Thursday, September 30, 2004

Letter From a Journalist in Baghdad: "A raging barbaric guerilla war"

Just sitting around, nervously waiting for the debate to start? Concerned about the health and safety (mental and physical) of our journalists in Baghdad?

Read this "enlightening" and disturbing letter from Wall Street Journal Baghdad reporter Farnaz Fassihi before listening to George Bush's fanciful fables:
It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.
Read on. It gets worse.

(via Tapped)



Play Ball!

Yeah, I know all the arguments about cities sinking public funds into sports stadiums...

But God it's good to be living in a baseball city again. Having grown up in L.A. as a Dodger fan, D.C. was a particularly difficult city to live in for the past 27 years. Not only was there no home team, but the closest team is the Orioles -- an American league team.

But now I'll be able to jump on the Metro with my kids (they love to go places with Dad), and ride to the game.

And I don't care if I ever get back.

"Specialists" in Underground Death

$91,600. Sounds almost real money. But cheap for killing a man.

What happened:
Two of the company's (Underground Utilities Specialists) workers, Franklin Shane Mullins, 25, of Haysi, Va., and Jim Potter, 43, of Blountville, were helping lay a sewer line May 14 on Jonesboro Drive in Bluff City when a 40-ton boulder came loose and rolled on top of them.

Mullins died. Potter spent the next 5½ hours pinned under the rock at the bottom of a ditch about 12 feet deep.
What did the company do (or not do?):
State investigators concluded this month that the company ignored state and federal safety laws that could have saved Mullins' life.

The men were working in the ditch without a protective barricade or "trench box" required by law, according to an inspection report. The law requires such protections in any trench deeper than 5 feet.

"A proper trench box would have protected the workers," said John Winkler, the division's administrator. "They didn't comply."

The ditch was dug without any sloping or timbers to shore up the walls, Winkler said. It had no ladder or ramp to allow a safe way in and out, and the freshly dug dirt was too close to the edge of the trench, he said.

The company never inspected the ditch while it was being dug and didn't give the crew proper safety training, Winkler said.
And, as expected:
The company's owner, Fred Puryea, has disputed those findings and appealed the fines to the state Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

"I ... disagree with the penalties given on all counts," he wrote in a response.

Give me a break! As far as I'm concerned, this guy's lucky not to be in jail for most of the rest of his life. He didn't even come close to complying with the OSHA regulations in a trench that was over twice as deep as the law permits, and a 25 year old man is dead because of it. Anyone in the business of digging trenches should be automatically thrown in jail, no passing go, if a person is killed in an unprotected trench.

And these guys call themselves "Underground Utilities Specialists?" The name alone should cost them another $100,000. Have they no shame?


Postscript: About every two weeks I list every workplace fatality I can find in the Weekly Toll. But somehow I missed Frank Mullins. The last Weekly Toll had a little over forty names over two weeks. That comes to just over 1,000 per year. So my seemingly endless lists of bi-weekly tragedy, culled from around 15 different Google news searches, account for less than 20% of actual workplace deaths each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Where are the rest? Many are probably traffic fatalities that don't always come up as work-related in searches. Others may be robberies that also don't come up in the searches I do. But neither of these theories would explain why I missed Frank Mullins. My fear is that a lot of workplace deaths in small, out-of-the-way towns just aren't considered significant enough to make it into the news, or at least into newspapers big enough to be indexed by Google (which says something about their circulation). It's now four months later, but the only reference I could find on Google to the life or death of Frank Mullins was his obituary in the Bristol Herald Courier which mentioned that "Franklin Shane Mullins, age 25, formerly of Haysi, passed away May 14, 2004, due to a job-related accident."

Incidentally, Merriam-Webster defines "accident" as:
1 a : an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance b : lack of intention or necessity : CHANCE

2 a : an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance
So was the death of Frank Mullins an accident? Discuss.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Boobs, OSHA Penalties and Television

Steve Mooser from RWDSU/UFCW notes that CBS gets fined $550,000 for its Superbowl wardrobe malfunction, while ABC gets fined only $4,200 for the death of CWA Local 16 member Richard Umansky, 48, who fell from a platform on November 23, 2003.

Meanwhile, comedian and newscaster John Stewart notes that after the wardrobe malfunction and the Dan Rather forged national guard documents embarassment, CBS has finally learned its lesson: Don't try exposing boobs on television.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

California Bans (Most) Hand Weeding

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has approved the temporary ban on most hand-weeding, making California the first state to ban the practice that can cause crippling back injuries. Organic farms are exempted as are growers who can show that alternatives are not available.
Jose Gazcon, 48, has worked the fields from Sacramento to Modesto for 10 seasons, hand weeding carrots, broccoli and sugar beets. He said farm workers should be helped by the ban on hand weeding, which he called the most grueling job on the farm.

"When you're bending, it's nothing but pain," Gazcon said. "After three or four hours, you can't stand up. You're bent over like a question mark by the end of the day."
The regulation also provides hand weeding workers a 15-minute break for every four hours in the field. Previous rules allowed 10-minute breaks for all workers.

Farmworkers had been fighting for the ban since 1975 when use of the short-handled hoe was banned. But the practice of hand weeding remained widespread. The current ban is temporary, but a full ban will take effect within a year.
"This provides the grower with some flexibility as well as protecting the worker," said Debbie Jacobsen, president of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. "It is one of those cumulative-effect regulations that adds to the cost of doing business in California."

Mark Schacht, deputy director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento, said the compromise action means "neither side got everything they wanted." Schacht had petitioned the standards board in 2002 seeking a ban on weeding because of injuries.
Meanwhile, no similar ban is being contemplated next door in Oregon.

Although the regulation was a product of negotiation between the state, industry and farmworker representatives, not every one was happy:
"The same kind of crops we have here are grown in other nations, other states. The crops aren't unique to California," said Mike Webb of the Western Growers Association, which represents farms. Yet, he said, "we're going to be the only place on the face of the Earth that has a regulation or law that outlaws hand-weeding."
More here and here.


Weekly Toll

A list of those who didn't make it home from work over the past couple of weeks.

Rookie officer killed investigating break-in

EL PASO, Texas - A police officer who had been on the job less than a month was fatally shot while responding to a call for a family disturbance, El Paso police said.

Officer Angel Barcena, 38, who graduated from the police academy Aug. 26 and was recently married, died early Saturday at Beaumont Army Medical Center shortly after being shot.


Investigators examine logging truck's fatal tumble

FLORENCE, OR - The U.S. Forest Service and Lane County sheriff's office are investigating a fatal accident involving a logging truck that rolled down a steep embankment and ejected its driver.

The driver, Paul Haley of Florence, was killed. Officials will try to determine whether Haley should have had a permit to haul heavy equipment on the road and why it suddenly gave way on Wednesday afternoon.

Haley, a seven-year employee of R and R King Logging in Florence, was operating a tractor-trailer rig, which carried a large piece of equipment called a yarder. He was moving the yarder to another logging site, but taking an alternate route because of weight restrictions on the aging Siuslaw River bridge and a fish culvert replacement project on Sweet Creek Road near Mapleton.

Haley's truck was attached to another truck to help climb a steeper grade on Maple Creek Road. After negotiating a hairpin turn, the road gave way, and Haley's rig tumbled 100 to 150 feet down an embankment, said R and R owner Kay King. Haley was ejected and crushed beneath the wreckage.


Crash kills Islip town worker

Islip, NY -- Thomas Rose devoted his life to being at one with nature. The Bay Shore man got up early every morning to watch the sun rise over the Bay Shore Marina and came back before nightfall to watch it dip down below the horizon. He even designed his work life so that he could spend time outdoors, taking a job with the town highway department.

The Town of Islip worker died early Friday from injuries sustained when he was struck by a car as he attempted to cross a road Wednesday, Suffolk police said.

Rose, 54, was working for the Town of Islip Highway Department on Spur Drive South, west of Commack Road in Islip just before 9:30 a.m. when he stepped into the roadway. Rose, who was clearing debris from the side of the road, was struck by a 1986 Jaguar driven by Devere Ferrell, 55, of Brentwood. A town spokeswoman said Rose began working for Islip in 1987 as a maintenance mechanic. He current title was heavy equipment operator.


Capitol security warning ignored


SPRINGFIELD, IL -- The Statehouse driveway that a shotgun-toting young man used to approach and kill an unarmed guard was identified as a serious security risk five years ago, but steps to make it more secure were largely ignored.

Money, traffic flow concerns and a legislative desire not to see the state Capitol turned into a bunker all contributed to the inaction toward the area surrounding the building's main entrance, according to sources within the Legislature, Secretary of State Jesse White's office and elsewhere in state government.

