Tuesday, November 18, 2003

AARPissed Off

Within days of my 50th birthday (I know, you can't believe I'm anywhere near that old), I got my first letter from AARP asking me to join. As retirement seems to get farther and farther away as my childen get closer to college, I decided to put it aside until I actually started thinking about retirement -- probably in my early 90's. After reading the paper today about the AARP signing onto the Repubican Medicare deform proposal, I'm glad I didn't join.

I don't follow AARP developments very much, but I always had the impression that they were somewhat progressive...until Suburban Guerrilla revealed that AARP is nothing but another insurance company. Who woulda thunk it?

It was somewhat comforting to read, however, that most of the Democratic candidates, and many AARP members are giving the organization grief (and here) for their sell-out. Lieberman is still studying the bill, the demerits of which you can read about here and here.

WSJ Spews Bile on WA Ergo

Well, they just couldn't help themselves. It took almost two weeks for the Wall St. Journal to come out with an idiot-torial gloating over the loss of the Washington State ergonomics standard.

There are so many deeply disturbed things about this piece that you all should be grateful that I can't link it. Nor will I bother to go into all of the lies and distortions. Anyway, you've heard them all before. (Over and over again.) For the life of me, though, I can never figure out whether they actually believe the lies, or they're really just the cynical cretins they appear to be. Delusional, evil or just stupid? Or all three?

But there are a few areas in this column so profoundly low that I can't help holding them up for the idiots that they are.
  • The Journal is apalled that
    The rules would have applied to a huge swath of the state's economy, everyone from grocery checkers to landscapers, couriers and even nursing home employees.
    "Even nursing home employees?!" If there is any justice in the universe, the editors of the Journal will spend eternity lifting slippery, uncooperative 300 pound nursing home patients onto the toilet, then be stricken with back injuries and end up unable to support their families or play with their children. Over and over and over again.

    Yeah, I know, it's mean to wish that on anyone, but that's the fate to which they've condemned thousands of nursing home workers -- nursing home employees who will hopefully drop their fat carcasses on the floor every day when they end their sorry lives being cared for by the workers that they didn't give a shit about.

  • "Naturally, the vagueness of the regulations would have been tested in court." They already were tested in court, you idiots, and you lost.

  • The word "Patronizing" comes to mind: "No one doubts that 'repetitive stress' injuries are real, and the writer of this very editorial has felt a twinge or two in his own typewriting thumb and arms."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," the industry folk are saying as they read this (I know some of you are lurking out there in cyberspace.) "Boo fucking hoo. We won, you lost. So cry me a river."

And they're right. They beat us. And they did it by being sensitive to the voters' fears. The state AFL-CIO had found the initiative losing badly just weeks before the election.
But voters were swayed by arguments that the rules would place Washington at a competitive disadvantage with other states and perhaps lead to further job loss. Washington has already lost 96,000 jobs, or 3.5% of its workforce in the past two years. The state's seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 7.6% in September, well above the national rate of 6.1%.
Voters were afraid of that the ergonomics standard would cause job loss and the bad guys effectively used lie upon lie to stoke those fears.

But then the writer couldn't help slipping back into his delusional reverse universe:
Forces favoring regulation typically have the easier political task because they are advocating things ("safe workplaces") that everyone wants. But if they're given the right information and arguments, voters are smart enough to understand that government regulation also has costs."
This is a true statement. But only if by "right," they mean "whatever works to convince people that lies are true." And if by "smart" they really mean "vulnerable."

In other words, if that sentence read "But if they're given the right incorrect information and arguments, voters are smart vulnerable enough to understand believe that government regulation also has costs."

There, that's better.
  • "If ergonomics rules can't pass in Washington, they probably can't pass anywhere." This may also be true. But we (unions, public health activists, and maybe a few deep pockets) have the power to turn that statement into a lie as well.
Personally, after reading this editorial and hearing about their campaign, I don't know how these guys can look their children in the face.

I wouldn't be able to.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Poetry Break

Not enough poetry in this Blog. Here's an excerpt from "Report to the Stockholders" by John Beecher (sent to me by Mark Catlin at SEIU)
he fell of his crane
and his head hit the steel floor and broke like an egg
he lived a couple of hours with his brains bubbling out
and then he died
and the safety clerk made out a report saying
it was carelessness
and the craneman should have known better
from twenty years experience
than not to watch his step
and slip in some grease on top of his crane
and then the safety clerk told the superintendent
he’d ought to fix that guardrail
More poetry submissions will be accepted. Who says we got no culture here at Confined Space?

Is Eliot Spitzer the Only Activist Having Fun These Days?

Everyone complains to me that this Blog is too depresssing. I agree. Here's some good stuff.

If you haven't heard of New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, start paying attention. You'll be hearing more about him in the future (When't the next election for Governor of New York?)

I first met him testified in support of a particularly controversial section of the federal ergonomics standard -- work removal protection. Opponents claimed that the OSHA proposal, which would have required pay to people unable to work due to ergonomcs injuries, was a violation of the OSH Act which prohibits OSHA from affecting state workers compensation practices. Spitzer not only came down to Washington to testify at the OSHA hearing, but organized a whole group of state Attorneys General to sign a statement supporting the ergonomics standard.

He has been regularly featured for going after Wall St. firms who violate the law, but are not prosecuted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He has an op-ed in the New York Times today that talks about the failure of the Bush Administration's regulatory enforcement and the need for the states to pick up the slack.

Much of the piece deals with weak SEC enforcement, but he also addresses the administration's environmental failures:
With two decisions in the last two weeks, the Bush administration has sent its clearest message yet that it values corporate interests over the interests of average Americans....It is not surprising that the commission would sanction a deal that ignores consumers and is unsatisfactory to state regulators. Just look at the Bush administration's decision to abandon pending enforcement actions and investigations of Clear Air Act violations.

Even supporters of the Bush administration's environmental policy were stunned when the E.P.A. announced that it was closing pending investigations into more than 100 power plants and factories for violating the Clean Air Act — and dropping 13 cases in which it had already made a determination that the law had been violated.

Regulators may disagree about what our environmental laws should look like. But we should all be able to agree that companies that violated then-existing pollution laws should be punished.

Those environmental laws were enacted to protect a public that was concerned about its health and safety. By letting companies that violated the Clean Air Act off the hook, the Environmental Protection Agency has effectively issued an industry-wide pardon. This will only embolden polluters to continue practices that harm the environment.

My office had worked with the agency to investigate polluters, and will continue to do so when possible. But today a bipartisan coalition of 14 state attorneys general will sue the agency to halt the implementation of weaker standards. In addition, we will continue to press the lawsuits that have been filed. We have also requested the E.P.A. records for the cases that have been dropped, and will file lawsuits if they are warranted by the facts.
And as promised:
A coalition of 14 states plus the District of Columbia filed papers in federal court today in an effort to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from introducing a new rule that the states say will seriously weaken the provisions of the Clean Air Act and send more pollution into the atmosphere.


The 14 states states that sued today want the new rule to be put on hold while the case is brought to trial to determine whether or not the regulations are legal. The new rule "violates the plain language of the Clean Air Act, conflicts with Congressional intent, and contradicts longstanding court rulings," the states said in a statement today.

"It is a sad day in America when a coalition of states must go to federal court to defend the Clean Air Act against the misguided actions of the federal agency created to protect the environment," the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, said. "But in this matter, the E.P.A. is standing with polluters instead of with the people it is supposed to protect, and the states have no choice but to take this action."

Weapons of Mass Destruction Found -- In Our Backyards

Click onto the American Chemistry Council's (ACC) chemical plant security website and you'll be asked the question:"Two years after the terrorist attacks on our country, Americans understandably are asking 'Are we safer?' "

Those of you who watched "60 Minutes" last night saw a frightening spectacle of reporters with cameras wandering casually through an unguarded chemical plant filled with hazardous substances that, with a bit of help from a home-made bomb, could have killed and injured thousands of nearby residents.

Reporters from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and 60 Minutes inspected over 50 chemical plants over the past six months.

