Thursday, April 29, 2004

Workplace Deaths Shoot Up in Massachusetts

Management Practices to Blame?

Workplace deaths shot up from 49 in 2002 to 81 in 2003, one of the highest totals since records started being kept in 1994, according to a report, DYING FOR WORK IN MASSACHUSETTS: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces 2003, by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and MASSCOSH.

The report was released for Workers Memorial Day.
"That 81 people in Massachusetts lost their lives in the workplace is an absolute disgrace," said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb. "This report demonstrates that the cost of cutting corners on safety is paid in human lives."

Mass AFL-CIO President Robert J. Haynes echoed that sentiment, and pointed to a far-reaching piece of legislation that U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy has drafted that will help curtail workplace deaths in the future.

"It’s terribly tragic that this many people died on the job in 2003, but it’s morally offensive that so many of these deaths were preventable," said Haynes. "Thankfully, our senior senator is working on this problem, and has a solution that will save lives."
Senator Edward M. Kennedy is sponsoring the Protecting America’s Workers Act, that would expand safety protections to millions of workers, improve enforcement procedures, increase penalties for willful and serious violations, and strengthen protections for workers who report employer safety violations.

This story was picked up by Workers Comp Insider which, while understanding the effect of national policies on workplace safety, argues that, ultimately "management philosophy, the commitment to the work and the workforce, determines whether there will be serious injuries or even death." They go on to ask employers who are reading their site whether the following factors may be leading to increases in workplace fatalities:
  • reduced employment (while the amount of work remains the same)

  • reduced spending on training (as a result of difficult economic times),

  • cuts in federal and state enforcement efforts (reducing the chance that they'll be inspected)

  • and fear of job loss among workers (leading to reluctance to complain about working conditions)
And the answer to these questions, according to Workes Comp Insider?
There are no simple answers to these questions. But good management understands the importance of keeping workers safe, healthy, and productive. It never makes good business sense -- or ethical sense, for that matter -- to scrimp on safety just because no one may be watching. Any company's most valuable asset is a skilled workforce. The realities of a tough economy may require reductions in the workforce. But prudent employers will remain sensitive to the strains and stresses of these reductions and take steps to support remaining workers, helping them to perform their jobs safely. From the perspective of good business practices, nothing else makes sense.

OSHA Fines Atlantic City Garage Collapse Contractors

OSHA has cited four contractors in the Atlantic City Tropicana parking garage collapse that killed four construction workers last October. (here and here)

Fabi construction received the largest fine, $98,500. Fabi received one "willful" violation, punishable by a $70,000 fine.
Workers on the project reported cracks radiating at 45-degree angles from columns weeks before the collapse, but no one acted on the warnings, Gary Roskoski, OSHA area director said.

"Connecting horizontal steel to the vertical (components) is a basic construction engineering design, very basic. It's Engineering 101,'' he said.

Robert J. Mongeluzzi, a lawyer representing the families of two victims, said: "This was a death trap and an accident waiting to happen.''
The families of the victims were not impressed with the fines:
To the victims' families, the safety citations issued against contractors Thursday for the Tropicana Casino and Resort parking garage collapse don't add up to much.

About $30,000 per life, to be exact.

"Thirty thousand dollars a man ain't (expletive)," said an angry Ed Wittland, 34, whose father died in the collapse. "Thirty grand? Come on. It's ridiculous."
Happily, of course, the companies didn't do anything wrong:
Fabi called the citations an "unproven allegation which in no way represents a determination of the actual cause" of the collapse.

In a statement, Fabi officials said: "At all times during the construction Fabi addressed all safety requirements, including constructing the garage in accordance with the approved plans and procedures."

Keating officials, too, said the findings did not point to a "clear-cut" cause. "We feel there is still much information to be gathered and analyzed," they said in a statement. "It is our intention to appeal this specific citation as we continue that important process."

Officials at Site Blauvelt said they, too, would appeal. "We think the citation is unfounded and filed erroneously," said Dan Sell, vice president of human resources for the company.

Officials at Mitchell Bar Placement could not be reached for comment.
I haven't seen any indication about whether or not OSHA is seeking a criminal prosecution. OSHA's press release is here.

Kerry Calls For Chem Plant Security

John Kerry is clearly a regular reader of Confined Space. Today the Democratic Presidential candidate criticized President Bush for neglecting chemical plant security at home while Americans continue to die in a wild goose chase for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (He didn't actually use those words, but he hasn't yet hired me as his speech writer.)

Confined Space has addressed this issue several times (here and here) noting the potential for a chemical plant explosion to wipe out far more lies than 9/11 along with the number of occasions over the past couple of years that reporters have been able to slip unimpeded into chemical plants past their "security."

Kerry endorsed the idea present in legislation introduced by Senator Jon Corzine that would require chemical plants to do security assessments, increase physical security and require the use of less dangerous chemicals and technologies whenever that is practicable. The Bush Administration and the American Chemical Council want to make such assessments voluntary and do not want any requirement to use less dangerous chemicals.

Kerry blamed the administration's inaction on his political ties to the chemical industry.
Kerry said Bush has accommodated the chemical industry, which favors voluntary efforts to improve security, because of campaign contributions from executives.

The Kerry campaign cited pledges to Bush during 2000 and 2004 of at least $1.5 million from 15 fund-raisers it said were tied to the chemical industry. The campaign also cited nearly $6.5 million in soft-money contributions -- corporate, union or unlimited donations -- from the industry to Republicans during the 2000 and 2002 campaigns.

"This administration unfortunately has been unwilling to take these steps because they have sided with the chemical industry that pushes back,'' Kerry said. "We don't care who they're writing campaign checks to. It's time for them to make America stronger.''
Kerry's website goes into more detail on connections between the Bush administration an the chemical indusry.

And in one of the many statements from the Bush Administration that fails the Confined Space laugh test, a spokesman claimed tht he was shocked, SHOCKED, that John Kerry was playing politics with homeland security:
"John Kerry has played politics with homeland security throughout this campaign, and today he is doing it again," Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "John Kerry voted against the Department of Homeland Security six times and wants to weaken the Patriot Act. His speech today is not a credible alternative but a retread of policies that the president has already advocated."
This is from the same administration, you may recall, that used 9/11 footage of dead firefighters in its first campaign commercials and will hold its convention in NY right before 9/11.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Workers Memorial Day Stories

From Utah, New Jersey, Iowa, Philadelphia, Wichita, Wisconsin, Saganaw County, MI, Washington, Lehigh Valley, PA, Hanover, PA, West Virginia, Minnesota, Australia, Melbourne, London, Ghana, New Zealand.

OSHA To Test Staff For Beryllium Disease

Whistleblower Vindicated

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced that it will offer testing for beryllium disease to inspectors who may be been exposed to the toxic dust in the course of inspections.

Last Fall, OSHA transferred its Rocky Mountain Regional Administrator Adam Finkel who had been advocating for the testing for several years.
Finkel filed a whistle-blower complaint, alleging he was transferred because he was advocating a safety plan that OSHA higher-ups did not want. The agency denied the claim, and the case was settled.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group that backed Finkel, said the whistle-blower had been vindicated.

"It's a shame that somebody had to jeopardize his job in order to push forward a needed safety measure," Ruch said.

Finkel, now a senior adviser at OSHA, said: "I just hope no one turns out to have blood abnormalities or disease who could have learned of this three years ago when the issue was first raised." He emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not the agency.
Finkel argued that OSHA had started to put together a beryllium testing program in 1999, but that current Assistant Secretary John Henshaw pulled the plug in 2002. Finkel alleged that the cost of the program would be so small, that the only thing that the agency must be afraid of tort liability.
Beryllium is used in a variety of industries to help make products ranging from missile components to laptop computers to golf clubs. OSHA estimates that 1,000 inspectors, or three-fourths of its force, have conducted inspections in industries handling the metal.

Agency records show that many of those inspections have taken place in facilities that have had high levels of beryllium dust, up to 30 times the safety standard.

Dr. Lee Newman, a leading beryllium researcher, predicted OSHA likely will find that 2 percent to 6 percent of its exposed inspectors will have beryllium disease or blood abnormalities linked to the illness, the same rate found in similar testing programs.

"I am delighted that OSHA made the right decision to offer testing," Newman said. "It's important that they do this."

Senators Push Legislation to Toughen OSHA Penalties

In honor of Workers Memorial Day (see below) and the thousands of workers who die every year in the workplace, Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ) have renewed the campaign for stronger sanctions against employers who willfully kill workers. Legislation introduced by Corzine would increase the maximum prison sentence to 10 years from six months for willful safety violations that result in deaths.