Now, after the murder of guard William Wozniak, questions have been raised about whether his death could have been averted had the state followed security recommendations that consultant Arcon Associates laid out in a 1999 report for Gov. George Ryan's administration.



Worker Electrocuted By Overhead Power Line


BIG BAY, Mich. -- A construction worker was killed and two others were injured when their vehicle they were using came into contact with an overhead power line.

James M. Bertucci, 41, of Ishpeming was pronounced dead at the scene Thursday, according to a report from Capt. Dave Lemire of the Marquette County Sheriff's Department. They were attempting to guide a metal culvert when the construction vehicle it was attached to made contact with the power line.


Butler officer killed

The fatal shooting of a Butler University policeman Friday turned one of the city's more stately neighborhoods into a hunting ground for the officer's killer.

The shooting of James L. Davis, 31, paralyzed the campus and the quaint Butler-Tarkington neighborhood -- leading to an intense manhunt.

It was the second fatal shooting of an on-duty police officer in five weeks. On Aug. 18, Indianapolis Police Department Patrolman Timothy "Jake" Laird was killed during a shootout.


Sulphur Police Officers killed in traffic accident

Lake Charles, LA -- The Lake Charles Police Department is investigating an auto accident that took the life of Sulphur Police Officer William Nichols, 37 and Lake Charles Police Officer Gary Sensat, 50, Friday morning.


Perth Amboy man dies after fall at factory

OLD BRIDGE, NJ — A Perth Amboy man died Tuesday morning when he fell into a vat of copper sulfate while working at Madison Industries/Old Bridge Chemical Inc.

While township detectives await the results of an investigation by the Middlesex County medical examiner, local police have classified the death of Raymendo Molina, 38, as a “tragic industrial accident,” according to Lt. Robert Weiss of the Old Bridge Police.

Police were summoned to the chemical plant on Waterworks Road at about 5:06 a.m. after Molina’s co-workers could not find the mixing machine operator in the plant for more 30 minutes, Weiss said. Molina had arrived at the plant to start his 12-hour shift at 4 a.m. and was last seen just before 4:30 a.m. by Nelson Cruz, his co-worker and brother-in-law.

As Patrolman Donald Fritz was en route to the scene, police received another call that a plant employee had noticed something unusual inside a 5-foot-deep vat of copper sulfate, Weiss said. A fiberglass catwalk above the vat was discovered to be broken.



Track-hoe accident kills official's son

Richmond, VA -- The son of a Prince George County supervisor died yesterday after becoming trapped between parts of a track-hoe he was operating.

Bradley S. Forehand, 24, was clearing debris with a track-hoe at the family business, Retro Insulation Inc., when he became entangled between the cab and heavy arm of the machinery, said Prince George County police Sgt. Kenneth Williams.


OSHA Begins Investigating Crane Death

Sioux Falls, SD -- An OSHA investigator spent the afternoon looking the death of an Ohio construction worker, crushed by a crane while working on a Sioux Falls city well. 37-year-old Timothy Walsh of Columbus, was loading equipment back onto a flatbed trailer Wednesday when a crane started to sink. It tipped, crushing Walsh.


Worker electrocuted by power line dies

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - A man who was electrocuted while working on a sign near a power line more than a month ago has died. Billy Earl Todd, 58, died Wednesday at an Augusta, Ga. hospital, family members said.

Todd was shocked by a power line carrying 115,000 volts on Aug. 9 and suffered burns on 90 percent of his body. Todd had worked at Tysons Signs Systems for more than 36 years.


2 Construction Workers Fall; 1 Dies

HOUSTON -- A construction worker died Wednesday night after falling from a makeshift platform at a west Houston construction site.

Police told Local 2 that two workers fell three stories while working on the chimney of a townhome on Memorial Drive at about 6 p.m.

Investigators said the men were on a makeshift wooden three-sided platform, but something happened causing the two men to fall. More here.


Man killed working at church construction site in Halls

KNOXVILLE -- A construction worker died Wednesday morning after steel beams fell on him at a construction site for a church in Halls.

Forty-eight-year-old Calvin Parsons was working at the future site of Redemption Harvest Church on Old Maynardville Pike. Construction has been underway for about two months.
Family members tell 6 News that Parsons was on top of a trailer, directing a forklift operator who was lifting steel beams.

"He must have just lost his balance and fell. And when he did, the beam fell, rolled over him, hit his head and rolled down, rolled down his body," said his cousin, Julie Collins.


Aberdeen man identified as BWI worker killed

LINTHICUM - A worker killed yesterday in a construction accident at Baltimore-Washington International Airport has been identified as Marlo Cabot, 41, of Aberdeen.

Cabot, an employee of Minneapolis-based Harmon Inc., was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center about 10 a.m. Tuesday after a 1-ton pallet of glass panels fell on him. He died a few hours later.

According to Harmon spokeswoman Mary Ann Jackson, Cabot had been employed as an iron worker with the company's Baltimore office since November. Harmon is installing glass panels in the fa├žade of the airport's new A/B Terminal, which will house Southwest Airlines operations.


Trench job was unsafe, says fire official

St. Louis, MO -- A trench that collapsed and killed a worker installing septic lines Tuesday was not shored up properly, a fire official who was on the scene said Wednesday.

The worker who died was identified Wednesday as Christian R. Schmid, 32, of Silex.

Deputy Chief Randy Sanders of the O'Fallon Fire Protection District said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration "would not be pleased with what they see at the site. The company did not follow the standards or the rules."

A man who identified himself as Butch Menne, owner of the company Schmid worked for, B & J Septic and Excavation of Silex, would not answer questions about the cave-in or say whether the trench had been shored up when reached over the telephone.

"It's nobody's business," he said and then hung up.


Two Itasca County men die in truck hit by falling tree

GRAND RAPIDS — Two Harris Township workers died Tuesday afternoon as a result of a tree falling on the cab of the pickup truck they were driving on Lakeview Drive south of Grand Rapids. Law enforcement officials identified the two workers as Kenneth Michael Johnson, 42, and James Matthew Booth, 40, both of rural Grand Rapids.

Itasca County Sheriff Pat Medure stated the two victims were in their township work truck heading west on Lakeview Drive when an oak tree fell on the cab of the truck.


Construction Fatality

A Tazewell County, Virginia construction worker is dead, after being run over by a back hoe. It happened while crews were working on Lee Highway yesterday morning. Virginia State Police say 20 year old John Anthony Mullins was operating a saw, when he tripped, and the front tire of the backhoe ran over his torso.He was pronounced dead just over an hour later at Bristol Regional Medical Center.


Railroad employee killed in Saline

A railroad employee was killed in Saline on Monday when he was pinned between an engine and a rail car near the Visteon plant.

Charles Hatch Jr., 46, of Toledo, was crushed about 2:30 p.m. along tracks that run behind the Michigan Avenue plant, police and fire officials said.

Saline Fire Chief Craig Hoeft said the victim was lodged between the engine and the car when firefighters and Visteon employees arrived at the scene. Firefighters asked Hatch's co-worker to move the engine enough to free the man's body, but there was no pulse when they and Huron Valley Ambulance paramedics tried to resuscitate him.


One Alabama Power Employee Dies In Shelby County

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- In neighborhoods across Alabama, the sounds of chainsaws can be heard. With power still out for thousands of homes, tree services were the first to move in, clearing the way for electric companies and creating a tree-trimming marathon.

The restoration of the state’s power has resulted in one death so far. An Alabama Power Co. worker was killed Sunday in Shelby County.

Details about the accident, which occurred near Lay Dam, are being withheld until a preliminary investigation is conducted. The worker's name was withheld until next-of-kin is notified.


Man killed in accident at State Fair

HUTCHINSON, Kan. - A Kansas State Fair employee was killed Monday when a beam fell on him while workers were taking down part of the grandstand stage, police said.

They said a cable broke and the beam fell on Larry Ankerholz, 55, of Hutchinson. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.


Man killed when dirt collapses onto him in trench

Knoxville, TN -- A 52-year-old man installing a storm drain with his son died Monday night when a dirt wall collapsed on him in a trench in Northwest Knox County.

Recovery crews worked for hours, removing dirt bucket by bucket, before finally locating the unnamed man's body at 10:41 p.m. in the Lexi Landing subdivision. The development is off Cate Road near West Emory Road, near the Knox-Anderson county line.

A trench box had been installed for protection, but it appeared dirt had been piled too high above the box, Yu said. The dirt apparently shifted and cascaded onto the man, burying him under more than 15 feet of soil.

