Monday, February 28, 2005

The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution: New Deceit and Denial Website

I've added a new link over on the left (no pun intended) for Deceit and Denial, a new webpage designed to rebut the attacks on David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz's fine work Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution. I frequently reference this fascinating (depressing and infuriating) book that documents decades of corporate cover-ups of the health effects of lead and vinyl chloride on workers and the public.

In a desperate attempt to defend themselves against lawsuits by the victims of their poisons, the vinyl chloride industry is currently attacking and attempting to discredit Rosner and Markowitz (as well as their peer reviewers!).

According to the website, Deceit and Denial
was unusual in a number of respects, including the fact that a number of the chapters on the two primary cases were based on documents historians rarely if ever use in critical evaluations of corporate behavior. These documents were internal company correspondence, memos and minutes of meetings of both the lead and chemical industry trade associations and some of their member companies. The extensive cache of documents we gathered had become available during the previous number of years through legal proceedings in cases involving injured children, consumers and workers.

The book used documents gathered during the “Discovery” phase of various lawsuits against the lead and chemical industries, including the member companies of the Lead Industries Association (LIA) and the Manufacturing Chemists Association (MCA), (today renamed the American Chemistry Council), and its member companies.


Here we provide the reader with Scranton’s expert report [defending the vinyl chloride industry], our response, reviews of our book by the academic community, and a link to websites that provides historians with access to a selection of documents from the chemical industry papers. Because one of the key accusations is that we inadequately and inaccurately documented our statements in Deceit and Denial, we will be posting on this site the documents we used in our footnotes for the scholarly community to evaluate. In the meantime, we encourage the reader to visit two other sites where an extensive selection(10,000 pages) of these and other documents about the vinyl chloride story are available here and here.
Check it out. This is today's front line of the ongoing battle to force the chemical industry to take responsibility for the damage it has caused, and hopefully to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.

Oh, and while we're on the subject, buy and read the book. Don't let the extensive documentation turn you off. It reads like a novel, a tragic novel.


Private Prison Health Care: The Business Is A Success, But The Patients Died

Turning government services over the private sector is always better, always more efficient, I mean, it's a no brainer:
Brian Tetrault was 44 when he was led into a dim county jail cell in upstate New York in 2001, charged with taking some skis and other items from his ex-wife's home. A former nuclear scientist who had struggled with Parkinson's disease, he began to die almost immediately, and state investigators would later discover why: The jail's medical director had cut off all but a few of the 32 pills he needed each day to quell his tremors.

Over the next 10 days, Mr. Tetrault slid into a stupor, soaked in his own sweat and urine. But he never saw the jail doctor again, and the nurses dismissed him as a faker. After his heart finally stopped, investigators said, correction officers at the Schenectady jail doctored records to make it appear he had been released before he died.

Two months later, Victoria Williams Smith, the mother of a teenage boy, was booked into another upstate jail, in Dutchess County, charged with smuggling drugs to her husband in prison. She, too, had only 10 days to live after she began complaining of chest pains. She phoned friends in desperation: The medical director would not prescribe anything more potent than Bengay or the arthritis medicine she had brought with her, investigators said. A nurse scorned her pleas to be hospitalized as a ploy to get drugs. When at last an ambulance was called, Ms. Smith was on the floor of her cell, shaking from a heart attack that would kill her within the hour. She was 35.

In these two harrowing deaths, state investigators concluded, the culprit was a for-profit corporation, Prison Health Services, that had moved aggressively into New York State in the last decade, winning jail contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with an enticing sales pitch: Take the messy and expensive job of providing medical care from overmatched government officials, and give it to an experienced nationwide outfit that could recruit doctors, battle lawsuits and keep costs down.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

NTSB Takes Another Look At Death of Denise Bogucki

I wrote earlier this month of the National Transportation Safety Board's report on the death of Denis Bogucki. The report had blamed Bogucki for her own death, stating that she had chosen to use the incorrect equipment to push back an airplane from a gate, causing the accident that pinned her against a plane. The union objected, saying she had been using the only equipment available, and that she shouldn't have been working alone. Virginia OSHA cited the company, Northwest Airlines, and Northwest instituted changes, including requiring two people for pushbacks.

Now, citing "new information," the NTSB is taking a second look at the Bogucki's death. The board said on its Web page that the "investigation is currently being reevaluated due to new information." Board officials declined to comment further.
The report states that she used a tow bar that was too short for the tug she was driving.

But the union contends that she was using the only equipment Northwest provided to do the job.

"You don't put out false facts on an accident," said Bob Bennek, safety and health director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Air Transport District 143, which includes Norfolk.

Jeanne Earley, Bogucki's mother, told The Virginian-Pilot the report portrayed her daughter "like she was some dumb thing who didn't know what she was doing."

Before she died, Northwest workers had complained that staffing cutbacks were jeopardizing safety. Staffing was not mentioned in the federal report.

Shortly after the accident, Northwest began requiring two people for pushbacks. The airline also replaced the open-cab tug used in the accident with a closed-cab one.

Still, the union contends, conditions at Northwest's Norfolk operation have not improved significantly. The station is still understaffed, officials said, and despite having a new tug, the tow bars are still the same length.

The union said that the airline has begun installing protective roll bars on all of its tugs nationwide.

"I'd say that's the single biggest thing that could have prevented her death," Bennek said.

Weekly Toll

Brooklyn cabbie found dead

WINDSOR LOCKS, NY-- A Brooklyn cab driver missing since Tuesday has been found dead in Connecticut. Police saitrenchd Mureed Hussain, 34, was found fatally shot and left on the side of the road on Wednesday. Windsor Locks police announced his identity Sunday. The state medical examiner determined he died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Worker Dies At Port Of Charleston

Charleston, SC - A longshoreman operating a shipping container truck ran over and killed a stevedore supervisor at the State Ports Authority's Wando Terminal last night. Charleston County Deputy Coroner Judy Koelpin says 32-year-old William Hughes of Mount Pleasant man died from head trauma, said. Kenneth Riley is president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422.

Man killed while dismantling tank

St. Paul,MN- A man in his mid-30s was killed Sunday when he was pinned under an abandoned steel storage tank that he and two other workers attempted to dismantle at a bakery supply company in Golden Valley, police said. The man, whose identity was not released Sunday, was dead when police arrived about 6:30 p.m. at Brechet & Richter, a bakery and food manufacturer, Golden Valley police said. The other two workers were not injured.

Pentagon Police Officer Dies from Injuries

Pentagon police officer James M. Feltis, III died at 12:40 p.m. today from complications resulting from injuries sustained in the line of duty. On Jan. 11, 2005 at approximately 8:27 a.m. a stolen vehicle that was attempting to elude a marked Alexandria police cruiser struck Feltis. The operator of the stolen vehicle turned onto the pentagon reservation and traveled the wrong way on South Rotary Rd., a one-way street, at a high rate of speed. Upon seeing the vehicle approach his location, Feltis attempted to initiate a traffic stop and was struck head on as the vehicle continued traveling at a high rate of speed the wrong way up the Route 27 on-ramp to the pentagon reservation. The 41 year-old officer, a 12-year veteran of the Pentagon Police Department, was flown to INOVA Fairfax Hospital where he was admitted in critical condition. He never regained consciousness.

Firefighter killed while battling blaze

LOS GATOS – A captain with the Santa Clara County Fire Department died early Sunday after being electrocuted by a power line at the scene of a house fire. Capt. Mark McCormack's on-duty death was the first in the department's 58-year history, according to a statement. As McCormack helped fight the blaze, he touched a live electrical wire. He was treated at the scene and pronounced dead a short time later at an area hospital.

Man Killed in Explosion at Thiokol Plant

Salt Lakecity, UT- A fire at a research building killed one lab technician and injured one other, an ATK Thiokol Propulsion official said Tuesday. Steve Watters of Brigham City died in the Monday fire, company spokeswoman Melodie DeGuilbert said. "At about 10:45 p.m., there was an explosion in the research lab where they were working,'' DeGuilbert said, adding that the cause of the blaze and explosion are under investigation.

Worker Electrocuted As Ladder Touches Power Line, Second Worker Hospitalized From Electric Shock

KENSINGTON, Md. -- One of two men whose ladder touched a power line Tuesday morning in Kensington has died. According to Montgomery County police, the 35-year-old victim was pronounced dead at a hospital. His 23-year-old colleague is in critical condition. Police said they believe the men were doing repair work at a garden apartment complex in the 3100 block of University Boulevard. They apparently were placing a ladder onto the side of the building when it touched the high-voltage line just after 9 a.m.

