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health and safety

How Federal Law Can Protect All Workers on Sweltering Summer Days

By Tom Conway - CounterPunch, July 17, 2023

The heat index soared to 111 degrees in Houston, Texas, but the real-feel temperature climbed even higher than that inside the heavy personal protective equipment (PPE) that John Hayes and his colleagues at Ecoservices wear on the job.

Sweat poured from the workers clad in full-body hazardous materials suits, heavy gloves, splash hoods, and steel-toed boots as they sampled and processed chemicals from huge metal containers under a searing sun.

Fortunately, as members of the United Steelworkers (USW), these workers negotiated a policy requiring the chemical treatment company to provide shade, cool-down periods, and other measures to protect them during sweltering days.

But unless all Americans have commonsense safeguards like these, workers across the country will continue to get sick and die during ever-worsening heat waves.

The USW, other unions, and advocacy groups are calling on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to speedily enact a national standard specifying the minimum steps all employers need to take to safeguard workers from unprecedented and deadly bouts of heat.

Because of union advocacy, OSHA already has national standards that protect workers from falls, trench collapses, asbestos exposure, infectious diseases, injuries from equipment, and many other workplace hazards. It’s way past time to also protect workers from the heat waves that are growing more severe, lasting longer, and claiming more lives each year.

“Heat affects everybody. It doesn’t care about age,” observed Hayes, president of USW Local 227’s Ecoservices unit, who helped to negotiate the heat-related protections for about 70 workers in treatment services, maintenance, logistics, and other departments.

“There’s so many things they can come up with,” he said of OSHA officials.

The policy the union negotiated with Ecoservices requires low-cost, sensible measures like water, electrolytes, modified work schedules, tents and fans, and the authority to stop work when conditions become unhealthy and unsafe.

“If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, take your timeout,” Hayes reminds coworkers. “Don’t worry about it.”

In 2021, OSHA initiated efforts “to consider a heat-specific workplace rule.” In the meantime, states and local governments are free to make their own rules, let workers fend for themselves, or even put workers at greater risk.

Bosses Fined for KILLING an Alabama Worker

By Union Jake and Adam Keller - Valley Labor Report, July 14, 2023

Shades of Fortunado Reyes and Louisiana-Pacific.

Biological hazards in the working environment

By staff - International Labour Organization, July 13, 2023

The ILO released a report Biological Hazards in the Working Environment in 2022. The report contains a survey which calls on governments to respond and to ensure that employers and trade unions in their countries also respond. The ILO is now circulating the survey directly to trade unions and employers to ensure that it gets more response.

The promotion of safe and healthy working environments has been a constant objective of the International Labour Organization (ILO) since it was founded in 1919. The ILO has adopted a significant body of international instruments and guidance documents to promote the safety and health of workers and assist constituents in strengthening their capacities to prevent and manage workplace hazards and risks.

An important step forward in this respect was taken during the 110th Session (2022) of the International Labour Conference when the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187), were recognized as fundamental Conventions within the meaning of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. 1 Accordingly, all ILO Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have now an obligation, arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

In Heat and Smoke, Workers Fight Negligent Bosses

By Caitlyn Clark - Labor Notes, July 12, 2023

On June 29, the air quality in Detroit was among the worst in the world.

“Outside it smelled like burnt plastic, almost like trash,” said UAW member Cody Zaremba, who works at a General Motors plant in Lansing, Michigan. He and his co-workers were experiencing coughing, runny noses, watery eyes, and trouble breathing.

But GM didn’t even acknowledge the smoke, Zaremba said, much less offer any protection.

“Everybody just had to go about it their own way,” he said. “We can all see it and smell it. But what are we going to do about it?”

As wildfires, drought, floods, and scorching heat disrupt the supply chain, the logistics industry is starting to worry about the impact of climate change…on profits.

But workers are the ones bearing the brunt—forced to work through extreme weather events, induced by climate change, that are getting more frequent and more severe.

