Occupational Health News Roundup

Cleanup and recovery from Sandy’s devastation is a daunting task, and presents several hazards. Laura Walter at EHS Today describes several hazards in the cleanup work and ways to avoid them. The hazards include musculoskeletal injuries from lifting heavy watersoaked items, contaminated standing water, mold and mildew, electrical wires, and stress. An OSHA Hurricane Sandy Cleanup and Recovery page offers detailed fact sheets and quick cards on these and other hazards, with most offered in both English and Spanish.

Stephen Lee reports in Bloomberg BNA that labor and business groups have expressed different opinions about the appropriate role of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in hazardous environments where workers are engaged in cleanup. Business representatives have suggested that OSHA emphasize assistance over enforcement, while Peg Seminario of AFL-CIO wants OSHA “to be very to be very clear about what is needed to protect workers, that the expectations are there, and that employers will be taking those steps that are needed. If they don’t, there will be consequences.”

Cleanup workers aren’t the only ones facing post-storm challenges. Shaila Dewan and Andrew Martin write in the New York Times about workers who don’t get paid if they aren’t at work, and who are facing severe financial consequences from not being able to work their usual hours. Some had to stay home because their workplaces were flooded or without power. Those who were able to make it to work often spent large amounts of time and money on their difficult commutes. Some of these workers may be able to get disaster and unemployment relief, which, unlike unemployment benefits, is available to the self-employed.

In other news:

EHS Today: Aaron Trippler of the American Industrial Hygiene Association doesn’t expect that President Obama’s re-election will lead to a big administration push on occupational health and safety issues, but that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration will continue work on enforcement and its proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program.

Safety + Health (National Safety Council): US Representative Lynn Woolsey, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, will retire at the end of this term. In an interview with Safety + Health, she shares her thoughts on OSHA, the Protecting America’s Workers Act, and other aspects of worker health and safety.

The Guardian (UK): Researchers are still trying to figure out why chronic kidney disease is killing so many young Central American men who work in sugarcane fields (via Jon Coppelman at Workers’ Comp Insider, who has a concise summary of hypotheses).

McClatchy/The Miami Herald: A proposed Miami-Dade County law would extend paid sick leave to many of the low-wage hourly workers who can’t afford to take time off when they’re ill. It’s one of a number of proposals under consideration across the US to improve wages and paid leave and end abuses like wage theft.

Midwest Coalition for Human Rights:  In-depth interviews with meat and poultry workers in Iowa and Minnesota find that dangerous conditions for food and worker safety exist in meat and poultry plants continue, years after reports first documented the problems.