Woman Killed in Elevator Fall Was Immigrants' Guardian Angel

Washington DC - Officials with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry have begun investigating what happened Sunday, when Santa Lucia Mendieta, 44, a housekeeper at the Hilton Hotel in Springfield and a matriarch of sorts in the local Honduran community, fell four floors down a hotel elevator shaft. Details remained sketchy yesterday. According to Fairfax County police and David Melugin, the Hilton's general manager, Mendieta got stuck between floors in a service elevator about 11:30 a.m.

Children on farms face risks-Injury rate in Wis. hasn't declined much in recent years

Marshfield,WI- Child agricultural injuries have remained relatively constant despite advancing safety technology and public education efforts, prompting a continued emphasis on farm safety. A 9-year-old boy died during the weekend on his family's farm east of Medford. Ethan D. Erl of the town of Browning had jumped into a large feed bin because protein mix had become stuck inside, according to the Taylor County Sheriff's Department. The annual number of child agricultural injuries in the United States declined from 32,800 to 22,600 from 1998 to 2001. An injury was any condition resulting in at least four hours of restricted activity. But with fewer Wisconsin farms, the annual rate of injuries declined only from 1.7 per 100 to 1.4 per 100, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Men killed in work accidents from Litchfield, Golden Valley

MINNEAPOLIS - Two laborers who died in separate work accidents in Golden Valley over the weekend were from Litchfield and Apple Valley, authorities said Monday. John C. Lewis, 37, of Litchfield, died Sunday while his demolition crew was cleaning out an industrial building, police said. Lewis was using a cutting torch to dismantle a large steel storage tank when half of it fell on him. He died of head injuries. Nicacio Rivera, 32, of Apple Valley, fell to his death Saturday while working at an apartment building. Police said he fell three stories from a construction lift. He died from blunt force injuries.

Vapors sparked fatal explosion

Council Bluffs, IA- Vapors from an unknown source are believed to have ignited sparks from a grinder, causing an explosion that killed one man and injured three others in the Union Pacific Railcard Tuesday. Union Pacific employee Daniel J. Weinert, 46, of Omaha was killed in the explosion. The names of the three workers who were injured have not yet been released. John Bromley, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said the names of the injured are being withheld pending notification of family members.

Doomed Jet's Final Approach Analyzed, Investigators Hope Cockpit Voice Recorder Will Offer Clues To Crash

DENVER, CO -- Federal authorities investigating the crash of a corporate jet near the Pueblo airport that killed all eight people aboard said the plane's approach appeared normal until less than a minute before the crash. That's when the Cessna Citation C-560 descended 1,364 feet in 30 seconds. The pilot did not radio the control tower to say what happened, according to Frank Hilldrup, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator in charge of the crash investigation.Neither Circuit City nor the Pueblo County coroner has released their names but families confirmed that the victims included pilot Bruce Walton, 53, of Richmond, Va.; co-pilot Jeffrey Wightman, 42, of Tappahannock, Va.; Kyle Jeffrey Harmon, 26, an assistant buyer with Circuit City from Virginia; Aaron Iskowitz, also of Virginia, and Vincent Choe, 32, of New Jersey, The Denver Post reported.

North Georgia Police Officer Dies After Traffic Accident

McDONOUGH, Ga. -- A Henry County police officer driving to assist other officers on a burglary call Wednesday died after his patrol car collided with a pickup truck near McDonough. Police Lt. Jason Bolton said officers reponding to alarm call at a business found an apparent burglary in progress about 5 a.m. He said the suspects attempted to run over the officers, shots were fired and a chase ensued before three suspects were arrested. Bolton says the officer who was killed in the accident was responding to the call for additional help. The patrol car collided with the truck on Georgia 20 just east of Interstate 75. The police cruiser overturned. Police are withholding the officer's name until relatives are notified.

Clifton bakery worker crushed by truck at loading dock

CLIFTON, NJ - A 23-year-old bakery employee was crushed to death Tuesday morning by a truck delivering croissants to a building at Van Houten and Mount Prospect avenues. Eyad Abdelatif, 23, of Clifton, who works for Gourmet Desserts Outlet, was directing a tractor-trailer into a loading dock at 10:36 a.m. Abdelatif was taken to St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, where he died.

Executive dies after falling from building roof

MANSFIELD, OH -- It didn't surprise Mark Fisher's friends when they learned he died Wednesday while trying to fix a problem at work. Handling problems always was his specialty. The 47-year-old Fisher, the chief financial officer of Edge Plastics, died after slipping and falling four floors from the roof of his 250 Wayne St. business Wednesday morning.

Lakeville man killed in fall at U

Lakeville, MN- An iron worker died in a fall at a job site at the University of Minnesota. The man died Thursday morning in what appeared to be an accident at Nicholson Hall, a classroom building undergoing renovation, university police Lt. Chuck Miner said. He was identified by the university as Robin Sutter, 52, of Lakeville. He worked for Amerect Inc. of Newport, a subcontractor for McGough Construction of St. Paul, which is overseeing the renovation.

Shooting death of mayor's aide ruled homicide in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD -- By all accounts, Stephen C. Pegram was the sort of man who could help heal this troubled city: a youth worker dedicated to easing gang violence who had just begun a high-profile job as a mayoral aide. Instead, Pegram's mysterious death from a gunshot wound is adding to Springfield's grief.

Accident victim mourned - Dump truck mishap killed 'loving father'

Nevada City, CA- The family of Phillip G. McCully remembered him Friday as a loving family man and country music devotee. McCully, 65, of Penn Valley, was identified as the man who was killed in an unusual dump truck accident Thursday near Lake Wildwood. Services for McCully are pending. "He was a loving father to many people and loving husband to his wife," said son Ira McCully of Sacramento. The Nevada County Sheriff's Office said an investigator from California Occupational Safety and Health Administration was sent to the scene after McCully looked under the raised bed of the truck and it collapsed on him, crushing his head.

Man is found dead at Webster construction site

Dansville, NY— A man delivering building supplies to a construction site in Webster was killed Thursday morning when the hydraulic tilt box of his delivery truck crushed him. Police and emergency crews were called to the site about 8:30 a.m. by a passer-by who found the man pinned between the frame of the truck and the box, according to Webster Police. The incident occurred at Eastwood Estates, a housing development off Monroe Wayne County Line Road. Webster Police spokesman Lt. Joseph Rieger said Robert J. Schmitz, 56, of Dansville, Livingston County, was pronounced dead at the scene. He was delivering lumber for Matthews and Fields Lumber Co. at the time of the accident, he said.

Two Killed In Week's Second Fatal Train Crash

INDEPENDENCE, La. -- For the second time in four days, the City of New Orleans passenger train -- headed for Jackson -- smashed into a truck at a railroad crossing in Tangipahoa Parish. The latest accident happened Thursday in Independence, La. Two workmen died when the train smashed into their electric utility truck. The train carried 80 passengers and fewer than 10 crewmembers. Emergency workers evacuated the passengers, who were loaded onto buses for the remainder of the trip. Thursday's wreck was less than 10 miles from Roseland, where a man and three girls died Sunday when the City of New Orleans hit their pickup truck. Both crossings had only crossbuck signs and no warning lights.

Suspect in Detroit-area plant shooting held without bond

ROMULUS, Mich. (AP) -- A suburban Detroit paper plant worker charged with shooting the supervisor who had just fired him and a co-worker who was trying to translate for him appeared in court Sunday and was ordered held without bond. Authorities say Vanegas was fired Friday from his job as a contract worker at the International Paper Co. plant in Taylor. In response, he went to his vehicle and got a gun, then returned to the plant to confront his supervisor, Richard Grider, 44, of Wolverine Lake. Because Vanegas, a native of Honduras, spoke little English, co-worker Martha Winarto, 36, of Novi, attempted to translate the conversation between Vanegas and Grider, Sclabassi said.

A 12-year veteran Houston firefighter was killed fighting a house fire early this morning.

Six others were injured in the 6 a.m. fire at a vacant house on Brandon Street, near Texas 288 and Belfort, authorities said. Capt. Grady Burke, 39, died when the roof collapsed on him while inside the house in south Houston, said Assistant Chief Rick Flanagan.

