Monday, December 25, 2006

Company Pardoned: Mother Nature Guilty of Homicide

It was just "a tragic accident caused by a snow avalanche in Alaska's harsh climate" said Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski just days before leaving office, as he pardoned a company convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of one of its workers, killed in an avalanche in 1999.

Gary Stone, a 46-year-old father of five, was killed in an avalanche while on a Whitewater Engineering Corp. job site. According to Murkowsiki,
In a Nov. 30 letter addressed to Thom Fischer, Whitewater's president and owner, Murkowski said: "I recognize that criminal convictions against a company has serious implications for small businesses operating in Alaska." He said the criminal charges "seem to be excessive punishment."
Yeah, wouldn't ever want to hurt any small businesses. I mean, shit happens, right? Can't do anything about Mother Nature, right?

Not necessarily.
Stone was working on a $15 million hydroelectric project in a valley outside Cordova. He was on a backhoe when snow slid off a 2,000-foot slope and buried him.

Workers had previously complained about the danger, and an avalanche expert hired by the company had warned Fischer there was a high probability of a serious snow slide at the site, according to a report from the state's occupational safety agency.

Basic, required safety procedures were not followed on the site and the company exhibited gross negligence, according to information submitted by the state at the company's sentencing. A state report said Fischer didn't want to spend the money on a comprehensive avalanche control program.

A state judge found the company guilty of negligence in Stone's death, fined Whitewater $150,000 and ordered the company to pay approximately $17,000 to the victim's family. Settlement of a Stone family lawsuit left his children with about $7,000 each, family members said.

The state filed a separate lawsuit alleging multiple violations, which was resolved with an additional fine against the company.
And it's not like anyone was even going to jail. The company's owner, Thom Fischer, was initially charged personally with manslaughter in Stone's death, but that charge was dropped and the company itself was convicted. Pardoning the company means it may be eligible for company insurance breaks and opportunities for future federal or state jobs.
The victim's family said that the state never notified them of the pardon, which the company had requested. "This is a huge slap on the face," said Stone's daughter, Jessica Ridinger, 30, who burst into tears when told about the pardon by an Anchorage Daily News reporter.
Hard to blame her.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Holidays

OK, after a few idle threats, I'm really taking off this afternoon for foreign shores and probably won't be blogging until I get back after New Years (although I will be working on my Top Ten Workplace Safety and Health Stories of 2006).

That is, unless I happen to find a nice internet cafe and nothing to do....

So have a happy holiday, relax, spend some nice time with family and friends -- and in your spare time think about what we as activists and workers need to do next year to make sure more workers come home safe and sound at the end of the day.

And then we're off to 2007.

Who wudda thunk it?

Chemical Safety Board Tackles Public Employee OSHA Coverage

Well, there's at least one agency in this country that cares about the workplace safety conditions of public employees.

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board held a hearing last week laying out the preliminary findings from an explosion at the Bethune Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Daytona Beach, Florida last January that killed 2 employees. Workers were using a cutting torch above a tank of methanol when vapors from the tank ignited, the flames flashed back into the tank, where an explosion and fire killed two workers and seriously injured another. The CSB found that the workers had not been trained about the hazards of methanol, a flame arrester that was intended to stop the flames from entering the tank malfunctioned due to lack of maintenance, and the pipes attached to the tank were made of plastic, instead of metal, which increased the severity of the fire. (A CSB animation of the incident can be viewed here)

But the most important finding of the Board was that public employees in Florida, like public employees in 25 other states are not covered by OSHA and that lack of coverage was one of the factors that lead to the fatal incident.
Florida is one of 26 states that lacks a mandatory program that meets OSHA standards, federal officials said. Only a few categories of public workers in Florida are covered by mandated safety standards, including correctional officers and firefighters. The state safety program was eliminated in 2000 and a governor's executive order made such programs voluntary.

"There are 26 states that are in this same situation. That's over half of our country," Merritt said of the lack of safety programs. "It's really quite an amazing situation and why we thought this was a very important case to investigate."

Union official Marc Brody of the Florida Council 79 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Florida's 133,000 public workers face great risks not working under OSHA standards.

"It is scandalous that wastewater-treatment workers and thousands of other state and local government workers in Florida do not have the most fundamental rights to a safe workplace that every American worker needs and deserves," Brody said.
AFSCME Council 79 represents the workers at the plant.

Better training, construction of the system and maintenance of the flame arrester -- all of which would have been required by OSHA -- would have prevented the deaths, according to CSB investigators:
Robert Hall, who headed the federal investigation, said the explosion may have been prevented if the corroded safety device on the methanol tank had been regularly cleaned or inspected.

The device, called a flame arrester, is commonly used to stop an external fire from igniting chemicals inside a tank. At the Daytona tank, the bread-box-sized aluminum flame arrester, that might have cost less than $500, had corroded so badly that it had gaping holes where flames could pass through, he said.

Flame arresters should be inspected regularly and cleaned of dirt so that they can be effective, Hall said. However, city officials had not cleaned or inspected this device since it was installed in 1993, he said.

The methanol tank also should not have had plastic PVC pipes and valves, but should have had steel pipes, Hall said. The plastic pipes failed, causing methanol to gush onto the crane cab where Jones sat.

Hall also pointed out that Daytona Beach did not have enough safety training for its employees, with the number of training sessions declining since 1997. Facing severe financial woes, the city eliminated the job of safety officer in 2004.

OSHA standards require that employees who weld or use cutting torches receive specific training on the potential hazards and that supervisors must review and control the use of torches.

Hall said Daytona Beach had neither the training nor a control program. If it had, "This accident would not have occurred," he said.
The CSB will issue recommendations to the City of Daytona and other parties, including recommendations to the state of Florida addressing the lack of public employee protections.

Related Stories

December 21, 1951:Today In Workplace Safety History

December 21, 1951: Orient 2 Mine explosion kills 119 miners in West Frankfort, IL. More here.

John L. Lewis emerging from the Orient No. 2 mine in West Frankfort, Illinois after viewing the devastation of the mine explosion.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Criminal Prosecution In Trench Death

Now this is more like it.
A concrete company was criminally charged Tuesday in the death of a worker who suffocated in a trench that collapsed at a worksite.

Maco Concrete Inc. willfully violated the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act in connection with the April 23 death of Jeffrey Padot, Attorney General Mike Cox said in a news release.

The St. Clair Shores-based company was charged with failing to provide a hazard-free workplace, a 1-year felony carrying a fine of up to $10,000.

A telephone listing for Maco Concrete could not be located Tuesday night.

Padot, 41, of Eastpointe, and another worker were laying sewer pipes in a 10-foot-deep trench at a home in Oakland County's Addison Township. The other worker was rescued after the trench walls collapsed.

Investigators determined that the earthen trench walls were nearly vertical and were not supported or shored to reduce the risk of collapse, in violation of MIOSHA requirements.
OSHA regulations require trenches deeper than 5 feet to be either shored or sloped.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Postscript on Iranian Couple Fired By NIOSH

It's kind of heartwarming to read about the the Afshari's faith in America after a court reversed their dismissal by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for allegedly failing some kind of background check.

Shahla Afshari said the settlement has helped restore her faith in America.

“I believe that people from the Middle East, there are so many things they go through. Most of the time they are scared and don’t say anything,” she said.

“For those people, I have a message. You have to have faith in God. If you haven’t done anything, you have to fight for your integrity. You have to fight for your rights.”
Maybe. But I'm still having trouble getting past the fact that this happened in the first place, particularly now that more information has been released, and why it went on for so long after it was obvious to everyone that the government had screwed up -- big time.

The Afsharis’ lawsuit revealed that:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigations had decided the Afsharis were not a threat long before they were fired. A local FBI agent already had conducted a routine check and closed their file.
  • A government official was forced to recant her sworn testimony about the couple. At first, she said she recommended to Howard that they be fired. Later, she said that her sworn testimony was “not consistent” with her current "recollection of matters.”
  • The government officials in Atlanta who recommended their firing never interviewed their neighbors, co-workers or supervisors in Morgantown. They never talked to the local FBI agent, either.
For two years, the federal government tried to hide behind national security concerns, Karlin said. But earlier this year, a federal judge forced them to hand over documents about the firing, which helped lead to a settlement.

NIOSH Director John Howard says the firing was a mistake, although it was done "in good faith" at the time. Huh? Good faith for whom?

