Sunday, January 30, 2005

Weekly Toll

Worker killed in hit-and-run on beltway

A construction worker was killed in a hit-and-run accident on the Baltimore Beltway on Saturday, Maryland State Police said. Police say the incident happened around 5:30 a.m., when a vehicle driven by a white male was reportedly traveling at a high rate of speed on the inner loop of the beltway. The left lane was closed for construction work. Message boards, signs and fluorescent barrels were positioned along the roadway.

The vehicle crashed into a truck, but the driver was able to continue before stopping the vehicle on the right shoulder. Witnesses said he got out of the vehicle, appeared to check the damage and drove away.

The victim was identified as William Ruffin, 42, of Baltimore.

Small Plane Crashes Into Coconut Creek Home Pilot Killed

COCONUT CREEK, FL-- A two-seat plane crashed into a house and burst into flames Saturday afternoon, killing the pilot, police said. No one else was injured. The pilot was the only person in the plane, said Coconut Creek police spokesman Tony Avello. The pilot's identity wasn't immediately released. The plane clipped the roof of the home owned by Steve and Traci Sandford, who both work for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

City worker killed

Independence, MO - Electrocuted while working on water plant. Independence Water Department employee Alan Lance Followwill died on the job Thursday after being electrocuted at the Courtney Bend Water Treatment Plant. The accident happened as three employees were unloading a trench box, used to reinforce ditches during utility repairs. They were operating a crane on a flat-bed truck when they came in contact with a high-voltage line. Construction equipment operator Stanley Rohrer, 50, suffered burns in the same accident, and is in a hospital. Rohrer has nearly 30 years experience on the job. A third worker on the site was not injured, and the city has withheld his name.

Wal-Mart employee was shot dead

Martin County, TX- Wal-Mart employee Megan Leann Holden, whose abduction was captured on videotape late Wednesday, was shot dead, Tyler Police Chief Gary Swindle said. The body of 19-year-old college student from Henderson was found in Martin County, West Texas. A suspect is a man, about 20 to 25 years old, in a dark coat fixed on videotape loitering around the front Wal-Mart entrance "for a good period of time," police spokesman Don Martin said. Surveillance video "shows Megan getting into her truck and the [man] running up behind her and either hitting her or pushing her," Martin reported. "Then the vehicle drives off."

IOSHA to take part in investigation of worker’s death

Ft Wayne, IN- The Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration will join an investigation into the death of a 24-year-old New Haven man in an apparent construction accident Wednesday. Todd Lee died of blunt force trauma to the head when he fell from atop a Carmike Theater complex under construction near Dupont and Diebold roads about 4 p.m., Allen County Coroner E. Jon Brandenberger ruled. Lee’s death was an accident, the coroner said. Lee was working near the roof line of the building when he fell about 30 feet to the ground. Fellow workers told authorities they saw him hit his head at least twice as he fell.

Man killed in construction accident identified

Centreville, VA- Police identified a 39-year-old Centreville resident Thursday as the man killed in a construction accident in Lake Manassas. Aristides Chavarria, of 14225 Saint Germain Drive, was killed Wednesday when a trench wall collapsed and buried him, said Detective Dennis Mangan, Prince William police spokesman.

Man killed in farm accident

Greeley, CO- A 25-year-old Loveland man died Thursday afternoon in a front-end loader accident at the M and J Dairy at Weld County Road 7 and Colo. 60 west of Interstate 25 near Johnstown, according to the Weld County Sheriff's Office. The man, identified as Matthew Slaschenriem, had the loader scoop in the air and got out in front of the tractor to work on a hydraulic line when the bucket collapsed on him, according to Weld County Coroner's Office

Slaschenriem died at the scene.

WAYNE VA-- Reports show Dwight Ferguson died within minutes after crash. West Virginia State Police on Friday said a preliminary report from the State Medical Examiner’s office reveals that a man whose body was found inside a wrecked cargo van nearly 15 hours after it crashed had died within five to six minutes of suffering a head injury. Debra Vernick, the mother of the victim, Dwight Ernest Ferguson, 21, of Wayne, said that finding is unacceptable to her and others who knew her son. "I won’t believe that," Vernick said. "(State authorities) are covering their own hind ends. I am convinced he was alive and trying to get out."

Newport News Restaurant Killed During Robbery

VA-A Newport News restaurant worker is dead after officials say she was shot during a robbery Friday night. Police have charged 30-year old Terrance McCoy Carter of Smithfield with first degree murder. Police say Carter robbed the George's Restaurant at 19th Street and Jefferson Avenue around 7:30pm. According to authorities, there were three employees in the restaurant at the time of the robbery. No customers were present. Yong Cha Kim, 57, gave Carter some money, then police say he shot her once in the head.

Industrial accident kills Easton man

Easton, PA--Atlantic States plant, facing trial on work environment, has third mishap in a week. A 41-year-old Easton man died Thursday night at Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Co. in Phillipsburg, the latest in a series of accidents, some fatal, at the foundry that federal prosecutors have described as a dangerous workplace. Investigators from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the United Steelworkers of America were at the plant Friday collecting information on the death of Thomas Lawlor, of the 1200 block of Elm Street. Phillipsburg police said Lawlor was hit by an 18-foot pipe weighing more than 700 pounds. The pipe rolled off a rack he was near shortly after 6 p.m., police said. He died at Warren Hospital, Phillipsburg.

Store clerk shot and killed

Bishoop, CA- Shooting at Bishop's Meadow Farms Liquor leaves longtime employee dead; suspect arrested at scene. The manager of an area liquor store is dead and authorities are investigating the second firearm-related homicide in three years following a bizarre shooting Wednesday afternoon. Longtime Meadow Farms Liquor employee David A. Pettet, 50, of Bishop, succumbed to "numerous" gunshot wounds yesterday that the Inyo County Sheriff's Department says he received during an altercation with a man at the North Sierra Highway store.

Worker electrocuted while changing light bulb

Chicago, Ill- An electrician was electrocuted Saturday while changing a light bulb in a sign at an Uptown gas station, police said. Awhan Coksakalli, 36, of the 6100 block of North Kenmore Avenue was standing on a ladder about 1:50 p.m. at the Uptown Service Station, 4900 N. Broadway, when a co-worker noticed that he was shaking, said Chicago police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak. The co-worker lowered Coksakalli to the ground, and a nurse passing by attempted CPR, Kubiak said. Coksakalli was pronounced dead at Weiss Memorial Hospital, said a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner's office. A death investigation was continuing.

2 Pr. William Workers Die at Building Sites

Prince William County, VA-- Two Prince William County construction workers were killed yesterday in separate accidents -- one crushed when her truck ran over her, the other buried in a collapsed trench, authorities said. In the first incident, which occurred shortly before 8 a.m. on an excavation site for a housing development near Dumfries, Shelby Blosser, 56, of Luray, Va., was doing maintenance on her six-wheel dump truck when it unexpectedly began to roll, authorities said. Several hours later, in the Lake Manassas subdivision near Gainesville, a construction worker was digging a trench for a plumbing pipe to a new home about 1:30 p.m. when one of the trench walls collapsed, entombing him instantly, Taylor said. Prince William County police spokeswoman, 1st Sgt. Kim Chinn, said police would release the man's name once his family has been notified.

Jackson-area firefighter killed in house fire

SUMMIT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- A third-generation firefighter died Thursday morning after he was trapped inside a burning house in Jackson County. Three other firefighters were hospitalized after suffering smoke inhalation. Summit Township fire Capt. Scott Thornton, 39, was pronounced dead at Foote Hospital in Jackson, the township said.

Radio Shack Offers Reward In Employee Murder Case

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Radio Shack Corp. has announced it is offering a $25,000 reward in a Birmingham murder case. The electronics retailer said the public's assistance is needed in finding the person or persons responsible for Sunday's shooting death of 20-year-old Justin Campbell. Lt. Henry Irby, a police spokesman, said Campbell was closing up the business on Huffman Road when someone shot him in the back of the head. The victim's father found him hours later. He said there have been no arrests or charges filed in the case.

Man Dies While Removing Mobile Home Damaged By Hurricanes

LAKE WALES, Fla. -- A construction worker was crushed while operating a backhoe as he removed a mobile home that was damaged in the hurricanes that pounded Polk County last year. Authorities say 49-year-old Terry Danner of Haines City was pinned between the backhoe and another piece of construction equipment at Lake Wales' Green Acres Mobile Home Park. A manager at the mobile home park said Danner said the hurricanes that hit Polk County had severely damaged the mobile home and that Danner was helping his brother's hauling company tear it down. Danner's death appears accidental, but deputies are waiting for the report from an autopsy that will be conducted Thursday for confirmation.

