U.S. begins process to set new national heat standard to protect outdoor and indoor workers, communities

Extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S..  In recognition of the likelihood of increasing dangers from climate change, U.S. President Biden announced a coordinated, interagency effort on September 20, described in a White House Fact Sheet titled Biden Administration Mobilizes to Protect Workers and Communities from Extreme Heat.  Regarding workers,  the Department of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),  will launch a rulemaking process to develop a national workplace heat standard for both outdoor and indoor workers, including agricultural, construction, and delivery workers, as well as indoor workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens.  This process, which is expected to take years,  will allow for a “comment period” on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, and exposure monitoring.  Along with setting the Heat Standard, OSHA will begin a new enforcement initiative which will prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F.  OSHA will also work to formalize a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries, hopefully before Summer 2022. Finally, OSHA will form a Heat Illness Prevention Work Group within its  National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), which will include a public representative, a  labour representative, and a management representative, along with others.

The initiative is summarized in  “As climate change warms workplaces, Biden directs safety agency to draft heat rules for workers” (Washington Post, Sept. 20)  and in “Extreme Heat Is Killing Workers, So the White House Is Adding Protections” (Vice Motherboard, Sept 23), which describes the regulation in Washington, California and Minnesota, as well as legislation currently under debate in Texas, which would eliminate requirements for 10-minute water breaks every four hours. A new national standard would set minimum levels under which state regulations could not descend.

The Lancet publishes a damning review of Trump’s legacy, including damage to occupational health and the environment

A special issue of the prestigious British journal The Lancet was released on February 11, titled Public policy and health in the Trump era, with an Editor’s introduction which captures the broad scope and tone:

“President Biden must contend with the continued COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout in addition to Trump’s corrosive legacy. Each roll-back from regulation
and every retreat from global cooperation that defined the Trump era has become an action item on a daunting but crucial list: racism, income inequality, immigration
protection, universal health coverage, nutrition, the environment, workplace safety, reproductive rights, antiscience, and isolationism.”

Discussion of  “The environment, workplace, and global climate” starts on page 27, with a list of Trump’s regulatory rollbacks related to air pollution and emissions, and toxic chemicals and occupational hazards. It states that Trump used the Covid-19 pandemic as a “cover” for rollbacks, and comes to some shocking conclusions, based on official data:   “Between 2016 and 2019, the annual number of environmentally and occupationally related deaths increased by more than 22000, reversing 15 years of steady progress”,  and  “The Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks have increased disease, injury, and death among workers in the USA. Its weakening of mine health and safety standards and mine enforcement programmes has led to increased injury deaths among workers employed in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction .… and increased mortality from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis … Despite rising deaths from work-related silicosis, the administration terminated a silicosis prevention programme launched during the Obama era.”

The Report concludes with a long list of recommendations for Executive Action (which includes rejoining the Paris climate agreement) and for Legislative Action, including: “Implement the Green New Deal, end subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels, and ban coal mining and single-use plastics.”  The all- encompassing scope of the review is reflected in these concluding paragraphs:

“The path away from Trump’s politics of anger and despair cannot lead through past policies. President Biden must act for the people, not for the wealthy and the corporations they control. Resources to combat climate change, raise living standards, drop financial barriers to higher education and medical care, meet global aid responsibilities, and empower oppressed communities within the USA must come from taxes on the rich, and deep cuts in military spending…. For health care, overreliance on the private sector raises costs and distorts priorities, government must be a doer, not just a funder—eg, directly providing health coverage and engaging in drug development rather than paying private firms to carry out such functions.”

This report was authored by a Lancet Commission on Public Health and Policy in the Trump Era,  comprised of thirty-three experts from medical, public health and law schools, universities, Indigenous communities, clinical settings, public health agencies, unions, and legislative bodies, in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. The Commission website states: “Convened shortly after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the Lancet Commission on public policy and health in the Trump era, offers the first comprehensive assessment of the detrimental legislation and executive actions during Trump’s presidency with devastating effects on every aspect of health in the USA. The Lancet Commission traces the decades of policy failures that preceded and fueled Trump’s ascent and left the USA lagging behind other high-income nations on life expectancy.”

Environmental justice in Canada: A labour union call to action, and evidence from the UN Special Rapporteur

  “We will not rest, we will not stop: Building for better in a post-pandemic recovery” appeared in the Labour Day issue of Our Times magazine, written by Yolanda McClean and Christopher Wilson, executive officers of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). Set in the context of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, the article states: “The calls to intensify the struggle against Canada’s police violence, economic apartheid and environmental racism are resounding.  …Anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and systemic racism extend beyond our political structures to our education and healthcare systems, to our corporations, workplaces, communities and, yes, to our labour movement.  (On this point, the authors refer to “Dear White Sisters & Brothers,” an Open Letter by unionist Carol Wall which appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Our Times).

Wilson and McClean call upon the labour movement, stating: “A labour vision for a post-pandemic recovery must confront structural racial inequalities and advocate for the inclusion of BIPOC communities — economically, politically and socially.”   As positive examples, the article cites the Ontario Federation of Labour, which joined with the CBTU in a joint statement in July, stating: “As allies, we must act now and support the call to defund the police”. Wilson and McClean also highlight the CBTU’s “Green Is Not White” Environmental Racism research project, and its associated webinar “What Can Unions Do to Stop Environmental Racism?” , produced by the CBTU, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, and York University’s Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW).   

UN Special Rapporteur reviews toxic chemicals in Canada and concludes: Environmental injustice persists in Canada

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Mr. Baskut Tuncak, officially visited Canada in May/June 2019, and presented his resulting Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in early September 2020. The report states clearly that “Environmental injustice persists in Canada. A significant proportion of the population in Canada experience racial discrimination, with Indigenous, and racialized people, the most widely considered to experience discriminatory treatment.” The report focused on the extractive industries (defined as “mining of metals and oil sands”) in Canada and abroad – noting that over 50% of the world’s multinational mining companies are based in Canada. The report also discusses oil and gas pipelines, and chemical industries (including pesticides in agriculture). After documenting many specific examples, the Rapporteur concludes with recommendations for legislative and regulatory changes.

Excerpted highlights from the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics :

“….Contamination from extractive industries, including the massive tailing ponds in Alberta, and the possibility of seeping into local water supplies, is of concern.

… despite compliance with the Fisheries Act, 76% of metal mines have confirmed effects on fish, fish habitat or both. Among these mines, 92% confirmed at least one effect of a magnitude that may be indicative of a higher risk to the environment.

….The health risks posed to Indigenous peoples by the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry are another example of concerns. Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan (Fort Chip) paint a disturbing picture of health impacts of the oil sands (i.e. tar sands) that were not properly investigated for years, despite increasing evidence of health impacts on local communities.

 … the situation of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia is profoundly unsettling. Deeply connected with their land, residents on the reservation invaded by industry as far back as the 1940s are now surrounded on three sides by over 60 industrial facilities that create the physiological and mental stress among community members …It is one of the most polluted places in Canada, dubbed “chemical valley.” ….   

…Workers are unquestionably vulnerable regarding their unique and elevated risks to chemical exposures. In Canada, occupational diseases and disabilities due to such exposures pose a major challenge to fulfilment of workers’ rights. Recent estimates show over 2.9 million workers are exposed to carcinogens and other hazardous substances at work, which is a gross underestimation.. ”  

Working from home: health and safety concerns but no clear environmental benefit

Working from home has become a necessity for many during the pandemic, and the popular press has documented many examples of the trend  – recently, for example “Twitter’s plans to work from home indefinitely have prompted a wave of copycats.” (Washington Post , October 1) . It is a complex issue which raises questions about the climate change potential of a permanent shift in working arrangements for knowledge workers, as well as the equity impacts and the health and safety impacts .

Researchers study the complexities and trade-offs, find little improvement in GHG’s

An October article by engineering professors O’Brien and Yazdani Aliabadi of Carleton University in Ottawa updates the state of research about:  “Does telecommuting save energy? A critical review of quantitative studies and their research methods” (published in Energy and Buildings in October) .The authors consider the complexity of simultaneous analysis of “home office energy use, the Internet, long-term consumer choices, and other so-called rebound effects” on GHG emissions.  They conclude that: “current datasets and methods are generally inadequate for fully answering the research question. While most studies indicate some benefit, several suggest teleworking increases energy use – even for the domain that is thought to benefit most: transportation.” The authors point to the need for future research which considers the impact of energy-saving trends already under way, including urban design, building energy efficiency,  and electric vehicles for community.

