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Archive for February, 2011

It was a disturbingly close call, closer than it appeared at the time. On July 19, 2009, an explosion rocked an oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, critically injuring a worker and spawning a fire that burned for more than two days. The blast at the Citgo East refinery unleashed a chemical unknown to many Americans, though it is capable of sweeping into dozens of communities, sickening or even killing as it moves.

Reuters recently posted a story from Suzhou, China about workers at a factory making touch screens on contract for Apple who have been injured (including potentially at least one death) by inhaling hexyl hydride, also known as n-Hexane. Stories about industrial, environmental, and health problems in China can frequently be convenient windows for looking into our own regulatory structure for protecting the public, whether from contaminated food, dangerous toys, or the use of unsafe chemicals in products and the workplace.

An ambitious paper was released in Boston last week, which provided a full-cost accounting of the entire life cycle of coal, to the extent that present data and modeling methods allow this. The new look that this report provides is a consideration the full range of health and environmental hazards that result from exploration, mining, processing, transport, and combustion of coal and the subsequent waste that is released into air and water from this fuel source.

A new, interactive OSHA timeline commemorating 40 years of progress protecting the safety and health of American workers illustrates the milestones OSHA and its state partners have achieved in their efforts to reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths.

March 25 will mark 100 years since the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire galvanized a movement for social justice. Some 146 women did not make it out of the workplace alive that day.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that it was time to have an “adult conversation about Nevada’s legal sex trade.” Reid is advocating an end to the legalized sex-for-hire industry that Nevada is known for, as a move that would enhance the state’s reputation.

The commercial airline industry worldwide posted its lowest rate of major accidents ever in 2010. Still, the numbers of smaller crashes and fatalities overall rose, pointing to persistent safety problems.

Oregon OSHA this week is kicking off an “emphasis program” to reduce injuries and workplace risks that result in amputations.

As if finding a job isn’t hard enough, unemployed workers now face the added hurdle of being discriminated against because they don’t have a job. Speaking today before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), said that practices barring the unemployed from job availabilities have been growing around the country—and place a disproportionate burden on older workers, African Americans and other workers facing high levels of long-term unemployment.

Criminal charges have been filed in connection with a 2008 Paso Robles, Calif., construction accident that resulted in the deaths of two men, one of them from Bakersfield.

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Wisconsin is just the tip of the iceberg. The Republican war on unions goes far beyond Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to end collective-bargaining rights for public employees in his state or Gov. John Kasich’s effort to do the same in Ohio.

The public strongly opposes laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions as a way to ease state financial troubles, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

In recent letters to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) expressed strong concerns about the effect of proposed funding cuts to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – which ACOEM says will devastate the nation’s supply of new physicians trained to treat injured and ill workers.

Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has suspended a roughly year-old practice of asking prospective employees to voluntarily divulge their user names and passwords to social media Web sites such as Facebook to check for gang affiliations, the department said Tuesday.

Last week, when Apple released its annual review of labor conditions at its global suppliers, one startling revelation stood out: 137 workers at a factory here had been seriously injured by a toxic chemical used in making the signature slick glass screens of the iPhone.

Wintek Corp., a supplier of displays to Apple Inc., may pay more money to workers in China poisoned by chemicals while making touch-screen panels, Chief Financial Officer Jay Huang said.

Members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) put key U.S. Senate offices on speed dial in a successful call-in campaign to press for long-overdue health and safety protections. On Thursday, the Senate defeated an attempt to strip OSHA protections for Flight Attendants from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Bill.

A burst of politically charged issues ignited West Coast tempers last week in the multi-million dollar adult gay film industry. The industry’s gadfly, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has alleged that a not-for-profit porn clinic, shut down last month by the state, may have reopened under false pretenses.

A Cleveland jury in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Wednesday returned a $900,000 verdict in a significant employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a former employee of Cleveland’s University Hospitals Case Medical Center. The lawsuit filed by Gloria Parks against University Hospitals alleged that Parks, a medical assistant, was discriminated against because of her age when she was terminated from her job of 30 years in July of 2008.

Oakland’s Children’s Hospital was cited and fined Tuesday by the state’s workplace safety agency for failing to create policies and procedures for emergency department personnel in dealing with gunshot wound patients who have been dropped off at the hospital door.

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Gov. Mitch Daniels signaled this afternoon that Republicans should to drop the right-to-work bill that has brought the Indiana House to a standstill for two days and imperiled other measures.

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is now to the right of Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) on the question of allowing public sector workers to unionize.

A new database on contractors’ past behavior has industry scrambling to prepare, according to contracting lawyers and advocates. The Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System, or FAPIIS, is meant to ensure the government, before making major awards to contractors, knows of past problems such as criminal convictions, fines, suspensions and contracts terminated due to default.

The federal government next week will launch a massive study to see whether workers who helped clean up last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill are getting sick as a result of those jobs.

Nurses and other health care workers are in danger every day at work. In fact, they are almost three times more likely than other workers to experience violence on the job, according to “Violence: Occupational Hazard in Hospitals,” a study published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 2002.

Last Tuesday morning at 10:30, two men installing structural steel atop an addition to the Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, fell five floors down an elevator shaft to their deaths. There was an immediate rush to judgment by major media outlets, each in turn looking at the iron work sub-contractor on the site, Cross County Contracting, Inc, a local firm based in the Town of Shawangunk.

Investigators are looking into the death of a radio antenna installer from Georgia who fell 110 feet from tower at 3:06 p.m. Sunday, according to sheriff’s reports.

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The crowds demanding that Republican Gov. Scott Walker “kill the bill” he proposed to eviscerate collective bargaining rights in the state have grown larger by the day here, with numerous estimates putting Saturday’s attendance around 60,000. But despite workers ratcheting up the pressure in the streets, and unions making clear they are willing to accept pay and benefit concessions, Walker has shown no intention of leaving collective bargaining rights intact.

By carpool and caravan, populists are crowing the capitol to stand up for working people. Millions of Americans are standing together today saying “we are all Wisconsin workers.” All eyes are on Madison, watching to see whether America’s public service workers will continue to have a voice on the job and whether — by extension — any of us will.

The shooting deaths of two federal agents last week and three in two months highlight the heightened risk to federal investigators who are confronting increasingly violent fugitives, drug traffickers and other criminals, authorities said.

Freshman Congressman Larry D. Bucshon (R) of Evansville, Indiana is a cardiothoracic surgeon. His father was an underground coal miner and a member of the United Mine Workers Union for 37 years. Both his grandparents were coal miners. But last week he said the following at a congressional hearing: “I see a lot of patients with workplace related respiratory problems, some of which, to put it bluntly, are their own issue because they refuse to wear safety equipment regardless of whether there are regulations in place to do so or not.”

In the last two months, we’ve discussed two categories of employees who are exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Not surprisingly, these employees are referred to as “exempt” employees. Exempt employees generally must qualify as executive, administrative or professional employees.

It may seem harmless at the time, but doing something as simple as sending a text message while driving is proving over and over to result in fatal consequences. Due to this epidemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced an education campaign asking employers to prevent work-related distracted driving, with a special focus on prohibiting texting while driving.

Honeywell—a Fortune 100 company that invents and manufactures various technologies in the energy and other sectors—has broken U.S. federal law by not permitting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) access to one of the union workers at their uranium processing plant in Metropolis, Illinois.

John Konrad vividly recalls the moment he heard there had been an explosion aboard the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, drilling on behalf of British Petroleum (BP) in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, Konrad was serving as active captain aboard drill ship Deep Ocean Ascension—one of BP’s most expensive and technologically advanced exploratory drill ships—guiding it around the Cape of Good Hope en route to the Gulf.

The state will hold a seminar March 2 to explain the role of MIOSHA compliance officers who inspect construction sites and factories for safety code violations. Geared to those who work in construction or industrial sectors, the seminar is intended to share the process and procedures a MIOSHA compliance officer follows while conducting a workplace inspection and how to respond to MIOSHA citations.

