Archive for the ‘Safety & Health’ Category

California fires: Response and recovery health hazards

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017
A firefighter working in the California fires

Photo: Mike Blake / Reuters

In the wake of the devastating California fires, the massive debris field – formerly neighborhoods, homes and businesses – is now a toxic environmental brew that poses risks to cleanup and recovery workers and residents alike. Kirk Johnson discusses the environmental and health risks of the California fire cleanup in an article in the New York Times.

“In modern times this has got be an unprecedented event, and a major hazard for the public and for property owners,” said Dr. Alan Lockwood, a retired neurologist who has written widely about public health. He said an apt comparison might be the environmental cleanup after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, as debris and dust swirled through Lower Manhattan.

As could well happen too in California, Dr. Lockwood said, the health and environmental effects were felt long after the attack, in the chemicals or pollutants workers and responders at the site, and the public at large, may been exposed to as the cleanup went on.

The scope of the fire disaster in California is hard to comprehend:  Photos Capture Apocalyptic Aftermath Of California Wildfires. Also: and the Los Angeles Times Mapping the destruction from California’s wine country fires.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t offer a tribute to the 9,000+ hard-working firefighters on the front lines who risked life and limb to contain the fires, rescue people and save property. See NPR’s story by Eric Westervelt: In Northern California, Exhausted Firefighters Push Themselves ‘To The Limits’.

See the Atlantic‘s In Focus for a display of photos that document the danger and the destruction.

One interesting and little known aspect of the battle against the fires is that 30-40% of the firefighters battling the fires were prisoners, according to Mother Jones. About 4,000 low-risk prisoners save the state about $80 million a year. Inmates are volunteers who are trained in a four-week program, receive $2 an hour and earn a 2-day sentence reduction for every day served. Typically, they are low-risk felons.

“Career firefighters do things like flying in helicopters and driving bulldozers; inmate firefighters use hand tools, like chainsaws, axes, and rakes, to contain the fire by clearing out the vegetation around it. The prisoners participate in a four-week training process—the same process that other state firefighters go through—proving that they’re fit enough to work through brush in the heat of a fire while carrying up to 100 pounds of gear. They work in teams of about 15 people, supervised by a fire captain. When there’s a big fire blazing, the teams work in shifts of 24 hours, followed by a 24-hour break. When not tending fires, the inmates do other conservation work, often clearing brush to prevent future fires.”

Jaime Lowe of the New York Times reports on The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s wildfires. It talks more about how the program works and takes an up-close look at some of the female inmates on the front lines, including the very real risks they take. While many tout this as a win-win for both the state and the inmates, there are many limitations in terms of the rehabilitative value. Lowe says:

“C.D.C.R. says that the firefighter program is intended to serve as rehabilitation for the inmates. Yet they’re being trained to work in a field they will probably have trouble finding a job in when they get out: Los Angeles County Fire won’t hire felons and C.D.C.R. doesn’t offer any formal help to inmates who want firefighting jobs when they’re released.”

Further in the article, Lowe talks more about this:

When I visited Rainbow, I asked a Cal Fire captain named Danny Ramirez why the state wouldn’t increase the incentive to join the program by paying even a little bit more. He didn’t have a ready answer. Which brought up another puzzling aspect of the program: Why doesn’t the state get more out of its investment in training these women by hiring them when they’re released? Or at the very least, by creating a pathway to employment? Ramirez said the idea ‘‘to keep tags on the girls’’ had come up before. ‘‘Some of these girls leave very interested in what they got exposed to and say, ‘Oh I never knew this exists, how do I keep on doing this?’ And it’s hard when they get out there because they do have a lot of the same walls that they were facing before. But a program to keep them guided and keep them on that path and keep them focused on something instead of getting back into their old ways or old friends would be awesome.’’

 

One of America’s Most Dangerous Jobs

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Kicked, pummeled, taken hostage, stabbed and sexually assaulted … would you want a job that included these risks? In One of America’s Most Dangerous Jobs, the Washington Post shines a spotlight on the dangers in the nursing profession, specifically around the violence that they encounter on the job. Citing a recent GAO report on violence in healthcare profession, the article notes that, “the rates of workplace violence in health care and social assistance settings are five to 12 times higher than the estimated rates for workers overall.”

Here’s one excerpt from the article:

“In Massachusetts, Elise’s Law, which is named for the nurse who was attacked in June, is already on the fast track to set state standards for workplace protection. Legislators were working on this months before Wilson was stabbed.