Unions see workplace impacts, including lack of health and safety protections

In July, Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) published Working from Home: Considerations for Unions, a 23-page overview to make unions aware of the important issues, including climate change impacts: using these headings: Use of technology ; Impacts on productivity ; Work-life balance ; Accessibility and equity ; Cost savings ; Environmental impact ; Health and safety ; Worker and community solidarity. The report, which uses the acronym “WFH” throughout, includes a useful bibliography of Canadian-focused articles. In October, NUPGE followed up with a detailed report,  Workers’ Health and Safety Protections and Working from Home , which “ considers how OHS and Workers’ Compensation (WC) laws apply to WFH and identifies potential legal gaps. By surveying Canadian legislation, case law, government guidelines, and analogous examples, this paper seeks to help workers and unions identify potential areas of concern for workers’ health and safety protection in WFH arrangements.”  It highlights the situation in Ontario, where section 3(1) of the  Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) specifically excludes telework, and contrasts Ontario with British Columbia, which offers more protection in its Workers’ Compensation Act by  defining “workplace” broadly,  as “any place where a worker is or is likely to be engaged in any work and include[s] any vessel, vehicle or mobile equipment used by a worker in work.”  NUPGE’s report also includes a thorough bibliography, and concludes by referring to the recommendations of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety online Fact Sheet, which recommends “the employer and the teleworker should have a written agreement to avoid complications, to ensure that both parties know who is responsible for what, and to ensure that the worker’s health and safety protections are not reduced.”

Another union-led discussion of this issue appeared on October 1, when the International Trade Union Confederation  (ITUC) published a Legal Guide to Telework which briefly outlines the threats, and states: “To guarantee that such arrangements reconcile the need for flexibility (for both workers and employers) and safeguarding of labour rights and protections, the introduction and implementation of teleworking arrangements should be accompanied by key principles outlined in this discussion guide.” Regulation and collective bargaining protections are seen as key. Specifically, the Guide calls for voluntary arrangements for employees, with an option of a physical space for workers who prefer it; regulation of working hours and  the “right to disconnect” (already legislated in France and Italy) ; work equipment and costs should be the responsibility of the employer; safeguards for worker privacy; and respect for the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining for teleworkers.

Related articles: Work and Climate Change Report previously reported on articles related to the workers’ perspective in “Canadians report mixed feelings about working from home – but is it good for the environment? for workers?” . Tanguay and Lachapelle from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) provide the Canadian context using data from the 2017 Statistics Canada General Social Survey in “Remote work worsens inequality by mostly helping high-income earners”  (The Conversation, May 10 ), and a U.S. update appears in  “Telework mostly benefits white, affluent Americans – and offers few climate benefits”  ( The Conversation, July 2020) .   In  Working from Home: Post-Coronavirus Will Give Bosses Greater Control of Workers’ Lives ( Jacobin,  June 4) author Luke Savage cites examples of Canadian workplace policies from the Bank of Montreal and Shopify, and sums up the dangers of a permanent shift to working from home:   “With every home an office and every office a home, the residual boundaries between work and private life will be gone for good. Still worse, the whole or even partial demise of the physical office space could become a catalyst for a deeper precarization of work wherein many workers are effectively remote contractors, their homes operating like quasi-franchises over which employers can exercise discretionary control with minimal restriction…. Socialists have long argued that bosses and markets exert far too much power and control over our time, our private lives, and our individual autonomy. Unless we resist the burgeoning shift to remote work, both are about to devour an even bigger share of all three.”

Job creation is a co-benefit of reducing air pollution

1.5 million jobs in Canada in 2050 by meeting Net-Zero emissions targets

The Healthy Recovery Plan released by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) on July 14 quantifies the potential health benefits related to improved air quality in Canada, makes detailed recommendations for green recovery stimulus, and estimates the  job creation benefits of those recommendations: notably decarbonization of electricity generation and public transit by 2040, and decarbonization of vehicles, residential and commercial buildings, and healthcare by 2050.  

The report presents original research, conducted for CAPE by Navius Research, which simulated the health benefits of climate actions that meet Canada’s emissions reduction targets, using Health Canada’s own Air Quality Benefits Assessment Tool. Navius estimates that by meeting its climate targets, Canada will save 112,000 lives between 2030 and 2050 due to air quality improvements alone. Navius Research also simulated key economic impacts of an emissions scenario in line with Canada’s climate target of net-zero emissions by 2050, and found that clean jobs could increase from 210,000 full-time equivalent positions in 2020 to 1.5 million in 2050.

U.K. Employers group calls for air pollution reduction as part of a green recovery

Polluted air in the U.K.  is responsible for the loss of 3 million working days each year, according to research commissioned by the British Clean Air Fund, and conducted by CBI Economics, part of the British employers’ group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) . Breathing life into the UK Economy quantifies the economic benefits if the UK were to meet air quality guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The report estimates that improved health of workers would translate into a £1 billion gain for the economy in the first year, a £600 million gain to businesses from reduced absenteeism, and a £900 million increase in wages each year. The report also includes estimates for individual urban areas (London, Manchester, Bristol, and Birmingham).  Air pollution is a high profile issue in British politics, with U.K. unions campaigning since 2017 for a legal obligation on employers to address air pollution from their activities.  The Clean Air Fund press release which accompanied the release of the report quotes the CBI position: “Not only is there a clear moral responsibility to address air pollution and the impact it has on human health and the environment, there’s also a striking economic rationale. That is why the CBI has been absolutely clear that a focus on green recovery should be central to our COVID-19 response…. From mass energy efficiency programmes to building new sustainable transport infrastructure, the green economy offers incredible opportunities for the UK. Improving air quality should be a key part of the UK’s journey to net zero.” 

Dangers of air pollution for road workers increases in summer

Asphalt roads make city air pollution worse in summer, study finds “ appeared in The Guardian (Sept. 2), summarizing U.S. research that found a 300% increase in emissions of secondary organic aerosols (SOA) when asphalt was exposed to hot summer conditions. The full academic article appeared in Science Advances in September.  Dr Gary Fuller, air quality expert at Imperial College London is quoted in The Guardian: “We have historically thought of traffic pollution as coming from vehicle exhausts. This has been the focus of policy and new vehicles have to be fitted with exhaust clean-up technologies. ..With heavier and heavier vehicles, the combined total of particle pollution from road surface, brake and tyre wear is now greater than the particle emissions from vehicle exhaust but there are no policies to control this.” Also quoted, Drew Gentner of Yale University and one of the study’s co-authors : “Hotter, sunnier conditions will lead to more emissions. Additionally, in many locations, asphalt is predominantly applied during the warmer months of the year.” Bad news and added danger for construction workers.

A more general discussion of the extent and impacts of pollution was published by  the European Environment Agency (EEA) on September 8. Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe reports that environmental pollution caused more than 400,000 premature deaths in the EU per year, and 13% of deaths in Europe were the result of environmental pollution, with air pollution the leading cause.  

NRDC report details climate change threats to workers’ health and champions workers’ action

On the Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America’s Workers  was released on July 28  by the Natural Resources Defense Council, with input from the BlueGreen Alliance, American Federation of Teachers, Communications Workers of America, and Service Employees International Union in the U.S. (press release here and a blog summary here). The authors analyse the extensive existing literature and include first-hand stories from outdoor and indoor workers to describe the physical, mental health, and wage-related impacts of heat stress, wildfires, drought, floods, hurricanes, and the spread of infectious diseases. Over 200 reports and articles are cited. The report calls for amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the U.S.- including a federal heat standard – with sufficient budgeting and staff for effective enforcement, with a broader overall call: “Adapting to our new climate means overhauling existing safeguards to respond to an intensified set of occupational hazards; extending occupational health and safety protections to all workers; and ensuring workers have the training, job security, flexibility, and empowerment they need to collectively demand protection from climate change. Because climate disruption is sure to create cascading failures through multiple sectors and to bring some nasty surprises, occupational health and safety activists and professionals must also build a better way to track, analyze, and quickly act on existing and emerging health threats to workers.”

Every worker health and safety accomplishment came about by agitating and organizing

Although the report also calls on legislators, regulators and employers to act, the emphasis is on the role of collective action by workers, noting that “Every worker health and safety accomplishment came about by agitating and organizing.” The report also stresses the need to protect workers’ right to organize: “Legislators at all levels of government must honor the right of workers to a safe and healthy workplace by strengthening and enforcing legal protections for unionization and collective bargaining. To stay safe on the job, workers and their representatives must have adequate knowledge, training, and freedom from retaliation to help shape and improve occupational health programs, refuse hazardous work, report workplace injuries and illnesses, and file complaints with state or federal inspectors.”

B.C.’s Covid-19 economic recovery plans, and safety, WCB coverage for workers

“What Kind of Recovery Economy Is BC Planning to Build?” appeared in The Tyee (May 6)  discussing the British Columbia Economic Recovery Task Force, appointed in early April.  The article points out that the 19-member Task Force lacks any representation from environmental advocacy groups – although Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour was appointed, along with the leaders of major business and community organizations, in addition to the Premier, cabinet ministers, and senior BC emerging economies taks forcecivil servants. The province also consults with their Climate Solutions Advisory Council, and on May 11, released the Final Report of the  Emerging Economies Task Force, appointed in 2018.  The press release affirms that it “will also be a valuable resource to help inform the province’s COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery”, despite the fact that it was submitted to the government in March 2020, and so pre-dates the Covid-19 crisis.  One of its five strategic priorities  of the Emerging Economies report is titled “Leveraging B.C.’s Green Economy”.

