Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Mining Firm Wins a Ruling, but Loses a Town

An almost Erin Brockovich type story from the Washington Post where a town's main business "helped create the nation's nuclear age," but poisoned the town in the process. But this story doesn't have a happy ending yet.

How Do Republicans Spell "Diversity?"

Monday, May 05, 2003

More on Chemical Plant Security

The NY Times is rather upset about the Administration's weak attempt to address the chemical plant security issue. Reprinted below is an editorial from today's paper. (For an extensive review of the chemical plant security debate, scroll down to Sunday, May 4, 12:10 AM.)

New York Times Editorial: Chemical Security
A draft bill setting forth the administration's ideas for protecting thousands of vulnerable chemical facilities against terrorist attack is now circulating among members of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. The bill is a weak response to an urgent need. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 15,000 chemical plants, refineries or other sites that store large quantities of hazardous materials. Most of these sites are in relatively unpopulated areas. However, the agency has also identified 123 sites where toxic gases released in a terrorist attack could kill or injure more than one million people in or near each plant, as well as 700 other sites where the death and injury toll could reach 100,000.

The administration bill would require all plants to conduct a "vulnerability" assessment and prepare plans for reducing the likelihood of a terrorist attack and minimizing the damage should one occur. That's a useful first step. But the bill muddies the question of accountability. It does not, for example, require even the most dangerous plants to submit their plans to the Department of Homeland Security for review. The administration says it doesn't have the resources. But without such reviews, the public can never be sure whether company plans meet federal standards.

In addition, the bill asks nothing particularly creative of industry. An alternative measure offered by Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey would have industry explore new technologies - less volatile chemicals, for example - and require their use where "practical." But even exploring safer technologies appears offensive to the administration, whose bill seems tailored more to industry needs than to those of public safety.

-- May 5, 2003, Copyright 2003, The New York Times Company


As Congress debates what to do about compensation for thousands of victims of asbestos who have still not received compensation, it is useful to remember that the arguments are not really about statistics, or even money, but real people. It's also hopeful to know that we may finally be approaching the day when the use of asbestos will finally be banned in this country.

A Poisonous Legacy

April 29, 2003
By Steve Clark,
Business Report staff
Two sides face off over solutions to 'endless wave' of asbestos litigation
Nobody told Ronald Leleaux the dust he was breathing could hurt him, but it wasn't because nobody knew.

Leleaux, a 68-year-old Coast Guard veteran, worked a variety of industrial jobs from 1954 until 1971, the last six years spent at Baton Rouge's ExxonMobil refinery.

Like countless workers in industrial trades in the decades following World War II, he was routinely exposed to high levels of asbestos while on the job.

Leleaux remembers one of his worst experiences: an 18-month stint working inside a sprawling on-site rubber manufacturing facility dubbed the "finishing building." The corrugated-asbestos roof sheltered massive machines called extruders, which also were covered in asbestos.

"They would be running those big extruders in there, and they also had vibrators, and they had presses," Leleaux says. "That whole building would just tremble and it would be kind of smoky in there. That was nothing but that asbestos. You were breathing all that. We weren't told anything about what it would do."

Scarred and scared

Today, Leleaux, a lifelong nonsmoker, spends most of his day in a La-Z-boy recliner, an oxygen tank by his side, at the Livingston Parish home he shares with Leona Leleaux, his wife of 34 years.

Ronald Leleaux was diagnosed with asbestosis in 1997 after suffering steadily worsening breathing problems for years. Non-malignant yet debilitating, asbestosis is a scarring of the lungs caused by long-term exposure to the fibers from asbestos, a mineral used in thousands of household and industrial applications until being phased out in the 1970s and 1980s.

Eventually Leleaux's breathing got so bad he could sleep only two or three hours a night and some nights awoke in a panic after his breathing stopped altogether.

Leona remembers those nights. She put cold rags on her husband's face, turned on the fan and stayed up with him until he was breathing again. Read more

Panel urges U.S. to ban asbestos imports

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Posted on Sun, May. 04, 2003
WASHINGTON - (KRT) - A blue-ribbon panel funded by the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a surprising recommendation calling on Congress to ban the import, production and distribution of products containing asbestos.
The deadly mineral is no longer mined in the United States, yet the government says about 30 millions pounds of the lethal fibers are being imported into the country each year.

The findings come as a shock to some of those who have long advocated a ban because so many of the panel's members have ties to industries involved with asbestos. That gives the panel's recommendations extraordinary weight, those involved with the asbestos issue say, and could aid efforts already under way in the Senate to outlaw the importation of the deadly fibers. Read more

How’s My Driving?

There was an interesting article in Sunday’s Washington Post about the high number of lives saved in the Iraq war due to the increased use and effectiveness of body armor which almost eliminated deaths due to bullet or shrapnel injuries to the chest or abdomen. Buried in the article were a couple of paragraphs that could provide valuable insight into a major workplace hazard: highway accidents.

Highway accidents are the leading cause of workplace fatalities, making up almost 29% of the almost 6,000 workplace fatalities in 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These figures have been used by anti-OSHA activists to try to minimize the workplace death toll in the U.S, using the excuse that highway accidents are allegedly the result of bad personal driving habits (or drugs or alcohol or whatever), and therefore there driver's fault and clearly not under the control of the employer.

The U.S. military, however, apparently sees it differently. There are measures that can be taken to reduce traffic accidents, and they saved lives in the recent war in Iraq:
Twelve years ago, 50 percent more soldiers died in accidents (235) than in battle (147). In the recent war, there were only a third as many noncombat fatalities (36) as deaths in battle (101). The same pattern appears to hold for nonfatal injuries, with the data on evacuated Army troops showing that 107 had noncombat injuries, compared with 118 who had combat wounds.

[Col. Terry J. Walters, the physician who is chief of health policy in the office of the Army's surgeon general] attributed the steep drop in noncombat deaths and injuries, in part, to the Army's effort to improve driver safety and to ensure that soldiers were well-rested when operating vehicles. In the first Gulf War, motor vehicle accidents alone accounted for about half of all serious injuries. "Because this was such a motorized effort, we expected many more accidents than we actually saw. I think this is a definitive success story," she said.
Perhaps the Department of Transportation should consult with the Pentagon before issuing new rules concerning how long truckers are allowed to drive.

Playing It Safe

The only thing Don Croff and Dan Rotar would like to see climbing in the Ford Van Dyke plant is the facility’s safety score.
That’s why, as the UAW’s health and safety representatives at the Sterling Heights, Mich., plant, they want work brought down to ground level, instead of having skilled-trades workers climb on top of machinery or use harnesses to get the job done. Check out the UAW’s Health and Safety Page
What's good for the goose....

Groups Want 3 Strikes Law for Businesses

Updated: Sunday, May. 4, 2003 - 2:18 PM EST.
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Borrowing from a popular punishment for multiple street crimes, California consumer activists are trying to create a three-strikes-and-you're-out law for corporations.

"If this is good enough for individual felons in California, it's certainly appropriate for the Enrons of the world," says Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

The foundation and several other consumer groups, as well as organizations representing environmentalists, labor unions, seniors and trial lawyers, are backing a bill that would bar a corporation from doing business in California if it's convicted of three felonies in a 10-year period.

The measure, by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, takes its name from the state's three strikes law, which provides sentences of 25 years to life in prison for individuals with two prior violent or serious felonies who are convicted of a third felony. Read more

Meet the New SOL, (Almost) The Same As The Old SOL

Staying to the Right at Labor

From the Washington Post

Liberals and union folks shouldn't look for much change at the Labor Department because Eugene Scalia left after failing to be confirmed as solicitor. The White House said last week it will nominate deputy solicitor Howard Radzely for the post. He has been a law clerk for Scalia's dad, Antonin, who sits on the U.S. Supreme Court, and before that for conservative appeals court Judge J. Michael Luttig. (here Scroll Down)


By Rick Bragg
May 5, 2003
The New York Times

LAQUEMINE, La., May 1 — Before the water went bad, most people in the trailer park never thought of their aluminum-skinned houses as a mobile home, only home. Hard against the rows of sugar cane, not far from the big chemical plants that light up the evening sky, the trailers in the Myrtle Grove park were dented but decent, and the tires rotted in the grass.