I know John Howard. He's a good, decent person. So if someone like him can get swept up in anti-immigrant (particularly anti-middle eastern) fever, what does that say about this country's defenses against flagrant and unfounded violations of people's rights -- even if they don't happend to be American citizens yet?

Related Articles

Tripoli Six Sentenced To Death

When looking for scapegoats, is it just human nature to go after workers first? Today, six health care workers - five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor -- were convicted of infecting over 400 Libyan children with HIV, despite scientific evidence that the children were infected before the health care workers arrived.

I'll leave it to Revere at Effect Measure to express the disgust we all feel.
Science and justice have met vengence and science and justice have lost. It is a lesson that goes beyond Libya, but for now it is Libya that stands accused.

Iranian Couple, Fired By NIOSH, Win Lawsuit

Happy endings are so nice, even if they are way overdue.

Ali and Shahla Afshari, fired by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) when they allegedly failed a background security check, 18 years after entering this country, have won a lawsuit against their dismissal. The Afsharis were awarded $600,000 and the right to return to their jobs. Ali Afshari will return to NIOSH, but Shahla will not because she's attending dental school.

The Afshari's were escorted out of their workplace and dismissed two years ago because they they “failed to pass a background check” that they didn't even know was happening. Nor have they ever been told of the reasons that they failed.

Most important, the Afsharis said, are the letters they received from the agency director, John Howard. Mr. Howard, who approved their dismissals, said they should not have happened.

“What we really wanted more than anything else in the world was to clear our name,” said Mrs. Afshari.


Mr. Afshari, 54, returned last week to his job. Albert E. Munson, an agency official who had objected to the dismissals, said: “We are just terribly happy to have Ali back. He’s just a great guy.”

Last year, when the Afsharis became eligible to apply for citizenship, they considered not applying. The application is being processed.

“What we believed all along is that this is a great country,” Mrs. Afshari said. “Wrong things may happen, but as long as you have a chance to raise your voice and ask questions, you can get justice.”

December 19, 1984 and 1907: Today In Workplace Safety History

December 19, 1984: Fire in the Wilberg Mine in Orangeville, Utah kills 27 miners. The tragedy occured around 9:00 in the morning as a result of an air compressor fire at an air compressor station at the mouth of the 5th Right longwall section of the mine. Twenty-eight miners were present, only one survived.


Dec. 19, 1907: At 11:30 a.m., a massive explosion rocked the Darr Mine of the Pittsburgh Coal Co. near the village of Jacobs Creek, at the point at which the creek enters the Youghiogheny River above Smithton. Just one miner near the surface was able to escape the holocaust that took 239 lives. More here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another Miner Dies. Will Stickler Rise To The Challenge?

As funeral preparations get under way for the 47th coal miner of 2006 to die in the workplace, the Charleston Gazette once again takes down the Bush administration's sellout of American miners:
For example, at surface mines, monster trucks used to haul coal and rock are involved in numerous fatalities, often because their brakes are faulty and are not adequately inspected. In other cases, drivers cannot see other workers in the vehicles’ blind spots. Some safety equipment would help prevent these deaths. Video scanners can be mounted to the trucks and rigged to come on automatically when a driver shifts into reverse, giving the driver a view of what’s behind. But both federal and state agencies have dawdled about requiring this lifesaving precaution.

During the Clinton administration, Davitt McAteer, then head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, asked mine operators to install such video cameras voluntarily. He sought industry opinions on a rule that would require them. But after President Bush took office, MSHA suddenly had other priorities, and the idea was dropped.
But the Gazette's editors are somewhat impressed with the words of controversial MSHA head Richard Stickler. Now if he can only put his money where his mouth is:
President Bush’s most recent appointment to head MSHA, West Virginia native Richard Stickler, has a chance to set these conditions right. So far, he’s saying all the right things. He speaks plainly and sensibly about safety and the need for change. He promises a crackdown on operators who chronically break safety rules. Where the state’s report on the Sago disaster is contradictory and leaves many questions unanswered, Stickler promises a complete report, however long it takes.

“My approach is to be very aggressive,” Stickler said during a visit to the Gazette, “particularly on the attitude that fines are just the cost of doing business.”

Safety starts at the top, Stickler said. Individual miners must have confidence that their employers support following safety rules and reporting problems so they can be corrected.

Less than a month on the job, Stickler sounds good. If he can deliver the action he has promised, miners and their employers will be better off, and President Bush will have made a good appointment and given the nation a good public servant.
Time will tell. Personally, I'd rather be proven wrong by a bad nominee proving himself to be surprisingly good than the other way around.

Weekly Toll: Death In The American Workplace

A partial list of American workers killed in the workplace over the past two weeks.

Employee dies in accident at Linden Lumber Co.

LINDEN, AL - An employee at Linden Lumber Co. died in an accident while working at the plant yesterday afternoon. Marengo County Coroner Stuart Eatmon said that Ronny Pritchett fell through the roof of the flooring plant at the facility yesterday.

“They were out there repairing the roof at the flooring plant when he fell through,” said Eatmon. “He fell about 30 feet head first so he died instantly on impact.”

Eatmon said that Pritchett did not have on a safety harness while he was on the roof and that he wasn't tied off to anything. He said that Pritchett stepped backwards and fell through a hole on the roof headfirst.

Ft. Worth Officer Killed On Side Of Road

FORT WORTH, TX -- A Fort Worth police officer was killed early today when his patrol car was struck from behind and burst into flames as he was helping a motorist with a flat tire. The officer was identified as Dwayne Freeto, a 34-year-old rookie. He died at the scene.

Explosion and Fire

MILWAUKEE - An explosion and five-alarm fire ripped through Milwaukee's Falk Corporation, 3001 W. Canal Street in the Menomonee Valley just after 8 a.m. Wednesday. The fire was extinguished a couple hours later. Three workers are confirmed dead. Deceased are Curtis J. Lane, 37, of Oconomowoc; Thomas M. Letendre, 49, of Milwaukee and Daniel T. Kuster, 35, of Mayville.Lane's father-in-law, William Borgiasz of Oconomowoc, said Lane was the father of two children, ages 2 and 4, and his wife, Tina, operates a day care center. "It is a big tragedy," Borgiasz said. "It is really hard to deal with. All we are going to tell them is, 'Daddy ain't coming home."' Kuster's father, Melvin, said his son was a third-generation Falk employee who worked in the loading area and had been there more than 10 years. "You shouldn't have to bury your kids," he said, crying. "Thirty-five-years-old old, maybe if he was jerk or drug addict it wouldn't be so bad, but he was great."

Thomas Letendre was from Milwaukee. He was a forklift operator at Falk, married with three children. Letendre's older brother works at Falk and was able to escape the explosion. The Letendre family declined comment.

Accident crushes worker

Walla Walla, WA - A 20-year-old man died Friday morning after being crushed by a tractor while working at a construction site, authorities said. Dominick Castillo died shortly after being pinned beneath a small tractor while working at a housing development site near College Place in unincorporated Walla Walla County.

About 10:30 a.m., Castillo had been operating a New Holland front-end loader, which is used to move dirt, when for an unknown reason he got out of the driver's seat and went to the front, said Sgt. Barry Blackman with the Walla Walla Sheriff's Office. Sheriff's officials said the older-model tractor was still running at the time. Castillo became pinned beneath the wheels and scoop and suffocated from the weight, Blackman said.

Deputy's killer was part of gang, Gunman had been on community supervision

Seattle, WA - The man who apparently shot and killed a King County sheriff's deputy Saturday was a member of a violent Seattle gang and was on active supervision by the state Department of Corrections. Raymond O. Porter, 23, was killed by other deputies after he shot Deputy Steve Cox in the back room of a White Center home early Saturday

Worker killed in blast at aircraft parts plant

CA - A worker died Sunday afternoon in an explosion at a plant that manufactures airplane parts, authorities said. The unidentified man died just before 2:30 p.m. when an oven exploded at the M.C. Gill Corp. in the 4000 block of Easy Street, said Sgt. Richard Williams of the El Monte Police Department. "We got a number of calls about the explosion," Williams said. "No one knew where it was coming from. You could hear it from quite a ways off." M.C. Gill describes itself as the world's largest manufacturer of original equipment and replacement baggage compartment liners for aircraft. Employees were working regular shifts when the accident occurred. Afterward, police evacuated and sealed off the facility pending an investigation. There were no other reports of injuries, police said.

