Archive for May, 2011

When a soldier brings war back home
This Memorial Day, we remember our fallen soldiers. Many have died in combat, but increasingly, for off-duty members of the National Guard and Army Reserves, soldiers are dying by their own hands. Nationally, the number of those who’ve committed suicide has nearly doubled from 80 in 2009 to 145 last year.

Xcel Energy trial in five deaths opens today
The trial of Xcel Energy on charges of workplace-safety violations — a rare instance of federal prosecutors bringing criminal charges against a company — opens today in Denver. The case stems from the deaths of five men at the Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant near Georgetown in 2007.

Upper Big Branch: Hawk’s Nest redux
For those who don’t know the history of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel, from 1930 to 1935, approximately 3,000 workers carved a 3 mile tunnel through the Gauley Mountain in West Virginia in order to divert the New River for an electrical station at a Union Carbide plant. Ventilation was limited at best. The miners were not given modest protections like masks or breathing equipment. Quartz dust from cutting into the mountain invaded their lungs. Signs of the deadly lung disease, silicosis, began for some within eight weeks of employment. Public health historians learned in their studies that the building of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel in West Virginia was considered one of the worst man-made industrial disease accidents in U.S. history. But as we know, it wasn’t an accident. Workers were placed in harm’s way for profit. Their health be damned. Fast forward to May 2011.

California worker safety officials draft proposal to require condoms in porn
Porn performers in California would be required to use condoms in sex scenes if draft rules from state workplace safety officials advance out of the proposal phase. Cal/OSHA officials provided the Associated Press with a 17-page draft proposal that contained sometimes graphic details of the bodily fluids, waste matter and other materials that porn actors must protect themselves against to avoid infection.

Wal-Mart is being pressed to disclose how global suppliers treat workers
Wal-Mart is facing new pressure to monitor and disclose how its international suppliers treat their workers. At its annual shareholder meeting on Friday, the New York City pension funds, which own a small percentage of shares in Wal-Mart, plan to ask the company to require vendors to publish annual reports detailing working conditions in their factories.

Union takes after West Hollywood hotel
The Hyatt Andaz hotel, West Hollywood’s largest and only union hotel, suffered a PR attack from its labor partners Unite Here 11 this week as part of their effort to gain the upper hand in stalled contract negotiations. Releasing a press release on Wednesday, Unite Here 11 announced that “the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA) has issued citations alleging that the Hyatt Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood has failed to comply with multiple state safety regulations.” The agency made no citations, however, for hazardous working conditions charged by Unite Here 11.

Your commute is killing you
In the past decade or so, researchers have produced a significant body of research measuring the dreadfulness of a long commute. People with long transit times suffer from disproportionate pain, stress, obesity, and dissatisfaction.

OSHA casts iron foundry $44,300 fine for repeat, health violations
OSHA has cited Domestic Casting Inc. LLC for exposing workers to safety and health hazards at its Shippensburg, Pa., facility. Proposed penalties total $44,300.

Foxconn worker from Chengdu factory commits suicide
Sadly, a 20-year-old male employee at Foxconn (Apple’s contract manufacturer for many products) committed suicide Thursday morning, according to a report from the Hong Kong China News Agency (HKCNA) cited by Bloomberg. The worker was reportedly employed at the company’s new facility in Chengdu where an explosion killed three workers on May 20.

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OSHA will cut reporting requirements under Obama regulatory plan
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to cut more than 1.9 million hours of annual reporting requirement for business, a step the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said would have little effect on companies. The OSHA rule would save more than $40 million a year, Cass Sunstein, director of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said today in outlining an overhaul of rules.

Supreme Court upholds Arizona law designed to thwart illegal workers
The US Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a controversial Arizona law that threatens to shut down businesses that intentionally hire illegal immigrants.

Hotel workers need panic buttons: New York lawmaker
New York hotel workers would have electronic “panic buttons” under a new bill proposed after then-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid. “To my knowledge this would be the first in the nation,” Democratic Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who represents the New York City Borough of Queens, said by telephone on Tuesday.

