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September 24, 2009

US Chemical Safety Board Again Fails to Stand for Better Safety Rules for America’s Workers

Savannah, GA—Several international unions representing hundreds of thousands of chemical and food industry workers today again criticized the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for not recommending strong standards to prevent deadly explosions in factories handling combustible dusts, despite the board’s prior endorsement of such a step.

The unions reacted to the CSB’s new report on the deadly sugar dust explosion on Feb. 7, 2008, at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The explosion killed fourteen people, injured scores of others and severely damaged the plant.

“The Imperial Sugar tragedy is compelling evidence of the need for stricter OSHA regulation on combustible dust,” said Steve Sallman, Health and Safety Specialist from the United Steelworkers (USW). “Without a regulation, upper management will typically not commit the resources needed to achieve compliance, or, more importantly, to protect their employees.”

“As recently as 2006, the CSB recommended to the Congress that OSHA adopt a comprehensive new standard on combustible dust, but today they let that ball drop,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Coordinator, Change to Win.

“”The CSB’s leadership is a remnant of the Bush administration’s dangerous legacy for America’s workers,”” said Jackie Nowell, Occupational Safety and Health Director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). “If the Board continues to ignore its obligation to oversee the scope of our safety regulations, it will require new leadership to assure that its mission is accomplished.”

In a November 2006 report, the CSB pointed out serious deficiencies in OSHA’s various standards on combustible dust hazards. That report identified hundreds of combustible dust incidents over the last 25 years, causing nearly 120 deaths and hundreds more injuries.

On Feb. 19, 2008, immediately following the Imperial Sugar explosion, the UFCW and  International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for combustible dust in general industry noting that “workers who are employed in facilities where uncontrolled combustible dust emissions are present face ‘grave danger’ of experiencing fatalities or serious injuries as a result of dust explosions and resultant fires.”  To this date, no standard has been set to protect America’s workers.

July 15, 2009

JBS-Swift Workers in Utah Ratify First Union Contract

Hyrum, Utah – Workers at the JBS-Swift plant in Hyrum, Utah, last evening voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first-ever union contract. The more than 1,100 workers of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 711 at the JBS-Swift Beef Plant (known locally as the E.A. Miller Plant) will join the more than 10,000 JBS-Swift workers nationwide who belong to the UFCW.

The new three-year contract includes:

  • regular wage increases, with many plant workers receiving a 4.6 percent or greater increase at ratification and a dollar an hour increase over the life of the contract;
  • weekly hour guarantees that protect full-time, family supporting jobs in the community;
  • affordable family health coverage, with no increase in medical premiums;
  • job advancement opportunities;
  • workers no longer have to pay out-of-pocket for their work equipment, tools and work clothes;
  • a formal system to resolve workplace issues;
  • improved vacation benefits;
  • the creation of an educational trust fund, which can be used to promote a range of initiatives, including citizenship workshops;
  • a Joint Worker-Management Safety Committee and improved safety training for workers;
  • improved funeral pay.

“Now that we have a contract, we have a real voice,” said Robert Young, who has worked at the plant for two years and also serves as an ordained minister. “That means better benefits, active stewards, leadership in the plant and a better a way to deal with problems before they become big issues.”

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The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers, 250,000 in the meatpacking and poultry industries. UFCW members also work in the health care, garment, chemical, distillery and retail industries.

June 18, 2009

STATEMENT FROM JOE HANSEN, UFCW INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT

WASHINGTON, DC – A horrific accident took the lives of three workers and injured 41 others in an explosion and roof collapse at the ConAgra Foods Inc. facility in Garner, North Carolina, on June 9, 2009.  The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 represents 900 workers in that facility.

The Chemical Safety Board is conducting an in-depth investigation into the fatal explosion.  Their work will be instrumental in determining the cause of this tragic accident that took the lives of three workers and injured many more.

Over the next several months, investigators will sift through the evidence, consult with Board members, and review regulations and industry practices. The investigators will draw lessons learned from the accident and make recommendations for corrective action to make sure it can’t happen again.

Workers who survived the explosion have been active participants in the investigation, giving detailed interviews, telling their stories about what happened June 9, 2009.