Worker killed by track hoe in Cape

Cape Coral, FL- The Cape Coral accident happened at about 1:52 p.m. when the bucket of a track hoe crushed Augustin Yanez, 34, police spokesman Angelo Bitsis said. Track hoes are large machines with a bucket attached to mechanical arms. The bucket moves up and down. Yanez, 34, was pronounced dead at the scene, Bitsis said. Investigators haven't been able to confirm his address.

Conductor in steel company rail yard killed by train

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio - A longtime employee of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. died Monday at the company's North Plant after being hit by a train in the rail yard. Kenneth Cesaro of Wintersville was a conductor on the trains that carried material among the steel plants. He had been with the company for 33 years.

Company spokesman James Kosowski said the accident happened shortly after noon while Cesaro, 54, was pulling a lever beside a track to change an oncoming train's direction. The company and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the incident.

Man's death investigated

GREENVILLE, MI-- When Marge Bush caught glimpses of her son-in-law, Jonathan DeGood, looking at her daughter, she saw the love that people search for in life. "It was an uncontrollable and undeniable love," Bush said Tuesday as she tried to comfort Sarah DeGood in the wake of her husband's death Monday. "John loved and cherished Sarah. It was great to see that. I'll miss it, and I know she will, too." Authorities are investigating if DeGood, a 25-year-old from Greenville, died from carbon monoxide poisoning or another cause after he was discovered in a Cascade Township warehouse Monday.

Worker dies in fall off apartment roof

A 33-year-old subcontractor from Ohio died Tuesday after falling from the roof of apartments being constructed along Leforge Road and Railroad Street, Ypsilanti Police said. Joseph P. Kennedy of Columbus was working on the roof and apparently slipped and fell, according to a police investigation. Attempts to resuscitate Kennedy were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Kennedy's relatives were notified and went to the hospital.

Worker dies in fall from New Canaan roof

NEW CANAAN -- A 47-year-old construction worker died Sunday when he fell 30 feet from a wooden plank while framing the roof of a house in New Canaan, police and neighbors said. Antonio Assis of Danbury was standing on the plank with another man when their weight dislodged it, sending Assis plunging to the ground at 17 Wardwell Drive shortly before 3 p.m.

Coast Guard Searches for 4 Missing in Sea

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Two fishermen were killed and four others were missing in the choppy Bering Sea after two separate accidents on the opening day of the dangerous snow crab season.

The 92-foot Big Valley and the 134-foot Sultan went out after snow crab amid stormy seas and up to 40 mph winds. The Kodiak-based Big Valley sank Saturday 70 miles west of St. Paul Island, about 750 miles west of Anchorage.

Three crewmen found by helicopters Saturday were wearing bulky survival suits, but two of them died. Cache Seel, 30, of Kodiak, was treated at a Saint Paul hospital after he was found floating in a life raft.

Kodiak resident Gary Edwards, the skipper and owner of the Big Valley, was aboard the vessel and among the three missing, Seel told authorities, said Coast Guard Lt. Charter Tschirgi. There were believed to be six men aboard.

Also missing was a crewman washed off the Sultan 150 miles northwest of St. Paul Island. Alaska State Troopers identified him Sunday as Manu Lagai, 33, of Spokane, Wash. Lagai was wearing only rain gear, not a survival suit, when he went overboard, said trooper spokesman Tim DeSpain.

From 1991 to 1996 in Alaska's crab fisheries, 61 people died, with most of the fatalities occurring when boats were operating in heavy weather, according to a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Possible suspect quizzed in motel worker's death

HILLSIDE, IL-- Police were questioning a possible suspect in the death of a Hillside motel employee early Monday, according to police. The employee, Vinodbhai Patel, 63, was found in the parking lot of the Hillside Manor Motel, 4740 Roosevelt Rd., around 3 a.m. by police who were sent there in response to a call from the motel, said Frank Alonzo Jr., chief of the Hillside Police Department. Patel was taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he was pronounced dead shortly before 4 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner. An autopsy indicated Patel, whose address was not available, died of a head injury resulting from a homicide, according to an examiner's office spokesman. Alonzo said a decision would be made Tuesday on whether to file charges.

Rig deaths investigated

ODESSA, Texas - The latest was a 90-foot fall from the Big Dog Rig No. 14 on Jan. 8 that killed Brian Harrison, 24, of Odessa, said OSHA Assistant Area Director Scott Ketcham. Harrison died at a remote well site in Upton County, said Sheriff Dan Brown. An autopsy was ordered, the sheriff said. Fred Rabe, Big Dog's safety manager, said he did not know the cause of the death. "We're waiting on the investigation (results) and, really, waiting on the rest of the investigations because we've not seen any investigation results as of yet," he said.

FDNY seeks answers in deaths

Long Island, NY- FDNY seeks answers in deaths. Firefighters crammed into their bulky protective gear had been wrestling with a frozen fire hydrant and an intermittent water supply when a roar of flame on the third floor of a Bronx tenement forced several firefighters on the fourth floor out a window, two of them, Fire Lieutenant Curtis Meyran, 46, and Firefighter John Bellew, 37, to their death. The Brooklyn incident unfolded so rapidly that a chief from the 44th Battalion was calling in a second alarm for more units as he heard a "Mayday" distress call from a firefighter on the second floor. That Firefighter, Richard Sclafani, perished. Another firefighter, critically injured, was found in the basement. One officer at the scene radioed the dispatcher to have the hyperbaric chamber at Brookdale Medical Center ready.

Fire official stricken at blaze dies

RENSSELAER -- Rensselaer Ambulance response queried after Micheal Falkouski's apparent heart attack. An assistant fire chief has become the city's first line-of-duty death, felled by an apparent heart attack early Sunday morning as he responded to a two-alarm blaze, officials said. Assistant Fire Chief Micheal Falkouski died Monday morning at Albany Memorial Hospital, just over 24 hours after he was stricken at about 2:45 a.m. Sunday.

Hundreds gather to honor fireman, friend and father

Olympia,WA- Life of firefighter Mark Noble remembered with laughter and tears. The title Olympia firefighter Mark Noble chose for a safety video about the high risk of cancer for firefighters is "You need it like a hole in the head." In the last of many causes he took on in his 47 years, Noble tackled the issue of firefighter safety with his characteristic combination of lightheartedness and ardor. The 800 or so firefighters and friends of Noble who saw the video's first public showing at Noble's memorial service Monday laughed and cried alternately as they recalled a man whose keen sense of humor was what drew them to him. Noble died Jan. 15 of a form of brain cancer linked to the toxins he breathed as a firefighter. His illness was deemed occupational under legislation enacted the month before his May 2002 diagnosis. In the three years since then, Noble fought to advance safety standards for fire departments everywhere to protect more firefighters from breathing in the kind of carcinogens that brought on his tumor.

Three killed in Perth Amboy explosion

PERTH AMBOY, N.J. -- Three men died and a fourth was critically injured when a highly flammable fuel they were handling exploded at an industrial site Tuesday morning. The men, who were thrown several yards from the loading dock where they were transferring acetylene into small tanks, worked for Acetylene Service Co. The blast was felt in Staten Island, N.Y., according to some reports. Ten other workers at the warehouse in an industrial complex near Route 440 were not harmed. The men were transferring acetylene from large tanks into hundreds of smaller tanks that were in three tractor trailers when a hose leaked and one of the smaller cylinders blew up, said fire Chief Larry Cattano. A cause of the leak was not immediately known, he said. Acetylene is a colorless, flammable gas widely used as a fuel in welding and cutting metals. Killed instantly were Enio Perez, 32, and Pablo Morillo, 29. German Gonzalez Vasquez, 46, was pronounced dead at University Hospital in Newark. The injured man, Giovanni Pena Gomez, suffered traumatic blast injuries and was hit by flying debris. He was listed in critical condition Tuesday afternoon at Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center.

Searchers recover bodies in crane collapse

BRAINTREE, Mass.— Searchers sifting through rubble Thursday recovered the bodies of two workers killed when enormous steel beams came crashing down on a building at a former shipyard. The recovered bodies were identified as those of Elvis Munoz, 44, of Lawrence, and David P. May, 36, of Manchester, N.H., the Norfolk District Attorney's office said. Autopsies were planned for Friday. Several other workers were injured Wednesday when a piece of the giant metal frame that once held up to 22 shipbuilding cranes collapsed onto the building at the Fore River Shipyard, about 10 miles south of Boston on the Quincy-Braintree line. The workers had been inside the building removing asbestos.

Golf course worker dies after cart crashes into lake in Tamarac

TAMARAC, FL – A 42-year-old maintenance worker at the private Woodmont Country Club was killed Tuesday morning after his cart went into a lake on the golf course, the Broward Sheriff's Office said. Here's what Coleman-Wright said happened: Around 9:45 a.m. a small group of women were golfing near the seventh hole of the country club, which is near the intersection of Southgate Boulevard and Pine Island Road, and spotted a body floating in a small lake. One of them called 911.

