Archive for the ‘Workplace Health & Safety’ Category

By Emily Gardner

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.

While there is much construction workers 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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Protections against exposure to beryllium allotted to workers are far too weak, especially in the construction industry, where an estimated 23,000 construction workers come in contact with beryllium every day while performing open-air blasting.

Beryllium levels can be extremely elevated due to high dust concentrations on construction sites and can result in chronic beryllium disorder. Patients gradually develop cough, chest pain, progressive shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue. Loss of appetite, weight loss, lung and right-sided heart failure may occur in people with advanced disease.

On September 4, 2014, the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) received the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed rule to allow the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update the Beryllium standard. As detailed in Executive Order 12866, OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is required to complete its review of such rules within 90 days of receipt, with an additional 30-day review extension allowed if needed.

But eight months have passed, and there is no sign that OMB is close to completing its review.

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Today, we remember the victims of fatal workplace hazards and observe Workers Memorial Day. We have all encountered a hazard in the workplace at one time or another. Whether it was a slippery floor, unguarded machinery, blocked emergency exits or a frayed electrical cord, hazards in the workplace come in many different shapes and forms.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, during 2013 (most recent data available) 4,585 workers died on the job, averaging 13 fatalities per day nationwide. Although it is true that the rate of occupational fatalities has decreased since the inception of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970, far too many families are still losing loved ones due to employer negligence and workplace accidents.

Recent examples of workplace fatalities around the nation during the past several weeks have been prevalent in the media. In New York City, a 40 year old worker was crushed by a crane that collapsed. In Philadelphia, a 42 year old carpenter fell 80-feet to his death from a scaffold. In San Francisco, a 28-year old was struck and killed by a rolling pipe in a job-site accident near Highway 101.

The resources that have been appropriated to OSHA to protect worker safety and health are dismal at best.

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By Robert Craycraft

Asbestos was once used as a flame-retardant and for electrical insulation in buildings, ships and homes. Before it was discovered to cause cancer, millions of American workers and veterans handled and were otherwise exposed to deadly asbestos fibers.

An unknown amount of the hazardous material is still present in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 3,000 people continue to die from mesothelioma and asbestosis every year; some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 annually when other types of asbestos-linked diseases and cancers are included.

In early February, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on H.R. 526, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (or FACT Act). Generally speaking, the more transparency the better. However, in this case, the asbestos industry is using the guise of “transparency” to push the FACT Act as a way to delay compensation to asbestos victims and their families. The bill would require the trusts that manage victim compensation to retroactively compile information on all claims they’ve paid and to require the trusts to answer any and all information requests by asbestos company defendants.

These paperwork requirements could have the effect of slowing or even stopping the important work of the trusts to compensate victims that have developed deadly diseases like mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called the FACT Act a “Trojan horse” which “guarantees that the insurance companies pay as little as possible.”

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Earlier this month, the Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) heard a presentation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on employers’ continuing obligation to make and maintain accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses.

OSHA has said that “the duty to record an injury or illness … does not expire just because the employer fails to create the necessary records when first required to do so.” In other words, being fined by OSHA for violating a record-keeping rule does not absolve the employer of its ongoing responsibility to keep up-to-date records. Employers that continue to fail to keep the legally required records continue to be subject to fines.

This should be a matter of common sense – arguing the contrary is like saying a driver pulled over on the highway and fined for speeding should no longer be required to obey speed limits.

But this commonsense obligation to keep accurate records (and obey the law) apparently is not enough for some employers. That’s why OSHA is planning to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the end of the year seeking to amend its record-keeping regulations to clarify that the duty to make and maintain accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses is an ongoing obligation.

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