The War at the Point of Production: The ‘Killing Fields’ of the United States

The War at the Point of Production: The Killing Fields’ of the United States

KillingFields
Indiana Harbor Canal, looking at Inland Steel, Northern Indiana, and southeast Chicago. Indiana Harbor Canal, was home to four or five steel mills in a row along the shore of Lake Michigan, including LTV Steel, US Steel’s Gary Works, and the Burns Harbor plant of Bethlehem Steel. Some would also include the defunct AcmeSteel. (Photo courtesy of Samuel Love) It is “arguably the most polluted waterway in the country (the only waterway to fail every beneficial use” — Thomas Frank

Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, world imperialism spreads War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death, throughout the world. Author Gore Vidal describes this era as ‘Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace’. One perpetual war, which is not openly publicized, is the war for profits.  It takes place every single day at the point of production, and is killing increasing numbers of workers every year. Today, workers are used as ‘cannon fodder’ both in the war in Iraq and in the war for profits at home. Workplaces have become perpetual ‘killing fields’.

According to Lisa Cullen, the author of A Job To Die For, “Every day, 165 Americans die from occupational diseases and 18 more die from a work related injury. On the same day, more than 36,400 non-fatal injuries and 3,200 illnesses will occur in America’s workplaces.” Every year 60,225 Americans die from occupational diseases while 6,570 more die from work-related injuries. In that same year, more than 13,286,000 non-fatal injuries and 1,168,000 illnesses occur in America’s workplaces. Again: “Each year, this unknown workplace epidemic extends into nearby communities to claim the lives of 218 innocent bystanders and injure another 68,000.”(1)

In 2005, it was estimated by Paul A. Schulte, Ph.D., of the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), that the total rate of disabling occupational injuries in the United States reaches 3.8 million per year. Worldwide, at least 800,000 deaths and 100 million injuries may be accounted for by occupational factors. (2)

Since detailed occupational and job history records are not kept by the Federal government, the above figures are in reality a low estimate. The effects of an occupational injury or exposure to toxic substances are not taken into account when workers die years after the initial injury or exposure.

One of the best descriptions of the government’s attitude to workers’ health and safety can be found in a paper by Peter F. Infante, former director of standards for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It was presented before the President’s Cancer Panel meeting on Lung Cancer: Societal and Clinical Implications, October 5, 1995, at Tysons Corner, Virginia. And was also published in the Winter 1995 issue of New Solutions with the title: Cancer and Blue-Collar Workers: Who Cares?  In this article Infante writes:

. . . In the early 1900s, canaries were routinely taken down into the mines. The men used these canaries to give them the first sign of possible disaster or death. When the canaries passed out or died, the men knew that there was a problem with exposure to carbon monoxide and immediate action was needed. The analogy here is clear. Blue-collar workers appear to be the canaries in our society for identifying human chemical carcinogens in the general environment. The fact that occupational cancer is a sentinel for identifying carcinogenic exposures in the general environment is reason alone to justify an intensified cancer research effort in the workplace. Yet, our efforts to study their exposures to carcinogens, or to develop technology to decrease that exposure, or to develop safe substitutes have been relatively minimal.

He sums up his paper in his concluding remarks:

Given the obvious benefits to an intensified cancer research effort directed toward the study of workers, I ask myself why it has been given so little attention. In my opinion, this inattention is reflected in the way data on health are gathered in general in the U.S. Health data are published by sex and race, but not by social class. This is no accident. It reflects a social class bias by those gathering the data. I suggest disproportionate death from cancer among blue-collar workers is a social class issue and that the problem is neglected because it is a potentially explosive issue. It raises questions about the control of production and cost of production.In 1992, the Congress of the United States passed legislation entitled the ‘Cancer Registries Amendment Act.’ This Act authorizes $30 million per year through 1997 to fund statewide cancer registries. Yet, not a single cancer registry in the United States requires that a detailed occupational and job history be taken as part of its activity. It is reported that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) allocates $20 million per year (1 percent of its budget) for occupational cancer studies. Why is the amount of funding to investigate cancer in the workplace so disproportionately low in relation to the “success” of confirming human causes of cancer by studying blue-collar workers? . . . .

RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE PRESIDENT’S CANCER PANEL:

A. Fund existing cancer registries that are located in heavily industrialized states to collect detailed occupational histories in order to make data bases available to facilitate the identification of unrecognized causes of cancer related to occupational exposures.

B. Allocate more funds to the NIOSH budget for the purpose of developing control technology that will reduce human exposure to the high relative risks of cancer present in the workplace.

C. Have NCI spend an amount on occupational cancer studies that is commensurate with the problem of cancer in the workplace. . . .