Cal/OSHA referral leads to fines, jail time for contractor, foreman
Following the referral of a fatality investigation by the Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DIR/Cal-OSHA), the San Francisco District Attorney prosecuted Sam Hyung Goo Shim, the owner of California C&R, Inc., a San Francisco roofing company in connection with the January 2008 death of an employee. Both Shim and his foreman, Jwa Young Kim, were sentenced today to 1 year in county jail. The Cal/OSHA investigation also resulted in the issuance of three citations totaling $70,485 on July 15, 2008, including serious and willful citations.

Study finds unionized coal mines substantially safer
A new study shows that miners in unionized coal mines are far less likely to be killed or injured on the job than miners in nonunion operations. The independent study funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that “unionization predicts an 18-33 percent drop in traumatic injuries and a 27-68 percent drop in fatalities.”

China urging worker safety after blast at Foxconn plant
China on Wednesday called on Foxconn and other Taiwanese companies to ensure work safety after a deadly explosion last week at a plant operated by the tech giant where Apple’s iPad2 was being assembled.

Cancer survivor seeks help for ill Hanford workers
A cancer survivor asked a federal advisory board Wednesday to consider the suffering of Hanford workers and their families because of the deceit of a company that performed lab tests in the late ’80s. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, meeting in St. Louis on Wednesday, discussed whether to ease rules for allowing ill Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant workers to claim $150,000 in compensation.

Exposing workers to asbestos could cost Illinois firm $1.2 million
Federal regulators are seeking $1.2 million in fines from an Illinois advertising-display firm that they say willfully exposed five of its workers to cancer-causing asbestos. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday that the employer, AMD Industries, required the five workers to remove asbestos without giving them proper training or protective gear for the job.

Worker fatally crushed on conveyor, company fined $82,100
OSHA has cited Welspun Tubular LLC with one willful and two serious violations following the death of a worker at the company’s Little Rock, Ark., facility. Proposed penalties total $82,100. OSHA’s Little Rock office initiated a safety inspection on Dec. 22, 2010, at the company’s facility on Frazier Pike following a report that a worker was crushed to death by being caught between two pipes on a conveyor.

American workers now burn 140 fewer calories
The nature of the American job has become so sedentary that Americans are now burning 140 calories less than they would have been in a typical job five decades ago. Physical activity during the workday has been declining since 1960, corresponding with the nation’s steady weight gain since that time, according to a new sweeping review reported in the New York Times Well blog.

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After the crisis, the rise of worker discrimination is breathtaking
It’s bad enough that the global financial crisis has put millions of people out of work and trashed the future of the ranks of workers everywhere. But, let’s take a moment to consider an undercurrent of the economic crisis, fanned by fear, stupidity and the relentless drive to cut government (oh, that comes under stupidity so please excuse the redundancy): the rise in all forms of discrimination.

New federal regulations for tipped employees
The U.S. Labor Dept. issued new regulations for the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that affect businesses that have tipped employees. These regulations became effective on May 5. Here are some compliance pointers.

Hair care experts push for safer products
California salon workers and women’s advocates said they will tell a U.S. congressional committee a hair-straightening product presents a health hazard. The hair experts are scheduled Wednesday to brief the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on their objections to the “Brazilian Blowout” and other hair treatments that contain formaldehyde, a carcinogen, the New York Daily News reported.

Safer workplaces for youth this summer
Every year, around 800 young people in Massachusetts end up having to go to the emergency room because they’re injured on the job. And it’s estimated that another 2400 young workers each year are hurt at work but don’t seek medical treatment.

Bob DuPont: Our buildings aren’t safe by accident
Dear Editor: When you go to bed each night, arrive at work each day or walk through the grocery store on the weekend, do you worry about the floor under your feet or the roof over your head? Probably not — and that’s good. A hundred years ago, in May 1911, the Legislature created the Wisconsin Industrial Commission to oversee workplace safety. Safe buildings have been an expectation in Wisconsin ever since.

Having supportive co-workers may help you live longer
Having supportive co-workers may help you live longer than counterparts without, while support from the boss appears to make no difference, said researchers from Israel in a study published in the May issue of the journal Health Psychology.

