Archive for the ‘Product Safety’ Category

Workers across the country can now literally breathe easier. Last Friday, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new rule to protect workers from beryllium exposure.  According to OSHA, the new rule will save 94 lives and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease (CBD) each year.

Beryllium is a metal present in many materials used in the aerospace, defense, telecommunications, automotive, electronics and medical specialty industries. Approximately 62,000 people are exposed to beryllium in workplaces across the country. OSHA estimates that 11,500 construction and shipyard workers come in contact with beryllium while performing open-air abrasive blasting.

When workers inhale beryllium dust, they risk contracting lung cancer and other fatal diseases, such as CBD of the lungs, even when they inhale very low levels of the toxic metal as dust. CBD is an incurable, devastating lung disease that gradually scars the lungs, disabling and ultimately killing many of those afflicted.

OSHA first attempted to strengthen protections for workers from beryllium exposure in 1975, but industry backlash stymied the process and ultimately killed the rule. That’s why in 2001, Public Citizen, along with the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union – which has since merged with the United Steelworkers – petitioned OSHA to lower workers’ exposure to beryllium.

In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity profiled Bruce Revers, a retired machinist and CBD patient living with the devastating effects of beryllium exposure. Doctors diagnosed Mr. Revers with CBD in 2009 after years of exposure to beryllium in the workplace. He reported that breathing is so difficult that even simple tasks like collecting the morning newspaper from the curb are a struggle to complete. Even though Mr. Revers wore a respirator in the factory where he worked, he still contracted CBD because the standards for allowable exposure are still much too high to be safe for workers in these industries.

In 2015, OSHA finally released a proposed version of the beryllium rule, which originally excluded construction and shipyard workers. In its comments on the proposed rule, Public Citizen urged OSHA to lower the existing PEL and extend the protections of the new rule to these at-risk workers, which OSHA did in the final rule. The final beryllium rule reduces the legal limit for workplace beryllium exposure – known technically as the permissible exposure limit (PEL) – to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour time-weighted average, one-tenth of the previous PEL of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

After decades of fighting for a stronger beryllium standard, Public Citizen is celebrating this long overdue victory for workers.  We will continue to fight for strong safeguards for working people in the next administration.

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.

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.

Each day this week we’ll be highlighting some of the anti-regulatory bills that Public Citizen and our allies have been pushing back against this fall.

Image courtesy of Eric Lynch/Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Image courtesy of Eric Lynch/Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

When Congress returned from its longest summer recess in 60 years, and before they ran back to districts to campaign, conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives were determined to assail our system of public protections. Remember that arcade game staple, whack-a-mole, where players try to hammer down the target as others pop up, more and more quickly?  Essentially playing whack-a-mole in the four weeks of September, Public Citizen and our partners in the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards defended against multiple pieces of legislation aimed at limiting the power of the government to protect the public.

Conservatives attempted to pass four misleading and damaging anti-regulatory bills and were successful in pushing through three of them – the fourth was shelved until Congress’ post-election return.

  • Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act (H.R. 5063) – passed on Sept. 7, 2016
  • Regulatory Integrity Act (H.R. 5226) – passed on Sept. 14, 2016
  • REVIEW Act (H.R. 3438) – passed on Sept. 21, 2016
  • Midnight Rules Relief Act (H.R. 5982) – shelved for the lame duck on Sept. 26, 2016

Regulations protect and safeguard our lives in everything from the food we eat to the water we drink and from the air we breathe to the products we use. These government standards ensure that we can go about our daily lives without much fear of dying at work, eating poisonous food or having our cars go up in flames. The process for producing these vital standards is already glacially slow and exceedingly cumbersome, and if signed into law, these damaging bills would exacerbate the problems in the rulemaking system.

The slow process of our current rulemaking system already has a negative impact on communities of color and low income communities, who it has been shown face the biggest health, safety and economic threats and inequities in public protections.  Further delays to public safeguards would do nothing but increase this disproportionate impact, heightening the injustices and inequities in our society.

These bills that conservatives rushed through would prolong and further delay lifesaving rules from reaching full enforcement and having maximum impact. They aren’t about protecting the public good; they’re about helping industry line their own pockets at the expense of the American people. The bills were cleverly designed to use back door approaches to gut key safeguards. And, since the bill titles were designed to be bland and meaningless, here they are re-named to call them out for what they really are.

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.

By Nicole Arbabzadeh

There are matters that complement the core ideology of all political parties so well that lawmakers across the political spectrum should be working hand-in-hand to achieve the policies. The Arbitration Fairness Act and the Court Legal Access and Student Support (CLASS) Act, which would restore public’s rights to hold wrongdoing corporations accountable in court, are examples of exactly the kind of legislation that should transcend the partisan divide. And yet, partisanship has been a continuous roadblock to their implementation.

So let’s start by reviewing forced arbitration clauses and their devastating consequences for the constituents of all party affiliations. If you’re asking yourself, “What’s forced arbitration?” you’re certainly not alone. According to a recent study conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), three-quarters of respondents who understood the meaning of forced arbitration did not know whether their credit card contract contained a forced arbitration clause and a mere 7 percent of respondents whose credit card agreements did contain forced arbitration clauses correctly understood that they could not sue in court. These are startling findings considering that the CFPB’s study also found that the vast majority of prepaid card companies, private student loan lenders, and cell phone providers, and the list goes on, include a forced arbitration clause in their terms. These clauses block consumers’ access to public court and force harmed consumers into inherently biased and secretive arbitration proceedings as a condition for obtaining services.

And financial services consumers aren’t the only targeted group – most ordinary Americans are affected by arbitration clauses, as they are often forced upon employees, small businesses, nursing home residents, and college students, to name just a few.

Now, you may be asking, can arbitration clauses really be that bad? Well, forced arbitration:

1. Robs Ordinary Americans of their Hard-Earned Cash

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