Democrats & Liberals

Safety First? Not So Fast: The Future of Workplace Safety in the US

Posted by jhamilton on January 21, 2020 at 6:57 PM

The United States is the most technologically advanced nation in human history. Our medical systems save millions of lives every year. The scope of our understanding of disease and injury prevention is immense. Yet American workers continue to labor every single day in conditions that value production over safety. Not only this, but the effects of workplace environmental exposures can linger for months, years, or even decades after the worker leaves the job. Some workers never recover. And far too many do not survive. Nevertheless, health and safety regulations continue to be rolled back. In an already deficient and damaged system, the state of workplace safety in the United States will only continue to deteriorate unless dramatic and immediate intervention occurs.

Mesothelioma

Exposure to asbestos is one of the most significant and ubiquitous hazards in the workplace today. The risk affects a range of industries, from construction to firefighting to the military. Even workers not directly handling asbestos-containing materials may still be exposed: for decades, asbestos was commonly used as a flame-retardant insulating material.

It continues to be found in homes and commercial buildings, with owners refusing to incur the expense of eradication--in defiance both of government regulations and the increasing awareness of the lethal risks of asbestos exposure, the most severe of which is the development of mesothelioma, a rare and furiously dangerous type of lung cancer.

Flu

Far too often, the flu is dismissed as an inconvenience. You feel miserable for about a week, but then you get over it and move on. The reality, though, is that flu claims tens of thousands of lives in the US every year. The CDC estimates, for instance, that 80,000 people died from the flu or its complications in 2017, and the 2019-2020 flu season may be even worse.

Despite the risks, though, many US workers are reluctant to stay home when they're sick, either because they can't afford to miss work or because they fear reprisals from their employer or coworkers. The problem is especially significant for workers in the food services industry, which not only puts coworkers at risk but also threatens the safety of the general public. Any worker, but food services especially, should be allowed to stay home when ill in order to keep the flu out of the workplace.

Stress and Burnout

Modern technology has not only changed the way we communicate, play, and get our entertainment, but it's also changing the way we work. Now more than ever, mobile tech allows us to carry our office with us wherever we go. And while that certainly makes us more productive, it also means that we now have nowhere to go to truly be free of the pressures of work, no time to truly relax and decompress. The result is skyrocketing rates of anxiety, stress, and employee burnout, which not only compromise the workers' overall quality of life but also diminishes their performance, affecting customers and colleagues alike.

Environmental Contamination

American workers are not the only ones impacted by hazards in the US workplace. The majority of US businesses, particularly in the manufacturing industries, are reliant to at least some extent on fossil fuels, wreaking devastating impacts on both human health and the environment, as was demonstrated more than a decade ago in Al Gore's groundbreaking documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Though environmentalists have long sounded the alarm on the necessity of controlling and significantly reducing fossil fuel emissions, the marginal progress made in recent years is now threatened by the Trump administration's environmentally-unfriendly policies, backed by a value system that prioritizes the profitability of the free market over the lives of ordinary citizens or the well-being of the planet.

The Takeaway

The future of workplace safety in the United States is not what it could be, and it is not what it should be. Workers continue to suffer from the debilitating and sometimes life-threatening effects of exposure to harmful substances, such as asbestos. In addition, financial considerations and workplace pressures often discourage workers from staying home when they are ill, contributing to the spread of dangerous infectious illnesses, such as the flu.

The advent of mobile technologies has also exacerbated a host of workplace dangers, including the threat of anxiety disorders and burnout. Finally, the rollback of regulations by the Trump administration has compromised not only the health and safety of workers but also of the environment. Restrictions on fossil fuel emissions are being curtailed, increasing pollution in the air, water, and land and contributing to a variety of human illnesses, from asthma and COPD to cardiovascular disease. Workplace safety is not just about the well-being of employees. The effects of workplace hazards filter out to every man, woman, and child across this vast country and our increasingly interconnected world, impacting our entire human family and the precious, suffering planet we call home.

Is Technology a Concern for Teen Health?

Posted by Magnolia on January 21, 2020 at 3:52 PM

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There was a time when your average teen's day didn't consist of much more than school, homework, and hanging with friends. If you think back to your childhood, you can probably remember doing things like riding your bike around the neighborhood with your friends or watching movies to pass the time. However, teens in the digital age spend their time much differently.

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What's the Current State of Workplace Safety in the U.S.?

