November 1, 2010 · Volume 9, Issue 21
QuickTakes QuickTakes
A twice monthly e-news product with information about workplace safety and health.

In This Issue

Solis reports on decline in workplace injuries and illnesses

Results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses released Oct. 21 show there were about 400,000 fewer nonfatal occupational illnesses and injuries reported by private industry employers in 2009 than in the previous year. Of the 3.3 million illnesses and injuries reported in all industries, the manufacturing industry showed the largest decline in cases since 2003. The number fell by 23 percent (161,000 cases) while the rate of reportable injuries and illnesses for every 100 workers dropped by 14 percent. The construction industry reported a 22 percent decline (71,700 fewer cases) with a corresponding drop of more than six percent in the workplace injuries and illnesses rate.

In response to the BLS findings, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis issued the following statement:

"Complete and accurate workplace injury records can serve as the basis for employer programs to investigate injuries and prevent future occurrences. Most employers understand this and do their best to prevent worker injuries, but some do not. That is why my department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is aggressively working to ensure the completeness and accuracy of injury data compiled by the nation's employers. We are concerned about the widespread existence of programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries, and we will continue to issue citations and penalties to employers that intentionally under-report workplace injuries."

See the BLS news release for detailed information on the injuries and illnesses statistics.

OSHA seeks comments on its official interpretation of workplace noise exposure controls

OSHA issued a notice in the Oct. 19 Federal Register proposing to issue an interpretation of the term "feasible administrative or engineering controls" as used in the general industry and construction occupational noise exposure standards and to amend its current enforcement policy to reflect the interpretation. This change is intended to better protect the hearing of approximately 30 million workers who are exposed to hazardous noise each year.

OSHA's noise standards specify that feasible administrative or engineering controls must be used to reduce noise to acceptable levels and that personal protective equipment, such as ear plugs and ear muffs, must be used only as supplements when administrative or engineering controls are not completely effective. The preference for engineering and administrative controls over personal protective equipment is consistent with the approach taken in all of OSHA's health standards and reflects the fact that such controls are generally more effective. Under the agency's current enforcement policy, however, the agency issues citations for failure to use engineering and administrative controls only when they cost less than a hearing conservation program or such equipment is ineffective.

Noise overexposure is often ignored because the harmful effects are typically not visible and develop over an extended period of time. Workers exposed to high noise levels can develop elevated blood pressure, ringing in the ears or permanent hearing loss.

OSHA proposes to interpret the term "feasible" in conformity with its ordinary meaning and with the safety and health purposes of the OSH Act. The Supreme Court has held that the term "feasible" as used in the standard-setting provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act means "capable of being done." The proposal aligns the interpretation of the noise standard with the Court's holding and with OSHA's other standards that require feasible engineering controls. OSHA proposes to interpret the term "feasible" in its ordinary meaning of "capable of being done." OSHA intends to change its noise enforcement policy to authorize issuing citations requiring the use of administrative and engineering controls whenever feasible.

Comments on the proposed interpretation should be submitted before the Dec. 20 deadline either online, by mail or by fax. See the Federal Register notice for more information.

Gunpowder manufacturer fined more than $1.2 million after explosion kills two workers

OSHA issued 54 citations* with penalties totaling $1,232,500 to gun powder substitute manufacturer Black Mag LLC following a deadly May explosion that took the lives of two workers at the company's Colebrook, N.H., worksite.

The workers, who had been on the job for only a month, were being required to hand feed explosive powder into operating equipment because the employer failed to implement essential protective controls. The multiple explosions that occurred when the powder detonated killed both men and blew out the walls and roof of the worksite. Four months earlier another worker had suffered serious burns from a flash fire at the facility.

"Even with a prior incident in which a worker was seriously injured, and multiple warnings from its business partners and a former employee, this employer still decided against implementing safety measures," said OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels. "Unfortunately, we see this kind of disregard time and time again across industry. All employers must plan for and prevent workplace injuries so these types of avoidable tragedies don't happen, and workers can return home safely at the end of the day."

OSHA inspectors found that the employer had shown willful indifference to protecting the safety and lives of his workers by failing to train those involved in the manufacture of the gun powder substitute, failing to locate operators at safe locations while equipment was operating and failing to separate workstations by distance or barriers. The employer also failed to provide fire resistant clothing, face shields and gloves; to safely store gun powder; and to identify explosion hazards in the company's operating procedures. See the news release for more examples of Black Mag's numerous safety and health violations.