Are we safer now than two years ago? Judge for yourselves.
"60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft and a CBS cameraman strolled to the tanks of lethal boron trifluoride at Neville Chemical Co. on Neville Island. Crossing through open or unlocked gates, they spent more than 30 minutes at the unguarded works during two undetected visits. Plant officials called the police only after the journalists confronted Neville's security chief with their findings. Neville Township police then cited the men for defiant trespass. According to Neville's filings with the Environmental Protection Agency, a catastrophic release of the corrosive vapors would threaten the lives of nearly 38,000 within three miles.
These weren't isolated problems. The reporters fround example after chilling example:
Federal officials were most concerned about the easy penetration of security at the nation's potentially deadliest plants. At the mammoth Sony Technology Center in Westmoreland County, an unsecured gate, distracted guards and unconcerned employees let a reporter reach 200,000 pounds of chlorine gas. No one stopped him as he touched train derailing levers, waved to security cameras, and photographed chlorine tankers and a nitric acid vat. If ruptured, one Sony railcar could spew gas 13 miles, endangering 190,000 people. Two other plants penetrated by the Trib and "60 Minutes" -- Univar and Millennium Chemical in Baltimore -- each put more than 1 million neighbors at risk of chlorine poisoning.

As faithful readers of Confined Space know, chemical plant security and competing formulas for addressing the problems have been frequent subjects of this Blog. To summarize, Senator Jon Corzine has been pushing legislation since 9/11 that would force the chemical industry to implement, where possible, inherently safer technologies (e.g. substituting safer chemicals, storing smaller amounts of hazardous chemicals, etc.), along with increased traditional security measures. The American Chemistry Council and their clients in Congress managed to kill Corzine's bill and instead are favoring an approach that focusses almost entirely on traditional security (guns and fences), and relies on compliance with voluntary guidelines developed by the American Chemical Council.

“My bill was crushed by the American Chemistry Council. It was crushed by those who were looking after their private interests and not the public interests,” says Corzine.

The ACC has an extensive chemical security program as part of its "Responsible Care® Security Code, which addresses site, transportation, and cyber security."

He contends that members are doing everything possible to ensure plant security.
“I think that one of the things that everybody has to understand about the business of chemistry is that we're in the risk management business,” says Greg Lebedev, the president of the American Chemistry Council, which represents 150 of the largest chemical companies in America.
Really? I thought they were in the chemical production business. So do their stockholders.

So what's the problem? Plant workers seem to have a pretty good handle on the root causes of chemical plants' failure to secure their facilities.
A reporter easily canvassed the sprawling Allegheny Ludlum mill in Brackenridge three days in a row, following a path down a bluff, across the railroad, behind a guard shack and up to 100,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride, a lethal toxin used to "pickle" stainless steel.

Longtime Brackenridge employees blamed lax security on recent guard cutbacks and indifference. If released, the mill's acid could waft nearly a mile and threaten more than 16,000 residents with blindness, severe burns and death. A spill also would jeopardize water supplies drawn from the Allegheny and Ohio rivers.

Allegheny Ludlum officials declined to comment.

"I know they put in surveillance cameras, but we don't know if anyone is really watching," said Gerard Magoc, a Brackenridge steelworker for 31 years. "They put on a big show about searching cars, though. They're big on theft. ... They care more about protecting their toilet paper than they do about their hazardous materials."
I'm shocked.

Terminating Pollution Lawsuits

Those of you who used to be fans of Terminator movies (when that was not politically incorrect) remember that the plot involved sending a "terminator" back through history to eliminate the leader of the rebellion against the ruling machines.

Republicans in Congress seem to have taken that plot line to heart. A little noticed item in the energy bill that has emerged from a House-Senate conference committee contains a little item that attempts to change history:
In a decision that surprised advocacy groups following the measure, a provision protecting producers of a gasoline additive blamed for groundwater contamination was made retroactive to Sept. 5, potentially disrupting a number of actions to recoup cleanup costs that have been filed since then in New York, California, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Robert Gordon, a Manhattan lawyer who has filed some of the cases involving the additive, MTBE, said the bill neutralized the kind of product-defect claim that has been the most successful argument used against the producers. He said he and others were stunned by the Sept. 5 date, saying it would throw into question lawsuits he has filed since then on behalf of 100 local governments and water companies seeking cleanup money.
Never let it be said, however, that Republican members of Congress aren't looking out for the downtrodden and abused of our society. Petroleum companies are complaining that they started using MTBE "because the federal government promoted the additive as a fuel oxygenate to ease air pollution," and therefore the government should assist them in making the transition away from MTBE. OK, maybe that makes some sense. But like the little piggies that they are, MTBE producers argued that if a little assistance is good, more must be better.
In protecting manufacturers of MTBE, the bill also grants them a possible $2 billion in transition aid to switch from MTBE, an increase over the $800 million they were expected to get. The substance could remain in use until 2015, when it would be banned unless the president intervened.
And who are the backers of these provisions? One guess. Right!
The provisions for MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, were promoted by Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, and Republican Representatives Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Joe L. Barton ofTexas. Both states are home to MTBE producers.
Those concerned about protecting our environment should understand that, with the governments retreat from regulation and enforcement, the ability to sue polluters is one of the only weapons left in our arsenal. Undermining that system with "back to the future" tactics bodes ill for environmental, worker and community safety and health.

Between the MTBE provisions and other "goodies" for the energy industry hidden in the bill,
"The big winner is big oil. The big loser is anyone who breathes, pays a utility bill or drinks water," said Anna Aurilio, legislative director for the United States Public Interest Research Group, which has been fighting new energy legislation since a task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney issued the Bush administration's energy policy in 2001.
Congress may vote on this legislation tomorrow. You know what to do.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

"Definitely, it could have been prevented"

The only thing that makes me madder than fatal trench collapses are fatal confined space incidents, especially where, as in this case, one of the fatalities was the attempted rescuer.

This was your classic confined space tragedy where one worker goes down into a sewer line without any monitoring or compliance with OSHA's confined space standard. He passes out from hydrogen sufide exposure or oxygen deficiency and is swept down the sewer. A second goes in to rescue him. He also dies. A third worker when down to rescue them. He luckily survived.

Killed at the site were Francisco Hernandez, 24, and Javier Cruz, 22. They were employees of L&B Vector Service. They had been hired by Houston-based Jimerson Underground, which was repairing sewer lines for the city of Edinburg, Texas.

The one redeeming aspect of this article -- especially compared with the article below -- was the fact that Edinburg Fire Chief Shawn Snider was not shy about stating that "Definitely, it could have been prevented ... there is no excuse for not providing safety equipment for protecting your workers."

According to Jose E. Cruz, the accident victim's older brother
"They did not have the proper equipment....They have people working for the city or this utility company and they had no face masks, no goggles, no gloves, and in the case of an emergency, no hooks to get you out. Nothing for the safety of the employees. It was negligence."

Cruz said his younger brother was married with two young daughters, and his wife is expecting a third child.

"I don't see how a company, especially with a worker with two kids and a baby on the way, would let them work in conditions like that -- without protective suits and with toxic wastes," Cruz said.
One more interesting item. Both of these workers and the construction worker killed in the trench collapse that I wrote about below were working for companies contracting for municipalities. There are several ironies here. Both cities are in states that have no OSHA coverage for public employees, which means that had these employees been working for the cities, there would have been no OSHA investigation or citation because these workers would have had no right to a safe workplace.

On the other hand, being public employees, it is much more likely (at least in Ohio) that these workers were organized and therefore had much better access to information about safety hazards and some ability to take collective action to prevent these tragedies.

Although, we had plenty of confined space and trenching fatalities among our members when I was at AFSCME. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to study whether contractors for public entities have a higher injury and death rate than public employees doing similar jobs. We've clearly seen a trend, for example, in chemical plants and petroleum refineries and other industries. More and more of the most hazardous jobs are being contracted out, often to companies who pay less, provide fewer benefits, and little if any safety or health protections.

Man Killed In Trench Collapse. “Nothing could have prevented it,” Says Office Manager

Give me a break. I'd stake a considerable amount of money on betting that something could have prevented it -- like maybe complying with the OSHA trenching and excavation standard.

This is a story abou the death of construction worker James Carpenter, 54, who was killed when a trench collapsed on top of him while installing a sanitary sewer line for the City of Zanesville This was not your typical trenching fatality. The company, Zemba Brothers, contracting for the City of Zanesville, OH, was using a trench box in the 12 foot deep trench. According to the office manager, Shala Zemba, (who apparently doubles as the safety director?), "It was a weird accident,” she said. “They weren’t even back to work yet. He was the only one in there. The trench box didn’t collapse — no dirt got into it. The dirt that trapped him was outside the box."

