Know Your Rights

A safe workplace is everyone's business

A torn carpet here, leaky pipes there, and loose wires in the next office--all of these add up to unsafe working conditions.

Gardeners and groundskeepers are constantly exposed to the holes in the ground, debris, faulty equipment, broken pipes protruding from the ground, and many types of chemicals.

Bus drivers, maintenance crews and warehouse workers are exposed to chemicals, spills of toxic and slippery materials, carbon monoxide, and faulty equipment.

Food service workers are subject to very hot and cold materials, sharp objects, broken glass and china, wet floors, crowded conditions, and even an occasional food fight.

Clerical workers and paraprofessionals are exposed to loose tiles, computer terminals, torn carpets, slippery floors, faulty and loose wiring, sharp edges of office furniture, flammable materials, asbestos, and every disease known to childhood.

Report unsafe conditions
A safe and healthy workplace is your legal right. But employees are often the ones who spot safety problems in the work place and therefore are most able to remedy them. So when you see unsafe conditions, be sure to report them.
If you find unsafe working conditions-anything from a blocked fire exit to an overly stressful job function -- bring it to the attention of your CSEA site representative, job steward, or another chapter representative. If you have a chapter health and safety committee, bring problems to their attention.

Often times too much emphasis is placed on the employee working safely, and not enough is focused on the employer's obligation to provide a safe and healthy work place. Lack of action could endanger you and your co-workers, so don't assume the employer will take care of the problem -- follow up on it.

Form a safety committee
One way to remedy health and safety problems is for chapter members to form a health and safety committee. The committee can focus attention on specific problems, monitor employer actions, and assist employees in pursuing health and safety complaints. It also can assist the chapter negotiating team in coming up with contract language that addresses health and safety problems.


Know your rights concerning hazardous materials

CSEA knows employees are often exposed to hazardous chemicals during the course of their work. That's why CSEA thinks it's important for you to know your rights under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regulations.

Under OSHA regulations, school districts are required to list every hazardous chemical they use, provide training to workers and, upon request, give information to affected workers and their unions. The law also states that the district must make hazardous chemical "Material Safety Data Sheets" (MSDS) available and develop a written plan of how it will comply with these regulations.

The MSDS is a key part of the law because it requires hazardous substances to have information listed about the product's identity, its hazardous ingredients and its physical/chemical characteristics.

The MSDS also contains data on fire and explosion risks, chemical composition changes, first aid procedures and precautions for safe handling and use.

Listed below is a preliminary checklist of the questions you should ask before picking up chemical substances or opening containers.

Hazardous materials checklist:
1. Can the working material react with other chemicals? If so, which ones?
2. Is protective equipment needed?
3. What first aid measures are needed in case of an overexposure?
4. Will the material burn or explode?
5. Does the material require special storage conditions?
6. Is the material harmful to your health? What are the symptoms?
7. Has an up-to-date "Material Safety Data Sheet" been provided?

Protect your health and the health of your co-workers. Think like CSEA and demand answers to tough questions. You have the right to know.


Beat the heat when working outdoors

The combination of sun and heat can be dangerous to groundskeepers and other classified school employees who spend most of their time working outdoors during summer and warmer months.
The sun contains ultraviolet rays that may cause skin cancer. If you spend a lot of time working outdoors, make sure you cover up with tightknit clothing. This type of cloth can help keep the sun's harmful rays off the skin. Natural fabrics, such as cotton, can still help keep you cool while protecting you from the sun.

Wear a hat and sunglasses. A wide-brim hat will protect your face, eyes and neck. Did you know that your eyes can also get sunburned? That's why you should always remember to wear shades that block at least 99 percent of UV rays.

Make sure that any part of your body that is exposed to the sun is protected by sunscreen. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 is recommended.

Once you make sure that you're protected from the sun, take some steps to make sure that you're protected from the heat. Drink plenty of water. Do this even before you get thirsty. By the time you're thirsty, you are already becoming dehydrated.

Take breaks in the shade as you need them. Although there is always a lot of work that needs to be done before the end of the day, your well being should always come first. Remember, working outdoors during the warm months can be pleasant, but make sure that you always take the proper precautions to ensure that your health isn't compromised.

If you have additional concerns, want more information, or need some help, please contact a union steward, chapter officer or CSEA labor relations representative.