Saturday, April 11, 2009

Workplace Health and Safety News

We have to get some teeth in to workplace safety enforcement.

Jordan Barab wrote the following on

More than 15 workers are killed every day on the job in this country and a worker becomes injured or ill on the job every 2.5 seconds. The overwhelming majority of deaths, injuries and illnesses could have been easily prevented had the employers simply provided a safe workplace and complied with well-recognized OSHA regulations or other safe practices.

You'll never learn from the evening news that we have more fish and wildlife inspectors than OSHA inspectors, or that the penalties from a chemical release that kills fish is higher than a chemical release that kills a worker.

Not many are aware that workers are often afraid to complain about health and safety hazards or file a complaint with OSHA. Almost no one understands that OSHA inspections are so infrequent and penalties for endangering workers are so insignificant that there is almost no disincentive for employers to break the law.

Employers are almost never criminally prosecuted for killing workers even when they knew they were violating OSHA standards.You know these things. But most Americans – including our political leaders -- don’t have a clue. And most of this nation’s newspapers and other media aren’t helping.There are still far too many health and safety professionals that don’t understand that to a very great extent, who lives and who dies in the workplace is determined by politics – both power relationships in the workplace, and traditional politics that determines who controls our government.

What that means is that organizing unions and electing politicians who will fight against unlimited corporate control over our regulatory agencies, our workplaces and the environment are of vital importance to protecting the health and safety of American workers.

As journalist Bill Moyers wrote in a recent must-read article in The Nation:

"The eight-hour day, the minimum wage, the conservation of natural resources, free trade unions, old-age pensions, clean air and water, safe food--all these began with citizens and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and bitter attacks. Democracy works when people claim it as their own."

That goes for workplace safety as well.In 1970, Congress passed, and President Nixon signed a radical new law promising:

"To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women."

In other words, a safe workplace became a right, not a privilege to be enjoyed only when a company is making a good profit. Thirty-five years later, that promise not only remains unfulfilled, but has taken several major steps backward over the past several years.

To quote Jordan at the 2004 APHA Occupational Health Section Awards luncheon:

"We need to make it clear that the right to a safe workplace wasn’t bestowed upon us by concerned politicians or employers who were finally convinced that “Safety Pays.” The right to a safe workplace was won only after a long and bitter fight by workers, unions and public health advocates. It was soaked in the blood of hundreds of thousands of coal miners, factory and construction workers. And the current movement to transform the agency into nothing but a coordinator of voluntary alliances is a betrayal of that promise and those lives."

The Department of Labor, OSHA, NLRB, and Worker's Compensation Board need laws that provide real penalties for employers who refuse to keep their workers safe, and take care of them when they are hurt. It is great to have Jordan Barab at OSHA. We may finally get some legislative and enforcement activity to actually make employers provide a safe working environment.


Workplace Health and Safety News

The Pump Handle is an excellent blog that covers regulatory issues. To fill some of the gap left by the termination of Confined Space, The Pump Handle has launched a new feature,, that will keep up on workplace safety and health news.

Starting next week, Tammy Miser will continue the misnamed The Weekly Toll every two weeks on its own page.

You should also bookmark the award-winning Hazards Magazine, run by the intrepid Rory O'Neill and friends. Hazards has health and safety news and a toolbox of indepth information about every conceivable health and safety issue.

The labor news service, Labourstart runs a health and safety page. If you have a webpage, you can also set up a health and safety feed (check out the right-hand column of Confined Space)

The CalOSHA Reporter offers a free daily news digest. Despite its name, it covers more than just California news. You read the on-line version here or subscribe to the daily e-mail.

For immigrant issues, you can't go wrong with Working Immigrants.

For Workers Compensation news, check out Workers Comp Insider.

For general public health news and commentary (as well as excellent writing), there's no better place to go than Effect Measure.

Labor News

Labourstart also runs an excellent labor news service, sorted by country. US labor news is here. If you have a webpage, you can run the Labourstart newsfeed.

RawblogXport runs a labor news blog as well, with short excerpts for labor articles.

Mick Arran has resurrected Dispatch From The Trenches, a labor commentary blog, and, in honor of the demise of Confined Space, has added a feature called TrenchNews, "a round-up of some of the news stories on unions and labor issues that the MSM either buries in the Business pages or doesn’t cover at all.

I'll continue to keep you updated as new workplace safety resources come on line.

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