Thursday, July 31, 2003

Republican-Controlled Committee Passes Republican Bill to Weaken OSHA

In a series of SHOCKING votes, Republicans on the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections passed three mini-OSHA bashing bills on three party-line votes, with all the Republicans on the committee voting in favor of the amendments and all the Democrats voting against them.

The bills were broken out of an original larger "OSHA Fairness (sic) Act of 2003. One of the measures that passed (H.R. 2728) would have the effect of extending the time period allowed for an employer to challenge the validity of an OSHA citation. Another would expand the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission from three members appointed by the President to five.

The third would shift the balance of power in legal proceedings from the Secretary of Labor to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Such a move would be significant if the Review Commission disagreed with OSHA about the validity of a citation. Now, if OSHA loses a case before the Review Commission, it can appeal to a federal court, and the court is legally required to give "deference" to the Labor Department's position on legal questions. If the bill passes, the courts would be required to give that deference to the Review Commission instead.

(I'm too tired and disgusted to go into more detail once again on these bills, but if you're interested in more information, check here and here and here.)

In a NYCOSH interview with Rep. Major Owens (D-NY)
Owens said "The majority is trying to pass these bills off as insignificant technical changes in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, but each of them makes the law slightly more difficult to enforce, and their cumulative effect can only be bad for workers and their families. I find it particularly interesting that the majority is proposing to expand the size of the government by adding two seats to the Review Commission. Any time the Republicans want to increase the size of the government, you can be sure it will not be good for working families."
Most of the above article was taken from the NYCOSH Update on Safety and Health July - September 2003 which you should all check out. It's got more good stuff.

Green Labor

Linked here is the first edition of Green Labor, a newsletter dedicated to building coalitions between labor and environmentalists. The newsletter contains articles about global warming initiatives supported by Canadian unions and a "Call to Action" by David A. Foster, Director, USWA District 11: Labor, Environmentalists Must Join Forces "to stop corporate crafted attacks on labor rights and health care, the deliberate stalemate on climate change or the promotion of trade agreements that threaten both family-supporting jobs and the planet."

For more information or to subscribe, contact Green Labor, 31 West 15th Street, New York, NY 10011 or or call 973.233.1946.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Asbestos Comp: Who Benefits?

And now for the "other side" of the never-ending asbestos compensation debate. This editorial from the Hampton Roads Pilot puts it all in perspective:
There's an ancient myth that crocodiles lure their prey with moans, then shed a river of mocking tears as they devour their victims. That's why the tens of thousands of sailors and shipyard workers in Hampton Roads who made a living breathing in the dust from asbestos fireproofing should be careful, lest they drown in crocodile tears shed on their behalf by backers of a national asbestos trust fund.
And who will benefit? Guess
It's the asbestos manufacturers, not the victims, who stand to gain the most, according to a report by Mark Peterson, one of the nation's leading experts on asbestos claims.....

By far the biggest beneficiary is Halliburton Co., the global oil services giant that was headed by Vice President Dick Cheney before he was tapped by President Bush. Halliburton agreed in December to resolve 200,000 suits for $4.2 billion. Then, Halliburton hailed the settlement to stockholders as "good news" that leaves the company "strong and healthy."

"In other words, outside of the global asbestos settlement, it will be business as usual," Halliburton said in a statement on its Web site. If a $4 billion settlement is good news, then the trust fund should make Halliburton stockholders positively giddy. The trust fund legislation releases Halliburton from its eternal $4 billion obligation, requiring it to pay only $546 million, for $3.7 billion in savings. Owens Corning saves $2.5 billion in the same way. W.R. Grace gets back $1.7 billion, Honeywell $1.5 billion.

Peterson found that 12 corporations with the largest liabilities would escape $12.5 billion in settlements to which they already have agreed. In a rebuttal to the popular argument that asbestos suits are creating economic havoc by driving companies into bankruptcy and forcing thousands of workers to be laid off, Peterson's analysis showed that employment at the six companies with the largest asbestos liabilities had actually increased since they filed for bankruptcy.

Asbestos: The gift that keeps on giving and giving and...

This article is about Libby, Montana, a
small town of 2,800 residents in remote northwestern Montana [that] has become shorthand for a public health disaster of tragic proportions - and lingering questions of corporate and governmental culpability....An estimated one-third of area residents have the tell-tale signs of asbestos-related lung disease, and more than 200 have died from it.
Gosh. That's terrible. If only we had known....
As news reports and several books have documented over the years, state inspectors found asbestos dust of "considerable toxicity" in the vermiculite processing plant in the 1950s, and yet workers were not adequately protected from it. News accounts and books have also reported that Grace officials were aware of the problem as well - the company-sponsored annual X-rays revealed lung abnormalities in its workers, who say they were not told of the results. Grace has said it informed the workers' physicians.
Grace? Grace? Why does that name sound familiar? Oh yeah. Look up a few paragraphs. They're slated to save about $1.7 billion out of Orrin Hatch's (R-UT) asbestos compensation bill.

A Little Help From My Friends

Many of you probably assume that I'm some kind of Superman for constantly finding all of this good news to pass on. Very perceptive of you Actually, the truth is that I get plenty of help from people who send me articles and ideas. While there are too many to mention here, I do want to give special thanks to my European correspondent (who also finds a lot of U.S. news), Rory O'Neill of Hazards, as well as my New York/National correspondent, Jonathan Bennett of NYCOSH, without whom most of this -- especially the good stuff -- would not be possible. I'm always looking for more ideas and articles, so everyone, keep those cards and letters and e-mails coming in.

Science Friction

Guess what. President Bush really doesn't like scientists, especially if they don't happen tell him what he wants to hear.

The article by Nicholas Thompson in the Washington Monthly talks about the Bush Administration's politicization of the science. And it's not just Bush. It's the Republicans in general. It all brings back fond memories of the OSHA ergonomics hearings in 2000 when the Republican-led House of Representatives questioned and harrassed the scientific experts who testified for OSHA in favor of the standard, alleging that they had been improperly influenced by OSHA because they were paid a stipend for their work. (Which, by the way, has been common practice during OSHA hearings in both Democratic and Republican Administrations.)

In fact, the Republicans were so full of respect for science that they commissioned not one, but two National Academy of Sciences literature reviews in an effort to stall OSHA's rulemaking until a possible Bush Administration could stop the rulemaking. "Wait for the science" was the Republican refrain. They kept it up even after both studies came back strongly supporting the connection between working conditions and musculoskeletal injuries, anchoring their refrain on the NAS's endorsement of additional research. (Has anyone ever seen a scientific study that didn't call for more research?)

But I digress. Back to the article. No one ever accused the Republicans of not being able to hold a grudge:
The administration has stacked hitherto apolitical scientific advisory committees, and even an ergonomics study section, which is just a research group and has no policy making role.

Ergonomics became a politicized issue early in Bush's term when he overturned a Clinton-era rule requiring companies to do more to protect workers from carpal tunnel syndrome and other similar injuries. Late last year, the Department of Health and Human Services rejected, without explanation, three nominees for the Safety and Occupational Health Study Section who had already been approved by Dana Loomis, the group's chair, but who also weren't clearly aligned with the administration's position on ergonomics. Loomis then wrote a letter saying that "The Secretary's office declined to give reasons for its decision, but they seem ominously clear in at least one case: one of the rejected nominees is an expert in ergonomics who has publicly supported a workplace ergonomics standard." Another nominee, who was accepted, said that she had been called by an HHS official who wanted to know her views on ergonomics before allowing her on the panel.

The administration has further used these committees as places for religious conservatives whose political credentials are stronger than their research ones. For example, on Christmas Eve 2002, Bush appointed David Hager--a highly controversial doctor who has written that women should use prayer to reduce the symptoms of PMS--to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Commission.

Bush has also taken to unprecedented levels the political vetting of nominees for advisory committees. When William Miller, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, was considered as a candidate for a panel on the National Institute of Drug Abuse, he was asked his views on abortion, the death penalty, and whether he had voted for Bush. He said no to the last question and never received a call back. "Not only does the Bush administration scorn science; it is subjecting appointments to scientific advisory committees and even study sections to political tests," says Donald Kennedy, editor in chief of Science, the community's flagship publication.
You get the idea. Read the article. It's chilling.

Organizing Around Health and Safety

I've written a couple of times about UNITE's organizing campaign a Cintas (here and here), a Cincinnati-based laundry and uniform rental company, partly in response to health and safety problems.

