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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.”

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I’m supposed to be grading 124 essays written by my students, but in one of my many bouts with Sunday afternoon work avoidance, I happened upon Senator Reid’s webpage.  There was a link that said:

“Reid meets with Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, and John Howard of NIOSH.”

I clicked on the link, and saw this photo and description.  

I understand that working for CDC’s Julie Gerberding took its toll on many CDC officials, but never realized such stress caused Dr. Howard to generate a full head of beautiful dark hair!   For those of us attending the APHA annual meeting, in particular the OHS Section events, we’ll have to get used to John Howard’s new look.

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The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. reports that one of West Virginia’s oldest and largest law firms, Jackson Kelly PLLC, is being sued for hiding evidence of coal miners’ black lung disease.  Ward writes:

“Earlier this year, an investigative panel of the state’s Lawyer Disciplinary Board filed misconduct charges against Douglas A. Smoot.  Smoot hid a key portion of coal miner Elmer Daugherty’s medical examination report during a 2001 case, a board investigative panel alleged.  A hearing on those allegations is scheduled to start June 18.  And two lawsuits filed last month in Raleigh Circuit Court accuse Jackson Kelly of a widespread pattern of trying to cheat miners out of black lung benefits.”

If these allegations are true—cheating injured coal miners from due compensation—that’s some low-down dirty work for their coal industry clients. 

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The New York Times’ R.N. Kleinfield and Steven Greenhouse offer us a glimpse of the nightmare known as the workers’ compensation system.  In their article A World of Hurt: For Injured Workers, a Costly Legal Swamp,* they report from the Queens NY office of the NY State Workers’ Compensation Board and explain that injured workers:

“come to the board seeking authorization for medical treatment and replacement wages…what they find instead is…a $ 5.5 billion-a-year state-run bureaucracy that struggles to treat workers with due speed, protect employers from fraud or mute tensions in the workplace.”

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What do the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Migrant Clinicians Network, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, and 65 other organizations have in common?  They’ve all endorsed the “Protecting Workers on the Job Agenda”, a collaborative product of the American Public Health Association’s Occupational Health and Safety Section and the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.  The platform, released just in time for Labor Secretary-Designee Hilda Solis’ confirmation hearing on Friday, outlines seven goals for improving our nation’s programs for preventing work-related illnesses, disabilities and death, and ensuring that workers who have been harmed on the job are cared for justly.  In a letter transmitting the platform to Ms. Solis, the groups wrote:

Safeguarding fundamental rights to fair wages, healthy and safe working conditions, freedom to form a union, and protection from retaliation for exercising these rights are crucial responsibilities of the Labor Department.  In difficult economic times, such as those faced now by workers, defending these rights is even more important.  We are confident you will work diligently to restore the Labor Department’s dedication to workers, ensuring that federal labor laws are enforced vigorously and are enhanced appropriately to meet the conditions faced by workers today. 

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Set your wristwatch alarms or your VCR for this Sunday (June 7) at 7:00 pm (EST) to watch CBS’s 60 Minutes and a hard-hitting story on OSHA and its failure to protect workers and communities from combustible dust explosions.  CBS’s correspondent Scott Pelley  interviews Carolyn Merritt (former Member of the US Chemical Safety Board), Tammy Miser (whose brother Shawn was killed in an aluminum dust explosion), Edwin Foulke (OSHA Asst. Secretary), and at least one EXPERIENCED but UNDISCLOSED speaker.  

Many thanks to the CBS crew who pursued and persisted with this story: David Gelber, producer; Joel Bach, associate producer; and Rachel Kun, researcher. 


The scene was an icy morning in western Maryland, along the Garrett County and Allegany County lines.  Mr. Dwight Samuel Colmer, 41, a truck driver with Western Maryland Lumber Company was hauling a load of coal just before 11:00 AM when his truck began to slide.  The State of Maryland’s “Motor Vehicle Accident Report” says:

“…hit guard rail, and overturned to the passenger side.  Driver was ejected and crushed under the dump truck and died from the injuries.”

The report indicates the incident occurred on a public road called Bartlett Street.  Is this a work-related fatality? 

Well, it depends on which agency you ask.

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OSHA’s Assistant Secretary Edwin Foulke is expected to travel to Port Wentworth, Georgia today, more than 3 weeks after a horrific combustible dust explosion at Imperial Sugar took 12 workers’ lives.  Another 11 workers remain in critical condition at a burn treatment center in Augusta.  Apparently, pressure from Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) convinced Mr. Foulke that a trip to the Dixie Crystals’ community is appropriate.  It is, afterall, a workplace disaster on par with the January 2006 Sago disaster which also claimed the lives of 12 men, and arguably more devastating because scores of other workers remain critically injured.  I wonder why we expect to see MSHA’s top officials at the scene of mine disasters (e.g., Crandall Canyon, Sago, Quecreek) but we don’t wonder where is OSHA’s Foulke? 

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Tyler Kahle, 19, (photo) and Craig Bagley, 27 (photo) were killed four months ago at the NovaGold Resources’ Rock Creek mine near Nome, Alaska.  MSHA is completing its investigation; so far, all the Kahle family has been told is that the lift basket was 90 feet off the ground and “it tipped over.”  Sadly, what the Kahle family has learned, is that mothers, fathers and other family-member victims of workplace fatalities have few if any rights, the exclusive liability provision of state workers’ compensation laws is a cruel joke, and families are excluded from the fatality investigation process. 

This harsh reality compelled a group of families to develop a “Family Bill of Rights” to provide fundamental rights to loved ones left behind by workplace fatalities.

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By David Michaels

It is time for Congress to enlist the nation’s science and policy experts to help develop a federal workers’ compensation program for 9/11 rescue, recovery, and cleanup workers. The inadequacy of state worker programs led Congress to legislate special compensation programs for uranium miners, and civilian workers in nuclear weapons facilities. We did not require the families of those killed in the terrorist attacks to rely on state workers’ compensation programs. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (pdf) provided more than $7 billion to families of the victims.   Read the rest of this entry »


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