• Stewards Corner: Health & Safety Basics

    by  • April 9, 2015 • Articles, Member Contributions, Stewards Corner

    The editor of Stage Call, Sister Cowan, asked me to provide something on this topic, and so I will attempt to bring out some details that are not only beneficial to 205 Stewards but to the membership in general. Some of this info I have presented on our stewards/discuss web site in the past. I would also like to explore some fine points in greater detail.

    Last year, several Local 205 officers & members attended the IATSE Training Trust general entertainment safety class. The instructor was Kent Jorgensen, a name you see quite often in the IA Bulletin. Upon completion of the class, we received our IA Safety Officers’ certification cards along with completion cards for attending the10-hour OSHA general industry safety & health training course. What follows is the curriculum from that training session:

    First, there is only what can be described as a confusing “patchwork” of laws and agencies that govern workplace health & safety matters. However, they are all very important. Why?  Because there are six-thousand American workers killed on the job each year. Accidents occur, but far too many deaths are unnecessary and preventable. The best known health & safety law is OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Act.  It is administered by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Half the states administer their own federally approved programs for public sector employees. Not for us. In Texas our first line of defense is OSHA. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency plays a role in oversight. There are many different sources for these rights and responsibilities in this area, but the general standards and principles apply across the board. They cover things like temperature, air quality, lighting and cleanliness in the workplace, exposure to hazardous substances, electrical guidelines, carbon monoxide exposure, noise levels, back injuries, scaffolding hazards, fall protection, stress-level reduction, personal protection equipment requirements. This includes respirators, safety goggles, hard hats, harnesses, gloves, ear plugs, and the like. FYI, lifting injuries are the single largest Workers Compensation expense in North America.

    Federal OSHA law says employers have a “general duty” to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that are “likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” This is referred to as: the General duty clause (Section 5 of the OSHA, public Law 91-596).

    According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, it is required by law that employers display the official OSHA poster that describes everyone’s rights and responsibilities under the law. Your steward can answer your questions or will know where to go to find someone more knowledgeable. Once again, I have asked the e-board to put in place a Health & Safety committee, which would mean there is a knowledgeable group of individuals to deal with these concerns. They would help to insure that no possible hazard is taken for granted. Most of our employers are just as concerned about preventing on-the-job injury. For those that aren’t, this committee could help to “push” and persuade employers to take corrective action. It would benefit us all if some members took on the task of learning about this highly technical area. You don’t have to become an expert overnight. Just commit to begin this journey of learning and help provide security & protection that safeguards our members. One great source for learning is COSH. It’s a national network of twenty-five union-based Coalitions on Occupational Safety & Health. It’s website is: <www.coshnetwork.org>. The New York website of COSH is packed with a lot of good information.

    The National Institute for Occupational Health & Saftey (NIOSH), an arm of the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is also a good resource. They are part of the Dept. of Health & Human Services. They are at:  <cdc.gov/niosh>

    It is almost always best to work through your union, but individuals have the right to contact OSHA if they feel the employer is negligent. You can get answers about your rights or how to file a formal complaint requesting an inspection about hazardous conditions. It is possible to do this and have your name withheld from the employer. You have some legal protections against reprisal if you exercise any of your legitimate rights. Again, my advice is to work through your union and get the full benefit of the power of the Bargaining Unit. Strength in numbers. And always remember that it’s the employer’s legal responsibility to keep your job safe and healthful.

    You also have the right to information. Your employer is required to maintain and keep available for inspection certain types of documents. This also applies to the agencies who administer the laws. Documents you can obtain include:

    *The Log and Summary of Occupational Injuries, known as OSHA Form 200. Your employer is required to keep these records for five years.

    *Copies of the standards, rules, regulations, and requirements that apply to your workplace. This includes the OSH Act itself.

    *Information on workplace health & safety incidents as well as the relevant medical records about on-the-job injuries. Plus information as to what measures the employer is taking to reduce improper or dangerous job-related injuries.

    Under OSHA and NLRA guidelines, you and your coworkers may refuse unsafe work under certain conditions. Be careful though. You must have a “reasonable” belief that there is imminent danger of death or serious injury. You will strengthen your legal position if you notify your supervisor before stopping work.  Also, alert the union and your co-workers beforehand to enlist their help for collective action. IMPORTANT: You’re best off if you don’t refuse the assignment outright; instead, say you will do the job, once it is made safe.

    Occupational Health & Safety hazards can be found in every type of work setting. Because they are sometimes hard to detect, many threats go unnoticed until they become extremely dangerous. In some cases they can be fatal. Just recently we heard of a fall at the Super Bowl that resulted in a death. This caused sorrow for all of us working in this trade. It is critical that we all stay vigilant in observing our surroundings. Because in the end, no law, no power, can protect us without informed, aggressive self-defense.

    Work Safe, Work UNION PROUD!

    Jim Ford
    Stewards’ Committee
    IATSE Local 205
    Austin, Texas

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