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#65: Intergenerational Union Workers

November 11, 2020 | 1 hour 5 seconds

Series host Jill James sits down with Ashlee in this episode of The Accidental Safety Pro. Ashlee is a safety professional from Pennsylvania with the United Steelworkers. She has seen many generations in her family become union workers, including herself. Listen now!

Links and Show Notes

Transcript

Jill James:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by HSI. This episode was recorded on October 23rd, 2020. My name is Jill James, HSI's chief safety officer. Today, I'm joined by Ashlee. Ashlee is a safety professional with the United Steelworkers. Ashlee is joining us today from Pennsylvania. Welcome to the show, Ashlee.

Ashlee:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Jill James:

I believe that you are the first ever safety professional representing a labor union that we've had on the Accidental Safety Pro podcast. This is an honor, so thank you.

Ashlee:

You're welcome. First of many, I hope.

Jill James:

Good point, yes. Those of you who are working unions out there, if you are interested on being on the podcast, hit me up. I think it'd be great to hear from all of the labor unions in the country. That would be awesome. Ashlee, usually, we start by asking our guest to tell their story of how they got into safety, and I want to hear that, but since you are the first person we've had on this show who works safety with a labor union, maybe could we start with you sharing what that work means today like, what does your work involve at this moment, and we can then go back from there.

Ashlee:

I'll first start, if that's okay, whenever I joined the international union in the health and safety part. I was a health and safety representative. A lot of the work that I did and really the team did at the health and safety department was servicing local unions, and I'll go more about what that is, working with regulatory and legislative efforts around occupational safety and health, and then also, I'd say, working with locals to help get appropriate controls in their facilities. In the first part of working servicing our members, that would range from doing an occupational exposure assessment.

Let's say some group of workers have developed some type of disease or chronic illness. We would go into the facility, and help workers at the facility, and work with the company and the members there to try to identify what was causing that. Another thing that we did is anytime there was a serious injury or a fatality at a United Steelworkers represented facility, we would go in and help the local conduct the investigation, work with OSHA, and also connect the family and co-workers into some type of counseling program in case they didn't have that already offered at that facility.

Ashlee:

A lot of the time, it was working with smaller locals, smaller workplaces because OSHA doesn't come to every workplace, right? I come from the state of West Virginia. It would take 92 years for OSHA to come to every single facility, so they really needed help, so we spend a lot of time doing that.

Jill James:

For people who don't know the union lingo, actually when you say locals, why don't you explain what that means, if you don't mind.

Ashlee:

A local is going to be a smaller unit that represents either workers at a singular workplace or maybe multiple workplaces. A local is somebody that is going to be representing members on a local smaller level. It's smaller than state. Sometimes it goes across different counties. Sometimes it represents different workplaces, but that's the local leadership team that's going to work to help make sure that members are protected, represented, and then also work with employers to make sure that we're doing everything we can to be safeful and productful at work.

Jill James:

Thank you. Thank you for that explanation. Go ahead.

Ashlee:

A lot of the time, it was working with those particular locals. Then the other thing about servicing locals, servicing members, I always like to tell this story. I know you asked how you got into health and safety. That's a big question.

Jill James:

Yes.

Ashlee:

There's also a moment when I knew this is what I wanted to do. That moment is whenever I was just starting with the department and we had a very small workplace, probably about 20 workers, we're going to make a certain product that infused a pesticide with a polymer. Whenever it comes to pesticides, all of the dangers that could be if you're not using it appropriately, you don't have appropriate controls. I went to this really small workplace, and they did not have the protections that were needed to protect workers to run that product the way that they were wanting to, so I really talked to the company.

I talked to the locals through their health and safety committee, and we discussed all of the controls that really needed to be in place to protect people. After is all said and done, they ended up not running the product. The jinx of the story is or the hitch of the story is that when they removed the product from that facility, because they didn't have the appropriate controls that the workers needed to run it properly, they moved it to a different facility that wasn't represented, and three of the workers at that facility ended up suffering from temporary chemical blindness.

Jill James:

Wow.

Ashlee:

It really shows that just workers having a voice and to be able to say, "Hey, let's step back and look at this process before we just do something," I think that that really made me feel that I changed those workers' lives that day, everyone at that facility. I wish the other facility could have had the same voice.

