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June 17, 2020 by Thomas McGarity

OSHA, Other Agencies Need to Step Up on COVID-19, Future Pandemics

Governments and industries are "reopening" the economy while COVID-19 continues to rage across the United States. At the same time, the lack of effective, enforceable workplace health and safety standards puts workers and the general public at heightened risk of contracting the deadly virus. In a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform, Sidney Shapiro, Michael Duff, and I examine the threats, highlight industries at greatest risk, and offer recommendations to federal and state governments to better protect workers and the public.

In many essential industries, the coronavirus risk is particularly acute because of the nature of the work and of the workplaces in which it is conducted. The lack of enforceable, pandemic-specific protections for workers and the hodgepodge of industry responses heighten this danger to workers. Industries affected range from health care to meatpacking, transportation to warehousing.

Heaping injustice on top of danger, coronavirus-related hazards fall disproportionately on Black, Latinx, and low-income workers – people whose economic circumstances and less reliable access to health care renders them all the more vulnerable. These workers are being treated as expendable, forced by the threat of losing their jobs to accept risks no member of Congress or White House staffer would accept …

June 11, 2020 by Katie Tracy, Brian Gumm
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In a June 11 order, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an AFL-CIO writ of mandamus asking the court to compel the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to do more to protect workers from infectious diseases, such as COVID-19. The order continues the dangerous status quo of workers laboring with no enforceable protections from the highly contagious and deadly virus.

On March 6, the AFL-CIO petitioned OSHA to develop an emergency temporary standard to address the significant hazards of COVID-19 infection in the workplace, followed by a permanent standard to continue safeguarding workers from infectious diseases. From health care, to meatpacking plants, to warehouses, and a variety of other workplaces, employers have not done nearly enough to protect workers from the pandemic. This has resulted in infections, deaths, and enormous economic damage. Despite the grave dangers COVID-19 poses to workers, their families, and their …

June 9, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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June 1 marked the start of hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. While not welcome, tropical storms, strong winds, and storm surges are an inevitable fact of life for many residents of the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast. As a new paper from the Center for Progressive Reform explains, with those storms can come preventable toxic flooding with public health consequences that are difficult to predict or control.

In Ernest Hemingway’s 1970 novel, Islands in the Stream, he wrote of his protagonist, Thomas Hudson, “He knew how to plot storms and the precautions that should be taken against them. He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”

Only Hemingway could romanticize hurricanes. And things have only gotten worse. Last month …

May 19, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Program (WPP) plays a vital role in protecting workers from employers who cut corners on safety or who violate other federal laws: It protects those workers who report such abuses from retaliation, making it harder for employers to get away with breaking the law. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. The 23 separate federal statutes the program encompasses cover a wide range of corporate wrongdoing, including violations of clean air and drinking water standards, food safety standards, workplace health and safety standards, and much more. If an employer retaliates against an employee for taking any of the actions covered by these laws, the employee may file a retaliation complaint with OSHA for investigation.

OSHA's WPP is critical for ensuring workers have safe and healthy workplaces where they can raise concerns without fear of retaliation. But …

April 27, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Tomorrow, April 28, is Workers' Memorial Day, a day the labor movement established to mourn workers killed on the job and to renew the fight for the living. This year, as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, taking its toll on workers and their families, we’re reminded more than ever of how critical it is to guarantee all workers the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

Even before COVID-19, a typical day in the United States saw 14 workers killed on the job – hardworking people who set out for work, never to return home. In 2018, 5,250 workers – one worker every 100 minutes – died on the job. Black and Latinx workers were hit hardest in 2018, with a 16 percent increase from 2017 in black worker deaths and a 6 percent increase in Latinx worker deaths. As in years past, tens of thousands of additional …

April 21, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Editor's Note: With COVID-19 cases contracted at work on the rise, labor and employment attorneys, businesses, advocates, and workers are all wondering if their state’s workers’ compensation law will apply, and alternatively, if an ill worker could file a lawsuit against their employer. The answers to these questions are not simple, as workers’ compensation laws vary by state, and when it comes to occupational diseases, the applicability of workers’ comp is often even more complicated.