Now, I assume this means that the dirt piled up outside the trench collapsed into the trench. "Weird?"
Nothing could have prevented it,” she said. “He was a wonderful employee who had lots of experience. It’s just a big mystery and a really tragic accident. We’re really going to miss him. He was the perfect worker — he was always very loyal, very wonderful. He will be entirely missed.
A big mystery? "Nothing" could have prevented it?

How about OSHA standard 1926.651(j)(2) which states
Employees shall be protected from excavated or other materials or equipment that could pose a hazard by falling or rolling into excavations. Protection shall be provided by placing and keeping such materials or equipment at least 2 feet (.61 m) from the edge of excavations, or by the use of retaining devices that are sufficient to prevent materials or equipment from falling or rolling into excavations, or by a combination of both if necessary.
The paper also reported that a large amount of rain may have contributed to the collpase. Which may be the reason for OSHA standard 1926.651(k)(1)
... An inspection shall be conducted by the competent person prior to the start of work and as needed throughout the shift. Inspections shall also be made after every rainstorm or other hazard increasing occurrence.
Mystery solved.

One of the problems with stupid statements like "nothing could have prevented this" is that most people believe it. You who are reading this know that there is almost no such thing as a workplace accident that can be prevented, but the general public doesn't. And the more they are fed garbage like this, the less public outrage there is over workers getting killed on the job. Much more on this theme here.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Never Never Land

Iraq: Where Conservative Dreams are Realized

If you're paying attention, you may have noticed new articles the Bushistas' attempt to remake Iraq in the same conservative image that they are trying to impose on the folks back home. They're privatizing everything in sight and are even imposing a "flat tax."

And then there's one more sacred conservative icon: anti-unionism. David Bacon writes in the Los Angeles Times of the attempts by U.S. occupation authorities to squash any sign of union activity in Iraq.
In plants and factories all over Iraq, workers are quickly organizing unions. They want better wages. They want shorter hours (workers at the refinery and elsewhere often work 11- and 13-hour shifts without additional pay). They want safety shoes, goggles, masks and other protective gear. Most of all, they want a voice in the future of their jobs.

But in their quest for what they see as simple fairness in the workplace, they are encountering a determined foe: the Coalition Provisional Authority. Whenever the new unions try to talk with the managers or ministries that operate the plants, they're told that a law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 is still being enforced by the CPA. This law says that workers in state-owned enterprises (where the majority of Iraqis work) have no right to form unions or to bargain for contracts.

The law violates at least two conventions of the United Nations' International Labor Organization. But on June 5, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer III backed up this decree with another that Iraqi union activists say bans strikes and demonstrations that would disrupt economic activity.

U.S. funding in Iraq seems primarily focused on two things — an overwhelming military presence and the transformation of the Iraqi economy from one in which the bulk of industry is state-owned to one in which it is in private hands. Both are key parts of a plan to make the country attractive to foreign investors, who, Bremer seems to feel, might find the presence of unions a disincentive to investment. And nothing can stand in the way of privatization.
Privatization of Iraqi industry is also not very popular among Iraqi workers:
Iraqi workers view the prospect of privatizing their workplaces with dread, fearing the sell-off will bring massive layoffs in order to maximize profits. Al Daura's manager, Dathar Al-Kashab, predicted that with privatization, "I'll have to fire 1,500 [of the refinery's 3,000] workers. In America, when a company lays people off, there's unemployment insurance, and they won't die from hunger. If I dismiss employees now, I'm killing them and their families."

Outside the gates, the unemployed go hungry and even homeless. Some 70% of Iraqi workers have no jobs. Though Congress may have appropriated billions for "reconstruction," Nuri Jafer, the deputy minister of labor and social affairs, says he can find "no country willing to fund our plans" for a minimal system of unemployment benefits. Reconstruction itself is invisible on the streets. Work may be proceeding on the pipelines and ports necessary to get oil exports restarted, but huge piles of the war's rubble lie untouched.
Well, if you can't find any weapons of mass destruction, you can always go after the weapons of mass organization.

The Perils of Privatization in Iraq

Great idea: focus the military on what it does best -- fighting. All the rest of the jobs can be contracted out to Bechtel, Haliburton and lots of other smaller civilian government contractors. Right?

One problem. They may not be soldiers or even government employees, but they still get killed:
Unarmed, apolitical and supposedly on missions to help the populace, the thousands of contractors here nonetheless have become targets for those who are angry with the occupation. Nine civilians working for the government have died in attacks here since the war began. Twenty-nine others have been wounded and dozens have had close calls.

As a result, security costs -- guards, armored cars, alarms, barbed wire perimeters, hazard insurance premiums -- are increasing the price of reconstruction projects by at least 2 percent. For Bechtel alone, it has added $50 million to the cost, officials said.
Anyone at OSHA working on this?

Poison Pill

To continue the series of topics not directly related to workplace safety: Medicare and Prescription Drug Bill. Because even if workers live to retirement, it's looking increasingly likely, if the Republicans get their way, that they won't have adequate health insurance to get through old age.

To listen to President Bush, the failure of Congress to pass a prescription drug bill is all due to (Democrat induced) partisianship.
"The choice is simple: Either we will have more debate, more delay and more deadlock, or we'll make real progress," Bush said in an appearance at Walt Disney World here. Urging lawmakers to break the stalemate, he added: "We've come far. Let's finish the job."
Well, at least he picked an appropriate place to make this statement.

The reality, however, is much, much different, but it's a reality shrouded in technical issues that almost no American will have the patience to decipher, even if they have the ability to find the information in the first place.

That's why NY Times columnist Paul Krugman is a national treasure. His ability to reduce complicated issues to terms that are short enough and clear enough for most people to understand is a talent that few politicians or journalists possess.
A Congressional conference is now trying to agree on prescription drug legislation. But beware of politicians bearing gifts — the bill will contain measures that have nothing to do with prescription drugs, and a lot to do with hostility to Medicare as we know it. Indeed, it may turn out to be a Trojan horse that finally allows conservative ideologues, who have unsuccessfully laid siege to Medicare since the days of Barry Goldwater, to breach its political defenses.

Meanwhile, another proposal — to force Medicare to compete with private insurers — seems intended to undermine the whole system.

This proposal goes under the name of "premium support." Medicare would no longer cover whatever medical costs an individual faced; instead, retirees would receive a lump sum to buy private insurance. (Those who opted to remain with the traditional system would have to pay extra premiums.) The ostensible rationale for this change is the claim that private insurers can provide better, cheaper medical care.

But many studies predict that private insurers would cherry-pick the best (healthiest) prospects, leaving traditional Medicare with retirees who are likely to have high medical costs. These higher costs would then be reflected in the extra payments required to stay in traditional fee-for-service coverage. The effect would be to put health care out of reach for many older Americans. As a 2002 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation judiciously put it, "Difficulties in adjusting for beneficiary health status . . . could make the traditional Medicare FFS program unaffordable to a large portion of beneficiaries."

What's going on? Why, bait and switch, of course. Few politicians want to be seen opposing a bill that finally provides retirees with prescription drug coverage. That makes a prescription drug bill a perfect vehicle for smuggling in provisions that sound as if they have something to do with improving Medicare, yet are actually designed to undermine it.
OK. Now I understand what's going on and what's at stake. The problem is how we get that message to everyone else who doesn't read the op-ed page of the NY Times every day?

Thursday, November 13, 2003

It's Always Something

Change of topic. This health and safety stuff gets so depressing sometimes. Let's talk about other depressing issues. And why not? Without the ability to vote or civil rights, what's the point?

I've been noticing, but not closely following the controversy over computerized voting machines. (I have to ration what I get upset over.) I am a computer-nerd, however, so when I saw this nice, concise, but terrifying article in the NY Times computer section, I took note. You should too.
Then came last Sunday's New York Times, which presented a terrifying report on Diebold, a leading maker of paperless touch-screen voting machines. Eight million of us will be tapping on Diebold computers in the next Presidential election.

So what's wrong with that?