Republic steel faces possible $563,000 fine
Safety at the Republic Engineered Products steel plant is being questioned. The company is facing a proposed $563,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over repeated violations at its Lorain plant. In addition to the fine, Republic has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program, subjecting it to increased scrutiny. Dr. David Michaels, an OSHA assistant secretary of labor, said in a news release Monday that Republic has a long record of safety violations that have included injuries and fatalities.

Cal/OSHA fines contractor over $235,000 for willful safety violations leading to flash fire
Cal/OSHA issued ten citations totaling $235,865 to construction contractor TL Pavlich for deliberate and willful workplace safety violations which led to a flash fire severely burning a welder on a public works project in Montebello last December. In addition to being reviewed for a potential criminal referral to the Los Angeles District Attorney, the case is being referred to the Contractors State Licensing Board for licensing review and to the California Labor Commissioner for possible public works debarment.

OSHA cites Cargill Meat Solutions for workplace safety and health violations
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Cargill Meat Solutions of Dodge City with two repeat and 23 serious violations for exposing workers to numerous occupational hazards. Proposed fines total $176,400 following a combined safety and health inspection at the facility.

$139,260 in fines issued to contractor for scaffolding, fall hazards
OSHA has cited Total Remodeling Services LLC for 16 alleged violations of workplace safety standards following OSHA’s inspection of a residential roofing site in Bridgeport, Conn. The Shelton contractor faces a total of $139,260 in proposed fines, chiefly for fall, scaffolding, and ladder hazards.

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration tomorrow will reopen the public record on a proposed rule to revise the Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements regulation. Notice of the reopening will be published May 17 in the Federal Register.

House Republicans have launched a business-backed effort to block corporate whistleblowers from going directly to financial regulators with reports of wrongdoing. At the center of the effort is a bill drafted to amend last year’s Dodd-Frank financial oversight law by requiring whistleblowers to report problems internally before going to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A new law could significantly change the way an employer faces charges from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, according to employment law experts. Assembly Bill 2774 went into effect Jan. 1 of this year. The law has the potential to bring about a “sea change” at Cal/OSHA, with significant alterations to the burden of proof standard for employers facing citations or claims against them from employees.

Last week, Vermont became the latest state to take a more aggressive stance against healthcare workplace violence. The Associated Press reports that a new law in the Green Mountain State bumps up a misdemeanor assault to a felony when the victim is a healthcare worker on the job, with penalties ranging from up to a year in prison for first-time offenders to up to 10 years for repeat offenders. New York and Massachusetts recently passed similar laws, and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) says that several other states are focusing on the problem. Will these laws end healthcare workplace violence? No.

Following the recent debate surrounding keratin hair-straightening products, 10 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration expressing their concern and asking the agency to take immediate action to protect workers and consumers.

Nearly eight months after a Napa State Hospital patient strangled a psychiatric technician, lawmakers and employee groups are pushing proposals aimed at reversing a worsening safety trend at California’s mental health facilities. Among them are bills that would enable officials to better assess patients’ potential for violence, speed up the process to involuntarily medicate certain individuals and punish those who funnel contraband — such as tobacco and cash — to patients, feeding a black market that goes hand-in-hand with assault and extortion.

In some of the poorest neighborhoods across the city, immigrants hoping to land jobs through employment agencies have routinely been cheated out of money. They are often charged hundreds of dollars in fees, promised jobs that do not exist, and sent to abusive working environments.

The Council of Prison Locals (CPL) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) secured a significant victory in its fight to have all Bureau of Prisons (BOP) correctional officers outfitted with stab-resistant vests. BOP recently dismissed its opposition in the U.S. Court of Appeals, allowing the union’s proposal for stab-resistant vests to be negotiated through collective bargaining.

Want to make sure you’re getting paid what you’re due? Now there’s an app for that. The U.S. Labor Department announced last week its first application for smartphones: a time sheet to help employees independently track the hours they work and determine the wages they are owed.

