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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Saving Money, Poisoning Workers

This is a case for employers to act with moral responsibility to maintain a safe work environment, stronger regulations and changes in statutory provisions to make the workplace safer. This post was shared by Jordan Barab and comes from

The workers at Royale Comfort Seating in Taylorsville, N.C., had a simple but grueling job. For 10 hours at a stretch they spray-glued pieces of polyurethane foam into shapes that became the spongy filling of cushions sold to many top furniture brands. Unfortunately, the glue contained a dangerous chemical known as n-propyl bromide, or nPB, and the spray guns left a yellowish fog in the air that coated everything in sight. Exposure to the toxic fumes left some workers so dizzy at the end of the day that they walked as if drunk.

Worse yet, many developed long-term ailments. One worker can no longer stand or sit for more than 20 minutes without feeling excruciating pain in her spine and legs. Another lost control of his hands and could not put on clothes without help.

Medical experts and even companies that once made nPB had long warned that the chemical can cause neurological damage when inhaled at low doses for long periods. So how could it happen that Royale Comfort’s workers, whose plight was described in painful detail by Ian Urbina in The Times last Sunday, were exposed to it? There is plenty of blame to go around — a company trying to save a buck, timid regulators and weak laws.

The main responsibility lies with the employer, which repeatedly invoked the specter of competition from Chinese manufacturers as an excuse not to spend money to protect its employees. When state inspectors told company officials to ventilate fumes to the outside, they bought pedestal fans...

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