Worker safety as the economy re-opens

On May 6, Premier Horgan announced  Phase 2 , a cautious re-opening the economy. Responsibility for the safe opening and operation of workplaces is delegated to WorkSafe B.C., whose media release states: “As employers prepare to resume operations, they will need to have a safety plan in place that assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, and develops measures to reduce these risks. This planning process must involve workers as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed — this includes frontline workers, supervisors, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and/or worker representatives.” WorkSafeB.C. will issue industry-specific guidance and promises consultation with workers and employers; their general resources for Covid-19 return to work is here

The B.C. Federation of Labour  reacted on May 11 to the announcement that the Workers Compensation Board will add COVID-19 to Schedule 1 of the Workers Compensation Act, thereby granting “presumptive coverage” and expediting workers’ claims.  According to the B.C. Fed, there were  317 COVID-19-related WCB claims in B.C. as of April 29. The B.C. Fed had advocated for the enhanced WCB protection, as well as for the enhanced sick leave protections and $1,000 tax-free provincial Emergency Benefit for Workers, announced in March.

Related Note: On May 7, the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition  released a statement signed by community, advocacy groups and unions, stating:   “As our federal, provincial and municipal governments begin to strategize on their post-COVID recovery and rebuilding strategies, we need to prioritize those most impacted, ensuring that our economic recovery lessens existing inequalities, respects Indigenous rights, and tackles the climate emergency. The pre-COVID status quo was failing too many people. ”

 

Labour’s role in pandemic response – now and in the future 

As the world reacts to the urgent and terrible demands of the global pandemic, the labour movement is also on crisis footing as it fights for health and income protection for workers in the short term.   An earlier WCR post describes the Covid-19 Resource Centre maintained by the Canadian Labour Congress, which compiles links and documents by Canadian unions – much of it focused on the immediate information needed by individual workers. Unions are also advocating at the national and provincial levels for improved income supports, employment insurance, guaranteed sick leave for the short term crisis, as well as for sustainable long term economic solutions. The Covid19HELP_Demands_ftWorkers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario issued a press  release on March 26,  in response to the federal benefits announcement . The complete statement of demands appears in Covid-19: Health Emergency Labour Protections: Urgent comprehensive action is needed to protect workers, communities . Such lobbying and organizing has resulted in a number of emergency-related changes to legislated employment standards across Canada, as described by  Michael Fitzgibbon in  “The Right to Refuse in a COVID-19 World” in the Canadian Law of Work Forum (March 27) .

In the United States, the Labor Network for Sustainability provides information on rank and file reactions to Covid-19. On April 2,   Jeremy Brecher’s Strike column, ” Strike for your Life”  summarizes how U.S. and Italian workers are protesting and walking out due to lack of workplace protections.  Brecher’s column cites many U.S. examples, expanding on Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times: “Is Your Grocery Delivery Worth a Worker’s Life? ” (Mar. 30). Brecher also summarizes and  cites “The Italian workers fighting like hell to shut down their workplaces” (Mar. 24) .  Other overviews of U.S. union actions are:  “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections” in Labor Notes (Mar. 26);  “The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices” in Common Dreams (Mar. 30); and “The New Labor Movement” (Axios, April 1). 

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  has compiled Pandemic News from Unions around the world, including their own documents and those of international affiliates.  The ITUC  also  published 12 governments show the world how to protect lives,  jobs and incomes  (updated March 30), which ranks the policies of  Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK on their pandemic policies related to paid sick leave, income support, wage support, mortgage, rent or loan relief, and free health care .

After the pandemic subsides

Larry Savage and Simon Black, professors at Brock University, are pessimistic that short term gains will survive a return to “business as usual” in Canada. In  “Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions” in The Conversation, they reference Naomi Klein’s theory in The Shock Doctrine to argue: “Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making” – even public sector workers such as health care workers.  To avoid being branded as selfish, Savage and Black urge unions to: “become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net…. oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run…. continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services..”

Other recent articles also emphasize the importance of protecting the voice of workers in the post-pandemic world.  Thomas Kochan  , Professor and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research  has written that  “By working together in these ways in this time of crisis, business and labor might just lay the groundwork for building a new social contract that fills the holes in the social safety net and forges relationships that will serve society well in the future.” His article,  “Workers left out of government and business response to the coronavirus” appeared in The Conversation (U.S. edition) (March 20).

The National Labor Leadership Initiative at the Cornell University ILR School convened an online forum titled  “Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic “(Mar 31)  . The purpose of the forum, and a continuing initiative, is to facilitate the long-term vision of the labour movement.  The April   press release quotes participant Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice  who states: “This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don’t want to get back to the old normal. It wasn’t working for most of us.”  The press release also reflects the immediate impacts of the current crisis on a range of workers in the U.S.: “Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin’s South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE.”

The Global Stage

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’Activities (ACTRAV) published “COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations?  arguing that  ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and workers organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This recommendation was adopted with an overwhelming majority of all – governments, employers and workers. It is an international law instrument and Governments are expected to respect its guidance: Workers Organisations can request that it is taken into account.”  The ILO maintains an ongoing collection of documents monitoring  Covid-19 and the World of Work .

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation takes up the theme of a social contract: “As many governments scramble to pay for sick leave, provide income support or other measures, they have found themselves putting in place the building blocks of a social contract. Let’s keep these in place.” (in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19 in The Medium, (March 18)) . To flesh out that objective, the ITUC will convene virtual and in-person meetings on 24 June, on the theme, “Climate and Employment Proof our Future — a vision for a post-pandemic world”.

In the meantime, the ITUC and the International Organisation of Employers have issued a  Joint Statement on COVID-19 which issues an urgent call for coordinated policies, including :

Business continuity, income security and solidarity are key to prevent the spread and protect lives and livelihoods and build resilient economies and societies.

We stress in the strongest terms the important role that social dialogue and social partners play in the control of the virus at the workplace and beyond, but also to avoid massive job losses in the short and medium term. Joint responsibility is needed for dialogue to foster stability.

 

 

Canadian doctors call for moratorium on fracking for gas

On January 29, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) released a report which documents the serious health and environmental dangers associated with fracked natural gas, calling for the phase-out of existing fracking operations and a moratorium on any new fracking projects. CAPE also calls for Just Transition plans to help workers and the communities which would be affected.  Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas, and in 2018, 71% of that was “fracked gas”, mostly produced in northeastern British Columbia.  The Narwhal offers a good  (though now dated) explainer about fracking in Canada, and offers several in-depth articles, including “Potential health impacts of fracking in B.C. worry Dawson Creek physicians” (April 2019). The Narwhal has also published recent articles by Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C., who has also written extensively about fracking and LNG in B.C. Most recently, Peace River Frack-up  was released by CCPA-BC in January,  calling for an immediate ban on fracking activity for operations  close to BC Hydro’s two existing Peace River dams and the Site C dam, because of the risk of dam failure from fracking-caused earthquakes.

The CAPE report, Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health  documents the environmental and climate change impacts of fracking, with an over-riding concern about the significant health dangers, especially for communities and workers. The report notes: “Data from the US show that the risk of death among workers in this sector is two-and-a half-times higher than the risk for workers in construction and seven times higher than the risk for industrial workers as a whole.”  “America’s Radioactive Secret” is a troubling article which appeared in Rolling Stone on January 21, summarizing a journalistic investigation of the  unregulated trucking of fracking waste: “Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America.”

Fractures in the Bridge provides a Canadian perspective on the overwhelming evidence from established studies which have reported “negative health outcomes including adverse birth outcomes, birth defects including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, dermal effects, gastrointestinal symptoms, neurological effects, psychological impacts and respiratory illnesses.” Fractures in the Bridge  also provides a very complete bibliography as well as an appendix showing how fracking is regulated in each province in Canada.

An important related source of information, updated in 2019, is the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction) , published by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

Workers who respond to wildfires – some news you might have missed

The Columbia Journalism Review published an article on November 1: “What journalists miss when covering the California fires” . It states “we discuss celebrities and show pyro-pornography to capture attention. …. journalists could also use the borrowed interest to discuss bigger environmental consequences impacting people inside (and sometimes outside) of California.”

firefight in smokeHere are some articles which  focus on the impacts for working people in California and Canada, especially first responders and health care workers.  A previous WCR article,  “What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?”  appeared in December 2017, after the Fort McMurray wildfires in Alberta.

California:

At PG&E, a workforce on edge — and under attack — as fire season arrives” in the San Francisco Chronicle (June 8) describes how front line workers are suffering harassment because the public blames their employer, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, for the 2018 Camp fire, as well as for the disruptions of their planned power outages to avoid sparking more fires.

A blog post  Power Shutoffs: Playing with Fire summarizes the issue of California power shutoffs and includes anecdotal reports from a  focus group study of home health care and nursing home workers, which  found that lack of communication was a common problem as they try to care for or evacuate their vulnerable patients.  The focus group was convened by the Emerald Cities Collaborative and SEUI2015.

Home healthcare in the Dark : Why Climate, Wildfires and Other Emerging Risks Call for Resilient Energy Storage Solutions to Protect Medically Vulnerable Households from Power Outages. This report published by Clean Energy Group and Meridian Institute in June 2019  identifies the problems associated with unreliable power when the electric grid goes down either through disaster or through  planned power outages to prevent wildfires. The report  makes a series of recommendations directed at policy makers, including:  “truly resilient power should be generated onsite, should not be dependent on supply chains that may be disrupted during catastrophic events”.

