Occupational Health News Roundup

Two stories in the news this week draw attention to contract workers, who are sometimes overlooked when it comes to workplace health and safety. Legislation proposed by U.S. Representative Al Green would enable federal prosecutors to pursue criminal cases against employers whose willful violations of safety rules are linked to deaths of contract workers (not only of direct employees, as is currently the case); it was prompted by the death of 15 contract workers in the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery. Meanwhile, New York state Assemblywoman Dana Lupardo is pushing for a federal health study of cancer rates among IBM employees to be expanded to include contractors who worked at the facility.

In other news:

Louisville Courier-Journal: The Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued an emergency rule regarding the walls that seal off abandoned areas of underground mines.

Occupational Hazards: Vapor from flammable solvents was likely the fuel for an explosion that demolished an ink manufacturing facility in Danvers, Massachusetts and damaged dozens of homes and businesses in the area, the Chemical Safety Board reported.

Associated Press: Dog bites are a real hazard for mail carriers – particularly in California.

Occupational Hazards: A new study in the journal Chest finds that the annual incidence rate of sarcoidosis among Ground Zero firefighters and rescue workers is five times higher than the pre-9/11 incidence rate.

New from Baywood Publishing: Excess Baggage
“A book based on groundbreaking research on the working conditions of airport check-in workers in two countries – Canada and Switzerland – concludes behind the glamour is a job made barely survivable by changes in work organisation that have de-skilled, disempowered, and ultimately demoralised workers. Ellen Rosskam, the author of ‘Excess baggage: Levelling the load and changing the workplace’ explores the psychological distress, physical pain from musculoskeletal disorders, strain, and violence that check-in workers experience. Workers describe in their own words a job perceived to be ‘safe,’ ‘clean,’ ‘glamour girl’ work, but which is in reality comparable to industrial workplaces that require heavy manual lifting, obligingly performed in skirts, dresses, and pretty little shoes. Rosskam concludes the situation of these workers will only improve if there is worker involvement in organisational decision-making and argues a collective voice is critical.”

Update: Angry Toxicologist has highlighted another important occupational health story: air traffic controllers were forced to work through carbon monoxide poisoning at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Westbury.