Elizabeth Grossman

California’s workforce has grown by about 22 percent in the last 20 years but the number of safety inspectors for the 17 million people employed in the state’s 1.34 million workplaces has decreased by about 11 percent. This leaves California’s workforce – the largest of any US state – with the lowest number of inspectors per workers of any state with its own occupational safety and health plan for private-sector workers. California has so few workplace safety inspectors that it would take 173 years to inspect each workplace in the state just once.

Today is Workers Memorial Day. This post discusses one of the thousands of occupational fatalities that occur every year around the world. – On Sunday, April 20th, Shayne Daye, a 27-year old electrician and technician, died as a result of an injury sustained while working at Suncor’s Oil Sands site about 15 miles north of Fort McMurray, Alberta in western Canada. Daye’s death is Suncor Oil Sands’ second workplace fatality of 2014. A look at the industry’s record in Alberta suggests an alarming rate of occupational fatalities.

Twelve weeks into 2014, six cell tower workers have died on the job – incidents that caused a total of 7 fatalities. OSHA has called the industry’s safety record “unacceptable” and announced increased focus on tower work safety. But this history of catastrophic and fatal incidents goes back nearly 20 years. What’s needed to effect change?

While the Senate is pressing the EPA to prevent future chemical disasters, legislation has been introduced in Congress that would, if enacted, make it harder for the public to obtain information about chemical hazards, either in industrial storage tanks or consumer products. While state and local governments – and many manufacturers – are responding to growing public is demand for safer chemicals and more information about chemicals used in products – industry trade associations are promoting legislation that appears to counter that progress.

“For us it’s personal,” said Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator. “It’s a daily issue for us. Every day with a weaker protection standard is another day a worker is exposed to pesticides,” she said. On February 20th the EPA proposed revisions to its Worker Protection Standard for agricultural pesticides. Farm worker advocates are welcoming the proposal – the first update since 1992 – but see both improvements and what some are calling “steps backward.”

More than a month after the Freedom Industries chemical spill in West Virginia, it remains unclear if Charleston’s water is truly safe to drink and what the health consequences of exposure to these chemicals may be. Legislation has been introduced that calls for more inspections, better tank construction, overflow containment and emergency response. But why not go beyond and also call for safer chemistry?

The city of Anacortes – population about 16,000 – sits on shores of Fidalgo Island, the eastern-most island in the San Juan archipelago, the string of islands clustered off the northwest coast of Washington State. Located at the western end of Skagit County, known regionally for its agriculture, Anacortes’ petrochemical plants – Tesoro and Shell…

“Millions of Americans use antibacterial hand soap and body wash products. Although consumers generally view these products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water,” wrote the US Food and Drug Administration…

In 2012, a Frontline and Pro Publica investigation of the cell (or wireless) tower industry found that between 2003 and 2010 the average fatality rate for the US tower industry was more than 10 times greater than that of the construction industry. A January 6, 2014 story by KUOW reporter John Ryan about the death…

“Too often nothing happens,” said John Podesta, Center for American Progress chair and founder, introducing the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Majority Committee report released on December 11th that details federal contractors’ repeat and serious occupational safety and wage violations. “Too often the government renews agreements with companies that have a long track record…