Jill James:

Powerful, powerful, Ashlee. Do you feel like this is the time we could back into how you got into this so we can weave into more of things you're working on today?

Ashlee:

Sure.

Jill James:

Let's start at the beginning, because you had mentioned a moment ago that you're originally from West Virginia. Yes, set the stage for us. How did you get into this?

Ashlee:

Like I said, I was originally from West Virginia, so I went to WVU. If anybody out there is a Mountaineers fan, go ears. There, I went to school and I got my degree for environmental law and economics, so being from West Virginia, coal was a very big part of what we do and really part of our culture. During that time, I worked in a coal fired power plant, interning for safety. That's what really got me into really doing health and safety and looking at how cognizant the coal fired power plant I worked at was meeting EPA regulations, working to make sure that people were safe, and I just got initially exposed to it through the environmental field.

Whenever I graduated, I was really wanting to go work for a DEP. That's the Department of Environmental Protections, or the EPA, and it didn't really work out, so I ended up working at a aluminum facility, aluminum manufacturing facility that my family has worked at. It was really nice to be part of that family. It was a United Steelworkers represented site.

Jill James:

You have a family who's working in the aluminum industry. For anyone who's not familiar with what that industry is like or what they do, can you paint a picture for us? It sounds like you have a rich family history there as well. What is work about there? What is it like? Paint us that. What is it?

Ashlee:

Well, I will speak to what I did and my knowledge of the process and knowing that I'm maybe a little rusty on terminology after all these years.

Jill James:

Fair enough.

Ashlee:

What they did is we melted down and casted different alloys of aluminum. We specifically made airware for Boeing and Airbus, so if you look out your airplane, and you see the wings tilt up whenever you're getting ready to land or take off, we made a lot of that metal. We also made a lot of military grade metal, and you change the strength or density or tensile strength of metals by adding different alloys like so much silver, so much of other metal elements.

What I did at the facility is I would take cut pieces of that aluminum before it went out to the customer, and I would machine them down and test them for certain properties like fatigue testing, tensile strength, sometimes check the alloy content of them. I was more of a CNC and lathe operator at the facility. But my grandfather, he worked there in what was called the pop rooms at the time. That's where you actually make the aluminum through a process and in the pot lines, and there's a whole lot of other, I guess, more in depth things that go into that, actually, that part of it.

Jill James:

Is that a molten process?

Ashlee:

Yes.

Jill James:

Okay.

Ashlee:

That was actually a lot more hazardous and dangerous. We look at now the beryllium rule that came out, and one of the major places that the United Steelworkers represent is aluminum making in some potroom facilities where beryllium can be an issue. I was lucky to have the protections in place through OSHA and EPA and all of those places now, because people like my grandfather, looking back, facilities looked a whole lot different 40, 50, 60 years ago than what they look today.

Jill James:

Yeah, prior to OSHA, sure.

Ashlee:

That was what I did at the facility, and when I worked there, we went through a thing called a strike. There are two different types of labor disputes, if you will, that could happen during your contract negotiation times. Just a background on that is everyone, when they go to work, they have a contract. You have some type of agreement with your employer of your benefits, of you know, your job, different things like that. A collective bargaining agreement is just an agreement where the represented people, this time of United Steelworkers where I work, talk to the company about benefits, about working conditions and about how certain things are going to be worked out at the facility to help everything run smooth.

When I worked there, we went through a strike. As I said about the labor dispute, so there's a lockout and a strike. A lockout is whenever workers are trying to come to work and they are getting locked out of their job. That could be for a variety of different reasons. One of which could be that you don't have a contract. You don't have that collective bargaining agreement. The facility where I worked is also the facility where my grandfather worked, and in the '90s, he got locked out of his job for two years.

Jill James:

Oh my gosh. For the reason of the contract not being influenced or why?

Ashlee:

There's a lot of different reasons. There's a book on it. It's called Ravenswood. It's very interesting, but a lot of the reasons came back to health and safety, that they were working in these conditions and wanted changes in the workplace and for a variety of different reasons that that wasn't happening. He and the women and men that he worked with were locked out for two years, and replacement workers came and did their jobs for two years until they were able to get back in.

