States and localities take on poor working conditions, safety hazards

"Going to work sick or losing pay" is not a choice that Seattle workers should be forced to make.  That's how Seattle City Council member Nick Licata why he sponsored the City's paid sick leave legislation.  The new law took effect September 1.  It is just one of the new State and local laws profiled in our new report The Year in U.S. Occupational Health & Safety: Fall 2011 - Summer 2012.

Earlier this week, Liz wrote about the report's first section on new research on worker health and safety, and I wrote about the accomplishments and setbacks on the federal scene.  The report's final section ends on a high note, describing how workers' rights and public health advocates created opportunities to changes laws and improve working conditions in their own States and localities.  These successes include new laws and regulations in:

  • The State of Massachusetts for temporary workers: Giving individuals employed by staffing agencies the right to know basic information about their work assignment, such as contact information for their actual employer, the worksite employer, their hourly rate and designated payday.  A coalition of faith leaders, labor organizations, and other advocacy groups work with the responsible state agencies and representatives of the staffing industry to develop the law.  It was signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on August 6.
  • The City of Durham, North Carolina and their contractors: Requiring contractors' bidding on city-funded projects to provide information on their work-related injury rate, the workers' compensation rate, and their safety program.  An investigation by local television station NBC-17 exposed the city's inadequate screening process (which probably exists in cities across the U.S.) following the death of two workers who were repairing a water main on a city-contracted project.
  • The State of Wyoming for workers involved in the oil and gas industry:  Responding to the recommendations of a special taskforce on workplace fatalities appointed by the Governor, Wyoming OSHA adopted new regulations to protect workers in the booming natural gas extraction industry.  At these often remote sites, employers will be required to establish emergency communication lines to the nearest medical facility, set up a 'hot work' permitting system, and ensure fall protection is used for work at heights over four feet.
  • The State of Washington for healthcare workers handling hazardous medications:  Responding in part to reporting by Carol Smith of Investigate West, the Evergreen State became the first in the nation to adopt a specific regulation to protect healthcare workers who are reasonably anticipated to be exposed to one or more hazardous drugs, like chemotherapy agents.  A list of about 150 medications that meet the hazardous drug definition has been developed by the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
  • The State of California for healthcare workers who transfer or lift patients:  Requiring acute care hospitals to replace manual handling of patients with mechanical devices or lift teams in an effort to prevent injuries to healthcare workers and their patients.  California joins nine other States with safe patient handling regulations.

In this final section of the report, we profile some key reports issued by community-based groups and public policy organizations, such as Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center's "Houston, We Have a Wage-Theft Problem," and the WorkSafe's "Prevention Pays: Solutions to Help Workers and Businesses Thrive."  We also acknowledge terrific investigative reporting by local journalists, including the Appleton (Wisconsin) Post-Crescent's Nick Penzenstadler's analysis of OSHA penalties in worker fatality cases in the state, and the Charlotte (North Carolina) News & Observer's Mandy Locke and David Raynor examination of employee misclassification and its implications for workers and honest businesses.

We hope you will download all of The Year in U.S. Occupational Health & Safety: Fall 2011 - Summer 2012 and share your thoughts with us about it.  We do not know what kinds of changes the 2012 election will bring.  Until all workplaces are, in the words of the OSH Act of 1970, "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm" to workers, we know we will have more to write about in next year's version of the report.

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