Occupational Health News Roundup

At KCRW (an NPR member station), Karen Foshay reports on occupational injuries among low-wage restaurant workers in California and the retaliatory barriers that often keep them from speaking up. She cited a 2011 Restaurant Opportunities Center survey of Los Angeles restaurant workers that found 42 percent experienced cuts, 43 percent experienced burns and more than half reported working while sick. Foshay writes:

At a recent meeting in Azusa (in eastern Los Angeles County), several workers showed off their appointment cards for clinics like Santa Adelina. Three men lifted their pant legs to reveal varicose veins bulging from their calf muscles, a consequence of decades of standing for 10 or 12-hour days.

Some of the workers said they can no longer work in the kitchens because it’s too painful to stand for even 10 minutes.

Armando Santiago, a former cook, was one of three men who showed cellphone photos taken of bloodied hands and fingers sometimes cut through the nail.

“I’ve been cut many times,” Santiago said. “Around here you can see how deep the knife went” he added as he flipped through his gruesome photo gallery. One picture showed a bloody thumb in the foreground and a restaurant kitchen and a food-prep counter in the background. Another one shows a bloody finger.

A few times he came close to cutting his fingernail off while chopping meat. His blood would get into the food, he said.

“I kept working like that. I didn’t have any bandages, just kept working,” Santiago said, adding that his boss “wanted me to keep working. He didn’t care.”

The one time he was sent to a doctor for treatment, Santiago said his boss asked him to first change out of his uniform and into street clothes. Santiago said he was later fired after experiencing a severe allergic reaction to ingredients used in the kitchen.

Foshay reports that none of the workers interviewed for the story had had contact with Cal/OSHA. The agency’s records show that between 2010 and May 2016, it conducted 564 restaurant inspections — though “lack of oversight could be a consequence of too few resources at the state agency,” Foshay wrote. Read the full story at KCRW.

In other news:

Houston Chronicle: Susan Carroll authors part five of the newspaper’s series “Chemical Breakdown,” which investigates chemical facility safety in Texas. This installment examines the 2013 explosion at the Air Liquide specialty gas plant in La Porte, Texas, that killed one worker and injured another. According to Carroll, a company spokesman said Air Liquide fully cooperated with OSHA officials, but OSHA records tell another story and the agency eventually closed its investigation without interviewing any surviving witnesses or issuing any citations. In addition to highlighting serious inadequacies within the federal Chemical Safety Board, which is charged with investigating such incidents, Carroll also wrote about Air Liquide worker Mike Smith, who was severely burned and almost died in the explosion — she writes: “Mike doesn’t like the stares in public. He only looks in the mirror, he said, when he has to shave. The fire took decades off his life expectancy, he said, and put him at high risk for blindness, deafness and skin cancer. He still doesn’t know what caused the explosion. The company has not publicly released the results of its internal investigation, and he’s never talked to any investigator from any agency.”

Gainesville Times: Joshua Silavent reports that OSHA is pushing back against a judge’s recommendation that the agency be denied a warrant to inspect the Mar-Jac poultry plant in Gainesville, Florida. U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Clay Fuller previously found that OSHA needed to establish “probable cause,” otherwise the inspection warrants would “become tools of harassment.” However, OSHA argues that high rates of injury at the plant call for an expanded inspection. Silavent writes that in 2015, Mar-Jac workers reported 25 musculoskeletal injuries; six injuries stemming from being struck by hazards; seven slips, trips or falls; and 10 eye injuries. He writes: “OSHA is now arguing that it has the authority to expand unannounced inspections, which result from imminent dangers, fatalities and worker complaints, under the framework of the (Regional Emphasis Program). OSHA wants the motion to deny the warrant set aside so it can proceed with inspecting Mar-Jac, saying the judge’s recommendation ‘erroneously concludes’ that reasonable suspicion does not exist.”

Reuters: Hilary Russ reports that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 over five years. New Jersey’s current hourly wage is $8.38. If the state had enacted the bill, it would have been the third state to raise its hourly wage to $15, following in the footsteps of New York and California. Russ writes: “Christie, a close ally of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, said the wage bill passed by Democrats, who control both houses of state legislature, failed to consider the ability of businesses to absorb the increased labor costs.”

Slate: Maria Hengeveld investigates working conditions facing the women who manufacture Nike products in Vietnam. Noting that Nike’s “Girl Effect” anti-poverty campaign is aimed at empowering and preparing girls to work, Hengeveld interviewed female factory workers who reported squalid living conditions, poverty wages and workplace harassment. Nike wouldn’t connect Hengeveld with any of its Vietnam workers, so she connected with workers through an underground workers’ rights group, eventually interviewing 18 women ages 23 to 55. Hengeveld reports: “The majority of the women I interviewed told me that sitting down or making a manufacturing mistake can incur effective wage penalties, from losing their monthly attendance, productivity, or ‘diligence’ bonuses (the latter are generally about $9 a month) to a six-month suspension of scheduled raises. While Vietnam’s labor code allows for some of these penalties including the delays in wage increases, the Fair Labor Association, an international nongovernmental organization by which Nike is accredited, forbids them. It considers the penalties ‘a serious harm for workers’ livelihoods.’”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.

Comments

  1. #1 Larry Rose M.D., M.P.H.
    197 Lovell Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941
    August 31, 2016

    After working at Cal/OSHA for 30 years it became apparant that it is critically important for the state program to have a strong Public Health Medical Officer presence. Inclusion of Medical Unit members in investigations where serious exposures were occurring it was very important to have access to medical records, direct interviews with injured workers, and their evaluating physicians. Without a strong presence of the Medical Unit in these facilities with serious employee exposures employer legal appeals to Cal/OSHA penalties are often lost.