Getty fire: Housekeepers and gardeners go to work despite the flames” in the LA Times which also highlights the chaos brought by lack of communication, and the need for low-wage workers to work, despite danger.

International Association of Firefighters press release “California Members Work around the Clock to Contain Wildfires” provides an overview of  wildfire fighting by their members and points out that firefighters’ homes may also be in the path of destruction. (a fact that is true for other essential workers such as  health care workers).

“As fires rage, California refines an important skill: Evacuating” in the Washington Post (Oct. 29).  Describes the challenges of first responders responsible for vulnerable patients in hospitals.

New threats put wildfire fighters health on the line”  in the New York Times points out : “While burning wood poses some threat to lungs, man-made products and the gases and particles they produce when burned are far more dangerous…Unlike urban firefighters dealing with structural blazes, these wildfire responders do not wear heavy gear that filters air or provides clean air because the gear is unwieldy and too limited to allow the kind of multi-hour, high-exertion efforts demanded on the front lines of these large outdoor infernos.”

And from 2017, “Suicide rate among wildland firefighters is “astronomical”” in Wildfire Today  , based on a more substantial article in The Atlantic: “A Quiet Rise in Wildland-Firefighter Suicides”

 

Canada:

Climate change is making wildfires in Canada bigger, hotter and more dangerous”  in Maclean’s (July 18 2019) is a quick overview of the Canadian experience.

We were blindsided: Rappel firefighters criticizes UCP for axing program  in the Edmonton Journal  (Nov. 7) and an article in the newspaper Fort McMurray Today react to the Alberta government cuts which will eliminate the 40-year-old rappelling program, which employs more than 60 firefighters who rappel from helicopters into forest fires. Staffing for close to 30 wildfire lookout towers and one air tanker unit will also be cut. The articles describe the dangerous job of fighting fires.

A  British Columbia government press release at the end of October 2019 announces two research projects underway to study  firefighter health and wellness (including its physical, mental and emotional dimensions).  One at the University of Northern B.C. is a scoping study to contribute to a long-term research strategy for worker health by the B.C. Wildfire Service. The second, supported by the government of Alberta,  is examining the nature and concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the air that firefighters breathe and accumulate on their skin. This study will also “explore the practicality and effectiveness of firefighters using respiratory protective equipment; and investigate whether wildland firefighters have more chronic lung disease than other people of the same age, gender and geographic location.” A progress report on the initial phase of this project is expected in March 2020.

“Fire-weary Western Canadians are picking up stakes and moving on” in the National Observer (June 24  2019)considers the impact of smoke as well as fire over the past two years in the West, discussing how “residents … young and old, often on fixed or limited incomes, are making tough choices about where they want to live and to work. The decisions are being informed by many factors, but often the most pressing concern is the increasing frequency of forest fires.”  (This updates some of the themes of a 2017 Globe and Mail article “Fort MacMurray wildfires leaves livelihoods in limbo” ).

Unions have made consistent and significant donations to wildfire-affected communities.  Some examples: “Steelworkers Humanity Fund Contributes $69,000 to Fort McMurray Recovery” (2016); “Steelworkers Contribute $100,000 to B.C. Fire Relief” (August 2017),  and Steelworkers Humanity Fund Contributes $58,950 to Support Disaster Recovery Here and Abroad (June 2019) –  which specifies a $10,000  donation to the  High Level Native Friendship Centre food bank in Northern Alberta after  forest fires caused  the evacuation of the town.  Also,  “Unifor wildfire relief donations top $220k” in 2017, and  a 2018 press release announced $150,000 to the B.C. Fire Relief Fund of the Canadian Red Cross in 2018 through Unifor’s Canadian Community Fund  as well as its Social Justice Fund .

How are workers affected by PG&E power outage in California?

california map PGE_outage_10-10-2019The California utility company largely blamed for the catastrophic Camp Fire in 2018 is making headlines again.  In the midst of dry, windy weather conditions, Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to approximately 800,000 accounts (translating into 1.8  million people) on October 8, in an effort to reduce the risk of another wildfire caused by sparking from their electricity transmission lines.  The Los Angeles Times provides a general overview in “Gov. Newsom slams PG&E over ‘unacceptable’ power outages and failure to fix systems”  (Oct. 10) and “Millions Brace for Unprecedented Power Cuts in California” in Bloomberg News reports that shutoffs will affect major cities in the San Francisco Bay area,  including Oakland, San Jose and Berkeley, with a possible duration of up to 6 days.

The chaos, anger and inconvenience has additional  significance for workers, described briefly in  “Confusion reigns as California utility cuts power in 34 counties to reduce wildfire risk” (Oct. 10) in Energy Mix . More details appear in “What happens when a power company decides to turn off the electricity for millions of residents?” in Wildfire Today which states: “The indirect effects of having no electricity expand to a much larger population when you consider traffic lights not working, tunnels on highways being shut down, plus the closure of gas stations, schools, and businesses …. At some point, cellular telephone towers and infrastructure may exhaust their emergency power supply systems, not to mention the batteries in the public’s cell phones…And in an emergency, firefighters’ communications could be hampered by the disabling of their radio repeaters on mountaintops. Notifying residents of approaching fires and conducting evacuations in order to save lives could be challenging.”

And what of the PG&E workers?  The local Sacramento Bee newspaper reported “PG&E employee shot at ahead of utility’s massive Northern California power shutoff” (Oct. 9) as residents take out their frustrations on employees doing their jobs.  The Washington Post reported “PG&E pleads for employee safety amid outage after police report egging, gunfire at vehicle”  .  One worker’s wife is  widely reported to have issued a social media plea  stating that utility workers “are simply employees and have no say in any decision making so shouting profanities or resorting to violence towards PG&E workers will never do any good but it would instead hurt someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, husband or wife. ”  Truly a dark time.

New ILO report estimates productivity effects of working at over 35 degrees C.

ILO warmer planet coverReleased on July 1 by the International Labour Organiztion (ILO),  Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work  presents estimates of the current and projected productivity losses at national, regional and global levels, and recommends policy and workplace actions.  The report  defines heat stress as “heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment.” Roughly, it occurs at temperatures above 35°C, in high humidity. A growing body of research  show that it restricts workers’ physical capabilities and work capacity and thus, productivity, and can lead to  potentially fatal heatstroke.

The report projects that the equivalent of more than 2 per cent of total working hours worldwide will be lost every year by 2030. Agriculture and construction are the two sectors which will be worst affected , especially in south Asia, where job losses due to heat are projected to be 43 million jobs by 2030, and western Africa, where 9 million jobs are predicted to be lost. Other sectors especially at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work. And as with so other climate change impacts, low-income countries are expected to suffer the worst, and people in the poorest regions will suffer the most.

Solutions:  From the report introduction: “Solutions do exist. In particular, the structural transformation of rural economies should be speeded up so that fewer agricultural workers are exposed to high temperatures and so that less physical effort has to be expended in such conditions. Other important policy measures that can help are skills development, the promotion of an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, public investment in infrastructure, and improved integration of developing countries into global trade. At the workplace level, enhanced information about on-site weather conditions, the adaptation of workwear and equipment, and technological improvements can make it easier for workers and their employers to cope with higher temperatures. Employers and workers should discuss together how to adjust working hours, in addition to adopting other occupational safety and health measures. Accordingly, social dialogue is a relevant tool for improving working conditions on a warming planet.”

The report chapters include a global overview, as well as chapters for Africa, The Americas (composed of 4 sub-regions: North America, Central America, South America, and  The Caribbean) , Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia. The Americas discussion reiterates our favoured situation, with  low levels of heat stress and relatively high labour standards, although the patterns remain consistent:   “Whereas the impact of heat stress on labour productivity in Canada is practically zero, the United States lost 0.11 per cent of total working hours as a result of heat stress in 1995 and is projected to lose 0.21 per cent in 2030. The expected productivity loss in 2030 is equivalent to 389,000 full-time jobs. This effect is concentrated in the southern states of the country and concerns mostly outdoor workers, such as construction workers and farm workers in California.”

Outdoor workers and cancer:   Working on a warmer planet includes a highlight section regarding North American farm workers which cites the “Sun Safety at Work Canada” programme , which began in 2016 and is funded  by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.  In 2014, as many as 7,000 skin cancers in Canada were attributed to work-related sun exposure, and outdoor workers have a 2.5-3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer than indoor workers.  The Sun Safety at Work program focuses on skin cancer but also includes information about  heat stress and eye damage in its Resource Library  Downloadable publications for employers and individuals include fact sheets, videos and presentations .

Other recent, relevant reading: 

“Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” : Chapter 4  in the federal government’s Canada’s Changing Climate Report, released in 2019. It assesses observed and projected changes for Canada.

The Urban Heat Island Effect at the Climate Atlas of Canada website discusses the issue and provides links to some of the adaptive municipal programs.

Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health, by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes, released by The Conservation Council of New Brunswick on June 25. It predicts that  average temperatures in the 16 communities studied could rise 1.9 to 2.1 degrees Celsius between 2021 and 2050, and the number of days over 30 degrees are modelled to increase in the range of 122 to 300 per cent .

Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star  , documents the summer of 2018 when at least  66  deaths in Montreal were attributed to heat.

Climate Change and Health: It’s Time for Nurses to Act   published by the the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions includes heat stress in its overview of health-related dangers of climate change in Canada, and highlights the heat waves in Ontario and Quebec in 2018.

Internationally: 

The Imperative of Climate Action to protect human health in Europe” released on June 3  by the European Academies Science Advisory Council  is mostly focused on the general population, but does include discussion of heat stress and of its effects on productivity.

Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5) summarizes an article from the journal Sciences Advances (June 5) .  “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities”  reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement  could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.

 

Climate change and health: more evidence of the dangers of extreme heat for workers

european health reportThe Imperative of Climate Action to Protect Human health in Europe was released on June 3  by the European Academies Science Advisory Council, urging that adaptation and mitigation policies give  health effects a greater emphasis, as well as proposing priorities for health policy research and data coordination in the EU.   The report also acts as a comprehensive literature review of the research on the present and future health impacts of climate change in EU countries.  It documents studies of direct and indirect health effects of extreme heat, forest fires, flooding, pollution, and impacts on food and nutrition.  Some of these impacts include communicable infectious diseases, mental illness, injuries, labour productivity, violence and conflict, and migration. It identifies the most vulnerable groups as the elderly, the sick, children, and migrating and marginalized populations, with city dwellers at greater risk of heat stress than rural populations.

construction drinking waterHeat as a Health risk for workers:  Although the report doesn’t highlight outdoor workers such as farmers and construction workers as a high risk group, it does weigh in on heat effects on labour productivity for indoor and outdoor workers.   For example,  “Even small increases in temperature may reduce cognitive and physical performance and hence impair labour productivity and earning power, with further consequences for health. Earlier analyses had concentrated on the effects of heat on rural labour capacity, but now it is appreciated that many occupations may be affected. For example, recent analysis by the French Agency for Food, Environmental, Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES 2018) concludes that productivity and health of workers in most business sectors will be affected in European countries by 2050. The effects of indoor high temperatures in terms of altered circadian rhythms were recently reported (Zheng et al. 2019) as part of a broader discussion of the literature on indoor high temperatures and human work efficiency. For temperature rises greater than 2°C, labour productivity could drop by 10–15% in some southern European countries (Ciscar et al. 2018). Meta-analysis of the global literature confirms that occupational heat strain has important health and productivity outcomes.”Canada Post Strike 20160705

Also: “with 1.5°C global temperature change, about 350 million people worldwide would be exposed to extreme heat stress sufficient to reduce greatly the ability to undertake physical labour for at least the hottest month in the year; this increases to about one billion people with 2.5°C global temperature change .”

And also: Hot and humid indoor environments may result in “mould and higher concentrations of chemical substances. Health risks include respiratory diseases such as allergy, asthma and rhinitis as well as more unspecific symptoms such as eye and respiratory irritation. Asthma and respiratory symptoms have been reported to be 30–50% more common in humid houses.”

Calls to improve heat standards for U.S. workers : A report in 2018,  Extreme Heat and Unprotected Workers , stated that  heat killed 783 workers in the U.S. and seriously injured nearly 70,000 between 1992 and 2017. The report was published by  Public Citizen, a coalition of social justice groups and labour unions. They continue to  campaign  for a dedicated federal standard regarding heat exposure – most recently with a  letter to the U.S. Department of Labor on April 26, 2019 which states: we “call on you to take swift action to protect workers from the growing dangers of climate change and rising temperatures in the workplace. …. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has an obligation to prevent future heat-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities by issuing a heat stress standard for outdoor and indoor workers.”  The campaign is described in   “Worker advocates burned up over lack of federal heat protections” in FairWarning (May 9), with examples of some U.S. fatalities.  Notably, the death of a  63-year-old postal worker in her mail truck in Los Angeles in July 2018  resulted in  H.R. 1299,  the Peggy Frank Memorial Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in February 2019 and would require any Postal Service delivery vehicle to include air conditioning within three years. (It has languished in the House Standing Committee on Oversight and Reform since.)

The article also reports that in April,  California released a draft standard: Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Places of Employment  which, if approved, would make California the first U.S. jurisdiction to cover both indoor and outdoor job sites. The proposed standard would require water and rest breaks for workers when indoor temperatures reach 82 F degrees, with additional requirements when temperatures hit 87 F. It is noteworthy that this is a slow process – even in progressive California, which has had heat protection for farm workers on the books since 2006,  the Advisory Committee leading this initiative has been meeting since 2017, and the draft standard still under consideration has been revised numerous times .

Amnesty International campaign calls for better mining, manufacture, and disposal of electric vehicle batteries

golf electricWhile the Nordic EV Summit   in March 2019 showcased progress on the adoption of electric vehicles, Amnesty International used that backdrop to  issue a challenge to leaders in the electric vehicle industry –  to produce the world’s first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years.

It is not news that the mining of  cobalt and lithium, the two key minerals in batteries, has been linked to human rights abuses, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations.   Amnesty was amongst the first to document the child labour and human rights abuses with a report This is what we die for   in 2016,  updated in  2017 by an article,  “The Dark Side of Electric Cars: Exploitative Labor Practices”.  More recently, “Indigenous people’s livelihoods at risk in scramble for lithium, the new white goldappeared in The Ethical Corporation  (April 9), describing the human rights situation in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which hold 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are also of concern.

In addition to the mining of raw materials, battery manufacturing has a high carbon footprint, with most of the current manufacturing concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.

Finally, the issue of electronic waste, including batteries, has been the subject of several  reports:  From  the International Labour Organization :  in 2012,  Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge and more recently,  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) , an Issues paper produced for a Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste in April 2019.  The 2019  report provides estimates of the workforce involved in some countries – led by China, with an estimated 690,000 workers in 2007, followed by up to 100,000 in Nigeria , followed by 60,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The report deals mainly with occupational health and safety issues and includes an overview of international  e-waste regulation, as well as case studies of  the U.S., Argentina, China, India, Japan, Nigeria.  Similar discussions appear in  A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot , released by the E-waste Coalition at the 2019 World Economic Forum, and in a blog, Dead Batteries deserve a Second Life published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development on April 9.evcobalt-lithium-V2_1-supply-chain

Clearly, there are labour and environmental problems related to lithium-ion batteries and the green vehicles and electronic devices they power.  Recognizing  all these concerns, the new Amnesty International campaign is calling for:  improvement in human rights practices in mining, and  a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining; disclosure and accounting for carbon in manufacturing, and for legal protection and enforcement of workplace rights such as health, equality and non-discrimination; finally for products to be designed and regulated to encourage re-use and penalize waste, with prevention of  illegal or dangerous export and dumping of batteries.

Occupational health risks created by climate change: U.S. doctors get Guidelines, France releases expert report

tick_lyme_government of ontario

Warmer temperatures have brought the Black-legged tick  to Ontario, bringing an increase of Lyme’s Disease, especially for outdoor workers.

A  Guidance Document was released by the  American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in February 2018.  Responsibilities of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Provider in the Treatment and Prevention of Climate Change-Related Health Problems  (also appearing  in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ) is intended to set standards for physicians specializing in workplace health.  The Guidance Document  provides concise and very current information about  the direct physical impacts related to climate change (heat stress and ultraviolet exposure, air quality, and allergic sensitivities) as well as indirect impacts (disaster zone exposure, stress and mental health, and waterborne and vector-borne disease).  Most of this information is not new:  two previous major reports have covered the same ground: The Lancet Countdown Report for 2017,  (which links climate change and specific health conditions for the population at large, not just workers, and which included a report for Canada ), and the landmark U.S . Global Change Research Program report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment (2016)  .

What is important about this new Guidance Document?  It focuses on the workplace, and sets standards for the role of occupational health physicians which include a responsibility to protect workers.  For example:  “Provide guidance to the employers on how to protect working populations in the outdoors or in the field who are potentially exposed to the extreme temperatures…. Quickly identify employees with acute and chronic cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses within the organization who will be significantly affected by increasing temperature and worsening air quality, an increase in ozone, particulate matter, and high pollen count  ….Provide effective guidance to employers about seasonal activity and address the increasing risk of vector-borne disease among the working population…. Deliver support to the employees at risk for mental illness due to disasters, loss, and migration by providing more comprehensive programs through their employment….  The article concludes with: “ OEM providers are called to be on the forefront of emerging health issues pertaining to working populations including climate change. The competent OEM provider should address individual and organizational factors that impact the health and productivity of workers as well as create policies that ensure a healthy workforce.”

There is also a call to action in a new report from France’s Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety.  The full expert analysis is available only in French ; an English abstract is here .  The report  predicts the occupational risks associated with climate change, from now till  2050, and identifies the main drivers of change: rising temperatures, changes in  the biological and chemical environment, and a change in the frequency and intensity of extreme events.  What’s new in this report?  It highlights the breadth of impact of climate change, stating that it will affect all occupational risks, except those associated with noise and artificial radiation.  The report also makes recommendations,  urging immediate workplace awareness campaigns and training about the health effects of climate change, with a preventive focus. From the English summary: “The Agency especially recommends encouraging all the parties concerned to immediately start integrating the climate change impacts that are already perceptible, or that can be anticipated, in their occupational risk assessment approaches, in order to deploy suitable preventive measures.”  The full report (in French only):  Évaluation des risques induits par le changement climatique sur la santé des travailleurs  (262 pages) is dated January 2018 but released in April. It was requested by France’s Directorate General for Health and the Directorate General for Labour, to support the country’s 2011 National Adaptation to Climate Change Action Plan (PNACC).