Now, staying in the tree-shaded neighborhood just outside the river city of Plaquemine is unthinkable. There is poison in the well water that they used to drink, a chemical used to make plastic called vinyl chloride. The state knew this years ago, but residents were not told. They wonder what it will do to them someday, and what it has done to them already. More

Sunday, May 04, 2003

The War for Chemical Plant Safety

One of my well-traveled colleagues dragged into my office the other day and asked (rhetorically), why does the federal government have mandatory regulations requiring grandmothers to take off their orthopedic shoes before they can get through airport security, and yet our whole system of keeping millions of people safe from terrorism targeted at chemical plants is totally voluntary?

Since then I’d been meaning to write something about the debate over chemical plant safety and terrorism. Last Friday's outrageous Wall St. Journal editorial, seemingly written by the American Chemical Council, has finally gotten me off of my butt. You can’t read it online, because you have to be a subscriber. So either go through the garbage of a nearby office building or trust me.

Question: What does chlorine have to do with terrorism? Answer: Nothing much, but that isn’t stopping new Jersey Democrat and world-class nuisance Jon Corzine from trying to ban it under the guise of homeland security….
Actually, the legislation introduced by Corzine has everything to do with chlorine, other highly hazardous chemical and terrorism. As the Journal itself points out,
The U.S. has at least 15,000 chemical plants refineries or other sites that use or store significant amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals, but no one has fully assessed their security.
Indeed, according to the National Environmental Trust, out of these 15,000 facilities,
in the EPA’s Risk Management Program, of these 110 plants hold enough chemicals that, if released through explosions or other mishaps, could form deadly vapor clouds put more than one million people in danger each. EPA found that each of 700 facilities could put at least 100,000 people at risk, and each of 3,000 facilities could put 10,000 people at risk
Corzine, whom the Journal accuses of “using terror fears to sneak through an environmental agenda that has nothing to do with safety” has introduced a bill for the second year in a row that requires the government to identify facilities that pose the greatest risk, assess their vulnerability to attack, and enforce safety upgrades. Plants would get credit for any voluntary measures already taken, and sensitive information would remain secret.

It would require sites to do a hazard assessment and consider the introduction of inherently safer technologies. Substituting a less hazardous chemical for a more hazardous chemical is one type of inherently safer technology. There are several ways to do this, listed in the Corzine Bill:

(i) use less hazardous substances or benign substances;
(ii) use a smaller quantity of highly hazardous chemicals;
(iii) reduce hazardous pressures or temperatures;
(iv) reduce the possibility and potential consequences of equipment failure and human error;
(v) improve inventory control and chemical use efficiency; and
(vi) reduce or eliminate storage, transportation, handling, disposal, and discharge of highly hazardous chemicals.
Senator Corzines’ bill is about getting rid of chemicals, period. He’d give half of the responsibilities for coming up with new security regulations to the highly trained, highly motivated anti-al Queda special forces at ---the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Journal clearly doesn’t like the idea of Inherently Safety Technologies.
In practice, this means the federal government could require sites to replace chemical it doesn’t like with ones it does – no matter how much more expensive, or less effective.

But as any first-year chemistry student knows, you can’t just willy-nilly substitute compounds…. Even when there is a substitute, the cost would be prohibitive. The millions of dollars that small communities would be forced to spend on a chlorine substitute for water purification is money they wouldn’t use on new fire engines or other first-response equipment.
Well, clearly the Wall St. Journal editors failed first-year chemistry. Replacing highly hazardous chemicals with equally effective less hazardous chemicals is not pie in the sky, either technically or financially. Immediately after September 11, Washington D.C.’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant changed from chlorine to sodium hypochlorite, which is a strong version of bleach, but much safer. The change cost about $1 million, which translates into about 50 cents per customer more annually for sewage treatment.

"Needless to say, our neighbors were very pleased that we discontinued that practice," said Libby Lawson, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. "We had to rearrange a few of our economic priorities, but, obviously, it can be done."

This approach makes sense on a number of levels. There clearly may be a terrorist threat to chemical plants. A year ago, the CIA warned of the potential for an al-Queda attack on U.S. chemical facilities. But even if the only threat we had to worry about was terrorism, how much sense does it make to only commit resources to guard a target (with questionable effectiveness) when in most cases it’s entirely possible to shrink or even remove the target completely? As outlaw Willie Sutton explained, they robbed banks because that’s where the money was. Terrorists would be tempted to attack chemical plants because that’s where the greatest potential for terror is. Take the money out of the banks - -or the catastrophic potential out of chemical plants -- and no one cares.

But in reality, terrorism is not the only thing we have to worry about when it comes to chemical plant safety – in fact it’s probably not even the primary concern. Ever since the Bhopal catastrophe at a Union Carbide plant in India that released a toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate, killing more than 3,000 people and injuring 600,000, the American public has been concerned about similar catastrophic incidents happening here—and with good reason.

The legislation passed in the wake of Bhopal set up a process that identified the 15,000 plants of highest concern and created the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation board that investigates chemical accidents, identifies the root causes and recommends measures to prevent future incidents. The CSB's database and a perusal of any news database reveal hundreds of incidents each year, many of which were only kept from becoming large-scale disasters by luck. In other words, if one is concerned about catastrophic chemical accidents, one need not just dwell on terrorism; there’s enough concern with management system and equipment failures.
It’s no accident, therefore that Greenpeace hailed as a “breakthrough” the original Corzine Bill that died last year
The Journal seems to perceive a grand enviro-socialist conspiracy to take over control of the chemical industry, noting that the idea of inherently safer technologies (and for some groups, even phasing out chlorine completely) was on the environmentalists’ agenda prior to 9/11. Given the hazards inherent in chemical plants that use highly hazardous materials, concern about chemical plant safety and interest in inherently safer technologies has, in fact, understandably been on the agenda of environmentalists and communities living near chemical plants ever since Bhopal. The only difference is that they make more sense in this post-9/11 world. In fact, before 9/11 and since that day, we have seen many chemical plant explosion stemming from management system errors and equipment failures, and none related to terrorism.

Another small quibble with the Journal’s word selection. The Corzine bill didn’t exactly “die” last year. It would be more accurate to say that it was assassinated by the American Chemistry Council after the bill passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, unanimously, 19-0. According to the National Journal, “Then the council ramped up its opposition arguing that the bill’s regulatory regime was overzealous and so potentially costly that it risked driving American companies out of business. By the time the full Senate took up the bill in September, most of the committee’s Republicans agreed with the industry’s message. The GOP members backtracked on their earlier vote and the measure died.” (National Journal 4/26/03, p. 1310-1311)

The ACC is concerned that the Corzine bill would “Drive American companies out of business?" Now where have we heard that before? Hint: Check industry testimony on every environmental or health and safety regulation proposed over the past 30 years.

Indeed, one would have that that after 9/11 laws requiring the safety of chemical plants would have been hot on the heals of laws requiring enhanced airport security. But that was not to be. While some chemicals users, such as the Washington D.C. sewer authority, cited above, got the idea quickly, others remaining frighteningly lax. An article in Government Executive magazine reviews a number of reports of lax security at highly hazardous chemical plants.

After 9/11 the ACC assured us that the association and its members were voluntarily taking care of the problem. In June 2002, the ACC announced that it had “made enhanced security activities mandatory for its members, to help assure the public that all member facilities are involved in making their neighbors and America more secure”

According to Government Executive Magazine, however:
The industry’s largest trade group, the American Chemistry Council, now requires member companies to assess their vulnerabilities. Those analyses were completed at the end of last year. By the end of 2003, member companies must develop security plans. The association eventually will require companies to get verification of their assessments and plans from an independent third party, according to Chris VandenHeuvel, an association spokesman.