Infante’s paper fell upon the deaf ears of Democratic President Clinton and the rest of the United States Government. After all, job-related injuries and deaths are an unavoidable part of the corporate drive for higher profits – with the complicity of both major parties. Safety regulations are always a compromise between science/common sense and corporate profit margins, usually heavily weighted towards the latter.      What is best for working people is only considered as an aside, and then only for cosmetic purposes or to avoid costly lawsuits.

OSHA had tried to correct itself in the 1970s but with no success. Under pressure from below, OSHA administrators during the Carter years estimated that their proposed legislation would produce a 20 percent drop in cancer rates. But the Democrats and President Carter refused to pass the legislation. Thus Carter, and his replacement, Ronald Reagan, began the slow erosion of workers’ safety guidelines that had been fought for by American workers since the 1930s. Bush Sr. and Clinton followed in this path, and let’s not forget that one of Bush Junior’s first acts, as president was to repeal OSHA-mandated ergonomics guidelines, which would have prevented an estimated 4.6 million cases of muscular-skeletal injuries.

As a result of what he had seen in his years on the inside, Peter Infante had this to say in 2002: “They’re not interested in protecting workers, they’re protecting industry, so that’s why I left.”  (3)

In the killing fields of US industry, workers are maimed or killed for nothing – or rather, they are killed and maimed while producing profits for the rich – which is nothing to die for.  Environmental destruction, disease, and death are factored into the costs of production with the same calculated callousness as casualties of war are factored into military campaigns. Government ‘safety’ agencies even use terminology similar to that used by the Pentagon.

In war, civilians killed and wounded by the military are referred to as ‘collateral damage’. In much the same way, the government sets ‘economically feasible’ levels for workplace injury and death. So, if you get cancer at work or lose a limb to an accident, there’s nothing to worry about – it’s ‘economically feasible’! The most horrifying fact is that 99 percent of these injuries and deaths are preventable with modern-day technology and science.

Dangerous and often deadly working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals affects us all.

All workers in the US must unite to demand safety laws that make it unprofitable for the boss to put workers at risk. OSHA and NIOSH need to be massively funded and reformed from top to bottom with the direct participation of working people!

  • For an end to ‘economically feasible’ levels of injury and death at the workplace! High standards must be set and enforced in order to protect working people’s ‘unalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness!”
  • In their quest for maximum profits, employers have no regard for the lives of working people.  It follows therefore, that workers should control the shop floor in order to avoid preventable injuries. Any meaningful reform of workplace safety can only be carried out and enforced by working people themselves. No one will look out for our interests but us!
  • For the unconditional right of all workers to strike, over health safety issues, to protect their lives!  Workers’ health and safety must come before profits!
  • As long as the means of production are privately owned there will always be the tendency to minimize spending on safety.  We must struggle for better protections, but in long run, for real safety, we need workers’ control and ownership of the means of production.  Only workers themselves know what’s best for workers!
  • All workers in the US must unite to demand safety laws that make it unprofitable for the boss to put workers at risk. OSHA and NIOSH need to be massively funded and reformed from top to    bottom with the direct participation of working people!
  • For an end to ‘economically feasible’ levels of injury and death at the workplace! High standards must be set and enforced in order to protect working people’s unalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
  • In their quest for maximum profits, employers have no regard for the lives of working people.  It follows therefore, that workers should control the shop floor in order to avoid preventable injuries. Any meaningful reform of workplace safety can only be carried out and enforced by working people themselves. No one will look out for our interests but us!
  • For the unconditional right of all workers to strike, over health safety issues, to protect their lives!  Workers’ health and safety must come before profits!
  • As long as the means of production are privately owned there will always be the tendency to minimize spending on safety.  We must struggle for better protections, but in long run, for real safety, we need workers’ control and ownership of the means of production.  Only workers themselves know what’s best for workers!

Roland Sheppard is a retired Business Representative of Painters District Council #8. Prior to being elected as a union official, he worked for 31 years as a house painter and he has been a lifelong socialist. He became especially interested in the environment when he was diagnosed with cancer due his work environment. He put together all the medical and legal arguments for his workers’ compensation case in California, proving that his work environment as a painter had caused his cancer. After a five-year struggle, he won a $300,000 settlement on his case.

