You are here

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Food-service workers are suffering from extreme heat; Few rules exist to protect them

By Matthew Sedacca - The Counter, September 6, 2021

With record-breaking temperatures blanketing the country and no federal heat standard in place, workers find they have no choice but to walk out.

As a heat dome blanketed Portland, Oregon in late June, workers at Voodoo Doughnut’s Old Town location found themselves crumbling in their store. Even with air-conditioning in the shop, ambient thermometers brought in by staff recorded interior temperatures upward of 96 degrees. Workers were breaking out in heat hives and doubling over from nausea. The company’s iconic Bacon Maple Bar doughnuts, with their frosting unable to set due to the heat, literally melted into soggy brown mush.

The high-90 temperatures in the Old Town location were already a drastic surge from the more routine ambient summer heat, which was estimated to be around 80 degrees in the store, even with the fryers running all day. But on June 27, when temperature highs in Portland would eventually reach a record-breaking 112 degrees, it reached more than 100 degrees inside Voodoo Doughnut. Workers went to management and suggested that they close the shop early for their safety. After their demand was waved off, a group of employees walked out and went on strike through Monday, when the city’s temperatures soared even further to 115 degrees

“We would rather walk out on strike than to see a coworker collapse and hurt themselves or suffer heat stroke or worst case scenario, you collapse while you’re over a fryer,” said Samantha Bryce, a Voodoo Doughnut employee in Portland, who participated in a strike with her colleagues over workplace safety in June. “We don’t want someone to get hurt before the company takes action.”

Heat Is Killing Workers In The U.S.; And There Are No Federal Rules To Protect Them

By Julia Shipley, et. al. - NPR, August 17, 2021

As the temperature in Grand Island, Neb., soared to 91 degrees that July day in 2018, two dozen farmworkers tunneled for nine hours into a thicket of cornstalks, snapping off tassels while they crossed a sunbaked field that spanned 206 acres — the equivalent of 156 football fields.

When they emerged at the end of the day to board a bus that would transport them to a nearby motel to sleep, one of the workers, Cruz Urias Beltran, didn't make it back. Searchers found the 52-year-old farmworker's body 20 hours later amid the corn husks, "as if he'd simply collapsed," recalled a funeral home employee. An empty water bottle was stuffed in his jeans pocket. An autopsy report confirmed that Beltran died from heatstroke. It was his third day on the job.

Beltran is one of at least 384 workers who died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade, according to an investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations, the investigative reporting unit of Columbia Journalism School. The count includes people toiling in essential yet often invisible jobs in 37 states across the country: farm laborers in California, construction and trash-collection workers in Texas and tree trimmers in North Carolina and Virginia. An analysis of federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the three-year average of worker heat deaths has doubled since the early 1990s.

CJI and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including workplace inspection reports, death investigation files, depositions, court records and police reports, and interviewed victims' families, former and current officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers, employers, workers' advocates, lawyers and experts.

CJI and NPR also analyzed two federal data sets on worker heat deaths: one from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the other from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both are divisions within the U.S. Labor Department.

Extreme heat is killing American workers

By Umair Irfan - Vox, July 21, 2021

Abe Carlin held up an instant-read thermometer in the Portland, Oregon, pizzeria where they worked. It showed 103.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with half the ovens off and the air conditioning cranked up, the kitchen was desperately hot on June 27, when a heat dome capped the region.

Outside, temperatures were breaking records as a searing late-June heat wave settled across the Pacific Northwest. Portland reached a record high of 112 degrees Fahrenheit, only to be broken the next day. Portlanders, who have rarely felt such heat, didn’t want to turn on the ovens in their own homes.

So as temperatures started rising, more orders came into the pizzeria. The kitchen staff struggled to keep up with the demand using their limited oven space. And staffers who would have helped out couldn’t make it in as cables melted in Portland’s light rail system and left commuters stranded.

Conditions in Carlin’s pizza restaurant were actually better than many in the food industry. Employees were rotated between the cooler dining room and the warmer kitchen. The break room was stocked with cold Gatorade. Workers were told to take frequent breaks and even spend a few minutes in the cooler if needed.

Finally, the owners decided to close the restaurant early.

“Fundamentally, the way that our space was set up was not able to deal with heat,” Carlin said. “Our HVAC system is not meant to handle this.”

