Edit: This is not to say that it's OK to destroy people's health to make semiconductors. Toxic chemicals are unavoidable in semiconductor manufacturing, and we need to handle them properly even if it causes a rise in prices.
When given a choice between various mostly dangerous solvents, I Choose Acetone™
All I feel comfortable saying is that I would have been a LOT happier if I were either tele-operating a robot to do the work or if the whole process were fully automated by a robot running a set of moves (and halting for remote operator if things fail checks).
Silane is even more delightful than that- a toxic irritant that turns to sand on contact with water. So silane gas that touches your eyes or gets into your lungs will deposit on your mucous membranes as fine glass. Blindness is a likely outcome of sufficient exposure, and if there is a really huge amount you can suffocate on blood and glass shards.
I worked at a semiconductor equipment manufacturer, and the silane gas delivery systems had to have separate flame detectors (from the normal one's we used) in the gas boxes for cutting off the gas supply because of this risk. We also had special strobe lights in the building with a sign below them indicating "Silane Pad on Fire if flashing", to let us know the gas bottle out behind the building (gas was piped in) was likely burning, since you wouldn't know from looking out the door / window unless you got close enough to feel the heat!
Luckily, I never experienced a silane fire, but for a point, I did design and implement the safety system for an experimental ion implant system, which used silane along with other nasty process gases containing arsenic, boron and other dopants. Cool job, but the stress of "make sure you get this right" was a lot higher than other software jobs I've had, haha!
I think the biggest thing you could do is remind the technicians that their safety is paramount, even when we're line down waiting for a critical tool to come back up. The pressure to restore a multi-billion dollar fab to production is intense, and it can cause people to cut corners on safety.
As you note, I seem most of the dangers not coming from dangerous chemical, but from management pressure to sidestep SOP in order to make quota.
Thank you for having a reasonable opinion. I'm reminded that they're rare every time the weld puddle heat soaks the non-asbestos glove on my left hand
I'm also reminded that they're rare whenever I go to buy paint for a surface that kids will never lick.
Also, a question for you: if chip factories were black boxes with robots in them that you put stuff into and got stuff out of, is the "output" also toxic? (Are the actual boards and such also toxic)? Or could the output be non-toxic as long as waste was handled properly, so that it's only toxic inside but neither in its waste output or product output?
Robots break. All the time.
Robots need recovery when they break. They also need preventative maintenance. Even a fully automated fab has an army of technicians in there turning wrenches 24/7. In fact, the more automated the fab, the more people you need turning wrenches. So you can't have a factory that's a toxic swamp inside so long as it's clean on both ends, because there are people in there. You really don't want to ask them to wear SCBA gear all day long either. Nobody likes that. It's hot, it's uncomfortable, and it doesn't work well in tight spaces.
but nobody answered the question - are the normal outputs of a factory also toxic, or just what goes on inside? would a robotic factory even "solve" the issue?
That is to say, one would need proper recycling in order to avoid toxicity for the entire life cycle of products.
Also, the current political climate in the US (EPA being bled to death slowly) will setup a legal climate where companies' practices that are damaging to employee health suddenly becomes legal/non-issue. It might save a few jobs from getting outsourced, but will leave behind a sick employee pool, with the state bearing the cost of health care.
By analogy think of the milk in the fridge at work. The company could have employed a farmer and bought land for a cow but that didn't happen, instead that was outsourced.
Nobody thinks 'must own cow', that is almost always outsourced, certainly in the first world. I think cleaning services are like that, no company thinks to build up a department of cleaners, it is outside the core competency, much like dairy farming is. However, the big companies that are criticised for outsourcing departments started out in an era when there weren't so many security companies, cleaning service companies and such like. If those companies started out now they would not be building up 'cleaning departments' with the management structure, pension plan and bonus incentives, it would just be outsourced, probably to some zero hours minimum wage contractor.
Companies that I've worked for or have been associated with that were really good at running facilities always used in house staff for facility maintenance and usually had facility services run by a former Navy chief of the boat or senior army sergeant.
If you give a shit, and are big enough to have enough work, you can do janitorial, maintenance and security/reception at a reasonable price. You may save money by having maintenance done by people who give a shit vs. those who care just enough to not get fired.
My current employer successfully "insourced" pure utility functions like electricity generation, because it delivered a positive ROI.
Don't outsource your core competency somehow became outsource everything else.
Something I didn't quite understand was a former employer of mine sold their office building and rented all but two floors of the building from the new owner. I never quite understood this.
Short-term realisable profit and improvement to their cash position, at the expense of future cashflow.
It can sometimes make sense if the business's return on capital is much higher than that of real estate, or the business is at risk of having to downsize.
I can easily see how a company would prefer paying another company to provide a nice, delineated set of deliverables as opposed to managing workers to provide them themselves.
> It might save a few jobs from getting outsourced,
> but will leave behind a sick employee pool, with
> the state bearing the cost of health care.