The UFCW supports this important work and are proud partners in their ongoing work to prevent workplace accidents.

June 12, 2009

UFCW STATEMENT ON TRAGIC EVENT AT CONAGRA PLANT IN GARNER, NORTH CAROLINA

WASHINGTON, DC – A horrific accident took the lives of three workers and injured 41 others in an explosion and roof collapse at the ConAgra Foods Inc. facility in Garner, North Carolina, on June 9, 2009.  The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 represents 900 workers in that facility.

The UFCW is working closely with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency, and the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NC-OSHA), as they investigate the accident. The UFCW is providing full assistance to help shed a light on the unfortunate event. In addition, the UFCW has established a fund to assist the victims of the tragic event.

“”The Garner incident is a heartbreaking tragedy that reminds us that worker safety is of the utmost importance in the workplace,”” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Director of Occupational Safety and Health. “”We are working with the regulatory agencies and the company to ensure that such catastrophes are prevented.””

The UFCW believes that ConAgra is stepping up to the plate by continuing to pay the employees their full salaries, indefinitely. Such measures will bring the much needed comfort to the workers while they try to rebuild their livelihoods.

July 29, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustible Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

 

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

 

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

 

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

 

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

 

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

 

July 28, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustile Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, immigration reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org.

June 26, 2008

UFCW Staff Testifies Before House Subcommittee on Steps to Improve Chemical Plant Safety and Security

Washington, D.C. –  John S. Morawetz, Director of Health and Safety at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s (UFCW) International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC), testified before the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection today about steps that can be taken to improve chemical plant safety and security for workers and surrounding communities in light of the recent explosion of a Goodyear plant in Houston earlier this month. The ICWUC represents more than 20,000 chemical workers in 32 states.

Morawetz, who has investigated workplace hazards, injuries and deaths since the early 1980s, testified about the industrial hazards chemical plant workers face on a daily basis, including those who work with petroleum and coal products, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in smelters and refineries, as well as with natural gas distribution and in power plants.  He called on Congress to increase funding for the Chemical Safety Board and enforce stronger OSHA standards so that incidents linked to chemical hazards can be fully investigated and standards are followed and enforced.  He also underlined the importance of worker involvement in chemical plant security plans, as well as the need for effective training requirements, strong whistleblower protections and safer technology in this industry.

“Chemical workers know first hand how a plant works, what chemicals are used, and any particular facilities’ weaknesses,” Morawetz said.  “All these responsibilities make chemical workers the first line of defense and explain why we strongly believe vast improvements can and must be made in this nation’s chemical security.”

Morawetz also spoke about the UFCW’s commitment to improving workplace safety for all workers by enforcing existing regulations and passing stronger legislation.

“Unions have a proud history of fighting for the right to a safe workplace and for the basic right for workers to return home after a day on the job as healthy as when they left,” he said.  “From workers who are concerned about their safety and health, to union negotiators seeking health and safety contract language, to unions investigating health hazards or testifying in support of legislation, we are actively involved in making our workplaces safer.”

For a copy of Morawetz’s testimony, please contact press@ufcw.org.

April 3, 2008

CHAO AND OSHA: TOO LITTLE TOO LATE

The Bush Administration’s Department of Labor in a Hurricane-Katrina-like response is visiting the Savannah, Georgia, Imperial Sugar plant today after an explosion more than three weeks ago killed 12 workers and left others critically burned.

Prior to the sugar plant explosion, OSHA ignored the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) to issue a rule that could have reduced the possibility of the explosion here and at other sugar plants.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition on February 20, 2008, with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA issue an emergency standard on this risk.

The petition called upon OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard which requires immediate controls instituted by employers where combustible dust hazards exist. The petition also calls upon OSHA to put a new Permanent Standard in place for control of combustible dust hazards in general industry; inspect sugar processing plants; and implement a Special Emphasis Program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where combustible dust hazards exist.

The UFCW represents hundreds of workers in sugar plants around the country, including the Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore, Maryland. UFCW members at the Domino plant narrowly escaped harm last November after a combustible dust explosion rocked the facility. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents nearly 500 members who are employed at eight sugar processing facilities throughout the United States.

