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November 16, 2009

GAO Report Clear: OSHA Must Focus on Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Today, a new report by the Government Accountability Office reveals that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) frequently undercounts injuries to American workers, and reveals a complete and systemic failure in the way that OSHA tracks workplace injuries.

“The report also revealed a convoluted and ineffective system of injury reporting that allows companies to pressure workers, supervisors and medical professionals to underreport workplace injuries. Corporations cannot be allowed to continue practices that promote the illusion of safety by blaming workers instead of unsafe working conditions.

“Thousands of workers in America deal with workplace injuries everyday. This epidemic of suffering is damaging to the workers, their colleagues, their workplaces, and their families and the communities in which they live. American companies, especially those in the food processing industries, must stop contributing to this problem by pressuring and intimidating workers to keep silent about these problems.

“We must stop this epidemic – and it can’t be done without clear and accurate reporting of the injuries as they occur. Unfortunately, this GAO report makes clear current OSHA policies are centered on crunching numbers rather than getting the facts from workers. In fact, OSHA inspectors are not required to interview a single worker when auditing injury reports.

“Effective and comprehensive injury prevention must place workers and the worker voice at the center of the effort. Only when workers are meaningfully involved can we grasp the true scale of workplace injuries and implement meaningful regulations that make America’s workplaces safer.

“This report is a step in the right direction, and we’re glad that government is recognizing what the Charlotte Observer among others have already reported. However, now we must fix this problem. America’s corporations must be responsible and stop their deceptive reporting practices and better oversight and inspections by both federal and state OSHAs must ensure it.”

October 21, 2009

UFCW Occupational Safety and Health Office Recommendations to Local Unions on H1N1

UFCW Occupational Safety and Health Office Recommendations to Local Unions with retail members, re: 2009 H1N1 flu

The CDC has developed Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season. The new guidance currently applies to any flu virus circulating during the 2009-2010 flu season, not only 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

The CDC states: It will be very hard to tell if someone who is sick has 2009 H1N1 flu or seasonal flu.

The guidance recommends that employees with flu-like illness stay home at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (100 degrees F) or signs of a fever (have chills, feel very warm, have a flushed appearance, or are sweating).

Workers in retail food stores have a higher than normal exposure to the public, which may put them at higher risk of contracting the flu during the 2009-2010 flu season. In line with CDCs guidance, the UFCW agrees that employers should be taking steps now to:

  • “”Protect employees health and safety
  • Limit the negative impact to the community, economy and society, and
  • Minimize disruption to business activities.””The UFCW OSH Office is making the following recommendations for employers in the retail food industry to take, at a minimum, the following steps:

    1.Refer to CDC Guidelines and CDCs Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season. These are available on the CDC Web site: www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/business/guidance and www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/.

    2.Make the flu vaccine available at no cost to employees – and encourage employees to get vaccinated for seasonal flu. With pharmacies located in supermarkets, this can be done with minimal disruption during work hours.

    3.Create policies for flexible sick leave, which provides paid time for sick employees to stay home. CDC guidance advises employers to allow employees who get sick at work with the flu to go home as soon as possible, and to advise all employees to stay home if they are sick, until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever.

    4.Provide resources to employees so they can be protected from infection: Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, alcohol-based hand cleaner at the work station, time to use the restroom to wash hands frequently.

    5.Provide cleaning agents to cashiers to clean surfaces which are more likely to have frequent hand contact with the public.

October 20, 2009

UFCW Statement on OSHA Rulemaking on Combustible Dust

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), a union representing more than 1.3 million workers across North America, applauds the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) issuance of an Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking for combustible dust hazards in the workplace.

“”This notice is an important first step on the way to a permanent rule to ensure the safety of millions of American workers,”” said Jackie Nowell, Director of the UFCW’s Occupational Safety and Health Office. “”More than 900 workers have been killed or injured since 1980 because of combustible dust accidents. These are avoidable tragedies that must be stopped.”

The UFCW also urges OSHA to work quickly to issue a tough rule that will protect workers.

“”We can’t wait any longer,”” said Nowell, “”the time for a tough, comprehensive rule on combustible dust is now. We hope that employers, unions, and OSHA can work together to make this badly needed protection a reality.””

On February 19, 2008, immediately following the Imperial Sugar explosion in Port Wentworth, Ga. that killed 14 workers, 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.””

This Advance Notice is the first step toward rulemaking since that time.

 

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.

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.

