Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Safer at War than at Work

April was a deadly month.

Just some of the headlines that you may have missed :
On April 2, 2010, 7 workers were killed by a fire at the Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington;
On April 5, 2010, 29 miners were killed and 2 were injured in a massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia, in the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years;
On April 20, 2010, there was an explosion and fire on the British Petroleum-leased Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana in which 17 workers were injured and 11 workers went missing;
On April 29, 2010, 2 miners were killed at the Dotiki Mine in western Kentucky that is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, based in Tulsa, Okla.

Did you realize that each day, an average of 14 workers are killed due to workplace injuries in the United States … that’s over 5,000 workers who are killed due to workplace-related injuries.

Did you know that more people are killed worldwide each year at work than in wars … in April, US casualties in Iraq were eight deaths while in Afghanistan thirty-four people died.

Soldiers put their life on the line in war, but employees should not go to work thinking that they will not come home.

The other big headline in April was the ID legislation enacted in Arizona. The trigger point of this legislation may have been the murder of Robert Krentz and his dog who were shot on March 27, 2010. As sad as any loss of life is, putting it in perspective, over the past five years the highest number of deaths reported was 241 … a far cry from 5,000 workers that are killed every year.

Realistically there will always be accidents which result in death, but where is the outcry for safety in the workplace ?

Workplace safety is not a partisan issue. We all pay when someone dies … the family is impacted, the business is impacted, the community is impacted.

In the Minnesota Congressional delegation, the representative who has the most influence and opportunity to enact changes is John Kline (R-MN-02) who is the Ranking Minority Member of the Education and Labor Committee. Sadly, Mr. Kline seems only focused on Card Check legislation. A quick search of his website, reveals no recent entries on “Safety” or “Workplace”.

Mr. Kline was eerily silent on the Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch miners deaths and finally issued a press release ten days after the explosion. Mr. Kline wants a “comprehensive” review, yet on February 23, 2010 a Labor Committee hearing was held "to assess whether a backlog of mine safety enforcement actions are adversely impacting [MSHA's] ability to protect miners' safety and prevent future tragedies." Sadly, of the committee's 19 Republicans, just one bothered to show up -- that was the most junior GOP member, Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania. Sadly, when it came time for questioning, Chairman George Miller (D-CA) said "I'd like to recognize the senior Republican on the committee this morning".
Just as the Massey event has a history, so does the Kentucky disaster even though it may have had only two deaths but it illustrates a bigger problem. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) records show the mine was cited 840 times by federal inspectors for safety violations since January 2009, and 11 times closure orders were issued. The records show 214 of the citations were issued in the first four months of this year, and twice inspectors issued closure orders this year.
Yet, even if Mining is ignored, there are a lot of other workers that are killed in other industries.

Legislation has been started in the House, HR 2067 Protecting America's Workers Act while the companion bill in the Senate is S. 1580 Protecting America's Workers Act which lists Minnesota’s Senator Al Franken as a co-sponsor.

The House bill already has 75 co-sponsors.
It has some very good proposals.
A proposed change would eliminate the employer’s right to use the administrative appeals process to delay its obligation to abate serious hazards. Currently employers can postpone abatement while their citations are being contested before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC). This is commonly cited as a problem in the Massey incident.

Another proposed change would expand the rights of victims and family members to receive notice and pleadings, and make a statement before an Administrative Law Judge at OSHRC. Too often, the investigation may just be within the company’s control … the family who may have heard complaints before the death may not be given the opportunity to alert the OSHRC.

Mr. Kline, this is a time to stand up for workers and safety. Mr. Kline is definitively anti-union .. yet, if there are unsafe workplaces, there could be more reasons for employees to unionize … so Mr. Kline become a co-sponsor and work to enact HR 2067 … I am sure that Senator Franken would appreciate your support.

When workers (and families of workers) go the the polls this fall, while Mr. Kline will want to stress his Card Check concerns, the key question should be : What did you do to Protecting America's Workers ?

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