Heartland Labor Forum - June 29, 2000
This is Mary Erio for Safety First.


1. The Delphi Automotive Systems car-battery plant in Olathe, Kansas has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for exposing workers to hazardous levels of lead-oxide dust, reports the Olathe Daily News.

The Delphi plant was first fined more than $25,000 for the violations but reached a settlement with OSHA, paying $6,075 in fines and agreeing to correct the problems without admitting fault. Delphi, a former subsidiary of General Motors Corp., has manufactured truck and car batteries since 1956. The lead-oxide powder is mixed in vats to form a paste. The paste is formed and dried in an oven, making lead plates for auto batteries.


Some of the OSHA findings included:

· Personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head and extremities wasn't provided or used whenever necessary.

· A workplace hazard assessment to determine necessary personal protective equipment wasn't completed.

· Employees who inspect and handle the lead plates were exposed to lead oxide between 1.16 and 1.8 times the legal limit for lead. 

· Improper handling and storing of contaminated uniforms in men's and women's locker rooms, and

· Accumulated lead-oxide dust was found on water fountains, in cabinets where clean respirators are stored, in lunchrooms and on a shelf in a women's locker room.


The inhalation of lead-oxide dust, or swallowing the dust through smoking or eating, can cause serious health risks over a prolonged period of time. The lack of proper personal hygiene, such as showering at the end of the work day, and wearing contaminated clothing or footwear, also can contaminate an employee's home, exposing children to lead. 

The plant will comply with the OSHA abatement and will meet the deadline, said a company spokeswomen, "We are committed to the health and safety of our employees."

2. Beryllium Dust Levels Confirmed at Nuclear Weapons Parts Plant, reports the Kansas City Star, June 22

Excessive levels of beryllium dust have contaminated 145,000 square feet within the nuclear weapons parts plant operated by Honeywell International. Some Beryllium levels were more than 60 times government limits. Contamination was found in 11 areas where beryllium copper alloys were cut, ground or machined into triggers and other high-precision parts, according to the company’s health and safety manager. The beryllium was not found to be airborne. The Kansas City Plant located on Bannister Road, has used the alloy in a small part of its manufacturing operations since the 1950's.

The disclosure of significant contamination is the latest development at the plant. It was identified this year by the Department of Energy, which owns the plant, as one of 26 sites where workers might have been exposed to toxic levels of beryllium dust. On June 18, the Kansas City Star reported that nearly 6400 former workers are being asked to undergo tests this year to determine whether they were exposed. When inhaled, beryllium dust can cause chronic breathing problems and lung cancer. 

Mike Roepke, business representative for Lodge 314 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said workers didn’t appear to be concerned about the current state of the plant. The 20 year machinists are the ones who are worried.

The beryllium program, including the cleanup, must be completed by January 2002.

3. Republican-Controlled House and Senate Vote to Block OSHA's Ergonomics Rule

On June 22nd, the Senate voted largely along party lines to block OSHA's ergonomics standard. The vote, 57- 41, was an amendment offered to the FY 2001 Labor-HHS bill by Senator Mike Enzi ( R- WY) to prohibit OSHA from issuing the rule for another year. Only one Republican, Arlen Specter-PA, voted against it. The Clinton Administration made clear both before the vote and again after the vote, that the President will veto this bill and any bill that contains a prohibition on the ergonomics standard and that the Administration is committed to and will issue an ergonomics standard before the end of President Clinton's term.

The vote in the Senate came when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott refused to let Democrats bring up an amendment on prescription drugs for Medicare recipients, unless there was a vote on Sen. Enzi's anti-ergonomics amendment. With the Clinton Administration's certain veto of the bill, the Democrats agreed to a vote on the Enzi amendment.

The vote in the Senate underscored that business groups have made stopping OSHA's ergonomics standard a top priority and that Republicans are prepared to go to any lengths in attempts to stop this important worker protection. Enzi claims that OSHA is moving too fast on the rule (even though OSHA's been working on the rule for 10 years!). Opponents have moved off their arguments that there's "no science" on ergonomics, now claim that the rule will bankrupt medicare and medicaid, and throw senior citizens out of their nursing homes.

The Senate vote followed the June 14th House passage of the FY 2001 Labor-HHS Funding bill by a narrow margin (217-214) largely along party lines. In addition to blocking OSHA's ergonomic standard, the bill would cut funding for OSHA enforcement. In this area, Representatives Ike Skelton and Karen McCarthy voted against the bill. Pat Danner did not vote. On the Kansas side, Dennis Moore voted against the bill.

To become more involved in the ergonomics legislation, check out the aflcio website at in the health and safety section.

The National Consumers League Lists Top 5 Worst Teen Jobs

Are you teenage worker- Every year 200,000 young workers under the age of 18 are injured on the job, and more than 70 are killed, a consumer watchdog group reported on June 22nd. Many teenagers are working in unsafe conditions or are not receiving the training they need to stay safe on the job, says the Washington, D.C. based National Consumers League. 

“We encourage teens and their parents to discuss the type of work, the training provided, the hours they’ll spend onthe job, and the level of supervision,” said Linda Golodner, NCL president. “Above all we urge teens to avoid the five worst jobs, because no amount of money is worth an injury or death on the job,” she said. 

The five worst jobs identified by the NCL include:

· Delivery and other driving - Driving is the leading cause of occupational injury and death for workers of all ages. Federal law prohibits driving as an occupation for minors under 17, and driving limits are placed on 17 year old employees.

· Cash based businesses - Working alone in cash based businesses and late at night makes teens highly vulnerable. Homicide consistently remains a top cause of occupational injury and death for workers under the age of 18.

· Traveling youth crews - “On the street” work is dangerous due to increased risk of motor vehicle injury and vulnerability to assaults and abductions, says NCL. Street selling and door- to- door selling is not permitted for minors under age 14. Some states set different limits. 

· Cooking - Exposure to hot oil and grease, hot water and steam, and hot cooking surfaces can also be a major hazard. Federal law permits limited cooking for 14 and 15 year-olds. Minors under 18 are not allowed to operate, clean, or repair commercial ovens, meat grinders, or slicing machines.

· Construction and work and heights - Most fatalities among construction workers are the result of falls, says the group. Construction work is prohibited under federal law for youths under 16 years of age, and roofing, excavation, and demolition are prohibited for workers under age 18. Young people may learn the construction trade in a safe environment through a school sponsored apprenticeship or student learner programs.

This is Mary Erio for Safety First.