Occupational Health News Roundup

The Washington Post’s Pamela Constable reports on brickmakers in Pakistan, where a worker might toil from 4:30am to sundown, produce 1,200 bricks, and earn $3.50 for the day’s labor.

Brickmakers toil near the bottom of Pakistan’s economic and social ladder, forever at the mercy of heat, dirt, human greed and official indifference. By law, they cannot be compelled to work or be kept in bondage; in practice, the great majority are bound to the kilns by debt. The work is seasonal and families move often, but if they leave one kiln for another, their debt is transferred to the new owner. If they try to escape, they said, they are hunted down.

At least 200,000 Pakistanis, many of them children, work in more than 2,500 kilns across the country, according to studies by labor advocacy organizations. Their plight is well known and often described as a national disgrace. Human rights groups have exposed cases of kiln owners chaining or imprisoning workers; reformists have initiated programs to forgive their debts and educate their children.

Reformers have also targeted the toxic smoke from the brick kilns, but efforts to improve conditions for brick workers face an uphill battle, Constable explains. Kiln owners are often wealthy and well-connected, and workers are more likely to hear tales of those who were punished after asking for better conditions than of successful protests or court actions.

In other news:

CNN: A flight attendant is suing the makers of an MD-82 airplane, charging that a design flaw allowed toxic fumes into the cabin and that her exposure to those fumes has caused lasting health problems.

Associated Press: Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced that more safety inspectors will visit Texas construction sites. (See this post for details on why these inspectors are needed.)

Charleston Gazette: Seven members of West Virginia’s National Guard are suing contractor KBR, charging that the contractor knowingly exposed them to a toxic chemical while they were guarding a water plant in Iraq.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: NIOSH is working to make sure that the green jobs created as part of a national push toward sustainability are safe jobs.

EHS Today: The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding under which their organizations agree to work together to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

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