In 2001, an explosion at the Motiva Enterprises Delaware City Refinery caused a 1 million gallon sulfuric acid spill, killing one worker and severely injuring eight others.
In 2008, an aboveground storage tank containing 2 million gallons of liquid fertilizer collapsed at the Allied Terminals facility in Chesapeake, Virginia, critically injuring two workers exposed to hazardous vapors.
In 2021, the release of over 100,000 gallons of chemicals at a Texas plant killed two contractors and hospitalized 30 others. In addition to injury and death, workplace chemical spills and exposures contribute to an estimated 50,000 work-related diseases such as asthma and chronic lung disease each year, as well as nearly 200,000 hospitalizations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created to reduce risks and hazards to workers, and to prevent incidents like these. However, following through on this promise has been another matter.
OSHA has regulated fewer hazardous chemicals than other federal agencies due to legislative pushback, and a long rulemaking process. Obama-era reforms moved regulations forward, yet many permissible exposure levels (PELs) for hazardous substances have not been updated since the 1970s. According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, it takes OSHA …
Earlier this month, HBO Max aired an important series about toxic ingredients in cosmetic products. The series also examined the professional beauty industry and the health effects to workers exposed to toxic ingredients.
Toxic ingredients are found in cosmetics and other personal care products. The toxic chemicals used in them have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, early-onset puberty, fibroids and endometriosis, miscarriage, poor maternal and infant health outcomes, diabetes and obesity, and more. As I noted in Not So Pretty, "There is a loophole in federal regulation that allows industry to use almost any ingredient and label it as 'fragrance.'"
This op-ed was originally published in Maryland Matters.
Although vaccination rates continue to rise and coverage on COVID-19 is fading away from prominent news dashboards, our rates are still higher than in summer 2020. While we still adapt to living and working with COVID-19, we must prepare for future public health emergencies so we do not lose another year figuring out our response.
While many provisions of the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act (MEWPA) expired when Gov. Larry Hogan ended Maryland’s state of emergency, one important, future-looking provision remained. Under the law, the Maryland Department of Health is required to develop a template catastrophic health emergency preparedness plan.
The statutory requirement is supposed to provide a plan we can reach for if we are faced with future pandemics. We need to have the best practices, plans and lessons learned compiled and prepared for the next disaster …
A recent Maryland law requires the state's Commissioner of Labor and Industry, in consultation with its Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board, to develop and adopt regulations that require employers to protect employees from heat-related illness caused by heat stress. Those standards are due by October 2022.
The law also requires the state to hold four public meetings to collect input from residents. This month, the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Division (MOSH) scheduled those meetings, and I testified at the September 20 session.
As I stated during the hearing, CPR is pleased that Maryland will issue a standard requiring employers to protect workers from heat-related illnesses this session. I and other advocates urged MOSH to address the dangers of working in the heat and the immediate need for the standard.
As noted in my testimony, farmworkers are predominantly Black and brown, and many are from Indigenous …
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 …
Political Interference from White House Regulatory Office May Have Played a Role
The Labor Department’s emergency COVID standard, released today, is too limited and weak to effectively protect all workers from the ongoing pandemic. The workers left at greatest risk are people of color and the working poor.
Workers justifiably expected an enforceable general industry standard to protect them from COVID-19, and the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) has been calling for such a standard since June 2020. But what emerged after more than six weeks of closed-door White House review was a largely unenforceable voluntary guidance document, with only health care workers receiving the benefit of an enforceable standard.
The interference with the COVID standard by the White House regulatory office, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), sends the wrong signal about the Biden administration's commitment to improving the regulatory review process, which …
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 …
A half century ago, hundreds of Black sanitation workers marched through Memphis carrying signs bearing four small words: "I am a man."
Their short slogan carried a powerful message: Low-paid Black workers are human, and they deserve to be treated as such. Their lives, to quote today's activists for racial justice, matter.
The slogan — and its larger campaign for racial and economic equity — challenged systemic oppression of Black people. And it took on underlying white supremacist beliefs that positioned them as less than human and unworthy of humane working conditions and pay.
The campaign was sparked by an incident on February 1, 1968, when Memphis city officials forced workers to collect garbage during a heavy rainstorm, according to The Washington Post. Two men took refuge from the rain in the back of their truck and were crushed when it malfunctioned. The city refused to compensate their …
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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 …
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has signaled a new openness to the concerns of our nation’s workers — and we at CPR are joining our allies today in calling on his administration to go much further to make workplace safety a top priority.
Biden’s early actions are auspicious. In his first days in office, Biden appointed qualified leaders to key labor posts and signed several executive orders to improve working conditions. Among those orders is one that directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue improved guidance to employers on protecting workers and to determine whether to issue an emergency standard to prevent and mitigate exposure to COVID-19.
Biden also withdrew an effort by the Trump administration to accelerate processing speeds at poultry plants, which would have forced workers to work faster and more closely together on the factory floor — and put workers …