Thursday, June 30, 2005

Have A Nice Independence Day

I'm off to West Virginia for a long weekend. I'll leave you with these thoughts from the founding fathers:

They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

-- Benjamin Franklin

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

-- Thomas Jefferson
Back soon.

Looking For A Health & Safety Job?

Remember, we're on a mission from God.

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has two openings for Chemical Incident Investigators, one senior and one junior:

Chem. Incident Investigator, GS-12/13
Chem. Incident Investigator, GS-14

As a Chemical Incident Investigator, you will serve as an expert in industrial chemical safety and incident investigations; often serving as Investigator-in-Charge organizing and managing the investigation of major incidents nationwide involving the accidental release of hazardous chemicals.

The Chemical Safety Board is an independent federal government agency that dedicated to investigating chemical accidents/hazards and to recommending actions to protect workers, the public and the environment.

The GS-14 vacancy closes July 23, 2005 and the GS-12/13 vacancy closes July 27, 2005 and is open to all qualified U.S. citizens.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union is looking for a Safety and Health Trainer in Occupational Safety and Health Office. It's a grant job, making it renewable (or not) on an annual basis.
Conducts training and education for rank and file membership, stewards, safety and health committees, and local and International leadership on a variety of occupational safety and health issues. Develops and writes curriculum and training materials. Recruits participants for training programs and coordinates scheduling for training classes. Works closely with the Travel Office on meeting details and logistics for training sessions held in various geographic locations. Administers grants, including maintenance of appropriate records. Provides technical assistance to local unions on a variety of occupational safety and health issues. Collects and evaluates data from UFCW sites on hazardous chemicals and exposures. Work requires frequent travel.

For more information, contact:
Bette Mercer, Director, Human Resources Office
UFCW International Union
1775 K Street NW
Washington DC 20006
fax: 202-466-1501


Illegal Aliens! Over There!

American Business: Flunked Out Of Kindergarten?

It all makes me sick:
    The money was spent in the name of improving security at the nation's airports:

  • $526.95 for one phone call from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago to Iowa City.

  • $1,180 for 20 gallons of Starbucks Coffee -- $3.69 a cup -- at the Santa Clara Marriott in California.

  • $1,540 to rent 14 extension cords at $5 each per day for three weeks at the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo.

  • $8,100 for elevator operators at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan.

  • $5.4 million claimed for nine months' salary for the chief executive of an "event logistics" firm that received a contract before it was incorporated and went out of business after the contract ended.

Those details are contained in a federal audit that calls into question $303 million of the $741 million spent to assess and hire airport passenger screeners for the newly created Transportation Security Administration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The audit, along with interviews with people involved in the passenger-screener contract, paints a rare and detailed portrait of how officials at the fledgling agency lost control of the spending in the pell-mell rush to hire 60,000 screeners to meet a one-year congressional deadline.

Just a couple of initial thoughts on this. First, more personal. I worked for 16 years at a labor union that was the recipient of numerous government grants. The union's rules were that we had to keep track of, justify and show receipts for every expense, down to a $3 taxi ride. I though it was a pain in the ass, until our first government audit which we passed with flying colors.

The second thought is more political. Corporate America is always and incessently criticizing "big government" and over-regulation, and extolling the virtues of contracting out.

Obviously TSA should have been minding the store better, but come on guys, is corporate America composed of a bunch of executives with unsocialized 5-year old mentalities, children that have to be watched at every moment lest they run away with the candy shop?

And one more thought while I'm ranting. When corruption, no matter how small, is uncovered in any union, the right wing uses it to scream about corrupt labor bosses, and how workers who want a voice in their worklife are being bamboozled by criminals. Elaine Chao's Labor Department has focused like a laser beam on raising burdensome recordkeeping requirements on unions to absurd levels given the relatively small amount (in scale and frequency) of union corruption -- requirements praised to the heavens by NAM and the Chamber of Commerce.

As Nathan Newman wrote last Spring:
Can you imagine what would be said if liberals were demanding similar disclosure from every corporation? Actually, we already know since they are already whining about the Sarbanes-Oxley bill passed in the wake of the Enron-WorldCom scandals, and the disclosure to the public required for those forms are far less extensive.

Even as the Bush administration fails to fund inspectors to enforce the minimum wage or workplace safety, it's diverting money to audit unions-- clear political revenge against its perceived enemies. It has no evidence of any pervasive problems in union finances, but it's manufacturing a supposed crisis to justify its political attack.

The goal is not to save union members money-- a laudable goal that I would support -- but to cost those members money through increasing red tape and auditing costs. Such costs will clearly outstrip any potential savings in a union movement that has a financial integrity record that we only wish the corporate world could match.
I'm going to be keeping my eye on the National Association of Manufacturers blog. I expect to see an apology to the American people and to America's labor unions. I won't be holding my breath.


Card Check Works

Jonathan Tasini has a piece about a Congressional Research Service report on card check that the Republicans are trying to cover up.

And guess what it concludes: Card check recognition leads to more unionization than the standard representation elections.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, labor law says that in order to form a union, there has to be an election. In reality, even when a majority of workers initally want a union, management campaigns of intimidation, firings, etc. tend to turn the vote against the union, even when a majority of workers had initially expressed interest. If management voluntarily agrees to a card check, however, a union is established if a majority of workers just sign cards supporting the union. Consequently, instead of organizing around an election, more and more unions are organizing to force management to agree to a card check.

The Republicans naturally find this whole process extremely upsetting and unAmerican and have introduced legislation to ban it.

So it goes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Lessons From Texas City

It seems to be getting harder every day for BP to convince the world that workers were to blame for the March 23 explosion that killed 15 and injured 170, especially when information uncovered by the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) reveals that alarms and warning indicators weren't working, and when BP itself admits that it had failed for years to replace a dangerous antiquated process. The full text of yesterday's CSB press conference explaining the problems at BP can be found here.

The United Steelworkers, who represent workers at the plant, certainly aren't buying BP's blame-the-worker story, although BP says that's their story and they're sticking with it:
Gary Beevers, Region 6 director of the United Steelworkers, said after the briefing that the board's revelations amounted to "vindication" of the operators and others who were fired and disciplined by the company.

In releasing its interim investigation report, BP Products North American President Ross Pillari had said that the accident was caused by "surprising and deeply disturbing" mistakes by workers.

Beevers said the union's own investigation will continue to uncover evidence that the workers may not be as responsible for the accident as BP has said. "We think there are more things going on here," he said, adding that the workers should get back their jobs.

BP spokesman Hugh Depland said the company stands by its interim report, released May 17, and the personnel decisions it made in the wake of it.

"BP continues to have no doubt about the provisional critical factors published in our interim report, or the subsequent personnel decisions taken by the company," Depland said. "If personnel responsible for safe startup of the isomerization unit had followed procedures, the fire and explosion would not have occurred."
Although the Chemical Safety Board warns that the root causes of the accident will not be confirmed until the Board actually votes on the BP report, it is clear that all the facts will eventually come out.

Not so, however, in the every-day American workplace. BP's blaming the workers for the incident is not an exception, but the general rule in American workplaces. And, unfortunately, unless there is a good union trained in workplace safety principles that has some idea of how to do a root cause analysis of an incident, management usually gets away with blaming the workers, and meting out "appropriate" punishments.

The problem with this method, aside from being unfair, is that it will do nothing to prevent future similar incidents. You can fire all the workers you want at BP, but if you continue to run an antiquated system, if the indicators don't work and the alarms don't go off, you're going to have more incidents.

BP claims that if the workers had just followed the correct procedures, the explosion wouldn't have happened. In other words, if things hadn't gotten out of hand, it wouldn't have mattered that the alarms and indicators didn't work. In theory, this is true. In real life, however, it's faulty -- and dangerous -- thinking. In real life, shit happens, things break, procedures don't work. That's why large complicated process (such as those that exist in refineries) must be accompanied by something called "Layers of Protection".

In this case, when a distillation unit called the raffinate splitter overpressurized, it dumped hydrocarbons into a tower called the blowdown drum. This was normal, but also the first problem. The blowdown drum was an antiquated system dating from the 1950's, replaced years ago in most refineries by a flare system that harmlessly burned off the hydrocarbons. In fact, as far back as 1992, OSHA warned the plant to replace the blowdown drum.

The problem with the blowdown drum is that you can't let it overflow. A first layer of protection would be indicators showing how full the blowdown drum tower was getting. In case this didn't work or someone didn't notice it, a second layer of protection might be an audible alarm to warn operators that something was wrong. A third level might be some kind of automatic shutdown mechanism. In Texas City, neither of these first two basic layers of protection were functioning. The blowdown drum was only supposed to be filled to the 10 foot mark before the alarms went off, but while the indicators were showing normal levels and the alarms were silent, the actual level reached 120 feet.

The lesson here for workers and investigators is that major alarm bells should go off any time you read that the cause of an accident was "worker error." Keep asking why the worker made the alleged mistake, and with every answer, ask why again until you reach a point where nothing can be done to correct the problem.

Otherwise, the real cause of the incidents will never be revealed, and to paraphrase George Santayana, "Those who do not learn the real causes of accidents are condemned to repeat them."


Lessons of Hamilton, New Jersey

Following up on yesterday's post about W.R. Grace's contamination of Hamilton, NJ, we present here for your entertainment and education an instructive little anecdote about how one phone call from a small but knowledgeable public interest group can set off a very positive reaction.

In the case of Grace and Hamilton, Jim Young of the New Jersey Work Environment Council first tipped off the Trenton Times to the Grace contamination story in Hamilton. Young had been alerted by an email from NYCOSH about the status of national monitoring of Libby-related sites on an Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)website which had a map showing "hotspots" in New Jersey.

The tip led to dozens of front page articles, charges levied by the state Attorney General and a general public outcry, followed by state assembly hearings. The hearings were not only generated useful and sometimes shocking information, but also allowed a number of former workers and their families to testify about their exposures and begin connecting not just with one another, but also with medical, legal and other resources. And the hearings forced Grace to send a team of high-priced executives and attorneys all the way to New Jersey to explain to these people why they couldn't comment due to “ongoing litigation.”

Out of the hearings have come a legislative proposal that would fill gaps in environmental regulation identified at the hearings:
The bills would increase penalties for providing false information to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), eliminate the statute of limitations for certain environmental crimes, require the DEP to notify a municipality if there is contamination within its borders and require anyone involved in a cleanup to notify the township administration where it is taking place
Like almost everything else that brings progress in workplace (or environmental) safety and health -- good news article, protective regulations, legislative action and scientific studies -- good things don't happen by themselves. Someone is taking the initiative to make things happen.


