March 7, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Worker issues were in the spotlight on Capitol Hill this past week.

Senator Patty Murray of Washington state introduced legislation to ban asbestos, and the hearing on the bill featured testimony from John Thayer, head of a crew that works in the tunnels running beneath the U.S. Capitol. He explained that he and his crew members are regularly exposed to asbestos fibers from the aging structures, that respirators were not required until 2006, and that he and his colleagues now suffer from asbestos-related illnesses.

The Senate passed a bill that includes collective bargaining and whistleblower protection for airport security screeners, who are reported to have unusually high workplace injury rates compared to other government employees. The House passed a bill that will allow workplace unions to be certified once a majority of employees sign cards requesting a union; its future in the Senate and White House is uncertain.

Elsewhere in occupational health news:

Associated Press: The saga of the fatal explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery continues, as the Justice Department issues grand jury subpoenas for documents and testimony to determine whether criminal conduct was involved in the blast, and BP released details showing that outgoing BP chief executive John Browne’s bonus was cut almost in half last year – down to $1.74 million.

Columbia Journalism Review: Lynn J. Cook, an energy writer for the Houston Chronicle, gives a newsroom-eye view of her paper’s ongoing coverage of the BP disaster, a process that brought writers from different newspaper sections together in an unusual collaboration.

Occupational Hazards: Close to 35 million workers required time off from work due to eye injuries during a single year, the Department of Labor has reported; ninety percent of occupational eye injuries could be prevented by wearing the proper eye protection. Prevent Blindness America has designated March as Workplace Eye Health and Safety Month to draw attention to this.

Lamar Daily News: Senator Ken Salazar has re-introduced legislation that would allow former workers from Rocky Flats – a facility that helped produce nuclear weapons – to be eligible for medical coverage and compensation if they develop illnesses related to radiation exposure.

Times Union: In New York state, new workers’ compensation legislation increases benefits for injured workers and lowers premiums for businesses by capping the amount of time for which partially disabled workers can continue getting benefits.

Charleston Gazette: A Mine Safety and Health Administration rule increasing fines for coal operators who violate safety rules has been tied up for more than two months while it undergoes White House review.

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