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News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Monday, October 25, 2004


Off to Ohio

I’m heading to Ohio in the morning to get out the vote. The doctor recommended it as the only cure for PEAD. That’s Pre-Election Anxiety Disorder, for those of you who are lucky enough to have avoided it. As it is, I’d be rather useless at work or at home over the next week anyway. Better I should be in the thick of it than obsessing from the outside. My country needs me. (And, I’m good luck. The last time I did GOTV was 1996 in Florida. We won Florida that year.)

It also probably means very little or no blogging for the next week (depending on my energy level and access to a computer). But, I’m assuming that many of you will be working on the election so hard that you won’t have time to sit in front of your computer anyway. Right?

Aside from being our only hope for saving this country (and the world) from itself, the election marks another milestone. When I began this blog 19 months ago, I committed to doing it at least through the election. I figured whatever was going to happen on November 2, it would require a re-evaluation of my life anyway, And here we are.

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do. I’d like to reclaim some of my the free time I used to have to….what did I used to do? Read? Watch mindless tripe on T.V.? Hang out with my kids (as if they want to hang out with me…)

On the other hand, I’m still having fun doing this. And I still think it’s important to have some way of communicate to workers, activists and others something about the conditions that American workers face every day on the job, how that environment is affected by politics, and what we can do collectively to change it. There needs to be a way to monitor what’s going on in Washington and around the country that affects workers’ ability to come home alive and healthy at the end of the day. There needs to be a vehicle that can expose how money, control issues, and willful negligence doom so many thousands of workers in this country to early deaths or lives lived in pain.

My last post (below) is the Weekly Toll. And by the looks of it, things aren’t getting any better. The first five articles list six people killed in trench collapses – “accidents” that shouldn’t be happening any more, accidents that should be sending employers to jail. Several stories this week involve multiple fatalities – three workers were electrocuted in one. Others offer grizzly stories of life and death in American workplaces: a man falls into a vat of boiling asphalt, another couple were crushed in machinery. One drowned in a sewer. And then there’s the poor woman who couldn’t even find out why her husband fell into a machine that crushed his skull – a week after her husband’s employer received an award for its outstanding safety program.

Meanwhile, OSHA tiptoes obliviously through the tulips, merrily sowing alliances and partnerships with its business buddies hither and yon as if all workers need is a few more fact sheets, web pages and speeches about how “safety pays.”

It’s enough to make a guy start a blog. It’s enough to make you do everything you can to get these guys out of office. It’s not that the Democrats have all the answers. It’s not that you don’t have to beat them over the head regularly. But at least they respond, at least they care, for the most part. So not it's time to put my money where my mouth is. As I wrote when I started this thing, people
need to know that politics matters, voting matters -- in national and local elections. It matters in big ways and small way, but it also matters in how safe their workplaces are going to be. It matters whether their children are going to grow up with unhealthy injured parents, or no parents at all. People need to understand that everything is connected. Tax cuts, growing deficits, appropriations, executive orders, regulatory "reform" -- it all affects our safety every day.
So, I don’t know what I’ll be doing after the election. I’m probably too addicted to go cold turkey, I although a vacation sounds tempting. I may think about turning this into a group blog, sharing the burden fun. I don’t know. It’s hard to think straight when you’ve got a raging case of PEAD.

So I’m off to slay some dragons, to fight for truth, justice and the American way. Wish me luck. Wish us all luck.

Here’s hoping that we’ll meet again soon in a better world.

-- Jordan

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Weekly Toll

Trench collapse buries worker

A Northland construction worker is presumed dead after a trench-collapse accident Monday morning.

The name and age of the worker were not immediately available. The incident was reported just before noon at a home under construction at 6320 N.W. 78th Place in Kansas City, North.

Workers with the WMI Construction Co. of Riverside were working inside the 10- to 12-foot trench to connect the house to utilities, said deputy fire chief Germane Friends. One worker managed to escape, but the other one did not.
As of 1 p.m., emergency crews still were trying to recover the body.


Two die in Greenville trench collapse Alton fire crew sent to scene but too late to help

GREENVILLE, IL -- The Alton Fire Department sent a team with its trench rescue equipment to the scene of a sewer trench collapse Friday in Greenville, but the two trapped men died before rescuers could reach them, authorities said.The victims were identified as Randy Rasler, 45, of Greenville, Ill., owner of Rasler Plumbing, and his employee, Vernon Sarver, 26, of Herrick, Ill.

Tony Brooks, chief deputy coroner for Bond County, said the collapse occurred about 11:15 a.m. while the victims were working in a trench about 14 feet deep at the Wheatfield Subdivision on Illinois Route 140 on the east end of Greenville.A witness told emergency workers the two men appeared to be trying to jump clear just before the wall of the trench collapsed. Authorities said they found no signs that the trench or sewer pipe had been shored up before the collapse.


Construction accident victim dies

CAMBRIDGEPORT -- A construction worker, seriously injured Wednesday afternoon in an accident on Route 121, died from his injuries on Friday.

Rene Lavigne, 49, of Lyman, N.H., was working on a road project in Cambridgeport, when he received a severe head injury while working in a trench at the site, State Police Detective Sgt. John Hagen said.

Due to the extent of his injuries, Lavigne was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., where he died two days later.


Worker dies after trench collapse in Rogers City

ROGERS CITY, Mich. (AP) -- A worker who was trapped when a trench being dug as part of a sewer line repair project collapsed has died.

Anthony W. Darga, 22, of Rogers City, died Friday of injuries he sustained in the Thursday collapse, The Alpena News reported.

Darga was buried for several minutes until rescue workers extracted him from the trench, authorities said. He was treated and transported to Alpena General Hospital, but died as a result of his injuries.


Woman working with husband dies in sewer trench collapse

TACOMA,WA — A woman helping her husband dig a sewer line to a new house was crushed to death when wet soil collapsed into the trench and partially buried her.

Tamara Kresse, 41, of Spanaway, mother of a teenage daughter, died at the scene Thursday afternoon despite the desperate efforts of her husband Tom and others in the work crew to dig her free.

Three city fire engines, three trucks, two medical units and a technical rescue unit with a total of 33 firefighters arrived less than 15 minutes, and it took about 2 1/2 hours to free her body, spokesman Keith O'Donnal said.

The trench was 8 to 10 feet deep and 3 to 4 feet wide, O'Donnal said.
"It was a freak accident," said Nancy Rice, the husband's sister, who came to the scene to console him. "She was just a fantastic person."


City man, 30, dies after fall

CROMWELL -- A Bristol construction worker died after falling from the roof of a house in the town’s south-central section.

Anthony A. Weglarz, 30, succumbed to injuries he suffered after a nearly 30-foot fall Wednesday morning, and the incident is under investigation by police and safety officials.

At about 8:53 a.m., police received a 911 call for a reported fall victim at a new-home construction site at Lot 5 on Webster Heights, police Capt. Thomas Roohr said.

The report was for a worker who fell from the second story of a house under construction, fire incident Commander Russ Johnson said.

The fall, which police reported was from the roof, was estimated at 28 feet, Roohr said.


Death of construction worker accidental
Investigation continues, sheriff's office says


Polk County, MN -- The manager of Polk County's landfill near Gentilly said a construction worker's death there Tuesday was accidental.

The Polk County Sheriff's Department identified the victim Wednesday as Bryce H. Bosh, 41, of Grand Forks.

Authorities said Bosh, a machine operator for East Grand Forks excavating company Zavoral & Sons, was found buried in sand piled inside a lined cell at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to a Polk County sheriff's report. Efforts to revive him failed.

A lined cell is a one-acre swimming pool-like container designed to retain any liquid that comes in with the trash, according to Dan Wilson, the facility manager.

Each cell contains a foot-deep layer of sand to protect the lining from ripping apart. Wilson said sand usually is unloaded on the edge of the cell, then pushed in with a bulldozer - a procedure familiar to landfill workers.

But Tuesday, Wilson said, Bosh "was behind the truck, and somehow the load got dumped on him


Construction worker killed in fall from truck

PORT SALERNO — A construction worker was killed Wednesday morning after falling off a dump truck, authorities said.

The man, whose name was not released, was working at the site of a new Publix supermarket at Kanner Highway and Salerno Road when the accident occurred about 7:30 a.m.


ROOFER DIES, 1 HURT AS LADDER HITS ELECTRICAL LINE IN LAWRENCE

Lawrence, MA -- LAWRENCE -- One roofer was killed and another was severely injured yesterday when the 32-foot aluminum ladder they were unloading from their pickup truck came in contact with an overhead electricity distribution line in front of a two-family house on Odile Court, authorities said.

