Workplace safety is one of the core issues of concern for the thousands of refinery workers who went on strike February 1 at plants in Texas, California, Washington, and Kentucky. The workers are members of the United Steelworkers (USW), and say their employers— LyondellBasell, Marathon Oil, and Royal Dutch Shell—put lives at risk with excessive work hours, delayed maintenance, and production pressure. Their previous contract was negotiated and approved in 2012.
“Union members believe it is time to take a stand,” USW spokesperson Lynn Hancock told the Houston Chronicle. “If we don’t, our people will continue to get injured and killed on the job.” The last time there was a walk-out of this magnitude by the USW was 1980.
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released preliminary data on the number of work-related fatalities for 2013; final figures are due out next spring. While the overall trend nationwide indicates both a lower number of deaths (4,405) and rate of fatal incidents (3.2 per 100/000 workers) compared to 2012 figures, California moved in the opposite direction: more workers killed and a startling increase in deaths among Latino workers.
The preliminary number of deaths for California in 2012 was 339, which was later revised up to 375; the preliminary figure for 2013 is already at 385 deaths. We can reasonably expect the final count to surpass 400.
On April 15, 2013, 26-year-old temporary worker David Eleidjian never came home from his job at a Bay Point industrial manufacturing facility. The Iraq war veteran and recent father was caught and pulled into an unguarded spinning shaft, and died later at the hospital.
Four days later, in Santa Rosa, 21-year-old Hugo Tapia also left for his temp work position, at the glass company his father had worked at for decades. He too never returned. Only two weeks into the job, he was crushed by heavy, unsecured glass that fell off an A-frame rack.
In October, amid the tensions of a BART strike brought on in part by concerns over worker safety, BART employee Chris Sheppard and consultant Laurence Daniels were inspecting a dip in the tracks near the Walnut Creek station. They were struck and killed by a train on a maintenance run, driven by a student trainee likely being instructed in the event of a prolonged strike.
On September 4, 2013, Ellen Widess resigned from her position as Chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), also known as Cal/OSHA. Worksafe and many of our allies among unions, worker centers, and OSH professionals were caught off guard by the news; even more startling was the characterization of the OSH community’s reaction by the Cal-OSHA Reporter, which claimed that “both employer and labor representatives were practically jubilant at the news.” Worksafe was the only organization that was quoted on the record; we praised her work in carrying out the mission of the agency: to protect the health and safety of California workers.
A little more than a week later, the Cal-OSHA Reporter printed a handful of letters from agency staff, worker advocate organizations, and OSH professionals who supported her record and chastised the publication for its biased reporting. The Cal-OSHA Reporter mentioned in passing but did not print any of the letters from organized labor. Her detractors remain unidentified.
Workers Memorial Day Event in Oakland Honors Those Who Died at Work in 2012: Event and annual report mark the 26th anniversary of Workers Memorial Day in the United States
Oakland, CA – Eva Macias thrived for 13 years working at the San Leandro Waste Management recycling and transfer plant. On June 18, 2012, she was hit by a front-end loader and killed. Overly informal driving rules, insufficient training, and lack of a traffic control system were to blame, according to Cal/OSHA.
46-year-old Anita Paratley was one of more than 12 female San Francisco firefighters in the Richmond district to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She began to wonder if her work was related. “When you don’t see the heat and the smoke dies down, you think you’re safe,” she says. But, the process of cleaning up and checking for hot spots after the fire takes several hours, and all the while, workers are exposed to hazardous gases and soot as materials smolder.Read more...
Federal report finds major flaws in state’s retaliation enforcement program
Incomplete and sloppy investigations leave workers without protection
Oakland, CA – Federal OSHA’s long-awaited audit of California’s “State Whistleblower Program,” housed in the Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE), was released today. Its findings confirm what many suspected, and what low-wage workers who object to unsafe, unhealthy working conditions know all too well: that problems with the Division’s handling of employer retaliation complaints, previously identified by Worksafe and others, remain endemic in California workplaces.