Nurses in Massachusetts were attacked more frequently than police or prison guards. When association members testified about the violence epidemic this spring, they said nurses had been threatened with scissors, pencils or pens, knives, guns, medical equipment and furniture in the past two years alone, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association.”

OSHA reports that in surveys conducted by various nursing and healthcare groups:

  • 21% of nurses and nursing students reported being physically assaulted and over 50% verbally abused in a 12-month period
  • 12% of emergency department nurses experienced physical violence and 59% experienced verbal abuse during a seven-day period
  • 13% of employees in Veterans Health Administration hospitals reported being assaulted in a year

 

While 26 states have workplace safety standards for health-care facilities, there are no federal standards. Nursing groups say that state efforts have helped increase awareness.

NIOSH worked with various partners – including nursing and labor organizations, academic groups, other government agencies, and Vida Health Communications, Inc. – to develop a free on-line course aimed at training nurses in recognizing and preventing workplace violence. The course has 13 units that take approximately 15 minutes each to complete and includes “resume-where-you-left-off” technology. Learn more about the courses at Free On-line Violence Prevention Training for Nurses and the actual course can be accessed here: Workplace Violence Prevention for Nurses CDC Course No. WB1865

Related

 

 

 

High hazards, gruesome deaths; farm worker safety programs facing cuts

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Farm work is dangerous work. Injuries and fatalities are gruesome – amputations, death by being caught in machinery or rolled over by tractors; drownings in manure pits; suffocation in grain bins. More than 5,000 agricultural workers in the U.S. died on the job between 2003 and 2011, a death rate that OSHA puts at seven times higher than average.

The Idaho Statesman recently featured a troubling but excellent story by Audrey Dutton on two workers who drown in manure pits, a well-known fatality risk in agriculture. While all farm workers face risks – including child workers – the high fatality rate is worsened by the high rates of immigrant workers – both legal and illegal – who may have a poor grasp of English, or who are reluctant to make waves, particularly with the recent ICE crackdowns. These While many farms are good to their workers, there are also many who exploit them.

“We would characterize those employees as vulnerable workers,” said Jordan Barab, who was deputy assistant secretary of OSHA in the Obama administration and now writes Confined Space, a newsletter about worker safety. “Some of them are undocumented, but even those who are documented have come from other countries where, let’s say, the government is not friendly.”

These workers tend to be suspicious of government and unaware that OSHA exists or that they have rights. A complaint can put them at risk of getting fired or deported, Barab said.

“This is a group OSHA has a hard time reaching,” he said.

At Sunrise Organic Dairy in Jerome County, workers did not know about OSHA and were concerned about working near the manure pit the winter Vazquez-Carrera died, according to someone who knew him, who asked not to be identified because of fear of retribution.

In addition to immigrant and non-English speaking workers, children are another vulnerable population at high risk of injury on farms. Small farms – particularly family farms – are unregulated because OSHA cannot inspect farms of 10 or fewer non-family workers, even when fatalities occur. Plus, many of the recordkeeping rules that OSHA was implementing have been rolled back, meaning that many injuries and deaths will continue falling under the radar. These statistics are important for targeting agricultural safety and prevention programs, as well as for targeting enforcement efforts.

OSHA programs are cash-strapped and about to be even more so. Jordan Barab of Confined Space documents how the House budget devastates OSHA and MSHA enforcement. Having served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, he should know.

In addition to enforcement cuts, many prevention programs will be affected – here’s a concrete example: Farm safety funding could be uprooted. The article talks about rollovers, which are the top cause of farm injury and death. But under the president’s proposed budget, one of the key prevention programs – National ROPS (rollover protection system) Rebate Program – would be hurt by budget cuts to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

In the abstract, cutting regulations and federal budgets can seem like a good idea, but they can have real world health and safety implications. We don’t think worker safety or public health should be on the chopping block. These investments are often a cheap dollar. Measured in either lives or dollars, we earn incalculable savings through the prevention efforts of the Centers for Disease Control, OSHA and NIOSH. Earlier this year, the $11 million Chemical Safety Board was scheduled for elimination, but after much public outcry, the House budget calls for CSB funding to be restored.

 

Related: Agriculture Health & Safety

Lost Both Arms and a Leg: Life and Death for Farmworkers

Walking down the grain … and the fines

Grain Bin Safety

Call to action for teen farmworker safety: Two boys lose legs in OK grain bin auger accident

A survivor’s story: Iowa teen advocates for farm safety after her near-fatal encounter with a power take-off shaft

NIOSH – Agriculture Safety

National Farmers Union – safety videos and practices

April 28: Workers Memorial Day

Friday, April 28th, 2017

Every April 28 is dedicated to Workers Memorial Day, when working people throughout the world remember those who were hurt or killed on the job. It’s also a time to recommit to and renew the quest for safe workplaces. The following are some resources that list events and offer information that you can use to raise awareness.