Lawrence police identified the dead man as Roberto Fernandez, 43, a Brazilian national who lives in Lowell. The injured man was identified by police as Yannick Rodriguez, 28, of Lowell. He was in serious condition yesterday at Boston Medical Center, according to hospital spokesman Kevin Casey.

Burn holes in Fernandez's work boots, discarded at the scene by emergency medical technicians, indicated that his body took the full jolt of 7,620 volts of electricity as it flowed through the ladder to the ground, according to one of three investigators from the Massachusetts Electric Co. at the scene.

The shoes were not insulated, rubber-soled ''safety" boots, which are standard equipment for laborers who work near electricity, said the investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


Death at Versailles plant under investigation

VERSAILLES, Ky. - State inspectors are investigating a deadly accident at a Versailles printing plant.

Steve Sparrow of the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Administration office said inspectors arrived Monday at the Quebecor World Inc. plant and could complete their investigation in about a month.

Carolyn Cox Campbell, 62, died Friday. Fayette County Deputy Coroner John McCarty said Campbell's death was caused by blunt chest trauma, but a final report had not been issued. He said Campbell was crushed when a forklift collided with a metal rack system.


Worker dies after fall at construction site

Cromwell, CT -- Earlier today a worker fell at the construction site of a new home in the area of Webster Heights in Cromwell.

Thirty-year-old Anthony Weglarz of Bristol fell from a height of 28 feet and was found unconscious. He was taken by LifeStar helicopter to Hartford Hospital where he later died.
The Cromwell Police Department and the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the accident.


Polk County worker dies when home's roof collapses

Lake Wales, FL -- A Lake Wales man was killed Monday afternoon when the roof on a home he was helping demolish caved in on him and two others.

Pedro Mejia had just been told by his foreman, David Ramirez of Tri-City Demolition, to take a lunch break when there was a gust of wind and the cracking of wood, and the roof collapsed, Polk County sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Rodgers said.

Ramirez and another laborer, Jose Domingo, had minor injuries, but Mejia was killed on impact, Rodgers said.


Lakewood man killed in accident at private recycling plant

DOVER TOWNSHIP, NJ -- A 42-year-old Lakewood man who worked at the Ocean County Remanufacturing Plant was killed yesterday when he became entangled in the drive belt of a grinding machine, police and county officials said.

Leon Perez was with a co-worker, preparing to recycle old wooden shipping pallets into wood chips, and had just started the discharge belt on an industrial tub grinder, said Robert A. Gasser, executive assistant Ocean County prosecutor. Perez was stacking pallets to be picked up by the machine's mechanical crane, when his right arm was caught in the belt and Perez was drawn into the machinery, Gasser said.


Worker killed in fall from eight-story condo

A 43-year-old man died Monday after falling from the roof of the Country Club Towers condominium in Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue responded to the condo at 2500 NE 48th Ln., and found the man alert and awake.

He was taken to Broward General Medical Center, where he later died of his injuries, said Sgt. Andy Pallen of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

The unidentified worker fell from the eight-story condominium around 9:30 a.m Monday, said Pallen. He was part of a work crew hired to clean the drains.


Texas Officer Killed Responding to Accident

Chambers County Sheriff's Office Deputy Dirk Knearem was fatally injured while responding to an accident on Texas 73 near Hwy.124 Junction October 17, 2004 at approximately 8:00 p.m.

Worker killed in machinery accident at Shaler glass plant

Pittsburgh, PA -- Clark Weber found a long and successful career and the love of his life at Glenshaw Glass Company Inc. in Shaler.

"He was just a really, really great guy, and I just really loved him," said his wife, Marci, 43, a mechanic at the glass container maker's Shaler plant.

Clark Weber, 53, of Ross, was killed early Saturday when he got caught in a conveyer belt at the Glenshaw Glass facility on William Flynn Highway, according to the Allegheny County Coroner's Office.

An autopsy showed that Weber died at about 5:25 a.m. of asphyxiation when his torso was crushed in the equipment, a deputy coroner said. The death was ruled an accident.


Roofer dies after falling into hot tar

Federal investigators want to know whether a roofing company followed proper safety procedures yesterday before a worker fell to his death into a vat of boiling tar.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to take about a week investigating the accident at Torrington's Warner Theater.

Police say it appears 21-year-old Robert Halvorsen lost his footing in the rain on the roof of the theater's Quality Building. He fell three stories into the vat of 500-degree tar.

OSHA's regional director, Thomas Guilmartin, says roofers are required to use protection against falls. Options include using guardrails or fences around the roof, harnesses, or personal monitors, who warn workers if they get too close to the edge.

He would not say what system Eastern Roofing was using at the site.

Halvorsen was a new father with a 3-month old baby.

Two co-workers were injured trying to rescue Halvorson. Michael Wellington refused treatment at the scene, but later sought treatment at Manchester Memorial Hospital. Claude Blackshev was in serious condition at Bridgeport Hospital's burn unit.


Worker Crushed in Industrial Accident

Pasadena, CA - One man died and another was critically injured Friday when they were crushed by more than 700 pounds of steel at a battery recycling plant.

The two men worked at Quemetco Inc. in Industry, where they had been employed for more than 10 years, said Mark Vondersaar, plant manager.

Officials refused to release the names of the men pending notification of relatives.

The accident occurred at 9:49 a.m. when the two men were working underneath a hydraulic platform used to load and unload trucks at a loading dock, said Ed Osorio, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

According to Vondersaar, the accident was caused by "equipment malfunction.'

The men were crushed by an 8- foot by 8-foot, 700-pound slab of steel attached to an industrial chain that dangled from a crane 7 feet in the air before it snapped loose and came crashing down.


Three Killed in Electrocution Accident

Two witnesses are helping investigators learn more about the accident that killed three people and injured three others last Thursday at the University of Arkansas Agri Park.

The accident occurred at about 10:17 a.m. when six men decided to move a tent that had already been set up for Saturday’s Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival. Five of the men were employees of InTents, a local business that provided the tent. The other man was an event organizer.

James Parsons, an employee of InTents, witnessed the event and stated that the company was moving a tent when the top of the tent struck a power line. Parsons ran up the hill and asked a university employee, Danny Green, to call 911.

The three who died were identified as Kevin D. White, 27, of Fayetteville, Roderick M. Cook, 33, of Cave Springs and David G. Koch, 25, of Springdale.


County man, another killed in job site accident

Beaver County, PA -- An Eighty Four man and a Lawrence County man were killed Wednesday when a tri-axle dump truck backed over them at a state Department of Transportation construction site in Beaver County.

Robert "Curt" George, 33, of 120 Myers Road, Eighty Four, and Dennis Kunz, 55, of Ellwood City were walking north along a closed portion of Route 51 near Aliquippa when a truck operated by Charles Orczeck of Greensburg began backing up behind the two men.

The truck's reverse alarm was functioning, but "apparently that's a common noise that you hear all the time and you get used to it," Aliquippa police Chief Ralph Pallante said.


Remains of worker killed in ammo plant blast found

MILAN, Tenn. - Army officials recovered partial remains of a Milan Army Ammunition Plant employee who was missing and presumed dead.

The remains are believed to be those of Oscar E. Mance, a surveillance inspector at the plant. The remains were located Saturday among the debris of the earth-covered explosives storage building where an explosion occurred Wednesday afternoon. Federal officials are investigating the blast's cause.

Gary D. Porter, a truck driver and forklift operator, died at the site of the explosion Wednesday.

The victims worked for American Ordnance, the company that operates the plant for the Army.

Plant operators said the explosion occurred as workers were attempting to store propellant in the bunker.

(Both men were members of the United Steelworkers of America.)


Utility worker killed in accident

WALTHAM, MA -- A utility worker from New York was killed yesterday morning when he was swept about 160 feet into an 18-inch pipe by surging sewage.

William Oliva, 38, of Huntington, N.Y., was working in a manhole on land on Demerest Street about 11 a.m., when a inflatable balloon-like device damming the sewage pipe gave way, Deputy Fire Chief Rick Mitchell said.

Oliva was working with two or three other men to line the pipe, a project that increases the life of the pipe for about 50 years, said John Bradley, the city's director of public works.

Oliva was an employee of Allstate Power Vac Environmental Services in Rahway, N.J.


Worker electrocuted, two injured in Hobgood

HOBGOOD, NC – A man was electrocuted, and two others were injured Tuesday while working on a sewer project.

It happened around 2:30 p.m. at the site of Hobgood's sewer collection system project, according to a town press release.