The proposal to toughen penalties comes in response to the New York Times stories showing the poor record of OSHA and the Justice Department in going after high fines and jail time for employers guilty of willfully killing their employees.

And what do the Bush Administration and Republican Congressional leadership think about high penalties for employers who willfully kill workers? Guess.
Commerce Secretary Donald Evans called the Corzine-Kennedy proposal "just another policy to destroy jobs.'' House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the proposal would be "the worst thing that you could do -- telling a small business person that they could go to prison over an OSHA violation.''
The worst thing you could do? Funny, I think willfully putting someone in an environment where they're going to die is worse.

Update: rawblogXport points out a rather serious "typo" in the AP article cited above:
sometimes a typo is more than a misplaced decimal, especially on such a timely topic - compare the following article, run by dozens of newspapers today, with the article below it posted 02/25/2004:

Families Lobby for Workplace Safety By Jeffrey McMurray, AP
In an investigative series on workplace deaths, The New York Times last year found 1,242 cases between 1982 and 2002 in which OSHA concluded workers had died because of 'willful' safety violations by employers. OSHA sought prosecution on only 93 percent of those cases. There were only 11 convictions.

Justice Dept. Drops Most Criminal OSHA Referrals
Critics in Congress and elsewhere have been hammering OSHA ever since a recent New York Times article revealed that over the past 20 years, the agency failed to seek criminal prosecution against 93 percent of the companies whose willful violations of safety rules caused workers to die.

Workers Memorial Day 2004

Here's To OSHA: Protecting Employers From The Hazards Of Standards and Enforcement

I have been "celebrating" Workers Memorial Day since the very first event in 1989, the first year of the Bush I administration. Usually they're sad occasions. Workers dying from perfectly preventable causes, children left to grow up without parents, parents having to bury their children. Sad stuff.

This year, however, it looks like there's actually something to celebrate. After just over thirty years of OSHA's existence, humankind has apparently advanced to the point where we don't need workplace health and safety regulations any more. We have apparently been cured of the desire to save a few bucks by cutting corners, speeding up the job and skipping those pesky trench boxes and guard rails. We've advanced to the point where we only need voluntary programs, educational materials, and compliance assistance. All those mandatory standards, inspections, citations, fines and penalties are so 20th century. We've evolved. We've arrived.

But this is just the beginning. I hear that next year we're getting rid of speed limits, drivers licenses and traffic cops. Everyone will be issued fact sheets about how safe driving saves lives and money. Fire and building codes? Who needs 'em? Safe buildings save money. Just give landlords and builders the facts. They're mature adults. They don't want to kill anyone. Environmental regulations? Just tell coal plants and oil refineries how to run their businesses more cleanly. And if information and compliance assistance doesn't work, we can always form some more Alliances.

Yes, we're on the dawn of a brave new world.

The original purpose of Workers Memorial Day was to bring national recognition to the price -- in preventable illness, injury and death-- that too many workers still pay just for going to work every day. The idea has clearly caught on. Although Workers Memorial Day was created by the labor movement, even OSHA has honored the day for the past decade. Of course, I remember the time when OSHA would actually do substantive things on Workers Memorial Day. In 1998, for example, OSHA issued its Workplace Violence Guidelines for Retail Workers. Even this Republican Administration has traditionally attempted to include some substance in its Worker Memorial Day Press Releases over the past two years. But not anymore. Read OSHA Director John Henshaw's Press Release. Better yet, don't waste your time. I'll give you the shorter version:
Mourn their loss, cherish their memories. Pay tribute, reduce hazards, play nicely with stakeholders, and work harder.

So how do we honor workers in 2004? Let me count the ways.

OSHA has decided not to issue aTB standard, not to collect real data on musculoskeletal injuries, and that low income and immigrant workers can damn well pay for their own personal protective equipment. We don't need to add reactive chemicals to the Process Safety Management standard. And workers have had enough of that boring classroom training. Let them play computer games instead. Nursing home workers’ problems have been solved so we don’t need no stinkin’ nursing home initiative.

Meanwhile, the state of Washington has honored disabled workers by deciding that they don’t need no stinkin’ ergonomics standard, and Colin Powell’s State Department has decided that toxic chemical have more rights that terrorism suspects and should continue to be considered innocent until the proven, smoking gun deaths of workers proves them to be guilty.

I could (and often do) go on and on. But for more of the Complete Bush Record on safety and health check out the AFL-CIO's Bushwatch.

There is no doubt that at this time in American history, the greatest tribute we can pay to those who have lost their lives and those who have been injured or made ill in the workplace is to elect John Kerry for President. With an administration that values tax cuts for the rich and a costly crusade in Iraq over any kind of human needs at home, we'll be lucky if OSHA's budget only takes small hits over the next few years. And unless it's stopped, OSHA's preference for "voluntary" activities over enforcement and standards will soon begin to take a bigger chunk out of enforcement and standards.

OSHA still has some excellent staff in Washington D.C. and in the field who are dedicated to aggressively protecting workers regardless of the anti-worker ideology coming from the White House. But how long will they stick around facing another four years of forming alliances and being nice when some employers would clearly respond better to a kick in the butt than a pat on the ass?

So lets rededicate ourselves to the fight. Read back over The Weekly Tolls for the past year and think about the lives lost -- almost ten times as many as we've lost in Iraq so far, almost twice as many as we lost on 9/11.

And while we're remembering the dead and their loved ones, let's also take a moment to think of ways to provide support for those who are continuing to fight for the living: the families of the men and women who have died in the workplace and have vowed to fight so that their loved ones will not have died in vain; the union and COSH group activists focusing on the fight for safe workplaces when there are so many other problems and priorities to deal with; OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH career staff who have dedicated their lives to assuring that American workers have safe workplaces despite the political winds that try to blow them off course. And finally, let's also not forget those health and safety directors and staff at companies around the country who are trying to convince their bosses and the bean counters to invest in safety even though there may not be any OSHA requirement and the chance of being inspected is smaller and smaller all the time.

And finally, let's all work for better times by next Workers Memorial Day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

GAO Evaluates OSHA’s Voluntary Programs

You Too Can Volunteer To Keep Your Employees Safe

The Government Accounting Office issued an evaluation of OSHA’s voluntary programs a while back and I’m just getting around to reading it. The report was requested by Congressman Charlie "OSHA Killed the Tooth Fairy" Norwood (R-GA). The programs evaluated include State consultation programs, funded by OSHA, Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), Strategic Partnership Program, and the new Alliance Program. Some, such as VPP, exempt companies from regularly scheduled inspections; membership in others can result in lower fines, while others, such as the Alliances, focus on education and public relations.

According to OSHA's interpetation of the report, the GAO found that these things were the best thing since Post-It notes. After reading the report myself, however, I have come to the conclusion that either no one at OSHA actually read the report, or (more likely) they're hoping that no one else reads the report.

In summary, the GAO report reminds me of the old Pac-Man game: voluntary programs have no proven value, but they're gobbling up the resources that OSHA needs to fulfil its Congressional mandate to “assure safe working conditions for working men and women.”

On its website, OSHA boasts that the “GAO Report Highlights Effectiveness of OSHA's Voluntary and Cooperative Programs”

John Henshaw says that
The General Accounting Office's report recognizes that these compliance assistance programs are highly effective in extending OSHA's reach. They complement and augment OSHA's aggressive efforts to enforce occupational safety and health standards to achieve greater reductions in workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
The OSHA announcement states that
A year-long study by the Government Accounting Office on OSHA's voluntary compliance programs wrapped up last month saying the strategies "have improved employers' safety and health practices" and noted that many participants interviewed said the programs resulted in not only helping to reduce injury and illness rates but also have fostered "better working relationships with OSHA."
Those of us who still think that Congress was serious when it created OSHA as an agency that is supposed to enforce the American worker’s right to a safe workplace might take a different view.

OSHA’s voluntary programs go all the way back to the Reagan era with the founding of the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) in 1982. Alliances, primarily with industry associations, are the newest program, developed in the Bush administration as a substitute for issuing standards and are the only OSHA voluntary program that doesn't include labor unions. 41 percent of OSHA’s national alliances, for example, were ergonomic-related. OSHA recently established an alliance with a number of chemical industry associations as a substitute for revising its Process Safety Management regulation as recommended by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

What is missing from OSHA’s rather sanguine view of the report is that the optimistic conclusions are based almost solely on interviews with participants (all nine of them), who (surprise) prefer voluntary activities over actual enforcement of the law. Otherwise, there’s no real evidence that these programs are effective in improving health and safety conditions.

The report concludes that
OSHA’s voluntary compliance programs have reduced injuries and illnesses and yielded other benefits, according to participants, OSHA officials, and occupational safety and health specialists, but the lack of comprehensive data makes it difficult to fully assess the effectiveness of these programs. Participants we interviewed in the three states and nine worksites we visited told us they have considerably reduced their rates of injury and illness. They also attributed better working relationships with OSHA, improved productivity, and decreased worker compensation costs to their involvement in the voluntary compliance programs. However, much of the information on program success was anecdotal, and OSHA’s own evaluation of program activities and impact has been limited to date. OSHA currently does not collect complete, comparable data that would enable a full evaluation of the effectiveness of its voluntary compliance programs. (My emphasis)
I don’t know about you (or Congress), but I don't need to spend dwindling taxpayer dollars to condcut a GAO study that concludes that companies would rather have voluntary programs than enforcement and fines…or that they would say that the voluntary programs are more effective. Do bears defecate in the woods?

This might be rather amusing in an irritating sort of way, until you get to the resource section. The GAO is rather concerned about the large and growing level of resources that OSHA is dedicating to a group of programs with no proven effectiveness:
The resources OSHA devotes to its voluntary compliance strategies consume a significant and growing portion of the agency’s limited resources. In fiscal year 2003, OSHA executed its numerous programs under a $450 million budget. The agency spent $126 million on its voluntary compliance programs and compliance assistance activities— approximately 28 percent of its total budget—and about $254 million, about 56 percent of its budget, on enforcement activities. The percentage of resources dedicated to voluntary compliance programs and compliance assistance activities has increased by approximately 8 percent since 1996, when these programs represented about 20 percent of the agency’s budget. During this same period, the proportion of resources OSHA dedicated to its enforcement activities fell by 6 percent, from about 63 percent to about 56 percent of the agency’s total budget, although the total funds devoted to enforcement have remained fairly constant because of increases in OSHA’s total budget over this period. In addition, enforcement efforts, as measured by the number of inspections, have remained constant or increased slightly each year, according to agency officials. While it cannot be determined that resources were directly redistributed from enforcement to compliance assistance activities, funding for OSHA’s other programs remained relatively stable, with only small increases or decreases in funding since 1996(My emphasis)
(And for those of you who are math-challenged, that means that the share of OSHA’s budget devoted to compliance assistance has gone up by 40%, while the share devoted to enforcement has gone down by 11%.)

By the way, OSHA’s Susan Harwood training grant program is also part of the total voluntary compliance program budget. Look at the trends over the past five years: In FY 2000, the Harwood program was funded at $8 million and went up to $11 million the following year, where it remains today despite the Bush administration’s annual attempts to replace the training grant program with a $4 million internet "training" program. The rest of compliance assistance was at $89 million in FY 2000 and has swollen to $124 million for next year.

From FY 2004 to FY 2005, the Bush Administration wants to cut the worker training program by over $6 million whlie it wants to raise the voluntary compliance programs by $5 million. Hmmm….

The report notes that these voluntary compliance programs don’t come cheap. They require agency oversight to ensure that participants comply with requirements or agreements, which results in “growing administrative responsibility” that requires "concerted agency resources."

Frighteningly, OSHA plans to increase in the number of worksites in the VPP program from 1,000 to 8,000. The report points out, however, that to certify a worksite as a VPP worksite requires a comprehensive on-site review that usually lasts 1 week and involves approximately three to five OSHA personnel. The report notes that
Several regional officials—whose offices are responsible for conducting on-site reviews—said that increasing the number of VPP worksites would strain their resources because of the number of staff required to conduct reviews of new worksites and recertifications of existing worksites.
The GAO report concludes with a recommendation that before expanding these programsOSHA might want to actually collect data to evaluate these programs and then develop a “strategic framework” to figure out how to pay for all of these competing priorities.
The agency must balance its plans to expand its voluntary compliance programs with its enforcement responsibilities. Given OSHA’s current resources, it is unclear how it can undertake much expansion without a careful assessment of the impact on its resources and other programs. Unless it has such an assessment, OSHA runs the risk of compromising the quality of its voluntary compliance programs.
Compromising its voluntary compliance programs? Sounds to me like they’re compromising the rest of OSHA.

AFL-CIO Releases 13th Annual Death on the Job Report

The AFL-CIO has released its 13 Annual Death on the Job report. The report is a national and state-by-state profile of worker safety and health in the United States. It's considered the policy "bible" for workplace health and safety activists. A combination of too few OSHA inspectors and low penalties makes the threat of an OSHA inspection hollow for too many employers. Millions of workers are still left with no OSHA coverage.

Here are some of the "highlights."
  • 15 workers were fatally injured and more than 12,800 workers were injured or made ill each day during 2002. These statistics do not include deaths from occupational diseases, which claim the lives of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers each year.

  • a 62 percent increase in the number of trench fatalities, from 33 in 2002 to 53 in 2003.

  • Fatal injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers decreased about 6 percent, although the 840 fatalities recorded for Hispanic workers is the second-highest annual total for the population. States that saw an increase in the number of Hispanic worker fatalities in 2002 include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

  • The number of fatal work injuries among foreign-born Hispanic workers increased in 2002 to 577 from 527 in 2001.

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders continue to account for more than one-third of all injuries and illnesses involving days away from work and remain the biggest category of injury and illness. The occupations that reported the highest number of MSDs involving days away from work in 2002 were nursing aides and orderlies (44,421); truck drivers (36,814); and laborers, nonconstruction (24,862). Based on studies and experience, OSHA has estimated that MSDs are understated by at least a factor of two.

  • Government counts of occupational injury and illness are underestimated by as much as 69 percent. Companies have an incentive to underreport because OSHA’s enforcement targeting system is based on injury rates. Employers themselves are increasingly discouraging workers from reporting by using prizes and other incentives for groups who report the fewest injuries, and by implementing systems to discipline employees who report injuries.

  • as documented in a December 2003 New York Times series, prosecutions of recklessly negligent employers are extremely rare. Of the 170,000 workplace deaths since 1982, only 16 convictions involving jail time have resulted—although 1,242 cases involving work deaths were determined by OSHA to involve “willful” violations by employers (violations in which the employer knew that workers’ lives were being put at risk).

  • Penalties for significant violations of the law remain low. In fiscal year (FY) 2003, serious violations of the OSH Act carried an average penalty of only $871 ($856 for federal OSHA, $885 for state OSHA plans).

  • 2,240 federal and state OSHA inspectors responsible for enforcing the law at 8.1 million workplaces. At its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 106 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once.

  • Between FY 1999 and FY 2003 the number of employees who work in workplaces inspected by federal OSHA inspections decreased by nearly 12 percent. The average number of hours spent per inspection also decreased between FY 1999 and FY 2003, from 22 to 18.8 hours per safety inspection and from 40 to 34.7 hours per health inspection. The number of citations for willful violations decreased from 607 in FY 1999 to 391 in FY 2003. The average penalty per violation and per willful violations both increased in FY 2003 from the FY 2002 level, while the average penalty per serious violation decreased to its lowest level since 1999.

  • After three and a half years under the Bush administration, rulemaking at OSHA and MSHA has virtually ground to a halt. In December 2003, the administration published its latest semiannual regulatory agenda, which sets forth its regulatory priorities and plans for the coming year. Having already withdrawn 22 pending OSHA regulatory actions from its regulatory agenda, in its May 2003 regulatory agenda the Bush administration withdrew the glycol ethers standard and the tuberculosis standard, leaving few major initiatives on the regulatory schedule.

  • OSHA still has taken no action on the Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment standard, which has been through the rulemaking process and is ready for final action.

  • The one major regulation on which OSHA is working, hexavalent chromium, is the result of a lawsuit brought against the agency by Public Citizen and PACE International Union.

  • The only major regulations still on the regulatory agenda are for silica, beryllium and hearing conservation for construction workers. But there is no commitment from OSHA to propose these rules. This will be the only administration in history not to issue a major safety and health regulation during its four years in office.

  • 17 MSHA standards to improve safety and health for miners have been withdrawn, including the Air Quality, Chemical Substances and Respiratory standard.

  • Adjusting for inflation, the FY 2005 proposed OSHA budget represents a $6.5 million cut over FY 2004 appropriations.

