Mother Jones: Climate Change Is Making Jobs Deadlier—and OSHA Can’t Take the Heat

Conservatives have gutted America’s workplace watchdog. Workers are paying with their lives.

At 5:30 p.m., December 10 of last year, they heard the unmistakable wail of tornado sirens. Some of the workers crafting cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and vanilla candles asked to go home: Western Kentucky’s Mayfield Consumer Products plant, with its vulnerable wide-span roof, was the kind of building to avoid in a storm.Staff were first told to shelter in a hallway. But they were soon ordered back to the factory floor to finish their ten-hour shifts. Leave, managers warned, and you’re fired. The threat worked.Just after 9 p.m., the sirens wailed again. The tornado obliterated the Mayfield plant. Eight workers died.

Mayfield’s management, according to a survivors’ class-action suit, was aware of the danger—forecasters had been predicting major tornadoes all week—and had rejected a request by floor supervisors to stop work for the day. But the firm’s other plant, just six miles away, did shut down for the storm. The difference? The first factory was working overtime to ship candles for the lucrative Christmas rush.

The company now faces a state investigation, but it doesn’t have much reason to worry: thanks to weak state and federal worker protections, companies responsible for on-the-job deaths pay an average fine of $12,000. That’s if the laws are enforced—a 2019 federal audit found that Kentucky “failed to properly investigate nearly every single worksite death” in a two-year period, and its safety record’s far from the worst.

In theory, federal laws demand a “safe and healthful” workplace, with a rulebook to cover the details: Too windy? Your boss can’t make you work on tall scaffolding. Handling live wires? You’re entitled to good safety gear. But no rule or law kept Mayfield from packing the factory floor throughout what Gov. Andy Beshear called the “strongest set of tornadoes” in Kentucky’s history.

Those workers weren’t alone in risking their lives for their jobs—far from it. Runaway climate change is making extreme weather more common and deadly, bringing new dangers to work we’ve thought of as safe. Twisters are striking in new territory and throughout more of the year, especially in the Midwest and Southeast. That’s also true for flood-level rains, which adds hazards to ordinary commutes, let alone trucking or car-based gig work. Full-time drivers have to weigh those risks against hungry kids or the threat of eviction—a section missing from the DoorDash manual. Further west, wildfires are driving extreme air pollution, a killer for the millions of Americans who work outdoors. And for workers everywhere from Big Ag to Amazon, longer, hotter summers are already costing lives.

Read the full article at Mother Jones

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