Unfortunately, U.S. employment laws are not equipped to deal with the day-to-day mental strains placed on retail workers. Workers compensation laws generally do not compensate purely mental injuries. Workplace bullying or harassment is only legally actionable if the harassment is severe or pervasive and motivated by an unlawful factor like race, religion, nationality, sex, disability, etc.
In a report chock full of statistics about safety and the workforce in Lincoln, there was no mention about the number of workplace injuries and/or deaths in Lincoln. The Nebraska Workers Compensation Court tracks workplace injuries and deaths statewide. In Fiscal Year 2016, the last year statistics were available, there were nearly 40,000 reported workplace injuries in Nebraska and 40 reported workplace deaths. By a rough estimate, nearly 6000 of those workplace injuries would have taken place in Lincoln and roughly six of those workplace deaths would have taken place in Lincoln.
There is an old adage that goes “Measure what counts and what counts is measured.” If workforce deaths and injuries aren’t measured in Propser Lincoln’s “Vital Signs” does that mean that workplace safety doesn’t count in Lincoln, Nebraska because it wasn’t measured?
It might be harsh to conclude that workplace safety doesn’t matter to groups like Prosper Lincoln, but if you look at who is behind Prosper Lincoln you can see why concerns about workplace safety may have been excluded. Propser Lincoln is heavy on voices from the business community, government, academia and the non-profit sector. There aren’t a lot of voices for employees who are part of Propser Lincoln. I believe that many of these people, some of who I am friends with, are for the most part well-meaning but live in such a white-collar world that the idea of getting hurt at work is almost far-fetched. Maybe this cloistered mindset explains why a supposedly comprehensive report about Lincoln’s economy excludes information about workplace safety. Maybe the same mindset explains ignoring fairly well-publicized links between work injuries and poverty.
City and local governments can take actions to promote workplace safety. Many cities have taken actions to protect convenience store clerks and and other retail workers who work overnight shifts. Sometimes occupational safety and public safety are thought of as separate topics, but protecting retail workers is something that comprises both public and occupational safety. Protecting retail workers from violence in Lincoln would be a good first step, counting workplace fatalities and injuries within the City of Lincoln would be another.
The total solar eclipse skirted just south of our Lincoln office on Monday. The once or twice in a lifetime event was a tourist draw for Nebraska and all around eastern Nebraska today there was a semi-festive atmosphere surrounding the eclipse. (When the eclipse passed over Lincoln around 1 p.m., the cloud cover combined with the eclipse created the temporary appearance of a severe storm coming in at dusk)
In and of itself the eclipse is interesting and even awe-inspiring, but I am not sure it completely explains why people are so fascinated by the event. I believe that part of the attraction of the eclipse is that it gives people an excuse to get away from work on a Monday – especially a Monday in summer.
I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. Americans work hard.
Earlier this year, the Heinz Corporation announced it was giving its employees a vacation day on Super Bowl Monday. Corporate America realizes that American workers work hard and some companies realize that giving people a little extra time off isn’t going to hurt the bottom line. And whether it’s a solar eclipse, the Monday after the Super Bowl or “Black Friday” hard working Americans are going to take some deserved time off from work if they are able.
Walmart announced last week that it started a pilot program where store employees will deliver packages from stores on their way home from work. If this practice is adopted company wide and adopted by the retail industry as a whole, it will change the nature of retail employment.
Delivery jobs tend to be more physically demanding than retail clerk jobs and can also subject employees to DOT requirements. If package delivery becomes an expected part of retail employment, retail jobs will have more physical and occupational requirements. This could mean in the future that retail jobs may not be a fallback option for workers from other physically demanding occupations who become unable to do their old jobs because of injuries or health problems.
Additional licensure and certifications aren’t unheard of in the world of occupational health. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implemented a new rule that only doctors on their registry can perform DOT Physical Examinations for truckers and other professional drivers. This reduced the number of doctors who can perform those examinations.
When I testified on LB 408, a bill that would have implemented drug formularies for opioids under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, some doctors were testifying that there was little training in regards to prescribing opioids. Though an opioid prescription registry like the DOT examination registry wasn’t proposed, you could certainly see it proposed as a solution to the opioid problem.
But that article also shared studies that state that pain pill prescriptions are not driving the opioid epidemic. Patients with pre-existing addiction issues are more likely to become addicted to opioids and 75 percent of those who develop opioids start taking opioids in a non-prescribed manner. Furthermore, only 12 to 13 percent of ER patients who are treated for opioid overdoses are chronic pain patients.
At least in Nebraska, employers are required to file First Reports of Injury with the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court. The information contained in those reports serves a similar function to OSHA logs and would allow workers, unions, attorneys and or regulators to identify recurring safety problems. Those reports are also public records. I recently testified against an insurance industry supported bill in the Nebraska legislature that would have made those reports confidential records.
The example of beryiluim could explain why exposure to manganese levels at supposedly safe levels can lead to occupational disease. Those supposedly safe levels of exposure may not actually be safe. Another explanation about why supposedly safe levels of manganese lead to Parkinson’s could be found in the practices of the coal industry. Howard Berkes of NPR and Ken Ward Jr., author of the excellent Coal Tattoo blog for the Charleston (WV.) Gazette Mail teamed up to report on how coal companies would fudge coal dust level testing to make it appear that miners were exposed to much lower levels of coal dust than they were actually exposed.
OSHA’s rules could also be reversed by Congress under the Congressional Review Act. In 2001, the OSHA ergonomics rule that would have reduced musculo-skeletal injuries was reversed under this law.