Occupational Health News Roundup

High Country News investigated worker deaths in dairy operations in Western states, and found that at least 18 people died between 2003 and 2009. (See their list of injuries and deaths for details.) Rebecca Claren explains:

They were killed in tractor accidents, suffocated by falling hay bales, crushed by charging cows and bulls and asphyxiated by gases from manure lagoons and corn silage. Others survived but lost limbs or received concussions and spent days in the hospital. However, it’s difficult to form an accurate picture of the dangers lurking in dairies because the data are incomplete. Due in part to lobbying by the powerful agricultural industry, the reporting requirements for employers are full of holes, and state and federal laws prevent safety agencies from investigating injuries and deaths in certain cases. Meanwhile, dairy workers themselves are often too afraid to speak up.

Dairy workers are exempt from the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act and the overtime-pay provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the dairy industry doesn’t have specific safety standards the way other dangerous industries like logging and meatpacking do. With the production costs increasing but the price of milk dropping, dairy producers face pressures to load their workers up with even more tasks – which will further increase the risks of injuries and deaths.

In other news:

Washington Post: At least 211 crew members and 27 patients have died since 1980 in crashes of medical helicopters. The large sums of money at stake make it hard for pilots to say no to flights in risky weather conditions.

Associated Press: In 1998, Russian authorities received repeated warnings about deterioration that made a Siberian hydroelectric plant unsafe – but they failed to conduct adequate repairs, and a huge explosion rocked the plant earlier this month. The death toll has risen to 66, with nine workers still missing.

Guardian (UK): Many of the estimated 78,000 children working in Malawi’s tobacco estates suffer from health effects from dermal nicotine exposure; according to one investigation, their nicotine exposure is the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

New York Times: In an effort to prevent the mental health problems that often plague its troops, the Army plans to require all of its soldiers to engage in emotional resiliency training.