That's a lockout. We went through a strike. That's whenever you have your collective bargaining agreement, and for some reason of another, there's an unfair labor practice, and the workers don't go into work until they do get a fair contract. Go ahead.

Jill James:

I've been part of a strike myself a number... Well, actually, my first job out of grad school was working for state government, and so I belonged at that time to a collective bargaining unit. We struck at that time for... Well, it was primarily over benefits, over benefits, and so I am familiar with what that's like, and I have walked a picket line. It happened to be the place where I met a fellow picketer. I was pregnant at the time, and met a fellow picketer worked at a different state facility in my community.

I needed a baby crib, and I bought my baby crib from a fellow picketer. That's my son's crib story is that I got that during a strike. It's the one thing of his life that I've saved. I mean, other little kid things too, but some people might save, I don't know, a certain teddy bear or something, but I've got this crib.

Ashlee:

That's meaningful, right?

Jill James:

It is.

Ashlee:

Those relationships that you form on picket lines, sometimes it helps everyone get through a hard time, right?

Jill James:

Absolutely. Yes, thank you. Please continue.

Ashlee:

I hope that my strike definition was okay, that that worked. Did that seem right to you too?

Jill James:

Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ashlee:

The one thing I remember about being on strike is my grandfather who worked there in the '90s, and got locked out. He and all of his friends, co-workers at the time, came and were on the picket line with us. It was a very humbling experience to be standing in the same place that my grandfather stood 30 years before trying to fight the same fight, and make sure that workers were still getting the same protections. That was a really nice, humbling experience. The other thing that came out of that is the realization that everyone still tries to do the right thing.

I really think that whether you're a union representative or a company representative, that people do try to do the right things when it comes to health and safety. We'll talk about, the pandemic and how many different things people are doing, but sometimes, it just takes a different voice or a different lens, a different perspective to look at things and to hear what people say. I went back to school to get my master's degree in safety while I worked at the facility. That was, I think, a very opening...

How do I say it? It was a very, I guess, stark reminder of why I did that and why I thought it was important, because-

Jill James:

Why did you, Ashlee? I mean, you're working at the plant? Why did you pick safety?

Ashlee:

There was one time I can remember sitting there and looking at and going through some of the safety issues, because I was on the safety committee whenever I joined there, so I would be involved in inspections. I would be involved in monthly meetings to talk about health and safety issues, to talk about how we're going to fix some things. In one meeting, we were talking about maybe a new chemical brought onto the facility or some other material that was coming on, and we asked for that safety data sheet about what it was.

I remember the safety manager, you will, saying that we didn't need to know that information. It's fine. Right now, I couldn't tell you looking back if it was fine. We could have been completely safe, but I think that everybody has the right to ask and the right to know. It's an OSHA law, right?

Jill James:

That's right.

Ashlee:

We do have the right to know. Going to school and getting that education not only empowered me, but empowered everyone in that facility, because I was there to say next time that safety manager told me that I didn't need to know, then I was educated and empowered enough to say, "Actually, yes, we do."

Jill James:

And have a right to that information.

Ashlee:

I think that's what really made me proud to do health and safety, and initially get into that, get into the field. As I went through different classes and worked at the facility, it just educated and empowered the workers more to ask these questions and get involved and to really make the workplace better, because you have a different perspective and a different lens coming in. I only worked at the facility for maybe a year, year and a half, while I started taking my degree, so I had a new fresh eyes in the whole facility.

Jill James:

I bet you were seeing thing... As you learned more and more about every day, you walked in and thought, "Oh, I didn't notice that before."

Ashlee:

Yeah. I think another thing that happened is that we had a fatality at the facility on a safety hazard that was reported for 30 plus years.

Jill James:

Sorry. I know stories all too well. I've investigated a lot of death in my career. I've heard those. Yes.

Ashlee:

When you see something that people said something for so long, and no one wanted to pay attention to it, they turned a blind eye to it, it's just... After downsizing and that job used to be a two-person job was cut down to one, and ultimately resulted in a fatality. Now, there's multiple causal factors to that, but that's the worst thing that could ever happen. That's why we all are in the position where we are, because we don't want to see it happen.

