|May 4, 2010 · Volume 9, Issue 9|
|A twice monthly newsletter with information about workplace safety and health.|
In This Issue
Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels traveled to Louisiana with a team of hazardous material experts May 2 to lead the effort to ensure that oil spill cleanup workers do not suffer occupational injuries and illnesses. These workers are responding to the environmental disaster created by the April 20 explosion of a BP oil rig off the Gulf Coast that took 11 lives. Cleanup workers can face potential hazards from oil byproducts and cleanup chemicals such as dispersants, detergents, and degreasers. In marshes where the oil is expected to wash ashore, workers also face hazards including drowning, heat illnesses, falls, and encounters with snakes and insects. OSHA will work with BP, as well as federal agency partners, to ensure that workers receive appropriate training and protective equipment. "Our job is to work proactively to ensure that measures are taken to ensure the safety of cleanup workers," Michaels said. "OSHA will monitor training, observe cleanup efforts and provide whatever assistance is needed to BP and its contractors." OSHA has also established a Web site that provides hazard awareness material for all involved in the cleanup activities.
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones' famous words, "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living," were a call to arms that rang especially true on April 28, Workers Memorial Day, and on the heels of a tragic month for the nation's working families. More than 4.6 million workers suffer serious injuries each year. And, every day across America, more than 14 men and women lose their lives in preventable workplace incidents. "On this Workers Memorial Day, the mission of the Department of Labor's worker safety and health protection agencies -- MSHA and OSHA -- is clearer than ever," said Secretary Solis. "And, our effort to save lives has never been more necessary." Visit the DOL Web site to read the Secretary's full statement. Secretary Solis and Assistant Secretary Michaels took time to meet with 20 family members of victims of workplace fatalities during their visit to Washington, D.C., for Workers Memorial Day.
OSHA Assistant Secretary Michaels and Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration Joseph A. Main testified before the U.S. Senate April 27 on strengthening workplace safety as well as their respective agencies' ability to enforce the law. According to Michaels, "It has now been almost 40 years since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed, and aside from an overdue increase in penalties almost 20 years ago, no significant change has been made to this law. There are far too many obstacles that prevent effective enforcement of the law, far too many loopholes that allow unscrupulous employers to continue to get away with endangering workers. This must stop." Visit OSHA's Web site to read Michaels' full testimony. Main's testimony focused on the fatal April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in W.Va.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab testified before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections April 28 in support of the whistleblower protection and family and victim support provisions of the Protecting America's Workers Act. He emphasized the importance of protecting workers from retaliation for exercising their health and safety rights. "PAWA would strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Act by increasing protections for whistleblowers, providing additional rights to accident victims and their families, improving OSHA enforcement, and increasing the monetary and criminal penalties for violations of the law. It would also extend OSHA coverage to all public employees in America," stated Barab. Visit OSHA's Web site to read Barab's full testimony.
Marking Workers Memorial Day at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., Assistant Secretary Michaels called for major changes in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a law that has not seen a significant revision in 40 years. He said that the "Protecting America's Workers Act," now under consideration in Congress, "would raise the ceiling on OSHA fines, increase criminal penalties and criminal liability for employers who knowingly endanger workers, expand the rights of workers' and victims' families, and strengthen whistleblower protections." Michaels joined others at the college to dedicate a newly completed National Workers Memorial to all the American men and women who have died on the job. Michaels said that OSHA also has a memorial at its headquarters. "In OSHA's national office in Washington on one entire wall in our conference room we have on display photographs of fallen workers -- a daily reminder of whom we are working for, and whose memory we defend and honor." See OSHA's Web site for Michaels' full speech.
OSHA's spring 2010 Regulatory Agenda includes a new standard that would require each employer to implement safety prevention measures tailored to the actual hazards in that employer's workplace. Instead of waiting for an OSHA inspection or a workplace incident to address workplace hazards, the proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) standard would require that employers develop a plan, with worker participation, to identify the hazards present in their worksites and address them before they cause an injury, illness, or death. "We are asking employers to 'find and fix' the hazards in their workplace," said Assistant Secretary Michaels. OSHA will be holding a series of stakeholder meetings to get public input on the development of the I2P2 standard. The meetings will be held June 3 in East Brunswick, N.J., June 10 in Dallas, Texas, and June 29 in Washington, D.C. Those wishing to take part in these meetings can go online to submit a notice of intent to participate. Submission deadlines and options for sending notification by mail or fax can be found in the notice on the stakeholder meetings published in the Federal Register.
