It's the week for heartrending OSHA articles. Earlier it was the Chicago worker who burned to death in front of indifferent managers: Temporary Worker's Brutal Death Today its a horribly descriptive NYT article about North Carolina employees slowly paralyzed by glue guns: Glue Guns Kill Slowly
In each article Federal OSHA takes major criticism for its inability to police the industries.
As the chemical’s popularity grew, E.P.A. officials worried about its use in spray glues, especially in cushion-making factories where the agency had determined that even with “state of the art” ventilation, “nPB-based adhesives cannot be reliably used in a manner that protects human health.”Still the problem runs deeper than a notoriously underfunded and politically abused agency like OSHA. It lies with all of us who close our eyes to the products we buy or the folks who produce them. As one manager chilling noted in this case
OSHA has never set a standard establishing safety limits on workers’ exposure to nPB. The E.P.A. recommended such a limit and considered banning the nPB glues, but it has yet to finalize the plan. It determined that most cushion companies using the glue had fewer than 100 employees, which meant they were less able to absorb the cost of another regulation.
By contrast, OSHA has two dozen pages of regulations just on ladders and stairs.
“There are people lined up out there for jobs,” said John Lyles, a vice president at Franklin, according to testimony by a plant manager in a successful lawsuit in Mississippi brought by four cushion workers who suffered severe nerve damage from the glue. “If they start dropping like flies, or something in that order, we can replace them today.”Mind you he's talking about workers who endure the following:
By 2005, Efrain Robles Avila was using a walker because he could no longer stand on his own, according to medical records. Victor Gonzales, a father of three, needed help putting on his clothes because he had lost control of his hands. Laura Garcia, who had worked for Royale for less than a year, complained of a cold numbness running from her waist to her toes. “It was like your legs didn’t receive the signal when you had to walk,” she said in court documents.This happens when your workspace looks like this:
The numbness was dangerous. One worker recounted meeting a neighbor who asked why she was wearing a single red shoe. Only then did the worker realize her foot was bleeding profusely from a two-inch gash.
During 10-hour shifts, the gluers held spray guns attached to hoses that ran to a humming compressor and 55-gallon drums filled with the glue. Once sprayed, the glue coated everything — the lights, fans, floors and electrical outlets — and hung over the workers’ cubicles like a shroud.Now I shudder to sit on my US made couch (which I so proudly found through an Internet search). God only knows what jobsites for products made elsewhere look like.
We need to follow environmentalists' lead by demanding manufacturers reveal their safety processes. As one person quoted in article noted they can start by slapping a label stating we didn't use PB gun. Will it close companies and cost jobs? You bet.
Those lost jobs mean saved lives. It also means our responsibility won't end with safer products in one industry. The 21st century - along with the rest of history - teaches us only we can look out for eachother. The same unity we build for safer products can be channeled to creating demand for real, safe jobs.