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November 15, 2010 · Volume 9, Issue 22
QuickTakes QuickTakes
A twice monthly e-news product with information about workplace safety and health.

In This Issue

OSHA advises retail stores to protect workers from dangerous overcrowding during holiday sales events

OSHA is encouraging retailers to take precautions to prevent worker injuries during major sales events this holiday season, such as the Black Friday sales that take place the day after Thanksgiving. In 2008, a worker was trampled to death during a Black Friday event when a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors of a large store to take advantage of the sale.

OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels sent a letter to the CEOs of 14 major retail companies, along with a copy of OSHA's fact sheet, Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers. The store where the 2008 worker fatality occurred was not using the kind of crowd management measures recommended by OSHA.

"Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years," Michaels said in the letter. "Many of these incidents can be prevented by adopting a crowd management plan, and this fact sheet provides retail employers with guidelines for avoiding injuries during the holiday shopping season."

See the news release for more information.

OSHA will hold hearing on proposed rule to prevent worker fatalities and serious injuries from falls in general industry

OSHA will hold an informal public hearing in Washington, D.C., starting Jan. 18, 2011, on the proposed rule revising the Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment standards to improve worker protection from slip, trip and fall hazards.

The proposed rule will prevent annually an estimated 20 workplace fatalities and more than 3,700 injuries that are serious enough to result in lost work days. "This proposal addresses one of the leading causes of work-related injuries and deaths and we need to have the best rule possible to ensure that we effectively address this serious hazard," said OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels.

Construction and maritime workers already receive safer, more effective fall protection devices such as self-retracting lanyards and ladder safety and rope descent systems, which these proposed revisions would also require for general industry workers.

The hearing will be held at the Department of Labor's Frances Perkins Building in Washington, D.C. Comments may be submitted online, or by mail or fax by the Nov. 30 deadline. See the Federal Register notice for more information on how to submit comments or a request to attend the hearing.

Michaels responds to decline in workplace injuries and illnesses causing lost work days

Results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses released Nov. 9 show that from 2008 to 2009 there was a nine percent decline in the number of nonfatal occupational illnesses and injuries requiring workers to take days away from work to recuperate. With a total of 1,238,490 cases last year for private industry, and state and local government, BLS reported that the rate of such cases also decreased by five percent, to 117 for every 10,000 full-time workers. Local and state government workers had much higher rates of injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work than workers in private industry. In a statement, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels said:

"The BLS report is significant in that, for the first time, it reports incidence rates for workers in state and local governments, half of whom work in states where public employees have no OSHA coverage. All employers, private and government, can use the data released today to focus on areas with high incidence rates, and find and fix hazards to prevent future occurrences. OSHA's challenge, and therefore America's challenge, is to remain vigilant and keep the health and safety of America's workers a priority, for no job is a good job unless it's a safe job."

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

OSHA warns of occupational health hazards from food flavorings

OSHA released a Safety and Health Information Bulletin on health hazards posed to workers by occupational exposure to certain chemicals used to add flavor and aroma to food and other products. Occupational Exposure to Flavoring Substances: Health Effects and Hazard Control explains that the food flavoring diacetyl, as well as some diacetyl substitutes, can burn the eyes, cause soreness in the nose and throat, and irritate the skin and produce a severe lung disease that has disabled or killed workers. Known initially as "popcorn lung," the disease was first described among workers exposed to the flavoring compound diacetyl, which is used in the production of low-fat, butter-flavored popcorn. However, recent laboratory studies demonstrated that work environments where chemicals are used as substitutes for diacetyl, such as flavoring manufacturing plants and plants where flavors are added to snack foods, baked goods, and candy, may also harm airways in animals. If workers exposed to diacetyl or substitute chemicals experience symptoms including persistent cough and shortness of breath, they are advised to ask their employers to send them to a doctor for evaluation.

OSHA has also issued a one-page Worker Alert on diacetyl hazards.

