Dispatches from the Front Lines of Workplace and Environmental Safety: October Edition

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

The High Price of Clean Rooms: Thousands of Marriott hotel workers are on strike in 23 hotels in Detroit, Boston, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, Maui, and Oahu. Aside from wanted a greater share of the company’s enormous profits, the hotel workers, represented by UNITE-HERE, are also demanding that the company address conditions that lead to back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, as well more protection against sexual harassment and violence. The union notes that “Housekeepers, for example, are pushed to turn over rooms quickly, lugging heavy carts, flipping cumbersome mattresses and spending hours on their knees as they clean rooms as swiftly as possible. Repetitive stress injuries are recurrent, and housekeepers are also exposed to hazards like sharps discarded in hotel room garbage.”

P.S. The New York Yankees learned the hard way that God doesn’t like people who cross picket lines. The Yankees crossed the picket line at a Marriott-owned in Boston during the American League Divisional Series. They went on to lose the series. Case closed.

The High Price of Cheap Wings: With the demise of worker-oriented reporting in many of the nation’s top newspapers, it’s nice to see that the Washington Post has decided that it’s readers need to understand that their Buffalo wings come with a price.  The article discusses the Department of Agriculture’s new policy increasing line speeds in poultry plants despite strong evidence that even the current line speeds are causing high rates of musculoskeletal injuries, and that production focused supervisors aren’t letting workers use the restroom.  According to Deborah Berkowitz with the National Employment Law Project,  “The Trump administration doesn’t care that this change will exploit workers and harm public health and animal welfare. This is all about increasing profits for the poultry industry.” I’d say that about sums it up.

Get the Lead Out, Part 1: We’ve written before about how California workers are being poisened by lead exposure, but Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have required the Department of Health to notify CalOSHA of any elevated lead levels it identified, and then require CalOSHA to inspect the sites.  Brown expressed an interest in working cooperatively with employers and that the Department of Health already already sends workplace lead cases to Cal/OSHA “for enforcement, if needed, on a case-by-case basis. Investigative reporter Joe Rubin, writing in the LA Times, points out that California is behind 37 states (29 federal states plus 8 state plan states) that have adopted federal OSHA’s lead emphasis program that requires OSHA to inspect any workplace whenever they learn that “a single worker has a blood lead level at or above 25 micrograms per deciliter, the case is “considered, high-gravity, serious and must be handled by inspection.” Of course, OSHA still has a problem getting the information on lead exposures in the first place if the state is not already required to notify the agency.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: This year’s budget drama may be over for OSHA, but the busy budget people in the federal government are already hard at work on the next budget year — Fiscal Year 2020 that begins October 1, 2019. And the news is already bad. Earlier this week, President Trump announced that he’s asking every federal agency (except the Pentagon, of course) to cut next year’s budget by 5%. “Get rid of the fat. Get rid of the waste,” Trump told members of his Cabinet during a meeting at the White House. “And I’m sure you can do it.”  Waste and fraud are to simple go-to solutions for every President who wants budget cuts since the beginning of time. And at least in recent memory, it never works. Aside from the Pentagon, there is almost no federal agency has received a significant budget increase since 2010. Most have either decreased or stayed more-or-less flat. And a flat budget is a budget cut, when cost of living increases are factored in. What that means is that there is not “fat” to cut. Agencies like OSHA have already been cutting muscle and bone for several years. An additional 5% would be devastating for worker safety — and every other service government provides. But not to worry, “I believe we can actually do it easily,” Trump said.

Even a Wall Won’t Safe Us From Epidemics: I worked with Ron Klain when he was named by President Obama as the Ebola response coordinator after several American workers contracted the deadly disease. So he knows what he’s talking about. And what he’s talking about is scary.  Klain points out in an article for Vox, that this is the 100th anniversary of the 2019 Spanish flu epidemic that killed more Americans than any other event in history, and “50 million worldwide — killing nearly one out of every 20 humans then alive.”  That was long ago, but we’re still not prepared: “One hundred years later, it is the prospect of another such pandemic — not a nuclear war, or a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster — that poses the greatest risk of a massive casualty event in the United States….A tabletop exercise run at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in May simulated a global flu-like outbreak called Clade X and found that 150 million people (including 15 million in the US) would die in the first year alone.” With continuing threats from pandemic flu, Zika, Ebola, MERS, SARS and other diseases, Klain recommends three strategies: improve vaccine development and deployment, strengthen US epidemic preparation and response, and bolster global response capabilities.

