Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NIOSH Reorganization: Bad Idea, According to Everyone Except CDC

The Washington Post covered the debate over CDC's controversial reorganization of NIOSH today. Although CDC Director Julie Gerberding argues that "the change will increase NIOSH's value by bringing efficiencies that will free up administrative funds for research," everyone else in the world seems to disagree:

The move has drawn protests from virtually every occupational health and safety organization in the country, including some representing labor and others more aligned with corporate management -- groups that usually are at policy loggerheads but that have shared interests in good science.

Opposition also crosses party lines. Letters opposing the change have been signed by every living former NIOSH director back to the Nixon administration and by assistant secretaries for labor and health from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

"This may be the first issue in the last decade that all the worker safety and health stakeholder groups agree on," said Frank White, a Reagan administration labor official who is now vice president of Organization Resources Counselors Inc., an international management and human resources consulting firm that advises on occupational health issues for 150 large corporations. "It's hard to see a reorganization like this making NIOSH more effective."

Gerberding has met with opposition groups, but according to UAW health and safety director Frank Mirer, She expressed real concern and passion for NIOSH....But in the end, he said, "the message to us was 'Get over it. This is a done deal.'"

Republican Senator Arlen Specter (PA),chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the CDC, disagrees and plans to hold hearings on the change before it's implemented.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Britain's Health and Safety Executive: Using Bush's OSHA as an Example?

It seems that American workers are not the only ones in the industrialized western countries to be let down by their government that is supposed to being protecting their right to a safe workplace, according to Hazards editor Rory O'Neill and Andrew Watterson, PhD in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

The British Health and Safety Commission(HSC)recently produced a report showing that "around three fourths of the 43 million working days lost each year in the United Kingdom to workplace disease and accident are due to 'occupational disease.'"

Meanwhile, the British the Health and Safety Executive(HSE) -- Britain's OSHA -- has announced the elimination of its medical director position and "is moving by stealth more and more away from a role as enforcer to a role as advisor." Sound familiar?
The figure cited above indicates that the HSE falls far short of its ambition to cut occupationally-caused and -related disease incidences significantly. The government has additionally failed so far to act fully on corporate manslaughter legislation, and the fines and enforcement of occupational health and safety law against recalcitrant employers still all too often remain woefully inadequate.3 Who the influential voices are in U.K. occupational health and safety under New Labour would appear to be quite clear. They are not the vulnerable employees, nor are they overloaded scientific civil servants within the HSC and the HSE. They most certainly are not the trade unions and employee-support organizations. They are exactly those employer groups that have failed to deliver substantial improvements in occupational health and basic safety records in the worst sectors of industry.

Steelworker Deaths Climb: Manage Change or Manage Funerals

Finding the root causes of workplace death and injury is not an easy task. Last week steelworker Michael Carney was crushed to death when a 20,000 pound roll of steel crushed him.

What were the causes? An OSHA investigation will undoubtedly find a number of standards that had been violated, and probably fine the company a few thousand dollars. But it is unlikely that OSHA will uncover or address the real root causes of that accident, or the reason that twice as many member of the United Steelworkers of America have been killed this year than in all of last year. Carney was the sixth USWA member to die this year while working in a North American steel mill.

So what might be happening in the industry to cause these tragedies? According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there could be a number of causes:

Some reasons include dramatically reduced work forces and the retirement of some of the industry's most experienced workers.
Now that demand has increased sharply and the industry has a chance to make money, steelmakers have to produce more with fewer workers and many workers are performing jobs that are new to them....There's got to be a correlation there," said Andrew Miklos, president of USW Local 1557 at U.S. Steel's coke plant in Clairton.

Three serious accidents have occurred at the plant this year, including one last month in which USW member Russ Brownfield, 44, lost his legs. Union officials say the accident happened when Brownfield tried to jump on a moving rail car to set its brake. He slipped and fell beneath the car, which ran over him.

Miklos said issues related to the contract are compounded by forced overtime at Clairton, long an issue at the plant. Making workers work 16- hour shifts means longer weeks, which Miklos believes increases the chances of accidents happening.

According to USWA safety and health director Mike Wright, one problem may be that as a result of the most recent contract, jobs were restructured with being accompanied by a new safety analysis.

In the safety "business," this is sometimes called "management of change" analysis. That is, any time there is a change made to a process -- machinery, materials or work procedures -- a safety analysis has to be done.

The company denies that inreased production leads to more accidents, citing statistics showing the number of injuries going down, even while more workers are dying. But all may not be as it seems:
Wright is leery of statistics, saying "it's too easy to game them." Some workers are reluctant to report accidents or near accidents for fear of being disciplined, so those incidents go unreported. One company even sent a salaried worker to clinics with injured workers, trying to influence their treatment so the accident wouldn't have to be reported, Wright said.
While the root causes of these fatalities and injuries are not entirely clear yet, the bottom line, according to Wright, is that workers have a gut feeling that all is not well:
Union officials are examining this year's fatalities and serious injuries, but so far no pattern has emerged, Wright said. For now, there's just the gut feeling of many that safety has been compromised. Wright confirmed that last week when he asked USW members attending a health and safety conference in Pittsburgh whether their workplaces were safer than they were two years ago.

"When they stopped laughing, no one thought their plant is safer," Wright said.
  • Michael Carney, 50, killed Aug. 24 in a crane accident at Allegheny Ludlum's plant in Vandergrift.
  • Edward Hall, 52, killed June 28 by a rail car at International Steel Group's East Chicago, Ind., mill.
  • Tony Parker, 56, killed June 4 when he fell 18 feet at Ispat Inland's Indiana Harbor Works in East Chicago, Ind.
  • Robert Brzezinski, 43, killed April 26 when he fell into a pit at the steel-making shop of Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
  • Ed Theriot, 50, killed April 13 when he was crushed by a rail car at Bayou Steel's mill in La Place, La.
  • Andy Jarosz, 55, killed Jan. 4 when he fell 16 feet and was crushed by a steel plate at Stelco's Hilton Works in Hamilton, Ontario.

    Confined Space Improvements

    I may be on semi-vacation, but technology marches on. I've made a few enhancements to Confined Space that you may find useful.

    E-Mail: Note the little envelope with an arrow. You can click on this to e-mail an individual article to a friend (or enemy -- take your pick).

    Confined Space Mailing List: On the left-hand column is a mailing list form which you can use to sign up for a weekly mailing of Confined Space highlights. I promise not to send more than one a week (unless something urgent and important happens). And I promise not to give your names to anyone else.

    Permalinks: Note the word PERMALINK above each posting. You can right click on this and click on "Copy Shortcut" to copy the URL for each individual posting to your webpage or e-mail. (Or you can just click on PERMALINK and copy and paste the URL in the Address box.) . You can also then print out the individual post instead of the entire page.

    Friday, August 27, 2004

    St Louis on Bush Regulatory Damage

    The St. Louis Dispatch chimes in on the Washington Post and NY Times articles on the workplace and environmental damage caused by the Bush administration's regulatory policies:

    Rather than being embarrassed at all of this, John D. Graham, the man in charge of regulations for the Office of Management and Budget, told the Times: "The Bush administration has cut the growth of costly business regulations by 75 percent, compared to the two previous administrations." Yes, but at what cost? In the long run, dirtier air and water, more hazardous workplaces and highways, appliance fires, TB and other man-made problems will kill more Americans and devastate more American ground. The deaths and devastation will have been caused, in the pursuit of short-term economic gains, by their fellow Americans, with the smiling collusion of their government. There is but one word for this: wrong.

    Missouri is a swing state. Hopefully, people will pay more attention to these life and death issues than Swift Boat Liars and gay marriage.

    Update: The Boulder (CO) Daily Camera is also not amused.

    Lucky Men

    Note that one was buried in the initial collapse while two almost died while trying to rescue the first.
    Men survive trench collapse

    Three men escaped Thursday afternoon when a trench collapsed on them at a Phenix City construction site.

    The Rusco Plumbing Co. employees, who were digging the trench for water lines at Misty Forest subdivision off Alabama 169, apparently had minor injuries after the soft soil trapped them, said Mike Hanson, assistant chief of the Phenix City Fire Department.

    Two of the men were taken to The Medical Center in Columbus; the third man, crusted with dirt, assisted in recovery efforts and was not injured.