Ed Kimbell, 52, of Pine Crest, died Monday evening while installing a storm drain with his son, John Kimbell, in the Lexi Landing subdivision. A dirt wall collapsed on him in a trench, authorities said.


Worker dies at Iowa Events Center

Authorities this morning identified the construction worker who died Sunday after he was struck with a steel beam while working at the Iowa Events Center.

Bill Augustine, age 65, a resident of the Indianola area, was an employee of National Riggers & Erectors, a subsidiary of Havens Steel. He was killed about 9:30 p.m., officials said. More here.


Worker identified in Friday's construction accident

George Nino, 20, died of suffocation according to the medical examiner's report.
He was trapped in a trench after a water main broke.

Nino was part of a crew hired to help build Capital Metro's northside operations center off of Burnet Road.

The Austin company he worked for, I-D Guerra, was cited in 2003 by OSHA. The company was fined $1,500 for failing to provide protective excavation systems. Investigators are trying to determine if trench wall supports were in place Friday when Nino was killed.


OSHA Investigating Dock Accident

Huntsville, AL - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA is investigating a deadly accident at a local dock.

36-year-old Anthony Clyde Collins was killed Tuesday while working on a barge on the banks of the Tennessee River.

A four man team was using torches to dismantle the barge. Workers say part of the barge fell, crushing Collins.


Harriman Community Remembers Officer Killed in Storm

Hundreds of East Tennesseeans pay their final respects to a police officer killed in the line of duty. Officer Matt Rittenhouse was killed after his cruiser hydroplaned and flipped, while he was driving through heavy rains and winds. The small community of Harriman remains in shock as it says goodbye to Officer Rittenhouse.


Bolt kills Gridley farmer

Unusual weather was to blame for the death of a 35-year-old Butte County farmer and mechanic, officials said Sunday.

John Michael Bettencourt, 35, was working in a field just east of Gridley when, officials say, he was struck by lightning, according to the Butte County Sheriff's Department.


Man allegedly attacked by co-worker dies

Toledo, OH -- A 19-year-old Nevada native who was working at a South Toledo telemarketing firm died yesterday in Medical College of Ohio Hospitals, about 39 hours after he allegedly was attacked by a co-worker.

John Roa, of Toledo, who police said suffered severe bleeding around the brain, died at 10:30 a.m., his mother, Teresa Szirbik, said.


Worker dies in fall at Met

New York - A repairman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art plunged 60 feet to his death yesterday, landing by the museum's famed Egyptian exhibit in front of several horrified visitors, police said.

Marcin Kielar, 26, of Queens, was waterproofing the glass ceiling over the majestic Temple of Dendur when he fell to the cold marble floor at 10:20 a.m., police said.

A handful of horrified museum patrons and security guards rushed to Kielar's side, and he was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital with severe trauma, police said. He died at 11:07 a.m.

Kielar was wearing a harness, but investigators believe he had untethered himself momentarily just before the 6-by-6-foot glass panel he was standing on fell through.


UH mourns death of groundskeeper in fall

Hawaii -- His boys called him "boss" but thought of him as their grandpa. He scolded them if they slacked off, but he also bought them lunch at the student cafeteria, encouraged them to work hard, and gave them a lesson in what it meant to care.

Yesterday, University of Hawai'i student workers under his direction were trying to come to grips with the sudden death of 78-year-old groundskeeper Harris Okuda, who was their leader but had become part of their family.

Okuda was found on the floor of a garden shed behind the Hale Laulima dorm Thursday night, a rake he had been using still balanced on the roof that he might have been clearing of leaves. Students said they thought he had been sweeping the roof to get it ready for a second coat of paint.

The city medical examiner's office yesterday said his death was an accident and that he died of head injuries.


Worker Dies Helping Victims Of Frances

LAKE WALES - A worker for the Christian Contractors Association has died after falling and hitting his head while helping repair a room damaged by Hurricane Frances.

Dwight Durham, 57, of Brooksville was working with the organization putting tarps on storm-damaged roofs when he fell about 6 feet from a ladder Friday and hit his head on a cement walkway, killing him.


Man drowns at construction site

A construction worker drowned Friday afternoon at a work site in Northwest Austin at the entrance to the new Capital Metro North Operations Maintenance Facility.

At 11:30 a.m. Friday, four construction workers ran into a problem with a water pipe that broke while they working in a 10-foot trench.

One 20-year-old man didn't make it out alive. "They were working on underground utilities. There was a 12-inch pipe into a 6-inch pipe that they were putting an elbow in and that ruptured," EMS District Commander Vikkie Branning said.


Construction Worker Killed In Napa Industrial Accident

Napa, CA - State workplace safety officials are investigating the death of a construction foreman who was crushed by a crane at a construction site in Napa on Monday afternoon.

It was the latest in a series of at least six industrial accidents in Napa County since 2003.

Napa police Cmdr. Andy Lewis said 44-year-old Jeffrey Lee Huffman of Napa was crushed around 1 p.m. by a horizontal crane used to deliver wood and building supplies at the construction site at 1125 Golden Gate Drive in an industrial area in south Napa.

Huffman was a foreman for Andrews & Thornley Construction of Napa. Lewis said the company was building a two-story structure inside a huge warehouse. The building was to be used for offices and equipment by a vineyard management company, Lewis said.

Huffman's assistant apparently couldn't see Huffman on a ladder on the side of the building under construction when he maneuvered the crane into position to deliver supplies to the roof area of the building, Lewis said. The crane crushed Huffman against the side of the building, Lewis said.

Just 10 days ago, Rebecca Kogan, 39, of Menlo Park, died at a construction site in American Canyon when she was run over by a motor grader.


Officer killed in storm-related crash

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Police in Harriman say the storm that had been Hurricane Ivan contributed to the third fatality from an explosion and fire at an electrical substation here.

A four-man crew was preparing to move a regulator from a substation on Arkansas 201, north of Mountain Home, to another location when it exploded. Foreman Desi Jones died several hours after the explosion. Ivey Hodge died about 36 hours after the accident. North Arkansas Electric Cooperative says Chris Hickman is recovering at his home in Mountain Home. All were severely burned.


Beaumont officer killed when copter crashes into lake

BEAUMONT, TX - A Beaumont police officer was killed and a sheriff's deputy swam to safety when their helicopter crashed into Sabine Lake, authorities said.

The helicopter crashed late Wednesday as the officers checked out reports of a fire that turned out to be a trash fire, Port Arthur Assistant Police Chief Mark Blanton told KFDM-TV in Beaumont.

Police Sgt. Mike Lane, 54, died, Beaumont officer Crystal Holmes said. Deputy Jeremy Battenfield survived.


County employee dies in road mishap


DAVENPORT, IA - Scott County Secondary Roads Department employee Kevin Dahms was the type of worker who took pride in his job.

The motor grader operator was normally one of the first workers to leave the department's Dixon shed each morning, taking great care to ensure the county's gravel roads were in tip-top shape.

That's how Scott County employees remembered Dahms on Monday, two days after the 32-year county employee died from injuries he suffered last week when the county truck he was driving crashed on Utica Ridge Road.


Windmill fatality probed

Investigators are trying to determine why a Somerset County windmill that was undergoing repairs started up without warning, sending a Denmark man crashing 60 feet to his death.

Niels Otto Anderson Sjolander, 52, was being lowered to the ground in a basket suspended from a crane when the windmill's turbine began to move, said state police at Somerset.

One of the blades on the turbine struck the arm of the crane, causing the arm to collapse and the basket to plummet to the ground at 9:39 a.m. Monday.


Lexington Police made an arrest in the city's lastest murder.

Police say 32-year-old Darryl Burrell shot and killed a convenience store clerk at the Dairy Mart off Byan Station Road and New Circle yesterday afternoon.
Burrell also shot another man working in the store. Police report his injuries are not life-threatening.

22-year-old Ashley Cason died at the UK Hospital. The name of the other victim is not known.

Barge Worker Crushed by Falling Debris

Huntsville, AL -- A freak accident in the Shoals ends fatally.
The accident happened just after 5 pm Tuesday on the banks of the Tennessee River. A 4-man team were using torches to dismantle a barge in the port of Florence. Workers say part of the barge fell crushing one of the workers.

Oscar Haley saw the accident. He said, 'We were tearing the old barge apart and some way or another, part of it came loose. There was nothing we could do."


Roofer Dies While Repairing Hurricane Damage

Osceola County, FL -- An accident has claimed the life of a roofer who was working to repair hurricane damage in Osceola County.

The accident happened on Grifford Drive in Poinciana Monday afternoon, WESH NewsChannel 2 reported.

The man fell through a skylight that had been covered by tar paper.