Worker found unconscious at job site dies

SYCAMORE TWP. - A construction worker died Tuesday after he was found face down and unconscious at a construction site. Authorities said they do not know how Rodney H. Watkins, 38, of Lawrenceburg, died. An autopsy will be performed. Watkins was working alone on the second floor of a construction site behind Cincinnati Animal Referral & Emergency Center, 6995 E. Kemper Road, when another construction worker found him about 2:30 p.m., according to Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

OSHA to probe fatal accident in Waukegan

Chicago, IL- A federal agency is investigating the death of a construction worker hospitalized for 10 days after he was pinned between two pieces of machinery in Waukegan, officials said Tuesday. Lloyd Ainsworth, 59, of Crystal Lake died at 5:30 a.m. Monday in Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. He was injured around 8 a.m. Jan. 14 while trying to use a backhoe to jump-start a dump truck at a construction site at 180 Sea Horse Drive, according to Michael Lock, regional vice president for Sevenson Environmental Services Inc., which had hired Ainsworth through the local union.

Detective dies from crash injuries

LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. - A Lawrenceburg detective who crashed his cruiser early Tuesday while responding to a call has died, Indiana State Police said this morning. Thomas L. Cochran, 56, of Aurora was pronounced dead at University Hospital at 1:53 a.m. today as a result of injuries from the crash, a hospital spokeswoman said this morning.

Man killed in Artesia concrete plant mishap

ARTESIA, Miss. - A West Point man has been killed in a conveyor belt accident at the Holcim Concrete Plant in Artesia. Randy G. Vibrock Sr., 49, was pronounced dead on the scene at the manufacturing facility, Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant said Tuesday. Vibrock came in to work and went down into the hole at the plant, said Merchant. Plant officials suspected something was not right when Vibrock did not emerge for lunch and to relieve someone in the control room. Merchant said Holcim officials discovered that Vibrock had been caught up in a 42-inch conveyor belt. "It appears his clothing got caught in the machine," Merchant said. A toxicology test, performed as part of a standard procedure, showed there was no indication of alcohol or drug use. An autopsy will not be performed, Merchant said. Holcim (US) Inc. is one of the largest cement manufacturers in the United States.

2 teens accused of killing cabdriver

SPRING VALLEY, NY — Two village teenagers were charged yesterday with murdering a cabdriver during an attempted armed robbery last week. Valery LaTouche, 19, of 30 Columbus Ave. and Brandon L. Dixon, 17, of 4 Schevchenko Place, pleaded not guilty in village Justice Court to second-degree murder and first-degree attempted robbery in the Jan. 20 shooting of Vismick Pierre, 47, a Haitian immigrant who worked two jobs to support his girlfriend and their 3-year-old son. Police were searching for a third young man in connection with the shooting. Pierre died Jan. 21 following emergency surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital for a bullet wound to his left side that the county medical examiner said severed major arteries in his abdomen.

City employee killed unloading salt in Poughkeepsie

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. A city worker in Poughkeepsie died yesterday while unloading salt from a snowplow. Police say the 43-year-old Department of Public Works employee was killed shortly after four in the afternoon in an apparent accident at a storage shed. The man -- whose name wasn't immediately released -- was pronounced dead at a Poughkeepsie hospital.

Worker who shot three, killed himself at Jeep plant gave no hint of violence

TOLEDO, Ohio A spokeswoman for Jeep's parent company says the employee who killed a supervisor and injured two others before killing himself gave no indications "something like this would happen." The shooting took place last night at the company's plant in Toledo, Ohio. The spokeswoman says the gunman -- identified as Myles Meyers -- had met on Tuesday with his bosses and union leaders to talk about a problem at work. She says it appeared then "the issue had been resolved amicably."

City sanitation worker killed

Rochester, NY- A city sanitation worker was killed Thursday morning after he was pinned underneath his garbage truck. The accident happened around 8:30 a.m. on Highland Avenue. Michael Sanguedolce, a 21 year city employee, was driving what the city calls a one-man vehicle. City Attorney Linda Kingsley says there were other garbage trucks in the area, but no one witnessed the accident. “We had a major tragedy. One of our sanitation workers was killed this morning under his truck on Highland Avenue. I just got that news 20 minutes ago. We must certainly send our condolences to the family of the city employee who died on duty,” said Mayor William Johnson.

Fatal fall at docks

San Mateo, CA- An employee unloading cargo from a ship at the Port of Redwood City fell 25 feet to his death yesterday morning. Robert Joseph Padgett, 56, of San Francisco fell from a catwalk suspended above a ship and died when he hit the deck below, according to the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office. Padgett’s fall was the result of a broken pin in the catwalk, according to a report filed by his employer, Metropolitan Stevedore Services, to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Construction company CEO killed on the job

THE VILLAGES, FL — The 49-year-old owner of a Lady Lake construction company died Monday after falling from the top of a building being worked on in The Villages, police said. Lt. Bobby Caruthers with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office said Leo P. Steinmetz, president and chief executive officer of Steinmetz Construction and Development Inc., fell from the roof of the Hampton Inn being constructed on County Road 466. Caruthers said a witness told police that Steinmetz was hoisted to the top floor of the building by a lift crane. After that, the witness did not see Steinmetz so ran downstairs and discovered Steinmetz on the ground with severe injuries. Emergency responders received a call at 2:13 p.m. Monday, and arrived to find Steinmetz bleeding from the nose and mouth and covered in massive bruises, Caruthers said.

Batesville man killed in Izard farming accident

Salem, AR- An Independence County man was killed Jan. 17 in a farming accident at the Johnny Branscum chicken farm on Highway 177 near Dolph. Gabriel Ayala, 24, was crushed between a forklift and a long bed trailer filled with caged chickens. Ayala was rushed from the Branscum farm to the Community Medical Center in Calico Rock where he was pronounced dead at 2:06 a.m.

T worker killed by Orange Line train identified-2 others injured at Wellington

MEDFORD, Mass.-- An MBTA worker was killed Thursday night when he and two co-workers were hit by an inbound Orange Line train while they were clearing snow from tracks at the Wellington station in Medford. Signal engineer Obioma Nna, 46, of Framingham, was killed. Michael Mason, 53, of Halifax, and Peter Lee, 46, of Wakefield, were injured when the train hit them around 7 p.m., T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. A weekend blizzard, followed by a midweek storm, had dumped more than two feet of snow on the region.

Employee killed in forklift accident at company in Elkridge

Elkridge, MD- A PERI Formwork Systems Inc. worker was killed Wednesday after a forklift ran over him at the concrete-forming company in Elkridge, according to the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Agency. An employee was operating a forklift about 2:20 p.m. at 7141 Dorsey Run Road and apparently did not see Steven Francis Wall, 45, of the 200 block of Thomas Manor Lane in Forest Hill, and ran over him, said Linda Sherman, an agency spokeswoman.

Steelworker dies after accident

LORAIN, OH -- A female steelworker died from injuries suffered in an industrial accident yesterday afternoon at Republic Engineered Products Inc., according to the coroner and mill officials. Velma Burnette, 47, of Lorain, who was working in the bar mill in the east portion of the plant, had massive trauma after being trapped by a load of steel, according to rescue workers who responded to the accident.

Dump truck kills worker

Annapolis, MD- A 31-year-old construction worker was killed yesterday after he was crushed beneath the wheels of a dump truck in Annapolis, city police said. The accident happened at 3:15 p.m. at a construction site at Forest Drive and Hicks Avenue. Jose Alfredo Lopez of Silver Spring was pronounced dead at the scene.

Pr. George's Cabdriver Dies of His Wounds

Edmund Sowah was disciplined, his colleagues said yesterday -- a quiet and humble man who worked many hours a day. As one of 600 cabdrivers in Prince George's County, he was accustomed to the grueling shifts, the late-night rides from one dangerous street to another... Sowah is the second cabdriver slain in seven months in Prince George's. In July, Arshad Mahmood, also 45, was killed on an Oxon Hill street. He also was found inside his taxi, its engine running. He had been dispatched moments before the 11 p.m. shooting to the Southern Avenue Metro station, on the District-Prince George's line. That case has not been solved.

Woman shot dead; co-worker charged

ROCKLAND, MN - A woman was shot to death Friday and her husband dodged bullets outside their trucking business after a lunchtime meeting to end her romantic relationship with a company driver, police said. The driver, Douglas Dyer, 31, of Friendship, fled in his pickup truck moments after Allison Small, 30, of Vinalhaven collapsed on a snow-covered parking lot outside the building at 61 New County Road. Her husband, Brandon Small, 28, was shot at but escaped injury and called police.