Wrong Thing 1: Wally O'Dell, the company's chief executive, is a Republican fundraiser. He writes letters to wealthy Bush contributors vowing to "deliver" his state's electoral votes to the Bush campaign. He hosts campaign meetings at his house. He's also a member of Bush's "Rangers and Pioneers" club (each member of whom must contribute at least $100,000 to the 2004 re-election campaign).

No matter what your politics, you can't deny that there's a strong whiff of conflict of interest here
Read it. It only gets worse.

And then there's a rather terrifying speech by Al Gore on November 9 at a MoveOn Conference. It's good. If Jimmy Carter is the nation's best ex-President, Al Gore is the nation's greatest near-President.
Or, to take another change – and thanks to the librarians, more people know about this one – the FBI now has the right to go into any library and ask for the records of everybody who has used the library and get a list of who is reading what. Similarly, the FBI can demand all the records of banks, colleges, hotels, hospitals, credit-card companies, and many more kinds of companies. And these changes are only the beginning. Just last week, Attorney General Ashcroft issued brand new guidelines permitting FBI agents to run credit checks and background checks and gather other information about anyone who is “of investigatory interest,” - meaning anyone the agent thinks is suspicious - without any evidence of criminal behavior.

So, is that fine with everyone?

Listen to the way Israel’s highest court dealt with a similar question when, in 1999, it was asked to balance due process rights against dire threats to the security of its people:

“This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual’s liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day they (add to) its strength.”

I want to challenge the Bush Administration’s implicit assumption that we have to give up many of our traditional freedoms in order to be safe from terrorists.

Because it is simply not true.

In fact, in my opinion, it makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama Bin Laden.

In both cases, the Administration has attacked the wrong target.

In both cases they have recklessly put our country in grave and unnecessary danger, while avoiding and neglecting obvious and much more important challenges that would actually help to protect the country.

In both cases, the administration has fostered false impressions and misled the nation with superficial, emotional and manipulative presentations that are not worthy of American Democracy.

In both cases they have exploited public fears for partisan political gain and postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening not strengthening America.

In both cases, they have used unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the Courts, the press and the people.

Indeed, this Administration has turned the fundamental presumption of our democracy on its head. A government of and for the people is supposed to be generally open to public scrutiny by the people – while the private information of the people themselves should be routinely protected from government intrusion.

But instead, this Administration is seeking to conduct its work in secret even as it demands broad unfettered access to personal information about American citizens. Under the rubric of protecting national security, they have obtained new powers to gather information from citizens and to keep it secret. Yet at the same time they themselves refuse to disclose information that is highly relevant to the war against terrorism.

Comments: Let me hear from you

As you can see, in an attempt to make this more interactive, I've added a comment link to the page. You can add your two-cents, others can read it, and add another comment supporting you or tearing you to shreds. Sounds like fun. Use it. Seriously, I think a little more reader participation would be a good thing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

FLASH! Auto Mechanics: Don't Worry, Be Happy. Asbestos is Safe.

Another in a continuing series on lies and lying liars who are trying to kill workers.......

(This story has been flashing through my e-mail for a couple of weeks, but like a faint memory of a bad dream, I've avoided reading it...until now)

True or false: Asbestos is still used in this country.

While Confined Space readers would get the correct answer to this question, most Americans would probably say "false."
They are wrong. Although the major car makers say they no longer use asbestos, the brakes on many older cars contain the fibers. More than $124 million worth of asbestos brake material was imported into the United States last year. Thus, the potential danger will exist for decades as replacement brakes containing asbestos continue to be put on vehicles.

The Post-Dispatch talked to about two dozen St. Louis mechanics or garage managers. All but two said that asbestos had been banned and is no longer in brakes.
A little background. Not too long after I began working at AFSCME over 20 years ago, EPA (Reagan's EPA) came out with the "Gold Book," and accompanying videos describing the dangers of working with asbestos-containing brake linings and ways to prevent exposure. We invited in for demonstrations several manufacturers of equipment that encased the wheels and vacuumed up the dust while mechanics worked on the brake linings through a glove bag. Pretty nifty, considering we couldn't get rid of the asbestos.

Fast forward 17 years. Fearing lawsuits from workers or home mechanics made ill by asbestos in brake linings, industry lawyers are claiming that working with asbestos-containing brake linings is perfectly safe.

Yes, you read that right. The lawfirm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius has petitioned "the Environmental Protection Agency to stop distributing warning booklets, posters and videotapes that give mechanics guidance on the need to protect themselves from asbestos."
The main target in their petition is a thin gold-colored EPA pamphlet titled "Guidance for Preventing Asbestos Disease Among Auto Mechanics." Tens of thousands of copies of the Gold Book and other asbestos warning material have been distributed to schools, garages, auto dealers and unions since they were first published 17 years ago.

For two years in the mid-'80s, the EPA and asbestos experts from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration gathered extensive research on exposure to mechanics from leading government and civilian scientists.

The petition says that the EPA has it all wrong and that brake repair work is safe.

"The continuing availability of the Gold Book, and its alarmist and inflammatory tone continues to hinder a fair-minded assessment of the hazards, if any, imposed to users of asbestos-containing friction products," the petition states.
I find this astonishing. One of the most hotly debated issues in Congress lately has been asbestos compensation legislation which is seeking to rescue firms from inherited asbestos liability. And the origin of that liability was the fact that asbestos companies had covered up the hazards of the material for decades. And what are they basing this piece of garbage on?
The lawyers took their action under an obscure law passed in 2001 called the Data Quality Act. It demands that government agencies work with the White House's Office of Management and Budget to establish a process that permits "affected persons" to challenge information gathered and disseminated by the government.
The Data Quality Act was yet another effort by business-backed right-wing, Republicans to "to ensure accountability to the taxpayer." As long as the taxpayer isn't inhaling asbestos fibers.

The fear, of course, was that the Act would be used to undermine workplace safety and and environmental protections. And as with most of the "good ideas" of this Congress and this Administration, our worst fears are generally exceeded.

OSHA is supposed to enforce regulations protecting workers from exposure to asbestos, but the agency hasn't been much help.
An examination by the Post-Dispatch of 31 years of OSHA inspection records shows that nationwide, fewer then ten gas stations a year had been cited for asbestos problems.

Richard Fairfax, OSHA's director of enforcement, said in a telephone interview that OSHA does not have a national program on asbestos exposure.

"I know we've done sampling. Going through the old inspection reports I found a couple that I did," Fairfax said. When asked when his were done, he answered: "A long time ago. In the '70s."

In 20 phone calls to various OSHA regional offices and some of the states designated to do their own OSHA inspections, the Post-Dispatch found no one who could recall the last time they'd actually tested for asbestos in a gas station or garage.

"Most of the operations are small businesses and do not have a lot of employees. Our targeting system is geared at employers with 40 or more workers," Fairfax said.
Senator Patty Murray, who has introduced a bill to ban asbestos completely, has sent a letter to EPA urging them to reject the petition. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has also sent a letter signed by five Congressmen to EPA and OSHA strongly opposing the petition.

The "funny" thing is that the company behind the lawfirm's petition is too embarrassed to allow the lawfirm to reveal its name. Personally, I can't blame them, although according to OMB Watch, this failure to take responsibility may present a legal problem:
It should be noted that it is unclear for who or for what specific reason this law firm has filed this petition. Under the EPA’s data quality guidelines, requestors seeking a correction of information must explain how they are affected by dissemination of the information. Nowhere in the petition does Morgan, Lewis & Bockius establish that they are an affected party. EPA would be well within the guidelines to simply reject the petition on these grounds.
The Tullhoma News (Tennessee) sums it up well
Even in this cynical age, when legislators exhibit greater concern for the financial health of polluters than for the physical well-being of their workers, the law firm's actions display a level of misanthropic malevolence rarely seen outside the tobacco industry. Scientific evidence gathered over the past 17 years confirms the deadly results of inhaling asbestos fibers. Federal and state governments should be doing more, not less, to warn and protect workers.
"Misanthropic malevolence." I like that.

Or, as my friend said below: A level of despicableness beyond imagining.


More information on the hazards of asbestos in brake linings can be found here.

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from three years ago describing the extent of asbestos contamination in auto repair shops can be found here.