Killing Contractors Is Bad Business

Workers Comp Insider goes into depth about the how much more it has cost BP to kill contractors instead of its own employees.
Had the killed and injured workers been employees of BP, workers comp would be the exclusive remedy. Dependents of the deceased workers would be entitled to death and dependency benefits; the injured workers would collect indemnity benefits and all their medical bills would be paid. Even though there are some indications that the company failed to follow through on safety issues, even though the company may have been in some respects negligent in their operation of the facility, employees would be limited to the statutory benefits under workers comp. Employees cannot sue their employers for work related injuries. Under the usual workers comp benefit structure, the fatalities would generate claims valued at less than $1 million; for the seriously burned, who face years and years of treatments, you might see reserves in the $3 to 5 million range. It's hard to believe, but these amounts are far less than what BP is now facing.
Indeed. As we have learned, BP ended up paying tens of millions per fatality.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Grace Knew About Asbestos Contamination of NJ Plant

I wrote before about the contamination of soil around the former W.R. Grace & Co. factory in Hamilton, New Jersey.

Turns out that, despite later denials and pleas of ignorance, Grace officials were well aware of what they were doing:
Internal memos show that top Grace managers were concerned about public acceptance of asbestos-tainted products, as well as the company's potential liability for selling them.

"This was the foremost question at Grace all along. The company recognized the possibility of liability all along," said Darrell Scott, a Spokane, Wash., attorney who has filed a class-action lawsuit against Grace on behalf of property owners in Washington state who bought and installed the company's attic insulation.

Internal reports show that despite the company's growing awareness of the dangers of its ore, unsafe working conditions persisted at the Hamilton facility until shortly before it closed in the 1990s.

A 1971 memo, in which company managers discussed their response to pollution citations at several processing plants, showed that Grace managers were reluctant to install emissions controls at the plants and determined to do so only if inspected and cited by health and safety regulators.

A decade and a half later, in 1987, one of the company's own inspectors remarked in an audit of the plant that housekeeping needed to be "significantly improved" to "help prevent safety hazards."
Federal EPA has indicted seven current and former executives of W.R. Grace in Montana for attempting to hide the fact that asbestos was present in vermiculite products in the company's Libby, Montana plant. But the problem didn't stay in Montana. The vermiculite was transported for processing to around 30 facilities across the country

Documents obtained from Grace from state and federal officals studing asbestos exposures at the Hamilton plant reveal that Grace attempted to control emissions, but with limited success.
The tests often showed fiber levels, monitored by personal devices worn by employees as they walked about the plant, to be within safety thresholds in most instances.

But air tests in sections of the plant, such as the area where waste rock was collected and at the furnaces, showed higher dust and fiber levels. Inspectors found dust levels exceeding government thresholds at the plant on some visits and insufficient safety materials on hand to protect workers.

Former workers, who describe working in clouds of dust at times, say that they occasionally spent hours cleaning before outsiders visited the plant.

Despite the company's frank internal discussions about its problems with tremolite, W.R. Grace publicly dismissed them, however.

In 1972, the superintendent of the Hamilton plant wrote the DEP a letter stating that "W.R. Grace does not use asbestos in the producing of any product."
Grace hired a consultant in the mid-1990s who claimed that the site contained only trace amounts of asbestos. The Environmental Protection Agency later found concentrations of asbestos as high as 40 percent in some surface soils on the property and declared it an "imminent and substantial threat" to current workers at the site and the surrounding community. The EPA and the FBI are conducting a criminal probe of the company's actions at the Hamilton plant.

Related Stories

New Hazard Faced By Drive Through Workers: Monkey Business

I wonder what OSHA standard this might violate?
A monkey named Boo-Boo apparently bit a drive-through worker at the Viking BP Mart in Morehead, Kentucky. It seems that Ashley Rodgers was handing a customer a beverage when the monkey tried to grab the drink. Rodgers says that Boo-Boo then bit her.
Thanks to Boing Boing for this, where you can see the photo.


'Deeply Disturbing' Developments at BP

We're learning a little more every day about how bad conditions were at BP Amoco before the explosion in late March that klled 15 and injured 170 -- and who was not to blame.

According to BP spokesman last month, the explosion was caused by "deeply disturbing" mistakes made by the plant's workers -- their failure to follow procedures and take corrective action sooner. To show that they were serious, BP fired several of them. So much for that.

Of course, a little further down in the Interim Report that was released that day, the company admits that it had failed to replace a dangerous "blowdown drum" that collects flammable liquids when the system over pressurizes. It was the blowdown drum that overflowed, causing the explosion.

New information has now been released showing that it would have been difficult for the workers to take corrective action because
Alarms that should have warned BP Texas City refinery operators that they were overflowing a tower with dangerous hydrocardons did not sound in the critical hours and minutes before a fatal explosion, federal investigators said today.
And that's not all:
In addition, a fluid level indicator in the tower malfunctioned, he said. That led the operators to believe that the amount of flammable fluid was normal, even decreasing, when, in fact, it was dangerously increasing.
These findings, announced today by investigators from the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, confirm a worker's statement obtained by the Houston Chronicle:
"The operators thought that the tower level was dropping according to their indications," said the worker, who asked not to be named.

Level indicators inside the isomerization unit's raffinate splitter tower were likely malfunctioning, the source said.

But the operator working in the control room did not suspect the malfunctions because the computers were showing fluctuating levels, all within a normal range, as opposed to the level being stuck at one place, the source said.

"It appeared to be working correctly," the worker said.
BP's right. The whole thing is 'deeply distrubing' and gets more disturbing every day.

Related Stories

Avian Flu Wiki Launched

This is a case where the sky may actually be falling.

Faithful readers of Effect Measure are fully aware that something wicked this way comes -- in this case, the Avian Flu. Revere, in the true spirit of his namesake, has been ringing the alarm for months, warning us that the U.S. is woefully unprepared to deal with a major flu pandemic.

Earlier this week, the Trust For America's Health (TFAJ) issued A Killer Flu? ‘Inevitable' Epidemic Could Kill Millions -- a report that finds that

over half a million Americans could die and over 2.3 million could be hospitalized if a moderately severe strain of a pandemic flu virus hits the U.S. Additionally, based on the model estimates, 66.9 million Americans are at risk of contracting the disease.
The report found that the US has only stockpiled enough antiviral pharmaceuticals "to cover 5.3 million Americans, leaving over 60 million who could be infected and would not be able to receive medication before an effective vaccine to combat the flu strain is identified and produced."

The U.S. has not assessed or planned for the disruption a flu pandemic could cause both to the economy and society as a whole. This includes daily life considerations, such as potential school and workplace closures, potential travel and mass transit restrictions, and the potential need to close stores resulting in complications in the delivery of food and basic supplies to people.
Revere has identified another serious problem serious problem:
Because such an event would be geographically widespread it will leave each local area to cope with and solve problems on their own. In such a circumstance, any preparation, however limited, can save lives and suffering. And to make these local preparations, knowledge is not only empowering, but essential. Rather than leave these preparations solely to governmental authorities and rather than restrict knowledge to designated "experts," both of whom have failed to prepare adequately, it is necessary to begin to undertake many needed tasks ourselves.
Despite their reputation, however, some bloggers actually light a candle instead of spending all of their time just cursing the darkness. So, Just a Bump in the Beltway, The Next Hurrah and Effect Measure blogs have launched a new experiment in collaborative problem solving in public health, The Flu Wiki.

What is a Wiki and how is it going to address our lack of preparedness?
A Wiki is a form of collaborative software that allows anyone to edit (change) any page on the site using a standard web browser like Explorer, Firefox or Safari.The purpose of the Flu Wiki is to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic. This is a task previously ceded to local, state and national governmental public health agencies. Communications technology has now become sufficiently available to allow a new form of collaborative problem-solving that harvests the rich fund of knowledge and experience that exists among those connected via the internet, allowing more talent to participate.


No one, in any health department or government agency, knows all the things needed to cope with an influenza pandemic. But it is likely someone knows something about some aspect of each of them and if we can pool and share our knowledge we can advance preparation for and the ability to cope with events. This is not meant to be a substitute for planning, preparation and implementation by civil authorities, but a parallel effort that complements, supports and extends those efforts.
So far, there is no chapter for health care workers. In fact the only document that touches on preparation of health care workers is last year's Centers for Disease Control draft Pandemic Influenza Response and Preparedness Plan. Annex 2: Health Care System Guidance addresses health care worker concerns. Check it out.

I'm not going to write it myself on health care workers myself (although I'd gladly assist), but I'm sure there are more than a few of you out there who know about the actions this country must take to prepare its health care workers to face a flu pandemic, and the resources that health care workers will need to access.

By the way, those of you interested in knowing a bit more about Wiki's should check out the God of all wiki's,the huge free encyclopedia, Wikipedia. It even has a chapter on OSHA.

Stop Rewarding Corporate Scofflaws

Earlier this month I wrote about the state of Michigan barring a company that killed a worker from receiving any more state contracts. President Clinton had issued a regulations (since withdrawn by you-know-who) that required companies bidding for federal contracts to disclose whether they had been found liable for violating laws or regulations.

Meanwhile, Congressman Henry Waxman revealed in a hearing yesterday that the giant defense contractor (and former Dick Cheney employer) Halliburton was being investigated by the Pentagon about more than $1 billion in questionable bills for work done in Iraq.

In a letter to the Washington Post, OMB Watch Director Gary Bass thinks it's time to revive Clinton's effort:
Hold Contractors Accountable

While the Pentagon has managed to save money this year by withholding funds from delinquent contractors, this is hardly a solution to the larger -- and too common -- problem of federal contractor malfeasance ["Thousands of Non-Defense Contractors Owe Taxes," front page, June 16].

According to the Project on Government Oversight, between 1990 and 2002, the nation's top 43 contractors were responsible for about $3.4 billion in penalties, restitutions, settlements and Superfund cleanup costs.

For these scofflaws, some of the nation's richest corporate special interests, the fines and settlements are a small part of the cost of doing business as usual. Violations will continue until we start weighing a company's legal and regulatory compliance when awarding federal contracts.

A contractor responsibility rule issued at the end of President Bill Clinton's second term attempted to solve this larger problem, but it was revoked by the Bush administration. The rule required bidding companies to disclose whether they had been found liable for violating any law or regulation in the preceding three years.

Congress should ensure that our laws and protections are respected by companies that benefit from federal contracts. Taxpayers have every right to demand accountability for their money.

