On Labor Day, Reviewing the Year in U.S Occupational Health Safety
September 1, 2014: A new report by researchers at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health highlights the noteworthy activities and publications in occupational health in the U.S. over the past year. The Year in U.S. Occupational Health & Safety: Fall 2013 – Summer 2014 is now available online. It describes actions taken and deferred by executive-branch agencies; state and local laws and regulatory activities affecting workers’ health; and peer-reviewed research and new reports by nonprofit organizations addressing occupational health and safety.
“We want this report to be a resource for activists, regulators, researchers, and anyone else who values safe and healthy workplaces,” says report co-author Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH. “With this year’s edition, the third in the series, we can see where progress has occurred or has stalled in different areas.”
As an example, Monforton points to the USDA’s new rule for poultry plants, which in its proposed form would have allowed increased line speeds at processing facilities and further increased the risk of musculoskeletal disorders among poultry workers, who already suffer from high rates of carpal-tunnel syndrome and similar conditions. Previous editions of the report documented efforts by workers and advocates to convince the Obama administration to withdraw the proposed rule and address occupational hazards in poultry plants. The latest edition documents the most recent efforts, as well as the outcome: USDA published the final rule without the proposed increase in line speeds.
As in past years, much of the progress in occupational health and safety has come at the state and local levels. "Over the past year, California and Massachusetts have passed new laws to improve working conditions for domestic workers; Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey passed legislation to let workers earn paid sick days; and Houston adopted an ordinance to penalize employers who engage in wage theft," says report co-author Liz Borkowski. "These and several other examples from across the country demonstrate how powerful and effective workers and advocates can be -- and that there is widespread agreement that workers shouldn't have to risk their lives or health for a paycheck."