Jill James:

As you were going to school and getting your degree in safety, did you end up then working in safety at that same facility?

Ashlee:

No, I did not actually. My last year, of course, you needed an internship. My union is my family there. After being the voice and being there for workers at the facility, I really wanted to do something bigger. My family has always been union members, and they've really provided benefits that allowed me to go to college to have health insurance, to have parents that make a living wage so they can put food on the table, so I wanted to give that back.

I began inquiring and working through my local, some of the local leadership here, then we have a different leadership that I talked to, and ultimately, it ended up with an internship at the United Steelworkers headquarters.

Jill James:

Wow. Is it in Pennsylvania? Where is it?

Ashlee:

That's in Pittsburgh.

Jill James:

Is that what launched your career then?

Ashlee:

I think so. I mean, I wouldn't say that's where I think that I...

Jill James:

You got your start.

Ashlee:

Yeah, that's where I got my start. There, it's just been being able to help people that need your help. The United Steelworkers also has, I would think, it's the largest labor health and safety conference with around 1,600, 2,000 members, labor and management, health and safety committee members to come and learn about safety and health. I really enjoyed working with that. Education and empowerment is one of the pillars that we stand on, so that really helped. I think it helps members. I enjoyed that.

Then just like you, we have the responsibility to do these investigations to make sure that fatality, serious injuries doesn't happen again, so worked on a lot of that as I described earlier. Then also, whenever I started, it was a very, very fast moving with OSHA as far as a regulatory standpoint. We were working on silica, ended up working on some eye and face, reporting and record keeping. When you look back, actually, at that year is 2014, I think 2014, '15 year, there was a lot of stuff going on with OSHA, so I had the opportunity to really get involved with the regulatory process.

Jill James:

And be influential in the passage of some of those laws and amendments to them?

Ashlee:

Yes, I think so. I think it's on OSHA's website, but during the silica hearings, we had one of our members who had silicosis from working in a foundry and how it's impacted his life where he can't walk from the door of a grocery store to his car without getting winded, and how if there were protections, that would have changed not only his life but his family's life. We were able to work with that member, and bring him to the hearings and OSHA, and whenever OSHA passed the silica standard, he was right there to welcome it in.

I think those moments are the moments that you look back of how gratifying it can be.

Jill James:

What Ashlee is describing for those of you who are listening when an agency like OSHA or it could be a state OSHA program promulgates a new standard or law as its can also be known, there's a public comment period. Someone somewhere is writing the regulatory text, and then prior to it being considered to be adopted as a law, there's something called a public comment period where people can come in and tell their stories and argue one way or another. That can be part of that process as well.

Actually, you're talking about how members would come in and tell how they were impacted that would then be captured in that history that led up to the passage of particular laws. Powerful stuff, powerful stuff.

Ashlee:

Yes. I have been with the... After working with the Health and Safety Department as the health and safety representative, I now get to work more on the preventative side, where we do health and safety training, so we have grants with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIEHS, as well as with the Department of Energy. We have a large partnership of organizations across the United States, Puerto Rico and Guam, where we provide health and safety training to many different types of workers, some of manufacturing facilities, some temporary workers, some day laborers just to help provide that education to all workers.

Jill James:

Empower like you were talking about.

Ashlee:

Yes. I think that I really like doing this part of the safety and health to help prevent, trying to help prevent in a different way, and training plays a big part of that.

Jill James:

Ashlee, I just want to revisit your grandpa just a little bit. What did he think? I mean, you've worked in the same facility, and you grew into this worker protection piece of your life. What did your grandpa have to say about that, and what does he think about your career?

Ashlee:

When I first started at the facility, there were people that worked there that knew my grandfather. I took on the family name Hoot. Anyone there would always call me by the family name. He was very proud of that, just that fact. Whenever I started working with the United Steelworkers, and whenever I came working in health and safety, he's incredibly proud not only because I'm his granddaughter, but because he fought for so much for his coworkers, and I can say up until recently continued to fought.

Part of my grandfather's collective bargaining agreement when he retired is they were supposed to have a defined amount of retiree health insurance. Years after they retired, the company took it away, terminated their retiree health insurance. It was a long legal battle and trying to come to a resolution of promising people these benefits that were no longer going to be provided to them. I mean, if you imagine, my grandfather and the people that he worked with, at that time, they were 80, early 80s-

Jill James:

All of a sudden, your benefits are gone.

