It's In Our Hands!
Taking Action on the Shop Floor - A Workers Guide
Whether we work in a textile factory, a buzy office, a poultry processing plant, or a grocery store, more and more we must face a new workplace illness called Repetitive Motion Illness (RMI). This occupational disease is caused by bending and twisting our hands over and over again on the job. It affects us when we :
- drag groceries over an automatic scanner at a checkout counter;
- sew the same stich over and over again on a sewing machine;
- make the same knife cut an a chicken thousands of times an hour;
- type at a VDT for more than four hours a day;
- and many more actions that are repeated for hours at a time.
There are different ways we damage our hands and arms and the damage has many different names, ie. : Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), Tendonitis, Tenosynovitis, and "White Finger" are the most common names for RMI. No matter what we call it, RMI can cause permanent damage to our hands and arms if we don't do something about it.
This paper was writen to show what workers - acting together - can do to change the conditions at work that cause RMI. Many unions have been successful at forcing employers to use different tools, rotate jobs, and redesign workstations. If we work in a unionized shop, we may already have a health and safety committee that has experience in dealing with management on these issues. Whether we have a union or not, we can take action to eliminate the working conditions that lead to RMI.
Our union contract (if we have one) should have some kind of basic Health and Safety language that gives us our basic rights to take action on Repetitive Motion Illness (or any occupational disease). It may read something like this :
The Company agrees to take every reasonable provision for the health and safety of its employees while at work, to abide by applicable Federal, State, County, and City laws and to make available such protective equipment as is required by such laws.
(USWA/AFL-CIO and United States Steel)
The Company agrees to provide a place of employment which shall be safe for the Companies employees and shall furnish and use safety devices and safeguards and shall adopt and use methods and provisions adequet to render places of employment safe.
(ICWU/AFL-CIO and Lever Brothers)
Our contracts might have even more specific provisions to help us deal with RMI such as company-paid time for union "walk-around" inspections, regular health screenings, or union input into the health and safety effects of new technology when it is introduced into the workplace. The stronger our contract language and our willingness to enforce it the faster we can eliminate the conditions at work that cause RMI.
24 Hour OSHA Hotline NumberOn October 24, 1991, a 24 hour a day Hotline for workers to report on-the-job hazards without fear of retaliation was started by OSHA. Workers can report such threats as fire hazards, risk of explosion, or potential or actual release of toxic chemicals.