Manuel Sanchez, 26, of Durham was pronounced dead at Our Community Hospital in Scotland Neck. He worked for Currin Construction Co. of Creedmoor, said Heather Crews, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Labor.

The other victims, Bryan Howard, 27, of Cary and Adolfo Martinez Rojan, 29, of Durham, worked for Donald Young Construction Co. Inc. in Durham. They were taken to Heritage Hospital in Tarboro. Their conditions were unavailable at presstime, but the press release states one of the men was released.

"They were (digging) under the road to put in some new piping, and some part of their drilling machine came in contact with overhead electrical lines," Crews said.


Many grieve for officer killed in line of duty

MERRITT ISLAND, FL -- With the stately chords of "Amazing Grace" echoing in the church sanctuary, high school-age Shane Ross leaned forward and stared at his mother's flag-draped coffin as his father comforted him.

It was one moment of grief out of many -- as hundreds of law enforcement officers, friends and family members turned out to say goodbye to Sgt. Lucille Ross of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.

The veteran forensic artist and crime scene investigator died Friday after a traffic accident on Interstate 95 on the way to the scene of an apparent suicide.


Accident at plant claims life of local man

ABINGDON, VA – Melissa Crabtree received a bonus check in the mail Wednesday from her husband’s employer as a reward for his plant’s strong safety record.

Ironically, her husband died at work a day earlier when a machine crushed his skull.

"I still don’t know what happened," she said Wednesday evening between sobs. "I don’t know what I’m going to do."

Steve Crabtree, 34, worked as a manager for Mesa Industries, a High Point, N.C.-based firm that operates a plant at Mid-Mountain Foods’ distribution warehouse.

Mesa makes bottles that are filled with spring water by Misty Mountain Spring Water Co., also housed at Mid-Mountain. K-VA-T Food Stores, the Food City grocery chain’s parent company, owns and operates Mid-Mountain.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office filed a report on the incident but was not conducting an investigation of it, said Sheriff Fred Newman.

A company employee called Melissa Crabtree on Tuesday and told her that her husband had been in an accident and airlifted to Johnston Memorial Hospital.

When she arrived at the hospital, those in the emergency room moved out the way like "they knew who I was," she said.

She continued asking what happened to her husband until someone told her he didn’t make it out of the plant alive, she said. He could have slipped and fallen or even blacked out to get caught in the machine, but no one knew exactly how he died, his wife said.


Man dies from injuries in wreck

TAMPA, FL - A Dade City sanitation truck worker died from injuries he sustained in an automobile accident last week in Hernando County, officials said Tuesday.
Victor Pates, 23, of Dade City was flown to a Tampa hospital last Monday. A spokesman for the medical examiner's office in Tampa said Tuesday that Pates died from his injuries on Saturday.

According to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office accident report, Pates was a passenger in a 2001 International sanitation truck, driven by Tavaris Marquette Elliott, 26, also of Dade City.

Central Carting Disposal, Inc. owned the sanitation truck, the report said.


OSHA investigates Granville greenhouse

GRANVILLE, IL - Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators spent two days at Mid-American Growers in Granville after an employee seriously burned in an Aug. 24 accident succumbed to his injuries last week.

Vernon Mecagni, 43, of Granville died Oct. 6 at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago as a result of "thermal burns," a Cook County medical examiner determined. He also found the death to be accidental.


Fall at work claims Herminie man

A construction worker from Herminie was killed yesterday when he fell 40 feet from a scissor-lift at a Dick's Sporting Goods warehouse.

Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha said Jeremy Quinn, 30, of Sewickley Street, was using his foot to kick a bracket into a wall while leaning against the rails of the lift. The rail gave way, and Quinn fell onto a concrete floor.


Franklin Parish Police Officer Killed

An east Louisiana town is mourning the loss of one of its law enforcement official after he was shot and killed in the line of duty.

It happened Sunday morning in the town of Wisner. That`s in Franklin Parish.

Assistant Police Chief Bill Linder, a veteran law enforcement officer, was responding to a burglary at a residence when he walked up on the burglary suspect, Ray Bingham.

At some point during the confrontation, Officer Linder was shot.He was transported to Franklin Parish Medical Center where he later died. Bingham was taken into custody.

The investigation continues.


Frackville street worker killed

FRACKVILLE, PA — A Frackville Borough worker was killed Monday morning after being struck by a vehicle just north of the borough line.

Ronald Antalosky, of 707 W. Pine St., Frackville, was fatally injured in the accident along Route 61 (West Oak Street), Butler Township police reported.

According to police, Antalosky was working along the road near the area of Frackville’s sewage treatment facility at about 10:30 a.m. when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Tanya Teijaro, of 343 S. Middle St., Frackville.


Student killed in grinder accident

Tucson, AZ - A UA student was killed Sunday in a birdseed grinder accident at his workplace.

Joshua Morgan, an agricultural education junior, died after being trapped inside the machine at a mill in Arizona Feeds Country Store on 4743 North Highway Drive, east of Interstate 10 near West Ruthrauff Road.

Morgan, 20, was cleaning the birdseed grinder, a rotary machine which mixes and bags pet food, when it accidentally turned on. According to police reports, Morgan was sucked inside and killed instantly. The milling machine is more than twice the height of an average adult, Heiden said.


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Friday, October 22, 2004


So Cal Edison Screws Itself With Safety Incentive Programs

As I mentioned below in the posting about John Henshaw's letter to Newsday objecting to their criticism of his administration at OSHA, there is a problem judging the success of the agency's policies on injury and illness numbers that is generally thought to be inaccurate.

An article in the L.A. Times regarding the deliberate rigging of safety data by Southern California Edison sheds more light on this problem:
Southern California Edison Co. used faulty workplace safety data — and in some cases may have suppressed reports of on-the-job injuries — over the last seven years to win performance-related bonuses from the state, the utility acknowledged Thursday.Edison told the California Public Utilities Commission staff that it would forgo or return to the agency $35 million in payments that the company said were based on flawed safety ratings. Many of the ratings were distorted by inadvertent omissions, others by what Edison called "inappropriate" efforts by managers to hide reportable incidents.In some cases, Edison found evidence that supervisors contacted outside medical personnel to influence treatment, change medical records or downgrade the seriousness of an injury. Other times, Edison said, its managers encouraged employees to dodge safety reporting requirements by undergoing physical therapy or using vacation days during recovery.
What did SCE rig the numbers?

Because they had an incentive to do so. A 1997 Public Utilities Commission (PUC) program rewards or fines utilities for a number of measures, including employee safety. The decision to grant rate increases is also partially dependent on these numbers. Another measure that goes into the rate increase calculation is customer satisfaction. SCE was also found to have rigged those numbers as well, and agreed to return $14.4 million. Edison has now had to agree to return $20 million in safety awards already paid to Edison, plus $15 million pending for 2001 through 2003.

The reporting problem was not just limited to the numbers that Edison reported to the PUC, but also the numbers its own employees were reporting up the line. For those of you who are interested in the effectiveness of corporate "safety incentive" programs, where employees or departments are offered prizes for low injury numbers, Edison's experience should prove instructive.
Edison said it had found evidence that company incentives to reward good safety practices — including financial compensation and recognition lunches — "may have discouraged the reporting of some incidents" and may have produced "pressure to not report injuries." In some instances, employees delayed reporting injuries to keep them out of year-end results, Edison told the PUC.
I have written a number of times about safety incentive programs (here, here, here and here. The main problem with these incentive programs is that the prospect of awards for low injury number puts pressure on workers to reduce reporting of injuries, rather than encouraging them to implement programs that will actually reduce injuries. In other words, the concept of incentives is not necessarily bad, but one must look at what is being rewarded. Instead of rewarding low injury numbers, it would be better to target awards to reports of near misses, safety training attended, etc.

This problem has many dimensions. Incentive programs not only induce companies to lie to themselves, but also encourage them to lie to regulators who use the information to judge their success (as we have seen), as well as to determine their inspecting targetting stratgy. OSHA's entire inspection targetting system is based on determining which industries and companies have high injury and illness rates. All of those numbers are employer-genererated...and, as we have seen, they are highly suspect.

So what's the solution? On a company basis, the answer is easy: get rid of programs that offer incentives to cheat. But how is OSHA to know where to target its resources if it can't trust basic injury and illness data?

That's for a further discussion. (I'm supposed to be on vacation right now), but I'm sure the Kerry administration will welcome your ideas. Use the comments.





Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Dangerous Dozen Chemical Companies Endanger Millions

So, if you live within sight of a chemical plant that uses chemicals capable of killing a million or more surrounding residents, what do you fear more: an accident in the plant or Saddam Hussein?