Ashlee:

... and then all of a sudden, yeah. It ended up that they didn't end up getting the benefits that they were promised at their collective bargaining agreement due to several legal issues, but they did get some, but I think that is more about trying to make sure that promises or things, it was-

Jill James:

Promise is made, promise is kept.

Ashlee:

I'm not saying that though.

Jill James:

Right. You did implicate that.

Ashlee:

It was more about making sure that when that agreement is made at the table in writing, that there's some honor left in it. There's some accountability made to these agreements, so I really attest to the solidarity of my grandfather and all of the people that he worked with on that. Up until recently, they still met together every month.

Jill James:

Your grandpa and his friends from work in the union.

Ashlee:

Yep, they still. It's the Steelworker Organization of Active Retirees, so we called it SOAR, SOAR chapters. They still met, and they fought that fight for years. It's just really important to look back on that years after these people left the facility. Some of them, they may not have been in contact with, but as soon as that happened, they all came back together. To have that type of longstanding impact and something that binds people together is really moving. I was really happy that I could be part of that.

Jill James:

Beautiful. Beautiful. For people who are maybe just starting out in safety, and you crack open these law books of safety regulations, whether state or federal, and you think, "Where did this stuff come from? How did this happen?" If you look into the citations in the books, you can see that a lot of things were pulled from other consensus building organizations like the National Fire Protection Agency or the National Electric Code, different places like that, but the influencers when these laws were coming into being in the '70s were where you're working now, Ashlee.

It was the labor unions who really came to the forefront, told the stories, told what was happening to try to get these laws in place and pass. A lot of gratitude to the work of your grandfather's generation for making that happen for the rest of us to be able to have safe and healthy workplaces.

Ashlee:

I would encourage people to look at photography by Earl Dotter. He is a photographer that takes a lot of pictures about working men and women in working conditions. I would encourage new safety professionals to really look at the workplaces. As I said, I'm happy I worked at the mill when I did, not 60 years before, because it would look completely different. Look at the rivers at Cleveland. The rivers near Cleveland looked completely different before EPA.

Jill James:

It's interesting. Ashlee, let's try to include that in the show notes, photographs by Earl. What did you say?

Ashlee:

Dotter, D-O-T-T-E-R.

Jill James:

Okay. We'll try to get that into the show notes, well, so that people can... I'm talking to our producer, who's listening, Ashlee, and they're recording.

Ashlee:

Sorry.

Jill James:

No, you're perfectly fine. I'm just putting a reminder out there that we do that. You were talking about prevention in the work that you're doing and prevention right now. Let's talk more about what that looks like. I know that you've been doing some work with mental health and with opiates, and of course, gosh, the pandemic we're all living through. What does that prevention work look like now?

Ashlee:

I am glad that you bring up those issues. It's really important to note that we have an epidemic during the pandemic. This opioid use disorders is a continuing and ongoing problem that's overshadowed by the pandemic, and rightfully so the pandemic, we have a lot of things that need to be addressed, a lot of controls, and everyone needs to be cognizant and vigilant, but when you look at these smaller communities that have been severely impacted by the opioid crisis, there's two things that we try to point out whenever we're training. One of them is stigma, and the other one is health disparities.

Talking about the stigma, and we also do this with mental health, because there is such a tie in between mental health issues that can lead to substance use disorders, is people don't want to talk about mental health. People don't want to talk about substance use disorders in the workplace for various reasons. One is the society, how they label it. Another is wanting to appear strong, and also, people don't really correlate it as an occupational safety and health issue.

Many people say that, "We have a drug testing policy at my workplace, so we don't have a drug issue at my workplace." That's not always-

Jill James:

That's right. That's not it.

Ashlee:

Right, that's not necessarily true, though it's important that we bridge what's happening in the workplace and how it can connect to what's going on in the community, and vice versa, because workplaces are just merely an extension of our communities. In looking at our occupations, we identify occupational risk factors, things like job burnout, stress, harassment, fatigue, presenteeism whenever people are coming to work when they probably shouldn't be or working overtime, extended hours when they're not mentally or maybe even physically there.