“The lack of an effective, reliable enforcement system compounds the chilling effect that retaliation has on workers,” said Jora Trang, Worksafe Managing Attorney. “If you can’t voice concerns, there’s little chance you can exert any of your other rights in the workplace.”
Worksafe and SoCalCOSH release new report for Workers Memorial Day 2012: “Dying at work in California: The hidden stories behind the numbers”
On October 12, 2011, 16-year-old Armando Ramirez and his 22-year-old brother Heladio were cleaning out a storm water drain at a recycling facility. Heladio saw his brother collapse and went down the eight-foot hole to save him. Without proper protection, the brothers died from breathing hydrogen sulfide.
A telecommunications technician for 30 years, Brent Robinson was out sick most of the week before September 2. He returned to work outdoors in sweltering 100-105° heat and again felt ill. His request to go home was denied, and he died at a grocery store waiting for medical personnel.
These and other stories are profiled in "Dying at Work in California: The Hidden Stories Behind the Numbers." Produced by Worksafe and the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH), it will be released in advance of Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2012.
- Report available for download: Click here -Read more...
Court to Hear Challenge to Cancer-Causing Pesticide Methyl Iodide
California officials approved pesticide over warnings from state and independent scientists
What: Court trial on cancer-causing methyl iodide
Who: Attorneys for environmental, health and farmworker groups, attorneys for pesticide maker Arysta, attorneys representing the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, farmworkers potentially affected by pesticide drift, and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
When: 9am Thursday, January 12 (note* the trial could last up to four hours. Key spokespersons for groups challenging methyl iodide will be available to media after the hearing either by phone or in person on the steps of the courthouse).
Where: Alameda County Administration Building, 1221 Oak Street, 3rd Floor, Room/Dept. 24, Oakland
Why: Methyl iodide causes late term miscarriages, is a known carcinogen, and puts California’s scarce groundwater supplies at risk of contamination. The pesticide poses the most direct risks to farmworkers and neighboring communities because of the volume that would be applied to fields and its tendency to drift off-site through the air.
Worksafe Prevails in Key Health and Safety Legal Battle
Third District Court of Appeal ruling caps four and half years of litigation
Oakland, CA – On September 16, 2011, Worksafe, Inc. won a hard-fought legal victory. California’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld a Superior Court writ establishing that the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB) improperly ruled when it made it more difficult for the government to enforce safety and health regulations against controlling employers on multi-employer worksites.
According to the law, an employer who is responsible, by contract or through actual practice, for safety and health conditions on a jobsite, must protect all workers exposed to the hazards, not just the employer’s own employees.
“The controlling employer can’t put its head in the sand and disclaim all responsibility for dangerous hazards just because those hazards are created by another employer,” said Gail Bateson, Executive Director of Worksafe, an Oakland-based nonprofit that advocates for workplace safety and health. “This decision reinforces that principle. It’s a real victory for workers.”
One year ago, Hans Petersen, a 30-year old solar panel installer, stepped backwards off the roof of a multi-story apartment building in San Pablo, California. He was not wearing personal fall protection equipment and fell to his death.
In October 2010, two Northern California healthcare workers died in separate incidents of workplace violence. Cynthia Barraca Palomata, a registered nurse, was attacked and killed by an inmate at the Martinez county jail after he faked a seizure and was taken to the nurse’s station. That same month, Donna Gross, a psychiatric technician, was strangled and killed by an inmate at Napa State Hospital. The Napa facility had been under scrutiny for many years, with co-workers reporting that assaults by patients were common and that the murder was “waiting to happen.”
Last month, a Stockton judge accepted a plea deal allowing criminal defendants to escape any jail time in the 2008 heat death of pregnant 17-year old farm worker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. Maria Isabel died of a heat-related illness after working nine straight hours, without access to water or shade, in the boiling heat of the grape fields of Stockton.
These stories of Californians who died at work are profiled in “Dying at Work in California: The Hidden Stories Behind the Numbers,” a publication produced by Worksafe and the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH), to be released on Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2011.
- Report available for download: Click here -