before, according to fellow physics student Joe O’Rourke. She was, however, working late at night and probably alone (a speculation that Yale would not confirm) — circumstances that were not unusual at the machine shop, says O’Rourke.

The stunning beauty of the Minnesota State Capitol came at a cost – at least five workers died building it. These men had been virtually forgotten, but will finally be publicly recognized for the first time during the Workers Memorial Day ceremony Thursday.

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A complaint issued on April 20th by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the Boeing Co. is a victory for all American workers—particularly aerospace workers in both Puget Sound and South Carolina, officials with the Machinists (IAM) said. NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon issued the complaint, which alleges that Boeing’s decision in 2009 to locate a Dreamliner 787 final assembly line in North Charleston, S.C., represented illegal retaliation against IAM members who work for the company.

In one case, Lowe v. American Eurocopters, LLC, an employee filed a lawsuit alleging she had been discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment. Lowe claimed her weight, which her supervisor harassed her about, was a disability under the ADA. She also claimed that she was harassed because she was parking in the handicapped parking spot and complaining about her inability to walk to work from the regular employee parking lot.

A judge has dismissed a former TV news worker’s pioneering lawsuit over bedbug bites at her New York City office.

Surgical and patient examination gloves that have cornstarch powder on them or are made of natural rubber latex should be banned because of the serious threat they pose to patients and health care workers, Public Citizen said in a petition filed late Monday with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Further, safer alternatives, such as powder-free, non-latex gloves, are readily available.

Enforcement of Atlantic City’s smoking restrictions for casinos is “virtually non-existent,” with overtaxed city inspectors issuing only one violation on a casino floor since the ban went into effect in 2007, a newspaper The Press of Atlantic City reports. Smoking in Atlantic City’s 11 casinos is allowed only in enclosed smoking lounges that are not staffed by employees and occupy no more than 25 percent of the gaming area. A recent study by scientists at Stanford and Tufts universities found that air pollution levels from secondhand smoke in some casinos are so high that less than two hours of exposure could put nonsmoking casino patrons and workers at acute risk of heart disease.

In a set of recommendations that could have far-reaching implications, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has concluded that airborne super-small particles of titanium dioxide “should be considered a potential occupational carcinogen.” The new document, called a “current intelligence bulletin,” outlines the agency’s suggestions for exposure levels that will help workers avoid long-term problems.

It’s the most intimate class divide in human civilization, or at least in such relatively civilized places as Manhattan and Park Slope, Brooklyn. On the one side, there is the professional couple bringing in six figures a year; on the other, the nanny or maid without whom the couple wouldn’t be able to practice their professions. Conditions of employment are as variable as the individual employers are — from respectful and considerate all the way to criminally abusive. On average, a domestic worker is likely to get less than $15 an hour, no benefits and none of the credit or glory.

A work dispute between two landscapers turned into a odd attack when one hit the other in the head with a running weed whacker, police said.

The satellite tower by Tyra Garcia’s home near Dallas used to be a point of pride. But that’s changed since April 13, when Garcia’s son, Paul Aliff III, died after a 340-foot fall from the radio tower he was helping build near Colburn.

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Water. Rest. Shade. These are three little words that make a big difference for those who work outdoors during the hot summer months. There were nearly three dozen heat-related workplace deaths across the country last year, and thousands more suffer heat-related illnesses every year. Heat can be a real danger for workers in jobs ranging from agriculture and landscaping to construction, road repair, airport baggage handling, even car sales. And the percentage of Latino worker fatalities due to outdoor heat exposure was greater than that for white, non-Latino workers.

For some jobs, it’s not just the heat—it’s also the humidity. Both conditions can cause heat stress, which can range from annoying to life-threatening. The risk of heat-related illness isn’t confined to a particular job or season. It can occur in those who toil outdoors on warm days, such as farm laborers or construction workers. But it also can happen anytime to people working indoors in hot or muggy environments, such as kitchens, laundries, bakeries and factories.

