The experience of Pennsylvania nurse Jessica Wheeler starts off Esther Kaplan’s piece on workplace speedups in The Nation. The article begins:
Wheeler recalls one night when she had a patient who couldn’t breathe and several others under her care. “I called the supervisor to ask for anybody—a nursing assistant, anybody! And I didn’t get it, and my patient ended up coding.” Another night, Wheeler had a post-op patient who required constant attention; the patient was confused and sick, and she soon escaped her restraints and pulled out her drains, spraying fecal matter all over the wall. Early the next morning, her heartbeat became irregular just as another patient was dying. “Those nights are scary,” Wheeler says. “I think I’ve seen everybody on our floor cry.”
However, Kaplan reports that the hospital Wheeler works at wasn’t always “out of control.” In 2009, the once nonprofit hospital was bought by the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain and since then, nurse staffing levels have dropped by more than 10 percent, which means the “nurses are not only juggling more patients, says Fran Prusinski, a critical-care nurse who’s been at the hospital for thirty years, but ‘they have to change the linens, empty the garbage and answer the phones.’”
Kaplan writes that the hospital situation is just one example of the “hidden side” of the economic recovery — that employees are being expected to work faster and faster, resulting in more injuries and heightened stress. For example, Kaplan cited a 2013 survey conducted by the United Steelworkers that found that production pressure, the increased pace of work and bigger workloads topped workplace health concerns. She writes:
In our increasingly polarized economy, it seems, squeezing workers to the breaking point is just another way to maximize gains at the top. But we’re all absorbing the cost of doing business, if not in broken backs and ribs and shattered sleep, then in unsafe food and roads and hospitals. Little in our regulatory system takes on the risks of work speedup.
To read the full article, which includes interviews with workers in the meatpacking industry and a more in-depth look at work speedups in the health care sector, visit The Nation.
In other news:
In These Times: Two groups of northern California recycling workers recently took action to improve their working conditions — one group voted to unionize and the other went on strike. Reporter David Bacon writes that one of the employers, Waste Management Inc., despite its billions in revenues, refuses to settle a new contract with the local union, resulting in a strike; at the other facility, Alameda County Industries, workers overwhelmingly voted to unionize. Bacon reports: “Sorting trash is dangerous and dirty work. In 2012, two East Bay workers were killed in recycling facilities. …And in the Bay Area, the sorting is done almost entirely by women of color, mostly immigrants from Mexico and Central America and African Americans.”
Texas Tribune: Writer Alana Rocha reports via video on the new challenges facing emergency responders in Midland, Texas, where a boom in energy production has brought a “new set of hazards to communities facing the bulk of the drilling — including an increase in traffic accidents and chemical spills. That means more work for already understaffed emergency response units across small-town Texas.” And in addition to responding to more emergencies, Rocha reports that Midland’s first responders are struggling to make ends meet, as the energy boom leads to higher and higher costs of living. The piece is part of the tribune’s “The Shale Life” project.
EHS Today: OSHA has cited Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for an incident during a “hair hang act” in which eight performers fell 15 feet to the ground — all the workers, including another one on the ground, sustained injuries. Reporter Sandy Smith writes that an OSHA investigation found that the carabiner used to support the performers failed because it was improperly loaded. Smith quotes OSHA administrator David Michaels saying: “This catastrophic failure by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clearly demonstrates that the circus industry needs a systematic design approach for the structures used in performances — approaches that are developed, evaluated and inspected by professional engineers.” OSHA has proposed a $7,000 penalty — the maximum allowed by law.
CNN Money: Writer Ivana Kottasova reports that there is currently no country in the whole world where a women makes as much as a man for doing the same job. (Seriously.) In fact, Kottasova writes that the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take another 81 years for the gender wage gap to close. In the U.S., women make about two-thirds of what men make for the same job. Surprisingly, some of the world’s poorer nations are leading the way for pay equality, with the African nation of Burundi taking the top spot.
Minimum wage, paid sick leave on the ballots: Today, residents in a number of states will be casting their votes on minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives. Read coverage from The New York Times and Boston Globe on what’s at stake.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.