Archive for December, 2010

With 2011 just days away, the mining industry is about to close the book on the deadliest year in nearly two decades. Nonetheless, a proposed overhaul of mine safety regulation failed in Congress.

A bill giving federal employees expanded protections against retaliation for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse died in Congress on Wednesday night, after a 12-year lobbying effort won last-minute unanimous approval for it in the House but failed to gain similar approval under special voting rules in the Senate.

Texas officials have filed criminal charges against a West Texas physician over accusations that they say he orchestrated against two nurses who had filed a complaint against him with the state medical board.

State legislators and the State Department of Labor met with the producers of the “Spiderman” musical this morning in order to express grave concern that the show is unsafe after a fourth actor went down with a major injury this week.

It could be curtains for the career of injured “Spider-Man” stunt man Christopher Tierney, who was badly hurt when he fell Monday – the fourth medical mishap to mar the show.

While the Broadway super-musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” may seem cursed following a string of unfortunate accidents — a fourth serious injury befell a performer this week — it is by no means the first major show to experience calamity.

Most workers have seen notices about their right to a minimum wage or safe workplace posted in the company break room or elsewhere on the job. Employers are required to post those notices by federal law. But there is no requirement for employers to post any sort of notice about workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), including the right to form a union.

Even as packed mall parking lots during the holiday season indicate the economy’s slow recovery, plenty of workers are spending December tightening their belts and preparing to look for new jobs. In recent weeks major public and private employers from a range of industries announced mass layoffs in coming weeks and/or throughout 2011.

Chemical giant DuPont has agreed to pay $3.3 million to the Environmental Protection Agency to settle charges of withholding results of health studies on toxic chemicals.

Note: Workplace Health & Safety Digest will be away for the next week. The next Workplace Health & Safety Digest will be published Jan. 3. Happy holidays!


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The Senate passed a bill to provide health care benefits for Sept. 11 responders Wednesday by unanimous consent, after Democrats struck a deal with Republican holdouts Wednesday.

As Congress wraps up its lame-duck session, Public Citizen urges lawmakers not to adjourn before passing the bipartisan James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. This bill will provide medical treatment for emergency personnel and other workers who risked their lives in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jon Stewart, the host of the channel’s “The Daily Show,” was outraged last week about Republican efforts to block a bill that would provide more medical care to first responders to the World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001. He called the Republican filibuster “an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11.”

House Democrats scrambled on Tuesday to salvage legislation that would bar federal agencies from punishing employees who report corruption, waste and mismanagement after Republicans linked the bill to the WikiLeaks scandal.

By the end of 2011, the Labor Department’s worker safety agencies expect to issue six new rules to better protect workers from on-the-job hazards. In the Department’s regulatory plan issued, OSHA projects it will finalize four rules while MSHA expects to complete two new standards.

The National Labor Relations Board said on Tuesday that it would require companies to post notices on their bulletin boards — and perhaps send out e-mail— to inform employees of their right to unionize under federal law.

Following the fourth serious injury of one of its actors, “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark” agreed Tuesday to enact additional safety measures amid investigations by both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the New York state Department of Labor.

BroadwayWorld has confirmed with hospital sources that Christopher Tierney, the Spiderman stuntman who fell nearly 30 feet from a raised platform during the December 20th performance, still remains in serious condition at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. He is being watched regularly and is reportedly in good spirits despite suffering several broken ribs and internal bleeding.

On Monday a man was injured by a machine that crushes old cars. Initial reports say the worker was injured when he went into a car that was about to be crushed to get something out of the front seat. The crane operator who was putting the car onto the crushing machine didn’t know there was a co-worker inside.

Tennessee state regulators are investigating a Tuesday afternoon accident that buried a local waterproofing worker in mud and trapped two co-workers.

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In its first two years, the Obama administration stepped up the enforcement of rules meant to protect the environment, workers, and consumers, according to a new OMB Watch report. This activity is a welcome development after years of regulatory negligence that likely played a part in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history and the most fatal coal mine disaster in 40 years.

OSHA’s fall semi-annual regulatory agenda was published in the Federal Register Dec. 20, featuring updates on regulatory actions including the Injury and Illness Prevention Program, modernizing recording and reporting requirements, infectious diseases, hazard communication, combustible dust and more.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn will not allow a proposal that would cover health-care costs for Ground Zero workers to go through the Senate before Christmas, a Coburn aide told Washington Wire this morning.