Investigators Say Lift Operator Was Killed When Caught in Machinery

BRIAN HEAD, Utah-- A Brian Head Resort employee killed this weekend while operating a lift at the resort's Snow Tubing Park has been identified as 18-year-old Kathleen Downward. The woman was killed about 8 p.m. Saturday after becoming entangled in the lift machinery she was operating, investigators said Sunday.

Worker Dies From Fall Down Elevator Shaft

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Brevard County deputies said a worker fell more than 100 feet to his death down an elevator shaft in a cement silo. The victim -- whose name wasn't immediately released -- was found on top of an elevator car Saturday. He worked at the Rinker Materials Corp. plant. The silo is on the north side of Port Canaveral and stores cement powder for shipment from the company docks. Additional information was not immediately available.

Corrections cop kills co-worker

CALUMET CITY: Officer old investigators he thought his wife was being carjacked. Police said a Cook County Corrections Department officer killed a fellow corrections officer early Saturday morning when a prank went awry. Arlin McClendon, 36, of the 1600 block of Astor Street, was shot several times in the abdomen by a co-worker who may have mistaken McClendon for a carjacker, police said. The officer who fired the shots, whom police refused to identify Saturday, had not been charged late Saturday. "It appears this was a case of mistaken identity. The shooter believed his wife and small child were the victims of a carjacking," Police Chief Pat O'Meara said.

Calif. Storms Set Off Mudslides; 3 Dead

LOS ANGELES- Storms Pummel Southern California, Forcing Evacuations and Setting Off Mudslides; 3 Dead. Mudslides trapped people in their homes Monday and forced others to flee as Southern California was soaked by yet another of the powerful storms that have pounded the region this winter...At least three deaths were blamed on the weather and part of the area's commuter rail service was halted. In Los Angeles' Sun Valley area, a repair worker died late Sunday when he fell into a 30-foot-deep sinkhole created by the storm, said Fire Department spokesman Melissa Kelley.

Three Paramedics Die After Train Hits Ambulance

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Feb. 20) - A train slammed into an ambulance that apparently tried to get out of its path, but stopped at a rail crossing, killing all three paramedics on board. The patient in the vehicle survived, officials said. Paramedics Jeff Ferrand, 37, and John Rook, 23, died at the scene Saturday after the Union Pacific train hit the front end of the ambulance, spinning it around and ejecting the emergency workers. A third paramedic, Christopher Klingan, also 23, was taken to a hospital but later died, officials said. "Perhaps the driver saw the train coming and tried to get back, because a matter of two or three feet and there would not be an accident," Arkansas State Police Cpl. Darren Neal said. Neal said the driver apparently decided he couldn't make it across the county road crossing in rural Fulton, backed up and came only a few feet from getting out of the train's path. The ambulance was carrying a woman, Charlene Gayton, who had suffered a heart attack or a stroke. She was not hurt in the wreck, and remained in stable condition late Saturday.

Worker killed at transportation company's loading dock

GIBSONIA, Pa. - A truck driver died when he was pinned between a loading dock and a vehicle, officials said. Shawn Keast, 33, of West View, died around 11 p.m. Monday at the scene of the accident at PJAX Freight System in Richland Township, police said.

Store Clerk Shot, Killed During Robbery, Police Release Surveillance Tape

KENDALL, Fla. -- Police are searching for two people who shot and killed a convenience store clerk overnight during a robbery. Gurdeet Salujah, 42, was killed at about 11:30 p.m. Monday while working at the Marathon Gas Station on Southwest 124th Street in Kendall.

La Monte farmer dies in accident

La Monte- A La Monte man died Monday from injuries he received in a farming accident, said Pettis County Corner Skip Smith. The man was flown by Research Eagle helicopter to Research Medical Center in Kansas City, where he died at 6:10 p.m. His name was unavailable at press time. Mr. Smith said nobody else was around when the accident happened, and he is trying to sort out the details. He said he thinks a cow might have kicked the man in the head, due to the nature of the injuries and the animals found around him. Mr. Smith said the man could have fallen off his tractor, since it was still running when he was found.

Worker dies at Oakland plant

OAKLAND, CA — An employee of a West Oakland recycling plant died Tuesday afternoon when he was caught inside a piece of equipment, according to police. Douglas Espinoza, 32, was trapped inside a trash bailer, union leader Efren Alarcon said. Alarcon and the victim's brother, Rafael Roque, stood outside California Waste Solutions on Tuesday for hours after police had taken Espinoza's body away.

Trapped worker dies after rescue from tank

Houston, TX- A worker at a northeast Houston plant that recovers methane gas from landfill waste died Tuesday after he fell inside a storage container and his air mask came loose, officials said. The victim, whose identity was not released, was trapped about 3 p.m. while scrubbing a tank at the McCarty Road Landfill Gas Recovery Project in the 9600 block of Ley.

Rig investigation continues

Gillette, WI- An investigation is continuing into Monday's accident that killed a Gillette man at a soil testing rig southwest of town near Savageton officials said. Two Occupational Safety & Health Administration investigators were sent to Gillette after the accident that killed Joseph K. Laster, 26, a driller's helper for Tyvo LLC, of Gillette. "We do have people that are investigating," said Johnnie Hall, Wyoming OSHA compliance program supervisor. He could not comment on additional details of the investigation. Laster was pronounced dead at the scene after he became entangled in a driveline shaft at the site on Christensen Road about 6 miles west of Highway 50, officials said.

Truck driver killed in crash near Myrtle Point

MYRTLE POINT, Ore. -- A commercial driver from Keizer was killed early Friday morning after losing control of his truck and crashing into a bridge railing on Highway 42 near Myrtle Point, police said. The crash happened at 1:30 a.m., about three miles east of Myrtle Point at the Powers Junction. A Freightliner truck towing two trailers loaded with wood chips was traveling westbound on Highway 42 near milepost 23.5 when the trailers and cab rolled onto its side, according to Gregg Hastings with Oregon State Police. He said the vehicle slid across the eastbound lane into the highway guardrail and the cab slammed into the bridge railing. The driver, Terence Dale Little, 54, of Keizer, died at the scene.

Local businesswoman killed, Police arrest victim's brother after high-speed chase
Punta Garda, FL- Jan Deanna O'Rourke, a prominent business owner and Democratic Party organizer, was stabbed to death in her combination office and home in Punta Gorda Thursday -- and her own brother is being charged with the murder. Punta Gorda police detectives apprehended Chris J. Utermark, 44, after fleeing the home he shared with O'Rourke -- at 308 E. Virginia Ave. -- and leading police on a high-speed chase in heavy traffic along U.S. 41, according to police and witness reports. Officers found the 46-year-old woman murdered in a bedroom of their home.

N.Y. Cianbro worker killed on bridge

PITTSFIELD, NY -- A 53-year-old Cianbro Corp. employee died Thursday while building a bridge in Plainville, N.Y. The accident occurred at 10:15 a.m. as the man disassembled a temporary platform that had aided in the construction of the Plainville Road Bridge. The platform spanned the river and was being removed in sections. A second worker fell into the water, but was not injured.

Worker killed in Wise County rig accident

BOYD, Texas — The Wise County sheriff's department says a drilling site accident Thursday near Boyd left one worker dead. Authorities say Thomas Christopher Davis of Bowie was dead at the scene. Investigators say Davis and another employee apparently were working on the rig in the area of the draw works when Davis slipped and his foot was caught in a cable. Officials say Davis suffered severe injuries and died.

OSHA investigates man's forklift death

Iowa- The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death of a Colesburg man who died in an accident with a forklift he was operating at All American Homes. Steve W. Bailey, 32, was pronounced dead at the scene Monday. Employees of the local home-building facility referred questions about the incident to the plant's parent company, Coachmen Industries, headquartered in Elkhart, Ind. Declining to elaborate, a company official said that Bailey died of injuries sustained while operating a forklift at the plant.

Police: L.A. city worker shot boss over coming to work late

LOS ANGELES – The city maintenance worker accused of shooting to death two fellow employees with an assault rifle had been arguing with his supervisor after coming to work late, police said Friday. Ricardo Garris, 49, of Inglewood was one of two employees of the city Bureau of Street Services shot Thursday, said Officer April Harding of the Los Angeles Police Department. She said the other victim was a 54-year-old Sunland man whose identity will be released once his family has been notified. It's believed he was not involved in the dispute but was in the line of fire.

