|October 15, 2015 · Volume 14, Issue 21||
In testimony to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections on Oct. 7, Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels described how, with limited resources, OSHA achieves its mission through a balanced approach of standards, compliance assistance, enforcement, outreach and whistleblower protection.
"We recognize that most employers want to keep their employees safe and make great efforts to protect them from workplace hazards," Dr. Michaels told the committee. "Our enforcement program specifically targets the most dangerous workplaces, where workers are most likely to be hurt on the job, and the most recalcitrant employers. For those employers who need technical assistance, we provide free on-site consultations to small employers, as well as other compliance assistance, educational materials and training."
Dr. Michaels also detailed challenges in addressing the changing structure of employment relationships, such as the dramatic increase in temporary workers in virtually every type of workplace. Unless properly managed, these structural employment changes greatly increase risks of injuries and illnesses among all the workers in these workplaces.
For details, see Dr. Michaels' testimony.
OSHA urges emergency workers, employers and the public who are recovering from recent storms and flooding in the southeast U.S. to be aware of hazards they may encounter and to take necessary steps to stay safe. "Recovery work should not put you in the hospital emergency room," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta.
Recovery workers must receive proper training and equipment, and work areas should be evaluated for hazards, such as fallen power lines, before starting any cleanup activities.
Those involved in storm cleanup may visit OSHA's online resources for flood preparedness and response, call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742), or contact the nearest OSHA office for help.
Two employees of Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services in Omaha were killed when the railcar they were sent into exploded. The explosion trapped one worker inside the railcar and threw the other off the top. A third worker was injured. Despite warnings that the air quality inside the railcar indicated a serious risk for explosion, the company failed to continuously monitor the air for explosive hazards, and did not provide the workers with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators. These violations were among 33 found during OSHA's investigation of three company worksites. Other violations include failure to: properly monitor air quality in confined spaces; train workers on the use of hazardous materials; and provide first aid and fire extinguisher training. Proposed penalties total $963,000.
"This isn't the first time this employer put its workers' lives at risk," said Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "But OSHA will do everything in our power to ensure it is the last." Nebraska Railcar was cited in 2013 for similar safety and health hazards. OSHA has placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Read the news release for more information.
OSHA cited two contractors following a trench collapse that buried 22-year-old laborer Carlos Moncayo beneath tons of soil and debris at a Manhattan construction site. OSHA found that Moncayo's death could have been prevented if general contractor Harco Construction LLC, and subcontractor Sky Materials Corp., had provided cave-in protection for the trench or braced an adjacent section of undermined and unsupported sidewalk. In connection with Moncayo's death, officials from both companies were indicted for manslaughter and other charges in the New York State Supreme Court on Aug. 5. "Managers from Harco and Sky Materials were aware of these deadly hazards and did not remove employees from the trench, even after warnings from project safety officials," said Kay Gee, OSHA's area director in Manhattan. OSHA issued each employer two citations for willful violations and proposed fines of $140,000. For more information, see the news release.
An Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission judge affirmed citations and $181,280 in penalties against Masonry Services Inc. and North Eastern Precast LLC for continuing work activities near power lines, deliberately disregarding warnings from OSHA and the Long Island Power Authority. The companies contested OSHA citations for various hazardous conditions found at a Valley Stream, N.Y., construction site. Violations included allowing employees performing masonry and crane activities to work close to 13,200-volt power lines, and hazards involving cranes and unguarded rebar. Read the news brief for more information.
An inspection of a Paterson, N.J., laundry facility operated by Prestige Industries LLC found hazards similar to those that contributed to the 2011 death of a 24-year-old worker at another company facility in Bay Shore, N.Y. OSHA issued repeat citations for failure to install machine guarding, implement procedures to prevent the accidental start-up of machinery, and train employees on an energy control program. Other violations included unsafe exit routes, electrical hazards and lack of an established respiratory protection program. The company was fined $305,300. For more information, read the news release.
OSHA cited Maverick Arms Inc., of Eagle Pass, Texas, for one willful and 23 serious violations for failing to reduce dangerous noise levels and exposing workers to electrical, fall and amputation hazards. The weapons manufacturer was also cited for failing to provide medical evaluations for respirator users, or to control and protect against lead exposure. The citations were issued following a planned inspection under OSHA's Regional Emphasis Program for Fabricated Metal Products. "Exposure to lead and high noise levels can cause long-term or permanent health damage," said Alejandro Porter, OSHA's area director in San Antonio. Total proposed penalties are $197,000. For more information, read the news brief.
An Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission judge affirmed OSHA citations against Matsu Alabama Inc., resulting in $103,000 in penalties. OSHA inspected the Huntsville, Ala., auto parts supplier after a temporary worker lost his right lower arm and three fingers on his left hand in an unguarded mechanical power press. The inspection found repeat and serious violations including machines that were not shielded to prevent contact or activation and lack of employee training. "Unfortunately, the employer's failure in following OSHA's standards has permanently disabled a worker when this incident could have been prevented," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta. Read the news brief for more information.
New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau fined Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority $144,000 for 44 safety violations. The state's largest water provider was cited for willfully exposing employees to dangerous levels of ozone without providing suitable respiratory protection. The water company was also cited for serious fall and slip hazards.
Editor's note: This entry was updated 10/15/2015.
Please visit the enforcement news releases page for more on OSHA enforcement activity.
On Sept.29, a federal judge ordered Sandpoint Gas N Go Lube Center Inc. in Sandpoint, Idaho, to pay a whistleblower $100,000 in punitive damages and $979 in damages and interest to compensate him for lost wages. The order upheld the agency's finding that the employee was wrongfully fired after he filed a safety complaint with OSHA's Boise Area Office. OSHA inspected the company following the worker's complaint and cited the company for safety and health violations. "By awarding punitive damages, the court sent a message that retaliation against workers who report safety violations will not be tolerated," said Regional Solicitor Janet Herold. For more information, see the news release.
During an outdoor training on Sept. 18, more than 300 participants learned about the deadly hazards that workers face in trenches, on roadways or in confined spaces. Sponsored by OSHA's Dallas and Fort Worth area offices and the National Utility Contractors Association, the training in Coppell, Texas, replicated actual work settings with full-scale trench, confined space and roadway work stations.
At the training’s conclusion, OSHA signed an alliance with NUCA focused on reducing and preventing exposure to underground utility construction hazards associated with trenching and excavation, tunneling, and confined space entry. Through its Alliance Program, OSHA works with businesses, trade associations, unions, consulates, professional organizations, faith and community-based organizations, and educational institutions to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
The goal of Oregon OSHA's PESO Program (Programa en Español de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo de Oregon OSHA), is to provide training to employers with Spanish-speaking workers that helps them overcome language and cultural barriers to achieve a safe work environment. PESO training focuses on developing a safety culture within a diverse multilingual and multicultural workforce. The training also helps new immigrant workers integrate into the local community. Oregon OSHA regularly conducts PESO workshops and on-site trainings in both English and Spanish, and also provides bilingual training materials through the PESO website.
Trench and excavation work are among the most hazardous operations in construction. Because one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car, an unprotected trench can be an early grave. OSHA's updated guide to Trenching and Excavation Safety highlights key elements of the applicable workplace standards and describes safe practices that employers can follow to protect workers from cave-ins and other hazards. A new section in the updated guide addresses safety factors that an employer should consider when bidding on a job. Expanded sections describe maintaining materials and equipment used for worker protection systems as well as additional hazards associated with excavations.
OSHA provides news and commentary on workplace safety and health from its senior leadership, staff and guest contributors on the DOL blog. See our latest posts:
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