Founder and Executive Director
OMB Watch

Baseball Republican Idiocy

But enough serious stuff. Let's go back down the street to the U. S. Capitol theater of the absurd.

With constant trauma over Iraq, Social Security, workplace carnage and Michael Jackson, there's nothing like a newly arrived 1st place baseball team to help you forget all your cares.

But, then there's this. It's all really almost too much, even for a grizzled Washington veteran like me. The Washington Post reports that:

Major League Baseball hasn't narrowed the list of the eight bidders seeking to buy the Washington Nationals and some Republicans on Capitol Hill already are hinting at revoking the league's antitrust exemption if billionaire financier George Soros , an ardent critic of President Bush and supporter of liberal causes, buys the team.

"It's not necessarily smart business sense to have anybody who is so polarizing in the political world," Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said. "That goes for anybody, but especially as it relates to Major League Baseball because it's one of the few businesses that get incredibly special treatment from Congress and the federal government."

In addition to a certain son of a former President who owned a baseball team before going on to bigger and better (?!) things, Fred Vincy at Stone Court notes that, for better or worse, politics and baseball have always gone together:

Does Mr. Sweeney also object to Bush pioneer William O. DeWitt, Jr., owning the Cardinals? Or Bush pioneer Carl Lindner owning the Cincinnati Reds? Or Bush pioneer Tom Hicks -- who also made W a rich man -- owning the Texas Rangers? (In fact, thirteen current or former owners and their family members are Bush Rangers or Pioneers.)

But it gets worse. How about George Steinbrenner III, convicted of making illegal contributions to the Nixon campaign and obstruction of justice, owning the Yankees? How about Fred Malek -- Deputy Director of Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) who compiled a list of high-ranking Jews in government for Richard Nixon and senior advisor to George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign -- owning part of the Texas Rangers in the 1990s along with George W. Bush?

For those of you keeping score at home:
Legal support for Democratic presidential candidates: Bad

Legal support for Republican presidential candidates: Good

Illegal and/or dishonorable support for Republican presidential candidates: Good
If Mr. Sweeney can give a good explanation for all that, perhaps he can also explain the infield fly rule....

UPDATE: Commenter DanF reminds us that Rupert Murdoch, who's dabbled a bit in partisan politics himself, owned the Los Angeles Dodgers until 2004.
Those were my Dodgers, to be precise. And I think I deserve a little George Soros after putting up with Rupert Murdoch for so long.

Sweeney -- to the showers!


Monday, June 27, 2005

House of Representatives Passes OSHA Appropriation Bill

The full House of Representatives passed OSHA's FY 2006 Appropriations Bill last week. The House approved a budget for OSHA of approximately $477 million, up from the president's proposal of $467 million. The bill continues to include Congressman Roger Wicker's (R-MS) language prohibiting OSHA from enforcing its respirator fit-testing requirement for health care workers, criticizes OSHA for not issuing its payment-for-personal protective equipment standard, and increases funding by $10 million over the White House request, including full funding for institutional competency training grants.

Wicker TB Amendment

An amendment by Congressman Major Owens (D-NY) to delete the Wicker TB language was was narrowly defeated in a 216-206 vote. Twelve Republicans supported Owens' amendment and two Democrats, Jim Marshall (GA) and Collin Peterson (MN) voted against the amendment.

Owens invoked national security concerns in his effort to restore OSHA enforcement:
This amendment simply strikes a dangerous provision in the underlying bill that would leave first responders and receivers without the most basic protection against bioterrorist attacks. This provision bans the annual fit testing of respirators or masks for our front-line heroes. Why is such a provision there? It is part of the effort to trivialize the whole concept of workers' safety. Why single out a small matter like this and deny the fit testing of respirators and masks for our front-line heroes?
He also submitted a letter sent by 12 labor unions who also reminded Congress of the lessons learned from the recent SARS outbreak:
The need for a properly fitted respirator mask was demonstrated in Toronto during the SARS outbreak when several health care workers whose respirators had not been fit tested contracted SARS. Because the cost of the annual fit testing is small--estimated by OSHA at $10.7 million nationally--it is a wise investment to be made for those most vulnerable to TB and on the frontline of any biological threat or attack.
Wicker, on the other hand, argued that fit testing was a "new regulation" that would raise health care costs unacceptably. Wicker, who seems to be unaware of OSHA's highly successful 15 year old bloodborne pathogens standard, also invoked a darker motive:
This amendment is a back-door method of allowing OSHA a foothold in the regulation of infectious diseases, and I do not think we want to do that today.
Payment for Personal Protective Equipment

The House was more concerned about OSHA's failure to issue it "Payment for PPE" standard that has been languishing at OSHA since the last days of the Clinton Administration. That standard would establish that employers have a responsibility to pay for personal protective equipment such as respirators, gloves and boots that are required by OSHA standards.

According to the Bureau of National Affairs:
The committee report on the measure chided OSHA for its "lack of progress" on finalizing a six-year-old proposed rule on employer payment for personal protective equipment. The committee directed DOL to report on "the definitive status of this regulation " within 30 days after the spending bill is enacted.

"The Committee is especially concerned because the rate of worker deaths and injuries, which has decreased in the last decade for all America workers, has increased among Hispanic workers," the report said. "Despite some promising trends in workplace injury and death rates for Hispanic workers, the Department cannot attribute the trends to better provision of personal protective equipment because the Department has not issued a regulation."
According to its "Regulatory Agenda," OSHA is scheduled to finalize the regulation by October.

Training Grants

Finally, the House restored $10.2 million in funding for training grants, rejecting the Presidents proposal terminate the entire Susan Harwood training grant program. Bush has proposed cutting the program back every year for the past four years, but Congress has always restored the funds.

Related Stories


Texas Passes Safe Lifting Law For Hospitals, Nursing Homes

The State of Texas has passed TX SB 1525, the first state legislation signed into law requiring hospitals and nursing homes to implement a safe patient handling and movement program. The legislation was signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry June 17, 2005, and will take effect January 1, 2006.

Anne Hudson of the Work Injured Nurses Group USA (WING USA) reports that the bill passed unanimously in the House and with only one dissenting vote in the Senate.

The law requires hospitals and nursing homes to adopt a policy "to identify, assess, and develop strategies to control risk of injury to patients and nurses
associated with the lifting, transferring, repositioning, or movement of a patient."

The policy must include "an evaluation of alternative ways to reduce risks associated with patient handling, including evaluation of equipment and the environment" and "restriction, to the extent feasible with existing equipment and aids, of manual patient handling or movement of all or most of a patient's weight to emergency, life-threatening, or otherwise exceptional circumstances."

Most significantly, the law requires the plan to include "procedures for nurses to refuse to perform or be involved in patient handling or movement that the nurse believes in good faith will expose a patient or a nurse to an unacceptable risk of injury."

If this law is actually enforced on the hospital and nursing home floor, it means a significant advance in protecting the health of Texas nurses. The bill has been a major priority of the Texas Nurses Association.

And, as Anne says:

With Texas the first state to succeed with passage of legislation, a number of other states continue working toward legislative protection of healthcare workers against preventable injury from manual patient lifting.

Eventually, all of the United States will mandate safe patient handling practices like those already in place in countries more advanced in protecting nurses and patients against injury from manual lifting.


Attorney for Grace To Head EPA Enforcement

Fox Watching the Chicken Coop: Chapter 3,457

After four and a half years of this administration, you don't even get three guesses for this one.

If you were the Bush administration, who would you pick as the chief of enforcement for the Environmental Protection Agency? How about a partner from the lawfirm defending a company accused of (in the words of the special agent in charge of the EPA's environmental crime section in Denver) "one of the most significant criminal indictments for environmental crime in our history?"

According to the Baltimore Sun,
President Bush has nominated as chief of enforcement for the Environmental Protection Agency a partner in a law firm defending W.R. Grace & Co. against criminal charges in a major environmental case.

EPA employees were told late Thursday that Bush had nominated Granta Nakayama to lead the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, according to an EPA memo obtained by The Sun.

The Senate must approve the appointment.

Nakayama, 46, a specialist in environmental law, is a full partner in Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The law firm is defending Grace against multiple criminal charges alleging that the Columbia-based company and seven of its current or former executives knowingly put their workers and the public in danger through exposure to vermiculite ore contaminated with asbestos from the company's mine in Libby, Mont.
But don't worry.
Brian Pitts, spokesman for the law firm, said: "Nakayama has had no involvement in [Grace's bankruptcy or indictment] during his tenure at Kirkland."

Thomas Skinner, the EPA's acting head of enforcement, said Nakayama would avoid any conflicts.

"Even if he hasn't worked on the Grace projects himself, he will have to recuse himself from Grace and a number of other matters that Kirkland & Ellis have handled over the years," said Skinner.

"I'm very confident that the first thing he's going to do when he walks in that door is to sign a formal recusal letter and to make clear to everyone in the agency that he's to have nothing to do with W.R. Grace or other clients represented by [Kirkland & Ellis] and nobody can talk to him about these matters.

"I guarantee you it will happen," Skinner added.
OK, I feel much better now.

Of course those nervous nellies who work for EPA need to chill:
Eleven EPA lawyers and investigators contacted yesterday refused to comment on the record, with most saying that any public comments would be "a career-ender."

However, they said the appearance of a conflict of interest involving EPA's top enforcement official is likely to have a chilling effect on pursuing investigations and actions involving Grace and any other companies represented by Nakayama's firm.

Skinner said he understands the concerns from those in the field, but added, "The agency has procedures for handling these potential conflicts."
I'm sure they do.

We have ways of making you behave...

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Still Manufacturing Uncertainty

David Michaels has become the nation's leading tribune warning against corporate attempts to undermine workplace, environmental and general public health protections by "manufacturing uncertainty -- promoting the belief that the science is uncertain and that regulation cannot proceed until more conclusive data are collected.

In an LA Times column, Michaels highlights the recent case of Philip Cooney, the Bush administration's chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality (and former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist), who rewrote a federal report "to magnify the level of uncertainty on climate change" before moving on to a new job at Exxon.

Michaels points out the danger of deliberately and falsely raising the level of scientific uncertainty:
By definition, uncertainties abound in our work; there's nothing to be done about that. Our public health and environmental protection programs will not be effective if absolute proof is required before we act. The best available evidence must be sufficient. Otherwise, we'll sit on our hands and do nothing.