Using chemical companies' own estimates submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US PIRG has issued a report showing that twelve companies each endanger more than five million Americans in the event of accidents or terrorist attacks at their chemical facilities. Calling the companies the "Dangerous Dozen," PIRG points out that

Across the U.S., thousands of industrial facilities owned by companies such as Clorox, Dow and DuPont use and store hazardous chemicals in quantities large enough to threaten surrounding communities in the event of an accidental release or deliberate terrorist attack. The report, "Dangerous Dozen: A Look at How Chemical Companies Jeopardize Millions of Americans," analyzes the chemical companies' own estimates submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Findings include:

  • The 12 companies whose facilities endanger the most people are JCI Jones Chemical, The Clorox Company, Kuehne Chemical, KIK Corporation, DuPont, Pioneer Companies, Clean Harbors, GATX Corporation, PVS Chemicals, Dow Chemical, Ferro Corporation and Occidental.

  • The 12 parent companies profiled in Dangerous Dozen own 154 high-hazard facilities in 31
    different states.

  • The three companies whose facilities put the greatest number of people at risk are JCI Jones Chemical, The Clorox Company, and Kuehne Chemical, which put a total of more than 20 million, 14 million, and 12 million people at risk, respectively.

  • Since 1990, the National Response Center (NRC) has received more than 8,400 reports of incidents involving oil or chemical spills at facilities owned by these 12 parent companies.

As you may recall (here, here, here and here), the Bush administration is going along with its friends in the chemical industry and the American Chemistry Council who would like to depend on voluntary compliance by the chemical industry, instead of regulations that would force chemical companies to substitute safer chemicals and processes where feasible.

Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) has introduced legislation (S. 157) which, shortly after 9/11 was passed unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee committee. Corzine's bill would have required chemical plants to do a hazard assessment and consider the introduction of inherently safer technologies. The bill was later killed by Senate Republicans at the urging (and $4.3 million of lobbying) of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), in addition to $4.3 million spent on lobbying. According to PIRG, six of the 12 companies profiled in Dangerous Dozen are ACC members.

Money talks, safety walks. And this is the administration allegedly trusted by a majority of the American public to provide for our homeland security?


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Illinois To Investigate Immigrant Worker Fatalities

Being forced to deal with empty rhetoric and an attempt to turn OSHA into a toothless advisory agency, it's refreshing to see that there are politicians in this country who really care about workplace safety problems, especially among immigrant workers:

In an effort to protect immigrant laborers from unsafe working environments, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has appointed a special panel to investigate the high incidence of work related death rates among Hispanic immigrant workers. The reported rising number of injuries and fatalities among immigrant workers in the transportation, construction, agriculture, retail and service industries
prompted the Governor to create this worker safety panel.

"We are going to do absolutely everything possible to protect our immigrant workers," the Governor commented. "I am appointing these individuals so they can provide recommendations to insure that after a hard day of work, Illinois workers can return home safely to their families."






Henshaw Tries To Defend Record. Nice Try.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, John Henshaw is pissed off -- again. He's written a letter to Newsday, objecting to the piece they wrote last week, calling the article "misleading and a distortion of the accomplishments of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration."

The first point that Henshaw makes is that


The simple fact is that the workplace illness, injury and fatality rates are at their lowest levels ever, while the size of the American work force has been steadily increasing. That is the ultimate measure of our success; more workers go home safe, healthy and whole to their families at the end of every workday than did when this administration began its work.
Maybe yes, maybe no. It's well known that injury and illness numbers are underestimated. Even OSHA knows there's a problem, as shown by a recent $140,000 citation against General Motors Powertrain Corp for failure to record injuries:


OSHA's inspection identified 98 instances where the company did not record on the OSHA 300 Log work-related noise-induced hearing losses and other injuries and illnesses suffered by employees at the plant. Accurate recordkeeping is essential for protecting workers since it provides the opportunity for timely identification and correction of conditions that can harm workers. The Massena plant's failure to record work-related injuries led to the issuance of two willful citations, carrying $140,000 in fines.
One thing that can't be hidden very easily is workplace fatalities -- and they were up last year from 5,534 in 2002 to 5,559 in 2003. And let's not forget, as our imaginary John Kerry pointed out in last week's imaginary debate, "That means that more people died on the job in this country last year than were killed on 9/11, in Afghanistan and in Iraq put together. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases."

Henshaw then goes on to object to Newsday's report of OSHA's failure to adopt the September 2002 US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board recommendation that OSHA revise its Process Safety Standard Management (PSM) standard to include reactive chemicals.

The article included a very one-sided discussion about the agency's regulatory actions on the issue of reactive chemicals. Unwanted chemical reactions and resulting incidents pose a serious problem, and OSHA is fully committed to a comprehensive approach for addressing these hazards.
Some of you may find the phrase "comprehensive approach" familiar. It's the same term that OSHA used to describe it's voluntary approach to ergonomics after the standard was repealed in 2001. And as with ergonomics, OSHA is substituting the well-documented need for a mandatory requirements with training materials and an alliance with chemical industry associations. Nothing wrong with training materials and compliance assistance. But the evidence compiled by the CSB shows that what is needed is a change in the standard.

Henshaw justifies his failure to adopt CSB recommendations by arguing:


In stark contrast to the slanted and unfair reporting in your article, the fact remains that the average annual number of workplace fatalities in the chemical manufacturing industry is nearly 10 percent lower over the first three years of the Bush administration than the annual average during the Clinton administration.
That may be true, but we're counting apples and oranges. Injuries and fatalities in the chemical industry are not good indicators of the hazard that this industry poses. Injuries in chemical plants are generally high frequency, low severity events. Runaway reactions, on the other hand, are generally low frequency, high consequence incidents. Deadly reactive incidents may not happen very often, but when they do, they can be catastrophic for workers and the surrounding community, as we saw in Bhopal, India twenty years ago.

In addition, there is a strong trend in chemical companies to contract out the most dangerous work. If these contractors get hurt or killed, it doesn't show up on the chemical company's logs. In fact, the Georgia Pacific fatalities described by Newsday were contract employees that would not have showed up on GP's logs.

Then Henshaw starts to lose it:
Finally, this administration has been engaged in a strong and realistic regulatory agenda. We are actively working on many workplace health and safety issues, such as electrical safety, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, confined spaces in construction, cranes and derricks, fire protection in shipyards and many others.
As we've noted many times, this administration has withdrawn far more standards than it has issued. The only major standard that Bush's OSHA has made any progress on is hexavalent chromium -- and the agency was under court order. Four years after this administration arrived, they still haven't issued the almost completed standard that would have required employers to pay for workers' personal protective equipment.

"Strong and realistic?"

I don't know why I even waste my time on this garbage.



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Flu Vaccine Crisis: Who's to Blame?

Is John Kerry shameless exploiting the flu vaccine crises in an effort to trash the innocent President? Will he "say anything" to get elected, no matter how untrue?

Not according to science blogger Chris Mooney:
Science and the Vaccine Crisis Henry Waxman's office has the goods (PDF). Essentially, the administration ignored years of expert advice from pretty much every authority you can think of, ranging from the Institute of Medicine to the GAO, on how to avert a crisis due to vaccine shortages. Meanwhile, the Bush FDA was lax (PDF) in responding to problems at the Chiron facility in England. In short, this crisis, like so many others in this administration, seems attributable to incompetent, factually challenged leadership.
And Workers Comp Insider discusses the implication of a vaccine-less flu season on workplaces in an economy whee fewer workers have sick days, and those who have them are discouraged from taking them.

When these people stay home, they don’t earn any money – so they are inclined to drag themselves into work with the flu, thereby exposing co-workers and the public to possible infection. (This could be a huge problem in the fast food industry, where employee benefits tend toward the minimum.) Finally, the flu is actually contagious for one day prior to any symptoms appearing, so even cautious employees may expose others to illness.





Bush Administration's Scientific Argument: "Do You Support the President?"