Boiling Springs Lake officer killed during traffic stop

BOILING SPRINGS LAKE, N.C. - A police officer was shot with his own weapon and killed early Tuesday when a struggle ensued after he learned the driver he stopped was wanted on a probation violation, authorities said.

Officer Mitch Prince, 36, was killed during a traffic stop on N.C. 87 shortly after 1 a.m., said Boiling Springs Lake police Chief Richard White.

Ceres police officer dead, second wounded in gunbattle

CERES, Calif -- One police officer is dead and a second in critical condition after a gun battle in the community of Ceres (SEER'-eez) last night.

Ceres police say Sergeant Howard Stevenson died from injuries he suffered during the exchange of fire outside a supermarket around 8:30 last night. Officer Sam Ryno suffered several gunshot wounds and is critical condition at an area hospital.

Brothers Appear In Court Over Fatal Stabbing

HONOLULU -- Two brothers charged in a deadly Waipahu stabbing made their first appearance in court.

Edilberto Tagari has been charged with second-degree murder. His brother, Enrico Tagari, was charged with hindering prosecution.

Police were called to Island Landscaping and Maintenance Thursday night when an employee stabbed and killed a fellow co-worker, Ronal Balon, 26, according to police.

Questions Remain Unanswered In Death of Fallen Texas Firefighter

BAYTOWN, TX — The questions that remain about the house fire that killed Baytown firefighter Nito Guajardo Dec. 20 will likely be answered, but not soon, said state fire officials.

Guajardo died while fighting a fire at a County Club Oaks home on the Monday before Christmas. The cause of the fire and how Guajardo died are still unknown.

FATAL STORE SHOOTING; $100,000 in jewelry gone;

Glenn Head, NY -- The man who fatally shot an employee inside an upscale Glen Head jewelry store Tuesday afternoon escaped with more than $100,000 worth of merchandise, Nassau police said yesterday.

An inventory revealed that assorted jewelry, most of it diamond rings, was missing from J&J Jewels on Glen Head Road, said Det. Lt. Dennis Farrell, commanding officer of the Homicide Squad. Detectives believe the robber must have had some sort of bag to carry the jewelry as he fled after firing several rounds at Thomas Renison, 48, of Glen Cove, the store owners' son-in-law.

Renison, the father of two teens, suffered five bullet wounds to the chest area, all the rounds striking vital organs, Farrell said. He was pronounced dead at North Shore University Hospital in Glen Cove about a half hour after the shooting, which took place at 4:30 p.m.

Lincoln man killed in construction accident near Norfolk

Lincoln, NE -- A Lincoln man was killed when a co-worker driving a dump truck accidentally ran him over in a construction area north of Norfolk, the Nebraska State Patrol said.

David Zavala, 42, was removing debris from a roadside Tuesday afternoon when a co-worker backing up a dump truck accidentally ran him over, the patrol said.

The Pierce County attorney's office was investigating the accident, which happened six miles north of Norfolk near the junction of U.S. Highway 81 and state Highway 13.

Worker dies after falling from roof

Moreno Valley, CA -- A Rialto construction worker died Saturday after he fell off a roof while on the job in Moreno Valley, the Riverside County coroner's office said. The man was identified as Santos Escanuela, 54.

The roof was under construction at a housing-tract site at Camino Del Rey, officials said. Officials did not release any further information about the location.

Gas station clerk slain in robbery identified

New Orleans, LA -- A clerk who was killed Saturday during the robbery of an eastern New Orleans gas station was identified Sunday by the Orleans Parish coroner's office.

An autopsy showed that L.J. James, 56, of New Orleans died of a single gunshot wound to the head, said John Gagliano, the coroner's chief investigator.

Three men entered the Chevron station at 10422 Chef Menteur Highway on Saturday about 8:30 p.m., demanded money, shot James and fled with an undisclosed amount of cash, police said.

Neighborhood Mourns Slain Store Owner

Beverly Hills, CA -- Two people carrying guns and wearing masks barged into a liquor store near the Beverly Center on Saturday, killing the owner with a gunshot to his face, surveillance footage released by police showed.

The armed robbery took place about 8:45 a.m. at the St. Regis Liquor store at 3rd Street and Orlando Avenue.

Police said the robbers, who were dressed in black, demanded money before killing Jae Yang, 59, of Oxnard, who had been standing behind the counter helping a customer.

2nd driver sought in fatal crash

Pasco, FL -- The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for a dark-colored coupe thought to be involved in an accident that killed a Pinellas County construction worker on Monday.

The victim, Brian Kearns, 50, was reaching into a toolbox on a road striping vehicle about 2:10 p.m. when a Dodge Neon SRT traveling south on U.S. 19 crossed three lanes of traffic and struck the construction worker.

Two hours later, Kearns died of the injuries he sustained in the crash. He was among a group of construction workers hired by the state Department of Transportation to stripe a stretch a highway, south of Sealawn Drive in Spring Hill.

Michelle Mayberry of United Rental Highway Technologies, where Kearns worked, said he could not say how long Kearns was employed by the Clearwater company and declined to talk about Monday's accident.

Big Rig Rolls Forward, Traps and Kills Owner

Orange Country, CA -- A man was crushed by his big rig Monday when he started the engine and the truck rolled forward, trapping him against a block wall, police said.

The accident killed Gary Morner, 55, of Orange about 6:30 a.m. in the 500 block of Batavia Street, said Sgt. Dave Hill.

Police said that after Morner leaned inside the driver-side window to start the ignition and then got in front of the truck to work on it, the truck rolled forward. He had apparently left the truck in gear and failed to set the brakes.

North Dakota man electrocuted at oil pipeline site

Trenton, ND -- A backhoe struck an unmarked electrical line at an oil pipeline site, electrocuting a worker, Williams County officials say.

Brian Loken, 45, of Bowman, died at the scene late Friday morning, Capt. Bob Stancel said.

The backhoe was unearthing the pipeline for maintenance when it struck the electrical line just northeast of the MonDak Bridge, about 10 miles southwest of Trenton, Stancel said.

"Loken was outside the trench and went to investigate what struck and was electrocuted," Stancel said

Trains collide, cause fatality

Riverside, CA -- A crew member was killed and at least four others injured when two trains collided head-on in dense fog Friday morning east of the Salton Sea, officials said.

The collision resulted in the derailment of five locomotives and seven rail cars.

Initially, it was reported that none of the injured, all crew members, sustained life-threatening injuries, although one had to be transported from the crash site by helicopter, authorities said. Kenneth Leonard, 44, of Monrovia was pronounced dead at 5:30 p.m. at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, according to a Riverside County sheriff-coroner news release.

Four charged in killing of newspaper deliveryman

Atlanta, GA -- Four suspects have been arrested in the killing of a 27-year-old man who was fatally shot while delivering newspapers in DeKalb County.

Ulice Carl Walker was found dead shortly after 5 a.m. Saturday in his SUV, which had careened off the road and hit a tree. Walker was delivering papers for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time.

Investigators visiting Sherwin plant U.S. officials notified within hour of death

Corpus Christi, TX -- Work safety investigators are expected to return to the Sherwin Alumina plant in Gregory following the death of a contract worker killed in an accident Thursday and their initial visit on Friday.

Ronald Benavides, 36, was one of a three-man crew that was cleaning a lime slacker tank, a tank that holds a lime solution used at the plant.

Steve Hutchins, investigator for the San Patricio County Sheriff's Department, said the caustic material is in a fluid form most of the time, but when the liquid drains, it solidifies. Benavides was using a high-pressure water hose to take the solidified material off the tank.

"They took the door off the bottom of the tank and left the door off during the night to get some of the product out," Hutchins said. "The next morning, Benavides was shooting (the water) into the door trying to break up the product when it broke loose and came out all at one time."

Hutchins said Benavides was knocked off his feet and fell under some valves and pipes, where he was submerged in the hydrated lime slurry.

Heavy machinery accident is fatal to man

Sallisaw, OK -- A Sallisaw man who was operating a 60-foot "skyboom" was killed Tuesday morning when the piece of heavy equipment fell off a wrecker.

Ricky Alan Smith, 24, was pronounced dead at the scene, state troopers said.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported that a 1989 Simon 60-foot skyboom, operated by Smith, was being loaded onto a wrecker that had a 36-foot tilt trailer while it was parked on private property about 10 miles north of Vian in Cherokee County.

As the skyboom was being loaded, a chain holding the tilted trailer broke. The trailer fell back to the wrecker's frame, causing the machinery on it to bounce.

Smith was thrown from the boom's lift bucket onto the ground, and the boom landed on him when it bounced a second time, troopers reported.

LeRoy man killed farm accident near Adams

ADAMS, Minn. - A 39-year-old LeRoy man died in a farm accident when a skid loader slid onto him at his brother's rural home near this southeastern Minnesota town.