    The uninjured worker told Phenix City police Cpl. Robert Lambert that the initial collapse covered one man; the other two were trying to free him when another part of the trench fell on them, he said.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2004

    A Carolina COSH Member in John Henshaw's Court

    I'm still on vacation (actually, a break between two vacations -- taking my daughter to college tomorrow -- sniff), but with a little help from my friends, Confined Space goes on.

    Tom O'Connor, Coordinator of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (the umbrella organization of COSH groups), attended a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) the other day and filed the report below.

    NACOSH, as originally devised, was a true advisory committee. While I was at OSHA, NACOSH members set their own agenda, requesting reports from OSHA and other experts on various topics, such as alternative methods of rulemaking or improving OSHA's enforcement policies, in addition to listening to (and discussing) reports on the progress on OSHA's projects. They were generally fairly lively meetings that held the feet of the Assistant Secretary, NIOSH Director and OSHA Directorate heads to the fire.

    According to Tom, things have changed over the past couple of years:

    I attended a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) the other day and, while I learned some things about what OSHA and NIOSH have been doing lately, I left somewhat puzzled as to the role of this committee. In a six and a half hour meeting, there was a total of 30 minutes devoted to “committee discussion” and a few scattered minutes for questions from committee members. The rest of the time was devoted to presentations by OSHA Director John Henshaw and his staff and Dr. John Howard, Director of NIOSH.

    Now the members of this committee seem to be a dedicated, nice bunch of folks—too nice maybe. If I had been sitting on the committee rather than just being an observer, I would have liked to ask a few questions about some of the statements made by Mr. Henshaw during the meeting, for example:

    1) Ergonomics: Henshaw pointed to the fact that the agency conducted 1,703 inspections addressing ergonomic hazards over the past year, resulting in 300 “hazard alerts” and fourteen citations under the General Duty clause. Whoa, was I wrong! I guess that ergonomics standard wasn’t really necessary after all! All those inspections, presumably in high ergo-hazard industries, and less than one-tenth of one percent is found to have a problem! If I had been on the committee, I would have wanted to hear more about how they were so successful in their ergonomic hazard prevention efforts that 99.9% of inspected worksites are now free of serious ergo hazards.

    2) The public’s right to know: Henshaw matter of factly stated that the agency has been fighting a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times seeking more detailed inspections data. Now readers of Confined Space will remember that OSHA hasn’t always appeared real enthusiastic about giving full access to the inspections data on their website, but what’s up with fighting the FOIA request? Didn’t the committee at least deserve an explanation as to why the public doesn’t have a right to this information? A court recently ruled against them, Henshaw explained, and now they are “considering our next steps.” He didn’t ask the “advisory” committee for their advice on how to proceed.

    3) The Hispanic “Summit”: As previously reported here, OSHA recently held a conference on Hispanic worker health and safety without bothering to involve most of the public health experts, grassroots Latino organizations, or labor unions who have real experience in these issues in the planning process. The conference was reported at the meeting to be a stunning success. Undoubtedly, some useful information exchange took place and folks in attendance got to see Secretary Chao hand out a real big check to a faith-based Latino organization in Florida, in case anyone missed the real point of the whole exercise. (Maybe the Bush folks saw this as particularly culturally appropriate since handing out pre-election goodies is a tried and true campaign tactic in Latin America.) If I were on the committee, I would have liked to ask why they decided to have the meeting in Florida in the middle of the summer (The cheap airfares? All the great restaurants in Orlando?) and why the only Hispanic organizations involved were the Chamber of Commerce and a Republican political organization.

    4) The "benefits" of deregulation: In response to the recent Washington Post story which essentially accused the current administration of bringing worker safety and health regulations to a grinding halt, Henshaw stated that the story contained “a number of inaccuracies.” He declined to specify what these were. He said that he was “proud” of the agency’s action in killing the TB rule and in their general approach to regulation. I would have liked to ask him for a little clarification on how taking away health workers’ protections from TB was a step forward.

    But, hey, I’m not on the committee.

    By the way, kudos to NIOSH Director Howard for staying through the full day of the meeting, offering some insights into NIOSH research priorities, and making a point of talking to folks attending the meeting.

    Asbestos: Leavitt Leaves Libby in Lurch

    I’ve often written about the fact that workers getting killed on the job get very little press attention because they die one at a time, and often doing unglamorous work like digging trenches or working in unpleasant factories.

    Natural disaster victims often get much more attention. They die in larger numbers in more television-friendly environments: buildings flattened by hurricanes or tornados, fancy houses burned in forest fires.

    Over the past week, citizens of Florida have been getting their share of attention due to Hurricane Charlie: more than two dozen killed and massive property damage. Plus, Charlie was considerate enough to strike in a swing state during an election year, drawing lots of attention by politicians – especially those of the bush variety.

    Not so for hundreds workers and their families dying of asbestos-related disease in Libby, Montana, which has been designated a Superfund site due to the asbestos pollution bequeathed upon the community by W.R. Grace. (Montana, for those who are not familiar with it, is a thinly populated state in the northwest that has only a few electoral votes that always go Republican.). Unfortunately, being declare a Superfund site ain’t what it used to be. President Bush has proposed cutting EPA funding and the Republicans in Congress are refusing to replenish the formerly polluter-funded Superfund trust fund.

    That's why Montana Sen. Max Baucus last fall demanded that EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt travel to Libby for a firsthand look at the problem and to meet the people who so desperately need his agency's full attention. Baucus extracted a promise from Leavitt to visit as a condition for Senate confirmation of his nomination to the top EPA post.

    Many people in Libby eagerly looked forward to Leavitt's visit. Townspeople gathered signatures on a resolution beseeching the EPA to do its utmost to execute a speedy and complete cleanup, to follow up with monitoring and provision for unexpected contingencies, and also to help the town emerge out from under the cloud of threat and uncertainty - help toward a more prosperous future. Many residents wrote letters to present to him when he came. They never got the chance.

    After twice canceling scheduled visits to the town, Leavitt made a quick, unannounced visit to Libby Aug. 13. EPA staffers awkwardly responded to rumors circulating in advance of his arrival by reading from a short script about "national security concerns" precluding any comment of the administrator's schedule. When he appeared, Leavitt met with only a few folks, for a short while, then he left. We don't know about the people of Libby, but we're disappointed. Sure, the administrator is a busy man. But a lot of folks in Libby are busy too - busy fighting for their lives.

    Truth be told, however, it isn't Leavitt's time we want. It's his commitment and his agency's action we need. Short and limited as it was, his recent visit will more than suffice if he follows through and makes certain that the Libby cleanup is fully funded and expeditious, and that the government follows through to help the community and its citizens find a prosperous future.

    Did Leavitt stop in Libby merely to put a check on his to-do list? Or did he come really intending to help? His follow-through will provide the answer.

    National security concerns? Personally, I think Mr. Leavitt has much more to fear from the good citizens of Libby than he does from Al Qaida. After all, they’ve already been victims of weapons of mass destruction, thanks to W.R. Grace.

    More on the tragedy of Libby, Montana here, here and here.

    Bring Workplace Safety Into the Campaign

    Well it's about time to get out there on the campaign trail and let everyone know why the decision they make at the ballot box (or computer) may affect their likelihood of coming home from work alive and health. But what to say?

    I am posting here an article I wrote for Labor Notes (which you can now subscribe to for $5)about the Bush record on occupational health and safety. There are other election-year health and safety factsheets from AFSCME and CWA. (If anyone knows of any others, let me know.)

    OK, so we know George Bush and crew are a workplace safety disaster, but what has John Kerry done for us lately?

    He condemned Bush's MSHA for putting miners at risk

    He's called fro improved chemical plant security.

    His spokesperson called DOL's Hispanic "Summit" a "photo op."

    He has earned business anger by supporting a new ergonomics standard.

    He's been accused by the bad guys of being an "environmental extremist" and earned the support of Nixon's EPA head.

    And while he was a presidential candidate, John Edwards called for a plan to decrease workplace deaths and injuries by strengthening laws and hiring more federal safety personnel."

    Saturday, August 21, 2004

    Prisons Overlook TB Infection

    Most of the hoopla and controversy surrounding OSHA's late-term abortion of the tuberculosis standard focuses on the hazards facing health care workers. But in many ways, hazards facing other workers -- like corrections officers, for example -- are much worse. In fact, it was the tuberculosis-related death of a New York corrections officer and the hospitalization of another (along with his young son whom he had unknowingly infected) that helped stimulate labor's petition of OSHA in 1995 for a tuberculosis standard. OSHA's withdrawal of the proposed standard was based largely on the assumption that everyone was already following voluntary CDC guidelines and doing what they were supposed to do to protect their employees.

