Occupational Health News Roundup

Although the news of a shopper using pepper spray was disturbing, I was glad that Black Friday 2011 passed without the kind of tragedy that happened in 2008, when 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour was killed by a stampede of shoppers at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, Long Island. OSHA cited Wal-Mart for a serious violation of the General Duty clause, and Chief Administrative Law Judge Covette Rooney upheld the citation and $7,000 penalty (which Wal-Mart challenged at an estimated cost of $2 million), issuing her decision on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

Since Damour’s death, OSHA has made a habit of encouraging retailers to put crowd-management measures in place before Black Friday events. Local organizations have also worked to raise awareness of the need for safety improvements. Last week, Clarissa Hamlin reported in the Long Island Herald about how things have changed:

In the months following Damour’s death, local members of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health and the WorkPlace Project, a workers’ rights organization, demonstrated outside the Green Acres Mall in an effort to promote employee safety. “It was unfortunate and upsetting,” Monica Diaz, a workers’ rights advocate with the WorkPlace Project, said recently.

Three years later, several retailers say they are focused on employee and customer safety. Retail giants have started implementing detailed policies for crowd management for Black Friday sales and the remainder of the holiday season. Store officials say they have learned from the tragedy and want to prevent anything like it from happening again.

A time for change
“OSHA has picked this up and identified it as a major issue to be dealt with about employees,” said Joel Shufro, acting director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. The Walmart death was a seminal case that brought attention to workplace hazards and changed holiday-season operations in several ways, he added.

“It alerted various retail companies to be alert to hazards and take action against repeating this event,” Shufro said. “People think in advance of how to deal with crowd control, and are making sure employees are more protected.”

In other news:

Charleston Gazette: The Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General reports that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is failing to identify and appropriately punish mine operators who don’t pay fines for health and safety violations.

Washington Examiner: After a study by the Tri-State Oversight Committee found worker fatigue to be a problem in the DC-area’s Metro transit system, the issues of overtime and consecutive days of work are expected to be points of contention in upcoming contract negotiations.

Living on Earth: A new study of twins finds that those exposed to the chemical TCE, which has been used as a degreaser in manufacturing, had a much greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease compared to unexposed co-twins.

Charleston Gazette: The US Chemical Safety Board released its findings on a series of combustible-dust incidents that killed a total of five workers in the first five months of 2011, and called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to propose a new combustible dust standard within the next year.

New York Times: Long-haul truck drivers are finding ways to incorporate workouts and healthier eating into an industry notorious for high rates of health problems.