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Feds might force table-saw makers to adopt radically safer technology

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In 2015, 4,700 people in the US lost a finger or other body part to table-saw incidents. Most of those injuries didn’t have to happen, thanks to technology invented in 1999 by entrepreneur Stephen Gass. By giving his blade a slight electric charge, his saw is able to detect contact with a human hand and stop spinning in a few milliseconds. A widely circulated video shows a test on a hot dog that leaves the wiener unscathed.

Now federal regulators are considering whether to make Gass’ technology mandatory in the table-saw industry. The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced plans for a new rule in May, and the rules could take effect in the coming months.

But established makers of power tools vehemently object. They say the mandate could double the cost of entry-level table saws and destroy jobs in the power-tool industry. They also point out that Gass holds dozens of patents on the technology. If the CPSC makes the technology mandatory for table saws, that could give Gass a legal monopoly over the table-saw industry until at least 2021, when his oldest patents expire.

At the same time, table-saw related injuries cost society billions every year. The CPSC predicts switching to the safer saw design will save society $1,500 to $4,000 per saw sold by reducing medical bills and lost work.

"You commissioners have the power to take one of the most dangerous products ever available to consumers and make it vastly safer," Gass said at a CPSC public…

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Seattle Art Museum Presents: INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH


See the hidden beauty of the factories, ships, boxcars, bridges, and vintage signage of the industrial landscape at SAM Gallery during Industrial Strength.

Featured Artists

Join the artists for the free opening reception!


THU SEP 146–7:30PM

Image credit: Iskra Fine Art, “South Holgate Gantry”

CBC: B.C. Wildfire Smoke Partly to Blame for Washington State Farmworker’s Death

By Cory Correia, CBC News
 Posted: Aug 10, 2017

A temporary farm worker has died in Washington state and advocacy groups have blamed poor working conditions, in part due to smoke from B.C. wildfires.

Honesto Silva Ibarra, 28, of Mexico, died in a Seattle hospital Sunday after he became ill last week at the blueberry farm where he worked near Sumas, Wash., just south of the Canadian border. 

An advocacy group, Community to Community Development, said Silva became sick from dehydration, and died after going into cardiac arrest. (Silva used his second name as a surname)

The group’s executive director, Rosalinda Guillen said poor working conditions at the blueberry farm have been aggravated by wildfire smoke that has blown across the border.  

“The workers have been overworked, underfed, have not been hydrated enough, and this has been going on for weeks, and that is what led to the death of Honesto,” said Guillen.

Silva had been working as a berry picker for Sarbanand Farms since the spring. He was married with three children, all of whom are in Mexico.

Guillen said Silva fell ill last week while at work. He went to a local hospital, where Guillen said he suffered cardiac arrest. He was transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died, the hospital said.

But a spokesman for Sarbanand Farms said Silva’s death was caused by complications from his diabetes. In a statement sent to local media, chief administrative officer Cliff Woolley said one of Silva’s relatives told the company that Silva ran out of medicine but did not tell anyone else.

When Silva fell ill last week at work, the company said it called for an ambulance and he was taken to hospital.

Silva’s illness sparked protests among his co-workers who complained that working conditions at the blueberry farm were unsafe. Nearly 70 workers were fired Saturday after the demonstrations.

Protests continued Tuesday after workers heard news of Silva’s death. 

Meanwhile, Guilllen said other workers have also fallen ill.

“The smoke coming in over our area has aggravated those situations already and caused the workers to say ‘We’re going to die if we don’t do something about this,’ because they were collapsing,” said Guillen.

On Monday, five people were taken to clinics, suffering from advanced dehydration, she said.

Washington state’s department of Labour and Industries is investigating the case, looking into workplace safety factors. It has not decided whether to proceed with a formal investigation. 

