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Workers At Risk

Voices from the Workplace

Workers at Risk is a powerful and moving documentary of workers routinely exposed to toxic chemicals. Products and services we all depend on—glass bottles, computers, processed foods and fresh flowers, dry cleaning, medicines, even sculpture and silkscreened toys—are produced by workers in constant contact with more than 63,000 commercial chemicals. For many of them, the risk of death is a way of life.

More than seventy of them speak here of their jobs, their health, and the difficult choices they face in coming to grips with the responsibilities, risks, fears, and satisfactions of their work. Some struggle for information and acknowledgment of their health risks; others struggle to put out of their minds the dangers they know too well. Through extensive interviews, the authors have captured in these voices that double bind of the chemical worker: "If I had known that it would be that lethal, that it could give me or one of my children cancer, I would have refused to work. But it’s a matter of survival and we just don’t consider all these things. Meanwhile, we’ve got to make money to survive."

238 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1984

Disability Studies

Economics and Business: Business--Industry and Labor, Health Economics


Political Science: Public Policy

Psychology: Personnel and Industrial Psychology

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Dangerous Trades
1. Jobs and Risks
1. Working with Chemicals
2. Problems on the Job
2. Illnesses and Complaints
3. Anxieties and Fears
"It Scares the Shit Out of Me"
"I Worry about the Unknown"
The Long Term
"Will I Have Normal Kids?"
4. What’s to Blame?
Workplace Design
Our Bosses
Inadequate Knowledge
The Profit Motive
3. Coping
5. Protection on the Job
Taking Precautions
Personal Protective Equipment
Discomfort: "Like Working in a Clamshell"
Practical Constraints: "It Gets in the Way"
Social Constraints: "The Man from Mars"
Wrong Equipment for the Job
Engineering Controls
6. Adaptations
"It’s Just a Normal Part of the Job"
"What You Can’t Change, You Accept"
"What’s Our Alternative?"
"It Won’t Happen to Me"
"It’s Worth the Risk"
7. Activism
"It’s My Style"
"I Got Radicalized"
"No One Will Do It for You"
"A Better Life for My Kids"
"Activism Has Its Risks"
4. Recourse
8. If There’s a Hazard . . .
The Company’s Response
The Union’s Role
Grievances and Work Stoppages
9. If I Call OSHA
Responsibility and Regulation
Access to OSHA
Inspectors at Work
10. If I’m Sick . . .
Company Medical Services
5. Controlling Risks on the Job
11. Knowing the Risks
"We Need to Know"
The Problems of Getting Information
Inadequate Training
Technical Complexity
Conflicts among Experts
Management Control of Information
Alternative Sources of Information
12. Controlling the Risks
The Right to Health
The Absence of Trust
"Controlling Our Lives"
The Workplace
Technological Change
Political Concerns
Conclusion: The Social Dimensions of Risk
Appendix 1: Biographical Information and Index
Appendix 2A: Workers’ Perceptions of Health Effects from Chemical Exposures
Appendix 2B: Major Recognized Health Effects of Substances Identified by Respondents
Appendix 3: Toxicological Concepts
Appendix 4: Sample Material Safety Data Sheet
Bibliographic Essay

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