‘Their tank is empty’: Local public health officials combat staff burnout, low pay, harassment

OSHA to ramp up workplace heat checks as global warming progresses

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Federal workplace safety regulators say they are taking steps toward protecting workers from heat-related illness.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Sept. 24 announced that it will finally establish a federal workplace heat standard. The agency also promised an expansion of heat inspections and enforcement of rules protecting against heat hazards.

Between 2016 and 2020, there were 75 recorded heat-related deaths among North Carolina residents, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Those figures are for all deaths, whether they resulted from people who got ill at work or not.

The number is likely an undercount. A July study found that U.S. safety regulators are significantly undercounting workplace injuries due to hot temperatures. Researchers used California insurance claim data to determine that workplace injuries related to heat stress do not appear in official counts.

Heat stress affects not only employees laboring in the sun, but workers who are indoors as well, researchers found.

An investigation by Politico and E&E News uncovered that federal workplace safety officials have refused to set a workplace heat standard across nine presidential administrations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first recommended OSHA write heat-specific protections in 1975.

They also found that even if OSHA does create such a standard, the agency is deeply unprepared and understaffed to enforce it.

The problem will continue to get worse as climate change fuels rising temperatures across the country, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. They project more days per year when temperature and humidity combine to create a heat index — that’s what the weather really feels like outside.

Data show, for instance, that Raleigh has already experienced 59 days in 2021 in which the high temperature has exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit and many more that have come close to that mark.

Without any action taken to combat climate change, that number is expected to continue to rise significantly in the years ahead.

OHSA said area directors across the country will begin prioritizing inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses, and initiate onsite investigations where possible.

The directors will also be expected to instruct compliance safety and health officers during their travels to job sites to intervene or begin an inspection when they see workers performing strenuous work in hot conditions, and to expand other inspections based on workplace conditions even when no complaint has been made.

Austin Fisher is a reporter for Source New Mexico, which first published this report.

Mecklenburg Co. Manager to suspended, unvaccinated employees: You put yourself in this situation. (with video)

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio didn’t mince words Tuesday when it came to the status of 86 employees who have failed to follow the county’s COVID protocol.

The county announced in August that government employees would be required to show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing in September. As of last week, 322 of the more than 5,800 employees were not in compliance.

That number had dropped to 86 by Tuesday.

“And the people who got jammed-up are the people who didn’t read the information, didn’t follow-up, didn’t have a plan, and they got snagged,” Diorio told county commissioners.

Diorio said county workers who have submitted the appropriate documentation are no longer on the suspension list, but will not receive back pay for the time they were suspended. .

“There are people who have not submitted anything – who have not submitted a vaccination card, who have not submitted any information at all. Nothing. They have been silent,” Diorio said. “Those people are in trouble.”

Those employees who have failed to respond now risk termination.

“That’s an indication to me that they’re not going to follow the policy, and that not following the policy is more important than keeping your job.”

To date, 75% of the county’s employees have complied and received the COVID vaccine, according to Diorio. Countywide, 55% of residents are fully vaccinated.

More than 1,100 residents of the county have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Click below to hear an excerpt of Diorio’s remarks:

“None of this belongs in our public schools.”

NC Governor calls for civility as school boards continue to draw fire over COVID precautions

Governor Roy Cooper said he is troubled by the fevered pitch many school board meetings have reached in recent weeks with parents and politicians fighting mask mandates and COVID precautions.

“Threats, bullying, intimidation. None of this belongs in our public schools particularly by adults,” said Cooper at a Tuesday press conference.

The governor said it is a small but vocal minority of adults showing up to fight mask requirements, and his administration is continuing to encourage all districts to keep the mask requirements in place while the spread of the coronavirus remains high.

“Being civil and respectful of others is more important than ever. Let’s behave the way we want our kids to act.”

North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases have been relatively level over the last few days. But the state is averaging 6,000 new cases each day with roughly 900 North Carolinians requiring intensive care unit beds for more than a month now.

Sec. Mandy Cohen

One-third of all COVID hospital admissions in the past week have been in North Carolinians under the age of 49.

“Our hospitals are strained. And in other states we’ve seen care is not readily available for people experiencing non-COVID life-threatening health crises,” cautioned Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen.

“We don’t want that to be the experience here.”

Secretary Cohen says vaccination remains the best tool for protection against the highly transmissible virus.

While 86% of North Carolinians 75 and older have now been vaccinated, that number drops down to 38% for the 12-17 age bracket.

“Those of us who interact with schools, need to get vaccinated if you are eligible, and need to wear a mask to prevent the spread of virus. Because the more virus that’s circulating, the more that’s going to end up in our schools,” warned Dr. Cohen.

While the focus remains on keeping students in the classroom for in-person learning during the pandemic, the governor said local districts can present a virtual option to the state school board before October 1st for consideration.

On Tuesday, Gov.Cooper also issued an open letter to the state’s faith community seeking their help in getting more people to roll-up their sleeves and get a COVID shot.

The letter encourages the faith community to sponsor events at their houses of worship and become “vaccine ambassadors.”

The letter reads in part:

Direct your congregation and faith community to trustworthy sources about COVID-19  vaccines, like doctors, other medical providers, and the NCDHHS website YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov. Good people are being misinformed. As a trusted spiritual leader, you can help those who have questions get accurate information. Help educate your community on why  and how to get vaccinated by:
• Posting and sharing vaccine information in common and highly visible areas in your house of
worship.
• Sending a letter or email to your congregants sharing resources that provide accurate
information about vaccines and encouraging people to avoid sharing misinformation on social
media.
• Talking to your congregation about why our faith calls upon us to protect our health and those
around us be getting vaccinated.
• Adding a message encouraging people to get vaccinated to your organization’s voicemail.

The appeal to churches comes as the latest CDC map still shows all North Carolina counties in the red zone with the highly transmissible Delta variant.

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