Results from the assessments are being kept secret. Not even the association sees them. VandenHeuvel says the association does not have a secure location to keep the reports, nor does it have security experts on staff. The association requires that chief executive officers at member companies certify compliance with the mandate to assess vulnerabilities. But an association executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledges that the group has no way to verify company results.
Newspapers across the nation are filled with frightening stories of the potential damage that a terrorist attack on nearby chemical plants could do. (Examples here and here and here and here)

The Bush Administration, which was considering having EPA issue chemical security regulations under its existing Clean Air Act authority, last October “abandoned efforts to impose tough new security regulations on the chemical industry to protect against possible terrorist attacks, following months of intense internal fighting within the administration and resistance from the industry....The decision marks a victory for major chemical manufacturers who have argued they can improve security without regulatory intervention.” Instead, the Administration has decided to opt for new legislation that would give all authority for chemical plant security to the Department of Homeland Security.

The Government Accounting Office is not amused. A recent GAO report on chemical plant security found that “''Chemical facilities may be attractive targets for terrorists intent on causing massive damage,'' yet “despite all efforts since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the nation from terrorism, the extent of security preparedness at U.S. chemical facilities is unknown,"

The GAO report also went after the EPA, charging that the agency had backed off of regulating chemical plant security because of a threatened lawsuit by the ACC.

Even the chemical industry is finally resigned to some sort of legislation. But not the Corzine bill with its talk of inherently safer technology and giving the EPA any authority over chemical plant security.

The ACC has announced that it would favor legislation that will: “Require facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and address deficiencies, provide oversight and inspection authority by the Department of Homeland Security, and create strong enforcement authority to ensure facilities are secure against the threat of terrorism.”

The Journal and the ACC think that a bill being drafted by Senator James Inhofe, (D-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, is a “good start.” Inhofe’s bill subjects sites to oversight by the Department of Homeland Security (and not EPA) and gives Homeland Security (and not EPA) the power to set standards and then fine any site that doesn’t comply.

There are several problems with this. First, critics charge that it essentially lets the industry decide for itself what those standards will be and so far, the chemical industry’s strategy is confined to increased patrols, vehicle inspections and biochemical training for local emergency personnel. Second, of course, it ignores the whole concept of inherently safer technologies. Third, it ignores EPA, with its obvious expertise in making plants safer, as opposed to just guarding them. Finally, although the bill may require plants to conduct vulnerability assessments, it is unclear if anyone at Homeland Security would ever be looking at them. It is likely that they plan to trust the ACC to monitor compliance.

Inhofe's staff released a two-page memo explaining that Homeland Security should be solely responsible because
"security is separate and distinct from safety at chemical plants, which is the province of EPA and OSHA," the Labor Department's Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

Environmental activists had complained about being excluded from Inhofe's consultations with military experts in the administration and the private sector. "Whom would you trust to protect chemical plants against terrorists, former Navy Seals or Greenpeace?" Inhofe's staff said in the memo.
The bottom line, of course, is that ACC members don’t want anyone telling them how to run their businesses if they can get away with a few higher fences and a few more guards. But it is becoming increasingly clear that communities that live around these plants do not trust the chemical industry to patrol itself, nor do they necessarily have faith that more guards really mean more security. Nor, finally do they have faith that they would be safe even in the absence of terrorism. That's why, according to the National Journal, the ACC is preparing to spend at least $50 million on a "massive media campaign" this year to defeat the Corzine bill. And they'll try to keep it secret. As one chemical industry veteran told the National Journal In some ways, for the chemical industry to be recognized as a powerful lobby would be a disaster for relations with federal regulators and environmentalists."

The Wall St. Journal does finally get one thing right:
Nowadays the first refuge of political scoundrels is “homeland security.”
Hear that Mr. John “Who needs the Bill of Rights” Ashcroft, Mr. Tom “Unions are a Security Threat” Ridge and Mr. George W. “Let’s hold the Republican Convention as Close to September 11 as Possible” Bush?

Saturday, May 03, 2003

The War At Home: Sighs Too Deep For Tears

Short weekend break from health and safety issues. I'm going to put the end of the Washington Post column about the gangs of Washington first:
Think of all the pistols tucked in waistbands across this city. And all the gunshot victims in wheelchairs, and the murders we rack up by the day. With some of the toughest gun control laws on the books and with gun-packing groups like 1-7 roving D.C. streets with the audacity of the 3rd Infantry Division, Washington has the unmitigated gall to demand that the Palestinian Authority disarm West Bank terrorists. Charity begins at home.

Speaking of sighs too deep for tears.
Aside from revealing the gross absurdities of our leaders' priorities -- both nationally and locally -- this article especially touched me because I lived on those blocks in 1980 -- it's where I met my wife. Depressing to see how much "progress" we've made in almost a quarter of a century. But hey, didn't he look great in that flyboy suit? Make's you darn proud.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Attention Farm Workers, Gardeners, Park Workers, Highway Workers, Groundskeepers

Pesticides Linked with Prostate Cancer
Thu May 1,12:03 AM ET Add Science - Reuters to My Yahoo!

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Farmers who use certain pesticides seem to have a high risk of prostate cancer (news - web sites), U.S. government researchers said on Thursday.

The researchers, who published their study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, confirmed other findings that show farmers have an unusually high risk of prostate cancer.

"Associations between pesticide use and prostate cancer risk among the farm population have been seen in previous studies; farming is the most consistent occupational risk factor for prostate cancer," Michael Alavanja of the National Cancer Institute (news - web sites), who helped lead the study, said in a statement.

Researchers at NCI and at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) studied 55,332 farmers or nursery workers who worked with pesticides.

Between 1993 and 1999, 566 new prostate cancers developed among the men, compared to 495 that would normally be expected in Iowa and North Carolina, the two states studied.

The risk of developing prostate cancer was 14 percent greater for the pesticide applicators compared to the general population.

One pesticide, methyl bromide, increased the risk of prostate cancer in all men.

Six others raised the risk in men with a family history of prostate cancer. They are chlorpyrifos, coumaphos, fonofos, phorate, permethrin, and butylate.

More than 220,000 U.S. men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society (news - web sites), and 30,000 will die of it.

The biggest risk factors for prostate cancer are age and family history. Black men have higher rates of prostate cancer and men who eat lots of red meat and animal fat also appear to have a higher risk.

Thanks to Rory O'Neil for forwarding this.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

And now for a little politics…

You political junkies may have noticed this article in the New York Times (which you can no longer read without paying because the idiotic Times charges for any article more than a week old!) last week:
National Desk | April 22, 2003, Tuesday

Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 1 , Column 1

President Bush's advisers have drafted a re-election strategy built around staging the latest nominating convention in the party's history, allowing Mr. Bush to begin his formal campaign near the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to enhance his fund-raising advantage, Republicans close to the White House say.
Michael Tomasky has an article on the American Prospect website contrasting the Democrats’ spirited condemnation of Senator Rick Santorum’s anti-gay remarks, with their feeble response to the Republicans’ decision break a “gentlemen’s agreement" and hold the latest convention in American history so that they can stage it (in New York) as close to September 11 as possible.
And they in essence acknowledge, discreetly but quite openly, that the purpose is to squeeze as much political gain out of the attacks, and the national-security issue, as they can.

This is a many-layered offense -- to the traditions and integrity (such that remains) of the American political process, to the firefighters and police officers who did not give their lives so that Bush could later use their deaths to get a bounce in the polls, to every American citizen who doesn't drink Karl Rove's Kool-Aid, and to plain decency.
Tomasky offers four possible Democratic responses: hell raising by Democratic Senators, rescheduling their Convention for late August, not doing a Convention at all (thereby saving the money for the campaign), and fourth:
Plan, or encourage others to plan, a serious, thoughtful, humble, dignified series of counter-events for the week the Republicans are in New York that show how real Americans -- Republicans who wish to participate included -- commemorate somber occasions.
The last suggestion sounds like a good role for Labor.

But Tomasky’s a pessimist – or a realist: “Of course, none of this will happen. The Republicans will have their way, and Bush will maul them on the security issue. But, by God, Democrats will have the gay vote.”

But if there’s any message we can take away from this, it’s that it’s never too early to start thinking of strategies for Regime Change ’04. After all, there’s only 629 days, 19 hours, 29 minutes, 12 seconds until Inauguration Day 2005.

OSHA Kills

Read it here.

