Occupational Health and Safety
Section Newsletter
Spring 2010

Greetings from the Chair

Occupational safety and health has been up front and center this year and continues to be so with the unprecedented scope of the world’s worst ever oil spill. Heat, long hours, chemical exposures and working on the water are conspiring to provide complicated working conditions. These complexities are being addressed by our best minds and regulatory leaders including David Michaels, Jordan Barab, Peg Seminario and academic and union health and safety specialists, many of whom we count as section members.

 

Section leaders and members have been active in writing letters to legislators, planning our 2010 Annual Meeting, devising ways to recruit members, and, most importantly, planning our social venues for Denver, 2010.  I hope you all will figure out a way to participate in the Annual Meeting. I realize that finances are tight and hotels are expensive. BUT DO WHAT YOU CAN! Our business meetings are informative and designed to get members interacting. Our scientific sessions expose you to scientists, policy-makers and thought leaders in our field.  Finally, our social events are second to none, in terms of fun, food and inspiration.

 

Peter Dooley and his unbelievably energetic Program Planning Committee have developed another incredible program, also described below, which can be viewed at the following website:  http://apha.confex.com/apha/138am/webprogram/OHS.html.

Worker Memorial Day Events

Workers' Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have lost their lives, been made ill or injured on the job, was observed across the country and around the world on April 28.  In Boston, workers gathered on the steps of the State House, where names of the 75 individuals, including 13 members of the military, who were fatally injured on the job in the previous year were read. 

 

In Washington, D.C., Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH, escorted a group of 24 family members to a meeting with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to discuss much needed reforms to our workers health and safety programs at OSHA and MSHA.  he families traveled from California, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  Attending the meeting were three other OHS Section members: Peter Dooley, David Michaels (Assistant Secretary of Labor) and Jordan Barab (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor).  Two of the family members testified at Congressional hearings on April 27 and April 28, about their loved ones’ deaths from preventable workplace hazards, as did Celeste Monforton.

 

What's the history behind April 28?

Remember the Canary!

         

April 28 has many names. In Canada, it’s the Day of Mourning. In the United States and the United Kingdom, it’s Workers’ Memorial Day. The International Labour Organization calls it the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Marked around the world, there’s confusion about its origins, even in Canada.

 

About 1983, the health and safety director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Colin Lambert, and his long-time friend and fellow activist, Ray Sentes, came up the idea of a day to recognize workers killed and injured on the job.

 

As a steelworker and miner in Sudbury, Ontario, Lambert was instrumental in having mandatory coroners’ inquests for all miners’ deaths in Ontario (Canada). He also lamented the contrast between the lack of recognition or memorials for miners and other workers who died on the job or because of their work and public events for “fallen” police officers and fire fighters.

 

Lambert “floated the idea” with CUPE’s national health and safety committee, talking about a special day of recognition for workers killed and injured on the job, to be held on May 1 (celebrated as May Day in Europe and elsewhere). The committee endorsed the idea. At its 1984 convention, union delegates supported the proposal. Soon after, some CUPE locals started negotiating events, such as lowered flags and moments of silence.

 

In 1984 and 1985, CUPE representatives took the idea to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) executive and its national health and safety committee. Local unions also sent resolutions to the CLC.

 

In February 1986, the CLC announced the first Day of Mourning, coinciding with the first day of its convention that year. Rather than May 1, they chose the date when the Ontario legislature passed the country’s first workers compensation law, in 1914. The convention passed a resolution supporting April 28 as a day to "mourn for the dead and fight for the living."

 

In 1990, Lambert and CUPE pushed for innovative ways to recognise the day. April 28 could be a “year-round series of public events”, not just a Day of Mourning. We can attract “broad public recognition for the day by adopting a universal, unthreatening symbol of worker safety, the canary.”

 

“The canary’s an appropriate symbol,” Lambert said. “It shows that today workers are the canaries -- they are front-line protection for all of us.” The canary also showed up in the CLC’s new poster for April 28.