All of these things can help impact someone's mental health. Ironically enough, in our trainings, we learn that those issues also contribute to injuries and illnesses in the workplace. To make that connection that these things may cause physical harm, but they can also cause mental harm is really important for that connection. We also talk a lot about ergonomics, sprains and strains. That's the standard that we do not have the ability to get back. With ergonomics causing so many injuries in the workplace, it's really unfortunate that we can't get those protections.

Go ahead.

Jill James:

I feel that when my brother suffered a career-ending injury because of repetitive stress, repetitive motion. It's a thing. It's a thing. I wish we had law on the books too. Some states do.

Ashlee:

Yes.

Jill James:

Some states do, which is great for the states that are leading the way. That doesn't mean that employers in states that don't have that law can't take what's being done in other places and apply it to their workplace as well.

Ashlee:

We also have this conversation around our public sector workers, because some of them don't have OSHA protections. It can be covered by some other different state law or maybe a different system within their state government, but there are some workers that don't have them at all. That's always really important to think about.

Jill James:

Sure.

Ashlee:

But as we go through and look at occupational risk factors, and make those connections, it really helps break down that stigma that it's not a weak issue, that they're not workplace issues, because it correlates right back to what some workers or what have been identified as issues that cause injury or illness in their workplace. Those are some really important things that we make sure that we are able to provide just a brick to that bridge. That is really important information we provide, so we can bridge public health and occupational safety and health.

Jill James:

I mean, we're living in such an interesting time, right? I mean, that bridge is if it was ever cloudy or you couldn't make the connection before, 2020 is the year... It seems like we see this nexus now. We see this nexus between public health and occupational health because of the pandemic.

Ashlee:

That ties into the health disparities we talked about. We try to always recognize that there's disparities. Whether we're doing environmental justice training, whether we're talking about HAZWOPER, we need to recognize some of the disparities that communities have or communities overcome when it comes to mental health and substance use disorders. I'll speak to West Virginia, one of the hardest hit states from the opioid epidemic, access to treatment and being able to find recovery and get recovery. A lot of employers had maybe one test, and you're out if you fail that.

Those type of punitive policies don't encourage workers or let workers get help. They would hide it because they needed their job to support their family, so it's really important whenever we have these labor management training sessions to talk about that, that if we really want to help people, then we need to have policies in place that help people. We were doing a listening session with NIEHS in developing their opioids and work training program. When members stood up and told us a story about how there was a young man that was hired at their facility, he worked there six months, almost got off probation, and failed a drug test, and had a bad drug problem.

Ashlee:

He wasn't full time, so he didn't get EAP benefits. He didn't have insurance that would cover recovery centers. Six months later, he was reading that young man's name in the paper from being incarcerated from involving in crime. That was the ability to change and impact and help.

Jill James:

Such important work, Ashlee, such important work. How are you relating safety and the pandemic right now, and what's the work look like for you with your members now?

Ashlee:

During the pandemic, I think that many employers, many people in general trying to navigate the right thing, trying to implement controls that are going to help, and there's been little or no or changing guidance that we've gotten in really how to protect people, protect workers. Early on in the pandemic, we wanted to make sure that the message and education and clear information was out there and could get to members. A lot of our members were considered essential. We represent a lot of papermakers, so the more and more toilet paper people bought, the more and more workers, right?

Now, we represent a lot of people that make glass and cans, so as people sit at home and drink their favorite beverage, we're making those containers. A lot of us never stopped working, and even more of us don't have the opportunity to work from home, so that really put our union and the employers that we work with in a tight space to make sure that we were doing what's right to the best of our ability to protect our members.

Jill James:

With the knowledge that you had at the time, which is continually changing body of knowledge as we learn more and more about this novel virus.

Ashlee:

Yes, but I think there's a lot of things that prepared some of our facilities with specific examples is that many of our workplaces were not directly impacted, but we're cognizant of Ebola.

Jill James:

Oh, sure.

