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Workforce Diversity, Abbott’s Baby Formula Recall and a Dose of Good News: What We’re Reading This Week

June 10, 2022
A look at stories you may have missed.

This week, we’re trying to be more present. We’re trying to pause for deep inhales and exhales throughout the day. We’re planning for 2023. We’re looking forward to future safety conferences, including our own Safety Leadership Conferences.

And, amid all this, we’re reminded of the very important role safety plays in our daily life. If we want to go for a swim in Lake Erie, we check online for water conditions. If we want to know if the Jif peanut butter in our pantry is OK to eat, we check FDA.gov to see if our container has been recalled. Workplace safety seamlessly crosses the bridge to personal safety—if not for you then for your family, neighbor or random stranger.

This week, we found examples of how safety and HR efforts extend far beyond their reach. Unfortunately, these are more cautionary tales. To counteract the more grim news, we found a story that explores what can happen when we challenge conventional thought and push the limit of what we know to reach a promising breakthrough.

Wells Fargo Reviews its Diversity Program

In 2020, Wells Fargo instituted a “diverse slate” policy. That practice has been temporarily suspended following a media investigation and calls from Congress.

Wells Fargo’s CEO Charles W. Scharf wrote in a letter to employees on June 6 that the policy would be put on hold while the bank can review the policy and make changes. The pause would help ensure “the guidelines live up to their promise,” and that “hiring managers, senior leaders and recruiters fully understand how the guidelines should work,” Scharf wrote.

The “diverse slate” policy was a formal effort from management to increase diversity within the company. It stipulated that at least half of candidates interviewed for open positions paying $100,000 or more in annual salary needed to be diverse.

Last month, The New York Times reported that some managers conducted sham job interviews with nonwhite and female candidates. Those jobs were already promised to others. More than a dozen current and former Wells Fargo employees said they witnessed or participated in fake interviews just to be able to check a box in case bank regulators inquired. Those employees said fake interviews were also conducted for positions that paid less than $100,000.

Scharf said once the review is complete, the company will make any needed adjustments and relaunch the “diverse slate” policy in July.

Read the story here.

Tracing the Recall Timeline

In February 2022, Abbott Laboratories’ halted production at a baby formula factory that produced nearly 20% of the infant formula in the U.S., leading to a massive shortage. Citing off-the-record sources and viewed government documents, Wall Street Journal reporters Jesse Newman and Peter Loftus trace the allegations, correspondence and timeline leading up to the recall.

The article goes into great detail—and we encourage you to read the full piece—but the high-level summary is this: Abbott Laboratories and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were alerted to problems at the Sturgis, Mich., plant months before four babies got sick, the FDA found traces of a potentially deadly bacteria, product was voluntarily taken off the store shelves and the plant shutdown. Both organizations have come under fire of late for their response to the situation.

In February 2021, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration shared a whistleblower complaint from a former Abbott employee alleging a range of problems at the Sturgis plant, including failing equipment in need of repairs and formula released without adequate evidence that it was safe for consumption. That same former employee made complaints to the FDA in October 2021.

The Sturgis plant faced problems in 2010. Abbott recalled some 5 million containers of powdered formula under the brand Similac following the discovery of beetles or their larvae in formula produced there. The WSJ also reports that “in recent years, company officials or federal inspectors have found at the Sturgis plant the presence of potentially deadly bacteria in formula, standing water, damage to drying equipment and defects in the seams of formula cans, according to FDA inspection reports and court documents.”

Another former Abbott employee told the WSJ that the Sturgis plant was well managed, and the company noted that in the 2010s, the facility had eight consecutive annual inspections without any FDA reports citing potential violations.  

We suspect more information will continue to emerge, but the narrative Newman and Loftus have recounted is concerning. This investigation reinforces the need for workplace safety and is an unfortunate example of what could happen when proper procedures aren’t enforced.

Read the story here.

A Dose of Optimism

We love reading about research that pushes the bounds for what is possible. We also love a happy ending (at least for the time being). New findings from the medical journal New England Journal of Medicine have both.

Researchers conducted a small clinical trial of 18 people with locally advanced rectal cancer, meaning the tumors had spread in the rectum and maybe the lymph nodes but not to other organs. Researchers designed a trial whereby patients who could be cured with standard treatments would instead take an experimental cancer drug. It was risky and, as a result, several pharmaceutical companies declined to sponsor their research.

The results are unprecedented. All patients saw complete cancer remission—without clinical significant complications. Diaz and other physicians not involved with the study believe it is a first, though they emphasize the results need to be replicated before getting too excited.

But for those 18 individuals, there is reason to celebrate. Before the possibility of this trial, patients faced chemotherapy, radiation, life-altering surgery or colostomy bags. Now, they don’t have to—at least not for now. It’s not clear if the medication cured patients, but two years after the trial, some are still cancer-free.

Read more here.  

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