Construction Worker Killed by Bulldozer

MURRIETA, CA - A 26-year-old construction worker died after being struck by a bulldozer, authorities said today. Brandon Woods, of Sun City, was hit when a bulldozer stalled as it was coming over a hillside causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle and hit Woods, said Murrieta police Sgt. Ron Driscoll. The incident happened at about 2:30 p.m. yesterday near the intersection of Keller Road and Menifee Road in Murrieta.

OSHA probes death of Mayflower employee

Toledo, OH - Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are trying to figure out what caused the accident that killed a Mayflower employee late Tuesday night. Allen Eugene "Al" Randleman, 58, New London, was injured while working the third shift at the plant. He was transported by ambulance to Fisher-Titus about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. "Mr. Randleman was one of the most well-liked people in this plant," said Frank DiCesare, director of human resources at the plant. "Always upbeat, very positive, jovial. Just an all around great guy." "On behalf of the company, we extend our deepest sympathy to the family, friends and co-workers at this unfortunate time," he said. Randleman had severe head injuries, said Dick Tracy, assistant area director for the Toledo OSHA office.

Truck driver killed in crash on I-94

Ann Arbor, MI -- A man was killed Friday morning when the tractor-trailer truck he was driving veered off the road and hit a pillar supporting a bridge on westbound I-94 at US-23, Michigan State Police said.

Town employee dies after accident

Christianburg, VA -- Funeral services were held Monday for 57-year-old Douglas C. King, a Christiansburg town employee who died Friday as a result of an accident at a construction site. Town Manager Lance Terpenny and other town employees, including public works employees, attended services for King, who resided in Pembroke.

Capt. Dalton Reid of the Christiansburg Police Department said the accident happened Friday afternoon when a piece of heavy equipment used for compacting dirt rolled down a 30-foot embankment. King was thrown from the driver's seat and then the machinery rolled over him, Reid said.

Colorado Officer Dies in Traffic-Stop Shooting, Funeral Information Below

Colorado Springs, CO - A Colorado Springs officer pulls a blue Kia over for a D.U.I. traffic stop. Backup arrives, and soon after, the suspected drunk driver shot Officer Ken Jordan numerous times, killing him. He died less than an hour later at Memorial Hospital. The suspect, 25-year-old Marco Lee, was shot multiple times by two other officers. He is in critical condition, but is expected to survive. While the scene was a difficult place for officers to be, investigators were forced to spend hours there, waiting for sunlight to aid in their investigation.

Worker dies in forklift accident

AMBERLEY VILLAGE, OH -- A worker died of injuries after a forklift accident Monday night at the Pepsi Americas plant in Amberley Village, authorities said today. Police identified the worker as Michael Martin, 43, of Cincinnati. He had been an employee of Pepsi Americas since October 2000. Emergency workers were called to the plant just before 9 p.m. for a report of an industrial accident. Martin was involved in a forklift accident and died of his injuries upon arrival at University Hospital, police said. "Yes, we are investigating that accident. We have a man on the scene," said Bill Wilkinson, an OSHA assistant area manager. He said it should take two to three weeks to gather the basic information on the fatal accident. Wilkinson did not have a timetable for his agency's final report.

Ohio man dies in power plant accident

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. - An American Electric Power employee from Ohio was killed Tuesday when the mobile crane he was dismantling at the Kammer-Mitchell power plant fell and struck him in the head. William R. Oshie, 50, of Shadyside, Ohio, died after an ambulance took him away from the plant, said Carmen Prati Miller, a spokeswoman with the Columbus-based company. Oshie was a 28-year veteran who worked on a regional maintenance crew. His death was the second at the plant this year. Oshie was disassembling and preparing to move a mobile gantry crane, a metal structure that looks like two A-frames connected by a cross beam, she said.

Security guard found dead at LCCC

GODFREY, OR - Madison County Coroner Stephen P. Nonn is reporting an investigation into the death of a 74-year-old security guard who was found dead on the campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey on Tuesday morning. Louis J. Perkins, 74, of the 1100 block of Garden Street, of Alton, was found in the men's restroom in the basement of the Riverbend Arena at 6:55 a.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:58 a.m. by Coroner's Investigator Deborah B. von Nida. Perkins was an employee of Securitas Inc. of St. Louis, which contracts security services for the campus.

Worker Dies In Fall At Trump Construction Site In Las Vegas

Las Vegas, NV - A construction worker fell to his death today (Tuesday) at the site of the new Trump Tower condo-hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. KLAS-TV is reporting that workers on the site say the man died after falling down an elevator shaft in the high-rise tower. Las Vegas police spokesman Jose Montoya confirms the department was called to the scene at about 11 am this morning. Construction deaths are investigated by federal safety officials. No OSHA investigator was available for comment Tuesday. The Clark County coroner's office had no information on incident. A spokesman for Trump International did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Construction worker dies in 40-foot fall at Scottsdale site

Scottsdale, AZ - An out-of-state construction worker died after falling an estimated 40 feet from the roof of a temporary circus tent being erected at an office complex in north Scottsdale, the second of two construction accidents Wednesday in the East Valley. The 58-year-old man worked for Florida-based Royal Hanneford Circus Co. He was helping erect the tent about 2 p.m. at 8501 E. Raintree Drive for a Vanguard Group employee event later this month, according to information from Scottsdale police. The man’s name was not released pending notification of relatives. He died from his injuries at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital, according to police.

Canal worker killed after falling in Mohawk

Mohawk, NY - Cohoes man spent nearly 30 minutes in icy water. A New York State Canal Corporation worker died Thursday after he fell into the icy Mohawk River. Michael Len was pronounced dead on arrival at Ellis Hospital. The director of the Canal Corporation, Carmella Matello, says Len was part of a crew that was preparing Lock 9 in Rotterdam Junction for the winter. Len was 45 years old and from Cohoes. He worked for the Canal Corporation for the past 16 years.

Man fatally shot while working at METRO garage

Houston, TX - The shooting happened around 11pm Wednesday inside a METRO bus garage on Uptown in southwest Houston. According to a supervisor who knew both men, the suspect and victim used to be friends. The victim was working as a contract employee with Firestone, changing tires on METRO vehicles. The two men had worked together for about a year until a disagreement came between them. The suspect reportedly was moved to another job assignment as a result. The supervisor told Eyewitness News the men's argument involved a woman. That dispute came to a deadly end when the suspect arrived and fatally shot the victim. But that's where the dispute took another turn. Police were called to a possible suicide at 1:30am Thursday. They believe the dead man is the suspected shooter, as the description of the man and the vehicle matched witness reports. The victim has been identified as Mario Love, 27. He was a husband and a father. The suspected shooter has not been identified.

Man, 45, Killed When Stone Slab Falls On Him

Stroudburg, PA - A 45-year-old man (Francisco Romero) was struck and killed by a 1,000-pound slab of stone that fell on him as he was moving it Wednesday afternoon at the All Granite and Marble Corp., 70 Storm St., Stroudsburg, Stroud Area Regional police reported. Monroe County Coroner David Thomas said the victim's identification would be released today, pending notification of next of kin. Police said the accident occurred about 2:30 p.m. in the yard area where thousands of pieces of stone are stored. Company employees freed the man from under the slab. He was pronounced dead at the scene by a county deputy coroner.

Sheriff's deputy directing traffic hit by car, killed

AIKEN, S.C. - A sheriff's deputy directing traffic during a plant fire here was hit by a car and later died, authorities said Friday. Aiken County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason L. Sheppard, 29, was wearing an orange reflective vest and waving a cone-shaped traffic flashlight when he was hit by a Honda CRV on Thursday night, authorities said. Sheppard, who had been with the sheriff's office since July 2004, suffered a head injury and was airlifted to a hospital where he died late Thursday night. The state Highway Patrol is investigating. Sheppard, of Batesburg, was among several officers directing traffic on U.S. Highway 1 near the entrance of an industrial park that housed a BAE Systems factory, which makes parts for military vehicles, The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle reported on its Web site

’Something went drastically wrong’: Explosion at Cambridge high rise kills Nstar worker

Cambridge, MA - An NStar operating mechanic was killed and 100 people were treated for smoke inhalation today after an explosion in a sub-basement vault at a Cambridge high rise sparked a three-alarm blaze that left workers breaking windows for air and forced a dramatic rooftop evacuation. The dead worker, identified by NStar officials as Kevin Fidalgo, 28, who has worked for the utility since 2000, was pronounced dead at Massachusetts General Hospital after a transformer exploded at about 10:55 a.m. in the electrical vault where he was doing routine maintenance work, hospital and fire officials said.

