Monday, March 28, 2005

NIOSH by the Numbers

Over the years NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) has always had to fight for its existance. At one point it was in danger of being eliminated completely. Last year the planned reorganization of CDC would have further buried NIOSH within a "coordinating center." This plan was stopped by an outcry from both Labor and Industry and the help of key Senators like Senator Specter. Over the past 5 years, financially it has seemingly been in good shape. The line item for Occupational Safety and Health (i.e., NIOSH) in the CDC budget grew from $247.2 Million dollars in FY 2001 to $286.0 Million in FY 2005. Yet a closer look shows that NIOSH is being subverted, as is perhaps the will of Congress. While NIOSH's budget has grown, CDC has been diverting more and more money from the NIOSH budget for "Business Support Services." CDC has taken over grants management, computer services, budget execution, as well as communications for NIOSH. This diversion grew from $10.7 Million dollars in FY 2001 to $44.7 Million dollars in FY 2005. So, in effect, NIOSH's budget only gained about $3.3 Million over those 5 years, well below inflation and salary increases. One could argue, as I am sure CDC will, that these are not diversions., that CDC is consolidating business services and will provide them to NIOSH more efficiently and cost-effectively. Were that was true. In fact, NIOSH was previously spending $5 Million a year on Computer services, which covered all desktop computers, lab equipment and field equipment. They are now paying CDC $10 Million a year for computer services and only the desktops are covered. Moreover, all requests for computer services have to be funneled through CDC in Atlanta. Such a deal.

Now comes the President's budget for FY 2006. Bush has proposed an actual decrease in funding- to $285.9 Million. Even worse, he has proposed that the number of full time positions at NIOSH be cut from 1435 in FY 2005 (down from 1480 in FY 2001) to 1246! While many of these positions are unfilled right now, this cut would force NIOSH to go to CDC and beg for positions every time they needed to fill one. So for those of you who became complacent when NIOSH was saved from the reorganization by Congress or thought you could relax because NIOSH's budget was rising, forget it. Get the gloves on and come out fighting. NIOSH is, yet again, in danger.

BTW, last week the NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors, which advises NIOSH on all matters, voted unanimously to express their concerns about these cuts and request an investigation of the contracting-out of services to CDC.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Weekly Toll

Tow truck driver killed in Clinton County crash

LOGANTON, Pa. - A Clinton County tow truck operator was struck and killed on westbound Interstate 80 as he tried to assist a motorist, state police said. Donald Eugene Snook, 47, an employee of Bressler's Garage, was killed instantly in the 6:45 a.m. Friday accident, according to John Hanna, the county's chief deputy coroner.

Two U.S. contractors killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD -- Two U.S. contractors have died in an ambush south of the Iraqi capital. A third was injured. The contractors worked for Blackwater Security Consulting. The company’s Web site says it helps provide diplomatic security for State Department officials in Iraq. Yesterday’s attack involved a homemade bomb that exploded next to the workers’ vehicle. Last year, four Blackwater employees were killed in Fallujah and two of the corpses were hung from a bridge. The Brookings Institution says at least 232 American civilian security and reconstruction contractors were killed in Iraq up to the end of 2004.

Worker killed in construction accident

Westchester,NY- A 36-year-old construction worker was killed at a New Rochelle work site yesterday when an 800-pound metal plate from a retaining wall came loose and struck him in the head. The Westchester Medical Examiner's Office identified the victim as Prenga Sander of 106 Sterling Ave. in Yonkers, though police said he lived in Bridgeport, Conn.

Grocer Is Killed in Jersey City During an Attempted Robbery

JERSEY CITY- Fausto V. Garcia was known in his neighborhood as the kind of businessman who would sell financially struggling customers items on credit and who could be seen smiling as he swept the sidewalk in front of his bodega. Before dawn on Monday morning, just after Mr. Garcia opened the store, the Union Superette Grocery, on Communipaw Avenue, three armed and masked men confronted him in what law enforcement authorities called an attempted robbery. When it was over, Mr. Garcia, 54, had been shot and killed, along with one of the masked gunmen. One of Mr. Garcia's employees was injured in the confrontation, the Hudson County prosecutor, Edward J. De Fazio, said.

Construction worker killed at Torrance condominium site

Torrance, CA- Tractor crushes man against a wall while he unloads tools and equipment at site of new development on Torrance Boulevard near Madrona Avenue. A construction worker died today at a Torrance work site when his tractor ran into him and pinned him against a wall. The unidentified man died at Little Company of Mary Hospital shortly after the 7:30 a.m. accident a condominium construction site in the 3500 block of Torrance Boulevard, Torrance fire Battalion Chief Bill Samp said.

Two Transportation Department workers killed in head-on crash

Boise, ID-Idaho State Police says two Idaho Transportation Department workers died after being hit head-on by cement truck on U.S. 95 about 20 miles south of Grangeville near Slate Creek just after 9 a.m. today. Police say James Onthank, 43, of Grangeville and his co-worker, Toby Joe Stevens, 43, of Grangeville were northbound in an ITD dump truck on U.S. 95 when a southbound Grangeville Transit Mix cement truck driven by Walter H. Merrill, 49, of Cottonwood blew a tire and crossed into the path of the dump truck, hitting it head-on. The tumbler of the cement truck broke loose in the crash and crushed the cab of the ITD vehicle, killing Stevens and Onthank. Merrill was transported in serious condition to Syringa General Hospital in Grangeville.

Plainfield school worker dies from serious burns

NJ- An electrician severely burned in a fire at Plainfield High School last week has died. Ollie Johnson, 69, died at 1:20 a.m. Saturday, officials said yesterday. He had worked for the district for 18 years. "We're deeply saddened," district Superintendent Paula Howard said yesterday. Johnson had a "spiritual and graceful way of being" that added to the district, she said. "It's a sad day in Plainfield," said Jiles Ship, the city's safety director. Johnson was working in an electrical room at the high school March 5 when some equipment became energized and caused an explosion just after 9 a.m. Johnson spent a week in a drug-induced coma at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston with third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body. He was removed from a respirator several days ago.

Woman dies in accident at Arvin Sango

Madison, IN- An Arvin Sango employee died Monday night when she was crushed by one of the company’s presses. Thelma Sue Bailey, 57, of 507 S.R. 156, Florence, was pronounced dead at 10:47 p.m. at Arvin Sango after she was caught in a press, Jefferson County Coroner Alice Jackson said. “I’m not sure how it happened,” Jackson said.

Area farmer killed in tractor roll-over

Centerville, IA- The Appanoose County Sheriff' Office responded to a report of a man trapped under a farm tractor at approximately 10:07 p.m. Sunday in the 30500 block of 230th Avenue. Paul A. Baugher, 84, of rural Cincinnati, was found under a farm tractor in a farm field and was pronounced dead at the scene by the Appanoose County Medical Examiner. Preliminary details of the incident revealed that Baugher had left his residence between 5 and 6 p.m. to feed cattle and work in nearby farm fields. When Baugher did not return to the residence, family members began checking the farm fields for Baugher. Baugher was found trapped under the farm tractor by a
family member.

Riviera Beach worker killed during robbery

CA- A moving company employee was killed in front of his girlfriend during an attempted robbery this morning near Riviera Beach, authorities said. George Smith, 53, and his girlfriend were opening up the front office at All My Sons Moving and Storage, 7656 Byron Drive, about 6:30 a.m. when two masked men with guns stormed in. The robbers demanded money and ransacked the front office. During the confrontation, Smith was attacked and killed. The attackers fled from the scene and were still at large this morning. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office did not immediately say what the cause of death was, but it did not appear that Smith had been shot.

Police need help finding driver who hit and killed Chronicle employee

Houston, TX- Surveillance video has been released in hopes of catching up with a hit and run driver who killed a Chronicle employee over the weekend. Alysia Benson was hit by a white Chevy or GMC truck while taking a walk in northwest Harris County Saturday night. Investigators say the man captured in surveillance video is a person of interest in the case with whom they want to speak. The video was taken from a nearby Burger King restaurant. Witnesses say the man walked in and talked about an accident that night. Benson was a staff employee at the Houston Chronicle.

