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COSH Movement Leaders Bethany Boggess and Al Vega Honored at APHA Annual Meeting

Bethany Boggess and Al Vega, two tireless and effective COSH movement leaders, were honored today by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) section of the American Public Health Association (APHA).

Al is a former member of the National COSH board of directors, while Bethany helped create the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, now hosted at NationalCOSH.org.

APHA is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of public health professionals. The OHS section of the organization – which includes a number of COSH activists as well as H&S specialists working for unions, public agencies and academic organizations – has a long history of advocating for empowering workers and improving working conditions.

The awards were announced today at the APHA annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Al Vega, Deputy Director at the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) received the Tony Mazzocchi award, named for the legendary union activist who helped put the OSH Act on the books in the 1970s.

Al, the son of immigrant workers, has spent his career working for Boston-based community organizations. At MassCOSH, he has been instrumental in developing the TeensLead@Work program, where young workers learn about their health and safety rights and how to share this information with co-workers. He has also played a leadership role in MassCOSH’s Healthy Schools program, and at the MassCOSH Workers’ Center, where he assists immigrant workers who work in unsafe conditions and have suffered on-the-job injuries.

A member of the United Steelworkers, Al was recently elected as an Executive Vice President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

“I’ve worked closely with Al for years, and I can’t imagine a better person to honor the spirit of Tony Mazzocchi,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH, who is outgoing executive director at MassCOSH. “Al never backs down from a fight – and he never forgets who he is fighting for – workers who deserve rights on the job, a safe workplace, and a chance at a better life.”

Bethany Boggess, research coordinator at the Workers Defense Project (Proyecto Defensa Laboral) in Austin, Texas received the Lorin Kerr Award. The honor is named after the pioneering OHS physician who served for four decades as a physician for the United Mine Workers, working to prevent – and win compensation for – Black Lung and other occupational diseases.

Bethany’s efforts on behalf of workers range from advocating for local ordinances to documenting global health and safety issues. After a young immigrant worker died on a construction project during a heat wave in Dallas in 2015, Bethany and fellow activists from the Workers’ Defense Project successfully championed a new ordinance that requires rest breaks and other protections against heat exhaustion.

Bethany developed Global Worker Watch, a website which tracks workplace fatalities around the world. Following up on this pioneering work, Bethany and a team of volunteer researchers have created the U.S. Worker Fatality Database.

Now hosted here on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) website this unique database documents and maps the annual toll of U.S. workers who die on the job. With volunteers combing news accounts, OSHA records, county death certificates and other records, the Fatality Database shares information currently available – including the names of workers – for over one-third of the 4,800+ traumatic cases we know about.

It also sheds light on the thousands of cases for which we don’t have any information, ensuring that fallen workers will not be forgotten.

“Bethany and her team of volunteer sleuths are an inspiration for all of us,” says Peter Dooley, senior organizer at National COSH. “Information is power. The more we know about workers who had their lives stolen away from them, the more we can do to prevent future tragedies.”

The APHA annual meeting in Denver continues through Wednesday, November 2. National COSH is presenting several poster sessions at the event, highlighting the history of the workplace health and safety movement as well as current campaigns to win safer workplaces.

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