Worker dies after falling into Erie Canal

GLENVILLE, N.Y. -- A worker died after falling into the Erie Canal while clearing debris from a dam gate Thursday morning. Michael Len, 45, was working with several other state Canal Corporation employees at Lock 9 when he lost his footing and fell into the Mohawk River near Glenville around 9:30 a.m. The Cohoes man fell about forty feet and he hit the bottom of the lock gate at water level. He was then swept downstream for about a quarter-mile, where he was pulled from the river by the Beukendaal fire department, state police Sgt. Anthony Miserendino said. Len was taken to Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, where he was pronounced dead.

Aurora Store Clerk Killed During Robbery

AURORA, Colo. Aurora Police are looking for a gunman in a deadly shooting at a 7-Eleven convenience store that happened in the overnight hours early Sunday. A man walked into the store at E. 6th Ave. and Havana just after 3 a.m. Sunday and shot a 62-year-old female employee, Aurora detective Bob Friel told CBS4. Friel said it appeared to have happened during a botched robbery; it didn't appear that any money was taken and the suspect apparently walked away on foot.

Gunman felt cheated over his invention

Chicago, IL - A West Side truck driver turned a downtown law firm into a nightmare of blood and broken glass, his rage apparently fueled by the belief he had been cheated over the invention of a toilet designed for tractor-trailers....Joe Jackson, armed with a snub-nosed revolver, sought out one attorney, Michael McKenna, an intellectual property specialist. He found him, shot him, then continued firing at others in the 38th-floor office until the snipers shot Jackson in the chest and head.He killed three people, wounded another and, after a terrifying 45-minute standoff Friday afternoon, was taken down by two SWAT snipers. McKenna, 58, fellow attorney Allen Hoover, 65, and Paul Goodson, 78, a part-time employee and retired teacher, were all killed. Jackson, 59, died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Man Falls to Death at Power Plant

Castaic Lake, CA - An employee (Donne Ballard) of the Castaic Power Plant died Saturday night after he fell more than 40 feet from a scaffold into the water. Officials said the fall occurred just after 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the power plant located at 3770 Templin Highway northwest of Castaic Lake. Four engines from county Fire Station Nos. 149, 103, 134 and 126 responded to the scene, said Los Angeles County supervising fire dispatcher Phil Ulloa. A county helicopter was also called, but was canceled en route due to the inclement weather. Ulloa said the first engines arrived at the scene at 8:20 p.m. He did not know at what time emergency personnel recovered the body, but did confirm it had been recovered. The employee's name and what caused him to fall were not known as of press time Saturday night. The Castaic Power Plant is jointly operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the state Department of Water resources. The plant receives water from Pyramid Lake through the 7.2 mile, 30-foot diameter Angeles Tunnel.

Sanitation Worker Dies, Family Notification Delayed

NEW YORK, NY -- The family of a Bronx sanitation worker who died on the job wants to know why it took 12 hours for the city to tell them about it. The Sanitation Department says Rafael Concepion, 36, was hurt when he was tossed from his truck at about 2:45 Saturday morning. He suffered injuries to his chest and broke his leg. He suffered from internal bleeding and died on the operating table. But his family says they learned about the accident on Saturday afternoon. Concepcion's sister, Raquel Martel, says they never got to see him before he died at the hospital. Matthew LiPani, a spokesman for the Sanitation Department, says the delay in notifying the family would be part of the investigation into Concepcion's death.

Helicopter crashes in Cajon Pass, kills 3

CAJON PASS, CA - Three people were killed Sunday night when a Mercy Air medical transport aircraft crashed near the top of the Cajon Pass. The helicopter - a Bell 412 known as Mercy Air 2 - was carrying a pilot and two crew members whose names had not been released as of late Sunday. The crew was headed back to Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville from Loma Linda University Medical Center, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration. No patients were on board.

Shreveport wastewater treatment plant worker dies in accident

Shreveport, LA - A 47-year-old city of Shreveport employee died today after falling into an open wastewater treatment container at Lucas Wastewater Treatment Plant. Pastor Douglas was standing atop the 15-foot-deep container preparing to clear foam from the top of the open-air container with a high pressure hose. He was working with another plant employee at the time of the incident, who went to turn on the pressure hoses used to minimize unnecessary foam. When the employee returned, Douglas wasn’t standing atop of the container.

Sunmount employee killed in accident

PLATTSBURGH, NY — A Sunmount Development Center employee was killed when the van she was driving was hit head-on near Watertown. Joanne Burrows, 53, was killed in the accident, which occurred on Route 3 about 10 miles east of Watertown around 8 a.m. Monday.

Roofer's Fall Triggers State Investigation

Burlington, VT - A roofer was critically injured Monday in a two-story fall on a job in Burlington. So far, police have withheld his identity. State officials are investigating whether safety regulations were violated. Police say the roofer fell two stories, about 25 feet, while working with two other roofers on the flat surface of a North Street apartment house, owned by the Burlington Housing Authority.

Bethel cab driver shot to death

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A Bethel car driver was killed when suspects on a snowmachine approached his idling cab and shot him in the head with a shotgun, according to city officials. While police would not release the man's name because his kin in Korea have not been notified, he was identified by a close friend as Ju Young Joung. He was known as J.J., said the friend, Peter Kim, who worked the night shift at Taxi Cab Company with Joung. Joung, 45, had lived in Bethel for more than 10 years, Kim told The Anchorage Daily News.

Powell man dies following accident

POWELL, MT - A Powell man died Friday from injuries sustained following an industrial accident, according to a report by the Park County Sheriff's Office. Kenneth Chenoweth, 46, died after being pinned by a piece of heavy equipment. Chenoweth was extricated, given medical care and transported to Powell Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, said the report. Park County Coroner Tim Power said the cause of death was blunt force injury to Chenoweth's thoracic area resulting from pressure from the boom.

Family of worker who died at Spokane wastewater plant speak publicly

SPOKANE, Wash. - Family members of the construction worker who died at Spokane's wastewater treatment plant on Tuesday said Tizoc Gayton was a likeable man and a soccer fanatic. 26-year-old Gayton died after being hit by a steel beam that moved during construction at the plant. Ironically, he was working to replace the digester in which Mike Cmos died years earlier. Gayton's brother and sister said he was a generous person whose favorite time of year is Christmas. In fact, they say he just got his Christmas tree a couple of days before his accident. The president of Garco Construction said Gaton had only been working for the company a few weeks.

Construction Worker Dies After Being Hit By Van In Sanford

SANFORD, Fla. -- The construction worker who was hit by a passing van Tuesday morning while on the job in Sanford died Tuesday afternoon. Sanford police said 37-year-old Jimmie McLeod, of Apopka, passed away at the hospital. He was on State Road 46A, near Airport Boulevard in Sanford, putting drainage pipes in the ground when he was hit by a white van. The van immediately stopped. The investigation is ongoing and there have been no charges.

Man Dead After Falling From Building At Bag Company

Cincinnati, OH - A Cincinnati man fell to his death Tuesday morning while at work at a factory in Walton, Kentucky. Police say that a 39-year-old employee of Holland Roofing fell some 35 to 40 feet from the roof of the Duro Bag Manfacuring Company. The man, police say, was alone on the roof when he fell. Police have not determined what caused the man to fall to his death. His name has not been released.

County highway worker killed on job

Columbus, WI - Columbia County Highway Department employee Nathan B. Price, who was described as a positive person with an upbeat outlook on life, was killed Tuesday morning in a work-related accident in the town of Columbus. Price, 41, of Rio, was working as part of a mowing detail when a vehicle became stuck in the mud in a ditch on U.S. 151 near the intersection of state Highway 73. Price suffered a fatal head injury after being struck by a cable when workers attempted to pull the entrenched vehicle out of the ditch with a second vehicle. There was no indication of equipment breakage, said Columbia County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Michael Babcock.