Earlier this week, nearly 100 union members rallied at a Branford, CT plant, calling on Cintas Corp. to remedy health and safety violations. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-CT), spoke at the rally, pledging to continue supporti of Cintas workers nationwide.
She joined union leaders in demanding that the uniform company address violations cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which fined the company $10,000 two weeks ago....OSHA cited Cintas for several "serious" violations, including fire exits blocked by 55-gallon drums, illegal use of extension cords to operate heavy machinery, failure to provide showers to workers handling sulfuric acid, and failure to provide hepatitis B vaccinations to employees exposed to blood or other harmful materials.

Three weeks ago, DeLauro and 90 other congressional leaders sent a letter to the chief executive officer of Cintas asking the company to remain neutral should workers decide to unionize. She said she has not received a response.

Many Cintas workers are immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. Supporters held up balloons and signs in English and Spanish as a police officer controlled the flow of cars into the parking lot.
The union has accused the company of intimidation and unfair labor practices.

Stop that bleeding and pee in this bottle boy!

What's the first thing you think of when someone gets hurt on the job? Unsafe working conditions? Unguarded machinery? Violated OSHA citations?

Nah. The guy was probably on drugs.

Workers Comp? Nah, he deserved what he got.

At least that's the philosophy behind a proposed Ohio law where business groups are again pushing to deny injured workers benefits if the workers were drunk or on drugs at the time.

The Ohio Supreme Court overturned a similar law last year that forced injured workers to prove they weren't under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but it was found by the court to violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

The new bill is much better:
The proposed legislation offers specific examples of when a worker can be tested, such as when an employer suspects a worker is impaired or at the request of a doctor or police officer, Geiger said.

"You've got to specifically think there's a problem and specifically order a test when an injured worker shows up in the hospital," he said.
Oh, OK, I feel much better now.

But business groups are banking on more than just a a few different words to change the Court's mind. A new Republican justice has taken the seat of a retiring justice who voted against the last law.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Everything You Need To Know About Bush's Attempt to Cut Overtime

The Newspaper Guild-CWA held a news conference on this morning, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to discuss the radical and negative changes in overtime regulations, proposed by the Department of Labor (see below).

In addition to the playback of the conference, you can click here for a summary of the changes, an explanation of how the Department of Labor is actually encouraging employers to cheat workers out of OT, a brief history of the law, and more.

Overtime Out

I wrote the other day about Americans’ vanishing vacations. Well, the Bush administration obviously figures if you can’t go on vacation, you might as well be working more for less.

But it seems there are a few people out there who are upset about making less money next year in order to make life better 9and more profitable) for American business. The U.S. Labor Department has been flooded with over 80,000 letters from irate workers around the country whose living conditions depend on the overtime they earn.

One typical letter:
"Shame on you, President Bush," Patrick L. Crane, 47, a prison guard from Highland, Ill., wrote to the Labor Department in early June. ". . . I would not appreciate being mandated to work extra hours in a prison and become injured or killed for working exhausted."
And what is he wasting his overtime pay on?
Crane said he has used his time-and-a-half pay to replace his car's broken transmission; help care for his mother, who has dementia; and pay medical bills for his brain cancer treatments.
The AFL-CIO and the Economic Policy Institute estimate that over 8 million workers will lose overtime under the new regulations while the Labor Department claims that the number is only around 644,000. Democrats in Congress have been trying to stop the new regulations, so far unsuccessfully.

The Labor Department claims not to be surprised at the response.
Victoria A. Lipnic, assistant labor secretary for employment standards, said department officials were not taken aback by the heavy volume of comments, in part because Internet filing makes it easier for people to air their opinions. "It's not surprising when you propose a change to something that has been in place for 54 years," Lipnic said.”
Today overtime and the 40 hour work-week, tomorrow Social Security, Medicare and the right to organize unions. We clearly need to get rid of all of those old, tired laws. This is the 21st century, after all.

Solution: Deep Breathing

As you may imagine, all of this overtime, in addition to downsizing, fear of layoffs, and rising unemployment levels are taking their toll on us poor humans. According to USA Today,
The rise in stress — driven by mounting unemployment, leaner workplaces and a jobless recovery — could pose a bottom-line threat to companies as workers suffer more mental and physical health problems related to job pressure, experts say.
Chicago-based employee assistance provider ComPsych experienced a 23% increase in crisis- and stress-counseling requests from client companies in the first quarter of 2003 compared with the first quarter of 2002. Nearly 30% were because of worker anxiety and terminations.

Nearly 35% of workers say they've seen an increase in anxiety and stress-related physical ailments in their workplace in the last year, according to a May survey by The Marlin Co., a North Haven, Conn.-based workplace communications firm. Twenty-seven percent report a rise in emotional problems such as insomnia and depression.
So how can employers deal with these problems: Maybe higher staffing levels or more job security? How about better working conditions and longer vacations? Nah!
At AstraZeneca, a Wilmington, Del.-based pharmaceutical company, a form of meditation called Qi Gong has been introduced. Classes take place at regular department meetings, including a pre-meeting meditation and — instead of a coffee break — there is an afternoon energy break with Qi Gong and tea.
Well that’s progressive of them. No? No.
One reason for the attention: Human-resources experts say employees exposed to stresses such as layoffs are more likely to engage in violent behavior.
Maybe they should just replace the meditation with medication. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Free Prozac.

What Did You Pay for the War, Daddy?

And now for something really depressing: HERE.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Asbestos Comp Feud: Round 20 and Still Rewriting History

The story of attempts to pass an asbestos compensation bill is old and getting older:
WASHINGTON -- Thousands of workers unknowingly exposed to cancer-causing asbestos were sick and dying. The courts were clogged with lawsuits. Asbestos manufacturers were going bankrupt. And Congress was debating whether to create a fund to compensate victims.

The year was 1982. Twenty-one years later, Congress is still debating the issue.
The difference now is that the asbestos crisis has grown far worse. Hundreds of thousands of additional victims have stepped forward. The number of corporate defendants has jumped 28-fold. And their potential liabilities exceed $200 billion.
The Senate committee has passed a bill establishing a compensation fund and the unions, quite understandably, think the fund is too small. The insurance companies think it's too big and Orrin Hatch's Republicans and businesses think it's just right. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Heard it all before. Will continue to hear it. Who knows? Maybe they'll figure something out eventually.

But this is an interesting paragraph:
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was once used widely in many industrial processes because of its fire-retardant and insulating properties. When inhaled, though, asbestos fibers can cause lung disease and cancer. As a result, its use has been sharply curtailed in recent years though it is still found in vehicle braking systems, asphalt roof coatings and gaskets.
Let me repeat part of that: "When inhaled, though, asbestos fibers can cause lung disease and cancer. As a result, its use has been sharply curtailed in recent years."

If one didn't actually know the history of asbestos, one might think that the fact that "its use has been sharply curtailed" was somehow related to the fact that it "can cause lung disease and cancer."

Actually, the asbestos industry knew as early as the 1930's that asbestos caused serious lung disease. They hid it until courageous people like Dr. Irving Selikoff uncovered the health effects and the scandals in the 1960's. And then more decades would pass before decent regulations were issued to "curtail its use" and protect workers. Even today workers are still being exposed to the asbestos left over in buildings and still being used in pipes and automotive brakes.

Despite the impression given by this article, none of this progress happened by itself or because it 'was learned' that asbestos kills. It happened because of lawsuits and organizing by unions, sick workers and public health activists. And this is not just a tragic isolated story about asbestos. Look at any law or regulation that protects workers. No progress has ever been made in this country in the fields of occupational health or the environment because someone 'discovered' that harm was being done. Nothing happens without organizing, electing the politicians that will actually represent workers and communities, keeping the pressure on them once they are in office, and then more organizing.

It can be done. It has been done. It will be done again. But for many it's way too late:
More than 625,000 people have filed claims for asbestos-related injuries over the years. By the end of 2000, businesses and insurers had paid out more than $54 billion in claims, according to a 2002 Rand Corp. study. More than half the money went to defense and plaintiff attorneys' fees and other administrative expenses, the study said.

Rand found that more than 300,000 cases were still pending and another 500,000 to 2.4 million claims could be filed in the years ahead, costing businesses upward of $210 billion. There are more than 3,000 asbestos lawsuits pending in the New Jersey court system.