  • The FY 2005 OSHA budget proposes increasing programs for voluntary compliance and employer assistance while cutting training and outreach programs for workers and freezing standard-setting and enforcement programs. At OSHA, the president proposes to cut worker safety training programs by 65 percent and to shift these funds to employer assistance programs.

  • The administration’s budget proposes a cut in coal enforcement at MSHA from $116.4 million in FY 2004 to $114.9 million in the FY 2005 request.

  • For FY 2005, the Bush administration has proposed a $278.9 million budget for NIOSH—$237 million for program activity and $41.9 million to fund the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). This is the same level of funding appropriated by Congress for FY 2004 and represents a $4.4 million cut in real dollars. In the previous three years, the administration proposed major cuts in the NIOSH budget, all of which were rejected by Congress.
So what's on the agenda for the future?
  • Address the high death and injury rate of Hispanic and foreign-born workers
  • Ergonomics: As long as Bush is in office, there won't be a federal standard, but efforts are under way in states such as Michigan.

  • Develop government program to regulate the hundreds of thousands of chemicals that are not regulated by OSHA.

  • Stop the U.S. government and chemical industry from undermining the European REACH effort to test and control exposures to thousands of chemicals currently in commerce

  • Address the effects of as downsizing, increased hours of work, increased pace of work and changes in technology, work processes and management techniques on workers' health.

  • Fight behavior-based safety programs, incentive programs and injury discipline programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses.

Workers Memorial Day: The Weekly Toll

This is the last Weekly Toll before 2004 Workers Memorial Day. In addition to the names that I pick up in Google searches, I've also added a number of names from union lists of members killed on the job. Last week, I listed a number of PACE members killed on the job. This week, I've listed a number of members of AFSCME, UAW and the Steelworkers. As I mentioned last week, it amazes me how many of these I've missed through the Google news searches. Is it because Google didn't pick them up or because they didn't even raise enough concern to appear in the local newspaper?

Construction Worker Dies On Business 40

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A construction worker died on Business 40 Monday, when another worker ran over him with a flatbed truck.

The North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Division said faulty equipment is partly to blame for the accident. The alarm on the truck that signals when the truck is in reverse did not appear to be working when the worker was hit, according to officials. Officials did not release the victim's name but they did say the workers are from Curtin Drainage and Trucking in Charlotte, N.C.

OSHA looks at trench collapse

Gainesvile, FL --The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a Commerce man who was buried alive over the weekend while working in a trench in northeastern Forsyth County.

An employee of Pro-Septic and Plumbing, identified by local authorities as 18-year-old Joseph "Jody" Domingue, died Saturday afternoon when the trench he was working in collapsed and spilled five feet of dirt on him.

Worker killed in building collapse, 2 injured

MATTOON, IL -- A building collapse here Friday resulted in two demolition workers coming out alive, while the third man was found dead by rescue workers less than an hour after he was buried by debris.

Denny Thornton of Johnstown said he and two co-workers, Wayne "Red" Boruff, 46, of rural Toledo, and Matt Swearingen, 27, of Toledo, were working on a joist when the roof and a portion of the second floor caved in on top of them shortly before noon Friday at the old Montgomery Building, 1706 Broadway Ave. The rescue workers had brought Swearingen out on a stretcher, but Boruff was later found dead in the building.

4 die in Downstate plant explosion

8 more workers sent to hospitals
ILLIOPOLIS, Ill. -- Firefighters from about 25 departments worked all day Saturday trying to extinguish a blaze at the Formosa Plastics Corp. plant sparked by a chemical explosion that killed four workers. The cause of the Friday night blast is still unknown. Eight workers were taken to nearby hospitals in Springfield and Decatur, where their conditions ranged from fair to critical. One of the injured was airlifted to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, hospital spokesman Ed McDowall said. Six other employees either declined care or were treated and released.

Based on preliminary reports, Joseph Machalek, 50, of Decatur; Larry Graves, 47, of Decatur; Glenn Lyman, 49, of Cornland; and Linda Hancock, 56, of Decatur died of smoke inhalation, said Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone. Autopsies on the four victims will be conducted Monday, she said.

Worker dies in Walter coal mine

Walter Industries of Tampa reported a fatal accident Friday at one of its coal mines in Brookwood, Ala. Gary Wayne Keeton, 57, was found dead Friday morning, his body apparently carried to the surface by a conveyor system used to transport coal in the company's No. 7 mine.

His was the first fatality at Walters' Alabama mines since 13 workers died in explosions in the No. 5 mine in 2001. In that accident, a federal investigation blamed Walter for failing to prevent a buildup in combustible coal dust and other safety problems, but the company disputed the findings. The death, which is being investigated, was the third at Mine No. 7 since it opened in 1977.

Man killed while fixing carnival ride

TAYLOR, MI — A 44-year-old Florida man died after being trapped in a carnival ride on which he was conducting repairs, police said Friday.

Authorities received a call Thursday night reporting that Paul John Perschbach of Orlando, Fla., was repairing the Crazy Submarine ride at the Gibraltar Trade Center when another worker started up the ride, Officer Daniel Shook said. The other worker apparently didn’t realize Perschbach was working on the ride.

Shook said Perschbach was caught in the ride’s machinery. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. “From all appearances, this appears to be an accident and a miscommunication between two workers,” said Detective Sgt. Mary Sclabassi.

OSHA probes fatal trench collapse

Federal safety officials are investigating why a sewer-line trench in New Hanover Township collapsed Wednesday, killing one worker and injuring another.

Hours after the cave-in, an investigator from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was at 2779 N. Charlotte St., where three workers had been laying sewer pipe late.

Two other OSHA investigators arrived yesterday from the agency's Allentown office. They're looking for clues as to why the 70-foot-long, 12-foot-deep trench failed.

The falling earth buried Brian K. Bealer, 43, of Boyertown, according to New Hanover police. An autopsy was to be performed this morning.

Worker Dies When Trapped In Plant Machine

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Authorities say a worker at a manufacturing plant in the eastern Iowa town of Washington died after becoming trapped in a plating machine.

It happened Friday morning at the Fansteel Washington Manufacturing plant. The Washington County Sheriff's Office said that the worker's name has not been released.

Family, friends mourn worker

Harrisburg, PA -- Kyle McNaughton 21, loved to weld, mow grass and help others remove snow. He recently purchased a Cub Cadet lawnmower, and his parents, John and Peggy McNaughton, gave him a snowblower as a gift.

"He loved to mow. He loved to work. He would mow for anybody," John McNaughton said yesterday after he, Peggy and Kyle's brother, Brady, 19, made funeral arrangements.

Kyle was killed on the job when a half-ton piece of steel fell on him at Taryn Co. in Spring Twp. Officials at the scene Thursday said McNaughton was operating a machine similar to a forklift with a boom to lift a 6-by-12-foot sheet of steel.

Perry County Coroner Michael Shalonis said the steel was not attached properly to the boom. When McNaughton got off the machine to adjust it, the steel fell on him.

Upper Dublin police officer killed on duty

Sgt. James Miller, a 28-year veteran of the Upper Dublin Police Department, died early Tuesday morning when his police vehicle was involved in a crash on the 1700 block of Dreshertown Road. He was 55 years old.

Upper Dublin Police Sgt. Lee Benson said Miller was working the night shift, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., when his vehicle was involved in the crash around 4:30 a.m. According to Benson, the vehicle rolled over during the accident, ejecting Miller. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ironworker Killed in Fall

Pawtucket, RI -- George Patrick Hopkins Jr, 31, of Armistice Boulevard, a welder and ironworker, died Thursday at Morton Hospital, Taunton, Mass., after an accident in which he fell through the roof of a warehouse at the site of the future Jordan's Furniture, at the Liberty and Union Industrial Park, in Taunton.

He was the fiancé of Kelly L. Allard of Pawtucket. Born in Providence, a son of George Patrick Hopkins of New Bedford, Mass., and Teresa A. (Melucci) Valentine of Seekonk, he was a lifelong resident of Pawtucket.

Mr. Hopkins had been working for Accord Steel & PreCast Erectors Inc. for several years. He was a member of the ironworkers' union, Local 37, in East Providence.

Construction worker dies from electrocution

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL — A 22-year-old construction worker was killed Monday when a cable from a crane apparently touched powerlines, officials said.

Lorenzo Rosas, of the 500 block of Southwest Faith Street, was pronounced dead at 5:26 p.m. at St. Lucie Medical Center — about 90 minutes after the incident at a construction site near the intersection of San Miguel Street and Santiago Avenue, said Officer Kacey Donnell, police spokesman.