Douglas deputy killed in shootout

A Douglas County sheriff's deputy was killed Thursday night in a shootout at a Douglasville home that also left the homeowner dead. Deputy Blake Gammill was part of a team that had gone to the house on Ga. 5 near Amber Drive about 10:30 p.m. to arrest Jimmy Bilbo, a former county deputy who was free on bond awaiting trial on child molestation charges, authorities said.

Worker Dies In Trench Collapse

LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. -- A worker (48-year-old John Mefford) died Friday when a 15-foot trench collapsed on him, police said. It happened on a city sewer project behind Dearborn County Hospital.

The victim was working for an outside contractor, Lawrenceburg Fire Chief Randy Ebner said. His name was not released.

Co-workers dug frantically but couldn't reach the victim. Emergency crews are now working to recover his body.

More here.

Worker Dies In Fall From Cell Phone Tower When Antenna Breaks

WILSON, N.C. -- A worker died after he fell about 100 feet from a cell phone tower in Wilson County early Friday morning. Authorities said Paul Regan was working on a cell phone tower for Excel Tower Service of Wilson when he fell. Regan, 24, of the Roxboro area, was working with another man to make repairs on the tower when Regan hooked his cable belt to an antenna that snapped, causing him to fall. The standard procedure is for workers to attach their cables to the tower itself, not to antennas, officials said. Regan's co-worker saw the fall and called 911. The accident was at 5816 Lamm Road in Wilson County.

Construction worker falls to his death in Fort Wayne

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- A construction worker helping to build a movie theater fell 30 to 35 feet to his death while working on the building's highest steel beam, police said.

The 24-year-old man, who was not initially identified, was pronounced dead by paramedics, police spokeswoman Liza Thomas said.

Thomas said it was possible he might have slipped, but investigators had not determined Wednesday night exactly what happened.

Man dies of injuries from fuel tank explosion

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A mid-Missouri truck driver has died from injuries he sustained when a fuel storage tank exploded.

Arcie Sapp, 64, of Ashland, died Wednesday night at University Hospital, the Boone County coroner's office said.

The tank explosion occurred Jan. 7 at an MFA Oil Co. bulk storage facility in Marshall as crews were unloading fuel from a tanker truck into one of the aboveground storage tanks. The cause remains under investigation.

Sapp was burned over 90 percent of his body.

Planes collide in air ; Crop duster's pilot dies;

HOLLISTER, OK --An Air Force training jet and a crop-dusting plane collided in midair Tuesday in southwestern Oklahoma, killing the crop duster pilot, authorities said.

Two military pilots survived the crash at about 5,000 feet when they ejected and parachuted from the T-37 military training plane, authorities said. Two ranch hands who helped the survivors said the crop duster burst into a fireball after the crash and the jet spiraled down as the pilots parachuted.

Killed in the crash was Dierk Nash, 43, who owned a flying service in Wheatley, Ark. He had picked up a new plane at the Air Tractor factory in Olney, Texas, to fly it to a customer in South Dakota, said Kristin Edwards, vice president of sales for Air Tractor Inc. The crash occurred about an hour after Nash left the factory.

Two dead, no others injured in turnpike crash near Quakertown

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. -- Two truck drivers were killed in a fiery crash on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, state police said Tuesday.

The crash happened about 11 p.m. Monday in the northbound lanes in Lehigh County's Upper Milford Township, just over the Bucks County line from Quakertown.

Authorities said one truck was pulled over to the side of the road, but not completely off the highway, when the second truck struck it. One of the trucks began leaking diesel fuel, and a large fire broke out.

Both truck drivers were pronounced dead at the scene. No other injuries were reported.

Lehigh County Chief Deputy Coroner Paul Zondlo identified one of the victims as Lyle E. Durham, 67, of Fulton, N.Y. The coroner's office had not identified the second victim as of Tuesday morning.


A store clerk died after being stabbed last night during a robbery attempt on the North Side, Columbus police said.

Abraham Conteh, 21, died at Grant Medical Center at 8:33 p.m., said Sgt. Eric Pilya of the police homicide squad.

A suspect found with minor injuries in a nearby apartment complex is charged in the death, investigators said. Conteh was working at General Merchandise Clothing, 2557 Morse Rd., when a man tried to rob the store shortly after 7 p.m., Pilya said. Police officers found Conteh, who had been stabbed, inside.

Carbon monoxide poisoning killed horse trainer, cops say

Maywood, IL -- A horse trainer from Wisconsin was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning Wednesday in his trailer at Maywood Park racetrack, officials said.

Robert Nevel, 71, of Richland Center was pronounced dead at 11:40 a.m. Wednesday in Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
His death was ruled an accident.

Nevel drove to Maywood on Tuesday to watch his horse Big Spiel compete in a harness race, according to his longtime partner, Charm Klebesadel. When Nevel didn't return home as scheduled, his relatives called authorities. Nevel was found inside his trailer by a racetrack security guard Wednesday.

Relatives think a propane tank, used for heating, may have leaked or malfunctioned, Klebesadel said.

Truck driver killed in crash on turnpike

Toledo, OH -- A Pennsylvania truck driver was killed yesterday when his tractor-trailer rig crossed a median of the Ohio Turnpike near Toledo Express Airport and crashed, troopers at the Swanton post of the Ohio Highway Patrol said.

Daniel R. Parrish, 53, of Midland, Pa., was pronounced dead at the scene. There were no other injuries.

Troopers said Mr. Parrish was westbound on the turnpike at 3:55 p.m. yesterday carrying four coils of steel when he apparently lost control and crossed a grassy median and the eastbound lanes of the turnpike.

The rig continued a southward path, slammed through highway fencing, and came to rest among trees and brush. Troopers said the Lucas County coroner will determine the cause of death.

National experts to investigate prison guard's slaying in Chino

SACRAMENTO, CA -- The state Board of Corrections has unanimously decided to ask a national panel of experts to investigate the fatal stabbing of a prison guard earlier this month.

43-year-old Manuel Gonzalez Junior was killed on January 10th at the California Institution for Men in Chino. He was the first corrections officer to die in an inmate assault in nearly ten years.

The experts won't begin their work until the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office decides whether to file criminal charges.

Corrections officials have named Jon Blaylock, a 35-year-old inmate serving time for attempted murder, as the prime suspect in Gonzalez's death. But two other inmates believed to be from the same gang were in the area and were transferred to different prisons after the stabbing.

Dump truck driver dies after tire blows on I-275

TAMPA -- A dump truck accident on Interstate 275 Wednesday afternoon killed the truck's driver and backed up rush-hour traffic.

Alexis Monteagudo, 36, was driving south about 3:15 p.m. when his vehicle blew a tire south of Bearss Avenue, a Florida Highway Patrol official said. The accident forced him into the concrete median, crushing him inside the cabin and spewing sand into the southbound and northbound lanes. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Some of the sand caused minor front-end damage to a northbound car driven by Maria Mejia of Wesley Chapel. Neither Mejia, 31, nor her nine-month old baby, Silvana, were injured.

Train conductor struck, killed

CAMDEN, Ark. -- A Union Pacific conductor was struck and killed by a train, officials said.

The accident in Ouachita County occurred Monday morning when Floyd T. Evans Jr. of Redfield stepped from between two train cars and was hit by a train on an adjacent track, Chief Deputy Joe Strickland said.

Authorities said Evans was disconnecting the cars at the time of the accident and apparently did not hear or see the second train.

Man killed, fuel contaminates Sugar Creek

BENTONVILLE, Ark.-- A truck driver was killed and gasoline spilled into Sugar Creek when the truck he was driving left Arkansas 72 and entered a ravine a mile east of Bentonville.

Brent Lee Farrar of Barling, who would have turned 45 on Wednesday, was killed, state police said. His truck spilled gasoline into the creek and shut down the highway for most of the day Tuesday.

"It was the scariest thing I have ever witnessed," said Jennifer Dubert, who saw the accident. "I think I saw him slide a little, and then he just flew off the road."

Bentonville Fire Department crews set up three containment dams on the nearby Sugar Creek to keep fuel from contaminating the Elk River. The trailer itself was not ruptured; the fuel leaked from a seal on the truck.