Sixty-seven companies have filed for bankruptcy because of their asbestos liabilities, compared with three back in 1982, and additional companies are likely to seek Chapter 11 protection.
I can't help wondering, even with the pain that this situation is causing these companies and the economy, how much information about toxic chemical is being covered up and how many more asbestos tragedies thousands will have to endure before people wake up.

In Europe, good things seem to be happening. Here in the U.S., we seem to be heading in exactly the opposite direction.

More on the asbestos comp bill here and here.

Or maybe two or three.

NY Councilman "Will Be Missed"

Here is an article by NYCOSH Chair Bill Henning in the NY Daily News about NY City Councilman and worker advocate James Davis.
Here in New York State, violence is the No. 2 cause of workplace fatalities. This is an epidemic that Councilmember Davis was well aware of before becoming a victim of it himself.

Ironically, on the day he was murdered, Davis was scheduled to introduce a City Council resolution urging the New York State Labor Department to adopt a set of regulations to protect workers from violence in the workplace.

Vacation!? We don't need no stinkin vacations!

If you're reading this, you're probably not on vacation. And you aren't alone. That's because, according to an article in the Washington Post, "Americans manage to live with the stingiest vacation allotment in the industrialized world -- 8.1 days after a year on the job, 10.2 days after three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics." And it's getting worse: "We're now logging more hours on the job than we have since the 1920s. Almost 40 percent of us work more than 50 hours a week."

Why is it getting worse?
Just a couple of weeks ago, before members of the House of Representatives took off on their month-plus vacations, they opted to pile more work onto American employees by approving the White House's rewrite of wage and hour regulations, which would turn anyone who holds a "position of responsibility" into a salaried employee who can be required to work unlimited overtime for no extra pay.

Vacations are being downsized by the same forces that brought us soaring work weeks: labor cutbacks, a sense of false urgency created by tech tools, fear and, most of all, guilt. Managers use the climate of job insecurity to stall, cancel and abbreviate paid leave, while piling on guilt. The message, overt or implied, is that it would be a burden on the company to take all your vacation days -- or any. Employees get the hint: One out of five employees say they feel guilty taking their vacation, reports Expedia's survey. In a new poll of 700 companies by ComPsych Corp., a Chicago-based employee assistance provider, 56 percent of workers would be postponing vacations until business improved.
But it doesn't have to be this way:
Europe chose the route of legal, protected vacations, while we went the other -- no statutory protection and voluntary paid leave. Now we are the only industrialized nation with no minimum paid-leave law. Europeans get four or five weeks by law and can get another couple of weeks by agreement with employers. The Japanese have two legally mandated weeks, and even the Chinese get three. Our vacations are solely at the discretion of employers. The lack of legal standing is what makes vacations here feel so illegitimate -- and us so guilty when we try to take one.
And not only have studies found that short vactions are bad for productivity, but they're also bad for your health:
Overwork doesn't just cost employees. The tab paid by business for job stress is $150 billion a year, according to one study. Yet vacations can cure even the worst form of stress -- burnout -- by re-gathering crashed emotional resources, say researchers. But it takes two weeks for this process to occur, says one study, which is why long weekends aren't vacations. An annual vacation can also cut the risk of heart attack by 30 percent in men and 50 percent in women.
(You also may have noticed that I'm not on vacation -- and won't be. That's because when you change jobs, you go back to go and start over again. I left 5 weeks a year of vacation at AFSCME and started over again with two at OSHA. Haven't come close to catching up.)

So what is to be done?
This is why we need a law that will put an end to the bait and switch of vacation time, as well as leave that's being yanked completely. Legalized paid leave also would end the loss of accrued vacation time for downsized workers in their thirties, forties and fifties, who have to start their paid leave banks over again, as if they were at their very first job.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

State of the States

Susan Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla was probably the kid you always wanted on your team in a treasure hunt because she always finds the good stuff. Like these...

Check out this hilarious rant by Bill Maher from the L.A. Times about the Grey Davis recall. My favorite parts:
What's going on here in California, if you're lucky enough to not have been following this, is that the economy turned, so we're getting rid of the governor. But what if we drive him out of office and the economy still doesn't get better? I guess we'll have to burn him. And if that doesn't work, we'll kill his dog.

Yes, in baseball when the team stinks, you fire the manager. But you don't fire him because it rains. And you don't let the opposing team choose a new manager for you.

And you don't fire him between innings. And replace him with a Viennese weightlifter.
The Viennese weighlifter, for those of who aren't Terminator fans, is, of course, Arnold Schwarznegger. Which brings me to my favorite line: "Finally, a candidate who can explain the Bush administration's positions on civil liberties in the original German."

And then she found this article about Bush's "Let Them Eat Cake" economics by Jonathan Alter:
When Al Gore exaggerated the details of his dog’s prescriptions, it helped cost him the presidency. The very same people who eviscerated him for it are now saying, hey, cut President Bush some slack—he wasn’t lying about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions, only exaggerating. This flap won’t hurt Bush in 2004, except to undermine his credibility on other issues.

SO WHEN, FOR instance, he says “this nation has got a deficit because we have been through a war,” people might begin to wonder whether he is telling the truth. They might wonder if the 13 percent state-college tuition hike in Maryland or the $1 billion state-tax increase in Ohio or the state Medicaid crisis now raging from coast to coast might have something to do with priorities in Washington. If Bush loses, it won’t be on yellowcake uranium but on “let them eat cake” economics.
A couple of weeks ago, I read an article somewhere about the impact the states' budget problems are having on normal people, but how they haven't connected the dots back to Washington yet. So in case you're wondering why the states have fallen into such a deep whole and what this has to do with what's going on in D.C.,
It’s a hole that the states—required by law to balance their budgets—are now being forced to fill. The tobacco-settlement money is gone; the “rainy day” funds exhausted. Under intense pressure from the governors, Washington ponied up $20 billion in emergency aid, but added tax breaks for corporations that will cost the states billions. The House just passed a plan for health savings accounts that will set the states back another $33 billion if enacted. And that’s not even counting the monster haunting every governor, every night—”unfunded mandates.” To take just one example that is relevant in school districts across the country: special education. Congress pledged it would pay for 40 percent of the cost; it actually covers 17 percent. In California alone, where nearly half the budget goes to K-12 education, that’s more than a billion dollars the state has been stiffed on.

I’m no Gray Davis fan, but let’s be honest about the facts. While some states have been mismanaged, most are simply contending with rapidly growing numbers of hurting people who need their services. Those services are now being slashed almost everywhere. Nineteen states—all of them facing sharply increasing demand—will have smaller budgets than last year, not just smaller budget increases. But telling a laid-off mother with three kids that she can’t see a doctor will not be enough. Governors and state legislatures are taxing everything that moves. Even the most conservative states are doing so. Republican Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama, a devout Christian, says raising taxes on the wealthy to help the poor is what the Bible compels. He’s had enough of so-called religious politicians who turn Christ’s commandments on their head.

Friday, July 25, 2003

NY Councilman, Workplace Violence Foe Shot Introducing Workplace Violence Resolution

Lee Clarke, Safety and Health Director of AFSCME District Council 37, went down to City Hall Wednesday intending to watch Councilmember James E. Davis introduce a City Council resolution urging the New York State Labor Department to adopt a set of regulations to protect public employees from violence in the workplace. "We were working with him on the anti-workplace violence resolution and I wanted to be there when he introduced it"

Instead, Clarke watched as Davis was shot and killed in the Council chambers, making him the latest victim in a epidemic of workplace violence affecting public-sector workers in New York State.

Davis's resolution read:
Public-sector workers of the City of New York continue to be the victims of crime in the workplace, including murder, rape, assault, verbal abuse and harassment,” the resolution said. “Because of hazardous working conditions and the absence of any systematic method for removing these dangers, workers and their families continue to suffer as a result of unnecessary and preventable incidents of violence at work.”
According to a statement released by NYCOSH, the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health,
“Yesterday’s shooting is a tragic example of what we are working to end,” said William F. Henning, Jr., the chair of NYCOSH’s Board of Directors. “Public-sector workers and unions are calling for a regulation that would require state and local government employers to establish and adhere to policies, procedures and practices for preventing, reporting, and responding to violence in the workplace.”
Clarke observed that
When the shooting started, the Council chamber was filled with people who were at work, all of whom were in danger of being hurt or killed. I can’t imagine a clearer example of exactly the kind of thing we are trying to prevent. The councilman grasped the right of people to a safe workplace and he was willing to spearhead the City Council’s effort to ask the state for a standard to protect workers. He will be sorely missed.
The resolution was supported by an ad hoc anti-workplace violence coalition of public-sector unions in New York City, including the New York State AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 37, Public Employees Federation, Civil Service Employees Association, United Federation of Teachers, Transport Workers Union Local 100, Communications Workers of American District 1, Professional Staff Congress, New York State United Teachers, and New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).