Wildfires in Canada this summer have spread hazardous smoke through the U.S. East Coast and Midwest. Semi-regular wildfires throughout the West Coast have produced what are now known as “fire seasons.”

Outdoor workers like those in delivery, construction, and farming are among the hardest hit. On the frontlines of the climate crisis, some workers are standing up to their employers’ negligence.

Extreme heat prompts first-ever Amazon delivery driver strike

By Tushar Khurana - Grist, July 11, 2023

Heat waves can delay flights and melt airplane tarmac, but Amazon won’t let them hinder Prime deliveries. Extreme heat and unsafe working conditions under the merchant giant have now spurred drivers to unionize. In Southern California, 84 delivery drivers joined the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and negotiated the first union contract among any Amazon workers in the country. And since June 24, these workers have been on an indefinite strike.

Amazon’s requirement of drivers to make up to 400 stops per day, even when temperatures exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, can make operating one of those ubiquitous gray and blue vans a particularly hazardous occupation. Raj Singh, a driver, knows that only too well.

“Sometimes it reaches 135 degrees in the rear of the truck and there’s no cooling system,” said Singh, who has worked the job for two and half years and through the height of the pandemic. “It feels like an oven when you step back there. You instantly start feeling woozy, and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve actually seen stars.”

Even on scorching days, said Singh, “Amazon sets these ridiculous paces. Some people even have to miss their guaranteed 15-minute breaks, because if we break the pace, they contact us to try and find out why we’re behind.”

“On the days that you work, it’s basically mandatory overtime,” he added. “You don’t stop until you’re done or you get reprimanded.”

Last August, after the drivers prepared a list of demands around pay, safety, and extreme temperatures, Amazon responded by offering workers two 16-ounce bottles of water a day. 

Extreme Heat Costs North Carolina Workers and Employers

By National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) - Clean Technica, July 9, 2023

North Carolina Workers, Employers would Benefit from State Heat Standards

RALEIGH, NC — According to a new report, North Carolina employers may be paying higher workers compensation claim costs in years with more hot weather. The Excessive Heat in North Carolina report found a link between extreme heat exposure in four major industries and avoidable costs to employers, including increased worker compensation for missed wages. The report was prepared by Milliman and commissioned by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

The report’s key findings include:

  • When all four industries (agriculture, construction/erection, cartage/trucking, and commercial enterprises) were considered together, there was a positive correlation between the annual number of hours with a heat index above 90°F and workers compensation claim costs for lost wages. In other words, employers paid employees more during hot years for missed work days due to illness or injury from any cause.
  • The strongest relationships between heat and workers compensation costs for lost wages were in the cartage/trucking industry (such as package delivery and ambulance service workers) and commercial enterprises (such as warehouse workers and gas station attendants). The positive correlation between hot years and the severity of lost wage claims (i.e. the cost per claim) was notably strong in cartage/trucking.
  • Based on the available sample data, cartage/trucking was the only industry to show a significant positive correlation between heat and workers compensation claims for medical costs.
  • Outside the workers compensation system, heat was correlated with healthcare use by the general population immediately after extreme heat events and for up to three months later. However, the observed relationship depended on a complex interaction between heat, an individual’s other health conditions, and socioeconomic factors such as living conditions and access to healthcare.

“Workers are protected from all kinds of hazards, such as ladder falls and electric shocks. But federally and in most states—including in North Carolina—there are no such standards protecting workers from heat. That needs to be fixed, and fast, especially as climate change makes heat season ever more brutal in the Southeast and across the country,” said Juanita Constible, Senior Advocate for Climate & Health at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The report makes clear that the avoidable costs of workplace heat exposure, such as missed work time and emergency room visits, are considerable in four of the most heat-exposed industries in North Carolina.”

“Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy workplace. We should be doing everything we can to avoid preventable injuries at work like those caused by exposure to high temperatures,” said Clermont Fraser Ripley, Workers’ Rights Project Co-Director at the North Carolina Justice Center. “We should be doing everything we can to avoid preventable injuries at work like those caused by exposure to high temperatures.”

