At the Tennessean, Mike Reicher reports on deadly worker safety lapses happening in the midst of Nashville’s housing boom. In 2016, he reports, 16 construction workers in the Nashville metro area died from work-related causes, which represents the deadliest two-year stretch in more than 30 years. Ten of the 16 workers died due to falls because they had no harnesses or safeguards, despite federal labor laws requiring such protections. Reicher begin the article with the story of Alfonso Dominguez:
The two “tall skinny” homes looked like hundreds of others cropping up around Nashville. Wood framed, wrapped in white weatherproofing plastic, in a gentrifying neighborhood, with roofers laying asphalt.
Alfonso Dominguez, 60, climbed one of the North Nashville homes’ pitched roofs on a Wednesday last June. It was in the 80s, and the black asphalt was hot.
Dominguez was a runner for the three-man crew, and earned $10 an hour, his brother said. He carried shingles to his boss on one end of the roof, to a co-worker on the other, and he kept the roof tidy, a state safety inspector wrote in a report.
None of the men on the roof that day were wearing harnesses.
“I would tell him, ‘Don’t be working there. It’s not safe,’ ” said his brother Hermenegildo Dominguez, who also works in construction. “But it’s very difficult. We all need work.”
About 2:30 p.m., Alfonso Dominguez lost his balance and fell 24 feet into the neighbor’s yard. An ambulance took him to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he spent 11 days in a coma, with internal bleeding and head injuries, before dying.
Dominguez’s employer, subcontractor Alonso Luna, was also on the roof that day, but he didn’t report the death to the state, as required by law. Nor did the general contractor, Jimmy Brooks. Brooks didn’t have a building permit for the house on 14th Avenue North, either.
Read the full story at the Tennessean.
In other news:
Austin American-Statesman: Jeremy Schwartz and Asher Price write about proposed rules from Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency that would govern safety at chemical facilities, reporting that EPA has dropped many of the Obama-era safety rules proposed in the wake of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people. The dropped measures include requiring user-friendly information sharing with the public on chemical risks and accidents as well as hiring independent auditors to ensure proper risk management planning. Pruitt said the rollback would reduce regulatory burdens, and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates applauded the move. Texas is also one of almost a dozen states that had asked EPA to stop the Obama-era safety rules, arguing that making information publicly accessible could risk it falling “into the wrong hands.” However, the mayor of West, Tommy Muska, disagreed with EPA’s decision, saying: “With all due respect to Scott Pruitt, he’s never lost 15 firefighter friends. I’m as pro-business as anyone, but some things are way, way, way more important than too much regulation, and that includes the safety of these chemical plants.”
NPR: Howard Berkes reports that more coal miners in central Appalachia have experienced advanced stages of black lung disease than government research previously found, and more miners in the area are developing early stages of the preventable disease. The findings come from research released earlier this week and based on black lung benefit claims dating back to 1970. For the first time, researchers identified more than 4,600 cases of severe black lung, with more than half the cases happening in the last two decades. The researchers also found dramatic increases in black lung cases year after year in Appalachian mining states. The article noted that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health tracks black lung cases, but the agency only tests working miners and participation is voluntary, which means official government records represent a vast undercount on the real prevalence of black lung disease. Berkes quoted researcher Robert Cohen: “It’s not that we’re discovering a new disease. We’re seeing a resurgence of a disease that should have been eradicated. You know, it’s something we should not be seeing … at all and we’re seeing thousands of cases still in the 21st century.”
Politico: Andrew Hanna and Josh Gerstein report on this week’s Supreme Court ruling that employers can require that workers waive their rights to take part in class-action lawsuits as a condition of employment — a decision that worker advocates say will make it much harder for more vulnerable workers to band together in the face of issues such as wage theft and discrimination. The article noted that as union power has declined, mandatory arbitration has become a common requirement in employment contracts, with studies showing that workers win far less often in mandatory arbitration than they do in court. A recent survey from the Economic Policy Institute found that some form of mandatory arbitration has been imposed on more than half of U.S. workers. Hanna and Gerstein report: “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read a dissent from the bench warning the decision would lead to the ‘underenforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers.’ She called the majority ruling ‘egregiously wrong’ and called on Congress to step in to update federal labor law.”
Reveal: Will Evans reports that after a Reveal investigation found that Tesla was omitting worker injuries from its records, the automaker added 13 injuries from 2017 that had previously been missing to its legally mandated injury report. Among the missing injuries were lacerations that caused a worker to miss more than 100 days of work, a dislocated knee, and various ergonomic injuries to the hand, wrist, back and shoulder. But even while including those additional injuries, Evans reports that Tesla has yet to record all of the 2017 injuries that happened at its California plant — omissions for which the company might not face any penalties. The newly added injuries raise Tesla’s 2017 worker injury rate to 6.3 injuries per 100 workers, which is slightly above the 2016 industry average. Former OSHA head David Michaels told Evans: “Low-road employers … recognize that they could probably get away with incomplete recording of injuries because they’re unlikely to get caught. That puts pressure on the ethical companies … because they have to compete with companies that are lying. So it starts a race to the bottom.”