According to the New York Times,
investigators said the killing appeared to stem from a simmering political dispute between Councilman Davis of Brooklyn, and the gunman, Othniel Askew who had planned to challenge Mr. Davis this fall for his seat representing central Brooklyn in the Council.

Mr. Askew was apparently able to slip his gun into City Hall by accompanying the councilman, who did not have to pass through metal detectors, officials said.
Most of this article was taken from a NYCOSH Press Statement.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Oops, McWane Does it Again: Mistakes Are Made

No more than a minute after finishing the posting immediately below this, I come across the following headline:
OSHA investigating Tyler Pipe after worker critically injured

7/24/03 7:36 PM

DALLAS (AP) -- Federal labor officials are investigating an incident at Tyler Pipe earlier this week that left a maintenance worker in critical condition, agency officials said Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is looking into whether proper safety equipment was provided during the incident at the steel foundry early Tuesday that injured David Willis, 46, agency officials in Dallas said.

Willis remained in critical condition late Thursday afternoon at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler, said a nursing supervisor.

Ruffner Page, president of Birmingham, Ala.-based McWane Inc., Tyler Pipe's parent company, said Willis suffered a collapsed lung and broken ribs.....The incident comes as Tyler Pipe, which employs about 1,700 workers, is trying to repair its reputation for safety violations that have been linked to worker injuries and deaths, many of which were documented by The New York Times and Public Broadcasting Service's "Frontline" earlier this year.
According to Page, the accident occurred
as Willis was doing routine maintenance work on a machine that makes cast iron fittings. The company is still investigating the cause of the accident, but Page said it appears that Willis accidentally flipped a switch that turned the machine on, causing him to become pinned between the machine and an elevated deck.
McWane is, as usual, taking full responsibility for the incident. Noting that the company had just purchased new, supposedly safety equipment, Page said
"I think the message it sends is that, as hard as you work, and as much money as you spend and as much time as you devote to training, sometimes mistakes are made," he said.
Yeah, mistakes are made. Just nothing you can do about it.


Well let me help you. Click here.

Three Finger Defense: McWane/Atlantic Pipe Talks to the Press

G. Ruffner Page Jr., the President of Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Co. and the corporate parent he heads, McWane Inc, stated to the New Jersey Express-Times that "are a 'changed company now' in terms of workplace safety and environmental issues. "

McWane was made (in)famous by the New York Times/Frontline series detailing the high numbers of injuries and deaths at McWane Facilities.

Page was quote talkative about the safety improvements McWane has made, and even talked for the first time about
for the first time identified Hector Velarde Lazo of Allentown as the employee who lost three fingers on his right hand during a Dec. 7 industrial accident at Atlantic States. They did not give Lazo's age.

The company did not have to report the accident to government regulators. Officials with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration learned about the accident after receiving an "informal complaint" from an unidentified source.

OSHA fined Atlantic States $130,000 for 12 workplace infractions during a general inspection and after investigating Lazo's accident.
He was apparently less talkative about Senator John Corzine's (D-NJ) bill that would toughen federal criminal penalties for workplace negligence.
"Sen. Corzine has his reasons for putting forth that legislation, but I couldn't comment on what is the legitimacy of it or not, Page said.
Probably a good idea.

The Daily Toll

OSHA investigating death of man at Copperweld Shelby

SHELBY -- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating what caused a Missouri man to fall to his death Tuesday morning at Copperweld Shelby Division.

Clayton Guhr, 59, of Versailles, Mo., was standing on tubing on a tractor-trailer truck about 11:15 a.m. when it appears he slipped and fell to his death, striking his head on the concrete.

Cause sought in deadly Ocean City explosion

OCEAN CITY - Investigators could not say Wednesday what caused a boiler explosion that killed a custodian at the Intermediate School this week.

Jean Siegfried, 52, of Upper Township, was killed Tuesday afternoon when a pipe filled with scalding water ruptured in a boiler room.

Scaffolding Collapse Kills Worker

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - A bridge construction project claimed a second life and four other workers fell or jumped 50 feet into St. Andrew Bay when a scaffolding collapsed Wednesday.

Alan Stockton, 44, of Laguna Beach was killed. Richard Martin James, 33, of Fountain, was killed Dec. 14 when he fell 90 feet into the water while working on the bridge.

Contractor electrocuted on top of light tower

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A contractor who was replacing lights on top of a 90-foot baseball stadium light tower died of electrocution, authorities determined Thursday.

John H. Lill, 72, died Wednesday at the historic Point Stadium in Johnstown, said Jim Zangaglia, Cambria County chief deputy coroner. The light standard carried 4,100 volts of electricity.

Because Lill worked for himself, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration won't be participating in the investigation, Zangaglia said

Well isn't that just too damn convenient!

Industrial accident claims Rock Springs man

GREEN RIVER -- A Rock Springs man died early Tuesday morning from neck and head injuries after the lift vehicle he was driving fell off a loading ramp, according to Sweetwater County authorities.

Douglas Ray Bernard, 35, was found by coworkers at around 6:45 a.m. at Wyoming Rents on Sunset Drive in Rock Springs, said County Coroner Dale Majhanovich. He estimated the accident occurred around 4:30 a.m.

Bernard was operating a manlift from a semi-tractor trailer to an unsecured upholding ramp when accident occurred, Majhanovich said. A manlift is a four-wheel vehicle about the size of an SUV automobile can that lift workers in a cage 30 or 40 feet in the air.

Bush Administration to Study Global Climate Change

What do politicians do when they don't want to act on something? Study it some more.
The Bush administration will announce today final details of a 10-year plan to study global climate change to determine whether greenhouse gases and other human-generated pollutants have contributed to an unnatural warming of Earth's atmosphere.
Yeah, and next on the national research agenda: Is the really Earth round?

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Workplace Safety, But Were Afraid Was True: Interview with Peg Seminario.

We complain a lot (and rightfully so) about the health and safety conditions faced by workers in this country. But we've also made an enormous amount of progress over the past decades and a huge amount of credit goes to Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director since any of us can remember (and yet she's still so young!)

Linked here is an excellent interview with Peg from the Multinational Monitor about the state of workplace safety and health in this country today and the Republican war against workers. Print it out and keep it handy. It will be useful for the upcoming elections.

Some of the biggest problems: Not enough inspectors
We've got 2,000 job safety inspectors in the country responsible for overseeing and enforcing the safety and health laws in more than 6 million workplaces.

OSHA actually has fewer staff today than it did in 1980. The workforce and the number of workplaces has grown, but the agency's resources have not grown.
And no political will to enforce the law effectively:
For fiscal year 2002, the federal OSHA only issued 392 willful violations, down from 600 in fiscal year 1999. The average penalty for a willful violation was $27,000, where the maximum would be $70,000.

What we've seen is that while the inspection levels have been maintained by the Bush administration, the level of enforcement and the aggressiveness of enforcement has decreased. The number of willful violations, the number of repeat citations, and then the penalties that are associated with OSHA violations are all down.
Read the rest.

Go Away Ralph

This one is for your friends and relatives who still think voting for Nader is a good idea (Come on, we all have a few of those too.)

Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect gives three good reasons that Nader would be a politco-cidal maniac to run again and advice to Democratic candidates. The second reason for not running is probably to most important:
Second, some voted for Nader because they just weren't inspired by Gore personally. Fine. But it should be obvious today that a candidate's personality is one of the last things serious people ought to be thinking about. No one can survey the past 30 months and conclude, whatever the Democrats' shortcomings, that there's no difference between the parties. We would not have John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, Gale Norton, the USA PATRIOT Act, this Trotskyist war in Iraq, two major class-war tax cuts -- the list goes on and on (and on). And that's only the stuff you hear about. In every agency of government, at every level, there are political appointees who are interpreting federal rules and regulations and deciding how much effort will really be put into pursuing federal discrimination cases, for instance, or illegal toxic dumping. These are the people who are, in fact, the federal government. The kinds of people who fill those slots in a Democratic administration are of a very different stripe than the kinds who fill them during a Republican term, and the appointments of these people have a bigger effect on real life than whether Al Gore sighs too heavily or speaks too slowly.
And then Tomasky goes on to give some not-too-subtle, but completely necessary advice to Democratic candidates:
Attack Nader right now, and with lupine ferocity. Say he's a madman for thinking of running again. Blast him especially hard on foreign policy, saying that if it were up to the Greens, America would give no aid to Israel and it would cease to exist, and if it were up to the Greens, America would not have even defended itself against a barbarous attack by going into Afghanistan. Have at him, and hard, from the right. Then nail him from the left on certain social issues, on abortion rights and other things that he's often pooh-poohed and dismissed as irrelevant. Cause an uproar. Be dramatic. Don't balance it with praise about what he's done for consumers. To the contrary, talk about how much he's damaging consumers today by not caring who's in charge of the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Communications Commission.
Don't go away mad Ralph, just go away.

16 Words And What Do You Get?

Another war over (not) and deeper in death....

Need a way to respond to those Republican and Independent relatives and friends (come on, we've all got a few) this summer when they try to dismiss George the W's lies as "just" sixteen little words in a great big speech?

Check out this gem from Buzzflash: 24 "Deceptions" In 704 words: Bush's 2003 State Of The Union. A couple of samples:

4. "92 million Americans will keep, this year, an average of almost $1,000 more of their own money." Bill Gates goes into a bar where nine unemployed workers are nursing their beers. "Whoopee we're rich!" shouts one of them. "The average net worth of every one in this room is 3 billion dollars."

23. "And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies -- and freedom." Not enough food, medicine, supplies or freedom to go around in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

The continuing plight of undocumented immigrant workers. As if life wasn't hard enough, they also have to risk their lives:
A 29-year-old man from Ecuador showed a few weeks ago that the undocumented toil not only underground but sometimes high above it. His work conditions also showed that some employers have little concern about safety.

With two other young men from his homeland, he stood near a subway entrance on 33rd Street in Manhattan and looked up at the 20-story building that he and the others were about to fit with new windows.

For four years, he has been in New York and for that time all his employers have known he has no work documents, he said. He is not in a union. No benefits are offered. The hazards of his job are monitored only by a building inspector who may or may not know of his undocumented status, he said.

And if he is injured, he will have no compensation to cover the medical costs.

"We get paid $10 an hour, in cash," he said just before his foreman came and barked, "Let's do this bit," and darted a finger upward.

Soon the men were on a scaffold that dangled from the roof to the 11th floor, at times sitting on the top bar of its safety railing. A tether was tied to each man's waist to prevent a fall, but it can't stop them from slamming into the scaffold or the building itself.

The foreman would not comment on the workers' safety and immigration status. His superior did not return calls for comment.

Asbestos Comp Bill: First Kill the Lawyers?

Well, not all the lawyers, not the corporate attorneys, just the trial attorneys.

As I've said before in reference to the jihad against trial lawyers, it's easy to criticize them as greedy, but in the absence of any recognition withing the current regime -- or the media -- of the importance of regulation and enforcement against corporate crime, lawsuits and trial lawyers are the best -- perhaps only -- thing workers, communities and consumers have going for them.

Norwood’s Cluster Bomb: Mini-Anti-OSHA Bills

Figuring his chances of making “progress” are better with many small bills than with one big bill, Representative Charlie Norwood (R-GA) has broken down his “OSHA Fairness Act of 2003” into several smaller bills which will be brought up for “mark-up” on Thursday. Mark-up is when the committee considers amendments to bills and then votes on them. Norwood, who once accused OSHA of killing the toothfairy when it issued the bloodborne pathogens standard, has made it a personal crusade to castrate the agency.

Norwood’s bill (see here and here) would have provided new “tools” to employers to fight OSHA citations. The most controversial part of the bill, an amendment to the OSHAct’s definition of a willful citation, has been dropped for now. Instead, Norwood is proposing four bills: HR
2728-- --Contesting Citations (extending the time period allowed to challenge a citation if an employer accidentally misplaces the citation or his dog eats it) HR 2729--OSHA Commission (which would expand – stack -- the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission);HR 2730--Independent Review and HR 2731--Attorney Fees (which would require OSHA to pay all court costs when it loses a case against a small business).

Things I don’t get:

All of you faithful readers of Confined Space notice how I periodically list fatalities that I’ve found in newspapers on the web. Most of these are unfortunately common ways to die in the workplace – falls, trench collapses, welding incidents, electrocutions…. All preventable, well known hazards, covered by straight-forward, well known OSHA standards. But workers keep dying from these same well-known hazards, hundreds every week.

So what’s the problem? Employers don’t have enough information? Maybe they need more guidelines and warnings? Bushit. What’s clearly needed is a large enough budget (and the political will) to fund more enforcement, more inspectors, more worker training, higher fines and time in jail.

Let’s put all of this in perspective. According to Rummy, we’re spending $4 billion a month in Iraq – and that’s just what they’re admitting to. So, let’s see. That’s something like 9 to 10 times the entire OSHA annual budget each month. And far more Americans die each month of fatal workplace injuries than have been killed during the entire Iraq war. And there are far more chemical and biological weapons threatening American workers every day in our factories, chemical plants and hospitals than we’ve found in Iraq.

And while we’re at it, what ever happened to the tuberculosis standard (oh yeah), the PPE Payment standard, and the reactives revision to the Process Safety Standard?

But no, Charlie Norwood and his little committee focus instead on some red-herring anecdotal stories about oppressed small businesses while workers continue to die because OSHA can't get to enough workplaces.

It’s enough to make me want to call Congress. Speaking of which, see that box on the right hand side of this page. Here are the members of the committee. You know what to do.


Charles Norwood (GA)
Judy Biggert (IL)
Cass Ballenger (NC)
Pete Hoekstra (MI)
Johnny Isakson (GA)
Ric Keller (FL)
John Kline (MN)
Marsha Blackburn (TN)


Major Owens (NY)
Ranking Minority Member
Dennis Kucinich (OH)
Lynn Woolsey (CA)
Denise Majette (GA)
Donald Payne (NJ)
Tim Bishop (NY)

As a matter of fact, call you congressional representatives even if they're not on the committee. Tell them you're tired of people dying in the workplace while Bush gives tax cuts to his friends. Or better yet, take a delegation and go visit them when they're on break next month. I'm sure they'll be glad to hear from you.

Other Congressional News

PPE Standard

The FY 2004 House Labor Appropriations Bill includes language criticizing OSHA for its “lack of progress” on issuing its “payment for PPE” standard that would require employers to pay for personal protective equipment that is required by OSHA standards. This rule was on the verge of completion when Bush took over. The UFCW and Congressional Hispanic Caucus have petitioned OSHA for its immediate issuance.

The committee stated that it was especially concerned because of the growing rate of deaths and injuries among Hispanic workers.

Along with inclusion of language urging OSHA to issue an airborne disease standard, this makes for a very interesting Appropriations report.

OSHA Budget

The bad news is that the House would provide $300,000 less to OSHA in FY 2004 than in 2003. The good news is that the Senate bill provides for $13 million more for OSHA and the Senate is expected to prevail. The House bill would provide for drastic cuts in OSHA’s training grant program, while the Senate bill, for the third year in a row, requires OSHA to continue to fully fund its Susan Harwood Grant Program.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

All in a Day's Work: While Republicans Fiddle, Workers Die

Calpine contractor dies in geothermal blast
New Mexico man becomes second of firm's specialists killed this year

A 44-year-old New Mexico man was killed over the weekend in a blast in geothermal fields in northwest Sonoma County in the second death this year of specialists hired by energy giant, Calpine Corp.

Calpine Corp. said the victim, identified by the Sonoma County coroner as Barry Carpenter of Farmington, N.M., was single. Carpenter worked for a drilling company, Air Comp....In May, a Merced maintenance worker who was inside a steam-cooling tower perished when a fan with blades was turned on.

More here.

Worker Dies After Falling Into Vat Of Cyanide
State Labor Department Inspecting Metal-Plating Company

MUNCIE, Ind. -- A worker at a metal plating company was killed when he fell into a 7,000-gallon vat of cyanide.

Investigators said no safety equipment appeared to have been in place that could have prevented 56-year-old Joseph Gray from falling into the vat Friday at Mid-City Plating Co.

