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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

OSU study finds higher rates of traumatic injuries for outdoor workers during hotter weather

By Molly Rosbach - Oregon State University, September 29, 2022

Rates of traumatic injury among workers in the Oregon agricultural and construction sectors are significantly higher during periods of high heat compared with periods of more moderate weather, a recent Oregon State University study found.

The results underscore the importance of providing robust safety protections for outdoor workers, especially as extreme heat events become more common with climate change, researchers said.

“The big take-home message I want people to get from this is that, if the temperature is high and you have workers out there, they’re more likely to be injured, whether it’s due to dehydration, reduction in mental capacity or exhaustion,” said Richie Evoy, lead author on the paper and a recent doctoral graduate from OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The study, published earlier this month, examined Oregon workers’ compensation data from 2009-2018. Researchers looked at nearly 92,000 injury claims in which workers suffered temporary disability, permanent disability or death. They focused on injuries that occurred in the months of April through October because the average heat index was above 55 degrees for that period.

In addition to heat, researchers also investigated the impact of wildfire smoke on worker injury rates.

They matched injury records with meteorological data to estimate heat exposure based on the heat index, which combines the effects of temperature and humidity in the air, along with environmental satellite data to estimate exposure to wildfire smoke.

They found that workers in agricultural and construction jobs were significantly more likely to suffer a traumatic injury on days when the heat index was above 75 degrees, compared with a baseline of 65 degrees or less.

The effect worsened when the heat index climbed to over 90 degrees, with an increased risk of 19-29% over baseline as the index ranged from 90-119 degrees.

“These results support the need for occupational safety practitioners to include protections for workers during extreme heat,” said Laurel Kincl, co-author on the study and an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “While our study in based in Oregon, this is true in other states and regions since these conditions will likely become more frequent with climate change."

The impact of wildfire smoke was less clear. When researchers looked at smoke by itself, it was strongly associated with an increased risk of injury, but when they also incorporated heat index data into the analysis, the effect of wildfire smoke was no longer significant.

There are several potential reasons for this, researchers said. It could be that because wildfires happen more frequently in hot conditions, the smoke is coincidental to the heat; but smoke can sometimes also block the sun and reduce overall temperature.

Future studies should obtain more precise smoke exposure data to better understand the potential impact, researchers said. In using satellite imagery and data recorded from each day’s peak smoke exposure by zip code, Evoy said they couldn’t parse out exactly how much wildfire smoke individual workers were exposed to, or what was in that smoke, because of shifting winds and changes in what was burning at any given time.

“The way things stand now, wildfires are only going to increase in frequency and duration in Oregon and in the West, so the more we can do to understand the risks to our outdoor workers who are going to be experiencing these climate effects first, the better off those workers are going to be in protecting their health and staying productive,” Evoy said.

Just this summer, Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health division adopted new standards regarding wildfire and excessive heat stress. Employers are now required by law to provide workers with shade areas when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees, along with access to drinking water, a specific work-rest schedule and several other safety measures. A coalition of Oregon business groups are suing the state over these new rules, which were praised by worker advocacy groups.

Other co-authors on the OSU study included Perry Hystad and Harold Bae, both in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Three Workers Dead in Grain Silo, Including a Child. OSHA Can Do Nothing

By Jordan Barab - Confined Space, September 22, 2022

In what may be the largest mass casualty workplace event this year, three workers were killed after being trapped in a grain silo in Pennsylvania. The workers included a 47-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old. A 16-year-old boy died at the same farm in March when he was trapped under a horse-drawn manure spreader that weighed more than 10 tons.

And despite the high death toll and age of the workers, neither OSHA nor the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division (which enforces child labor laws) can do anything about it.

The Center Daily Times reports that Andrew Beiler, 47, and his two sons — a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old whose names were not released — died of asphyxiation from “silo gas.” Apparently, “One of Beiler’s sons was working in the silo when his father checked on him, Michael said, citing first responder reports. The eldest Beiler jumped in to help, but was overcome by the gas. His second son followed, but was also overcome.”

Rescuers dying when trying to rescue the original victims is not uncommon in confined space or trenching incidents. Before OSHA’s confined space standard was issued in 1993, more rescuers died in confined spaces than initial victims.

