A Health and Safety Wish for the Holidays


First and foremost, I wish all of you a safe and healthful holiday season. All of us have much to be thankful for, but unfortunately there are a number of our brothers and sisters who are still suffering the effects of serious injury or illness due to work-related exposure to hazards. With those workers in mind and the knowledge that the results of their injuries could have easily been much worse, I think managementís actions in many cases have been much louder than their words. There has been significant emphasis placed on health and safety and much has been done to improve the work conditions we face daily, but many of those improvements have come grudgingly or at a high cost to workers.


A little more than a year ago OSHA showed up at Mossville investigating hazards in the Hot Test Cells. These were hazards identified by the membership. The union processed the complaint and continued to fight to address these hazards for three years before seeking assistance from OSHA. The potential for fires in the test cells during these years was constant, not to mention the burns, slips and other injuries suffered by workers. In addition to specific hazards identified by the workers in the test cells, floor conditions and the ability to safely escape the test cells were cited by OSHA. Amazingly after the inspection, new engine cold test procedures were enacted, safety devices were installed in the test cells, and other long-promised changes were made.


Last January, one of our brothers was injured when an unguarded grinding wheel blew up, striking him in the face. Rather than addressing the problem of the unguarded grinder, management disciplined the injured worker. Again, OSHA was asked to help address the problem. Weeks after settling the citation for the unguarded grinder, another worker was injured by an exploding wheel on an unguarded grinder a stones throw from the scene of the first injury. A subsequent investigation revealed in excess of 150 more unguarded grinders. That I know of, no member of management was disciplined for allowing that situation to exist, but now the grinders are guarded.


After the incident last Winter where the overhead crane fell, striking and seriously injuring one of our brothers, Caterpillar management took the extraordinary step of shutting down all the cranes in that business unit for inspection. Still that didnít mean that there were not several other serious crane incidents during the year in other business units, but luckily there were no further injuries. One OSHA complaint regarding cranes resulted in a citation and during settlement discussions, it was said that management didnít feel that they should be penalized because nobody was hurt.


Before Easter, one of our members suffered a serious injury when he fell from an unguarded work platform. The Safety Committeeman filed two Safety Complaints about the platforms and still it took nearly a month for management to require the guardrails (which were nearby in the work area) to be reinstalled to prevent another fall.


There have been many instances where workers were disciplined following safety-related incidents. Some found themselves in trouble after reporting injuries, others after escaping near-death experiences like being crushed by automated equipment. It seems that the consistent theme during the investigations of these incidents is that the workers did something wrong and management is faultless. Many people have had their vehicle operatorís responsibilities suspended after vehicle incidents, yet when a member of management rams a fork truck with a scooter, there is no accountability.


All in all, I can say my wish for myself last year did come to pass. We did not have one brother or sister killed in a workplace incident, but was due in large part to an incredible amount of luck because we could have had several funerals.


Our lives are fragile and our health is precious so please identify and report all hazards to your supervisor. They are responsible for your health and safety each and every minute you are at work. If you canít get those hazards addressed, call for your UNION Safety Rep so they can help you accomplish the single most important task you do each work dayógo home healthy and safe.


Be safe, be well and be UNION.


Steve Mitchell.