Of course, this is often exactly what industry wants. That's why it has mastered the art of manufacturing uncertainty
, of demanding often impossible proof over common-sense precaution in the realm of public health.
The "manufacturing uncertainty" industry started with raising doubts about the science behind tobacco causing cancer. Although the tobacco industry eventually lost that war, those behind the strategy are peddling their wares defending other hazardous products.

In fact, as Michaels points out:
It is now unusual for the science behind a public health or environmental regulation not to be challenged. In recent years, corporations have mounted campaigns to question studies documenting the adverse health effects of exposure to, among others, beryllium, lead, mercury, vinyl chloride, chromium, benzene, benzidine and nickel.
Note that these are all chemicals, but the industry used the same arguments to cast doubt on the science behind ergonomics as well. No one is safe.

The scary part is how deliberate the strategy is: Among themselves, these product-defense lobbyists and their clients make no secret of what they're doing. Republican political consultant Frank Luntz wrote in a memo, later leaked to the press:
"The scientific debate remains open…. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly."

Decades from now, this campaign to manufacture uncertainty will surely be viewed with the same dismay and outrage with which we now look back on the deceits perpetrated by the tobacco industry. But will it be too late?



Saturday, June 25, 2005

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

Taking the kid to camp this weekend. Back soon....


Thursday, June 23, 2005

BP Pays Off, Big and Fast

Poor BP Amoco. The bad news was that the March 23 explosion killed 15 workers and injured 170 at its Texas City refinery. But the worst news was that the people it killed were contractors who were employed by another company. That means that instead of the dead workers' families just getting some paltry workers comp payments, they are eligable to sue BP. After years of failing to heed the warning of its employees and OSHA to upgrade its plant and make it safer, the company was not anxious to meet the families of the dead in court. So they decided to pay, big and fast:
BP has agreed to pay several of the families of those killed in the deadly Texas City refinery explosion tens of millions of dollars each to settle wrongful death claims, sources familiar with the cases said.

Attorneys representing those families would not confirm or even discuss the settlement amounts, citing confidentiality agreements with the oil behemoth. Neither would BP officials.

But the attorneys acknowledged that after just a few weeks of talks, many of the cases in recent days have settled with BP agreeing to generous payments.
There are some lessons here. First, listen to OSHA and your employees when they warn you about unsafe conditions. Second, if all else fails and you blow up your plant, make sure you kill you own workers and not someone elses.

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One-Quarter Of Day Laborers Hurt On Job

...and more than half cheated out of their wages.

In case you had the impression (like from the two articles below this) that immigrant day-laborers are exploited and hurt (or killed) on the job, you were right.
More than half of day laborers in the Washington area have been cheated out of their wages and one in four has been harmed on the job, according to a study being released today that tries to sketch a portrait of the informal workers.

The study is based on the experiences of 476 day laborers in the District, Northern Virginia and Maryland, who were interviewed last year by a team affiliated with the University of California at Los Angeles. It depicts the typical worker as an industrious Latin American man who earns $991 a month.


One-quarter of the day laborers reported suffering an injury or illness related to their work that required medical attention. A majority said they had not received any type of safety training, although many said they did dangerous jobs.
Turns out employers generally assume that they're all undocumented and afraid to complain.

Oh, that explains it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Job Wanted. Will Get Cancer For Food

I'll be happy when we get this asbestos compensation bill passed, all the sick people get paid and we don't need to worry about the whole asbestos problem anymore.

Some fried chicken, a loaf of bread, some sandwich meat, and a night or two sleeping in a real bed.

That's what three days of asbestos removal at about $4 an hour bought Joe Miller. That and a chance of getting cancer a couple of decades from now.

But those are the risks you take when you're homeless and surviving on day labor. From the beginning, the asbestos job "just didn't even sound right," said Miller, one of three homeless men hired in February to do the work in the basement of the City and State Building on Campbell Avenue. The case is under investigation by federal authorities. No one has been charged.

Miller, 39, said he knew about the risks from breathing asbestos fibers. "But we didn't know it was going to be that bad down in that building." The men were given yellow rain suits, goggles and respirators to wear while handling the banned insulation material. "We was cutting it off the pipes and scooping it up and putting it in bags." Dust floated everywhere, Miller said.

At the end of it, Miller said he picked up $100 cash.
Meanwhile, a witness that defended Raul and Alexander Salvagno, asbestos contractors who were found guilty last year of racketeering and conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Air Act and Toxic Substances Control Act, has admitted that he lied.
The father and son, now serving lengthy prison terms, conducted illegal asbestos removal in up to 1,555 structures -- including colleges, schools and government buildings, most of them in the Capital Region -- and falsified up to 75,000 laboratory results, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found.

A college pal of Alex Salvagno, also 38, Pilgrim was the first witness for the defense. He testified he worked for the Salvagnos for four years at AAR Contractor Latham and Analytical Laboratories of Albany and never observed or participated in illegal asbestos activities, according to a statement released by Glenn T. Suddaby, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York.

He further testified he never saw indoor snowstorms (an industry term when so much asbestos is improperly released into the air it appears to be snowing in the work area), never saw workers removing asbestos without wearing respirators, knew nothing of falsified laboratory reports and did not know that Alex Salvagno secretly co-owned Analytical Laboratories of Albany, a purportedly independent laboratory that performed analysis on AAR projects to verify that asbestos had been properly removed, the statement said.

After the trial, EPA investigators continued to look into the case and into Pilgrim's testimony.

In his guilty plea, he admitted his testimony was a lie. He acknowledged illegal asbestos removal, observing indoor snowstorms, seeing AAR workers not wearing respirators at numerous projects and being aware that lab reports were falsified.
Hey, but don't worry. If homeless and unemployed people decide they want safer work, there are plenty of kids looking for summer jobs.

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Oh Great. Now We're Killing Martians In The Workplace

I've been waiting anxiously for the next Tom Cruise - Steven Spielberg movie, War of the Worlds, the story of a Martian invasion of earth. I'm not really familiar with the plot, but I have a theory that the invasion has something to do with our poor workplace safety practices and the fact that we seem to be killing Martian immigrants in trench collapses.

For example:

Bridgeport, CT -- The Bridgeport worker who was killed in a construction accident in Shelton Saturday was an illegal alien, according to immigration officials, and the company for which he worked could face a fine of $70,000.

I mean just because our friends from other planets send their "illegals" here doesn't mean we have to kill them. No wonder they're invading us.

Oh wait.

Admilson Dias Vieira, 36, of Bridgeport, a native of Brazil, died after the sides of a trench he was working on at 23 Bruce Drive collapsed on him.

Some 60 firefighters from Shelton, Bridgeport and Derby worked frantically for about five hours to rescue Vieira, who was buried under about 12 feet of dirt and boulders.

Vieira reportedly left a wife and three young sons in Brazil.
Nevermind. Just another Hispanic worker who entered the country without documentation, trying to make enough money to send back home to his family.

Move along, nothing to see here.

"Bought Scientists:" Choosing Sides In The Science Wars

The good thing about the growing community of public health-related blogs is that the more they reproduce, the lighter the burden on each one of us individual writers. Revere at Effect Measure has come to my rescue tonight with a review of an article by Lila Guterman in The Chronicle of Higher Education on "the vexing question of corporate influence on research in occupational and environmental health....and the ethical issues that arise when researchers work for industries with a stake in the outcome of their research."

I have written numerous times (most recently here and here) about the corporate-sponsored corruption of science by the business community whose total focus is on reducing or preventing regulatory intereference with their right to do whatever they want, regardless of the effects on workers, communities or the environment.

But the area of Guterman's article that never ceases to amaze and upset me is the size of the disparity between the money devoted to workplace and environmental health versus other areas of medical research:
For instance, the 2004 budget of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for extramural research on workers' public health -- work done under the institute's auspices but not within its walls -- was $81.6-million. Environmental-health research fares relatively better: the 2004 budget for outside research at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is $462-million.

But both figures pale in comparison with some of the better-financed areas of medical research. The National Cancer Institute, for instance, spent $3.7-billion on extramural research in 2004, while the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spent $3.5-billion.
And then we have the industry contribution: "An industry-sponsored study done 10 years ago of risks in just one field, semiconductor manufacturing, cost about "half the extramural research budget of NIOSH," says the academic scientist who spearheaded it."

Not everyone is happy with industry-sponsored research:
Some researchers in these fields think any collaboration with industry taints the science. "This isn't a matter of minor ethics," says Joseph LaDou, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. "These are bought scientists."
Revere, who occasionally manages to be much more measured and rational than those of us here at Confined Space, points out that there are honest people working for the bad guys, as well as ethically-challenged corporate whores. But that's not the worst problem.
The real problem is not these blatant violations of scientific integrity, as bad as that is. It is the distortion of the research agenda itself. Money doesn't have to buy answers as long as it can control the questions, directing them toward things of interest to industry and away from things that are dangerous. A scientist doesn't have to alter results to serve corporate interests.
The problem is that not only an they expend seemingly inexhaustible amount of money to "manufacture uncertainty," but they can also create all kinds of crazy "scientific" theories that force the dwindling number of scientists who are on the side of public/occupational/environmental health to waste their scarce resources playing defense.

Revere, who admits to "have been involved in numerous court and regulatory proceedings on the side of plaintiffs, consumers or the public interest" (as if we couldn't figure that out) concludes that:
In the last analysis it comes down to where one's sympathies lie. I do not testify or do research for industry for a practical reason and a personal one. Practically, my time and energy are limited. Industry has the money to buy the services of whomever they wish. They don't need me, so I save what resources I have for those who need them more and have a harder time finding them. It is not a judgment that industry can never be right, but a choice about where and how I want to devote my energies and how I want to integrate my work and my hopes for the world I live in. Others have made different choices. I wish they wouldn't but that's the way it is.

There are charlatans and good scientists on both sides. About the former, there is little to say. And for the latter, the question becomes that of the old Labor song, "Which side are you on?"

Tip on Interviewing New Employee: Wear Clothes

You hear more and more stories about how intrusive job interviews are getting these days, but this is just a bit over the top.

A GLASGOW boss who stripped naked while interviewing a woman for a job walked free from court today. Saaed Akbar, 35, shocked the 25-year-old applicant when he suggested having the interview in the nude.

She refused but the £25,000-a-year executive left his office ... only to return naked and carrying a clipboard.

The woman fled and reported him to police.

Today at Glasgow Sheriff Court, Akbar was put on probation for three years after admitting a breach of the peace.

Maybe the air-conditioning was broken?