Oh, and an OSHA infectious disease standard that would protect front line healthcare workers wouldn’t hurt either.

Get the Lead Out, Part 2: In a major victory for victims of lead exposure, especially children, the Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling that requires former makers of lead paint to pay $400 million or more to clean up old homes.  The Court decision is a major defeat for business groups who fear that “the decision will give a green light to other suits seeking to hold manufacturers liable for damage inflicted on the public.” Horrors! Former OSHA head David Michaels notes that the history of the lead industry as chronicled by David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz was crucial to the victory. You should buy and read their important, fascinating and disturbing book, Deceit and Denial. (Hint: Winter — and the holidays — are coming.) The case, ConAgra vs. California or Sherwin-Williams vs. California, was a “very significant victory for the tens of thousands of California children who have been poisoned by lead paint,” said Greta S. Hansen, a lawyer for Santa Clara County, which led the lawsuit brought on behalf of 10 municipalities including Los Angeles County. “Sherwin Williams and its co-defendants knew their product was toxic and still sold it to unwitting families.  (ConAgra had purchased Sherwin-Williams.) The lawyers told the court that  “ConAgra’s South San Francisco plant — the largest paint factory west of the Mississippi — shipped an average of 200 tons of lead paint to California retailers for residential use daily, while Sherwin-Williams distributed more than three million pounds of lead pigment to its California warehouses and factories during a single-four year period.”

Disposable Kids: Scott Pruitt may be gone, but his legacy — and his policies — live on. The Washington Post reports that EPA has disbanded two outside panels of experts charged with advising the agency on limiting harmful emissions of soot and smog-forming pollutants. The paper notes that “The decision to dissolve the panels is part of a broader effort by the EPA’s leadership to change the way the agency conducts and assesses science. Those efforts include trying to limit what counts as health benefits when crafting air rules and incorporate into rulemaking only studies that make their underlying data public.” This action come shortly after EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler suspended Ruth Etzel, the director of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection. Etzel says she’s puzzled about why she was suspended. But it may have something to do with the fact that action to reduce lead content in water has stalled and that an EPA official told her the Trump administration would never allow a new EPA regulation on lead. “My sense is that the government has absolutely no intention of taking any action toward seriously changing lead in children’s environments,” she said. “It basically means that our kids will continue to be poisoned. It basically means that kids are disposable, they don’t matter.”

Gravity Kills: How often are you driving around or taking a walk and you see some workers on top of a one-story house doing some repairs without — fall protection. But hey, it’s only one story. How hurt can they get, you say as you drive on by? Well, OSHA just cited Mora Roofing for $7,760 in the death of Salvador Hidalga, a 43-year-old construction worker from Boise, Idaho, who fell less than 11 feet to his death June 26 while working on the roof of a home.  Residential construction is dangerous. During the Obama administration, OSHA reinstated fall protection requirements for residential construction that had been “temporarily” suspended in the mid-1990’s. Construction associations and several state plans had a fit, suing OSHA (unsuccessfully) and lobbying Congress (unsuccessfully) to repeal the requirements. One state OSHA plan official actually told me that hardly anyone ever dies falling off a one-story roof.

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Reposted from Confined Space

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

He Gets the Bucks, We Get All the Deadly Bangs

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre has had better weeks. First came the horrific early August slaughters in California, Texas, and Ohio that left dozens dead, murders that elevated public pressure on the NRA’s hardline against even the mildest of moves against gun violence. Then came revelations that LaPierre — whose labors on behalf of the nonprofit NRA have made him a millionaire many times over — last year planned to have his gun lobby group bankroll a 10,000-square-foot luxury manse near Dallas for his personal use. In response, LaPierre had his flacks charge that the NRA’s former ad agency had done the scheming to buy the mansion. The ad agency called that assertion “patently false” and related that LaPierre had sought the agency’s involvement in the scheme, a request the agency rejected. The mansion scandal, notes the Washington Post, comes as the NRA is already “contending with the fallout from allegations of lavish spending by top executives.”

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Corruption Coordinates

Corruption Coordinates