Read the rest of the CBC report here…

Photo credit: CBC News

Suspension of OALJ Proceedings Impacted by Hurricane Harvey

Due to Hurricane Harvey, the Chief Administrative Law Judge has issued an Administrative Order, 2017-MIS-00004 (Aug. 30, 2017), postponing OALJ proceedings, and tolling hearing releated deadlines, for cases scheduled to be heard within 150 miles of Houston, Texas during the months of September and October 2017. The Administrative Order also postpones hearings and tolls deadlines for proceedings scheduled for the months of September and October 2017 in any part of the country where a party, attorney or law firm is located within 150 miles of Houston.

Icebreaker leaves jagged, beautiful Arctic icescapes

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Lovely photos of icy waters for a hot summer’s day.

Icebreaker leaves jagged, beautiful Arctic icescapes
Icebreaker leaves jagged, beautiful Arctic icescapes

There’s ice, and then there’s ice.

We encountered the first floes around Point Barrow, the northernmost tip of Alaska. Much of it was already rotten, as our ice navigator David “Duke” Snider explained. The ice was fraying at the edges. Some of it was covered in sand and dirt from crashing against the coast, while larger floes had pools of turquoise meltwater on top.

A trained eye can tell how old the ice is and where it is likely to have come from.

So-called first-year ice formed during the last winter. It is typically between 30 centimeters (1 foot) and 150 centimeters (5 feet) thick. First-year ice can pose a threat to regular ships but heavy vessels with hardened hulls, such as the MSV Nordica, can slice right through it with only a dull thud and a rumble as debris rolls along the underside of the hull.

Once it survives a summer melt — typically the cut-off date is Oct. 1 — it becomes second-year ice. As ice grows older, the sea salt leeches out and it becomes denser. Being able to spot such ice is key as it is harder and more of a hazard than younger ice.

The toughest sea ice is called multi-year ice and it can grow several meters thick, with the consistency of concrete. As a general rule, the older ice gets the more it turns blue and acquires mounds — so-called hummocks — on top from years of crashing into other floes.

Icebergs aren’t sea ice, despite being best…

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Opioid Litigation and Workers’ Compensation

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The newly initiated litigation by public entities against Big Pharma may prove to be a huge boost to the workers’ compensation system. The lawsuits have the potential curtailing a massive drain of benefit dollars and may provide for subrogation as a result of the nations’ opioid epidemic.

At a recent NJ State Bar Association meeting in May 2017 Atlantic City, Mark B. Zurulnik, an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation law, referred to the potential of a such a lawsuit.

NPR reported today that, "A wave of litigation by state attorneys general against the biggest opioid manufacturers and distributors feels reminiscent of lawsuits brought by states in the 1990s against the tobacco industry." Click here to read the entire NPR report.

Third party litigation can impact workers’ compensation programs in multiple ways. Historically, both the tobacco and asbestos litigation curtailed the use of the hazardous products going forward. Subrogation is yet another situation though. It requires the ability of the parties to establish specific liens. While this was easily done in asbestos occupational exposure litigation, it was much more difficult to seek individual reimbursement or set-off in claims caused by or complicated by tobacco use in the workplace.

Notwithstanding the public entity, opioid litigation is yet another social cause that may, in fact, improve the lives of injured workers and in the long run provide tremendous benefits to both employers and their…

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They Got Hurt at Work. Then They Got Deported.

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After Yuliana Rocha Zamarripa hurt her knee at work, an investigator working for her employer’s insurance carrier reported her for using a false Social Security number. (Scott McIntyre for ProPublica)

At age 31, Nixon Arias cut a profile similar to many unauthorized immigrants in the United States. A native of Honduras, he’d been in the country for more than a decade and had worked off and on for a landscaping company for nine years. The money he earned went to building a future for his family in Pensacola, Florida. His Facebook page was filled with photos of fishing and other moments with his three boys, ages 3, 7 and 8.

But in November 2013, that life began to unravel.

The previous year, Arias had been mowing the median of Highway 59 just over the Alabama line when his riding lawnmower hit a hole, throwing him into the air. He slammed back in his seat, landing hard on his lower back.