BP Scapegoats Aren't Taking It; Sue Company

Two former BP Amoco employees who were fired after the March 23 explosions that killed 15 workers and injured 170, are suing the company, claiming they were defamed by a report that pins much of the blame for the accident on employee errors.

Steven Adams and Scott Yerrell had both worked for more than 15 years for Amoco, then BP Amoco. They were fired along with four other BP employees. Adams says the only thing he did wrong was "forgetting to sign off on a procedure checklist as he ended his nightshift the morning of the accident — an oversight that he said had no role in the blast."

The blast occurred when a system containing highy combustible materials overpressured and flowed into a vent stack,or blowdown drum, where it overflowed, spewing flammable liquids and vapors throughout the area. The vapors ignited and exploded. Most of the workers killed were in a nearby construction trailer.
For his part, an angry Adams blames the accident on BP's refusal over the years to equip the blowdown stack with a flare, which federal investigators have said may have safely burned away the excess hydrocarbons and vapors.

Thirteen years ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined then-Amoco for having such vent stacks in place and suggested flaring them to protect the environment and workers.

But the fine was dismissed, and Amoco and later BP kept the stack on the isom unit in place, even though many other refinery operators began removing such outdated equipment on their plants.

"Blowdown drums are out of date for this day and age," Adams said.

He said that about two and a half years ago, BP began work on a project to equip the blowdown drum and stack with a flare, but that the project was halted for budget reasons.

"Eventually everything was to go to a flare," he said. "They made all the tie-ins and then they pretty much put a halt to it. After that, it was just over and that's the last we heard of it."


In 1997 Adams said in a letter to then-Amoco's Ideas in Action program that he thought a faulty pump on the blowdown drum was dangerous and needed replacing. In a written response two years and two months later, Adams was told the idea was not "cost effective," according to a copy of the response letter.

Adams said he and other union members also opposed the company's decision in 1997 to reduce the number of operators in the control room from two to one. And, more recently, he said there was widespread concern among BP workers that the construction trailer in which several contractors were killed was parked so close to the isomerization unit.
The company seems to be in denial mode.

[BP spokesman Hugh]Depland said the number of operators on duty March 23 was not a contributing cause of the accident. And [BP Products North America President Ross]Pillari said that while the trailer's location increased the number of casualties, officials deemed it a safe location after conducting a hazard review.
Depland also denied that the comany had ever planned to replace the blowdown drum with a flare.

The company also helpfully added that
“We have not identified any individuals who have been terminated and, in fact, we have not confirmed the number of people terminated,” Depland said after declining to confirm if Adams and Yerrell had been fired as a result of the investigation. He also would not confirm if the pair were even BP employees.
In fact, before the men in their little white coats carted him away, Depland was reported to voice serious doubts about whether Adams and Yerrell are human life-forms, or whether any of the 15 workers killed had ever really existed or whether there had even been an explosion or....

I gotta go...

Related Stories

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

W.R. Grace And The Final Solution

We are all acquainted with W.R. Grace as the corporate killer who has sentenced thousands to asbestos related disease and early death -- and committing fraud and other crimes to cover it all up.

But Revere over at Effect Measure, digs up a little history on Grace. Seems they have an affinity for mass murder:
J. Peter Grace, a scion of the Grace fortunes and company capo after WWII, had an eye for talent. After the war he sprung from prison, hired and employed for thirty years one Otto Ambros, a convicted Nazi war criminal who also had expertise in chemistry, useful for a big chemical company. What was Ambros's chemical specialty? Before and during the war he worked for the German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben and help develop "Zykon B," the gas used in the Nazi gas chambers. Ambros also gave us the nerve gases Sarin and Tabun. But he was a chemist. Useful fellow.
But, as Revere notes, Grace's crimes are not so bad that Republicans can't see their way to show some mercy by passing asbestos compensation legislation to bail out the poor oppressed company and it's many co-conspriators.


Reducing Malpractice Premiums By Reducing Malpractice: Lessons For Workplace Safety?

The Wall St. Journal had a fascinating story today about how a high-risk group of physicians have beaten back skyrocketing malpractice premiums -- not by passing tort reform legislation, but -- get this -- by reducing malpractice. But almost as interesting as the accomplishment itself is how they went about it and the lessons it teaches for all of us safety types.

I have written about the malpractice insurance racket before and the attempt by physicians' associations to blame rising premiums on frivolous lawsuits, greedy patients and trial lawyers, rather than on greedy insurance companies and, of course, too much malpractice. In fact, the fight has gotten so bitter, that some physicians have actually refused to treat trial lawyers.

Once one of the highest risk medical professions, anesthesiologists have made amazing progress:
Over the past two decades, patient deaths due to anesthesia have declined to one death per 200,000 to 300,000 cases from one for every 5,000 cases, according to studies compiled by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies, a leading scientific advisory body.

Malpractice payments involving the nation's 30,000 anesthesiologists are down, too, and anesthesiologists typically pay some of the smallest malpractice premiums around. That's a huge change from when they were considered among the riskiest doctors to insure. Nationwide, the average annual premium for anesthesiologists is less than $21,000, according to a survey by the American Society of Anesthesiologists. An obstetrician might pay 10 times that amount, Medical Liability Monitor, an industry newsletter, reports.
So, how did they do it? Punishing incompetent anesthesiologists perhaps?

No. First, they decided to gather data. What was causing accidental anesthesia-related deaths? After overcoming initial resistance from the insurance industry, the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation gathered information on thousands of malpractice cases.

What did they find? Many fatalities were caused by inserting the patient's breathing tube down the esophagus into the stomach instead of down the trachea into the lungs. It was difficult to detect the mistake until it was too late. Although devices were developed to detect the problem, they were expensive and hospitals were reluctant to buy them until the American Society of Anesthesiologists made the devices the basic standards for anesthesia care. After that, if hospitals didn't purchase them, they opened themselves up to malpractice liability.

Another problem dealt with alarms:
Anesthesiologists are now focused on alarm bells. Modern anesthesia machines come equipped with audible alarms that sound when certain thresholds, such as oxygen levels, are crossed. But the alarms irritate many surgeons, so some anesthesiologists have turned them off. The foundation has documented 26 alarm-related malpractice claims between 1970 and 2002, or a little more than one a year. Of those, more than 20 resulted in either death or brain damage.

The foundation is pushing to adopt a formal standard that prohibits anesthesiologists from disabling the alarms. "I would not fly on an airplane if the pilot announced all the alarms were being turned off," says Robert K. Stoelting, the foundation's current president. "Our patients deserve the same safety net."
The most important lesson from this experience is that the anesthesiologists focused on addressing systemic problems instead of human fallibility.

But according to Neil Kochenour, medical director at the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, physicians are resistant:
Dr. Kochenour says his institution has tried to emulate the anesthesiologists by concentrating more on identifying systemic errors and less on individual blame. But these efforts run headlong into thinking drummed into physicians since medical school, he says. "I don't think physicians are very good systems thinkers, by and large," he says. Many, especially surgeons, prize their independence, he says, and that makes it hard to achieve the kind of cooperation necessary to reduce errors.

What lessons can this teach us about making workplaces safer? First, addressing systemic problems -- removing the hazard or unsafe condition -- is a much more effective way of dealing with safety problems than blaming the worker -- a lesson that the steel industry, the construction industry, railroads and BP Amoco have not learned.

Second, what finally drove the anesthesiologists to address their problems? Huge malpractice awards and rising premiums. Unfortunately, workers and their families can't sue construction companies that kill employees, and the business community has been successful in "reforming" workers comp laws whenever the premiums start getting too high by putting more of the burden on injured workers.

And finally, what lessons can we learn from this story about rising workers compensation rates? If the best way to fight rising medical malpractice premiums is to reduce the amount of malpractice, maybe the best way to fight rising workers compensation insurance premiums is .... to reduce workplace injuries.

As my kids would say, "Duh!"

Related Stories

Monday, June 20, 2005

SEMCOSH Launches New WebLog

It's a baby blog!

Confined Space claims paternity to a new blog by the Southeast Michigan Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (SEMCOSH). The first post lays out the problem for COSH groups today:
The important question isn't whether Andy Stern (SEIU prez) gets his new federation or whether John Sweeney gets another term... but what do we do down here in the trenches.

At the COSH in Detroit a long (slow) move towards being more of a 'workers center' has been propelled by the increasing number of immigrant workers approaching us with employment law problems - don't get paid, don't receive all the wages earned - and an increasing desire to return to the frequent free & open workshops of a couple of years ago.

Our central question: what should a small, non-profit, trilingual (English, Spanish, Arabic) union support organization do to strengthen workers, unions and the working class. We'll be posting some answers, but mostly we want to hear what others are thinking.
Check in occasionally.

Whistleblower Condemns OSHA's Response to Beryllium Exposures

OSHA whistleblower Adam Finkel has sent a letter to the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce highly critical of OSHA's refusal to release exposure information on the agency's inspectors who have been sensitized to the highly toxic metal beryllium. Last March, OSHA revealed that ten out of 271 employees tested had been sensitized. Sensitization can lead to beryllium disease, an incurable and potentially fatal lung disease.

Finkel argues that in order to determine what level of beryllium caused the sensitization, it must be known how much beryllium the inspectors were exposed to. OSHA is refusing to release exposure data, arguing that "the data available is limited to sampling and inspection history, not exposure in the traditional industrial hygiene sense."
"Ridiculous," is what several other prominent industrial hygienists and physicians called OSHA's argument that its sampling data is not "exposure in the traditional industrial hygiene sense," according to Finkel's letter.

The information OSHA declines to release offers a "fantastic scientific opportunity to define the lower levels of exposures and their relationship to beryllium sensitization," according to Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, deputy director of Public Citizen's health research group. Lurie believes, "The data are at a level of detail that exceeds what we usually have in occupational health studies."

Brush Wellman, a major supplier of beryllium, agrees with OSHA, apparently fearing that the information will reveal that beryllium sensitization can be caused by lower levels of exposure than is currently believed.

OSHA also continues to refuse to offer testing to OSHA retirees, which Finkel calls "callous in the extreme."

Finkel was removed from his position as OSHA Regional Administrator in Denver after complaining publicly that OSHA had reversed its promise to test inspectors for beryllium sensitization. He filed a whistleblower complaint and later reached a settlement with OSHA. Finkel currently teaches at Princeton. Although he remains on OSHA's payroll, he does not speak for the agency.

Occupational Hazards has provided the complete text of Finkel's letter is available here. The text for Snare's March 24 is available here.