New Jersey Steps into Chemical Plant Security Debate

Governor James McGreevey of New Jersey is reportedly on the verge of issuing a memorandum of understanding between the state and three chemical industry organizations that would address chemical plant security and allow chemical companies to avoid state regulation.

Senator Jon Cozine (D-NJ), who has introduced legislation into the Senate requiring stronger federal regulations, is not pleased. A spokesman for Corzine stated that "Senator Corzine believes we need a strong regulatory approach with strong requirements and serious teeth."

Environmental and worker advocacy groups are also unhappy:
The memorandum would require chemical plants to adhere to the Responsible Care Security Code, a set of guidelines crafted by the American Chemistry Council. The DEP would develop a program to inspect facilities and determine whether they are living up to those standards, a draft of the memo said. Any companies choosing not to participate would be subject to state security regulations, which have yet to be created but presumably would be harsher.

Jamie Conrad, a lawyer for the American Chemistry Council, said the Responsible Care standards run hundreds of pages, providing extensive guidance on plant security.

"There's an enormous amount of detail in these guidance documents as to how to do it," Conrad said.

But Rick Engler of the Work Environment Council, a group that links organized labor and environmental issues, said industry should not be able to write its own rules.

"We think it's outrageous," Engler said. "It's kind of ironic that this secret deal is being cooked up in the home state of Senator Corzine, who is leading the fight for national standards."

AFSCME/SEIU Endorse Dean

A number of good articles today in the Washington Post , LA Times, NY Times and Christian Science Monitor on the endorsement and the reasons behind it.

More blog commentary on AFSCME/SEIU endorsement here and here and here.

Association of Washington Business Continues to Lie and Distort

"A level of despicableness beyond imagining"

Even as they celebrate their victory over workplace safety -- a campaign based on lies -- the Association of Washington Business (AWB) still can't seem to tell the truth.

Check out their post-election Press Release.

“We believe that employers and workers should address injuries related to ergonomics,” AWB President Don Brunell said. “Our problem is with L&I’s rules which were wide open to interpretation and which no one fully understood.”
No one? Well maybe not 53% of the voters who actually believed your distortions.
“While Gov. Locke provided a six-year phase-in period, the fundamental problem was with the ambiguity and sweeping impact of the rules themselves,” Brunell said. “There are extensive federal, state and local laws and rules on the books today which protect worker safety. Therefore, if someone is willfully violating laws or regulations, they will be penalized.”
Lies, lies, lies. There are no federal, state (with the exception of a weak California regulation) or local ergonomic laws or rules on the books. And they know they're lying.
By delaying the implementation of the rules as the Governor did, there were some questions about which rules could be enforced when it came to ergonomics and worker safety. AWB believes the passage of I-841 clarified that issue.
Bullshit. There was no question in anyones' mind except the ones you dishonestly planted there.
AWB also believes the passage of I-841 strengthened the court challenge the “We Care Coalition” filed to suspend the rules. We Care believed the regulatory process in which the rules were adopted was flawed. “We feel the courts now will have a clearer sense of the public’s mood toward the regulatory process and that will help employers, workers and citizens in general.”
Oh yeah, since when does any self- and law-respecting court base its decision on the public mood? If the U.S. Supreme Court had done that, Al Gore would be president today (and we'd still have a national ergonomics standard).
AWB is launching an ergonomics education effort through its foundation (Institute for Workforce Development and Sustainability) and scheduled its first Ergonomics Solutions Workshop for Nov. 20 in Olympia.
Yeah, and O.J. is hot on the trail of the real murderer.

Think I'm exagerating about their evilness? Judge for yourself. I received this note from a friend in Washington after the election:
Saturday before the election I was getting my hair cut. I asked the guy who cuts my hair if he had voted yet. When he said no, I asked him if he knew about the initiative related to ergonomics. He asked, "Oh, is that the one about kids' health insurance?" I thought I had heard him wrong, but as this was the only initiative on the ballot, I didn't pursue his confusion, and just launched into my discussion of what ergonomics is all about, what the rule did/didn't do, etc.

Much to my amazement, when I mentioned this to my husband, who had been sick one afternoon, came home early and watched the local evening news--that was the tag line on the TV ads!!!! The ad never explained how they reached that conclusion. (Presumably it was linked to the allegation that people would lose jobs due to the ergo rule, or maybe that the ergo rule would cost so much employers would no longer provide health insurance to employees.) The ad was full of cute kids swinging on swings, and there was apparently a banner at the bottom of the screen that warned voters that if they didn't repeal the ergo rule that thousands of kids in Washington state would lose their health insurance coverage! (Like anyone in the residential construction industry, which sponsored the initiative, provides any employee with health insurance....even if you were persuaded that the rule would put anyone out of business, which we all know it wouldn't have.)

It seems to me they have stooped to a level of despicableness that is beyond imagining.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Chemical Plant InSecurity

More on chemical insecurity from the Progressive. I've written several times before about Senator Jon Corzine's (D-NJ) attempt to pass a bill address chemical security issues. Corzine's bill, initially introduced following 9/11, would have required companies using large amounts of dangerous chemicals to consider "inherently safer technologies.

As you may recall, following unanimous Senate committee approval of the Corzine bill,
An alarmed chemical industry sprang into action, "mounting daily assaults on the Republican members of the [Environment and Public Works] committee throughout August," reported John Judis in The New Republic last January. An August 29, 2002, letter, signed by thirty members of the chemical and oil industry lobby and sent to Republican members of the committee, deplored the new bill, particularly its proposal to "grant sweeping new authority to EPA to oversee facility security." The lobbyists objected strongly to a particular provision that would have required plants to use "inherently safer technologies." This would "allow government micromanagement in mandating substitutions of all processes and substances," the letter stated, adding that it could "result in increased security risks."

By September 10, seven out of the nine Republican members on the committee bowed to the pressure, issuing a letter against the Corzine bill, claiming it "severely misses the mark" (emphasis in the original).

During that same summer, members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) "gave more than $1 million in political contributions, most of it to Republicans. Eight Senators who were critical of the Corzine bill have received more than $850,000 from the ACC and its member companies," according to a Common Cause report dated January 27, 2003.
Not only did the EPA, the White House and Congress succumb to chemical industry pressure, but the Department of Transportation caved as well.

Toxic chemicals are regularly transported through well-populated areas. DOT had proposed to address this problem through a regulation stating that "Routes should minimize product exposures to populated areas and avoid tunnels and bridges, where possible."

The chemical and petroleum industry successfull lobbyed to remove this language:
"There's nothing really in there that says anything about restricting transport at any time," says Hind. He expected the rule at least to require constraints on dangerous chemicals in heavily populated areas during orange alerts. "But they didn't even do that," he says.

In September, the Sierra Club photographed a rail tank car carrying chlorine near the U.S. Capitol. Greenpeace took notice. "We are formally requesting immediate action by the Secret Service to address a near and present danger to the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and all other national leaders living and working in Washington, D.C.," Rick Hind, legislative director for the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign wrote to the Secret Service. By the EPA's own worst-case estimates, a leak from one ninety-ton rail car of chlorine could kill or injure "people in the Congress, the White House, and any of 2.4 million local residents within fourteen miles," Hind wrote.

Greenpeace isn't the only one raising alarms. On June 20, FBI Special Agent Troy Morgan, a specialist on weapons of mass destruction, addressed a chemical security summit in Philadelphia. "You've heard about sarin and other chemical weapons in the news," he said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "But it's far easier to attack a rail car full of toxic industrial chemicals than it is to compromise the security of a military base and obtain these materials."

Supermarket Workers: They're Striking For All of Us

This about says it all: "For the cashiers and stockers on the picket lines, the fight to fend off large-scale concessions is a struggle to avoid being thrown into one of America's lowest castes, the working poor." Check out the article.

And, as the headline says, they're striking for all of us:
"The stakes are enormous," said Ruth Milkman, chairwoman of the University of California Institute for Labor and Employment. "If the employers succeed in their effort to extract large concessions, they will turn these into low-wage jobs, and other employers across the nation will see this as a green light to try to do the same thing."
Check out the UFCW strike page for more information about the strikes and some things you can do (like send e-mails to Safeway, or send money to the strike fund.)