During the past few decades, scientists have become increasingly persuaded that people who suffer brain injuries benefit from what is called cognitive rehabilitation therapy — a lengthy, painstaking process in which patients relearn basic life tasks such as counting, cooking or remembering directions to get home. But despite pressure from Congress and the recommendations of military and civilian experts, the Pentagon’s health plan for troops and many veterans refuses to cover the treatment — a decision that could affect the tens of thousands of service members who have suffered brain damage while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

European airline safety regulators are seeking tighter limits on the hours flight crews may work, but the leading pilots association says the restrictions don’t go far enough.

President Obama is asking federal personnel officials to draft “appropriate workplace accommodations” for federal employees who are nursing mothers.

The star-crossed “Spider-Man” show will go on Wednesday – despite an accident that sent their top stuntman to the hospital. The producers of the seemingly cursed Broadway spectacle agreed on Tuesday to “additional safety protocols” a day after a cable holding actor Christopher Tierney snapped and sent him plunging 30 feet from a platform into a pit below the stage.

Federal workplace safety officials say they’ve been investigating the Broadway production of “Spider-Man” for several weeks — and that the investigation will “certainly” be continuing now.

Federal workplace safety authorities issued a $360,000 fine and several citations to a Norridge, Ill., contractor that allegedly failing to protect workers from trench cave-ins at four suburban worksites.

Eagle Recycling in North Bergen, where there have been two fires in the past seven months, has been fined $71,600 for workplace safety and health hazards, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced today.

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Ray Gonzalez didn’t die in a mine, but his family had hoped that a mine safety bill in Congress might help prevent more deaths like his.

OSHA’s intention to finalize a list of chemicals on which to focus the agency’s efforts to address outdated rules on workplace chemical exposures was officially announced in the December 1 issue of OSHA Quick Takes and described in my November 17 post, “OSHA Poised to Action on Chemical Hazards.” No matter what approach or combination of approaches OSHA ultimately takes on chemical exposures, employer education and training must lay the foundation for voluntary compliance and enforcement.

Lead paint lurks everywhere in the New York City subway system, which is more than a century old. The hazards of removal are well-known and exposure has been linked to childhood learning disabilities and nervous-system disorders in adults. Yet some say the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not doing all it can to protect workers and riders.

There are hopeful signs that Metro is starting to upgrade its slapdash attitude toward safety, which in recent years has yielded disastrous results. With the transit agency preparing to hire a new general manager, the task will be to maintain momentum toward building a robust culture of safety.

The legal tangle over Brazilian Blowout, a salon hair smoothing solution, grows frizzier. Lawyers this week filed a complaint in Multnomah County Circuit Court, asking for an injunction that would force Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division to stop reporting test results showing the product contains unsafe levels of formaldehyde.

The government is no closer to finding the cause of an explosion that killed three workers at a small West Virginia chemical plant, a federal investigator said Thursday.

A federal judge on Friday indicated that he would not dismiss federal safety regulators’ unprecedented court action to close a Pike County mine operated by subsidiaries of Massey Energy.

The Village of Tarrytown has been served with four serious violations from the New York State Department of Labor. The violations were for lapses in protocol and safety that contributed to the accidental deaths of two men who died of asphyxiation when they entered a manhole behind Consolidated Engine Company.

Police have spent this week combing a snow-dusted Long Island beach where they’ve found the remains of four women, thought to include sex workers targeted by a serial killer who met the women on Craigslist.

A state law that took effect in October requires motorists to clean ice and snow off all exposed surfaces of vehicles before they start rolling. Fines range from $25 to $75. Several states previously imposed fines if snow flying from vehicles caused damage or injury; New Jersey’s penalty is as much as $1,500 for commercial vehicles.

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The Department of Justice’s filing of a civil lawsuit today against BP for the deaths of 11 workers and the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history is a needed step in holding the corporation accountable.

In the wake of a tragic mine explosion in West Virginia resulting in many deaths, members of Congress from both parties push to toughen mine safety laws and increase penalties for habitual violators. The bill passes the Senate by unanimous content and sails through the House before landing on the president’s desk and being signed into law. That was 2006’s MINER Act, prompted by the Sago mine explosion in which 13 miners died without access to crucial life-saving equipment.

After 12 years of working to improve protections for federal employees who blow the whistle on government waste, fraud and abuse, Congress was on the verge of passing legislation to make that happen.

A whistleblower complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against URS, a Hanford, Wash., vitrification plant subcontractor, has been expanded.

Police work is one of the most stressful jobs in society, but little is known about the effects of this stress on an officer’s long-term health. John Violanti, PhD, professor of social and preventive medicine in the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, hopes to fill this information void through a five-year $2.7 million grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Here’s a rundown of the Metro safety issues that trickled out of this morning’s Metro board safety committee hearing, some of them juicier than others.

After several months of investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined the owner of a local tree trimming company more than $119,000 after his cousin was electrocuted while cutting a tree in April.

