Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Of Blow Jobs and Lung Disease: Welders "Flu" Sends Ex Clinton/Gore/Kerry Operative Over To The Dark Side

As the latest Star Wars prequel heads into its third record-breaking week, it seems that the Dark Side has captured yet another victim.

California Bay Bridge welders, victims of the KFM flu, have sued "a joint venture led by Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., alleging that they developed serious illnesses from exposure to toxins while working on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco."

The welders, as you will remember, were overexposed to manganese and other welding fumes and then many were fired for complaining about health and safety conditions on the bridge.

While this is a story in itself, a small paragraph in the article caused me to do a double-take:

Kiewit spokesman Chris Lehane said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation. He said the company is committed to the safety of the public and its workers.
Chris Lehane? Could this be the same Chris Lehane, well known to us political junkies?

Sure enough:

Bridge builder's new flack a true PR virtuoso

KFM hires ex-Clinton spinmeister, Gray Davis energy crisis adviser

Chris Lehane, 37, helped the Clinton White House spin the Whitewater investigation, spoke for Vice President Al Gore on the 2000 presidential campaign trail and advised former Gov. Gray Davis during the 2001 energy crisis and 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Now he's working for KFM Joint Venture, the contractor building the Bay Bridge's new eastern span. The Oakland Tribune has reported welders' accusations that many of the project's welds are defective and that unsafe working conditions existed on the job site. An FBI investigation is under way, and lawmakers are calling for probes of their own.

"Chris is the best in the business. If you have damage that needs to be controlled, he's the guy to bring in," said veteran Republican campaign and public affairs consultant Dan Schnur. "And if any damage-control challenge is tougher than what he faced with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, it might be this one."

Yeah, I'd say it's tougher than Monica Lewinsky. On one hand you have a blow job, on the other hand you've got workers who have been knowingly exposed to welding fumes, including manganese, in violation of OSHA standards. On one hand you have a company covering up injuries and punishing workers who are hurt on the job, and on the other hand you have someone covering up....a blow job.

Now, I'm the first to admit that everyone's got to make a living, and from personal experience, I'll admit that it's not easy for former political operatives and appointees to find challenging jobs (that pay decently) in a Republican world. I'll also admit to being a bit judgmental on occasion, but after decades in the health and safety business, to me there is almost no creature lower than the pond scum corporate P.R. flacks who cover up the fact that their clients are hurting or killing workers, and then insisting over it all that the company is "committed to safety."
Democratic consultant Roger Salazar worked with Lehane in Gore's office and on the 2000 presidential campaign. He called Lehane and his partner, Mark Fabiani, also formerly of the White House, "the masters of crisis communications — they know how to manage an issue and look at it from every conceivable angle, find all of the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities."
All well and fine. But it makes me sick to think that this talent is now being used to stomp abused and poisoned workers further into the ground for a company that is rapidly rising to the top of the corporate outlaws list.

What's next Chris, Bill Frist's communications director?


Related Articles

Asbestos Compensation Bill Sent To Full Senate

By a vote of 13-5, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed asbestos compensation legislation Thursday and sent it to the full Senate.
All 10 Republicans voted to move the bill to the full Senate, as did three Democrats. The opponents were all Democrats.

Three Republicans on the committee said they were not sure they would support the bill's ultimate passage. Support in the House of Representatives, which has not considered the issue, is uncertain.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a physician, said he would vote against the bill as written because he said the medical criteria would permit compensation to smokers and others with cancers not clearly related to asbestos.

Coburn estimated that the payments for lung cancers of undetermined cause could amount to as much as $20 billion a year, quickly bankrupting the fund.

"It's not going to work," Coburn said. "We're giving false hope. This bill as written will fail in year three, four or five."

But at a news conference after the vote, Specter said he expected the bill to win support from both parties on the Senate floor. He said neither victims' advocates nor companies and their insurers got all they wanted.

"Everyone wants a little more, but the final vote is going to turn on whether it's better than the current system," Specter said. "When you look at the deal versus the current system, there's no contest."
Related Stories


Monday, May 30, 2005

Who Loses If OSHA's Worker Training Grants Are Eliminated?

Journalist (and former labor organizer) Brendan Coyne seems to have found a new passion: workplace safety and health issues. Following up on his excellent articles on the elimination of the AFL-CIO's Safety and Health Department and a story on the fatal BP Amoco Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers, Coyne's current work focuses on the fate of OSHA's worker training program and how it will effect workplace safety.

As I've written before, after four years of attempting to slash OSHA's Susan Harwood worker training grant program, the Bush Administration has proposed complete elimination of the program next year. The Senate -- largely due to the efforts of Senator Arlen Specter -- has saved the program every year, although it's too early to tell what will happen this year.

The grant program provides around $11 million to unions, COSH Groups, business associations and other non-profits. It's a ridiculously small amount of money, but did they do any good? Definitely, according to Western NY COSH Director Roger Cook:
From 1997 through 2000, WNY COSH ran a joint labor-management ergonomics safety training program funded entirely with a Susan Harwood Grant at grocery warehouses in Western New York. The results were dramatic, as evidenced by a 35-page report -- complete with letters from employers thanking the group and touting the results of the program -- provided to TNS.

One warehouse, the Tops Distribution Center in Buffalo, NY, experienced a 30 to 50 percent drop in work-related injuries during the years it participated in the program. The grocery chain’s freezer facility reported a remarkable drop in injuries during the same time, from 1 in 5 when the program started to 1 in 50 two years later. Tops’ parent company, Ahold USA, liked the results so much that it initiated similar programs at Giant and Stop & Shop stores in Maryland and elsewhere, according to documentation provided with the report.

Other companies enrolled in similar COSH-run programs reported parallel results. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York saw its worker’s compensation costs drop by $150,000 within three years of beginning an ergonomics program, and Try-It Distributing, a Western New York beverage distributor, reported a 44 percent reduction in injuries within just one year of implementing a similar educational regimen.
Hardest hit by elimination of the grants would be COSH groups -- and the populations they serve:
"If the COSH groups do lose this funding," said William Johnson, co-editor of Labor Notes, "it will mostly be noticed at the local level, where they operate., But the impact could be quite substantial. These groups fill in the gaps where unions either can’t or don’t want to operate. They’re on the shop floor and out in the community, reaching out to immigrants and others who desperately need the training." Labor Notes is a monthly magazine that focuses on the union movement and is operated by a nonprofit organization of the same name.

On average, an individual COSH receives $20,000-$30,000 a year from the Harwood grants, [New York COSH Associate Director Susan] O’Brien said, making the grant funding a substantial portion of most groups’ budgets, which vary from less than $50,000 to over $1 million a year.
And what does OSHA propose to replace the training program that currently provides direct training to thousands of workers every year?
Funding levels are only one aspect of a larger problem, according to Tom O’Connor, national coordinator for COSH. A bigger obstacle for COSH groups and labor safety educators comes from the technology-oriented approach OSHA has increasingly embraced in the last several years, he said.

The shift in priorities has been noticed by health and safety advocates ever since Bush took office, but it began in earnest with the 2005 budget request, they say. For that year, Bush proposed revising the Susan Harwood training grants program to "focus on new technologies and emphasize development of training materials rather than delivery of training."

O’Connor said, "The top people at OSHA in this administration are greatly enamored with high-tech training, web-based training, production of DVD’s and the like."

He continued, "These bureaucrats are so removed from the reality of low-income workers that they don’t seem to realize that few of the workers who most need this training have the capacity to access such methods."

Workplace health and safety advocates also blame OSHA’s increasingly cozy relationship with businesses -- a relationship marked by employer-focused training programs and increased efforts to help companies comply with the law.

O’Brien, of New York COSH, said the new direction OSHA appears to be heading cannot achieve the same results groups like hers do, namely because grassroots training casts a wide net, offers situation-specific programming, and teaches employees to be proactive and work with all elements of the communities they work in.
And, of course, combined with the AFL-CIO's recent decision to dissolve its Safety and Health Department, threats to the training grants and the survival of COSH groups does not bode well for workers:

"I’m actually scared to death about the direction workplace safety and health are heading," [Director of Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Tom] Juravich said. "Workplaces are becoming more dangerous. My real concern is that there hasn’t been enough thought given to the effect the Federation’s decision will have on the national level. They’ve played a strong coordinating role with employers, OSHA, and the COSHes. I don’t really know what the other options are now. "

Unions have long organized around the issues of workplace health and safety, and a study of workers’ attitudes towards their jobs conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO in 2001 found that health and safety issues ranked highest among their priorities, with 98 percent of respondents citing a "safe and healthy workplace" as an essential or very important right at work.