    But CDC's August 20 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) paints a far different -- and more troubling -- picture, at least in correctional institutions. A CDC investigation found that a clearly symptomatic inmate with an active TB infection "had resided in three different jails and a state prison, placing hundreds of employees and other inmates at risk for TB infection."

    More than 5% of prison employees who had a previously negative TB test, and almost 13% of employees who had not received a previous TB test received diagnoses of latent TB infection. (Latent infections are not "active" or infectious, but can become active and infectious at a later date if not treated.) More upsetting is the suspicion that undiagnosed prison-related TB infections can contribute to rises in TB infection rates among the general outside population:
    During 1992--2002, the TB rate in Kansas increased from 2.2 per 100,000 population to 3.3, the largest increase among all 50 states and the District of Columbia; in the majority of states, the TB rate declined. Although the contribution of correctional facilities to the TB burden in Kansas is unknown, a study in Tennessee reported that 43% of persons identified with TB in the city of Memphis had previous contact with a single urban jail and no other identified common exposure.
    The CDC calls for correctional institutions to implement formal Tuberculosis Infection Control Plans (TBICPs), educate employees, continuously monitor the effectiveness of the TBICP, maintain a tracking system for inmate TB screening and treatment and to establish a mechanism for sharing this information with local and state health departments and other correctional facilities.

    Of course, had the tuberculosis standard been in effect now, all of this (and more) may have been required and the exposures and infections might not have happened. On the other hand, this incident occurred in Kansas, a state that does not provide federally approved OSHA coverage for its public employees (although it does have a non-federally approved program). But that's another story.

    Friday, August 20, 2004

    Miners' Plight Condemned Far and Wide

    The August 9 article in the New York Times about selling coal miner's health to the highest bidder was widely reprinted and has stimulated outrage from upstate New York to deep inside Kentucky caol country.

    David Rossie, associate editor of the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun-Bulletin, notes the cynicism behind the Bush Administration's obedience to corporate interests, from putting a mine safety official in charge of MSHA, to weakening health protections for workers:
    Unions and health officials have argued against the proposal but their protests have been brushed aside. In this administration, corporations weigh heavily on the scales, workers hardly at all.

    The cynicism is breathtaking, figuratively and literally. In 2000, Bush campaigned through West Virginia promising to revive the state's coal industry. And voters in that state, many of them miners, delivered that traditionally Democratic stronghold and its five electoral votes -- Bush's margin of victory. Little did those miners know they were bargaining away their physical well-being.
    Rossie thinks this should be a major campaign issue this year:
    If I were a Kerry campaign strategist, I'd make up a million copies of that Times story, put a label on it inspired by the one found on cigarette boxes: Warning: Voting Republican can cause serious risks to your health." Then I'd hire an aircraft to drop them over the length and breadth of West Virginia's coal country.
    And the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial writers also have MSHA's number:
    The administration's unspoken agenda is likely political: pursuit of big contributions from the industry and of votes in swing states, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where miners are misleadingly told that eased environmental rules might increase employment.

    But that's a short-sighted argument. If effective regulations are applied evenly and fairly, there would be impact on the bottom line, but over the long range coal operators should be able to compete with other energy producers and to sustain employment.

    Outwardly, the administration relies on the tired cheap-energy case for coal.

    That, too, is deceptive. America has comparatively low-cost energy, and coal already is far less expensive than oil and natural gas.

    Anyway, while the American public wants affordable energy, there is no evidence that, even in hard-pressed coal states, it wants to lay waste to the environment or to sacrifice miners' lives and health.

    The administration should listen to the people more, and to the coal industry less.
    One theme that these editorials and op-eds share, along with the recent Washington Post and NY Times articles on the fate of workplace and environmental regulation is that these are issues that people (VOTERS) care about -- or would care about if they knew about them. Which is where you, dear readers, come in.

    Update: Editorial in the New Haven Advocate here.

    Thursday, August 19, 2004

    Appreciation And A Lesson For Ignored Activists

    I've written a couple of postings about the New York Times article on the administration's attack on the regulatory system and the excellent Washington Post series earlier this week (here and here) that highlights the ravages visited by the Bush administration upon OSHA and upon the science backing up workplace health and environmental protections.

    But as good and well timed as these articles are, note that the inspiration behind them and information underpinning their arguments didn't just pop into the reporters' heads one night over a couple of beers. The groundwork for these articles had been laid over the past several months by a report and press conference on the "Special Interest Takeover" by Citizens for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), OMB Watch and the Center for American Progress, as well as conferences such as the recent event sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest focusing on "Integrity in Science" and a CSS report on the history of the Data Quality Act.

    And don't forget recent articles, letters and speeches by scientists (some acknowledged by the Post and Times, some not) like David Michaels, Jennifer Sass, David Egilman, Sean Moulton, Barry Castleman, and David Rempel; bloggers like Chris Mooney, and labor health and safety activists too numerous to mention.

    Interestingly, neither of the conferences or reports (nor many of the letters or speeches) mentioned above received much (if any) press at the time they were held. Yet, by publicizing the disastrous effect that seemingly obscure government regulatory changes have had on the health, safety and well-being of workers, communities and regular people in small towns, urban areas, and workplaces across the country, they created a buzz that the major media eventually couldn't ignore.

    I left Washington, headed for Eugene, Oregon the day after the first Washington Post article appeared. Throughout National Airport that morning people were reading about what the Bush administration had done to worker safety in this country. Arriving in Eugene, I found people reading the same article reprinted in the Eugene Register-Guard.

    The moral of the story? Keep on working, keep on researching, writing and fighting. Your efforts may not be recognized in the newspapers or the 6:00 news tomorrow or next week or next month, but eventually the truth will become "news," and the news will become general knowledge and finally the truth will ring too loud to be ignored.

    And finally, don't forget the most important step in the political process. In this election year every potential voter needs to know about how Bush policies are affecting the health and safety of their children, their parents, their husbands and their wives. Are people going to vote on such "important" issues as gay marriage or on their likelihood of coming home alive and healthy from the mines or poultry processing plants; on gun control or the risk of their children or grandchildren being sickened or deformed by pesticides that are known to be hazardous? I don't know. But I do know that there's no way they can make an intelligent decision if they don't have all of the information in front of them.

    Data "Quality" Act -- First, Stop No Harm

    Trying to figure out a way to stop EPA from prohibiting the use of 40 million tons of a pesticide (Atrazine) shown to "demasculinize" frogs at extremely low levels? Just sneak through some legislation in the dead of night called the "Data Quality Act" which allows the Atrazine manufacturer to stop regulation in its tracks by introducing a bunch of poorly conducted studies that will "manufacture uncertainty," by contradicting the well-done studies showing the damage.

    All in a day's (or night's) work by Jim Tozzi, the man who argued against warning parents that taking aspirin might put their children at risk of Reyes Syndrome. As a bonus, maybe the Data Quality Act can be used to change EPA publications that warn of asbestos exposure to auto mechanics, and undermine the chief U.S. government agency mandated to study the cancer causing potential of chemicals.

    Read all about it in the Washington Post.

    Other Confined Space pieces on the Data Quality Act here, here, and here

    Jail Time: Increasing Penalties (without other baggage)

    Workers Comp Insider has a good discussion of duelling OSHA penalty proposals by Senators Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), as well as the role of workplace safety activist Ron Hayes in pushing the legislation that would hopefully prevent incidents like the one that killed his son.

    Both see the need for legislation to make it easier for OSHA to impose criminal penalties and jail time on employers for wilfull violations of OSHA standards that result in the death of a worker. Enzi's bill (S. 2719) would call for an 18 month maximum jail sentence, while Corzine's bill calls for a 10-year maximum.

    One aspect not mentioned in the Workers Comp Insider article, however, is that the argument between Corzine and Enzi is not just over the amount of jail-time. Enzi is also using his bill as a trojan horse to push his idea of assigning some OSHA inspection tasks to private consultants and exempting employers from penalties, in addition to a number of other proposals opposed by labor because they would weaken the OSHAct.