Posted by Magnolia on January 7, 2020 at 5:29 PM

No matter our chosen industry, most of us take the concept of workplace safety for granted. After all, wide-reaching workplace accident prevention programs and data collection have been routine since 1913, when the National Safety Council (NSC) was founded. Today, the nonprofit NSC performs a variety of services, such as offering safety training courses for employers that seek to reduce job site injuries and build a culture of safety.

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Labor Rights in the Trucking Industry

Posted by jhamilton on January 6, 2020 at 6:17 PM

The trucking industry is synonymous with American roads and highways. On family road trips, semi-trucks are such a common sight that there's even a traditional signal the kids can use to encourage a truck driver to honk his or her horn. Semi-trucks are so ubiquitous, in fact, that they transport about 71% of the nation's total freight, according to American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Although truck driving is such an integral component of capitalism, drivers themselves aren't always treated with the respect they deserve. The unfortunate reality is that, while truck driving is an inherently dangerous occupation, drivers typically remain overlooked in the realm of labor rights. Further, trucking company owners may engage in unscrupulous business practices that put drivers at risk every time they get behind the wheel.

Stories of roadway accidents involving semi-trucks are headline news on a daily basis in America. Some truck accidents, such as a December 18 Florida collision involving a semi-truck and a cargo van, don't result in injuries. But that crash is an exception rather than a rule, and trucking accidents are often fatal.

History of the Trucking Industry

It may come as a surprise, but America's first semi-truck hit the road in 1899. Ohio-based engineer Alexander Winton needed a way to deliver his company's manufactured cars to buyers across the U.S. without putting wear and tear on the vehicles themselves. So Winton designed a hauler that could handle the transport and delivery of a single automobile. Winton's semi-truck hauler was soon adopted by other car making companies.

But it wasn't until the 1950s that semi-trucks became firmly rooted in America's freight industry. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 allowed for the construction of interstate highways, which allowed for travel between states at high speeds. And it is those high speeds that help contribute to the elevated number of fatal crashes involving large trucks that occur on America's roadways.

The Federal Motor Carrier Transportation Administration (FMCSA) reports that about 4,440 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes in 2016, but that's only part of the overall picture. It's easy to blame truck drivers for these types of roadway accidents, as they drive hefty vehicles and are susceptible to driver fatigue, which can slow reaction times and impair decision-making skills. However, studies show that the majority of fatal car-truck crashes are actually caused by car drivers.

In fact, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that car drivers were found to be at fault for more than 80% of fatal car-truck accidents. Yet truck drivers typically receive the brunt of the blame. It's an unfortunate side effect of choosing a career in the truck driving industry.

What it Takes to Be a Truck Driver

Depending on one's state of residence, the path towards a career as a professional truck driver may differ significantly. But in general, the first step is obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL) as well as a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Then, professional training is required, most commonly from an accredited truck driving school. Prospective drivers must also pass the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMCSR) exam, which screens a driver's vision and hearing abilities.

Once a driver has successfully passed all exams and completed professional training, it's time to find work. Many truck drivers are employed through a trucking or freight company. Others, however, opt for a more independent work life and become independent owner/operators.

While working as an independent trucking contractor may seem like a good idea on the surface, at least where employee protection is concerned, it comes with a hefty upfront cost. For instance, independent drivers generally must supply their own rig for hauling. On top of the cost of the vehicle itself, maintenance, and gas, there's also insurance to consider.

In most cases, truck drivers who drive their own vehicles are required to carry commercial auto insurance. That requirement in itself effectively puts truck drivers at risk: In the event of an accident, an independent commercial truck driver may ultimately be responsible for associated costs, such as property damage and/or medical bills.

The Future of Trucking Industry Employment

The motor vehicle landscape is constantly evolving, and modern technology is helping to alter the trucking industry even further. Some researchers postulate that alternative transportation may be the future of trucking, reducing emissions on a national level and making our roads safer. Perhaps the mere idea of alternative transportation technology is one of the primary reasons behind America's current truck driver shortage.

There are approximately 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., which sounds like quite a lot on the surface. But many of those truck drivers aren't active, and those who are tend to be middle-aged or elderly men. Although tractor-trailer truck drivers may earn upwards of $43,680 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, young people may be turned off by the industry's long hours and changing safety laws.

For instance, there is a limit to the amount of total time that drivers can spend behind the wheel in a day. But many times, a driver's expected delivery time doesn't account for required breaks or rest periods. The Department of Labor requires that drivers be paid for at least 16 hours in a 24-hour period, but a number of trucking companies have fought against paying their drivers during periods of rest or sleep.