A Rochester company may be looking at a hefty fine. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it cited Bona Via Inc., a manufacturer of pizza shells for failing to correct safety hazards at its plant on White Street.

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Budget proposals are flying up and down Washington DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Capitol Hill, as lawmakers and the President wrestle with funding plans for the current and next fiscal years. A 215-page document describes the “terminations, reductions and savings,” including the zero-ing out of two programs administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

A better, coordinated process is needed for issuing up-to-date and consistent guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment by health care workers during an influenza pandemic, an Institute of Medicine committee said in a report to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

As a nurse who has had her life and career forever altered from a debilitating back injury that occurred on the job, I am outraged by the recent decision by the U.S. Department of Labor to withdraw a rule requiring employers to report musculoskeletal injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The federal Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration says it has teamed up with the Mexican consulate at Little Rock to provide enhanced workplace safety and health for Mexican workers in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Workplace deaths in Washington state climbed in 2010, with 86 men and women killed due to job-related trauma, according to a report on work-related fatalities the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) released this week.

A medical testing company has been charged in federal court with fraud in its handling of physical exams given to applicants and employees of the Chicago police and fire departments, as well as other city departments.

A hair treatment drawing criticism across the country won’t be banned in Ohio — at least for now. Belle Poitras has been a hairstylist in Central Ohio for 10 years, and in the last few months decided to no longer offer the Brazilian Blowout.

In a new TV ad, the Washington Federation of State Employees claims that “because of state cuts violence has increased” at Western State Hospital. What we found: The claim is mostly false.

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We learn at a young age that every human life is priceless, but placing a dollar value on an individual life underpins the framework of federal safety regulations protecting workers and consumers. The economic value assigned to a single person’s existence can help justify tougher regulations, by balancing the costs imposed by regulations against the money saved from the deaths that were prevented.

At a Feb. 15 House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections hearing on OSHA’s regulatory agenda and its impact on job creation, witnesses slammed the agency for exploring new regulations that could damage businesses, imposing “substantial burdens” on employers without regard to cost concerns and overlooking the interests of small businesses.

Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, issued the following statement as the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce holds a hearing on “Investigating OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda and Its Impact on Job Creation.”

The U.S. oil and natural gas industry has completed the final requirement necessary to return to production in the Gulf, according to the American Petroleum Institute, with today’s news that the industry-led Marine Well Containment Company had completed testing.

The New York State comptroller, the Ohio state pension funds and other large investors have alleged that BP made cost-saving cutbacks in its safety operations prior to last year’s major oil spill and that it disregarded safety warnings from its own managers.

The chief counsel of the presidential oil spill commission has issued a final report laying considerable blame on BP for last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But he also points to flaws in Halliburton’s work and errors by the rig owner Transocean.

Since release of its Final Report to the President on January 11th, the National Oil Spill Commission has released five additional papers (called “working papers”) reviewing aspects of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Only the Final Report examines response-worker and public health issues, and where the Commission’s critique is most illuminating is in its analysis of how the National Contingency Plan structure set the stage for what became ongoing contentions over health and safety issues throughout the response. But there are still more questions.

Concerns about how the Interior Department manages the nation’s oil and gas resources have earned it a spot on a closely-watched list of the government’s most at-risk offices and programs.

In a move that is raising plenty of eyebrows, Missouri state Senator Jeanne Cunningham has proposed a bill that would “modify” child labor laws, eliminating the prohibition on employment of children under 14.

In a bold move, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has taken a stance against behind-the-wheel use of mobile phones by commercial bus and truck drivers. Proposed regulations — which some see as a huge step in the direction of increasing safety on the road — would prohibit use of handheld mobile phones as well as preventing the driver from dialing, holding a cell phone or reaching for a phone while the vehicle is in motion.

