27 Apr 2021
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Roger Kerson, Roger@nationalcosh.org, 734.645.0535
Life-Saving COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)
Must Be “Rapidly Approved and Rigorously Enforced,” Say Safety Activists
Families and Co-Workers Remember Those Lost
on the Job for Workers’ Memorial Week
LOS ANGELES, CA – Gathering at a virtual National Speak Out to observe Workers’ Memorial Week, safety activists said today that a new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) will save lives and must be “rapidly approved and rigorously enforced.”
The new rule will require all employers to create COVID-19 protection plans with full input for workers. It was transmitted by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the White House yesterday, for review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
“The health and safety movement has been fighting for mandatory COVID rules in the workplace since this pandemic started,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), which hosted the national commemoration. “Getting the ETS to the White House is a huge victory; now we have to make sure this life-saving rule is rapidly approved and rigorously enforced.”
“We know that mandatory COVID-19 safety rules will reduce risk in our workplaces, which is essential to stopping the spread of the pandemic in our communities,” said Martinez. “Worker health is public health. Workers go home at the end of every shift -- so unless we are safe at work, we won’t be safe at home, either.”
During today’s National Speak Out, co-workers and family members spoke about the shattering experience of losing loved ones and cherished colleagues to COVID and other preventable workplace hazards.
“Over the course of the past year, every single nurse and health care worker in my unit has contracted Covid-19.” said Pascaline Muhindura, a nurse at HCA’s Research Medical Center in Kansas City, MO and a member of National Nurses United (NNU). “That includes my beloved co-worker Celia Yap Banago who died last April after taking care of a patient with COVID-19 at my facility,”
“Despite the grave risks to hospital workers, we still don’t have the personal protective equipment we need,” said Muhindura. “In my hospital, we are still fighting for N95 masks to be used for single use only, as intended by the manufacturer, and there is only limited stock of more protective, reusable respirators.”
With employers still failing to respond properly to the pandemic, said Muhindura, the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard will make a huge difference for frontline workers. “We need mandatory rules, not voluntary guidelines -- and frontline workers need to be involved in designing and running COVID-19 prevention plans,” she said.
The National Speak Out also addressed preventable deaths in construction, a deadly nitrogen leak in Georgia, and a campaign by seafood workers in New Bedford, MA to win safety protections during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was ten months ago, and I still think about him every day,” said Jenifer Enamorado Ayala, recalling the preventable fall that took the life of her 16-year-old brother Gustavo “Kike” Ramirez at a Nashville construction site on June 23, 2020. Ramirez was never provided with a safety harness by his employer.
“We’re fighting now to make everyone’s job safer, so no other family has to suffer this kind of tragedy,” said Enamorado Ayala, who is teaming up with Workers’ Dignity in Nashville to reform the city’s building code.
Hugo Flores, who survived a deadly leak of liquid nitrogen that claimed six lives at a Food Foundation Group poultry plant in Gainesville, GA, described a preventable tragedy, an attempt to silence a mostly immigrant workforce, and an employer that treats workers as expendable.
Adrian Ventura, Executive Director of the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores, described the Pescando Justicia campaign in New Bedford, Massachusetts, one of the nation’s leading seafood hubs. After pressuring area employers, seafood processing workers won citywide safety standards that include rapid reporting of coronavirus cases, masks, social distancing and other measures.
“When workers organize, we can make our jobs safer,” said Ventura. “We’re still fighting for more improvements, but we know we are making a difference.”
National COSH also released today a new report, “Deadly Risks, Costly Failures.” Key findings include:
- Worker complaints to OSHA increased by 20% in 2020 when compared to 2019 -- but safety inspections dropped by 50%
- No public agency is monitoring workplace infections or fatalities from COVID-19. The total number of those who have died after workplace exposure is untracked and unknown.
- In Ontario, researchers estimate that 20 percent of infections among working-age adults can be attributed to workplace transmission.
- In California, researchers found significant excess mortality among front line workers due to COVID-19:
- A 39% increase in mortality among food and agriculture workers
- A 28% increase among facilities workers
- A 27% increase among transportation/logistics workers.
- A 23% increase among manufacturing workers
- A 19% increase among health and emergency workers
- COVID has exposed significant racial disparities in health care, employment, housing and many other sectors.
- Black, Latinx, and Native people are more likely to get infected, more likely to die from the disease, and over-represented in the frontline occupations where workers are most at risk.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the consequences of discrimination and exclusion,” said Martinez. “At the same time, it’s a disease that has ravaged every community in every corner of the country. The way to confront this and other workplace hazards is to join together, organize and demand the safe workplaces we deserve.”
“Deadly Risks, Costly Failures” is available at NationalCOSH.org.
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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit nationalcosh.org. Follow us at National COSH on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.