Final Thoughts

Despite rampant globalization and the fact that a significant amount of U.S. goods are manufactured overseas, trucks remain the go-to shipping method across the nation. Unfortunately, truckers are significantly overlooked when it comes to safety rights in an inherently dangerous profession. The trucking industry just isn't an attractive employment option among young people, primarily due to long hours and a lack of overall protection.

Why We Shouldn't Excuse NFL Players

Posted by Magnolia on January 2, 2020 at 4:50 PM

Although it has decreased slightly in popularity over the last decade, football remains America's favorite sport amongst U.S. adults. Millions of spectators attend National Football League games, and millions more watch them on television. The league itself has enjoyed a 5% increase in television ratings in 2019, and last year brought in $3.71 billion in advertising revenue, an increase from 2017's total of $3.58 billion.

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Why Some Individuals Choose Homelessness Over Receiving Shelter from Religious Organizations

Posted by jhamilton on December 30, 2019 at 1:49 PM

Homelessness plagues the lives of hundreds of thousands of people daily. The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that at least 550,000 Americans experience homelessness a night, and in a single year 1.4 million spend time in shelters. This is a dire issue because according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least 700 people die from hypothermia annually.

Seeing as temperatures are dropping, it's a good time to begin thinking about how to find solutions to the issue of homelessness in America. A prevalent approach that shelters have been taking is getting volunteers and outreach workers to encourage people sleeping rough to head over to shelters. Surprisingly, many of these individuals tend to refuse a place to sleep, especially when the help is extended from a religious shelter.

This raises questions about why many homeless people aren't keen on receiving help from religious shelters and what can be done about it. The solution may require looking deeper at the perceptions, attitudes, and values that are held by the homeless about religious shelters. It may also be worth exploring whether or not these religious shelters are sensitive enough to the unique challenges and needs of the homeless.

The Struggles of the Homeless

To understand why people choose to be homeless, it's necessary to first understand the struggles that homeless people face. An estimated 144,000 people who are homeless across the United States also face mental illness, making it one of their most salient struggles. The stress and isolation that accompanies not having adequate housing could also impact their physical and mental health negatively.

Another challenge that the homeless have is the condition of the shelters sometimes being less than conducive. Some of the things they're faced with in many shelters include overcrowding, poor hygiene, a lack of regulation, and not having enough personal space. Such challenges can be off-putting for homeless individuals who are already battling personal issues like declining mental health, deteriorating physical health, or addiction.

Shelters also tend to have barriers that sometimes don't take the vulnerabilities and complex needs of homeless people into consideration and keep them stuck in a cycle of poverty. Good examples of such barriers include not being able to receive help if you're intoxicated, not being offered secure treatment, or not having anywhere to store their belongings while they work. Another challenge for many homeless people is that most shelters are communal spaces which means they don't have privacy or personal space.

Why Is Shelter Refused?

A core reason they may refuse accommodation from religious shelters, in particular, could be because of a fear of being judged. The National Coalition for the Homeless has found that 16% of the population is battling severe mental illnesses while others are struggling with drug addictions. Reasons such as these could make individuals choose to be homeless as they're under the assumption that the religious beliefs of such shelters will be imposed on them.

As with most individuals, homeless people value independence as well as the right to make their own choices. When being approached by volunteers from religious shelters, it may feel as though they're bartering their freedom for support and a place to stay. As a result, they may refuse shelter as they'd rather stay in their zone where they can retain their peace, sense of identity, and not feel judged.

Further reason that shelter may be refused is because of bad past experiences with shelters. It is key to remember that these are vulnerable people who are likely to have a history of bad experiences already, so one more could worsen the state of their mental health. Instead of moral lessons, they often need healthcare professionals who respect their independence and meet their specific mental health needs

Possible Solutions

Religious shelters should attempt to reverse negative stereotypes by ensuring the beliefs and individuality of homeless people is always respected. It may also help if volunteers use relationship building tactics such as talking to them about past encounters with religious shelters and seeing if they can offer them better alternatives. Providing people without a home a range of options and non-religious solutions could help them feel empowered as opposed to children in need of help.

Policies that make it mandatory for shelters to partner with one another could help create a more coordinated approach to tackling homelessness. Putting cohesive information-sharing structures in place could also make it easier to house individuals, regulate, address complaints, and deal with overcrowding. Shelters should also collaborate with social workers, healthcare providers, and housing providers to offer a range of services that will help people get back on their feet.