Workers at other Portland restaurants were not so lucky. Some closed early while others tried to stay open as long as possible. The heat triggered power outages that shut down air conditioners and coolers in several restaurants, and employees reported symptoms of heat exhaustion. Workers at Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland’s Old Town went on strike because of the heat. The striking workers were then fired.

For Farmworkers, Heat Too Often Means Needless Death

By Liza Gross - Inside Climate News, July 9, 2021

Advocates say the case of an undocumented Oregon worker during the record-breaking Pacific Northwest heatwave exposes the deadly toll of failed U.S. immigration law.

People around the Pacific Northwest piled into emergency cooling centers late last month to escape the region’s life-threatening heat wave. Sebastián Francisco Perez, an undocumented farmworker in Oregon who had arrived from Guatemala just two months ago, did not have that luxury. 

No laws required Perez’s employer to provide water, shade or rest breaks—let alone a cooling station—to help workers cope with the punishing heat. On June 26, temperatures approached 105 degrees at the nursery where Perez worked, about 30 miles south of Portland. As the mercury climbed, Perez worked until he collapsed and died. He was 38. 

If Congress passed heat standards like those adopted by California in 2005, farmworker advocates say, Perez might still be alive.

The United Farm Workers and Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) urged state officials to issue emergency rules to protect agricultural workers from unsafe conditions during heat waves.

And on Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown directed Oregon Occupational Safety and Health officials to do just that, temporarily expanding requirements for employers to provide shade, rest periods and cool water during heat waves until permanent rules are put in place.

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

On The Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America's Workers

Watchdogs Say US Chemical Safety Board Is "Flying Blind"

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, December 8, 2017

In the early hours of August 31, explosions erupted at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, where floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey had cut off the power supply to refrigerated containers containing organic peroxide. Residences in a 1.5-mile radius had been evacuated, and deputies manning barricades began falling ill in the middle of the road one by one. Medics were called, but no further warning was given as columns of black smoke filled the air.

Arkema knew the fires were coming -- organic peroxides burst into flames unless they are kept cool -- but company officials had insisted in a press conference prior to the explosions that the chemicals were not toxic or harmful to people, according to a lawsuit filed in September by emergency workers injured at the scene.

The lawsuit describes the scene near the plant as "nothing less than chaos," with police officers doubled over vomiting and medics gasping for air on their way to assist them. At least 15 people were hospitalized. Arkema initially told authorities the victims had inhaled a "non-toxic irritant," but residues obtained from nearby residences tested positive for dangerous toxins, such as dioxins and heavy metals, according to a separate lawsuit filed by people living nearby.

What else is Arkema hiding? For answers to that question, the public is turning to the US Chemical Safety Board, where an investigation of the Arkema incident is ongoing. However, the federal agency has failed to implement a rule requiring chemical plant operators to report dangerous releases during accidents to its investigators. Congress mandated this provision back in 1990.

Had Arkema been required to report the looming chemical fires to the Chemical Safety Board, the government and emergency workers would have had more to go on than the "vague" disclosure offered by the company during the storm, according to Adam Carlesco, a staff attorney at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The watchdog group filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the chemical board's inaction on the reporting rule. Other plaintiffs include the Memorial for Workplace Fatalities and two Gulf South environmental groups.

"America's sole industrial safety monitor is currently flying blind and placing the health of the public at risk," Carlesco said.

Big Business, Political Allies Look to Turn Hurricane Crises to Their Advantage

By Samantha Winslow - Labor Notes, September 25, 2017

You have to hand it to Big Business and their minions: in every storm cloud they find a silver lining.

The hazards faced by residents of Texas and Florida (and now Puerto Rico) come not just from the flooding but from business interests eager to take advantage of the crisis to toss out the rules—“it’s an emergency”—and squeeze workers.

Days after Harvey hit Texas, Grover Norquist’s right-wing think tank Americans for Tax Reform was already calling for suspending Davis-Bacon on the Houston clean-up and rebuild. That’s the law that requires prevailing wage standards (read: living wage) for businesses getting federal contracts.

With Trump as president, companies are hoping for a permanent repeal.

The precedent is there. After Katrina, President Bush suspended Davis-Bacon for six months, allowing contractors to drastically lower their wages. When Davis-Bacon was reinstated, existing low-wage contracts were grandfathered in.