OSHA Investigating Burn Death
Rogers Iron Employee Survived Nearly Three Weeks After Accident

ROGERS, AK -- Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials are investigating an accident that led to the death of a Rogers Iron and Metal Corp. employee.

Rodrigo Diaz, 63, of Rogers died Sunday at the burn unit in a Springfield, Mo., hospital. He lived for 20 days after he accidentally set himself on fire outside the business at 721 N. Arkansas while using a cutting torch.

Johnnie Johnson, safety director for Yaffe Companies in Muskogee, Okla., said the investigation will show Diaz's death was the result of a "tragic, freak accident" and that Rogers Iron and Metal was not at fault. Yaffe is Rogers Iron and Metal's parent company.

UPDATE: More here on December 2004 explosion.

Park employee dies on job in Smokies

COSBY (WATE), TN -- A seasonal worker on a trail clearing crew at Great Smoky Mountains National Park collapsed and died on the job Thursday morning.

Ricky Campbell, 50, of Newport, collapsed at around 8:15 a.m. about one mile up from the Snake Den Ridge Trail in the Cosby area of the park, the park service announced. He had been hiking with two other employees to begin some tree clearing work.

CHP Officer Killed in Drive-By Shooting

POMONA, Calif. - A drive-by shooter killed a California Highway Patrol officer Wednesday in front of a courthouse where he had been called to testify in traffic cases, officials said.

No one was immediately arrested.

Thomas J. Steiner, 35, died at a hospital of a gunshot wound to the head, said CHP spokesman Tom Marshall.

Construction accident kills one

Lake Elsinore, CA -- A foreman died Tuesday after being pinned against a wall by a large backhoe at a Lake Elsinore construction site, according to authorities.

Antononio Gutierrez Jr., 42, of Rancho Cucamonga was overseeing concrete work in the 19700 block of Grand Avenue, according to a Riverside County coroner's news release.

DOT Worker Killed In Johnston Accident

JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. -- Authorities have confirmed that a state Department of Transportation employee was killed in an accident in Johnston County.

The accident happened Tuesday morning near Highway 70 and Raines Mill Road in the Princeton area.

Authorities say 39-year-old Nathan Barry Shapiro ran into a truck that was stopped at a red light.

Teen worker found dead in Albertville poultry plant

ALBERTVILLE, Ala. (AP) -- A teenage worker was found dead at an Albertville poultry plant, according to plant officials, and investigators were checking out the circumstances and questions about his age. Police Chief Benny Womack said Wednesday that Augustin Juan, 17, of Albertville was found at the Waynes Farm LLC plant shortly before 5:20 p.m. Tuesday. He said a cause of death would not be determined until the forensics department performed an autopsy.

More here and here.

United Auto Workers

June 4, 2003 Thomas Hanlon, 56, Local 164 machine operator, Eaton Corp. Truck Clutch Division, Auburn, Ind. Brother Hanlon was standing by a clutch-testing machine, beyond the protective light curtain. When he leaned into the machine, the carrier plate lowered and crushed him.

August 2, 2003 Raul R. Martinez, 54, Local 600 caster mechanical team pipefitter, Rouge Steel, Dearborn, Mich. was removing a cracked roller on a continuous support roller assembly located on a rebuild stand. The roller separated and fell, striking him and causing fatal injuries.

November 3, 2003 Ed Steinke, 55, Local 182 electrician, Ford Motor Co., Livonia, Mich, was on a JLG aerial lift removing old conduit from the overhead steel structure. Brother Steinke was caught between the upper guardrail of the basket and a six-inch pipe.

November 7, 2003 Concepcion Rodriguez, 55, Local 477, an arc wash welder, at Chicago Castings, in Cicero, Ill. died from electrocution while attempting to turn on a welding machine. Operators had previously experienced shocks from the equipment.

November 22, 2003 Jeff West, 44, Local 600 general welder, Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich was killed when he fell approximately 20 feet to a basement area during the installation of a stamping machine.


John Webb and Allen Cappel were killed when their Ohio Department of Transportation car was hit by a dump truck on September 4, 2003.

San Wileym, a prison boot factory supervisor’s throat was slashed by an inmate in Texas on January 29, 2003.

Carlos Lozada of Connecticut, was riding in the back of a refuse truck when an errant driver crossed into the wrong lane and smashed into the truck on September 15, 2003.

Adolfo Mendez suffered a fatal heart attack while performing his duties for a city in Connecticut on May 15, 2003.

Brian Bergeon was killed while trying to remove a tire from the rim. It exploded and he was struck by the tire rim on February 23, 2004

United Steelworkers of America

On April 8, Bernard Rogers, 48, a straightener operator for Progressive Processing, Inc. in Elyria, Ohio, was killed instantly when he got caught in the straightener and was thrown to the ground head first. Brother Rogers was a member of Local Union 2354-08 in District 1.

On April 9, Joseph Galan,19, a utility man for Co-Steel Company in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was killed when a dump truck hit the forklift he was in and knocked it over, causing severe head and chest injuries. Brother Galan was a member of Local Union 9473 in District 4.

On May 2, Roland Beauregard, 43, an employee of Noranda Inc.; Falconbridge Societe Miniere Raglan DU; Raglan Mine in Katinniq-Raglan, Quebec, was found unconscious sitting on a pipe at work. He died a few hours later from heart problems. Brother Roland was a member of Local 9449 in District 5.

On June 27, Kriss Gibbs, 37, an outside contractor working at USS Granite City Works in Granite City, Illinois, was killed when he was caught between two pond lining boxes. Bargaining unit employees of USS are represented by Local Union 1899 in District 1.

On October 30, Dave MacLeod, 46, a supervisor at Dynatec Ltd. in Sudbury, Ontario, fell to his death during the process of sinking a new ventilation shaft at Garson Mine, one of our mines in the Sudbury area. This is part of the Garson Mine deep project for Inco. Bargaining unit employees of Inco Limited are represented by Local Union 6500 in District 6.

On October 30, Jean-Noel Belanger, 48, an employee of Geant Dormant (Cambior Inc.) in Amos, Quebec, was killed when he could not escape a rock fall. Brother Belanger was a member of Local Union 4796-13 in District 5.

On January 4, Andy Jarouz, 55, an employee at Stelco Inc., Hilton Works in Hamilton, Ontario, was killed while working at the ladle repair station and fell 5 metres off a scaffold and was crushed by a steel plate. Brother Jarouz was a member of Local Union 1005 in District 6.

On January 6, Author Quitana, 58, conttrel operator for Groupo Mexico SA DE CV; Asarco Inc.; Hayden Smelter in Hayden, Arizona, died from electrocution. He was a member of Local Union 886 in District 12.

On January 13, Mickey Hargrave, 41, a heavy/highway construction worker for No. 1 Contracting Company; AJ Roman, owner, in Reading, Pennsylvania, was killed when he fell from a concrete bridge abutment (20 feet high). Brother Hardgrave was a member of Local 15253 in District 10.

On March 8, Robert Brogan, 31, an employee of Leggett & Platt Inc. in Mason, Ohio, was crushed to death when a bedspring compactor failed. Brother Brogan was a member of Local Union 156U-05 in District 1.

On April 13, Ed Theriot, 50, an employee of Bayou Steel Corp. in La Place, Louisiana, was fatally injured when caught between a billet cooling bed and a billet transfer car. He died later that day in the hospital. Brother Theriot was a member of Local Union 9121 in District 9.

On April 26, Robert Brzezinski, 43, an employee of Algoma Steel, Inc. in Sault St. Marie, Ontario, was killed when he fell from a charging platform into a pit at the #2 steel-making shop. Brother Brzezinski was a member of Local Union 2724 in District 6.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Workplace Violence in Health Care on the Rise

A Formula for Disaster

According to an article in the NY Times, after years of decline, the number of violent assaults in health care and social services is again on the rise. The cause, underbudgeting, overcrowding and understaffing.

Following the murder of California doctor Erlinda Ursua by a mental patient last year, I wrote about the root causes of her death:
When voters, whipped into an anti-tax frenzy by right-wing radio talk/T.V. show wingnuts, as well as politicians seeking to ride the their wave, refuse to see the need to raise taxes to pay for needed government services, you end up with more needy people getting fewer services in understaffed facilities. While the underfunding has ramifications throughout society -- especially for the patients and their families -- it is the workers at the facilities who are literally putting their bodies, and in some cases, their lives on the front lines of these ideological battles.