The lack of personal space was another major challenge, so providing individual rooms or permanent housing for individuals is a solution that could encourage them to accept help. A bonus is that this could reduce the cost of homelessness which a 2006 study by the Denver Housing First Collaborative says would take the cost from $43,239 down to $11,694 per person annually in the city of Denver alone. By shelters allowing the homeless to retain their autonomy and individuality without offering a moral compass, they may be able to get more off the streets.

As charitable people, it is our duty to make everyone feel loved despite their struggles or shortcomings. As the winter season kicks into gear, we should seek to extend a helping hand to those in need. This helping hand must come with a reassurance that our only motives are to offer warm shelter and non-judgmental support.

How Lawmakers Are Addressing the Impact of Addiction on American Families

Posted by jhamilton on December 10, 2019 at 9:11 AM

Addiction isn't something a person suffers in isolation. When one person suffers from addiction, it can affect the people around them in negative ways. Whether it be alcohol or drugs, addiction can disrupt family structures and result in children being uprooted from the home.


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Lifelong Health, Organic Farming, and Sustainability

Posted by Magnolia on December 5, 2019 at 10:57 AM

With so many buzzwords out there, it can be difficult to determine which ones to pay attention to. But when it comes to your health, "organic" and "sustainable" are two words you may want to integrate into your life. Organic, sustainably grown foods may become a big part of your diet as well.

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GPS Technology, Privacy, and Police States: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Posted by jhamilton on December 4, 2019 at 7:19 PM

Since entering the mainstream in the 1990s, GPS technology has arguably changed modern life for the better. After all, GPS can help us to receive real-time updates of adverse weather conditions, track down lost pets, and drive cross-country without asking for directions. We can even organize protests and meet-ups, such as teacher strikes, with ease thanks to modern tracking tech.

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Health Care Costs in the U.S.: Will They Ever Improve?

Posted by Magnolia on November 27, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Spending on health care in the U.S. is projected to continue to grow 5.6% per year between now and 2025, and by the time 2025 rolls around, health spending will make up 19.9% of the total GDP.

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How Does Mental Health Affect Voter Turnout?

Posted by jhamilton on November 25, 2019 at 7:03 PM

We have a tendency in the US to treat mental illness with a great deal of unnecessary suspicion and fear. Unfortunately, this response has historically led to us making rash, ill-considered, damaging decisions. Our continued widespread refusal to rationally address the issue means that we continue to fail to make progress on providing sufficient support for those experiencing psychological difficulties. This is a baffling stance to take, given that one in four of us will be confronted with mental illness at some point in our lives.

Prejudice often results in impaired access to vital services, leading to serious disenfranchisement of those with mental or emotional difficulty. This extends to political and legislative arenas. The narrative on violence and gun control has utilized mentally illness as a scapegoat. While mental health reform is long overdue, it is misleading to suggest mass shootings are caused by mental illness. Such narratives serve to fuel stigma, and alienate those who need close community support.

Negative bias affects the ability of patients to vote. This is in effect a form of voter suppression, which must be addressed. Studies have shown that those with mental illnesses are more likely to make informed political decisions, and tend to vote for left-wing parties. We live in a time of great political uncertainty, and every vote is vital. We must examine how mental health can affect voter numbers, and what we can do to empower this demographic.

Legislative Stigma

Mental health stigma is informed by erroneous stereotypes of those who experience psychological illnesses. Despite a rise in campaigns to present a more accurate view, these inaccuracies perpetuate. This damaging approach has an insidious impact throughout our culture, from the mentally ill being demonized in horror movies to scapegoating when it comes to violent crime. But how does popular public opinion translate into an impact on voting?

Part of the issue is that stigma can affect the translation of mental competency. Decisions are made using the most extreme definitions of mental illness, rather than a more balanced approach. There are 39 states that have legislation in place restricting those with psychological conditions from voting if they are ruled to be mentally incompetent. Some states even still utilize stigmatizing language in this legislature, such as "idiots", or "insane persons." At times, people who are otherwise able to make well considered decisions are found to be mentally incapable of voting.

While stigma itself will not improve until the wider public becomes more educated on the subject, we can push for assessment standardization of mental capacity to vote. Such as those currently in place in California and Maryland. The criteria, promoted by the Bazelon Center and the American Bar Association, is straightforward. It asks simply whether the person is able to communicate a desire to vote. This provides equality with every other US citizen; if you can make a choice, you can vote.