Accident Kills Pair of Painters

Two construction workers who were painting the back side of a building at a Fairfax County, VA country club yesterday were killed when the cherry picker they were in tipped over, Fairfax County police said.

Former Princeton man dies in radio tower fall
PRINCETON, Ky. -- A former Princeton resident has died following a 450-foot fall from a Pennsylvania radio tower last week.

Clifford T. Williams, 26, of Paducah, formerly of Princeton, fell while he and another man per-formed maintenance on a 490- foot radio transmission tower in Greene Township, Pa., near the Ohio state line.

Coroner's officials said Williams was wearing a safety belt, though investigators have not disclosed whether the belt was connected to any of the tower's safety devices.

'Nothing more noble... nothing more humbling': Singapore Health Care Workers Saluted

They stood where few dared to stand, and died in the line of duty.

Last night, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong saluted the five health-care workers - two doctors, two nurses and a hospital attendant - who paid the ultimate price.
His tone was sombre as he named the five, one by one in a measured cadence.

Mr Goh said: 'Ong Hok Su, Alexandre Chao, Hamidah Ismail, Jonnel Pinera and Kiew Miyaw Tan knew the danger of Sars. But they did not flinch from their duties. They sacrificed their lives in the service of others.

'There is nothing more noble. There is nothing more humbling.'

NY Public Employees Call for Workplace Violence Standard

Responding to a continuing rise in the rate of workplace violence in New York, public employee unions are calling on the state Hazard Abatement Board to issue a standard protecting workers against workplace violence. According to the Public Employees Federation,
The number of assaults on state employees has risen from 1,396 in 1999 to 1,710 in 2001. And the rate of assaults and injuries per 10,000 state employees rose to 83.5 in 2001, a 26 percent increase over the 1999 rate.

When you factor in direct and indirect employment costs, workplace violence costs the state an estimated $42.5 million annually.

Thanks to joint efforts with PEF, injury statistics for the state Office of Mental Health have improved, but still show an extremely high statewide accident rate of 25.1 accidents per 100 workers in 2001-02. This rate is doubled to 51.1 when only forensic facilities are considered.

More Problems with Asbestos Compensation Bill

Interesting notes from a trial lawyer about the recent hearing on Senator Orrin Hatches Asbestos Compensation bill and how it would affect his clients with mesolthelioma.

Greens: Re-elect the President

Where have they been, under a damn rock for the past 2 ½ years?
Most, however, said the party should join the race. Many said they believe there is still little difference between the major parties -- one activist tagging them "Republicrats and Demopublicans."
For those lost souls reading this, check out Repentant Nader Come on guys. You can do it. One day at a time.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Suspicious Rumblings in Hawaii.

We all know that the Republicans’ wildest dream is to transform OSHA from an enforcement agency into a consultation agency where they would just give advice to employers instead of acting like the Gestapo and (gasp) actually penalizing them when they break the law.

Well, Hawaii Republican Governor Linda Lingle may be a dream come true for George Bush and Elaine Chao. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported that Lingle had told the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii that:
HIOSH (Hawaii OSHA) will soon send warning letters to businesses, without citations, and will no longer be an enforcement agency, but instead become a "consultation" agency, Lingle said.
If that quote is true, it would mean that Hawaii, a state-plan state that runs its own OSHA, would be handing enforcement back to the federal government. All state plans are required to be “at least as effective as” federal OSHA, which means that they actually have to enforce the law, not just hand out good advice and hope everyone follows it.

What set Lingle off? According to the Star Bulletin,
"There was a case," Lingle said, "where a moving company was cited for moving a 50-pound box. A moving company! That's what they do, move!"
Yeah, and a window washing company washes windows. Does that mean that OSHA shouldn’t cite the employer if a worker falls to his death while washing a window? “But they’re a window washing company. That’s what they do, wash windows!” “But they’re a trenching company. That’s what they do, dig trenches!”

Well, to quote the old Saturday Night Live line (for those of you old enough to remember): “Linda, You ignorant slut!”

There are safe ways to wash windows and unsafe ways. There are safe ways to dig trenches and unsafe ways. And there are safe ways to lift boxes and unsafe ways.

Anyway, Lingle's administration
is about "creating quality jobs," by passing good laws, repealing or vetoing bad ones, and working administratively to create a better environment for Hawaii businesses.

"We want a safe workplace," Lingle said. "But that's the same thing you want. In the past HIOSH had the attitude that they want a safe workplace, and you don't."
No, it's not that you don't want a safe workplace. You just don't want to pay for a safe workplace. Quality jobs? Ugh!

Anyway, this may, in fact, just be a Republican wet dream. A couple of days later, the Star Tribune reported another version of Lingle’s speech
Instead of issuing a no-fine citation on the first violation, creating a mandatory "repeated offender" fine on any subsequent violations, the administration plans to issue warning letters for minor infractions, she said.

"We want to become known as a consultation agency rather than an enforcement agency in order to ensure workplace safety," Lingle said. "We think it's a better approach."
What she's actually going to do with HIOSHA is not clear. But what she wants to do is crystal clear. The same thing that the current regime here in Washington wants – an agency that will just give out friendly warnings instead of citations; slaps on the wrist instead of fines. For now they won’t because they can’t without major changes in the law that would reveal what they're really up to.

But don’t think that’s not what they’re planning. Download an illegal song off the internet or try to sell a bong and you’ll earn the wrath of John Ashcroft, fines and jail time, but injure or kill workers? Tsk, tsk. No supper for you tonite.

Stay tuned and we'll keep you posted. Any Hawaiian readers out there who can fill us in? Or am I going to have to come on out there and find out for myself?

Labor's Silver Lining

Former neighbor and UE staffer Lance Compa argues in a Washington Post column, that like Mark Twain's reported death, the demise of the labor movement has been greatly exagerated. Compa points out that despite labor's falling percentage of the workforce, "union members are more engaged in community and social affairs than unorganized workers, and continues in electoral politics. "

Despite hostile laws and significant number of American workers who aren't even allowed to join unions, in certain important economic sectors, labor still has a strong showing.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

West Pharmaceutical Statement: The Buck Doesn't Stop There.

The West Pharmaceutical statement regarding the NCOSHA fine for the dust explosion that killed six employees is here.

As I wrote yesterday, West settled the case for a $100,000 fine and a $300,000 contribution to local organizations that provided assistance to West and its employees in the aftermath of the January 29th incident. Kevin Beauregard, interim director of the the North Carolina Depart of Labor's occupational safety and health division, said that the probe raised three safety issues: dust accumulation, electrical equipment placed in an area where it was not approved and ineffective employee training on the hazards of the chemicals used. NCOSHA initially cited West for 86 violations related to those three issues. The company had faced a $602,000 fine.

But under the settlement, the company was cited for one "general duty" violation - failing to provide a safe workplace. The other 85 violations were dismissed.

But the company was not happy with the settlement.

Donald E. Morel, Jr., Ph.D., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer stated:
West cooperated fully with NCOSHA's investigation and we are very disappointed that any citations were issued. West vigorously disagrees with its allegations of non-compliance with certain NCOSHA requirements and we firmly believe that we would prevail if we contested the citation.
Now let's look at this. West "vigorously" disagrees that it had done anything wrong. This is a curious argument for a company where working conditions killed six employees.

No one is saying that West killed the employees intentionally, or even negligently. They may even be good corporate citizens. They're rebuilding in Kinston and have kept most of their employees working at other West plants.

West is probably arguing that it didn't violate any specific OSHA standards that led to the deaths. But even discounting the other 85 violations that were dismissed (which I haven't seen), the OSHAct does contain a general duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the law, which states that
Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.
In order to sustain a general duty clause citation, the hazard must be able to cause death or serious physical harm and it has to be "recognized." reconsidered doesn't just mean recognized and acknowledged by the employer; it can also mean recognized in the industry. And there is no doubt that the hazards of dust explosions are well known in industry. Do a Google search. I came up with over 100,000 hits. Clearly all are not relevant, but you get the idea.

Congress in its wisdom wrote the General Duty Clause into the act because it recognized that OSHA would not be able to issue a standard to cover every recognized hazard. They probably didn't realize in their wildest dreams how difficult it would become to issue new standards -- which makes effective use of the General Duty Clause all the more needed.

So stop whining and just focus on not letting anything like this happen again.

White House Accidentally Reveals the Truth

This is not the Onion.

Buzzflash points out that occasionally the White House accidentally tells it like it is. Check out the subtitle on the State of the Nation page of the White House Webpage.