The victim is believed to be about 40. He landed on a concrete floor, struck his head, and died on the way to the hospital.


Construction worker dies in accident

City of Pewaukee, WI - A 36-year-old Waterford man died Thursday morning after a large fork truck struck and rolled over him at the construction site of a business at N29 W23720 Woodgate Court East.

According to City of Pewaukee Police Chief Gary Bach, the man, Scott G. Heilert, a construction worker for three years for Custom Structural Incorporated of Big Bend, was cutting steel rods with a power saw.

Heilert was working with his back to the fork truck, which is a large piece of equipment with parts that obscure the operator's view, Bach said.

"The guy driving the truck had no way of seeing him," Bach said.


In the Line of Duty: Glen A. York II

CLEVELAND, September 3 -- Glen A. “Skip” York, II, a member of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 811, was killed in a remote control switching accident in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe yard in Clovis, N.M., on September 2.

Brother York, 26, joined BLET Division 811 in Clovis on April 1, 2004, following in the footsteps of his father, Glen A. York, who also belongs to Division 811.

Brother York and another BLET member were wearing Belt Packs and working as Remote Control Operators in the BNSF yard when the accident happened. Investigators from the BLET Safety Task Force, National Transportation Safety Board, UTU, and the Federal Railroad Administration are still trying to determine what happened.

More information on remote switching here.


Two Detectives Slain

Detective Bobby Parker followed his calling to the end. As he lay dying on a Brooklyn street on Friday night, he managed to call 911 and tell the operator that the man who had shot him and his fellow detective, Patrick Rafferty, was pictured in a mug shot on the dashboard of their car.

That same mug shot was soon being distributed by police officers in their exhaustive manhunt for the suspect, who was apprehended shortly after the shooting.

Detective Parker, a teddy-bearish 6-foot-4 former wrestler, and Detective Rafferty, a Long Islander who took his three children on camping trips - were killed in a confrontation with a suspect whose mother had come to the precinct because she was frightened of her sometimes violent son. In the ensuing struggle, the son, Marlon Legere, took Detective Parker's gun and used it to shoot them both, a law enforcement official said.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Workplace Fatalities Rise Slightly in 2003

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its 2003 Census of Fatal occupational injuries which showed a small increase in the number of job fatalities in 2003. 5,559 workers were killed in 2003, compared with 5,534 in 2002. The fatality rate remained unchanged at 4.0 per 100,000 workers.

Although the BLS changed the industry classification codes making direct industrial comparisons difficult, the AFL-CIO estimates that fatalities in construction remained about the same, manufacturing fatalities went down and deaths in mining rose. Homicides rose for the first time in several years.

Fatalities among Hispanic workers declined overall, although fatalities among US born Hispanics rose, while deaths among foreign born Hispanics declined for the first time. Fatalities among African-Americans, Asians and Whites increased. Hispanic workers continued to have the highest on-the-job death rate, at 4.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

The full report can be found here.

Other stories here:

WORK-RELATED deaths up 18% in Texas

ILLINOIS Workplace Deaths Second Lowest On Record

ILLINOIS on-job deaths up in '03

ON-THE-JOB deaths inch up nationally (Washington State)

LABOR Dept: SC ranked 13th in US for workers killed on the job in ...

WORK deaths in state (Arizona) fall

FATAL Work Injuries Drop in Minn.

More deaths at work: After years of decline in state's (NC) workplace fatalities, 2003 reverses the trend


Cold War Veterans Betrayed Again

Long ago when we had a federal government that was actually interested in helping workers and those who had given their lives and health for their country (that would be about 4 years ago), the Congress and the Clinton administration passed legislation to provide compensation to the thousands of Cold War "veterans" who had sacrificed their health and their lives producing nuclear weapons.

Workers Comp Insider has a good update on how the promises have been broken.

Eye In The Sky: I'll Be Watching You.....

And speaking of homeland security, the Associated Press has a story "about 100 employees of a little-known branch of the Defense Department called the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and some of the country's most sophisticated aerial imaging equipment have focused on observing what's going on in the United States." The agency uses aerial photographs and 3D images, allowing security planners to virtually walk, drive or fly through any location in the U.S.

And although the Americas director, Bert Beaulieu, swears that the agency is not interested in information on U.S. citizens, civil liberties activists are not so sure.

Turns out private citizens aren't the only ones worried about the government spying on them. Even chemicals companies had their doubts, although they are getting more cooperative:
The NGA says it is working to build trust with the public and with private companies.

Before Sept. 11, for instance, chemical plants and other critical sites weren't as cooperative as they are today, out of fear that aerial photographs might be shared with federal environmental regulators. NGA officials say the Homeland Security Department has been careful to protect proprietary information.
Hello? Since when are environmental crimes considered to be "proprietary information?"

But never fear, "What if NGA analysts were to see an environmental crime?

"I don't think any of my people know enough to know an environmental crime," Beaulieu said."

Well, that's reassuring.

Personally, however, I think this technology could be put to much better use and save a lot more lives -- by locating every trench being dug in the United States and reporting them to OSHA if they're not being properly shored or protected.

Department of Homeland Security: Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?

A Washington Post poll issued today shows that 59% of registered voters approve of the way George W. Bush is fighting the war on terror and an equal number believe that the country today is safer from terrorism than it was on September 11, 2001.

It they read this article by Matthew Brzezinski in the current issue of Mother Jones (excerpt here, you need a subscription to read the entire article), their faith in the Bush administration may waver. Brzezinski reminds us that Bush was originally opposed to a Department of Homeland Security, and has basically ignored it since it was created, starving it for funds and attention in favor of his disasterous $150 billion boondoggle in Iraq.

You should read the entire article, but for our purposes, I'll highlight two examples: first, because of the money being poured down the drain in Iraq, firefighters and other first responders across the country still don't have radios that work on the same frequencies:
The financial crunch is most keenly felt by the people on the front lines-at ports and borders, among firefighters and hospitals, transit authorities, biohazard labs, and rail hubs-who are invariably understaffed, underfunded, and ill-equipped. Just to properly outfit emergency personnel with radios that work on the same frequency, and prevent the tragedy that occurred when firefighters and police at the World Trade Center could not warn one another of the buildings' impending collapse, $6.8 billion is needed, according to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations. But not only are first-responder programs slated for large budget cuts in 2005, the Bush administration and the FCC are considering giving the radio frequencies earmarked for the public safety communication spectrum to private telecommunication companies, a $5 billion gift.
More troubling is the story, familiar to Confined Space readers, of the Bush administration's failure to take basic measures to protect the citizens of this country from attacks on chemical plants. This is a long excerpt, but it's worth it. Brzezinski interviewed Bob Liscouski, assistant secretary from the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate, one of DHS's five main divisions. Liscouski explained that DHS doesn't actually do anything about homeland security, they just coordinate the efforts of the government and private sector:
"What about the chemical industry?" I inquired. Survey after survey has shown that the 15,000 chemical plants in the United States are probably the most vulnerable pieces of infrastructure in America. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 100 of these plants could each endanger up to a million lives with poisonous clouds of ammonia, chlorine, or carbon disulfide that could be released into the atmosphere over densely populated areas by a terror attack. The military ranks a strike against the chemical industry as second only to biological warfare (and ahead of nuclear devices) in the total number of mass casualties it would produce.

Following 9/11, there was an urgent push to curtail some of these risks. Democratic senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey, whose state was home to 9 of the 111 most vulnerable factories in the country, introduced legislation to police chemical producers; the bill passed unanimously in Senate committees and quickly garnered White House support. Named the Chemical Security Act, it sought to codify parameters for site security, ensure the safer transport of toxic materials (a single railcar filled with 33,000 gallons of chlorine could kill up to 100,000 people), and establish a timetable to shift away from the use of the most noxious chemicals. Some major chemical users have already been doing that voluntarily. In Washington, for instance, the city water treatment plant switched in 2001 from chlorine to a slightly more expensive, but less dangerous, bacteria remover. The change cost the average D.C. water consumer 50 cents per year, but reduced the risk of terrorist hijackings by eliminating hundreds of chlorine tankers rumbling through the capital region.

The Chemical Security Act seemed set to sail through Congress. But as the memory of 9/11 grew dimmer, the petrochemical industry launched a well-coordinated and well- financed campaign to scuttle the bill. Led by the powerful American Petroleum Institute, lobby groups bombarded senators, members of Congress, and the White House with thousands of letters, position papers, and reports on the adverse economic impact of the Chemical Security Act. Chlorine and its derivatives went into products that accounted for 45 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, they argued. Without chlorine components, they lamented, even the backyard gas grill would disappear. The American pastoral would be forever changed.

The White House quickly cooled toward the idea of regulating chemical security. The seven Republican senators who had endorsed the bill in committee withdrew their support. And $5.7 million in petrochemical campaign contributions helped to ensure that Republicans took the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections and that the Chemical Security Act died without a vote. In its place, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) proposed that chemical factories be allowed to police themselves and that the government have no oversight or enforcement powers over safety rules.

As a result, three years after 9/11, virtually anyone can still gain entry into thousands of chemical sites across the country. I had witnessed this myself in places like Baltimore and Los Angeles, accompanying city officials eager to expose the lack of security measures. Liscouski, though, appeared unmoved. Was DHS working on any mandatory security codes for unprotected chemical plants? Fencing requirements, cameras, lights, guards? "Our job is not to regulate," he said. "By regulating, we could be missing out on important gaps. Not all chemical plants produce materials with the same levels of toxicity. Regulating is not our role," he repeated. Why not? I asked.

"We are not going to turn this country into a fortress," he snapped. "I have every confidence that the private sector will act responsibly, that they will do the right thing on their own." That was quite a leap of faith. Last year The Economist published a survey of 331 large corporations, finding that their security spending had risen by just 4 percent since 9/11, and that much of the increase was a result of higher insurance premiums. Only one in five of the companies said their spending would continue to increase. "Left to themselves," notes Stephen Flynn, a homeland security scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, "factory owners will do nothing. They have no incentive to. If factory A, say, spends a million dollars on security upgrades, its products can't compete with factory B down the street, which spent nothing. Only legislation can level the playing field."

Liscouski started to glance impatiently at his watch. I still had no clear idea of what his infrastructure protection division actually did, other than draw Venn diagrams. "We've sent people to two dozen chemical plants we've determined are the highest risk," he finally offered.

"To shore up security?" I asked.

"No," he said, getting up to leave. "To advise them on what their vulnerabilities are."
So, can John Kerry (with our help) get this message to the American people in the next five weeks?

Let's hope so. Our lives may depend on it.


Sunday, September 26, 2004

Mine Safety Becomes A West Virginia Election Issue

Just got back from a weekend in West Virginia where it is assumed that Republicans will prevail on November 2, campaigning on "God, Guns and Gays." But the United Mine Workers of America and America Coming Together, a nationwide group trying to mobilize Democratic voters in swing states, are showing how to use workplace safety issues in the Presidential election. They have delivered petitions containing 1,100 signatures calling for increased funding of federal coal mine safety programs in petitions delivered to President Bush's state campaign offices
As of Sept. 1, with three months remaining in the year, West Virginia has experienced eight coal mining fatalities, more than any other state, compared with nine during all of 2003 and six in 2002, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Nationwide, there have been 17 coal mining fatalities in the first nine months of 2004. The nationwide total in 2003 was 30. West Virginia and Kentucky had the most fatalities with nine each. In 2002, Kentucky also had nine fatalities, while West Virginia had six, and the nationwide total was 27.

The petitions circulated in West Virginia stated that the Bush administration has allowed funding for coal mine safety programs "at a static $115 million ... despite the fact that deaths of coal mine workers increased from 2003 to 30 from 27 in 2002."

"Every budget submitted by the Bush Administration from 2001-2004 proposed reductions or streamlining both the ... Occupational Safety and Health Administration and ... Mine Safety and Health Administration programs," petition said. The petition called on Bush to "Protect West Virginia. Make our coal miners' health and safety your top priority."


Time Bombs In Their Lungs? "I didn't know what asbestos was"

Yet another story of workers who spent years working in clouds of asbestos, tracking it home on their clothes, while the company told them it was harmless. In this case, it was a Union Carbide (currently owned by Dow) mine. (And in case anyone's keeping track, Union Carbide was also the owner of the Bhopal chemical plant that killed thousands twenty years ago in a methyl-isocyanate leak).
Art Valdez spent 26 years working in the dust in the nation's last asbestos mill, pulling down $17.85 an hour before the place shut down last year.

He had a pension and five weeks' paid vacation. He had health insurance for his family. He could afford to give cars to his two boys, visit friends in Texas and take his wife to Denny's as often as he wished.

"I didn't know what asbestos was," he recalled recently. "I thought that was the best job ever."

He didn't fret when the bagging machines spewed powder all over him, or when he drove home with his maroon Silverado covered in white residue. He didn't think much about the sludge cake he tracked into the house on his steel-toed boots or the dust that clung to his black hair and scattered when he hugged his kids.

Even after learning about the sometimes fatal hazards of asbestos, Valdez didn't imagine that it might damage his lungs or mark him for cancer. The mill bosses told him that the kind of asbestos Union Carbide Corp. scooped out of the Diablo Mountains north of the Central California town of Coalinga wouldn't hurt him, he said, and he believed them.

The workers who milled Union Carbide's trademarked Calidria asbestos, Valdez said, "took the word of the company from Day One."
As late as the late 1970's when the deadly nature of asbestos was well known, Union Carbide sought to reassure its workers that everything was OK:
In 1978, ... federal health authorities launched a campaign to alert shipyard workers that their exposure to boats' asbestos-laden insulation put them at risk for asbestosis and cancer. The first asbestos lawsuit had been filed in 1966 by a man who had been found to have asbestosis, but it wasn't until the late 1970s that the scope of the perils of inhaling the fibers began to be widely recognized.

King City mill hands were alarmed. They said Union Carbide moved to reassure them. In a draft of a letter to employees disclosed in a lawsuit — it's unclear whether the letter actually went out — the company wrote: "The problems you are hearing about on TV are not relevant to our plant and our operations."

The assertions about Calidria set some minds at rest.

"They showed us some kind of reports, scientifically, that it had been proven" that the asbestos milled in King City dissolved in the lungs before doing harm, said Eugene Plaskett, who worked at the mill for 33 years and is now a Baptist minister and farm equipment fabricator. "I was taking their word for it."

He said recently that he still believed Calidria was harmless. In any case, he said, "it was my choice to work there."

***

In 1974, long after some studies had shown that exposure to even low doses of asbestos could cause cancer, Union Carbide handed out a brochure titled "What Every Worker Should Know About Asbestos." It encouraged its mill hands to quit smoking and promoted dust-control efforts. But it also implied that workers would be safe inhaling some asbestos — just not too much.

"When mines and factories are properly controlled," the brochure said, "the asbestos content of the air will be low and within safe levels, and will present no hazard to the employee."

The year the mill opened, Union Carbide's corporate medical director sent to a manager a copy of a book on lung disease, including a chapter on asbestosis. "It is not the sort of book," he said in an accompanying letter, "we would want readily available to plant personnel in general."

Union Carbide also didn't share with workers the details of a study it commissioned three years later comparing the scarring potential of its asbestos with that mined in Canada. Injected into the bellies of rats and guinea pigs, the confidential report concludes, Calidria "produces the most severe reaction." (Union Carbide now says the test was too crude to have any validity. Other experts disagree.)
Meanwhile, Kelly-Moore paint company is suing Dow for actual damages of $1.3 billion — its anticipated liabilities and legal costs — plus punitive damages of $3.9 billion, because Carbide sold asbestos to Kelley-Moore to thicken its paint, claiming that it was "a uniquely safe alternative to potentially deadly types of asbestos" even while Union Carbide witheld evidence linking the product to cancer and asbestosis.

According to Kelley-Moore's lawyer, Mark Lanier,

Union Carbide was a member of the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, which commissioned a study that linked chrysotile, the type of asbestos sold by the company, to cancer. But then the group publicly reported just the opposite. And in the 1960s, he said, a few years after Union Carbide discovered the world's largest cache of asbestos in California and opened its mill near King City, its own tests indicated that Calidria caused more damage to the lungs of rats than the asbestos sold by Johns-Manville.

"Instead of telling companies and people and stopping the asbestos market right there, they hide it," Lanier told jurors. "They start pushing their asbestos in every product they can because, you see, that disease of asbestosis takes 20 or so years before you get it. The cancer takes 20, 30, 40 years before you get it. And these guys were going to make their killings right then."

In the early 1970s, Lanier contended, Union Carbide began to realize that in a few years, its customers would recognize that what it was selling was a hazard and quit buying."So why don't we, quote, 'Make hay while the sun shines'?" Lanier said, referring to a memo in which Union Carbide considered building a larger mill to get asbestos to market more quickly.

Carbide argues that "recent research shows that its asbestos doesn't cause lung disease or cancer because its fibers are so short that they are swiftly expelled after a person inhales them."

Chem Board Blames Deadly West Pharmaceutical Explosion on Dust

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued its final report on the January 26, 2003 explosion at West Pharmaceutical Kinston (NC) Plant that killed six employees. West Pharmaceutical made rubber stoppers and other medical equipment at its plant in Kinston.

The CSB found that the explosion was caused by a combustible polyethylene powder called ACcumist, that had accumulated above a drop ceiling. Some unknown event caused the accumulated dust to loft into the air where it was ignited, causing a huge explosion felt 25 miles away that destroyed the building and burned for days.

Accumist had been applied in a wet, slurry form, called "AC Slabdip," purchased from a company named Crystal, Inc, to rubber sheets to keep them from sticking together. The solution was then dried, using fans, and some of the dust was blown through the air. Although the main room was cleaned constantly, dust accumulated above the drop ceiling. Workers were aware of the dust accumulation above the ceiling, but had not been trained about the explosive properties of the dust.

West claimed that there was no way to know that the dust from the "Slabdip" slurry was explosive because the Crystal "Slabdip" MSDS did not contain warnings or refer users to NFPA 654, which provides guidance for preventing combustible dust explosions. The CSB investigation found, however, that West had in its possession MSDSs from the producer of ACcumist that contained cumbustible dust warnings, and that West had actually supplied the original batch of ACcumist to Crystal, formulated the first batch of Slabdip, and contracted with Crystal to manufacture the slurry. West claims that "Slabdip" and ACcumist are two unrelated products.
The CSB report determined four root causes of the accident at West: the company’s inadequate engineering assessment for combustible powders, inadequate consultation with fire safety standards, lack of appropriate review of material safety data sheets (MSDSs), and inadequate communication of dust hazards to workers.
“If the good safety practices described in the National Fire Code and elsewhere had been followed at West, this tragic accident would likely have been avoided,” said CSB lead investigator Steve Selk. “We will therefore be recommending that the State of North Carolina make compliance with the dust code mandatory."

***

In addition to recommending that North Carolina’s Building Code Council adopt NFPA 654, the report calls on the state Department of Labor to identify the industries at risk for combustible dust explosions and conduct an educational outreach program to help prevent future accidents. The report urges increased training of North Carolina fire and building code officials on combustible dust hazards. It also recommends that West improve its material safety review procedures, revise its project engineering practices, communicate with its workers about combustible dust hazards, and follow safety practices contained in NFPA 654 at all company facilities that use combustible powders.
West CEO Don Morel stated that the company concluded, after a study of its own, that the explosion was a "result of a combination of unforeseen factors."

CSB investigators, disagree:
“If the good safety practices described in the National Fire Code and elsewhere had been followed at West, this tragic accident would likely have been avoided,” said CSB lead investigator Steve Selk. “We will therefore be recommending that the State of North Carolina make compliance with the dust code mandatory.”
The CSB is also investigating two other fatal dust explosions, including a 2003 explosion at CTA Enterprises in Corbin, Kentucky that killed seven employees and injured 42. The CSB will spend the next year and a half conducting a comprehensive study of combustible dust hazards and what can be done to prevent them. There is currently no OSHA standard covering combustible dust in industry, with the exception of grain dust. NFPA 654 is a good preventive standard, although other fire codes are not as comprehensive and state enforcement of NFPA 654 is generally weak.

More here and here.



Friday, September 24, 2004

Worker Killed In Trench Collapse: "Nobody's Business"

"It's nobody's business," according to Butch Menne, owner of B & J Septic and Excavation of Silex, MO, responding to a reporter's question about whether a trench that killed Chris Schmidt was properly shored.

I disagree. A worker killed in an unprotected trench is everyone's business. As long as employers are allowed to get away with killing workers by violating a clear law requring trenches over five feet deep to be shored, no one is really safe, any more than if any other criminal is allowed to get away with a crime with an insignificant penalty.
Schmid's mother, Betty, remembered her son as an outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish and who had many friends.

"He had just turned 32, and he loved life," said Betty Schmid. "He had so many plans that he wanted to do, and he was just a great son. He helped take care of me; I'm on disability."

Schmid said her son was close to his two nieces and two nephews, whom he often took camping. She said she has a lot of questions about how the accident could have happened.

"I don't understand it, something is wrong," she said. "Why was he down there by himself? And why wasn't it shored up?"
According to a fire department official, the trench was not properly shored.
Deputy Chief Randy Sanders of the O'Fallon Fire Protection District said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration "would not be pleased with what they see at the site. The company did not follow the standards or the rules."

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Is George Bush a Flip-Flopper and Liar?

Some people think so. Personally, I'd never say such a thing. But check out Peter Jennings at ABC and the Washington Post.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Chemical Plant Security: Feeling Safer Yet?

Rick Hind of GreenPeace and attorney David Halperin, argue in the NY Times today that for the Bush administration "homeland security is critical except when it conflicts with the wishes of supporters who own chemical plants."

They are writing specifically about the Bush administration's cave-in to pressure from chemical manufacturers over the issue of chemical plant security. As I've related numerous times in Confined Space (here, here and here), instead of giving EPA the authority to issue regulations forcing chemical plants to take security measures and to promote the use of less hazardous chemicals and processes (which was also the aim of legislation introduced by Senator Jon Corzine D-NJ), the Bush administration has given the chemical plant security portfolio to the Department of Homeland security which is relying on plants to adopt voluntary industry guidelines instead of mandatory regulations. (And in case anyone's keeping score, John Kerry has endorsed the Corzine bill.)

EPA had identified 123 chemical facilities where an accident or attack could threaten more than a million people, and 7,605 plants that threatened more than 1,000 people. But doing nothing about that little problem doesn't exactly fit well with the image of strong, terrorist-fighting, homeland securing, tough wartime President, so
Homeland Security tried to reduce the threat of catastrophic attack with the stroke of a pen. The department announced that the number of plants that threatened more than 1,000 people was actually only 4,391, and the number that endangered more than a million people was not 123 but two.
I feel much safer now.

OSHA Cites Cintas -- Again

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Cintas, a Cincinnati-based laundry and uniform rental company, for numerous workplace safety violations, many of which had been cited before at other Cintas plants. UNITE/HERE is engaged in a bitter organizing campaign with the company, attempting to organize over 17,000 Cintas drivers and production workers.
OSHA cited Cintas for 29 violations, including: failure to offer hepatitis vaccinations to workers who handle blood-contaminated laundry; exposing workers to the risk of being crushed between a wall and giant industrial washing machines when the machines tilt up for loading and unloading; exposing workers to live electrical parts; and providing workers who handle contaminated garments with inferior, disposable masks instead of approved respirators. Seven of the 29 violations were repeats of violations OSHA cited Cintas for last July at the company’s Branford, Conn., or Bedford Park, Ill., plants.
The union has made health and safety issues a central part from the beginning of its campaign to get the company to recognize the union. And some workers have been paying the ultimate price:
The fines are a vindication for former Cintas worker Keith Crawford. Cintas fired Crawford in July from his job unloading delivery trucks at the Rochester plant after he repeatedly raised concerns about unsafe conditions. Crawford says Cintas managers failed to lock the huge industrial washers in place before sending workers to clean behind the machines. “Someone could easily come along and tilt a machine up to start putting clothes in it and kill another employee cleaning behind the machine,” Crawford reports. UNITE HERE has recently filed an OSHA complaint charging that Cintas fired Crawford partly in retaliation for his safety-related protests. The union has already filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board claiming the firing was also linked to Crawford’s support for organizing Cintas workers.
More information on health and safety issues at Cintas here, here and here. More on the organizing campaign here.

SHOCKING NEWS! Business Writes EPA Regs

Ho hum. Yet again, Bush's business backers get caught writing EPA's regulations.
For the third time, environmental advocates have discovered passages in the Bush administration's proposal for regulating mercury pollution from power plants that mirror almost word for word portions of memos written by a law firm representing coal-fired power plants.

The passages state that the Environmental Protection Agency is not required to regulate other hazardous toxins emitted by power plants, such as lead and arsenic. Several attorneys general, as well as some environmental groups, have argued that the Clean Air Act compels the EPA to regulate these emissions as well as mercury.

The revelations concerning language written by Latham & Watkins could broaden an ongoing probe by the EPA's inspector general into whether the industry had an undue influence on the agency's proposed mercury rule, legislative critics of the proposed rule said.
The fact that this administration has sold the environment, energy policy, workplace safety and a number of other former government safeguards and functions (like war, for example) to the highest bidder is hardly "news" anymore -- even if you're a U.S. Senator:
Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of the senators who called for the probe last spring, said the revelation that the EPA adopted the same wording as an industry source "no longer comes as much of a surprise."