Bush also suspended OSHA’s enforcement of health and safety standards and had the EPA waive standards for emissions and fuel refineries.

Federal Agency That Protects Whistleblowers Accused of Retaliating Against One of its Own

By Stuart Silverstein - Fair Warning, April 11, 2016

For nearly five years, Darrell Whitman was a federal investigator who probed whistleblowers’ complaints about being fired or otherwise punished for exposing alleged corporate misconduct.

He wanted to help whistleblowers, viewing them as a crucial line of defense against employers who violated health and safety standards or wasted taxpayer dollars.

But now Whitman, 70, is blowing the whistle himself. And he is accusing the agency where he used to work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the branch of the Labor Department whose duties include protecting whistleblowers.

Whitman, in a whistleblower claim filed last week with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, charges that the San Francisco regional office of OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program routinely dumped legitimate complaints. What’s more, Whitman’s complaint says his disclosures to senior OSHA and Labor Department officials -– all the way up to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez — “did not spark good faith corrective action. Rather, they led to investigations of Mr. Whitman that eventually formed the basis for his termination” last May. He claims that three other investigators who protested the office’s practices also were fired or pushed out.

The result, Whitman claims, is that safety hazards and wasteful spending persist while whistleblowers often are silenced by employers that get away with illegal retaliation.

Whitman’s complaint largely tracks the concerns he raised in letters to federal officials (examples here and here) and in interviews with FairWarning and previously with KNTV (NBC in the Bay Area). He zeroes in on his former boss, Joshua Paul, and other officials in OSHA’s San Francisco regional office, which oversees California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.

Sometimes, Whitman said, Paul ordered investigators to water down their findings or reversed the findings without explanation. In other instances, Whitman said, cases would be closed out after quickie investigations that barely examined the retaliation claims. Other times, he said, Paul dragged his feet in completing investigations for three years or more, apparently to put pressure on whistleblowers to settle.

At Paris Trade Union Forum: A call to ban fracking worldwide

By Blake Deppe - People's World, December 4, 2015

PARIS -- In the Climate Generations event area here at COP 21, the Trade Union Forum on Climate and Jobs presented on Dec. 3 an event called Resisting Extreme Extraction. Labor organizations including the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the Argentine Workers' Central Union (CTA), and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) addressed the audience with a clear declaration: that fracking, in every country and every part of the world, has got to go.

These organizations are part of the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, an initiative coordinated by the International Program for Labor, Climate and Environment (IPLCE). Their call for a global moratorium on the harmful natural gas extraction process is bolstered by the findings of Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University. He published his findings about the disastrous effects of fracking in an article titled A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas, and shared them at COP 21.

"Natural gas is widely promoted as a 'bridge fuel,' " Howarth said, referencing the publication. "It is said that it allows continued use of fossil fuels while reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to oil or coal. And since 2009, over 40 percent of natural gas has come from shale gas, which is such a driver for climate change, because of methane. Most climate scientists, in their studies, are focusing on carbon, but methane is 120 times more powerful while both gases are in the atmosphere."

He explained that carbon, of course, is the larger instigator behind climate change, as there is more of it in the atmosphere, but in terms of actually slowing global warming, there is a key difference between the two. "Because of its long residence time," he said, "reductions in carbon emissions can only slowly change the atmospheric concentration." On the other hand, "methane emissions reductions lead to almost immediate reductions in atmospheric concentration. If we cut methane emissions today, we could really slow warming and prevent the [planet] from exceeding that two degree mark."

What Howarth is referring to is the very goal of COP 21: to avert a planetary warming of two degrees Celsius. This is a slightly more realistic ambition - in comparison with last year's climate conference in Copenhagen, which sought to avoid 1.5 degrees of warming - and one based on assessments made on global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But curbing that methane output can best be done by putting an end to fracking, and increased transparency, based on recent studies not funded by the fossil fuel industry, is shifting public opinion on this false 'energy alternative.' "There have been about 32 new research papers published on fracking recently," said Hogarth. This, he conveyed, provides an excellent counterbalance to the problematic studies carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Defense Fund, with the latter in particular notorious for its biased and industry-collaborative approach. He said that both the agency and the EDF "misuse their instruments during their studies, and thus draw unrealistic conclusions about fracking. The truth is, it is globally warming the planet today."

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.