Grain silos are well known death traps that kill dozens of workers, often children, every year. When grain gets stuck, workers often go in at the top of a silo to loosen the grain or “walk it down.” But when the grain starts flowing, it can suck the worker down like quick sand causing suffocation. Often multiple workers die when others go into the grain in an attempt to rescue the first victim. Although there has been no investigation yet, these deaths are currently being blamed on “silo gas” (usually carbon dioxide or nitrogen dioxide) which forms when grain decomposes and can result in a person collapsing and dying within minutes, either due to oxygen displacement or toxicity.

OSHA’s grain handling standard requires employers to protect workers by training them, stop the conveyor system that moves grain at the bottom of the silo, use safety harnesses and provide a trained observer to respond to trouble. The standard also requires the air to be tested before entry and that the silo be ventilated.

Climate Change at Work

By NRDC - Grist, July 19, 2022

Last summer, the Pacific Northwest was hit by a once-in-a-millenium heat dome. While temperatures were higher than ever recorded, L.A.* was outside, working Washington’s blueberry harvest. (Fearing potential work repercussions, L.A. did not wish to be identified by her full name.) Soon, she was dehydrated, dizzy, and vomiting. Her minor son, who was also working in the field out in the heat, got a bloody nose and headache. When the harvest was moved to the middle of the night to avoid the most intense heat—”to protect the fruit, not the workers,” L.A. says—her friend cut herself badly laboring in the dark. 

Whether it’s heatwaves, wildfire smoke, or attempts to adapt that create new hazards, the climate crisis is exacerbating risks for America’s workers. From home health aides and school teachers to construction and farm workers, people across the country are now facing compounding challenges on the widening frontlines of the climate crisis. Yet federal protections for the workplace have not kept pace.

During California’s recent wildfires, shocking photos emerged of farmworkers harvesting grapes in California vineyards under an orange-tinged sky. That may be one of the most visible examples of people being forced to work in dangerous conditions, but it’s far from the only climate-related health risk employees regularly face. “The reality is that millions of workers—across our society—are being exposed to multiple environmental stressors all at once, including searing heat and toxic air pollution,” says Dr. Vijay Limaye, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 

For instance, Limaye explains that the formation of ground level ozone—air pollution formed in the atmosphere from building blocks including emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas—is intensified by hotter temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting exposure limits, but the agency’s models often don’t account for compounding circumstances or cumulative impacts. While the EPA sets some legal limits for ozone, for example, outdoor workers are frequently exposed to smog and extreme temperatures simultaneously. From a health risk perspective, “the sum is often greater than the parts,” Limaye says.

As heat rises, who will protect farmworkers?

By Bridget Huber, Nancy Averett and Teresa Cotsirilos - Food & Environment Reporting Network, June 29, 2022

Last June, as a record-breaking heatwave baked Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Sebastian Francisco Perez was moving irrigation lines at a large plant nursery in 104 degree Fahrenheit heat. When he didn’t appear at the end of his shift, his co-workers went looking for him, and found him collapsed between rows of trees. Investigators from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division determined that Perez died of heat-related hyperthermia and dehydration. 

They also found that Perez had not been provided with basic information about how to protect himself from the heat. It wasn’t the farm’s first brush with regulators; it had previously been cited for failing to provide water and toilets to its workers. Later, in a closed conference with Oregon OSHA, an Ernst Nursery & Farms official blamed Perez for his own death, claiming that employees should “be accountable for how they push their bodies.”

This year, in a move to avert similar deaths — and force employers to take responsibility for protecting workers during hot weather — Oregon adopted the most stringent heat protections for outdoor workers in the country. The rule kicks in when temperatures reach 80 degrees F and requires employers to provide cool water, rest breaks and shade, as well as to make plans for how to acclimatize workers to heat, prevent heat illness and seek help in case of an emergency. 

The new standard has been praised by advocates, but industry is already pushing back. On June 15, the day the rule took effect, a coalition of Oregon business groups representing more than 1,000 companies filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the heat standard and another new rule governing workers’ exposure to wildfire smoke, arguing that they are unconstitutional. But the rules stand for now, making Oregon the third state to enact such standards for outdoor workers, after California and Washington. 