Companies fined nearly $300,000 after worker falls to his death at construction site

OSHA fined Kirberg Roofing Inc. and Davila Sheet Metal Company Inc. $295,000 after a worker fell at least 40 feet to his death through a roof opening at a Kansas City, Mo., construction site. Both companies were cited for willfully disregarding the safety of workers performing roofing work or steel erection activities. Inspectors found the employers failed to protect workers from fall hazards and failed to train employees on identifying fall hazards and means of fall protection. OSHA fined Kirberg Roofing $150,000 and Davila Sheet Metal $145,000. See the news release for more details on the citations.

Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry and failure to provide fall protection is one of the 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards. In 2008, roof falls resulted in 100 construction workers being killed and nearly 1,600 being injured. OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab addressed members of the National Roofing Contractors Association Oct. 19 to discuss recent OSHA initiatives as they relate to the roofing industry and broader construction industries. Visit the OSHA Web site to learn more about an employer's responsibility to provide workers with fall protection on construction sites.

DOL sues social service agency over firing worker for expressing safety concerns

The U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against Promesa Systems Inc., a New York City nonprofit organization providing care to individuals with developmental disabilities, for allegedly firing a worker who voiced workplace safety and health concerns and filed a complaint with OSHA.

The complaint seeks a judgment ordering all appropriate relief for the worker, including reinstatement, back pay with interest and compensatory damages. The complaint also seeks to prohibit the defendants from future violations and to require them to post and comply with a workplace notice that they will not discriminate against employees who engage in protected safety and health activities. See the news release for more information on this organization's alleged retaliation against its employee for exercising federally protected worker rights.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 19 laws protecting employees who report violations of various securities, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, workplace safety and health, consumer product safety, health care reform and financial reform laws. Detailed information on worker whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at

Michaels shares OSHA's efforts to protect BP oil spill cleanup workers at emergency response conference

OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels addressed members of the National Response Team at an Oct. 20 meeting in Washington, D.C. The NRT is in charge of coordinating the federal emergency preparedness and response to oil and hazardous substances releases. In his remarks, Michaels reported on OSHA's efforts to aggressively ensure that BP and its contractors protected the safety and health of workers during the cleanup response to BP's catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. OSHA sent the clear message to BP that all workers must be protected from all hazards. OSHA's goal was to make sure that the operations were conducted as effectively, efficiently and safely as possible.

At the outset of the response effort, Michaels invited representatives from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to collaborate with OSHA on cleanup worker protection efforts. OSHA staff completed more than 4,000 visits to cleanup areas both on and off shore to ensure that BP and its contractors provided workers with the proper training and personal protective equipment chosen based on a scientific characterization of the hazards. OSHA reviewed more than 89,000 exposure measurements from BP and took more than 7,000 air sampling measurements both on shore and on marine vessels to ensure that workers were not being exposed to dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals. By working within the Unified Command, which was run by the Coast Guard, OSHA was able to protect workers to levels beyond the agency's standards. OSHA identified no exposures that exceeded any of the most recent, lowest and most protective occupational exposure limits for hazardous chemicals set by organizations such as NIOSH, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists and the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

OSHA insisted that BP implement strong and comprehensive protections from the intense heat in the Gulf, probably the greatest threat to the health of cleanup workers. Protective measures included providing rest breaks, shaded rest areas, hydration liquids and sunscreen. OSHA personnel who noted deficiencies in BP's heat stress program during site visits immediately made it clear that BP had to fix these deficiencies. Michaels said, "I have no doubt that had we not been there and insisted on these protections, there would have been deaths."

OSHA, along with other federal partners, reviewed and monitored the required BP program implemented to train workers involved in the clean up response. OSHA repeatedly emphasized to BP that workers needed training that addressed the risks of their jobs in a language and vocabulary that workers could understand. OSHA brought in staff fluent in Vietnamese and Spanish, and brought in translators to assist in monitoring training and worker protections.

"The BP oil spill was a disaster. The initial fire took the lives of 11 workers," said Michaels. "There was no way to recover this tragic loss. However, by working together and focusing on a high level of protection for the cleanup workers, we prevented this disaster from taking any more lives."