Caught On Tape: Robbers Shoot Store Employees, Gunmen Flee Store Empty-Handed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Robbers in Nashville, Tenn., shot and killed two convenience store employees Tuesday night, and the whole incident was caught on tape. Security camera video shows two armed gunmen, wearing ski masks, walking into the store. One of the men demanded money, but fatally shot the cashier when he spoke back in Arabic, authorities said. The robbers became frustrated after they couldn't open the cash register, police said.

Man killed at Otsego work site

Otsego, MI - A construction worker from Howard City was killed this morning at the site of the new Otsego High School when he was struck in the face by a large pipe cap that popped off because of an apparent buildup of pressure, authorities said. Otsego police officers and firefighters responded at 6:30 a.m. to 540 Washington St. after receiving a report that a construction worker had suffered a head injury, according to a news release. The 41-year-old man, whose name was not released, was taken to Borgess Medical Center, where he died from the injury, police said.Police said in the news release that the piping system had recently been pressure tested and that it appears there was residual pressure still in the system that caused the cap to strike the man in the face when he tried to remove it.

Work injury deadly for Temple man

Temple, TX - Rickey P. Clark Jr., 30, of Temple was killed in an industrial accident about 9 a.m. Wednesday at Lock Joint Tube of Texas, 3601 Eberhardt Road, officials said. Justice of the Peace David Barfield, Precinct 3, Place 1, pronounced him dead at 9:20 a.m. and ordered an autopsy at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas. He said Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident. Lt. Rick Ashe of the Temple Police Department said since it was an accident the police will not be taking any action. A police chaplain notified the victim’s family, he said. The victim was wrapped up in a machine that rolls coils of steel, Barfield said. The machine possibly hooked the man’s clothing, he said. Three co-workers next to him saw him, then they didn’t, he said.

Fort Wayne man killed in Columbia City accident

Forth Wayne, IN - A Fort Wayne man was killed Thursday morning in a material handling accident at the Steel Dynamics, Inc., plant in Columbia City, according to the company. The accident occurred around 5:45 a.m. James K. Hall, 41, of Fort Wayne, who was killed, had been employed by the Fort Wayne-based company for nearly four years in the shipping department. According to a company statement, he was loading beams for a rail car shipment at the time of the accident.

Farmer bleeds to death after farm accident

BECKEMEYER, IL - A farmer bled to death after his leg got mangled in a feed auger Wednesday night at his rural Beckemeyer farm, authorities said. Gerard Buss, 53, died after his leg apparently slipped into the auger about 5 p.m., Clinton County Coroner David Moss said. An employee from a farm implement dealer went to a barn at the farm to bring Buss some parts and found him unconscious. "When he got there, he found Mr. Buss unconscious and entangled in an auger feeding device," Moss said. "The auger would move the cattle feed from the silo and dispense it to the animals."

Officer Dies in Car Accident

Princeton, KY - A Princeton, Ky. police officer from Hopkinsville is dead after a single-vehicle car accident. State Police say 54-year-old Officer David Scott of Hopkinsville, Ky., died yesterday morning when his truck hit a ditch near Princeton. Police say the truck slipped off the right side of the road and overturned several times. Scott was off-duty from the Princeton Police Department at the time of the crash. Investigating officers say he was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the truck as it flipped.

Forklift crushes, kills man in Kalispell

KALISPELL, MT — A 42-year-old Kalispell man died this morning when he was run over by a forklift at the concrete company where he worked, Flathead County authorities said. Tim Walters jump-started a forklift, but it had been left in gear. The large back tires ran over Walters, who died of internal injuries, said Deputy Coroner Lt. Dave Leib. The accident happened about 7 a.m. at Flathead Concrete Products. It is being investigated by the sheriff’s office and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Md. construction worker dies after falling about 50 feet

Bethesda, MD - A 20-year-old Maryland man on the roof of a residential project in Bethesda died Thursday after falling about 50 feet, according to Montgomery County officials. Sergio Alfredo Moscoso was on the roof of one building that is part of a new apartment and condominium community under construction at 5405 Tuckerman Lane. Around 8 a.m., the man slipped and fell, landing on a concrete pool deck below and suffering life-threatening injuries, says Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

CSX worker killed in accident

Minoa, NY - Police have released the name of the CSX worker killed in Thursday's train accident. Ronald D. Foster, 54, of East Syracuse was pronounced dead at the scene after his truck was hit by a train in the CSX Railroad Yard in Minoa. Police said Foster, a CSX employee, was working at the time. They said he was crossing the tracks at about 5:20 p.m. when the train, operating in reverse by remote control, hit him. It took crews until about 3 a.m. to extricate Foster's body, and several factors played a role in the process.

Worker dies after fall at Georgetown Lowe's

Georgetown, KY - An employee at the Lowe's in Georgetown died from a head injury suffered in a fall this afternoon. About 3:30 p.m., witnesses said Paul Edward Brewer, 61, of Georgetown, had climbed a 15-foot ladder inside the store. Another employee found him on the floor with severe head wounds, said Scott County Coroner John Goble. Brewer was transported to Georgetown Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police were called about 3:40 p.m. to the store on Magnolia Drive off Cherry Blossom, said Georgetown Police Detective Tom Bell. State OSHA investigators responded to the scene as well.

Job-site fall kills Huntington dad, Roofer, 28, plunges 42 feet during work on arena in Marion

Marion, IN - A 28-year-old single father from Huntington was killed while working at a construction site in Marion. Aaron J. Weber slipped off of a wet roof and fell 42 feet to his death while working on the city’s Memorial Coliseum, police said. Weber’s body was found at the side of the building about 11 a.m. Wednesday. Weber’s father, Steven Weber, also of Huntington, said his son had lots of friends and was a good father to his 9-year-old son, Tyler.

OSHA Investigates Death At DOT Worksite

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now investigating a fatal accident Thursday that killed an Iowa Department of Transportation worker. It happened at the corner of Seventh and School streets just north of downtown. Police said Gary Crabtree, 62, died when a cement truck backed over him Elvis Mrzljak, 26, was driving the cement truck, according to a news release.

NTSB: Chopper That Crashed Not Equipped Properly, Crash Killed Pilot, Caps' Minority Owner

DAGSBORO, Del. -- A National Transportation Safety Board investigator said the helicopter that crashed Thursday in Dagsboro, Del., killing two people, was not equipped for instrument flight. The NTSB's Brian Rayner didn't comment on the pilot's decision to take off in foggy conditions at night. The pilot didn't hold an instrument rating. Real estate developer and Washington Capitals minority owner Josh Freeman was killed in the crash, along with the pilot, Danielle Howell. The wreckage was strewn over a distance of about 180 feet. It appears the helicopter skidded along the ground, disintegrating as the rotors continued to spin. All four rotor blades were sheared off, and the tail section was broken off. Freeman, 42, was president and chief executive officer of Carl M. Freeman Associates. The pilot was Danielle Howell, 30, of Richmond, Va.

Bad Axe man killed in accident

MARLETTE TWP., MI - A 53-year-old man died Wednesday in a construction accident at Marlette Airport. Police received the call at 3:11 p.m. after John Corrion of Bad Axe, who was operating a construction roller, backed the roller over the the edge of an elevated construction site, police officials said.

Newspaper Carrier Killed in Freak Accident

South Bend, IN - BJ Geraci didn't know anything about the lady who delivered her newspaper, until that carrier was killed outside her home in a freak accident just after 5 a.m. Friday. 71-year-old Carolyn Clifton was climbing out of her car to take a South Bend Tribune to the front stoop, when police say that car crushed her.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Curses, Foiled Again" Asbestos and Auto Industry Lose Asbestos Battle

Sometimes, occasionally, the good guys win, truth and justice triumph and all seems well in the world -- for the moment. And with the Democrats taking over both houses of Congress, we'll hopefully be seeing more of these moments.

What am I prattling on about? After threatening to suspend an OSHA staffer for not weakening an recently published OSHA bulletin for auto mechanics detailing the hazards of asbestos in brakes, Andrew Schneider in the Baltimore Sun reports that OSHA has backed down. OSHA head Ed Foulke has announced that OSHA scientist Ira Wainless would not be suspended and after "a thorough review" the bulletin will stay on the OSHA website.
Last week, after several hours of negotiations between a labor union and OSHA officials, the agency signed an agreement to withdraw its proposed suspension of Wainless, who refused to be interviewed.

"It's as it should be. Wainless will not be punished for following the best science and the law," said Eleanor Lauderdale, executive vice president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, which had challenged the proposed suspension. "He stood up for the safety of workers, as is the job of everyone in OSHA."
One would hope so. Of course, OSHA's decision doesn't end the controversy:
"There is no proof of asbestos in brakes ever harming those working on or around them. Not a single case has ever been documented. Not one," Michael Palese, a spokesman for Daimler-Chrysler Corp.'s legal communications, told The Sun last month.

He added that 18 "comprehensive" studies have been done by "top scientists" that showed the absence of danger from asbestos in brakes.

Worker-safety specialists tell the opposite story.

Richard Lemen, former acting director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and a former assistant U.S. surgeon general, and other public health experts have presented case studies and medical records of scores of brake and friction-material workers who were reportedly sickened or killed by asbestos-related diseases.

Trying to stay above the fray are the three agencies involved with asbestos safety issues -- OSHA, the EPA and NIOSH. Their physicians and scientists say that asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis, cancer and mesothelioma, and have said so for years.

"Nothing has changed. We consider asbestos to be a health hazard regardless of its source," said Joe Burkhart, deputy director of the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies for NIOSH, which does worker health and safety investigations under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"EPA's policy hasn't changed in that we believe exposure to asbestos fiber is still harmful," said Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, deputy director of the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.

OSHA echoed that view.
Meanwhile, former OSHA head John Henshaw (2001-2004) is under investigation to determine whether he violated federal ethics policies by attempting to influence agency action on the brake warning within two years of leaving office. Henshaw, who is a consultant for industry, had e-mailed OSHA science director Ruth McCully, expressing concern about the bulletin and saying that it should be pulled until changes were made.
Henshaw told The Sun on Thursday that he had done nothing wrong and that his e-mail suggesting changes in the brake warning was "my own idea" and "was not undertaken on behalf of anyone but myself."
Yeah John, whatever.

Related Posts

Time Person Of The Year: Me!

I used to think that winning the Koufax Award for Best Single Issue Blog of 2005 was a big deal, but today I've exceeded that honor. Yes, I am the 2006 Time Person Of The Year, joining the ranks of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, George W. Bush and Harlow Herbert Curtice (huh?)

Person of the Year: You

Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.

Why, you ask? It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.


Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. [Not me. I watch Lost AND blog. I just don't sleep.] I'm going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I'm going to mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals? I'm going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? [Or people needlessly dying in our nation's workplaces?] Who has that time and that energy and that passion? [Who indeed?]

The answer is, you do. [That would be ME. I do.] and for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you. [ME]

What can I say, except "Thank you." (Although, to be quite honest, the Koufax Award was a bigger honor.)

But seriously folks, think of what the web has made possible in terms of communicating nationwide (or worldwide) the tragedies, stuggles, defeats and victories of victims and families who have been chewed up by work. And more important, take a minute to think about what still can be done. I think we've only just scratched the surface over here at Confined Space headquarters. There's much more to be done, and it's up to you (yes you!) to do it. You control the information age. (And take it from me. You can still watch Lost.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

American Scrooge: Kill Their Husbands, Then Cut Off Their Insurance

'Are there no prisons?' asked Scrooge.

'Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

'And the Union workhouses.' demanded Scrooge. 'Are they still in operation?'

'They are. Still,' returned the gentleman,' I wish I could say they were not.'

'The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?' said Scrooge.

'Both very busy, sir.'

'Oh. I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,' said Scrooge. 'I'm very glad to hear it'


'Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'

'If they would rather die,' said Scrooge, 'they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.
So does an employer have any obligation to the widows of employees that are killed on the job? Apparently not. Widows of miners killed at the Darby and Cloverlick mines in Harlan County Kentucky are somewhat upset that not only were their husbands killed on the job, but the coal companies are now cutting off their health care.

Actually, they're allowed to continue their health care under COBRA, which requires most employers with group health plans to offer employees the option of continuing their coverage, but that's expensive for mine widows like Melissa Lee whose husband was killed in the Darby mine explosion, she and the other widows are asking Ralph Napier, the owner of the Darby mine and Orion Resources Inc., to pay the COBRA for the next 18 months until they can get their feet back on the ground.
Lee said she has had no luck contacting Napier.

“I have been trying and trying and trying for three straight weeks ... for 21 days I have called him (Napier),” said Lee, who has four sons. “Here it is almost a month later, but there's no response. So, what do we do?”

Lee said she is weighing her options, but has few considering she is raising a 2- and 3-year-old along with her 12- and 14-year-olds. Working full time would be difficult, she said, because day care for two is too expensive. The extra 18 months would help her “get established” because, by then, the boys would be enrolled in kindergarten and preschool.

The coal mining industry, she said, can do “so much better.”

“If there was a law passed where you have to keep the health insurance coverage on deceased miners' children ... I think that ought to be automatic,” she said.
Considering that their husbands, the fathers of their childrend are dead because laws were broken and regulations were ignored, it seems that paying for their health care for a few more months is the least they can do.

Friday, December 15, 2006

WV Mine Safety Chief "A Disaster"

Anyone want to take bets on how long Ron Wooten, director of the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training, will last in his job after his pitiful performance the other day when he "dumped" the state's report on the Sago mine disaster on the laps of the families of the miners killed?
Frustrated by a cursory briefing and a confusing report, families of the miners killed in the Sago Mine disaster are focusing their anger on Gov. Joe Manchin and his pick to run the state mine safety office, longtime CONSOL Energy official Ron Wooten.

“Our governor has to be totally embarrassed for appointing him to this position,” said Pam Campbell, the sister-in-law of Sago miner Marty Bennett.

Wooten, director of the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training, has not returned repeated phone calls. A spokeswoman said he would not discuss the matter publicly until after he meets again with Sago families.

- advertisement -
Lara Ramsburg, Manchin’s communications director, said the governor was “disappointed” with the handling of Monday’s meeting. Ramsburg added, “the governor has confidence in all of our appointees, including Mr. Wooten.”

Several versions of the state’s Sago report have been circulated since Monday, when Manchin and state investigators were set to release it to Sago families and the public.
Families became upset when Wooten simply handed them copies of the report and referred them to it for answers to their questions.

During the private meeting, Manchin stepped in and told Wooten he had expected a more detailed briefing, similar to one given a month earlier to the widows of two miners killed in the Aracoma Mine fire. Administration officials promised the families a better briefing, and then canceled an afternoon news conference, but not before copies of the report leaked out and were splashed all over the news.

Campbell said that Monday’s meeting “was a disaster.”
And although the reports seems to have concluded that the explosion was ignited by lightning, it had trouble explaining how the electrical charge traveled over a mile into the mine.

Blogging Forcast: Bleak

I'm heading to my parents place today in California. They're in need of some caring for. Time to return the favors. Then off to Paris to spend the holidays with my daughter who's "studying" abroad. (Yeah, yeah, cry me a river.) Actually, she seems to be doing far more work than I did on my Junior Year Abroad. Must talk to her about that.

Bottom line is that I'm not sure how much blogging will be accomplished between now and next year. But if you want to know what's going on, just go back and read the archives. It's always the same story, just different names and dates.

I do plan to spend some of my flight time working on the Top Ten Workplace Safety Stories of 2006. Nominations will be accepted down below in the comments.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sago Report Struck By Lightning

I have been lucky enough never to have a tragedy in my immediate family. I've never lost a loved one in an accident.

But one thing I've learned after working many years in workplace safety is that families need some kind of closure when their loved is killed in a workplace accident, and they rarely get it, particularly from OSHA or other agencies that are tasked with investigating the incident and issuing citations. All too often I hear stories from parents or spouses that they never really got the whole story on what exactly happened to their husband or daughter, and what the real causes were. Too often they're just given a list of OSHA violations, a short summary of the cause of death, and whispered allegations that the victims themselves were at fault for being careless or negligent.

So it was completely understandable how upset the families of the miners killed in the Sago disaster last year were following the release of the state of West Virginia's report on the tragedy by Ronald Wooten, director of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.
On Monday, Wooten came under heavy criticism from families of the Sago victims after a private meeting that was billed as a briefing for families on the state’s new report on the disaster.

Families were upset when Wooten simply provided them with copies of the thick report, told them lightning caused the disaster, and asked for questions.

When families asked questions, they were told the answers were in the report and that they should read it.

Families had expected a more detailed — and understandable — briefing, similar to one that was provided a month ago to families of the two miners killed in the Aracoma Mine fire.

Also, families became angrier when they learned that Wooten’s agency had posted the report — or at least one version of it — on its Web site hours before the family meeting. Families had thought they would learn the report’s contents first, but by the time their meeting ended, the report was all over the news.
The report was then withdrawn, initially because it was to be re-written, but later Wooten said that they were only preparing a better briefing for the families.

Wooten came under significant criticism when he was appointed due to his controversial career in the coal industry as former vice president of safety for CONSOL Energy Inc. from 1983 until 1998, a lawyer and lobbyist for CONSOL before that, and a lawyer for the American Mining Congress, an industry group.

A couple of other things. Even if lightning was involved, it was only one cause of the disaster. To be more precise, it may have been the ignition source of the explosion. But the explosion itself only killed one of the miners, and then only because the seals behind the closed off part of the mine didn't hold. The others died from asphyxiation for a number of reasons: the respirators either malfunctioned or the miners were not trained to use them properly (or both), it took too long for the rescue team to enter the mine, rescuers had no way to locate the miners, and the miners had no way to communicate with the surface.

In other words, simply telling the families that "lightning caused the disaster" period, end and go read the report yourselves was at best insensitive, and at worst ignorent, incompetent and not a statement that someone heading up the state's mine safety office should ever have made.

To make matters worse, the Associated Press reported that Wooten
told relatives of the Sago Mine disaster victims that he "wouldn't want to be in there" if another electrical storm rolled over an active underground coal mine with a worked-out, recently sealed area, the brother of one victim said today.

Yet the state has taken no action to change its rules and regulations.

John Groves, whose brother Jerry was among 12 men who died in or after the Jan. 2 blast, said the comment came in a private meeting earlier this week as he and others questioned Ron Wooten, director of the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

The families asked Wooten a series of questions about how the state would respond now that its investigation report has blamed lightning for causing the Sago explosion. They then pressed the point on active mines with newly sealed areas, asking what he would do.

"I wouldn't want to be in there," Wooten allegedly replied.

Several other people who were in the room at the time told The Associated Press the same account of that conversation.

Wooten's comment prompted a response from the United Mineworkers:

"I think there are 14,000 coal miners in West Virginia that wouldn't want to be in there, either," said United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith, when told of Wooten's remark.

Since learning the state would join Sago Mine owner International Coal Group Inc. in blaming lightning, the UMW has called for new regulations that require miners to be evacuated when an electrical storm is approaching.

Wooten's simplistic explanation was even a bit too much for MSHA head Richard Stickler. MSHA is preparing its own report on the Sago disaster:
Stickler indicated a partial answer on the cause from his team would not be acceptable.

"If it was lightning, how did it get in the mine? If you don't know that, you don't know how to keep it out, do you?" he said. "There's questions there we need the answers to."
Stickler also seemed to learn a lesson from Wooten's presentation:
Stickler said he will be present when his agency's report is given to the Sago families, and that they will have the chance to question the investigators.

"We will give them copies of report, but not necessarily expect them to sit there and read the report and know what's in it," he said.
I'm sure the families would appreciate that.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Congressman Citizen Henry Bonilla

Those of you who follow politics are celebrating the victory yesterday of Ciro Rodriguez over 7-term Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla in Texas. The election was held in one of the districts re-districted under the plan of former Congressman Tom DeLay. The election was held late because the US Supreme Court ruled that the 23rd District re-districting was in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Workplace health and safety advocates are particularly pleased with Bonilla's defeat. Bonilla sat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over OSHA’s budget, and he was one of the most virulent enemies of OSHA’s ergonomics standard back in the mid-1990’s, introducing a number of appropriations riders to stop OSHA from issuing the standard.

Bonilla finally overreached when he attempted to attach a rider to OSHA's FY 1997 appropriations bill.
That provision would have prevented OSHA not only from developing a rule, but even from collecting data on CTDs. But on a 216-205 vote, the House struck down the rider and labor groups and OSHA claimed a huge victory. OSHA was free to move forward with ergonomics.
In a further attempt to delay the standard, Bonilla sponsored a three-day National Academy of Sciences study of ergonomics. When that study came back supporting the evidence that musculoskeletal disorders were work-related, Bonilla introduced a bill for another, two-year NAS ergonomics study, along with legislation that would have prohibited OSHA from issuing the standard until after the study was released.

During a hearing on the proposed FY 1998 budget for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Bonilla questioned Centers for Disease Control head David Satcher on the scientific underpinnings for an ergonomics standard and submitted more than 100 questions on ergonomics to Satcher.

Bonilla, along with Congresswoman Anne Northup, also recently defeated, were the two main co-sponsors of the legislation that repealed the standard in 2001.

Bottom line. We're not sorry to see Bonilla head off into the sunset -- along with his buddy Tom DeLay.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Workplace Death That Will Never Be Solved

Normally, I'd just file this away for The Weekly Toll. But Pastor Douglas was a public employee in the state of Louisiana which has no OSHA coverage for public employees, where public employees do not have the right to a safe workplace. What that means is that there will probably never be an indepth investigation into Douglas's death by a safety professional. No lessons will be learned, no citations will be filed, and the family will never really know what happened.
Pastor Douglas, a maintenance worker at the plant for two years, was standing atop of the 15-foot-deep container preparing to clear foam from collecting at the top of the open-air container with a high pressure hose. He was working with another Lucas Waste Water employee at the time of the incident, who went to turn on the pressure hoses used to minimize unnecessary foam. When the employee returned, Douglas wasn't standing atop the container.

"He was doing a normal cleanup type deal" said Mike Strong, director of operational services for the city. "I'm not sure exactly if it was a slip or the hose with the water pressure on it knocked him off, but he went into the basin."

BP Texas City: More Evidence That Neglegence Led To Explosion

The Wall St. Journal today reports on a series of internal "accountability reviews" of the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 180. The Chemical Safety Board reported earlier this year that cost-cutting at BP had contributed to the accident. The interviews cited by the Wall St. Journal seem to confirm those contentions.

BP had originally blamed the accident on workers' failure to follow procedures and reassigned the plant manager, Don Parus. Parus didn't have kind words for BP's upper management. Parus said
he had been ordered to cut costs by 25% as recently as 2005, according to notes of an interview conducted Oct. 12.

He said he had given a slide show to [BP's global chief executive, John]Manzoni during a visit by the executive in July 2004 showing BP and Amoco had "underinvested" at Texas City for the previous 10 years, according to the interview notes. He said he pleaded for additional funds, citing problem areas such as the poor condition of equipment, and he said he had "exhausted every avenue he had to get the funds and it remained a no," according to the notes.

An attorney for Mr. Parus said his client stands by what he said in the interviews but wasn't available to comment.

Ross Pillari, who stepped down as chief executive of BP's U.S. operations this year, said Texas City had been neglected, according to a BP interview on April 27. Senior BP-Amoco executives at the time of the merger "tried to squeeze as much out of [Texas City], so maintenance was neglected. The directive was to keep expenditures low because of 10 years of lousy refinery margins," according to a summary of his interview. Refinery margins are an industry measure of profitability. Mr. Pillari declined to comment.
And BP CEO Lord Browne wasn't much help either:
In addition to BP's management structure, one executive also cited Lord Browne's attitude toward safety. In an interview conducted on June 21, Greg Coleman, who was vice president of BP's health, safety and environmental programs before he left the company, said Lord Browne "showed little interest" in safety and demonstrated "no passion, no curiosity, no interest" in safety issues, according to his interview notes.
Poor Lord Browne, "repeatedly voted the best businessman in Britain." has had a very bad couple of years, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph, leading observers to wonder whether or not he will be able to stay on until his announced retirement date at the end of 2008:
The first signs that not all was well came in March, when 200,000 barrels of oil spilled onto the Prudhoe Bay tundra from a leaking pipeline. It appeared to be an isolated incident, but it set off a chain of events that led to the realisation that miles of pipes were dangerously corroded. In August, almost half the field had to be shut down.

BP faces a criminal investigation as well as inquiries by regulators and Congressional investigations into its maintenance record, amid allegations that the company neglected its infrastructure for years to boost profits.