    Monday, August 16, 2004


    I'll be on vacation and travelling much of the next few weeks so blogging will be light, depending on when and where I have access to a computer. In the meantime, let me know what you think. Use the comment link below to discuss workplace safety in the context of the election. What would/should John Kerry do at OSHA? What would be facing with another four years of George W? You know what to do:

    Post & Times (Finally) Figure It Out: Bush Making OSHA, EPA, MSHA, DOT, DOE, Interior, etc. More Business Friendly

    One of the "benefits" and frustrations of being a workplace safety activist living in Washington D.C. is that I am constantly able to witness the subtle and not-so-subtle attacks that this administration has made on workplace safety, the environment and consumer well-being. Everyone (one hopes) remembers that the first significant piece of legislation that George W. Bush signed was the repeal of the ergonomics standard. But it's the more subtle attacks -- generally through regulatory changes unseen by most Americans or the major media -- that led me to launch this blog almost 18 months ago. One service that I thought I could provide was making workers and safety activist across the country aware of the havoc that this administration is wreaking on the promise of a safe workplace for all American workers.

    So it is with some satisfaction that I returned to Washington today after the first phase of my summer vacation to find three articles (the first of a major series) in the Washington Post and one in the New York Times that address the major, yet almost unseen changes that the Bush administration has made through the regulatory process, with the effect of making more business friendly OSHA, MSHA and the agencies in charge of policing the health of our environment. On one hand, I'm glad to see these articles. On the other hand I'm thinking, "What the hell took you so long?" If you had been doing this kind of reporting all along, I could have gotten a lot more sleep.

    The New York Times argues that:
    Some analysts argue that the Bush administration has introduced rules favoring industry with a dedication unmatched in modern times.

    "My thoughts go back to Herbert Hoover," said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. "No president could have been more friendly to business than Hoover" until the Bush administration.
    This may be true; this administration has certainly been the most effective in rolling back regulations. I'd argue, however, that part of the "credit" goes to Congress. While the Reagan and first Bush administrations had similar goals, their efforts were somewhat stymied by Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress. Democrats were able to publicly reveal Republican efforts to weaken regulations, and use hearings and the legislative process to push OSHA to issue needed regulations.

    The Times reports that the war in Iraq has shifted the attention of the media and the public away from substantial regulatory initiatives designed to please business:

    Allies and critics of the Bush administration agree that the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have preoccupied the public, overshadowing an important element of the president's agenda: new regulatory initiatives. Health rules, environmental regulations, energy initiatives, worker-safety standards and product-safety disclosure policies have been modified in ways that often please business and industry leaders while dismaying interest groups representing consumers, workers, drivers, medical patients, the elderly and many others.

    And most of it was done through regulation, not law - lowering the profile of the actions. The administration can write or revise regulations largely on its own, while Congress must pass laws. For that reason, most modern-day presidents have pursued much of their agendas through regulation. But administration officials acknowledge that Mr. Bush has been particularly aggressive in using this strategy.

    The Washington Post starts off with a subject near and dear to my heart: the Bush administration's withdrawal of the proposed tuberculosis standard which was close to being issued as a final standard at the end of the Clinton administration.

    "Near and dear," because while at AFSCME I typed up the original petition urging OSHA to issue the standard, and one of my last activities at AFSCME before heading off to work at OSHA was to testify at regulatory hearings in favor of the standard.
    Tuberculosis had sneaked up again, reappearing with alarming frequency across the United States. The government began writing rules to protect 5 million people whose jobs put them in special danger. Hospitals and homeless shelters, prisons and drug treatment centers -- all would be required to test their employees for TB, hand out breathing masks and quarantine those with the disease. These steps, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration predicted, could prevent 25,000 infections a year and 135 deaths.

    By the time President Bush moved into the White House, the tuberculosis rules, first envisioned in 1993, were nearly complete. But the new administration did nothing on the issue for the next three years.

    Then, on the last day of 2003, in an action so obscure it was not mentioned in any major newspaper in the country, the administration canceled the rules. Voluntary measures, federal officials said, were effective enough to make regulation unnecessary.

    The demise of the decade-old plan of defense against tuberculosis reflects the way OSHA has altered its regulatory mission to embrace a more business-friendly posture. In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan .

    The changes within OSHA since George W. Bush took office illustrate the way that this administration has used the regulatory process to redirect the course of government.
    In addition to tuberculosis (which I have written about many times here, here and here), the Post uses several other examples, including:
    • an OSHA witness testifying that disposable respirators are as effective as more sophisticated respirators (without disclosing that he had worked previously as a consultant for the 3M, which makes the disposable respirators.

    • OSHA's refusal to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment such as gloves, boots, hard hats and goggles.
    While OSHA has not completely given up on regulations, the Post's analysis found that:
    the rules the agency has proposed are narrower than most of those it has eliminated. Thirteen of the 24 proposals it has canceled since Bush took office fall into a category the government classifies as "economically significant," meaning they would cost or save the economy at least $100 million. None of the 16 standards OSHA has proposed during that time falls in that group.
    The Times focuses mostly on three examples:
    • Department of Transportation raising the number of hours that truckers can drive after the NTSB recommended that hours be reduced to address the raising number of fatigue-related accidents."

    • The administration's relaxation of clean air rules, allowing corporations to upgrade their plants without installing pollution control equipment

    • Air conditioning manufacturers' successful efforts to lobby against raising energy efficiency standards.
    Also available on the web only, is a Washington Post story of how the Bush administration has ignored a petition by Public Citizen Health Research Group and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union petitioned OSHA to issue a tougher standard on beryllium, and even refused to meet with the groups, while maintaining a tight relationship with beryllium manufacturer Brush Wellman.

    Update: The second article in the Wasington Post series has hit the newstands (or at least the web): 'Data Quality' Law Is Nemesis Of Regulation.

    But I'm on vacation. Read it yourself.

    Friday, August 13, 2004

    The Weekly Toll

    Ky. Oil, Gas Well Blast Kills Three

    BULAN, Ky. - An oil and natural gas well exploded in a small eastern Kentucky community, killing three workmen, authorities said. The well continued to belch flames and black smoke Thursday.

    The well exploded into flames Wednesday afternoon with a force that shook nearby homes; investigators were not sure what sparked the blast. Flames and heat from a fire that raged for more than 24 hours may have destroyed any clues to the cause.

    "We may never know," said Rick Bender, director of the Kentucky Division of Oil and Gas, the agency that regulates the state's drilling industry.

    William Douglas Bell, 37, of Helenwood, Tenn., died Thursday at Cincinnati University Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said. Two others, Bill Chandler, 36, of Lost Creek, Ky., and Patrick Jeffers, 29, of Winfield, Tenn., were killed Wednesday.

    Bossier City officer killed, suspect found dead

    BOSSIER CITY, La. Funeral services are scheduled Saturday for a Bossier City police officer, who was shot to death as he arrived at a house to investigate a 9-1-1 call. Police say the suspected gunman was later found dead inside the house.
    Bossier City and Shreveport police, sheriff's deputies and state police converged on the neighborhood yesterday and surrounded the gunman, who had barricaded himself inside the house.

    The patrolman, Trey Hutchison, was airlifted to L-S-U Hospital in Shreveport where is died.

    Painter Dies From Flash-Fire Burns

    TAMPA -- The painter who was severely burned at a water treatment facility Tuesday in East Lakeland died Wednesday morning at a Tampa hospital, police said.

    James Morton Dierker of Lake Hamilton Boulevard in Winter Haven died about 7:10 a.m. at Tampa General Hospital, said Lakeland police Sgt. Mike Ivancevich.

    Dierker, 47, suffered severe burns on 60 percent of his body in the flash fire at the Northside Water Treatment Facility, which is not in operation yet.

    Dierker, a contract painter with Universal Painting in Lakeland, was working alone inside a 20-foot by 80-foot, partially underground tank when the fire took place.

    Investigators suspect heat emitted from a halogen light in the tank may have sparked the fire. Fumes in the air likely provided the fuel.

    Fatal Accident At Tulsa's Wastewater Treatment Plant Still Under Investigation

    A 28-year-old husband and father of three was the victim of a toxic gas accident in Tulsa. Terry DeBuhr died Tuesday evening when he was overcome by toxic gas at the city of Tulsa’s wastewater treatment plant near 51st and Elwood.

    DeBuhr worked at L and L Construction, which has done work for the city many times. And they still don't know how the accident happened that killed his employee, 28-year-old Terry DeBuhr.