Wyoming’s Jackson Hole ski area in 2009 negotiated with the state’s division of OSHA over a citation connected to the falling death of a patroller in March of that year who was not wearing a helmet. OSHA too cited Wolf Creek for a helmet violation when patrol director Scott Kay was killed in an avalanche after throwing explosives without a helmet. Jackson Hole began requiring helmets on some employees the following season, as did major resort operators Vail Resorts, Intrawest and Aspen Skiing.

Ski resorts across Colorado are looking hard at employee safety as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ramps up scrutiny of the ski industry. A 2009 federal Government Accountability Office report urged OSHA to require more diligent documentation of injury rates at “high hazard” businesses such as ski areas as part of the administration’s annual survey of 80,000 employers. Those surveys identify spikes in injuries and can trigger OSHA inspections.

In remarks to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Dr. David Michaels said that while the agency can cite several drops in worker injuries and fatalities, “our challenge, every day, is how to make this 40-year-old law work effectively in today’s economy.”

State regulators are concerned about excessive levels of formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen, discovered after testing products and air in salons during the application process. These products commonly contain keratin — a natural protein found in the hair, skin, and nails -– plus chemical additives such as formaldehyde.

The Michigan Professional Firefighters Union is pushing back against a harebrained scheme that would give guns to firefighters and hoses to cops. Several towns in Michigan are debating whether to combine policing and firefighting into one job, Public Security Officer (PSO). The union is running ads in a bid to convince the public that combining two very different jobs won’t save lives or money.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration recently released a new guidesheet with information and advice for shipyard employers whose workforce includes all-important riggers.

About 80% of American adults will miss work at some point because of it. And most of the time, it’s neither permanent nor serious: 95% of backaches go away within six weeks, with no specific treatment. Following are 10 essential things to know about dealing with a bad back.

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One year after the rig blast that spewed nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, offshore drilling regulators are moving forward with risk-management standards that had languished for more than 15 years before the disaster, and the oil industry is launching a deepwater safety center. But even as the Obama administration prepares to release a second worker safety rule this summer, some experts warn that without regulatory vigilance, the new strategies could hand oil companies too much power to police their own day-to-day operations.

State worker safety officials are seeking tougher rules to make certain that emergency workers can be reached whenever there’s an accident at a drilling rig in Wyoming. Right now, state rules only require drillers to have phone numbers listed for local hospitals or emergency services. But J.D. Danni, a program manager for worker safety in Wyoming, says drillers sometimes don’t have cell phone coverage.

Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law legislation designed to improve the on-the-job safety of Oklahoma highway workers. The measure by Rep. Mike Sanders of Kingfisher reinstates the authority of state Department of Transportation employees and other road workers to use red-and-blue emergency lights on their vehicles when they are working on state highways. Lawmakers limited that right last year while trying to restrict towing services from using the lights.

Joined by other police officers, firefighters and paramedics, Fournier testified against a Maine bill that would diminish the role of psychiatric and emotional damage in determining a worker’s right to compensation after an injury. The hotly debated measure, sponsored by state Rep. Kerri Prescott (R), has drawn support from the Maine Chamber of Commerce and insurance interests and opposition from labor groups.

Earlier this month, in my post “CDC’s NIOSH says WHAT about asbestos???” I reported on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) new treatise on asbestos, and my dismay with the agency’s characterization of the mineral as a “potential occupational carcinogen.” NIOSH’s information has been updated to read “NIOSH has determined that exposure to asbestos fibers causes cancer and asbestosis in humans and recommends that exposures be reduced to the lowest feasible concentration.”

While teen workplace injuries in Massachusetts have declined somewhat over the past decade, they still remain a major problem, contends a new report released Thursday by the Mass. Department of Public Health.

Peoples Gas System filed a federal lawsuit today against Posen Construction, alleging it was negligent and violated a Florida safety law by excavating in an unmarked area and causing an explosion.