Gary Gerard Smith was pinned under the machine when he was found about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday by his brother, Ricky Smith, 42.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said Gary Smith was not breathing and didn't have a pulse when he was found. Ricky Smith performed CPR, she said.

Stronger Inspection and Monitoring by OSHA Recommended In Meatpacking Plants

Following on last week's Human Rights Watch report concerning the hazardous working conditions in meatpacking and poultry processing plants, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report confirming those conditions and has recommended that OSHA improve its inspection programs and monitoring of conditions in these plants.

The GAO report describes what has become a familiar litany of hazardous conditions in these workplaces:

The type of work performed and the plant environment expose workers to many hazards. The work is physically demanding, repetitive, and often requiresworking in extreme temperatures—such as in refrigeration units that range frombelow zero to 40 degrees Fahrenheit—and plants often have high turnover rates.Workers often stand for long periods of time on production lines that move veryquickly, wielding knives or other cutting instruments used to trim or remove portions of the carcasses. Conditions at the plant can also be loud, wet, dark, and slippery. Workers responsible for cleaning the plant must use strong chemicals and hot pressurized water to clean inside and around dangerous machinery, and may experience impaired visibility because of steam.

Meat and poultry workers sustain a range of injuries, including cuts, burns, and repetitive stress injuries, and while, according to BLS, injuries and illnesses in the meat and poultry industry declined from 29.5 injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers in 1992 to 14.7 in 2001, the rate was among the highest of any industry. Similarly, though not comparable with these data because of recent changes in OSHA’s record-keeping requirements, statistics for 2002 indicate that injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry industry remain high in relation to those of other industries.


According to BLS data on injuries and illnesses, in 2002, meatpacking plants recorded an average annual injury and illness rate of 14.9 cases per 100 full-time workers; sausages and other prepared meats plants recorded a rate of 10.9 cases; and poultry plants recorded a rate of 9.7 cases. The average annual injury and illness rate for all U.S. manufacturing was 7.2 cases.

Some of the report's descriptions of workplace injuries and fatalities are quite graphic:

Workers can also be cut by their own knives during the butchering and cutting processes. For example, according to an OSHA publication, one worker in a meatpacking plant was blinded when the knife he was using to pick up a ham prior to boning slipped out of the ham, striking him in the eye. The report also described an incident in which another worker’s face was permanently disfigured when his knife slipped out of a piece of meat and struck his nose, upper lip, and chin. In another incident, according to OSHA, a worker who attempted to replace his knife in the scabbard hanging from his belt missed the opening and pushed the knife into his leg, severed his femoral artery, and died.

Forty-two percent of workers in the plants are Hispanic (up from 25% in 1994) and 26% are foreign born non-citizens. One agency official estimated that up to 25 percent of workers in meatpacking plants in Nebraska and Iowa were "illegal aliens" [sic].

Aside from its general observations about the hazards of life in meatpacking plant, the report raises a number of important issues concerning the accuracy of employer injury and illness records that need to be addressed by OSHA, not just in this industry, but others as well.
Because of the many hazards inherent in meat and poultry plants and the type of work performed, the dramatic decline in the industry’s injury and illness rates has raised a question about the validity of the data on which these rates are based. Several factors can affect the rates of injury and illness, such as an emphasis on safety by employers or employees, the amount and quality of training, employee turnover rates, and the speed of the production line.
The main problem addressed by this report are the holes in OSHA's targeting system, known as the Site Specific Targeting (SST) program. As OSHA can't visit every workplace every year, the idea behind SST is to target the most dangerous workplaces. Under SST, OSHA attempts to target companies for inspection based on the relative hazard of the industry in belongs to, and the company's specific injury and illnesses statistics. All of these injury and illness statistics are self-reported by the employer. There are several problems with this system that have been well known inside and outside of OSHA, but are nicely documented in this report.

  1. The employer is only required to report injuries, illnesses and fatalities for employees who work for that specific employer. The problem is that meatpacking and poultry processing plants (like other parts of American industry) are increasingly contracting out the jobs of workers who clean the plants, one of the most dangerous jobs in the factories.
    Because these workers are not employees of the plant, their injuries and illnesses are recorded by the companies for whom they work rather than on the plants’ injury and illness logs. As a result, OSHA does not consider all injuries and illnesses in selecting meat and poultry plants for inspection. This is a significant oversight because, according to OSHA officials, experts, and researchers, these workers incur high rates of injury and illness and often sustain more serious injuries than production workers. According to information in OSHA’s inspections database, between 1998 and 2003, at least 34 contract cleaning and sanitation workers employed in meat and poultry plants sustained serious injuries or were killed. However, because these injuries were recorded as occurring in another industry, none of the injuries were reflected in the meat and poultry industry’s injury and illness rates.
  2. The second major problem identified by the report is that OSHA doesn't keep track of trends in individual companies, so that the agency is not able to evaluate the accuracy of reports from companies that show dramatic declines in injury and illness numbers from one year to the next. As mentioned in a recent article on injuries and fatalities in the steel industry, there is suspicion that because low injury and illness rates significantly reduce the likelihood of an inspection, companies have an incentive to underreport injuries and illnesses. In addition, although OSHA audits recordkeeping accuracy at a number of worksites every year, few of these are at meatpacking or poultry plants.

  3. OSHA does not assign a unique identifier to each site it inspects or audits, making it difficult for the agency to monitor trends or the reasons for improvements in any individual company. OSHA is unable, for example, to match the injury and illness data it collects from employers to data on inspections and employer participation in its cooperative programs.

    In a March 2004 report, GAO criticized OSHA for its lack of comprehensive data on its cooperative programs — such as their relative impact on worksites’ safety and health —which makes it difficult to fully assess the effectiveness of these programs, despite the substantial amount of resources that OSHA devotes to these program.

GAO makes a number of recommendations to OSHA, including looking more closely at sites that report significant decreases in injury and illness numbers, requiring companies to report multiple years of data, as well as injury and illness data on employees who work cleaning and sanitation contractors, and giving plants unique identifiers to enable OSHA to better evaluate the effectiveness of enforcement and cooperative programs. The GAO also recommended that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) perform a study on the effect of line speed on the health and safety of workers in meatpacking and poultry processing companies.

Responding to Industry

The report provides an interesting and timely answer to the American Meat Institute's (AMI)response to the Human Right Watch Report.

Human Rights Watch accused the meatpacking industry of under-reporting injuries. AMI responded that "The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) closely and regularly monitors the record keeping of employers to ensure that injuries are reported." The GAO, however, criticizes OSHA because in 2003, only 5 of the 200 worksites selected for OSHA recordkeeping audits were meatpacking plants; in 2004, 10 were meatpacking plants. GAO concludes that "OSHA is not doing enough to verify the accuracy of the data that meat and poultry plants report, considering the dramatic decreases in this industry’s reported injury and illness rates."

AMI also criticizes the Human Right Watch report for claiming that workers are forced to work at “unprecedented volume and pace.” Not so, says AMI:

Line speeds, which are monitored by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, have not changed appreciably in 15 years, and are engineered to ensure that the amount of work reaching an employee is appropriate and safe.
Actually, notes the GAO:

Line speed is regulated by USDA to permit adequate inspection by food safety inspectors. According to USDA, when the maximum speeds were originally set and when they are adjusted by the agency, the safety and health of plant production workers is not a consideration.
Also of interest is the report's description of problems that unions are having in the industry, especially in light of the AMI's contention that "Many workers have decided to remain non-union because they see little value in union membership."

Industry consolidation has been accompanied by significant changes in the relations between organized labor and the management of meat and poultry plants. According to a report by USDA’s Economic Research Service, in 1980, 46 percent of workers in the meat products industry were union members, a figure that had remained stable since the 1970s. However, by the end of the 1980s, union membership had fallen to 21 percent. Declining rates of unionization coincided with increases in the use of immigrant workers, higher worker turnover, and reductions in wages. Immigrants make up large and growing shares of the workforces at many plants. Labor turnover in meat and poultry plants is quite high, and in some worksites can exceed 100 percent in a year as workers move to other employers or return to their native countries. The frequent movement of immigrant workers among plants and communities limits the opportunities of unions to organize meat and poultry workers.

UPDATE: Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), who requested the GAO report, made the following statement:
“The failure to obtain needed information about these injuries is inexcusable and shows the weakness of the Bush Administration’s casual approach to worker safety. OSHA should track this data carefully, restore reporting of ergonomics-related injuries, and increase the number of inspections in this dangerous industry.

“We also need action by other agencies. I commend HHS for acknowledging the need to study line speed injuries and I urge it to begin this project immediately. OSHA and USDA should provide needed training to USDA inspectors, who are frequently in these plants. We should use their expertise to strengthen both worker safety and consumer safety.”