In the rest of the country, as climate change drives increasingly brutal heat waves, farmworkers lack protection. How they fare will largely depend on whether their employers voluntarily decide to provide the access to water, shade, and rest breaks that are critical when working in extreme heat. There are currently no nationwide regulations that spell out what employers must do to protect workers from heat and, while efforts to draft a federal rule recently began, it will likely be years before the standards are in place.

Electric Bus Makers Pave the Way to Union Jobs for Disadvantaged Workers

By Lary Buhl - Capital and Main, April 27, 2022

Last year Armando (who requested that his last name not be used) was working as an addiction counselor when a parole officer came to his office with a flyer announcing a new nine-week training course in electric bus manufacturing technology. The company promised not to discriminate against the formerly incarcerated, among whom are some of his clients. “I wanted to see the class so I could explain it to my clients and maybe recommend it, and make sure they understood the opportunity,” Armando told Capital & Main. “And then I thought, ‘Man, this is a good company with good pay and benefits, and it’s in a growing field.’”

Armando signed up for the class himself, and after completing it last October, he was offered a position as a battery technician at Proterra at over $20 an hour, an entry level salary higher than he was earning as a counselor, with a potential to increase quickly. True to its word, the company didn’t discriminate against him because of his past drug addiction. Armando, 52, who has been clean for five years, did have to compete with job candidates who didn’t have dings on their record and had experience in manufacturing. Now, after only six months, Armando’s eyeing a supervisory position. He’s also been helping the company screen candidates and mentoring those taking the pilot course.

“I want [students] to understand that you can’t be late or get high or do anything stupid on the job,” Armando said. “There’s expensive equipment, and you could kill yourself if you’re careless. Some of these students never had real jobs, and I like people to get a second chance. But you have to take the nine-week course seriously.” The gratitude Armando feels toward the company that gave him a chance has made him work even harder, he said.

The program at Proterra is the fruit of a community benefit agreement (CBA) between the company, United Steelworkers Local 675, L.A.-based nonprofit Jobs to Move America, and a coalition of community organizations that established standards for training, supporting and hiring job candidates from nontraditional backgrounds. They give them a chance at skilled union jobs in the growing field of green manufacturing.

Solidarity with strikers at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California

By Workers' Voice, East Bay - Socialist Resurgence, March 28, 2022

On March 23, members of Workers’ Voice went out to support striking refinery workers at the Chevron facility in Richmond, Calif. This strike is taking place in the wake of the United Steel Workers’ national oil pattern bargaining agreement with the oil companies, which covers some 30,000 workers at refineries and chemical plants across the country. The pattern bargaining agreement now only covers those 30,000 USW-organized oil and chemical workers whose contract expired this year on Feb. 1, which union locals had to ratify.

In Richmond, over 500 oil workers represented by USW Local 5 rejected the tentative agreement, as it was insufficient to meet their needs. They are thus striking over wages, hours, and other workplace issues, including being forced to work during the peak of the COVID pandemic. They have set up 24-hour pickets, with six-hour shifts. The union has created a solidarity fund and will cover basic expenses of workers who can’t pay their mortgage or get health care or food costs covered.

When we visited, the workers were picketing in shifts of a few dozen workers in front of the refinery gate, keeping up an optimistic mood of camaraderie and humor on a chilly, foggy day.

Many of the drivers of vehicles passing by the picket line honked their horns in support. However, a bothersome Richmond cop and one or two surly truckers wanting to drive into the facility—which the workers were trying to block—attempted, unsuccessfully, to dampen the positive atmosphere.

The grievances of the workers relate to wages and to other grievances as well. They need a raise to keep up with cost of living increases, especially in the brutally expensive Bay Area. They’re also confronting increased health-care costs. A worker told us that their new health-care plan would barely be covered by the wage increase of 2.5% currently on offer. This increase would also not keep up with inflation, which was 7% last year alone. Shopping for groceries is much more expensive now, workers we talked to said. In fact, they added, everything is more expensive.