 

Lambert and others saw the potential for a day of “preventive action for workers which will be recognized by society in general.” They called on CUPE locals to have activities in the week heading up to the 28th. They sent a package with a new poster -- introducing the canary symbol -- and a special issue of the health and safe newsletter. There also was a workplace inspection checklist and calls for locals to campaign for government recognition of the day and to bargain or ask employers for a moment’s silence at 11 a.m. on April 28.

 

CUPE members and others responded with enthusiasm. The British Columbia CUPE health and safety committee had a “Spot the Hazard” campaign for workplace inspections. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Federation of Labour and CUPE produced tags with the canary symbol and “Day of Mourning, April 28”. They sold them with members of the local professional football team and the Boys and Girls Club, with proceeds to the Club. In Windsor, Ontario, more than 300 people marched to the Ministry of Labour to lay a wreath and release black balloons inscribed with “We came here to work, not to die”.

 

The campaign for government recognition paid off. In February 1991, the Canadian government passed a private member’s bill, naming April 28 as the "Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.” Provincial and municipal governments also recognize the day.

 

These efforts, and many others, inspired trade unions and health and safety activists and around the world. Monuments and plaques are some of the most common responses. There were so many by 2001 that Ed Thomas of Hamilton wrote a book about them -- "Dead But Not Forgotten–Monuments to Workers." The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) put some of his pictures on a web page (http://www.ccohs.ca/events/mourning/photolinks.html).

 

The campaign for recognition of the day has been successful. Now what about the goals behind it?

 

 

- Dorothy Wigmore

APHA OHS Section Secretary

 

APHA supports Protecting America’s Workers Act

APHA has submitted a letter to the House Committee on Education and Labor supporting H.R. 2067, the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:hr2067:/).  PAWA seeks to, among other things, expand health and safety regulations to cover state and local public sector workers, increase penalties for health and safety violations, enhance whistleblower protections, and allow for greater involvement by workers and their families in the investigation process.  The letter submitted by APHA can be found at: http://www.apha.org/NR/rdonlyres/BF729F35-FE40-4001-90D9-5922847AE38E/0/APHAPAWAMillerletter.pdf. T here is also an active effort to get 150 Congressional co-sponsors of the bill.  Check to see if your representative is a sponsor by going to http://www.protectingworkers.org/node/19.

APHA 2010 – Social Justice: A Public Health Imperative

The APHA Annual Meeting will be held in Denver from Nov. 6-10.  Conference and hotel registration are now open. Information can be found at: http://www.apha.org/meetings/registration/. The early bird registration deadline is August 27; the advance registration deadline is Oct. 1.

Annual Meeting: OHS Program Highlights

The OHS section received 60 percent more abstracts for the 2010 Annual Meeting than for the previous year. While this means that many abstracts unfortunately had to be turned away, this interest in participating in the OHS program is something to celebrate! The OHS scientific program will begin on Sunday, Nov 7, with poster sessions and end on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Highlights of this year’s scientific program include:

·  a continuing focus on the intersection of occupational health and the “green” movement (i.e. blue/green). At the 2009 Annual Meeting, the blue/green sessions were filled to capacity and brimming with good discussion.

·  a special intersectional track on occupational and environmental justice. These sessions were developed collaboratively with program planners from the environment, social work, international health, and public health education sections. This much cross-section collaboration might be unprecedented, and it was exciting to see so much interest in the OHS abstracts. More to come on that later.

·  an occupational health surveillance track on Wednesday, Nov. 10. Prepare to discuss undercounting in the BLS Annual Survey, new developments in occupational health surveillance, and exciting updates on state occupational health surveillance activities.

·  a total of 32 oral/roundtable sessions and 100 occupational health and safety posters.