LEESBURG, FL -- A 41-year-old DeLand man died early Tuesday after the tractor-trailer he was driving overturned on County Road 33 near the intersection with U.S. Highway 27, authorities said.

Jerry A. Trent was hauling limerock from Sumterville at the time of the 5 a.m. accident, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

As the 1991 tractor-trailer neared the U.S. 27 intersection, it hit a curb and overturned on its left side, the FHP said. Trent was taken by ambulance to Leesburg Regional Medical Center, where he died about 7:30 a.m., according to the FHP.

Investigators said dense fog may have contributed to the accident. Trent was talking on a cell phone at the time of the accident, the FHP said.

Florence liquor store clerk shot to death in robbery

FLORENCE, Ala. -- A liquor store clerk was shot in the head and killed by a man whose image was captured by a surveillance camera before he fled with a sack of money and a bottle of liquor.

Deputy Police Chief Pete Williford identified the slain clerk as Scott Kirtley, who was in his mid-30s, of Happy Hollow in Lauderdale County.

Williford said Kirtley was shot in the head at close range shortly before 7:30 p.m. Monday at Dandy's Number Two Package Store. A suspect has been questioned, but no charges were filed immediately. More here.

Wreck kills trucker on I-85;

Atlanta, GA -- A tow truck driver was killed Monday morning in a wreck on I-85 that blocked all the northbound lanes for three hours, police said.

The incident occurred about 7:45 a.m. on I-85 north between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Indian Trail Road.

According to police, the tow truck driver, identified as Xavion Wilson, 43, of East Point, swerved to avoid a Honda Accord driven by Clayton Mattison, 20, of Decatur.

Wilson lost control of his truck when the Honda changed lanes into his path, said police spokesman Cpl. Dan Huggins. The tow truck then hit the median wall, bounced off and struck the Honda before overturning. Wilson died at the scene, Huggins said.

Gas station clerk slain during holdup attempt; Victim was working to support family back in Pakistan

El Cerrito, CA -- A gas station clerk who was working the graveyard shift to help support his family in Pakistan was shot and killed during a robbery attempt shortly after midnight Sunday in El Cerrito, police said.

The slaying of Khalid Mohmood, 40, of San Pablo was captured by the gas station's security camera, police said.

Mohmood, who was also known by the name of Sharma, was shot at least twice in the upper torso while he was behind the counter of the Super Stop Gas Station at 11687 San Pablo Ave. about 12:30 a.m., El Cerrito police Sgt. Shawn Maples said.

Mohmood, a two-year employee, worked the graveyard shift and sent the money he earned at the gas station to his family in Pakistan, Maples said. The victim also worked a second job elsewhere, authorities said.

The gas station had been robbed before and is a target because it is the only 24-hour gas station in the city, Maples said. Customers can enter the food mart in the middle of the night and interact directly with employees, he noted.

"We are very scared. We're nervous," said a gas station employee who declined to give his name.

Fuel-oil truck driver killed when Army vehicle crashes

A worker for a fuel-oil company died yesterday morning when an Army Reserve private lost control of the tractor-truck he was driving on Route 12 in Westmoreland, crossed the median and struck two vehicles, state police said.

Authorities closed Route 12 near the Keene line for hours after the accident. It took place less than a mile from where two drivers died on Dec. 27.

Sol Plante, 31, of Walpole died from injuries sustained during the collision, according to state police. He was driving a Webber Energy Fuels service truck south on the highway when it was struck by the Army reserve tractor-truck, state police said.

The Army truck was bobcating, meaning the driver was piloting the tractor portion of a normal 18-wheel rig without a trailer.

Man dies in first fishing incident of year; Authorities think death accidental

Folks who knew longtime shrimper Henry "Happy" Hendricks rarely saw him without a smile.

On Friday, Hendricks become the first commercial fisherman to die on the job this year. There were no such deaths reported to the U.S. Coast during 2003 and 2004, according to the Coast Guard station in Charleston. Hendricks died in what authorities think was a mechanical boating accident.

A shrimper for more than 20 years, Hendricks was working in Murrells Inlet when he was killed. The official cause of death, according to a preliminary autopsy performed Saturday afternoon by Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson, was multiple trauma and loss of blood.

His wife, Hendricks' love for 21 years, said it is thought that somehow he became caught in the cables, which pulled his body into the wench of his shrimping boat.

Postal delivery worker killed in collision is identified

LINCOLN, Ca -- A postal delivery worker killed in a two-vehicle collision Thursday has been identified as Beverly Joyce Wilson, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Wilson, 65, of Lincoln had slowed her 1978 Jeep in the course of delivering mail along Nicolaus Road, east of Dowd Road, shortly after 4 p.m. when her vehicle was rear-ended by a Nissan Altima, said CHP Officer Kelly Baraga.

The Jeep spun 180 degrees, overturned into a ditch and landed on its top, Baraga said. Wilson was pronounced dead at the scene, she said.

Railroad contractor dies after being struck by train

Amarillo, TX -- An Amarillo man died Wednesday night after a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train hit him.

Gene Blackburn Harrison, 42, was pronounced dead at the scene, said Scott Sutton, chief deputy for the Carson County Sheriff's Office.

Harrison managed Centergas Inc.'s Amarillo facility, said Mark Allsup, president of the company. Centergas supplies propane gas to BNSF.

About 7 p.m., Harrison was with another Centergas employee and a tow-truck driver just west of Farm-to-Market Road 2373 and U.S. Highway 60, where they were trying to free a truck that was hung up on the north side of the tracks, Sutton said.

Skokie cab driver killed by passengers, police say

Chicago police were questioning two men Monday in connection with the fatal shooting of a Skokie cab driver who was found dead Saturday on the South Side.

Karim Ally, 57, of the 8300 block of South Kimball Avenue in the north suburb died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to a spokeswoman with the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Ally's body was found in the 6300 block of South Calumet Avenue about 11:10 p.m. Saturday, said Carlos Herrera, a Chicago police spokesman.

Ally took two people to the address where his body was found, and once he arrived there, he was shot and robbed, Herrera said.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Talk Among Yourselves

Blogging a bit slow this weekend as I try to finish up an article that's due next week.

Talk among yourselves. That's what the comment link is for:

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Deaths and Injuries at US Steel: Blame the Workers?

Accidents continue to happen -- more and more frequently -- at US Steel.

Three workers have died at U.S. Steel mills since September, according to United Steelworkers Union officials: a crane operator at the Gary, Ind., Works in September; a management employee at Gary who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in December; and a union worker who was crushed by a slow-moving train this month at the Granite City (Ill.) Works.

Union workers at U.S, Steel's Clairton Works held a protest rally over safety in August after a 44-year-old union worker lost his legs in a train accident.

I've written a couple of times about safety problems in the steel industry and the root causes, also discussed in this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article:
Favorable business conditions have spurred speculation that the pressure on workers to produce may be making mills less safe. A 2003 labor agreement with the USW that radically altered the makeup of the work force and their job responsibilities is also being blamed.

"I'm not sure you can put it all on [the labor agreement]. I think it plays a part in it," said Michael Mitchell, president of USW Local 1014 at U.S. Steel's Gary Works.

Mitchell believes pressure to produce, increased overtime because of work force reductions and lack of training are other possible causes.

"Until all those things are looked at ... [accidents] are going to continue to happen," he said. "We have a terrible safety record as far as accidents and fatalities."


Union officials say what they are concerned about is the new labor agreement they signed with the company in May 2003.

The agreement, patterned after other contracts used to resurrect bankrupt steelmakers, rewrote the book on how dozens of mills jobs are performed and who must perform them. Simultaneously, many of the industry's most experienced workers were given incentives to retire in order to reduce labor costs.

Consequently, workers who remained are being asked to do new jobs, and seasoned workers are not around to help them.

"We need more training," said Steve Tunello, president of USW Local 1013 at U.S. Steel's Fairfield (Ala.) Works. "I imagine we're a lot like Clairton. We need more people."
U.S. Steel, however, seems to believe it's all the employees' fault and punishing them is the answer:
Mike Wright, the union's top health and safety officer, said U.S. Steel is more concerned about making safety a disciplinary problem than getting at the root cause of the accidents.

"U.S. Steel is stuck on this idea that their problems are based on employee misconduct," Wright said. "The way to get after safety problems is to comprehensively analyze the safety of every job in the plant"
Blame The Worker?

