USW chemical workers tackle fatigue and other hazards at Health, Safety and Environment Conference

Angelle Gregoire serves as president of USW Local 6992, and over the past few years at the Dupont chemical facility in Buffalo, N.Y., where she has worked for 16 years, she has seen a concerning culture change around workplace safety and health.

This is one of the reasons she attended the USW Health, Safety and Environment Conference in Pittsburgh the week of April 17, where more than 2,000 union members and their management counterparts gathered to learn from each other and experts about how to protect themselves and their communities.

Dupont also sent someone from management to the conference for the first time this year. “I think that’s a good sign that we’re going to move in the right direction,” said Gregoire, who works as a supply chain planner.

One of the most valuable workshops she attended at the conference was focused on fatigue, a common problem in the chemical sector and at Gregoire’s facility.

“We got a lot of information that we can take back to our site,” she said. “We work 12-hour shifts, four days on, four days off, but people often get forced to work 16 hours, sometimes all four days.”

USW Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn, who also coordinates the union’s multiple chemical sector councils, said this is one of the issues he is focusing on in the coming months and years, along with making sure every local has robust health and safety language.

“We have to put the employers on notice that we’re taking this seriously and they need to do so as well,” Shinn said.

Gregoire’s facility, which receives many products via rail, has also been impacted by the recent railcar derailments involving chemical products.

“Just in our area, the railroad cut out a whole group of workers,” she said. “When we used to ask for a switch, we would get it that night. Now, we have days where we don’t get our switches done because they don’t have crews and they just don’t show up.”

Along with various workshops and trainings, the conference hosted multiple panels, including a discussion with federal investigators and regulators that featured Sylvia E. Johnson, a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. She spoke on the agency’s work in seeking the root causes of chemical accidents and answered members’ specific questions.

Johnson also urged chemical workers to visit the agency’s website,, and YouTube channel,, for more information and training tools.

One particularly solemn part of the conference was a ceremony honoring workers who were killed at USW worksites since the last gathering. For Gregoire, this is a reminder of everything she and her fellow activists are fighting for.

“When you watch that, you know why you’re here learning,” she said. “Years ago, we had an incident where one contractor died and another was severely burned. I never want to go through that again.”

Click here to view photos from this year’s Health, Safety and Environment Conference.

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