Security guards and County Sheriffs are fine, but what's really needed is more staff -- adequately paid staff to provide proper therapeutic help, and adequately paid staff to provide support.
Apparently the problem is not exclusive to California
Incidents of workplace violence, from verbal abuse to assault, appear to be climbing in health care and social services, at a time when workplace homicides in those industries have been declining for about a decade, labor experts say.

"Clearly, workplace violence in these areas is beginning to come back up," said Lynn Jenkins, a branch chief in the division of safety research at the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency that researches ways to prevent work-related injury and illness.

Ms. Jenkins said that the reporting of nonfatal workplace crimes was fragmented, and workers in fields like social services or mental health care might accept acts of violence as part of their jobs. But anecdotal evidence gathered by the institute points to an increase, she said.

"Basically, you have fewer workers delivering fewer services to more people," Ms. Jenkins said. "It's a formula for disaster."

According to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cases of workplace violence in health care and social services in New York State dipped from 1998 to 1999, but increased from 2000 to 2001, when the economic downturn hit.

In health care, the bureau said, cases of workplace violence rose to 16.5 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2001 from 13.7 per 10,000 in 2000.

Cases of violence in social services increased to 35.4 per 10,000 employees in 2001 from 25.6 per 10,000 in 2000.
Although federal OSHA has issued guidelines to assist health care and social service workers to prevent workplace violence, OSHA does not currently cite employers for failure to prevent an environment that may lead to assaults.

New York unions representing public employees are urging the state to take action
Last year, a group of unions proposed standards for diminishing workplace violence for public employees to the New York State Department of Labor's Hazard Abatement Board, which makes recommendations on health and safety standards.

The proposed standards include definitions of violence and steps employers should take to create a safe workplace, ranging from drafting antiviolence policies to employee training. The board held public information sessions on the proposed standards and is reviewing the information it gathered, according to a spokeswoman for the Labor Department, Christine Burling.

Labor advocates say it is important for workers to recognize that workplace violence can take many forms.
More information on workplace violence in health care and social services here, here and here.

4 die in Illinois plant explosion

8 more workers sent to hospitals

ILLIOPOLIS, Ill. -- Firefighters from about 25 departments worked all day Saturday trying to extinguish a blaze at the Formosa Plastics Corp. plant sparked by a chemical explosion that killed four workers. The cause of the Friday night blast is still unknown, officials said.

"They're just going to try and maintain it tonight and go back tomorrow and see what they can do," said Sgt. Joe Rath of the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department. "There's a lot of ... plastic in there."

Eighteen afternoon-shift employees were at the facility about 10:45 p.m. Friday when the explosion, which was heard about 20 miles away, erupted into an orange mushroom cloud above the plant and disrupted power throughout this village of about 1,000 people. The initial blast was followed by several smaller ones, officials said.

Eight workers were taken to nearby hospitals in Springfield and Decatur, where their conditions ranged from fair to critical. One of the injured was airlifted to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, hospital spokesman Ed McDowall said. Six other employees either declined care or were treated and released.

Based on preliminary reports, Joseph Machalek, 50, of Decatur; Larry Graves, 47, of Decatur; Glenn Lyman, 49, of Cornland; and Linda Hancock, 56, of Decatur died of smoke inhalation, said Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone. Autopsies on the four victims will be conducted Monday, she said.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is investigating the incident. The plant is represented by PACE.

Atlantic City Garage Collapse, Continued

Remembering the Injured

Sometimes we focus exclusively on workplace fatalities and forget about those who suffer serious injuries that may affect them for the rest of their lives:
There was a point, as he lay in the rubble, his body numb, his screams for help muffled by a mouthful of blood and concrete, that Hassan Ali accepted that this was the way he was going to die.

After falling five stories, his leg was shattered, his jaw crushed so badly that a doctor would later compare it to running a hand over a crumpled bag of potato chips. A slab of concrete hung precariously over him, threatening to finish the job.

In the end, four construction workers died in the collapse of the Tropicana Casino & Resort parking garage Oct. 30. Ali, a 43-year-old concrete worker, survived.

But six months later, living is still a struggle for a man who once prided himself on his physical strength and who now doesn't know whether he will be able to walk unaided again. He thanks God that he is alive, but sometimes the depression is overwhelming. The physical pain is almost constant, the anger still strong.
Officials from one of the companies involved, the Philadelphia-based Keating Building Corp., said in a statement:
"We have committed every possible resource to ensure that we deliver the safest, highest-quality work possible every day at dozens of sites... . We remain committed to exceeding the industry's highest standards on a daily basis."
A New York Times story that I wrote about yesterday blamed the collapse on “faulty installation of concrete floors after changes were made to the design to speed the job and save money.”

OSHA’s report is due out soon.
Victims and their families hope that when the silence is finally broken, someone will be held accountable for their suffering.

"It won't make me better, but it will make me feel better if they step up to the plate and say, 'We were wrong and we accept responsibility for that,' " Ali said.

In Ali's case, it would mean accepting responsibility for an accident that resulted in his having nine surgeries. A dozen metal pins still pierce through the skin of his lower right leg, keeping the bones inside in line.

His jaw is no longer wired shut, but he still can't eat solid food and carries a napkin to wipe away the drool that dribbles stubbornly out of the corners of his mouth.
Life for the once-energetic father of two sons, 12 and 21, now revolves around medications, trips to the doctor, making small steps in a long and arduous healing process. His family's life revolves around helping him.

"Whoever was responsible for building that building, I blame them," Ali said from his townhouse, where his sister and fiancee work in shifts tending to him. "Something went wrong somewhere and they let it happen."

Ali wants someone to answer for that.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Another Day, Another Dollar, Another 4 Dead Workers

Atlantic City Garage Collapse Blamed on Changes to "Speed the Job and Save Money"

The New York Times reports that the garage collapse that killed four construction workers and injured 20 others last October
was caused by the faulty installation of concrete floors after changes were made to the design to speed the job and save money, according to engineers for the contractors and others who have studied the design plans and the debris.
It is apparently still unclear whether it was the revised design or the way that design was executed that was to blame. One thing that is clear, however, is that the laborers and carpenters on the sight knew that something was wrong.
"Everywhere along the line, the checks and balances failed," said an engineer for one of the contractors, who asked that he not be named because of the ongoing investigation.

The laborers and carpenters at the site, in interviews, said they did raise objections about a condition they thought was hazardous: the insufficient shoring that was being used to hold up the not-yet-dry concrete floors. Workers said they noticed that some of the shores - essentially temporary steel or wooden pogo sticks that go from the ceiling to the floor - were under such stress that they were bending or bowing. Laborers also reported troublesome-looking cracks in the concrete. But George Tolson, one of the Fabi laborers who noticed this condition, said he was told to keep working.

"All they wanted," said David R. Hand, 33, a laborer for Fabi who was pouring the concrete "is to go faster, faster, faster. Time is money. That was it."

The Atlantic County prosecutor has confirmed that criminal inquiry was underway.
"Someone should be held criminally responsible," said Robert A. Tartaglio Sr., who worked on the Tropicana expansion last year with his son, Robert Jr. - one of the four men killed in the collapse. "Someone is responsible up the line for making these decisions. And as far as I am concerned, they committed a crime."
Repeat Violator
And this wasn't the first time that the companies involved in the collapse had had serious safety problems.
In June 1995, a 23-year-old Fabi worker who was removing concrete slabs atop Tropicana's adjacent 10-story parking garage fell 100 feet to his death, down an elevator shaft, after the floor he was standing on collapsed. Fabi was fined $31,500 by the federal government and Keating was fined $6,400, after authorities concluded that the workers had not been properly trained or supervised.

Then, in October 2002, after work on the new expansion got under way, three workers were injured when the concrete floor they were standing on gave way and they fell to the ground. In this case, according to one contractor, there was no shoring at all underneath the area where the men were working. Keating was in this case fined $1,125 and Fabi $8,375, although the penalties are being appealed.

Jim Moran, director of the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, a union-backed group representing about 100,000 workers, said all workplace deaths were horrendous. "But it is even more egregious,'' he said, "when it is a repeat offender. If you are going to keep fining people for killing other people, on its face, that is ridiculous."

Saturday, April 24, 2004

What's The Only Thing Worse Than Being Mistaken For A Ku Klux Klan Murderer?

Republicans are in a panic in the state of Colorado since Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell decided to retire instead of running for another term. Democrats are running popular Colorado Secretary of State Ken Salazar for the seat. Some think the Republicans are giving up and to avoid wasting money have convinced beer giant Pete Coors to run. Coors, in addition to being independently wealthy, comes from a long line of arch-conservative, anti-labor, union-busting, environment-shredding uncompassionate and unapologetic right-wing conservatives.

My Colorado correspondant reports that Coors is doing his best to live up to his family's reputation:
Thursday's New York Times misidentified GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors as a Ku Klux Klan member who murdered a black sharecropper.

The Coors campaign found the error "so outrageous it's kind of funny," said spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.

"It could have been worse," she joked. "Pete could have been identified as John Kerry."
Or Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Genghis Khan or Saddam Hussein.

Hold on for the ride, people. Still six months to go....

Hidden Workers, Hidden Hazards

When we write about the hazards facing immigrant workers in this country, we usually write about fatalities. Deaths are easier to count, -- or, said another way, they're harder to hide -- than illnesses. Even for non-immigrant workers, work-related illnesses generally go unrecognized, undiagnosed and unreported.

MassCOSH released a report earlier this week that brings light to these problems. According to its Health and Safety Assessment of Commercial Cleaning Services, Inc.,
A survey of janitors and cleaning staff working for a Brighton firm found widespread injuries and health problems that workers trace to unsafe working conditions and poor training, according to the nonprofit Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.

Workers reported skin burns from toxic polishes they applied wearing porous latex gloves supplied by their employer, Commercial Cleaning Services. They also were required to do metal polishing in unventilated elevators with the doors closed, and to handle sharp objects, dead animals, blood, and other potential biohazards without safety gloves, according to the report.
Commercial Cleaning Inc. of Brighton employs the janitors who clean the Ritz/Millenium and several other sites.

The workers reported using such chemicals as a metal polish containing the central nervous system toxin 2-butoxyethanol and the asthma-causing agent ethanolamine; chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite); and a brass polish containing ammonia.

More than three quarters of workers surveyed had received no training on safe use of chemicals. Some containers storing the chemicals had no labeling or were improperly labeled and workers were not provided with proper personal protective equipment, such as impermeable gloves and safety goggles.Training, labeling and availability of Material Safety Data Sheets are all requirements of OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard.
“Virtually every one of the janitors we spoke to suffered from health problems such as respiratory problems, dizziness, rashes, and headaches, that they believe are connected to their jobs” said MassCOSH Occupational Health Specialist Isabel Lopez. “We’ve confirmed that there are serious hazards. Now, it’s time for Commercial Cleaning to act responsibly.”

Commercial Cleaning Inc. of Brighton employs the janitors who clean the Ritz/Millenium and several other sites. MassCOSH surveyed 47 of the 140 janitors who work for Commercial Cleaning after receiving complaints by several janitors that their workplace health concerns were being ignored by the cleaning company’s management. The report’s findings show 83% of workers surveyed reported exposure to hazardous chemicals such as a metal polish that contains both an asthma-causing agent, ethanolamine, and the central nervous system toxin 2-butyoxethanol.
Commerical Cleaning management is reportedly reading the report before responding.

Copies of the report are available from MassCOSH.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Free Workers Memorial Day Web Art

Workers Memorial Day is next Wednesday and cartoonists Huck and Konopacki are offering free webart on their website for union publications.

If you choose to use this artwork on your website, please make sure you include a credit and a link back to Huck/ Konapacki's website.

Senate Blocks Asbestos Comp Bill

In a 50 to 47 vote, the Senate failed to pass the Asbestos compensation bill today. 60 votes were needed to break a filibuster. All Democrats voted against the bill except (guess who?) Zell Miller (D-GA). According to the AFL-CIO the $124 billion bill was severely underfunded.
The action on a procedural vote disappointed Republican sponsors who want to rein in hundreds of thousands of asbestos lawsuits they say are crippling businesses.

It also marked another failure in a broad Republican effort to make changes in tort law. Other bills recently barred by the Senate included caps on malpractice damages and curbs to class action lawsuits.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist said after the vote his party would not give up, and some Democrats showed interest in compromise. Talks were expected to resume in the coming days.

But Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who sponsored the bill with Frist, said time was short in a busy election year.

"If we don't get that (consensus) done in another week, it seems to me that this bill is going to be dead," Hatch said. There is no comparable legislation in the House, which has been letting the Senate take the lead on the issue.
By the way, in case you think this victory was due to the hard work of Senators and their staff, you're wrong. Most of the endless work that went in to marshalling the evidence to convince enough Democrats to oppose this legislation was compiled by the AFL-CIO -- particularly due to the tireless efforts of AFL-CIO Occupational Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario. If you're feeling grateful, send here an e-mail expressing your appreciation. Even hero's need some love.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Asbestos Comp Vote Today

Call Your Senators

The U.S. Senate will vote today on the Frist/Hatch asbestos company bailout bill. If it passes, huge companies like Halliburton will save millions of dollars that should be going to the millions of asbestos victims who inhaled the toxic material for decades after the industry knew it was killing them.

You can contact your Senator on the right side of this page or via e-mail here and clicking on your senators’ e-mail addresses. Or you can telephone the Senate switchboard by dialing 202-224-3121 and asking for your senators’ offices.

The New York Times has also come out strongly against the bill
With its glaring shortcomings, the bill is widely expected to fail, yet Senator Frist presses ahead. Business interests are exercising their election-year muscle for a vote, while the G.O.P. further pursues its campaign to rein in pro-Democratic trial lawyers by crimping citizens' right to sue.

A fair trust-fund approach is the best solution to the asbestos problem, as it would expedite payments to victims and unclog the court system. But the victims' compensation limits in the Senate bill are too small to justify closing out the right to sue. And the proposed fund of up to $124 billion from insurance and defendant companies already seems inadequate. The flawed bill, backed by the White House, would mean windfalls for companies like Halliburton, as it would cap their liability at a lower dollar amount than they would probably pay to settle these cases. Senator Frist should end the great rush and allow time for honest compromise.
The asbestos bill is just the first volley in the battle by Bush and the Republican party to accomplish one of their top priorities: “tort reform.” For the non-lawyers out there, “torts” are basically the ability of citizens or workers to sue a company that produces a product that harms them. Most recently, for example, a jury awarded $20 million to a worker exposed to lung-destroying popcorn butter flavoring. Given the growing impotence of the regulatory process in this country, the ability of workers and consumers to sue producers is one of the only tools the common folk still have to protect themselves. And for this reason, business interests have succeeded in getting the Republican party to promote tort reform to the top of their political agenda.

I wrote earlier this week about the asbestos compensation bill (Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, known as the FAIR (sic) Act) coming before the Senate this week. Paul Brodeur, who has written several noteworthy books about this nation’s asbestos scandal that has doomed millions to early death and disability, has written an article in the Nation with the purpose of “Educating Senator Frist,” notes first that Frist is historically challenged which may account for his rather questionable view of the asbestos producers as victims.
In a speech before the Senate in November, Frist described the Johns-Manville Corporation and W.R. Grace & Company as "reputable companies" that had been driven into bankruptcy because of asbestos litigation. What he apparently did not know was that Johns-Manville had not only been aware since the early 1930s that incurable asbestos lung disease was disabling and killing its own workers but also had instituted a corporate policy not to inform sick workers about X-ray findings showing that they had developed asbestos disease.

In an infamous memorandum, the medical director of Johns-Manville described his company's policy toward unimpaired workers with X-ray evidence of lung damage as follows: "The fibrosis of this disease is irreversible and permanent so that eventually compensation will be paid to each of these men. But as long as the man is not disabled it is felt that he should not be told of his condition so that he can live and work in peace and the Company can benefit by his many years of experience." Is it any wonder that when presented with such evidence from internal company documents, jurors in what Senator Frist calls "the flawed tort system" began meting out punitive damages against Johns-Manville for outrageous and reckless misconduct?
Brodeur also goes after Frist, a surgeon, for suggesting that smokers who worked with asbestos are somehow not deserving of compensation. He urges Frist to check out studies that show prove the synergy between smoking and asbestos exposure (“Synergy” is where the effects of two or more substances multiply the effects far more than just adding the individual effects together). Brodeur cites studies that show that
nonsmoking asbestos workers develop lung cancer five times more often than nonsmoking workers not exposed to asbestos, that cigarette-smoking workers not exposed to asbestos develop lung cancer ten times as often as nonsmoking workers not exposed to asbestos, and that workers who both smoke and are exposed to asbestos develop lung cancer fifty to sixty times as readily as workers who neither smoke nor are exposed to asbestos.
Brodeur concludes with about the tort system that I have made many times before, in reference to trial lawyers:
After all, it is this system that exposed the misdeeds of the asbestos manufacturers to begin with, and provided the only true measure of justice and compensation for tens of thousands of sick asbestos workers and the families of dead asbestos workers, who had been betrayed for decades by their "reputable" employers.
Indeed, it was not OSHA or EPA asbestos standards that essentially eliminated asbestos manufacturing (but not use) from this country, and it isn’t OSHA or EPA regs that will hopefully make a company think twice about covering up damning information and studies about the toxicity of their products. It is the fact that they can be successfully sued for millions of dollars. It may not be a neat or tidy system, but with the success that Republicans and their business supporters have had gumming up the regulatory and enforcement systems, the tort system may soon be all that workers, consumers or communities have to defend their health and their lives.