Monday, November 10, 2003

Safety Training Offered

AFL-CIO George Meany Center

Attention union activists, staff, and local union health and safety representatives who would like to teach their membership about workplace health and safety issues. The George Meany Center for Labor Studies will offer two six-day Train-the-Trainer health and safety programs next year.

The first is a Train the Trainer Program on Workplace Health and Safety For Bi-Lingual (Spanish-English) Union Trainers February 8 – 13, 2004. Click here for flyer and here for application.

The second class, for English speakers runs from May 2 – 7, 2004. Click here for flyer and here for application.

Topics of both classes include
  • Worker and Union Roles in Workplace Safety and Health
  • Identifying Hazards in the Workplace
  • Legal Health and Safety Rights of Workers and Unions
  • Recordkeeping (OSHA 300 Log) Requirements
  • Introduction to Ergonomics
  • Effective Health and Safety Committees
The costs of the classes are $1000, which includes a single room for six nights (Saturday-Thursday) and all meals (cost per person for a double room is $730). For commuters, the cost is $250, which includes lunches and dinners. There is no charge for tuition or materials.

For more information, Sharon Simon at the George Meany Center at 301- 431-5414, or at ssimon@georgemeany.org.

Sign up soon. Space is limited.

Workers Sensed Danger Before Collapse of Parking Garage

This is chilling:
ATLANTIC CITY, Nov. 7 — They are construction workers, not engineers or safety experts. But George Tolson, Norman Williams and John Pietrosante Jr. found themselves focusing on a common thought: something unsafe or at least unsettling was going on as they rushed to complete a $245 million expansion of the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

The job had gotten off to a slow start, given bad weather last winter. As the April 2004 deadline approached to complete the new 502-room hotel, a 10-story, 2,400-space parking garage and a sprawling retail and entertainment complex called the Quarter, each could feel the pressure building to quicken the pace. But not just the pace of work disturbed them.

Mr. Tolson and Mr. Williams, laborers who helped install so-called pole shores — metal pogo-sticklike devices that temporarily hold up the concrete floors until they harden enough to support themselves — could see that half a dozen or so of these poles had somehow been bent out of shape. The implication was unmistakable: the floors, even if just so slightly, were moving.

"The concrete was too green," Mr. Tolson, 60, said he told his foreman, using slang to describe concrete that has not fully hardened. Mr. Williams, 49, recalled thinking: " `There is too much weight on those shores.' "

Mr. Pietrosante, 25, saw a similarly disturbing condition: cracks in the concrete floors and columns he was helping to build, at an unusually rapid pace. "Usually you pour one floor of concrete every three weeks, but we were being pushed to do a floor a week," he said. "This job was rush, rush, rush."
Hmm. "an unusually rapid pace," "rush, rush, rush." Maybe this is that "productivity" they've all been talking about (see below.)

Unemployment Down. Good News?

So unemployment is now down. Good news for American workers? Not necessarily:
Even though economic growth surged at a rapid annual rate of 7.2 percent in the third quarter of this year, business executives around the country say they are still cautious about expanding their work forces and building factories.

And a new economic study, prepared for the United States Conference of Mayors, concludes that wages are significantly lower in the service sectors that are adding jobs than in the manufacturing industries that have been losing jobs.

According to the study, prepared by the economic consulting firm Global Insight, the biggest job growth over the next two years will be in the areas of administration and support services, health care, travel and tourism.

The average wage in those sectors over the next two years is expected to be $36,000, the study concluded. By contrast, the average wage in manufacturing sectors that lost jobs is $43,000.
Individual companies also aren't as optimistic as the Administration:
The Union Pacific Corporation, the big freight rail company, is preparing for a year of strong growth. But although the company is hiring, it expects productivity gains to allow it to keep its overall work force around its current size of 46,300 people or somewhat fewer.

"We're going to handle more business with fewer people," said Jim Young, Union Pacific's chief financial officer.

In its regular survey last month of chief executives at large companies, the Business Roundtable found that 71 percent of the executives expect their sales to increase in 2004 but only 12 percent expect to expand their work forces.

"Productivity continues to astonish everybody," said Henry A. McKinnell, chief executive of Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical producer. While executives are far more optimistic about next year than they were just a few months ago, he said, their mood is still "not ebullient."

In themselves, the new job numbers are not that impressive. By comparison with the rebound in jobs after other recessions, including the so-called jobless recovery of 1991, the pace of job creation now remains anemic.
Happy days are here again.

Better than a Political Novel

Major environmental disaster. Government investigates. Cabinet Secretary overseeing agency conducting investigation married to Senator from that state. Official in investigating agency alleges whitewash, no bid contracts, etc. Agency threatens to fire whistleblower.

Plot of the latest political novel? No, according to the NY Times, the latest alleged scandel of the Bush Administration.
The Bush administration has notified a mine safety official who has sharply criticized federal mining policies that it intends to fire him, according to documents and the official's lawyers.

The official, Jack Spadaro, the superintendent of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, W.Va., has been an outspoken critic of a federal investigation into a huge spill of coal sludge in eastern Kentucky three years ago. The accident, at the Martin County Coal Company, is considered one of the biggest environmental disasters in the Appalachian region.

Mr. Spadaro accused political appointees in the Mine Safety and Health Administration of cutting the investigation short, playing down the coal company's culpability and not holding federal regulators accountable for weak oversight. He was a member of the team investigating the spill before he resigned in protest in 2001.

Mr. Spadaro has also raised questions about no-bid contracts that he contends were awarded to friends and former business associates of David D. Lauriski, the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, and other senior mine safety officials. His complaints led to an investigation by the Department of Labor's inspector general.

The dispute has become a flashpoint between the Bush administration and critics of its mining policies, who contend the administration has tried to weaken environmental and safety regulations to help big coal companies that contribute heavily to the Republican Party. Mr. Spadaro's firing, the critics contend, is retribution for his outspokenness.
Hmmm. First OSHA goes after one of its Regional Administrators who turned whistle blower, now MSHA. Yawn. So what else is new?

Saturday, November 08, 2003

California Fire Photos

Many more amazing photos can be found at the L.A. Times.

Mark Boster / LAT

Gina Ferazzi / LAT

The Weekly Toll

Another long list of workers killed on the job over the past couple of weeks.

I also want to point out another group who lost large numbers in the past two weeks on the job. Those are the military men and women just doing their job in Iraq. I've already written a long article about the fact that astronauts and the military get so much more attention than the larger numbers of regular workers who die every day on the job.

This week, for example, there has been much attention paid (and rightfully so) to the high number of soldiers lost in Iraq (over 30) even though many times more men and women were killed in American workplaces over the same period of time with much less press attention.

Construction worker dies in fall from condo project

A construction worker fell to his death from the eighth floor of The Waterfront on Venice Island condominiums Friday. The incident happened at 8:26 a.m.

Killed was William J. Molinaro, 44, 1000 block West Baffin Drive, Venice. He is survived by a wife and three children, according to Venice police investigators. Molinaro worked for Associated Interior Drywall, Sarasota.

Venice police Sergeant Mike Treanor said the man was putting drywall in an eighth-floor unit.

"He stepped out and apparently leaned against the two cables stretched across the balcony," he said. "The lead anchors holding the cables pulled out of the wall when he leaned on them." More Here.

Power Line Kills Man

Queens, NY -- A worker was killed and two others injured yesterday when they were electrocuted in a construction accident, police said.
The incident occurred shortly after 3 p.m. when three employees of CAC Industries were attempting to secure a metal cable swinging from a crane at a construction site.

Authorities suspect that while performing that task, either the crane or its cable somehow came into contact with a nearby power line, sending a powerful electrical current through the cable and shocking the workers.

Thomas Tierney, 35, was rushed to Peninsula General Hospital, where he died an hour after suffering burns throughout his body. Anthony Nelson, 42, was standing in a puddle of water at the time and was injured. Mitchell Gust, 40, was also shocked. Both men are in stable condition.

2 workers killed when crane touches power line

St. Clair Shores, MI -- The St. Clair Shores construction company that was involved in a double fatality Wednesday morning has no previous safety violations in the three years it has been in business, according to state records.

Two workers were electrocuted and a third injured when a crane they were working on either came near an overhead power line or touched the line, sending a powerful electrical current through them.

The incident happened as a Klee Construction crew was lifting roofing trusses with an estimated 100-foot crane on a canal in the area of 10 Mile Road and Jefferson, investigators said.