Man killed in trench collapse

MELVIN, IL -- A rural Melvin man died Tuesday morning when a trench in which he was working collapsed on him. William W. Glenn, 66, of 1170 North 1400 East Road, was pronounced dead at Gibson Area Hospital in Gibson City shortly after the 11:25 a.m. accident.

Crash cause not yet known

Riverside, CA- Did the firetruck driver turn into a tour bus, and was he wearing a seatbelt? The driver of an Upland fire engine that collided with a tour bus on Interstate 10 Tuesday morning apparently was ejected from the engine's cab, and "the obvious conclusion" would be that he wasn't wearing a seat belt, an investigator said Tuesday. The bus company's attorney accused the driver, fire Engineer Tom Barilla, of cutting in front of the bus, though the California Highway Patrol has not determined the cause of the wreck that killed one person and injured dozens more.

Man who caught fire at Wegmans loading dock dies

Rochester, NY- The man burned in a truck fire at a Wegmans store Wednesday morning has died. The Monroe County Sheriff’s department says 76-year-old Carl Minnick of Greece died Wednesday night at Strong Memorial Hospital. Wednesday morning minnick was sitting in the passenger seat of a Toyota truck at the East Henrietta Road Wegmans loading dock when somehow the truck caught fire. A Wegmans employee and customer used blankets to extinguish the fire. They were both treated for burns at Strong Hospital. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Flags at half-staff in honor of fallen officer

SEATTLE - Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has directed that all U.S. flags be flown at half-mast throughout the city Thursday in honor of a Seattle Harbor Patrol officer who died Wednesday after falling into the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The officer, 39-year-old Jackson V. Lone, was under water near 3rd Avenue Northwest and Northwest 36th Street for from five to 10 minutes. Lone and his partner in a Harbor Patrol boat were securing a tug boat that drifted loose in Wednesday's winds, according to Police spokesman Scott Moss.

2nd AJC worker dies from car crash

GA- A longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution employee died Wednesday from injuries sustained in a February car crash that also claimed the life of an Atlanta man. Charlcy Marsh, 46, a 25-year company veteran, worked in the mailroom at the newspaper's Gwinnett County Printing Plant. She handled preprinted items that are inserted into the papers. She died Wednesday at Gwinnett Medical Center.

Officer slain in shootout, Suspect in carjacking also killed in exchange of gunfire

Jackson, MS- A nine-year Jackson police officer was killed Thursday following a gun battle on a city street with a carjacking suspect who also died. Thomas Catchings, a 41-year-old motorcycle patrol officer, died while in surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.He'd lost a large amount of blood from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Dr. Robert Schwieg said.

Man on tractor killed by branch, It broke through windshield and crushed worker in Marlborough.

PA- A Bedminster Township man was killed earlier this week in Marlborough Township when he was crushed by a branch while using a tractor to clear bushes and trees. Thomas Hardy, 41,, was killed Monday afternoon while working near a wooded area along Price Road.

Construction man crushed in Hillsdale

HILLSDALE - A construction worker was crushed Thursday morning when his boss inadvertently ran him over with a 14-ton excavator, authorities said. Jose Peralta, 32, of Garnerville, N.Y., was standing in front of the large machine when he threw a cellular telephone to operator Michael Dutra, owner of Dutra Excavation of Montvale, said Detective Sgt. Michael Niego.

Local Auto Dealer Dead From Gunshot Wounds

Detroit, MI- A man who worked hard to build his business and support his growing family died this weekend after a fight for his life. Auto dealer Waad Murad was shot in the head Thursday night. Police in Detroit were still searching for the escaped gunmen thought to have shot Murad.

SAN FRANCISCO Mediator killed in Bayview, Victim had worked to end gun violence

San Francisco, CA- A graduate of a San Francisco city-sponsored conflict resolution program was shot and killed in the Bayview district, hours after mediating a clash between a relative and the suspected gunman, police said Thursday. Armond Hervey, 25, was shot outside a market at Third Street and Hollister Avenue at 8:44 p.m. Wednesday. On Thursday, after receiving a tip, police detained an unidentified parolee as part of the investigation.

Boeing employee shot to death in carjacking near Sea-Tac Airport

SEATAC, Wash. -- A longtime Boeing worker was shot to death Friday morning in a carjacking at an intersection near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, investigators said. Witnesses said they saw the victim's body pushed from the black Ford Mustang he had been driving, then the carjacker sped off in the car. Authorities identified the man killed as 62-year-old Ron Whitehead of SeaTac.

Arrest made in fatal stabbing of sub shop owner, Suspect is a former employee of Owings Mills eatery

Baltimore, MD- Baltimore County police said they have a suspect in custody in this morning's fatal stabbing of a sub shop owner at a shopping center in Owings Mills. Police said that just before 10 a.m., a former employee of the Greek Village Pizza and Subs on Reisterstown Road entered the shop. Authorities said the man began talking with the shop owner, Amir Shahmaee, 58, of Towson. Then, the former employee allegedly began stabbing Shahmaee. It was unclear what prompted the stabbing.

Shocked neighbors hold vigil for store owner and employee, Candles light the scene as scores of Highland friends and family members gather at the store at Palm Avenue and Ninth Street

HIGHLAND, CA- They came 200-plus strong to lay flowers and light candles Thursday night in front of the large metal doors of Cee Vee's Liquor and Couch Potato Video. "I can't move," said David Olton, 47, of Highland. "I've been here since 5 p.m. I've been trying to leave but I couldn't move." Olton stood in front of the flowers and candles left in support of the recovery of owner Steven Hall, 53, and in memory of store employee Brian David Gregorio, 25, both of Highland. On Wednesday night, the men were shot in a robbery by two men. Hall later died in Loma Linda University Medical Center.

2 workers die as crane collapses

IRVING, TX - Two construction workers were killed Saturday morning when the arm of a crane buckled and collapsed, sending three steel beams crashing to the ground. The beams fell a few feet from Mandalay Canal, leaving little room for escape. A third person was injured in the 300 block of East Las Colinas Boulevard, the Irving Fire Department said. That's person's name was not released. Juan Roldan, 26, of Mesquite and his cousin Angel Roldan, 33, of Dallas were killed in the accident. Victor Osmani, who owns an Italian restaurant across from the construction site, saw the boom of the crane fall as he arrived at the restaurant about 9:30 a.m.

Work site cave-in kills two brothers

SC- Two brothers died Tuesday in a torrent of dirt that poured into a trench where they were working at the Blythewood High School construction site. Rigobeto Xaca Sandoval, 22, and Moises Xaca Sandoval, 22, both of 1515 Busbee Road, Gaston, probably died instantly, their skulls crushed by the soil that buried them, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said.

Suffolk police officer dies during foot pursuit

SUFFOLK, VA — A Suffolk police officer collapsed and later died Friday while chasing after a suspect who is accused of breaking curfew. According to police, 33-year-old Officer William Henley approached a group of suspects near Webb Street Friday night. Brian Ralph ran, and Henley followed. Mid-chase, he collapsed and died from a previously undiagnosed medical condition.

Police Officer Shot, Killed During Routine Traffic Stop

Louisville, KY - A Louisville police officer was fatally shot Wednesday after responding to complaints about an unruly driver. A teenage suspect in the shooting then killed himself, police said. Officer Peter Grignon, 27, died of two bullet wounds to the head and neck about 2½ hours after the 7 a.m. shooting. The two-year veteran of the force was the first Louisville or Jefferson County police officer to die in the line of duty since 1988. He had celebrated his first wedding anniversary just days earlier.

Trench Collapse Kills Man

Buffalo,NY- Hamburg Police and OSHA officials are investigating an accident that trapped and killed a worker repairing a sewer line. Police say Charles M. Lee, Jr., 34, of Lackawanna had died before rescue crews even arrived. It took firefighters over five hours to remove Lee's body from the trench.

N.J. Motel Owner Killed

Philadelphia, PA - A Burlington County motel owner was shot to death Tuesday and the gunman remained at large Tuesday night. A landscaper found Ranjit "Randy" Patel, 57, of Voorhees, on the floor near the registration desk of the Rodeway Inn Motor Lodge about 2:30 p.m. Bleeding from a head wound, Patel was pronounced dead when EMTs arrived.