Ashlee:

We had an Ebola infectious disease training program. We worked with employers and locals to develop infection control plans, so they would have that for future preparedness planning. We had some facilities that were very prepared and just put out what they had, and of course revised it with the new knowledge but had some infection control measures in place. Of course, we're talking about outside of health care in these general examples. Through that and working from what we know, from our previous work with infectious disease response, we were able to really quickly tool up and help people and get them information in ways to protect themselves with what we knew then, and continuing with what we know.

One of the most challenging parts with that is the lack of supply of PPE. The really good example that I have for this is very early on, we knew that PPE was going to be a problem for nurses or for our healthcare workers, not just nurses, that in our industries, we use elastomeric half face respirators. That's what we wear. We had a very unique position to help out healthcare workers or other frontline workers with the resources that we have throughout our facilities, not to impede or put them in dangerous situations, but whenever we have a large facility that has two half face respirators and a full face respirator, and they have about 8,000 people, there is an ability to help there.

We really quickly worked with locals who had any extra personal protective equipment and their employers to donate it to the nearest hospital just in case. Whether it was our member or not, just help get some protective equipment to those folks who are going to need it. I don't have exact numbers of how much PPE that we were able to work with employers to donate, but I know that several facilities got this half face elastomeric respirators, which opened up a really unique position to help bridge, I guess, traditional PPE in the healthcare setting into using something that is just as protective, if not more, just in a different way.

Jill James:

I mean, people in your industry know that personal protective equipment in a way that healthcare workers don't, because they don't use it day in and day out like your members do, like people in your industry do. I know of a safety professional friend of mine as many of us safety professionals saw this pandemic. The cloud was coming as it entered our country, and many of us who know something about infectious diseases started buying equipment to protect workers. One of my safety professional friends did that. She's like, "I need more of this stuff, because I see this happening."

She said that her management was like, "What are you doing? Why are we buying this stuff?" She's like, "We're going to need it. We're going to need it for our essential workers," and they're in the food industry. As it turned out, they were able to donate a lot of what she had pulled together as well through a combined effort in her state, where the state became a collector for anyone who had personal protective equipment that could donate and give to the healthcare industry, and so similar situation to you.

Ashlee:

You look back what crazy times that was. You can't get this specific food, or you can't get specific items, and all in all while, we, a lot of safety people were just hitting the books trying to get as much education as possible, so we could turn around and help other people. I think that was one of the most stressful times of my life. I don't know.

Jill James:

Yes. Yes. So many of us... I think if listeners could be chiming in as they're listening, when they listen to this, probably everyone would say, "Yes, we do. We do." Very intense.

Ashlee:

I really think another thing to be cognizant of is we have a whole program that does disaster response training to secondary workers in the middle of a hurricane or after a hurricane, so the people that go and are picking up trash that are helping people remove waterlogged drywall. We have a program that's also with NIEHS, where we go to those areas and help provide training to workers and community members. Just before this, think of Puerto Rico. They had the hurricane. They had an earthquake, and trying to help them in the midst of all of this, or Cookeville, Tennessee. They had a horrible tornado that just went right through the state right after this.

Ashlee:

There's all these other disasters that's happening too, which just makes it even more difficult to help people get the equipment that they need and the education that's going to help them protect themselves and their communities and their workplaces. Throughout the pandemic, I think that we've all just been trying to make sure that we can educate people through our training programs, and make sure that it's accessible to all workers who need it, and to also make sure they have continued update guidance.

Jill James:

Right, because we're not done yet, and things will continue to change, and we'll continue to learn more and hopefully continue to learn more ways to protect one another.

Ashlee:

At least, that as you stated, that this pandemic has helped bridge that public health and occupational safety and health. You'd never think that you'd be able to walk up to anyone in the store, and they would know the difference between an N95 and the exhalation valve. Now's the time, I think, for everyone who's involved in safety and health to push the message broader, and make it that, Jill, your podcast doesn't have to be the Accidental Safety Pro anymore.

It'll be like Gold Star Safety, everyone wanting to be involved and engaged in safety and health, because it does have a very big broad impact.

Jill James:

Those of us who've been in safety and health for a while, we talk about safety at home as it relates to safety at work, and that there is a nexus there, but it seems like a hard sell sometimes. It seems like this is like, "No, this is everywhere." I mean, depending on the industry you're in, right? I mean, people who've had employees working with lead and bringing lead home on clothes impacts people at home and impacts families.