Related Stories

OSHA Offers New Training Grants

OSHA has put out a proposal for $6.9 million in new training grants and will fund for another year long term Institutional Competency grants originally awarded during the Clinton administration. The agency will accept applications for $2.9 million in construction and general industry Targeted Training grants and $4 million for the development of training materials. Both groups of grants will be funded for one year, starting at the end of September. The funding comes from the 2005 Fiscal Year budget which was approved last year. The administration had originally proposed cutting all funding except for the $4 million training material grants, but Congress restored full funding.

Applications are available on OSHA's web site and are due on July 21.

For next year's FY 2006 budget, the Bush administration wants to eliminate the entire program, although neither the House or Senate have acted on the request yet.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Weekly Toll -- Fathers Day Edition

Lots of fathers mourning their children this Fathers Day, and lots of children missing their fathers.

Officer Killed While Trying To Stop "Trashing"

"He was a great dad," Donovan Walker, 11, said. "And I loved fishing with him. We had good times together."

"I woke up at 6 this morning and just cried for an hour and a half because he hadn't come home," Dick Walker, the victim's father, said.

Loved ones left behind, after a routine assignment ends in the death of a 44-year-old single father with an 11-year-old son, Donovan; a 9-year-old daughter, Marissa; and their grandfather, Dick, who will now raise them both.

Michael walker was taking pictures of a house on Caddo Street for city code violations, when the homeowner's 22-year-old son confronted him and things turned violent. Michael got in his car and backed away, and a co-worker happened to call him on his cell phone.

Michael's last words to him: "I need an officer," Stephen Wilson, the city's chief building inspector, said.

"During the confrontation, the son went back in the house and retrieved a pistol. He came back out and started firing on the code enforcement officer," Chief Kerry Crews, of the Commerce Police Department, said.

That was just 30 seconds before police officers and Michael's father say they arrived.

"But I was able to be with him when he took his last breath," Dick said. "And the last thing he was able to hear was his daddy telling him he loves him."

More here.

Dad killed in fall between subway cars

Brooklyn, NY -- A Brooklyn postal worker was killed when he fell under the wheels of a subway train while apparently walking between the cars - a practice transit officials want to stamp out, cops said yesterday.

Ronald Williams, 56, was riding the No. 4 train to his home in Crown Heights late Tuesday when the train reached its last stop at Utica Ave. and other passengers emptied out.

For some reason, Williams stayed on board and apparently fell to the tracks around 11 p.m. as workers shifted the train to another platform to prepare to return to Manhattan, transit officials said.

"It's a terrible loss. He was a loving father, a loving husband and a loving grandfather," said his stepdaughter Yeisa Williams, 27, a police dispatcher. "He would give the shirt off his back for anyone."

Person man dies when truck ‘bucket’ falls in Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL, NC — A 31-year-old Person County man died Wednesday when the tree-trimming bucket he was in fell to the ground, according to law enforcement officials in Chapel Hill.

Kevin James Dunevant of 309 Charlie Jay Rd. died at the scene of the accident on Severin St. in Chapel Hill shortly after 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Dunevant, who was employed with Brad's Tree Service of Person County, reportedly fell approximately 30 feet to the ground when a boom holding the bucket up malfunctioned.

Worker killed at Shelton job site

SHELTON, CT — A 37-year-old man from Brazil was buried alive and suffocated after a trench wall collapsed on him Saturday as he helped dig a house foundation, offi-cials said.

Police said the man’s four co-workers frantically tried to dig him out by hand for 20 minutes before calling police, but he had suffocated by the time they partially unearthed him.

Officials at the scene said the 11-foot-deep trench was essentially a death trap, since its walls were not shored up, as required by most building regulations.

"The vibration caused the trench to cave in," said Shelton Assistant Fire Chief Mike Ullrich. "It hap-pened too quick, too fast to do anything about it."

The man, whose identity was not released, was the cousin of Marcio Lira, owner of Edwardo Osello Ma-sonry. The victim, visiting from Brazil, was married, police said, but it could not be determined if he had children.

Heat takes its toll

ORMOND BEACH, FL -- Weather forecasters say daytime temperatures in the low 90s this week have been only a degree or two higher than normal. But the oppressive mix of heat and humidity -- only four days before summer officially arrives -- can be life-threatening.

Six homeless people in Daytona Beach this week have been rushed by ambulance to Halifax Medical Center. And Marvin Lee Alderson, a 46-year-old construction worker, died Wednesday on the job.

His family believes it was heat-related, according to a spokeswoman at Newlife Cremation and Funeral Home. However, a county spokesman said the autopsy did not determine a cause of death, but additional tests may provide some answers.

"We're seeing more cases of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. We're seeing several a day," said Mark O'Keefe, EVAC ambulance spokesman. "People are doing the same level of activity, but they're not taking precautions. Typically, they're not hydrating themselves, or taking rest breaks."

Shootings leave 3 dead in North Toledo store

A Washington Township man walked into a North Toledo convenience store yesterday and fatally shot his estranged wife and her co-worker and then mortally wounded himself, police said.

Customers and other employees either ran from the store or hid inside, some in a back room, as the gunfire erupted at the busy convenience mart at North Detroit Avenue and Alexis Road, just southeast of Lakeside Centre, the former North Towne Square mall.

The gunman, Archie Cox, 45, of 866 Tralger Drive, was pronounced dead at the scene.

His wife, Susan Cox, 43, also of the Tralger address, and Shantel Hendrix, 27, of 6400 North Dixie Hwy., Bedford Township, both employees at Barney’s Convenience Mart, 5821 North Detroit Ave., died after arriving at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

PSO worker dies after fall

LEEDEY, Okla. -- An employee of Public Service Company of Oklahoma is dead after falling while working to restore power during this morning's storms.

PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford says the man died while working near Leedey in Dewey County.

The victim's name hasn't been released but Whiteford says he was from Elk City.

Dewey County Sheriff Bud Prentice says the man slipped on wet grass after getting out of his truck about 4 a.m., then slid into power lines that fell during the storm.

Prentice says the man was dead at the scene.

Farm worker dies, Excavator slid into manure-filled pond

LONGMONT, CO — A Niwot-area man died Thursday at the Adam Dairy farm east of Longmont after the tracked excavator in which he was working slid into a manure-filled pond.

Richard “Ricky” Kneale, 23, was digging at the pond’s edge with his grandfather’s excavator at around noon when the bank gave way. The 60,000-pound machine slid sideways into several feet of dark sludge, entombing Kneale in the cab.

The sole door on the machine, on the left-hand side, was pinned shut by the weight of the machine, firefighters said. Kneale tried to lever himself out with the excavator’s bucket and arm, firefighters said, but the cab filled with the liquid.

Kneale had a 4-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

Investigators Looking At Forklift In Connecticut College Accident

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Investigators are taking a close look at the forklift a worker was operating when he was killed in an accident on the new athletic field at Connecticut College.

School officials said the contractor was behind the controls of the forklift when something went terribly wrong, NBC 30 Connecticut News reported. Police who arrived at the scene found a man critically injured. And moments later, the worker died at the construction site. His name has not been released, but local and state investigators are now trying to figure out the details on what exactly happened.

VCU Medical Center Employee Killed

Petersburg, VA -- An employee at VCU Medical Center was struck and killed by a delivery truck just outside the hospital.

Hospital officials tell 8 News the employee was killed after being backed over by a delivery truck Tuesday at about 2:00 p.m. Employees on the scene believe she may have been on a cell phone and distracted. The apparent accident happened in an alley way that leads to a loading dock near the emergency entrance.

Worker dies in accident at shipbuilding company

NORTH KINGSTOWN, RI -- A SENESCO Marine employee was killed yesterday in a mechanical accident while working at the Quonset shipbuilding company.

Patrick Guillory, 45, who had worked at the company for about a month, was working on a two-man lift operating within a barge when the speeding lift slammed into steel, pinning him and causing fatal internal injuries, according to Gary Schuler, CEO of the company. It was the first fatality for the five-year-old company, Southeastern New England Shipbuilding Corp., which employs about 300 people, Schuler said.

Guillory, a native of Louisiana who worked at SENESCO with his brother-in-law, had recently been living at a motel on Post Road in North Kingstown, Schuler said.

The two-man lift, which has various speed settings, was supposed to travel at "turtle speed."

"Somehow the speed they got was rapid speed," Schuler said. The accident, which occurred at around 12:30 p.m., has been traced to an operator error, Schuler said.

Window washer killed in fall; second worker injured

Burlington, VT -- One window washer fell to his death and another was seriously injured last week during an accident at the New England Executive Park.

Jose Camara, 46, of Somerville, was cleaning windows with his co-worker, Carlos Lopez, 33, of Chelsea, when both men fell from a four-story building at 6 New England Executive Park, near the Burlington Mall, at around 8 a.m. Wednesday, June 8, police said.

Both men were rushed to nearby Lahey Clinic Medical Center, where Camara was ronounced dead at around noon. Lopez was treated at the hospital for a broken pelvis, police said.

"We believe one may have fallen three stories, and the other may have fallen from the roof," said Burlington Assistant Fire Chief Steve Yetman. "Apparently, all of the equipment ended up on the ground."

Man killed at construction site identified

WOOD RIVER, NE -- A 41-year-old Grand Island man who died Wednesday after a steel beam landed on him has been identified.

The man killed was Michael A. Benzel, according to a press release from the Hall County Sheriff's Department.

Benzel, an employee of Tri-Valley Builders, was working at a construction site at the Wood River Rural High School when the accident occurred about 1:45 p.m.

The initial investigation indicates that a roof support beam slipped and fell from a lifting device while it was being moved from one location to another. The beam landed on top of Benzel, Watson said, causing severe injuries.

Davidson County briefs: Smyrna worker crushed by machine

Smyrna, TN -- A contract worker from Smyrna was crushed to death yesterday morning while working on the new downtown Metro courthouse, a police official said.

A power rock-drilling machine that Civil Constructors worker James Randal Glover was operating crushed the 58-year-old man against the unfinished building at 1 Public Square.

Miners return to site of fatal accident; production still on hold

Pittsburgh, PA -- Employees at Tracy Lynne Mine were to return to work today but would not start producing coal again until early next week, the mine’s owner said.

J. Clifford “Cliff” Forrest said he stopped production at the mine out of respect for Boyd Alfred Beer Jr., 26, of Kittanning, who was killed Friday evening when a section of the mine roof collapsed.

According to the MSHA report, a section of rock about 20 feet by 25 feet by 5 feet thick fell on Beer.