The victims were identified as Edward Spaccarotelli, 25, and Ryan Surant, 19, both employed by Kree Construction. Company workers said the men were "like family."

A preliminary report issued by the Michigan Occupational, Safety and Health Administration indicated the men were erecting a truss for a two-story house when the crane being used to lift the trusses into place made contact with an overhead energized electrical line.

Apparently Surant was holding a metal cable lifting the truss while Spaccarotelli was the crane operator.

Witnesses told reporters that Surant was unable to release the energized equipment as Spaccarotelli desperately tried to pull him away, only to be electrocuted himself.

More here.

Local man killed in Wallingford industrial accident

WILLIMANTIC CT— The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is currently conducting an industrial investigation into an accident that caused the death of a local man.

Philip F. Hopkins, 55, of Pennywood Lane, died Monday as a result of the workplace accident in Wallingford.

According to Lt. Marc Mikulski of the Wallingford Police, Hopkins was working at Infra Metals when a chain-driven crane in the plant was exchanging a Dumpster filled with scrap metal for an empty Dumpster.

For some reason, the filled Dumpster tipped over and fell off the crane and spilled its cargo, causing Hopkins’ death.

Mikulski said he believes Hopkins was struck by both the Dumpster and its contents.

Worker Killed in Plant Explosion

At the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co., workers and managers are repairing their plant, damaged in a deadly explosion on Oct. 22, in hopes of resuming production of ethanol -- and their prized product, Shakers vodka -- within a couple of weeks.

But no one wants to celebrate when the next batch of the hot-selling Shakers Original American Vodka, now being marketed coast to coast, rolls off the line.

The Benson, Minn., plant is mourning the death of a welding contractor in the blast while opening its doors and records to Minnesota safety inspectors who will determine whether the plant was at fault.

The explosion killed Robert Olson, a 20-year-old welder from Granite Falls, Minn., who worked for Lundin Construction of Hanley Falls. At the request of Benson plant officials, Olson was cutting into the roof of a corn-mash storage tank when a flammable vapor inside ignited, according to the state Fire Marshal Division in St. Paul. More here.

Worker Dies In Fall At Louisville Airport
Victim Employed By Oklahoma Company

LOUISVILLE -- A man was killed early Thursday while working on a construction project at the Louisville International Airport. The man fell through the framing of a skylight in Concourse B at about 2:30 a.m. and landed on the floor below.

Source of plant blast eyed in Huntington

Huntington, IN -- Investigators continue to look for the origin of a fatal explosion at a Huntington wheel manufacturer.

About 8:30 p.m. Oct. 29, an explosion ripped through the Hayes Lemmerz International factory on Huntington's western edge. One worker was killed and two others were seriously injured.

A maintenance worker, David Ripplinger, remains in critical condition in the St. Joseph Regional Burn Center, said Geoff Thomas, spokesman for Lutheran Health Network.

Death inquiry may take a month

No witnesses in MMNA fatality

BLOOMINGTON, MI -- Results of a federal investigation into the Oct. 23 suffocation death of a Mitsubishi Motors North America worker likely won't become public for at least a month.

John Foster, 42, of Metamora was killed when he was pinned between pieces of equipment while he was performing preventative maintenance. He had worked at the plant for 15 years.

Worker Dies in Fall

(Janesville-AP) -- A worker who died in an accident at the Janesville General Motors plant is identified as 44-year-old Douglas Mellom.

An autopsy by the Rock County Coroners office conducted today found Mellom died yesterday morning when he fell from the top of an elevator shaft.

Mellom was working on repairing equipment when he fell down the shaft 18 feet.

Four Killed In Casino Parking Garage Collapse

ATLANTIC CITY -- Engineers and safety inspectors are beginning the delicate and dangerous work needed to stabilize the ruins of a parking garage that collapsed in New Jersey.

Crews worked through the night using steel cables to stabilize the building because they feared another collapse.

The garage was under construction at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City when the top five floors on the 10-story structure collapsed Thursday, like a house of cards. The collapse occurred while workmen poured concrete on the top floor of the structure. Four construction workers died, and 20 people were injured. More here, here and here.

Ohio man killed in plant accident

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- A welder died Friday after falling at least 70 feet from a catwalk at the John Amos Power Plant.

Tim Siders II fell at about 7:30 a.m., said Sharyn McCaulley, a spokeswoman for The Babcock & Wilcox Co. of Barberton, Ohio, a contractor installing a pollution control system at the plant, which is operated by American Electric Power.

Siders, 27, of Gallipolis Ferry, was taken to a Charleston hospital but died during surgery, McCaulley said.

Salem man dies after hitting wire

A heavy-equipment operator was killed Thursday when the machine he was operating touched a live wire near Bonneville Dam.

Luther Stinson Jr., 34, of Salem was operating a piece of machinery with a large boom that drives guardrail posts into the ground. Oregon State Police Lt. Dale Rutledge said Stinson was putting rail posts in the park area, near exit 40 on Interstate 84, when the pile driver touched a live wire about 2 p.m.

Explosion at oil production site in Donna kills 1
OSHA investigators called in to look into the blast

DONNA, TX — An explosion at an oil production site north of the city killed one person Thursday morning and seriously injured another.

Ernesto Garza, 22, died en route to McAllen Medical Center after sustaining injuries from an explosion involving a compressor, officials said.

The other man, whose identity was not released, remained in critical condition late Thursday at the hospital.

OSHA Launches Probe into Workers' Fatal Fall from Ladder

Northport, Alabama-- Investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are looking into the death of a Tuscaloosa man who fell while working on a restaurant sign.

OSHA said 40-year-old Robert Daniel Stone, an employee of Knight Sign Industries, was changing bulbs at a McDonald's restaurant in Northport when the extension ladder he was using collapsed.

Road worker killed in construction zone

Pittsburgh -- A motorist struck and killed a construction worker Wednesday morning along a busy stretch of Painters Run Road in Mt. Lebanon.
James Vena, 48, of Meyersdale, Somerset County, was taken to St. Clair Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:20 a.m., about a half-hour after the accident near the road's intersection with Cedar Boulevard. An autopsy is expected to be completed today.

Authorities identify worker who died after fall

FARGO - A man who fell about 40 feet to his death while working on power poles has been identified.

Cass County authorities say Toby Windels, 21, of Sebeka, Minn., died after he fell from a bucket truck near Horace, south of Fargo.

Indiana County Power Plant Worker Killed

NEW FLORENCE, Pa. -- A man working at an Indiana County power plant was killed when he slipped or was dragged by suction into a coal stock pile.

Officials from the Conemaugh Generating Station in West Wheatfield Township say 36-year-old Michael Kuhns, of Fairfield Township, was found buried beneath the coal in a bin that feeds a conveyer belt. Kuhns, a subcontracted painter, was trapped in the bin around 3 p.m. Monday.

Construction worker dies when dump truck backs over him

STUART, FL — A construction worker died this morning when a dump truck loaded with fill dirt backed over him at a building site on Central Parkway.

Stuart Police said the worker was doing some surveying work and he didn't notice the truck. It wasn't known Tuesday morning if the truck was equipped with backup warning signals.

OSHA probing Ark. man's cell-tower death

LEOMINSTER -- State police and the federal Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this week are continuing to investigate the death of a man who fell from a cell tower Friday.

"Cell tower work is particularly dangerous because the elevations are so high and there are so many of them going up because of consumer needs," said regional OSHA director Ronald E. Morin. (Ed. Note: Did that statement provide any useful information?)

William R. Clist, 24, of Yellville, Ark., died Friday when he fell from high atop a Sprint PCS cell tower under construction in west Leominster, according to Elizabeth Stammo, spokeswoman for District Attorney John Conte's office.

Safety officials review fatal fall in new arena

Federal workplace safety authorities are looking into the death of a Florida man who fell from a ladder last week while preparing a fireworks display in Toyota Center for the Houston Rockets' home opener on Thursday.

Christopher Boyd Spang, 47, of Auburndale, Fla., was working on a rocket to be fired from the scoreboard when the accident occurred about 5 a.m. Friday, said a report by the Harris County medical examiner's office.

For tree-removal workers, Isabel's dangers persist

VIRGINIA BEACH -- It should have been a routine job, one that Ed Monroe had seen done hundreds of times before.