In a recent post on Workers’ Compensation Law Prof Blog, CPR Member Scholar Michael Duff discusses the so-called workers’ compensation “grand bargain,” under which workers receive no-fault benefits for work-related injuries and illnesses in exchange for giving up their right to file a lawsuit against their employer. In his post, Duff explores the circumstances in which a worker who has contracted COVID-19 at work may still have the right to file …

April 20, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, reports abound of essential frontline workers laboring without such basic protective gear as masks, gloves, soap, or water; with improper distancing between workstations and coworkers; and in workplaces alongside infected colleagues. So far, nearly 4,000 workers have filed complaints with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), raising concerns about health and safety conditions inside the workplace. Yet the agency has been largely absent at a time it is most needed.

Shamefully, as COVID-19 illnesses rise in slaughterhouses, grocery stores, hospitals, and other worksites across the nation, the agency has chosen to go against its very mission of protecting America’s workers, ignoring calls to adopt emergency standards and rolling back its enforcement efforts.

Since early March, unions, advocates, and workers have called on OSHA to take immediate action to adopt an emergency temporary standard and subsequent permanent standard …

Oct. 31, 2019 by Katie Tracy
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On Halloween, nothing seems spookier than a chance encounter with a ghost or goblin, except maybe a zombie. But there is something much more haunting that happens every day. Across the United States, an average of 137 people die daily from occupational diseases caused by on-the-job exposures to toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances. Nearly 200,000 more suffer from nonfatal illnesses annually.

This is no trick. There is no mystery here. In fact, in 2017, more people died from occupational diseases than from motor vehicle accidents or firearms. And that same year, 41 workers died from acute inhalation of a chemical on the job, according to data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) earlier this month. With such a high number of deaths, working with chemicals makes every day at work a fright fest.

Chemical exposures may not be the stuff of nightmares or …

July 11, 2019 by Katie Tracy
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Asunción Valdivia, a 53-year old father and farmworker at a Giumarra vineyard in California, died after laboring to pick grapes for ten straight hours in 105-degree heat. When he collapsed, his employer told Valdivia’s son, Luis, who was also working in the field, to drive him to the hospital, but Valdivia died before they arrived.

In Valdivia’s memory, on July 10, Reps. Judy Chu and Raúl Grijalva paved the way to protecting outdoor and indoor workers across the nation from extreme heat by introducing the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act (H.R. 3668).

Valdivia is among 815 workers who died on the job because of extreme heat between 1992 and 2017, based on cases documented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tens of thousands more workers have suffered illnesses and injuries from exposure to excessive heat. Extreme heat poses the greatest risk …

May 16, 2019 by Katie Tracy
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The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) guarantees workers the right to speak up about health and safety concerns in the workplace without reprisal. Specifically, Section 11(c) of the law provides workers the express right to report any subsequent employer retaliation against whistleblowers, such as demotion or firing, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Even with these protections, many workers fear retaliation if they report health and safety concerns. Workers who put their jobs on the line to make their voice heard deserve certainty that OSHA has their back if their employers violate the law and take adverse action against them. However, due to statutory barriers and resource constraints, OSHA's administration of 11(c) cases often leaves workers without any remedy.

On May 14, I delivered remarks at an OSHA stakeholder meeting on improving the agency's administration of retaliation cases filed under Section …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
June 17, 2020

OSHA, Other Agencies Need to Step Up on COVID-19, Future Pandemics

June 11, 2020

Court Order Okays OSHA Inaction on COVID-19

June 9, 2020

It's Hurricane Season. Will State and Federal Agencies Act to Reduce Public Health Hazards from Toxic Flooding?

May 19, 2020

Testimony: Here's How OSHA Can Improve Its Whistleblower Protection Program

April 27, 2020

Workers Memorial Day 2020

April 21, 2020

COVID-19: Legal Issues When Workers’ Compensation Doesn’t Apply

April 20, 2020

Where Is OSHA?