    DeBuhr and a fellow worker Chuck Nelson had been working for several hours inside a 12-foot deep chamber called a junction box, which was about half-filled with a water-sewage mix. The accident happened as they were wrapping up for the day, when one or perhaps both of the men went back in to retrieve a ladder.

    Friends, Family Honor Police Officer Killed Sunday

    CHICAGO -- Friends, family and fellow officers paid their respects to a Chicago police officer who was hit and killed Sunday by an alleged drunken driver.

    Dozens attended a vigil for 30-year-old Michael Gordon Tuesday night. Flowers, crosses and stuffed animals were left near the accident scene at Sacramento and Jackson. The alleged drunken driver, who also died in the crash, was coming home from a baptism party, NBC5 reported.

    I-70 construction accident claims worker

    A construction worker was killed early Tuesday when he was pinned between a paving roller and a parked vehicle.

    Robert John Lynn, 54, of Paradise Avenue, Fairhope, Washington Township, was pronounced dead at 1:25 a.m. at the scene of the accident by Westmoreland County Deputy Coroner Gerald Fritz.

    According to state police at Belle Vernon, Lynch was directing Gary Miller, of Ellwood City, at 12:30 a.m. as Miller backed the roller along the westbound Smithton off ramp of Interstate 70 in South Huntingdon Township. The roller surged backward when Miller could not get it into neutral, pinning Lynch against a disabled vehicle parked on the berm.

    Lynch fell to the pavement when the roller moved forward, but the roller then moved backward again, coming to rest against the parked vehicle.

    Family of killed road worker urges drivers to be aware

    Branson — The family of a Branson Public Works employee killed Tuesday by a teenage driver wants people to be more careful when they see roadside workers.

    James Turner, who would have been 61 today, was using a weed trimmer about 10 feet from the curb of Gretna Road about 3 p.m. Tuesday. He was struck by a 1996 Honda Civic driven by Richard Toeneboehn, 18, of Kimberling City, according to a report from the Missouri Highway Patrol.

    According to the report, Toeneboehn was driving west on Gretna just east of the Roark Creek bridge. He lost control of the car, struck a median and veered off, hitting Turner, the patrol said. An investigation is continuing.

    Lightning kills construction worker

    A construction worker was killed by a lightning strike Tuesday afternoon at a home under construction in the Pelican Preserve development of Fort Myers.

    Fort Myers resident Alberto Angels was working at a construction site in the 10600 block of Triano Court when he was struck by lightning at about 2:20 p.m., said Kara Winton, a spokeswoman for the Fort Myers Police Department. Angels was pronounced dead at the scene. His age and address were not available late Tuesday from police.

    Winton said another construction worker, Aniceto Perez, 25, of Fort Myers was also struck by lightning. Winton said Perez was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital by a private vehicle, but was not seriously injured.

    Landis man killed

    CLEVELAND -- A man died from electrical burns suffered in an accident at Myers Forest Products Inc. Tuesday afternoon.

    Juan Janvario Sola, of 612 S. Chapel St., Landis, was pronounced dead at Rowan Regional Medical Center at 5:16 p.m. The accident in which he was electrocuted happened about 4:30 p.m.

    Authorities did not know Sola's age Tuesday night.

    According to Rowan County Sheriff's Maj. Tim Bost, Sola worked for Myers Forest Products. Bost said workers there were attempting to restart a machine that had stopped, and Sola went to a breaker box where he came in contact with a pair of 440-volt wires.

    "He was not qualified to do what he attempted to do," Bost said. "He was trying to bring (the machine) back up. He didn't know what he was doing."

    Worker dies after hair gets caught

    SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO -- A 32-year-old maintenance man died Sunday afternoon in one of the most unusual industrial accidents in years, police said.

    The man, identified as Ace Feraro of Hayward, was scalped sometime between 7:30 a.m. and noon Sunday after his long hair was caught in the motor of a ventilation system atop a pharmaceutical company's building at 800 Gateway Boulevard.

    Feraro, an employee of Elan Corporation, which has two buildings in the Oyster Point area, was changing bearings on the motor with the power off, said South San Francisco Police Sgt. Bill Carter. He turned the machine back on to check his work, bending too far over while the motor revved back to life.

    Painter dies in fall from water tower

    A man died Thursday after falling about 40 feet from a tower at the water treatment plant near Pompano Beach, officials said Friday.

    John Wade, 56, of Fort Lauderdale, was preparing to paint the water tower at 1390 NE 51st Street just after 8 a.m., Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Hugh Graf said. Wade lost his balance, fell through a skylight and landed on a floor, Broward Sheriff's Office fire-rescue division officials said.

    Wade was conscious when paramedics arrived, but they took him to North Broward Medical Center in Pompano Beach, fire-rescue Capt. David Erdman said. Wade died there later Thursday.

    Graf said the death was accidental. Broward County officials notified the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but OSHA and county officials said Broward's risk management department is investigating because OSHA does not typically investigate accidents involving public employees.

    Crash kills safety man

    INDIANAPOLIS - Before many drivers arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, there was a fatality on the grounds.

    A veteran Safety Patrol member died from injuries suffered from a motor-scooter accident, according to track officials.

    The deceased was not identified, pending notification of his family.

    The accident occurred about 7:30 a.m. when the Safety Patrol member apparently lost control of a motor scooter and struck a concrete barrier in the infield. He was transported to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where he was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m.

    A safety worker also died at Daytona International Speedway during Speedweeks in February. That worker died as the result of being struck by an ARCA car during a caution.

    Worker Dies in Fall From Scaffolding

    Washington DC -- A 17-year-old construction worker died and a co-worker was critically injured yesterday after they fell 60 feet off a building under renovation in Northwest Washington, authorities said.

    Investigators said that one worker grabbed the other as he fell. Both then tumbled to an alley. Rescue workers found them lying next to each other.

    Elkin Galdames of Baltimore suffered massive injuries and died at the scene. Officials said that his co-worker, Freddy Madrid of Baltimore, was taken to Washington Hospital Center. Madrid's age was not released. Both men were from Honduras, a co-worker said.

    Man killed after being sandwiched by trucks

    MIDDLE TWP., PA -- A Waste Management employee was killed Friday morning when he was pinned between two garbage trucks while emptying a trash can, police said.

    The worker died at the crash scene abut 8:15 a.m. on Route 9 in Rio Grande, police said. Authorities did not release the victim's name.

    "It is a sad day for all of us," said Judy Archibald, a spokeswoman for the trash-hauling company's regional office in Morrisville, Pa.

    Worker Crushed at Bluegrass Station

    The Fayette County (KY) Coroner says 19-year-old Andrew Newton of Mt. Sterling lost control of a forklift, that flipped over and crushed him.

    Newton was an employee of L3 Communications, a private contractor at the state run military post.

    A Bluegrass Station spokesperson says everyone is shocked about losing an employee. Newton had worked there since February.

    Armored Car's Bank Courier Slain in Md. Heist

    Washington DC -- Hooded gunmen ambushed an armored car courier outside a bank in Hyattsville yesterday afternoon, fatally shooting the courier and grabbing a money bag before stealing a getaway car from a bystander, police and witnesses said.

    The courier, a 28-year-old Maryland man, was shot three times shortly before 1 p.m. outside the front entrance of BB&T in the 3500 block of Hamilton Street. The bank is across the road from a busy grocery store and a nursery where about 30 children had just begun their afternoon nap.

    Prince George's County police identified the slain guard as Jason L. Schwindler of Anne Arundel County. Police said he was shot twice in the torso and once in the face.

    Tire explosion kills employee

    Davenport, IA -- A 27-year-old worker was killed on the job Thursday after a combine tire he was filling with air exploded, Davenport police said.

    The incident happened at 12:55 p.m. at his place of employment, Firstco Inc., 268 E. 90th St.

    Investigators said that the man was filling a combine tire when it suddenly exploded. The blast caused the wheel rim to strike the man in the chest and face. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

    Authorities had not released the man’s name late Thursday.

    Shipyard accident claims man's life

    NEWPORT NEWS, VA -- A 23-year-old apprentice at the Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard was electrocuted Wednesday afternoon as he worked outdoors on an air-conditioning unit.

    Charles R. Short of Newport News was a 1999 graduate of Warwick High School, where he starred on the wrestling team and was a Daily Press All-star and Peninsula District Champion. He had worked at the shipyard since April of 2001. He is survived by his wife, a 2-year-old son, his parents and many other relatives in the area.

