Occupational Health News Roundup

Ordinarily, when a worker is abused by an employer, the employer can be prosecuted, found guilty, and penalized. That hasn’t been the case with diplomats accused of abusing domestic workers; their diplomatic immunity has allowed them to duck charges of beating domestic workers or keeping them in slavery-like conditions. But, Sarah Fitzpatrick writes in the Washington Post, this unjust condition may finally change, thanks to a ruling in a lawsuit brought by Marichu Suarez Baoanan against her former employer, Lauro Baja Jr., who served as a UN ambassador from the Philippines:

Baoanan, 40, said the Bajas brought her to the United States in 2006 promising to find her work as a nurse. Instead, Baoanan said, she was forced to endure 126-hour workweeks with no pay, performing household chores and caring for the couple’s grandchild. Baja denied the charges, saying Baoanan was compensated. He also invoked diplomatic immunity — a right that usually halts such cases in their tracks.

But in June, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the former U.N. ambassador could not claim immunity because Baoanan’s “duties benefited the Baja family’s personal household needs, and are unrelated to Baja’s diplomatic functions.”

In other news:

Associated Press: A new report from Reporters Without Borders finds that journalists covering environmental damage linked to companies and governments face a growing threat of harassment and violence.

BBC: Scientists investigating health problems experienced by airline pilots, many of whom believe they’ve been sickened by contaminated cabin air, say they’ve found organophosphate in the blood and fat tissue of 26 pilots.

Philadelphia Inquirer: OSHA has cited Sunoco for four serious violations related to a release of hydrofluoric acid at its Philadelphia refinery, which sent 13 workers to the hospital; the Chemical Safety Board is investigating releases of hydrogen fluoride in oil refineries in Illinois and Texas; and the United Steelworkers are urging refineries to switch to a safer alternative to the chemical.

CIDRAP News: A study involving nearly 2,000 Beijing hospital workers found that N95 respirators strongly outperform surgical masks in protecting workers from flu viruses.

Reuters: A new study in the journal Archives of Neurology adds to the evidence linking occupational pesticide exposure to Parkinson’s.