FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Heat, Dust and OSHA

Some years ago, a group of union reps were idly discussing what the “worst possible job” in the world might be, and, having once lived in India, I nominated the low-caste Biharis who had the job of hauling the bones and rotted carcasses of dead animals to who-knows-where, on these rickety, foul smelling, oxen-drawn wagons.  It was their life’s work, a vocation they were born into.

Then somebody mentioned arsenic mines in the Ukraine.  Working inside a mine—with the back-breaking regimen, the danger, the claustrophobia—was hideous enough, but working in one where you mined poison ore seemed almost incomprehensible.  Compared to an arsenic mine, a job in a modern toilet paper factory (which the union represented) was a day at the circus.

If one is looking for irrefutable evidence that, over the last forty years or so, the United States has shifted dramatically to the right on the political spectrum, they need look no further than OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), a federal watchdog agency established in 1970.  It was created under president Nixon, a Republican.

It’s impossible to imagine such a comprehensive, pro-worker agency being established in the post-Reagan era, even under a Clinton or Obama regime.  Clearly, the worm has turned.  There are simply too many rabidly pro-business, anti-government Republicans calling the shots, and too few so-called “Democrats” willing to take them on.

But back to toilet paper.  According to customer service data, the top three consumer complaints about toilet paper—or bath tissue, as it’s known in the trade—are:  not soft enough, not strong enough, and bad perfs (jagged or misaligned sheet perforations).

Unfortunately, sheet softness is inversely proportional to sheet strength; the softer it is, the weaker it is.  Think of automobile tires.  You can have the extraordinary handling and traction of soft, pliable rubber, or you can have the durability of tires that last for 50,000 miles.  But you can’t have both.

Moreover, because softness is the result of roughing up or “plucking” the sheet to give it body, the softer you make it, the more dust you create in the process.  And because softness is what attracts consumers, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark (the leading makers of facial and bath tissue) are locked in a competition to make the softest base sheet in the universe.  This is where OSHA comes in.

I dealt personally with OSHA on several occasions during my union service.  Some visits to the facility were at the AWPPW’s (Assoc. of Pulp and Paper Workers) request, others were mandatory, the result of an industrial accident that required investigation.

Based on my limited experience I would describe the agency as effective.  If you gave them something meaningful to work with, they usually came through for you.  When they did a “wall-to-wall,” for example, they were stubborn and meticulous.  No one could tell them where to look, where not to look, or how carefully to look.  A good OSHA rep was, by definition, management’s “loyal opposition.”

Of course, like any other organization or institution, OSHA was no better or worse than the personnel that constituted it.  If you were assigned a smart and diligent field officer, he could prove very helpful; if you got a lazy or arrogant one, you were more or less screwed.

The two complaints from people working in a paper manufacturing plant are the heat and the dust.  The temperature of the huge, two-story high drum (dryer) over which the 15-foot wide wet sheet travels (at 5,000 feet per minute) is hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit and emits a tremendous amount of ambient heat.  There’s no air-conditioning, so the place is an oven in the summertime.

As for workplace temperatures, our union safety coordinator once asked an OSHA rep what the legal “maximum” was.  His answer surprised us.  “There isn’t any,” he said.  Foundries, steel mills, even restaurant kitchens are incredibly hot, and there’s no way they can be expected to regulate their heat and still stay in business.  As long as there’s proper ventilation and frequent rest periods, there’s no limit to how hot it can get.

But dust was another matter.  When (at the union’s request) OSHA visited the facility to measure the dust levels, we instantly got their attention.  In truth, there was no way a field officer could have ignored it even if he wanted to.

The place was Dust City.  Not only could you see it in the air—this vast, colloidal snowfall suspended in space—there was a thin layer of paper dust covering virtually every surface:  machinery, conduits, platforms, forklifts, lunchboxes, people’s heads and shoulders.

Because OSHA doesn’t have the authority to tell a company how to alter its manufacturing process, (and because paper dust is not classified as a carcinogen) all they could do was respond to the potential pulmonary hazard.  Their remedy was to require everyone on the crew to wear respirators during peak dust intervals.

Not surprisingly, the crews were disappointed.  Besides being bulky and uncomfortable, these breathing devices were a hassle to put on, remove, and store properly.  They had to be stored in a particular place, in a particular manner.  It was a major inconvenience.

While the crews had hoped the union would take the initiative and get OSHA to address the dust problem, the last thing anyone wanted or expected was mandatory respirators.  The Law of Unintended Consequences had raised its ugly head.  You say you want to stop eating dust?  Then you gotta wear these contraptions.

Lately, union officials have reported that OSHA, flawed as it was, has taken a dreadful turn for the worse.  With the shift in priorities that occurred in the post-Reagan era of corporate hegemony, the agency has continued to regress.  It’s gone from watchdog to lapdog.

Just as those eight years under Bush and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao all but crippled the NLRB, the eight years under Bush—along with the previous eight under corporate-lackey Bill Clinton—have done much the same to OSHA.

The agency has neither the funding nor the inclination to be the aggressive, proactive industrial safety honcho it was mandated to be.  And don’t think private industry, with its mile-long antennae, doesn’t know it.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright (“Larva Boy,” “Americana”) and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

June 19, 2018
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail