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

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Jail!

This looks like a pretty fucking big, decent, knowledgeable, professional company, doesn't it?
Sunesis has been in the construction industry for 10 years and most of our employees have been in the industry much longer. With more than 100 employees and a vast array of equipment, we are prompt, efficient and very competitive.

We are experienced in construction projects of many sizes and types. Our projects range from $50,000 to $5,000,000 and encompass various industries - public, private, commercial, industrial and heavy/highway.

Performance and service are important to us! We continually work to improve through innovative ideas and new technologies, and our staff is experienced, committed and knowledgeable about the construction industry. We can handle various construction challenges and complexities and still deliver your project on time and within budget.
Google them and you get almost 1,000 hits about all the contracts they've won.

So what they hell are they sending a worker to his death down a 25 foot deep trench?

And another thing while I'm foaming at the mouth. Sunesis was the contractor for the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. Don't municipalities have some responsibility to make sure that their contractors are operating safely? And once they kill someone in such blatant disregard for the law or human life, shouldn't Sunesis lose the right to get any more government contracts?

Just asking.

UPDATE: Apparently, the company was rushing to meet a deadline. OK, that explains it.

And Cincinnati New 5 reports the death as a "freak accident." It was not a freak accident. There's a very well known OSHA regulation prohibiting workers from going into an unprotected trench that is over 5 feet deep. Nothing "freak" about it. It was predictable, forseeable and preventable.

UPDATE 2:
Ran across the contract for the Deer Park project. Seems the contractor was supposed to maintain a safe workplace:
B. The Contractor shall at all times conduct the work safely in order to assure a safe work site. The Contractor shall be responsible for the safety of the Contractor?s employees, agents and subcontractors, City personnel and all other personnel or persons at the work site. The Contractor shall be responsible for the adequacy and safety of all construction methods or procedures and the safe prosecution of the work.

C. The Contractor shall be responsible at all times to conduct the work and keep the work site in compliance with federal, state and local safety laws and regulations, including but not limited to Occupational Safety and health Administration (OSHA) requirements.
Nope, didn't find anything that says "...unless you're really in a hurry."

.

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Weekly Toll

Lowlights this week: A bunch of heat-related deaths (who would have known it gets hot in the summer?), a couple of teens killed on the farm, and one injured on the side of the road.

Construction Worker Dies In Deer Park Trench Collapse


SYCAMORE TWP., OH -- A trench collapse killed a construction worker in Deer Park Sunday.

Crews from Deer Park, Silverton and the Hamilton County Urban Search & Rescue are still at the scene in the 3700 block of East Galbraith Road in Deer Park, working to recover the victim who may be buried 25 feet deep.

The victim has been identified as Timothy Roark, 28, of Brooksville, Kentucky. (More here.)


Nightclub Owner Killed

Birmingham, AL -- A Hueytown man was shot to death early Thursday during an apparent robbery at his west Birmingham club.

George Lewis
, 54, was gunned down about 3:30 a.m. while he and a co-worker were closing up King George's Old School Lounge on Third Avenue West.


Grain elevator worker falls to his death

HILLSBORO, N.D -- A grain elevator grain elevator worker fell about 45 feet to his death, the sheriff says. The man of the 37-year-old man was not immediately released. Traill County Sheriff Mike Crocker said the man fell from a catwalk about 1:30 p.m., Thursday.

Crocker said the man was an employee of Alton Agronomy, about four miles south of Hillsboro. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

Man Killed In Auto Plant Accident

KOKOMO, Ind. -- A man was killed in an accident early Thursday morning at the Daimler-Chrysler transmission plant in Kokomo.

Police said the man became entangled in some machinery about 30 feet above ground at about 3:25 a.m.

Officials with the plant identified the victim as Bret Maggert. He had suffered a head injury and was unconscious when emergency workers arrived.

Plant officials said they believe Maggert slipped while working on a conveyor belt. Chrysler is working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine how the accident occurred.


Man killed by falling tree


CASPER, WY - A lawn and tree business employee died when he was struck by a falling tree, the second death of a tree cutter here this month, police said.

Joseph Pedry, 24, of Casper, died from head and neck injuries Tuesday while cutting down trees south of Casper, according to Gary Hazen, Natrona County's deputy coroner.

Hazen said investigators are trying to determine how the accident happened.

On July 9, Victor Heinze, 50, of Thermopolis, was cutting a tree on Casper Mountain when a dead tree was dislodged, striking him in the head and killing him.


Woman killed in construction crash

GOSHEN, NY -- A New York woman was killed Wednesday morning on Route 63 after losing control of a construction vehicle, state police said. Melissa M. Darrow, 569 Argersinger Road, Fultonville, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Darrow, 35, was operating a rubber tire Hyster Roller and descending a hill on Route 63 south of Hautboy Hill Road when she apparently lost control, witnesses told police.

"The roller ran off the road, striking a tree, causing the operator to be ejected and fatally injured," State Police Sgt. J. Paul Vance said in a press release.

Darrow was traveling north on Route 63, picking up speed and the roller began to fishtail as she lost control, according to an accident report from state police Troop B in North Canaan. The roller crossed the double-yellow line twice as Darrow attempted to regain control before crossing the south lane, leaving the road and colliding with a tree, according to the report.


Motive alleged in slaying

San Leandro, CA -- A convicted methamphetamine user fired seven shots and killed a San Leandro police officer to prevent the officer from learning that he was carrying two guns and drugs, police said in court documents released Thursday.

Irving Alexander Ramirez, 23, who was on probation, was afraid that the contraband meant an automatic return trip to jail, authorities said. His fear intensified when Officer Nels "Dan" Niemi ran the suspect's name over the police radio after stopping Ramirez and four others on a noise complaint at about 10:50 p.m. Monday, police said.

Without warning, Ramirez fired one shot from a 10mm semiautomatic handgun -- and then fired six more shots as Niemi, 42, was lying on the ground near Doolittle Drive and Belvedere Avenue, according to a chilling scenario outlined in court records. Police found Ramirez's ID near an unconscious Niemi, who died at a local hospital, the records said.


Worker dies in accident at Enfield construction site

ENFIELD, CT - Police and federal officials are investigating an accident Wednesday that killed a Hartford construction worker at the Kohl's Plaza on Elm Street.

Timothy Ford, 50, a masonry worker, was pinned between a wall and a piece of construction equipment around 4:51 p.m. police said.

Deputy Chief Carl Sferrazza said today that Ford was working on the roof of Best Buy, which is under construction, when a "boom-type" construction vehicle tipped as it was raising materials to the roof. The vehicle tipped due to the weight of the materials, pinning Ford, he added.


Funeral arrangements set for Mattawan police officer killed in crash

Mattawan, MI -- Funeral arrangements have been announced for a Mattawan police officer killed in the line of duty this week .

Twenty-one-year-old Scot Beyerstedt died after his cruiser went off the road and hit a tree during a high-speed chase. His partner, Officer Scott Hutchins, was released from a hospital on Wednesday.


Worker dies repairing roof at airport

Boston, MA -- A contract worker for JetBlue Airways died yesterday morning while doing repairs on the roof of Terminal C at Logan Airport, officials said. It was not clear how the man died, but it does not appear to be suspicious, a Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman said. The spokesman said he did not know the name of the man, who worked for Maintech, a company based in Wallington, N.J., or how he died. JetBlue officials referred calls to Maintech. No one could be reached there last night.

Worker Found Dead Of Heat Illness

Huraon, CA -- On July 15, a farmworker was found dead in a melon field southwest of Huron. The cause of his death has not been determined, and the Fresno County Coroner's Office is waiting on toxicology tests. No foul play is suspected.

The man was working under the name of Ramon Hernandez, but his identity has not been confirmed. He was not carrying identification, and no records or documents have been found to confirm his identity.


Construction worker falls 40 feet to death

Deerfield Beach, FL -- A 25-year-old construction worker died today after he apparently fell from the roof of a building in Deerfield Beach, according to the Broward Sheriff's Office.

The man, an Opa-Locka resident whose name the sheriff's office is withholding, was atop the roof of a warehouse at 2001 Green Road. He plunged about 40 feet to the ground at around 12:19 p.m., BSO said.


Worker Electrocuted At Allen Park School

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A worker at the site of a school renovation project in Allen Park was electrocuted on Tuesday morning, Local 4 reported.

Bill Stone, 32, was with a crew from Environmental Maintenance Engineers Inc. removing asbestos from Allen Park High School when the incident occurred.

Stone was in a tunnel spraying a sealant near an electrical fan that was helping to vent the fumes, Local 4 reported. He apparently put one hand on a pipe and the other on the fan and was electrocuted.


Farmworker Collapses in Heat, Dies

Arvin, CA - The second San Joaquin Valley farmworker in a year has died of heat exposure in triple-digit temperatures, sparking renewed calls from labor leaders for worker safety regulations in extreme heat. Witnesses said Salud Zamudio Rodriguez, 42, was picking bell peppers in Arvin, Calif., south of Bakersfield, in 105-degree heat Wednesday when he complained of feeling ill, according to Lupe Martinez, a vice president of United Farm Workers of America.


Tribune Worker Dies From Accident


La Crosse, WI -- La Crosse Police are investigating the death of a press operator at the La Crosse Tribune. 24-year-old Larry Humfeld of Stoddard died Sunday at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center. Police say he was struck earlier that day by a roll of newsprint.


Man Dies Falling From Ladder

WAUKESHA, WI - A 37-year-old Waukesha man died two days after falling from a ladder at the Waukesha Family YMCA and fracturing his skull in an empty whirlpool. Dave Farra worked at the YMCA, 320 E. Broadway, for more than five years and was a maintenance supervisor, said Chris Becker, the YMCA executive director. Farra left behind a wife and children, Becker said. The whirlpool is drained and cleaned once a week, Becker said. Farra had drained the whirlpool Tuesday and climbed a ladder to change a light bulb that hung directly above the whirlpool, Becker said.


Worker dies in tree trimming incident

CLEMSON, S.C. - A Greenville man has died after a power line fell during a tree trimming operation, electrocuting the victim. Gene Barry Brown, 41, died about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Kandy Kelley, Pickens County deputy coroner. An autopsy was planned Wednesday, Kelley said. Brown was working on the ground and a worker was above him clearing limbs from power lines when a limb fell on a power line, bringing it down, Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon said.


Highway worker hit by truck, killed

Atlanta, GA - A highway worker was killed and another injured Tuesday afternoon when they were struck by a rental truck while picking up trash on I-20 at the Newton-Walton County line. Authorities said both workers, who were working as contractors for the Georgia Department of Transportation, were illegal immigrants. The one who was injured was a boy about 14 years old.


Trench collapse at university kills construction worker

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- A construction worker died Wednesday in a trench collapse at the University of Rochester, fire officials said. Capt. Dan McBride said 21-year-old Brandon McLane of Henrietta was working on utility lines near a residence hall around 9:50 a.m. when the walls of the trench gave way, burying him up to his shoulders. McLane was removed after 15 minutes and died at the hospital. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was investigating the cause, but McBride said rain may have played a role.


Carwash Worker Dies in Compressor Explosion

Irvine, CA - A man was killed Saturday when an air compressor ruptured and exploded at a carwash in Orange.

Javier Ulloa, 46, of Long Beach was working at Chevron Car Wash in the 1400 block of West Chapman Avenue when the compressor exploded at 9:25 a.m. Saturday, police said.


Stevens Point trucker dies in flatbed rollover


KRONENWETTER, WI - A 23-year-old Stevens Point man died while hauling lumber on a flatbed truck that rolled late Monday morning near Highway X and Maple Ridge Road, police say.

Someone near the scene heard the crash and called 911, said Officer Luis Lopes of the Kronenwetter Police Department. No other vehicles were involved.

Emergency workers found the truck in a northbound ditch when they arrived at the scene just before noon.

The man, whose name police did not release on Monday, had to be extricated from the vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.


Security Guard Is Shot to Death at Restaurant

Los Angeles, CA -- A security guard was shot to death outside a restaurant early Saturday after an argument in the parking lot escalated, authorities said. A man got out of a black Honda about 3:45 a.m. and fired a handgun, apparently at patrons on the east side of the Brite Spot restaurant on Firestone Boulevard, said Lt. David Smith of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Gerardo Gutierrez, 25, of Los Angeles, who worked for the restaurant, was pronounced dead at the scene. The circumstances of the argument were unknown.


Security guard shot dead at north side nightclub

Houston, TX -- Houston police are investigating the fatal shooting of a man in the 8600 block of Irvington about 6 a.m. today.

The victim, Fernando Ramirez, was working as a uniformed security guard at a nighclub where he was asked to escort two unruly men outside.

Witnesses told police they heard gunshots in the parking lot and one club patron found Ramirez shot on the ground.

He had been shot twice in the chest and was pronounced dead at the scene.


Trucker killed after driving off I-78

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, NJ -- A Pennsylvania man died early Wednesday morning when the tractor-trailer he was driving drifted off the highway for an unknown reason and overturned on Interstate 78.

Wilmer L. Maurer Jr., 49, of Hegins, Pa., was pronounced dead at the scene by the Mobile Intensive Care Unit of Hunterdon Medical Center in Raritan Township.

Maurer drifted onto the left shoulder of the westbound highway, traveled up an embankment and jackknifed at about 2:34 a.m., New Jersey State Trooper Miguel Holguin said.

It was unclear why Maurer drove off the road in the 1995 Kenworth tractor-trailer, police said.


Teen killed in farming accident

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - A 13-year-old boy was killed Wednesday while working on a Pequea Township farm, investigators said. Jonathan Stoltzfus, of Sadsbury Township, was pronounced dead at the scene of the 11:11 a.m. accident at 1050 Byerland Church Road.

Investigators determined Stoltzfus was steering a team of mules as it pulled a gasoline-powered hay-processing machine through a field. The teen was behind the mules and in front of the machinery.

The left wheel of Stoltzfus’ cart struck a hole, startling the mules. Stoltzfus fell onto the ground, and the hay-processing machine rolled over him.

Stoltzfus became entangled in the machinery and was dragged several hundred yards, investigators said.

Victim identified in ditch collapse

KOOTENAI, ID -- Bonner County Sheriff's officials have identified the man who was killed in a utility ditch cave-in on Thursday.

Jeffrey David Lester, a 47-year-old from Sagle, died when the side of the ditch gave way, trapping him. Sheriff's officials said Lester was extricated and transported to Bonner General Hospital, where he later died.

The industrial accident remains under investigation. Bonner County Sheriff's Capt. Jim Drake said additional information about the incident could not be released because the investigation remains ongoing.

Lester was working for Tucker Excavation & Pipeline of Sandpoint, according to Drake. The ditch collapse happened at 2:50 p.m. on the west side of North Kootenai Road, near the Kootenai Meadows Cutoff Road intersection.


Excavator machine kills woman

Ocoee, FL -- A woman was killed Tuesday after being hit by an excavator machine.

The excavator backed over the 50-year-old woman at 8:50 a.m. while she was removing temporary fencing at Ocoee Commons near West Colonial Drive and Blackwood Avenue, Ocoee Fire Marshal Butch Stanley said.

Paramedics transported her by ambulance to Health Central hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The woman was a temporary hire for Workers Temporary Staffing.


Farm worker dies in tobacco combine in Sumter County

Sumter, SC - A 55-year-old farm worker has been killed by a tobacco combine while working in a field in Sumter County. Eddie Wilder of Alcolu died Wednesday morning. A co-worker found Wilder between the blades of the combine. A sheriff's department report says Jesse Durant told authorities he saw Wilder in the driver's seat about 9:25am Wednesday. Durant says he noticed Wilder was not in the seat about 15 minutes later and found him between the combine's blades.


Sanitation worker, 24, killed in fall from truck

Ossining, NY -- A village sanitation worker was killed yesterday morning when police said he fell from a moving garbage truck and hit his head on the pavement. John Rodrigues, 24, was working with a crew collecting recyclables on Browning Drive about 9 a.m. when, standing on the rear platform of the truck, he fell head first onto the roadway. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow. His father, Joseph, said his son was well-liked and respected on the job and in the Ossining community. "There was nobody like him," said Joseph Rodrigues of 129 Croton Ave. "He would do anything for anybody and not expect anything in return."


Farmer dies in tractor mishap

Gainesville, FL -- A Lula man died Wednesday in a farming accident after the tractor on which he was working rolled over him, authorities said. Hall County Coroner Marion Merck said investigators with the Hall County Sheriff's Office ruled Christopher C. Jackson's death accidental. Merck said he was not involved in the matter, which the man's personal doctor handled, and that there would be no autopsy.


Worker killed at auto supplier in Bowling Green

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- A Bowling Green man working at an auto springs plant was fatally injured when the equipment started abruptly and crushed him, according to Warren County Deputy Coroner Dwayne Lawrence. Marvin Lee Smith was taken to a Bowling Green hospital after the incident early Thursday, Lawrence said, and died of massive trauma. Lawrence said Smith was in a pit working on a piece of equipment at the NASCO plant when the equipment turned on and crushed him against a wall.

Fla. Man Electrocuted While Working On Sign

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Lakeland police said a man was electrocuted while working on a sign Friday. Authorities said David Aycock had 25 years of experience in the illuminated sign business. He was working on the roof of a building when he was shocked and killed. Police said Aycock either fell into a 7- foot well behind the sign or was working in it when he was shocked. They said the Lakeland Fire Department had to get the victim out.


Railroad employee dies after being crushed by train car

RAGLAND, AL — A railroad employee was killed Friday morning in Ragland when a train car derailed in the shipping yard at National Cement Company, crushing him against a building wall. John Michael Willis, 56, of Gadsden was killed when the last car of a Alabama & Tennessee River Railway train derailed, pinning him between the train car and a building wall. The cause of death is blunt force trauma, according to St. Clair County Coroner Dennis Russell. The Ragland Police Department received the call to National Cement at approximately 10:30 a.m., said Police Chief Bubba Brown. Ragland Police and Ragland Fire and Rescue responded to the scene.


Worker Electrocuted

Columbus, OH -- A worker was electrocuted Friday afternoon at a Brewery District construction site. The victim has been identified as 39-year-old Carl Henson, who recently moved from the Worthington area. Henson was operating a lift vehicle when his body touched high-voltage power lines, killing him instantly. "The gentleman was working, trying to get extra work done before he went home for the night," Columbus homicide detective Brian Carney said. He was working alone, high above Deshler Street just south of downtown, where the Brewer’s Gate town homes are being constructed.


Heat suspected in deaths of worker, senior

Bakersfield, CA -- Meanwhile, coroner's officials said Friday they still don't know whether this week's death of a farmworker near Arvin was heat-related. Toxicology tests are needed to establish a cause of death for 40-year-old Augustine Gudino of Visalia, they said.

Gudino was found dead by co-workers early Thursday morning; he'd gone missing on Wednesday. His brother said Gudino looked ill while working Wednesday, but he has diabetes so the cause of death wasn't clear.


Young lineman with Singing River Electric killed

PASCAGOULA, MI - A 24-year-old lineman at Singing River Electric Power Association died Thursday night after he came into contact with a power line while trying to restore power to a church in southeast Greene County, authorities said Friday. Nathan Pierce, a journeyman lineman and six-year employee of the electric company, and other crew members went to White's Chapel Church about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, authorities said, to repair the weather-related power outage.


Heat May Have Killed Second Farm Worker

ROXBORO, N.C. -- A migrant farm worker who was found dead near a Person County soybean field died of heart attack or heat stroke, the county sheriff said Tuesday. Pablo Ordaz was working at the Walker Farm, a tobacco and grain farm in Olive Hill, on Tuesday when he said he wanted to quit for the day because he didn't feel well, Person County Sheriff Dennis Oakley said. Ordaz left the farm and was last seen walking toward a mobile home at the farm. He never returned to the home he shared with other workers.


Boy killed in farm machine accident

OWEGO, N.Y. -- A 14-year-old boy was crushed to death after getting caught in a silo unloader while working on a farm.

Cody Martin of Owego was pronounced dead at the scene Wednesday from leg, chest and neck injuries, said Tioga County Sheriff's Lt. Rick Travis.

Martin was helping feed cows with one of the farm owners when the accident happened. The silo unloader is a conveyor belt-like machine that helps bring feed from the silo to the barn to feed cows. Martin was left alone to observe the machine and make sure it didn't plug up, Travis said.

He was found entangled in the machine, but investigators weren't sure how the accident happened.


Carnival worker dies in Franklin

A Hope man taking down a carnival ride died early Sunday as he was rolling a section of cable on the Johnson County fairgrounds. Nathan Gearhart, 40, died about 1:13 a.m., Johnson County Coroner David Lutz said. An autopsy performed in Indianapolis Monday has not determined what Gearhart died of, and the pathologist is awaiting results of toxicology tests to determine if a medical condition contributed to his death, Lutz said.


Three charged in cab driver killing

GREEN TOWNSHIP – Two men and a woman were charged with aggravated murder today in the Tuesday night fatal shooting of a cab driver on Mimosa Lane.

Taxi driver Timothy Deger, 42, of Houston Road in Colerain Township was shot multiple times around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday in the 1300 block of Mimosa Lane, just off of Cleves-Warsaw Pike.

Hamilton County spokesman Steve Barnett said robbery was the motive, but nothing was taken. Authorities found the handgun they believe Williams used to kill Deger, Barnett said.

The suspects were arrested less than a block away from where Deger was found shot to death in the Towne Taxi cab he had been driving for less than four months. Deger, a husband and father who lived in Colerain Township, was dead when police arrived. Deger was an independent cab driver for Towne Taxi.


2 Men Charged in Killing Of Officer at Newark School

Two members of the Bloods gang were charged yesterday with first-degree murder in the schoolyard shooting death on Monday of a Newark school police officer who had intervened in a fistfight between two teenage girls, the authorities said.

Investigators said Mr. Reeds had been found early yesterday at a house in Newark based on information provided by neighbors. The police said they believed Mr. Tindell fired the shot that killed Officer Dwayne Reeves, 35, and wounded a fellow officer, Akia Scott, 26, after they tried to break up the fight. Mr. Tindell was then shot by Officer Scott.


Braselton officer dies in wreck

A Braselton police officer on his way home from a 12-hour shift was killed Monday morning in a two-car wreck on Ga. 365. Karl Todd Helcher, a 34-year-old husband and father of four, was thrown from his police truck after a pickup sideswiped his vehicle near Mud Creek Road, said Trooper Cox with the Georgia State Patrol. Authorities took Helcher to Northeast Georgia Medical Center where he was pronounced dead on arrival, Cox said.


Man Dies After Being Run Over By Dump Truck

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Police said a man died Wednesday morning after he was died yesterday morning while doing repairs on the roof of Terminal C at Logan Airport, officials said. It was not clear how the man died, but it does not appear to be suspicious, a Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman said. The spokesman said he did not know the name of the man, who worked for Maintech, a company based in Wallington, N.J., or how he died. JetBlue officials referred calls to Maintech. No one could be reached there last night.


Man dies while installing utility line

FLORENCE -- A worker was killed Thursday in an industrial accident at Griffin Pipe Products.

Police and company officials said the accident occurred in the afternoon at the company on West Front Street. The worker was identified as Glenn Riley, a 27-year veteran of the company, said company spokesman Joseph Starosta.

Details of the accident were unavailable from police and company officials Thursday night. Starosta said the company is cooperating with federal, state and local authorities in the investigation.


Trucker dies in Thruway crash

Oneida, NY -- A woman was killed Tuesday in Oneida when she drove her tandem tractor-trailer off the shoulder of the Thruway and into a large tree head-on, state police said.

The driver was traveling west near Thruway mile marker 258 when she veered off the right shoulder of the road, troopers said. No other vehicles were involved, said Sgt. Michael White, of Troop T.


Contractor died in accident

Bellingham, WA -- Walter Rohde, 68, has been identified as the man who died Saturday evening when he was pinned under the bulldozer he had been operating after it rolled down an embankment.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo released the man’s name Monday. Rohde, of 5047 Noon Road, was a contractor and owner of Rohde Contractors, Elfo said.

He apparently had been unloading the bulldozer from a trailer on High Noon Road, about two miles from his home, when the side of the road gave way, tilting the trailer and sending the bulldozer rolling 10 feet down the embankment. Rohde was pinned under the bulldozer.


Cab driver killed in overnight crash

Skokie, IL -- A taxi driver was killed and his passenger was injured in an overnight crash involving a cab, a sport-utility vehicle and a tree in north suburban Skokie, CLTV reported.

The accident happened shortly before midnight near Golf Road and Salem Circle, police said. The taxi and the SUV collided, and the cab then slammed into a tree.

Firefighters using special equipment opened the damaged taxi, rescued the cabbie and his passenger and took both victims to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston.

The driver, James Wells, of the 1000 block of Emerson Street, Evanston, was pronounced dead at the hospital at 12:01 a.m., according to a spokewoman for the Cook County medical examiner's office.


Worker dies installing outdoor light

Charlotte, NC -- A person died in a possible electrocution Wednesday afternoon while installing a light outside a northwestern Charlotte home. Duke Power had hired American Lighting & Signalization to install an outdoor safety light in the backyard of a home in the 100 block of South Turner Avenue, said Lucinda Trew, a Duke Power spokeswoman. But shortly after 3 p.m., Medic, the county's ambulance service, was called to the home on what was initially labeled a cardiac arrest, said Eric Morrison, a Medic spokesman.

The worker, whose name was not available, was soon pronounced dead. The cause of death appeared to have been electrocution, Morrison said.

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California Proposes Heat Regulation

Those who don't know, think that there are people around -- scientists, public health officials, government officials and the like, who sit around trying to figure out what hazards might be facing workers and coming up with laws and regulations that make sure people are protected. That would be called prevention.

Those who know realize that no progress is ever made until there's a body count. Then everyone cries "Oy! we must do something. People are dying!"

Over the last month, five California workers died of heat related illness. CalOSHA, to its credit, has now proposed an emergency standard to protect workers against the dangers of working in high heat. It's an emergency standard because previously there were not standards to protect people working in high heat -- no requirements for water, a shadey place to rest, break times or training about the signs of symptoms of heat related illness and how to prevent it.

The standard will:
  • Require education of employees and supervisors likely to be exposed to heat stress on how to prevent heat-related illness and what to do should it occur.

  • Reiterate existing law requiring water -- at least a quart an hour for each worker -- to be available at all times, and ensure that workers understand the importance of drinking water frequently.

  • Require that access to a shaded area is available to any worker suffering from heat illness or needing shade to prevent the onset of illness. "Shade" means blockage of direct sunlight by such things as umbrellas and tarps, not trees or vines, as some farm supervisors were trying to argue.

  • Require the board to review, by no later than Jan. 1, the feasibility of providing shade for rest periods for outdoor employment.
  • Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against workers who exercise their heat-protection rights.
Even the California grape industry is supporting the regulations, making sure that everyone knows workers aren't just dying in agriculture.
Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League in Fresno, said he was "gratified the administration has acted in a timely manner.

"These regulations apply to all employees outdoors, a basic point that has to be understood," he said. "The sun does not play favorites."
The CalOSHA Standards Board will vote in early August to approve the emergency regulations, but they will only be in effect for 120 days unless the Board makes them permanent.

California Assembly Member Judy Chu has also proposed Assembly Bill 805 is aimed at forcing permanent regulations to protect farmworkers from heat stress, although the industry is opposing it.

Three of the five victims of the heat died in the fields. Two were construction workers:

  • Salud Zamudio Rodriguez, a 43-year-old fieldworker who died while harvesting bell peppers July 13 near Arvin.


  • Ramon Hernandez, 42, who was found dead in a melon field near Huron on July 15.


  • Gonzolo Chavez Jr., a laborer who was found dead at a golf course construction site near Marks Avenue and Kearney Boulevard in Fresno on July19.


  • Augustine Gudino, 42, of Visalia, whose body was found in a Kern County vineyard July 21.


  • Eduardo Martinez Morales, a 48-year-old plasterer, who collapsed and died at a job site in El Centro.
The background information on Chu's bill points out that heat related fatalities are nothing new:
Between 1996 and 1999, DOSH investigated eleven work-related fatalities in manufacturing (3), construction (2), wild land fire fighting (2) and agriculture (4). Between 2002 and 2004, at least two additional heat stroke fatalities occurred in agriculture. According to the national survey of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses, The Division of Labor Statistics and Research, California industry had a total of 168 lost workdays from exposure to environmental heat in 1992 and 153 in 1998. Heat illness cases are severely underreported and may be recorded as heart attack or kidney failure.
Note that last sentence again. When I worked at OSHA, I received a weekly workplace fatality report. Every week there were heart attacks that generally weren't investigated because they were assumed to be due to "natural causes." Who knows how many of those may have been heat related, and who knows how many heat-related "heart attacks"are never even reported to OSHA.

Everyone's happy now -- except the families of the workers for whom the regulations have come too late:
"These emergency regulations are a historic breakthrough for farmworkers," said Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers. "It is tragic that farmworkers had to die before government took action. But Gov. Schwarzenegger has done what three previous governors didn't do — he, Sen. Dean Florez and Assembly Member Judy Chu [D-Monterey Park] took action, and we applaud them."
More here and here.

More information on the hazards of heat can be found here:



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Saturday, July 30, 2005


Energy Bill: A Gift From The Best Legislators Money Can Buy

"Every industry gets their own little program," said Myron Ebell of the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute. "There's pork in there for everybody."

Do the American people (especially those who voted this crowed in) have any idea who their representatives are really representing or what their tax dollars are really subsidizing? Do they understand what it means to put former energy industry executives into the White House?

Given how these guys have sold out on energy and environment issues, why would you trust them on workplace safety, labor, consumer, human rights, health care, transportation, military or anything else?

So what does the energy industry get for its hard work electing Republicans to the White House and Congress?

The bill exempts oil and gas industries from some clean-water laws, streamlines permits for oil wells and power lines on public lands, and helps the hydropower industry appeal environmental restrictions. One obscure provision would repeal a Depression-era law that has prevented consolidation of public utilities, potentially transforming the nation's electricity markets.

It also includes an estimated $85 billion worth of subsidies and tax breaks for most forms of energy -- including oil and gas, "clean coal," ethanol, electricity, and solar and wind power. The nuclear industry got subsidies for research, waste reprocessing, construction, operation and even decommission. The petroleum industry got new incentives to drill in the Gulf of Mexico -- as if $60-a-barrel oil wasn't enough of an incentive. The already-subsidized ethanol industry got a federal mandate that will nearly double its output by 2012 -- as well as new subsidies to develop ethanol from other sources.

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For example, it exempts oil and gas companies from Safe Drinking Water Act requirements when they inject fluids -- including some carcinogens -- into the earth at high pressure, a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Betty Anthony, director for exploration and production at the American Petroleum Institute, said states already regulate the process, but residents of Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia and other states have complained that it has polluted groundwater in their communities.

Meanwhile, the measure will streamline Bureau of Land Management drilling permits -- even though the Bush administration already has granted a record number of permits on BLM land. Lawmakers also authorized seismic blasting in sensitive marine areas to gauge offshore oil reserves -- despite a moratorium on drilling in many of those areas. And the bill will exempt petroleum well pads from storm-water regulations under the Clean Water Act. Anthony said the provision makes sense because the wells are already exempt, but critics question why the oil and gas industry, which has seen record profits in recent months, should be exempt from any aspect of environmental law.

"This bill will allow America's most profitable companies to pollute our water supplies," said David Alberswerth of the Wilderness Society. "They're the kings of Capitol Hill."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) also managed to insert at least $500 million in subsidies over a 10-year period -- with the option to double the amount -- for research into deep-water oil and gas drilling, a grant that many lawmakers expect to go to the Texas Energy Center in DeLay's home town of Sugar Land. The bill also includes royalty relief for deep-water drilling projects, a strategy that helped jump-start production in the Gulf during the 1990s.
And let's not forget about the nuclear industry:

The bill's biggest winner was probably the nuclear industry, which received billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks covering almost every facet of operations. There were subsidies for research into new reactor designs, "fusion energy," small-particle accelerators and reprocessing nuclear waste, which would reverse current U.S. policy. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.) even inserted a $250,000 provision for research into using radiation to refine oil.

The bill also included $2 billion for "risk insurance" in case new nuclear plants run into construction and licensing delays. And nuclear utilities will be eligible for taxpayer-backed loan guarantees of as much as 80 percent the cost of theirplants.

Whoa, wait a minute. Rewind. "Research into using radiation to refine oil?"

And what the hell are all of these Democrats doing on this bill? The bill passed the Senate, 74 to 26 and 275 to 156 in the House. Author Rick Pearlstein in a recent speech discussed how the Democrats can regain power:

The Republicans understand us better than we understand ourselves. When we are not credible defenders of the economic interests of ordinary Americans, we amount to little. When we are, we're a nuclear bomb to the heart of their coalition.
I think the Democrats blew it once again on this one.



Thursday, July 28, 2005


AFL-CIO Convention Passes Health and Safety Resolutions. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda?

The AFL-CIO convention has passed two safety and health resolutions. The most activist, Protecting Workers’ Safety and Health, was proposed by the Buffalo, NY, Central Labor Council and resolved that the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions:
maintain a strong commitment to protecting workers’ safety and health and to fully incorporate these issues into expanded mobilization, political and organizing programs. Further, the federation will take a leadership and coordinating role, working with affiliates to build grassroots safety and health campaigns as part of these mobilizing, political and organizing programs.
The resolution points to the important role that health and safety issues can play in organizing:
Historically and currently, safety and health concerns have been a major reason workers have been
willing to organize and join unions. Even when employers have intimidated or overwhelmed organizers on wage, benefit, job security and retirement issues, workers still respond enthusiastically to effective organizing strategies based on workplace safety and health issues.

America’s workers are particularly concerned about safety and health issues that grow out of basic conflicts between workers and employers. These conflicts include abusive workload pressure, speed ups, excessive overtime, short staffing, dangerous exploitation of immigrants, cruel mistreatment of injured workers, etc. Most workers can appreciate a well-crafted message about the basic injustice of their jobs and the effects on their safety and health.
Although the resolution doesn't call for the resurrection of the recently abolished health and safety department (otherwise it wouldn't have made it to the floor), sponsors hoped that AFL-CIO leadership would realize that the goals of the resolution couldn't be attained any other way.

After all, without a fully staffed department, how does this happen?
The expansion of the federation’s efforts to move forward on safety and health issues and to stop assaults on existing laws and standards requires strategic leadership and the capacity to plan and implement these initiatives. To do anything less would be a serious disservice both to workers’ safety and health and to our hopes for a stronger labor movement.
The second health and safety resolution passed was essentailly the "House" resolution that apears at every convention and calls on the AFL-CIO to "continue to protect workers’ lives and health through a strong commitment to occupational safety and health."

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Ultimately, of course, most resolutions just provide filler between convention speeches. The test will be whether the unions in and outside of the AFL-CIO start to aggressivelly employ health and safety issues in their organizing campaigns, and whether the unions and the federation(s) have the strategic sense, capacity, resources and support that will be needed to fight off the coming attacks on worker safety from corporate America and Republicans in Congress.

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Hispanic Workers Shun Safety Training

Gee, I wonder why:



Hispanics shun safety class

State is battling increasing work injuries and deaths within group

By Deborah Bulkeley
Deseret Morning News

Work-related injuries and deaths among Hispanic workers are on the rise, according to federal statistics, while that statistic is falling for the general working population.

But educating Spanish speaking workers about on-the-job safety is proving to be a difficult task.

Seriously, read the article. It provides a perfect example of why "If you build it, they will come," doesn't work without a sophisticated understanding of your audience. I was on the committee at OSHA that decided who would receive training grants. Knowing from my years at AFSCME how difficult it is to attract trainees -- even when you have a "captive" audience -- I was always amazed and disappointed to read grant applications that put enormous effort into developing a training program and writing training materials, but almost no thought into marketing the program, particularly when they were attempting to reach out to workers from a different culture, who may be working several different jobs and whose employers don't really care about safety.

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United Farmworkers Fight To Stop Heat Deaths In California's Fields

My 19 year old waitress daughter was complaining yesterday that the restaurant she works at was making her wait tables outside where the Washington D.C. heat index was topping 105 degrees.

"There must be breaking some kind of law." Nope. You work in the heat or you don't work. Of course, as bad as waiting tables is, it's not even close to deadly farm work in California's central valley:
There was no eulogy for Salud Zamudio-Rodriguez after his death in the fields here.

In the 24 years since he left his village in rural Mexico, family and co-workers said, he made but one lasting impression. Whether picking lemons in Riverside County, grapefruit in the Coachella Valley or oranges in Tulare County, he moved like a machine up and down the rows, they said.

But two weeks ago, in the 105-degree sun of a brutal July, he could not keep up with the tractor that was dictating his pace in a bell pepper field near this Kern County town.

Co-workers said that for more than two hours, the tractor doubled its speed in a dash to finish the last pick of one field so the grower could begin a fresh field the next morning.

Zamudio-Rodriguez, 42, was so spent that a few minutes before the shift ended on the afternoon of July 13, he broke away from the machine and collapsed.


As the others were boarding their vans to go home, he began to shake violently from heatstroke.

"We watched him dying in the field," said Soledad Reyes, 43, who had been working next to him.

The bell pepper field belonged to Donald Valpredo, a longtime cotton and vegetable grower in the Bakersfield area. Valpredo called the worker's death a tragedy. He declined to comment on allegations by the co-workers that the crew had been pushed to go faster.

"There's an investigation and we are trying to cooperate. I don't think it's fair for me to say anything else without all the facts," he said.

"What's proper for me to say is our sympathies and regrets go to his family and friends," he said.

Even before Zamudio-Rodriguez's funeral Saturday, two more farmworkers died in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. Both had worked in temperatures of about 108 degrees. The body of a melon picker was found July 14 next to a patch of ripe cantaloupes in west Fresno County. The body of a grape picker was found a week later beneath the shade of a vine in Kern County.
As I wrote earlier, CalOSHA is working on an emergency standard and the state legislature is considering a law.

And the United Farmworkers are leading the battle for protections:
Not surprisingly, the deaths have brought new energy to the United Farm Workers union, which held a march through Arvin on Friday night reminiscent of those in the 1960s and early 1970s when Cesar Chavez led a grape boycott and paralyzing labor strikes up and down the Central Valley.

Though it represents only a fraction of the grape pickers it once did, the union vows to use its organizing muscle and four radio stations statewide to press for higher wages and the passage of AB 805's tougher standards.

"It's not like the industry didn't have a warning," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. "Last year, after the death of Asuncion Valdivia from heatstroke, we sent letters to the major table grape growers. We asked them to take voluntary steps to deal with the heat.

"Not one grower responded to our call or implemented any changes."
The industry, of course, would rather depend on education and training than evil regulations.
Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, said agriculture has not ignored the issue.

"For a year now, we've been holding seminars with growers, supervisors and workers on how to recognize and prevent heat-related illness," he said.

In the vast fields of Kern County, which stretch from the base of the Tehachapi Mountains to the outskirts of Delano 60 miles north, farmworkers talk about a few big growers who, they say, act with a kind of impunity. Rarely do state workplace regulators make their way into these fields, they say.

They pointed to Giumarra Vineyards, one of the largest table grape growers in the world, where the 53-year-old Valdivia died last July after working 10 hours in 100-degree heat. It was also a Giumarra vineyard where Augustine Gudino, 40, was found dead last week.

Farmworkers said Giumarra pushes its laborers to pick and pack at a fast pace and meet production quotas even in extreme heat. This season, they say, the pressure to harvest the grapes is even greater because the fruit, damaged by mildew, is deteriorating by the day.
And when you add a speed-up to the heat, the combination can be deadly:
Reyes, whose 17-year-old son was working beside her, has signed a written declaration for the UFW detailing the events. The son confirmed her account.

As the tractor moved through the fields, it pulled a conveyor belt onto which the pickers dumped their buckets of bell peppers, Reyes said in an interview. Typically, the tractor driver sets a reasonable speed, enabling the workers to drink water and still harvest three buckets of peppers every 15 minutes, she said.

But from 12:15 to 2:45 p.m. that day, the tractor driver, at the behest of the grower's foreman, set a pace that required them to pick six buckets every 15 minutes, she said.

"In all my years of picking crops, I have never worked that fast," Reyes said. "All of us were skipping plants to keep up, but Salud was trying to pick every pepper."

Five minutes before the end of the workday, she said, Zamudio-Rodriguez told her he was feeling ill and needed to quit. Instead of resting, though, he kept walking back and forth in a delirious state.

At some point, she said, Zamudio-Rodriguez walked up to the crew boss and collapsed in his arms.

The crew boss took off his hat and tried to fan him. Workers set him in the shade of an adjacent almond orchard and tried to give him water. But it did no good.

"I told the crew boss we have to call the ambulance," Reyes said. "It took 30 minutes for them to arrive. All in all, he was like that for an hour before he got any help."

On the way to Bakersfield's Mercy Hospital, still deep in the fields, Zamudio-Rodriguez died.



Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Unsettling Questions at BP Texas City -- Wall St. Journal

That radical left-wing newsrag, the Wall St. Journal, had a front page article today about the BP Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170, indicating that it may have been cutbacks in staffing and maintenance that caused the explosion. BP, as you know, blamed the explosion on “surprising and deeply disturbing” mistakes made by plant workers who did not follow proper procedures, instead of poor maintenance or malfunctioning pumps, indicators and alarms that caused the problem.

According to the Journal, "now the search for the cause is raising some unsettling questions"
BP has denied any connection between cost-cutting and plant fatalities. It contends that overall safety at its American refineries has improved since it acquired them.

"I think the culture of safety, in terms of policies and procedures, was there," said Ross Pillari, president of BP Products North America. "But the implementation of these policies and procedures was clearly not there, because if it was, the accidents wouldn't have happened."
Now what the hell does that mean? The "culture of safety" was there, but "implementation of these policies and procedures was clearly not there?" I got news for you buddy. If people aren't implementing the policies and procedures, there's no "culture of safety."

Despite Pilari's assertion, it appears that BP was the model of bad workplace culture. Workplace "culture," also known as organizational factors does not just consist of managers telling workers to be safe and follow the rules. According to James Reason's book Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents (quoted in by Fred Manuele's "Serious Injury Prevention" Occupational Health & Safety, June 2005):
Latent conditions, such as poor design, gaps in supervision, undetected manufacturing defects or maintenance failures, unworkable procedures, clumsy automation, shortfalls in training, less than adequate tools and equipment, may be present for many years before they combine with local circumstances and active failures to penetrate the system's layers of defenses They arise from strategic and other top-level decisions made by governments, regulators, manufacturers, designers and organizational managers. The impact of these decisions spreads throughout the organization, shaping a distinctive corporate culture and creating error-producing factors within the individual workplaces
If BP has a culture of safety, it sure isn't preventing serious accidents, as the Journal summarizes:
BP has five refineries in the U.S. Two others that, like Texas City, were acquired during a buying spree started in the late-1990s have also had worker deaths recently.

On New Year's Day 2004, a technician at a plant in Whiting, Ind., fell and cracked his skull after a corroded handrail gave way. BP investigators concluded in an internal report, separate from the one issued in May, that there hadn't been a procedure to inspect and repair the facility's handrails, which date to the 1940s. BP said that it has since inspected all handrails at its refineries. Indiana regulators fined BP $1,625 over the incident.

In May, a contractor was found dead at BP's refinery in Cherry Point, Wash. An initial company investigation has found no evidence that the death was related to an accident, a person familiar with the inquiry said. The death is under investigation by the county coroner and state safety regulators.

Even excluding the Cherry Point death and the 15 fatalities in March, BP's four other deaths since January 2002 are more than the number recorded by its main rivals in the U.S., according to federal data and information provided by the companies. BP is America's third-largest refiner. No. 1 ConocoPhillips and No. 2 Exxon Mobil Corp. each had one death during that period.
The Journal also noted that staff reductions may have been to blame for the safety problems:
BP acquired the Texas City refinery from Amoco. In the 1990s, Amoco had reduced the plant's unionized work force by 19%, to 1,300 people, according to Sonny Sanders, a former Texas City employee and longtime labor-union official. Under Amoco, major maintenance overhauls, called "turnarounds," became less frequent, said Mr. Sanders, now a United Steelworkers representative. BP said it wasn't in a position to comment on Amoco's actions. The steelworkers union, which represents BP employees, has challenged the company's findings on the blast and is conducting its own probe.

As it absorbed its American acquisitions in 1999 and 2000, BP cut its work force of U.S. refinery employees and contractors by 10%, largely by means of buyouts in Texas City and Whiting, Ind. At Texas City, the staff of unionized maintenance craftsmen and operators fell by 213, or about 18%, the company said in written answers to questions for this article. The reductions were partially offset by greater use of outside contractors, BP added.
And then there's the maintenance cutbacks:
"The approach to reducing costs was well thought out and systematic," BP's Mr. Pillari said. It "does not appear, in so far as we have seen, to have had anything to do with the fatalities" at Texas City or anywhere else, he adds. The company said in written answers that it has steadily increased overall spending on maintenance in the U.S. At Texas City in 2003-2004, BP said that it spent 40% more per barrel of oil it refined than was spent in 1997-1998 under Amoco. BP declined to disclose dollar figures.

Current and former Texas City employees and contractors paint a different picture. Under BP, the refinery deferred some routine maintenance inspections because of staff shortages, according to three former employees and one current worker. In addition, certain safety procedures have been ignored at the plant, according to seven people who have worked there. Contractors and BP employees sometimes work high above ground without proper safety gear, according to four of these people. BP said that it requires strict compliance with its policies for working at an elevation.

But OSHA's regional director, Mr. Miles, said that managers at other Texas refineries he has inspected, including one nearby owned by Valero Energy Corp., are more actively involved in safety issues. "You don't see that down the street" at BP, he said.

Mr. Crow, the veteran maintenance contractor who was injured in March at Texas City, said disrepair at the plant was worse than what he has seen at comparable refineries. He said he was particularly troubled by corroding metal springs that hold refinery pipes in place. "Everything out there is rusty," he said.

Glenn Alexander, a 45-year-old electrical contractor who suffered shoulder and back injuries in the March blast, said corrosion plagued much of the refinery. Last year, he said, a metal structure supporting power and communications lines high above ground collapsed because of corrosion. No one was injured. Another section of the same sort of structure "was wobbly and could have fallen any minute," he said. Mr. Alexander was a plaintiff in the negligence suit against BP but agreed to a confidential settlement after he was interviewed.

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MSHA Makes The "Wrong Decision" To Blame Workers For Accidents

That management likes to blame worker behavior for accidents will come as no surprise to American workers. That this "blame the worker" theory is not consistent with the facts, that it doesn't get to the root causes of workplace incidents is also not a surprise to American workers.

So this new Mine Safety and Health Administration program comes as a great surprise to all of us.

MSHA Launches New Safety and Health Initiative

ARLINGTON, Va.- The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today launched "Make the Right Decision," a safety and health initiative that helps miners and mine operators focus on human factors, such as decision-making, when at work. The campaign encourages miners and mine management to work together on safety and health issues.

"MSHA will increase its focus on safety decisions during this campaign, which is not a limited-time initiative," said David G. Dye, deputy assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We want miners and management to make the right decisions to ensure the safety and health of America's miners."

Through "Make the Right Decision," miners and mine management will receive tools to help them recognize hazards and take appropriate action to correct or avoid risks. As part of the educational initiative, MSHA officials will conduct safety talks with miners and mine operators at mine sites nationwide and distribute posters, stickers and fliers with campaign messages.

Agency representatives plan to incorporate two programs in the "Make-the-Right-Decision" campaign. The first program is SLAM, an acronym for stop, look, analyze and manage. The second is SMART, an acronym for stop, measure, act, review and train. Together, these programs address the spectrum of safety decisions made in the mining workplace, from risk assessment at the miner level to risk management at the operator level.
So what's the problem with encouraging workers to make the right decision?

First, the assumption of this program is that most accident happen because workers make the wrong decisions. In other words, all you need is a little education, training and enlightenment and all will be well. If accidents continue to happen, they're caused by worker carelessness, incompetence, stupidity, suicidal tendencies -- and just plain dumb decisions.

In other words, "Make the Right Decision" is just your same old "behavioral safety" program under a new name. Behavioral safety theories say that worker carelessness or misconduct is the cause of most accidents, and disciplining workers is the answer. But behavioral theories don't hold up to a closer look at the root causes of most workplace accidents: generally management system and organizational problems that lead to unsafe conditions. (Confined Space has covered the issue numerous times before -- Here, here, here, here, and here to name just a few)

So what about these two "unavoidable accidents" reported last year? Would they be alive today if they had just made the right decision?
Two miners killed in pair of incidents

After badly burning his hands in a coal-mining accident earlier this year in Perry County, Edwin Pennington said he was finished with mining work, but he returned for the money, his father said yesterday.

On Wednesday night, Pennington, 25, of Harlan County, was crushed to death in a rock fall at a Bell County Coal Corp. mine — one of two underground mining deaths hours apart in Eastern Kentucky.

Eric Chaney, 26, of Pike County, was crushed in a roof collapse early yesterday at a Dags Branch Coal Corp. mine in Fedscreek in Pike County, officials said.

The deaths were the second and third fatal mining accidents in Kentucky this year, and the first underground fatalities. Nationally, 14 miners have died in accidents this year.

***

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, an industry group, said the two deaths were unavoidable accidents. "We don't want things like this to happen, but they will," Caylor said. "Mining is very safe, but you have to be careful because you're working around big pieces of equipment."
Or maybe Kevin Lupardus died because he made a bad decision:
Investigation of fatal accident at Boone mine continues

CHARLESTON, W.Va.- State and federal authorities are trying to determine what caused a section of high wall to fall onto an excavator at a Boone County surface mine, killing the machine's operator. The accident occurred at about 2 a.m. Saturday November 21, at Independence Coal's Red Cedar Surface Mine near Clothier. Independence Coal, a subsidiary of Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy, operates the mine as Endurance Mining, according to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration records. Kevin Lee Lupardus, 41, of Mabscott, was operating the excavator when a "large section" of the highwall fell onto the machine's cab, said Terry Farley, an administrator with the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training.
It is somewhat ironic that this program is starting now. Clearly acting Assistant Secretary Dye hasn't read the June 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety which contains an article by Fred Manuele entitled "Serious Injury Prevention."

Manuele cites experts who point out that what may look like "human error" are actually system errors:
R. B. Whittingham, in his book The Blame Machine: Why Human Error Causes Accidents, describes how disasters and serious accidents result from recurring, but potentially avoidable, human errors. He shows that such errors are preventable because they result from defective systems within a company.

Whittingham identifies the common causes of human error and the typical system deficiencies that lead to those errors. They are principally organizational, cultural, and management system deficiencies. Whittingham says that in some organizations, a "blame culture" exists whereby the focus in incident investigation is on individual human error, and the corrective action is limited to that level. He writes: "Organizations, and sometimes whole industries, become unwilling to look too closely at the system faults which caused the error"
He notes that although humans may be involved in the errors that lead to accidents, James Reason and Alan Hobbs, in Managing Maintenance Error: A Practical Guide point out that one needs to look deeper:
Errors are consequences not just causes. They are shaped by local circumstances: by the task, the tools and equipment and the workplace in general. If we are to understand the significance of these factors, we have to stand back from what went on in the error maker's head and consider the nature of the system as a whole . . . this book has a constant theme . . . that situations and systems are easier to change than the human condition
In other words, look at the safety systems and find the root causes. If managers (and MSHA)continue to attempt to prevent accidents by focusing on human errors and "wrong decisions," the same accidents, injuries and deaths will continue to happen.

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Champagne Corks Popping in Corporate Suites

This isn't good:

Republican operatives are watching the splintering of the AFL-CIO carefully to see if the divisions offer opportunities to gain a beachhead in labor. "This cuts the legs out from one of their main GOTV [get-out-the-vote] groups, a Republican Party official said with undisguised pleasure.

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While the GOP is eagerly watching the internal labor battles, conservative groups are announcing plans to step in to try to further weaken the union movement. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation announced plans to raise $2 million for "free legal assistance" to workers seeking to end their union membership and to stop paying dues.

Hopefully, a few years from now, they'll be downing more of the hard stuff and scratching their heads wondering "What the hell were we thinking?"
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Tuesday, July 26, 2005


The Labor Split

I don't have too much original to say about it all, so instead I'll provide you a few links to some journalists and organizers more articulate than I:

Molly Ivins: Solidarity Later: Andy Stern and CWC Challenge AFL Power Base

To oversimplify, Sweeney pretty much bet his wad on the Democrats on the theory that labor will never come back unless it gets a level playing field. Setting aside the spinelessness and incompetence of the Democratic Party (I think Democrats who voted for the bankruptcy bill alone should be run out of the party), it sure looks like a losing strategy. Labor skates with the Change to Win Coalition cite the old definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. To oversimplify again, the CWC wants to move all the artillery over to grass-roots organizing.

It may take some arrogance to think your union would do better outside the AFL-CIO, but the CWC has some record on its side. In this debate, you should know that the word "arrogance" is code for Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, who is one impressive guy and also has the nerve to think he knows how to organize better than the leadership of the AFL-CIO. Stern is leading the walkout faction.

Stern's claim to fame is that SEIU has successfully organized the "unorganizable" -- some of the poorest, most powerless people in our society, the people who push mops, clean toilets and never voted in their lives. Credit is due to a superb new generation of organizers. (Obligatory disclosure: A few years ago, I addressed an SEIU convention, but had them donate my fee to charity. My most vivid memory is how proud they are of their children in military service.)

The CWC wants reorganization. They especially think the smaller unions should be merged because each has its own administrative apparatus. Their payrolls eat up dues that should be going to organizing, as do some useless central labor councils. The CWC unions, freed from AFL dues, can hire more organizers and make more progress
Andy Stern, SEIU: Unions Reinvented
But unions, overall, continue to decline. And the AFL-CIO — the national labor federation for the last half-century — has failed to make the hard decisions and take the necessary steps to make the union movement grow again. For months, a group of major unions has been talking to the AFL-CIO leadership on how to reorder priorities and modernize the federation's strategy and structure. But to no avail.