Like many employers, US Steel is buying into the classic "blame the worker" theory and relying on "behavioral safety" as the solution. Behavioral safety theories say that worker carelessness or misconduct is the cause of most accidents, and disciplining workers is the answer. But behavioral theories don't hold up to a closer look at the causes of most workplace accidents

Ultimately, of course, most accidents are caused by someone doing something "wrong." That's generally known as the "direct cause." And, of course, if that's where your analysis of the accident stops, the obvious answer is to find out who made the mistake and fire his ass. Problem solved. Right?

Wrong. If you really want to prevent future similar accidents, you need to go further and look for the root causes. The simplest way to do that is to keep asking "why?" Someone used the wrong equipment, or pressed the wrong button. Why? Were they told to do it by a supervisor who had a quota to fill? Did they feel rushed by the constant drive for more productivity? Were they not well trained for the job? Were they tired from too much overtime? Were the controls on the machine unnecessarily complicated or not logically located? Was there an unexpected confluence of unexpected problems caused somewhere else in the system that no one knew how to handle?

If you answer "yes" to any of those questions, you ask "why" again and keep asking why -- until you run out of clear answers and you've reached the root cause. Generally, the closer you get to finding the root cause, the more likely you are to finding solutions that will prevent similar accidents.

In other words, if an accident was caused by someone using the wrong equipment because they were being pressured to rush and the correct equipment would have have taken too long to locate and set up, then firing that worker isn't going to solve the problem because the next guy will be in exactly the same situation. Which is why Wright is insisting that every job be thoroughly analyzed.

US Steel's answer is to schedule mandatory safety meetings led by top executives for hourly and management workers that will feature a videotaped message from U.S. Steel President John P. Surma.

According to the USWA's Wright, "If the meetings indicate they're going to start [comprehensively analyzing the safety of every job], that's fine."


First, Kill The Caregivers (and their unborn children)

So you've got a bunch of well-known cancer-causing chemicals and a group of America's most beloved and needed workers -- nurses and other health care workers -- being exposed. Aside from a few alerts and fact sheets, not much has been done about it, even though there are indications that the fact sheet and alerts aren't working very well. Nurses are getting exposed and probaby getting cancer.

What would you do? Issue regulations preventing exposures? That might make sense. Or at least conduct a few good studies to see who is getting exposed to what and how much? Makes even more sense.

But welcome to Bushworld, where none of that makes sense and every extra penny is being dedicated to tax cuts for those who don't need them, and wars against bad people with weapons of mass destruction who don't have them, and destroying the social security system, which has been working quite well, thank you very much.

The chemicals are chemotherapy drugs -- drugs designed to fight cancer. But human and animal studies have shown they have the potential to cause cancer or reproductive problems such as miscarriage, low birth weight, infertility and birth defects when they are inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Sounds serious? Nah!
Last March, the federal government issued an unusually detailed alert to the nation's 5.5 million health care workers: The powerful drugs used in chemotherapy can themselves cause cancer and pose a risk to nurses, pharmacists and others who handle them.

Four years in the making, the alert was issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Officials with the institute -- part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- and members of a hazardous-drug advisory panel saw the document as a long-overdue first step toward addressing what could be a serious workplace health problem.

A NIOSH Alert, issued last March, warned health care workers of risks from contact with chemo drugs. The drugs are usually administered to patients intravenously, right.

The next step was to be a study of actual exposures at three hospitals, operated by the universities of Maryland, North Carolina and Texas. The plan was to take blood and urine samples from about 50 pharmacists, nurses and pharmacy technicians at the hospitals and look for signs of drugs such as cyclophosphamide (usually administered intravenously to treat lymphoma, leukemia or breast cancer) and ifosfamide (also an IV drug, often used on lung, cervical and ovarian cancers).

But the study, formally proposed in July 2002, is on hold. Twice the CDC submitted the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Twice it was withdrawn, after the OMB raised questions. It has yet to be resubmitted.

OMB spokesman Chad Kolton would say only that the CDC withdrew the paperwork "to address ongoing technical concerns relating to the scope of the proposed study design." CDC spokesman Fred Blosser said, "Traditionally, we don't go into detail on pending discussions or reviews with OMB."

Study proponents, meanwhile, say that precious time is being lost
Unfortunately, this article appeared in the Washington Post's health section last week, instead of where it should have been -- at the top of the front page. It was written by Jim Morris, deputy editor for Congressional Quarterly. In a past life at the Houston Chronicle, Morris was the author of a hard-hitting series about the chemical industry's efforts to cover up evidence that one of its major products -- vinyl chloride -- caused cancer and other health problems.

It's not hard to be exposed to these drugs, according to the unions that represent health care workers:
"People have exposures every day," said Bill Borwegen, occupational health and safety director for the Washington-based Service Employees International Union, which represents about 875,000 health care workers. "If you're piercing an IV bag and get a drop [of a drug] on your finger, you could be over the safe level."

And a housekeeper who dumps the contents of a bedpan into a toilet might not realize that the waste is toxic. "Sometimes, 80 percent of the active ingredient [in a drug] goes right through the patient's system," said Borwegen, who also served on the NIOSH work group.
And it's not a newly discovered problem:
Beginning in the 1980s, researchers in the United States and Europe found that nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians, housekeepers and others took few precautions when preparing, administering or cleaning up the drugs. As a result, they were routinely exposed to toxic aerosols, powders and liquids.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) first issued handling guidelines for hazardous drugs in 1986, calling for, among other things, the use of gloves, gowns and biological safety cabinets or respirators with high-efficiency filters. These were voluntary measures, however, not rules. OSHA still has no regulatory standards for cancer-fighting drugs and NIOSH says adherence to the guidelines is spotty.
Anything to be done about it? Maybe more fact sheets or possibly an alliance with a hospital association? Europeans seem to have solved the problem the old fashioned way -- regulations:
As a rule, European countries have moved more aggressively than the United States, requiring hospitals to monitor employees and keep even minuscule amounts of the drugs from being spilled or aerosolized.

"In Holland, we've seen a decline in contamination. Most workers don't have [drugs] in their urine anymore," Paul Sessink, a chemist in the Netherlands who runs a consulting firm called Exposure Control, said in a telephone interview.
Sessnink is shocked at the conditions that exist in American hospitals:
Over the past six years, chemist Sessink has analyzed "wipe samples" -- residue collected from counters, floors and other surfaces -- from about 30 U.S. hospitals. The results indicated that drug-handling at two-thirds of the hospitals was sloppy and employee exposures were "far higher than we have here [in Europe]," he said. He would not identify the hospitals.

Sessink said he finds it "rather amazing" that the U.S. government took so long to warn workers about the dangers. He wonders if pharmaceutical manufacturers and hospitals -- mindful of possible liability -- had something to do with the delay.
Yeah, I wonder too.

Meanwhile, health care workers continue to be exposed while the federal government continues to count beans.
The study can't begin soon enough for Borwegen, the union official.

"These products are produced under very pristine conditions by drug manufacturers, but once they leave the facility the controls aren't really in place," he said. "Most [health care] workers are clueless about how toxic these agents are."
And according to OSHA and OMB, ignorance is bliss -- until the big C comes calling.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"When the patients came, in they were smoking"

On February 20, 2003 Dr. George Liu treated workers who had been severely burned in the explosion and fire that ripped through the CTA Acoustics plant in Corbin that day.

"When the patients came, in they were smoking," Liu told a reporter. "The best thing people can do is pray for these people."
The Lexington Herald Leader was not pleased with the result of the Chemical Safety Board's investigation into the combustible dust explosion at CTA Acoustics that killed 7 workers.

Last week, federal investigators concluded that the explosion -- which killed seven workers and injured 37 others -- was avoidable. It was the result of company and supplier irresponsibility and a lack of effective government oversight.

That is unacceptable.

Kentucky's Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, which oversees the agency that polices workplace safety, must take the lead to assure this won't happen again.

The Kentucky Office of Occupational Safety and Health had inspected CTA several times but had never cited it for combustible dust while the state fire marshall's office had never inspected the plant.
State inspectors should be trained to assess the risk of combustible dust. Combustible dust should figure heavily in evaluations of general safety in plants. The state needs to educate employers about the dangers, make unannounced inspections and levy stiff fines on violators.

Our congressional delegation and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao should also take this report as a mandate to push for federal standards on industrial dust. Neither the federal nor the state OSHA has a comprehensive standard on combustible dust in industrial facilities.