In many aspects, what has happened in Alaska merely mirrored what was going on thousands of miles to the south in Texas City, where a refinery explosion killed 15 people and injured scores of others in 2005.

BP settled lawsuits with the families of those killed, but not before a report from the Chemical Safety Board catalogued years of unheeded warnings about the potential for disaster at the site. The regulator claimed that management was sub-standard, unsafe and antiquated equipment was not replaced and maintenance was deficient.

A website set up by lawyers for one of those whose parents were killed in the blast is publishing ever more damaging documents that show that Lord Browne himself knew of the poor safety record at the refinery, where workers feared for their lives every day and where even its managers admitted equipment was patched together with "band aids and super glue".

But if those are the two incidents that have generated the most headlines, they merely head an ever growing list of problems filling Lord Browne's in-tray.

The company was forced to admit that production at its Thunderhorse platform in the Gulf of Mexico would have to be delayed again after more problems were discovered.

BP's trading operations face criminal and civil investigations into whether the company has purposely manipulated the crude oil, petrol and propane markets.

Just yesterday the company found itself on the wrong end of a Supreme Court ruling over royalty rates that could see it forced to pay millions of dollars, on top of $30m of back taxes.

That pales into insignificance compared with the $1.4bn tax bill BP's Russian joint venture was forced to pay the Kremlin this month. The Russian government, in a bid to exert its control over its energy resources, is also threatening to withdraw some of BP-TNK's licences, ostensibly on environmental grounds.
More BP stories here.

Holiday Shopping? Books are Good

Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanza are on our doorstep already. Are you in the holiday shopping mood? Can't figure out what to get that special someone?

How about books? Lots of books.

If you buy your books at Powells (one of the few unionized bookstores in the United States), I get a (small) commission.

Go to the main Powells website here.

The Confined Space workplace safety & health bookshelf here.

The Powells labor library here.

Go crazy.

Workplace Safety Training

REMINDER: There's still time to sign up for the National Labor College Train The Trainer program, February 11 – 16, 2007.

Do you have health and safety problems in your workplace that you don't know how to deal with? Would you like to learn how to teach union members and other workers about safety and health from a union/worker perspective, how to involve workers in safety and health, and learn how to make the union/organization more effective in tackling safety and health problems?

Then turn off the TV, stop surfing through YouTube and sign up. The program will have approximately 20 participants who must be sponsored by their union or organization and must agree to facilitate safety and health training in their union or organization.

And best of all, financial assistance is available.

More information here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

From The Department of "I'll Believe It When I See It."

Inside OSHA (paid subscription) reports that OSHA head Ed Foulke is considering filling four of OSHA's Labor Liaison positions that have been vacant for a number of years in Kansas City, Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia. (Actually, I think Boston is open too.) As the former national OSHA labor liaison, I'd be very interested in those vacancies being filled, although I find it hard to believe that we'll be seeing that anytime soon.

During the Clinton administration, each of OSHA's ten regions had a Labor Liaison, most of home came out of labor unions. I hadn't realized this, but OSHA actually has a well-hidden webpage listing the labor liaisons.
Every OSHA Regional Office has had a Labor Liaison to assist workers and unions to work effectively with OSHA. OSHA Labor Liaisons can answer questions about workers' rights, complaint and inspection procedures, health and safety standards and other technical or procedural issues. Labor Liaisons also can make presentations at meetings and some offer training on a variety of health and safety issues as well.
If Foulke follows through, it would also be the only item he's completed on the 100 Day Agenda that I gave him last March.

Go for it Ed.

American Truckers: Sweatshops on Wheels, Adrift In A Tumultuous Sea.

This must be the week to write about truckers, with Stephen Labaton's article in the NY Times last Tuesday and now Steve Franklin and Darnell Little's article in the Chicago Tribune yesterday.

Labaton focused primarily on the regulatory cave-in by the Bush administration, which has resisted efforts to reduce the number of hours that truckers spend on the road and working. In fact, Labaton writes, the Bush administration has actually expanded the number of hours truckers can spend driving. His article failed, however, to delve into the deeper structural issues in the industry that are driving truckers to cheat, lie, take drugs and speed.

Franklin, on the other hand, goes more into some of the root causes of truckers' problems than Labaton's article last week -- particularly the fact that most truckers are now paid by the trip instead of a regular salary, making time spend waiting to be loaded or unloaded, or time doing maintenance unpaid. The pace means that counting all their time on the job, some earn as little as $8 an hour. And the fatigue and stress are not only unhealthy for the drivers, but makes the roads more hazardous for everyone. Every year, more than 5,000 people die and 116,000 are injured in truck-related accidents, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

So what's going on?
When did the dream of being a trucker turn sour?

It began after the government deregulated the industry in 1980, says Mike Belzer, a one-time Chicago trucker and now a Wayne State University professor and trucking industry expert. Ever since, he says, it has been a "race to the bottom."

Before 1980, nearly 9 out of 10 over-the-road drivers were union members, he says. Today, 1 out of 10 carry a union card. That shift ushered in lower pay, fewer benefits and tougher working conditions.

It also made the highways far more dangerous as inexperienced and lower-paid drivers push themselves to earn more, Belzer adds. "You get what you pay for," Belzer explains. It is a matter of choosing between a "skilled professional" and someone "from the soup line," he says.


By the late 1990s much of the industry was transformed into a "sweatshop on wheels," Belzer claims. Truckers' income, when adjusted for inflation, dropped steadily as the market was flooded with new companies, new drivers, and pressures from shippers and manufacturers to keep freight costs down.

Figures from the American Trucking Association show that between 1980 and 2005, the number of interstate trucking companies soared from 20,000 to 564,000. But nearly 90 percent operate six trucks or less, according to the industry group.

The result is a highly fragmented industry with "low profit margins," according to an association study.

Out of an estimated 3.3 million truckers, about 1.3 million haul freight. Of these, about 350,000 are independent drivers. Most own their trucks but lease them to companies. Or,... they work for whoever has goods for them to carry.
And for all of the literally back-breaking work, here's what one trucker, Roger Kobernick, ends up with:
Because he cannot afford health care, he relies on state-sponsored coverage for himself and his family. They are qualified to receive food stamps, but pride stops them from doing so. In his best year he earned $40,000, but last year he made only $9,000.

Much has gone wrong for him in the last few years, and he partly blames it on freight rates that have barely gone up while fuel and other costs have soared and eaten away at his profits.

He also has made some financial missteps, among them expecting tax write-offs for his rig to help his bottom line. Instead, he owes $15,000 in state and federal taxes.

And 25 years behind the wheel have taken a toll. Last summer, barely able to bend his back, he had surgery. One doctor had turned him away, saying surgery would be foolish since he would return to truck driving.

The surgery put him out of work for four months. Without savings, he took out a home equity loan to pay bills, then sold his truck's trailer and bought a less costly model.

He also has decided to sell his 2-year-old $140,000 truck because the $2,000 monthly payments are killing him. To attract potential buyers Kobernick has had to steadily lower the asking price.


"I haven't had a vacation in 12 years. I have no dental. No pension. No savings," he says as the sun's dying rays filter through pine trees in South Carolina. "Hopefully, I'll catch up one day here down the line. But right now that isn't going to happen any time soon."
The grueling schedule and financial problems also take a toll on truckers mental and physical health, according to John Siebert, an official with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association:
Several years ago, when glancing through members' obituaries, Siebert discovered that their average age at death was 55. In his research, he also found a higher-than-average suicide rate for members and turned his findings over to NIOSH, which has been examining truckers' health for the last few years.

Siebert says he believes such problems are linked to difficult lives and financial stress. He lists organization surveys showing that nearly 9 out of 10 of its members are obese or overweight and nearly two-thirds expect to rely solely upon Social Security when they retire.

He especially worries about produce haulers like Kobernick who have highly unpredictable work schedules. If anything goes wrong, or their schedule is too tight, they lose out financially, and their health often is neglected as they push to work longer hours.

"These guys are working 100 to 120 hours a week, and their sleep patterns are all over the clock," he says.
I wrote quite a bit more in my review of Labaton's article about the structural problems in the trucking industry that lead to these unsafe conditions. Put all of these articles together and you get a pretty frightening picture of America's highways. What are the solutions? An improved regulatory structure to start with, but until the root causes are addressed -- deregulation and the sharp drop in unionized drivers -- we're not going to get very far just attacking the symptoms.