June 2000

Footnotes

  1. A Job To Die For, by Lisa Cullen, Common Courage Press, PO Box 702, Monroe, Maine 04951.
  2. ‘02,P.pharmaexicon.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=25993http://www.dukeemployees.com/washington45.shtml

San Francisco Workers Memorial Day April 28, 2010 Video

See the video of me and others speaking at the 4/28/10 San Francisco Workers Memorial Day Meeting http://blip.tv/file/3630011. I am speaking for ten minutes, from 6:47 16:33 on the video
On April 28, 2010, a workers memorial day event was held at ILWU Local 34 in San Francisco. The speakers included Dr. Martin Jones SEIU 1021 Co-chair of Disability Caucus David Williams, SEIU 1021 Retiree Juan De Poso, ILWU Local 34 longshore clerk Mike Daley, Ironworkers Local 377 Roland Sheppard, Painters Local 4 BA retired Carol Criss, SEIU UHW Transcriptionist & Shop Steward Alice Lindstrom, San Francisco APWU Dan Berman, Author of “Death On The Job” Leuren Moret, Geo-scientist & whistleblower from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory The event was sponsored by the California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day and endorsed by the San Francisco Labor Council. For More information go to www.workersmemorialday.org

Below is 1996 article by me, written when I was a Business Agent for Painters Local Union #4 in San Francisco.  The article is titled Why Painters Should Wear Respirators and Skin Protection At All Times. It was originally written for the Painters Union District Council #8 newspaper, The Voice.

Why Painters Should Wear Respirators and Skin Protection At All Times

In our safety classes you are taught to read “MSDS sheets”.  For prevention of cancer, these sheets are of no value.  The reason is that NIOSH, the scientific part of OSHA, does not set the permissible legal (OSHA) limits of particles in the air while you are working.  From the following examples from the 1994 NIOSH Pocket Guide To Chemical Hazards, one can see what is wrong with OSHA.

SUBSTANCE                  NIOSH PEL            OSHA PEL

Benzene                           0.1 ppm                   1.00 ppm

Ethylene Oxide                0.1 ppm                   1.00 ppm

Formaldehyde               0.016 ppm                  0.75 ppm

From Page 342 of the “Pocket Guide”: “NIOSH has not identified thresholds that will protect 100% of the population.  NIOSH usually recommends that occupational exposures to carcinogens be limited to the lowest feasible1 concentration.”

From these facts about two known carcinogens and one probable carcinogen, common in paints, one can tell that OSHA can not prevent occupational cancer.  Especially in painters who are exposed to over 150 known and suspected carcinogens and over 3000 hazardous substances daily.  As you can see people getting cancer is part of the equation; OSHA pel’s are at least ten times higher than NIOSH; therefore, the OSHA “feasible” (In the video Before Their Time (about workers dying of cancer) produced by the Workers Health and Sfaety Centre, Ontario Canada, Peter Infante, Director of Standards for OSHA, stated that NIOSH includes one more cancer per 1000 workers exposed as  feasible.) risk for cancer is at least ten times higher. — This is the usual difference between NIOSH and OSHA.)

Thus cancer being a part of painting is guaranteed by OSHA.  Children and spouses of painters also have high rates for cancer.

One must also remember that ethylene glycol is the base for most latex paints and radiator fluid.  NIOSH recommends when working with ethylene glycol that you should prevent skin and eye contact, wash when contaminated and change clothes daily.  OSHA and MSDS sheets cannot protect you from occupational diseases.  Work safe! Be smart! Wear respirators, gloves, goggles, and long sleeve shirts at all times when painting.  Protect yourself and your family from occupational diseases.

OSHA tried to correct itself in the 1970s but with no success.  If, as OSHA administrators estimated, during the Carter presidency, that their proposed legislation would produce a 20 percent drop in cancer rates, then Ronald Reagan was a carcinogen, and a potent one at that.  Today, one can add Clinton to the list. 2 (For More Information on OSHA standards read Peter Montague’s essays: The Scientific Basis of Chemical Safety — Part 1:Limits of Workplace Exposures and Part 2: Standards That Kill)

Unfortunately, most Doctors and Healthcare workers are not trained about Cancer and the Workplace.  Below is a sample of a form for taking a patient’s exposure history to carcinogens developed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. that every doctor should give their patients. It would help to make a better understanding of The War at the Point of Production: ‘The ‘Killing Fields’ of the United States.  It is from Cancer and the workplace by Jeanne Mager Stellman,PhD and  Steven D. Stellman, PhD, MPH, Ca—A Cancer Journal for Clinicians,1 9 9 6 ; 4 6 : 7 0 – 9 2 .

Chart1

  1. In the video Before Their Time (about workers dying of cancer) produced by the Workers Health and Safety Centre, Ontario Canada, Peter Infante, Director of Standards for OSHA, stated that NIOSH includes one more cancer per 1000 workers exposed as  ‘feasible’.)
  2. In this impressive new study, Robert Proctor calculates that the antiregulatory policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations may be costing some 50,000 cancer deaths a year, or 600,000 deaths over twelve years. If, as OSHA administrators estimated during the Carter presidency, the agency’s proposed legislation would produce a 20 percent drop in cancer rates, then Ronald Reagan was a carcinogen, and a potent one at that. Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don’t Know About Cancer, by Gayle Green The Nation,  May, 1995.