If you check out OSHA's Website, you'll find a page entitled OSHA Saves Lives. "Not so," say "scholars" at the Mercatus Center. Despite OSHA's director John Henshaw's assertion that “Safety and health add value to businesses, workplaces and people's lives,” a recent study by two authors from the anti-government Mercatus Institute argues that, in fact, OSHA inspections actually cause more workplace fatalities.

How so, you ask? Well I can't begin to describe the statistical methods that the two authors, Jonathan Klick and Thomas Stratmann, both of George Mason University, used to come to this conclusion in their study. I'll leave the deconstruction to those who can understand statistics better than I. You can also read a simpler, abbreviated version of the study if visit your local newsstand and pick up the latest copy of Regulation magazine, published by the right-wing, libertarian Cato Institute. (It doesn't appear in electronic form.)

The most interesting part is their explanation of this phenomenon. From the Regulation article, here it is in a nutshell:
Surprisingly, we found that fines have no statistically significant effect on death rates and increasing inspections actually leads to significantly higher fatality rates. On average, we found that an additional 100 inspections in a given state-industry in a particular year leads to between 1 and 2.5 additional deaths in that industry

What accounts for such a surprising result?...When the firm increases its efforts because of OSHA enforcement, the worker rationally substitutes away from his own efforts. That is, if the firm is doing more to protect the worker, the worker has less incentive to protect himself. (emphases added)
So, let me get this straight. You have a bunch of employees in a dangerous workplace. OSHA inspects the workplace, finds violations and cites the company, which starts paying more attention to workplace safety. But, "increased worker safety measures induce riskier behaviors on the part of workers," according to the abstract of the study.

The typical "rational" worker, figuring that OSHA has forced his employer to be more responsible, now "has less incentive to protect himself." No sooner does the employer finally get serious about safety then workers suddenly start jumping down into unshored trenches, crawling down into unmonitored confined spaces, sticking themselves with HIV-contaminated needles and climbing tall buildings without fall protection. "Respirators? We don't need no stinking respirators!"

It must be so, because, according to its web page, Mercatus boasts that "We draw upon both real world experience and wide reading in multiple academic disciplines."

The report is almost not worth analyzing, but a few things stick out. Most glaring is the authors' assumption that injuries and fatalities are caused by workers' unsafe behaviors and actions.(For more on behavioralism, see here and here.) When management takes care of safety (under pressure from OSHA), workers somehow won't feel they have to "behave" safely. Well if the authors actually had an "real world experience" they'd know that the reason workers are injured and killed at work is because they are exposed to unsafe conditions and hazards.

One thing they did get right. If workers are not involved in the employer's safety program -- in identifying and controlling hazards -- the program is unlikely to be effective.

So who are these guys? Cato is a well endowed "libertarian" Washington D.C. think tank that "seeks to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace." They publish Regulation magazine, which regularly features anti-regulation and articles about the benefits of abolishing OSHA.

The Mercatus Center is part of George Mason University. They are known for coming out with annual reports on the (high) cost of regulations to American business , and other papers arguing for the abolition of OSHA. The director of the Mercatus Regulatory Studies Program is Wendy Gramm, George H.W. Bush's Administrator for Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget and Executive Director of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief.

Not appearing on Gramm's resume is the fact that she is the wife of former right-wing Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) and a former member of the Enron Board of Directors. The George Mason/Mercatus campus also happened to be where the Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao decided to hold one of her three ergonomics "forums," after the Congress and Bush Administration repealed the ergonomics standard.

I am nominating this study as a future member of the Loony Right-Wing Theory Hall of Fame. It's reminiscent of a theory pushed by the Office of Management and Budget under George Bush I which postulated that health and safety regulations led to higher worker fatality rates because regulations cost businesses money, forcing them to pay workers less. The lower one's income, the worse their diet, leading to all kinds of bad health effects.

Oh, and the surprising conclusion of the Regulation article: "If workers effectively undo safety regulations, it is doubtful that OSHA can do much to "save lives, prevent injuries, and protect the health of American workers."

For this I stay up late at night?

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

An Act of God?

Employers often blame "acts of God" or the "whims of Mother Nature" for workers' deaths in trench collapses or by asphyxiation in manholes or other confined spaces. In other words, despite OSHA regulations and general industry recognition, "nothing could have been done to prevent this tragedy." This article about the death of a tomato field worker, Immokalee farm worker killed by lightning strike, might actually come close to an act of God. Or?

When lightning and thunder threaten, my kids are rushed off their soccer and baseball fields and out of the public pool. I wonder if field workers are also given the opportunity to seek shelter from the storm as experts and federal government agencies recommend? It's not smart to try to fool Mother Nature.

Letters from Readers: Why Get Involved?

Jordan, My question is what can a group do to get the citizens to act after they learn about a situation ( like the ones you offer) ?

We can't get registered voters to vote !! Then they complain, whilke the city is taxing and spending us to death. The police were threatened by firing if they looked at AFSCME. So they did not organize..
-- J. K.
J.K: My "theory" is that people will vote if they think that voting matters -- or that not voting means that they will get screwed (even worse than they are now).

My small part in this struggle (and the reason for this Blog) is to try to show people that voting can directly determine how safe their workplaces will be (and those of their family and friends) and whether or not they will be coming home from work in the same shape they left the house that morning.

If even one more Democrat had been elected to the Senate (or a few more in the House of Representatives), we might have saved the ergonomics standard. If Democrats who voted wrong (even some moderate Republicans) had truly feared the wrath of millions of pissed off workers (and their families and friends) at next election time, maybe they wouldn't have voted the wrong way.

We lost the ergonomics standard and millions of workers pay the price every year because of it. If every worker with a musculoskeletal disorder voted -- and if they convinced a couple of their non-voting friends to vote, we might have a very different picture in this country.

My thoughts. Your comments?

-- Jordan

Screened Out

$2.95 will buy you the May 12, 2003 edition of the Nation which has an excellent article about "How 'fighting terrorism' became a bludgeon in Bush's Assault on Labor," by David Bacon.

Unfortunately, it's not on their website in a linkable electronic version. Some quotes from Bush Administration officials will give you a taste:
"Collective Bargaining would be incompatible with the nation's safety," Chris Rhatigan, spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA.)

"Security is paramount and collective bargaining could cripple the system." Nico Melendez, TSA Representative.
What is linkable on their website, however, is William Greider insightful analysis the Bush "vision" in Rolling Back the 20th Century. Read them. (P.S. I receive no funding or support from The Nation for these plugs. Not even a free subscription or even a blurb about this Blog.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Old OSHA Directors Don’t Die, (But They Make Sure They’re in God’s Good Graces When They Do.)

Some say that the problem with high government office – like Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA – is that it goes to your head; people treat you like God – or like the Devil. So it may not be surprising to look at Thorne Auchter’s current career choice. Auchter, you may remember if you’ve been in the OSHA game for long, was Ronald Reagan’s first OSHA Director and spearheaded Reagan’s attempt to dismantle OSHA.

Well, Thorne has apparently reversed the Reagan mantra: government is no longer the problem, it’s the solution to the problems of the U.S., Iraq, the Middle East, and Heaven itself.

Seems Auchter has become the CEO of Grace News Network, now the beneficiary of our tax dollars. What in heaven is Grace News Network? Read on:
The U.S. government this week launched its Arabic language satellite TV news station for Muslim Iraq.

It is being produced in a studio -- Grace Digital Media -- controlled by fundamentalist Christians who are rabidly pro-Israel.

That's Grace as in "by the Grace of God."

Grace Digital Media is controlled by a fundamentalist Christian millionaire, Cheryl Reagan, who last year wrested control of Federal News Service, a transcription news service, from its former owner, Cortes Randell.

Grace Digital Media and Federal News Service are housed in a downtown Washington, D.C. office building, along with Grace News Network.

When you call the number for Grace News Network, you get a person answering "Grace Digital Media/Federal News Service."

According to its web site, Grace News Network is "dedicated to transmitting the evidence of God's presence in the world today."
Sounds like a perfect fit for Radio Baghdad.

More Workers Memorial Day Articles in Today’s Press

State honors workers who died (Salem, OR)

Workers remember fallen friends (Galveston, TX)

Workers remembered: Marker pays tribute to Ludlum employees (Pittsburgh, PA

Fallen workers remembered with march, memorial service (Peoria, IL)

Workers gather to recall 51 lost (Iowa City, IA)

Ceremonies Honor Workers Killed, Hurt on the Job (Lorain, OH)

Monday, April 28, 2003

What Is This?!

