Archive for June, 2011

On-the-job lead exposures falling, but still a problem: CDC
The number of U.S. workers aged 16 and older with elevated blood lead levels has dropped by more than half over the past two decades — from 14 per 100,000 in 1994 to 6.3 per 100,000 in 2009, a new study reveals.

U.S. Labor Dept. moving farm enforcement sweep up the East Coast
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is conducting an enforcement initiative focusing on the agricultural industry, beginning in South Florida and continuing up the East Coast, to increase compliance among employers and remind workers of their rights under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s Field Sanitation Standard.

OSHA launches web tool for employer recordkeeping compliance
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently launched a new interactive web tool, OSHA Recordkeeping Advisor, to help users determine whether injuries and illnesses are work-related and recordable under the OSHA recordkeeping rules.

Federal report makes recommendations after Chicago firefighter’s death
Federal investigators that looked into the death of a Chicago firefighter say the city’s fire department should have a written policy on using fire escapes. The Chicago Tribune reports Wednesday that the report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also advises the fire department to review certain training and firefighting tactics.

Department to blame for firefighters’ deaths: Report
Bridgeport fire officials made many mistakes while responding to a fire that killed two city firefighters in July 2010, according to a National Institute for Occupational Safety report obtained by the Connecticut Post.

Investigation finds U.S. figures understate intercity bus crash deaths
The federal government is making the nation’s intercity buses appear safer than they actually are, a newspaper investigation has found. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency responsible for tracking motor coach accidents, does that by under-reporting the number of fatalities in such crashes, according to a USA Today review of government records and news reports.

As employers shift anti-union tactics, will new union election rules protect workers?
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) proposed a new set of rules that would streamline union elections. Instead of allowing companies to challenge who is eligible to vote in a union representation election before it occurs, the rule would delay most voter eligibility appeals until after the election. This could potentially shorten the time frame between when workers file a petition and when the election was held.

Quality Stamping Products Co. faces penalties for alleged OSHA violations
Quality Stamping Products Co. in Cleveland faces $426,100 in proposed penalties as a result of more than two dozen alleged safety and health violations, including the company’s failure to report amputation injuries, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced.

Cal/OSHA investigating death of water district worker in Beaumont
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, is investigating the death of a Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District employee who was struck and killed by a commercial truck Tuesday in Beaumont. “He was marking the location of a water line when he was struck by a flatbed truck,” Patricia Ortiz, a spokesperson for Cal/OSHA based in San Francisco, said Wednesday in a phone interview.

Noxious gas at Tyson plant in Springdale was from mix of acid, chlorine; OSHA investigates
A report from the Springdale, Ark., Fire Department says a solution of chlorine was poured into a drum of acid inside a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant this week, causing chlorine gas that sickened more than 170 people. Tyson Foods and local authorities say the incident, which triggered a chemical reaction that created the chlorine gas, was an accident.

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Mine workers need strong whistleblower protections
Massey Energy’s intimidation of workers and falsification of safety records highlights the need for Congress to enact strong whistleblower protections and give the government more ability to keep mine workers safe, Public Citizen said today.

Massey could have prevented mine accident, report says
The explosion at the Massey Energy Co. mine where 29 workers were killed more than a year ago was preventable, Labor Department officials said. An investigation by Massey Energy concluded that the explosion was a naturally occurring event caused by an inundation of natural gas and was beyond its control.

Officials: W. Va. mine operator kept two sets of safety records
Federal mine disaster investigators disclosed a few pieces of new information Tuesday night from their year-long look at the April 2010 deadly Upper Big Branch mine explosion. They said that mine owner Massey Energy kept two sets of records that chronicled safety problems. One internal set of production reports detailed those problems and how they delayed coal production. But the other records, which are reviewed by federal mine safety inspectors and required by federal law, failed to mention the same safety hazards.

Guidelines for helping energy operators identify risk are unveiled
Four months before offshore oil and gas operators are required to adopt risk-management procedures aimed at improving worker safety and preventing another oil spill blowout, an interim report commissioned by federal regulators and released Tuesday identified potential guidelines that could be used evaluate the new plans.

Xcel Energy found not guilty in 2007 deaths of five workers in Colorado
A federal jury Tuesday found Xcel Energy and a subsidiary company not guilty of violating workplace safety rules in the deaths of five men at a power plant. The verdict came after about 20 hours of jury deliberation over three days, and it was a significant victory for the utility in a rare case of a company being charged criminally. If convicted, Xcel and Public Service Company of Colorado had faced up to $5 million combined in fines, plus extra safety monitoring.

Pesticide labels should be in Spanish as well as English, groups say
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should ensure that pesticide warning labels are printed in Spanish as well as English, since Spanish is the native language for more than 80 percent of agricultural workers, Public Citizen and 56 other organizations told the agency today.

Few consequences for diplomats accused of abusing domestic workers
A maid or nanny alleges that her employer has raped her, taken her passport, made her shovel snow in shorts, refused to pay her or beat her unconscious. In most cases, this is what would happen next: Police would investigate. If the allegations were true, the employer would face criminal charges and a potential civil lawsuit for emotional and monetary damages. Unless the employer is a diplomat.

The true cost of tomatoes
Mass-produced tomatoes have become redder, more tender and slightly more flavorful than the crunchy orange “cello-wrapped” specimens of a couple of decades ago, but the lives of the workers who grow and pick them haven’t improved much since Edward R. Murrow’s revealing and deservedly famous Harvest of Shame report of 1960, which contained the infamous quote, “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.”

Citizen’s Voice: Bridge project deaths show need for worker safety
Two men died on the Henley Bridge renovation project this year. Their deaths raise many questions. One is how the employer, Britton Bridge LLC, handled safety on the job. Another is the performance of public agencies charged with monitoring safety. Did Britton put expediency and profit ahead of worker safety in bids and conduct of the work? Did the state and federal authorities with responsibilities to this project properly assess bids and monitor and enforce rules and guidelines?

Parents unaware of job dangers to teens: report
Parents of working teens need to know more about hazards in the workplace, according to a study published in the July issue of Journal of Adolescent Health. The study, which was conducted by the University of N.C.-Chapel Hill and Injury Prevention Research Center, reported that teens work in a variety of different environments and are exposed to hazards.

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Too big to sue? High Court thwarts Wal-Mart gender discrimination case
As legions of Walmart workers shuffled into work on Monday, the Supreme Court smacked down a major class-action lawsuit that might potentially have shifted the legal landscape on women’s rights in the workplace. The core of the decision is not about whether Walmart did indeed discriminate. There’s ample evidence of that, though, including records of pay scales skewed against women, unequal hiring patterns in managerial positions, and expert testimony on the social implications of these trends. The Court’s opinion doesn’t examine that, but rather whether America’s discount paradise can be held legally accountable for systematic mistreatment of female workers.

Ruling: LA County needn’t mandate condoms in porn
An appeals court has ruled that courts can’t compel public health officials to require and enforce condom use in porn.

Bad timing for new OSHA rules on fall protection?
Starting next Monday, Minnesota homebuilders will have to comply with tougher fall-protection rules that are designed to protect the health and safety of roofers and other residential construction workers. Last Thursday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a three-month phase-in period that will give most contractors until Sept. 15 to comply with the new rules. But states have the option of going above and beyond the federal rules, and Minnesota is opting to begin enforcing the new rules — and issuing citations — starting Monday, according to the state.

Safety regulations tighten for Oklahoma builders
Homebuilders are bracing — and framing and roofing and bricking — for heightened enforcement of federal safety rules. The rules are “a pain,” Schuff said, but doable, and many of them amount to common sense — but will add to construction costs, which will be passed to homebuyers. No more four-legged scaffolds turned three-legged and shored up with a stack of bricks. No more scaffold walk boards swaying from 8 feet high to 6 feet off the ground. No more frayed extension cords wrapped in duct tape. No more roofers leaping like gazelles untethered to the house; they’ll be using devices similar to used for rappelling.

Workers protected against retaliation for reporting violations
A lot of courage is sometimes required to report an employer’s illegal activity or unsafe working conditions. A panoply of relatively recent laws and new amendments to existing laws offer legal protections and remedies for the courageous among us who wish to blow the whistle on corporate wrongdoing in the workplace. The laws address specific industries.

Samsung plans to release results of probe into plant safety after cancer deaths
Samsung plans to soon release the results of an independent probe into health and safety conditions at its South Korean semiconductor factories after employee illnesses and deaths raised fears of cancer risks.

Worker in Sanford killed by falling through tornado-damaged roof
A 60-year-old man working on a tornado-damaged building in Sanford apparently fell to his death after the roof gave way, according to Sanford police.

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Ethics office investigating Alcee Hastings
A Congressional panel is investigating allegations that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) sexually harassed a member of his staff after the woman filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the conservative group Judicial Watch.

The Darrell Issa plan to close the courts to workers
Darrell Issa kept up the hyperbolic assault on workers yesterday, going on Fox News to incite fear about what he called the “forced unionization of America” if the National Labor Relations Board is allowed to continue performing the same function it’s been performing since 1935. That function, which Issa believes will result in the forced unionization of America, has happened while union membership has declined from about 30% in 1960 to about 12% today. To Darrell Issa, that’s apparently what “forced unionization” looks like. And since Darrell Issa refuses to be clear, we will: the NLRB is doing nothing but fulfilling its mandate to investigate claims of unfair practices by an employer.

US Labor Department’s MSHA to hold June 29 public briefing on investigation of Upper Big Branch Mine explosion
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration will hold a June 29 public briefing on its investigation into the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. The briefing, to begin at 10 a.m. EDT, will coincide with the one-year anniversary of the start of the agency’s underground investigation at the Upper Big Branch Mine and will be held at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver, W.Va.

Fired for using legally prescribed pot? Pharmaceutical discrimination in the workplace
“Separate but equal” was a legal doctrine once widely used by the courts to justify segregation. And while the courts have largely turned away this doctrine over the past 60 years, several state supreme courts in recent years have begun applying this principle to arbitrarily discriminate against state-authorized medical cannabis patients in the workplace.

Union files for election at Ikea’s first U.S. factory
A labor union looking to organize Ikea’s first American factory has asked the government to allow workers to vote on whether they want representation. Workers at the plant have complained about low wages, discrimination and long working hours.

OSHA cites Mississippi recycler for violations
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Glen, Miss.-based Triple P Farms Inc. for four safety violations. OSHA said Tuesday it began an inspection in February after a worker had both legs amputated when his foot got caught in a baling machine as he attempted to clear cardboard that had jammed at a business in Verona.

Porn actress contracted HIV in 2009: Judge blocks state workplace regulators from peeking at her medical records
A previously unknown HIV case in porn was revealed this week after an adult performer sued California workplace regulators who wanted access to her medical records. Between a 2004 outbreak and last year’s positive test for actor Derrick Burts there was an actress who contracted it in 2009.

Metro bus drivers raise safety concerns
Some bus operators at Metro said they are concerned that management is not paying attention to their concerns about driver safety and may refuse to drive Thursday, union officials said.

BP worker dies when pinned by piece of equipment at Carson refinery
A BP worker died in an accident at the company’s Carson refinery today. The man, a longtime employee whose name was being withheld, was working in an area where railcars are loaded with light refinery products when he was pinned by a piece of equipment just before 8 a.m., BP spokesman Walter Neil said.

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Obama’s offshore drilling regulator says new safety rules are on the way
The government is poised to propose new rules that aim to boost the safety of offshore drilling and tighten standards for emergency equipment guarding sub-sea wells, a top regulator said today. The looming changes will build on already broad changes that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement has imposed since last year’s Gulf oil spill, said the agency director, Michael Bromwich, in a speech before the World National Oil Companies Congress in London today.

Ruling limits access to porn actor’s HIV records
State workplace safety officials don’t have a right to access the medical records of porn actors who contract HIV on the job because it violates their right to medical privacy, according to an Alameda County Superior Court ruling. State laws that give health officials a right to the information in order to track outbreaks don’t extend to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, according to the June 14 ruling.

New ILO convention gives domestic workers historic labor rights
Labor groups around the world celebrated last Thursday after the United Nations’ International Labour Organization adopted a historic treaty that increases protections for millions of domestic workers. Household service employees, many of whom are migrant women or girls from underprivileged areas, are now provided fundamental labor rights that were previously not guaranteed due to the nature of their informal work.

Strained Hyatt workers continue to push for fair negotiations
How can seven housekeepers keep up with the 2,019 rooms at the Hyatt Regency hotel during their shift? They can’t—that’s why they went on strike. Union cooks, bellmen, dishwashers, housekeepers and other Hyatt workers woke up at 4 a.m. Monday, June 20, to picket outside three Hyatt locations in a one-day strike after more than 20 months of negotiation with the company.

High temperatures has OSHA, oil firms focusing on heat awareness
With the Permian Basin enduring a string of triple-digit temperatures, there is a focus among oil and gas companies on how to work outdoors safely. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently has a focus on heat, officials report, with a Regional Emphasis Program on its Region VI, which encompasses Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

More birth defects in mountaintop removal mining areas
Babies born in West Virginia regions where mountaintop removal mining takes place suffer from higher rates of birth defects than those born in non-mining regions.

Transocean: BP decisions led to Gulf oil spill
An internal investigation by the owner of the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last year largely blames oil giant BP for the disaster. The Swiss firm says many of the decisions were made by well owner BP in the two weeks before the incident.

Cellphone, laptop distractions blamed in deadly boat crash
The boating crash near Philadelphia last year that killed two Hungarian tourists has been blamed mainly on a tugboat officer who wasn’t paying attention to safety because he was distracted by his cellphone and laptop computer. The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, called the July, 2010, incident on the Delaware River “another example of the deadliness of distractions.”

OSHA cites company $168,000 for worker death in tragic Pennsylvania construction trench collapse
Government regulators have fined a company for safety violations after investigating the collapse of a trench at a Newberry Township construction site that killed one worker and injured another.

No job is better than a bad job
A study out of Australia found that people in poor quality jobs (those with high demands, low control over decision making, high job insecurity and an effort-reward imbalance) had more adverse effects on mental health than being unemployed. Yep, a crappy job can be harder than no job at all.

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Wal-Mart case is a blow for big cases and their lawyers
With the dismissal of a sex-discrimination lawsuit brought on behalf of 1.5 million women who have worked at Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court on Monday significantly tightened the rules for how a large group of individuals can join together to sue a company for alleged harm done to them. The court’s decision will not just make it harder to bring big, ambitious employment class-action cases asserting discrimination based on sex, race or other factors, legal experts said. In its majority opinion, the court essentially said that if lawyers brought a nationwide class action against an employer, they would have to offer strong evidence of a nationwide practice or policy that hurt the class. In the Wal-Mart case, the court wrote that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that Wal-Mart had any nationwide policies or practices that discriminated against women.

Despite setback, plaintiffs to pursue Wal-Mart cases
Wal-Mart has spent 10 years fighting claims that it discriminated against female employees, and by many accounts, it has improved its hiring and promotion policies for women during those years. Monday’s Supreme Court victory for Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, may not mean the end to litigation over discrimination claims, however. Even though the company says it has substantially increased the percentages of women in managerial positions, the plaintiffs in the longstanding case said the company should expect several more years of challenges to its employment practices.

NLRB issues rule to prevent union busting and speed up elections
Today, the National Labor Relations Board proposed a rule that would dramatically speed up and reduce frivolous challenges to union elections. Companies seeking to stop union drives often delay union elections by months in order to allow more time for extended anti-union intimidation sessions and campaigns, which often times involve firing. By speeding up the timeframe in which elections occur, the NLRB is giving more protections to union workers seeking to join a union.

U.S. regulators opening up on flawed nuclear power plant policing
These are rocky days at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which finds itself under attack from the outside for decisions ranging from new reactor designs to safety issues that have languished for years, including the agency’s failure to get serious about fire hazards. What’s different now is that some leaders within the tightly-knit community of U.S. overseers are openly expressing their concerns – including the chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, who has come under withering criticism in recent days for his management style.

Weatherford settles with BP any claims between the companies related to the Macondo litigation, reaches indemnity agreement with BP
Weatherford International Ltd. today announced that its U.S. subsidiary has reached agreement with BP to settle any claims that may have arisen between the companies relating to the Deepwater Horizon incident and oil spill. Under the settlement, BP will indemnify Weatherford for current and future compensatory claims resulting from the incident and the impacts from that event. Under the agreement, BP will indemnify Weatherford for environmental, pollution, personal, business, property and economic loss claims. The two companies have agreed to work with each other to improve the safety of offshore drilling.

Expert’s report blasts LA Health Department’s STD statistics
Certainly one of the most contentious points surrounding the “barrier protection” debate that has been the subject of several Cal/OSHA meetings is whether adult performers have a higher rate of sexually-transmitted infections than the rest of the California population. Drs. Robert Kim-Farley and Peter Kerndt of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health claim they do, but a new review of their presentations to Cal/OSHA tells a different story.

Facebook firings and the Labor Relations Board: What nonprofits need to know
Employers have begun to question this new kind of water-cooler complaining. But is it illegal to trash-talk your boss on a social media platform? The law is still under construction and with the help of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employees are pushing back and hoping to set legal precedent.

Lawmakers irked by OSHA’s no-show at hearing
Lawmakers on Thursday criticized the Department of Labor for not appearing at a subcommittee hearing on workplace safety and health. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of the Education and the Workforce subcommittee on workforce protections, criticized the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for not appearing at his hearing. Walberg said he was open to OSHA’s attendance, but admonished the agency, which is housed in the Labor Department, for requiring a 14-day notice to prepare for hearings.

Did OSHA fail the workers at AL Solutions?
There was a little something in the U.S. Department of Labor press release about its citations issued to AL Solutions in New Cumberland, W.Va., that jumped out at me. It was this: “The violations place this company in OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program.” … Sounds good, right? It is … unless you read more about this OSHA program, in a Pump Handle blog post by my friend Dr. Celeste Monforton. For example: It depends on whether you agree with OSHA’s narrow definition of a “severe violator.” I don’t, because OSHA doesn’t go far enough.

87 MetroAccess workers caught sleeping at the wheel
MetroAccess drivers have been caught falling asleep at the wheel 87 times in less than three years, according to agency statistics. The drivers who were caught had been working eight-, 10- or 12-hour shifts, but Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764 President Wayne Baker worries his drivers will have even more trouble staying awake when Metro moves them to 13-hour shifts later this week. The drivers will be driving for 12 hours and have a one-hour break.

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Supreme Court rules for Wal-Mart in massive job discrimination lawsuit
The Supreme Court put the brakes on a massive job discrimination lawsuit against mega-retailer Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., saying sweeping class-action status that could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of current and former female workers was simply too large.

U.S. nuclear regulators weaken safety rules, fail to enforce them
Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Time after time, officials at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

FAA fines United for flunking drug and alcohol testing regulations
The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that it is proposing a $584,375 civil penalty against United Airlines for allegedly violating regulations for drug and alcohol testing of “safety-sensitive” employees.

Debate swirls around research showing lung problems for returned troops
As a teenager in northern New York, Gary Durham ran cross-country and hiked the Adirondack’s high peaks. In Army basic training, he did two-mile runs in under 13 minutes. But after a yearlong deployment to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division in 2003, he says he started gasping for air while just mowing the lawn. An emerging body of research indicates that Mr. Durham is one of a significant number of American service members who are reporting respiratory problems like coughing, wheezing or chest pains that started during deployment and continued after they returned home.

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