In keeping with the President's memorandum on open government, OSHA has released 15 years of data detailing workplace exposures to toxic chemicals. The data, available on OSHA's Web site, is comprised of measurements taken during the course of inspections, including exposure levels to the hazardous chemicals asbestos, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, silica, and others. It can offer insights into the levels of toxic chemicals commonly found in workplaces, as well as how exposures to specific chemicals are distributed across industries, geographical areas and time.
OSHA issued an enforcement memorandum directed at protecting Latino and other non-English speaking workers from workplace hazards. It directs compliance officers to ensure they check and verify that workers are receiving OSHA required training in a language they understand. "This directive conforms with Secretary Solis' clear and urgent goal of reducing injuries and illnesses among Latino and other vulnerable workers," said Assistant Secretary Michaels.
To address urgent safety and health problems facing Americans in the workplace, OSHA is implementing a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program and increasing civil penalty amounts. Announced in an April 22 news release, the SVEP, which will go into effect by the beginning of June, is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on employers who endanger workers by repeatedly demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law. This supplemental enforcement tool includes increased OSHA inspections in these worksites, mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections, and inspections of other worksites of the same employer where similar hazards and deficiencies may be present. For more information, see the SVEP Directive. Several administrative changes to the penalty calculation system in OSHA's Field Operations Manual will also become effective in the next several months. The penalty changes will increase the overall dollar amount of all penalties while maintaining OSHA's policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith.
OSHA inspectors found that a motorized saw at the Yonkers, N.Y., plant of H&H Woodworking Inc. cut off part of a worker's hand because the machine was not equipped with required safety features. Additional safety and health violations found during the inspection included accumulated combustible wood dust; improperly stored flammable liquids; a locked exit door; and workers allowed to eat food in areas where hazardous chemicals are used. OSHA cited the company $130,800 for intentionally disregarding worker safety and health and for exposing workers to potentially known hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. "One means of preventing recurring hazards is for employers to establish effective comprehensive workplace safety and health programs that involve their workers in proactively evaluating, identifying and eliminating those hazards," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. Read the news release for more details.
OSHA found that American Packaging Corp. could have prevented an explosion that killed a maintenance worker at its Columbus, Wis., plant. Inspectors determined that flammable vapors allowed to collect in a confined space were ignited by an electric grinder being used to cut a metal bolt. OSHA fined the company $127,350 for serious safety and health violations including not providing workers appropriate personal protective equipment, not taking adequate precautions to prevent the ignition of flammable vapors, and not training workers in proper procedures for performing spark-producing operations (such as welding) in confined spaces or preventing unintentional activation of electrical equipment. Find more details in OSHA's news release.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recently appointed seven new members to the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health with the goal of improving worker protections. The new members represent a number of interests:
OSHA and the Consulate General of Mexico in Houston have formed an alliance to enhance workplace safety for construction workers in the states of Texas and Louisiana. The alliance agreement was signed April 14 during OSHA's National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety in Houston. Under this agreement, the partners will work together to develop educational and outreach training programs relating to the "focus four hazards" in the construction industry (falls, electrical, struck-by and caught-between), employee rights and responsibilities in the workplace, and the complaint process. The news release announcing the alliance is available online in English and Spanish.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a final count of 5,214 worker fatalities that occurred in the U.S. during 2008. Although the final figure was the lowest annual total since the fatality census was first conducted in 1992 it is still tragically high, representing an average of more than 14 worker deaths each day. The final number reflects updates to the 2008 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries file made after the preliminary total of 5,071 was released in August 2009. For more information, read the BLS news release.
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Editor: Richard De Angelis, OSHA Office of Communications, 202-693-1999
For more information on occupational safety and health, visit OSHA's Web site.