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Sept. 3, 2021 by M. Isabelle Chaudry

This Labor Day, Let’s Protect Workers from Extreme Heat

Labor Day got its start in the late 19th Century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers make to America’s strength, prosperity, and wellbeing.

In addition to our usual picnics and barbeques, we should spend this day uplifting laborers who work in conditions in dire need of regulation — including those exposed to extreme heat or who work in hot environments.

Physical activity makes it difficult for the body to cool itself down, especially as temperatures and humidity rise. The effects can be dangerous, ranging from dizziness, nausea, cramps, exhaustion, and vomiting to faster heart rates and deadly heatstroke. Exposure to extreme heat can also exacerbate preexisting respiratory and heart conditions.

People who work in hot conditions are in special danger. Indeed, heat killed 815 workers on the job between 1992 and 2017 and seriously injured 70,000 more, according to federal records.

And yet: No federal standard protects workers from heat or heat stress.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for protecting laborers from workplace hazards. Yet it has not set a specific standard for workers in hot environments. 

The agency has ignored three CDC recommendations to identify a …

April 28, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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It’s heartening to see that not all of the noise generated by the 2020 presidential campaign has dissipated in these post-election times.

President Biden pledged last week to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 — making good on a big campaign promise and possibly nudging some of us out of the still-skeptical category.

When I think about climate, I think about equity. Low-income people spend more of their paychecks on energy and transportation costs. Those sweet rebates on electric vehicles? They don’t go to people who can’t afford a new car, much less an electric one. As CPR Member Scholar Maxine Burkett notes, environmental degradation creates “sacrifice zones” — and communities of color pay the price. We simply cannot address climate change without addressing racism, and environmental racism in particular.

When I think about climate, I also think about jobs. Jobs that don …

Feb. 9, 2021 by Katie Tracy
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Scroll to the bottom of this post to watch the recording of a related webinar or view on YouTube.

When the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was enacted 50 years ago, it was hailed as critical legislation that would make workplaces safer and healthier for all. Thanks to this law, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made great strides toward protecting worker health and safety. Unfortunately, the law didn't go far enough then — and it doesn't go nearly far enough now.

The law, essentially unchanged since its enactment in 1970, has not kept up with the growing scale and changing nature of work in the 21st century. Rather, due to limited resources and authority and, at times, lack of political will, the agency has failed to address numerous well-known workplace hazards or emerging ones, like COVID-19, climate hazards, and artificial intelligence.

One of the …

Sept. 3, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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In the absence of meaningful action by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than a dozen states, including Virginia, have issued emergency safety measures to protect essential workers from the risks of COVID-19. But Maryland – home to one of the largest poultry industries in the nation – is glaringly absent from that list.

We’ve seen dramatic changes in response to the coronavirus in the transportation, retail, and restaurant industries, but behind the closed doors at poultry plants, workers face dire health risks while continuing to labor in fear of contracting COVID-19.

Prior to the pandemic, workers in the poultry industry faced some fairly egregious working conditions. Inside plants, workers labor side-by-side while as many as 175 birds whizz by every minute for "processing." Painful repetitive stress injuries and cuts due to increased line speeds are all too common at these processing facilities. Reports …

July 29, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Workers presently have no right to bring a lawsuit against employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) for failing to provide safe and healthy working conditions. If an employer exposes workers to toxic chemicals or fails to guard a dangerous machine, for example, they must rely on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to inspect, find a violation, and issue a citation. This omission in the 1970 statute is especially troubling in the context of COVID-19, as workers across the United States continue to face a massive workplace health crisis without any meaningful support from OSHA or most of its state and territorial counterparts.

OSHA has so far declined to adopt an emergency standard to address COVID-19, despite repeated calls by unions, workers, and advocates to do so. Moreover, rather than enforcing existing standards or holding employers accountable for violating their general duty …

June 18, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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A blog post published last month by the Chesapeake Bay Program, a collaborative partnership focused on Bay restoration, addressed the many ways that the climate crisis will affect farms in the region. Data from the program shows temperatures on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore, home to a high concentration of industrial poultry farms, increased between 2 to 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, between 1901 and 2017. By 2080, temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are projected to increase by 4.5 to 10 degrees, posing a serious risk of heat stress to farmworkers and livestock.

As the post discusses, rising temperatures can hurt farms in several ways. Warmer temperatures make for a longer growing season, which may temporarily promote higher crop yields but can also stress water resources and result in additional fertilizer application, which is not what the doctor ordered for the Bay’s nutrient …

June 17, 2020 by Thomas McGarity
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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 …

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 1, 2020 by James Goodwin
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It is now beyond debate – or at least it should be – that we, the people of the United States, have been failed by the Trump administration and its conservative apologists in Congress in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They failed to put in place mechanisms for systematic testing and contact tracing. They failed to coordinate the efficient acquisition of essential medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment. They failed to provide for an orderly phase-down of non-essential economic activity. They failed to establish clear, enforceable safety standards protect consumers, workers, and their families engaged in essential economic activity. This stopped being a public health crisis a long time ago. The pandemic is now more fairly characterized as a crisis of government.

Fortunately, our democracy has a crucial safety valve that stands ever ready to kick in when our representatives fail to protect us: the …

May 21, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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A recent, interesting lawsuit filed against McDonald's, in Cook County, Illinois, suffers from few of the deficiencies that I have identified in prior postings about public nuisance cases related to COVID-19 (see here and here). The named employee-plaintiffs allege "negligence" in what might look at first blush like a drop-dead workers' compensation case. This time, however, there is a wrinkle: The negligence action is pursued against both franchisor-McDonalds (McDonald's USA) and certain of McDonald's franchise restaurants (McDonald's Restaurant of Illinois, Inc., Lexi Management LLC, and DAK4, LLC). One may be the employer (subject to workers' compensation liability), and the others may not (and therefore be liable in tort). Because you cannot know in advance how the question will come out, you allege negligence with respect to each defendant. This is perfectly sensible.

It will be politically …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 3, 2021

This Labor Day, Let’s Protect Workers from Extreme Heat

April 28, 2021

Climate, Equity, and Worker Justice: Two Job Openings at CPR

Feb. 9, 2021

It's Time to Give Workers Power to Enforce OSH Act

Sept. 3, 2020

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers

July 29, 2020

Empowering Workers to Sue Employers for Dangerous Working Conditions

June 18, 2020

The Climate Crisis and Heat Stress: Maryland Farms Must Adapt to Rising Temperatures

June 17, 2020

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