That is the case despite the fact that more than 150 serious industrial dust explosions have happened in the U.S. in the past 20 years, according to the lead investigator of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board


Sure Glad We Got Rid Of That Stinkin' TB Standard

TB's not a problem anymore. Nope. Not at all. Don't need no stinkin' OSHA standard.

TB surge strains agency

TB is not the scourge that once killed and disabled millions of Americans. But it did kill 25 North Carolinians in 2003, the last year for which statistics are available.


Durham County had only 10 new TB cases in 2003. But that number jumped to 27 last year, resulting in a recent plea from Letourneau to the County Commissioners for two additional health department nurses trained to conduct the case hunting needed to prevent an epidemic.

Tuberculosis probed at fourth hospital

Riverside County health officials are investigating exposure to tuberculosis at a fourth hospital, authorities said Wednesday.

Officials were already notifying people about possible tuberculosis exposure at three other hospitals in western Riverside County. Efforts are under way to determine how many more people need to be tested for possible exposure, said Barbara Cole, chief of the county's disease-control program.

More Administration Lies About Medical Malpractice "Reform"

A story in the New York Times exposes Bush's lies about medical malpractice "reform," one part of the administration's drive to weaken people's ability to sue companies (or physicians) for negligence and products (such as asbestos) that kill; or as Bush says, "costly and frivolous lawsuits."

The myth, according to the President and the business lobbyists is that the high costs of malpractice insurance "don't start in an examining room or an operating room," the president declared. "They start in a courtroom."

The truth, according to the Times is that there has not been a rise in medical malpractice awards causing malpractice insurance rates to skyrocket. Rising insurance rates are a product of poor investments by the insurance companies that they are trying to recoup by raising their rates.
Data compiled by both the federal government and by insurance organizations show costs for the insurance companies climbing steadily over the last decade at an average annual rate of about 3 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Over most of that period, premiums for doctors rose modestly and sometimes even dropped as the insurance companies battled for market share in a scramble to collect more money to invest in strong bond and stock markets. But when the markets turned sour and the reserves of insurers shriveled, companies began to double and triple the costs for doctors.


The recent jump in premiums shows little correlation to the rise in claims. According to the National Practitioner Data Bank of the Health and Human Services Department, the total paid out by insurance companies for claims against doctors and other medical professionals rose 3.1 percent annually, on average, between 1993 and 2003 and then declined last year.
So what works and what doesn't? In California, they tried limiting awards -- and controlling premium increases:
Many insurers regard the $250,000 limit in California as a model for Mr. Bush. They see it as largely responsible for California's shift from being one of the most expensive places for medical malpractice insurance to one of the least expensive. Consumer advocates, however, say the main reason costs for doctors have fallen in California has been a 1988 law that prohibits insurers from raising rates more than 15 percent a year without a public hearing.

And some researchers are skeptical that caps ultimately reduce costs for doctors. Mr. Weiss of Weiss Ratings and researchers at Dartmouth College, who separately studied data on premiums and payouts for medical mistakes in the 1990's and early 2000's, said they were unable to find a meaningful link between claims payments by insurers and the prices they charged doctors.

"We didn't see it," said Amitabh Chandra, an assistant professor of economics at Dartmouth. "Surprisingly, there appears to be a fairly weak relationship."

Related Articles

Run! The Sky Is Falling: Republican Tort "Reform" , January 11, 2005
Malpractice Misconduct, June 22, 2004
Medical Malpractice Solution: Kill the Lawyers (and their families), June 10, 2004
Texas Passes 'Polluters and Predators Protection Act', September 17, 2003


Worker Advocates Win Journalism's Polk Awards

Two safety advocates whose articles have been covered in Confined Space have won Polk Awards awards for extraordinary journalism. The 2004 Awards will be presented at a luncheon on April 21, 2005.

Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times won the national reporting category, his fourth Polk award, for his series on how railroad companies were able to sidestep regulations.

Justin Pritchard, the AP's news editor for Southern California, won the labor reporting prize for his investigation into the high rate of work-related deaths among Mexican workers in America.

These are the kind of articles (along with David Barstow's articles on Death in the Workplace and Andrew Schneider's asbestos coverage) that you should be showing to your local reporters when they don't quite know how to handle a workplace accident. These journalists know how to investigate the root causes of these incidents and show how politics affects peoples' chances of staying alive and healthy. But they can also show other journalists the fame and awards that can be won by following up on these stories that are otherwise relegated to a few paragraphs in the back pages.

All of Bogdanich's original articles can be found here.

Confined Space articles that cover Bogdanich's investigations are here:

Blood On (and near) The Tracks

Head of Federal Railroad Administration Resigns Under Pressure

Behavioral Safety Comes To The Railroads

Look Both Ways -- And Then Pray

As If That Wasn't Bad Enough...More on Rail Safety

Links to Pritchard's orginal articles can be found at the Polk Awards webpage (scroll down). Confined Space stories based on Pritchard's articles can be found here:

What is OSHA Doing About Immigrant Worker Safety?

Mexican Workers in the U.S.: Impaled, Shredded in Machinery, Buried Alive


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Indecent Fines? It's All Relative

The North Jersey Record is justifiably outraged at the injustice -- or indecency -- of the new $500,000 fines for radio and TV stations and individual entertainers if an uncovered breast is shown or a discouraging word heard.

Those penalties are way out of proportion to the "crimes" - uttering foul language or airing sexual content - especially in light of federal penalties that have been levied in other arenas.

Consider this.

Less than two weeks ago, a former Enron chief financial officer agreed to pay a $500,000 federal penalty after the SEC charged him with fraud for his role in Enron's bogus earnings reports - part of the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Last week, OSHA proposed that a Louisiana construction company be fined $65,000 for willful and serious safety violations, including "failing to protect employees from the hazards of a cave-in" following a trench collapse that killed one worker last year.

That's right. Serious safety violations in a deadly accident bring a $65,000 federal fine. But if Congress has its way, cursing on the air could cost $500,000.

Now that would be really offensive.

The editors clearly haven't been checking out OSHA's website (or Confined Space) or they would have seen even a worse atrocity: OSHA's recent $5,800 penalty handed down to K&M Construction not just for "failing to protect" workers, but for actually killing a worker.

So glad our Republican-controlled Congress is keeping its eyes on the prize.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

"We can't protect ourselves if we are not part of the plan"

If there's one principle that seems to unite labor and management (at least rhetorically) it's the importance of encouraging employee participation in any matters dealing with workplace safety, health and security issues. All OSHA standards and the health and safety programs required by OSHA's voluntary protection program require worker participation. While debates often rage about the form such participation should take, how effective worker participation can be without a union, and how much influence employees should have in decision making, you would be hard-pressed to find any legitimate labor or management health & safety experts that would argue against the need for and usefulness of employee participation. Who knows better what happens on the plant floor than the workers who spend eight or ten hours a day there?

So you can imagine the disappointment of chemical industry unions in New Jersey when the state government moves forward on a post 9/11 chemical plant security management plan with the New Jersey Chemistry Council, but without any worker input.

A group of unions and environmental organizations held a press conference last week:

Demanding "security, not secrecy" environmental and labor groups Thursday asked acting Gov. Richard J. Codey to intervene in the drafting of rules designed to protect New Jersey industries using hazardous substances from accidents and attacks.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has teamed with the Chemical Council of New Jersey and other chemical industry trade groups to draft a plan to ensure Garden State chemical facilities remain secure, but Thursday others, including chemical industry workers, called for their own say in the process.

"We can't protect ourselves if we are not part of the plan," said Amy Goldsmith, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Union workers employed in the chemical field said they have not been consulted about the proposal. "Nobody understands the potential for hazards better than the worker," said John Shinn of the United Steelworkers District 4.

Rick Engler, director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, explained that without worker participation, there was no way to verify what is being done for the public or emergency responders.
We have 400 facilities scattered across our state which can cause catastrophic risks to workers and communities or can pose serious environmental harm. We need to make sure the safety of these facilities is the best it can be, as well as the appropriate security precautions are taken.
An editorial in the Press of Atlantic City agrees:
We're pretty sure you don't need to be experts in chemical- plant safety to know this:

In our post-Sept 11, 2001, world, letting chemical plants regulate themselves, which has been the norm, can't be the wisest way to go.