    In the past week, there have been three fatal industrial accidents in Hampton Roads. Last Thursday, a 21-year-old worker from Texas died in an accident at Metro Machine, a ship-repair business in Norfolk, after being pinned between two metal lifts. He was working for the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., which was leasing space from Metro Machine. Then a worker from Chesapeake, John Wheat, died at Langley Air Force Base on Saturday when the walls of an excavation site caved in.

    In 1997, three workers died after a pump room in which they were working filled with sewage and deadly gases. The yard was fined $6,300 after OSHA said the workers weren't trained well enough about the dangers of enclosed spaces.

    In 1998, a worker was found dead near a shipyard pier. It was later determined that he drowned in an accident.

    Iowan electrocuted in Missouri

    Savannah, Iowa -- A utility worker from Davis County, Iowa is dead after being electrocuted by a high-voltage power line in northeast Missouri. The accident happened Wednesday evening just outside Livonia in Putnam County.

    Thirty-one-year-old Steve Watson of Savannah was killed after coming into contact with a 72-hundred-volt electrical line. Watson was a lineman with Tri-County Electric Cooperative in Lancaster. The accident happened while Watson and a co-worker were responding to a power outage just off Route FF about two miles southwest of Livonia.

    Hotel mum on worker's death

    The death of a 39-year-old electrician who was injured at a substation that feeds the Logan International Airport Hilton Wednesday saddened airport workers and angered hotel employees who said they were denied grief counseling and ordered to keep silent about the tragedy.

    Roger LeBlanc of Newton, N.H., was a married father of several children.

    A hotel worker speaking on condition of anonymity said workers were not only stunned by the episode, but baffled when a hotel manager ordered a group to refrain from discussing the matter Thursday, he said. Asked about grief counseling, the manager said there would be none, the employee said.

    A Hilton spokeswoman refused to discuss the matter - even the hotel manager's response. She added: "Obviously our prayers and condolences go out to (LeBlanc's) friends and family."

    Janice Loux, head of the hotel workers' union, called the lack of grief counseling "outrageous." (More here.)

    Salina road worker killed in Texas

    Salina, KS -- A Salina road construction worker was killed Thursday morning in Texas when a paving machine rolled over him.

    Tony L. Humphries, 24, was an employee of Ballou Construction, 1100 W. Grand, which is resurfacing a section of Interstate Highway 10 about 40 miles west of Houston.

    Cheryl Kollatschny, Precinct 3 justice of the peace in Austin County, Texas, said Humphries was the front man on the paving crew and was under the paving machine, installing a part, when the machine was moved forward, over Humphries.

    Clues sought in cause of painter's fatal fall

    Westfield Police and Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials are investigating the death of a worker who fell while painting the marquee of a movie theater.

    Danny E. Potts, 45, Indianapolis, was painting the marquee of the Regal Cinema about 3 p.m. Tuesday when he fell about 40 feet, said the Westfield Police Department.

    Man Falls From Trailer, Dies

    Redding, CA -- An unidentified laborer from Mexico was killed Wednesday in what's being called an industrial accident.

    The man, whose identity was not released pending notification of family, was killed after he fell and was apparently run over by a flatbed trailer being used to spray vegetation on private property near Platina and Gas Point roads in western Shasta County.

    The man, who Deputy Coroner Wayne Booker said was in his late 20s, was a member of a work crew spraying vegetation on the property.

    The flatbed trailer, which was equipped with a large tank, was being pulled by a truck on Bully Choop Road when it apparently hit a bump in the road, causing the man to fall off and land underneath the trailer, Booker said.

    Investigation Into Meeting House Electrocution Continues

    A federal safety agency and town police this week were continuing their investigations into a fatal industrial accident on July 26 at the Meeting House at 31 Main Street, which killed one painter by electrocution and seriously burned another painter, when an aluminum ladder that they were handling made contact with an 8,000-volt live power line on the south side of the building.

    Ivan Patricio Tenecela-Velez, 25, of Port Chester, N.Y., died in the accident. Mr Tenecela-Velez was pronounced dead at Danbury Hospital. Following an autopsy, the state medical examiner's office confirmed that Mr Tenecela-Velez died due to accidental electrocution.

    Keller man is killed at construction site

    A 30-year-old construction worker was killed in a forklift accident Tuesday at a south Fort Worth food distribution center, police said.

    Dale Aaron Eckhardt of Keller was pronounced dead at 11:50 a.m. at Ben E. Keith, 7650 Will Rogers Blvd., according to the Tarrant County medical examiner.

    "It appears to be an accident," homicide Detective C.D. Brannon said.

    Eckhardt had just stepped off the forklift when the operator began repositioning the machine to pick up a spool of electrical cable, police said. Eckhardt was struck by the right rear tire.

    Worker dies after being hit by beam

    BOULDER - Another worker was killed in the Green River Basin natural gas patch, struck by a support beam at a drilling rig.

    Leroy Fried, 49, of Riverton, died at a medical clinic in Pinedale after Monday's accident, according to the Sublette County Sheriff's Office.

    The accident happened around 4 p.m. Monday about 5 miles south of Boulder. The rig was owned by Cyclone, and Fried was a Cyclone employee.

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration planned to investigate.

    Joshua D. Riedel, 23, of Worland, died at the scene of a rig accident on The Mesa south of Pinedale on July 23.

    Crane rescue efforts called off

    OPELOUSAS, LA — While family members refuse to give up hope, rescue efforts for Arthur Batiste, 46, of Breaux Bridge have been suspended.

    Batiste has been missing since Tuesday, when a heavy crane fell into Bayou Courtableau at a bridge construction site on U.S. Route 190 between Krotz Springs and Port Barre.

    Rescue divers from the Ville Platte and Lovonia fire departments worked until 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. They were back on the job at 6 a.m. but finally suspended operations at sunset.

    “It’s too dangerous. It’s unsafe for them,” said Chief Deputy Laura Balthazar of the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office.

    About 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, a section of the bridge under construction at Bayou Courtableau collapsed, dropping a section of roadway and one of two heavy cranes into the bayou.

    Three men were thrown into the bayou, two of whom were able to swim to safety. No sign of Batiste has been seen since.


    A Bureau of Land Management worker has died in an ATV accident near "South Shale" Ridge. 62-year old Peter Larson died Monday, during a land health assessment in "Coon Hollow," 20 miles north of Grand Junction. The accident was in steep, rocky terrain. He was wearing a helmet and safety equipment. BLM staffers started looking for Larson when he failed to check in at the end of the day. He had been with the BLM for 3 years, and was previously a staffer with the Colorado National Monument. Larson was a retired teacher in District 51, where he taught for 29 years.

    Emergency Call Sheds New Light On Worker's Death

    BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- A 911 tape shed new light Tuesday on the moments after a farm worker collapsed last week south of Arvin, KERO reported.

    Asuncion Valdivia was pronounced dead at Kern Medical Center less than one hour after he began feeling dizzy and fainted in a vineyard. He had only been employed at Giumarra Vineyard for five days when he collapsed.

    Within seconds of his collapse, a cell phone call was placed to 911 and an ambulance was requested. But, dispatchers were unable to get a location of the vineyard and an ambulance was never sent. More here.

    Memorial this week for officer killed in line of duty

    CLACKAMAS, ORE. - A public memorial service will be held for a Clark County sheriff's sergeant who was killed last week while responding to a call.

    Sgt. Brad Crawford died late Friday night at a Portland hospital just a few hours after his patrol car was rammed by another vehicle.

    State To Review Mining Practice

    State mining officials say they will inspect all mines that use the retreat mining technique.

    Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing director Paris Charles says the review will take place because of the death of 38-year-old Jimmy W. Anderson of Neon. Anderson died Monday after being crushed by rocks at a Reedy Coal Company's underground mine in Pine Top in Knott County.

    He was the second miner killed in Kentucky this year during retreat mining.

    In retreat mining, also called robbing pillars, miners create limited roof falls by chipping away at large blocks of coal that support the roof of a mine that has been exhausted.

    Anderson's death is under investigation by the state mine safety office and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administraton.

    In June, 25-year-old Edwin Pennington of Harlan County miner died in a roof fall at a Bell County Coal Corporation mine while he and his crew robbed pillars.

