Archive for the ‘Workplace Health & Safety’ Category

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The joy of parenting a newborn is irrefutable. But unfortunately the support that parents receive from Maryland employers is dismal, and, to make matters worse, occupational safety and health is at risk. In Maryland an estimated 300,000 workers do not receive parental leave under federal or state law. This requires new mothers to return to work immediately after having a baby, when they should instead be resting and caring for their newborn.

The Family Medical Leave Act requires an employer to have 50 employees before providing parental leave. This archaic threshold leaves a majority of Maryland businesses without any obligation to require parental leave to new parents.

The Maryland legislature so far has failed to offer direction to small sized employers under these circumstances, and the implications for the safety and health for working parents is overwhelming.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it takes four to six weeks for a cesarean section (C-section) incision to heal. More than 34 percent of all babies in Maryland are born through cesarean section. This means many new mothers are forced to work with surgical stiches or staples.

After a C-section, simply transitioning from sitting to standing is not only painful, but also very hard to do for the first couple of weeks. But workers in Maryland do more than just get in and out of chairs; these women stack boxes, clean hotel rooms and work in fast-food restaurants.

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Last week, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) heard testimony on modernizing and improving the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. These hearings were convened because OSHA has proposed a rule change that will directly benefit workers in “high hazard” industries, where workers suffer the most injuries and illnesses.

The proposed rule amends current reporting requirements to require all workplaces with 250 or more employees to electronically send all of their injury and illness data to OSHA quarterly. The improved tracking system also would require workplaces with 20 or more employees, in certain industries with high injury and illness rates, to electronically send their annual summary data to OSHA once a year. Presently, employers submit such reports on paper, and there is a significant lag in processing the data.

OSHA’s proposal would improve workplace safety and health through the collection of useful, accessible, establishment-specific injury and illness data. At present, OSHA does not electronically receive an establishment’s injury and illness data log. This void forces the agency to rely on data that is more than a year old when attempting to respond to hazardous workplace conditions. This is the opposite of a speedy response to hazards.

But OSHA has been met with strong opposition to this proposed rule change. During recent public meetings at OSHA headquarters, corporate lobbyists and spokespersons from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce voiced strong opposition to modernizing the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. These corporate interests complained that businesses would be “named and shamed” in the media, by labor unions and occupational safety and health researchers for publishing injury and illness rates on the Internet.

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Workers in the construction industry and other industrial occupations may be breathing a little easier in the very near future. Today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a proposed rule to mitigate occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica (silica dust). Silica dust is a dangerous substance well-known for causing lung disease, lung cancer and silicosis. The proposed rule is long overdue and worker safety and health advocates are cheering at its arrival, though caution that there is more work to be done.

Silica dust is currently a major concern for construction workers and workers in other industries. Respirable silica dust particles cannot be seen with the human eye, and it only takes a small amount of airborne silica dust to create a major health hazard.

Silica dust is created by cutting, grinding and drilling materials such as asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand, and tile. In other words, materials which can be found on almost every construction site across the United States.

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Applebee’s workers who sued their employer for unpaid wages got good news this week: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has agreed to hear their case. The appellate court will decide whether a lower court erred in denying class-action status to the workers. That means that their case lives on.

The case, Roach v. T.L. Cannon Corp., has national implications for workers and consumers and is being closely watched in the legal community. Public Citizen is representing the workers.

Public Citizen petitioned the Second Circuit in April, contending that a federal district court in New York was wrong to tell the Applebee’s workers that their lawsuit for unpaid wages could not be heard as a class action. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York denied class certification after incorrectly interpreting the March 27 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Comcast v. Behrend, we maintain.

The outcome of the New York case has national implications for a wide array of pending class-action cases across the country that are being challenged in the wake of the Comcast decision. If the lower court decision stands, and the workers are not permitted to band together to seek back wages that were illegally withheld by their employer, then wage-and-hour laws and other protections for workers and consumers could become prohibitively difficult to enforce.

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With a budget of $155.8 billion, one might think the US Navy could afford to make sure service members won’t needlessly suffer from exposure to toxic substances.

But the United States Navy has exposed workers to beryllium, a highly toxic metal, and then deliberately chosen not to test them for beryllium sensitization.

To determine beryllium sensitization, the price for the Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test is $266.00 per test ($133,000 to test the 500 service members who are likely to have been exposed).

In reaction to this, on September 5, 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Region 9 issued “serious violations” to the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center South West located in Coronado California for “failing to put in place Safety and Health Programs, polices and procedure to protect employees from the hazards of Beryllium.”

Beryllium can cause in chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer. It can be found in many industrial products, including coal slag, where it is used in abrasive sand blasting operations. Short-term exposure at low levels can cause immune system sensitization to beryllium in as little as two months.

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