Landscape worker dies when truck rolls over him

Monterey, CA -- An employee of a Pacific Grove landscaping company was killed Tuesday afternoon when a truck he had been driving rolled over him after being parked on a hill.

The man, whose name was not available, was working for Garden Way Landscaping at a house on the 400 block of Estrella d' Oro in the Pasadera development east of Monterey.

California Highway Patrol officer Justin Morgan said the man, who was in his 40s, was attempting to move the Ford F450 but the parking brake stuck. With the truck in neutral, the man got out and stood alongside the driver's side of the vehicle, using his hands to try to free the brake.

Suddenly, as the brake was freed, the truck rolled in reverse and the man was either knocked down by the driver's side door or he fell and was run over by the truck, Morgan said. The man suffered head and chest injuries, firefighters reported.

2 die in separate construction accidents

WHITE PLAINS, NY — Two men died Monday from injuries suffered in separate construction accidents, one a painter from White Plains who fell from a ladder and the other a Connecticut man who was crushed to death when a 5,000-pound steel piling fell on him.

Herbert Zinck, 55, of 155 Ferris Ave. died from injuries suffered in a June 2 fall, and David Bucnis, 41, of Norwalk, Conn., was pronounced dead at a construction site at a Con Edison substation on New Street.

Both deaths appeared to be accidental, said Capt. Nick Kralik of the White Plains police.

Zinck had gone to a friend's home to paint exterior trim on the second floor when he fell from the ladder, Kralik said, suffering injuries that did not appear to be life-threatening. He was treated at a hospital and released but returned to the hospital several days later, complaining of persistent pain.

According to Kralik's account, the Westchester County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Zinck developed a blood clot in his leg, which spread to his lungs, and that his death was caused by injuries originally sustained in the fall.

The accident that killed Bucnis occurred about 3:30 p.m. Monday while workers were unloading 60-foot-long steel pilings 10 inches in diameter from a tractor-trailer, officials said. Bucnis was employed by Loftus Contracting of Yonkers, which is sinking pilings at a substation site for Con Edison, said Michael Clendenin, a spokesman for the utility.

Kralik said Bucnis was standing on a delivery truck, attempting to guide the pilings, while another man operated a payloader, trying to maneuver the pilings from the truck onto the site. In the process, a piling fell from the second vehicle and hit Bucnis.

Indiana Highway Worker Struck, Killed

Siberia, IN -- A southern Indiana state highway worker was killed after being run over by a Department of Transportation pickup truck.

Ronald Ward, 56, of Tell City, was picking up debris near the Perry-Dubois county line when a tractor-trailer rounded a curve, WLKY NewsChannel 32 reported.

Ward and Noel Andry, 41, ran to avoid the tractor-trailer, but Ward fell and was hit by the DOT pickup truck.

Construction worker dies from injuries

Portland, OR -- A construction worker died Sunday afternoon of injuries he sustained in an accident two days before.

David K. Johnston, 40, of Portland was working at a construction site near Southeast Eastridge Court and Tenino Street shortly before 2 p.m. Friday, said Lt. Allen Oswalt, a Portland Fire Bureau spokesman.

Johnston was part of a crew installing sewer lines for a new housing subdivision. A trackhoe was moving a trench shield weighing several tons when the metal hook on the trackhoe failed, and metal rigging fell and hit Johnston in the head, Oswalt said.

Columbia worker killed while repairing utility pole

Columbia, MO -- A Columbia Water and Light employee was killed and another injured this morning while repairing damage in Independence from Wednesday's storms. Steve Ebert, 33, was electrocuted at 8:50 this morning when the boom of an electrical truck he was touching made contact with a 7,600-volt wire overhead, said George Morrow, Independence Power and Light director. Ebert was working with a team of Columbia Water and Light employees to replace a utility pole that was damaged, cutting power to parts of Independence. Columbia Water and Light has not had a worker killed since 1954, when Charles Pollack died from injuries suffered while repairing lights on a baseball field. Ebert worked for Columbia Water and Light since 1993. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Worker dies after being backed over by truck

Roselawn, OH -- A 58-year-old road worker died Thursday
after a dump truck backed over him on Reading Road in Roselawn.

Terry Nickell, of Batavia, died at University Hospital before noon, about two hours after the accident.

Police said Nichol was directing the dump truck when he apparently slipped and fell.

James Howard of Roselawn was sitting at a traffic light at Reading Road and Kenova Street when he said he saw Nichol waving his arms frantically behind the truck as if to signal the driver to stop. The truck knocked Nichol down and then ran over him, Howard said.

Rankin woman died in blast

RANTOUL, IL – Rantoul Fire Chief Ken Waters credits the design and structure of Conair Corp.'s manufacturing plant for preventing further loss of life and minimizing physical damage in Wednesday night's tragedy at the plant.

One woman was killed and another employee injured when a series of drums of denatured alcohol used to manufacture hair spray exploded at Conair's plant at 205 Shelhouse Road. Denatured, or industrial, alcohol is alcohol that has been treated with poisonous or nauseating substances so that it is not fit for human consumption, according to the Columbia Encyclopedia.

The Champaign County coroner's office identified the woman who died as Erna Uden, 52, of Rankin. Coroner Duane Northrup said Thursday that a preliminary autopsy indicated Mrs. Uden died of "thermal injuries," from breathing in the superheated air of the explosion in the alcohol room of the plant.

A 46-year-old Elizabethtown man dies

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - A 46-year-old Elizabethtown man died Wednesday night when he was crushed under the wheels of the starting gate at Penn National Race Course, where he worked.

William Richard "Rich" Stewart was pronounced dead at Hershey Medical Center about an hour after the 9:10 p.m. accident, according to the Dauphin County coroner.

Stewart, who worked 24 years as a starting gate attendant, fell off the 17-ton apparatus as it moved around the track following the fourth race.

Worker at National Pinned Under Jet, Killed

A US Airways baggage handler was killed yesterday at Reagan National Airport when the baggage loading vehicle she was driving failed to stop and she was pinned under a 72-seat regional jet parked at a gate, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The employee, Yolanda Corbett, 32, of the District, joined Mid Atlantic Airways, a regional carrier owned by US Airways, in May, according to the NTSB report.

Union officials have complained that National was understaffed as a result of the job cuts. In February, the airline was short 95 baggage handlers and ordered many of its employees to work overtime. Last summer, US Airways had 162 baggage handlers at National, down from 230 in November 2001, according to Tiberi.

Worker electrocuted at Verizon building

Commack, NY -- A Shirley power installer was electrocuted yesterday morning at a Verizon power facility in Commack, Suffolk police said.

David Cutler, who worked for Current Communications, a Verizon subcontractor in Massapequa, was about halfway into a two-hour project working on a cabinet of high-powered electrical lines that supply Verizon phone service.

"It appears that he accidentally touches one of the lines and he was electrocuted," Suffolk homicide Detective Sgt. Paul Dodorico said. "It appears that his hand is probably what made contact."

OSHA probes trench collapse that killed 1

Investigators are trying to determine whether construction crews in a trench in Wheaton were working without required safety equipment, leading to a collapse Monday that killed one man and injured his son.

The men worked for Chicago-based Hamilton Construction, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited 10 times in the last eight years, including three citations for trench protection-related violations.

OSHA is investigating reports that the two men, Herman Calloway Sr., who was killed, and Herman Jr., were working without a "trench box," a cage-like structure used to protect workers from potential collapses. Agency spokeswoman Kathy O'Connell said witnesses told investigators that workers removed a trench box from the 15-foot-deep hole to dig around some power lines, and then failed to put the box back before continuing to try to lay pipe.

O'Connell, area director for OSHA's North Aurora office, said the agency has six months to determine if Hamilton Construction, the subcontractor, or the other two companies on the project, DuPage Topsoil and Bovis Lend Lease, violated any safety laws.

Hamilton Construction was cited in 1997, 1999 and 2002 for 10 worker safety violations, including three for failing to protect against trench cave-ins, O'Connell said. The company paid more than $21,000 in fines.

Wall Collapses on Construction Worker, Killing Him

Bowie, Md. (AP) - A construction worker is dead after part of a wall fell on his head. It happened this afternoon at Fairview Vista Drive in Bowie.

According to Prince George's County Fire spokesman Mark Brady, the 29-year-old victim was building an interior wall on a new home when it collapsed.

Man killed in cave-in on Pikeville project

PIKEVILLE, NC — A construction worker was killed Tuesday afternoon in Pikeville when a trench in which he was working collapsed on him.

Reginald Hough, 53, of Mount Pleasant, died when the sides of the trench along Tina Avenue gave way. A second worker, James Mintz, 39, was taken to Wayne Memorial Hospital and later transferred by helicopter to Pitt Memorial Hospital. Mintz was listed in serious condition today, a hospital spokesman said.

The two men were employed by Eudy Pipe Service of Concord. Eudy is a sub-contractor of L-J Inc. of Columbia, S.C., which is the general contractor for a project the town has undertaken to improve its sewer system.

Nevada Fire Crew Leader Killed

BATTLE MOUNTAIN, NV - A Nevada Division of Forestry firefighter crew supervisor died in an all-terrain vehicle wreck Friday afternoon.

Audie Lee Cross, 44, of Carlin died from blunt force trauma after the four-wheeler he was driving flipped on top of him, said Lander County Sheriff Ron Unger.

Cross was working with his 12-man Carlin Conservation Camp fire crew about 10 miles south of Battle Mountain on a fence-building project, said NDF Regional Forester William Wolf.

Cross is survived by his wife, Lori, and their seven children.

Tow employee crushed to death when truck bed falls

A man was killed Monday morning when the tow truck he was working on crushed him.

The accident happened about 7:34 a.m. at Budget Towing on Homer Street in St. Paul, said St. Paul police spokesman Paul Schnell. The victim's identity was not released Monday pending notification of relatives.

The man was working on the hydraulics elevating a flatbed truck when the bed of the truck fell and crushed him, Schnell said.

A co-worker found the man, who was alone at the time. He was pronounced dead at the scene, Schnell said.

Trucker killed after hot asphalt buries him

WHITLEY CITY, Ky. (AP) -- A trucker who stopped to help a fellow truck driver died after a load of hot asphalt broke through the back of a truck he was inspecting.

About eight tons of asphalt fell on Jimmy Tucker, 55, while he was under the truck early Monday looking for a problem, said McCreary County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Smith. Tucker stopped about 7:15 a.m. EDT to help Wiley Spradlin Jr., whose truck had broken down.

Several motorists and another trucker eventually dug Tucker out with shovels, but he was severely burned, Smith said. Tucker was pronounced dead later that morning by McCreary County Coroner Teddy Coffey.

Worker electrocuted at Brazoria County drilling site

A 20-year-old Louisiana man was electrocuted early today while operating a pressure washer at a drilling site at Dow Chemical's Stratton Ridge facility in Brazoria County.

Adam Dirk McDaniel, of Ville Platte, died about 3:10 a.m., the Brazoria County Sheriff's Department reported. He was employed by Gray Wolf Drilling Co. L.P. of Houston.

A preliminary report said McDaniel was electrocuted while handling the wand area of the electric high-pressure washer as he prepared to clean some equipment.

A Veteran Firefighter Dies After a Blaze on Long Island

New York, NY -- A retired New York City fire lieutenant who, in a 30-year career, was cited repeatedly for bravery and who tirelessly searched for survivors after the 9/11 attack, died apparently of a heart attack on Tuesday night after putting out a blaze with a volunteer department on Long Island, the authorities said yesterday.

The firefighter, Lt. Peter B. Lund, 54, collapsed about 10 p.m. outside a home in Woodmere where he and his fellow volunteers, including his son, had extinguished an electrical fire. He was pronounced dead at St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway shortly before midnight.

Sheriff's deputy, man killed in shootout

LEDBETTER, Ky. -- A sheriff's deputy and a second man were killed in a shootout after the deputy responded to a domestic violence complaint at the man's home, authorities said.

Deputy Roger Lynch, 51, and Joseph Calender were found dead Thursday night by a Kentucky State Police trooper who arrived at the home after the shootout.

Lynch, who is from nearby Tiline, was responding to a 911 call from Calender's daughter, 18-year-old Candice Calender, who reported around 11:30 p.m. CDT that her parents were fighting, state police said.
Calender, 48, was armed with a loaded semiautomatic assault rifle, a loaded handgun and three additional clips of ammunition when Lynch arrived, state police said. The two exchanged shots in the stairwell of the modest brick home in Ledbetter, about 10 miles southeast of Paducah

Clerk Killed

BELLFLOWER, CA -- Detectives released a security videotape today in hopes of finding three robbers responsible for the death of a Bellflower convenience store clerk who begged for his life as he endured the beating that killed him. Muhammed Lakhani, 52, was attacked about 2:20 p.m. on May 9 inside Clark's Liquor, in the 13000 block of Clark Avenue, the sheriff's department reported. The Paramount resident died at a hospital of head injuries. On the security video, the victim could be heard pleading, as he was being pistol-whipped: "Don't shoot me ... I have a family."

Circle K clerk killed in apparent robbery attempt

Baton Rouge, LA -- Baton Rouge Police are investigation a murder that occurred early Friday morning at a local convenience store.

The incident happened at a Circle K store on the corner of Old Hammond Highway and Flannery Road. Police said a clerk there was shot and killed, and they believe it all began as an attempted robbery.

A customer walked in just before 3 a.m. and found 22-year-old Herschel Owens lying behind the counter. Owens was brought to a local hospital where he died from gunshot wounds.


GREENSBORO, NC -- A tractor-trailer carrying steel beams ran off Interstate 40 on Thursday afternoon, though investigators don't know whether it was the wreck that killed the driver or natural causes.

The Highway Patrol identified the driver as Larry Wayne Jones, 43, of Mebane. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the site of the 2:54 p.m. accident.

The eastbound truck appeared to have veered off the right shoulder about a quarter-mile east of the I-40 and East Lee Street interchange.

Deputy killed in wreck wasn't wearing seat belt

MAMOU, La. -- An Evangeline Parish sheriff's deputy who died in a car accident while he was on his way to answer a call was not wearing his seat belt, according to Louisiana State Police.

Deputy Maurice Brignac was responding to an accident near his hometown of Reddell in Evangeline Parish. Sheriff's Chief Investigator Joe Demourelle said the accident report first came in as a crash with injuries, then escalated to the vehicle possibly being on fire. Brignac, who was hired to serve legal papers for the Sheriff's Office and respond to some calls, was in nearby Mamou when he started toward the accident.With his lights flashing, Brignac approached an intersection and tried to go around a slower-moving truck driven by 24-year-old James Jones. As he did, the truck made a left-hand turn, slamming into Brignac's vehicle.

Search launched for suspect in three slayings; racial slurs made as shop workers gunned down

RICHMOND, Va. -- Three people were shot and killed, including two shopkeepers who were gunned down in front of horrified customers by a man who yelled racist comments, authorities said.

About 6:50 p.m, police said, they received a call that a gunman had shot someone at the public housing complex. Authorities found Derrick Conner, 29, lying dead on the street.

Ten minutes later, the gunman entered the James Food Store, a convenience store about three miles from the housing complex. After shouting racist comments at employee Abdulrahman Aldhabhani, 43, the man shot and killed him in front of customers, police said.

Police said the gunman took cash and other items before walking next door to Poly Cleaners, where he yelled racist comments at the owner, Jong Doh, 39, before shooting him in front of witnesses.

Police investigate two slayings in garage

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Two men were found slain Thursday in a tow-truck garage, police said.

Police canvassed the Denbigh neighborhood around Ace's Towing and Recovery where the bodies of John Drees, 30, and Robert Gowing, 34, were found, said police spokesman Harold Eley.

Eley said police received a report of a shooting at the garage at 3:20 a.m., but he would not say how Drees and Gowing were killed.

The men were working late Wednesday night, Eley said. Drees' wife became worried about him and checked the garage, where she found the bodies and called police.

Drees is involved in ownership of the towing company, Eley said.


Syracuse, NY -- A self-employed theater worker died in an accident Tuesday afternoon while working on the lighting in a Chenango County school auditorium, troopers said.

Martin W. Kappel, 51, of 125 N. Broad St., Norwich, was rigging the lighting system at Afton Central School, according to state police in Sidney. He had scaled a catwalk, troopers said, when the pulley system's counterweights dropped and he was catapulted 20 feet into the air, striking a steel girder. He then fell to the concrete catwalk, striking his head.

Farmer killed in tractor rollover

HAVRE, MT -- A 59-year-old Havre-area farmer was killed Memorial Day when his tractor tipped into a coulee and rolled several times, Hill County officials said Tuesday.

He was identified as Dean Clayborn, who died at the Northern Montana Hospital Monday afternoon.

Sheriff Greg Szudera said the rollover occurred on the Clayborn Farm, south of town, when the victim's small loader tractor got too close to the coulee and tipped. He said the tractor's front-end bucked was loaded with dirt and extended, making the tractor unstable.

Farmer dies when soybeans spill from bin

WATERLOO, Ind. -- A 75-year-old farmer was killed when soybeans from a grain bin spilled out, burying him under up to 8 feet of beans, police said.

Robert E. Kline was pronounced dead Monday on his farm near Waterloo, about 25 miles north of Fort Wayne, after rescue workers tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

Kline's wife had called DeKalb County Police about 5:30 p.m. Monday to report that her husband was missing and might be trapped under grain.

It took firefighters only about three minutes to find Kline's body, which was in front of a door to the bin and buried under soybeans that were up to 8 feet deep, said DeKalb County Police Cpl. Roger Watson.

Investigators did not know if Kline opened the door to the grain bin or whether it burst. Watson said he could not examine the door until the grain was removed.

Collision involving school bus kills a driver, injures children

GALION, Ohio -- A utility truck slammed into the back of a school bus on a rural road on Monday, killing the truck's driver and injuring two schoolchildren and the bus driver, authorities said.

Chad Clay, 26, of Mansfield, wasn't able to slow down the utility truck he was driving in time to avoid hitting the bus that was slowing down to drop off a student, the State Highway Patrol said in a news release. Both vehicles were traveling eastbound in this community about 52 miles northeast of Columbus.

5 teens charged in beating death

Birmingham, AL -- Five Birmingham teenagers - four of them 17 years old and one 15 years old - were charged Saturday with capital murder in connection with the beating death and robbery of a Tarrant used car dealer.

Kavinderpal Banga, 44, of Hoover, was pronounced dead at Carraway Methodist Medical Center at 9 p.m. Friday, said Tarrant Police Detective John Jones.
Police found Banga unconscious Wednesday evening at Banga Auto Sales at 1840 Pinson Valley Parkway.

Banga, a native of India, was an American citizen who had lived in Birmingham for about 10 years, said his sister, Manpreet Manda, of London, England, who arrived Friday to be with Banga's wife, Karamjit. The victim is also survived by two sons, Prince Preet Banga, 4, and Amit Preet Banga, 5 months.

Police search for co-worker in death of horse farm employee

BORDEN, Ind. -- The search continued Friday for an employee of a southern Indiana horse farm whom detectives want to question in the beating death of a co-worker.
Ronald L. Miller, 36, of Pekin, suffered head wounds and died shortly after police officers arrived Wednesday at the farm near the Hoosier Hills Golf Course, police said.

Miller was beaten so badly that authorities were not able to identify him until Thursday when co-workers at a horse farm in neighboring Floyd County became suspicious when he failed to show up for work for a second day, Clark County sheriff's Lt. Racheal Lee said.

Contract employee at Tuskegee University electrocuted

TUSKEGEE, Ala. -- A contract employee was electrocuted Friday at the main power plant on the Tuskegee University campus, authorities said.

Derrike A. Carter, 45, died around 8:30 a.m., university officials said. He was a staff member of Sodexho Inc, the facilities management contractor for Tuskegee.

Utica cab driver killed

UTICA, NY - Police in Utica are investigating the shooting death of a taxi cab driver.

Police say officers responding to a 9-1-1 call of shots fired late last night found 41-year-old Craig Van Horn lying next to his cab. Van Horn, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, was taken to St. Elizabeth Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities say the incident occurred during an apparent robbery. Van Horn worked for City Cab Company.

Firefighter Mysteriously Dies After Training Exercise

Seminole County, Fla. -- A 24-year veteran firefighter in Seminole County, Fla., mysteriously died Friday after a routine training exercise, according to Local 6 News.

Officials said Lt. Frank Kucera had just returned to station 12 in Altamonte Springs after a training exercise when he suddenly felt ill and died a short time later at a hospital.

The cause of his death remains a mystery Saturday.

Market worker killed in apparent holdup

Oakland, CA -- An employee of a West Oakland market was shot and killed Thursday during an apparent robbery attempt, authorities said.

Hassan Elhaj, 75, was at Campbell Market at 1539 Campbell St. at about 10:30 a.m. He died about a half-hour later at Highland Hospital in Oakland. Elhaj was originally from Yemen.