NJ Amazon warehouse death puts focus on heat risks for workers – NorthJersey.com - eComEmpireStore + Brought to You By: Robert Villapane Ramos

NJ Amazon warehouse death puts focus on heat risks for workers – NorthJersey.com

Amazon workers at warehouses across New Jersey complained of heat-illness symptoms, and one died last month.U.S. postal workers were hospitalized with dehydration or heat exhaustion. A trash collector died after working in temperatures that reached a heat index of 96 degrees Fahrenheit.And in Bedminster, a roofer who was found unconscious on the ground after toiling […]

Amazon workers at warehouses across New Jersey complained of heat-illness symptoms, and one died last month.
U.S. postal workers were hospitalized with dehydration or heat exhaustion. A trash collector died after working in temperatures that reached a heat index of 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
And in Bedminster, a roofer who was found unconscious on the ground after toiling away in 101-degree heat later died at the hospital.
The deaths and rash of illnesses, such as dehydration and heat stroke, point to a growing trend that labor advocates say will worsen in the years to come. As climate change heralds weeks-long heat waves, labor advocates warn that working conditions will become more dangerous and workers will face greater risk of illness or death from the heat.
July 2021, for example, had the planet’s hottest recorded temperature to date, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — though temperature-recording in the modern scientific community only began in 1880.
It’s too early to say with certainty that a trend of heightened risk is happening in New Jersey, with just a handful of heat-related injuries in each of the last several years and three worker deaths from heat since 2020.
But the death of an Amazon worker on Prime Day on July 13 at its Carteret warehouse drew national attention because it marked the latest in what elected officials and labor activists said was an increasing trend of the company’s blatant disregard for worker safety. Two federal lawmakers have asked for an investigation into Amazon, which said the death was not heat-related.
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that oversees workplace rules and safety, has proposed new regulations to keep employees safe from the heat and is ramping up inspections in dozens of industries.
Skeptics worry, though, that the lengthy rulemaking process and a lack of robust staffing will not bring meaningful change for people laboring in increasingly hotter environments.
“With regard to more staff, that would allow them to conduct more inspections, which would catch more violations and result in more penalties, and act as a deterrent if businesses know an OSHA inspection is more likely to happen at any given time,” said Louis DiPaolo, a spokesperson for the progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective.
In New Jersey, there were six heat-related injuries in 2015, according to figures provided by OSHA. There were seven in 2016; two in 2017; four in 2018; seven in 2019; and six in 2020. And there was one fatality in 2020 and two others in 2021. 
This year, on top of the Carteret fatality, one worker died at Amazon’s PNE5 facility in Robbinsville on July 27. OSHA is investigating the death, according to public records, which list heat as the nature of the complaint, but it declined to comment on any of the deaths at Amazon facilities.
Then another worker died on Aug. 4 at Amazon’s DEY6 delivery station facility in Monroe Township, according to OSHA records. Heat is also listed as the reason for the complaint. 
In Carteret, Chris Smalls, the main organizer for Amazon’s first labor union, based in Staten Island, said in a July 21 tweet that the Amazon worker — identified as Dominican national Rafael Reynaldo Moto Frias — died of “chest pains” while working “in heated conditions.”
But an internal investigation “determined that the temperature was not a contributing factor in this tragic incident,” said Amazon spokesperson Sam Stephenson.
“There have been rumors suggesting that the employee’s passing was work-related — those statements are false,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson did not comment specifically on the Robbinsville and Monroe fatalities.
Urban heat island:It was 93 degrees in Newark on July 1. In the city’s Ironbound section, it was seven degrees hotter.
In his first day on the job, an unnamed worker at Buldo Container and Disposal Services was doing trash pickup in Washington Township last June, when the heat index reached 95.9 degrees. The worker began showing signs of heat illness and later died. Buldo couldn’t be reached for comment. 
With the Bedminster roofing job, Lily Jiminez, project manager at the employer USA General Contractor Corp., questioned whether heat or another factor played into that worker’s death.
“We do not know if he died from heat or a heart attack,” she said of the worker, whom she did not identify. 
In the U.S., most of those workers affected by heat were typically lower-paid — including warehousing and labor — and were usually people of color, according to a joint report last year by Columbia Journalism Investigations and NPR. 
“From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness — exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures — presents a growing hazard for millions of workers,” Marty Walsh, who heads OSHA’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Labor, said in an April statement. 