And any plan for better regulation that has environmentalists and chemical workers complaining they have been left out of the process, which is what's happening right now in New Jersey, can't be a particularly wise move either.

New Jersey's Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force and the state Department of Environmental Protection are working on a chemical-plant security agreement that critics say relies too much on the industry's own guidelines. Though the agreement apparently does give the state the authority to require additional security measures, the New Jersey Work Environment Council and chemical-workers unions are demanding tougher rules -- and more input -- into the process.
Some state government officials seem to be seeing the error of their ways:
DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell said the environmental groups and unions have raised relevant points.

The agreement has not been put into effect, in part because the state is looking at how it can increase public participation and provide a more significant role to labor, Campbell said.
But the NJ Chemistry Council is having none of it:
Hal Bozarth, executive director of Chemistry Council of New Jersey, an industry trade group, said Engler and the others were using the guise of security to press an environmental agenda.

Bozarth defended chemical industry's record on security and said the activists were also trying to advance provisions of U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine's unsuccessful federal legislation to regulate security at chemical plants. Corzine, D-N.J., is now running for New Jersey governor.
Corzine has introduced a bill into Congress calling for enforceable regulations that would force the chemical industry to implement better security measures and, where possible, to install inherently safer technologies. The American Chemistry Council spent millions of dollars to kill the bill.

An editorial in today's New York Times condemned the Bush administration's "lack of political will and failure to carry out the most effective policies":
After Sept. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency identified 123 chemical plants that could, in a worst-case attack, endanger one million or more people. There is an urgent need for greater action to protect them. But the chemical industry, a major Bush-Cheney campaign contributor, has bitterly fought needed safeguards. In her recent book "It's My Party Too," the former administrator of the E.P.A., Christie Whitman, said that chemical industry lobbyists thwarted the reasonable safety rules that she and the Department of Homeland Security tried to impose.

Related Stories

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Department of Homeland Security: Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?, September 27, 2004
Weapons of Mass Destruction Found -- In Our Backyards, November 17, 2003
The War for Chemical Plant Safety, May 4, 2003

Washington DC: Where All Your Nightmares Can Come True

I wrote a parody Friday of Bush OSHA policy, partly based on the recent Wal-Mart settlement with the Labor Department that allowed a 15 day advance notice of all child labor inspections. The nightmare scenario was that the Bush administration might want to change the law to allow advance warnings for workplace safety inspections, which are currently prohited by the Occuational Safety and Health Act.

According to Hartford Courant columnist Dan Haar, my nightmares may be coming true:
When news came out a few days ago of the Bush administration's deal giving Wal-Mart advance warning before inspecting for labor law violations, I thought of a visit to The Courant by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

It was Aug. 8, 2002, a summer when Chao was floating all sorts of ideas about ways to make her department more friendly to business.

Sure, the sweet-talking Chao talked all about protecting workers. She framed her message in win-win terms, how the world could be safer for employees and companies alike if only we all worked together.

She actually suggested that companies should receive advance warning of safety and health inspections. After all, she reasoned, most employers mean well, so why shouldn't the government help them to help workers?

It was a line lost amid the day's business. The record will show that the law remains unchanged: Inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must, with some clear exceptions, be a surprise.

Chao's advance-warning brainstorm appeared in none of her speeches before or after that date, at least among the many archived on her website. Several OSHA watchdogs and officials said during the last five days that they've never heard her utter it.

But she said it, and a colleague and I shared amazement. I shouldn't have let Chao's comments slip by. Now it's clear: She, her boss and her deputies have reshaped the enforcement culture of the U.S. Department of Labor in favor of employers.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

What's It All About, Vicky? Child Labor, Wal-Mart and the Bush Administration

"Why would we want to change it?"

Assistant Secretary of Labor Victoria Lipnic, when asked whether the Department of Labor is considering modifying an agreement reached with Wal-Mart in January that requires DOL inspectors to provide 15-day advance notice of any child labor inspections.
Why change it? Take a look at some of the youth fatality investigation reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Like this one:
A 16-year-old male produce-market worker (the victim) died from crushing injuries after being caught in the vertical downstroke baling machine that he was operating. The victim, working alone in the basement of a small produce market, was crushing cardboard boxes when at some point in the compacting process he was caught by the machine's hydraulic ram. The victim was discovered by an exterminator spraying the basement, who notified the store manager to call police and emergency medical services (EMS).
Or this:

October 21, 2001, a 15-year-old male pizzeria worker was killed when he became entangled in a machine used to mix pizza dough. The victim had arrived in the United States from Guatemala one month before the incident and had been working at the family-owned pizza restaurant for two weeks. He was paid to do odd jobs at the restaurant, mostly sweeping and cleaning. On the night of the incident, he was cleaning the pizza dough mixer as the restaurant was closing for the evening. He was working alone in the kitchen as the remaining staff cleaned the adjoining dining room. He apparently lifted the cover of the mixer, uncovering the 32-inch-diameter mixing bowl, and started the machine. As he reached in to the bowl to clean it, he became entangled on a large mixing fork (beater) that rotated inside the mixing bowl. His co-workers heard him scream, but were unable to reach him in time.
Or this:

On July 2, 2001, a 17-year-old male warehouse laborer (the victim) was fatally injured when the sit-down-type forklift he was operating tipped over and crushed him. The victim apparently lost control of the forklift, which had a load on its forks and the mast fully extended, as he was making a right turn, causing the forklift to tip over 90 degrees onto its left side. The unrestrained victim was crushed under the extended boom/mast of the forklift.
Responding to pressure from congressional Democrats like George Miler (CA) and Ted Kennedy (MA) as well as labor unions, the Labor Department's Inspector General announced yesterday that it would conduct an investigation "to review the circumstances surrounding" an agreement between DOL and Wal-Mart that required Labor Department inspectors to warn Wal-Mart stores before inspecting them for child labor and other labor standards violations.

Wal-Mart thinks it's just about them. According to Wal-Mart spokesperson Gus Whitcomb,

What is truly unfortunate is that the attention focused on this agreement has now moved from being about compliance, which is where our attention is focused, to being a new forum for people who simply don't like us.
No Gus, "truly unfortunate" is the fact that over 200,000 teens are injured on the job each year in this country. Of those injured on the job, about 100,000 are injured seriously enough to require emergency room treatment. The controversy about this issue goes far beyond the big bad Congressmen and unions beating up on itty bitty Wal-Mart. It's about how serious this administration is going to be about enforcing violations of child labor laws, as well as general labor standards and workplace health and safety protections -- especially when those violators happen to also be their major corporate contributors.

Other Developments

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, where most of the violations took place, the Governor M. Jodi Rell ordered a state investigation of the Wal-Mart's Connecticut stores and "several state representatives called for increases in state fines for labor-law violations and for a budget increase to support the probe with more inspectors."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was pleased:

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who said that findings of "errors or improprieties of substantive magnitude would warrant overturning the agreement,"including any false statements or improper political intervention. Blumenthal filed his second Freedom of Information Act request Friday, this time for documents on all closed investigations of possible child labor law violations by Wal-Mart across the country. He said his request was a result of discussions with attorneys general in other states who have heard that previous investigations of Wal-Mart's compliance with child labor provisions had been closed before being fully aired.

Gary Pechie, who heads Connecticut's wage and workplace standards division, reported that the state would be reviewing that Wal-Mart violations and they would not be giving the stores advance notice.

Meanwhile, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Child Labor Coalition called on Wal-Mart to stop illegal child labor in its stores by making underage workers wear distinctive badges that could readily identify them as being prohibited from hazardous assignments.

For more information on safe employment for young workers, check out these websites:

NIOSH Young Worker Safety and Health: Lot's of publications, fatality reports, fact sheets and other resources.

Young Worker Health and Safety: The website is a project of California's statewide Resource Network for Young Worker Health and Safety.

The Child Labor Coalition: Information for teen workers as well as advocacy information about U.S. and international child/youth labor.

Interstate Labor Standards Association (ILSA): Includes information on state agencies that administer and enforce child labor laws.

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More Wal-Mart/DOL Shenanigans, February 15, 2005
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Bush Labor Department Puts Wal-Mart in "Privileged Position" February 12, 2005
Wal-Mart: Following In The Proud Footsteps of the Tobacco, Beer and Petroleum Industries February 11, 2005
Wal-Mart Enters 19th Century: Locks Workers In Overnight January 18, 2004