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Inclusive Language, Warehouse Safety and Sexual Assault Lawsuit

June 17, 2022
A look at some headlines about creating a welcoming and safe environment and building a culture of safety.

It may still technically be spring, but the mercury in the thermometer says otherwise. This week, nearly one in three Americans are under heat advisories, heat warnings or heat watches.  

We have been drinking extra water this week and cooling off in air conditioning whenever we can. But we know that’s not always easy or possible for the millions of Americans who work outdoors or in hot facilities. OSHA has revised its Heat Illness Prevention campaign website for how to keep workers safe.  

We’re hoping the hot spell will soon snap and that many of you have found ways to keep cool. In addition to chugging electrolytes, we hope you’re slathering on sunscreen. Because what’s worse than being hot? Being hot and getting a sunburn that makes your skin peel.

Be the Change You Wish to See

Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” continues to get airtime—and the earworm is a strong contender for song of the summer—but it’s another track off her upcoming album that thrust the singer and flutist into the spotlight the past week. Lizzo released the track “GRRRLS,” which was met with criticism from some who said she used an ableist slur.

Three days later, Lizzo announced she would rerelease the song to remove the lyric. It was that statement that caught our attention. She listened, acknowledged the consequences of her words and took corrective action. It was a full apology.

Lizzo’s actions reminded us that we have the power to be the change we wish to see in the world. This is also a good example of the power of language. Despite what the childhood singsong rhyme says, words can—and do—hurt.

And, because we’re seeing a lot of companies turn their logogs rainbow for Pride month, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the importance of inclusive language in the workplace. This article from Fast Company offers six suggestions for how to make current and potential workers more comfortable being their authentic selves at work.

Read more Lizzo’s lyric change here.

New York Lawmakers Take Aim at Amazon

New York state lawmakers have delivered a bill to Gov. Kathy Hochul that would target productivity quotas in warehouses.

The bill would require Amazon and other companies that operate warehouses in the state to provide workers documentation of production quotas; notify those workers of any changes; and prohibit companies from imposing quotas that prevent workers from taking meal, rest or bathroom breaks.

“Those quotas generally do not allow for workers to comply with safety guidelines or to recover from strenuous activity during productive work time, leaving warehouse and distribution center employees who work under them at high risk of injury and illness,” the law says.

A handful of other states have taken up similar legislation targeting quotas.  There has been extra attention in New York following an in-depth investigation of workplace conditions during COVID-19 from The New York Times. Earlier this year, the company’s Staten Island fulfillment center, JFK8, became the first to vote in favor of unionization.

Amazon has long been criticized for its workplace safety record. The Washington Post analyzed OSHA data and found Amazon’s warehouse serious injury rates are nearly doble those of other companies. Amazon is known for its heavy use of technology in warehouses. Workers are expected to pick, pack and sort items in seconds, and employees who take too long are flagged for their time off task, which can lead to disciplinary action. that those quotas had been suspended at the start of the pandemic, and safety records had improved. But those quotas were reinstated last year.  

Read more here.

Sexual Assault and Harassment on High Seas

Stories of sexual assault and harassment are troubling, and the details in two new lawsuits made our blood boil.

An 18-year-old student at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy filed a lawsuit alleging that she was so terrified of being sexually assaulted in her room, which multiple superiors had master keys to, that she took to spending nights in her locked bathroom. She fell asleep clutching a knife for her protection.

Last year, the academy briefly suspended its mandatory “Sea Year” training program after another female student who alleged she was forced to take shots of alcohol and raped by a senior crew member at sea in the summer of 2019, when she was 19 years old.

Both of theses students were placed on the same Maersk ship, and the separate lawsuit filings allege the shipping giant did not have safeguards to protect female students.

"It is common sense that putting a 19-year-old girl on a ship full of older men, where many of the men have unfettered access to her stateroom via master keys, and where the men routinely get heavily intoxicated, could foreseeably lead to a teenaged girl being sexually assaulted," attorneys wrote in one of the lawsuits.

We found many news outlets covering the lawsuits. We encourage you to read the accounts from The Washington Post and CNN.

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