Illinois takes steps for worker safety

Illinois Correspondent

Illinois took some steps forward last year in terms of worker safety, with new regulations for reporting health and safety information, but the progress was marred by multiple incidents and tragedy.

One of the major incidents in the past year involved the death of a worker. Oscar “Zeke” Bettorf, 60, a member of Teamsters Local 525, was killed in an explosion at Olin Winchester in East Alton Ill. on June 22, 2023. A trailer loaded with shotgun shell primers exploded while being transported within the Olin property, and Bettorf was killed at the scene.

The explosion was investigated by at least six local, state and federal agencies, and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration found Olin Winchester responsible for failing to perform an initial process hazard analysis. Olin paid a fine for the violation.

In addition, a Breese contractor paid more than $40,000 in fines after an OSHA investigation. Inspectors found at least five employees in trenches as deep as 18 feet without protection, and cited Groundworks Contracting of Breese for multiple violations of worker safety laws.

The investigation began after the city of Waterloo tipped OSHA to the working conditions, after Groundworks had allegedly ignored a city engineer’s repeated written and verbal instructions to use trench cave-in protection, according to OSHA.

Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced last summer that a multi-state federal lawsuit resulted in stronger public reporting of workplace health and safety information. In the most recent statistics available, Illinois saw 33,250 workers’ compensation claims filed with the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, which oversees cases where the employer and employee do not come to an agreement on their own. Of those, 1,972 were filed through the Collinsville office, which is the closest to St. Louis in the Metro East.

In addition, the Illinois AFL-CIO and Chicago Workers Collective urged the passage of the Temp Worker Fairness and Safety Act, which passed this year. It improved safety standards as well as regulated training and fair pay, cracked down on wage theft and addressed other issues common for temporary workers, who are three times more likely to be injured on the job as direct-hire employees. The law went into effect on July 1, 2023.

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