Everyone should have the right to a safe workplace but for too many of us this is not the case. Occupational disease is the fourth leading cause of death in New York State. Every day, 16 workers in the United States die as a result of a work accident, 1,500 workers die as a result of an occupational disease they developed at work (exposure to asbestos, chemicals, solvents, dust, metals and radiation sometimes many years earlier) and thousands more suffer disabling injuries, often as a result of heavy work, unsafe conditions or difficult or repetitive tasks like typing or assembly work. Most of these deaths and injuries are preventable and many result from workplace hazards that violate the law.
If you are concerned about your working conditions or have been injured or become ill because of your job, call the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) to discuss your situation. We can help you reach the correct agencies or offices to deal with diagnosis, file a complaint, help modify your job site so that the injury/exposure will not be repeated and to find more information about your specific situation.
The TCWC has an Occupational Health and Safety Trainer on staff, Carlos Gutierrez, who can provide trainings for individuals or groups of people. Please contact Carlos at our office 607-269-0409 or via email, firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information. You can also call the Midstate Education and Service Foundation, MESF, (our local Council on Occupational Safety and Health) at 607-275-9560 or email email@example.com for more information.
Our work around Health and Safety issues in the workplace is funded by the MESF, located in Ithaca, NY, as well as Interfaith Worker Justice based in Chicago.
MESF, the local affiliate of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health has been conducting training and education for area workers since 1989, ever since it originated within the Tompkins-Cortland Labor Coalition. During this time it has trained thousands of workers, produced hundreds of newsletters and fact sheets. It produced FYI, a health and safety newsletter for health care workers for many years. It also produced the Steel Toe, a health and safety fact sheet for construction workers from 2001-2004. MESF has an ergonomist (a person who helps design workplaces to minimize repetitive motion injuries) on staff. We offer free ergonomic training for any workplace in our area. We are currently providing training to immigrant workers in basic health and safety rights and protections.
What government agencies and regulations protect workers? What agency can I contact if I’m concerned about health and safety hazards at work?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gives employees the right to file complaints about workplace safety and health hazards. Further, the Act gives complainants the right to request that their names not be revealed to their employers. Complaints from employees and their representatives are taken seriously by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency).
If you believe your working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful, you have several options. Complaints can be filed online at www.osha.gov. You can also download a complaint form at that site and submit it to the regional OSHA office (3300 Vickery Road, North Syracuse, 315- 451-0808) or call them to discuss your concerns with an OSHA employee.
If there is an emergency or the hazard is immediately life-threatening, call your local OSHA Regional Office in Syracuse at 315-451-0808 or 1-800-321-OSHA.
The Workers’ Center is also always happy to help you through this process.
Another agency, PESH (NYS Public Employee Safety and Health) protects public workers’ right to a safe and healthful workplace.
Employers must obey safety standards and regulations. These standards:
- Limit the amount of hazardous chemicals workers can be exposed to
- Mandate the use of certain safety practices and equipment
- Guarantee the right to file a complaint and get an OSHA inspection
- Require employers to train workers about chemical hazards
- Protect workers against retaliation for raising safety concerns
OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HazComm) requires an employer to train a worker before you work with or are exposed to any chemical product. The training should inform a worker of the hazards, outline the symptoms of overexposure and tell you how to protect yourself. Employers must give you access to chemical information sheets called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
You have the right to the results of any monitoring that your employer, OSHA or an outside testing company conducts at your workplace. This includes testing the air for chemicals or measuring noise levels or radiation. You also have the right to any of your medical records, including the results of medical exams, which your employer keeps. And finally, OSHA requires employers to keep a yearly log of all reported work-related injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300 Log). You have the right to receive a copy of this log.
To get any of this information, give your employer a dated, written request. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter. If the information requested is not provided within 15 days, you can file a complaint with OSHA.
Where can I get more information about chemicals I work with?
A detailed database of chemical factsheets can be found at http://web.doh.state.nj.us/rtkhsfs/indexFs.aspx
The Fact Sheets are prepared for substances on the New Jersey Right to Know Hazardous Substance List. More than 1,600 Fact Sheets have been completed and more than 800 have been translated into Spanish. The Fact Sheets are prepared on pure substances and contain information on health hazards, exposure limits, personal protective equipment, proper handling, first aid, and emergency procedures for fires and spills.
I think my health is being affected by my work. I think I may be exposed to carcinogens. Who can help me?
The Tompkins County Workers’ Center’s partner Occupational Health Clinical Center of Syracuse is an excellent resource for injured or ill workers. OHCC can work with you to identify workplace health and illness risks and show you and your employer how hazardous exposures can be reduced or eliminated. They can also offer assistance in modifying your worksite and/or work habits to prevent further health problems.
OHCC has a team of occupational medicine specialists, industrial hygienist, social worker, nurses and other trained staff who provide a variety of services. Their mission is to provide an accurate, independent diagnosis of work-related illness in workers and former workers. If you feel that your health has been affected by your work, OHCC will take a medical and occupational history, perform a physical examination, do diagnostic testing, provide referrals for treatment and has social work services available.
Also dedicated to prevention of work-related health issues, OHCC has screening and monitoring programs, educates in disease and hazard recognition, evaluates health hazards in the workplace and makes recommendations for eradication of the hazards and collects data regarding occupational disease.
To make an appointment, call 315-432-8899 or 800-432-9590 between 9 am and 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.
OHCC, a New York State program, has an advisory board of representatives from labor groups, business organizations, academic institutions and other work related groups.
I was hurt on the job but my boss told me I’m not eligible for Workers’ Compensation because it was my fault. What can I do?
Workers’ Compensation is a form of insurance paid by your employer which entitles you to certain payments if you are injured, become sick or die on the job. It is a no-fault system: the issue of whom – if anyone – was at fault in causing the injury or illness is not considered. It is not up to your employer to decide if you receive benefits. File a claim. The Workers’ Compensation Board decides whether your injury or illness is covered.
You can reach the Workers’ Compensation Board at 607-721-8356 or 315-423-2932.