Worker crushed by stacks of granite while on the job

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. A Tennessee man was crushed to death yesterday in Mississippi by slabs of granite weighing several hundred tons. DeSoto County Coroner Jeff Pounders says 22-year-old Darrell Swank, of Collierville, Tennessee, was an employee of Global Granite in Southaven. Pounders says Swank died when two stacks of granite fell on him as he tried to move them with an overhead lift. Swank was alone in the back of the warehouse when the accident occurred. A fellow employee had left just before the accident after injuring his finger.

Victims of the explosion and fire at the BP Amoco Texas City oil refinery, which killed 15 people and injured over 100:

• Kimberly Smith, 43, Dayton, JE Merit • Larry Linsenbardt, 58, Mount Belvieu, employer unknown • Ryan Rodriguez, 28, Baytown, JE Merit • Morris King, 52, Baytown, JE Merit • Larry Thomas, 63, Huffman, JE Merit • Daniel Hogan, 58, Glenmora, La., Fluor-Daniel • Eugene White, 53, no hometown, JE Merit • Rafael Herrera, 27, Baytown, Fluor-Daniel • Glenn Bolton, 50, College Station, JE Merit • Jimmy Hunnings, 58, Baytown, Fluor-Daniel • Susan Taylor, 33, Baytown, JE Merit • Linda Rowe, 47, Hornbeck, La., JE Merit • James Rowe, 48, Hornbeck, La., JE Merit • Lorena Cruz, 32, La Porte, JE Merit • Arthur Ramos, 59, Houston, JE Merit. All those killed have been identified.

Victims of the explosion and fire at the Texas City oil refinery, which killed 15 people and injured over 100:

Kimberly Smith, 43, Dayton, JE Merit • Larry Linsenbardt, 58, Mount Belvieu, employer unknown • Ryan Rodriguez, 28, Baytown, JE Merit • Morris King, 52, Baytown, JE Merit • Larry Thomas, 63, Huffman, JE Merit • Daniel Hogan, 58, Glenmora, La., Fluor-Daniel • Eugene White, 53, no hometown, JE Merit • Rafael Herrera, 27, Baytown, Fluor-Daniel • Glenn Bolton, 50, College Station, JE Merit • Jimmy Hunnings, 58, Baytown, Fluor-Daniel • Susan Taylor, 33, Baytown, JE Merit • Linda Rowe, 47, Hornbeck, La., JE Merit • James Rowe, 48, Hornbeck, La., JE Merit • Lorena Cruz, 32, La Porte, JE Merit • Arthur Ramos, 59, Houston, JE MeritAll those killed have been identified.

• University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, 23 treated, including most of the gravely injured arriving by Life Flight helicopter and ambulance. Seven in critical condition. Six in good condition. The rest have been released.• Mainland Medical Center in Texas City, 60 treated, mostly plant workers. 53 treated and released, six admitted, one critically injured patient flown by Life Flight helicopter to Memorial Hermann Hospital.• Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, 23 treated, a mix of plant workers and nearby residents arriving by ambulance, car and even bus. Only two were admitted to the hospital, both in stable condition.• Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Received one critically injured plant worker with back and neck injuries from Mainland Medical Center.

Motorman faulted in death of signal engineer

BOSTON- The operator of a subway train was likely at fault in the death of a veteran signal engineer who was killed when he was struck by a train while working on a frozen signal, a transit official said. Obioma Hillary Nna was killed on Jan. 27 near Wellington Station in Medford.

Man killed in petroleum tanker explosion

HARLINGEN, Texas - Local authorities and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were investigating the cause of a petroleum explosion that killed a worker early Friday. David Cavazos, 47, was cleaning a petroleum tanker when the explosion occurred at Wright Petroleum Co. Inc. "There are a lot of fumes in those tankers and something triggered them off," said Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio. "Unfortunately, he was right there.

N.J. trucker killed in Brunswick crash

NJ- A New Jersey truck driver was killed Monday when he lost control of a tractor-trailer on state Route 46 in Brunswick County and crashed. State police said Dean R. Motter, 47, of Blackwood, N.J., wrecked about 12:30 p.m. a half-mile south of state Route 652.

Suspect in slaying of Vietnamese store owner arrested

Baton Rouge, Louisiana- US Police in the Louisiana city of Baton Rouge on Feb. 23 arrested a man accused of fatally shooting a store owner of Vietnamese origin last week. Roy Ray Banks, 25, was booked into the Parish Prison Monday night on counts of first-degree murder and armed robbery. Banks is accused of shooting Sammy Nguyen, 40, in the head outside his store around 8:45 p.m. Friday Feb. 18.

Trooper's death fortified tough meth law effort Oklahoma officer slain by addict on day after Christmas in 2003

West Virginia- On the day after Christmas in 2003, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Nik Green left his home in the little community of Devol just north of the Red River. A neighbor had alerted him about a suspicious car on a quiet country road about a mile away. It didn't take long for Green to find the car, along with an addict in the process of setting up equipment in the trunk to make methamphetamine. A struggle ensued, with the addict gaining control of Green's service pistol. A video camera in Green's cruiser captured only the horrifying audio, on which the trooper can be heard pleading in vain for his life.

Sinkhole Death: Firefighters Recover Body of City Worker

SUN VALLEY, CA — Flags at city facilities were ordered flown at half staff today after firefighters recovered the body of a city worker who died when he fell into a sinkhole in Sun Valley. Rory Shaw, a civil engineer with the Department of Public Works' Bureau of Engineering, had been a city employee for 15 years. "My heart and prayers go out to Rory's family, friends and co-workers and I extend my deepest sympathies," said Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn. "I have ordered all flags at city facilities to be flown at half staff in his honor.


Palm Beach, FL- A mechanic was shot and killed in front of an auto repair store Wednesday afternoon after getting into an argument with a customer, police said. The customer fired twice at the mechanic at Phoenix Auto Repair, located at 2617 South St., striking him once in the back as he tried to run, according to police and witnesses. Investigators identified the victim as 39-year-old Hector Inostroza of West Palm Beach. He was rushed into emergency surgery at St. Mary's Medical Center soon after the attack and died on the operating table, according to police.

Train collision kills truck driver

KELLOGG, MINN.- A 57-year-old man died Monday when a train struck the semitrailer truck he was driving in southeastern Minnesota. Harry Grant Roberts Jr., of Lake City, was declared dead at the scene of the crash, which happened about 12:30 p.m. in Kellogg.


Buffalo, New York- Deer in the road caused a fatal crash Friday night in Amherst, a suburb that has tried for years to pare its large deer herd for just this reason. Jeremy Glosser, 24, of Lockport, a taxi driver for Custom Cab, was killed in the deer-car crash in North Amherst, police said. A passenger in the taxi, Donna Young, 41, also of Lockport, was taken to Erie County Medical Center with head injuries. She was listed in fair condition Saturday, a hospital official said.

Crop-duster pilot dies in crash Ceres man cited engine trouble before he died

CA- A crop-duster pilot was killed Friday when his aircraft crashed in a muddy field shortly after taking off from the Firebaugh Airport, authorities reported. The Fresno County Coroner's Office identified the victim as Daniel Shanahan, 40, of Ceres in Stanislaus County. Jim Williams, a safety inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration in Fresno, declined to comment about what might have caused the crash. His office will file a report with the National Transportation Safety Board. It could take one to six months for the investigation to be completed.

Slain Store Owner Planned A Safer Business, Wife Says

Lakeland, FL -- Raised a Southern Baptist, Donna Abu-Khdair found Islam, and then, six years ago, found her husband, Fadi Abu-Khdair, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, whose idea of the American dream was to own a convenience store. The young couple lived out that dream, operating a BP gas station on Memorial Boulevard for the past three years, working seven-day weeks selling everything from fried chicken to budget cigars. It was not meant to be, said Donna Abu-Khdair, 27, whose husband was shot and killed last Wednesday night as he tended his store, alone.

Building ruled out in illness; UCR: One participant in a seminar has died, and several others have reported symptoms.

CA- Riverside County's disease-control chief has found no evidence to suggest that a UC Riverside building is unsafe after the death of a Huntington Beach police officer and the illnesses of other participants in a seminar earlier this month. "There's nothing suggesting the building in and of itself is the cause of any illness," said Barbara Cole on Friday. Mark Hanson, a Huntington Beach police officer, died Sunday night at La Palma Intercommunity Hospital in Orange County of acute bronchitis, the Orange County coroner's office ruled earlier this week.

Town wants trains to slow down following deadly wrecks

ROSELAND, La.- Following two deadly wrecks in four days near here, the town council is calling on the state to get trains to slow down as they pass through Tangipahoa Parish in southeastern Louisiana. On Thursday, Amtrak's City of New Orleans passenger train smashed into a truck at a railroad crossing in Independence killing two workmen. Four days before, the same train killed a man and three girls in a pickup truck in Roseland, about 10 miles from the scene of Thursday's fatal wreck. Both crossings had only crossbuck signs and no warning lights. The town council met Thursday and drafted a resolution calling on the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to slow down trains. The council also wants to install crossing guards. Killed Thursday were two men who were in an electrical contractor's bucket truck, Tangipahoa Parish sheriff's spokesman Chuck Reed said. The men were identified as Tyler Davis Jr., 23, of Ponchatoula, and Dan Warren, 35, of Amite. Davis, the driver, is the son of a Hammond developer who lost another son to a scuba diving accident several years ago, Reed said.

Cause of fatal plane crash may never be known

Sheboygan, WI- A preliminary report on the plane crash Feb. 4 that killed three Plymouth Foam Inc. executives and a pilot indicates the aircraft slammed into the ground nearly nose-first after rapid-ly dropping from the sky from 7,000 feet, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. But because so little wreckage was recoverable, the crash's cause may never be known, one local aviation operator said. Killed in the crash were Scott E. Roberts, 41, and Vance Roberts, 49, brothers and co-owners of Plymouth Foam; Michael A. Borzcik, 50, a vice president of the firm; and pilot Paul A. Riddle, 71.

Henry officer on way to call killed in crash; 3 teens charged in burglary that brought police

GA- Charges will not be filed against the truck driver involved in a crash that killed a Henry County police officer en route to a burglary call early Wednesday morning. Officials said the driver "did everything possible" to avoid hitting the police officer. But three men were charged in connection with the burglary the officer was headed for. The three allegedly tripped an alarm at Premier Wireless at 110 Eagle's Landing Parkway about 5 a.m. Wednesday, sending police to the scene. One of the responding officers was slightly injured when he was hit by the fleeing suspects' car, said Henry County police Lt. Jason Bolton. Officers fired shots at the suspects but no one was hit, Bolton said. The three men were caught after a short car chase. Officer Charles "Chuck" Haist, 32, was answering a call for backup at the scene when he crashed into a Dodge pickup truck heading eastbound on Ga. 20/81 near the entrance ramp to I-75 in Henry County. Witnesses told police Haist was driving with lights and sirens at the time.

2 indicted in killing of restaurant executive

DALLAS _ Two men were indicted on capital murder charges Wednesday by a Dallas County grand jury in connection with the kidnapping and slaying of a Dallas restaurant owner. Jose Felix and Edgar Acevedo are accused of kidnapping Oscar Sanchez from his Oak Cliff neighborhood in January and killing him. Felix is being held in the Dallas County jail. Acevedo is believed to be in Mexico. The restaurant executive's body was found Jan. 27 under construction debris in a remote wooded area in southeast Dallas. The Sanchez family operates El Ranchito and La Calle Doce restaurants in the Oak Cliff and Lakewood areas of Dallas. The indictment accuses the men of shooting and killing Sanchez during the kidnapping.

Officials check for UCR link in death; TIMETABLE: The Huntington Beach police officer was on the campus last week.

Riverside, CA- Health officials in Riverside and Orange counties are investigating whether the death of a Huntington Beach police officer was linked to time he spent at a training seminar at UC Riverside last week. Mark Hanson, 46, died Sunday night at La Palma Intercommunity Hospital in Orange County of acute bronchitis, said Joseph Luckey, supervising deputy coroner for the Orange County Sheriff's Department coroner's office.

Ohio trucker killed in crash on mountain pass

Bellaire, Ohio- A tractor-trailer jackknifed coming down the west side of icy Homestake Pass on Interstate 90 and smashed into a parked semitrailer, killing its driver as he was making a roadside adjustment of his trailer's brakes, the Montana Highway Patrol said Monday. The victim was Michael Martin, 48, of Bellaire, Ohio. He died Sunday night when he was pinned between his truck and the guardrail.

Brenda D. Cowan Act passes in the Senate

Lexington, KY — Senate Bill 217, also known as the Brenda D. Cowan Act, was passed unanimously by the Kentucky Senate Thursday by a vote of 38 - 0. The bill would amend KRS 508.025, relating to assault in the third degree, to provide that a person is guilty of assault in the third degree when he causes or attempts to cause physical injury to emergency medical services personnel, organized fire department members, and rescue squad personnel. The bill would also name the Act the "Brenda D. Cowan Act" in honor of Lexington Fire and Emergency Services' Lt. Brenda Cowan, who was gunned down on Feb. 13 while responding to a victim of domestic violence.

N.C. man found shot to death at truck stopWilmington

N.C.- A North Carolina truck driver was found shot to death Tuesday morning at a Greensville County truck stop. WWBT-TV reports that Frank Dolce Jr., 42, of Wilmington, N.C., was found early Tuesday morning shot to death in his cab. Dolce worked for Ace Transportation based in Lafayette, La. Greensville Police said Dolce had made a delivery in Baltimore and was heading back home when he pulled into Love's Truck Stop around 9 p.m. Monday. The death is under investigation by the Greensville Sheriff's Department.

Murder charge filed in store clerk killing

DURHAM, NC -- Police on Thursday charged a Durham man with murder in the death of a convenience store clerk who was fatally beaten in February. Keith Wade Kidwell, 20, was charged with murder in the Feb. 10 death of Crayton Nelms, a 45-year-old cashier at the Kangaroo gas station and convenience store at 4604 N. Roxboro Road. An autopsy revealed that Nelms died from blunt force trauma, Durham police Investigator Vincent Bynum said.

State charges pair in jewel killings

BRIDGEPORT A Superior Court judge Tuesday signed arrest warrants for Christopher DiMeo and his girlfriend, Nicole Pearce, for last week's murders of Fairfield jewelry store owners Tim and Kim Donnelly. The warrants charging DiMeo with capital felony, two counts each of murder and felony murder and one count of first-degree robbery and Pearce with two counts of felony murder and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery were to be served on the defendants today in their Nassau County, N.Y., jail cells.


Orlando, FL -- Housekeeper Wanda Wright died a horrible death. She was beaten, had bleach poured down her throat and her mouth duct-taped before she was strangled with a belt. The 39-year-old Titusville woman was killed, police said Friday, because Margaret Allen, whose house she cleaned, was convinced that Wright had stolen a purse containing $2,000. As Allen, her 18-year-old son, Quintin, and her boyfriend, James Terry Martin of Titusville, went to court Friday to face charges in the case, investigators collected evidence from Wright's shallow grave west of Mims. "I cannot imagine what she went through, having to ingest cleaning fluids and having a belt tied around her throat," said Cmdr. John Lau of the Titusville Police Department. "This is just pure torture." According to police, Wright was cleaning the house Tuesday when Allen, who has a long criminal history, accused her of stealing the purse.Truck driver killed in crash with trainSELZ, N.D.- A Schwan's delivery truck driver was killed when his truck collided with a train at a crossing on a Pierce County gravel road, the Highway Patrol says. James Roma, 38, of Harvey, failed to yield to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train around 11 a.m. Wednesday and was killed on impact, authorities said. It happened about 1 mile east of Selz, at a crossing marked with crossbucks.

Daughter files lawsuit in man's forklift death

Pittsburgh, PA- The daughter of a North Fayette man who died in an industrial accident in a Hays shipping warehouse has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the warehouse operator and the man who ran over her father with a forklift. The lawsuit filed last week in Allegheny County court seeks unspecified damages from Tech Industries -- which operates the Galvtech warehouse -- and forklift driver Brad Winters, of Elizabeth Township, for the March 2003 death of Joseph Beck, 59.

Victim likely watched, ambushed ; Gunman netted $ 2,000 in October robbery and killing of kind-hearted business owner

Houston, TX- A northside Houston business owner known for helping the downtrodden apparently was stalked by robbers in the days before he was shot to death, investigators said. Police think Larry Fiedler, 62, was the victim of a "jugging"-style robbery that netted the gunman $ 2,000 Oct. 18 outside Fiedler's scrap-metal business at 1515 N. Main. Fielder died Dec. 12. Crime Stoppers offered a reward of up to $ 5,000 for tips leading to an arrest and charges.

Mickel admits he killed cop

Marysville, CA- Andrew H. Mickel admitted Friday that he killed Red Bluff police Officer David Mobilio but will not reveal his defense until later in his trial. "I want to tell you that I did ambush and kill David Mobilio," Mickel, who is representing himself, told a Colusa County jury of seven women and five men during his opening statement. Mickel said prosecutors will present evidence - all true - that he bought the gun used to kill Mobilio on Nov. 19, 2002, and left a homemade flag at the murder scene with the words, "This was a political action."

No rules broken in Lone's death, Policy allowed him to remove float coat, police chief says

Seattle- Officer Jackson Lone removed a flotation device while on shore securing a tugboat, slipped, hit his head and drowned in the waters of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, a Seattle police investigation has determined. The death of the 39-year-old Harbor Patrol officer was an accident, and Lone did not break any department policies by not wearing his "float coat" on shore, Chief Gil Kerlikowske said yesterday during a news conference.

Easton SWAT officer dies after Downtown shooting, Fallen city officer was eight-year veteran

EASTON, PA -- An eight-year city police veteran was fatally wounded Friday afternoon inside police headquarters as officers completed SWAT training exercises, sources said. Patrolman Jesse Sollman was shot about 3:30 p.m. inside the police building on South Third Street, officials said.

Company cited in deadline accident

MONTICELLO, I- , Iowa An eastern Iowa company has been cited for a safety violation in connection with an accident in January that killed a worker. Police say the January 21st accident at the Commander Buildings Incorporated site in Monticello killed 53-year-old Dennis Dirks, of Manchester, when a large steel truss struck him and a co-worker. Dirks was pronounced dead at a hospital. His co-worker suffered head and leg injuries and was treated and released.

Six Killed in Pennsylvania Plane Crash

BELLEFONTE, Pa. Mar 26, 2005 — Six People Killed in Single-Engine Plane Crash Outside Bellefonte, Pa., Near Construction Site. Six people were killed when a single-engine plane crashed Saturday near a construction site where a new county prison is being built, authorities said. The turboprop plane went down around 2 p.m. in Benner Township just outside Bellefonte, the Centre County seat, near the site of the future Centre County Correctional Facility, officials said. Witnesses said the plane sputtered and hit the ground nose-first, said Tim Boyde, county director of administrative services, who was at the crash scene. Attorney Carl Freedman said pilot Jeffrey Jacober, 51, of Providence, R.I., and Gregg Weingeroff, 49, were killed along with the four other passengers. He said both men were his clients and his personal friends.

Roper man ran over, killed in Martin County

NC- A Roper man was killed early Friday morning after a tractor-trailer ran him over at the Weyerhaeuser lumber mill. Shortly before 9 a.m. Tyrese Lamont Allen, 29, of 76 Spruill's Loop Road died at the scene when he was knocked to the ground by the vehicle and trapped between the truck and the trailer.

Employee burned in company explosion dies of burns

Oklahoma City,OK- A man has died after suffering burns in a series of explosions at an Edmond construction company. Officials say Daniel Littrell was flown by helicopter to Integris Baptist Medical Center after the Thursday afternoon explosion at Duit Construction Company. The 42-year-old employee died later of complications from the burns.

Family mourns man shot to death Friday

VA- A Virginia Beach family is dealing with the Good Friday murder of a husband and father. Thomas Laurendeau, 58, was killed yesterday when a man entered the Wachovia Bank in the College Square Park shopping center and shot Laurendeau multiple times. Laurendeau was an employee at the bank. "He stayed late at the bank a lot because he was the only guy there, and he worried about those girls being there alone," said Martha Laurendeau, his widow.

Police: Anonymous caller may have clues in security guard's murder

AKRON, OH -- A 9-1-1 caller could help solve a homicide case in Akron. The problem is the woman reported the murder anonymously, and police were unable to trace her cell phone call. Police say it all started with the suspect breaking the glass doors of Burt Greenwald Chevrolet. When the alarm went off, Buckeye Security sent long-time employee Michael Laughlin. Minutes later an anonymous woman called police. “Hurry up it’s a white blazer,” said the 9-1-1 caller. “He just shot a man. He beat him, and he shot him. Hurry up get down there!”

Man, woman found dead in office building in downtown Greenville

Birmingham,AL- An employee of an architectural firm killed a female co-worker and then himself at the office where they worked, Greenville police say. Danny O'Neal Moon, 54, of Greenville died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound around 5 p.m. Friday, Greenville County Deputy Coroner Linda Holbrook said. Moon and Linda Ann Cuturilo, 49, of Greenville were found in a downtown office building that housed architectural firm Aracadis, Holbrook said. Greenville police spokesman Lt. Mike Gambrell said Moon entered the office of Cuturilo, an administrative assistant, and shot her in the head with a small caliber handgun.

Gas-hauling tractor-trailer explodes, killing driver

Newark,NJ- The driver of a tractor-trailer loaded with gasoline was killed yesterday when the vehicle overturned and exploded while leaving the New Jersey Turnpike at Interchange 11, police said. Jasvir Singh, 25, of Middlesex, died in the accident, which shut down the exit for the southbound truck lanes for several hours, authorities said.

Company fined in mill worker's death had previous violations

CONCRETE, Wash. -- A sawmill fined for safety violations after a mill worker was dragged into a debarking machine and killed had been cited for safety problems in the past. The state Department of Labor and Industries investigated operations at NW Forest Fibre Products three years ago, then cited the company for failing to develop a "log-out, tag-out" plan requiring employees to lock down a machine's power supply before performing maintenance on it. L&I spokesman Robert Nelson said the company had not put such a plan in place by Sept. 15, when a rag that 28-year-old Keith Cain was using to wipe water off a debarker drum got caught between two spinning tires and dragged him into the machine, which strips bark from tree limbs.

Truck driver killed in I-95 crash

NORWALK -- Slippery road conditions apparently led to an accident that killed a Islip, N.Y., truck driver on Interstate 95 near the Norwalk-Westport border early yesterday, state police said. Donald Bulk, 52, was driving a Sysco Food tractor-trailer in the right southbound lane when a van driven by a Port Chester, N.Y., woman lost control and spun across the highway at 1:02 a.m., police said.

Granite slabs crush stone worker to death

SCHILLER PARK, IL -- A Chicago man was killed when 6,000 pounds of granite fell on him Thursday while he was on the job at a stone fabrication and installation company in Schiller Park, police said. Ivan Caudillo, 21, of the 2500 block of South Albany Avenue, was pronounced dead at Euro Marble and Granite.

construction worker found dead identified

Seattle- The construction worker whose body was found outside a former restaurant on Dexter Avenue North earlier this week has been identified as Ramiro Longoria, 44, according to the King County Medical Examiner's office. Ramiro Longoria died from skull and rib fractures, injuries to his head and torso and lung lacerations, according to a medical examiner investigator. It's not known if Longoria fell or jumped from the building, but police say there was no evidence of a crime. Longoria's body was found by a passerby early Wednesday on the pavement below the upper balcony of the now-closed Adriatica Restaurant at 1107 Dexter Ave. N. The tri-level building is being remodeled and police said Longoria had been working on the project and sleeping at the site.

Worker Dies After Fall From Bridge

Nashville, TN- A construction worker was killed Friday morning in Columbia when he fell off a bridge while preparing to sandblast it, authorities said. Investigators believe he was painting underneath the bridge over the Duck River on Highway 31 when he fell about 50 feet onto a rocky area. He died instantly. Investigators are now trying to figure out what kind of safety harness or equipment he was using.

Police Release Name of Worker Killed at RC Willey

SALT LAKE CITY, UT -- We now know the name of the R.C. Willey employee crushed to death yesterday. Police say 24-year-old Travis Nielsen was killed at a R.C. Willey Warehouse in Salt Lake City. They say six tabletops -- weighing a total of 18-hundred pounds -- fell on him. Authorities say they aren't sure how much time exactly passed before workers found the man. They pushed the tabletops off Nielsen and called 911. Nielsen was pronounced dead at the scene. Salt Lake City police spokesman Dwayne Baird said there was no evidence of foul play.

Utah man dies in construction accident at Tamarack

Tamarack Resort officials have confirmed a fatal accident at a construction site at the new resort. Resort officials say the accident was not related to the skiing hill. A construction worker was killed on a job site around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after a beam struck him in the head. He was wearing a hard hat. The deceased man has been identified as 32-year-old John Robert Steele of Utah. He worked for Jacobsen construction, which was building the members lodge at Tamarack.

N.J. Motel Owner Killed

NJ- A Burlington County motel owner was shot to death Tuesday and the gunman remained at large Tuesday night. A landscaper found Ranjit "Randy" Patel, 57, of Voorhees, on the floor near the registration desk of the Rodeway Inn Motor Lodge about 2:30 p.m. Bleeding from a head wound, Patel was pronounced dead when EMTs arrived.

Mechanic Crushed By School Bus

Seattle,WA- MONROE - A mechanic was run over and killed by a school bus near Monroe Tuesday morning. The Snohomish County sheriff's office says the mechanic was alone with the bus after it broke down in the 12600 block of 251st Avenue Southeast. The driver of the bus carrying junior and senior high school students had called for a replacement bus and the mechanic. Deputy Rich Niebusch says the students were transferred to the new bus and taken to school. About 7:40 a nearby resident reported seeing the bus roll down a hill to an empty field. The man's body was discovered in the path of the bus. He was a six-year employee of the district. Deputies and the Washington State troopers are investigating.

UPS worker found dead, Fremont resident discovered in truck; autopsy planned today

FREMONT — When Richard Brennan did not return from his delivery route Monday evening, his United Parcel Service co-workers began to worry he might be in trouble. Two hours later, their worst fears were realized. Brennan, a 48-year-old Fremont resident, was found dead in his UPS truck some three hours after he made his last delivery, said police Sgt. Mark Riggs.

TOSHA Investigates Fatal Fall

TN-Tennessee authorities are investigating an accident that killed a construction worker last Friday. It happened at the future site of Woodland Park Baptist Church off of Standifer Gap Road in Chattanooga. Police say 46-year-old James Stephens of Chickamauga, Georgia was 80-feet off the ground when he apparently slipped and fell to his death. He worked for Chattanooga Crane & Rigging. Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health officials are conducting a formal investigation. They say it will be at least two weeks before they release their preliminary findings.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Transparency? Or PR Savvy?

It has been three days since the devastating explosion on Wednesday, March 23 at the BP refinery that killed 15 workers and seriously injured dozens of others. For those who want the latest on the situation in Texas City, a crew of Houston Chronicle journalists are doing a tremendous job keeping information flowing to the public. In today’s edition, one article “Victims remembered by families, friends” provides a snapshot into the lives of eight of the deceased. One worker, Lori Cruz, was in her final week of employment at the plant. Also among the dead were a husband and wife team, Linda and James Rowe, who traveled from Louisiana to work temporarily at the BP plant.

But woe to those who choose only to rely on the words of journalists. Where might one go for information about the Texas City explosion and investigation? Well, what about official government sources? Checking out OSHA’s website, you will be disappointed. There is no mention of the explosion. Instead, workers and an interested public will learn that OSHA and the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) renewed their alliance. (You’ve read previously here about these alliances.) Another prominent announcement on OSHA’s website describes the President’s FY’2006 budget request. Despite the pronouncement that the budget will make “a positive impact on workplace safety and health,” it includes the elimination of the $10.2 million Susan Harwood training grants program.

Noticeably absent from OSHA’s site is any mention of the agency’s role in investigating the explosion at the BP refinery. We know that OSHA experts are on the scene, but I guess this Department of Labor prefers to focus on hand-shakes and other niceties of workers’ safety and health, and not the nightmarish explosions, unnecessary deaths, and the other awful realities faced by workers at many workplaces. The other federal agency on the scene is the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). In contrast to OSHA, the CSB’s homepage prominently displays a news release noting that the agency has seven investigators on the scene, and provides the names (yes, the names of actual, real people) and phone numbers of CSB staff to contact for further information.

OK, so much for the feds. Go to the BP site and information about the explosion is front-and-center on their homepage. Granted, this is a multi-billion dollar firm that spends gazillions on public relations, but at least they are acknowledging that the explosion occurred, that 15 people perished, that many others were injured, and that a community is stricken by grief and pollution. In addition to the information on their homepage, BP has created a separate information page which includes a very personal message from the plant director, the names of the deceased and an update on recovery efforts and the beginning phase of the investigation. The BP site also mentions that the Paper, Allied Chemical Employees International Union (PACE) has begun an independent investigation of the explosion. (This blogger couldn’t find any information on the PACE website about the BP explosion.)

What about the Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc., employer of 11 of the 15 victims of the refinery disaster? Go to their website, and it looks like business as usual. After clicking through the site, including the world map showing Jacobs Engineering has offices in 66 cities worldwide, I continued to search for some sign that someone in the firm’s corporate offices realized there had been a terrible explosion. Finally, I found it, a brief news release, tucked under Investor Relations.

Have I been co-opted by BP’s sophisticated public relations apparatus? Am I giving this global conglomerate undeserving credit for being transparent? Given what we are learning about the actual safety record at the BP Texas City plant, perhaps I should be wary of BP’s apparent openness. Perhaps, but the optimist in me says, maybe this time, the corporation will learn a lesson from this tragedy. That Lord John Brown, head of BP, is sincere and will insist that workers’ safety forever trump shareholder profits.

With A Little Help From My Friends

I'm out of here. Leavin' on a jet plane. On vacation!

To a far-away land where I'll have no (or very limited) access to a computer. Back the week of April 4th.

But instead of leaving you all in a lurch, I've asked a few of my good friends to join Tammy and fill in for me while I'm gone. They are among the best and the brightest in occupational safety and health, so I'm sure you'll be well taken care of. I'll let them introduce themselves as they write, although some may wish to remain anonymous. Be kind to them. I'm hoping a few will get the fever and continue after I return.

The always-wonderful Celeste Monforton will help to coordinate this gaggle, so if you have any good ideas or spy any major problems (broken links, world-altering typos, etc.) feel free to e-mail her.

Talk to you when I get back....

-- Jordan


Friday, March 25, 2005

Anniversary of a Tragedy

Today marks the 94th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 employees.
One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn't notice whether those above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.

The firemen began to raise a ladder. Others took out a life net and, while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before they could move the net another girl's body flashed through it. The thuds were just as loud, it seemed, as if there had been no net there. It seemed to me that the thuds were so loud that they might have been heard all over the city.
Eyewitness Account by UP Reporter William G. Shepherd

For an excellent account of the tragedy, read David Van Drehle's Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.


Meanwhile, back to the present:

Three immigrant janitors will file a lawsuit today against two supermarkets in the Bronx, accusing them of endangering their lives by locking them in at night, with the fire exits blocked or padlocked.

The janitors, who worked the late night shift scrubbing and waxing floors, accuse two C-Town supermarkets of false imprisonment and negligence.

The janitors' lawyers said they were filing the lawsuit partly out of frustration that government regulators had not done more to crack down on stores in New York that lock in their late-night janitors.

"We're bringing this lawsuit because it's outrageous that this practice is going on," said Amy Carroll, a lawyer with MFY Legal Services, a nonprofit law office serving low-income New Yorkers. "We should have learned our lesson with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that locking in workers is unconscionable. This lawsuit seeks to hold these stores accountable and to change a practice endemic in the industry."


Thursday, March 24, 2005

BP In California: "callous and intentional noncompliance purely for economic reasons"

This doesn't seem to be BP's month.

BP West Coast Products has agreed to fines, health programs and improvements totaling a record $81 million for thousands of pollution violations over the past decade at its Carson, California oil refinery. It's the largest air-pollution penalty in American history for a single facility.

BP agreed to pay
  • $25 million in cash penalties to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD).
  • $6 million in past AQMD emissions' fees.
  • $20 million to improve its Carson refinery.
  • $30 million over 10 years into community programs that address asthma diagnoses.
"The lawsuit and settlement send a strong message that AQMD has a zero-tolerance policy," Atwood said. "This should be an extremely strong deterrent. This type of corporate behavior will not be tolerated."

AQMD had two pending lawsuits worth $616 million asserting that BP failed to inspect and repair parts, pipe joints and connections in the refinery, which converts crude oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. It is one of seven refineries in Southern California, and one of the largest in the state.
BP claims that they were in compliance with air emission standards, but just misinterpreted the inspection rules. Not quite, According to AQMD chief counsel Peter Mieras, and we don't even know the true extent of BP's violations:
The exact amount of pollution emitted from the refinery has yet to be calculated because the air district relies on companies to report their own emissions' inventory. Since BP failed to identify and inspect as many as half the components in its facility during the last decade, emissions might be as much as double previous totals.

"In this case, it's much more than an interpretation of the rules," he said. "They engaged in callous and intentional noncompliance purely for economic reasons."
And for the umpteenth time this week, I return to the theme of my article earlier this week, Of Fish and Men: Corporate Penalties And The Law, where I describe in tragic detail the relative insignificance of penalties for killing workers compared with environmental penalties.

I would be willing to put money on the prediction that BP's penalty for killing 15 workers at its Texas City facility yesterday will be dwarfed by this penalty. Any takers?


Ten OSHA Staff Test Positive For Beryllium Sensitization

Ten OSHA employees out of 271 tested have confirmed postive results for beryllium sensitization according to an internal memo sent to OSHA staff by Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jonathan Snare. In January, Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Roe revealed that three OSHA employees had tested postive. Beryllium is an extremely toxic metal that carries a high risk of causing chronic beryllium disease, a fast-progressing and potentially fatal lung disease.

Snare opens the memo stating that "OSHA is committed to protecting the health and safety of its employees." You would hardly suspect from these statements that OSHA in April of 2002, former OSHA Assistant Secretary John Henshaw had pulled the plug on a 2000 plan to test OSHA inspectors for exposure to beryllium. OSHA Regional Administrator Adam Finkel disclosed OSHA's reversal to the press and in return for his service, was removed from his position as Regional Administrator. Finkel then filed a whistleblower complaint against OSHA. After several articles in the national press, Henshaw announced last April -- four and a half years after the original screening was to go into effect -- that OSHA would offer testing for beryllium disease to inspectors who may be been exposed to the toxic dust in the course of inspections.

Although his fears have been vidicated, Finkel is still concerned. It's not clear whether those that tested positive had high exposures or low exposures to beryllium. If those tested happen to have had low exposures, it would mean that those with higher exposures are at even more risk.

Furthermore, Finkel notes that Snare's memo said nothing about screening retirees, staff that left OSHA or state plan inspectors.

But fear not. Snare concludes the memo stating that "We value the health of all OSHA employees." We're sure he means former employees, retired employees and state plan employees as well. I mean, have they ever given us a reason to doubt their sincerity?

UPDATE: OSHA Press Release here.


BP, site of fatal explosion, is Nation's Leader in Accidents

BP Amoco, owner of the Texas City refinery that exploded on Wednesday, killing 15 contract workers, ranked first in the Nation for workplace accidents since 1990, according to an April 2004 report by U. S. Public Interest Group (PIRG). US PIRG reports that BP’s U.S. facilities have had more than 3565 accidents since 1990, ranking first in the nation. The report, Irresponsible Care: How the Chemical Industry Fails to Protect the Public From Chemical Accidents, analyzed the history of accidents at the facilities that implement Responsible Care®, a voluntary code subscribed to by member companies of the American Chemistry Council, formerly the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA). Between 1990 and 2003, there has been no downward trend in the number of accidents at facilities that have implemented Responsible Care®.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

At Least 14 Dead, Hundreds Injured In Huge Refinery Explosion

In one of the biggest workplace disasters in decades, a massive explosion at a BP Amoco refinery in Texas City, Texas, has killed at least 14 15 workers and injured more than 100. Several are in critical condition. The explosion may resurrect questions about the widespread use of contract labor in U.S. refineries and chemical plants.

The explosion apparently began in the isomer unit, which produces components used to raise the octane content of gasoline. The facility,which first began operations in 1934, is huge, employing over 1800 workers. Plant workers are represented by the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE)but plant management reports that all 14 who died were contractors working for J.E. Merritt in Pasadena, Calif., part of Jacobs Engineers.

The rising use of contractors in oil refineries as a way to cut costs has been highly controversial. OSHA commissioned an investigation into the massive October 1989 explosion at a Texas Phillips 66 refinery that killed 23 workers. That explosion also involved contractors, and the resulting "John Gray" report found that they had not received adequate training and were not adequately familiar with how the plant operated. At the time of yesterday's explosion, the plant was undergoing a "turnaround" process, or annual major maintenance, and it was gradually being brought back on line. 2200 out of the 3300 workers at the facility yesterday were contract employees.

According to the Associated Press,
The blast left a gaping hole in the earth, mangled nearby offices, and was so powerful that witnesses said it rattled homes as far as five miles away. Cars and trucks in an employee parking lot were coated with soot and debris.

"It was real scary. Have you ever heard the thunder real loud? It was like 10 times that," said plant worker Charles Gregory, who was with several co-workers inside a trailer tank when the floor started rumbling.
Production at the plant is so large that the explosion caused fuel prices to rise.

BP's Texas City complex includes 30 refinery units spread over 1,200 acres.

With 460,000 barrels of crude oil processed every day, the plant provides 3 percent of the U.S. gasoline supply. The refinery also ranks as the eighth largest polluter in the state of Texas. It released 5.1 million pounds of pollutants in 2002, according to the latest data, including some chemicals that are known carcinogens and cause other serious health effects.

A population of 31, 413 people resides within a three-mile radius of the refinery.

The Texas City plant has a long history of safety problems. A Sept. 2, 2004, accident killed two Texas City workers when pressurized, superheated water was released from a 12-inch check valve. The incident resulted in a $109,500 OSHA fine, including seven serious violations and a willful citation for failing to relieve trapped pressure within a pipe.

The refinery was fined $63,000 for a March 30, 2004 explosion and fire in which no one was injured. There was also a fire in 2000 in which no one was injured and and explosion in 1995 that sent over 100 to the hospital. Finally, in 1993, the company paid $20 million in damages to the family of a worker who died after an April 1992 explosion at the Texas City plant.

Texas City was also the site of one of the biggest industrial disasters in American history when 576 people were killed when a fire aboard a ship at the Texas City docks triggered a massive ammonium nitrate explosion. That blast broke windows in Houston, forty miles away.

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is on its way to Texas to investigate the blast.

Recent Workplace Disasters

Although the final death toll is not in yet, this appears to be the worst workplace disasters in recent history

  • April 23, 1987: 28 construction workers died in the collapse of the L'Ambiance Plaza apartment building
  • October 23, 1989: A fire and explosion in Pasadena, Texas, Phillips 66 refinery killed 23 workers
  • July 5, 1990: Explosion at Arco Chemical Co. chemical plant in Channelview kills 17 people.
  • September 3, 1991: 25 workers died another 49 were injured fighting to escape through locked fire doors of the Imperial chicken processing plant in Hamlet, NC
  • Sept. 23, 2001: 13 workers were killed in an explosion at the Jim Walter No. 5 underground mine in Brookwood, Alabama.
More on Texas industrial disasters here.

Living with refineries
: here and here.


BP Refinery Blast Sends Gasoline Futures to a Record

March 24 (Bloomberg) -- An explosion at a BP Plc refinery in Texas sent gasoline to a record $1.608 a gallon in New York and heightened concern supplies may be disrupted before the U.S. summer driving season.

BP, the world's second-largest publicly traded oil company, said yesterday the explosion in Texas City, Texas, killed at least 14 people and injured 70 at its biggest refinery. A gasoline component-making unit is shut, Hugh Depland, a BP spokesman said yesterday by telephone from Houston.