Hospitalization

Mental illness can present in a wide variety of forms, with each disorder involving symptoms of variable severity. Each individual tends to experience illness through a very personal lens, which is why treatment is nuanced by necessity. Some find psychiatric medication helpful, while others use alternative remedies such as CBD oil as part of their therapy. In serious cases, a period of hospitalization may be required in order to provide structured care. It is unfortunately the case that becoming an inpatient can have a detrimental affect voting.

Particularly in the case of unexpected hospitalization, the logistical processes to enable inpatients to vote can be complex. This can vary from state to state, but usually involves applying for an emergency ballot, a physician's confirmation of the patient's inability to attend the polls, this must then be notarized and approved by the city. Only then can the patient vote in absentia. Even for long-term patients, keeping up to date with voter registration and polling dates and may not be considered a priority during this difficult time in their lives.

The solution to this issue is usually one of providing patients with sufficient support and education. Provide them with guidance and information on how and where to register to vote in their local area. Make them aware of resources they can use to do so, such as free internet access in libraries. Initiatives like the Penn Votes Project can be effective, wherein medical students take responsibility to work with patients to ensure they are assisted through voting processes.

Living with Mental Illness

Simply navigating your daily tasks while experiencing symptoms of mental illness is difficult, and can take a lot of time to get used to -- if it happens at all. Many patients are able to manage their mental health very well overall. However, there may be periods of unexpected crisis, followed by treatment, changes in prescription medication, and recovery. This can be exhausting, and overwhelming. It cannot be understated how mental illness can have a disruptive influence upon daily life. It should be no surprise that this can also affect the tendency to get out and vote.

A variety of illnesses, particularly mood disorders such as depression, negatively affect self-esteem and espouse a sense of apathy. This can affect patient's ability to see how their actions can make a difference. Juggling between their symptoms and their daily duties, there's often little motivation to vote. Yet, voting is considered a valuable action in recovery from mental illness. Helping patients engage with their citizenship and shape their communities is a vital tool in their ongoing treatment.

Having a personal connection in the support network can often be valuable in helping patients feel confident and empowered to make a difference. Family members of older adults with depression can check in regularly, offering support for day-to-day tasks that can become challenging. This simple act of compassion can be especially helpful on polling days, either by assisting them in getting to the booths, or even helping register for and mail in absentee ballots. By opening a dialogue, and providing encouragement, they may be more likely to enter into this holistically valuable mode of citizenship.

Conclusion

Voting is a key right, and one that those with mental illnesses are too often denied. Widespread stigma, inconsistency of assessments, and lack of information provision are all factors affecting voter numbers among the mentally ill. We must make concerted efforts to reassess our approach to legislation and support structures in order to make sure that experiencing an illness is no longer a barrier to asserting political will.

Financially Navigating the U.S. Healthcare System

Posted by Magnolia on November 21, 2019 at 4:12 PM

The U.S. healthcare system has come a long way since medical insurance was first introduced in 1929. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in the last 90 years, and the majority of contemporary Americans hold insurance policies through their employer. Yet there's often a considerable out-of-pocket cost that accompanies modern insurance policies.

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Can Digitization Democratize Healthcare?: Telemedicine and the Future of Aging

Posted by Magnolia on November 19, 2019 at 10:06 AM

The population is growing older, and this graying of the United States is bringing with it a lot of difficult choices and a cascade of painful sacrifices. Everyday in America, another 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age. By 2030, nearly 20% of the U.S. population will be 65 years old or older. As the population grows older, younger generations find themselves torn between the responsibilities of caring for an aging parent and raising their own children.

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Could Improved Smart Car Technology Speed EV Adoption?

Posted by Magnolia on November 12, 2019 at 11:34 AM

While electric vehicles (EVs) are starting to become a more prominent sight on our roads, we are still some way off from their market dominance. Despite the fact that we are teetering on the edge of irreversible climate crisis, we remain dependent on our fossil fuel vehicles. Our hesitation about crossing over to the fully electric method of transport can be linked to a number of reasons.

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What Will Retirement Be Like for the Next Generation?

Posted by jhamilton on November 5, 2019 at 12:01 AM

The millennial generation and Generation Z are facing down a multitude of crises ranging from another impending financial disaster to the ever-present threat of climate change. What's more, millennials have entered the workforce en masse over the last decade and have found that it is far less hospitable to their generation than it was to the baby boomers or Gen X. While retirement has been the ultimate goal for generations past, millennials and Generation Z are finding that the very idea of retirement might be out of reach for many of them.

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