See OSHA's Oil Spill Response Web page for more information on the agency's efforts to protect cleanup workers responding to this unprecedented environmental catastrophe.

Re-established committee to advise OSHA on worker safety and health

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis re-established the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. NACOSH was established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to advise the secretaries of labor and health and human services on worker safety issues such as Latino outreach, hazard communication, the whistleblower program, and overall occupational safety and health programs and policies. NACOSH also provides a voice for stakeholders to express their concerns and suggestions for worker safety directly to OSHA's leadership. Members of the 12-person advisory committee are chosen on the basis of their knowledge and experience in occupational safety and health. The committee's new charter was re-established Oct. 29 and will expire two years from that date. See the news release for more information.

New cranes and derricks fact sheets now available online

Two fact sheets have recently been posted to the OSHA Web site to provide assistance complying with Subpart CC of the cranes and derricks in construction final rule. The Qualified Rigger* fact sheet is a guide for determining if a worker is qualified to properly rig the load for a particular job. The Signal Person* fact sheet explains the proper qualifications for a worker whose job is to direct a crane operator under conditions such as when the crane's point of operation is not in full view of the operator or the operator's view is obstructed in the direction the equipment is traveling. OSHA's Cranes and Derricks in Construction Final Rule page contains the complete text of the rule, additional fact sheets, a PowerPoint presentation, an archived Web chat and answers to frequently asked questions.

Steel company greatly improves workplace safety through OSHA's free On-site Consultation Program

Glen Carter, president and owner of Pikes Peak Steel, contacted OSHA's On-site Consultation Program in 2005 because he knew the company's safety and health program needed improvement to better protect workers. The On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. Consultants from the Colorado On-site Consultation Program, which is administered by Colorado State University, performed a comprehensive survey of Pikes Peak Steel's facility in Colorado Springs. Based on the feedback he received, Carter began to correct all identified safety and health hazards and improve elements of the site's safety and health management program. Workers at the company provided input into the types of training they needed to receive in order to do their jobs safely and effectively.

After successfully completing a hazard identification survey, Pikes Peak Steel showed promise of achieving Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program status. SHARP recognizes small business employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system. However, the company's injury and illness rates for the previous three years were higher than the industry average, so the company entered into the Pre-SHARP program, implemented an action plan, and continued to work to lower their illness and injury rates.

When Pikes Peak Steel began working with the On-site Consultation Program in 2005, the company's rate of recordable OSHA incidents was more than three times the national average for the fabricated structural metal manufacturing industry. By 2008, the company's recordable incident rate had fallen to less than one third the national industry average. In September 2008, Pikes Peak Steel was recognized as a SHARP participant for its exemplary safety and health management system. According to Carter, working with the On-site Consultation Program allowed him to cultivate a "workplace that is safe and injury free." Visit OSHA's Web site to read more about this safety and health success story.

Oregon OSHA to hold pulp and paper industry safety conference

Workers, contractors, and employers in Oregon's pulp and paper industry are invited to attend a Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 conference designed to showcase workplace safety and health ideas. The state's Occupational Safety and Health Division, referred to as Oregon OSHA, is one of several partners presenting the Western Pulp and Paper Workers Safety and Health Conference at the Jantzen Beach Red Lion Hotel in Portland.

Twenty-eight workshops and several roundtable discussions are scheduled during the four days. Training on workplace issues that affect pulp, paper and converting employers and contractors are part of the program. Other workshop topics include forklift and electrical safety, a refresher on Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response requirements and roundtable discussions on hazard awareness and worker involvement. The registration fee is $235 to attend all conference sessions. The fee for a single day is $80 (Friday's session is $30). See the conference Web site for more information or to register.

Oregon is one of 21 states and a territory operating their own occupational safety and health programs covering private and public sector workers. Four other states and a territory have safety and health programs that cover public workers only. A state plan must set job safety and health standards that are "at least as effective as" comparable federal OSHA standards. See the State OSH Plans page of OSHA's Web site for more information on these programs and their requirements.

Job openings

Are you interested in a career with the Department of Labor? The department has job opportunities throughout the country, including an opening in OSHA for a Medical Officer (Occupational Medicine).

See DOL's electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

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Editor: Richard De Angelis, OSHA Office of Communications, 202-693-1999
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