The fire was at least the fourth incident in a year at the plant, which processes 460,000 barrels a day of crude oil and supplies about 30 percent of BP's fuel in North America. Gasoline has gained 47 percent this year, increasing inflationary pressure in the world's largest economy and leaving consumers with less to spend.

The Texas City plant is "a monster of a refinery," said Ed Silliere, vice president of risk management at Energy Merchant LLC in New York. Now is "the wrong time for us to be seeing the loss of this unit as we get set to go into the gasoline season."

More BP stories here.

McWane Admits to "Environmental Crimes": $4.5 million Fine

Our old friend McWane Corporation has pleaded guilty to "environmental crimes," fined $4.5 million, placed on probation for five years and required to spend an estimated $12 million on plant upgrades.

McWane was the focus of a 2003 NY Times/Frontline series about the high number of workplace injuries and fatalities at that company's facilities.

The plea is a significant development for McWane, which is facing a sweeping federal criminal investigation of its plants in several states. Based in Birmingham, Ala., McWane already faces federal indictments in Alabama and New Jersey, accused of conspiring to violate environmental and workplace safety laws.

"This is the third criminal prosecution of McWane in the last 16 months, and the first time that McWane has pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for criminal conduct," said David M. Uhlmann, chief of the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department.

At a court hearing in Tyler, the company admitted two felony offenses. It said it knowingly violated the Clear Air Act by making major modifications at Tyler Pipe without installing the necessary air pollution controls. The company also acknowledged that it knowingly made false statements to environmental regulators.
The company is also facing indictments in New Jersey and Alabama, but is fighting those. The Alabama case should be interesting as a former McWane manager admitted that the company had flooded a creek with millions of gallons of water poisoned by heavy metals over a period of years.

The NY Times/Frontline series revealed the company as a corporate criminal for it high number of injuries and fatalities, and OSHA's failure to bring criminal charges:

From 1995 to 2002, at least 4,600 injuries were recorded in McWane foundries. In that same period, the company was cited for more than 400 safety violations and 450 environmental violations.
In 2002, the company paid a $250,000 fine for a willful violation of workplace safety standards that resulted in the death of a worker.

$4.5 million penalty, plus $12 million in upgrades versus $250,000 for a workplace death. Once again we see the difference in penalties assessed for environmental crimes versus crimes that kill workers.

Related Stories

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sudden Death In The Steel Industry

Almost a soon as they got home, Randa heard the van roar into the driveway. Then the strong, hurried footsteps, followed by loud knocking. There were six of them standing there when she opened the door.


"Mrs. Tolman?"


"We're from U.S. Steel."


"There's been an accident. You have to come with us."

It had been a massive 1,600-pound wheel from one of the overhead cranes which did it, they said. Herbie had been working on it and the wheel just fell, suddenly, and crushed him. They told her that Herbie had died around 11 AM, and that he was gone the moment it hit him.
This is a scenario repeated too many times recently among families of U.S. steelworkers.

Journalist Dan Frosch has written a moving and informative article about the rising number of deaths in the steel industry. I've written a number of times recently (see below)about the rising death toll in the steel industry and the reasons for it, which Frosch details. After years of downsizing and automating had cut the death rate in the steel industry, the recent changes in the industry have once again made jobs more hazardous:
In recent years, a worldwide steel boom began to change the industry's fate and American steel plants have fired up production once again. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, U.S. steel plants shipped off nearly six percent more product in 2004 than in 2003, and approximately 12 percent more than in 2002.

But while business is good, steel companies have suddenly found themselves without the "old timers," as they're called, whose mastery of their own specialized crafts has been particularly missed now that there's more work to be done. Ostensibly, a far younger, less experienced generation of workers like Herbie Tolman, have been thrust into technically demanding and often dangerous jobs without many of the veterans there to show them the safest way to work.

Unsure of how long the boom will last, steel companies have been reluctant to rehire, despite the fact that during the downturn, crew sizes were scaled down and safety and preventative maintenance staff reduced, says Mike Wright, director of health, safety and environment for USWA.

To meet the increased demand in production, many companies did the next best thing: they signed labor agreements with the USWA which allowed workers to be shifted from the job they'd initially trained for, to different departments within the plant. Indeed, more work, less knowledge and a reduced emphasis on safety have all contributed to the problem, it seems.

"The workers have been under extraordinary pressure," Wright says.
And the companies are just making the situation worse:
But there's an underbelly to this safety-consciousness, says the union. U.S. Steel, says the USWA, has also been doing something very dangerous ­ disciplining employees for reporting injuries and accidents, and in the process forcing workers to think twice about coming forward when something in the plant has gone wrong.

"If there's an injury now, discipline often follows," says Wright. "And as a result, people just aren't reporting what's happening, so you lose basic information on how to make a plant safer."

Local union representatives at other U.S. Steel plants echo Wright's concern. Some workers at Granite City Works in Granite City, Illinois, say that since U.S. Steel took over the plant in 2003, their jobs have become considerably more dangerous, in part because, they say, the company discourages workers from reporting injuries or unsafe conditions.

"At this plant, if you're worried about the safety of the job you're doing, then you are considered insubordinate," says Gary Gaines, financial secretary for Granite City Works USWA Local 1899. "This company refuses to acknowledge that there are hazards in the steel industry."

Last December, one worker at the plant, Karl Richards, was killed from carbon monoxide poisoning while adjusting a valve on a blast furnace, and in February, another worker, David Prengel, was crushed against a loading dock by a cargo train.
Herbie Tolman's wife, meanwhile, is facing life with $588 a week in workers compensation money she gets from the state. What hurts her most, she says, is that no one from U.S. Steel has ever called to apologize.

"Not one person has called from Pittsburgh, not one person! Couldn't they have done that?" she wonders. "Herbie was so proud of that job. He loved it so much. I still can't believe he's never coming back."

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The Labor Movement: What Harold Meyerson Says...

I have voiced my skepticism about certain unions' (SEIU, Teamsters, etc.) proposals to slash the AFL-CIO's budget in order to rebate the funds to unions to be used for organizing.

Washington Post and American Prospect columnist Harold Meyerson agrees with me:
"For all that, the Teamster dues-rebate proposal around which the dissident unions rallied seemed more symbolic than real, and an inadequate expression of the deeper discontent fueling the revolt. Leaders on both sides of the question acknowledged that the rebates would augment their own unions' organizing programs by no more than 10 percent. Ultimately, however, the real impact wouldn't be the added funds to the member unions; it would be the radical diminution in the size of the AFL-CIO's budget and staff. And it's that diminution that seems closer to the heart of the dissidents' revolt. "We have to blow up the AFL-CIO bureaucracy," John Wilhelm, who heads the hotel side of UNITE HERE, told a labor forum in Los Angeles in February. "The staff should be cut by at least 50 percent." For Wilhelm and his allies, John Sweeney's AFL-CIO has become the symbol of a slow-footed and unsustainable status quo. "
I can't speak for the rest of the AFL-CIO infrastructure, but the loss of the federation's health and safety department isn't worth whatever might be gained by "blowing up" the AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, in a completely different perspective on the struggles within the labor movement, former UAW Executive Board member and New Directions founder Jerry Tucker accuses both "sides" of focusing too much on form and process, doing nothing than rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, when a much more fundamental change in the labor movement is needed.
There is some evidence that the current debate inside the AFL-CIO has already foundered, despite its narrowly drawn focus. The internet ping-pong match of competing proposals is already giving way to news account postings of 'winners and losers' based on meetings and preliminary votes that have been taken internally. One possible result may be a split in the national center, with one or more unions withdrawing from the Federation.

U. S. labor needs a counter-offensive. And, the centerpiece of labor's counter-offensive, with or without all current labor leaders, should be derived from a new vision of America based on justice and the creation of a new social intersection for all of those abused by the nexus of corporation and state and today's neoliberalism.

A true crisis-resolution strategy must re-introduce a culture, and shared vision, of struggle and of common defense, through worker to worker, union to union, and social movement to social movement solidarity. Under one broad social banner, we need to declare war on poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism, and the denial of the fundamental right to affordable health care for all, full employment, shorter work-time, and many other of the true values due all participants in a just society.