Wednesday, October 05, 2011

OSHA - Our Government in Action

The Blue Green Alliance is a national, strategic partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy. It was launched in 2006 by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club.

The Blue Green Alliance unites more than eight and a half million people in pursuit of good jobs, a clean environment and a green economy.

The Alliance believes that in the pursuit of earning a living, workers shouldn’t have to forfeit their health or their lives.

In 1970, I was working for the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, commonly known as NIPSCO. I worked at the Bailly Generating station which is a coal fired generating station on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The boiler was under a positive pressure using forced draft fans to push the hot gases and smoke through the boiler and out the smoke stack. Any leak, regardless of size in the boiler skin or the duct work would spew out noxious and poisonous flue gas throughout the plant. It was particularly bad in the winter time when they made us close all the windows. There was a constant haze in the plant, making the air we had to breathe a grey - almost bluish color.

The workers suffered from runny noses, headaches, burning eyes, breathing problems, colds, sore throats, flue like symptoms, vomiting and getting sick to their stomachs. It was so bad that when mechanics had to work in the upper elevations, they had to wear an oxygen mask attached to a hose that let to a box where another person pumped fresh air to them. It was terrible.

Often times when visitors were taken on tours of the plant they would go up via an elevator to the upper elevations and when the elevator door opened, the gas would fill the elevator and the visitors would become sick and have to be escorted out of the plant.

Although the workers complained, the management didn’t seem to really care. Of course, they stayed in their air conditioned offices.

We had Scott air packs which were to be used in emergencies which are designed to allow a worker to be in a gaseous atmosphere in an emergency but I couldn’t understand why we shouldn’t use them for even routine work, so although management didn’t like it (because they would have to make sure they were filled when empty), I used them anyway.

It wasn’t long before I noticed a big yellow poster on the bulletin board explaining the new Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It guaranteed that if we complained to OSHA, the company couldn’t discipline us.

Being a relatively new employee having just five years with the company, the OSHA law served to give me the nerve to complain more loudly and I filed my first grievance.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in the plant managers office with union representation. That was unheard of to have the plant manager hear a grievance. As I remember it was a loud and long meeting.

I bid out of the generating station a short time later, but I’m told that about three years later, the company installed induced draft fans that place a negative pressure on the boiler which causes any flue gas leaks in the boiler skin or duct work to suck air into the boiler rather that spew poisonous gas into the work environment.

The reason I’m thinking of this experience today is that so many in the Tea Party and the Republican Party complain about too much regulation and too much government. Well, I can tell you that OSHA is one governmental agency that I hope these wild eyed politicians don’t do away with.

Charlie Averill

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