New U.S. medical consortium forms to bring the message mainstream: climate change is harming our health

Eleven medical societies in the United States, representing over 400,000 medical practitioners, have joined together to form The Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health .  Their launch document  on March 15  was  Medical Alert! Climate Change is harming our health , directed at the general public to sound the alarm that climate change health impacts are here and now.

The report gives only a nod to the threats in the workplace, given its goal to reach a general audience. It warns that “anyone can be harmed by extreme heat, but some people face greater risk. For example, outdoor workers, student athletes, city dwellers, and people who lack air conditioning (or who lose it during an extended power outage) face greater risk because they are more exposed to extreme heat. People with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and those who work or play outside, are especially vulnerable to extreme heat.. ..”  The report also touches on the other major health-related impacts, such as spread of infectious diseases borne by ticks and mosquitos, air pollution,  effects of forest fires, polluted air and food, mental health burden, etc.

The Consortium  states that “most physicians are aware of the adverse health effects of climate change and feel a responsibility to inform the public, patients and policymakers about them. A majority of survey respondents report they are already seeing health harms from climate change among their own patients – most commonly in the form of increased cardiorespiratory disease (related to air quality and heat), more severe and longer lasting allergy symptoms, and injuries attributed to extreme weather.”

The goal of the consortium is to educate,  and to advocate for reduced fossil fuel consumption and increased clean energy.  Their website offers a library of publications    related to the growing literature on climate change and health. The website  also compiles resources from their member societies, such as the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics,  about how to green medical workplaces.   In this, they join a number of existing associations such as Practice Greenhealth   and Healthcare without Harm, an international organization with Canadian membership.

In Canada, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment , which was established in 1994,   shares a similar mission for policy advocacy, and maintains an active blog  and Facebook presence.  The Canadian Medical Association has a number of policy and position documents on environmental impacts on health; their most recent policy statement on Climate change and Health  was issued in 2010, yet still seems remarkably relevant.

 

More proof that green buildings are better for workers

The health impact of  green workplaces was the subject of a new article,   The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on Cognitive Function and Health  , by researchers at the  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and SUNY Upstate Medical University. Researchers studied 109 workers at 10 buildings and found that employees who worked in certified green buildings had higher cognitive function scores, fewer sick building symptoms and higher sleep quality scores than those working in non-certified buildings.  The research was sponsored by United Technologies.  For an overview of ongoing research at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health , go to its Nature, Health and the Built Environment website . Other related information is available at the World Green Building Council’s “Better Places for People” website .

From a management point of view, an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Air Pollution making office workers less productive”  (September 29) reports on the effect of air pollution on call-center workers at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. The authors conclude that these office  workers are 5%–6% more productive when air pollution levels are rated as “good” (an Air Quality Index of 0–50) versus when they are rated as unhealthy (an Air Quality Index of 150–200). Productivity was measured by completed calls each day, length of breaks, and time logged in.

All this points to the importance of green building.  World Green Building Week  began on September 26, 2016 – preceded by an agreement amongst the national green building councils from 10 countries (including Canada)  to adopt zero net carbon certification programs by the end of 2017.  See the World Green Building Council press release for a description of the meetings, including the definition of “zero net carbon” (ZNC)  as advanced by the architectural network, Architecture 2030   .

Summer’s heat can be deadly for workers

thermometer and sunWe know all know this summer is hot, but what does it mean for workers? In These Times published an article by Elizabeth Grosman in July, “As Temperatures Climb Across the Country, Workers Will Suffer”. Her article examines the situation in the U.S., reporting that in 2015, “the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received more than 200 reports of workers hospitalized because of heat-related illness and at least eight deaths associated with heat exposure. In 2014, 2,630 U.S. workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died on the job from heat stroke and related causes. Since 2003, an average of more than 30 workers a year have died of heat-related causes.  The article also point out that 9 of the 30 deaths occurred to workers who had been on the job less than 3 days – making this an issue which might be improved by training and stronger OHS contract language.  In 2014, OSHA launched a “Heat Rest Shade” campaign to remind employers of their obligation to provide respite for workers  , and with online training materials   and information resources  .

The Ontario Ministry of Labour updated their guidance re Heat Stress in 2014, and the Heat Stress Awareness Guide published by the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario in 2007 is still valuable.  It too points out the risks to new employees and those who are not conditioned to heat.  For  Canada-wide information, see the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Fact Sheets here  or  see (from 2010)  Protecting Workers from Heat Stress: What are an Employer’s Legal Obligations?

Being unemployed is also a factor in heat-releated illness according to an article in Environmental Health Perspectives .   Researchers led by Hung Chak Ho of Simon Fraser University in B.C. developed a block-by-block map of neighbourhoods in Vancouver and discovered that those blocks with a high proportion of low-income earners, a high proportion of renters and a high unemployment rate are at greater risk of mortality than the elderly.  See “Unemployed people, not the elderly, at highest risk”   for a summary.

And amidst the high heat and drought that all of us are feeling in central Canada this summer comes scientific validation of our experience:  the release of State of the Climate 2015  , the 26th edition of the assessment released each summer as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.  Canada is profiled in Chapter 7 :  “The annual average temperature in 2015 for Canada was 1.3°C above the 1961–90 average, and was the 11th warmest year since nationwide records began in 1948.” (The warmest year on record for Canada to date has been 2010, at 3.0°C above average.)  Globally, the report catalogues several symbolic mileposts: notably, it was 1.0°C warmer than preindustrial times, and the Mauna Loa observatory recorded its first annual mean carbon dioxide concentration greater than 400 ppm in 2015.  A thorough summary appeared in The Guardian (August 2). ( State of the Climate is compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Weather and Climate, from contributions from scientists from 62 countries, and is the recognized authority on global climate indicators and  notable weather events).

Low-wage workers, Women, and Migrant workers will suffer most from Climate change-induced heat

Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace   identifies heavy labour and low-skill agricultural and manufacturing jobs as the most susceptible to heat changes caused by climate change.  India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and part of West Africa are the countries most at risk. Quoting the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, it states that “labour productivity impacts could result in output reductions in affected sectors exceeding 20% during the second half of the century–the global economic cost of reduced productivity may be more than 2 trillion USD by 2030.” Even if countries meet their Paris emissions reductions targets, rising temperatures may cut up to 10 percent of the daytime working hours in developing countries.

On the human scale, the authors surveyed more than 100 studies in the last decade which document the health risks and labour productivity loss experienced by workers in hot locations- most recently, 2016 studies from India which concluded that 87% of workers experience health problems during the hottest 3 months, and which highlighted additional problems for pregnant women workers and migrant workers.

Several important indirect effects of heat stress include: alteration of work hours to avoid the heat of the day; the need to work longer hours to earn the same pay for those whose productivity falls due to heat stress, or suffer income loss; increased exposure to hazardous chemicals when workplace chemicals evaporate more quickly in higher temperatures; and possible exposure to new vector-borne diseases.  The report calls for protection for workers , including low cost measures such as assured access to drinking water in workplaces, frequent rest breaks, and management of output targets, incorporating  protection of income and other conditions of Decent Work.

At the regulatory level,  the most relevant standard cited was adopted by the ILO in November 2015:  “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”,    which includes occupational safety and health and social protection policies which call on social partners “to conduct assessments of increased or new OSH risks resulting from climate change; improve, adapt or develop and create awareness of OSH standards for technologies and work processes related to the transition; and review policies concerning the protection of workers.”

The report was as a joint effort coordinated by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Secretariat and in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNI Global Union (UNI), the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the NGO network ACT Alliance. See The Guardian for a summary .

U.S. Climate Policy Considers Health Effects of Climate Change, Including Occupational Health

On April 7th, the Obama administration announced a series of new initiatives which will highlight the health risks of climate change, especially for children, the elderly and the vulnerable. In the companion Climate and Health Assessment report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, outside workers are identified as exceptionally vulnerable to heat extremes. ” Certain occupational groups that spend a great deal of time exposed to extreme temperatures such as agricultural workers, construction workers, and electricity and pipeline utility workers are at increased risk for heat-and cold-related illness, especially where jobs involve heavy exertion… Lack of heat illness prevention programs that include provisions for acclimatization was found to be a factor strongly associated with death”. The report cites numerous other reports on heat  effects, including a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control, “Heat Illness and Death Among Workers – United States, 2012-2013”.

Environmental Groups Stand with U.S. Refinery Workers on Strike for Safety

The United Steelworkers union represents workers at 65 oil refineries in the United States. On February 1, the union announced an unfair labour practice strike at 9 locations, with the remainder operating under a rolling 24-hour contract extension. In a media advisory, the head of the USW National Oil Bargaining Program states: “This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire”. Indeed, the dangerous working conditions of the oil industry have been well documented by no less than the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. These safety and health issues have been at the heart of the dispute, and have resulted in widespread public support from environmental and community groups, as summarized in “Striking for Climate Justice” in Dissent Magazine (Feb. 21). The Sierra Club issued an almost immediate statement of support on Feb. 3, ready to do so because of an earlier agreement spelled out in A Common Position on the Future of Oil (September 2013). Public statements of support from other green groups: Oil Change International; Labor Network for Sustainability, and Communities for a Better Environment, a California-based group  which sums it up: “Environmental justice demands everyone’s right to a safe and healthy work environment and challenges the false choice that would force us to choose between our health and our jobs. Indeed, fighting for worker rights protects community health and safety”.

Public Health Concerns Lead to Fracking Bans in Quebec, New Brunswick, New York; and what about Workers Health Concerns?

Quebec has had a moratorium on fracking since 2011, and in an interview with Radio-Canada in December, the Premier announced that the province would not allow further development. See Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says No to Shale Gas and also in the Montreal Gazette, “Couillard Rules out Fracking”. The premier’s announcement came one day after a report from BAPE, Quebec’s environmental assessment agency, which cited risks to air and water quality, as well as potential increases in noise and light pollution. The report is available only in French, or see the Montreal Gazette summary in English. In New Brunswick, recently-elected Premier Brian Gallant announced a fracking moratorium at the end of the December legislative session – it will be voted on in February. In New York, a fracking moratorium was announced on the grounds that there were significant public health concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking. “Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State” in the New York Times (Dec. 17). The article has a link to the report, A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas
Development. Also of interest: a January report from Friends of the Earth in the U.K.: Making a Better Job of it: Why Renewables and Energy Efficiency are better for Jobs than Fracking (January 2015) reviews and critiques economic impact studies from the U.S. and U.K. and concludes that fracking job estimates have been overstated, and that the jobs created are likely to be short-term, with as yet unknown health risks for workers. On that note, the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress on January 20 released its TUC shale gas briefing: Fracking and workers’ health and safety issues, which briefly reviews some of the important research to date on the public safety issues, especially exposure to hydrocarbons and silica. It concludes that even with regulation in place, unions are needed to give workers the right to refuse unsafe work without the fear of penalty.

Productivity Loss due to Workplace Heat Stress: an Issue for North America, too

In an article appearing in Our World, a publication of the United Nations University, author Tord Kjellstrom argues that economists need to consider the impact of the physiological limits of people exposed to ambient heat when they work.

His article reviews the literature to date on this issue, and contends that climate change is resulting in huge financial losses because of reduced labour productivity: estimated in 2012 as approximately US$2 trillion globally by 2030. High temperatures are already having an impact in tropical and sub-tropical countries, as well as the southern U.S. and Europe, and Australia.

How relevant is this to North America? In 2014, as part of the Risky Business project, the American Climate Prospectus included a chapter on labour productivity, which projected that heat-related losses of labour productivity in 2050 and 2090 in the United States would be the largest actual economic cost of climate change – amounting to approximately 0.2 percent of GDP in 2050. And in October 2014, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “By 2050, many US cities may experience more frequent extreme heat days. For example, New York and Milwaukee may have 3 times their current average number of days hotter than 32°C (90°F)…The adverse health aspects related to climate change may include heat-related disorders, such as heat stress and economic consequences of reduced work capacity”. The article continues to list many other adverse health outcomes and the implications for physicians. Wor

LINKS:

“Productivity Losses Ignored in Economic Analysis of Climate Change” in Our World (September 23, 2014) at: http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/productivity-losses-ignored-in-economic-analysis-of-climate-change

American Climate Prospectus: Economic Risks in the United States (June, updated August 2014) at: http://rhg.com/reports/climate-prospectus

“Climate Change Challenges and Opportunities for Global Health” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) at: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1909928

For more, see the Hothaps website at: http://www.climatechip.org/. Hothaps = High Occupational Temperature: Health and Productivity Suppression, an international research program which studies “the effects of heat exposure on working people (including gender aspects and effects on pregnant women and on children), to quantify climate change-related increases in workplace heat exposures and the impact this will have on human health and productivity”.

Nova Scotia Bans Onshore Fracking; Explores Energy Options

Following a two-year moratorium and the release of the report of a 10-person expert panel chaired by Cape Breton University president David Wheeler, Nova Scotia announced its decision to prohibit onshore high-volume fracking on September 3rd. The ban does not include less risky onshore extraction methods or offshore high-volume fracking.

Nova Scotia’s offshore oil and gas reserves are significantly larger and have already attracted $2 billion in investments and proposals to build three LNG plants. The South Canoe wind project, currently under construction, and a tidal turbine to be built next year will further buttress the province’s energy resources.

Consultations with the public and Mi’kmaq communities revealed a strong mistrust of fracking. See the website of the Hydraulic Fracturing Review at: http://www.cbu.ca/hfstudy, with links to submissions, studies and press coverage. See also “High-volume fracking to be banned in Nova Scotia” available at the CBC at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/high-volume-fracking-to-be-banned-in-nova-scotia-1.2754439.

On the heels of the announcement, a study released by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that some fracking workers are exposed to unsafe volumes of benzene when inspecting storage tanks. “Evaluation of Some Potential Chemical Exposure Risks During Flowback Operations in Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction: Preliminary Results” is available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/.VBDknKOuRas#.VBySDmOln4U, summarized in the Los Angeles Times at: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-fracking-benzene-worker-health-20140910-story.html#page=1.

New Evidence About the Climate Impacts of Methane Leaks Sparks a Union Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

The January 28 meeting of the Global Advisory Group of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy considered a  draft paper concerning fracking. The paper, prepared by the Cornell Global Labor Institute states, “This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or ‘fracking’, and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities and the environment…” It is an extensive review of the core issues driving anti-fracking activism, and the current  activities of social movement  groups and unions (chiefly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in Europe and Argentina). It highlights the pro-fracking position of the AFL-CIO Building Trades union in the U.S. and the anti-fracking statements of Canada’s Unifor and CUPE. About Unifor and CUPE, the paper states: “their perspective on fracking combines a social movement approach that prioritizes solidarity with other movements but it is also grounded in a pragmatic approach to Canadian energy policy involving the use of their natural resources in ways that are responsible and beneficial for the Canadian economy as a whole”.

In a separate document, the Trades Union Congress of the U.K. reiterated its 2012 position in its February 13, 2014 presentation to an Inquiry of the House of Lords into shale gas. It encapsulates two competing interests of trade unions on the issue: the TUC “… wishes to focus on two issues of concern…the need for reliable forecasts of economic and employment benefits; and setting the highest standards for occupational health and safety at work”. It follows up on the TUC policy statement which is based on the precautionary principle and effectively calls for a moratorium on fracking.

Although water consumption and contamination were the initial concerns of anti-fracking activism, the TUED paper states that recent scientific research reveals that methane (the major component of natural gas) is “34 times stronger as a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale, and 86 times more powerful over a 20-year time frame”. Reinforcing the TUED summary, a new paper published in Science in February analyzed more than 200 technical publications examining methane leakage in the natural gas industry, and by expanding the focus to include the production and delivery stages, the authors conclude that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating the amount of methane emitted in the United States by about 50 percent.

The TUED draft paper argues that natural gas can no longer be promoted as a “bridging” fuel towards a lower carbon energy system, and it is no longer appropriate for the fight against shale gas production to be led by local groups at the level of local government. The paper calls for a “global conference sponsored by one or more global trade union bodies”, [to] “work towards a common trade union approach, with the ‘precautionary principle’ as a point of departure”. The paper concludes by proposing a draft resolution for a global moratorium.

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LINKS

Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement: Developing Union Perspectives and Approaches is available from the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website from a link at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/
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An additional summary of scientific research on methane leakage in natural gas and fracking is at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/

TUC press release regarding the House of Lords Inquiry into Shale Gas is at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/node/119642

“Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems” by Brandt et al. in Science (Feb. 14, 2014) is available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6172/733.summary?sid=7f1c6729-6268-488d-9c49-88bdd0b553a1, or summarized in “Study Finds Methane Leaks Negate Benefits of Natural Gas as a Fuel for Vehicles”, (New York Times, Feb. 14) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/us/study-finds-methane-leaks-negate-climate-benefits-of-natural-gas.html?_r=1

For those involved in community-level action in Canada, see the February publication by the Council of Canadians, The Fractivist’s Toolkit, at: http://www.canadians.org/publications/fractivists-toolkit

Rail Transport of Oil and Gas is an Issue for Worker Safety as well as Public Safety

In a communique released on January 23, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) jointly issued recommendations to improve the safe transportation of crude oil by rail. The recommendations – described as strong, urgent, and unprecedented – spring from their investigations into the Lac-Mégantic disaster, which identified critical weaknesses in the North American rail system. “Today we are making three recommendations calling for tougher standards for Class 111 tank cars; route planning and analysis; and emergency response assistance plans.” Transport Minister Raitt committed only to review the recommendations, and highlighted the steps already taken, including to hire more rail inspectors and “to set the groundwork for creating whistleblower protection for employees who raise safety concerns.” Transport Canada already issued new regulations for Class 111 tank cars on January 10th and appointed a Railway Safety Advisory Committee, composed of railway companies, Transport Canada, the Railway Association of Canada, provinces, shippers, suppliers and municipalities. The Advisory Committee is tasked to look at issues including operator fatigue and crew sizes, yet there is no inclusion of labour unions, even though the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and their Maintenance of Way Employees Division (TCRC-MWED) represent 12,000 workers who operate the trains and repair the tracks, and Unifor Rail Division represents another 9,000 rail workers in Canada. The Teamsters have launched their own rail safety campaign, Things are Falling off the Rails, at: http://teamstersrail.ca/background.htm.

