November 18, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 2Comment

Last week at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Denver, APHA’s Occupational Health and Safety section held its awards luncheon – always one of the highlights of the meeting thanks to its combination of stellar awardees and creative musical skit. This year’s award winners won well-deserved recognition for the many ways in which they advance occupational health and safety.

Sherry Baron won the 2010 Alice Hamilton Award, which “recognizes the life-long contributions of individuals who have distinguished themselves through a career of hard work and dedication to improve the lives of workers.” A physician with 30+ years of experience fighting for the health and safety rights of all workers, she’s currently coordinator for Occupational Health Disparities at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Her accomplishments include developing a public health intervention programs for low-wage and immigrant workers; working with Mexico’s Health Ministry to create collaborative occupational safety and health training and research projects; and organizing a special edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine on occupational health disparities.

Tom O’Connor won the 2010 Lorin Kerr Award, which “recognizes a younger activist for their sustained and outstanding efforts and dedication to improve the lives of workers.” With many years of experience organizing grassroots and professional groups to bring worker health to public attention, he’s currently executive director of the National COSH Network and principal coordinator of the Protecting Workers Alliance. His accomplishments include coordinating a national meeting of health and safety activists and workers’ centers from around the country; organizing support for the Protecting America’s Workers Act; and conducting a study of young Latino workers in North Carolina that provided insights into necessary improvements for worker safety in construction.

This year, two people won the Tony Mazzocchi Award, which “gives recognition to grassroots H&S activitists in Local Unions or other local organizations fighting for the H&S rights of workers.”

Steve Mitchell won a 2010 Tony Mazzocchi Award for advancing worker health and safety through his union. A welding technologist and employee of Caterpillar since 1975, he’s currently the Health and Safety Representative for the United Automobile Workers Local Union 974 in the Peoria, Illinois area and a Health and Safety Peer Trainer. His accomplishments include winning a landmark Circuit Court decision mandating his right as the union H&S representative to accompany OSHA inspectors into his workplace while the company was using scabs to replace striking union workers; serving his local union as a grievance representative and executive board member; and serving as an appointed representative for the Joint Committee on Safety and Health overseeing the health and safety contract provisions for all UAW-represented Caterpillar worksites.

Wally Reardon won a 2010 Tony Mazzocchi Award for advancing the safety of workers who climb communications towers. As an experienced tower climber, he was horrified to watch a fellow climber be catastrophically injured on the job – and he decided to work to improve health and safety standards in the communications industry. After collecting information about tower injuries and deaths, analyzing state and national standards, interviewing OSHA officials, communicating with academic researchers, and speaking with workers and company owners, he convened a worker-driven climbers’ conference in New York State in April 2010 that generated a set of recommendations to improve the technology, work practices, regulatory standards of the industry. This project is already drawing inquiries and requests from workers in other states, and was recently honored by the New York Network of Occupational Health Clinics.

Jeong-ok Kong won the 2010 International H&S Award, which “recognizes individuals with outstanding achievement in the field of occupational health and safety outside the United States.” A physician with extensive experience working with Korean rail/subway, shipbuilding, and auto workers, she is currently leading an international campaign to draw attention to cancer and other diseases among young workers in Samsung plants through the organization SHARPS (Supporters of Health and Right of People in the Semiconductor Industry). Her accomplishments include serving as an activist and executive-committee chair for the Korea Institute of Labor Safety and Health; organizing the sick-leave struggles of musculoskeletal-diseased workers in the Korean Metal Workers Union; and writing for both professional journals and the mass media on occupational health issues. (Elizabeth Grossman wrote about Dr. Kong’s work earlier, when the award winners were first selected.)

Congratulations to all of this year’s award winners! You can read past posts about the 2009, 2008, and 2007 award luncheons and see all of the past OHS award winners at the OHS Section’s website.