Update: The NY Times reports here and here that after the expected defeat of the first vote tomorrow, Frist has agreed to re-open negotiations for a bipartisan bill.

Wal-Mart, AIDS and Health Care

Interesting blog posting from Respectful of Otters about a woman with AIDS who works for Wal-Mart. What's the problem? No insurance, so your tax dollars take care of the problem.
She works 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart. Like many of their employees, she can't afford their health insurance plan. Even if she could, they wouldn't cover her HIV care because it's a pre-existing condition. It isn't even about paying for the drugs, which are expensive - she qualifies for the state AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which picks up all of her prescriptions for her. Wal-Mart won't pay for office visits to an HIV specialist, and they won't pay for the blood tests she needs to monitor her condition.

So you, the federal taxpayer, will be paying for her medical care. Today you also gave her $40 worth of food vouchers, because after she pays her rent (which eats more than half her wages, and she lives in a slum) there's not a lot left over to buy food. I'm sure you're glad to do it, right? You don't want her to die.

And you don't want Walmart's $8 billion profits and 21.6% return on shareholder's equity to drop, the way it probably would if the public weren't picking up the cost of keeping Wal-Mart associates and their children alive. You wouldn't want any members of the Walton family to drop off the list of the richest people in the world. (Imagine if only four of them were in the top ten.)
And looking at the bigger picture, we see the "Wal-Martization" of society, with Wal-Mart not only abusing its own employees, but also forcing other entire industries to adopt Wal-Mart's policies in order to survive.

The bottom line, as summed up by the NY Times during the Southern California retail strike is that
The 70,000 grocery workers on strike in Southern California are the front line in a battle to prevent middle-class service jobs from turning into poverty-level ones. The supermarkets say they are forced to lower their labor costs to compete with Wal-Mart, a nonunion, low-wage employer aggressively moving into the grocery business. Everyone should be concerned about this fight. It is, at bottom, about the ability of retail workers to earn wages that keep their families out of poverty.
The only answer is to organize Wal-Mart.

Update: And check out the comments attached to the posting for an interesting debate, some of it sparked by my SHOCKING suggestion that organizing Wal-Mart workers might be the solution to this woman's problem, as well as (directly and indirectly) millions of other American workers.

Bloodborne Pathogens Violation?

This case raises a number of interesting issue not anticipated when the bloodborne pathogens standard was being developed. Now there's a push for additional regulations
The new push for government regulation of the San Fernando Valley-based adult film industry comes as dozens of production companies shut down after two adult film stars tested positive last week for the virus that causes AIDS.

"I think we need to look at what we can do to have some basic level of safety," Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said.

The two recent cases are the first in the industry since one was detected in 1999, following seven cases in 1998, said Sharon Mitchell, founder of The Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation in Sherman Oaks. The foundation tests about 1,200 workers a month.

Mitchell said that 30 to 50 percent of workers already use condoms but, if the government made it mandatory for the rest, it could backfire, creating a more dangerous public health problem.

"The reality of this population all using condoms is a wonderful dream," Mitchell said. "These people are going to work, they get paid more money for not using condoms and they will go and shoot underground. If they are running and scattered, they won't come in to get tested."
CalOSHA is being asked to investigate the outbreak and recommend measures the government can take to ensure the industry practices safe sex.

Should make for some interesting inspections.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

NPR Story on Popcorn Lung

"When You Can't Breathe, That Just Ruins Your Whole World"

NPR story about the second of 30 lawsuits against International Flavors and Fragrances for destroying the lungs of popcorn plant workers who inhaled diacetyl, the butter flavoring used on the popcorn.

Last month a jury awarded Eric Peoples $20 million for damage suffered from inhaling the chemical at the plant. Now it's Linda Redman's turn. Like Eric Peoples, Redman also needs a lung transplant.

Additional stories on popcorn lung are listed on the right-hand column of this page.

The Unsound Use of "Sound Science"

Science blogger Chris Mooney has an article in Legal Affairs about how the right wing is using "sound science" arguments to torpedo the Endangered Species Act and how real scientists are pissed off about it.

The issues behind the attacks on the Endangered Species Act are similar to the issues behind the attacks on other environmental laws and the OSH Act. As much as we all wish it weren't true, when dealing with the environment and public health decisions often need to be made in the face of scientific uncertainty. In those cases, government agencies need to exercise their best professional judgement in applying the laws. That's what Congress intended. But, as Mooney states, " 'sound science' bills wouldn't fix this problem—they'd gum up the decision-making process, creating paralysis instead of better analysis."

More on "sound science" here.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Asbestos Comp Bill Comes To A Vote

The Senate has begun its long anticipated debate over the ultimately doomed asbestos compensation bill, S. 2290, "The Fairness in Asbestos Injury and Resolution Act of 2004.

There is pretty much universal agreement that something needs to be done about the asbestos compensation mess. Under the current system, the courts are clogged and the system has trouble apportioning compensation between those who are currently ill versus those who may, at some future date become ill. Most also agree that some kind of compensation fund is the best way to go. (I have written previously about the bill here, here, here and here.)

The problem, of course, is the size of the fund. Intense negotiations between industry representatives, labor, trial lawyers and victims groups have been taking place for almost a year. Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) introduced a similar bill last year that was passed by committee, but neither labor, the trial lawyers, nor the insurance industry were happy with it. While the AFL-CIO is in favor of passing a decent bill, Hatch’s original version was much too small to adequately compensate asbestos victims. Even the insurance industry wasn’t too happy with Hatch’s original version, feeling that it was too big. Only the companies being sued, like Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s old employer, were happy, because they wouldn't have to pay as much to asbestos victims.

So a “compromise” agreement was reached -– between the insurers and manufacturers -- but no labor. What did they agree to? A trust fund that was $40 billion smaller than the already-too-small version agreed to originally by the Senate Judiciary Committee. As one labor observer noted, that move didn’t even pass the laugh test.

The bill currently being debated is similar to the “compromise” version unacceptable to labor and most Senate Democrats. But don't worry, Halliburton is happy.
Frist and Hatch have been meeting secretly with - guess who? - asbestos companies like Halliburton and the insurance company honchos to put obscenely small limits on the fund. Their bill would funnel $113 billion into the trust over the next 27 years, amended down from an original $150 billion proposal. That figure sounds like a lot, but actually breaks down into miniscule benefits for the thousands of asbestos victims throughout the country. And that's not mentioning the thousands of American workers who will undoubtedly come down with diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma (an incurable form of lung cancer) in the years to come.

There are 200,000 claims pending against Halliburton, for example, for a total of $4.3 billion. Under the Frist-Hatch bill, the corporation would be required to pay just $546 million over the next 27 years.
Even Hatch now agrees that the bill is not expected to pass. Most Democrats are opposed, and even some conservative Republicans and business associations are opposed to an expensive bailout.
In a letter to Hatch last week, Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, said, “Many wholesaler-distributors and others face larger out-of-pocket asbestos-related costs under [Hatch’s proposal] than they do under the tort system now in place.”
Nevertheless, Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are bringing it up for a vote anyway, hoping to make it an election year issue.

Hatch blames the trial lawyers for the bill's expected defeat.
Hatch said Democrats are afraid that presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will miss out on $50 million in campaign funds from the trial lawyers, adding it would be “pretty pathetic that they would let these hundreds of thousands of people go down the drain without just compensation, which we have in this bill, because of politics.”

Hatch said on the Senate floor that trial lawyers stand to gain at least $60 billion from asbestos litigation if the current system is not reformed.
But allow me to repeat my previous defense of trail lawyers
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.
Once again, despite the fact that all players see the need for an asbestos compensation fund, the greed of the insurers and the companies with asbestos liability seems to have scuttled the whole process.

I’m sure you Senators would be happy to hear your opinion. If you don’t already know how to get in touch with them, check out the “Contact Congress” box on the right side of this page.