[Note (7/28/03): The subtitle has been taken down. It originally read: "Denial and Deception"]

NC OSHA Cites West Pharmaceutical for Dust Explosion that Killed Six

North Carolina OSHA fined West Pharmaceutical $100,000 for a dust explosion that killed six employees last January. West has also agreed to contribute $300,000 to organizations that provided assistance during the tragedy.

West officials were not happy.
Company officials felt the fine was unjustified. "We're clearly disappointed OSHA chose to give us a citation and a proposed penalty. We believe we did not violate the NC OSHA Act as alleged. And further more, we believe that if we chose to contest the citations, we would prevail," said company chairman Don Morel.
Yeah, go ahead and contest it. That will win you lots of good will in the community.

The orginal citation was for $602,000. As part of the agreement, which included the $300,000 contribution, West Pharmaceuticals denied it violated the act.

"The first issue had to do with combustible dust. The second issue had to do with electrical equipment,” said Kevin Beauregard, NC Department of Labor. “And the third issue had to do with employee training."
At a public hearing last month, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released preliminary findings that West Pharmaceutical Services created conditions for the deadly blast at its Kinston plant by installing a suspended ceiling that allowed explosive dust to build up out of sight. More here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The 21st Century Jungle

Every once in a while I do a search for workers who have died in the past days. It's depressing and it's infuriating. Look at the list below. There's barely one that isn't readily preventable and an obvoius violation of an OSHA standard. So what does it take? More guidelines and legislation to get OSHA off the backs of smal employers?

Bad year for miners

Coal Mine Deaths Increase

The 20 fatalities so far for 2003 have occurred at a somewhat faster rate than in recent years, according to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration records. Kentucky leads the country with seven coal mine deaths this year — continuing a pattern in which the state has led the nation in mine fatalities for most of the past decade. Indiana has had one fatality this year.

Worker is killed in dock accident
By RAY HENRY, Standard-Times staff writer

NEW BEDFORD -- A 25-year-old worker was crushed to death by a falling metal cage near a waterfront loading dock off Hassey Street Monday morning, police and witnesses said.
Luiz Garcia Gomez of Viall Street, a worker at Nebula Foods Inc., was repairing a pothole around 11:45 a.m. with his cousin and another man when a forklift at Big G Seafood on the loading dock above them hit a cable attached to a metal cage, said Lt. Richard M. Spirlet, a spokesman for the New Bedford Police Department

Worker dies in 40-foot fall
Man is 4th killed at a construction site

By Dave Gustafson
The Sun News

A construction worker died after falling about 40 feet at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in North Myrtle Beach.

Alfonso Morales, 41, of Loris, was taken to Seacoast Medical Center in Little River, where he was pronounced dead at 12:05 p.m., said Horry County Coroner Robert Edge.

Every hear of fall protection?

Three other Myrtle Beach construction workers have been kiled on the job since December: Oscar Barojas, 23, Chad Edward Steffey, 18, and Juan Vazquez, 31.

Note the percentage of hispanic surnames.

Kankakee County man dies in ditch collapse

July 15, 2003 (Kankakee) — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death of a Kankakee County man in a workplace accident.

Coroner James Kelly says 22-year-old Nathan Barber died yesterday after he was buried when a ditch collapsed while he was working inside.

Some "accident." I wonder how deep the ditch was.

Here's another stupid, pointless death.

Welder dies after explosion

By Norman Miller / News Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

FRAMINGHAM -- Christopher Lyon's family left a Boston hospital Monday night happy because a doctor told them the Connecticut welder injured in an explosion two weeks ago looked as if he was going to make a full recovery.

Early yesterday morning, the Lyon family received a call from Massachusetts General Hospital telling them Lyon, 31, had died from injuries he suffered in the explosion on July 3 at the Triram Corporation at 721 Waverley St.....

Lyon was welding on top of a 28-foot, 15,000-gallon asphalt container on the afternoon of July 3 when the heat from the welding torch caused the fumes in the tank to explode.

Fire officials said he was thrown to the ground, and suffered serious injuries. He was taken by a medical rescue helicopter to Massachusetts General, where he remained until his death.

400-Foot Drop Kills Radio Tower Worker

GREENE TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- A man died Tuesday morning after falling about 450 feet from a radio tower while he was repairing an antenna, WTAE's Sheldon Ingram reported.

Clifford T. Williams, 26, of Paducah, Ky., was pronounced dead at the scene in a remote area of Greene, Beaver County.

Every hear of fall protection?

Meanwhile, stay away from those paving jobs in Denver.

Worker dies after falling under wheels of truck

A 53-year-old man died Monday morning in the 4400 block of South Yosemite Street when a dump truck full of asphalt backed over him.

The man's identity was withheld pending notification of relatives.

The victim, who worked for Cutler Paving, was marking manhole covers about 10 a.m. when the dump truck owned by Pronto Trucking Co. backed up to load a hopper on an asphalt spreader. The victim attempted to stand up, but slipped and fell under the rear wheels of the truck, said Sonny Jackson, Denver police spokesman.

Road Worker Run Over By Road Grader

DENVER -- A city road-paving crew worker was seriously injured Tuesday when he was run over by a road grader while working in downtown Denver. Witnesses said the worker was hit by a 50-ton road grinder

The victim, identifed as Robert G. Romero Jr., 32, was later listed in serious condition at Denver Health Medical Center.

It was not known why Romeroa didn't see the machine before he was hit.

Man Electrocuted In Gainesville

POSTED: 11:36 a.m. EDT July 14, 2003

A welder was apparently electrocuted while working on a metal balcony at a construction site in Gainesville, authorities said.

Javier Gonzales, 37, of Norcross, Ga., died in Sunday's accident, said Sgt. Keith Faulk, an Alachua County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Workers told authorities that Gonzales, an employee of Allen Steel Products of Arlington, Tenn., was installing a metal subfloor on a balcony using an 8,000 watt welding machine.

Although detectives are awaiting the results of an autopsy, authorities believe he was electrocuted by the welding machine, Faulk said.

Fall from Skyway kills man

A construction worker died Wednesday night after falling about 50 feet from the Chicago Skyway. Dennis P. McNamara, 63, of Wood Dale had been working above the eastbound traffic side near I-90 and 77th. He was pronounced dead at Northwestern Hospital.

Every hear of fall protection? Hello. Anyone paying attention out there?

Graveyard Shift: Faster to the Graveyard...and the Poorhouse?

Employers who think shift work is a profitable bed of roses should think twice according to this article.
Graveyard-shift workers make five times as many serious mistakes and are 20 percent more likely to suffer severe accidents, Circadian found. Those on the overnight shift also have a significantly higher incidence of costly diseases and disorders, costing employers billions. ...Night workers also seem to eat more fatty foods during their 3 a.m. lunches. Obesity and diabetes rates are higher among overnight-shift workers, according to Circadian. All-night workers tend to have heart disorders at rates 40 percent higher than those of workers on dayside shifts.
Higher divorce rate, more stress-related illnesses, higher health care costs.

And just to add insult to injury, the Bush administration is trying to get rid of the 8-hour day.

Life's only a bed of roses if you have time to go to bed.

Ergonomics Revisionism?

Check out the first paragraph of this article:
New ergonomics guidelines pose challenges

Lynlee Wells Palmer

After a lengthy ergonomics debate between industry and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA has been forced to abandon its hope for broad ergonomics regulations in favor of industry-specific guidelines promulgated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act's general duty clause, a catch-all clause that enables OSHA to issue both ergonomics guidelines and citations for ergonomics hazards within a workplace.
Calling the truth squad for rewrite:
After a lengthy ergonomics war between industry and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA forced workers to abandon their hope for broad ergonomics regulations in favor of unenforcable industry-specific guidelines. OSHA is now only able to cite employers under its general duty clause, a catch-all clause that enables OSHA, when it seems politically necessary, to issue citations for ergonomics hazards within a workplace.
Aside from the fact that the author is an attorney representing management who doesn't understand OSHA or recent history or OSHA's General Duty Clause, it's not a terrible article. (I hope she doesn't charge too much.)

For enquiring minds, it is true that OSHA can cite under the General Duty Clause, but the General Duty Clause has nothing to do with OSHA's ability to write voluntary guidelines. The guidelines that OSHA has issued have a very lengthly disclaimer stating that the guidelines can not never, ever, ever, in a million years, no matter what, be used to cite employers, cross their hearts and hope to die. Don't even THINK about it! (Although in somewhat more legalistic language).

