New Oxfam Report: Poultry Industry Denies Worker Requests for Bathroom Breaks

by Katie Tracy | May 11, 2016

Can you imagine working for a boss who refuses you the dignity of taking a bathroom break? According to a revealing new report published today by Oxfam America, denial of bathroom breaks is a very real practice at poultry plants across the country, and line workers at these plants often "wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline." 

If you've never worked on an assembly or production line, you may wonder why workers need approval to use the bathroom in the first place. The processing line at a poultry plant moves rapidly, which means when one worker leaves the line, another must take his or her place to keep up with production. Typically, the employer will have a system in place for workers to signal when they need a break, and then a "relief worker" or "floater" will fill in. 

But according to Oxfam's report, No Relief: Denial of Bathroom Breaks in the Poultry Industry, poultry plants don't always employ enough relief workers for the system to function properly, resulting in workers being denied breaks to prevent disruptions on the line. In effect, as Oxfam puts it, "Workers are reduced to pieces of the machine, little more than body parts that hang, cut, trim, and load—rapidly and relentlessly." So, instead of granting requests for bathroom breaks, supervisors yell at workers, humiliate them, ...

More Delay for OSHA's New Silica Rule

by Katie Tracy | February 24, 2016
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has informally announced that it is unlikely to finalize its long-awaited rule to limit workers' exposure to respirable crystalline silica by the month's end, as the agency had expected. OSHA's deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, Jordan Barab, told Politico on Friday, Feb. 18, that he "can pretty much guarantee" the rule will be delayed, but he expects "it will be out soon." The silica rule, which OSHA proposed ...

How Much Longer Will it take for OSHA to Protect Workers from Deadly Silica Dust?

by Katie Tracy | August 18, 2015
Thousands of U.S. workers die every year because of on-the-job exposure to unsafe levels of crystalline silica, a toxic dust common in the construction, sandblasting, and mining industries. Even at the current legal limits, inhaling the tiny toxic particles poses a significant risk to workers of silicosis—an incurable and fatal disease that attacks the lungs—and other diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic kidney disease, and autoimmune disorders. If you’re exposed to silica dust at work or know someone who ...

Kill a Worker? You're Not a Criminal. Steal a Worker's Pay? You Are One.

by Rena Steinzor | July 16, 2015
Labor Secretary Tom Perez came into office pledging to create good jobs and take on the economic injustice that oppresses blue-collar workers, from raising the minimum wage and restoring unpaid overtime to combatting wage theft. Luckily, the head of his Wage and Hour Division, David Weil, the author of a revelatory report on how to make the most of strategic enforcement, has moved out quite aggressively.  It’s a pity that other, even more serious crimes, don’t seem to get the ...

Heading in the Right Direction: OSHA Nails Poultry Processor for Ergonomics

by Matt Shudtz | June 22, 2015
Last week, OSHA issued noteworthy citations against a poultry slaughtering facility in Delaware. The agency is using its General Duty Clause to hold Allen Harim Foods in Harbeson, Delaware responsible for ergonomic hazards that plague the entire industry—hazards involving the repetitive cutting and twisting motions that lead to musculoskeletal disorders like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. This case follows another from October of last year, when, in response to a complaint by workers and their advocates from the Southern Poverty ...

Federal Agency Inaction amid Growing Concerns about Health and Safety of Nail Salon Workers

by Katie Tracy | May 21, 2015
Whether you are a frequent visitor to your local nail salon, or just an occasional passer-by, you are likely familiar with the offending chemical stench that emanates from within.  You may have even considered whether the displeasing fumes are safe to breath, especially for the clinicians who work in the store every day.  This is exactly what New York Times reporter, Sarah Maslin Nir, explores in her recent exposé of the nail salon industry entitled, “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers.”  Nir ...

The Obama Worker Safety and Health Legacy: The Fifth Inning and the Possibility of a Shutout; A Big Challenge for Tom Perez

by Rena Steinzor | July 22, 2013
The Senate’s grudging confirmation of Tom Perez as Secretary of Labor was the first piece of good news working people have had out of the federal government for quite some time. I know Perez--as a neighbor, a law school colleague, Maryland’s labor secretary, and a civil rights prosecutor. He’s a fearless, smart, and hard-driving public servant—exactly the qualities that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his caucus deplore in Obama appointees. With luck, Perez will be successful in direct proportion to the unprecedented vitriol ...

Presidential Appointee at SBA Maligns OSHA's Industrial Noise Proposal; Claims Ear Plugs "Solve" the Problem

by Sidney Shapiro | April 15, 2011
Congress charged the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) with the job of representing the interests of small business before regulatory agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As an agency of the federal government, it has an obligation to taxpayers to get its facts straight before it speaks. Lately, it has ignored this basic obligation, most notably sponsoring a study that used flawed methodology to claim that regulations impose $1.75 trillion in costs every ...