But it wasn't.

Thursday's job for Green Tree, a local tree-removal company, would claim the life of one of Monroe's employees. He was one of four tree-trimming and logging professionals to die on the job in Virginia this year. With cleanup from Hurricane Isabel continuing, officials fear more such accidents.

Omar Garcia, 19, a crew member of three years, was killed Thursday afternoon while taking down a tree in Virginia Beach. Garcia's best friend was in the tree, as a climber, when a piece of the tree came down and struck Garcia.

Garcia's brother was also on hand, the site's CPR Supervisor, but there was little he could do to save his badly injured brother.

Garcia is the second local professional with a tree-removal company to be killed within the past two months

Mining accidents: 'Alarming trend'--Deaths of supervisory personnel raise red flag

Two mine-related fatalities in the state within a four-day span, including one at Holly Hill's Holcim Inc. plant, have Mine Safety and Health Administration officials digging for answers and clues as to the underlying causes for the back-to-back incidents.

Most disturbing, officials say, is the nature of the fatalities. Both involved experienced employees in supervisory roles.

"We have had a number of fatalities this year, and about 50 percent have involved supervisors," said Mike Davis, district manager of the southeast region MSHA, metal and non-metal division. "This has caused the greatest amount of concern this year. It is an alarming trend."

The first metal and non-metal fatality occurred Sept. 22 at Holcim when Antonio Gonzalez, 39, of Ridgeville was using a back-hoe to dig out along the side of a building to replace a retaining wall. The victim and the two co-workers were in a 15-foot-deep hole when the bank caved in, burying the victim. A second employee received minor injuries while a third co-worker escaped injury.

The fatal accident was the second at the plant in under two years. A worker was killed in February 2002 during the construction of a cement kiln at the site.

American Military Killed in Iraq Since October 26. There are 33 names here, and at least six more have died since. Photos and additional information can be found here.

James Anderson Chance III
Paul Fisher
James R. Wolf
Jose A. Rivera
Robert T. Benson
Francisco Martinez
Daniel Bader
Ernest G. Bucklew
Steven D. Conover
Anthony D. D'Agostino
Darius T. Jennings
Karina S. Lau
Keelan L. Moss
Brian H. Penisten
Ross A. Pennanen
Joel Perez
Brian D. Slavenas
Bruce A. Smith
Frances M. Vega
Paul A. Velazquez
Joe N. Wilson
Benjamin J. Colgan
Joshua C. Hurley
Maurice J. Johnson
Todd J. Bryant
Algernon Adams
Michael Paul Barrera
Aubrey D. Bell
Steven Acosta
Rachel K. Bosveld
Charles H. Buehring
Joseph R. Guerrera
Jamie L. Huggins

Friday, November 07, 2003

Our Their government at work.

Rejection of 'Earmarks' Angers Democrats
GOP Subcommittee Chairman Says He Won't Honor Party's Projects in Bill
Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), who chairs the subcommittee that controls spending on education, health and jobs programs, recently stunned Democrats by announcing plans to reject every "earmarked" project they are seeking in the final, compromise version of the bill, which funds the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor.

His reason: When the House passed the bill on July 10, all 198 Democrats present voted against it, several of them saying it shortchanged education programs. The bill passed, 215 to 208.

Democrats say the real victims of Regula's policy will be the poor. Of the nation's 50 poorest congressional districts, 42 are represented by Democrats. Democrats say schools and community groups in these districts often need help from their member of Congress for worthwhile projects.
Hoyer had hoped to get $400, 000 -- the same as last year -- for a group called Rebuilding Together. The nonprofit organization works with volunteers to rehabilitate homes of the poor, elderly and disabled.
White House Puts Limits on Queries From Democrats

The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayer money, has developed an efficient solution: It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.

For La. Lobbying Firm, a Victory on Workers' Comp

A Louisiana firm scored a quiet lobbying victory this week when House and Senate negotiators decided not to transfer a compensation program for ill weapons-lab workers from the Energy Department to the Labor Department.
Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) inserted language into an energy and water spending bill that would have transferred control of the DOE program to Labor, which they say has more experience working through such claims. They said the DOE has not properly implemented the program, creating a seven-year backlog of claims.

They wrote the top Senate negotiators, Sens. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.): "Based on DOE's own publicly available data and the General Accounting Office's evaluations so far, it is plain that this program is failing."

But Science and Engineering Associates -- which in 2001 obtained a non-competitive contract worth more than $15 million to process the DOE claims -- fought back. It brought in heavy hitters such as former House Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.) to make its case on Capitol Hill. It also increased its political contributions between 1998 and 2002 from $4,000 to nearly $50,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

(Ed. Note: By “their,” government, I don’t necessaryliy mean the R’s as much as I mean business money. In this case the “good guy” was a Republican, and those bought off were Democrats.)

White House to End Power Plant Probes
Move Follows EPA Easing of Enforcement

The Bush administration confirmed yesterday that it will close pending investigations of 70 power plants suspected of violating the Clean Air Act and will consider dropping 13 other cases against utilities that were referred to the Justice Department for action, following the Environmental Protection Agency's decision in August to ease enforcement rules.

Thursday, November 06, 2003


NFIB's Agent In Government

Sometimes you have to admire the Republicans for their candor.

Check out this quote from the Small Business Administration's Chief Council for Advocacy, Thomas Sullivan. Sullivan was executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Legal Foundation, "which guides small businesses on legal issues and promotes their interests in the court," when he was appointed SBA by President Bush in 2002.

Even while in government, however, Sullivan is keeping his eyes on the prize:
"I am doing the exact same thing as chief counsel for advocacy," Sullivan said, "only NFIB does not have to pay me now."
Isn't that nice.

The fact that the Bush administration is doing the business of the business assocations is not exactly shocking news to us, but it's always nice to have someone come right out and admit that NFIB has just switched it's office over to government housing, and is billing the taxpayers for its payroll.

In an interview with the San Antonio Express News where he was in town to address the effects of immigration policy on small business, Sullivan boasted about the clout of the SBA:
The office always had clout. It helped stem the burdensome ergonomics rule from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration that could have bankrupted many companies several years ago.
Well, not exactly. He seems to be confusing the SBA with his previous job at NFIB. Which is easy to do these days. Business. Government. Business. Government.

NFIB, the parent organization of the Legal Foundation, was one of the main forces behind repeal of the federal OSHA standard and behind the Washington State initiative repealing their ergonomics standard.

In fact, NFIB likes to boast that in the week before the vote against the federal standard, they
sent 70,000 fax alerts against the ergonomics regulation to its members outside of Washington, asking them to turn up the heat on undecided lawmakers.

"Our fax machines have been running almost nonstop, printing letters that small business owners sent to their elected representatives and then shared with us," Senior Vice President Dan Danner told The Washington Post the week before the vote.
The NFIB Legal Foundation's website boasts that the Foundation
was recently part of a full-court press that successfully challenged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) ergonomics rule. Responding to the NFIB Legal Foundation lawsuit against OSHA and an intense lobbying campaign by NFIB, Congress repealed this law that would have cost small business owners more than $40 billion.
Even before Bush, small business had a "special place" in government, although not quite this special. A bit of background might help explain.

The Gingrich Congress of the mid-1990's, responding to their deep concern about contributions from the fate of small business in this country and the risk that overburdensome regulations may hurt their profits drive them into wreck and ruin, thoughtfully passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) in 1996.

SBREFA gave small business, represented in government by the Small Business Administration, an early bite at the regulatory apple even before the regulatory proposals were issued, which is when the rest of the public gets to comment. ( Editorial Note: We here at Confined Space have always wondered why workers don't get a similar early bite at the apple, but the answer to that question is probably too obvious for us to figure out.)

Selected small businesses, as well as small business associations, chosen jointly by OSHA and the SBA, would participate on the SBREFA committee that would comment on the pre-proposal, or "SBREFA Draft" of OSHA regulations. And "frank and candid" discussions would continue throughout the process as SBA representatives played the role of "the loyal opposition."

Of course having the NFIB right inside the bureacracy makes things so much more efficient.

P.S. Sullivan's quote has been unanimously selected by the entire staff here at Confined Space as the


entitling him to a Confined Space T-Shirt, if such a thing existed. Congratulations Tom