Arias received pain medication, physical therapy and steroid injections through his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. But the pain in his back made even walking or sitting a struggle. So his doctor recommended an expensive surgery to implant a device that sends electrical pulses to the spinal cord to relieve chronic pain. Six days after that appointment, the insurance company suddenly discovered that Arias had been using a deceased man’s Social Security number and rejected not only the surgery, but all of his past and future care.

Desperate, Arias…

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Mexico City floating farms, chefs team up to save tradition

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Mexico City floating farms, chefs team up to save tradition
Mexico City floating farms, chefs team up to save tradition

At dawn in Xochimilco, home to Mexico City’s famed floating gardens, farmers in muddied rain boots squat among rows of beets as a group of chefs arrive to sample sweet fennel and the pungent herb known as epazote.

By dinnertime some of those greens will be on plates at an elegant bistro 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the north, stewed with black beans in a $60 prix-fixe menu for well-heeled diners.

Call it floating-farm-to-table: A growing number of the capital’s most in-demand restaurants are incorporating produce grown at the gardens, or chinampas, using ancient cultivation techniques pioneered hundreds of years ago in the pre-Columbian era.

While sourcing local ingredients has become fashionable for many top chefs around the globe, it takes on additional significance in Xochimilco (so-chee-MIL-co), where a project linking chinampa farmers with high-end eateries aims to breathe life and a bit of modernity into a fading and threatened tradition.

“People sometimes think (farm-to-table) is a trend,” said Eduardo Garcia, owner and head chef of Maximo Bistrot in the stylish Roma Norte district. “It’s not a trend. It’s something that we humans have always done and we need to keep doing it, we need to return to it.”

Xochimilco, on the far southern edge of Mexico City, is best-known as the “Mexican Venice” for its canals and brightly colored boats where locals and…

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Labor violations force truckers into life of servitude

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Truck drivers are a crucial link in the supply chain of getting imported goods from ports to stores. An investigative report by “USA Today” shows those drivers work long hours for low pay, all while being heavily in debt from leasing their trucks. The story, “Rigged,” published yesterday, recounts how at least 140 truck companies in southern California have been accused of labor violations, and forcing truckers into working conditions akin to indentured servitude.

The article’s author, Brett Murphy, joins me from Naples, Florida, to discuss the story. Tell us what’s happening to these truckers?

BRETT MURPHY, USA TODAY: Well, the companies found a loophole in the labor law. By calling these guys independent contractors instead of employees, no real rules apply. They can kind of do whatever they want — or they think they can.

So, what they’ve been able to do was sort of find a large population of truck drivers, mostly immigrants, about 16,000 immigrant drivers. And when the state told these companies that they had to use newer, cleaner trucks, instead of paying for it themselves, they came up with this idea of lease-to-own contracts, lease-to-own agreements.

And when the drivers came into work one day, just like they had been for decades, the company said, if you want to keep your job here, if you want to keep driving, you need to sign this contract. They didn’t translate it….

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Pope Francis: Labor unions are essential to society

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Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Labor unions that protect and defend the dignity of work and the rights of workers continue to have an essential role in society, especially in promoting inclusion, Pope Francis said.

"There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that isn’t reborn every day in the peripheries, that doesn’t transform the rejected stones of the economy into corner stones," the pope said on June 28 during an audience with Italian union leaders.

"There is no justice together if it isn’t together with today’s excluded ones," he told members of the Italian Confederation of Union Workers.

Unions, he said, risk losing their "prophetic nature" when they mimic the very institutions they are called to challenge, he said. "Unions over time have ended up resembling politicians too much, or rather political parties, their language, their style."

Labor unions must guard and protect workers, but also defend the rights of those "outside the walls," particularly those who are retired and the excluded who are "also excluded from rights and democracy."

Pope Francis denounced situations in which children are forced to work rather than being allowed to study, which is the "only good ‘job’ for children."

Turning to one of his frequently voiced concerns, the pope told the union…

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