That's why we at the SEIU and three other major unions declared over the weekend that we would not participate in the AFL-CIO national convention in Chicago this week. And on Monday our union — with 1.8 million members — along with the 1.4-million-member Teamsters announced we would withdraw from the federation, effective immediately.
Nathan Newman: Not Such a Big Deal
In the end, the effects of the disaffiliations will be that we'll see some experiments, probably now in both the remaining AFL-CIO unions as well as in CtW, on different organizing strategies. There may be some gains from some healthy competition and maybe some losses from repetition and wasted resources, but this is not some epic divide in the labor movement, like the old AFL v. Knights of Labor, AFL v. IWW, or AFL v. CIO fights.

This will be something a bit different. I'm not sure what yet, but people who criticize it for lacking the drama and vision of past splits are probably right. But if it yields some real coordination among the CtW unions on some serious organizing drives against Wal-Mart or some other global companies, then the move to withdraw their money from the AFL-CIO to concentrate it on those drives may be worthwhile.
Bill Fletcher: Why This Split Is A Big Deal
My larger concerns revolve around potential raiding among unions, as well as the ignoring or obscuring of the larger issues that haunt organized labor. Yes, i am glad that people are talking about Wal-Mart, but what about non-union auto parts companies in the South; steel mini-mills in rural areas; or, on a different level, growing African American unemployment in the cities. In the absence of an analysis, it becomes hit & miss. In other words, we do not develop a strategy, but instead a series of tactical initiatives.

My final point: the great Un-debate showed an amazing capacity to ignore the rank & file, and particularly to ignore the issues and involvement of trade unionists of color. i find this especially damning for those labor leaders who have positioned themselves as visionaries. If the base is not in the vision, except as the object of the work of 'great leaders,' what sort of movement are we building?
Harold Meyerson: Labor's Big Split: Pain Before Gain

In planning to build a new federation with some organizing capacity of its own, the dissidents are harking back to the old CIO, which, with Lewis at its helm, roared out of the old AFL determined to unionize America's industrial workers. The economic and political environment is decidedly more hostile to organizing now than it was then, but Stern, Hoffa and their allies recognize that they will have to win victories on a CIO-like scale to justify their split. No one can say whether the birth of this new labor movement will lead to a desperately needed reversal in fortune for America's workers. Some stars, after all, burn most brightly just before they altogether flicker out.
David Moberg: The fractured state of these unions
The odd twist is that for 10 years Sweeney has exhorted unions to spend more on organizing, tried to help unions develop their ability to organize and urged unions to focus on organizing strategically in a few core industries, not simply to organize indiscriminately.

But as president he has little power, except over his staff. The AFL-CIO is a voluntary federation; individual unions can go their own way on most issues with impunity. Sweeney has followed a tradition - which fits well with his own low-key style - of seeking consensus among the 57 member unions and not forcing issues.

Ironically, many of the unions now backing Sweeney have resisted the program he has advocated. And to add to the irony, some of the unions on the other side are among the most general of unions - organizing anybody and everybody.

Teamsters Union president Jim Hoffa, one dissident, insists that the Teamsters will remain an extremely diverse union, but his proposal for dues rebates would give the Teamsters more money and indirectly pressure small unions that wouldn't qualify for a rebate to seek mergers, possibly with the Teamsters.

In response to the challengers, Sweeney has adopted scaled-back versions of many Change to Win proposals. But the opponents think that he isn't changing the AFL-CIO enough, and the Service Employees Union is quite likely to leave, possibly to be joined by the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE HERE (textile and hotel workers), along with the already departed Carpenters. Change to Win - surely with a new name - could become an alternative federation.

David Bacon:Reconnecting Labor with Its Radical Roots
It's important for unions to start an honest discussion of why the gains have been so limited, and what political direction is best for US workers. While the current debate over structure makes important points, there are deeper issues that need to be resolved. Simply changing the AFL-CIO's structure is not enough.

In the current debate, almost all proposals put the issue of stopping the slide in members and power-the problem of organizing-in center stage. This is not a bad place for discussion to start, so long as it takes a deeper look at why this is such a hard area for unions to make progress. Organizing large numbers of workers will not just help unions. Wages rise under the pressure of union drives, especially among nonunion workers. Stronger unions will force politicians to recognize universal healthcare, secure jobs, and free education after high school, not as pie-in-the-sky dreams, but as the legitimate demands of millions of people.

***

Raising the percentage of organized workers in the United States from just 10 to 11 percent would mean organizing over a million people. Only a social movement can organize people on this scale. In addition to examining structural reforms that can make unions more effective and concentrate their power, the labor movement needs a program which can inspire people to organize on their own, one which is unafraid to put forward radical demands, and rejects the constant argument that any proposal that can't get through Congress next year is not worth fighting for.

As much as people need a raise, the promise of one is not enough to inspire them to face the certain dangers they know too well await them. Working families need the promise of a better world. Over and over, for more than a century, workers have shown that they will struggle for the future of their children and their communities, even when their own future seems in doubt. But only a new, radical social vision can inspire the wave of commitment, idealism, and activity necessary to rebuild the labor movement.
Tim Nesbitt: Searching for ‘a more perfect union’
What happens on the local level is more complicated, but also more likely to be resolved in a cooperative fashion. Both Hoffa and Stern said that their unions will continue to make payments to central labor councils and state federations, even though the current rules of the AFL-CIO do not allow non-AFL-CIO unions to be formal members of these state and local organizations. Still, where there’s the will, there’s a way. And if the “Change to Win” unions say they want to participate in local organizations with AFL-CIO unions, we’ll have every incentive to find creative ways to accomplish that.

As I reminded reporters in Oregon today, we’ll still have the same number of unions with the same number of union members and the same resources after this convention. We may have to restructure our efforts, but we have a long tradition of working together in broad-based labor coalitions and campaigns of the kind that raised Oregon’s minimum wage in 2002 and produced a pro-worker majority in our State Senate in 2004. This is one area where we’ve learned what works for working families, and we’re committed to expanding, improving and continuing it.
The Nation: Debating Labor's Future
Stern vs. McEntee vs. Cohen vs. Wilhelm vs. Sweeney vs. Hoffa


Thanks to Nathan Newman and LabourStartfor some of these links. For many more, check out Nathan's column in the House of Labor and LabourStart here.

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BP Amoco: Safety Pays (But Not As Well As High Gas Prices)

Safety and health add value - to your business; to your workplace; to your life. -- OSHA

I've never been a fan of the "safety pays" slogans that OSHA seems to have fallen in love with. You know, if you just convince corporate America that safe companies will be more profitable, you won't need all those anti-capitalist, business-killing OSHA regulations and big government interference with the magic of the marketplace.

The problem is what if safety doesn't pay? What happens when companies make more money endangering their workers than making conditions safe, or when accidents cost money -- but not really that much?

British Petroleum is taking a hit in its bottom line because of the March 23 explosion at its Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170.

Well, not exactly a hit, more like a small pinch. BP announced a $5.66 billion profit for the second quarter of 2005, but it was $700 million less than it would have been due to settlements related to the March 23 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 workers. (That would be slightly more than 1% of it's 2nd quarter profits.) Profits were up $4.38 billion in the second quarter of 2004, mainly because of record high oil prices.

Although BP has paid out tens of millions of dollars to many of the workers killed on the job, it has yet to reach settlements on the workers seriously injured.
Rob Ammons, a Houston attorney handling many of the injured workers' suits, said BP's initial response to claims has been rapid and appreciated.

"It was refreshing to see BP take a reasonable approach to resolution of the death claims and we're still waiting to see if that continues on to the folks whose backs have been broken and lives have been ruined but remain alive," he said.

"One would think that if they do accept responsibility for this, then it should extend not just to those who were killed, but also to those who were hurt and are unable to work any more because of those injuries."

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