In the more desirable seats at Yankee Stadium, an already pricey $10.50 draft beer will run you an eye-popping $12.60 thanks to an involuntary 20 percent “service fee” tacked on to the original price. If the sticker shock doesn’t make that brew bitter enough, consider this: Despite what you might expect, that extra $2 and change isn’t going to the hustling server who sold it to you, according to a new lawsuit.

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A few minutes ago, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1229 by a vote of 263-163, with every Republican and 28 Democrats voting to make drilling even less safe and environmentally-responsible than before the BP Gulf Oil Disaster. Strike two for safer offshore drilling. The third pitch from Republican leadership will come tomorrow with a vote on H.R. 1231, the most sweeping of a trio of bills that seeks to weaken oversight of offshore drilling and dramatically expand offshore drilling in pristine ocean areas across every U.S. coast.

There’s a new update out this week from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that shows again the dangers of combustible dust in the workplace: The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) today released test results confirming preliminary conclusions that two flash fires which occurred at the Hoeganaes Corporation plant in Gallatin, Tennessee—one fatal—involved the combustion of iron powder which had accumulated throughout the facility and became airborne in combustible concentrations. A flash fire on January 31st killed one worker and seriously burned another. A similar fire occurred on March 29th and caused one injury.

Following the recent debate surrounding keratin hair-straightening products, 10 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration expressing their concern and asking the agency to take immediate action to protect workers and consumers.

There’s a new law on the Vermont books to protect the state’s health care workers from assault. Medical center employees had pressed lawmakers for the new law, saying in recent years there had been a sharp increase in assaults, particularly in the emergency room.

The Council of Prison Locals (CPL) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) secured a significant victory in its fight to have all Bureau of Prisons (BOP) correctional officers outfitted with stab-resistant vests. BOP recently dismissed its opposition in the U.S. Court of Appeals, allowing the union’s proposal for stab-resistant vests to be negotiated through collective bargaining.

OSHA’s subpoena requesting inspection and report documents from Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co. associated with a fatal grain engulfment has been upheld in a U.S. district court. OSHA’s subpoena requesting inspection and report documents from Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co. associated with a fatal grain engulfment has been upheld in a U.S. district court.

US FAA on Wednesday proposed new regulations to overhaul airline training programs for aircraft crewmembers and flight dispatchers, revising a proposal first issued in 2009. The supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would in particular revamp pilot training, mandating more recurrent training and calling for pilots to be put through challenging emergency situations in advanced flight simulators.

Amid the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactor, the threat that earthquakes and tsunamis pose to nuclear safety is drawing lots of attention. But many experts say that a much more pressing concern, and a much more likely source of a domestic disaster, is fire.

Fitted or flat? That’s the weighty question facing the California Legislature, which is considering a bill that would regulate what type of sheets can be used on hotel bed mattresses across the state.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Cargill Meat Solutions of Dodge City with two repeat and 23 serious violations for exposing workers to numerous occupational hazards. Proposed fines total $176,400 following a combined safety and health inspection at the facility.

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Two Boeing Co. (BA) auditors in 2007 thought they found weaknesses in the security of the firm’s financial reporting data. They complained, setting off a chain of events that may chill whistleblower leaks to news outlets. “Computer security faults put Boeing at risk,” a subsequent headline said. The airplane maker, already suspecting leaks, investigated and fired the men for unauthorized talking to the news media. They sued, citing Sarbanes-Oxley’s whistleblower protection, and lost. An appeals court said last week that the law doesn’t protect tipping off journalists.

Well, we’re waiting now to see if the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is going to answer important questions about the mine rescue effort at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine. But this isn’t the first time that these concerns were raised, according to some records I obtained from MSHA through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. Check out this series of email messages between Department of Labor officials and Sam Petsonk, who was then an aide to Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

The impact of fatigue on employee performance in certain industries is so great that government often feels compelled to pass legislation to control it. Examples are air traffic controllers, trucking, and nuclear power plants. For most jobs, fatigue may not have “life or death” consequences, but managers are still concerned about how it affects workplace safety and performance. This is particularly important for organizations that use multiple shifts, i.e. shiftwork operations.