Saturday, January 29, 2005

How NAFTA Failed To Protect Workers and What Is To Be Done

In case anyone tries convince you that even if NAFTA is bad for American workers, it's good for foreign workers, ask them to read these reports.

The Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network has released a report, NAFTA’s 10 Year Failure to Protect Mexican Workers’ Health and Safetyon the 10th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its “labor side agreement,” the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC). According to Garrett Brown, author of the report and coordinator of the Network,
The NAALC has been a particular failure for Mexican workers,who were told that the NAALC would “protect, enhance and enforce basic workers’ rights.”


Not a single illegally fired worker was reinstated, not a single independent union has been established and bargained collectively, not a single workplace hazard has been corrected as a result of NAFTA and the NAALC.


There are several causes for the failure of the NAALC to ensure,let alone enhance, enforcement of Mexico’s health and safety regulations. These include the failure to recognize and address Mexico’s economic context, which directly undermines the necessary political will, limits government resources, and fuels corruption.
The procedures of the NAALC itself lack transparency, worker and public participation, and accountability.
Brown notes, however, that there have been some gains as a result of the agreements, but the gains have been made not by the responsible government agencies, but by the workers themselves and non-governmental organizations:
These gains include greater awareness of occupational health and safety issues in some Mexican workplaces, broader knowledge of government regulations and enforcement procedures among some Mexican workers, and unprecedented cross-border solidarity and joint activities between workers, unions, women’s groups, environmentalists and occupational health professionals.
The main solution is massive debt relief for developing country, because with the mountain of debt they are living under, "protection of workers’ health will always come second to economic necessities."

The second report, Why NAFTA Failed and What’s Needed to Protect Workers’ Health and Safety in International Trade Treaties describes how trade agreements that actually benefit workers can be structured.

The optimal setting to protect workers’ health and safety in the rapidly changing global economy would be workplaces with informed and empowered workers active in enterprise health and safety programs and committees, backed by genuine management commitment and adequate resources, in a country with comprehensive regulations meeting international standards, effectively enforced by a government with political will and sufficient human, financial and technical resources.

Such a setting does not exist anywhere in the actual global economy, but steps can be taken toward achieving this goal.

Steelworker Deaths and Injuries on the Rise

Velma Burnette, 47, of Lorain, Ohio, a steelworker at Republic Engineered Products Inc., was killed Wednesday after being trapped by a load of steel. Ironically, that same day, an article appeared in the Wall St. Journal (subscription required) discussing the recent rise in fatalities and accidents in the steel industry after a decade of declining injuries and deaths.
The United Steelworkers of America says at least 15 deaths, compared with four deaths in 2003, were reported for 2004 in union and nonunion steel-related operations. Another safety gauge -- injuries per man hour worked -- also increased last year after a four-year decline, according to figures supplied by the American Iron and Steel Institute, which represents North American steelmakers, including U.S. Steel.
Observers cite a number of factors. The steel companies and the United Steelworkers have signed new contracts recently giving the companies more flexibility to move workers around to different jobs where they may have less experience. Meanwhile, many experienced workers took advantage of early retirement offers at the same time the demand for steel has been increasing.
"With the turnover in the steel industry, there are a lot of people doing jobs they have never done before," says Mike Wright, director of safety and health for the steelworkers union.

Those less-experienced workers arrived just as steel demand picked up, prompting steelmakers to ramp up production quickly. U.S. steel production rose 7% in 2004 to 104 million tons, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Economists say higher production means more hours worked and more chances for accidents and fatalities.
Some company responses have been appropriate.
Bayou Steel Corp. in LaPlace, La., added a laser-activated, automatic rail car shut-off after worker Ed Theriot, 50 years old, was crushed to death by a moving rail car in April. After a fatality in June, International Steel Group gathered 40 safety representatives from unions and salaried staff and came up with new procedures, safety videos and a quarterly newsletter.
On the other hand, some companies continue to fall back on the same old "blame the worker" philosopy for the rise in incidents.

Herbert Tolman III was killed Sept. 21 at U.S. Steel's Gary works plant, when his crew was replacing a 28-inch, 800-pound steel wheel on an overhead crane. The jack slipped, and the crane dropped, sending the wheel into Mr. Tolman, 39, according to a U.S. Steel report on the accident.

The company says the crew failed to follow correct procedures, including standing clear of the jack and using blocks under the crane to stabilize it. Two of the six-member crew were fired, one received a five-day suspension and another resigned rather than face disciplinary action.

The union is filing grievances on behalf of some of those employees. People within the union say Mr. Tolman was relatively inexperienced as a crew chief and had been told to work faster. Mr. Tolman also was working 20 to 30 hours of overtime each week as a motor inspector, according to his wife.

U.S. Steel spokesman John Armstrong says in most accidents, workers are experienced and are aware of safety procedures but don't follow them.

Meanwhile, according to an investigation by Occupational Hazards magazine, "the number of steel facilities reporting [to OSHA] a lost workday injury and illness rate of zero jumped from just two in 1999 to 23 in 2001."
Increasing automation and safety improvements may account for the rise in facilities with a zero LWDII rate, but according to Mike Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers of America, inaccurate recordkeeping also could be a factor. In an interview, Wright said that the underreporting of injuries and illnesses is a problem he "runs into every day and it afflicts even our best programs."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Undocumented Immigrant Workers: What a Deal!

Jonathan Bennet at NYCOSH forwarded me this article about a couple of crazy legal decisions. Two undocumented immigrant workers who were severely injured on construction sites sued the owner of the sites and others "under New York Labor Law Section 240, which provides that an owner or contractor may be liable when a worker is injured on a construction site due to a failure to provide proper safety protection."

Juries found in favor of the workers (one winning more than $2 million dollars for pain and suffering, as well as $96,000 for past and future lost earnings based on what he would have been able to earn in the United States), but the appeals court ruled that because the workers were undocumented, they should "only be awarded damages for lost earnings based on the prevailing wage in the alien’s country of origin."

The decision was based on the Supreme Court’s 2002 Hoffman Plastics decision that held that undocumented immigrants were not entitled to back wages – even after being illegally fired for union activity – because their job was "obtained in the first instance by a criminal fraud." Some observers thought that the Hoffman decision meant that the workers would not be allowed to receive any award, although the court did not explain how it arrived at the prevailing wage in the worker's country of origin.

All in all, these decisions make hiring undocumented immigrants a pretty darn good deal. You can openly fire them for trying to organize a union without fear of punishment, and you can injure and probably even kill them without fear of being sued.

Not a bad deal.

Reflections on Dick Cheney's Attire at the Holocaust Commemoration

Reflections on Dick Cheney's Attire at yesterday's Holocaust commemoration:

As a health and safety professional, kudos to Vice President Dick Cheney for dressing appropriately for the weather while at work.

As a father who will never again be able to get his children to dress appropriately (if uncomfortably) for an "occasion," curses on the VP.

As a husband whose wife frequently corrects his "fashion statements," I say "You go guy!"

But as an American, I say "Wha the fuh?"
At yesterday's gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen's hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.

Statistics (And Lies, Damn Lies)

It's not enough to just know that the Bush administration lies. It's also important to understand the facts about how they're lying. Paul Krugman helps out today with a good column today about how the Bush administration is lying about how the social security system is unfair to African Americans because African American males die at an earlier age than white Americans.

In fact, under the current social security system, African-Americans fare better than whites:

Here's why. First, Mr. Bush's remarks on African-Americans perpetuate a crude misunderstanding about what life expectancy means. It's true that the current life expectancy for black males at birth is only 68.8 years - but that doesn't mean that a black man who has worked all his life can expect to die after collecting only a few years' worth of Social Security benefits. Blacks' low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood. African-American men who make it to age 65 can expect to live, and collect benefits, for an additional 14.6 years - not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.

Second, the formula determining Social Security benefits is progressive: it provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.

Finally, Social Security isn't just a retirement program; it's also a disability insurance program. And blacks are much more likely than whites to receive disability benefits.

Put it all together, and the deal African-Americans get from Social Security turns out, according to various calculations, to be either about the same as that for whites or somewhat better. Hispanics, by the way, clearly do better than either.

But it's worse than just lying; Bush's acceptance of the gaps in life expency between whites and blacks is shameful:
The persistent gap in life expectancy between African-Americans and whites is one measure of the deep inequalities that remain in our society - including highly unequal access to good-quality health care. We ought to be trying to diminish that gap, especially given the fact that black infants are two and half times as likely as white babies to die in their first year.

Health and safety news on your union website

Rory O'Neill, editor of the excellent Hazards magazine and website is announcing a new trade union health and safety news service for union websites (and blogs.)
You can now have - with the absolute minimum of effort and at no cost - the latest health and safety news provided via a newswire direct to your union website.