Workers also talked about a manager who got a 10 percent raise to move up from Los Angeles. This upset workers because that manager is already making a good salary. Moreover, Chevron recently reported billions in profits, the most since 2014; but the boss always says there’s no money for workers.

But workers say they’re not just striking about money.

On The Line In The Fight For Justice: USW 5 Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - The Valley Labor Report - March 28, 2022

USW Local 5 striking Richmond Chevron refinery workers rallied with community members and supporters on March 28 2022 in front of the plant. Operators talked about the attack on health and safety conditions, 30% increases in healthcare costs and increasing stress, dangerous long hours and rotating shifts. Last year Chevron made $15.6 billion but obviously that is not enough for the company. Community and labor supporters also talked about health issues for workers and the community and the ongoing efforts that have been made to keep the plant safe.

The strike which included 500 union members started on Monday March 25, 2022 after the company according to workers continued to demand concessions and even wanted to negotiate away health and safety inspectors to keep the plant safe. In 2012, a major explosion nearly killed a fireman. The company managers even though they knew of a serious leak refused to shut he plant down to protect their profits according to workers. It also heavily contaminated the community which is still facing flaring and other dangerous practices by the company.

Additional media:

Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan Group, Global Manufacturer of Building Materials

By Lauren Burke and Meredith Schafer - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 3, 2022

Santa Ana, Calif. — Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group, an Ireland-based global manufacturer of insulation and other building materials that markets its products as “green.” Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects.

“We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities,” reads the statement co-signed by the 45 organizations.

Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here

The groups are calling on the green building community to stop allowing Kingspan representatives to sponsor or speak at trade shows and conferences, and to discontinue offering continuing education courses taught by Kingspan until the Grenfell Inquiry is finished and changes are made to its Santa Ana factory. The statement points to whistleblower complaints by Kingspan workers on health, safety and stormwater pollution issues at its Santa Ana, CA factory filed in October 2021, as well as the revelations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry regarding its UK insulation business that came out in 2020-2021.

Read the CalEPA and CalOSHA complaints, and the Indoor Air Quality study

The 2020-21 testimony and evidence from the UK Government Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire revealed how Kingspan’s UK insulation division misrepresented and mis-marketed Kooltherm K15’s fire safety testing and certifications from 2006-2020. (Kooltherm K15 made up five percent of the insulation in the tower, which is why Kingspan is a core participant of the Inquiry.) The company began marketing K15 in the US in 2018, after the fire.

“Kingspan is not an appropriate source for continuing education courses or sponsorships of events for the green building community, including those that touch on fire safety.” Read about Kingspan and the Grenfell Inquiry here

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The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) engages workers and communities in building a transition to a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We work to foster deep relationships that help the labor movement engage in the climate movement and the climate movement understand the economics of climate change and the importance of organized labor as a key partner in confronting the climate crisis.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), AFL-CIO, is an international union whose affiliates represent sheet metal workers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as workers in transportation industries. Our members manufacture and install heating, ventilation, and air handling systems (HVAC), as well as architectural components such as metal roofing, facades, and other building envelope products.

Farmworkers and Firefighters Are on the Front Lines of Climate-Fueled Catastrophe

By Lin Nelson - Labor Notes, February 14, 2022

Despite the short flurry of support (it seems so long ago) for workers on the front lines, many of the folks who help hold our health and the economy together feel abandoned and used up. The Covid calamity and the escalating climate crisis are creating worker sacrifice zones.

In December, more than 700 workers and allies from across the country made their way (online) to the 10th annual Council on Occupational Safety and Health conference, where they shared stories about the conditions that make going to work a risky affair.

Heat and climate were major threads. We might be in the chill-blast of winter now, but we remember the summer’s heat, from fires in British Columbia to evacuated towns in Oregon to the blistering heat in Washington farmlands.

Outdoor workers were at the center of risk this year. Many were sent into floods and fires—to harvest food, to fight the infernos in the West, or to do dangerous storm cleanup throughout the South and Midwest.

These workers grappled with urgent but often inaccessible health alerts about temperature, air quality, signs of heat stress and fire risk. Many didn’t have the benefit of unions, protective legislation, or functioning public agencies, and faced reprimand or firing if they spoke up about their concerns.

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.”

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