Your Junk Might Fall Off


Now that I’ve got your attention, I wanted you to know I’ve received more than a few questions as to why I didn’t have an article in the last edition of the Local 974 News. I feel good knowing at least some of you are reading my articles, which some have described as “screeds”. I actually was on vacation and enjoyed the time off to re-charge.

Not long after my return, I received notice that OSHA had inspected and cited Caterpillar’s East Peoria plant ( for violations of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Specifically, Caterpillar was alleged to have failed to educate the workers of the physical and health hazards of a particular isocyanate paint used in Building LL. The HCS, also known as “Right To Know”, contains one of our most basic rights as employees-the right to know about the hazards associated with the chemicals we are exposed to in the workplace.

Exposure to hazardous chemicals is a serious hazard. Exposure to some isocyanates can be deadly, as was evidenced on December 2, 1984 when thousands died as a result of an exposure from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. Other types of isocyanates can cause asthma. Regardless, exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace is a very serious problem.

Each year, roughly 4500 workers die of injuries sustained on the job- a national tragedy. In contrast, through February 2013, 4,475 U.S. service members were killed during the Iraq War, and in Afghanistan, 2,165 have lost their lives (

As horrific as those statistics are, they pale in comparison with the results of the number of deaths attributed to illnesses caused by exposure to chemicals in the workplace. On the OSHA website, a page about skin exposure to chemicals that says, an estimated 60,000 deaths and 860,000 occupational illnesses per year in the US attributed to occupational exposure… “( Contrasting those 60,000 deaths with the 58,220 ( ) U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War is very disturbing.

Your employer has the obligation under Paragraph (h) of the HCS to train you on the hazardous chemicals in your work area before your initial assignment. When new chemicals or hazardous materials are introduced into the work area, training on these materials must be conducted by the employer. This training must be conducted in a manner and language that you can understand. All workers must understand the risks from exposure to hazardous chemicals they may encounter, and in in Building LL, the workers allegedly were not informed.

In addition, the HCS requires employers to insure that all hazardous materials are labeled and that Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are readily available for the employees to examine in their work area(s). You should know how and where to find an SDS and should not have to ask anyone, not the supervisor, not the team leader, not the person from EH & S or anyone else. You should always know where and how to access this critical chemical information yourself. If you don’t know where or how to access the SDSs, you need to learn immediately.

The SDSs provide information on the hazards of a chemical, ways to protect yourself and the symptoms of exposure to the respective hazardous materials. The SDSs must be available for you to review without having to ask anyone. Furthermore, if you want a copy of an SDS, Letter of Agreement #12 in our contact states…The Company agrees to provide employees exposed to hazardous materials with the Material Safety Data Sheets for those materials during the shift that the request was made, provided sufficient time is available.

So, if you’re working with a paint that has a respiratory hazard associated with it and you develop asthma or if you already have asthma and it gets worse, you might want to show your doctor a copy of the SDS for the paint you’re using. I would also suggest you start collecting SDSs for the hazardous materials you use. Put them in a file folder or manila envelope somewhere and hope that you never need them.

 Most of us work because we want to provide for those who depend on us. There is nothing brave, heroic, studly, or to be admired by not knowing the hazards of the chemicals and materials we work with. You must know these four things:

·         The specific name of the chemical(s) or hazardous material(s)

·         The personal protective equipment needed to protect yourself

·         The safest way to use the material

·         The symptoms of exposure

If you’re having problems with hazardous materials or have a question about them, ask your supervisor. If your supervisor doesn’t know the answer, or if you’re not satisfied with the response you receive, ask for your UAW Health & Safety Representative. Your Health & Safety Rep will be able to either help you or escalate the issue to people who can.

I understand how dreadfully boring reading about chemicals and exposures can be, but what if I told you that your mommy parts or daddy parts would fall off if you were exposed to a particular chemical? I’ll bet you would show a little more interest. Lacking a health effect as dramatic as “your junk might fall off”, you’re left with being told that some chemicals or materials you work with may cause a slow miserable death to cancer or emphysema. Go ahead and explain to those who care for you (and may have to watch you die) that you could have learned about chemical hazards, while being paid, but it was just too boring.