The free service, which provides health and safety news updated every 15 minutes, is produced by Labourstart, the trade union news service, and Hazards (edited by Rory O’Neill, the International Federation of Journalists’ health, safety and environment officer). See:

This unique resource is the single best way for you to receive health and safety news. You can also view a health and safety news archive online. See
The newswire includes the ten latest health and safety news stories. It is updated every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For an example of what the new health and safety newswire would look like on your site, just check out my right-hand column.

Pretty nifty.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What do Armstrong Williams and OSHA Have In Common?

What do Armstrong Williams and OSHA have in common? Nothing, unless you happen to live in NAM-World with NAM Vice President Pat Cleary who writes NAM Blog. (NAM is the National Association of Manufacturers)

Armstrong Williams, as you might know, is the conservative African-American columnist and pundit who is currently being investigated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for possibly breaking the law by failing to disclose he was paid by the Bush administration to plug the president's "Leave No Child Behind" agenda. Williams has a syndicated talk show, writes a newspaper column and is a frequent guest on CNN. (Tribune Media Services has since dropped Williams's column.)

So what could this possibly have to do with OSHA? According to Cleary, OSHA did "precisely" the same thing in 2000 when
the agency paid over 20 witnesses $10,000 each to come testify in favor of its flimsy ergonomics regulation. In contrast to what the Department of Education just did, this was not run through any GSA filter, the money was just doled out to allies ("cronies" has such a pejorative connotation) of the Administration and the rule.
Cleary is shocked, SHOCKED that,
the only reporter who found it a little, uh, aromatic was John McCaslin of the Washington Times, who ran a piece on it. Not one of his brethren in the Fourth Estate found this the slight bit unseemly or newsworthy when in fact it stunk out loud.
That's probably because it wasn't unseemly or newsworthy. (And it's hardly a surprise that the only newspaper in America to take the allegations seriously was the "Moonie" Times.)

Cleary's description conjures visions of Clinton's OSHA head Charles Jeffress delivering suitcases of money to slimy characters in darkened parking garages.

The real story is not quite that exciting: When OSHA holds hearings on proposed standards, it hires experts who are knowledgeable about the science, feasibility and other issues on which OSHA has based its proposal. We're talking about OSHA hearings not just in the Clinton Administration, but in every administration -- Republican and Democratic -- since OSHA was created. Furthermore, OSHA solicits quotes and then signs government contracts with the experts, complying with all applicable government rules. In the case of ergonomics, because it was so controversial, the contracts were given extra scrutiny by OSHA attorneys. Pretty boring stuff.

So, is there a difference between the government hiring a columnist to secretly shill for a controversial government program, and openly hiring witnesses at a public hearing? And were both situations equally cloaked in secrecy? Cleary may have missed the line on the ergonomics hearing agenda titled "OSHA Expert Witnesses." But I don't recall any subtitles or disclaimers on Armstrong's columns or television shows noting that he was a paid "Department of Education Contractor."

I'd accuse Cleary of comparing apples to oranges, but that would be too kind. This is more like comparing apples to elephants.

Now we could just chalk this up to Cleary's ignorance, except that he knows better. In a previous incarnation, during the Bush I administration, Cleary worked at the Department of Labor, which oversees OSHA. As this is the first administration in OSHA's history that hasn't issued a major standard, Cleary's tenure at the Department most likely coincided with OSHA standard hearings -- in which OSHA paid experts to testify.

But, of course, this isn't about the ethics of the Clinton administration, or an alleged witchhunt against Armstrong Williams. It's all about NAM's continuing crusade against the long-deceased ergonomics standard. You see, while OSHA was in the final stages of issuing the ergonomics standard, congressional Republicans and business opponents of the standard (including NAM), having failed to convince serious observers that work was unrelated to musculoskeletal disorders, they resorted to a drummed-up "scandal" alleging that OSHA had dishonestly paid off cronies to back the standard.

Republicans even launched an investigation into OSHA's alleged ethics violations, harassed OSHA's witnesses, sent threatening letters demanding draft copies of their testimony, e-mails, notes and anything else that might be "relevant." Nothing untoward was ever found, of course, but they succeeded in possibly intimidating future witnesses and giving a few Congressmen and Senators another reason to vote against the standard.

Oh, one more interesting note. On Tuesday, February 1st, OSHA will launch public hearings into a proposed standard to protect workers against cancer and other health effects caused by hexavalent chromium. (The standard is being issued under court order) After lunch on the first day and continuing into following day, testimony will be given by "OSHA Witnesses" from Sciences International Inc, Environ Health Sciences Institute and Shaw Environ Inc.

And I'll bet they're not there on their own dime.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Around the Blogs

Went to a Washington Wizards game tonight. They won. (In fact they're actually having a good season.) Which is my way of telling you that I've had no time to write tonight. So I'll let someone else do the work for awhile:

Workers Comp Insider discusses a survey of restaurant workers that conjures Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. Pay's lousy, now health insurance, no paid vacation and no paid sick leave. And then there's "very difficult working conditions: hot kitchens, slippery floors, aging equipment. Discriminatory practices are rampant. If workers miss time due to illness or family emergencies, they are usually fired. The turnover rate is very high."

Brooklyn Dodger explains why noise kills.

Dispatch from the Trenches, Nathan Newman (here and here), Chris Bowers, Pacific Views, In These Times all talk about the trials and tribulations of the labor movement.

Effect Measure discusses the Bush Administrations Clear Lies Skies environmental program and how they think that mercury is good for us.

Suburban Guerrilla points us to the list of the 10 Worst Corporations of 2004. One of them is McWane corporation which was just in the news yesterday for killing yet another worker, Dow Chemical for continuing to own up to its responsibility for Bhopal, and of course Wal-Mart.

Hazards reports on a study showing that long hours at work lead to car crashes on the way home.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

All US Has To Offer Meat and Poultry Workers Is 'Blood, Sweat and Fear'

Now this is appropriate framing: Poor workplace safety conditions as a human rights violation, as opposed to just an inevitable cost of doing business.

"Workers in the U.S. meat and poultry industry endure unnecessarily hazardous work conditions, and the companies employing them often use illegal tactics to crush union organizing efforts," according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, a private group that operates worldwide defending human rights.

The 175-page report, “Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants,” shows how the increasing volume and speed of production coupled with close quarters, poor training and insufficient safeguards have made meat and poultry work so hazardous. On each work shift, workers make up to 30,000 hard-cutting motions with sharp knives, causing massive repetitive motion injuries and frequent lacerations. Workers often do not receive compensation for workplace injuries because companies fail to report injuries, delay and deny claims, and take reprisals against workers who file them.

“A century after Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, workers in the meatpacking industry still face serious injuries,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. “Public agencies try to protect consumers from tainted meat, but do little to protect workers from unsafe conditions.”

The report looked at hog, poultry and beef plants run by Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc. and Nebraska Beef Ltd. In addition to safety problems, the report fround that the "companies frequently deny workers' compensation to employees injured on the job, intimidate and fire workers who try to organize, and exploit workers' immigrant status in order to keep them quiet about abuses,"

The report called for companies to stop engaging in anti-union campaigns and for the the United States government to provide workers with the right to organize unions with harassment. The government should also provide rights and labor standards to all workers regardless of citizenship status. The report recommended that:
New federal and state laws should reduce line speed in meat and poultry plants and establish new ergonomics standards to reduce repetitive stress injuries. Health and safety authorities should apply stronger enforcement measures. States should develop stronger worker compensation laws and enforcement mechanisms.
Not true, says the American Meat Institute. Meat plants are safe, all injuries are reported, pay is good, workers are happy, and they don't want to join unions "because the workers see little or no value in union membership, given the wages being offered industry wide."

UPDATE: More stories on the report here:

Welcome to the Slaughterhouse Jungle : Human Rights Watch reports on OHS standards
by Katherine Stapp, Inter-Press Service

Meat Packing Industry Criticized on Human Rights Grounds

Meat worker safety criticized
by Reuters

Work Conditions at 3 Meat Plants Draw Fire
by AP, Kansas City Star

Rights group takes meatpackers to task
BY STEPHEN FRANKLIN, The Chicago Tribune

US meatpacking industry under fire
by Jeremy Grant, Financial Times, UK

Rights group targets Smithfield Foods
by Chris Flores, Hampton Roads Daily Press, VA

Meat plant in Bladen criticized
By KRISTIN COLLINS, News & Observer, NC

Report Finds Meatpackers Abuse Immigrants

Another McWane Death

Thomas Lawlor, 41, an employee of Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Co, died from blunt chest trauma when a pipe weighing several hundred pounds fell on him Thursday night.

The death came as managers from the foundry were preparing for a September trial on charges that they sacrificed the health and safety of employees in the name of production.

Federal prosecutors said the managers ruled the iron pipe company with an iron fist, tampering with evidence at accident scenes, intimidating workers into lying to safety investigators and discharging pollutants into the river.