After the awards were given at the section’s luncheon, it was time for the traditional skit. I’m told that this year’s creative masterpiece featured the transformation of a group of US workers who start off having “drunk the Tea Party Kool-Aid.” After a plant explosion injures these workers, the OSHA Cowgirl appears to tell them that OSHA can’t be everywhere, so it’s up to workers to organize themselves and exercise their rights. The workers learn about workers at a Korean Samsung plant who were prompted by widespread illness at the plant to organize and demand a safe workplace. The US workers are inspired to join together and fight for their own health and safety. Luis Vazquez, who regularly delights the OHS luncheon attendees with witty songs, was kind enough to share lyrics from the songs the workers sing before and after their epiphany. And, per tradition, the ceremony ended with everyone in the room singing “This Land is Your Land.”

America Once Beautiful
Lyrics by Luis Vazquez, 2010, All Rights Reserved
Sung to the tune of America The Beautiful

Oh beautiful for oil slicks, from Kazoo to New Orleans
for cleanup mountain’s majesty, and corporate profits gained
America, America
Oil shat its wastes on thee!
And tea party is so damn mean, from sheen to slimy sheen

The walrus and the carpenter, so hungry and so sad
The walrus wipes his teary eyes, no oysters to be had!
America, America
Your beaches are despoiled
Step off the carbon treadmill, don’t trade wildlife for oil!

Oh beautiful, no penalties, when oil companies fail
Like BP’s oil rig workers killed, nobody’s gone to jail!
America, America
Oil companies exploit thee!
Are politicians pockets lined, with green, yes, oily green?

Oh beautiful for Massey Coal, killed miners by the score
Bypassing safety measures, one wonders what they’re for?
America, America
Must fight against corporate greed
There’s cleaner ways to generate our electricity!

Oh beautiful for bailed out banks, George Bush’s legacy
The bankster’s fraud continues now, with bonuses obscene!
America, America
How Wall Street shat on thee!
And tea party is venting spleen, from sheen to slimy sheen

Stairway To Union
Sung to the tune of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
Lyrics by Luis Vazquez, 2010, All Rights Reserved

There’s a company that grows
While their workers get hosed
And they’re trying to keep out the union

Last year’s profits, they rose
Bosses minds are all closed
With a word they can conjure their bonus

Oohh Ohh Oohh Ohh
And they’re trying to keep out the union

Health & Safety, it’s said
Is a subject of dread
’cause less money will go in their pockets

So instead of our health
Companies focus on wealth
Causing workers’ health costs to skyrocket

So we’re building a stairway to union

And it makes us angry
Really really angry

Company lawyers all say,
You’re not sick, you’ve no claim
Yet we find ourselves dealing with cancers

Then research, with the hope
To find out what’s in the smoke
Sometimes left without getting good answers

And it makes us angry
Really makes us angry

Workers sick, workers killed
From a host of safety ills
Leaving widows and children grieving

Feel from deep in your bones
The words of Mother Jones
We must fight like hell for the living

If there’s a poison in your lungs now
From what you breathed in
You must install ventilation

If there’s a chemical
You’ve a right to know ’bout
But you don’t know
Get the MSDS for information

And it makes us angry

And file a grievance
If the boss won’t fix the problems
And call in OSHA if you have to

So join together brothers and sisters
In the fight for
The union’s right to do inspections

So don’t you listen to the lies!
Get off your ass, get organized!
You’ve got the right to know about
All you’re exposed to within and without!
Get off your ass, it’s time to act!
Get Health & Safety in your contract!
Don’t let brothers and sisters fall!
Come hear the union’s clarion call
Injury to one, is injury to all!

And We’re Building a Stairway to Union

2 thoughts on “Recognizing OHS Achievements at the APHA Annual Meeting

  1. Tower Climber Jobs

    A well led union would be able to address matters of salary, safety, working conditions, insurance and medical benefits to name a few. All of these issues would improve the quality of life for tower climbing workers.

    There needs to be a change in the way this work industry is structured, managed and overseen.

    Someone must be held accountable when these tower climbers are injured and or die at the

    The good news it that things can get better. There is not an industry that does not go through these growing pains.

    The only thing consistent in life is change and hopefully for this industry a change will come sooner than later.

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