This is an article about a worker, Marty Nesbitt, who died after falling 30 feet off a grandstand roof at a raceway in Madison County, IL. The foreman "confirmed that Nesbitt was not wearing a safety harness at the time. Nesbitt had not been working close enough to the edge for the company to consider using a monitor who could have warned him when he got too close to the edge, Gill told Wittenauer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death to determine whether a monitor should have been used"

Tragic, but so far, routine. Then there's the last paragraph:
A toxicology test showed no alcohol in Nesbitt's system. Madison County Deputy Coroner Ralph Baahlmann said that at some point prior to the accident Nesbitt had used marijuana and that he may have been under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident.
At what point prior to the incident? Minutes, days, weeks? According to whom? And is this an excuse for not having fall protection? What is this doing in the newspaper? Sounds like "blame the worker" B.S. at its worst to me.

LEGAL DOESN’T MEAN SAFE: Black lung study casts cloud over coal-dust limits

A rather disturbing article from the Louisville Courier Journal revealing that miners –- both below and above ground -- are still getting black lung disease at alarming rates, even thought they have worked their entire careers at supposedly “safe” or at least “legal” limits of coal dust.
WASHINGTON -- New cases of black lung are developing in miners who have worked their entire careers under federal coal-dust limits that were supposed to prevent the crippling respiratory disease, according to a new study.

Tommie Hall, of Topmost, Ky., worked in mines for 26 years under the dust-control limits. Yet he said he has black lung and has filed a claim with the state.

His breathing is so bad that it takes him 10 to 15 minutes to recover after climbing the single flight of stairs in his house, said Hall, 50.
Dust controls in the mines he worked in were regularly ignored, he said. Miners knew they couldn't complain. ''If you said something, you'd go look for a job,'' Hall said. ''That's the way it is.''
Even more disturbing is that these findings may be underestimated:
The study emphasized that it was limited to working miners and that the X-rays were voluntary. Participation rates in X-rays were low, and data on work experience wasn't consistent, researchers added.

Dr. E. Lee Petsonk, one of the authors of the study, also pointed out that disease rates among retired or sick miners who were forced to leave work weren't included, nor could researchers do much about miners who didn't participate but may have signs of black lung.
As we always say when training workers about chemical exposure limits, "legal does not mean safe." I wonder if the same problems exist for OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limits, which are coming up on their 40th birthday?

Workers Memorial Day Articles in Today’s Press

Too many Hispanic workers are dying on the job (Houston, Texas)

Hundreds mourn fallen workers at ceremony (Olympia Washington)

Remembering those who gave lives at work (Clarksville, TN)

Workers Rally for Safe Conditions (Jackson, Mississippi)

Parents keep up FIGHT for safety (Nashville, TN)

Fewer workplace deaths in Mass., but immigrant worker deaths rising (Portsmouth, NH)

Workplace deaths decline in Mass. (Boston, MA)

Memorials for those who died on the job (Philadelphia, PA)

Redesigned Workers Memorial to honor local victims (South Bend, IN)

Pohat man who died on job honored (Bethlehem, PA)


Ceremony will commemorate those who died at their jobs (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aumentan las muertes de trabajadores latinos (New York, NY)

Sunday, April 27, 2003


Remember when WMD stood for Workers Memorial Day?

Bush's OSHA: Flee from All That You Can Be

Now as you all know, I really try to give these guys in the Administration the benefit of the doubt sometimes. Even if they weren't really elected. Even if many of them are anti-worker zealots who behave like subsidiaries of the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers. I think some of them really do want to do something to save workers' lives, in their odd, dysfunctional, nasty Republican way. And you've got to give them a little credit for recognizing Workers Memorial Day every year. A little.

But sometimes, sometimes, they just drive me over the edge. Especially on Workers Memorial Day. Let me count the ways.

1. OSHA's theme for Workers Memorial Day 2003 is “Safety and health add value to businesses, workplaces and people's lives.” We know that this is the them because OSHA’s Workers Memorial Day Press Release repeats this phrase twice. This is amusing because this was the year that the New York Times and Frontline did a series on McWane Industries, which clearly believed that added value lay in making as much money as possible not caring how many workers you injured or killed until finally high OSHA fines, adverse media attention and threats of criminal prosecution forced the company to be accountable for its workers' safety and health. Interestingly, corporate accountability is the world-wide labor union theme for Workers Memorial Day this year.

2. Henshaw to Families of Workplace Fatalities: "Message -- I care." Last year's big Workers Memorial Day announcement from OSHA was that Assistant Secretary John Henshaw would personally write letters to the families of all workers who are killed on the job. This year, OSHA triumphantly announced that Henshaw had, in fact, "written to the families of over 500 men and women who lost their lives while at work." (How careless of them to "lose" their lives. Where did they go?)
Statistical Note: Letters were sent to only 500 of the more than 6,000 workers killed in on-the-job "accidents" each year, because many are in state plan states and others fall outside of OSHA's jurisdiction, leaving 1,000 deaths that OSHA investigated. For half of those, "OSHA has not been able to identify parties where letters could be sent." Just as well. All those letters could have caused a musculoskeletal injury.
3. Last year on Workers Memorial Day, OSHA announced that it would "soon begin to collect data on country of origin and primary language capability for all workers involved in fatality and other serious accident investigations." That was a good thing. In fact if you look up the two recent confined space deaths that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, you would find that they were coded as immigrant workers.

Now that OSHA has a better handle on who's being killed, this year's big immigrant announcement was that OSHA was going to address the high number of immigrant fatalities by releasing not one, but two public service announcements to over 650 Spanish radio stations across the country. One spot is meant for employees and their families; the other targets employers.

We here at Confined Space think that these public service announcements should be really helpful in preventing the deaths of Hispanic workers. I can hardly wait to see them. I'm sure that if only those public service announcements had been out a few months ago, those two Hispanic workers (and probably hundreds of others) would be alive today. And I'm sure all of those employers who kill Hispanic workers are shaking in their boots:
Message from OSHA to Contractors Who Employee Hispanic Workers: You are accountable for the health and safety of your employees. Yet you have been taking advantage of your workers, especially your immigrant workers, seriously injuring and killing many of them. We're out of patience. You've been warned. You've had your last chance. We are now bringing down the full weight of the Government of the United States upon your heads. We are announcing today the release of two public service announcements. And if you don't shape up, we'll release two more. And we'll keep releasing them until you understand that health and safety means added value to your enterprise. And if you still don't get the message, you can look forward to a long, painful future of partnerships, alliances and voluntary guidelines.
Time out for an ironic note on all of this. Henshaw's promise to write letters to the families of workers killed in the workplace ("lost their lives") drew strong praise from Ron Hayes, a member of OSHA's National Advisory Committee on Safety and Health, who became a workplace safety activist several years ago after his son was killed in a workplace accident and OSHA fined the company only $42,000. The irony, is that the TOTAL fine against the company that killed the two workers in the confined space referenced above was $62,000. Only $56,000 of that -- $23,000 a body -- was for the fatalities.

4. Eureka! On this Workers Memorial Day, OSHA has just discovered (or re-discovered) that "the long term health effects of exposure to chemicals and other toxins can take years and even decades to determine." So what's the agency to do with this new-found knowledge?

Three guesses.
a) Issue new chemical exposure standards.

b) Announce a major new initiative to propose legislation allowing the agency to revise OSHA's old Permissible Exposure Limits for chemicals -- limits that are currently based on recommendations from the 1960's

c) Announce that a respiratory disease study will be undertaken in cooperation with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to improve outreach, compliance assistance and enforcement efforts relating to specific contaminants and industries.

d) Announce a health targeting system, similar to one used to guide enforcement efforts in general industry.

e) (c) and (d)

f) (a) and (b)

(Hint: If you guessed (a) or (b), I know a guy in Baghdad who has some Weapons of Mass Destruction to sell you.)
Time's up. The correct answer is (e). (Really)

5. Enhanced Enforcement: Last month the agency announced its "Enhanced Enforcement Program to target employers who have a history of the most severe safety and health violations." This is a result of the McWane investigation by the NY Times and Frontline. They're going after the bad actors. But no sign that they are planning to increase penalties. The AFL-CIO reports that in FY 2002, serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act carried an average penalty of only $886 ($867 for Federal OSHA, $904 for state OSHA plans).