"The Bush administration continues to let industry write the rules on pollution, and this is just one more example of how they abuse the public trust," he said.
The Post states that "EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman would not comment on the connection between the law firm memo and the agency's proposal."

Hmmm. She probably hadn't gotten her talking points from Latham & Watkins yet.

An Article We'd Love to See...

OSHA Cites Auburn Company For Trenching Violations
Company Has 15 Days To Contest Citations

POSTED: 5:22 pm CDT September 20, 2004
MOBILE, Ala. -- An Auburn construction company has been cited for allegedly exposing its workers to trenching hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposes 454,000 in penalties against Parker Building Co.
Unfortunately, it was a typo. It should have read $54,000.

Oh well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Dairy Farmer Acquitted in Confined Space Deaths

A California jury acquitted Pat Faria, a dairy farmer, today in the deaths of two employees in a confined space. I originally wrote about this story here, and then reviewed New York Times' reporter, David Barstow's article about this case here.

To recap, Enrique Araisa, 29, was overcome by gases from the excrement as he tried to fix a pump in a large concrete waste pipe. He fell into a pool of liquid manure and drowned. Jose Alatorre, 22, fainted and fell into the waste while attempting a rescue.

The case is among the first to be prosecuted under a 1999 law signed by California Governor Gray Davis providing that willful violations of safety standards that lead to death or permanent or prolonged impairment may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The bill also increased civil and criminal penalties for willful, serious and repeat violations of safety and health standards.

The defense argued that the state didn't do enough to warn dairy farmers about the dangers of manure pits. Barstow's article, on the other hand, stated that
Pat Faria knew all about those dangers and safety laws. For one thing, he had been taught them as part of his volunteer-firefighter training. Mr. Hubert (the prosecutor) subpoenaed the man who had trained Mr. Faria in "Confined Space Awareness" in a four-hour class for firefighters in 1999.

The trainer explained how he had taught Mr. Faria the dangers of gases in confined spaces, including how hydrogen sulfide is common in spaces where there is wastewater. The trainer said he also taught Mr. Faria about how no one should enter a confined space without an air test, safety harnesses and respirators.

Mr. Faria had been tested on the class material. In fact, his answer sheet was given to the grand jurors.
The attorney for the foreman, Alcino Sousa Nune, had blamed the workers for their own deaths:
Nunes' attorney, Michael Fagalde of Merced, said the consolidation of charges was significant. "Neither of these guys (Nunes and Faria) did anything. They're charged with not doing something," he said. "The poor, unfortunate victims made choices on their own."

He declined to say what those choices were.
Despite the acquittal, however, Barstow's article describes some of the benefits that came from the trial:
On closer inspection, there are clear indications that something important and rare has occurred here. For all the resentment stirred by the prosecutor with the bow tie, the old moral lines have begun to shift.

On dairy farms across the valley floor, there has been a broad reassessment of safety. Farmers are hiring safety consultants, putting their workers through safety training, installing first aid kits and posting signs.

"It makes you concerned because you think, `Heck, he's a dairyman and I'm a dairyman, too,' " said Mark Ahlem, a young farmer in the valley.

Before the indictment, Mr. Ahlem said, "We were taking some baby steps toward setting up some regular safety meetings."

Since the indictment, though, he has hired a part-time safety director, insisted on frequent safety meetings and established a disciplinary system for safety violations.

Another dairy farmer, Frank Faria — no relation to Pat Faria — said the indictment was an "unfortunate wake-up call." He has since hired a safety consultant for his dairy operation, and feels much better for it.

The changes are not entirely the doing of this one indictment. Cal OSHA levied $166,650 in civil fines against the Faria dairy for the two deaths, a substantial penalty for almost any farmer. The agency also conducted a sweep of the valley's dairy industry, inspecting more than 160 farms, levying nearly $500,000 in fines and offering free consultations. The Western United Dairymen held several crowded training sessions about the dangers of confined space.

But in conversations with farmers here, it is clear that the prosecution made the deepest impression.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Home Work: Ergonomic Pain in the Neck

Now this is a fascinating article for anyone who remembers the (in)famous "home work" controversy of January 2000. That's when the Washington Post's "labor" reporter, Frank Swoboda basically accused OSHA of implementing a policy where it would inspect the "workplaces" of telecommuters and people working at home.

The controversy stemmed from an OSHA letter of interpretation requested by a company that was considering shutting down its office and having its employees work from home. The company wanted to know what health and safety obligations it might still have. OSHA sent back a hypothetical, but overly detailed letter listing every possible health and safety hazard for which the employer would, in technical legal terms, still be responsible, including ergonomic hazards. The Post suggested the employer was responsible for "even the parent who has to dash out of the office to be with a sick child and finishes a memo at home" and implied that OSHA could theoretically inspect and fine employers of people working from home. The right wing took the hand-off and ran for five touchdowns.

Coming in the midst of the ergonomics wars, the right-wing, anti-OSHA, anti-worker, anti-ergonomics zealots had a field day with endless hearings, Congressional document requests and attacks by conservative newspaper columnists. It would have been laughably absurd if it hadn't taken a month of the agency's resources to finally put the whole thing to rest by finally conceding that "The employers of millions of Americans who "telecommute" will not be held liable for any federal health and safety violations that occur at home offices."

Which makes this article fascinating reading. It's about home workers suffering serious back injuries because they can't afford to purchase expensive ergonomically correct equipment and often can't afford the medical treatment they need after suffering work-related musculoskeletal injuries at home.
Caryn Donley thought lower-back pain was a permanent part of her life.

The Fort Lauderdale real-estate agent — who has worked from her home for the past 10 years — tried everything to get rid of the pain. She bought a $200 ergonomic desk chair, popped painkillers and asked the trainers at her gym for advice. None of it worked.

"I didn't know what to do. I just thought I was stuck with it," Donley said.
Then, through friends, she met Ed Brown, the owner of Fort Lauderdale's A-2-Z Ergonomics, an ergonomic office equipment dealer and consultant.

Brown saw Donley's office chair and suggested she try one of his for a week.

The $400 chair "was like manna from heaven," Donley said with a mixture of enthusiasm and relief. She hasn't had a backache since she bought it.

In a traditional office, where ergonomics now is often partially considered, Donley might have gotten help sooner.

But she and many others who work from their homes — whether they are telecommuting for a company, running a small business or taking home extra work from the office — rarely have the resources they need to create workstations that won't cause them pain.
Many or most workers injured while working at home don't seek treatment -- at least until the pain becomes intolerable. Some don't recognize that it's work that's causing the pain, others can't afford medical treatment.

And then there's the cost of doing something to prevent the injuries from recurring:
Ergonomically correct chairs run as high as $1,000, footrests and computer glare screens start at about $35 each, and an ergonomic mouse can cost as much as $140.

The modifications can add up and take a bite out of your wallet, unless your employer is paying the bill.

Local therapists say there are low-cost ways to create a comfortable home office.

For instance, computer users can tape folders to the sides of their computer monitors to decrease glare.

They can roll up large towels to use for lower-back support. Other tips: Slide a three-ring binder underneath the monitor to raise and tilt it. Use phone books as footrests.

"It is a rarity, other than a chair, that we will ever tell anybody to buy anything because it's too expensive," said Storch, the occupational therapist. "It kills me to see these people spend this kind of money."
There has been a lot of attention paid over the past several years to employers using contractors to do the most dangerous work in chemical plants, steel mills and meat processing plants. That way, the employer doesn't have to maintain a full time staff, and may not be responsible for benefits, nor much of the safety training or personal protective equpment of the contractors. Clearly, the same "benefits" are available for employers of the 23.4 million self-employed people worked from home last year, who are left to purchase the expensive chairs and workstations themselves, or suffer the painful consequences.

Pretty nifty if you can get away with it.

OSHA: Black Hole of Government

Calling OSHA the "black hole of government," a new OMB Watch report, The Bush Regulatory Record: A Pattern of Failure, accuses the workplace safety agency of withdrawing crucial workplace health and safety priorities or allowing them to languish on the regulatory agenda.
After withdrawing most of its identified priorities in December 2001 with one repeated excuse—“OSHA is withdrawing this entry from the agenda at this time due to resource constraints and other priorities”—OSHA has failed to identify the “other priorities” that warrant abandoning recognized workplace health and safety problems.
The report examines four agencies that are particularly important to the public interest: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and finds, not surprisingly, that
This administration is failing to give the public the protections we deserve. It continues to abandon work on documented public health, safety, and environmental problems. Instead of identifying other priorities for serving the public, this administration is doing nothing. It cannot meet even short-term benchmarks for action, and it is allowing proposals for addressing long-identified needs to languish on its regulatory agenda. Finally, what little this administration has accomplished is not strong enough to meet the public’s needs but, instead, is weakened at the behest of industry interests.
The report cites 24 items on OSHA's regulatory agenda that it has withdrawn, including one to protect workers from exposure to tuberculosis In the first half of 2004 it failed to advance 75 percent of items scheduled for action. It also eliminated data collection on musculoskeletal disorders.