Read the Canadian Transportation Safety Board communique at: http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/medias-media/communiques/rail/2014/r13d0054-20140123.asp. The response by Transport Canada Minister Lisa Raitt to the CTSB communique is at: http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=811029. See also the January 10 press release re:rail car regulations at: http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?mthd=advSrch&crtr.page=2&crtr.dpt1D=6695&nid=808769 and the appointment of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (Oct. 2013) at: http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?crtr.sj1D=&crtr.mnthndVl=1&mthd=advSrch&crtr.dpt1D=&nid=783579

CBC Provides First Public Access to Pipeline Safety Data

Through an access-to-information request, CBC News obtained a data set of every pipeline safety incident reported to the National Energy Board between 2000 and 2012. The NEB only oversees 71,000 pipelines that cross provincial or international borders (about a tenth of the overall network. The remaining 760,000 kilometres are monitored by the provinces). The NEB data is based on the requirement that companies must report safety issues including the death or serious injury of a worker, fires, explosions, liquid product spills over 1,500 litres and every gas leak, but it is clear from the discussion of the data that Canada lacks a transparent and accurate reporting system, despite the recommendation for improvements from a Senate committee. The data provided to the CBC show that there were 142 pipelines safety incidents in 2011, and that the rate of pipeline incidents has doubled in the past decade. Most incidents have occurred in B.C., followed by Alberta, followed by Ontario.

The interactive map at: http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/pipeline-incidents/ and allows you to specify the category of “serious accidents” or “fatalities” to see brief summaries of incidents, usually relating to worker safety.  

For an explanation of the limitations of Canadian data see:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/pipeline-safety-canada-lags-u-s-on-making-data-public-1.2254793 and http://www.cbc.ca/news/pipeline-safety-incidents-how-we-organized-the-data-1.2251835.

Safety for Pipeline Workers Raised as Part of the Pipeline Debate

The recent oil spills in Alberta and Lac Megantic have raised the public profile of rail transport of oil and gas products in Canada.  The Fraser Institute, apparently in response to the worsening prospects of U.S. approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, released a report on Intermodal Safety in the Transport of Oil on October 15. Although the paper cites summary data from the National Energy Board about oil spills and injuries in Canada, the conclusions are based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) for the period 2005-2009. The paper compares injury statistics amongst workers in the pipeline, rail, and road modes of transport and finds that the rate of injury requiring hospitalization among oil pipeline workers was 30 times lower than that of rail workers, and 37 times lower than trucking workers. The paper concludes, “The evidence is clear: transporting oil by pipeline is safe and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, pipeline transportation is safer than transportation by road, rail, or barge, as measured by incidents, injuries, and fatalities- even though more road and rail incidents go unreported.”  The paper does NOT address the environmental damage caused by spills, or injury to citizens.

LINKS

Intermodal Safety in the Transport of Oil is available at the Fraser Institute at:http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/publications/intermodal-safety-in-the-transport-of-oil.pdf

U.S. Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) website provides data and statistics at: http://phmsa.dot.gov/pipeline/library/data-stats

Canada’s National Energy Board Pipeline Spills information is available at:http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rsftyndthnvrnmnt/sfty/pplnncdntgrprtng/pplnncdntshydrcrbnsplls/pplnncdntshydrcrbnsplls-eng.html

How Green are Solar Jobs? Solar Scorecard Ranks Manufacturers on Working Conditions and Health and Safety

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Annual Scorecard measures and ranks how solar manufacturing companies around the world perform on sustainability and social justice benchmarks, including extended producer responsibility, emissions transparency, chemical reduction policies, use of prison labour and conflict minerals, water policies, and the presence of internal policies for worker health and safety. In 2013, despite low survey response levels, the Scorecard ranked 40 companies, representing over 80% of the market share in the photovoltaic industry.  Of those 40, only 7 have comprehensive internal policies that address worker rights and health and safety. These were: Astronergy (China), Sharp (Japan), SolarWorld (U.S.), SunPower (U.S.), Suntech (Japan), Trina (China), and Yingli (China). Solar Valley Toxics Coalition is a San Francisco-based advocacy group with the stated goals of reducing the use of toxic chemicals in the photovoltaic solar manufacturing industry, developing responsible recycling systems, and protecting workers throughout the global PV supply chain.     

Another source of information may soon be available. In May 2013, the U.S.-based Solar Energy Industry Association finalized a Solar Commitment – a voluntary agreement which sets out “solar-specific and general best practice provisions regarding the environment, labor, ethics, health and safety, and management practices of the company.” Labour guidelines include freedom of association, hours and wages, and protection from sexual harassment. Health and safety standards include machine protection, training, protection from toxic substances, and protection from discipline for raising safety concerns. Companies that sign on to the Solar Commitment must provide an annual report on key performance indicators – no reports have been released yet. Signatories to date are: Dow Solar, Gerhlicher Solar America, PV Recycling, SunEdison, SunPower, Suntech, Trina, and Yingli Solar. 

LINKS

Solar Valley Toxics Coalition Solar Scorecard is available athttp://www.solarscorecard.com/2013/2013-SVTC-Solar-Scorecard.pdf

 Background  discussion, and links to solar companies featured in  the SVTC Scorecard is at CleanTechnica at: http://cleantechnica.com/2013/08/13/silicon-valley-toxics-coalitions-2013-solar-scorecard-just-release/

SEIA Solar Commitment Factsheet is at:http://www.seia.org/sites/default/files/Solar%20Commitment%20factsheet_2013.pdf

Future Green Jobs and Workplaces: The Need for Health and Safety Protection

A report released by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work identifies and forecasts the key new technologies that may be introduced in green jobs by 2020, and the possible risks they will bring to the workplace. The report constructs three scenarios (win-win; bonus world; and  deep green), and for each scenario, forecasts the future of jobs in wind energy, green construction, waste management and recycling; green transport; green manufacturing; domestic and small-scale energy; energy storage and transmission.  It concludes with wide-ranging and thoughtful observations about the likely changes to work processes and materials, and argues convincingly that there is “a need for a systematic, prior OSH assessment of any new technology, product and process at a very early development stage that considers the entire life cycle, from ‘cradle to cradle’ (i.e. including design, manufacture, transport, installation, operation and maintenance, decommissioning, treatment of waste and later reuse). Integrating prevention into the design is more efficient, as well as cheaper, than retrofitting OSH; this needs to start now for safe future green jobs.”

LINKS

Green jobs and occupational safety and health: Foresight on new and merging risks associated with new technologies by 2020 is at https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/reports/green-jobs-foresight-new-emerging-risks-technologies

Worldwide Case Studies of Decent Green Jobs Show the Need for Strong Policy Support

A special issue of the International Journal of Labor Research, dated 2012 but just released in 2013, provides case studies of green jobs in Korea, South Africa, the EU, and a chapter on “Working Conditions in ‘Green Jobs’: Women in the Renewable Energy Sector”, by researchers from the European WiRES project. From the Journal’s Forward:”While these results remain very partial, this should be seen as an important reminder that “green” employment is not decent by definition and that in any other sector, green jobs require careful stewardship from public authorities to ensure that workers are able to exercise their rights. …Indeed, government subsidies and procurement to encourage the shift to a greener environment should be attached to strict clauses protecting the rights to freedom of association and to bargain collectively and ensuring decent minimum conditions for workers.”  

LINK 

Are Green Jobs Decent? In the International Journal of Labor Research (2012) v. 4 #2, published by the International Labor Organization at: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_dialogue/—actrav/documents/publication/wcms_207887.pdf

Models Predict the Effect of Heat Stress on Workers

A scientific article by researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses historical climate data from 1860 and modeling to 2200 to forecast “wet-bulb temperatures” – a heat stress indicator that takes humidity into account. They estimate that if carbon dioxide levels keep rising over the next two centuries, labour capacity during the hottest months will fall from a current level of approximately 90% to 80% by 2050, 63% by 2100 and 39% by 2200, in the worst case scenario. Although the worst effects would be felt in tropical and mid-latitudes, the authors predict that “heat stress in Washington D.C. becomes higher than present-day New Orleans, and New Orleans exceeds present-day Bahrain.”

LINKS 

“Reductions in Labour Capacity From Heat Stress Under Climate Warming”, by John P. Dunne, Ronald J. Stouffer & Jasmin G. John in Nature Climate Change online, February 23, 2013 (abstract free; full article for a fee) at:http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1827.html

A layman’s summary appears in Surprising Science, published by the Smithsonian Institute, at:http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/02/climate-change-is-reducing-our-ability-to-get-work-done/