I remember not too long ago OSHA would frequently issue million dollar penalties for ergonomic and other hazards. Their latest ergonomic citations were a few hundred dollars.

As for me, I'd take all the parking tickets you can give me as long as the fines are low enough.

6. Finally, maybe I'm quibbling about wording. This is what John Henshaw said: "Every day 16 workers die in this country, and many more become injured or seriously ill. We must challenge those who are not doing their part to step up to the plate."

Now, when my kids need to do better in school, I "challenge" them to "step up to the plate." When my kids are afraid of striking out in baseball, I "challenge" them to "step up to the plate." But when my kids do something incredibly boneheaded or dangerous or careless that endangers their lives or the lives of others -- especially when they knew what they were doing was wrong -- I'm way past "challenging" them to "step up to the plate." Exit supportive parent. ENTER WRATHFUL GOD.


This is the introduction to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970:
To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.
Cutting through all of the spin and press releases and rhetoric, this is the bottom line: Congress gave OSHA the responsibility and the mandate to develop standards and enforce those standards in order to make employers accountable for assuring American workers a safe and healthful workplace. Employees have right to a safe and healthful workplace and the employer is responsible. The bald truth is that OSHA is not fulfilling the mandate that Congress gave it, nor are they even making a good faith attempt to do so. Despite the high number of new and revised standards needed to make our workplaces safer, OSHA has gone out of the standards business. They don't have enough inspectors to reach more than a small fraction of American workplaces each year, and even when they do inspect a workplace and cite an employer – often after workers have been killed or injured due to willfull violations of OSHA standards, the penalties are so low that most employers don't even care. They add more value to their businesses by correctly figuring that they'll never see an OSHA inspector.

You know what? I’ve changed my mind. I refuse to give them credit for recognizing Workers Memorial Day. It just cheapens the whole thing and allows them to rest smugly in their hypocrisy and dishonesty. As far as I’m concerned, Bush’s recognition of Workers Memorial Day adds no value – or dignity -- to anyone’s lives.

Interesting Facts:

U.S. Dead in Iraq War (March 20 - April 14): 134. Find their names here and here and here and many other places.

U.S. Dead in American Workplaces (March 20 - April 14): Approximately 416 (not counting those killed by workplace illnesses) Bet you can't find most of their names anywhere.

And, just in case you're interested:

Iraqi Casualties (March 20 - April 14): Don't ask.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

AFL-CIO Releases 12th Annual Death on the Job Report

The AFL-CIO has released its 12 Annual Death on the Job report. The report is a national and state-by-state profile of worker safety and health in the United States. It's considered the policy "bible" for workplace health and safety activists. Here are some of the "highlights." But be sure to download the entire report. Use the information when dealing with politicians and those who hope to be politicians.
  • Penalties for significant violations of the law remain low. In FY 2002, serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act carried an average penalty of only $886 ($867 for Federal OSHA, $904 for state OSHA plans).

  • Between FY 1999 and FY 2002, the number of employees covered by Federal OSHA inspections decreased by nearly twenty percent. The average number of hours spent per inspection also decreased, from 22 to 19.1 hours for safety inspections and from 40 to 32.7 hours per health inspection. The number of citations for willful violations decreased from 607 in FY 1999 to 392 in FY 2002. The average penalty per violation decreased by 19 percent, with the average penalty per willful violations decreasing by 25 percent.

  • At its current staffing levels and inspection levels, it would take Federal OSHA 115 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once. In four states (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi), it would take more than 150 years for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace. In 18 states, it would take between 100 and 149 years to visit each workplace once. Inspection frequency is better in states with OSHA approved plans, yet still far from satisfactory.

  • The current OSHA law still does not cover 8.3 million state and local government employees.

  • After two and a half years under the Bush Administration, rulemaking at OSHA and MSHA has virtually ground to a halt.
    President Bush's proposed FY 2004 budget cuts funding for the nation's worker safety and health programs.

  • For the second year in a row, the Bush Administration has proposed to slash the NIOSH budget

  • There was a great deal of activity on state workers' compensation, driven in large part by insurers seeking to cut benefits or limit eligibility in an effort to boost profits after too much reliance on income from the stock market and years of cutting premiums to attract new customers.

No Doze?

April 1997, mid-afternoon: We were on the interstate outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, driving back from a skiing trip in Canada, my wife beside me and the three kids in the back of the van. Traffic slowed to a stop because of an accident or road construction in front of us I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a speeding semi bearing down on us. Before I could react, it hit us, slamming us into the car ahead, blowing our air bags and squishing our Windstar mini-van into the size of a compact Honda. Happily, aside from a few bloody noses, a slightly impaled leg from an unsafely stowed ski pole (my bad) and a bit of psychological trauma, we were all OK.

We were never sure why the truck hit us, although some people thought the driver must have been dozing. It was a clear, straight road and other truckers reported warning him over C.B. that traffic had stopped ahead.

So I observe with great interest an announcement of new federal rules that will “will allow truckers to drive an hour longer each day but require them to take two more hours of rest." The Washington Post reports that

Safety groups and unionized truck drivers oppose the new rule. Trucking companies are expected to endorse it, officials said.
The rule, which will be announced by the Transportation Department, will allow drivers to be behind the wheel for 11 hours instead of the current 10, sources said. But their overall shift, which includes time for breaks, loading and unloading, will be cut an hour to 14 hours.
The new rule, the sources added, will require drivers to take 10 consecutive hours off, instead of the current eight. Regulators who settled on the 10-hour rest period said research supports giving truckers longer periods to ease fatigue.

Drivers represented by the Teamsters union said they have "serious concerns" about the rule change because the increase in allowed driving time could add to fatigue. "It's something that helps the companies because they can work drivers harder and put them on longer runs," said Rob Black, spokesman for the Teamsters.

Safety groups were unhappy too, especially because the new rule will not require trucking operators to use electronic recording devices to keep accurate logs of the time drivers are on the road.

"The rule is meaningless without enforcement. They can't enforce 10 hours of driving now. How will they enforce 11?" said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The safety group also said that although drivers will get more time to sleep, the benefit will be offset by longer driving times. Gillan said research shows that drivers become tired after eight or nine hours on the road.
OK. I feel much safer now.

Friday, April 25, 2003

More Workers Memorial Day News

Planning a Workers Memorial Day event this weekend? Feeling alone and isolated? Well don’t. You’ve got brothers and sisters all over the world doing the same thing. Click here to find out what’s going on in the Australia • Bangladesh • Bermuda • Brazil • Canada • China • Hong Kong • Hungary • New Zealand • Spain • Sweden • Taiwan • Thailand • United Kingdom • USA • International. Click here for more information.

Poetry To My Ears

And for more inspiration, here’s a Workers Memorial Day poem from the UAW website.

And finally

Congressman Major Owens (D-NY)will hold a workplace safety hearing in New York City on April 28, 2003, Workers Memorial Day. Owens, who is the ranking Democrat on the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the US House of Representatives, stated that this would be “the first of a series of activities to promote laws and regulations which protect and enhance workplace safety”

“We must fight to protect working families on many fronts with a multitude of battles. At a time when workers are making great sacrifices in blood as well as sweat; we must mount a counter offensive against cold-blooded exploiters who believe workers are expendable." Said Owens.

This is not an official Hearing of the House of Representatives because, in our peculiar form of democracy, the Republican House majority won't let the minority hold their own hearings. Refusing to learn his place, Congressman Owens will be holding a series of hearings in the coming year. If you're represented by the minority, maybe that's an idea you should suggest to your Congressional Representative.

Carty Ousted

Clearly the American Airlines board took my article (see below) more seriously than the Wall St. Journal editorial. Feel the power!