    Former FPD officer killed in line of duty in Oregon

    A former Flagstaff Police Department officer working as a sheriff's deputy in Clark County, Ore., died in the line of duty Friday.

    According to reports from The Oregonian, Brad Crawford, 49, died when a suspect fleeing a standoff with police rammed into his parked patrol car.

    Worker killed at Langley site cave-in

    A Chesapeake construction worker died in an accident Saturday at Langley Air Force Base when the walls of an excavation site caved in, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

    John Wheat, 45, was buried by sand when the collapse happened at 11:55 a.m., authorities said. (More here.)


    A construction worker was killed Sunday evening when a piece of equipment fell on him at a site just north of Greensboro where his crew was building a bridge.

    The Guilford County Sheriff's Department identified the victim as Moises Perez Villanueva, 29. He died at the scene.

    Villanueva, a native of the Juanogato region of Mexico, lived on Merritt Drive, said sheriff's Sgt. C.L. Piner. Villanueva's home address was not available.

    Disney Fined

    Last February, a worker at Walt Disney World in Florida was killed during a parade. Javier Cruz, 38, who was wearing a Pluto costume, was the father of two and had worked at the park since 1995. His foot was caught between sections of a three-part float as it was about to enter the parade route. He fell and was run over by the third section of the vehicle.

    Federal OSHA has now fined Disney $6,300 for Cruz's death.
    Marin, his sister, said someone who worked with her brother told her that he tripped in front of the float and there wasn't enough time for him to move.

    'It's not acceptable'

    "We believe it could have been prevented. I believe they should have kept a distance between him as a character and the float," she said.

    "OK, it's an accident, but it's not acceptable. They should have prevented this."

    Maryland's New Safety Director, Oh My!

    My home state of Maryland has a new state commissioner of labor and industry, Robert L. Lawson. Lawson, former safety director at the Potomac Electric Power Co, will oversee Maryland OSHA.

    I eagerly read this article about him, hoping for someone to breath some life into the agency -- even if the governor is a Republican -- until I read this:
    At the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Lawson hopes to leave his mark overseeing employment standards, occupational safety and health, wage and safety inspection programs, and the safety of Maryland's railroads, amusement rides and traveling amusement parks.


    And in his new role, Lawson is also hoping that workers change the way they act at work - and at home - by thinking of safety first.
    It would probably help if they closed their eyes and clicked their heels together at the same time.

    Oh well.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2004

    Washington State Ergo Follies: L&I Tosses One Back to BIAW

    Paul Trause, director of the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has written a letter in reply to the rantings of Building and Industry Association of Washington Executive V.P. Tom McCabe. And it's really quite a good letter.

    Trause assures McCabe that L&I will abide by the law and not issue a new standard. He points out, however, that prior to issuance of the ergonomics standard, L&I was able to cite employers for injuries caused by poor ergonomics under Washington's "general rule," referred to as the General Duty Clause by federal OSHA. The General Duty Clause simply requires an employer to maintain a safe workplace. Even without a standard, OSHA can cite employers if it can be proven that a recognized hazard is likely to cause (or has caused) death or serious physical harm and there are reasonable means of abatement.

    Trause points out that these general rules were not repealed by Proposition 841 and "these rules remain valid tools for preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders." In fact, Trause explains, the new WISHA directive will mimic federal OSHA's approach to ergonomics following the repeal of the federal standard in 2001, quoting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA John Henshaw who reported that "since January 2002, OSHA has conducted almost 1,500 inspections focusing on ergonomics issues and has followed up with citations and hazard-alert letters informing employers of ergonomic hazards in their workplaces."

    Then Trause zings them:
    As your organization has previously recognized, it has been proper and legitimate for many years to apply general rules to the hazards associated with musculoskeletal disorders. In fact, one of the arguments made by your representatives and publications in support of Initiative 841 was that because existing WISHA rules gave L&I all the authority it needed to address hazards, the ergonomics standard was unnecessary. For example, on page 6 of the October 2003 edition of your Building Insight publication you summarize a study done by the Washington Policy Center and note that:
    "…current safety codes cover ergonomics injuries in the same manner as other workplace risks. Currently employers are required to keep safety records and to share them with L&I. State inspectors are authorized to conduct workplace inspections at any time with no advance warning. Employers with unsafe workplaces – including ergonomically hazardous – may be fined."
    Trause closes by reminding McCabe that:
    As you know, employers in the residential construction industry, including members of your organization, have among the highest rates of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the state. We have a great deal to gain by working together.
    This blog is occasionally read by children, so I can't reveal here what I would have written...but it would have begun with "Tom, you ignorant slut," and ended with "Why don't you fire the staff that encouraged you to write this letter? They obviously don't have a clue about the law or the conditions under which the employee of your members work, nor have they even bothered to read your own publications."

    As an interesting sidenote, it seems that the several companies cited by federal OSHA over the past couple of years aren't much happier with federal OSHA than BIAW is with WISHA. They're threatening to sue the agency over ergonomics citations. According to Inside OSHA, "Settlement talks in recent OSHA ergonomics citations issued to Coca-Cola, SuperValu Holdings and Pepsi Bottling Group, LLC. have broken down and are spurring the potential legal action."

    This threat of legal action has been going on for some time. I wrote about it first almost a year ago. (Link here. Scroll down to "Meanwhile, back at the ranch")

    Clearly another case of the federal gestapo threatening capitalism and harassing small businesses like Coca Cola with stratospheric fines of $4,500.

    Inside OSHA points out that what's really pissing off the industry lobbyists is that George Bush's OSHA insists on enforcing the law:
    Industry representatives say that OSHA Administrator John Henshaw has been disingenuous by talking about compliance assistance while at the same time maintaining a consistent level of citations.

    The Emperor Has No Clothes

    Don't take it from me. Read this from a witness at the President's recent appearance at a conference of minority journalists.

    Now this isn't exactly on the subject of workplace safety, but just imagine what his response might be if some intrepid reporter were to ask him a few questions about workplace hazards.

    Might be an idea.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2004

    Thinking About Ergonomics? We Will Bury Sue You!

    In a letter that gives new meaning to the words hyperbole and hissy-fit, the Building Industry Association of Washington has sent a letter to Paul Trause, Director of the Department of Labor & Industry, objecting to the Department's development of a new Regional Directive that would explain to directors how to handle ergonomics issues.

    You may remember that the Washington State ergonomics standard was repealed last year after a scurrilous million dollar campaign based on lies that would have made Joe McCarthy blush. (See here and here.) I can't accurately describe the absurdity of this letter, so it's probably best if I just reprint it in whole:

    July 22, 2004

    Director Paul Trause
    Department of Labor & Industries
    PO Box 44001
    Olympia, WA 98504-4001

    It has come to my attention that L&I is developing an ergonomic WISHA Regional Directive that would serve as a substitute fo the ergonomics standards repealed by the voters in Initiative 841. This is a blatant violation of the law and subversion of the will of the voters. By approving Initiative 841 in 2003, the voters expressly repealed your ergonomics regulations and prohibited future rule making on ergonomics. Any attempt to enforce the repealed ergonomics standard by means of a newly adopted ergonomics policy is illegal.
    We will sue you.

    Moreover, BIAW will file another initiave if necessary to repeal future ergonomic policies adopted by L&I. Initiative 841 was very successful in uniting the press (sic), the public,(sic-er) the workers (sic-est) and the business community against the pseudo-science and overregulation of the L&I bureaucrats. L&I spent million of tax dollars attempting to justify bad science and ignored public comments against the ergonomic rule. Washington state is now a better place to live and work because the ergonomics rule was repealed. Washington State citizens will not tolerate an out of control agency that disregards the will of the voters and its laws.


    Tom McCabe
    Executive Vice President

    P.S. Why didn't you fire the staff that promulged the ergonomics rule? I warned you they would create mischief which is exactly what they're doing with the WRD. [Oh hell, why don't you just shoot them and get it over with.] (Emphasis and comments added)

    Initiative 841 supporters

    Sounds like maybe it's time to raise another million dollars for a referendum that makes it a crime for any state official to even think about ergonomics. The only explanation I can come up with is that McCabe is off his meds and must be getting bored with no ergo bogey-man to fight, having killed the goose that laid his golden egg, and is trying to recreate a reason to exist.

