Posts Tagged ‘public safety’

Worksite Massacre

April 27, 2011

4,340. That’s how many lives were ended by workplace injuries in this country in 2009 (the most recent year for which we have statistics). That’s probably more people than went to your high school. It’s many times the number of people in my town. It’s much larger than the largest family reunion you’ve ever been to. It’s an almost unimaginable scale of death.

50,000. That’s how many died from occupational-related illnesses such as black lung. Somehow, it’s so difficult to imagine the death of 50,000 people that it’s almost an easier number to read than 4,340. Yet if you consider that’s 136 human lives ended every day, you can start to wrap your arms around the idea. That’s my entire high school graduating class. It’s the size of a small church community. It’s the number of people who show up for a controversial issue at the town council. And it’s every day.

4,000,000-12,000,000. That’s the number of non-fatal workplace injuries, such as paralysis, brain trauma, and amputation. It also includes smaller but life-altering injuries such as torn rotator cuffs, 3rd-degree burns, and crushed hands.

A new report from the AFL-CIO Department of Safety and Health outlines these statistics and breaks the information down by state, industry, and sector. Page 85 of the report shows how long it would take for OSHA to actually inspect all the work sites in a given state with current level of staffing. If you are lucky, you live in the best case state of Oregon, where you could expect an inspection sometime in the next 23 years. But if you live in Florida, well maybe some of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will get to work in a place that’s had an inspection, because it will take OSHA about 240 years to get around to it.

Has anyone else noticed that workers are starting to stand up and say “Enough!” The unions fought hard for OSHA, and now we all need to fight to make it an agency with more teeth. Nothing would be a more fitting tribute to the men, women, and children who are dying on the job every day.


Railroad Workers Today: The Industry Picks a Fight

December 30, 2010

Part One of a Special Series on Railroad Workers

Railroads conjure up nostalgia for some and offer a glimpse of a promising transportation future for others. Yet the railroad industry is as cutthroat as any in the country. With its unique regulatory framework, its exemption from many labor laws, and its central role to the economic life of our continent, railroads hold tremendous power. Now, a growing group of railroad engineers, conductors, yard workers, maintenance workers, signalers, mechanics, and others employed in the rail industry are uniting to hold railroads accountable for worker and public safety. Railroad Workers United is a network of railroaders from Florida to the Yukon, and they are raising the profile of the forgotten folks who actually make it possible for a train to get from Point A to Point B. This winter I will be writing a series of posts documenting the conditions for workers on the railroads and how they are organizing to protect working conditions and the safety of themselves and the public.

In late 2004, the rail industry group National Carriers Conference Committee initiated bargaining with their workers’ unions by proposing a decimation of workplace standards and pay. They attacked health care. They concocted a scheme to reduce liability in the case of workplace injury. And perhaps most disturbingly of all, they proposed that henceforth, trains and their often hazardous cargo would be sent hurtling through cities and towns and wilderness with only one employee on board. (more…)

The Funeral Train Grows Longer

September 11, 2010

The scene of the Indiana derailment where clean-up worker Michael Bowling died.

How was work today? If you went to work for the railroads, things might not have been too good. In the last few months, workers have been electrocuted (in New Jersey), drowned (in Nebraska), crushed by heavy equipment (in Indiana), struck by moving trains (Alabama, New Jersey, Minnesota), or otherwise killed in the line of duty. Members of Railroad Workers United have been keeping track of all the rail-related fatalities since Mother’s Day, 2009, when the death of Jared Boehlke left a young widow and child. They have recorded twenty-nine fatalities. Twenty–nine men and women killed in the course of helping trains get from point A to point B. (more…)

Worker Deaths Highlight Public Safety Issue

June 3, 2010

This 112-car CSX train derailed and caused explosions in Ohio in 2007

Once again, a rail worker has been struck and killed by a locomotive.  Greg Kastner, a 63-year-old hostler for the New Jersey Transit died on Monday.  (A hostler services engines in between runs.) He is one of more than 650 workers to die on the job in the last seven months.

My blog has focused on some of the rail industry deaths in part for personal reasons. I have many good friends who work in the railroad trades and I know how the needlessly difficult working conditions endanger them. But I also focus on the railroads because they represent an enormous public safety issue.  If the railroads skimp on maintenance of track or engine or train, the public is endangered. If they push workers to the limits of exhaustion (and they do) while also short-staffing, the public is endangered. The danger lies not only in derailment, which can kill passengers or passers-by, but in the cargo itself.  In 2002, for example, 15 tankers of anhydrous ammonia were part of a train that derailed in Minot, North Dakota. As hundreds of thousands of gallons leaked out, the fluid vaporized in a toxic cloud that killed one person and hospitalized many more. In 2007, another derailment released the chemical solvent cyclohexane, which caught fire and forced an evacuation of more than 500 people near Louisville, KY. That same year, a freight train carrying hazardous materials caught fire in Ohio near an elementary school. Earlier this year, a derailment of another train carrying chemicals forced an evacuation in a 1-mile radius near Santa Fe, Texas.  These are just a few examples out of many.

My heart goes out to the family and co-workers of Greg Kastner, who was so close to retirement age. And I hope the regulators will pay attention to all these deaths, for the sake of the workforce and the sake of us all.