The health and safety of workers on the job is a human right; and, as a nation, the United States is failing to protect its workers. Laws and regulations addressing health and safety have waxed and waned since passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), indicating that worker health and safety is not just a legislative and regulatory issue, but a political issue susceptible to ideological differences.
Indoor air quality and work-related violence are obvious workplace hazards. But so are physical stresses, such as repetitive motions that lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, and environmental factors like poor lighting that can cause eye strain and headaches.
There are 20 states where public employees do not have Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) protections, including the right to know about toxic chemicals in products they use, the results of air sampling conducted by the employer or personal medical information held by the employer, just to give a few examples. And even the handful of states with Occupational Safety and Health Administration-approved programs, there is room for improvement. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for example, does not have an ergonomic standard or an indoor air quality standard.
The AFT is working at the federal level on the regulatory and legislative fronts to modernize workplace health and safety laws and regulations. Starting in June 2009 and ongoing since, AFT Public Employees members and staff have met with OSHA representatives to discuss the need for a national indoor air quality standard and nationwide OSH Act coverage. Congressional passage of the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) would expand Occupational Safety and Health Act coverage to local, state and federal government employees. The measure also would increase penalties for employers that willfully endanger the lives and health of workers, and codify regulations that give workers the right to refuse to do hazardous work.