Back when flight attendants were stewardesses and airline ads promoted their good looks and winsome smiles to get you on board, these hardworking airline employees had no job safety and health protection. Today, flight attendants still are not covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and most of his Republicans colleagues want to keep it that way, just like the old days.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted down a Republican-authored amendment to the FAA Authorization Act that would have eliminated the collective bargaining rights of baggage screeners at the Transportation Security Administration.

A Purdue University report showed 51 grain bin accidents last year, up from 38 in 2009 and the most since tracking began in 1978. Twenty-five people died, and five of them were children under age 16.

Two thirds of 727 San Francisco businesses surveyed back the city’s paid sick leave ordinance, contradicting prior corporate claims that it would be expensive to business and hurt the economy, a new report says. And a similar share of 1,194 workers surveyed approves of the law, too.

Last year’s $250 hair-care sensation, Brazilian Blowout, promised to leave your locks looking sleek, healthy and frizz-free without formaldehyde. The secret was methylene glycol, a very special active ingredient, it turned out. It’s definitely not formaldehyde, but dry it out, say with a hair dryer, and voila, it’s formaldehyde, a frog preservative and carcinogen.

Sacramento construction company Teichert has agreed to pay $3 million in penalties and adopt new safety procedures stemming from a 2008 accident in Paso Robles that killed two employees working on the Nacimiento pipeline project.

In just four days, 53 people were taken to Elgin, Ill.,-area hospitals because the air they were breathing was making them sick. And except for the number of victims involved, that’s not an unusual situation.

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U.S. Labor Department leaders on Monday explained the details of the administration’s FY2012 budget request in a live webchat, discussing the $583 million requested for OSHA and the $384 million for MSHA. While bitter funding battles have yet to be fought in Congress, the proposal stakes DOL’s position on regulatory and enforcement action.

From his first day in office, new Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been aggressively applying huge jolts of what Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein called “shock therapy”—forcing the acceptance of unpopular policies upon a disoriented and demobilized population. But apparently Walker thinks the threat of layoffs was proving insufficiently intimidating. On Friday, he revealed that he’s ready to call the National Guard if public workers (specifically, prison guards) stay home in protest of what may be the most draconian anti-union legislation ever offered in the United States.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is punishing employers at the expense of reducing workplace injuries, Representative Tim Walberg, a Michigan Republican, said today at a congressional hearing. “It has become an administration more focused on punishment than prevention,” said Walberg, chairman of the a member of the committee who was elected last year.

When it comes to providing a safe workplace environment for congressional staffers and employees, Congress is faltering, according to a report compiled by the agency responsible for workplace issues in the Capitol.

With new whistleblower rules coming to Wall Street, the industry’s lobbyists have mounted a furious behind-the-scenes effort to constrain the reach of the new protections.

A lawsuit by 14 former and current members of the armed forces alleges that Pentagon brass ignored claims of sexual harassment, assault and even rape by military colleagues while on active duty.

After a decade of treating thousands of wounded troops, the military’s medical system is awash in prescription drugs — and the results have sometimes been deadly. By some estimates, well over 300,000 troops have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with P.T.S.D., depression, traumatic brain injury or some combination of those. The Pentagon has looked to pharmacology to treat those complex problems, following the lead of civilian medicine. As a result, psychiatric drugs have been used more widely across the military than in any previous war.

Annual sales revenue in the nation’s restaurant industry tops $515 billion, but few of the 10.3 million workers in the industry earn a living wage. Few have health insurance or proper safety training, and many experience wage theft and discrimination.

Charles L. Marshall is best known for helping Tinker Air Force Base recover from a fire at its logistics center in 1984. Hazardous materials had to be properly removed and disposed, and asbestos and chemicals cleaned away so the building — for national defense emergencies — could be rebuilt as quickly as possible.

Workplace safety officials are investigating a deadly accident Friday morning at a Tulare County, Calif., pistachio processing factory that previously had a 2 million pound recall due to a salmonella scare. According to the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA), a man was doing maintenance inside a pistachio auger, which separates the hull from the nut, when another worker turned on the machine.

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