This line of argument seems to have more to do with nationalism than concern for overall human safety.
Yes, ideally nobody would have to suffer from toxic exposure in the workplace, but the situation we're in right now is that strict Western regulations just lead to more sick people on the other side of various nation-state fences.
Given that, it's not at all clear to me that declawing an institution like the EPA is a bad thing. This pollution is happening right now on Earth, is the US better prepared to deal with it than e.g. Vietnam? Probably. But I'd love to hear some arguments on this topic that aren't essentially nationalistic NIMBY-ism.
Your reasoning implies that any resistance to outsourcing is mindless nationalism and therefore the choice is some kind of trolley problem between lowering standards here or elsewhere.
That's not true. You could very well introduce some restrictions with better reasons than political power-play. In the EU, there are restrictions to ship waste off-country because it would pollute the environment. You coukd just as well restrict outsourcing jobs if the workplace environments are known to be unsafe.
Assuming a world where every country had the same workplace safety regulations, it seems obvious that a richer more developed country would be better prepared to deal with workplace injuries and other ailments that result having less strict regulation.
Which is why I'm critiquing the GPs comment as having more to do with "nationalism than concern for overall human safety". We should be concerned with the overall human cost of the products we use, not whether the people injured in their production happen to live in place A or place B.
Some of the EU laws you mention are certainly a step in the right direction, but they're only skin deep. No penalties are paid for outsourcing toxicity to poorer countries during the normal import of consumer products, just for some exports of toxic material. The former category is much larger than the latter.
This is obviously premature conjecture, but the US may be unconsciously moving towards older days, when at the expense of regulation and worker rights a lot of knowledge and technological edge was accumulated.
More people in the US are worse off than they were e.g. in 1990s, let alone around 2006 or so.
> 'Dirty' Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:
> 1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
> 2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.
> 3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.
> The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.
There are plenty of reasons to dislike Summers and to distrust the World Bank, but you should recalibrate your sarcasm detectors if you think a left-leaning economist (he's the nephew of Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow.. I mean..) earnestly wrote "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
Considering all of the different things that computers make possible (from advances in medical research to improved logistics, to more efficient designs for everything), my best guess is that computer chips produced this way are quite a leap forward for overall human well-being.
None of this makes me revel in or ignore anyone's suffering. All I'm trying to say is don't lose sight of the big picture, too. More and better technology (i.e., applied knowledge) is the answer to this problem. The specific form this probably takes is automation of the most dangerous work. And what controls those machines? More computer chips.
It lists two options. First, there are alternative chemicals that are more safe but significantly more expensive, and thus will get used only if the legal system pressures the company do so, either by regulation or by punitive payments to the injured workers.
Second, handling of the carcinogenic chemicals can be moved from people to machines. This is already happening with increased automation purely for cost/efficiency reasons, but can be accelerated if the companies treat it seriously enough.
Also, I think that LaRouche nutters notwithstanding, the idea of putting these extremely hot plasmas to use to recycle materials in the coming fusion economy is going to solve most of the current problems of waste and materials. Even seemingly intractable problems such as what to do with nuclear waste get easier if you can separate the bulk of the non-radioactive material from the truly hot stuff. And indeed you can do that - 100 million degrees just strips the electrons right off, leaving charged particles that are easily sorted into neat, sorted pure piles of whatever elements were in your waste to begin with.
Anytime there's a mismatch in laws and a lack of appropriate tariffs, it just asks for an externalization of cost and pollution.
Every human has a right ... to be poisoned on the job!
All of China's pollution? Citation please.
Nation, maybe, but EU does more overall.
This holds true even for developed nations. If a particular company or industry can skirt workers rights, environmental laws, etc. and bear the impact as merely a negative return, they will.
> The people with the power to enforce safe workplace laws have no external incentive...
Right, and the only force which affects such oligarchies is unionization. However, as gozur88 said above, feeding your family is more important than any potential health impacts. And when you're in a situation where thousands of others will gladly assume your position, regardless of the cost, there is no feasibly to unionized striking.
Also, I'm not implying this is the fault of local workers. It's simply a terrible mess at every angle.
The problem is environmental regulations raise the cost of doing business. Which is fine, if you live in a place like the US, say, or Australia. But if you live in a country where people are already going hungry, a small increase in costs means people on the margins are going to literally starve to death.
If they really prefer that, then why should we decide for them, or take away their option to do that?
That is distressingly revisionist, and/or ignorant, history.
You're more than welcome to consult the actual record.
Absolutely not. What I am saying is that the protection of environment was not, until recent times, particularly high on the agenda of the Chinese government (and that the Maoist period was particularly terrible in this regard).
Obviously, the West, being the first to be industrialized, has been responsible for most of the global pollution until now (and by outsourcing some of its most polluting industries to China, has also a share of responsibility for the pollution in China).
 see also: "Structural Adjustment Programs"
As it is many domestic manufacturers are mostly indifferent to the regulatory state; they have no problem with the US evolving into a giant national park because they have a perfectly good alternative.