Among the examples they cited: A worker who died in 2000 after being run down by a forklift with faulty brakes, an employee who lost three fingers using a cement mixer that had its safety guard removed and another who was allegedly ordered not to see a doctor after being scalded by water.

However, in December 2003, workers at the foundry told a Star-Ledger reporter that safety improvements had been made.

Atlantic States is a subsidiary of McWane Industries which was the focus of a 2003 NY Times/Frontline series about the high number of workplace injuries and fatalities at that company's facilities. McWane was indicted in December 2003 in New Jersey for conspiring to violate workplace safety and environmental laws, as well as "obstructing government investigations by lying, intimidating workers and altering accident scenes."

More here.

Your "Regulation" is my "Protection"

It's no secret that this administration doesn't much like regulations, especially those that might limit the "freedom" of companies to do whatever they want to enhance the business climate, even if a few people get hurt, poisoned or killed along the way. That's the price of progress, after all.

Washington Post regulatory columnist Cindy Skrzycki reports today on the Office of Management and Budget's annual report on the costs and benefits of regulation:
Released just before Christmas, it lists 189 rules in the manufacturing sector that 41 different groups suggested were ripe for tweaking, removal or a new approach. That makes the report a prime source of intelligence on the priorities of Bush rules overseers.
That's the good news. The bad news is that businesses realize that the destruction of our protections thorugh regulatory "relief" is a potential house of cards, built on Executive Orders and regulations that could easily be undone should those radical worker loving, tree hugging, anti-business Democrats ever come into office again. So OMB is consulting with certain business associations about how to make these controls permanent by changing them into laws.

Almost amusing (in a horror movie kind of way) are some of the regulatory "improvements" suggested by industry:
On the latest wish list, for example, Deere & Co. asked that all government regulatory activities be privatized, including the development and enforcement of rules. It also wants the Environmental Protection Agency to involve business and industry coalitions in its rulemakings. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers wants the EPA to rethink its "unrealistic goal" of cleaning up all groundwater. The American Furniture Manufacturers Association asked for changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act rules. NAM said that the Interior Department should tighten its procedures for listing endangered species because they are inhibiting its ability to conduct business.
There are lots more goodies.

What's the purpose of all of this? According to John Graham who heads OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs:
"Our goal is to help business and workers become more productive and competitive while safeguarding public health and the environment. Heavily regulated sectors, such as manufacturing, health care and transportation will receive priority attention."
It's going to be a long four years.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

First, Kill The Historians

Writing in the Nation magazine, University of California, Irvine Professor Jon Wiener takes up the case of historians Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner who are being harassed by the chemical industry for their book Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution.

I wrote about this last November when the Chronicle of Higher Education first broke the story. The most unbelievable part is not that the chemical companies trumping up charges of "unethical conduct" against Markowitz and Rosner, but that they're also harassing the experts who peer reviewed their book.

In an unprecedented move, attorneys for Dow, Monsanto, Goodrich, Goodyear, Union Carbide and others have subpoenaed and deposed five academics who recommended that the University of California Press publish the book Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner. The companies have also recruited their own historian to argue that Markowitz and Rosner have engaged in unethical conduct. Markowitz is a professor of history at the CUNY Grad Center; Rosner is a professor of history and public health at Columbia University and director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia's School of Public Health.

The reasons for the companies' actions are not hard to find: They face potentially massive liability claims on the order of the tobacco litigation if cancer is linked to vinyl chloride-based consumer products such as hairspray. The stakes are high also for publishers of controversial books, and for historians who write them, because when authors are charged with ethical violations and manuscript readers are subpoenaed, that has a chilling effect. The stakes are highest for the public, because this dispute centers on access to information about cancer-causing chemicals in consumer products.
The book deals with a number of issues, but the chapters of most concern to the companies are those that extensively document how the chemical industry spent years covering up and lying about the hazards of vinyl chloride, a widely used chemical known to cause cancer. Most of the documents that Rosner and Markowitz uncovered came as a product of the discovery process in a case handled by a local attorney, Billy Baggett Jr., who was working with the widow of a former chemical plant worker who had died of angiosarcoma of the liver -- a rare cancer linked to vinyl chloride exposure. (The documents can be viewed here.)

I have spent a great deal of my career attempting to build coalitions between environmentalists and workers. One of the arguments we always used to encourage environmental organizations to support worker struggles was the fact that most environmental pollutants start out in the workplace before they hit the general public. And the health effects are generally first seen in workers, society's canaries. The case of vinyl chloride was a prime example. In fact, the companies were perfectly willing to admit that vinyl chloride was an occupational hazard; what really scared them was the possible effect on the general public:

The question about the chemical companies and the health risks of vinyl chloride is the classic one: What did they know, and when did they know it? Rosner and Markowitz used the Baggett materials to show that in 1973 the industry learned that vinyl chloride monomer caused cancer in animals--even at low levels of exposure. Since vinyl chloride was the basis for hairspray, Saran Wrap, car upholstery, shower curtains, floor coverings and hundreds of other consumer products, the implications for public health were massive. Yet the companies failed to disclose that information about cancer to the public and to the federal regulatory agencies.

The bigger issue for the companies stems from the role of vinyl chloride monomer as a propellant in aerosols in the 1950s and '60s. In 1974 the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency asked for the recall of hairsprays (along with insecticides and other aerosols) that were still on the shelves with vinyl chloride monomer as the propellant--one hundred products in all. No one has studied whether people who worked in beauty parlors, or women who used hairspray, have had higher rates of cancer. But the industry started worrying in the early 1970s that the liability problem could be bigger than that for workers in chemical plants. The problem was "essentially unlimited liability to the entire US population," as one chemical company supervisor wrote in a 1973 memo. Hairspray was a particular concern.
And what's the point of going after peer reviewers?

Blanche Wiesen Cook, Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, former vice president for research of the AHA, award-winning biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt and one of the historians who were deposed, called it "harassment to silence independent research" and an effort to create "a chilling effect on folks who tell the truth."
And being deposed by industry hired guns is no tea party:

Markowitz's deposition lasted five and a half days. He said, "You face fifteen or sixteen lawyers, none of whom like you, and all of whom are trying to trick you." Cook's deposition took only an hour, but it was "an hour of battering and legal tricks, and the goal was to trip you up and get you confused," she said. "They kept asking me how long I had known Gerry Markowitz. I said, 'Are you asking if I had an affair?' They said, 'No, why are you asking that?' I said, 'Where I come from, that's the implication of your question.' They said, 'Where do you come from?'" This seems pretty far from the question of vinyl chloride and cancer
Weiner points out that companies are going after historians for a good reason:

Rosner and Markowitz are part of a larger trend in which historians are appearing in court more often as expert witnesses. One reason is the growing number of cases in which companies are being accused of wrongdoing based on evidence that workers and consumers are suffering illness and disability because they were exposed to asbestos, lead, silica or other chemicals. In every case, the exposure began decades ago, and thus in every case, the central legal question is a historical one: When did the companies first learn of the health dangers posed by their products? At what point in the past can they be held responsible?
Finally, I've written recently about the current campaign by the Bush administration, Congressional Republicans and American industry to push "tort reform" through Congress. "Tort reform" would essentially remove from chemical, drug companies and other companies the threat of any serious penalty for producing dangerous products -- even when they lied and hid the evidence. Such "reform" is particularly dangerous because those same companies and politicians are dismantling our regulatory agencies at the same time they're threatening citizen's right to sue.

The harassment of Markowitz and Rosner is also
a consequence of the failure of governmental regulatory agencies to act. Now, in an era of Republican domination, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, originally created to protect the health of workers and the public, tend to be industry-dominated. As a result, the courts have become, in the words of Rosner and Markowitz, "one of the last venues where workers and communities might find some form of justice."
This case reminds me of the aftermath of the ergonomics hearings in 2000. OSHA hired expert witnesses to support its proposal, just as the agency had done for previous standards during Republican and Democratic administrations. Republicans in Congress, at industry urging, suddenly got it into their heads that this was somehow unetical and sent threataning letters to the witnesses demanding documents, e-mail, notes and any other material related to their testimony. The purpose, of course, was not to gain any useful information (which they did not), but to harass the witnesses, making it less likely that OSHA would be able to attract experts in the future.

On a personal note, I'm just about to finish Deceit and Denial and I highly recommend it. It documents not just the lies behind vinyl chloride, but also the same lies behind the hazards of lead. It's fascinating history and reads more like a John Grisham novel than an actual historical work. Unfortunately, it's all too real, and it's not ancient history; OSHA's vinyl chloride hearings took place only thirty years ago, and as shown by the current events, the industry has not left its dirty tricks behind. There are undoubtedly some juicy stories for future historians being written as we speak.