Archive for the ‘Workplace Health & Safety’ Category

800px-leve-personne_bras_telescopiqueNew U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on worker injuries shows that nursing assistants remain at high risk of workplace injuries, despite an overall decline in worker injuries across industries in 2015.  Last year, these workers had among the highest number of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work, alongside “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers” and “laborers and freight, stock, and material movers.” The BLS data is compiled from the agency’s 2015 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, an annual survey of non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses from selected employers.

But the story doesn’t end there.  It is important to note that nursing assistants also experienced musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) at a rate of 171 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.  MSDs are injuries to the muscles, nerves and tendons of the limbs and lower back. Nursing assistants and other health care workers often develop MSDs from lifting and moving patients manually on a regular basis, requiring time off work to recover.

Public Citizen released a five-part series “Nursing: A Profession in Peril,” which showed how nursing employees injured while moving patients suffered lasting chronic pain, depression and reduced mobility. Many of these injuries have devastating and lifelong consequences, even causing some workers to lose their jobs when they could no longer fulfill their lifting duties.

Part four of the series documented that some health care employers have addressed this problem by implementing programs that replace manual lifting with equipment such as portable lifts and slide boards. Not only do these programs keep workers safe – they also save employers money. Studies show that employers recover expenses within approximately four years of implementation due to factors such as reduced workers’ compensation payments for manual lifting injuries.

Although 11 states have passed laws to respond to the MSD injury crisis, there is currently no federal standard requiring health care employers to protect workers by implementing safe patient handling programs in their facilities. Such a standard would be critical in preventing MSDs among nurses and other health care workers. Despite the fact that President-Elect Trump claims he will take actions to “protect American workers” within his first 100 days in office, his plan does not actually outline any details for addressing worker safety.  Furthermore, his administration has threatened a temporary moratorium on all new regulations, which will likely include halting important public health and safety rules.

While advocates await the next administration’s plan to improve occupational health and safety, one thing is certain – nursing employees deserve safe workplaces just like all other working people.

Emily Gardner is the worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Keep up with Public Citizen’s work on these issues by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter.

By: Emily Gardner & Sammy Almashat

All children – regardless of immigration status – deserve a safe childhood free of the toxic effects of nicotine poisoning. A recent article in The Washington Post Magazine highlights the devastating conditions on tobacco farms, where employers permit young children to labor for hours on end in the sweltering heat, often providing little access to water or protective gear. As a result of handling tobacco plants, child tobacco workers may experience symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness. Many of the children and their parents are undocumented, leaving them vulnerable to employer exploitation. (In recent years, Human Rights Watch has documented the dire conditions for child workers on tobacco farms.)

tobacco-837764_640Take the case of Eddie Ramirez, one of the teenagers profiled in the Post article. Eddie, age 17, has been working in the fields since he was only 12 years old, even though he initially found tobacco work unbearable. Although he tried finding other, safer jobs, only tobacco farms would allow him to work without a green card or U.S. citizenship.

Many supporters of child tobacco labor argue that children like Eddie need to do this dangerous work in order to help their families make ends meet. Unfortunately, the Post’s article offers little critique of this flawed argument. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, child labor proponents used similar arguments to justify children toiling in perilous factory jobs for low wages, a chapter in American history being replayed on tobacco and other farms today. In addition to putting children’s health at risk, child labor perpetuates the cycle of poverty by interrupting children’s education and limiting their future prospects.

Failing to protect children from hazardous labor is unacceptable. However, current U.S. law still permits children – younger than 12 years old in some circumstances – to work on tobacco farms, exposing them to nicotine, pesticides, and other dangerous conditions that could have long-term health consequences.  In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a rule which would have banned child labor in tobacco and certain other hazardous work in agriculture.

Unfortunately, DOL pulled the rule in 2012 under intense pressure from agribusiness.

Recently, labor and children’s advocates have demanded that the government renew its efforts to prevent children from working in direct contact with tobacco in U.S. agriculture. Over 100 groups and nearly 50 members of Congress wrote letters calling on President Obama to ban this practice. In the final days of the Obama administration, our government should correct the grave mistake it made in 2012 and end the exploitation of child tobacco workers.

Emily Gardner is the worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Sammy Almashat is a researcher with Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Keep up with Public Citizen’s work on these issues by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter.

Besides using their normal tools to attack life-saving public protections, Republicans have once again chosen to exploit the budget process. Instead of relying on anti-regulatory bills and (at times theatrical) Congressional hearings, the majority party in the House has decided to go down the path of inserting poison pill riders into the budget appropriations process.