Lone Star Bakery, Inc., has been cited by OSHA for 32 serious, one repeat, and 16 other-than-serious violations. The inquiry came in the wake of an amputation incident and multiple inspections at two of the company’s facilities in China Grove. Alleged violations include exposing workers to combustible dust and fall and electrical hazards, among others. Proposed penalties in the case total nearly $230,000.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Focus Direct with 12 serious, one repeat and four other-than-serious safety and health violations after an inspection found that workers were exposed to amputation hazards at the company’s San Antonio facility. Proposed penalties total $83,000.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the Best Buy Co. Inc. store on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth with five safety violations after a worker suffered severe head injuries from a fall in January. The employee was stacking televisions on a storage rack while standing on an elevated powered industrial truck’s platform when it suddenly tilted and caused the employee to fall approximately 12 feet.

Patterson-UTI Drilling Co. LLC faces $53,900 in proposed fines for safety violations discovered by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration following the death of worker at the company’s site near Cotulla in the Eagle Ford shale. OSHA said in a statement that it started the investigation in November after an employee setting up a rig was fatally struck by a section of track for the drive system of the drilling derrick.

Authorities say a 24-year-old man who was sandblasting floor grates outside a Helena business died after the lid of the machine’s tank became dislodged and struck him in the head.

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Hospitality Staffing Solutions and the dehumanization of workers
I was thinking of writing a post about how dehumanizing it is to work for Hospitality Staffing Solutions, the “temporary agency” used by Hyatt Hotels in Boston, Indianapolis and other cities, where workers start at minimum wage with no benefits and have to clean up to 30 rooms a day.

Safety forum to focus on regulations, new technologies to prevent deadly truck, bus accidents
The National Transportation Safety Board began a two-day forum Tuesday to hear from federal regulators, safety experts, and the truck and bus industries about what is being done to prevent deadly accidents like 2009 crash near Miami, Okla., and why past safety recommendations — some of them decades old — haven’t been enacted. There has been a lot of progress — truck fatalities have come down — but there is still much work that needs to be done, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said.

OSHA: Theater inspections to include emergency plan review
The federal agency that governs workplace safety has sent a letter to 63 New York City theaters saying future inspections of the venues will include reviews of their emergency action plans. The letter from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that the attempted car bombing in Times Square last summer highlighted the need for increased vigilance and ongoing emergency preparedness.

Grain company fined after deadly accident
A Taft grain company is being fined thousands of dollars by the federal government after a man was killed at the facility last year. It was a tragic scene at Taft Grain & Elevator back in November. Arnulfo “Ernie” Medina became trapped for a time before he died. His death was ruled to be caused by asphyxiation and Monday a federal agency announced nearly $200,000 in fines against this company for the accident.

Former roughneck wins record $322 million in asbestos case
In what attorneys said was the largest ever single-plaintiff asbestos verdict in U.S. history, a Mississippi jury has awarded $322 million to a former oil field worker who allegedly inhaled asbestos dust while mixing drilling mud.

OSHA cites Alabama canopy company for exposing workers to fall hazards; proposes more than $200,000 in fines
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Chapman Canopy Inc. with 12 safety violations, chiefly for exposing workers to fall hazards while installing canopies in Pinson, Albertville and Tuscaloosa. Proposed penalties total $202,040.

Inmate’s family plans to sue over fatal fall
Family members of a jail inmate who died after a 16-foot fall at the city-county trash station in Las Cruces are threatening a lawsuit, claiming the government was negligent. Ricky Gasper died Nov. 12, 2010, while working at the South Central Solid Waste Authority plant, 2865 W. Amador Ave. He’d been spraying a building with a power hose, when he “fell 16 feet into a cement hole, landing on his back,” according to the claim filed by the family’s attorney.

Caregiver support needed in today’s workplace
Imaging telling today’s working parents that they can’t have any time off for doctor’s appointments, child care emergencies, or school activities. The culture of the modern workplace in America has changed to accommodate the realities of being a working parent. Caregivers are now at the crossroads working parents once faced. Their challenges have been largely ignored, but the sheer number of aging Americans is forcing the issue into focus. Once again, workers who find the competing demands of work and caregiving to be too much of a strain are forced to choose family over their jobs.

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