Black Lung is Killing Miners Again, and Government is FINALLY Responding

Chemicals and climate change in the world of work: Impacts for occupational safety and health

By staff - International Labour Organization, July 5, 2023

Climate change has profound impacts on, and synergies with the world of work, especially regarding the sound management of chemicals. Many chemicals that are produced and utilized in the workplace can have impacts on the environment and climate, with climate change in turn impacting the ability to safely store, transport and use chemicals.Appropriate climate change adaptation and mitigation measures are needed as a matter of urgency.

The inclusion of a ‘safe and healthy working environment’ as an ILO fundamental principle and right atwork (FPRW) provides a framework for action to tackle emerging risks to workers from climate change,through a systems approach to managing occupational safety and health (OSH). Addressing harmful chemical exposures in the working environment through effective OSH policies and practices are a top priority for advancing climate change agendas and ensuring decent working conditions.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

‘It’s become unbearable’: Texas workers toil through extreme heatwave

By Michael Sainato - The Guardian, June 30, 2023

Last week as the heat dome scorched Texas, Gloria Machuca arrived for work at a McDonald’s in Houston to find the air conditioning wasn’t working. The temperature inside the restaurant was similar to the temperature outside – at least 90F. It was 7.30am.

Temperatures would rise another 10 degrees that day but already, Machuca said, the intense heat was making her eyes burn. She and five of her co-workers walked out on their jobs.

A third week of a record-breaking heatwave has placed at least 40 million people in the US under heat alerts, with numerous Texas cities experiencing unprecedented heat.

Many workers in Texas and throughout the southern US currently have no heat protection while working outdoors, exposed to the sun and intense, prolonged heat.

“When I came in, it really was so hot. I decided I need to go on strike. I told my co-workers because it is way too hot here and I knew they were all extremely hot as well,” said Machuca. “If we don’t work, they don’t make money. They’re making money off our sweat and it’s not fair,” she said. “It’s time they truly value us.”

Marsam Management, which operates the McDonald’s store in Houston, said in a statement: “As soon as we learned that one of our three air conditioning units had malfunctioned, we immediately brought portable air coolers and fans into the kitchen while technicians made their repairs, which were completed that same day.”

But workers went on strike again on 27 June to demand a permanent fix to the air conditioning issues and workers walked out at a second McDonald’s location in Houston over the same issues – air conditioning not working properly.

“I couldn’t take the heat any more. It was way too hot inside and I said I have to do something because they’re not listening to us,” said Marina Luria Ramírez, a McDonald’s worker at the second location who walked out. “It’s almost like you’re being choked, it’s such a horrible feeling. And there’s times where I feel like I’m going to faint and I try to drink water but sometimes our mouths are so dry, like even water doesn’t work. We try anything we can to recover but it really is a physically tolling and despairing experience.”

Many states decline to require water breaks for outdoor workers in extreme heat

By Barbara Barrett - Stateline, June 30, 2023

Nearly 400 U.S. workers died of heat exposure over a decade.

Even as summer temperatures soar and states wrangle with protecting outdoor workers from extreme heat, Texas last week enacted a law that axes city rules mandating water and shade breaks for construction workers.

In state after state, lawmakers and regulators have in recent years declined to require companies to offer their outdoor laborers rest breaks with shade and water. In some cases, legislation failed to gain traction. In others, state regulators decided against action or have taken years to write and release rules.

Heat causes more deaths in the United States each year than any other extreme weather. And in Texas, at least 42 workers died of heat exposure between 2011 and 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, though labor advocates say the number is much higher because other causes are cited in many deaths.

A 2021 investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations found nearly 400 workers had died of environmental heat exposure in the previous decade, with Hispanic workers — who make up much of the nation’s farm and construction workforce — disproportionately affected.

Climate change has brought more days of extreme heat each year on average, and scientists say that number will grow. Yet only three states — California, Oregon and Washington — require heat breaks for outdoor workers. Minnesota has a rule that sets standards for indoor workers, and Colorado’s heat regulations cover only farmworkers.


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