Oh! - and please plan to attend the Sunday morning Membership Meeting.  This meeting, starting at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, will orient you to the days ahead, introduce you to Section leadership, and give you an opportunity to meet Section members and learn more about the OHS Section in general. It’s a great way to start off the Annual Meeting, learn about all the planned activities, and it’s fun, too! Keep an eye out for more updates from the OHS Section on the program for the 2010 Annual Meeting. Please see the entire OHS Section program at: http://apha.confex.com/apha/138am/webprogram/OHS.html 

Conference: Nanomaterials and Worker Health

There will be a conference to discuss nanomaterials and the possible harmful effects on workers in July 2010. The conference, co-sponsored by NIOSH, will be held in Keystone, Colo., and will focus on medical surveillance, exposure registries and epidemiologic research relative to workers dealing with nanomaterials. The agenda and registration information can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/niohs/topics/nanotech/keystone2010. 

Conference: New Solutions @ 20 - Greening the Workplace: Problems and Possibilities

New Solutions, a Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, will celbrate 20 years of publication with a one day conference in cooperation with Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worerk Education.  The event will be held on Sept. 25, 2010 in New York City, focused on "The Greening of the Workplace: Problems and Possiblities."  There is also a call for papers, panels, and multimedia presentations.  For more information, contact Eduardo Siqueira at  siqueira196@comcast.net.

Canadian Connections

The theme was worker health in a changing world of work.

 

It led to wide-ranging presentations and conversations. They went from the invisible health consequences of precarious or contingent work to the stigma of being an injured worker and how to turn research into action. Participants included academic researchers, physio and occupational therapists, and people doing work in occupational health and safety and workplace wellness. Union health and safety representatives, injured workers and disability rights advocates also were there.

 

It sounds like the APHA Occupational Health and Safety Section. But it happened in late May north of the 49th parallel, thanks to the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health (CARWH). (For details about the program, see http://carwh2010.ih.on.ca/.)

 

Founded in 2001, the multi-disciplinary group is open “to anyone who identifies him/herself as a work and health researcher in Canada.” Dominated by academic researchers, there still is a fair bit of space for others on the edges of, and outside, the university.

 

CARWH’s goals are simple and grandiose: To enhance and promote research on work health, safety, and well being in Canada and to advocate for research on how work and work environments can be altered to improve health, safety, and wellness among Canadians.

 

Conferences are held in different regions of Canada and Quebec every two years. At these events, and in between, CARWH tries hard to breach the “two solitudes” of Anglophone and Francophone cultures and language. It provides one of the few OHS venues where this is done. (Otherwise, there is little exchange of information, results, and practices.)

 

In between, the organisation is building its website (http://web.cher.ubc.ca/carwh), and working to expand its membership and make new links for its members and the organisation itself. You will hear more about possible links at the OHS Section discussions during APHA’s Annual Meeting in Denver.

 

 

Dorothy Wigmore

APHA OHS Section Secretary

Member-at-large, CARWH Board

PCBs in Schools: A post on The Pump Handle and an article in New Solutions

New Solutions, A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, has joined the public health blog, The Pump Handle.  A set of posts on PCBs in schools can be found at,  http://thepumphandle.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/pcbs-in-schools/.  This dialog was generated by an article by Robert Herrick in the latest issue of New Solutions - School Health and Environment.

Robert F. Herrick of the Harvard School of Public Health wrote an excellent article on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) exposure in schools, which was published in the most recent issue of New Solutions. This article has been made available for free download by the journal’s publisher, Baywood Inc.

The piece has already sparked some dialogue on the testing and regulation of PCB exposure for school maintenance workers, who are pegged with the important task of removing potentially toxic material that may be damaging children’s health. David M. Newman of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH) wrote a response to Dr. Herrick’s piece, in which he addresses major gaps in policy and practice and the need for a strong labor presence to take the lead in demanding necessary worker protection.

Dr. Herrick responded by outlining some of the research done on PCB exposure among construction workers.

The posting has the abstract of Dr. Herrick’s piece, as well as the following responses.  Check it out and join the dialog.

Working for health-protective “fair trade” agreements

Our Section was one of the three founding sections of the APHA “Trade and Health Forum” established five years ago as a cross-sectional effort to protect public health in global trade and investment treaties. 

 

Public health issues – including workplace health and safety – have been systemically left out of trade agreements, as seen in the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement and all those that have followed. The treaties have been used to force countries in the developing world to open their economies to global corporations that owe loyalty to nothing other than maximum corporate profits. 