Of course, anyone who reads Confined Space regularly knows that, but for the other 290 million people in the U.S., there's lots be learned here. And like many reports issued over the past several years concerning the Bush administration's failure to protect the public health, safety, and environment, this report didn't get much initial press, but will provide great documentation when the press gets interested again.

So spread it around.

Porn Studios Cited By CalOSHA

When I was writing the petition to OSHA for the bloodborne pathogens standard in 1985, my intention was to protect health care workers from exposure to blood from needlesticks, blood spills, etc. I had no suspicion that this is how the standard would eventually be applied (although it might have made for more interesting OSHA hearings):

Two porn companies fined for allowing unprotected sex


The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has taken unprecedented action against the pornography industry, fining two straight adult film companies more than $30,000 apiece for allegedly allowing actors to perform unprotected sex. Evasive Angles and TTB Productions, which share the same San Fernando Valley address, were cited for violating the state's blood-borne pathogen standard, which requires employers to protect workers exposed to blood or bodily fluids on the job; failing to notify authorities about actors who contract HIV on the job; failing to have a written injury-prevention program; and failing to report a workplace accident within eight hours, agency officials said. The investigation of the companies began months ago after an industry worker filed a complaint.

The increased scrutiny of safer sex practices on the sets of porn films was prompted by the discovery of five HIV-positive adult film performers earlier this year, three of whom are believed to have been infected during filming by a male performer who acquired the virus while working in Brazil. All of the infections occurred among performers in straight adult films. Sources tell Advocate.com that because the vast majority of gay porn companies already require condom use for anal sex scenes that the HIV outbreak did not affect gay adult film productions or performers.

Of course, the industry is not taking this lying down:
Porn film producers have resisted compulsory condom rules saying they take the sizzle out of sex scenes and consumers do not want to watch safe sex.

But Cal/OSHA said porn actors had the same legal right to a safe workplace as employees in more conventional businesses. Officials said action against other adult film companies could follow.

Business in what is dubbed "Porn Valley," in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, has flourished over the past decade fueled by the Internet and home computers.

Mitchell said that while supporting testing and voluntary programs to protect sex workers, she was concerned that heavy-handed regulation would push the industry underground.

Porn actor Tony Tedeschi, who has worked in the industry for 15 years, commended OSHA's intervention although he said he did not insist on using condoms. "If I did, I wouldn't be able to work," Tedeschi told the Los Angeles Times.
CalOSHA has also published a factsheet on Hazards in the Adult Film Industry.

More here.


Sunday, September 19, 2004

OSHA's Priorities

What are OSHA's goals in the last days of the Bush administration? Where are its priorities? How can we tell?

We could study the words of the President, but there aren't any except for occasional generalizations about getting the economy going by reducing burdensome regulations.

We could study the words of John Henshaw, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. But what one says and what one does may, to put it subtly, conflict.

I've devised a better method. The aforementioned Mr. Henshaw just delivered a speech at the annual conference of the National Safety Council before its 10,000 attendees were chased from their conference in New Orleans by Ivan. Ivan threatened not only to drown what is arguably the United States' most interesting city, but also to wash out to sea a good part of (corporate) America's workplace health and safety leadership, as well as a significant portion of OSHA's staff.

But I digress. Back to the speech. Instead of analyzing what Mr. Henshaw actually said, I want to try something else: count how much time (counted in words) he spent on OSHA's various priorities. Thanks to Word's 'Word Count' function, the analysis was easy. Here are the results of the six subjects of henshaw's speech, from least to most important.

6. Least Important: Standards: (2.8%)This is certainly a surprise. From the repeal of the ergonomics standard to the withdrawal of the TB standard, to the purgatory of the "Payment for Personal Protective Equipment" standard, OSHA has all but shut down it's standards department. In fact, the only standard on which there seems to be work happening is the hexavalent chromium standard, but OSHA is under court order to issue that proposal.

5. Training and Outreach: (3.4%) This is hardly a surprise. Bush/Henshaw have been trying to kill the Susan Harwood training grant program ever since Bush uttered the words "so help me God." Every year, the administration's budget proposal attempts to eliminate the program that provides grants to workers, universities, public interest groups and industry associations, and cut the total training budget from a "whopping" $11 million to an even more paltry $4 million and replacing actual training with a program designed to produce electronic training materials like CD-ROMs and web pages. Considering that a large part of this money goes to educating immigrant workers, it places a bit of a damper on OSHA's next priority....

4. Hispanic Worker Outreach (4.3%): As everyone who follows workplace safety issues know, Hispanic workers are much more likely to die in the workplace than native-born Americans. There are a variety of reasons: hungry for jobs, they do more dangerous work, they are reluctant to complain about unsafe conditions for fear of losing those jobs, they often don' speak English well enough to understand whatever paltry amount of training they may get, they don't know about OSHA or are afraid to call, for fear of being fired or deported (if they are undocumented).

To its credit, OSHA has not ignored or denied the problem, but its response has been less than inspiring. Several OSHA regions are increasing the amount of outreach they are doing to Hispanic community organizations, and some grants are being given to organizations targeting immigrant workers. But this isn't an easy problem. One would think that you'd want to get the best, most experienced minds in the country together to candidly discuss the issues and develop a long-term strategy. OSHA raised hopes that it was heading that direction by announcing a Hispanic Summit to be held last summer. But hopes were dashed when the "Summit" turned into a press opportunity for Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to give federal money away in the swing state of Florida, unions and community groups were not invited, NIOSH dropped its co-sponsorship, and only a couple of pro-Bush Hispanic business association were left as sponsors.

3. Enforcement (9%): It's "strong, fair and effective enforcement", blah, blah, but behind that, we hear "adversarial", blah, blah, "Gestapo," yadda, yadda. Enforcment hasn't taken a terrible hit in this administration, although it has been weakened:
Between FY 1999 and FY 2003 the number of employees who work in workplaces inspected by federal OSHA inspections decreased by nearly 12 percent. The average number of hours spent per inspection also decreased between FY 1999 and FY 2003, from 22 to 18.8 hours per safety inspection and from 40 to 34.7 hours per health inspection. The number of citations for willful violations decreased from 607 in FY 1999 to 391 in FY 2003. The average penalty per violation and per willful violations both increased in FY 2003 from the FY 2002 level, while the average penalty per serious violation decreased to its lowest level since 1999. Between FY 1999 and FY 2003 the number of employees who work in workplaces inspected by federal OSHA inspections decreased by nearly 12 percent. The average number of hours spent per inspection also decreased between FY 1999 and FY 2003, from 22 to 18.8 hours per safety inspection and from 40 to 34.7 hours per health inspection. The number of citations for willful violations decreased from 607 in FY 1999 to 391 in FY 2003. The average penalty per violation and per willful violations both increased in FY 2003 from the FY 2002 level, while the average penalty per serious violation decreased to its lowest level since 1999.
More worrying is the prospect of a possible second Bush administration which plans to increase the number of VPP programs 10-fold and guess where the budget for that expansion will come from?

Which brings us to....

2. Voluntary Programs (17%): Two words: "They're expanding" More here and here, if you're really interested.

Which brings us to the winner by a mile. The envelope please...

1. Seatbelts (34%): Yes, you heard it here, OSHA's number one priority of the new century is apparently seatbelts. OSHA wasn't even created until 1971, but that's not keeping the agency from championing the leading safety issue of the 1960's.

OK, OK, it's true, as Henshaw says that that highway incidents are the leading cause of occupational deaths and nearly one-quarter of on-the-job fatalities involve motor vehicle incidents. And part of the campaign allegedly deals with "safe driving," but most of the campaign seems to be focused exclusively on seatbelts. One of the many things that bother me about this is the obvious "blame the worker (for driving badly without buckling up)" overtones of this whole campaign. I haven't heard anything about OSHA doing (or even citing) any research concerning the causes of highway incidents showing that cauases other than reckless or careless workers have been investigated -- like fatigue, work speed-up, faulty vehicle maintenance, etc. And how many highway-related fatalities are actually caused by workers not wearing seatbelts? OSHA presents no evidence to support this huge campaign.

Anyway, now we know what OSHA really stands for: the Occupational Safety Seatbelt and Health Administration.