The New York Times writes about the science wars of the Bush administration in which scientists from Nobel laureates to former administration officials accuse the Bush administration of putting politics over science saying that the administration "has selected or suppressed research findings to suit preset policies, skewed advisory panels or ignored unwelcome advice, and quashed discussion within federal research agencies." The administration's science policies have come under attack by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Democrats, environmental groups, and 48 Nobel laureates who endorsed Senator John Kerry.
"Unlike previous administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, the Bush administration has ignored unbiased scientific advice in the policy making that is so important to our collective welfare," they wrote. The critics include members of past Republican administrations.
The article focuses primarily on the administration's repeated rejection of the best scientific evidence on global warming, but "no science" was one of the key myths used by Republicans and the business community to kill the ergonomics standard, and science arguments are still being used an an excuse not to develop a new standard. Early in thr Bush administration, Dr. Laura Punnett, an ergonomics expert and professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, was rejected by the Bush Administration as a member of NIOSH's study section that provides peer review of applications for research grants to study workplace injuries. She had been nominated by the Director of NIOSH, but had also been an OSHA witness testifying in favor of the ergonomics standard. Dr. Punnett said upon her rejection, "I think it conveys very powerfully that part of the goal is to intimidate researchers and limit what research questions are asked.”

Things haven't gotten much better.
Earlier this year, after continuing complaints that the White House was asking litmus-test questions of nominees for scientific advisory panels, the first question asked of a candidate for a panel on Arctic issues, the candidate said, was: "Do you support the president?"
One example of the evidence that politics takes precidence over science:
On Aug. 14, 2003, a news release summarizing July temperature patterns began as a draft with this headline: "NOAA reports record and near-record July heat in the West, cooler than average in the East, global temperature much warmer than average."

When it emerged from NOAA headquarters, it read: "NOAA reports cooler, wetter than average in the East, hot in the West."
Most infuriating, however, is the way in which administration officials dismiss the criticism:
Administration officials see some of the criticism as partisan, and some perhaps a function of unrealistic expectations on the part of scientists about their role in policy debates. "This administration really does not like regulation and it believes in market processes in general," said Dr. John H. Marburger III, the president's science adviser, who is a Democrat.

"So there's always going to be a tilt in an administration like this one to a certain set of actions that you take to achieve some policy objective,"
he went on. "In general, science may give you some limits and tell you some boundary conditions on that set of actions, but it really doesn't tell you what to do."

Dr. Jesse H. Ausubel, an expert on energy and climate at Rockefeller University, said some of the bitterness expressed by other researchers could stem from their being excluded from policy circles that were open to them under previous administrations. "So these people who believe themselves important feel themselves belittled," he said.
So according to Marburger, because the administration doesn't like regulation, it's OK to bend tilt the evidence to suit their deregulatory purposes.

And as for Ausubel, who blames the controversy on sour grapes, Nick Confessore in Tapped has some interesting information:

Asubel is a more interesting case, and the author of the Times piece, the estimable Andrew Revkin, should have explained who he is: A leading skeptic of climate change who is active in the Cooler Heads Coalition, an Astroturf group funded by industries opposed to regulation of CO2 emissions. Bush's policy on global warming rests in part on using skeptics like Ausubel to argue that, in fact, global warming ain't so bad, even if the vast majority of climate scientists are in agreement that it's a real problem. Under an administration that more or less respects scientific consensus and tries to base its policies to the greatest extent possible on empirical reality, someone like Asubel is a marginal figure. Under an administration like the current one, his dissenting views, subsidized by corporations hoping to evade further regulation, become very useful. So you can see why he'd cast his colleagues who are critical of Bush as merely jealous of their lost access.

More commentary on this article by Chris Mooney.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Good Morning Baghdad! Health Care Professionals To Be Drafted?

No draft, says George Bush, no how, no way. Nope, not to save Iraq from itself, not if North Korea goes over the wall, not if Iraq starts arming its nukes. No way. We have plenty of troops. Not a problem.

Well, that is unless you're a doctor or nurse, according to a story in the NY Times. It seems that back injuries, SARS and the flu vaccine shortage may be the least of their problems:
The Selective Service has been updating its contingency plans for a draft of doctors, nurses and other health care workers in case of a national emergency that overwhelms the military's medical corps.

In a confidential report this summer, a contractor hired by the agency described how such a draft might work, how to secure compliance and how to mold public opinion and communicate with health care professionals, whose lives could be disrupted.
The plan would require 3.4 million male and female health care workers to register with the Selective Service.

And how likely is this? Should American health care workers start stocking up on suntan lotion?
In a recent article in The Wisconsin Medical Journal, published by the state medical society, Col. Roger A. Lalich, a senior physician in the Army National Guard, said: "It appears that a general draft is not likely to occur. A physician draft is the most likely conscription into the military in the near future."

Since 2003, the Selective Service has said it is shifting its preparations for a draft in a national crisis toward narrow sectors of specialists, including medical personnel.

Colonel Lalich, citing Selective Service memorandums on the subject, said the Defense Department had indicated that "a conventional draft of untrained manpower is not necessary for the war on terrorism." But, he said, "the Department of Defense has stated that what most likely will be needed is a 'special skills draft,' " including care workers in particular.


And what implications would this have on the already taxed public health system in this country? What impact would it have on homeland security if tens of thousands of health care workers are in basic training or overseas?

Not to worry:
The contractor hired by Selective Service, Widmeyer Communications, said that local government operations would be affected by a call-up of emergency medical technicians, so it advised the Selective Service to contact groups like the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties.

Doctors and nurses would be eligible for deferments if they could show that they were providing essential health care services to civilians in their communities.
Oh, well that's better. We'll just round up the "non-essential" health care workers.

***

And for more on the pathology reasoning behind Bush's no-way, no-how draft policy, check out Matthew Yglesias and Josh Marshall.






Looking For A Job? High Pay, Warm Weather & Death Benefits

It's getting mighty dangerous to be a Halliburton employee in Iraq. An employee of Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq yesterday, "bringing to 54 the number of deaths suffered by Halliburton and its subcontractors in Iraq." But despite the danger, the high pay continues to attract job-seekers. According to the Dallas Morning News, "The company hires 300 to 500 people a week as part of the largest mobilization of civilians for non-combat war duties ever."

It's hard to resist for those that are out of work or looking for far more money than they can make here, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Typically, KBR pays overseas workers between $70,000 and $100,000 for a one-year contract. But it doesn't come easy. The company, which has about 40,000 workers in the Middle East, expects employees to work about 12 hours a day, seven days a week and gives them 10 days of paid vacation every four months.

KBR recruiter Peter Howatt does not sugarcoat the dangers of working in a war zone. During his hourlong presentation, Howatt showed pictures of camel spiders, death stalk scorpions and sand vipers. He also discussed the mandatory nuclear, biological and chemical training that each employee undergoes.

Howatt also talked candidly about the 51 KBR workers who have been killed in action and described the $25,000 death benefit and $25,000 accidental death payment that families receive.

"We don't hold anything back. We tell them what the risks are," Howatt said. "The important thing is that they fully understand what they're getting into."

Alvin Lee of Carrollton, who works as a ramp worker for America West airline, said he is willing to drive trucks in Iraq to get the six-figure income that some overseas workers earn. Up to $80,000 of an overseas worker's salary is tax-free if the worker spends at least 330 days outside the United States.



Monday, October 18, 2004


Collateral Damage: Asbestos Wives

Occupational diseases don't stop at the plant gate. The British Guardian has a disturbing story about the wives of asbestos workers who died painfully of mesothelioma decades later from washing their clothes after work:
Yvonne Power, 49, has always hated housework, and this probably helped save her life. While her older sister, Evelyn, was helping scrub her father's overalls, Yvonne was turning handstands in the garden, or playing with the toy wooden roundabout her father had made for her.

Her father, John, was good with his hands. For 25 years, from the early 60s, he was a foreman at Cape, in Cowley, Oxford. His job was to cut asbestos boards for ceiling panels. He died of mesothelioma, the asbestos-related cancer, 11 years ago, at the age of 67. Evelyn died of mesothelioma in 1996, aged 45, and her mother, Barbara Fitt died of mesothelioma, aged 71, last month.

Experts believe that mother and daughter contracted the disease from washing John's overalls, an innocent enough activity, you would think, but not when they are covered in tiny asbestos particles. Barbara thought she was doing nothing more serious than the weekend wash. But those days at the old Belfast sink were the beginning of the end. "I remember dad coming home and his hair was quite white," says Yvonne, "but he didn't have grey hair, he had dark." She can also remember him leaning over the kitchen sink, bare-backed, while her mother carefully picked out asbestos fibres with a pair of needle-tip tweezers.
Mesothelioma is a fatal and extremely painful cancer of the lining of the lungs, that is only caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease can develop from 15-60 years after the dust is inhaled. Around 1,800 people die each year from mesothelioma in Great Britain and "domestic exposure" cases account for around 5% of these deaths. And cases of mesothelioma are increasing.