    Now I admit that I haven't seen a draft of the new directive. And while it's entirely possible (knowing the subversive scoundrels that drafted the ergonomics standard) that it defies the law, reinstates the standard, declares a workers' state and seizes the means of production, I doubt that it's likely to be much more than a revision and clarification of the original post-referendum directive issued last December which was written to provide "guidance to WISHA enforcement and consultation staff whenever they must address issues involving WMSD hazards and potential ergonomics solutions."

    If ergonomic issues come to the attention of WISHA inspectors,

    they must not initiate (or expand) inspection activity. The allegations or other information must be referred to Senior Program Manager of WISHA Policy & Technical Services, who will provide appropriate direction based on the specifics of the situation.
    If an employer asks for guidance, the repealed standard can be

    used as a guide to identifying potential hazards and areas of concern, but consultants must make it clear that the rule has been repealed and that none of its specific provisions are required.
    Yup, sounds pretty subversive to me. Time to go out and raise more money.

    Oh and Tom, if the men in the little white suits show up at your door, they're there to help you.

    Monday, August 09, 2004

    DuPont’s Teflon Armor Wears Thin

    I wrote last month about DuPont allegedly covering up worker exposure and environmental contamination caused by a chemical used to make Teflon. The EPA is proposing millions of dollars in fines against the company for not notifying EPA that it had detected the chemical in the drinking water of communities surrounding its plants.

    Yesterday, the New York Times carried an additional article about the problem. DuPont’s got several problems. First, the production of Teflon is extremely profitable:
    For DuPont, the controversy could hamper plans by its chairman and chief executive, Charles O. Holliday Jr., to shed the company's slow-growing businesses - including the unit that makes nylon and Lycra, both of which it invented - and focus instead on faster-growing businesses like genetically engineered seeds, soy-based products and electronics. While the company invests in those areas, it is banking on steady profits from products like Teflon.

    Teflon-related products contribute at least $100 million in profit annually, according to company reports and court documents - almost 10 percent of the company's 2003 total. DuPont has been pushing its Teflon-branded materials (known as fluoroproducts) for new uses - such as a built-in stain repellent for fabrics and a spray-on cleaning product - and has identified new markets, including China, for expansion. The company has invested $50 million to expand Teflon production and $20 million on an advertising campaign in the United State
    Which is probably the reason that the company went to such lengths to cover it all up:

    The class-action lawsuit, filed in Wood County, W.Va., the home of the Washington Works plant where DuPont has made Teflon for decades, has turned up a series of documents that DuPont had sought to shield as proprietary information. The latest came to light in May, when the West Virginia Supreme Court voted unanimously to unseal several DuPont memorandums from 2000 in which John R. Bowman, a company lawyer, warned two of his superiors - Thomas L. Sager, a vice president and assistant general counsel, and Martha L. Rees, an associate general counsel - that the company would "spend millions to defend these lawsuits and have the additional threat of punitive damages hanging over our head."

    He added that other companies that had polluted drinking water supplies near their factories had warned him that it was cheaper and easier to replace those supplies and settle claims than to try to fight them in court. And those companies, he noted, had spilled chemicals that did not persist in the environment the way that PFOA does. "Our story is not a good one," he wrote in one memorandum. "We continued to increase our emissions into the river in spite of internal commitments to reduce or eliminate the release of this chemical into the community and environment because of our concern about the biopersistence of this chemical."

    Another document summarizes the company's strategy for deflecting the PFOA issue and litigation. It offers various suggestions for improving credibility with employees, the community and regulators, such as "keep issue out of press as much as possible" and "do not create impression that DuPont did harm to the environment."

    Local officials said the memorandums - with the E.P.A.'s action and recent tests that found increasing PFOA levels in their water - confirmed their fears.

    "We've been exposed since at least 1984," said Robert Griffin, general manager of the Little Hocking Water Association, which serves about 4,000 homes in rural Washington County, Ohio, directly across the Ohio River from DuPont's Washington Works plant. "The community could have dealt with it back then, but DuPont saw fit not to inform us."

    In June, Mr. Griffin included a warning in his annual water quality report to customers. It stated, in bold capital letters, that until the issue was resolved, "You are drinking this water at your own risk."

    And like Starbucks (see below), DuPont has an image to protect:
    At the very least, the Teflon flap could damage DuPont's well-polished image. The 200-year-old company, based in Wilmington, Del., prides itself on its corporate values, and Mr. Holliday is a high-profile advocate of socially responsible business. "In the chemical industry, the critical thing is not only investor perception, but consumer trust," Mr. Pisasale said. "That can be very hard to build back."
    Guess they should have thought about that before they decided to cover up information like this:

    In the 1980's, a DuPont study of female workers exposed to the substance found that two out of seven women gave birth to babies with facial defects similar to those observed in the offspring of rats that had been exposed to PFOA in another study. In its complaint, the E.P.A. charged that DuPont had also detected PFOA in the blood of at least one of the fetuses and in public drinking water in communities near DuPont plants, but did not report that it had done the tests.

    A Double Mocha Latte, and Hold The Ergo

    Workers at Starbucks in New York are attempting – so far without success – to organize a union. And one of the major issues:
    The worst problem that baristas suffer, some say, is the repetitive motion injuries because of the movements they make when making coffee.

    Anthony Polenco, a barista at the Starbucks store at Madison Avenue, said he hurts constantly from working the espresso machine.

    "I suffer from pains in my wrist all the time," said Polenco, who led the union drive with Gross. "Sometimes hot milk will splash on me. Some days I can't move my wrists." However, he said he has not filed a workers' compensation claim.

    A former Starbucks manager on Long Island, who asked not to be named and who is pursuing a workers' comp claim against the company, had to undergo surgery for tendinitis.
    Other issues include low wages ($7.75/hour and raises are paltry) and difficulty in getting benefits (You have to work more than 20 hours a week.)

    Starbucks has a progressive image as a customer and worker-friendly company:
    Three years ago, Starbucks had to pay $18 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from managers charging that the company wrongfully denied them overtime pay. This past June, two Starbucks managers from Boca Raton, Fla., filed a lawsuit against the company for similar reasons.

    But even some industry analysts say that employee dissatisfaction could hurt Starbucks' image.

    "Scandal can do real damage to companies with powerful brands," said Nancy Koehn, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. "Today's consumer not only wants to know about the company's product, but how it is run."

    Despite several requests from Newsday, Starbucks spokeswoman Audrey Lincoff said Schultz and other executives were not available for comment. She also declined to make baristas available to talk on the record about conditions of their work. However, Lincoff did say Starbucks is "pro-partner." Starbucks refers to its employees as partners because they have the opportunity to buy equity in the company.
    It’s an image that they are reluctant to lose, although it’s becoming increasingly tarnished:
    Three years ago, Starbucks had to pay $18 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from managers charging that the company wrongfully denied them overtime pay. This past June, two Starbucks managers from Boca Raton, Fla., filed a lawsuit against the company for similar reasons.

    But even some industry analysts say that employee dissatisfaction could hurt Starbucks' image.

    "Scandal can do real damage to companies with powerful brands," said Nancy Koehn, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. "Today's consumer not only wants to know about the company's product, but how it is run."

    Despite several requests from Newsday, Starbucks spokeswoman Audrey Lincoff said Schultz and other executives were not available for comment. She also declined to make baristas available to talk on the record about conditions of their work. However, Lincoff did say Starbucks is "pro-partner." Starbucks refers to its employees as partners because they have the opportunity to buy equity in the company.

    Safety & Health Train-the-Trainer Program

    The George Meany Center for Labor Studies will hold a six-day "train the trainer” program on workplace health and safety for union activists, staff, and local union health and safety representatives who would like to teach their membership about workplace health and safety issues. The course uses a participatory popular education approach.

    Participants will learn the fundamentals of workplace health and safety, with a focus on the topics below. They will also learn how to teach or facilitate classes on these subjects for other union members. Specific topics to be covered include:
    • Worker and Union Roles in Workplace Safety and Health

    • Identifying Hazards in the Workplace

    • Legal Health and Safety Rights of Workers and Unions

    • Record keeping (OSHA 300 Log) Requirements

    • Introduction to Ergonomics

    • Effective Health and Safety Committees
    The course will be held February 20-25, 2005 and will cost between $1015 and $1120 which includes a single room for six nights (Saturday - Thursday) and all meals (cost per person for a double room is $745 to $880). Financial assistance is available.

    For more information, contact Sharon Simon at GMC-NLC, (301) 431-5414, or e-mail her at ssimon@georgemeany.org.