Statistics like these give pause to labor educators observing the changes in organized labor. Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University’s New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations questioned the wisdom of focusing on organizing at the expense of core services unions have traditionally supplied.

"If you defund education, and health and safety and other critical functions at the center, you hurt organizing and political action because these are the departments that are at the core of motivating and educating people around the critical issues which you are trying to mobilize them around," Bronfenbrenner explained.


Johnson, the Labor Notes co-editor, takes this critique one step farther in assessing the future of organized labor and workplace health and safety, especially the grassroots sort of efforts that the COSH groups undertake. "Why are we in a situation where the most reliable workplace health and safety advocates are government -- and not union -- sponsored," he asked. "Why would workers want to join unions that have stopped devoting resources to protecting them on the job?"

Happy Memorial Day

Names of Americans killed in Iraq.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Workplace Shootings: Crazy Workers or Crazy Workplaces?

When I was at AFSCME, I worked a lot on workplace violence issues -- mostly dealing with our social service, corrections, health care and other members who were routinely assaulted, and sometimes killed on the job.

Much less common, but much more newsworthy were those employees (or ex-employees) who would "go crazy," bring a gun in and start shooting supervisors or co-workers. Unfortunately, there were a few of those among our members and former members as well.

As I've written before, it's the latter type of violence, those workers who "go postal" (apologies to our much-maligned postal workers) who get the most press, and who keep the workplace violence "consultants" and "experts" in business.

I have three major problems with these guys. First, they tended to play up the likelihood of one of your employees going berserk. Workplace violence, after all, was the second leading cause of death in the workplace for a number of years. They neglected to tell you, however, that only around 7% of those homicides were so-called "worker-on-worker" events.

Second, they tended to focus on profiling: listing a number of characteristics that employers could use to identify workers who might "lose it." While most workers who committed these crimes fit the profiles, so did a number of other employees.

Finally, most of these consultants focused on the suspect worker, but completely ignored the workplace environment that could have contributed to driving a worker over the edge. The media and so-called workplace violence experts generally assume that "worker-on-worker" violence is the result of mental health problems. This "crazy worker" theory of workplace violence ignores organizational causes, and particularly hostile work environments.

I thought about this last February when I read an excellent article by Michael Brooks in the Toledo City Paper about Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant worker Myles Meyers who went on a shooting rampage last January, killing two plant workers, and injuring two others. Unfortunately, I never got around to writing anything then, but after reading the following article, I couldn't resist any longer:

Potentially violent workers give cues, speaker says in Toledo

THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2005 -- Look for a history of violence, an obsession with firearms, problems with temper control, and a sudden change in behavior when assessing whether an employee may become violent at work, an expert says.

Another potentially volatile employee who warrants watching is someone who doesn't take criticism well, holds a grudge, and is repeatedly disciplined.

Such apparently was the case with Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant worker Myles Meyers, who in January went on a shooting rampage in the factory that left two dead and two injured, said John Lewton, president of Toledo's Workplace
Resources, an employee assistance program for high-stress occupations.
According to Brooks, however, "Meyers’ outburst was not isolated and was the culmination of systematic harassment by management that took place throughout many months."

In fact, most of his co-workers thought the world of Meyers: a good work ethic, loved his family, "cool," "selfless," "friendly," and, as one co-worker said “He was the last person I would ever expect to react this way,” he said. “I was sad that he felt he had no other choice.”

So what happened?
Meyers may have come to the attention of management because he was an outspoken advocate against what many workers feel is an attempt by DaimlerChrysler to eliminate the higher-paid positions, which are often held by older workers.

Yang agreed with this assessment.

“For example, one way lean production eliminates “waste” is by attacking the seniority system, pitting old-time workers against the younger ones,” he said. “The former views the younger temporary workers as ‘scabs’ while the newer workers resent the old guard for getting better paid and being hostile to them.”

“Myles understood that the company would love to have only one category of worker: low wage, jack of all trades, and master of none,” said Windau, citing the company’s record of forcing workers to perform work outside of their job descriptions. Employees who refuse, according to many workers, face disciplinary action up to and including termination.
And conditions at the Jeep plant were particularly bad:
“You can’t even take a water bottle to your work station,” said a millwright. “Try working in the summer heat without water.” According to workers, food, drinks and personal items are now forbidden at work stations.

“At the old plant, guys would have on headphones, or keep a radio nearby to make things more tolerable,” said Phil. “Sometimes you would see people singing or smiling while they worked. Now, there’s nothing but factory noise for 10 or 12 hours.”

Several workers described a room near Labor Relations in the plant, where injured workers are sent.

“They don’t want to pay the (state administered worker’s compensation benefits) or have OSHA [Occupational Safety & Health Administration] investigate, so many injured workers are forced to work jobs where they can sit,” said ‘Jerry.’ “If they are too hurt to do any work, they have to sit in this room with nothing in it. They aren’t even allowed to talk to the other injured workers,” he said, adding that injured workers are told “you are not here to talk.”

Another source of friction for Jeep workers is DaimlerChrysler’s policy of mandatory overtime — employees must put in 10- to 12-hour days, six days a week.

“The mandatory overtime began right after all those workers were laid off,” said “Marty,” a production worker. “It doesn’t take a genius to make the connection between the layoffs and the overtime.”

Workers are also unhappy about the company’s increasing use of temporary part-time workers (TPTs), who work three-day workweeks and are eligible for few benefits.

“These workers get the possibility of full-time employment dangled in front of them, and they are pressured into working like maniacs,” said “Kevin,” a production worker. “Plus, if an older worker goes on sick leave, his job is covered by TPTs. When the worker gets back, he’s expected to perform at the level of two gung-ho part-timers who each have four days to rest up from their overexertions.”
But the working conditions at the Jeep plant weren't a mistake, they were planned:
The industrial buzzwords for the DaimlerChrysler’s manufacturing philosophy — such as “lean production” and “continuous improvement” — have a different name for many of the people who work at Toledo North.

“A better term would be ‘management by stress’,” said “Phil.” “Plant managers keep pushing the limits on people and machines to get just a few more cars per hour. Whatever you did last week is never good enough this week.”

Manuel Yang, an instructor at University of Toledo who has published numerous scholarly articles concerning labor relations in the auto industry, described the new philosophy as “a method of how to make the average worker work faster, harder and more intensively.”

“Lean production is one of corporate business management’s weapons in this concerted attack against workers across the world,” he said. “Needless to say, workers suffocate under such intensified labor conditions, and understandably crack up under the stress, go mad, or take their guns to work, as it happened with Myles Meyers."
And it wasn't uncommon for management to harass workers who complained about working conditions. And Meyers complained:
“For the last two months, Myles had at least one manager watching him the entire shift,” he said. “A female supervisor would even follow him to the bathroom at break and sniff his clothes to see if he had been smoking in the bathroom.” (Toledo North is a nonsmoking facility).

‘Karl’ also witnessed what seemed to be a pattern of coordinated persecution by management against Meyers.

“Supervisors would stand outside the welding tunnel, arms crossed and stare at Myles all shift,” he said. “If he asked for a restroom or cigarette break, they would ignore him, because they would get to write him up if he left the work area without tag relief (a worker assigned to fill in for breaks).”

‘Marty,’ who worked in Meyers’ area in December, spoke of even more pervasive harassment.

“They would direct workers to move welding screens when Myles went to lunch, or they would hide his tools — petty shit,” he said. “When Myles would come back, everything would be in the wrong place, and managers would yell at him because he couldn’t jump right back in.”

‘Karl’ witnessed something that particularly upset Meyers.

“A younger female supervisor was directed to hang these insulting signs in Myles’ work area, things with pictures that were so dumbed down as to be degrading,” he said, describing the signs as geared toward children. “Here was a man who had been building Jeeps longer than she had been alive and he’s being treated like he’s stupid!” Meyers was visibly angered at this incident, which occurred in late November.

‘Jerry’ said that a supervisor with whom he is friendly, told him that management had been warned weeks before the shooting, that Meyers was acting strangely.

“The supervisor told me that workers had overheard Myles saying that he was going to ‘get’ Toney and Thacker,”
he said, referring to two of the victims, the late Roy Thacker and Mike Toney; also injured in the attack was Paul Medlen.
The article also doesn't have much good to say about the UAW local at the plant is not adequately representing its members.

Talk to any human behavior or violence expert and they'll tell you that there is a point at which any human being can be driven to violence. It differs from person to person, but no one is immune. But just blaming a violent event on an aberrant personality that "doesn't take criticism well, holds a grudge, and is repeatedly disciplined," borders on malpractice if organizational factors in the workplace, or any harassment the worker had been suffering are ignored.

In Memoriam

Some people don't accept that the loved ones they lost in workplace accidents should just end up as filler on a slow news day: In Memory Of Lance.

More tributes here.

South Carolina: No Workers Comp for Undocumented Workers

Workers Comp Insider has an interesting article about an attempt by South Carolina politicians to keep undocumented immigrant workers from receiving workers comp because "illegal immigrants often commit fraud, such as fake Social Security and green cards, to obtain jobs."

But, as the article points out, aside from being cruel, it would backfire against employers.
When workers are afforded the protection of workers comp, in all but extraordinary circumstances, they are then barred from suing their employer. Workers comp becomes the exclusive remedy for any on-the-job injuries. If you remove that protection from the worker, you are also removing the protection from the employer. If injured, these workers would be free to sue the employer (and under such circumstances, we would encourage them to do so!)
Second, not having to pay workers comp for "illegals" would actually be an incentive for unscrupulous employers to use more undocumented workers.

Hispanic workers already suffer an extremely high injury and fatality rate. "Such a measure would merely open the door to further abuse for an already exploited population."


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Workers Comp Scandal!!

Wait a minute, you mean this isn't not about workers who cheat?
COLUMBUS, Ohio, May 27 - For nearly a decade, Thomas Noe has been the Republican Party's man to see in northwest Ohio, a confidant of governors and a prodigious fund-raiser for legislators, judges and just about every Republican statewide elected official.

He also happened to be a dealer in rare coins. And in 1998, the Ohio Workers' Compensation Bureau agreed to invest in a rare-coin fund that he controlled as a way to hedge its holdings in stocks and bonds, an investment that experts have called highly unorthodox.

But this week, Mr. Noe's lawyers said that as much as $13 million of the state's $50 million investment in his two funds could not be accounted for.
Mr. Noe, meanwhile, has become the focus of at least six investigations or audits involving either his handling of the coin investments or his campaign fund-raising. Federal investigators are also looking into his contributions to President Bush's 2004 campaign as a "Pioneer," raising more than $100,000.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Modern American Workplace

Yeah, right, all employers need is more training and compliance assistance and workplaces will become safer.
Wade Damron had worked in mines for 11 years but never feared for his life until he found himself on a runaway coal scooper heading toward three co-workers, he testified yesterday during a federal mine-safety hearing.

"I started hollering, 'No brakes! No brakes!' "Damron said. "I had to put it into the rib (mine wall) to stop it."

Damron, 36, was one of four miners who testified before a federal administrative law judge that a Letcher County coal company fired them for complaining about safety conditions at the underground mine where they worked.
The Labor Department is seeking a $40,000 fine against the mine and its owners for each of the cases where mineowners discriminated against workers who were exercising their health and safety rights. But the owners protest.
[Company owner Stanley] Osborne, 61, who like [superintendent Simon] Ratliff is representing himself at the hearing, said safety was the top priority.

Osborne also said that he fired only one of the miners, Wendell McClain, for using profanity after the coal-scooper incident involving Damron.
Using profanity? I’m sure that’s unheard of in a coal mine, especially after a near-death experience.
The others quit, Osborne said.
Yeah, no doubt their virgin ears had been violated by the profanity.
McClain, 36, of Letcher County, who had worked at the mine for only five days, denied the allegation during his testimony.

"I just said someone was going to get killed if they didn't fix the thing," McClain said.

"They told me to grab my bucket and get off the hill."
And, finally, when all else fails, there’s the traditional company fallback position:
Ratliff asked [Administrative Law Judge T. Todd] Hodgdon to allow him to introduce evidence of drug use at the mine.

But the judge rejected the request as irrelevant to a complaint alleging discrimination.
Welcome to the modern American workplace.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

BP To Incompetent Workers: “Nevermind … or Not?

"Damn workers are to blame. "

"Oh, no they're not. Sorry."

"No, actually, it is their fault."

I’m so confused.

Last week, BP North America issued an interim report on the March 23 explosion at its Texas City plant that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170, blaming the blast on “surprising and deeply disturbing” mistakes made by plant operators who did not follow proper procedures. Workers were made the scapegoats despite the fact that BP admitted that the unit that blew up had been “recognized as potentially hazardous for this type of service” and that BP had bypassed several opportunities to take it out of service. Furthermore, BP admitted that its faulty hazard reviews had failed to note the danger inherent in placing occupied trailers so close to hazardous units. All of those killed were contractors meeting in the trailers or doing non-essential work nearby..

BP’s press release stated that they were issuing the interim report because “further analysis is not expected to change the root causes or the recommendations made public today.” As a result of the interim findings, several operators and supervisors were fired.

BP’s “blame the worker” strategy came under harsh attack by the Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the plant, as well as the Houston Chronicle which published an article stating that “BP's finding that worker error is the root cause of the fatal blast at its Texas City refinery is at odds with respected industry guidelines for refinery accident investigations.” Even the Chronicle's business reporter attacked the BP report as "corporate scapegoating."

As of this morning, according to the Chronicle, BP had realized that its arguments weren’t flying and made some "adjustments" to its conclusions:
BP backed off statements made last week that the root causes of its deadly Texas City refinery explosion were that workers weren't following procedures and supervisors were lax.

While those were indeed critical factors leading to the blast, they were not the deeper causes, as the company had said in releasing its interim report on the accident a week ago, BP spokesman Hugh Depland said.

"We simply used the wrong language to describe the report's findings," he said. "Our fault."

The true causes have not yet been identified, he said.


Last Tuesday, BP Products North America President Ross Pillari said the company was releasing its interim report because he did not expect its ongoing inquiry "to change the root causes of the accident" being made public that day. He went on to describe operational and supervisory failures by workers.

Two days later, Depland reiterated, "The primary root cause was a failure to follow operating procedures and a failure of supervision."
OK, so far, so good. Until this afternoon, when this comes across the wires:
BP Stands Behind Texas City Investigation Report

Wednesday May 25, 3:13 pm ET

HOUSTON, May 25 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Today's Houston Chronicle incorrectly reported that BP has changed its views of the March 23rd incident interim investigation report. BP stands fully behind its issued report, which has always been identified as an interim report
At that time, we said we did not expect the work that remains to change the findings and recommendations made public last week. The investigation team is now working to identify the deeper, root causes and to gain complete understanding of the exact nature of the hydrocarbon release. This is consistent with our statement last week that the May 17 report was an interim report and that there would be additional findings.
OK, so last week, they stated that they did not expect remaining work to change the findings.…which is consistent with their statement that there would be additional findings. That certainly clears things up.

Oh, and BP also wants to make clear that “In speaking about the report, we have sometimes described the immediate critical factors as root causes. This has caused some confusion, for which we apologize.”

That’s not all we’re confused about (nor are we the only ones confused.)


Congressional Crazyness: Fighting Terrorism By Dying In The Workplace

Terrorism has been used as an excuse for a lot of crazy things like limiting civil liberties and even re electing George W. Bush. Now, according to some people in Cloud Cuckooland Congress, it's also an excuse for letting workers die.

One of our favorite Congressmen, Charlie Norwood (R-GA), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, held a hearing last week on voluntary safety programs and contracting out OSHA third-party safety and health audits, where, instead of OSHA inspections, employers could hire third party auditors to inspect their workplace. (After all, it worked so well with Arthur Anderson and Enron, why not try it in every workplace?)

The "highlight" of the hearing was a statement by Congressman John Kline (R-MN), according to a BNA report. Referring to AFL-CIO figures that it would take OSHA 108 years to inspect every worksite under its jurisdiction, Kline said that OSHA does not have the resources. He noted that in light of expanding the nation's defenses against terrorism, the notion of enlarging OSHA to police more worksites is "just not reasonable at this time."

Reasonable? Let's see, in 2003 5,559 workers were killed in workplace "accidents" (not to mention the 50,000 - 60,000 workers who die each year of occupational disease). That means that more people die on the job in this country last year than were killed on 9/11, in Afghanistan and in Iraq put together. OSHA's budget request this year is somewhere between $400 and $500 million, while we're spending around $5 billion a month in Iraq.