A California company is challenging $91,000 in fines and citations that federal regulators have proposed over a freelance videographer’s death near suburban Denver. Fifty-seven-year-old Stuart Keene fell from an elevated all-terrain scissor lift at the Thunder Valley Motocross Park on June 25.

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Corporate crime and wrongdoing is an everyday fact of life in the United States and around the world. Still, the last year has been remarkable for a series of high-profile, deadly corporate disasters: the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the deadly explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine, and unintended acceleration of Toyota cars.

The Justice Department on Wednesday is expected to seek to join civil lawsuits stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the first major federal legal action in the disaster, according to people familiar with the matter.

Platforms are subjected to extreme ocean currents, corrosive salt water and frequent hurricanes. Unlike drilling rigs, which are mobile, platforms can’t be brought to shore for repairs. Many are so old or have changed hands so many times, that maintenance records are missing or unreliable. And experts say that maintenance work has often gotten short shrift in an industry focused on new discoveries rather than old, declining fields.

More than 260 companies warned the Securities and Exchange Commission that plans to pay bounties to whistleblowers will turn financial fraud into a “gold mine” for employees.

The newly released New Mexico health report has some interesting findings about workplace health. Asthma is a major concern. The report found nearly two thirds of New Mexicans with asthma say they had quit to a job because of chemicals, smoke, fumes, or dust that made their asthma worse.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says an Eau Claire, Wis., waste management processor is a severe violator of workplace safety rules. OSHA has issued 14 willful and one serious citation to WRR Environmental Services Co., with proposed fines of $787,000 for failing to fully implement a safety management program.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered BNSF Railway Co. to pay a Kansas City, Kan.-based employee $95,096 after he was disciplined by the company for reporting a work-related injury.

South Carolina regulators have fined a Pennsylvania company $91,000 for a string of emergency preparedness failures they say occurred before a fatal chemical leak near its Swansea, S.C., plant last year.

A 49-year-old man was killed Tuesday after he slipped into a commercial wood chipper while clearing brush near an avocado grove in Fallbrook, Calif., the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said.

Police say a man was killed when a refrigerator thrown from an upper floor of a building in Milwaukee hit him. Milwaukee police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz says a construction crew was clearing some contents of a building Tuesday when workers tossed the fridge off a balcony. She says they called out “All clear,” but one worker walked out and was struck.

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The BP oil spill disaster, the explosion at a Massey Energy mine that killed 29, and the recall of millions of Toyota vehicles, to name a few, made headlines throughout the year, both for their human, economic, and environmental toll and for the negligence they exposed. Despite these failures, 2010 was an excellent year for America’s corporate elite. Profits skyrocketed, lobbyists fended off new regulation, and corporate access to Washington decision makers grew even more robust.

We’ve just confirmed that retiring Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship no longer plans to appear next week to be questioned by state and federal investigators who are looking into the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. C.A. Phillips, acting director of the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training, said his agency was informed just a little while ago that Blankenship would invoke his 5th Amendment rights and not answer questions from the investigation team.

Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries have an abysmal record of accidents that have resulted in the release of millions of pounds of polluting chemicals into the air and water, threatening both their own workers and the more than 200,000 people who live in neighborhoods within two miles of the plants, according to a new report sponsored by the Bucket Brigade, other neighborhood environmental groups and the United Steelworkers Union.

Through a new safety initiative, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is calling special attention to the potential dangers that shuttle cars and scoops in underground coal mines pose to miners. Between January 2000 and September 2010, nearly 800 miners have been injured and 16 killed in coal mine accidents involving shuttle cars and scoops.

Some of K Street’s biggest lobbying forces are up in arms over a proposal that would require businesses to reduce noise to protect their workers.

An East Bay, Calif., assemblywoman has introduced a bill to improve staff safety at hospitals in response to the slayings of two medical workers, including death of a psychiatric technician at Napa State Hospital late October.

The nation’s workplace safety agency is scrutinizing how the state handled a 2007 investigation into remodeling at the Flamingo Las Vegas, which exposed workers and, possibly, guests to dangerous airborne asbestos.

The Tyson feed mill, where a grain silo collapse last week killed one worker, had not been visited by federal inspectors in almost two decades, according to documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Los Angeles County on Thursday served a cease-and-desist order on a Sherman Oaks-based clinic serving the adult-film industry, two days after state health officials denied it a community clinic operating license. Among other “business-related issues,” the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM) lacked a required agreement with a hospital to which patients could be transferred as needed, said Al Lundeen, a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health.

Department of Public Safety firefighters responded to a blaze at the Carbolytic Materials Company plant Friday afternoon. The facility is located in the Maryville Industrial Park in Maryville, Mo.

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