The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) has announced the winners of its 2019 Health and Safety awards, which recognize outstanding contributions towards empowering workers and the fight for safer workplaces and communities. 

The awards will be presented on Wednesday evening, December 4th, as part of the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health (COSHCON19). The conference takes place December 3rd through 5th at the Maritime Training Center just outside Baltimore. Awardees were selected from nominations made by workers, unions, COSH groups, health and safety professionals and others from across the country.

In addition, local COSH activists and organizations were recognized this week with awards from the Occupational Safety and Health section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), during APHA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia.

Work-related injuries, illnesses "won't prevent themselves"

“We’re excited to recognize and elevate the work of these dedicated activists who work every day to build a strong movement for safe workplaces,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH. “Nobody comes to work to get sick or die, and we know the vast majority of illnesses, injuries and fatalities on the job are preventable. But they won’t prevent themselves. Each of our awardees, in their own way, has made a major contribution to making work safer, and their efforts are making a huge difference for workers and families."

This year’s National COSH Health and Safety award winners include:

Peg Seminario, retired Health and Safety Director, AFL-CIO; Tony Mazzochi Award

A nationally recognized leader in policy, regulation, and legislation, Peg Seminario has played a significant role in every single heath and safety rule adopted to protect American workers during the past forty years.

Peg got her start as a worker safety and health activist while in graduate school, as one of the founding members of MassCOSH. Peg joined the AFL-CIO Safety and Health Department in 1977 and was director of the department from 1990 until her retirement earlier this year. She has participated in dozens of rule makings before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and helped to organize broad-based campaigns on the right to know about chemical hazards and ergonomic protections. She was one of the leaders in labor’s efforts to enact the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to provide health care and compensation to responders sick from exposures at the World Trade Center.

Peg has served as the AFL-CIO’s lead organizer of Workers Memorial Day, and on numerous regulatory and scientific advisory committees in the U.S. and abroad. Warmly regarded by colleagues as a teacher, mentor and thoughtful collaborator, Peg is a forceful advocate for workers and has played a key role in hard-won progress towards safer working conditions for millions of U.S. workers.

Samantha Wooten, Board member, New Hampshire COSH; Family Activist Award

After her father, Tom Wooten, died in 2016 in a tragic on the job incident at age 56, Samantha Wooten joined the New Hampshire COSH Board of Directors. Tom, who worked for the Department of Public Works in Northfield was crushed between a tractor and the trailer it was hauling. Because he worked in the public sector, there was no OSHA investigation, no remedial action requirement, nor any safety citations issued.

Determined to help other families avoid preventable tragedies, Samantha successfully advocated for legislation to improve workplace safety. In May 2019, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a new law requiring reporting of serious workplace injuries and fatalities for public sector employees, as well as investigations of fatalities by the state Department of Labor.

Samantha is a graduate student pursuing a degree in Occupational Safety and Health at Keene State College. She is also a single mother to her daughter, Grace, whom she hopes to inspire to also work hard for what she believes in.

Samantha has worked tirelessly to build awareness and advocacy for workplace safety issues since her father was killed on the job.  “I received a phone call that would forever change my life, my mother’s life, my brother’s life, my daughter’s life, and the lives of many other people that knew my Dad,” she says. “Since that day, I try day-in and day-out to give my father a voice and help ensure this type of incident doesn’t happen to another person.”

Samantha is a member of the American Society of Safety Professionals Granite State Chapter, and a USMWF Board Member.

Milagros Barreto, Worker Center Coordinator, MassCOSH; COSH Leadership Award

Milagros Barreto came to MassCOSH in 2013 as an operation associate and worker center hot line coordinator.  With a background in human resources, Milagros developed an interest in helping low wage immigrant workers win fairness and opportunity in their workplaces.

Milagros has a thirst for social justice, which led her to become an organizer at the Worker Center in 2015, and  she became immediately active in developing  campaigns to ensure the protection of immigrant workers.  In her current role, Milagros has helped workers recover thousands of dollars stolen from workers’ pockets due to wage theft by employers. In addition, Milagros help design health and safety committees so that workers can identify and correct hazards in their workplaces.

Milagros has a passion for teaching, believing that everything begins with knowledge and by knowing your rights. She is bilingual in Spanish and English, has a bachelors’ degree in business management, and has earned an OSHA 10 certification card. She is a board member of the  Women's Institute Leadership Development (WILD) and has served as a MassCOSH representative on the National COSH board of directors. Milagros is a proud member of United Steel Workers (USW Local 9358).

The local COSH activists recognized by the OHS section of APHA this week are:

Elise Pechter, MPH, CIH, Alice Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Elise is an industrial hygienist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Occupational Health Surveillance Program and co-chair of MassCOSH's Health Technical Committee.

Marianela Acuña Arreaza, Lorin Kerr Award recognizing young professionals. Marianela is the former executive director Fe y Justicia/Houston COSH.

 PHILAPOSH, Tony Mazzocchi Award for Grassroots Activism. Founded in 1975 PHILAPOSH educates and provides support to union members, safety representatives and the general public on a wide variety of job health and safety topics.

About the conference

The December Worker Safety and Health conference – the nation’s premiere gathering of grassroots safety activists -- brings together more than 300 people for three days of bilingual panels, workshops and speakers. COSHCON2019 will also include a product and service expo, poster sessions, and an awards banquet.

Conference registration is now open, with advance discounts available through November 8. A preliminary conference schedule is available here.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.