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The problem becomes more urgent, OSHA said in October, with high heat “becoming more dangerous as 18 of the last 19 years were the hottest on record.” 
“[C]limate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, as well as increasing daily average daytime and nighttime temperatures,” the federal agency continued. 
Last October, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — a federal agency — proposed nationwide rules for how businesses need to keep their workers safe from the heat.
They center on the agency’s existing “Water. Rest. Shade” slogan, and require employers to do just that: provide enough water to workers, and ensure they take enough breaks to cool down and have access to shade.
Right now, most of those requirements are covered under what’s called the “General Duty Clause,” which means the employer needs to keep the job site free of “recognized hazards” that could kill or hurt someone. 
But the goal is to make heat standards their own category, which would grant OSHA broader leeway in enforcing those rules.
After the rules were proposed in October, OSHA in April began a “National Emphasis Program,” in which it expanded its existing public education campaign and now will inspect job sites during heat waves. The focus is on 70 separate industries most at risk of heat illness, such as bakeries, farming, warehousing and mail delivery. 
Under the April announcement, inspections can start when a heat wave kicks in — that is, when the heat index hits 80 degrees Fahrenheit — and when the National Weather Service issues a heat warning or advisory for a local area. 
Since then, between April and July 31, there have been 45 heat-related inspections opened in New Jersey, compared with seven in 2021 and two in 2020.
But the rulemaking process could take years — up to a decade — said Carmen Martino, a labor professor at Rutgers University and co-director of its Occupational Training and Education Consortium. And OSHA’s efforts are limited.
“The campaign is not enforcement; the campaign is only education,” added Richard Mendelson, OSHA’s regional administrator for New York, which is part of Region 2 along with New Jersey. 
A business that blatantly disregards worker safety during a heat wave could get a citation and be hit with financial penalties. 
“If people are out on a strawberry field, where they’re out there for hours and the truck comes around twice a day with water, and they have to walk a mile to the rest stop, that’s probably not going to cut it,” Mendelson said.
But the hope is that inspections mean the employer is shown how to improve the safety of its workers. 
Once the heat wave hits, inspectors go out to the field and look at factors like how the business keeps its staff from overheating; whether there’s easy access to cold water and shade; how the boss is scheduling water and rest breaks; and how new staff members are being acclimated to working in warmer weather. 
But added rules and potential new fees could be onerous for businesses, said Eileen Kean, New Jersey director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
“Small businesses operate with extreme consideration of temperature and workplace comfort, because the philosophy for Main Street employers is to respect employees to create a successful work environment,” she said. 
Added Tony Russo, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, “Their employees are their resources, so it would make sense that businesses are very responsible with the dangers of heat.”
Martino, of Rutgers, cautioned that many “employers do whatever they can do keep their ‘OSHA reportables’ down,” meaning the true scope of overheating on the job may not be fully known. 
“They do this by encouraging/discouraging workers to not report accidents, injuries or when they might not be feeling well due to extreme temperatures,” he said. “They offer incentive programs for the department with the fewest “reportables” or they give parties or other forms of encouragement that puts pressure on workers not to report injuries, exposures.”
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And short staffing and lax enforcement could very well hamper any well-meaning efforts, warned New Jersey Policy Perspective. That was the case in Cal/OSHA in California, according to Garrett Brown, a former inspector for the OSHA-like state agency. 
“The best regulations and standards in the world — and California has led the way in promulgating many of these — are not worth the paper they are written on unless there is a strong and credible enforcement agency able to establish a ‘level playing field,’” Brown said in 2020. 
And last year, the Economic Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C., characterized any worker safety-related penalties as “the cost of doing business rather than as deterrents.”
New Jersey lawmakers, though, took a hard stance against Amazon — specifically U.S. Reps. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, and Frank Pallone, D-Monmouth.
They called on OSHA in a joint letter dated July 27 to “open investigations into the safety of Amazon warehouses” and “look into possible conduct by Amazon that is designed to hide injuries from OSHA and others, either by discouraging workers self-reporting their injuries, misclassifying injuries, or by any other means.”
Norcross, a longtime union electrician, accused Amazon in April of displaying an “apparent disregard for the health and wellbeing” of its warehouse workers — a statement that came in response to a report that month between Rutgers and New Jersey Policy Perspective showing how the majority of recent warehouse injuries in New Jersey happened at Amazon facilities.