The problem:
There were no showers or areas for the men to change. Instead, they would bring the near-invisible needle-like fibres home. Now their wives and daughters are dying horrible deaths as a result. "These were men just trying to earn a living," says Yvonne, "just trying to look after their families."
And to add insult to injury, the wives have a harder time getting benefits, and the benefits aren't equal to what former workers receive:
"Because the wife was not employed by the company, you are generally looking for the public liability insurer, rather than the employer liability insurer," explains Moore. "That is a significant difference, because public liability is not compulsory and never has been."

Contracting an industrial disease at home also means you need to prove exposure. You need a witness - the husband, say, who brought the dust home. If you no longer have a husband, then you don't have a claim, unless you can find other witnesses.... If you contract the disease at home, you are not entitled to the same disability benefit as those who were exposed at work. This can amount to around £120 a week. Nor do these women qualify for a pneumonicosis benefit scheme, set up by the government in the late 70s for people with long latency illnesses who are not able to bring claims because their employers have gone out of business. This can be a lump sum of around £40,000.
Domestic exposures are also a serious problem in the United States, and studies have also shown asbestos disease in the children of asbestos workers.

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OSHA's Future in a Bush or Kerry Administration

There are two recent articles that speculate about what lies in store for OSHA under either a second Bush or a Kerry admnistration.

Jim Nash tackles the subject in Occupational Hazards. It's clear that labor has been unhappy with Bush's reign -- from the early days of the administration which saw the repeal of the Ergnomics standard to almost four years later where we've not seen the issuance of a single new standard. Nash notes that labor isn't the only constituency that is disappointed:
Not all business groups are satisfied with OSHA's failure to promulgate standards. "To some extent they've become a 'one-trick pony': alliances, guidance and partnerships," comments Frank White, vice president in the Washington, D.C. office of Organization Resources Counselors (ORC) Inc., a consulting firm that represents many of the nation's largest companies.

While recognizing the complex hurdles that block OSHA rulemaking, White believes OSHA needs to find ways to overcome these challenges.

"I think it's a fundamental function of OSHA to issue standards. I don't think OSHA can say implicitly by their failure to issue new standards, 'we're stymied by the system,' so we'll divert our attention to guidelines and alliances."
In addition, Bush's OSHA seems to have united all sides about two issues: it's failure to address the problem of updating antiquated Permissible Exposure Limits for toxic chemicals and the attempt to reorganize NIOSH.

After the past four years, life won't be easy under a Kerry administration, but disasterous with another four years of Bush:
After the failure of the ergonomics standard and 4 years of voluntarism, some current and former OSHA employees say whomever is named to head OSHA will find a national headquarters drained of morale and rulemaking talent. Just as the budget deficits will limit OSHA initiatives, this brain drain may hinder new rulemaking.

But while industry leaders and OSHA insiders wonder how much difference the election will have on the government's approach to workplace safety, labor leaders are convinced this election is a critical turning point.

"If we have 4 more years of Bush and Cheney," predicts [AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Peg] Seminario, "you'll have an OSHA and an MSHA that will basically be consultation agencies to help business."
Nash also speculates about what effect the outcome of the battle for control of the Senate will have on OSHA.

Aside from legislation that seems to go nowhere in an evenly diviced Senate, there is one imporant role that has been missing in a Republicans controlled Senate:
The AFL-CIO's Peg Seminario and Randall Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce don't often see eye to eye on OSHA issues, but they agree about one thing: when it comes to the control of Congress, it's OSHA oversight - not legislation or appropriations - that's most critical.

"I think one thing reporters miss about changes in elections is Congress's oversight function," says Johnson, who used to work in the Department of Labor under President Ronald Reagan, when Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., sat in the oversight chair. "I'm familiar with the pressure that can be brought to bear on an administration by Senate oversight, and believe me, it is significant."
Newsday finished its series (here, here and here)on the Bush administrations regulatory failures with an article speculating about what a Kerry administration would mean for worker and environmental protections:
In the mid-1990s when Republicans in Congress were pushing to make regulations harder to enact, consumer, labor and environmental groups sought an ally committed to government oversight and capable of grasping the complexity of the rules.

Their choice was John Kerry. Since coming to Congress in 1985, Kerry had advocated the stricter regulatory agenda that liberal groups say will protect consumers, workers and the environment but that businesses charge hurt the economy.

Now as Kerry runs for president, many close advisers come from those special-interest groups, and his platform supports some of their causes. So would a Kerry presidency, advocates say.

That's what worries business groups that have supported the Bush presidency's drive to eliminate what it describes as burdensome regulation.


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Thursday, October 14, 2004


The Great Presidential Debate You Didn't Watch

Due to overwhelming popular demand, President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry agreed unexpectedly to one final debate over workplace health and safety issues. The debate was held earlier this evening. Due to the last-minute nature of the debate, it was unfortunately not televised. But I did manage to get a copy of the transcript.

Following is a transcript of the fourth and final presidential debate between President Bush (R) and Sen. John F. Kerry (D). The moderator of the nationally untelevised debate is Geraldo Rivera.

RIVERA: Good evening from Groundhog State University in Smallville, PA. I'm Geraldo Rivera of CBS News. I want to welcome you to the fourth and last of the 2004 debates between President George Bush and Senator John Kerry.

As Jim Lehrer told you before the first one, these debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Tonight the topic will be workplace safety and health, but the format will be the same as that first debate.

RIVERA: Gentleman, welcome to you both.

By coin toss, the first question goes to Senator Kerry.

Senator, you’ve been highly critical of this administration, calling it anti-worker because of its failure to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Yet we have the lowest level of injuries and illnesses in this nation’s history.

So what’s wrong with what this administration is doing?

KERRY: That’s not nearly good enough. More workers were killed in the workplace last year than the year before. 5,559 workers were killed in 2003, compared with 5,534 in 2002 . That means that more people die on the job in this country last year than were killed on 9/11, in Afghanistan and in Iraq put together. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases. The number of reported workplace injuries was over 6 million, and that number is clearly understated.

And yet we’re spending just over $400 million on Occupational Safety and Health, while we’ll be spending $200 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan, where, by the way, we let Osama bin Laden escape from the cave of Tora Bora because we outsourced the job of capturing him.

BUSH: We’ve reduced injuries and illnesses because we've reduced the adversarial relationship between OSHA and employers and we’ve increased the OSHA budget during my watch. And if employers violate the law, we will hold them to account, we will come down on them hard. Just like we held to account a terrorist regime in Saddam Hussein.

In other words, in order to make sure we're secure in the workplace and in the world, there must be a comprehensive plan.

My opponent just this weekend talked about how terrorism could be reduced to a nuisance, comparing it to prostitution, illegal gambling and workplace fatalities. I think that attitude and that point of view is dangerous. I don't think you can secure America for the long run if you don't have a comprehensive view as to how to defeat these people.

KERRY: We clearly need to dedicate more resources to workplace safety. We've got 2,000 job safety inspectors in the country responsible for overseeing and enforcing the safety and health laws in more than 6 million workplaces.

OSHA actually has fewer staff today than it did in 1980. The workforce and the number of workplaces has grown, but the agency's resources have not grown

RIVERA: President Bush, you’re opposing the Corzine bill which makes it a felony and calls for significant jail time when a worker is killed on the job due to a willful violation of the law by the employer. Why shouldn’t an employer go to jail when he knowingly violates the law and a worker dies?

BUSH: Well, Geraldo. We’re talking about accidents. I mean shit happens. Mistakes are made. And these employers aren’t bad people. These are small businessmen, trying to make a living, who can’t possibly read all those OSHA regulations.

Look at all the labor laws and regulations that they are expected to comply with. They have to face these every day. I wonder how many of us in government really realize the burden we are asking them to shoulder. Is this the most effective way to protect workers?!

There are more words in the Federal Register describing OSHA regulations than there are words in the Bible. They’re a lot less inspiring to read… and a lot harder to understand!

This is not fair.

It’s not fair that small businesses are expected to know every rule and regulation without any decent help from the bureaucrats who write them, promulgate them, and penalize them if you aren’t abiding by them!

It’s not fair to you small businessmen, and it’s not fair to the American worker. My opponent talks about helping workers. But you can’t help workers if regulations cause businesses to shut down. His record in the United States Senate does not match his rhetoric. He voted to increase regulations 2,398 times.

And it's not like we're not doing anything. Were focusing major programs on important issues like seatbelts and workers who take drugs.

RIVERA: Senator.