The explosions could have been prevented had OSHA heeded the recommendations made by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board made in November 2006. That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards following three worksite catastrophic dust explosions that killed 14 workers in 2003. The CSB report noted that a quarter of the explosions that occurred between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar plants.

OSHA’s Katrina-like inaction on this workplace risk follows a pattern of the agency ignoring scientific evidence and its own rule-making guidelines. By law, OSHA was supposed to respond to the CSB’s recommendations within six months.

A full copy of the petition can be downloaded here.

March 25, 2008

EMERGENCY PETITION ASSAILS OSHA

Washington, D.C. – Leading worker organizations today called on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust.  The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).  Additional labor organizations representing workers at risk are also supporting the petition which was filed in reaction to a workplace explosion at a sugar refinery in Georgia on February 7.
 
The explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, resulted in the deaths of nine workers.  Scores of workers were also injured in the blast, and one worker is still missing.  Reports indicate that combustible dust may be implicated in this explosion, as has been the case in previous food plant explosions.

With the goal of protecting workers from combustible dust explosions and resulting fires,  the UFCW and International Brotherhood of Teamsters petition calls upon OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard which requires immediate controls instituted by employers where combustible dust hazards exist.  The petition also calls upon OSHA to put a new Permanent Standard in place for control of combustible dust hazards in general industry; inspect sugar processing plants; and implement a Special Emphasis Program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where combustible dust hazards exist.

The UFCW represents hundreds of workers in sugar plants around the country, including the Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore, Maryland.  UFCW members at the Domino plant narrowly escaped harm last November after a combustible dust explosion rocked the facility.  The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents nearly 500 members who are employed at eight sugar processing facilities throughout the United States.

The Bush Administration’s OSHA ignored the 2006 recommendation from the CSB to issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of the explosion in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards following three worksite dust explosions that killed 14 workers in 2003.  The CSB report noted that a quarter of the explosions between 1980 and 2005 occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar plants.

OSHA’s inaction on this workplace risk follows a pattern of the agency ignoring scientific evidence and its own rule-making guidelines.  By law, OSHA was supposed to respond to the CSB’s recommendations within six months. 

In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry.  However, the Grain Handling Facilities Standard stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry. 
 
The UFCW and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters join Representatives George Miller and Lynne Woolsey in the call for immediate OSHA inspections of all sugar-producing facilities.

UPDATE: COMBUSTIBLE DUST SAFETY ALERT

November 15, 2007

AFL-CIO and UFCW Welcome New Worker Safety Rule

(Washington, Nov. 14) – – The AFL-CIO and UFCW today welcomed OSHA’s announcement that the agency will finally issue the rule requiring employers to pay for personal protective safety equipment – a measure that will prevent tens of thousands of workplaces injuries every year.

“”It is unfortunate that nine years have passed since the rule was proposed, and that it took a lawsuit by the unions and Congressional intervention before the Bush Administration would act,”” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “”America’s working men and women deserve the proper equipment to keep them safe on the job, each and every day, and we will thoroughly review this rule to make sure it protects them.””

“”Workers have spoken out for this rule and now Congress and the courts have forced the DOL to act. Our members will be watching to see this rule is enforced in every workplace,”” said Joseph Hansen, UFCW International President. “”Workers should no longer be required to dip into their own pocket to keep themselves safe from harm at work.””

Both the litigation and the FY 2008 Labor-HHS funding bill set a deadline of November 30, 2007 for final action by OSHA.

This rule is a basic requirement that codifies OSHA’s long-standing policy that it is the employer’s responsibility to pay the cost of protecting workers from safety and health hazards. The rule makes clear that employers must pay for hard hats, goggles, face shields, chemical resistant suits, and other required safety equipment. It does, however, include some exemptions from the employer payment requirements, most notably for safety shoes and prescription safety glasses that can be worn off the job.

The AFL-CIO and UFCW will be reviewing the rule in detail to determine if it provides workers with the level of protection that is needed and required by law.

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For more information about workplace safety and personal protective equipment, click here.