May 8, 2009

UFCW Statement on DOL Budget

“”The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) applauds the budget proposed by President Barack Obama’s administration for the Department of Labor. This budget – with its focus on enforcement of labor laws, safer workplaces, and helping unemployed Americans – prioritizes the needs of working families across the country. Importantly, the Obama administration has charted a path away from destructive pro-big business policies of the Bush era and towards a future where the needs of working Americans come first.

With this budget, the Department of Labor has returned to its mission of protecting America’s workers rather than serving the needs of corporate lobbyists, and high-dollar donors.

This budget provides for hundreds of new investigators to ensure that Americans are paid for their hard work, increased Occupational Safety and Health Administration funding so that they come home safe every day, and new funding for programs that help the unemployed find new work. We at the UFCW know that this budget is an important step to jump start our economy, and make work pay for every American.”

November 14, 2008

UFCW Local 222 Staff Member Carmen Hacht Receives Health and Safety Award

November 10–Local 222 Recording Secretary Carmen Hacht is the 2007 recipient of the 2008 Tony Mazzocchi Award, an award for excellence in occupational health and safety in the workplace.

Hacht worked at Tyson Foods Inc. meatpacking plant (formerly IBP) in Nebraska for 20 years, playing a role as an active steward from the very beginning of her time there. In the mid-1980s, IBP workers were suffering from high rates of MSDs. Local 222 and the UFCW International’s Safety and Health department filed an OSHA complaint, and IBP receieved one of the highest fines ever for failing to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

Settlement of the citations led to a successful ergonomic program, and Carmen became an “”ergonomic monitor,”” a line worker trained in ergonomics. She was responsible for job analysis, audits of workers on light duty jobs, worker advocacy when workers were injured and needed help getting through the medical system, and monitoring workers training and skills.

Carmen’s work at Local 222 now includes overseeing the ergonomics program at the meatpacking plants. She teaches new monitors what their jobs will entail, and has earned the trust and respect of the plant workers. The UFCW is proud of the contributions that Carmen has made over the years to improving working conditions for thousands of workers.

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.

January 31, 2008

UFCW AND CONSUMER ADVOCATES TO VOICE CONCERNS AT USDA

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) will join consumer advocates at public meetings on February 5-6 to oppose the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (USDA FSIS) proposal to water down workplace safety and food inspection regulations at the nation’s poultry slaughter establishments. The proposal, entitled “”Public Health-Based Slaughter Inspection System”” (PHBSIS), will remove maximum line speed regulations and further subject poultry workers to dangerous workplace conditions. The proposed system also increases the risk of food-borne illnesses by weakening the on-line poultry inspection process.

The dangerous work conditions faced by workers in the poultry industry have been documented by academics, the media and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and line speeds have been linked to musculoskeletal disorders and debilitating injuries—including lacerations and amputations. Poultry workers often face physically demanding, repetitive work, during which they stand for long periods of time in production lines that move very quickly while wielding knives or other cutting instruments. They often work in extreme temperatures and make up to 40,000 repetitive cutting motions per shift. Worker safety will play no role under the PHBSIS proposal, and the new system will allow poultry slaughter establishments to run their lines with no maximum line speed—guaranteeing a rise in workplace injuries.

Line speeds have also been linked to food contamination, and the new proposal may put consumers at risk of food-borne illnesses by removing on-line FSIS inspectors who are trained to inspect bird carcasses for contaminated material—including fecal matter. Under the new system, poultry slaughter establishments will be allowed to monitor the poultry carcass inspection process themselves.

“”Over 100 years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in an effort to shed light on the unhealthy and dangerous working conditions in meat packing plants, and it is amazing that the poultry industry would be allowed to turn back the clock and dismantle our last line of defense against workp lace injuries and food-borne illnesses,”” said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division. “”We urge members of Congress to join the UFCW in opposing this misguided proposal in order to protect the health and safety of our workers and families.””

For more than 100 years, the UFCW has been fighting to improve the working conditions of food workers and the safety of our food, and currently represents more than 250,000 workers in the packing and processing industries. In addition to protecting the rights of food workers, the UFCW is also a founding member of the Safe Food Coalition which consists of consumer groups, groups representing victims of food-borne illnesses, and watchdog groups that are dedicated to reducing the incidence of food-borne illnesses in the United States.

The USDA FSIS meetings will take place on February 5-6 at 8:45 a.m. at the Key Bridge Marriott at 1401 Lee Highway in Arlington, Va.