An assistant winemaker died Wednesday at a winery in east Napa when he somehow fell inside a wine tank, authorities said Thursday. Gustavo Javier Muro, 43, of Napa, was found on an adjustable lid six feet inside the tank at Ancien Wines.

Outland Renewable Services says that it “respectfully disagrees” with the Department of Labor’s findings, which indicate that the company ignored safety rules that led to a worker being severely burned. Canby-based Outland Renewable Services has received six citations for safety violations after a technician at a wind farm was severely burned in October, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said on Tuesday.

Sixteen days after she was detained by the Libyan government, journalist Clare Morgana Gillis made her first direct contact with outsiders in two weeks today, telling her parents in a 15-minute phone call that she is in good health and being held in a women’s civilian jail in Tripoli.

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The federal agency that oversees worker health and safety is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month by preparing for a showdown with lawmakers focused on slashing the deficit and cutting red tape.

In the months since Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., sustained a gunshot wound to the head, her difficult path to recovery has been helped by a comprehensive brain injury treatment paid for by the government under federal worker’s compensation. In January, we called Rep. Giffords’ office to ask whether she’d ever taken a position on expanding such coverage to troops with brain injuries. We never received an answer. But in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this month, Giffords’ office has taken a stance. Pia Carusone, her chief of staff, asked the Obama administration to remedy the inequities in access to quality brain injury rehabilitation.

The Secret Service is introducing a pair of armored buses President Obama and other high-profile government officials will use on the presidential campaign and other bus tours. The buses are multipurpose vehicles, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said Thursday, and won’t just be used by Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other presidential candidates on the 2012 campaign trail. He said any government dignitary going on a bus tour or heading to a remote area will use the buses.

House bill 709, “Protect and Put NC Back to Work,” is a shining example of the latest in that dark art where the bill title says one thing and the text of the bill does the opposite. A more accurate title would be “House Bill 709, An Act Pushed by Insurance Companies to Reduce Payments to Workers Permanently Disabled on the Job and to Tilt a Delicately Balanced Legal System Against the Interests of Every Injured Worker.”

Many of you may have heard the the awful details of a case on Long Island in which the remains of a total of ten people who were killed while apparently doing sex work were discovered on a beach in Long Island. Four identified bodies were women, but they haven’t disclosed the sex of the remaining six bodies. My colleague Audacia Ray has launched a campaign requesting amnesty for all prostitution related offenses. Amnesty needs to be promised for all sex workers for people to be able to come forward with information about this case.

When the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 of the 126 workers on board and critically injuring three, the ruptured Macondo well – located nearly a mile beneath the sea surface about 50 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana – unleashed what has been called the largest accidental release of oil in history. The clean-up response launched has also been unprecedented in scope – and hasn’t yet concluded. At the height of the response, just before the well was capped, the response effort involved more than 45,000 people.

It should come as no surprise that oil and gas industry executives have plenty of criticism for the new agency, now that the federal government has tried to tighten controls over offshore drilling in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill in the gulf last April. After all, the bureau has been slow to grant permission to the industry to get back to work in the Gulf of Mexico. But many of the criticisms and suggestions made by the industry are similar or identical to those of environmentalists, who rarely agree with the drillers on anything.

A just-released CareerBuilder survey among 5,671 U.S. workers reveals that more than one in four (27 percent) workers have felt bullied in the workplace, with the majority neither confronting nor reporting the bully. The most common bully? The boss.

Four journalists taken prisoner by Libyan forces Tuesday, April 5th: James Foley (USA), Clare Gillis (USA), Manu Brabo (Spain), and Anton Hammerl (South Africa). Reports from the Libyan government state that they are in custody, but have not yet provided a release date. As freelance war correspondents, they do not have the benefit of a large and powerful news corporation to galvanize diplomatic pressure to secure their timely and safe release.

The Occupational Health and Safety Bureau of New Mexico has launched an investigation looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of a Walmart worker who was found hanging upside down from a forklift.

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