|April 1, 2010 · Volume 9, Issue 7|
|A twice monthly e-news product with information about workplace safety and health.|
In This Issue
An article in the March 11 issue of Business Week magazine, "Caution: Stats May Be Slippery," highlighted OSHA efforts to ensure accurate recordkeeping on worker injuries and illnesses. The article, which featured interviews with workers and corporate safety representatives, quoted Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels' concerns that safety achievements may have been exaggerated at some industrial companies. Michaels revealed in the article that the statistics OSHA has on workplace injuries are incomplete and, in some cases, inaccurate. His concerns grew after a Government Accountability Office report last year revealed that some workers don't report serious injuries — such as broken arms and gashed legs — out of fear of being fired. The report also found that some employers underreport worker injuries to reduce their insurance premiums.
Employers who ignore OSHA's rules and risk workers' lives should pay higher penalties, Assistant Secretary Michaels told Congress March 16. Michaels was on Capitol Hill giving testimony supporting the goals of the Protecting America's Workers Act. "Safe jobs exist only when employers have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA's requirements. Meaningful penalties provide an important incentive to do the right thing," said Michaels to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Monetary penalties for violations of the OSH Act have been increased only once in 40 years. Michaels offered a revealing disparity between OSHA penalties and those of other agencies: In 2001, a tank full of sulphuric acid exploded at a refinery killing a worker and literally dissolving his body. OSHA's penalty was only $175,000. Yet, in the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing an EPA Clean Water Act violation amounting to $10 million — 50 times higher. "Unscrupulous employers who refuse to comply with safety and health standards as an economic calculus will think again if there is a chance that they will go to jail for ignoring their responsibilities to their workers." Read Michaels' testimony for more information.
A Chipco plant worker died from lung failure last September after breathing hydrogen sulfide. The employer was aware that hydrogen sulfide existed at the gas well, but did not provide workers with respiratory protection, emergency rescue equipment or training. OSHA fined Chipco, a natural gas well salvage and capping business, $165,000 for failing to provide appropriate respiratory protection, not assessing the worksite for potential respiratory hazards and not providing adequate training. "Far too many times, we encounter tragedies of this nature that might have been avoided if the employer had followed OSHA safety and health standards," said Deborah Zubaty, OSHA's area director in Columbus, Ohio. For more details, read the news release.
Would you like input on developing OSHA's strategic plan? You can speak your mind and offer suggestions during an April 7 Web chat with Assistant Secretary David Michaels. In order to more fully engage our stakeholders in our strategic planning process, OSHA is launching an unprecedented outreach effort to solicit your comments and suggestions. Once complete, this new strategic plan will demonstrate how the Department has better aligned its strategic direction, goals and performance measures to achieve Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis' vision of "Good Jobs for Everyone." The Web chat is scheduled from 1:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT and will be text-only with no audio. Visit the DOL's Web site to view Secretary Solis' video message or OSHA's draft strategic plan, and to participate in the Web chat.
Assistant Secretary Michaels announced staffing changes at the national office. Effective April 5, Richard Fairfax will become the new career deputy assistant secretary, and Thomas Galassi will become the acting director of enforcement programs while remaining as the director of technical support and emergency management. In addition, Bill Parsons will become the acting director of construction.
Announcing Illinois' new program at a March 24 news conference in Chicago, Assistant Secretary Michaels said, "This day and this state plan recognizes your value, respects your work, and says 'The State of Illinois, your fellow citizens of Illinois, and the federal government in Washington will protect you and look after you to ensure that, at the end of every work day, you may return home to your families, safe and healthy.'" Illinois is the latest state to be approved by OSHA to administer a safety and health program of standards and enforcement specifically for public workers. Visit OSHA's Web site for more information about its State Plan program.
OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab will discuss worker exposure to asbestos at the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization's International Asbestos Conference. The April 10, 2010, conference in Chicago will inform workers, employers, scientists and others about asbestos-related health hazards such as lung disease, and lung and other cancers. Visit the conference's Web page for more information.
OSHA initiated a National Emphasis Program to help identify and eliminate health hazards associated with worker exposure to hexavalent chromium, a toxic chemical used in pigments, wood preservatives, cut metals and fungicides. OSHA staff will conduct inspections and apply compliance assistance and outreach where workers are likely to be exposed to hexavalent chromium. The agency is also publishing a rule that will require employers to notify workers of any exposure to hexavalent chromium whether it is above or below the permissible exposure limit. Read the directive and rulemaking for more details.
More than 130 workers have died and more than 780 have been injured in combustible dust explosions since 1980. This is the third in a series of stakeholder meetings that ask for suggestions and comments for protecting workers from combustible dust hazards in the workplace. Meetings will be held April 21 at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare Hotel and Conference Center. OSHA will use comments from these meetings to develop a proposed standard. Read the Federal Register notice for more details.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's free Health Hazard Evaluation program evaluates new or recently discovered hazards, illnesses from unknown causes, or exposures to chemical, biological and working hazards not regulated by OSHA. For example, an evaluation at one facility found that workers were being exposed to manganese and other chemicals. NIOSH investigators recommended that the employer install safety systems, such as local exhaust ventilation, to reduce worker exposure to dust. To learn more about the program or submit a request form, visit NIOSH's HHE Web site.
Shipbreaking workers remove gear and equipment from outdated ships and cut apart these vessels for recycling. This work exposes workers to asbestos, falling objects, electric shock and fires. OSHA's Safe Work Practices for Shipbreaking booklet offers ways to help protect workers from injury and death and outlines employers' obligations for providing safe work environments for their workers.
Are you interested in a career with the Department of Labor? The department has job opportunities throughout the country, such as openings in OSHA for a safety and occupational health manager and safety and occupational health specialists.
See DOL's electronic newsletter for more DOL news.
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To report an emergency, file a complaint with OSHA or ask a safety and health question, call 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA).