Archive for May, 2012

What’s an American worker’s life worth? About $5,900
Incredibly, in over 40 years there has been only one monetary increase in penalties, despite inflation. Predictably, this has led unscrupulous employers to choosing miniscule fines rather than investing in a safer workplace. The fallout of this arrangement is that each year nearly 5,000 American workers are killed on the job. Which is why a bill (H.R. 2067), known as PAWA (Protecting America’s Workers Act) has been introduced in Congress. Its purpose is to basically modernize and upgrade OSHA — to equip it with the tools necessary to ensure safe work environments — by increasing fines and penalties, expanding jurisdiction, raising certain misdemeanors to felonies, extending reporting deadlines, punishing repeat offenders more severely, etc.

Workplace safety and randomized controlled trials: another weapon of delay?
A fundamental principle of modern workplace safety laws holds that if scientific evidence suggests the health and safety of the public is at risk, the federal government should step in and take action, even if no conclusive proof has yet been generated. The principle is that the government should adopt public protections based on the “best available evidence” rather than wait indefinitely for “proof” of a hazard while workers suffer harm. In practice, however, this has meant that industries and interests with an economic stake in the status quo often fight against federal health and safety improvements by trying to invalidate the scientific evidence showing that certain processes or products are dangerous to human health.

More silence on dust explosions from Obama OSHA
Once upon a time, then-Sen. Barack Obama thought protecting the nation’s workers from combustible dust explosions was pretty important, issuing a statement four years ago that said: We must do everything we can to protect America’s workers and prevent terrible accidents, like the deadly explosion at Imperial Sugar earlier this year, that occur as a result of combustible dust. It’s long past time that OSHA issue a standard to prevent these kinds of accidents. Now, as Obama’s fourth year as president of these United States stretches on, this is the best that the Center for Public Integrity’s Chris Hamby could get out of the U.S. Department of Labor about the status of Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards aimed at ending deadly dust explosions.

MSHA: Alpha did not evacuate miners
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has just released this collection of citations and enforcement orders issued to Alpha Natural Resources following discovering of a burning coal conveyor belt at the company’s Road Fork No. 51 Mine in Wyoming County. My quick count shows eight enforcement orders and four citations. Among the most interesting — and troubling — is one in which MSHA inspectors allege that Alpha mine management did not evacuate the underground workings when thick smoke was discovered without any source for that smoke being apparent to those mine managers.

OSHA cites chicken factory for safety, health violations
MB Consultants, Ltd., doing business as Murray’s Chickens, in South Fallsburg, has been cited by the US Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for eight violations of workplace safety and health standards at the company’s chicken processing plant.

Judge rules SeaWorld killer-whale trainers must be protected by physical barriers
SeaWorld Orlando’s iconic killer-whale shows could be forever altered after a judge ruled Wednesday that federal investigators were within their powers to recommend that trainers performing with the huge marine predators be protected by a physical barrier or something else providing the same level of safety. Judge Welsch was at times sharply critical of SeaWorld management. He called SeaWorld’s assertion that it was unaware that working with killer whales posed a hazard to employees “implausible” and “difficult to reconcile” with comments repeatedly made by management and with the litany of trainer incidents and injuries that have occurred over the years.

When a dirty workplace is an explosive hazard
Since 1980, more than 450 accidents involving dust have killed nearly 130 workers and injured another 800-plus, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data compiled by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the US Chemical Safety Board. Yet a push to issue a rule protecting workers from the danger has stalled in the face of bureaucratic hurdles, industry pushback, and political calculations.

26 Chinatown bus companies shut down by feds
The U.S. Transportation Department shut down 26 bus companies as imminent safety hazards, closing dozens of routes out of New York’s Chinatown in the government’s largest safety sweep of the motor-coach industry.

Staples.com survey shows gaps in office health and safety preparedness
A Staples.com survey of small business managers and office workers on office health and safety showed gaps in office workers’ awareness of companies’ safety plans and preparedness, a situation that could lead to increased accidents and injuries. The survey, conducted in advance of National Safety Month, found that managers were far better informed on workplace safety preparedness than office workers, who were uncertain on what they should do in case of an emergency.

Foxconn working conditions still harsh in China, say activists
Working conditions at Foxconn’s gargantuan Chinese factories that assemble Apple Inc’s slick gadgets have barely improved despite pledges this year to halt labor violations, workers’ rights activists and employees said on Thursday.

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Unpaid overtime: wage and hour lawsuits have skyrocketed in the last decade
Collective action lawsuits alleging wage and hour violations have risen 400 percent in the last 11 years, according to a recent post at CNNMoney. In 2011, there were more than 7,000 such lawsuits filed in federal court — a huge increase since the turn of the century.

The next big battle in the war over women
I noted here some time ago that the next big battle in the war over women will be over the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier in various ways to challenge employers who engage in gender-based pay discrimination. Harry Reid has now promised a vote on the measure during the week of June 4th.

Workplace fatalities rise in confined spaces
From a Napa winemaker to a paint manufacturing employee in Fullerton, seven Californians died last year while working in a confined space – an uptick in a category of workplace fatalities that are readily preventable, experts said. Between 2008 and 2010, there were two such deaths each year.

AFL-CIO alerts worker safety bureaus to silica exposure at fracking sites
The AFL-CIO has put federal bureaus responsible for worker safety on alert regarding silica exposure at hydraulic fracturing sites. In a letter dated May 22, the labor organization requested that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) begin to work with the industry to implement policies and procedures.

OPM polls agencies on domestic violence policies
The Office of Personnel Management has started working on new government-wide policies on domestic violence in the federal workplace, beginning by asking federal agencies to send in their existing policies.

OSHA whistleblower’s retaliation claim revived
A federal appeals court has revived a claim by a former senior Department of Labor official who says he was fired because he publicly criticized his agency for letting companies underreport workplace injuries. Saying a 1989 federal law reflects Congress’ desire to protect whistleblowers, the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Robert Whitmore, a former head of the recordkeeping group in the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration arm, deserves a new chance to show his 2009 firing was the result of retaliation.

Is that a legal job interview question? It’s murky
Are you pregnant? What religion are you? How old are you? There are certain questions most of us don’t expect hiring managers to ask during a job interview because we think they’re too personal or even illegal. But while such inquiries aren’t always legal no-nos, they can be hazardous.

9/11 first responders and recovery workers to be honored
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is marking the 10th anniversary of the end of cleanup operations at the site with a tribute to recovery workers and first responders.

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Logistics hang over a ruling on 9/11 cancer
Patricia Workman and others who believe their cancers were caused by toxic substances released by the fall of the World Trade Center are due to learn this week whether they may be treated and compensated from a $4.3B fund set aside by Congress. An advisory committee in March found justification for covering 14 broad categories of cancer, raising expectations that the fund would cover at least some of them. But such a decision would create a logistical quagmire, advocates for patients and government officials conceded, and could strain the fund’s resources.

Feet hurt? In Illinois, ‘repetitive walking’ is a basis for workers’ comp
If you are a state employee and your feet hurt, you could be in line to receive medical care, including surgery, paid time off plus a tax-free disability settlement that might exceed your annual salary — all paid for by taxpayers. You also would keep your job. Repetitive walking is now recognized in Illinois as a compensable on the job injury entitled to full workers’ compensation benefits.

Hand deformities turn up in poultry workers: report
A new report describes two cases of poultry workers who developed chronically swollen knuckles, the hallmark sign of a rare skin condition known as pachydermodactyly. Researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said the joint swelling as well as pain, itching and burning both men felt in their hands was likely due to repeated injuries to the skin and tissue changes as a result.

Unchecked dust explosions kill, injure hundreds of workers
Since 1980, more than 450 accidents involving dust have killed nearly 130 workers and injured another 800-plus, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data compiled by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Both agencies, citing spotty reporting requirements, say these numbers are likely significant understatements.

Why coal miners die on the job
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued its report on the October 2011 highwall collapse that caused the deaths of two miners at Armstrong Coal Co.’s Equality Mine in Ohio County, Ky., concluding: “The absence of a substantial bench to prevent the massive failure from entering the active pit where miners were working contributed to the death of two miners. The failure by mine management and the mine examiners to examine the site adequately and to recognize the anomaly and its potential failure and the lack of recognition of hazards by the miners were also contributing factors.”

Time to fight for a minimum wage increase
The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 cents an hour, about $15,080 for a full time, year round worker. At that level, it means poverty wages for a family of three, and weakened demand for the economy. Poverty wages offend both justice and common sense. It is time to raise the floor.

Terror in the fields: Migrant women face sexual violence on the job
There aren’t many jobs in the United States that are tougher than farm work-—picking crops under a sweltering sun, earning just enough to survive, jumping from one unstable seasonal job to another. But the job is especially unbearable if you have to work yourself to exhaustion all day under the watch of the man who raped you. There have over the years been numerous reports of widespread sexual abuse of women farmworkers-—everything from being called demeaning names by supervisors to brutal sexual assault.

AT&T leads in tower worker deaths
It is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, with a death rate 10 times that of construction work: tower workers. Nearly 100 of these climbers have died on the job since 2003, more than half of them working on cell phone towers and the rest on television, radio, Internet, microwave, and government communication towers. Those performing work on AT&T towers suffered the most fatalities: 15.

Update: Metro employee seriously injured in rail yard
The Metro employee struck by a train at Shady Grove Yard today has suffered serious injuries and is being medivaced to a level-one trauma center. Metro is conducting a safety stand-down at Shady Grove Yard, where employees are offered counseling and safety practices are reviewed.

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U.S. plans tougher rules for blowout preventers on wells
Obama administration officials on Tuesday outlined plans for new rules designed to boost the reliability and power of emergency equipment that safeguard offshore wells, two years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster revealed shortcomings in the devices.

Can suing for equal pay really close the gender wage gap?
Senator Barbara Mikulski is holding a press conference later today to press the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act she recently introduced. But didn’t President Obama already kill the gender wage gap? Not quite. While Obama has long been touting the first bill he signed once in office, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, it only provides a woman more time to file a claim of discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would go further by ensuring employees can discuss their salaries with each other—since it’s hard to root out pay discrimination if you don’t know how you stack up against everyone else.

MSHA hits Alpha with inspection blitz
Federal inspectors earlier this week launched a major inspection blitz at dozens of Alpha Natural Resources mines after citing an “imminent danger” involving a smoking conveyor belt at an Alpha operation in Wyoming County. Alpha spokesman Ted Pile confirmed there was a “wave of inspections” at Alpha mines and that citations had been issued as a result, but downplayed the earlier incident at the Road Fork No. 51 Mine.

Doubt and other products: The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens, bad for whose business?
As it pursues its anti-regulatory agenda, the Republican-led House of Representatives appears to be setting its sights on a non-regulatory program, the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens (RoC). The House Republicans’ scrutiny of the RoC coincides with industry objections to the Report’s listing of styrene as a possible carcinogen. It also follows a strategy common to previous debates over chemical regulation – that of sowing doubt about scientific findings in hopes of averting action on a hazardous substance.

Chipotle facing criminal probe from SEC into hiring practices
Mexican food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc said on Tuesday that federal prosecutors are conducting an investigation into possible criminal securities law violations relating to its hiring practices and statements. The Denver-based company, one of the restaurant industry’s top performers, fired hundreds of workers in 2010 and 2011 after audits by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm turned up undocumented workers on payrolls in Minnesota, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

4 VA health facilities cited for violations
Four Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in Northern California have been cited for a total of 25 safety and health violations, ranging from overflowing trash cans of biohazardous waste to exposed syringes.

Wage theft in the city of millionaires
For two years running Houston has added more millionaires to its population than any other city in the US. Low-wage workers, on the other hand, aren’t faring too well in the city. In fact, a recent report from Houston Interfaith Worker Justice (HIWJ) estimates that low-wage workers lose $753.2 million annually due to wage theft. Wage theft can occur in many ways, including: workers being denied the minimum wage or overtime pay; stolen tips; illegal deductions from paychecks; people being forced to work off the clock; or workers getting misclassified as independent contractors so they aren’t entitled to overtime or benefits.

Built for a simpler era, OSHA struggles when tower climbers die
When federal lawmakers passed landmark legislation creating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, they intended to protect workers by imposing clear, uniform rules on their employers. The 1970 law assumed that the relationship between companies and the people they hired for dangerous jobs would be straightforward, employer to employee. No one planned for industries like tower climbing.

Wyoming hires worker ‘safety champion’
Wyoming hired a new state occupational epidemiologist to analyze ways to lower the state’s distressingly high workplace death rate, Gov. Matt Mead announced Wednesday. Mack Sewell, New Mexico’s state epidemiologist, will take over as Wyoming’s top ‘safety champion’ on July 9, Mead said at a State Capitol news conference.

Man crushed in Amherst paper mill
A man was crushed and killed at the Greif paper mill in Amherst County on Wednesday, a company official said Thursday. The accident occurred in the warehouse where McCormick was crushed by a large roll of paper.

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Obama election-year pullbacks on safety, environment dismay advocates
Late last month, the Obama administration scrapped proposed rules intended to expand protection for minors in rural communities. The rules, which were announced in the fall, would have barred anyone under 18 from working in a commercial grain handling operation while also strengthening other safety measures for children working on farms. Many safety advocates and environmentalists contend that the abandoned rules fit a pattern: As the November presidential election draws nearer, they say the Obama administration is retreating from its one-time goals, trying to blunt Republican claims that regulation is strangling economic growth.

Day-care and home-care workers get ready to enjoy new rights in Conn.
More than 11,000 state-funded day care and home-care workers in Connecticut are now eligible to negotiate for labor contracts now that Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has signed a controversial bill. The home-care workers are paid through Medicaid, while the home child-care workers are paid through the state’s Care for Kids program, which provides payments for day care to low-income parents so they can work.

Mo. lawmakers OK broadening ‘move over’ law
Gov. Jay Nixon is studying legislation expanding Missouri’s “move over” law to include stopped Transportation Department vehicles with flashing amber or white lights. Missouri’s existing law only requires drivers to move over for emergency vehicles.

Fatal sinkhole accident brings new state regulations
State regulators say they need more information to pinpoint what caused a sinkhole where a Chevron worker died near Taft, but they promise new regulations aimed at preventing situations like that. It was almost one year ago, when 54-year-old Robert David Taylor fell to his death.

Many workers receive less pay due to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination
Unfortunately, many gay and transgender workers receive unequal pay for equal work in the United States today. What’s worse, these same workers lack the necessary legal protections currently afforded to other categories of individuals that would help combat and correct pay inequities that exist on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Carwash workers file class action against L.A.-area owners
Four carwash workers filed suit Monday claiming that a family of carwash owners routinely withheld pay for overtime and denied them breaks during the summer. The lawsuit is one of a series filed on behalf of carwash workers since 2008 in an attempt by unions and immigrant advocates to improve conditions in an industry in which competition is fierce, profit margins are low and workers are often undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

‘We pretend the vets don’t exist’
About 18 veterans kill themselves each day. Thousands from the current wars have already done so. In fact, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the number (6,460) who have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In race for better cell service, men who climb towers pay with their lives
An investigation by ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” shows that the convenience of mobile phones has come at a hefty price: Between 2003 and 2011, 50 climbers died working on cell sites, more than half of the nearly 100 who were killed on communications towers. Yet cell phone carriers’ connection to tower climbing deaths has remained invisible. They outsource this dangerous work to subcontractors, a practice increasingly common in risky businesses from coal mining to trucking to nuclear waste removal.

Breast cancer patient allegedly fired twice while seeking treatment
Connie Robinson has been fighting breast cancer for the past three years. That battle alone is enough for one person to endure. But, during that same period, Robinson says she has been fighting for her right to work. The Daily Mail reports that Robinson has been fired twice because of technicalities from various medical and disabilities laws that are suppose to protect people like her.

Lauren Odes, former Native Intimates employee, claims she was fired over ‘too hot’ appearance
Lauren Odes, a data entry professional, claims she was fired because she was too busty and dressed too provocatively for her Orthodox Jewish employers at wholesale lingerie company Native Intimates.

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More American die in their workplaces each year than died during 10 years of war in Iraq
4,690 people were killed at work in 2010, up three percent from 2009, the Center for Public Integrity reports. That means that more Americans died in their workplaces in one year than died during the entire war in Iraq. But while Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to protect defense spending from budget cuts, they are simultaneously looking to defund the agency that protects workers from physical harm in the workplace.

New York minimum wage raise remains blocked by Republican opposition, governor’s indifference
The New York State Assembly has passed a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage from the federal level of $7.25 an hour to a more livable $8.50 an hour, but the bill is stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, with a big assist from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s refusal to champion the measure.

Obama’s plan to stick it to poultry workers
As I reported a while back, the USDA is pushing a new regime for industrial-scale poultry slaughterhouses: The agency wants to fire its own inspectors and let the poultry companies oversee their own kill lines. And that’s not all—the proposed new rules would allow the companies dramatically speed up those company-inspected kill lines.

OSHA establishes whistleblower protection advisory committee
This week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the establishment of a Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee. This body will make recommendations to the Secretary of Labor on ways to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of OSHA’s administration of whistleblower protections.

Administration safety data initiative challenges app developers
To help kick off the Safety Data Initiative, today we are announcing two app challenges that take advantage of more than 700 open government datasets now available on Safety.Data.gov. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants your help in building tools to educate the public about safety in the workplace through its Worker Safety and Health Challenge. The goal is to develop apps that can reduce the number of work-related injuries, which affected more than 800,000 individuals in 2009 alone.

“I always knew somebody would get killed inside that place”
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, American workers are entitled to “safe and healthful” conditions. Revetta’s death and the events that followed lay bare the law’s limitations, showing how safety can yield to speed, how fatal accidents can have few consequences for employers, and how federal investigations can be cut short by what some call a de facto quota system.

In U.S. Steel town, fatal gas explosion goes unpunished by OSHA
In 2009, 4,551 people were killed on the job in the U.S., a toll that eclipsed the nation’s deaths from the nine-year Iraq war. Yet the typical fine for a worker death is about $7,900. “These deaths take place behind closed doors,” said Michael Silverstein, recently retired head of Washington State’s workplace safety agency. “They occur one or two at a time, on private property. There’s an invisibility element.”

Cell tower deaths
The smartphone revolution comes with a hidden cost. A joint investigation by FRONTLINE and ProPublica explores the hazardous work of independent contractors who are building and servicing America’s expanding cellular infrastructure. While some tower climbers say they are under pressure to cut corners, layers of subcontracting make it difficult for safety inspectors to determine fault when a tower worker is killed or injured.

Best and worst jobs for your health
A healthy job is about more than just avoiding hazards, like dangerous material and machines. Every job and employer is different, but there are ways to make any job healthier. Try borrowing strategies from our list of the best, then read on for the worst.

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OSHA’s safety tests protect workers at little cost: study
Government’s workplace safety inspections reduce on-the-job injuries and related costs without hurting company profits, a new U.S. study finds.

Law could put poultry workers at increased risk
It was his third day at an Alabama poultry plant, when Carlos felt a shooting, violent pain run through his right hand.

Another loophole for the oil and gas industry creates deadly working conditions
Loopholes in highway safety rules allow truck drivers in the oil and gas industry to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries. According to the article, some drivers are pressured to drive more than 20 hours in one shift. And keep in mind that some of these trucks are transporting toxic waste or dangerous chemicals.

Massachusetts workers killed, injured at facilities touted as ‘Model Workplaces’
As federal regulators review a controversial program exempting government designated “model workplaces” from regular safety checks, newly released U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration records detail significant safety risks, injuries and even deaths at the sites across Massachusetts. OSHA, the federal overseer of workplace safety, has also allowed some Massachusetts employers to retain their “Voluntary Protection Program” (VPP) status even after serious safety problems have been exposed or workers have been killed, according to more than 1,000 documents obtained by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting under a federal Freedom of Information Act request.

Bostik will pay $600K in fines for explosion
Bostik Inc. has agreed to pay $600K in fines as a result of a massive explosion at its Middleton plant that rocked the North Shore last year. The most notable change is that Bostik will no longer use the direct solvation process — the chemical process under way at the time of the explosion — at the Middleton facility.

Railroad worker crushed by roll of newsprint at Inquirer/Daily News printing plant
A railroad worker was killed today when he was crushed by an 1,800-pound roll of newsprint at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News Schuylkill Printing Plant in Upper Merion. Mark Block, a spokesman for Philadelphia Media Network, the newspapers’ parent company, said the roll apparently had shifted in its boxcar during shipment and fell out about 9:30 a.m. when the train’s engineer opened the door.

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