New Year, New Challenge


Well, the first news about work in 2015 is not good news. Layoffs announced by Caterpillar are causing worry and uncertainty among our members once again. It’s really unfortunate because those laid off workers had nothing to do with the decisions made or market conditions that were used to justify these decisions, but we’ve faced times like these before. Hopefully, the world mining business will pick up soon and our brothers and sisters will be returned to work.

Those of us fortunate enough to still be working will continue to face the same old hazards we always have – this has to change. Just because times are slow, doesn’t mean we can allow hazards to continue to exist without being addressed. The people we work for (no not your employer, but the people we really work for, those who love and depend on us) deserve to know we work in a safe and healthy environment. So, even though there are layoffs in the news, there is no excuse for working in areas were unsafe conditions go unabated. As I heard at a conference this fall, “The absence of injuries does not indicate the presence of safety”.

Late last year I heard one of our members from the logistics facility ended up suspended from a shock absorbing lanyard attached to an order picker after a fall. Luckily, this individual was high enough at the time of the fall they didn’t hit the ground. Another employee reportedly helped rescue the dangling worker.

According to a major fall protection manufacturer, only self-retracting lifelines should be used when heights are 18 ½ feet or below. Above 18 ½ feet, shock absorbing lanyards or self-retracting lifelines are appropriate ( Gravity Kills…Defy It).

After surviving a fall, one can be seriously injured or killed if left suspended, even for short periods of time. That is the reason our CAT Logistics union representatives have been asking management to purchase shorter self-retracting devices to limit the distance one can fall, giving one a greater opportunity for self-rescue. Apparently, those requests have fallen on deaf ears.

If you use in order picker to perform your job, and it is not equipped with a self-retracting device and you work at heights below 18 ½ feet, you are at risk. Ask your supervisor for the proper equipment. If it is not provided, I challenge you to ask for your union safety representatives and file a safety complaint as per 8.3 in the collective bargaining agreement.

If you work in the big tan building right next to the river in East Peoria there may be some changes for you coming in 2015. It appears that we are finally going to get lockout/tagout (LOTO) protection for those who have to work on large crawler type tractors. Prior to this, someone working under a tractor would have to rely on someone else walking around the equipment to determine if anyone was underneath before starting it up and/or moving it. I don’t know about you, but that person is not as invested in the potential outcome as the person underneath the tractor.

LOTO requirements for equipment have been in effect for years in other Peoria area facilities, but this concept seems to be a revelation to some managers in the Richland Bottoms. If you work on equipment that could be started or moved without your knowledge while performing your job and you have not received this training, tell your supervisor. If your supervisor is not able to help you, again, I challenge you to ask for your union safety representative. If you are given LOTO training, follow the procedures to protect yourself, for nothing will protect you better than your lock and your key.

Before the holidays I was involved in discussions related to air quality and ventilation in Mapleville. From what I was told there are ventilation systems in that facility that are plugged completely, rotted through, blanked off and/or are totally inadequate. In addition, it was said there are insufficient personnel to inspect and maintain said equipment and systems.

Air quality in the work environment has long been recognized as a potential health issue. OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard states, In the control of those occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors, the primary objective shall be to prevent atmospheric contamination. Furthermore the Standard says, This shall be accomplished as far as feasible by accepted engineering control measures (for example, enclosure or confinement of the operation, general and local ventilation, and substitution of less toxic materials).

OSHA says respirators are not to be used as a substitute for engineering controls unless such controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted. “Not feasible” does not mean, "The systems cost too much to maintain..." or "we don't have the money in the budget or the people available to repair the system", it means if you have a system that is broken – fix it.

I know there has been a lot of money put into the machine shop side of the foundry in recent years, but it appears the foundry side has been largely neglected. In contrast the condition of our foundry, the Deere & Co. foundry in Waterloo Iowa recently completed a three year, $150 million modernization of a reportedly well-maintained 40 year-old facility (there are some nice pictures of the Deere foundry in the article)

The manager of the Deere Foundry, Josh Wittenburg says in the article, "A big part of everything we invest in is about our employees and providing a better environment to work in," bucking the stereotypical perception of a foundry environment, Wittenburg said. "We are the safest foundry in the industry here and we have a great place for our employees to work.

"We remove them (the employees) from the hazards and work them smarter, not harder" Wittenburg said, through automation and improved technology. "And that helps us attract employees to the foundry and retain them here. There are employees who have been here a long time, and they love it here and have no desire to leave. We continue to invest in making it a safe place, a better place to work."

Foundry work has long been considered hazardous to workers health and safety. In fact, foundry employees used to get six years of seniority for every five years they worked at the foundry. Contrast the philosophy of a competitor to that of an employer that would outsource dangerous jobs like chipping, finning and the liner blast work. The work wasn't made better, it was given to people the employer was no longer accountable for.

We can no longer accept substandard working conditions, a lack of proper safety equipment, unsafe practices, procedures or improperly maintained equipment and systems. If we have knowledge of deficiencies that place our health and safety or that of others at risk, we are obligated to act to address those problems. We have a collective bargaining agreement with a safety complaint procedure and we have a grievance procedure. We have union representatives who will help, if only we allow them to by asking for them. That means that we all have to raise our hand when something is not right, even though it may be uncomfortable. The people who depend on us expect no less – are you up to the challenge?