This isn't some abstract concept. As recently a the 2016 election I recall video ricocheting around the right wing echo chamber of Trump opponents at Portland protests pointing out that the last thing they want to see are those 'dirty factories' operating in the US again, employing deplorables. Every single one of them was armed with one or more Asian made portable computers, but that sort of hypocrisy never registers.
Stop trying to get foreign governments to enact these laws. It seems like little progress is being made on that front. Don't ask that products from a foreign country can't be sold here if the country doesn't have enough worker protection rights.
Just don't let the product be sold here, if in its production, certain worker protection right weren't respected. It would mean more ethical products, and as an added benifit, it would mean less value in outsorcing, so the retaining of jobs within the country.
I understand you couldn't immediately have laws as strong as you might have them locally. You want the cost of lifting the quality of life for worker to be lower than the cost of stopping sales in your country. These laws would probably have to be enacted with a similar graduality as they were enacted for local workers.
I also understand that they wouldn't be easy to enforce, at first. But don't let the perfect be the enemy for the good. Propper enforcement for these kind of policies can be something that would develop over time.
There is probably some aspect of it that makes it too hard, such as enforcement. But most of the WTO isn't enforced anyway. Typically companies sue their national government to force them to take action under the WTO; at least this is what happens with manufacturers in the U.S.
In the US and Europe there are very strict rules on the sulfur content of diesel. (less than 5 parts per million in Europe now).
The exact European company that makes diesel for that market also sells in West Africa. It is 5000 parts per million there.
Disgraceful. Environmental laws should be universal, not country by country, especially when it's a company from a first world country doing it, clearly just to boost profits.
There was Ecuador, where once Torrijos was "knocked out", the Standard Oil siblings went in and in their greed leaked millions of barrels of crude and waste chemicals into the Amazon. There is India, where Bhopal victims were paid a pittance, and continue to die from the after effects. Russia, where resources formerly under public ownership was sold off in rigged auctions to US (or equivalently Boris Yeltsin) approved oligarchs. If the American media (and probably more importantly, it's pop-culture figures) spent half as much time on introspecting as they did on selling 'human rights', we'd have a better world.
But hey, a better world would mean the corporatocracy would have less money.. why bother ?
Seriously though, John Perkins' book 'Confessions of an Economic Hit man' is a wonderful read for the 'conspiracy theorist'.
The U.S. in the Gilded Age was very predatory & imperialistic in Latin America.
Anyone who has not a nuke is in deep trouble, because there are no neutral tiles on the board that is the great game.
For the last 20 years, Costa Rica's been making the kind of policy stances that used to pretty reliably get Latin American countries invaded by the Marines:
2. very pro organized labor
3. leftist economics
4. constant criticism of the US's policies by the Costa Rican foreign office
Yet no invasion.
It's an essential component in optimizing a company for efficiency, but it carries lots of costs and they tend not to stay hidden for long.
But then, I suspect multinationals would still find a way to arbitrage to the detriment of low-skill workers.
Same goes with Solar panels. An acquaintance with chemical engineering degree worked in the industry and he said it's so ironic that the ingredients for manufacturing solar panels are so incredibly toxic when the goal of having solar panels is to reduce pollution caused by fossil burning power plants.
By way of contrast there is no way to use internal-combustion power without emitting a lot of CO2, even if the oil driller, refiner, and fuel retailer all devote extraordinary care to environmental and safety issues before the fuel reaches a car's gas tank.
Coal surpassed wood as a fuel in the US only in the 1880s. Options for replacing current fossil-fuel use, even within only limited transport applications (sea and air travel) at present rates of use would be extraordinarily difficult, though within the realms of possibility. Seawater-based Fischer-Tropsch fuel synthesis being among the more interesting possibilities.
A very long shot, but a shot.
Paradoxically I often find that kind of article simultaneously enjoyable and hugely frustrating. It's exactly like Mythbusters and many other shows where there's 5 mins of compelling content in a 40 minute program and they keep cutting and replaying to drag it all out.
Every type of person, whether they be male or female, no matter their skin color, race, or the education and job they now hold are sadly capable of hurting their fellow human being.
Murder comes in various forms. Matthew 5:21-22
I immediately feel resentment towards this style of nationalist defensiveness.
Firstly, this is cognitively dissonant because Americans are people so you ought to say "Americans are not the only contributors to this problem".
But more-so because this is a truism that will deflect attention to a rabbit-hole that is not so useful.
It's not in Samsung's self interest to give all its employees cancer, for example, for many reasons. But it happens as a result of ignorance.
So, it is possible to manage these kind of work environments safely, it's a deliberate choice to not care. Or a cultural decision that says that such things only matter for the highly paid PhDs in the lab, not for the replaceable blue collar workers.
Clicking around on https://ourworldindata.org/ might cheer you up.