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Chemical Neighbors: Can't Live With 'em, Can't Live Without 'em

Dear Abby:

I have a problem. It's my next door neighbor. He makes smelly stuff that pollutes the air, but sells very well. He hired some neighborhood kid to do some welding near a leaky tank full of sulfuric acid which exploded and not a trace of him was ever found again. He spilled millions of gallons of sulfuric acid into the creek and has been fined hundreds of millions of dollars by the federal government. But he's so rich he doesn't care.

Now, you might think I'd be writing you to ask your advice on how to get rid of him. But actually, I don't want to do that. I need him. My kids work for him and he supports the whole town. I don't like him, but I need him.

Am I crazy?


Miffed by Motiva

Asbestos Comp Follies, Continued

As I reported earlier this week, Orin Hatch’s (R-UT) asbestos compensation bill was approved by the Senate committee. Aside from Diane Feinstein (D-NY), all Democrats on the committee opposed the bill. All Republicans voted in favor, except for Jon Kyl (R-AZ) who abstained. But no one seems to happy, except Halliburton and a few other companies.

The AFL-CIO opposes the bill:
The unions argue that manufacturers and insurers should pay more into the fund to ensure that claimants receive as much as under the tort system. But industry says the bill would provide more compensation because lawyers' fees would be curtailed under the Hatch bill.

"The legislation has sound medical criteria but on the core issue of providing victims fair compensation for their disease it doesn't meet the mark," said Peg Seminario of the AFL-CIO, the umbrella organisation for labour unions.
Democrats aren’t happy:
Several committee Democrats, including Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, said they liked the idea of a national trust fund, but that Hatch's plan does not provide enough money for victims.

At the hearing, the panel voted to raise the payment for victims of mesothelioma, which is unique to asbestos exposure, to $1 million. But Kennedy noted that payments to lung cancer victims who have been exposed to asbestos will be limited to $150,000.

"That is outrageous," Kennedy said. "The real crisis that confronts us is not an 'asbestos litigation crisis.' It is an asbestos-induced disease crisis."
Insurers are also opposed:
Insurers believe that any extra funding should be provided by the manufacturing industry, which used the carcinogenic material for insulation in the 1970s.

"We are opposed to the bill," said Gary Karr of the American Insurance Association. "We believe the contingency funding should be paid by the industrial defendants."
As I mentioned above though, Halliburton is very happy:
Over its 27-year life, the fund is supposed to have $108 billion to pay people who develop cancer or other health impairments from their exposure to asbestos in the workplace.

The money in the trust fund would come from about 8,500 companies that made or sold asbestos products directly or through their subsidiaries, as well as the companies' insurers. But most of the firms would pay no more than $25 million a year.

The arrangement could prove a windfall for Halliburton and its insurers.

In February, the company reached a "global settlement" of 200,000 asbestos claims. Under the deal, Halliburton and its insurers agreed to pay $4.2 billion to settle the claims.

Dresser Industries, a Halliburton subsidiary, had incurred the asbestos liability through another company it once owned.

But the Senate bill, the fate of which remains uncertain, would cancel all such pending settlements.

At $25 million a year, Halliburton would pay $675 million over the 27-year life of the federal trust fund.
Other unhappy parties include the intended beneficiaries of the pending settlements that would be canceled under this legislation:
An estimated 1.3 million workers in construction and industry face "significant asbestos exposure on the job," according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Victims are not always older workers who labored in shipyards or factories.

Angela Ruhl, 39, of Garden Grove has two teenage children and suffers from mesothelioma, the asbestos-induced cancer that is usually fatal.

Her uncle worked at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, and she believes she was exposed through him and his work clothes, which were laundered at her home.

"I know it's incurable," she said of her disease, although she has responded well to several experimental drugs.

After being shocked by the diagnosis of the medical condition, Ruhl said she was jolted again when she learned that the pending legislation could cancel the settlement she and her lawyer had worked out with the unnamed companies that made the asbestos.

"I was dumbfounded. I didn't think they could do this retroactively," she said.

"We have received a settlement and signed the agreement, but this would cancel it because the money has not been paid yet."
Trial Lawyers are also opposed to the bill because they would no longer make money off of asbestos litigation. Nothing wrong with this, according to Hatch:
Some people are making a very good living off this broken system," Hatch said during Thursday's daylong hearing. "They are the ones hurting the system for a quick buck and don't want their lottery taken away."
Yes, “greedy” trial lawyers are easy targets, but lets look at the world. What or who is out there really making corporations pay – pay so that it really hurts them – for injuring, killing and making workers sick? Not OSHA with its anemic fines and almost complete inability to issue new regulations. Workers alone certainly don’t have the money to hire attorneys and pay their fees and they can’t sue their employers. It’s really only the system where attorneys get a percentage of the money they win for their clients that has made companies think twice about producing dangerous products. And it’s often the money that these firms make off these lawsuits that allow them get involved in less profitable activities to benefit workers.

Bottom line is that this bill isn’t going anywhere as it stands now. A compromise will have to be reached that keeps the liable companies in business but still provides adequate compensation to current and future victims.

We should all just remember that this whole tragedy is a result of decades of corporate lies and cover-ups about the health effects of asbestos – a deadly mineral that is still being used in the United States. And when you look at the situation with chemical testing and regulation in this country, it’s hard to see that these same companies have learned their lesson.

Telemarketers are People

My blogger comrade Susan Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla reminds us that those obnoxious telemarketers are actually people -- often low-paid people who cannot find other work. OK, I still don't like the calls, but I'll try to be nicer before I hang up.

Another Workers Comp Battle

First you injure them, then youmake sure they never get compensated. I've written about workers compensation several times over the past few weeks, here, here, here, here and here. The battles continue, this time in Ohio.

Ergonomics and Democracy, American Style

Sometimes I have to wonder what kind of democracy we live in. The answer seems to be "the best that money can buy." We all know about the fiasco of campaign finance reform. And of course there's Ari Fleischer's almost famous statement (when asked about the obscene amounts of money that President W is raising) that the amount of money a political party raises is reflective of their support amoung the American people. (cough)

Californians are soon to be faced with a recall of their governor, elected less than a year ago, because of a recall campaign financed by millionaire conservative Congressman and former car thief Darryl Issa.

Now, the good citizens of Washington State are soon to be faced with a referendum on their ergonomics standard, thanks to a well funded campaign by the Building Industry Association of Washington, which represents home builders. Other supporters are the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Farm Bureau.

On July 1, the BIA submitted initiative petitions with about 260,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's Office in Olympia. Initiative organizers turned in even more signatures by the July 3 deadline.

"We can't afford what it's going to cost business in the state," said Randy Gold, president of the Building Industry Association of Washington. "This will be a job-killer."

Gold said his association is prepared to spend more than $1 million to get Initiative 841 passed. Already, initiative backers have spent $347,000 to gather signatures.

But money isn't the BIA's only weapon. They may not steal cars, but they make good use of lies to help them along. I wrote over a month ago about the outrageous lies he business associations admitted making in order to collect signatures for the referendum. The BIA's webpage actually implied that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle supported Bush's repeal of the ergonomics standard (although this statement seems to have been taken off of their web page.)

The regulation was adopted in 2000 in response to the over 50,000 Washington workers who suffer ergonomics injuries every year. Washington business interests have been waging a non-stop -- and unsuccessful -- battle to have the standard repealed by the legislature and overturned by the courts.

Although the business associations are ideologically opposed to the standard, actual Washington businesses don't seem to think the sky is falling. The Associated General Contractors are remaining neutral in the campaign. One of Washington's largest commercial contractors, GLY Construction Inc., "last year tried out the new ergonomics rules in a demonstration project with the state Department of Labor and Industries." Although Tim Gottberg, the company's risk manager, complained about paperwork,
nonetheless, Gottberg said GLY would keep its ergonomics program even if Washington voters repeal the rules, chiefly because the company wants to reduce workplace injuries and help carpenters finish out their careers in an industry with physical demands.
Fighting this effort to overturn these workplace protections has national significance. If Washington's ergonomic standard is overturned, it will doom similar state efforts as well as efforts to convince federal OSHA that a standard is the only way to reduce ergonomics hazards that continue to be the biggest cause of injuries in American workplaces. Check out the Washington State AFL-CIO webpage for information about the campaign to defeat the standard.