It’s time for me to boast about the most amazing assembly of worker H&S researchers and activists: the OHS Section of the American Public Health Association.   We closed out our 95th year with the association adopting three progressive policy resolutions and electing Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH as the next APHA president. 

First, CONGRATULATIONS! to the OHS Section’s own Linda Rae Murray who is a 30-year member of APHA—-the largest and most diverse public health organization in the world.  Dr. Murray is the chief medical officer for the Cook County (IL) Dept of Public Health, a general internist who practices at a south side Chicago community health center, and on the faculty at the Univ of Illinois Chicago in the Dept of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Linda Rae’s platform resonates with many of us in the OHS community: 

“If  we are going to make progress toward a healthy nation we have to overcome those issues which divide us: issues of racism, immigrant rights, gender discrimination and workers’ rights.  It is only through unity that we will have the strength to make the changes our country needs.”

Linda Rae’s guiding principles include:

  • The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteeing the right to medical care to everyone, including those in the country without proper documents.  [APHA supports a single payer insurance plan.]
  • We must continue the struggle for full and equal rights for everyone, especially people of color and workers.
  • Health is a fundamental human right and a state of social well being.
  • Health requires peace.
  • Health requires a planet that is whole and sustainable.
  • Health requires equity and social justice.

Second, APHA’s membership considered 15 new policy proposals, three of which were developed by the OHS Section.   Our perseverance and in-depth knowledge of the issues paid off.  APHA’s Governing Council adopted all three new policies involving worker health and safety.  The association now has progressive policies on the books calling for

  1. the elimination of asbestos and improvements in asbestos-disease prevention;
  2. a major overhaul of the workers’ compensation system; and
  3. attention on border crossing deaths along U.S.-Mexico lands.

The newly adopted APHA policy on asbestos calls on Congress to pass legislation banning the manufacture, sale, export and import of asbestos-containing products.  That means product to which asbestos is intentionally added and products in which asbestos is a contaminant, such as quarried stone, talc and vermiculite.  Among other things, the resolution urges the US Surgeon General to warn and educate people periodically about the public health issues related to asbestos exposure, and for NIOSH and OSHA to issue an annual statement to alert workers in high-hazard occupations (e.g., vehicle mechanics, construction, shipbuilding) of the adverse health risks associated with exposure to asbestos, and include information on potential early warning symptoms.

The newly adopted APHA resolution on workers compensation, describes the disparities in coverage and care for workers who suffer work-related injuries and illnesses.  It provides a mini-history of efforts to reform the system, none of which have resulted in fundamental improvements, and offers insight into more just and equitable workers’ care and compensation programs in other nations.  The resolutions offers eleven specific recommendations, including:

  • the current fragmented workers’ compensation system should be replaced by a national program with uniform coverage of health care and adequate loss-of-earnings benefits for all occupational injuries and illnesses;
  • the system should be a more comprehensive system based on disabilty, not impairment, such as exists in The Netherlands, where all employees are covered by a compulsory government administered plan that insures against loss of earnings from long-term disability resulting from any occupational injury or disease;
  • the system should include a national standard of coverage for all workers, including part-time workers, contractors, immigrant workers, and employees of small companies;
  • the system should be integrated in a seamless manner with the Social Security disability program (SSDI);
  • health care for injured workers should be provided by a national health care system independent of industry involvement and insurance industry control;
  • the system must have mandatory root cause investigation requirements for all occupational injuries and illnesses; and
  • the system must have money set aside for training of occupational health and safety professionals, preventative initiatives based on root injury and illness analysis, worker health and safety training, and mandatory reporting by health professionals.

The new APHA policy on the public health crisis of border crossing deaths along the US-Mexico border provides evidence demonstrating how the militarization of the US-Mexico border has created a public health crisis.  The policy includes numerous recommendations for government, health care providers and educators, such as urging:

  • the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol to comply with international standards of health and human rights by adopting policies and strategies that do not endanger the lives and health of migrants;
  • the Border Patrol to comply with the recommendations of the GAO to improve its methods for collecting data in order to accurately record border crossing deaths; and
  • healthcare organizations to provide needed acute health care services to undocumented border crossers to take appropriate steps to assure adequate continuity of care to those currently within the detention center system.

The election of Dr. Linda Rae Murray, and the successful adoption of these three policy resolutions demonstrates the vibrancy and relevance of the APHA OHS Section in the movement to advance workers’ rights and health & safety.   

!!Special offer to federal or State OSHA or MSHA employees!!   The first 5 federal or State OSHA or MSHA employees to join APHA (only $16.25 per month) after reading this post can receive a fabulous tote bag (made in the USA) featuring an Earl Dotter photograph from his Farmworkers Feed Us All exhibit.   Just join APHA now, select OHS as your primary Section, and send me an email (celeste.monforton@gwumc.edu) with your mailing address, and I’ll send you a tote bag.    

Will it be you from OR-OSHA, or you from Kansas City-OSHA, or you from MSHA HQ??   Who from OSHA, State OSHAs, or MSHA will be the newest members of our 700-strong APHA OHS family?

Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH is with the George Washington University School of Public Health.  She has been a member of APHA since 1997, and served this year as Chair of the APHA OHS Section. 

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