Sounds pretty damn reasonable to me to spend a few more bucks to hire more OSHA inspectors.

Let's be clear. We're talking about spending tax dollars to save lives here, not to extend a highway in Kansas or build a new library in Toledo. But according to Congressman Kline and his cronies, it's more important to push through tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminate the inheritance tax for the super wealthy than it is to spend a few more dollars to save the lives of American workers. War on terrorism and all that, you know.

Ezra Klein points out an article in the American Prospect by Geoffrey Nunberg that criticizes Democratic politicians for not actively defending necessary government programs:
Republicans will try to pin a big-government label on the Democrats, but the appropriate response to that is not to apologize for government, as some liberals have recently done, but rather to call the Republicans’ bluff. Kerry just once might have responded to Bush’s charge that he was a big-government liberal not just by denying that his health-care plan was a government takeover but by bearding Bush on his government-bashing. “Just which government programs are too big?” he might have said. “What should we do away with? Social Security? Medicare? The Food and Drug Administration? The Securities and Exchange Commission? The Environmental Protection Agency?”

We should make all these guys work in an unprotected 15-foot deep trench for a week


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Trouble in Paradise?

Hmm. This is interesting. You know how surprised you are when that couple that always seemed so happy decides to get a divorce? Well, a certain honeymoon may be coming to an end. At least we can hope.

Remember how a few months ago, business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers were ready to jump into the battles over judical nominations?
John M. Engler, the former Republican governor of Michigan who now heads the National Association of Manufacturers, vowed before the November elections to use his trade association's might to back President Bush's judicial nominees. But as the Senate showdown approaches, the business group is delivering a different message: Judges are not its fight.

NAM's decision to sit out the brawl may be indicative of a broader trend. From Wall Street to Main Street, the small-government, pro-business mainstay of the Republican Party appears to be growing disaffected with a party it sees as focused on social issues at its expense.

Yes folks, there seems to be trouble in paradise:
Economic conservatives grew restless during the first Bush term, when federal budget surpluses turned to yawning deficits, federal spending soared and the Republican-controlled Congress passed a Medicare drug benefit that marked the largest new federal entitlement since Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

Concern eased after the 2004 election. The president's stated priorities were to control spending, address Social Security's long-term financing problems and simplify the tax code. But since then, the drive to restructure Social Security has stalled. Efforts to rein in federal spending have been upended by a highway bill that exceeds Bush's promised price tag and a budget resolution passed Congress that rebuffed the toughest entitlement cuts demanded by the White House.

Instead, Washington's focus has shifted from fiscal issues to more narrow concerns backed vociferously by social conservatives: the Terri Schiavo case, the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations and, most of all, the fate of the Senate's ability to filibuster judicial nominees.
OK, if you're that unhappy guys, here's my advice: Go out and form a third party.

Guess Who Won't Be Advertising on Confined Space?

Darn. If trends continue, I'll soon have a big enough readership to start selling some ads. But it looks like I may already have lost a major client.


Doubt Death Is Their Product

Scientific American has always been THE magazine for budding young scientists and even older folk who have a strong interest in science. So it's a good way to educate that group of people about how corporate America and George Bush's White House are succeeding in their campaign to undermine and corrupt science, at least when it comes to the science needed to develop regulatations to protect people from harmful chemicals and drugs.

George Washington University Professor David Michaels has been leading the crusade to enlighten Americans about what is happening to science -- and to the government programs designed to protect them against harmful substances. He has just published an article in Scientific American (reprinted here, but buy the magazine for the cool pictures). And, as icing on the cake, the SI article was highlighted in today's Washington Post "Magazine Reader" column (scroll down).

Last month I reviewed a longer, more "scholarly" article by Michaels about similar issues. The SI article is shorter and pithier. In fact, I have never read a better description of the challenges facing scientific inquiry seen in one small paragraph:
Few scientific challenges are more complex than understanding the health risks of a chemical or drug. Investigators cannot feed toxic compounds to people to see what doses cause cancer. Instead laboratory researchers rely on animal tests, and epidemiologists examine the human exposures that have already happened in the field. Both types of studies have many uncertainties, and scientists must extrapolate from the evidence to make causal inferences and recommend protective measures. Because absolute certainty is rarely an option, regulatory programs would not be effective if such proof were required. Government officials have to use the best available evidence to set limits for harmful chemicals and determine the safety of pharmaceuticals.
Unfortunately, Michaels writes, corporate America is using that uncertainty -- manufacturing uncertainty, in fact -- to undermine the government's ability to protect its citizens.
Uncertainty is an inherent problem of science, but manufactured uncertainty is another matter entirely. Over the past three decades, industry groups have frequently become involved in the investigative process when their interests are threatened. If, for example, studies show that a company is exposing its workers to dangerous levels of a certain chemical, the business typically responds by hiring its own researchers to cast doubt on the studies. Or if a pharmaceutical firm faces questions about the safety of one of its drugs, its executives trumpet company sponsored trials that show no significant health risks while ignoring or hiding other studies that are much less reassuring. The vilification of threatening research as “junk science” and the corresponding sanctifi cation of industry-commissioned research as “sound science” has become nothing less than standard operating procedure in some parts of corporate America.
Michaels uses the examples of beryllium, which causes seroius lung disease, the pain-reliever Vioxx, which was shown to cause heart attacks, and the appetite suppressant PPA, which caused hemorrhagic strokes in young women. Both drugs were eventually taken off the market, but only after years of delay and hundreds of needless deaths due to doubts "manufactured" by the drug companies. Beryllium, while adequately regulated for Department of Energy employees (thanks to Michaels, when he was Assistant Secretary of Energy under the Clinton administration), but OSHA's standard remains dangerously high for all other workers.

Vioxx, PPA and beryllium are only three of many examples. But that's not all:
Corporations have mounted campaigns to question studies documenting the adverse health effects of exposure to beryllium, lead, mercury, vinyl chloride, chromium, benzene, benzidine, nickel, and a long list of other toxic chemicals and medications.
And it gets worse:
Out of the almost 3,000 chemicals produced in large quantities (more than one million pounds annually), OSHA enforces exposure limits for fewer than 500. In the past 10 years the agency has issued new standards for a grand total of two chemicals; the vast majority of the others are still "regulated" by voluntary standards set before 1971, when the newly created agency adopted them uncritically and unchanged. New science has had no impact on them. I conclude that successive OSHA administrators have simply recognized that establishing new standards is so time- and labor-intensive, and will inevitably call forth such orchestrated opposition from industry, that it is not worth expending the agency's limited resources on the effort.
Finally, although Scientific American is hardly known for its radical prose, Michaels pulls no punches when it comes to identifying the political villians of this tragedy:
Industry groups have tried to manipulate science no matter which political party controls the government, but the efforts have grown more brazen since George W. Bush became president. I believe it is fair to say that never in our history have corporate interests been as successful as they are today in shaping science policies to their desires.
Finally, before switching off the computer, scroll down and check out yesterday's article once more about the battles that David Egilman has been fighting to publicize corporate efforts to conceal damning health effects. After all, if the information isn't out there in the first place, they don't have to go to all the trouble to manufacture doubt.

Bottom line: Two Thumbs Up. Go buy this article (or at least print it). There's much more of value there than I have the energy to describe. I'm putting it on the list of articles to save and re-read before going on vacation this summer with your obnoxious brother-in-law who listens to talk-radio and complains about "junk science" all the time.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Suppression Bias: Uncovering the Coverup of the Corporate Coverup

What is the matter with David Egilman anyway?

The Associate Professor at Brown University is under the curious impression that civilized countries should expect companies to commit corporate suicide by revealing the conclusions of studies that show that their products are harmful. More outrageously, Egilman thinks that scholarly scientific journals have some responsibility to uncover corporate cover-ups and corruption of science.

It all began in 2003, when Egilman submitted an article for publication in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM)that stated that Dow Chemical was covering up evidence that asbestos in a Texas chemical plant had caused a high number of mesotheliomas. (Mesothelioma is a fatal lung cancer only caused by exposure to asbestos.) Egilman cited a Dow study that concluded that 11 cases of mesothelioma among its 28,000 employees did not suggest a work-related cause, even though the usual incidence of mesothelioma is around one or two cases per million. When a company chooses not to share that information with workers, customers, and the general public, especially when the studies reveal alarming health consequences, it's called "suppression bias."

The Journal, however, refused to publish Egilman's article, not because it found it of low quality, but because the subject was “not likely to be a high priority for the majority of JOEM readers.”

Finding it difficult to believe that occupational health specialists would not find evidence of corporate corruption of scientific research to be a "high priority," Egilman simply bought two pages of advertising space in the Journal and ran the entire rejected manuscript anyway.

JOEM editor, Paul Brandt-Rauf, was incensed. Claiming that he wouldn't have allowed the advertisement if he had known about it, he allowed Dow to publish a response, but then refused to allow Egilman to publish a rebuttal.

Now, two years later, Egilman's has published in this month’s International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health not only rebuttle to Dow, but also a critique of IOEM's ethics. Dow's behavior was hardly surprising, according to Egilman; suppression bias is all too common. JOEM's behavior, on the other hand was deeply disturbing.
Milton Friedman pointed out many years ago that “the [only] social responsibility of business is to increase profit,” and many agreed. Corporations’ desire to maximize profitability means that adverse health information has often been hidden from workers, customers, and the scientific community. Industry influence over scientific production becomes much more alarming when it is condoned, and even aided, by a respected occupational and environmental health journal. Peer-reviewed journals are supposed to function as the unbiased medium through which researchers exchange and critique each others’ ideas, experiments, and conclusions. Conflict-of-interest policies, peer-review procedures, and funding-disclosure rules are meant to assure authors and readers that journals are indeed functioning as neutral arbiters of important scientific research and discussion. However, experience shows that even well-known journals at times pursue an agenda that seems more favorable to corporate interests than to scientific integrity.
Dow's assertion that the mesotheliomas were not work related barely passes the scientific version of the laugh-test considering that the plant "not only had thousands of feet of pipes covered in asbestos insulation, but also used thousands of tons of asbestos in the chlorine-production process." Furthermore, although the 11 mesothelioma cases themselves were far higher than expected, Dow failed to study possible cases of mesothelioma among the plants contract employees:
These workers, whom Dow refers to as “spares,” have some of the highest exposures of all plant workers, yet are intentionally excluded from studies of “Dow workers” because they are not technically employees of the company. In their response, [Dow's] Burns and Kociba defend this decision, stating it is typical practice. We agree. Worker cohorts in corporate studies rarely include subcontractors precisely because they often have higher exposures and hence higher rates of disease. But the fact that excluding these workers is common practice does not make it good practice.
According to an article in the London Times, Brandt-Rauf was not amused and the battle continues:
Professor Brandt-Rauf has come out with his fists raised. “I don’t know where he [Egilman] gets this idea that he gets to publish anything he wants in the journal of his choice,” Brandt-Rauf told The Scientist last week. “If that were true, I’d publish all of my pieces in Nature and Science.” If Egilman needed any more fuel for his fury, it came in Brandt-Rauf’s comment that, had he seen the ad before publication, he would have vetoed it.

That, Egilman writes, “is even more troublesome”, because it shows a willingness to censor advertising material that does not toe the editorial line. A commentary accompanying Egilman’s tart review points to associations between the JOEM and Dow, and says that Dow is a significant contributor to Columbia University, which employs Brandt-Rauf. It isn’t meaty conspiracy fodder, but it turns out that an organisation affiliated to JOEM once gave Dow a “corporate health achievement award”. Still, the acrimonious tussle provides an insight into the practice and dissemination of corporate science.
All of this would probably be upsetting to most Americans who don't realize that most chemical testing in this country is done by the companies that manufacture the chemicals. In his original article/advertisement Egilman pointed out that “Dow Chemical Company operates one of the largest private toxicology research units in the United States.” In an ideal world, this information will be peer-reviewed and the results provided to affected workers, other scientists and the regulatory authorities who could then use the information to decide whether or not exposure to the substance needs to be controlled or eliminated. Even without regulation, workers and consumers could use the information to take some kind of action.

For example, publication of health effect information discovered in 1993 by BASF about a chemical called diacetyl might have been useful for the thirty employees of a Missouri popcorn plant who now need lung transplants because no one informed them that the chemical was known to destroy the lungs of rats.

But that's not the society we live in. Snakes gotta bite, bees gotta sting, and companies seem to think they gotta cover up damning health information about their products.

The priorities of a journal such as JOEM are a different matter. The journal is the organ of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a group dedicated to “promoting the health of workers through preventive medicine, clinical care, research and education.” Such a journal should eschew corporate interests, and actively work to uncover science hidden by interests that do not prioritize the pursuit of truth. Instead, the journal has chosen to contribute to the obfuscation of information harmful to Dow, but vital to many workers’ health. JOEM must re-examine its priorities if it is to secure a place as an important publication in the field of occupational and environmental health.

When this affair first broke in 2003, I wrote that, although workers were accustomed to being screwed by companies who cover up health information, they were in big trouble if the JOEM is right and occupational health professionals truly are not interested in fighting the corruption of science. Publication of Egilman's work by the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health puts some of those fears to rest.

Related Articles

Globalization's Chemical Silver Lining

Globalization may be wreaking havoc on American jobs, but it may have benefits for the health of Americans exposed to toxic chemicals in their workplaces and in the environment. The Los Angeles Times covers what may be the chemical silver lining of globalization:
Driving EU policy is a "better safe than sorry" philosophy called the precautionary principle. Following that guideline, which is codified into EU law, European regulators have taken action against chemicals even when their dangers remain largely uncertain.

Across the Atlantic, by contrast, U.S. regulators are reluctant to move against a product already in use unless a clear danger can be shown. A chemical, they say, is innocent until proven guilty.

Critics say the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's search for scientific clarity takes so long that the public often goes unprotected. Paralysis by analysis, the critics call it.

U.S. risk assessments can last years, sometimes longer than a decade, and in some cases, the EPA still reaches no conclusions and relies upon industries to act voluntarily. For instance, despite research that showed by 2002 that polybrominated flame retardants were doubling in concentration in Americans' breast milk every few years, the EPA has still not completed its risk review. Meanwhile, the U.S. manufacturer of two of the flame retardants agreed voluntarily to stop making them last year after they were banned in Europe and in California.
American industry isn't too pleased with what the Europeans are doing, but they aren't exactly in a position to ignore them:
Many companies, even those based in America, follow the European rules because the EU, with 25 countries and 460 million people, surpasses even the United States as a market. Rather than lose access to it, many companies redesign their products to meet European standards. For example, Revlon, L'Oreal and Estee Lauder have said that all their products meet European directives that control the ingredients of cosmetics. And U.S. computer companies say they are trying to remove lead and other substances banned in the EU from everything they sell.
And it's only going to get worse (or better). Looming on the horizon is Europe’s proposed REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) program:
Under REACH, which was approved by the EU's executive arm and is scheduled to go before the European Parliament this fall, companies would have to register basic scientific data for about 30,000 compounds. More extensive testing would be required of 1,500 compounds that are known to cause cancer or birth defects, to build up in bodies or to persist in the environment, as well as several thousand others used in large volumes. Those chemicals would be subject to bans unless there is proof that they can be used safely or that the benefits outweigh the risks. The testing would cost industries $3.7 billion to $6.8 billion, the EU says.
American industry is not amused, accusing the Europeans of irrational paranoia, in addition to ulterior motives:
"There is a protectionist element to this, but it goes beyond Europe trying to protect its own industries or even the health of its public," said Mike Walls, managing director at the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, the nation's largest exporter. "It's a drive to force everyone to conform to their standards — standards that the rest of the world hasn't weighed in on."

John Graham, an economist and senior official of Bush's Office of Management and Budget, which reviews new regulations, has called the notion of a universal precautionary principle "a mythical concept, kind of like a unicorn."

"Reasonable people can disagree about what is precautionary and what is dangerous," he said at a 2002 conference.
I’ve always said that whether its European regulations or good old fashioned (and increasingly rare) American regulations, industry will always claim that the sky will fall, but once forced to deal with new restrictions, capitalisms always manages to adjust, innovate and continue making profits – in this case hopefully in a healthier way.

Related Stories.

BP: Corporate Scapegoating?

Loren Steffy, the Houston Chronicle's business columnist, was not impressed with BP's Interim Report, released last week, even though the company promised to take steps to prevent similar incidents:
But that's not the same thing as taking responsibility.

What BP offers as a mea culpa is little more than corporate scapegoating. It lays the blame for the disaster squarely at the feet of its own low-level and midlevel employees in Texas City.

Unit operators and their managers didn't follow proper procedures, the report found. They didn't properly supervise the startup of the isomerization unit where the blast occurred, and they didn't evacuate people when they became aware of vapor releases and rising pressure in the unit.

The report doesn't answer several key questions: Who hired those employees? Who trained them? Who supervised them?

The report also found that the location of the contractor trailers, where many of the victims died, added to fatalities and injuries. So did the failure to evacuate nonessential personnel before the isom unit startup. A flare system, which BP had twice before decided not to install, would have reduced the severity of the incident, the report found.

Are we to believe that low-level employees were in charge of the placement of contractor trailers? Did low-level employees decide to forgo the investment in a flare system? Did low-level employees set staffing levels for the control room and the isom unit?

BP says it did hazard reviews on the location of the trailers, but those reviews "did not recognize the possibility of multiple failures by isom unit personnel."

Why not? Safety is, after all, a function of prevention, and prevention starts by identifying what can go wrong.


Taken as a whole, the BP report shows a company going through the motions. It blames low-level employees as if they function in a vacuum. It doesn't address larger problems at BP, and despite the news release's headline, it doesn't really address BP's responsibility.

BP simply pointed the finger of blame inward, singling out workers it hired, trained and trusted. If those employees failed in some way, then BP as a company failed, too.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Weekly Toll

Battle Creek police detective shot, killed

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- Two Battle Creek police detectives were shot, one of them fatally, while conducting an investigation Monday, the department said. The slain officer was identified as Detective Lavern Brann, 44, a 20-year veteran of the department. Police were searching for a 21-year-old man driving a car he stole moments after the shootings. The shooting happened about 4:15 p.m. on the city's south side. Brann and Detective Greg Huggett had gone to an apartment complex to interview two women as part of their investigation of a taxi driver's slaying last week, police said in a statement. Brann and Huggett exchanged gunshots with the suspect, who was leaving the building, the statement said. Brann was taken to Battle Creek Health System, where doctors pronounced him dead. Huggett was treated and released for a leg injury.


Napa, CA- An autopsy will be performed today on the body of a young man killed in a road construction accident in Napa Saturday. The Napa County coroner's office has identified the worker as 20-year-old Christopher Weeks of Escalon, Calif. According to sheriff's investigators, Weeks suffered major upper body injuries when a rubber-wheeled roller ran over him. He was working on a road resurfacing project at Foothill Boulevard and Elm Street. His coworkers tried to revive him, but Weeks was pronounced dead later at Queen of the Valley Hospital. Weeks worked for Modesto-based Western State Surfacing, according to the sheriff's office. His death will be investigated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), as well as Napa police and the city's public works department.

N.Y. window washer dies in fall

New York, NY, May. 6 (UPI) -- A 68-year-old window washer fell nine stories to his death when his safety harness snapped outside a New York City building. Independent contractor Joel Gillum had been hired by a building tenant to clean windows, The New York Times reported Friday. He was pronounced dead at a Manhattan hospital not long after the 10:15 a.m. Thursday incident. Witnesses said Gillum had just gone out a ninth-story window and leaned back to begin cleaning windows when the safety harness snapped.

Maintenance Worker Killed In Scrubber

CENTRALIA, Wash. -- A maintenance worker was killed by falling material inside the scrubber at the power plant in Centralia. Authorities say he was a man in his 30's from the Longview-Kelso area working for a subcontractor. The Lewis County sheriff's office says he was hit in the head yesterday by a piece of material about ten-feet-by-five-feet that came off the wall of the scrubber. The man had been blasting the material from the wall. The scrubbers were installed three years ago at the coal-fired plant to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide. The state Department of Labor and Industries is investigating the death

Crush of dirt led to death in ditch

PINELLAS PARK, FL- A trench cave-in broke a plumber's ribs and pelvis, leading to cardiac arrest during a rescue effort, an examiner says. The plumber killed in a trench accident Thursday died from blunt trauma caused by the heavy, fast-moving wall of dirt that collapsed on him, the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office said Friday. The force broke Charles "Mike" Morrison's ribs and fractured his pelvis, setting the stage for the cardiac arrest he suffered as workers tried to free him from the 15-foot-deep trench behind Intrepid Powerboats Inc. on Belcher Road.

Bouncer Shot, Killed Outside Nye's In Minneapolis

Minneapolis, MN- A bouncer was shot to death outside Nye's Polonaise Room in Minneapolis after he ejected a patron, authorities said. William Walsh III, 43, died at around 3:45 a.m. at Hennepin County Medical Center. The bouncer, known to Nye's staff and patrons as "Big Billy," was a divorced father of three. Police said the shooting suspect returned to the bar early Friday after being ejected, shot the bouncer in the back and went into the Mississippi River.

Work related accident kills South Hall man

Gainesville,GA- Bobby Eugene Blackwell Jr., 29, Flowery Branch, died Tuesday from a work-related accident, a spokesman for Utility Line Construction in Barrow County confirmed Friday. Dennis Stapola verified that Blackwell was an employee with the Barrow County electric company, but declined to give further comment on Blackwell's death. "Right now we're concerned with the well-being of the family," he said. "It's a difficult time for them."

Two workers shot to death

FREDERICKSBURG, Pa. - Two employees were shot to death Thursday afternoon in an apparent murder-suicide at a chicken processing plant, a company spokesman said. The shooting victims at the BC Natural Chicken plant were a married couple, said Ken Trantowski, a spokesman for the Golden, Colo.-based company. No other employee was harmed, he said. Trantowski described the couple as estranged, but said he did not know whether they were divorced. He would not release their names and referred other questions to state police, who would not release any further details. The plant, which employs about 300 workers, was closed for the rest of the day, but was expected to reopen Friday morning, Trantowski said.

Construction worker dies in W. Sac

Woodland, CA- A man was impaled at a construction site in West Sacramento Thursday. Andrew L. Sanchez, 62, of Citrus Heights, died of a penetrating injury to the chest and abdomen, according to Yolo County Deputy Director Robert LaBrash. "We're not sure why he fell," LaBrash said. Sanchez fell about five feet and was impaled on a rebar pole at a construction site on Industrial Boulevard at about 1:45 p.m. Thursday. "He died immediately," LaBrash said. Coroners do not suspect drugs or alcohol played a role in the Sanchez's death. He will, however, undergo a toxicology and drug screen, LaBrash added.

Petersburg co-op elevator worker dies

Petersubrg, TX- Officials are investigating a fatality at the Petersburg Grain Co-op after a Thursday afternoon accident. An employee identified as Alex Ramirez, 36, apparently suffocated when he was buried by grain about 5:20 p.m. Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Karen Davis requested an autopsy. No other details were available. A person at the business declined to give information and officers who worked the accident were unavailable.

Nexans worker dies on the job

Elm City, NC- An employee at an Elm City electronics company died Wednesday when she was electrocuted on the job. Maj. J.H. Farmer of the Wilson County Sheriff's Office said an employee at Nexans Berk-Tek Electronic Cables died Wednesday while at work. Nexans is located on Parker Street in Elm City. The woman, whose name has not been released, was transported to Wilson Medical Center where she died, Farmer said. "It appears to be an industrial accident at this time, but Lt. D.W. Bailey and the Sheriff's Office Detective Division are investigating," Farmer said.

Worker Crushed To Death By Forklift

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A Simpsonville man was killed after a forklift rolled over onto him and crushed him to death, according to the Spartanburg County Coroner's Office. Stephen Stacy Davis, 41, died a short time later at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. Davis, a forklift operator, was working at the Central Transport trucking company in Duncan when the accident happened about 3 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Colorado Man Dies In Fall From New Hampshire Tower

NEW BOSTON, N.H. -- A 55-year-old Colorado man was killed Monday evening after plunging more than 100 feet from an Air Force tracking station tower in New Hampshire. Investigators said Frank Gantt, of Peyton, Colo., was performing routine maintenance on the tower for Honeywell Corp., at about 6 p.m. "Some other workers that were with him," State Police Sgt. Bill Jepson said. "He was just leaning back against his harness taking a break while he was secured with his rope. At some point, the harness let go, and as a result, he plunged down." Gantt died on the way to a hospital.

Employee Dies After Small Explosion At Lakeside Mall

NEW ORLEANS, LA -- A jewelry store employee who was burned in a May 5 explosion at Lakeside Mall has died, according to the Jefferson Parish fire investigators. Firefighters said the employee, Steven Michael Muller, 30, of Violet, was working with a jewelry-cleaning machine inside Bailey Banks & Biddle when it exploded. Muller received serious burns and was taken to East Jefferson Memorial Hospital. He died Sunday at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. Firefighters will give further details at a Wednesday news conference.

D.C. Mayor Honors Volunteer Officer Killed in Georgetown

WASHINGTON, DC - Mayor Tony Williams is offering condolences to the family of Joseph Pozell. The reserve police officer died Tuesday after being taken off life support. Police say Pozell's death while directing traffic at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in Georgetown was an accident and that the 19-year-old woman behind the wheel had a green light. Williams says Pozell's loss goes on the books as a line of duty death. The mayor has ordered flags on District government buildings flown at half staff to honor the volunteer officer. Williams says he and other city officials will attend Pozell's funeral, which is expected to be held Saturday at Washington National Cathedral.

Construction worker dies after fall

SANFORD, FL -- A 50-year-old construction worker was killed Wednesday when he fell about 15 feet from a rafter of a home under construction west of Sanford. The man was a subcontractor working on a home on Brackenhurst Place in the Carisbrooke subdivision off Markham Road, Seminole County Sheriff's Office spokesman Steve Olson said. The accident occurred about 1:50 p.m., and the man was pronounced dead a short time later at Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also is looking into the accident. County investigators had not released the worker's name because relatives had not been contacted, Olson said

AmerenIP worker dies while repairing storm damage Thursday morning

DECATUR, IL - An AmerenIP electric emergency troubleman was electrocuted about 6:27 a.m. Thursday as he worked in the 1500 block of Riedel Avenue, just southeast of the Decatur-Macon County Fairground. James L. Stevens of Mount Zion had been employed with Illinois Power Co. and then AmerenIP for 25 years, said Shirley Swarthout, an AmerenIP spokeswo, man. "It's been many years since we had a fatality," Swarthout said. "It affects all of us. Our condolences go to his family and the people who worked with him." Exactly what occurred to cause Stevens' death may never be determined, said Michael Day, Macon County coroner. AmerenIP officials are investigating the death, but no one had been found as of Thursday afternoon who witnessed the entire event, he said. Stevens had a reputation as a consummate electrical worker, not a person to cut corners or violate safety rules, Day said. Stevens was in the raised bucket of a power company truck working on the lines near a transformer at the time of his death, he said.

Two killed in college tour bus crash

CASTLE CREEK, N.Y. A third construction worker died today after a bus carrying a Missouri college group crashed along a highway work zone near Binghamton. Eleven other people were injured Friday morning when the bus crashed into construction vehicles on Interstate 81, just north of Binghamton. Authorities say the bus may have been going too fast through the construction zone. Thirty-year-old Jason Pessoni of Cininnatus was killed when he was hit by the bus. Thirty-two-year-old Jonathan Randall was pronounced dead later at a nearby hospital. Thirty-nine-year-old Wayne Bonsell of Binghamton died Saturday morning, according to officials at Wilson Memorial Regional Medical Center. The bus driver was in critical condition today. The tour bus was carrying about three dozen students from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. The students were members of a choral group on tour in New York.

OSHA probes worker's death-Questions raised on permit, reporting

UTICA, NY -- The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is investigating a West Utica accident in which a heavy-equipment machine tumbled three stories out of a building -- with its operator still inside. OSHA also is questioning whether it was properly notified of the fatal May 12 accident at the former Mele Manufacturing site along Erie Street. Steve Rzepka, a 28-year-old from Whitesboro, died Wednesday of blunt-force injuries he suffered at the site. His funeral is this morning.

Witnesses say fall killed worker-Allentown man was working on balcony at Lehigh Riverport site in Bethlehem.

BETHLEHEM, PA -- Federal investigators released no new information Friday about the accidental death of a construction worker at the Lehigh Riverport site, but witness accounts included in a city police report indicate the victim fell from a ladder. Marivan Khouri, a 40-year-old Allentown man, was working on an enclosed, third-floor balcony at 11 W. Second St. Wednesday when the ladder he stood on "kicked out" from under him, the report says.

Wadena officer dies of heart attack

Wadena, Minn- A 47-year-old police officer in Wadena, Minn., responding to a domestic disturbance call collapsed and later died of an apparent heart attack. Peter Resch collapsed after he and another officer arrested a 19-year-old man Thursday night. The man briefly struggled and was handcuffed and searched. As officers took him out of an apartment, Resch collapsed in the hall, police said. Officers and emergency medical personnel administered CPR and other life support measures, but Resch was pronounced dead at Tri-County Hospital, police said.

Truck accident kills Farmer City man

Bloomington, IL -- A Farmer City man died in a two-truck accident Wednesday afternoon on Interstate 55 about five miles south of the Illinois River. J.E. Shaw, 46, died in the accident that happened about 12:50 p.m. on northbound Interstate 55 near mile marker 242, state police said. His obituary is on page A10 Shaw's semitrailer truck rear-ended another semi driven by Joseph W. Brown, 59, of Harmon.

Construction Worker Dies After Dump Truck Backs Over Him

Rose City, TX- Construction worker from Houston was killed Thursday morning after a dump truck backed over him. The accident occurred on the east bound lanes of Interstate 10 at mile marker 857 near Rose City. The construction site was not open to the public. KBTV-4 News is not releasing the identity of the victim until his family can be notified.

A young gunman killed a 19-year-old female cashier

NEW ORLEANS, LA — A young gunman killed a 19-year-old female cashier in a small family run supermarket on Saturday in broad daylight, police said. Van Le Heim was shot in the head at about 1:28 p.m. and died shortly afterward at the Medical Center of Louisiana. The suspect, who was described as being in his late teens or early 20s, fled on foot and police were looking for him on Saturday. State owes Hornets more money because of poor attendance.

Kentucky officer dies in crash - Two riders airlifted in other mishaps

Lexington, KY- A Lexington, Ky., police officer was killed and Lifestar airlifted two other motorcyclists to University of Tennessee Medical Center in three separate accidents Saturday. None of the accidents were on the heavily patrolled Dragon section of Calderwood Highway. At 7 p.m. Officer Dwayne Pidcoe, 45, of Lexington, Ky., was riding his motorcycle east on Tenn. 72 in Monroe County toward U.S. 129. Tennessee Highway Patrolman Brent Cagle said that as Pidcoe approached a sharp right-hand curve, he drove through the curve and wound up in the left-hand lane. Pidcoe collided head-on with a Ford F150 truck.

Mill worker killed by falling debris

Munster, IN -- William Maffitt enjoyed fishing with his sons and never shied away from work that was dirty, hazardous or hard.

While working on just such a job Friday, Maffitt, 45, was killed when a chunk of debris fell on him from above, slamming his head against the 30-foot high hopper he was working in.

"He was just an excellent worker, which is what probably got him killed in the first place," his mother, Toni Maffitt, said Saturday.

Maffitt, 45, who lived in Gary's Miller neighborhood, died of blunt force trauma to his head and neck, which was broken by the force of the blow, according to Porter County Deputy Coroner Martin Moeller.

He then fell into the fine powder he had been vacuuming out of the hopper, which had a "quicksand effect" and swallowed him up, Moeller said.

It took hours for Portage firefighters to extract the body. They finally had to cut a hole in the side of the hopper to pull him out.

It was the 12th fatal accident at an area steel plant in the past five years. Four of those occurred last year.

Maffitt was working for subcontractor Eagle Service Corp., of Valparaiso, along with at least two others to clean out what is known as the "bag-house" facility at the mill, according to Beta Steel President David Pryzbylski.


New York, NY -- A PAKISTANI IMMIGRANT was bludgeoned to death overnight inside a Manhattan gas station, police said yesterday.

Waqar Ahmed, 50, a night watchman at the W. 51st St.

Mobil station, was found at 6 a.m. lying face-down on a bloody mattress inside the station, cops and relatives said.

"They killed an innocent," said Ahmed's distraught nephew, Kami Ali, 25. "He was just trying to support his family, his wife back home. And someone breaks in and hits him in the head and shoulder. There is no reason."


Portland, OR -- A taxi driver died Wednesday after his cab crashed into the back of a YMCA building on Southwest Barbur Boulevard in Portland. The Broadway Cab driver had suffered a heart-related medical episode and lost control, said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman.

Raye Miles, Broadway Cab president and general manager, identified the driver as Terry McNulty, 52, of Troutdale..

NY Times Says It's Time To Take Chem Plant Security Seriously

All those chemical plants looming just across the Hudson River and New York Bay are clearly making the editors at the NY Times mighty nervous, if today's lead editorial is any indication. The editorial, titled "Inside the Kill Zone" re-tells that oh-so-familiar story, this time highlighting a chemical plant near New Orleans:
There is a park outside New Orleans with rows of old oak trees and the ruins of a colonial plantation. It is a pleasant place to take a stroll - and it would be an ideal staging ground for a terrorist attack on Chalmette Refining. An attack on the refinery, which has 600,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid on hand, could put the entire population of New Orleans at risk of death or serious injury.

Chalmette Refining, a joint venture of Exxon Mobil, is one of more than 15,000 potentially deadly chemical plants and refineries nationwide. More than 100 of them put a million or more people at risk. These time bombs are everywhere, from big cities like Los Angeles to small towns like Barberton, Ohio. Many are so inconspicuous - a chlorine plant may be a couple of tanks and access to a railroad line - that the people in the kill zone do not even know to be worried.

The worst possible outcomes are chilling. A successful terrorist attack on a chlorine tank could produce, according to a Department of Homeland Security report, 17,500 deaths, 10,000 severe injuries and 100,000 hospitalizations. In Bhopal, India, in 1984, when methyl isocyanate escaped accidentally from a chemical plant, at least 3,800 people were killed and as many as 600,000 injured.
And then there's the obligatory story that we've heard over and over again about how, three and a half years after 9/11, reporters are still able to enter chemical plants unmolested and spend hours dancing a jig, naked, on top of highly hazardous chemical tanks, while toting backpack that could easily be filled with high explosives.

The measures suggested by the Times to prevent a terrorist-inspired Bhopal should be noted. Leading the list is the one and only proposal actively promoted by the American Chemical Council: tigher plant security, also known as more guns, guards and gates.

The other ideas are more important: using safer chemicals, reducing quantities of dangerous chemicals where safer substitutes can't be found, limiting chemical facilities in highly populated areas, and government oversight of chemical safety. Government oversight means requiring plants to identify their vulnerabilities to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, and to meet federal safety standards, as opposed to meeting industry-created voluntary standards.

Aside from the first item, the best part about the other proposals is that they would not only contribute to ensuring our safety against terrorist attacks on our refineries and chemical plants, but they would also protect us from ourselves. Because we don't need no stinkin' terrrorists to blow our plants up. The biggest refinery disaster in recent years was at the Texas City BP Amoco plant where an explosion killed 15 workers at the end of March. Happily, that incident had no offsite consequences -- happy indeed, considering that plant undoubtedly contains considerable quantities of chemicals that could have impacted surrounding communities, including the quaint nearby village of Houston, Texas. The jury may still be out on the offsite consequences of the Formosa Plastics vinyl chloride plant that blew itself sky high last year, killing 5 and spewing viny chloride and possibly dioxins into the night air. And then there's the rail accidents whose chemical fallout kill a few here and there.

The Times editors note that a bill introduced by Senators Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Susan Collins (D-ME) include these proposals, but could be watered down to only the first if an industry-supported bill introduced by Senator James Inhoffe (R-OK) prevails. The ACC boasts that it is supporting chemical safety legislation. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. And the industry/Inhoffe details don't go far enough -- in times of "war" or in times of peace.

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Plastics: Living and Dying For Plastics

On April 23, 2004, Formosa Plastics' PVC plant in Illiopolis, Illinois, blew up, killing five workers, causing the evacuation of four towns and spewing a large amount of cancer-causing vinyl chloride into the atmosphere. But vinyl chloride, a component of plastic and vinyl products such as garden hoses, shower curtains, bath toys, sewer pipe, carpeting and siding, as well as the ingredients that go into it present dangers up and down the production line, dangers we don't completely comprehend:
BACK IN NEW YORK, I sweep my kitchen floor. Bending down to separate the dropped crayons from the day's crumbs, I wonder if Bradford Bradshaw—or any of his five dead co-workers—might have had a hand in stringing together the molecules that make up this floor. It's not a remote possibility. Prior to April 23, 2004, the Formosa plant in Illiopolis made fully half of all the flooring-grade vinyl in the United States.

Now when I look at my floral-patterned floor I think of emergency sirens that fail to go off. I imagine the hushed urgency of evacuees taking to the roads. I see tanker cars rattling through towns where unsuspecting citizens sleep. My visit to Illiopolis was a vivid illustration of how the manufacture of PVC is an ongoing source of terror for the workers and the people living in the communities where it is made. And yet, phasing out chlorine-based chemical manufacturing, in which PVC plays a starring role, will require a federal government uncorrupt enough to place the chemical security of the nation, as well as the health of all its citizens, above corporate interests.

In the U.S. Congress, the substitution of alternative, less toxic materials is not even part of the dialogue. Instead, the biggest trend since 9/11 is growing secrecy about which chemicals are used where and how they are transported. Public knowledge about chemical manufacturing is becoming increasing limited.

At the local level, by contrast, there are some hopeful signs. In January 2005, the Washington, D.C., city council voted to ban train and truck shipments of deadly chemicals within two miles of the Capitol. Other cities are considering similar bans. One railroad company has already filed suit, and others are likely to follow. Legislation that reroutes trains carrying explosives, extreme flammables, and cargo that is known in the transportation business as TIH—toxic by inhalation—will raise the cost of transporting such poisons and may encourage a shift toward alternative materials. It also may indicate that the public is beginning to wake up to the widespread risks of large-scale toxic production, which we have, so far, passively or unknowingly accepted.
And how can you not read an article subtitled "Why Your Kitchen Floor May Pose a Threat To National Security."


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Electrical Contractor Convicted Of Willfully Killing Employee

A jury has found electrical contractor L.E. Meyers
guilty of willfully breaking OccupationalSafety and Health Administration regulations in the death of Blake Lane, 20, who was killed on his second day working for the company.The Rolling Meadows-based company was acquitted of a second charge inthe 2000 death of Wade Cumpston, 43.

Prosecutors say L.E. Myers willfully ignored workplace regulations that would have kept both men alive.


L.E. Myers faces a maximum sentence of 5 years' probation and a $500,000 fine for the misdemeanor charge, prosecutors said.
I've written a couple of times before about L.E. Meyers, a company that has an unfortunate habit of killing its employees.

OSHA had originally gone after the parent company, MYR Group, but a court ruled that MYR was not liable because the parent company didn't actually control the workplace, although it determined the health and safety programs of its subsidiaries.
Lane, of Sullivan, Ill., was a rookie in the power-line construction industry when he was jolted by 2,400 volts of electricity atop a 120-foot steel tower in Mt. Prospect on Dec. 28, 1999.

Prosecutors said Lane, who was inexperienced, was not warned by his foreman that the line was live.

Cumpston, of Ashland, Ky., was an experienced lineman who was electrocuted while working in a bucket at a Plainfield ComEd tower. He tried to remove one end of a ground wire while the wire's other end was still attached to a live power line. Prosecutors alleged that the line had not been properly grounded.

The deaths of Lane and Cumpston were the latest in a long history of workplace fatalities for L.E. Myers, a company that builds and repairs high-voltage power lines.

A Tribune investigation in 2003 showed the company had had 35 work-related deaths and 200 violations of federal and state safety rules since 1972.
L.E. Myers still can't figure out what they did wrong:
"We deeply regret that two of our employees lost their lives in these tragic accidents," L.E. Myers President William Koertner said in a statement. "We do not believe that the company did anything intentionally or willfully that caused either of these accidents and are, therefore, disappointed in the outcome today."
An earlier statement by the company blamed human error:
“Neither L.E. Myers nor MYR Group believe there is any criminal wrongdoing with these unfortunate accidents caused by human errors” by the workers who died, says Corey Rubenstein, an attorney for the contractor. Myers carries out extensive safety training, he says. “Obviously, it’s a very dangerous industry and all participants have accidents from time to time,” he says.
Yeah, just one of those things. Dangerous industry. Accidents happen. Workers screw up. Unfortunate. Damn.

Related Stories
L.E. Myers and MYR Group: Losing Lives 'While Winning With Safety', February 24, 2004
Electrocutions at L.E. Myers: Safety Last?, November 25, 2003