KERRY: Thank you Geraldo. The law provides for criminal penalties only in cases where a willful violation has resulted in the death of a worker. A recent New York Times article revealed that over the past 20 years, the agency failed to seek criminal prosecution against 93 percent of the companies whose willful violations of safety rules caused workers to die. The level of criminal penalties in the Occupational Safety and Health Act basically make the events a misdemeanor, which means that these are not high priority cases for the Justice Department to take up and prosecute. Do you know that the penalty for causing the death of a worker by willfully violating safety laws is half the maximum for harassing a wild burro on federal lands?

Senator Corzine has introduced a bill to make criminal violations of OSHA a felony, which is a step in the right direction.

And not only is OSHA not prosecuting as many employers as they should, but they've totally gone out of the standard making business. Twenty-four rules that were in some stage of development on OSHA's agenda under the Clinton administration were withdrawn by this administration and not one major new regulation has been issued. These aren't just regulations, they're protections for workers.

BUSH: Well, it’s just simply not true that OSHA has stopped issuing standards. That’s kind of like one of those e x a g e r a t i o n s. Why just a couple of weeks ago, OSHA issued a formal proposal to protect workers from the hazards of hexa- hexa- hexavalium chromates.

We’re going a different way. Our way protects health and safety in a way that provides the most flexibility and economic growth. We’re trying to get this economy moving again and the best way to do that is to reduce burdensome regulations.

I believe the role of government is to stand side by side with our business owners to help them make their workplaces safe, to form partnerships and alliances with them, not punish them for making honest mistakes.

My opponent talks about helping workers. But you can’t help workers if regulations cause businesses to shut down. Remember, he voted to increase regulations 3,298 times. I mean, he's so pro-regulation that Ted Kennedy is Massachusetts' most pro-business Senator.

KERRY: That’s hexavalent chromium. It causes lung cancer. And the only reason the administration issued that proposal is because they were under a court order to do so.

RIVERA: OK, lets go to one very contentious issue: ergonomics. President Bush, one of the first actions you took as President was to sign a bill repealing the ergonomics standard even though musculoskeletal disorders like back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome are the biggest source of workplace injuries in this country. What has your administration done to address this serious problem?

BUSH: Well Geraldo, I’m glad you asked that question because I’m very concerned about musco—muscu—uh back injuries. I know about what it’s like to work hard. In fact, a lot of this job has been a major pain in the, in the uh, neck. Heh. Uh…

But seriously, as soon as the ergonomics standard was repealed – and by the way, Geraldo,it would have cost American businesses over $100 billion every year and put small businesses out of business. Now let me finish. There’s one more thing. Do you know how long that ergonomics standard was? It was 600 pages long. It was a typical liberal Democratic attempt to tell employers how to run their jobs – and it was 600 pages long! And there was no science behind the standard. 600 pages.

But Geraldo, we have a comprehensive plan to address ergonomic hazards – outreach and assistance, guidelines, research and enforcement. And it’s been working. We’ve put out three guidelines – for health care, for grocery store workers and for poultry plant workers. And we’re enforcing. When employers show disregard for their workers, we enforce. We’re tough on them.

RIVERA: Senator Kerry.

KERRY: Geraldo, let me look right into the camera and say this. I strongly support implementation of a mandatory ergonomics standard and one of the first actions I take as president will be to order the Occupational Safety and Health administration to begin work on a new ergonomics standard.

Some people may not know this, in fact the President probably doesn’t even remember this, but the ergonomics standard was initially promised under his father’s administration back in 1990. Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole committed the agency and the department to developing and initiating an ergonomics standard.

And, let me ask you President Bush, did you even bother to read the standard before you killed it?

BUSH: (snorting) 600 pages. 600. A lot more than My Pet Goat. Ha. Heh, Want some wood? Oh, never mind.

KERRY: Because it was actually only 8 pages long. The other 592 pages was the justification that Congressrequires to show that the standard makes economic sense. And it wouldn't have cost anywhere close to $100 billion. They would have cost businesses only $4.5 billion to implement but would have saved $9 billion through increased productivity and reduced sick days.

Now workers have no protection. Geraldo, I’ve talked to workers in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire … and maybe even Colorado who process chickens, who hang thousands of live chickens above their head every hour, 8 or 10 hours a day. We had a standard to protect workers from that kind of abuse, and now it’s gone.

The Bush administration has refused to move forward any new regulation. Instead, it has put forward a voluntary approach based on guidelines and outreach. They've said they’re enforcing under what’s known as the general duty clause, but in almost four years, OSHA has issued less than 20 ergonomics citations – for a hazard causing 1.8 million serious injuries a year.

And these injuries aren’t just bad for workers, they’re bad for the economy as well. This is a huge problem economically. The cost of these injuries is massive. These injuries probably account for half of all the worker's compensation costs. They are soft tissue injuries, the type of injuries that take time for people to recover from -- some people never recover -- so people lose a lot of time from the job. An average case of carpal tunnel syndrome results in 27 days off the job, for example.

We can do better. And when I’m president we will protect workers.

BUSH: Well, Geraldo, those are terrible jobs. Those workers should go get new jobs, safer jobs. We’re growing jobs in this country. But perhaps the best way to create safer jobs and keep this economy growing is to make sure our education system works.

I went to Washington to solve problems. And I saw a problem in the public education system in America. They were just shuffling too many kids through the system, year after year, grade after grade, without learning the basics.

And so we said: Let's raise the standards. We're spending more money, but let's raise the standards and measure early and solve problems now, before it's too late.

No, education is how to help the person who's got a lousy job. Education is how to make sure we've got a workforce that's productive and competitive and safe.

RIVERA: Senator. The final question is about the high death rate among Hispanic workers in this country. I can personally relate to that. I’m Hispanic and I’ve faced danger many times on the job. Let me tell you about one time when I was in Iraq, I….oh, never mind.

OK, where was I? Senator Kerry, the rate of fatalities among Hispanic workers is 25% percent higher than the rate recorded for all workers, and foreign-born Hispanic workers are more likely to die than Hispanics born in this country. Why is that happening and what can we do?

KERRY: It's a major problem, Geraldo, and I have a plan. Last week, I met a worker from Mexico. He had been working on construction projects in the United States for eight months, sending whatever money he can spare home to support his wife and four kids. He usually makes $10 per hour, often working 10 to 14 hour days without overtime pay. He said the most dangerous jobs are the ones where he works up high, such as roofing and painting, and he rarely wears a harness. In fact, his friend was just killed on the job.

He told me he was scared sometimes, but he had to do it because he needed the money. He said "If you say 'I'm scared,' then (the bosses) say 'I'll find another.'

They don’t speak English well, they need the money and they’re afraid to complain because they’ll be fired, or if they’re undocumented, they’ll be deported. They're intimidated, discriminated against, exploited and they're dying.

This administration has done almost nothing to help these workers. In fact, President Bush has refused to issue a standard that was almost finished by the Clinton administration that would force business owners to buy protective equipment like boots and gloves for these workers. And every year since he became President he has tried to cut money from grants for training these workers.

BUSH: Well that’s just not true, Geraldo, we’re dong a lot to try to help Mexicans. We’re doing more outreach, OSHA has a Spanish language webpage. . I created a Hispanic Workers Task Force. And the biography of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao has been translated into Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

The problem is that many people are coming to this country for economic reasons. They're coming here to work. If you can make 50 cents in the heart of Mexico, for example, or make $5 here in America, $5.15. You're going to come here if you're worth your salt, if you want to put food on the table for your families. And you don’t care if you’re going to drown in a tank of grease, water and chicken parts or cut your belly open because you haven’t been trained to operate a chain saw. And so in order to take pressure off the border, in order to make the borders more secure, I believe there ought to be a temporary worker card that allows a willing worker and a willing employer to mate up, to join up in order to be able to fulfill the employer's needs, so long as there's not an American willing to die on the job, to suffocate in a silage pile, or be buried in freshly poured concrete.

Now, as for the training grants, I wouldn’t use the word ‘cutting',” I don’t think that these training programs should be based on one-on-one training. We are developing materials and technology to get information out to more people. We’re using all the internets.

KERRY: Now George, that’s complete bullshit and you know it. Give me a break! That so-called “Summit” was nothing but a stupid photo-op for the Secretary of Labor to give away some money in a swing state. I’ve had it, I’ m sick of your simpering, simian smirks and stupid ignorant responses. Blah, blah, no child left behind. More like no billionaire left behind you sick bastard! More liberal than Kennedy. Ha! You make me sick! You and your simpleton wife and bimbo daughters can all go to hell!

RIVERA: President Bush, Senator Kerry, Thank you. We gotta go.