Key OSHA Health and Safety Initiative Potentially Delayed Months by OMB Nitpicking

by Sidney Shapiro | March 30, 2011
Last week, the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) approved a survey to be conducted for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as part of the agency's efforts to develop an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) standard. Surveys, like this one, have to be approved by OIRA according to the Paperwork Reduction Act, and the lengthy approval may stall development of the I2P2 standard for four or more months for no apparently good reason. OIRA made ...

Perplexed by OSHA's Latest Reg Agenda

by Celeste Monforton | May 05, 2010
Cross-posted from The Pump Handle. Beginning in December 2006, I’ve written five blog post commenting on the content of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) regulatory agenda for worker health and safety rulemakings.  Most of my posts [see links below] have criticized the Labor Secretary and senior OSHA and MSHA staff for failing to offer a bold vision for progressive worker protections.  Now that the Obama & Solis team have been on board for more than a year, I’m not willing to cut them any slack for being ...

Congress Considers Higher OSHA Penalties (Again)

by Sidney Shapiro | March 19, 2010
The Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the Protecting America’s Workers Act of 2009, legislation that would, among other reforms, modernize workplace health and safety penalties. More than a decade ago, I testified at a similar hearing in the House of Representatives on the same subject. The need for stronger OSHA penalties was apparent then, and it is no less apparent today. The hearing is memorable to me because I testified ...

OSHA HazCom Hearing Today: What We'll Be Saying

by James Goodwin | March 05, 2010
Imagine opening your medicine cabinet, only to find that the warning and information labels on your over-the-counter medications no longer include dosing information. How would you know how much Benadryl to take or how much aspirin to give to your child? A provision in the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule modifying its Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard threatens to deprive U.S. workers of similar safety information—information they depend upon ever day to protect themselves against the hazardous chemicals ...

Stakeholders Speak, and OSHA Listens

by Matt Shudtz | March 04, 2010
Today the top brass from OSHA opened their doors to the many stakeholders who have something to say about how the agency is doing in its efforts to protect U.S. workers. Of course, they got an earful. The event marks a new path for OSHA, in that the head of the agency and top career staff took the time to sit face-to-face with occupational health experts, workers, worker representatives, and even the families of victims of workplace accidents, not just ...

New CPR Report Examines Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA

by Ben Somberg | February 09, 2010
CPR today releases the white paper Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA (press release). The report examines an Occupational Safety and Health Administration where Today its enforcement staff is stretched thin and the rulemaking staff struggle to produce health and safety standards that can withstand industry legal challenges. In short, OSHA is a picture of regulatory dysfunction. The new leadership of the agency has ... inherited a resource-starved agency operating under a statute that has been enfeebled by 30 ...

OSHA's First Year Under Obama: Shaking Off the Cobwebs

by James Goodwin | January 26, 2010
This post is the sixth in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card. During the Bush Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became a regulatory wasteland. Political interference, outdated laws, and chronic underfunding reduced the agency’s regulatory output to a mere trickle. For example, in the last 10 years, OSHA has issued comprehensive regulations for only two chemicals; in total, it has established legally enforceable exposure limits for fewer than 200 of ...

Regulatory Highs and Lows of 2009: OSHA and Toxics

by Matt Shudtz | December 30, 2009
CPRBlog asked some of our regular bloggers to give us some suggestions for the high and low points of the regulatory year. We began by taking the Bush Administration’s “midnight regulations” off the table, so that we could focus in on the Obama Administration’s impact to date. CPR Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz offers up a number of items, below, focusing on the positive: At OSHA, several high points:  The leadership of David Michaels (as Assistant Secretary, the head of OSHA) and Jordan ...

Déjà Vu all Over Again: OSHA's Inability to Stop Serial Violators on Display in New Hampshire Foundry

by Sidney Shapiro | December 15, 2009
The Concord Monitor has identified a New Hampshire factory (Franklin Non-Ferrous Foundry) that has been the subject of previous OSHA investigations and fines, yet continues to expose its workers to dangerous conditions. OSHA’s most recent fine, $250,000, came after the agency found that a worker had high levels of lead in his blood. The newspaper obtained OSHA documents that revealed a pattern of violations by the company. The New Hampshire case is a troubling reminder of how weak OSHA is ...

Good News, Bad News in Solis' Regulatory Agenda

by Ben Somberg | December 10, 2009
The below item is written by Celeste Monforton and cross-posted from The Pump Handle. The first regulatory agenda under OIRA chief Cass Sunstein was published [Monday] in the Federal Register (link to its 237 pages.)  The document includes a narrative of Labor Secretary Solis’ vision for worker health and safety, mentioning these specific hazards: crystalline silica, beryllium, coal dust, airborne infectious agents, diacetyl, cranes and dams for mine waste.   The document purports to “demonstrate a renewed commitment to worker health,” yet ...

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