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Postal Worker Anthrax Coverup, Continued

According to the New York Times, postal workers in Wallingford are a bit upset that they were lied to by the Postal Service about anthrax contamination in 2001 (see below).
It took seven months for managers to respond to a request for a full report on the contamination, said John Dirzius, president of the American Postal Workers Union local, which represents two-thirds of the 1,200 people who work in the Wallingford center. Today, postal workers here said they wanted an explanation.

"Why hasn't somebody come to a podium saying, `We made the wrong call'?" said James Willard, a mechanic who has worked at the Wallingford center for eight years. "The morale is down a lot and I don't know if that will be bridged."

Postal Service officials said today that it was the responsibility of health agencies to release medical information.

"On that score, we deliver mail," said Gerry McKiernan, a Postal Service spokesman. "We're not medical experts. We took the advice the medical experts gave us at the time."

But one of those experts, Dr. James Hadler, Connecticut's chief epidemiologist, said the State Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control had told postal managers that the information should be released.

"They told us, `We want to be the ones to tell the media and our employees,' " Dr. Hadler said.
The union membership now hopes for a formal apology said Mr. Dirzius.Asked if one was forthcoming, Mr. McKiernan said he could not comment on a matter between labor and management.

The American Way?

This may not be a health and safety issue, but indicative of the same corporate mentality. You are probably aware of the brou-ha-ha over American Airlines convincing their unions that concessions were needed to avoid bankruptcy, but then revealing that (oops), the airline had failed to disclose before the voting that it planned to pay bonuses to six top executives next year and protect part of the pensions of 45 executives if the airline sought bankruptcy. The bonuses since have been rescinded (not the pensions), but the unions are demanding a revote. Molly Ivins had awarded it her “Boneheads of the Month” title.

Well, to the rescue rides (who else) the Wall St. Journal editorial page which says it might have been nice for American to have disclosed the information “for transparency's sake,” but that the favors to the executives were justified because what with the terrorism, falling stock prices and the “nighmares” of regulatory and labor relations problems, “CEOs,aren't exactly falling all over` each other to land airline jobs these days… That would have left the carrier with a management vacuum.” As Molly Ivins says, “I don't know if you've looked around the airline industry lately, but there is not a whole lot of executive head-hunting going on. What are they going to do, go to work for US Airways? United? Delta?”

Certainly not to Northwest, which announced yesterday that it “plans to cut the salaries and benefits of its 3,000 management employees by 5 percent to 15 percent to help the company return to profitability.” Even Wall St. likes it (not the Journal); Northwest’s stock prices rose yesterday.

And as if American’s not having a bad enough day, St. Louis University has rescinded its invitation to American CEO Donald Carty to be the university’s commencement speaker. Carty was to have received an honorary doctor of laws degree.

But the Wall St. Journal still doesn’t get it. They're worried that “because they are mad about Mr. Carty's bonus, the unions plan to take revenge by voting to put the airline into bankruptcy under which their members will take even bigger pay cuts or will lose their jobs altogether.”

So, workers are supposed to accept all the lies and disrespect the company can dish out -- and do it with a SMILE on their faces -- and then trust the company to be concerned about their welfare in the future? Someday people will understand that workers join unions not just for more money and better benefits, but also for a little fairness and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. At least Don Carty should now understand that, even if the WSJ doesn’t.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Postal Workers Kept in Dark on Anthrax

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Postal Service violated federal regulations and undermined management's credibility when it failed to disclose anthrax test results promptly to workers at a contaminated Connecticut mail facility according to a General Accounting Office report issued Monday.
The GAO said postal officials did not comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules in early 2002 when they did not fulfill a request for test results from union representatives at the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center in Wallingford.

Investigators tested the facility several times in late 2001 after letters laced with anthrax spores were mailed to two members of Congress and several media outlets. The letters caused 23 anthrax-related illnesses and five deaths.

Although initial results at the Wallingford facility were negative, later tests turned up dangerous levels of anthrax in a sample from a mail-sorting machine. The facility remained open. Workers were told only that "trace" amounts had been found and were advised to continue taking antibiotics. No workers became ill.

Officials did not release the results until September 2002, nine months after they first learned of the results.
The GAO termed the problems understandable given the confusion at the time. Nevertheless, the GAO report concluded that:
Numerous lessons can be learned from the experience, such as the need for more complete and timely information to workers to maintain trust and credibility and to help ensure that workers have essential information for making informed health decisions. Federal guidelines developed in 2002 by GSA and the National Response Team suggest that more—rather than less—information should be disclosed. However, neither the Service’s guidelines nor the more recent federal guidelines fully address the communication-related issues that developed in Wallingford. For example, none of the guidelines specifically require the full disclosure of quantified test results. Likewise, OSHA’s regulations do not require employers to disclose test results to workers unless requested, which assumes that workers are aware of the test results and know about this requirement.
Postal officials said they would update their guidelines to ensure a swifter flow of information, but according to the Post, John Dirzius, president of the Greater Connecticut Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, said he is skeptical because union officials aren't involved in drafting the revisions.

Russia's industrial wasteland chokes on fumes

Yet another cheery jobs vs. environment story from the ex-Soviet Union.

KARABASH, Russia - Vast stretches of soot-coloured wasteland, mountains of black slag and a handful of ailing birch trees mark the landscape around the Urals town of Karabash, one of the most polluted places on the planet.
Around the clock, the five chimneys of the century-old Karabash Copper Smelting Works spew out pitch-black toxic fumes laden with sulphurous waste.

"Nothing grows in our vegetable patches - everything dies or turns yellow," said Svetlana, a mother of two who has spent her life in the town. The soil in and around Karabash is full of toxic metals including lead, mercury and arsenic.

"Our children have asthma, respiratory diseases, many now suffer from skin diseases too," Svetlana said.

Karabash, a town of apocalyptic bleakness, is a painful reminder of an environmental policy that has balked at the huge cost of cleaning up many of the ailing behemoths left behind by the Soviet Union, including its metals sector.

McWane and Steelworkers Sign Agreement

The United Steelworkers of America has reached an agreement with the McWane Corporation, a company made (in)famous by the New York Times/Frontline series detailing the high numbers of injuries and deaths at McWane Facilities. The agreement establishes "a top-level safety task force, calling it a major element to increase workplace safety."

McWane and the union already have local health and safety committees, but this joint task force will include senior members of the union and management. According to USWA Health and Safety Director Mike Wright, ""The idea is we would have a task force at the international level."
Earlier this month, Tyler Pipe agreed to pay $196,000 in penalties for citations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The 18 violations OSHA identified consisted of 13 it labeled "serious," four repeat violations and one other-than-serious violation.

The plant was fined $1 million in August 2002 for violating workplace safety and health standards.

The company pleaded guilty in July 2002 to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act regarding the incident and U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Guthrie sentenced the company to pay a $250,000 fine and placed it on probation for a year.

That was after an employee was crushed between a conveyor belt and a pulley in 2000.

In October 2002, another employee was seriously injured after his legs were crushed when they became trapped between a truck and its bed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Earth Day? We Don't Need No Stinkin Earth Day!

Can't believe I almost forgot it was Earth Day. Maybe it just seems kind of, well, dumb to celebrate Earth Day while watching those guys down the street take us back to those polluted days of yesteryear. And then we have things like this to brighten my week.(Check out the third paragraph and then check here to see why it's all a grand conspiracy.) But, happily, Eric Alterman pointed out a web page that made my day.

[Note From JB: I just put 4 links to other websites in this one short paragraph. Unless you link to them, you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. We bloggers do this kind of thing a lot. I don't know why. I'm new at this. Maybe we're showing off. Maybe we do it because we can. Maybe, in all of our modesty, we know that we can't explain a website or article as well as the website or article itself. I'd like to know if you find this (a) incredibly irritating or (b) amazingly clever and useful. Vote here.]


April 28 is Workers Memorial Day -- not just in the United States, but world-wide. You can get to the AFL-CIO's Workers Memorial Day website by clicking on the button at the top. For events world-wide, the best resource is Hazards from where you can look up events in over a dozen countries and download flyers and posters. If you haven't planned an event, find one to join. We are truly not alone.

