Governor’s Safety and Health Conference in Baton Rouge Emphasized Outreach, Resources, and What Remains to Be Done to Protect Louisiana’s Workers

The Louisiana Governor’s Safety and Health Conference and Expo, held at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge, offered a variety of opportunities to see the world of health, safety, enforcement and workers’ comp through a multitude of lenses. The conference, which ends today, featured a packed exhibit hall and an array of breakout sessions, allowing participants to customize their experience and continuing education needs.

Speakers included national voices such as James O’Dwyer, who treated attendees in his Wednesday morning session, “Safety Lessons Learned from a Serial Killer,” to a harrowing tale of safety in the world of high profile crime. O’Dwyer was the safety manager for the team that sifted through literally tons of evidence at the pig farm in Vancouver where Robert William Pickton murdered scores of women before finally being caught and convicted. He explained the challenges of engineering involved in sorting potential evidence with mechanical conveyor belts, as well as personnel complications and challenges associated with repetitive motion, varying perspectives (academic versus law enforcement) and ergonomics.

Later Wednesday afternoon, three sessions focused on national issues – management engagement, active shooter situations and video surveillance – while one addressed a local perspective on an underserved population. In “Shipwrecked: Working Conditions of Latino Shipyard Workers in Southeast Louisiana,” Daniela Conde, an attorney with the National Guestworker Alliance, along with NGA intern Adam Kline, detailed the results of a survey conducted with the Spanish-speaking population of southeastern Louisiana shipyards. Their results were shocking. In-depth interviews revealed that managers would assign dangerous work to Latino workers in confined spaces, often without appropriate equipment, while placing easier, less dangerous jobs with American workers. Kline and Conde found that most workers were not aware of even their most basic rights in the workplace, and suffered immensely because of it, with injuries going unreported or untreated, and threats of immigration enforcement and termination ever-present.

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Steve Bowers, LWC Safety and Health Section Manager

Also bringing the gravity of safety professionals’ daily work to the fore was the OSHA update with Baton Rouge-based area director Dorinda Folse. Over lunch, Folse spoke to attendees about OSHA’s efforts in Louisiana out of the Baton Rouge office, and shared her enforcement tips and tricks. However, Folse’s main point was a seemingly necessary call to action. Asking repeatedly, ‘why are you here?’, Folse read the names of 24 Louisiana workers killed on the job this year, noting that we still have work to do at the industry level.

Continuing in the enforcement vein, this morning an array of local officials with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration addressed safety plans, data collection and their most recent annual report, (2013 data) which breaks down fatalities, illnesses and injuries across nearly every industry in the state. Emphasizing the wealth of resources and information issued by the department, Records Management Director Andre de la Fuente, Safety and Health Director Steve Bowers, and LWC’s OSHA Consultation Manager Corey Gaines had a clear message for attendees. “We have a long way to go on fatalities in this state,” Gaines said. “We have some of the lowest injury rates overall, but some of the highest fatality rates, and even though the people in our state do dangerous work, we can’t let that be an excuse for unsafe workplaces.”

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