Poison pill riders are preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from fulfilling its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

From attacking science-based safeguards in a full frontal manner to using attempted stealth maneuvers to further delay an already bogged down rulemaking system, Republicans have not let up. Nearly all of the House appropriation bills currently up for debate or voted on contain regulatory assaults:

  • Killing specific final safeguards by blocking funding for the implementation, administration or enforcement – ex. Department of Labor’s fiduciary and overtime rules, preventing the enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules to limit exposure to lead paint and the Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement Well Control rule which provide commonsense protection against devastating offshore blowouts like Deepwater Horizon.

By also using stealthier methods and not just attacking specific protections, proposed standards or specific agencies, Republicans are further exploiting appropriation funding bills by adding poison pill riders to shut down the rulemaking system entirely. Since each funding bill covers multiple agencies and different areas, all-encompassing riders have the most devastating impact.

  • Repeat riders have emerged in various bills to shut down any rulemakings the bill would have funded – ex. the House Financial Services & General Government (FSGG) bill included a rider to prohibit the funding of all regulatory actions until January 21, 2017, and the same rider materialized in the House Interior bill.
  • In some cases, Republicans repeated the above riders but with a timeline attached – ex. a so-called midnight rules prevention rider surfaced in the House Energy & Water bill would eliminate funding for all rules with an economic impact of $100 million or more if finalized between November 8, 2016 and January 20, 2017.
  • As another stealth maneuver, Republicans in the House FSGG bill voted to add a piece of legislation to the mix, H.R. 427, the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS). Putting the ill-advised REINS Act into law would require Congressional approval before enacting major regulations – allowing the majority party a golden opportunity to kill the most life-saving public protections.

There’s a reason lawmakers sneak poison pill policy riders into must-pass spending bills to avoid a real debate: these provisions could not become law on their own merits. Many of them are wildly unpopular, damaging to the public and deeply controversial with voters in both parties — and they have nothing to do with funding our government.

That’s why Congress needs to pass clean spending bills with no poison pill riders and Republicans need to stop their assault on life-saving public protections.

Michell K. McIntyre is Coalition Manager at the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards.

It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) collects worker safety data with a system that is better suited for the Stone Age than the Information Age. Right now, OSHA relies on data sources that are too limited to allow the agency to effectively respond to hazardous workplace conditions. For example, data from the OSHA Data Initiative is typically two to three years old. That simply does not provide a clear picture of current threats to workers. To correct this problem, OSHA just released a rule that will require certain employers to submit workplace injury and illness records electronically on a quarterly basis, ensuring OSHA will have timely and systematic access to occupational hazard data. When the rule is implemented, workers and other members of the public will be able to access the information through a searchable database on OSHA’s website.

This rule is a big deal – it will significantly change the way OSHA monitors and responds to workplace hazards. Here are six reasons to celebrate this new rule:

  1. The rule helps government work more efficiently. With the most up-to-date injury and illness records, OSHA can use its resources to identify and target the hazards putting workers at the greatest risk.
  1. With greater efficiency in tracking injuries, we can expect to see improved results in preventing injuries. Once OSHA is able to analyze the greatest risks facing U.S. workers, it can take action to prevent and eliminate those hazards. Workers will inevitably reap the benefit of safer workplaces over time.
  1. Workers and the public can make informed decisions based on the information available. The more information, the better. Having access to injury and illness data on OSHA’s website will enable potential employees to make careful decisions about where to work. Likewise, customers and other members of the public can use this information to evaluate companies before doing business with them.

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Each year on April 28, our nation pauses to commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day.  We take time to remember the workers who lost their lives, as well as those who suffer from a debilitating workplace injury or illness. An estimated 12 people in the U.S. die from a work-related injury every day. In 2014 alone, approximately 4,800 workers died on the job.

steelworkers-1029665_960_720While there is much more work to be done to prevent these tragedies, we must also take time to celebrate the hard-fought victories for workplace safety and health.  For example, on Thursday, March 24, OSHA published its long-awaited silica rule updating the standard that protects workers from exposure to crystalline silica dust. The new standard could save up to 600 lives and prevent 900 new cases of silicosis a year, according to OSHA.

Looking ahead, safety and health advocates should continue to fight for reforms that will ensure that workers – especially those in dangerous industries like construction – don’t have to risk their lives for a paycheck.

It’s no secret that construction workers are at high risk of serious injuries and even death when they show up to work. Whether they work in Maryland, Washington, California, or New York, (some of the places Public Citizen has examined before), construction workers face speeding traffic, toxic chemicals, and trench collapses, among many other hazards. In Texas, the situation is no different. With a booming construction industry and a large construction workforce, Texas is one of the most dangerous states in the nation for construction workers, many of whom are immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

A report issued today by the Workers Defense Project and Public Citizen highlights the devastating toll worksite fatalities and injuries take on Texas construction workers, their families, and communities. This report is a part of a series of city and state reports estimating the costs of deaths and injuries in the construction industry. According to the report:

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