Occupational Health News Roundup

Last month, five fishermen died when their boat, the Alaska Ranger, went down off Unalaska Island. They joined the more than 400 killed since 1999, when a Coast Guard panel warned Congress that weak regulations allow unseaworthy boats to continue fishing. Congress has failed to solve the problem, the Seattle PI’s Daniel Lathrop and Levi Pulkkinen report:

Records show that on at least 10 occasions since 1971, the Coast Guard has told Congress and the public that fishermen are dying because of unseaworthy boats, and that a legislative fix is needed to improve safety. But Congress instead opted for voluntary safety programs supported by the fishing lobby.

Meanwhile, the fishing industry, which grosses roughly $10 billion annually, has spent heavily on lobbying Congress. And senators and representatives from Washington state — home to 85 percent of the Bering Sea fishing fleet — have netted their share of industry dollars while sitting on committees where change could be made, or blocked.

In other news:

Washington Post: China’s new labor contract law has emboldened workers to quit jobs and stage strikes to demand improvements in wages and working conditions.

Nature News: Scientists and veterans’ affairs organizations claim that the Department of Veterans Affairs is obstructing a study on the health effects of Agent Orange exposure on Vietnam War veterans.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Preliminary research using American Cancer Society statistics suggests that formaldehyde exposure can increase people’s chance of developing Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Press & Sun-Bulletin (New York): New York’s Senate has passed a bill to make attacks on nurses a felony. Nurses are 10 times more likely to be assaulted on the job as other workers, and several states have passed laws similar to the one under consideration in New York.

Occupational Hazards: Two new studies provide more information on how shift work can harm employee health, and how that harm can be mitigated.