Occupational Health News Roundup

Many of us have been complaining about the heat that’s blanketed much of the country for the past couple of weeks, but the situation is especially severe for those who work outdoors or in spaces without adequate cooling.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death of James Baldassarre, a 45-year-old postal worker who collapsed on the job and died in Massachusetts last week. Baldassare had worked for the US Postal Service for 24 years; his wife, Cathy, told WCVB News, “”I have a bunch of texts from Jimmy all day long, saying, ‘I’m going to die out here today. It’s so hot.’”

Cal-OSHA is investigating the death of 37-year-old farmworker Juan Ochoa, who collapsed and died while working in a lemon orchard owned by Etchegaray Farm. Ochoa’s brother, Alejandro, was working in the same orchard and attempted to revive him after he collapsed. He told Eyewitness News KPAK/KBFX they did not have company-provided shade or water.

The story of a Manhattan McDonald’s employee with apparent heat-related illness ends less tragically. Salon’s Josh Eidelson reports:

Workers at a Manhattan McDonald’s and a Chicago Dunkin’ Donuts mounted strikes today to protest alleged unsafe heat. The single-store strikes are the latest in a wave of fast food walkouts, and could represent an additional front in low-wage workers’ struggle against the mammoth industry.

“I felt dizzy and sick” working in the heat without air conditioning, McDonald’s employee Luisa Dilla told Salon in Spanish. “My co-workers were afraid, but I wasn’t,” because “I just wasn’t going to work that way.”

Dilla and three other workers walked out of their store around 10 AM, after they say a co-worker fainted from the heat and had to be wheeled to an ambulance by paramedics. Dilla alleged that that when the worker – who had repeatedly said she didn’t feel well – went downstairs to vomit in the bathroom, a manager followed her there to order her back to work. Dilla said that when she went to check on her co-worker, “She was laying down on some chairs and vomiting and then she fell and fainted. Her eyes were rolling back … That’s when we said, enough is enough.”

OSHA’s Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers stresses the importance of water, rest, and shade, and notes, “Employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive heat.”

In other news:

Center for Public Integrity: Farmworker advocates came to Washington, DC to urge EPA and members of Congress to improve protections for agricultural workers exposed to pesticides. EPA administers the Worker Protection Standard covering farmworkers and pesticide handlers, but the agency hasn’t seriously updated these protections in 20 years.

Washington Post: The Senate has confirmed Thomas Perez as Secretary of Labor and Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator, as part of a deal to head off changes in the chamber’s filibuster rules.

OSHA and Public Citizen: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched an outreach campaign to raise awareness of hazards that can cause musculoskeletal disorders in healthcare workers. Public Citizen has just released a report  on healthcare workers’ high injury and illness rates and the inadequacy of federal protections for workers who care for patients’ health.

Courthouse News Service: A New York appeals court ruled against wholesale supermarket supplier C&S Wholesale Grocers, which had a policy of dismissing workers who sustained preventable injuries during their first 90 days on the job. The ruling affirms a Workers’ Compensation Board decision that the company’s policy violated workers’ compensation law.

New York Times: Lawmakers in Bangladesh have amended the country’s labor law to require employee-welfare funds and confidentiality for protections for workers who vote form unions. Worker advocates say the changes don’t go far enough to address health and safety problems and could actually make unionizing harder.