Occupational Health News Roundup

The nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch has just released a report describing the risks faced by child farmworkers in the US. Their findings include the following:

Children risk pesticide poisoning, serious injury, and heat illness. They suffer fatalities at more than four times the rate of children working in other jobs. Some work without even the most basic protective gear, including shoes or gloves. Many told Human Rights Watch that their employers did not provide drinking water, hand-washing facilities, or toilets. Girls and women in these jobs are exceptionally vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The country's estimated 300,000-400,000 child farmworkers aren't covered by the same restrictions on work hours and hazardous work that apply to children in other industries. Human Rights Watch notes that even existing laws covering child farworkers are poorly enforced. David Crary reports in the Associated Press that Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is adding more field investigators to improve enforcement, and legislation introduced by US Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard would eliminate the discrepancies between the law regarding child farmworkers and children employed in other industries.

In other news:

CNN: Two gas explosions in the Raspadskaya mine in Western Siberia have killed 52 workers, and 38 people are still missing. At least 18 of the dead are rescue workers who entered after the first blast and were killed by the second explosion.

Charleston Gazette: Delores Bragg and Freda Hatfield, whose husbands Don Bragg and Ellery Hatfield were killed in the 2006 Aracoma Alma mine disaster, have filed a lawsuit against the Mine Safety and Health Administration for not citing violations at the mine that could have been corrected and prevented the fire that killed the two mineworkers.

ProPublica: Federal stimulus money is funding a cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Newly employed cleanup workers are happy to have the jobs, but they don't seem to be getting adequate training on the risks of beryllium disease and how to limit their exposure.

San Francisco Chronicle: A respiratory therapist and a police officer became ill with bacterial meningitis after exposure to a patient who had the disease; now, Cal/OSHA has fined the medical center and the police and fire departments a total of more than $135,000 for failing to limit emergency workers' exposure.

Occupational Health & Safety: OSHA has cited Lowe's Home Centers for repeatedly failing to document and report employees' injuries and illnesses; the proposed penalties total $110,000.

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