Deadly Business

And when you're done mourning for the dead, it's time to start fighting for the living. While I write about putting employers in jail who kill workers, Hazards Magaizine has whole websites devoted to the idea. Check out Safety Crimes and Deadly Business pages. (While you're at it, check out the entire site. It's an excellent resource, and thanks to the Web, available in a computer near you.). It's full of articles and posters and even a postcard campaign to Tony Blair, urging the British goverment to pass a long promised safety bill.

Hmm. Might be some ideas that will work on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Speaking of international Workers Memorial Day, let's also remember those who need health and safety protections most, and probably enjoy them least. This rather disturbing Guardian article was forwarded by Hazards editor Rory O'Neil.

Hell on earth

This is the most polluted place in Russia - where the snow is black, the air tastes of sulphur and the life expectancy for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average. But now a local union rep is taking on the might of Russian industry in Sunday's mayoral elections - and promising to clean up the town. Nick Paton Walsh is one of the few foreigners to be allowed in.

Nick Paton Walsh
Friday April 18, 2003
The Guardian

For Volodia Tuitin, snow comes in many colours. It can be black. Sometimes it is a dirty yellow or even pink. Tuitin has spent all his 45 years in they heavily polluted mining town of Norilsk, where he now works in a copper-smelting factory. His life has been dominated by the same skyline - a desolate set of snowdrifts and battered tower blocks - punctured by tall chimney stacks belching out heavy metals and industrial dust. This is the most polluted town in Russia.

Tuitin endures daily work in the electrolysis plant. Here, toxic fumes blind the senses, forcing him and his colleagues to wear respirators. Lists of dead workers adorn the walls of the plant's lobby, usually men "only 50 or 52 years old", Tuitin says. Many of his colleagues hide their illnesses to avoid losing shifts. "If I lose my job, then I won't find another place to work in this town. What will my family eat? We go to work despite knowing conditions are bad. Forced work like this is normally called slavery."
Read the rest

Free Speech for OSHA Inspectors? Surely You Jest

Seems that OSHA inspectors and other US Department of Labor (DOL) field employees are still allowed to have their union and their newsletter (they haven't been labeled security risks yet), as long as they're careful about what they say. Apparently the survival of the program they are dedicating their worklives to is not legitimate grounds for discussion by the union -- at least if they're going to use Department of Labor interoffice mail. According to an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, "At issue were an article and a cartoon criticizing White House policies on tax cuts and hiring private contractors for government jobs."

But the Labor Department says distribution of the December issue of the newsletter, the Courier, (the newsletter of the National Council of Field Labor Locals of the American Federation of Government Employees) was stopped because the publication "violated guidelines worked out by the union and the agency about what could be sent through the department's interoffice mail."

"Al Belsky, a Labor Department spokesman, said part of the December newsletter went beyond the guidelines for what can be distributed. The newsletter must be limited to matters of union interest to go through interoffice mail, he said." I guess tax cuts that will reduce the money to pay for OSHA enforcement and possible contracting out of OSHA jobs are not issues that the union representing OSHA inspectors should be interested in.

''That's not to say they couldn't distribute this some other way,'' he said. ''It's not censorship.'' Gee, thanks Al.

The union has filed a grievance against the agency for blocking interoffice mail distribution of its newsletter. It's not nice to mess with Secretary Chao.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Europe Whips US Companies Into Shape

For those of you who are victims of the regulatory wars of recent years (that is if you are members of labor unions, government, environmental organizations, or if you work in hazardous workplaces, or live in a polluted environment), you need to read this fascinating article in the NY Times. Excuse me if I quote from it extensively (all emphasis is added by me):
The European Union, which includes 15 member countries from Portugal to Finland and Ireland to Greece, is adopting environmental and consumer protection legislation that will go further in regulating corporate behavior than almost anything the United States government has enacted in decades. For American companies that are accustomed to getting their way in Washington, it has come as a shock.

Earlier this year, the European Union adopted two rules that companies in the United States estimate will cost them hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The first will prohibit electronics makers from using lead, mercury and other heavy metals in their products. The second will require the makers of consumer electronics and household appliances to pick up the bill for recycling their products. Since last year, automakers have had to take responsibility for recycling the cars they sell.


Broader and costlier rules are in the works. Among them are a requirement that chemical makers run safety and environmental impact tests on more than 30,000 chemicals; the industry has said that the rule could cost it more than $7 billion. The commission is also considering prohibiting consumer products companies from directing television commercials at children. And it is looking at passing a law to encourage manufacturers to cut the energy used and greenhouse gases generated in making their products. It also wants to reduce the number and volume of hazardous chemicals in products made in Europe.
OK, lets stop here for a moment. Why is this? Why can the European Union impose these regulations not only on their own companies, but on U.S. companies. Regulations one-quarter this stringent in the U.S. bring cries of SOCIALISM! WAR ON SMALL BUSINESS! KILLING THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG! JOB KILLERS! COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS! REGULATORY REFORM!

And that's just from the Democrats.

So what's their secret?
In Washington, corporate lobbying has weakened or killed legislation aimed at regulating tobacco, pharmaceuticals and pollutants that contribute to global warming. In all three cases, the affected industries spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and advertising, all to persuade lawmakers that regulation restricted the free market and would hurt American business.

Such tactics would not play well in Europe, where there is a long history of state intervention in the economy and where senior government officials are usually more highly regarded than are corporate executives.
Not only that, but
Some American business practices are regarded with deep suspicion here, in light of the corporate accounting scandals and what many Europeans see as the Bush administration's high-handed and unilateralist policies on the environment and Iraq.
Yeah, yeah, they're viewed "with deep suspicion" here too. Fat lot of good it does.

And here's an idea:
In the European Union, measures often seek to avert harm before it occurs. By contrast, regulation in the United States often responds to a crisis; the recent Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, for example, tightened corporate accounting rules after the Enron and WorldCom scandals.

"No longer do public authorities need to prove they are dangerous," she said at a recent conference on the chemicals legislation. "The onus is now on industry" to demonstrate that the products they sell are safe, she added.
Gosh, why didn't we think of that. Oh, yeah, I forgot, in this country we treat chemicals like people: innocent until proven guilty. (Actually, since passage of the Patriot Act, chemicals have more rights than people.)

Oh, but let's not forget that we're talking about those limp-wristed, Sadaam-loving, snail-eating French and their equally squirly German neighbors:
Often, American executives are bewildered when European ideals of social democracy trump America's more laissez-faire values. In Europe, "there is a whole kind of underlying socialist suspicion of corporations," said a lobbyist for an American investment bank. "Consumers are treated like children in Europe."
Au contraire, mein Freund. Seems to me consumers (and workers) are treated like f*!%#^ing HUMAN BEINGS rather than the losing end of a cost-benefit analysis. Hell, we don't even treat children like children in this country.
European regulators, however, seem to perceive the companies themselves as children who will misbehave if left unattended. In Washington, corporate lobbyists deride legislation as an example of "big government." But such arguments do not play in Brussels.
Now these are the two best paragraphs:
John T. Disharoon, a lobbyist for Caterpillar who moved to Brussels three years ago from Washington, says policy makers in the United States are generally more accountable to the public than European regulators. "So it basically changes the entire lobbying dynamic," he said. "Traditional pressure points like jobs, economic data, what it will do to industry are not as effective."
Note from the editor: More accountable to the public? The Public? Who do we think Mr. Disharoon considers "the public" here? Three guesses:

(a) Workers
(b) Consumers
(c) Business Interests

If you don't know the answer, read on....
The biggest difference in Brussels and Washington, lobbyists here say, is that American politicians rely far more on corporate donations to finance their election campaigns. Further, the revolving-door phenomenon, a virtual institution in Washington where former officials go to work for the industries they once regulated, is far less common in Brussels.
(I once again want to thank Grist for bringing this article to my attention as it was buried somewhere in yesterday's business section, rather than being on the front page of Section A where it belonged.)

It's amazing what a clear picture we can get of ourselves by looking through the eyes of other countries. What we're dealing with in this country is a no-holds barred, ideological war against workers, consumer, children, communities and the environment, using lies like economic efficiency, weighing costs and benefits, and tons of other garbage. And it's a war we're losing and will continue to lose unless we educate people and make them mad. Not mad enough to despair. Just mad enough to fight.