International News

USA: Amazon sued for failure to protect workers

New York is suing Amazon, with a court filing accusing the world’s largest retailer of a ‘flagrant disregard’ for safety and labour laws at two warehouses in the state as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide. The suit from Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, came days after Amazon pre-emptively sued to block the suit over its coronavirus safety protocols and the firing of one of its employees who objected to working conditions. “While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns,” said James. “Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers.”

The suit filed on 17 February states “Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health.” It adds the company retaliated illegally against employees who raised alarms. An investigation by the attorney general’s office found evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing and allowing employees to take precautions to protect themselves from the risk of infection. Read more: NY Attorney General news release and filingBBC News OnlineThe Guardian. Source: Risks 986

USA: Scientists call on CDC to act on airborne virus risks

Almost a year after scientists demonstrated that the coronavirus could linger in workplace air, more than a dozen top experts have called on the Biden administration to take immediate action to limit its airborne transmission. The 13 experts — including several who advised President Biden during the transition — have urged the administration to mandate a combination of respirators and environmental measures, like better ventilation, to blunt the risks in workplaces.

“It’s time to stop pussyfooting around the fact that the virus is transmitted mostly through the air,” said Linsey Marr, an expert on aerosols at Virginia Tech. “If we properly acknowledge this, and get the right recommendations and guidance into place, this is our chance to end the pandemic in the next six months.” She warned: “If we don’t do this, it could very well drag on.”

The federal safety regulator, OSHA, will only mandate standards that are supported by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University and one of the signatories. Michaels led OSHA during the Obama administration. “Until the CDC makes some changes, OSHA will have difficulty changing the recommendations it puts up because there’s an understanding the government has to be consistent,” Dr Michaels said. “And CDC has always been seen as the lead agency for infectious disease.”

Dr Marr was one of the experts who wrote to the World Health Organisation (WHO) last summer to push for an acknowledgment of airborne transmission. She did not expect to be in a similar position again so many months later, she said, adding: “It feels like Groundhog Day.” The call has been welcomed by the US national union federation, AFL-CIO. Read more: George Washington University news release and 17 February 2021 experts’ letterAFL-CIO news releaseNew York TimesPetition urging CDC to recognise Covid-19 airborne risk. Source: Risks 986

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