There's been a nexus there. I mean, pick a hazard that's common, but it's not something that's as pervasive as this, and so being safe at work and being safe at home are one in the same, and they they both impact one another and impact families and impact communities. All of our safety health professionals are suddenly becoming public health champions as well.

Ashlee:

Yeah, but this will be another... I think that looking at how everyone is being so resilient among these times and really working to make sure that workers get the protections that they need, and that's a continual fight, we're trying to get an emergency temporary standard that would help protect people from infectious disease. Now, we have a handful of states maybe that have adopted an emergency standard to protect workers from infectious diseases, but we're still waiting on some bigger federal push to protect workers who don't have the protections right now.

Jill James:

That's right. That's right. Ashlee, you mentioned resilience, and we were talking about how intense this time has been for all of us in this field and, well, frankly, for everyone. What are you doing for your own resilience?

Ashlee:

For my resilience or for everyone's resilience?

Jill James:

Good question. For both then. I mean, if you ask me that question, I'm not doing so well myself, so it's easier to say what we're doing for others.

Ashlee:

Throughout this year, I'd say that throughout this year, our works changed. How we work's changed. The staff that I work with at the Tony Mazzocchi Center have geared up 120% through the support with NIEHS. I think that part of my resiliency is to be able to have that team that knows where we're at and where we're going, and picks up and helps everybody get their. Loads are hard to carry, so I would really think that as far as resiliency when it comes to dealing with work, I have a support system, and I think that especially trying to gear up and help all types of all workers this year that they have been more instrumental in keeping my mental health and my self care and stress management on point.

Then outside of that realm, I think that it's really important that we reflect back on what we're doing and why we're doing it. As I said before, that my most gratifying time is helping workers, so instead of looking back and thinking about all of the things that are on our lists that we have to get done next week, and to do that, it's really important just to look at your agenda from last week and see what you accomplished, because there are some things there, and as every single time that something like that gets checked off the list, there's people that are impacted by that on the other end, even though you may not see it.

Ashlee:

I think that that's really important. I have a dog that hasn't barked since the beginning of this too, so he helps.

Jill James:

Since the beginning of our recording.

Ashlee:

Yes.

Jill James:

Thank you to your dog. What's your dog's name?

Ashlee:

Jack.

Jill James:

That's the name of my cat. That's awesome. Well, Ashlee, as we're winding up our time together today, if someone's just starting out in safety and health right now, or is maybe even looking for an internship in safety and health, would unions be one of those places that they could go and inquire to get their career started particularly with an intern like you did?

Ashlee:

I'm going to plug again, Jill, I'm sorry.

Jill James:

That's okay.

Ashlee:

Yes, there are many opportunities. There's actually a program. It's called the Occupational Health Internship Program, OHIP. That program works to connect undergraduate and graduate students to labor unions or other community organizations to give them an internship. It's usually over the summer, and they do a lot of work around exposure assessments. Some of them look at occupational medicine. It's a really good program. That is run through... I believe it's UCLA LOSH.

Jill James:

Okay, thank you. That's a great tip for our listeners. Thank you for that. Ashlee, it's been such a pleasure talking with you today. Just listening to the breadth and depth of your work, it's pretty fascinating. We started out talking about beryllium, and we have talked about mental health and opiates and a pandemic. I mean, anyone who thinks our work is boring, that's not the case, right? The depth of things that we get to learn and get to be involved in as we advocate for workers is pretty amazing.

Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for your work, and thank you for your time today.

Ashlee:

Thank you.

Jill James:

Thank you all for spending your time listening today. More importantly, thank you for your contribution toward the common good, making sure your workers including your temporary workers make it home safe every day. If you'd like to join the conversation about this episode or any of our previous episodes, you can follow our page, and join the Accidental Safety Pro community group on Facebook. If you aren't subscribed and want to hear past or future episodes, you can subscribe in iTunes, the Apple podcast app or any other podcast player you'd like.

You can also find all the episodes complete with transcripts at Vivid Learning Systems.com/podcast. We'd love it if you could leave a rating and review us on iTunes. It really helps us connect the show with more and more safety professionals like you and I and Ashlee. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. Until next time, thanks for listening.