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Getting Away With Murder: Same Story, Different Continent

Seems that the Brits are having some of the same problems with the health and safety policies of their government that we’re having with ours, according to a column in the British Guardian. (Of course, over there the Labour Party is in power. Go figure)

It’s a story of the workplace death of Michael Mungoven, a student who was killed while trying to make a bit of money working on the railroad. Sure the employer was fined by Britains Health and Safety Executive, but…

It would be a lot for you or me. For Balfour Beatty plc, £150,000 is nothing. Its turnover in the first six months of this year was nearly £2bn. But this, last Friday, was the price of a human life. Michael Mungovan was a student trying to make a bit of money. He was told to switch off a live rail on a train line in south London. He wasn't qualified to do it, and his partner wasn't authorised to supervise him. But they were sent out at midnight on to the Vauxhall viaduct: one of the most dangerous sections of track in the United Kingdom. Mungovan was walking down the line when he was hit from behind by a train.

It was a staggering example of corporate neglect. The fine was supposed to "reflect the seriousness of the offence". But penalties like this are levied in proportion to the turnover of the business which employs the workers, rather than the turnover of the parent company. Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure Services is a mere spore from the gills of the Balfour Beatty mushroom. It's in the interests of any company whose workers are exposed to danger to ensure that they are hired by a subsidiary.

But the real issue is that, though the coroner's inquest reached a verdict of "unlawful killing", the company was prosecuted not for corporate manslaughter, but for the lesser offence of exposing its workers to risk. If you drop a brick from a tower block and it lands on the pavement, you can expect to be prosecuted for endangering the public. If you drop a brick from a tower block and it lands on someone's head, you can expect to be prosecuted for manslaughter. In last Friday's case, the fact that someone was killed did not change the nature of the offence. Mungovan's death was legally irrelevant.

Sounds rather backward of those Brits doesn’t it? But that’s the exact same way that fines are levied by OSHA over on this side of the Atlantic. I asked a state OSHA official a while back how she could justify a $1,125 fine for the death of an employee in a confined space, when the employer was in clear violation of OSHA”s confined space standard. (actually, $750 of the fine was for not reporting the death to OSHA)
As you are probably aware, [this state] uses the same guidelines for calculating penalties as those used by Federal OSHA. Those calculations do not give additional weight to the fact that a fatality has actually occurred, but rather the guidance is that it should be calculated as though it was a "normal" inspection. Therefore, the penalties were calculated for one serious and one recordkeeping violation.
And, as in the United States, the British HSE couldn’t successfully prosecute the employer,

To make that charge stick, you must prove that one of the directors of the company was personally responsible for the death. The bigger the company, the harder this is. The result is that the only corporations which have been convicted of manslaughter are one-horse outfits in which the director himself was supervising the dangerous work.

This is why the Hatfield case collapsed last month. The train crash in October 2000, in which four people died and 120 were injured, was the result of a broken rail which Railtrack and its contractors had failed to fix. But the prosecutors were unable to prove that the directors had "consented or connived" in the failure to mend the track. A board can avoid prosecution by demonstrating that it hadn't the faintest idea what its company was doing. Neglect can thus be used as a defence against the charge of neglect.

It would be easier to prosecute directors if they had a legal duty to ensure that their company was complying with health and safety laws. But, bizarrely, they do not. As the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA) points out, it is the directors who make all the key decisions governing safety at work. They decide how much money is spent on safety training and equipment; whether or not anything is done when a dangerous practice has been identified; how the conflicting objectives of safety and profit are balanced. The HSE's studies suggest that 70% of the deaths and major injuries in the workplace are the result of management failure. But as the directors have no legal duty, they can't be charged with neglecting it.

The Labour Party has been promising since 1997 to enact a corporate manslaughter law that would enable employers like Balfour Beatty to be prosecuted in similar cases, but so far no bill has been introduced. As Hazards Magazine points out, “Over 2,000 workers have died since Labour promised a corporate killing law.” You can find much more on Tony Blair’s failure to stick to his promises at Hazard’s "Deadly Business" Website.

Guardian Columnist George Monbiot doesn’t believe Blair. And why should he. The governetn seems to be backtracking – using much of the same reasoning that the Bush administration is using for not issuing needed health and safety standards or changing the law to make prosecutions easier:

big business has used its lobbying power to stop this happening. The minutes of a meeting of the Health and Safety Commission (which oversees the HSE) in 2003 reveal that it decided to drop its demand for a new law after "a note from the CBI [the Confederation of British Industry] ... was circulated".

Now the HSE has adopted the corporate line: that the best way of dealing with the problem is to rely on voluntary compliance. There is no evidence that this works, and plenty that it doesn't. In 1996, the Conservatives - using the same argument - cut health and safety enforcement by 25%. The following year, for the first time in decades, the number of deaths at work rose, by 20%. Even the directors accept that prosecution is the most effective way of holding them to account: when 120 of them were questioned about it in 2000, two-thirds agreed that "an increase in the possibility of inspection and prosecution, especially of individuals, would provide the best prompt for employers to improve their approach".

And why shouldn't it? There are criminal sanctions for every other kind of manslaughter, because the authorities understand that fear of the law is what stops us from doing other people in. But, somehow, according to everyone from the CBI to some who have written on these pages, this doesn't apply to company directors. Perhaps they belong to a different species. The health and safety enforcers now have no choice but to rely on corporate goodwill: their funding has been slashed by the government. They no longer have the resources to enforce the existing laws, let alone any new ones. Enforcement of the safety laws is being dismantled, life by bloody life.

Couldn't have said it better myself.






"From a public health perspective, we failed horribly"

Good article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the heroic efforts of Dr. Stephan Levin at the Mt. Sinai Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine and his efforts to help World Trade Center rescue and cleanup workers who continue to suffer from chronic lung disease:
The 62-year-old Philadelphia native is director of a $12 million research and monitoring program at Mount Sinai Hospital for ground-zero workers - police, fire, rescue, construction, utility and volunteer workers - who helped in the aftermath of the attacks. Levin blames the government for failing to anticipate and then properly treat health problems caused by the attacks, the worst environmental disaster in the city's history.

Of the 12,000 workers and volunteers Mount Sinai has screened so far, sampling suggests that about half have persistent respiratory problems, such as asthma, inflammation and sinusitis, Levin said. For some, the illness is so severe that they can't work.

Of the estimated 6,000 with symptoms, none has recovered completely. About 300 firefighters have retired with disabilities from injuries and illnesses they believe are related to World Trade Center work.

The attacks sent up a toxic mix of asbestos, ground glass, concrete and dangerous chemicals such as benzene. The toxic cloud was bound to make some people sick. But Levin said the bigger priority for the government was reopening the financial markets and showing the world that America would not be cowed. People's health was secondary, he said.

On Sept. 18, 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement saying the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe even though the EPA had not finished tests for mercury, cadmium, lead, dioxin and other chemicals. The EPA Inspector General, an internal watchdog, released a report last summer seconding Levin's criticisms, and suggesting White House pressure affected the judgment that the air was clean.
You can read a speech that Dr. Levin gave at the NYCOSH 25th Anniversary Awards Ceremony last May here.

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Holiday From Enforcement

This is a Surprise: Environmental Lawsuits Down Under Bush

Well, I must say, I was happy to see so much of tonights debate dedicated to workplace safety and environmental issues. On the ergonomics question, I thought Kerry hit the ball...

Oops, I must have dozed off.

Well, if Bob Schieffer had asked a question about the environmental policies of the Bush administration, this would have been a good answer for Kerry to make:
WASHINGTON — During the first three years of the Bush administration, the number of civil lawsuits that the federal government filed against polluters dropped by 75% compared with the last three years of the Clinton administration, an environmental group reported Tuesday. Eric Schaeffer, director of the group that compiled the data, said they showed that the administration had been weak on enforcing anti-pollution laws.

Bush administration officials defended their record, saying that the real measure of effectiveness should be whether pollution was being reduced, not the quantity of lawsuits. They said they has emphasized negotiated settlements as a speedier alternative to protracted litigation.

And they said that new anti-pollution rules proposed by the administration would bring more improvements in air quality than would legal action.

The number of lawsuits filed over alleged pollution-law violations dropped from 152 in the three years ended in January 2001 to 36 in the three years ended in January 2004, according to EPA data analyzed by the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental watchdog group.
I like the administration's excuse, that "the real measure of effectiveness should be whther pollution was being reduced, not the quantity of lawsuits. In fact, I'm going to try that next time a cop pulls me over for speeding:

"But officer. Traffic accidents are down. That's the real measure of your effectiveness, not how many tickets you give."

I'll let you know how it turns out.






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