Local emphasis program focuses on grain handling industry in Kansas; 12 other states have similar emphasis programs

OSHA launched a local emphasis program in Kansas aimed at reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the grain handling industry. Under the program, OSHA's Wichita Area Office will target establishments such as grain elevators and storage bins, rail car, milling, fertilizer, feed, chemical and farm machinery operations; and equipment repair and maintenance. Inspections will include hazard evaluations of grain handling including fall protection, engulfment and fire, explosions from combustible dust, noise, confined space and machine guarding. See the news release for more information.

The emphasis program is a response to workers being engulfed and suffocated in grain bins with increasing frequency in the grain handling industry. OSHA fined Cooperative Plus Inc. $721,000 in August after a near tragedy last winter at its Burlington, Wis., facility when a worker in a storage bin was trapped in soybeans up to his chest in 25-degree weather. In the last 13 months, OSHA fined two grain handling facilities more than $3 million after separate incidents in which a 17-year-old who had just graduated from high school and a 52-year-old husband and father were engulfed and suffocated in grain storage containers.

To prevent future similar tragedies, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels sent a letter to approximately 3,300 grain storage facilities across the country in August explaining the possible consequences of failing to comply with the Grain Handling Facility standard. "If any employee dies in a grain storage facility, in addition to any civil penalties proposed, OSHA will consider referring the incident to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution," Michaels said. OSHA's grain storage bins fact sheet* on engulfment hazards was included with the letter.

Federal OSHA also has state-wide grain handling emphasis programs in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. OSHA's area offices in Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., and Omaha, Neb., also have similar programs. In addition, Indiana OSHA has its own state-run grain handling emphasis program.

OSHA hosts public meeting on Globally Harmonized System of labeling chemicals

OSHA is inviting interested parties to participate in an open, informal public meeting Nov. 30 to discuss proposals in preparation for the 20th session of the United Nations Subcommittee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The Globally Harmonized System was formally adopted by the United Nations in December 2002. The GHS is a single, harmonized system for classification of chemicals according to their health, physical, and environmental effects. It also provides harmonized communication elements, including labels and safety data sheets.

The public may attend without prior notice a meeting of the U.S. Interagency GHS Coordinating Group hosted by OSHA in the Department of Labor's Frances Perkins Building in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the meeting is to provide interested groups and individuals with an update on GHS-related issues and an opportunity to express their views for consideration in developing U.S. government positions for the upcoming U.N. meeting, which will take place Dec. 7-9 in Geneva, Switzerland. See the Federal Register notice for more information.

Judge upholds OSHA citations issued to Missouri company after two workers suffer fatal falls

An Administrative Law Judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld OSHA's citations issued to Thomas Industrial Coatings Inc. of Pevely, Mo., following an investigation into two separate worker deaths at the same worksite.

In his decision, the judge upheld a total of 19 violations, with an assessed penalty of $871,500. OSHA issued the citations and penalty after two of the company's workers fell 40 feet to their deaths from the same scaffold platform, on the same worksite, within two months of each other in 2006. The commission judge affirmed OSHA's egregious, or violation-by-violation penalty policy, where eight violations were issued to the company for each worker willfully exposed to the same fall hazard.

"We hope the penalties upheld by the judge send a message to employers everywhere that they can't disregard vital safety measures at the expense of their workers," said OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels in a news release. "We're especially pleased that the judge has affirmed our egregious case penalty policy. We hope employers will be deterred by the potentially higher fines they could face, and will address hazards before OSHA gets there and before workers get hurt."

OSHA fines U.S. Minerals more than $600,000 in three months for repeatedly endangering workers' lives; Company was in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program

OSHA issued 14 citations to U.S. Minerals LLC and fined the company $110,400 for safety and health violations that include repeatedly exposing workers at its Harvey, La., facility to electrocution, falls, and other hazards. U.S. Minerals manufactures coal slag that is ground up through a series of screeners and a crusher, with the end product being a fine grit for sandblasting. OSHA inspectors cited the company for violations that could have resulted in the death or serious harm of workers. This is the third fine OSHA issued against U.S. Minerals in about as many months. Two separate inspections of its Baldwin, Ill., facility resulted in fines of $158,200 (Aug. 5) and $466,400 (Sept. 9) for unsafe ladders, machines that were not cut off from their power sources during maintenance and exposing workers to dangerously high levels of silica dust and other hazards.

This inspection was conducted under OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses enforcement efforts on certain employers who defy or ignore their OSH Act obligations. SVEP establishes procedures and enforcement actions such as mandatory follow-up inspections and inspections of other worksites of the same company where similar hazards or deficiencies may be present. See the news release for more information.

Lowe's fined $182,000 for failing to record worker injuries and illnesses

OSHA issued eight citations to Lowe's Home Centers Inc. and fined the company $182,000 for failing to document and report worker injuries and illnesses at its Rockford, Ill., regional distribution center. OSHA inspectors found that Lowe's had willfully disregarded its responsibilities to comply with OSHA regulations by continuously failing to correctly classify worker injuries or illnesses and not correctly recording the number of days a worker was away from work due to injury or illness. Additional recordkeeping violations found by inspectors included two for which the company had been cited previously. See the news release for more information on the failure of Lowe's to report worker injuries.

Apart from this particular investigation, OSHA has implemented a National Emphasis Program on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of information on workplace injuries and illnesses recorded by employers.

Michaels outlines history and future of worker protection in Columbia University lecture

OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels was a guest lecturer at Columbia University's public health school Nov. 4, where he addressed faculty and students about life-saving progress in worker safety and health. Michaels observed that 2011 will be "a great year to recognize two significant anniversaries in the history of worker safety and health reform" -- the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that provoked unions to back and the government to enact major reforms in working conditions; and the 40th anniversary of OSHA opening its doors and bringing sweeping reform to workplaces across America. Michaels highlighted milestones along the path of labor reform in the 20th century, including workers' compensation, the establishment of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the contributions of Frances Perkins, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's influential secretary of labor who witnessed the Triangle factory fire and advocated regulation of child labor, better working hours and fair wages for workers. Michaels' remarks concluded with a review of the challenges of unfinished reforms that OSHA, employers and workers will face in the coming years.

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

Family-run lumber company Anthony Forest Products contacted OSHA's On-site Consultation Program in an effort to reduce workplace injuries. The On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. A consultant from the Texas Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program performed a walkthrough of the company's southern pine lumber producing mill in Atlanta, Texas. Afterwards, the consultant established correction due dates for identified hazards and recommendations for improving the company's safety and health management system.

Following implementation of the consultant's recommendations at the sawmill, the company instituted a company-wide safety and health management program. All six of the company's facilities achieved Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program status in 2007. SHARP recognizes small business employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system. In 2008, the company's rate of recordable OSHA incidents was less than half the national industry average. Visit OSHA's Web site to read more about this safety and health success story.

Indiana OSHA to hold annual occupational safety and health conference

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration is partnering with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Central Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers and the Indiana Chapter of the American Industrial Hygiene Association to host its annual Safety and Health Conference and Exposition from Feb. 28 to March 2, 2011, at the Indianapolis Marriott East. Industrial hygienists, contractors, plant managers and all those interested in occupational safety and health are invited to attend. The conference and expo will provide information on improving workplace safety and health for all Indiana workers by reducing hazards and exposures in the workplace environment that result in occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Registration for the conference is now open online.

See the State OSH Plans page of OSHA's Web site for more information on State Plan programs and their requirements.

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Editor: Richard De Angelis, OSHA Office of Communications, 202-693-1999. If you have comments or suggestions that you think could improve the quality of QuickTakes, please submit them to OSHA.QuickTakes@dol.gov. [Note: This address is for input on QuickTakes only. Other questions concerning OSHA should be submitted through the agency's Electronic Mail Form.] For more information on occupational safety and health, visit OSHA's Web site.

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