Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Speak up for safe work

Protecting the health and safety of workers continues to be one of the most important functions of public health and demands support from all of us.

That was the take-home message from a Wednesday session on “Health and Safety Alliances and New Occupational Health and Safety Challenges.”

Among the powerful stories from the occupational health and safety field is the push for a violence-prevention standard in California. Kathy Hughes, a registered nurse and union activist working to make the standard a reality, told session attendees about a nurse who was walking between buildings at a state mental hospital and was strangled by a patient. Not long after, a nurse at a detention facility was killed when an inmate beat her to death with a lamp. The lamp was the nurse’s own because the facility’s low lighting made it impossible to see properly to dispense medication.

Hughes asked audience members to weigh in on the proposed violence prevention standard, which is now in a 45-day comment period with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board.

The work of public health-driven occupational health and safety efforts have huge payoffs. Consider a new California law that protects workers from new or previously unrecognized health hazards. That law is on the books in large part because of public health advocates, said Fran Schrieberg.

Once a new threat is identified, the law then gives the health department the right to obtain a customer list from the manufacturer and find out how much of the toxin is being imported into California as well as when and where.

“It’s a really powerful piece of legislation,” said Schreiberg, one of the “founding mothers” of the group Worksafe, which helped bring the law to light. “We think it could be translated to other communities.”

A fascinating part of the session had attendees split into roundtable groups to discuss how to translate the innovative occupational health and safety work to fit their own states and localities. Before that happened, Peter Dooley called on the audience to get active with his group, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, or National COSH, which has local chapters across the country and focuses on issues such as better protections for temp workers.

“We’re really kind of the umbrella group that tries to keep sustained local groups but also have local groups come together and be a national voice,” Dooley said. “In the last five years, National COSH has been outspoken on the tragedy of workplace fatalities and how many workers are exposed to dangerous hazards, dangerous chemicals, and the fact that workplace injuries and fatalities are way too many every day.”

— D.C.

Above video from a nurse safety rally earlier this year in California. Video courtesy the California Safe Care Standard

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