April 21, 2021
Leslie is joined by Steve Sallman, Director of the United Steelworkers (USW) Health, Safety and Environment Department.
Ahead of next week's Worker's Memorial Day, Leslie and Steve discuss and honor workers lost to COVID-19, and other occupational hazards.
Workers’ Memorial Day is marked every year on April 28th to honor and remember the workers killed, injured, disabled and made ill from exposures to hazards at work.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s Workers Memorial Day is like no other experienced in the United States, Canada and globally. There are unknown numbers of workers who have died from COVID-19. Some were essential workers, and many have contracted it at work during these unprecedented times.
We mourn and fight for them, and the loss of all victims of this cruel disease. We may never know the real statistics as it relates to occupational exposure, but the public statistics as of today are bleak:
• 142,237,637 Global Confirmed cases
• 3,033,084 Global Deaths
• 31,739,932 U.S. Confirmed cases
• 567,736 U.S. Deaths
During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers have and continue to risk their lives and thousands have died.
The Guardian recently reported that more than 3,600 American health care workers have died of COVID-19 in the line of work since mid-March of last year.
- Most who died were under the age of 60 (despite the median age of death from Covid-19 in the general population being 78)
- The majority of health care workers who died from COVID-19 were people of color
- A large number of those who died were worried about not having enough personal protective equipment (PPE)
Workers in other essential industries have also suffered disproportionately from COVID-19, facing a 20% greater chance of dying during the pandemic than before it.Last summer, food processing facilities became COVID hotspots as workers performed job duties in close proximity for prolonged amounts of time.
On top of this, there seemed to be a callous disregard for the danger workers put themselves in each day including an independent investigation finding that managers at a Tyson plant were placing bets on how many workers would get infected.
We know this public crisis is also an occupational crisis. Since the beginning of this pandemic, the USW and other unions have strived to make workplaces and workers safer.
Ever since the pandemic started, unions pushed OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard that would require employers to provide infectious disease preparedness and response plans for employees.
The USW also worked with employers across their industries making a series of common sense recommendations and some employers have been taking steps to keep workers safe with the assistance of the USW with Recommended Controls to Reduce Worker Exposures to COVID-19 and fought to make sure workers have access to PPE.
The Biden administration is doing important work keeping workers safe and crucially, OSHA is no longer missing in action.
OSHA has a new targeted program, but they will also prioritize opening inspections to complaints from high hazard worksites including health care, meat and more.
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan included much needed funding for expanded testing, contact tracing and research as well as for PPE.
It provided for vaccine supplies and distribution. All of this helps keep workers and their families safer.
COVID-19 has certainly dominated the discussion and we must remember, we still have many other hazards that are killing, injuring and making workers ill.
This year OSHA, which was established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, turns 50, first opening its doors on April 28, 1971.
During its initial decade, OSHA issued the first standards for asbestos, lead, carcinogens, and cotton dust.
The OSHA Training Institute, safety and health training grants, the On-Site Consultation Program, State Plans, and whistleblower protections for workplace safety are also established.
As we reflect on 50 years of history, there remains much to do, including a critical need to undo what the Trump administration did to the Chemical Safety Board, which plays a critical role in worker safety.
“Former President Trump spent four years undermining the Chemical Safety Board and left office with only one member remaining on this five-person board,” U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which oversees the CSB, said in a statement. “Without a quorum, the board is currently hampered in its ability to effectively do its job.”
Carper, an ally of President Joe Biden’s, said he looks forward to working with the administration to fill the CSB vacancies soon “so that the board can get back to its mission of keeping communities and workers safe.”
But the wheels of Congress move slowly, and even if the administration nominates board members quickly, it typically takes many months to vet and approve appointments.
Workers’ Memorial Day the USW is a time not only to honor not only those who lost their lives either because of a workplace incident or COVID exposure, but also to recommit ourselves to renew the promise of safe jobs for all workers.
The website for the United Steelworkers is USW.org and their handle on both Twitter and Instagram is @steelworkers.