 

The result has been the destruction of agriculture in Mexico with the flood of government-subsidized grains by U.S.-based transnational corporations; restrictions on the production of low-cost generic drugs which has caused thousands of preventable deaths of Central American and Asian HIV/AIDS patients; and a “race to the bottom” in terms of factory working conditions as each impoverished country tries to outbid others in enticing foreign investment in their increasingly unregulated and “zero enforcement” workplaces.

 

Public health advocates hoped that the change in administration from George Bush to Barack Obama would bring changes in trade policies and the treaties that govern it.  However, all signals coming from the Obama government indicate another area of continuity, not change, with its predecessor.  But Obama’s policies are not yet fixed, so the opportunity exists to push for a health-protective approach and democratic procedures in writing the trade and investment treaties.

 

One of the most important goals is establishing representation of public health professionals in the various advisory committees and bureaucratic structures where trade policy is actually set.  Unsurprisingly, these committees are currently dominated by the industries affected by the treaties, and there are literally no public health reps on any of them. 

 

So, for example, the “Tobacco Control Advisory Committee” has a heavy presence of tobacco companies, the “Pharmaceuticals Advisory Committee” is dominated by Big Pharm, and the “Agricultural Advisory Committee” is blessed with numerous reps from Monsanto, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

 

For several years, the San Francisco-based Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH) has generated excellent reports and coordinated efforts for legislation to require the appointment of public health representatives on all trade committees, as well as a stand-alone “Public Health Advisory Committee” that could have influence on the terms of all treaties.

 

For those interested in all the ins-and-outs of these years-long effort and all the policy analysis related to public health and trade, CPATH’s website (www.cpath.org) is the place to go. 

 

Currently there are several important initiatives to move the public health representation issue forward as the Obama government is beginning to focus on trade issues. Please check the CPATH website for all the details.

 

There will be several trade-related events at the APHA conference in Denver in November that OHS Section members should try to attend.  I have been honored to represent the Section in the Trade and Health Forum, but there is a lot to be done and more hands are always welcome.

 

The events in November include:

 

  • Sunday, Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m. will be the annual Business Meeting of the Trade and Health Forum;
  • The Forum has a full set of oral and poster sessions which can be seen on the Forum’s webpage on the APHA website;
  • Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 a.m., the Forum will be putting on one of the nine “Special Sessions” presented during the conference. Five speakers, including a rep from the OHS Section, will present on “Trading Health? Envisioning Health Justice in a Globalized Economy” (Session 5093.0)

Anyone interested in the Trade and Health Forum, and our Section’s work in it, should contact me for information at garrettdbrown@comcast.net. 

 

- Garrett Brown

APHA Initiatives on Transportation and Public Health

As we all appreciate, our health is profoundly affected by our transportation decisions and options. Limited opportunities for physical activity, higher exposure to poor air quality, higher incidences of adult and childhood obesity and greater prevalence of asthma and cardiovascular disease are a few of the inequities brought by poor transportation policies. As part of our effort to enhance crosscutting activity and knowledge among various APHA members and sections, APHA is developing advocacy materials and helpful information related to the links between transportation and public health. If anyone is interested in learning more about this initiative, sharing success stories or lessons learned, or establishing a new Forum on Transportation and Public Health, please reach out to us! Interested members are asked to contact Eloisa Raynault at eloisa.raynault@apha.org.

E-Mail Listserv for Health and Safety Advocates

The Occupational Health and Safety Health Section is now hosting a new listserv to share information about workplace health and safety – open to APHA members and non-members alike. Participants will be able to share information that is specific to workplace health and safety, such as current events, conferences, advocacy campaigns, job announcements or publications. The listserv will also provide a forum for asking questions or initiating discussions about occupational health issues, as well as APHA issues that affect the Occupational Health and Safety Section.  May thanks to Amy Leibman and the Migrant Clinicians Network for setting up and hosting the listserv! 

To sign up, send a blank e-mail to ohssection-join@migrantclinician.com. Please share this information with your colleagues!