|March 3, 2012 · Volume 11, Issue 6|
In this issue
The Department of Labor has taken legal action against two employers for retaliating against workers who reported safety and health concerns in their workplaces. The department has sued the U.S. Postal Service alleging discrimination and retaliation against a safety specialist who provided information to a worker wishing to file a safety complaint with OSHA. The department has also sued Renaissance Arts and Education Inc., doing business as Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Fla., to reinstate a former worker with full back wages and benefits.
OSHA's investigation at the Postal Service determined that the employer had followed a pattern of adverse actions against the safety specialist after learning that he had assisted another worker in exercising her rights under the OSH Act and provided her with OSHA's contact information. That worker later filed a formal complaint with OSHA alleging unhealthful conditions at the facility. The specialist subsequently suffered a series of reprimands, was restricted from contact with staff at the facility and was transferred to an office without the necessary equipment to perform his job. See the news release for more details about the case.
The second lawsuit results from an OSHA investigation that found the privately-run charter school had unlawfully and intentionally terminated the worker's employment for voicing and reporting concerns regarding hazards in the school's two theaters. On June 20, 2009, the worker submitted a letter to his direct supervisor that addressed alleged safety hazards, specifically, improperly placed extension cords and a lack of sprinkler systems. The school did not respond to the letter. On July 14, the worker filed a complaint with OSHA reporting the same concerns. After OSHA communicated with the school, on July 30, the worker disputed the school's response to the safety complaint, and he was notified that his position was being terminated. On Aug. 4, OSHA performed a safety inspection and cited the school for safety violations related to the worker's expressed concerns. More information is available in the news release (y en Español).
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of Section 11(c) of the OSH Act and 20 other whistleblower statutes. Detailed information on whistleblower rights is available on OSHA's Whistleblower page.
Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have found that miners exposed to diesel exhaust on the job face a much higher risk for lung cancer.
In a cohort mortality study (PDF*) and a nested case-control study (PDF*), both recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analyzed lung cancer mortality among miners exposed to diesel exhaust, controlling for smoking, exposure to radon, and other risk factors and contaminants. The authors, including OSHA Industrial Hygienist Joseph Coble, found an approximately three-fold increase in the risk of dying from lung cancer among the most heavily exposed workers.
Diesel exhaust is a pervasive airborne contaminant in workplaces where diesel-powered equipment is used. More than one million workers are exposed to diesel exhaust and face the risk of adverse health effects, ranging from headaches and nausea to cancer and respiratory disease. For more information, visit OSHA's Diesel Exhaust page.
Robert Christopher Kennedy has been sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to six months of house arrest and three years of probation for willfully endangering workers at a Washington County, Pa., construction site. Kennedy's intentional disregard for OSHA's safety standards contributed to the fatal fall of Carl Beck from a 40-foot pitched roof in August 2009.
Mr. Kennedy was the superintendent for Hospitality Builders, the general contractor on the worksite where the fatality occurred. His guilty plea follows the 2010 sentencing of Beck's employer, Christopher Franc, who was on the roof when the worker fell. Investigators found that immediately after Beck's death, Kennedy told Franc to put fall protection equipment on the roof to mislead OSHA investigators into believing that the gear was in place before the fall. In 2010, OSHA cited Franc's construction company for 10 per instance willful citations for failing to protect workers from falls, for a proposed fine of $539,000.
Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of workplace death in construction. For more information and educational materials on fall protection, visit OSHA's Fall Protection page.
After discovering their injury and illness rates were above average for materials recovery facilities, the Technology Conservation Group (TCG) of Lecanto, Fla., asked for OSHA's help in reviewing and revising their safety and health program.
Neil Lukey, TCG's Environmental Safety and Health manager, reached out to OSHA's On-site Consultation Program, which offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses. OSHA's consultant visited TCG and suggested that if the facility directed corrective measures at root causes, more worker injuries and illnesses could be prevented. The company then began working to address, correct or eliminate root causes of safety and health problems.
Now the company, which achieved SHARP status in 2006, conducts safety and health audits of all downstream vendors. "During these audits," says Lukey, "we recommend the On-site Consultation Program to other companies that we do business with whenever we have the opportunity." As of 2012, other TCG facilities have become inspired to follow the lead of the Lecanto facility. More information about Technology Conservation Group is available on OSHA's Small Business Success Stories page.
The manufacturer of Brazilian Blowout, a hair-straightening product that OSHA has found can expose salon workers to dangerous levels of airborne formaldehyde, has settled a class-action lawsuit for about $4.5 million in damages.
Under the terms of the agreement, workers will be compensated for their exposure to the hazardous substance, as well as for each bottle of the product they bought. The company can no longer market its product as "formaldehyde free," and must provide more detailed instructions on how to use it safely. This agreement follows a January ruling in which California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris ordered the company to cease its deceptive advertising, make significant changes to its Web site, and pay $600,000 in fees, penalties and costs.
In an effort to reduce silicosis hazards to denim factory workers, the Target Corporation announced Feb. 28 it would phase out sandblasted denim by the end of 2012. The Minneapolis-based company is joining with Levi Strauss & Co. to end the practice of sandblasting to produce denim clothing that appears pre-worn.
Inhalation of respirable crystalline silica particles has long been known to cause silicosis, a disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease. Respirable crystalline silica also causes lung cancer. Common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock, and stone products (such as in construction operations), and operations using sand products (such as in glass manufacturing, foundries and sand blasting), can result in worker inhalation of small crystalline silica particles in the air. For more information, visit OSHA's Crystalline Silica page.
Employers who are required to keep the OSHA Form 300 Injury and Illness log must post OSHA's Form 300A from Feb. 1 to April 30, 2012 in a common area wherever notices to workers are usually posted. The summary must list the total numbers of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2011. All establishment summaries must be certified by a company executive.
Copies of the OSHA Forms 300, 300A and 301 are available for download on the OSHA Recordkeeping Web page. See OSHA's Recordkeeping Handbook for more information on posting requirements for OSHA's Form 300A.
OSHA has cited Cranberry, Pa.-based Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC for alleged willful and serious violations of workplace health standards at its Newington, N.H., stainless steel component manufacturing facility. The company faces a total of $82,000 in proposed fines following an inspection by OSHA's Concord Area Office that was initiated in response to a complaint.
OSHA found that workers performing welding work in the main fabrication area were exposed to airborne concentrations of hexavalent chromium in excess of the permissible exposure limit, and engineering controls or work practices to reduce the exposure levels were not in place. Additionally, workers were wearing respirators even though they had not been medically evaluated to determine if they could safely do so, initial monitoring to determine hexavalent chromium exposure levels had not been conducted, medical surveillance was not made available for all potentially exposed workers, and dry sweeping and brushing, rather than other methods that would minimize the likelihood of exposure, were used to clean work areas. See the news release for more information.
Workplace exposure to hexavalent chromium may cause lung cancer as well as irritation or damage to the nose, throat, lungs, eyes and skin. Detailed information on hexavalent chromium hazards and safeguards is available on OSHA's Hexavalent Chromium page.
OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program helps the agency focus enforcement resources on companies with injury and illness rates that exceed national standards. As part of the SST program, OSHA has recently cited two employers in Texas and one in Ohio for endangering worker safety and health.
OSHA has cited JSW Steel (USA) Inc. in Baytown, Texas, for violations including failing to ensure hazardous chemical containers were properly labeled, provide required machine guarding, provide covers for open pits and floor holes, and develop and conduct periodic inspections for lockout/tagout. Proposed penalties total $469,420. More details are available in the news release. Also in Texas, OSHA has cited Berridge Manufacturing Co. of San Antonio, which manufactures metal roofing components, with violations including failing to ensure workers were provided with fall protection while working from the tops of tanks, ensure that equipment was free from electrical hazards, provide the required machine guarding, and inspect overhead cranes. Proposed penalties total $131,670. For more information, see the news release.
In Troy, Ohio, OSHA has cited Hobart Brothers Co., a manufacturer of welding wire and ground power equipment for airplanes, with violations including inadequate lockout/tagout programs, fall protection and noise sampling. Proposed penalties total $174,600. Details of the violations are available in the news release.
OSHA has cited Falls Stamping and Welding Co. with a total of 19 — including one willful and three repeat — safety and health violations. OSHA began an inspection after receiving a complaint alleging a failure to lockout/tagout machinery energy sources at the company's Cleveland metal stamping facility, which exposed workers to amputation hazards.
The willful violation has been cited for failing to ensure workers who lock out machinery, such as mechanical power presses, were trained in lockout/tagout procedures. The repeat violations include failing to provide machine guarding for equipment including lathes and shears, ensure that hand controls on mechanical power presses were in a fixed position to prevent workers from relocating them and ensure that safety blocks were used when changing the press die. Proposed penalties total $124,740. For more details about the citations, see the news release.
Due to the willful and repeat violations and the nature of the hazards, OSHA has placed Falls Stamping and Welding Co. in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses on recalcitrant employers and mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
OSHA has established a local emphasis program to protect workers from hazards found on Wisconsin dairy farms, such as those related to manure storage, lack of vehicle roll-over protection, machine guarding, confined spaces and animal handling.
Since 2006, OSHA has conducted five fatality inspections at dairy farms in Wisconsin. Hazards cited have been related to animal handling, tractor rollover protection and manure pits. Under the new program, OSHA will conduct comprehensive safety and health inspections at dairy farms with more than 10 non-immediate family member employees and those that have had an active temporary labor camp within the last 12 months. Each inspection will include detailed questions to gather facts about common hazards related to horizontal bunker silos, control of hazardous energy, skid-steer and tractor operations, and hazard communication. See the news release for more information.
Immediately following the tornado that struck on Feb. 29, OSHA was on the ground to help workers and members of the public engaged in cleanup activities. OSHA safety officers conducted safety briefs with volunteers and workers and handed out OSHA fact sheets and QuickCards™ with important information associated with chainsaw safety, generators, tree trimming and personal protective equipment. Read the account of Region V OSHA Safety and Health Manager Christine Petitti for more details.
Following a natural disaster, OSHA's role is to help protect workers and volunteers from potential hazards caused by the storm so they are not injured during recovery efforts. Workers and employers involved in such efforts can call 800-321-OSHA  to reach an OSHA representative in their area who can provide on-site assistance. OSHA also provides fact sheets, QuickCards™, and other educational materials on safe work practices and personal protective equipment on its Tornado Recovery page.
On March 7, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels addressed the United Steelworkers' (USW) Health, Safety and Environment Convention in Pittsburgh, Pa. Dr. Michaels described his efforts to educate employers on the value of injury and illness prevention programs, and to discourage employers from implementing programs or practices that discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses. Programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries can violate the OSHA law, but also undermine worker safety.
Dr. Michaels also expressed thanks to the USW, which has been instrumental in helping OSHA protect workers from beryllium and other job hazards. The steelworkers have been supportive throughout the effort to harmonize OSHA's Hazard Communication standard with the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). As one steelworker expressed during OSHA's rulemaking process, this update will give workers the right to understand, as well as the right to know. Dr. Michaels thanked the steelworkers for their involvement in OSHA's hearings on the standard, which will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace while making it safer for workers to do their jobs.
For more details and other highlights of Dr. Michaels’ address to the USW Convention, visit OSHA's Speeches page.
A renewed Alliance between OSHA and the Society for Chemical Hazard Communication (SCHC) will promote best practices to reduce worker exposure to hazardous chemicals. The renewed Alliance will help ensure that workers are aware of the chemical hazards to which they may be exposed, and help reduce chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries.
OSHA's partnership with the SCHC, through OSHA's Alliance Program, will continue to address hazard communication and to increase awareness of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). For more information on OSHA's Hazard Communication standard and GHS, visit OSHA's Hazard Communication page. More details about the Alliance are available in the news release.
In upcoming events around the country, OSHA will co-sponsor safety and health training opportunities and conferences for workers, employers, and the general public. To learn about events in your area, including upcoming safety days, please visit OSHA's conference calendar.
Are you interested in a career with the Department of Labor? DOL has job opportunities throughout the country, including openings in OSHA.
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