Workers’ Memorial Day 2017 Events Also, see OSHA’s event calendar.

More news and events at 28april.org

Facebook

Twitter at #wmd17

The Weekly Toll: Death in the Workplace

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2017
This is the 26th year the AFL-CIO has produced an annual report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.

The Dirty Dozen: National COSH Releases Report on Companies That Put Workers at Risk
In his post at Confined Space, Jordan Barab links to the report and says:

“Just in time for Workers Memorial Day, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) has announced “The Dirty Dozen” employers of 2017, highlighting companies that put workers and communities at risk due to unsafe working conditions. National COSH chooses the “Dirty Dozen” by soliciting nominations from health and safety activists around the country.”

More on the history at Wikipedia: Workers Memorial Day

Worker Memorial Day and a voice for the workers

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day, a time when workers and their families, labor unions and safety advocates commemorate workers who were killed on the job: 4,800 fatalities per year, or an average of 13 workers who lose their lives every day. The AFL-CIO dedicated the first Worker Memorial Day in 1970 as a day of remembrance for those who have been killed or suffered injuries/illnesses on the job. It also sheds light on the preventable nature of most workplace incidents with its theme of Remember the dead – Fight for the living.

When it comes to work fatalities, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Jordan Barab of the newly resurfaced Confined Space blog profiles some of these deaths in his Weekly Toll. It’s tough but important reading. Those of us who work in insurance can be focused on dollar and cents and lose touch with the real reason many of us entered the workers’ comp arena. And even the most dedicated number-crunchers among us see the wisdom that the least expensive claims are the ones that never happen.

Jordan’s blog focuses mainly on policy and political issues around worker safety, but he explains why he decided to pick up the grim task of compiling this list:

But ultimately, we’re only fighting the policy and political issues because working people are getting hurt and killed every day in the workplace, and more has to be done to stop the carnage. Today I resume a necessary — if depressing — task that I conducted every couple of weeks in the last version of Confined Space: The Weekly Toll, a list of every worker I could find that was killed in the workplace over the previous week or two. The main reason I started the original version of Confined Space in 2003 was that I realized that while a few workers killed in workplace incidents sometimes receive enormous media attention, most workers die alone and unnoticed by anyone except their immediate families and friends. Something had to be done to ensure that these thousands aren’t dying in vain.

Jordan has been a tireless voice for worker safety throughout his career. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017. Prior to that, he worked for the House Education and Labor Committee, the Chemical Safety Board, the AFL-CIO, OSHA and AFSCME. His Confined Space blog was one of the early blogs that inspired us as we launched Workers Comp Insider. He put his blog on ice while working for OSHA, but he has recently relaunched it and is an important voice in looking to the health and safety of workers – particularly in an administration that has pledged to cut regulations and funding for many programs.

We have talked about and are concerned about the defunding and elimination of the Chemical Safety Board. The administration has also rolled back some important albeit controversial OSHA regulations and it is expected that OSHA will suffer further curtailment. Scott Schneider looks at some of the programs that are at risk and why they are important in OSHA Regulations: The Next Target

The President asked businesses and industries for advice on which regulations should be cut and he received 168 submissions from corporations and industry special interest groups.  Unfortunately, eliminating many of these are likely to have a corrosive effect on worker health and safety. Meanwhile, for the voice and interests of the worker and worker safety, Confined Space is an important read.

Chemical Safety Board on budget chopping block

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Photo: Chemical Safety Board

One of President Trump’s key campaign promises was to keep Americans safe, but apparently that promise should come with an asterisk. The news that the Chemical Safety Board is on the budget chopping block contradicts that promise – unless by “safe” we are only talking about threats from sources external to our borders.

The 40-employee Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is the only independent government agency that investigates industrial chemical disasters, issuing reports and safety recommendations to benefit industries throughout the nation. It issues no fines or penalties and makes no rules. Its investigations and reports also identify weaknesses in emergency planning and response that have preventative value not just for workers but also for the communities surrounding potentially hazardous work sites. Its annual budget of around $11 or 12 million is minuscule, particularly when measured against the enormous human and financial toll that a single chemical industrial disaster can inflict.

The Houston Chronicle doesn’t mince any words when talking about the impact of the agency’s demise: ‘Death and destruction’ expected as Trump moves to gut Chemical Safety Board

“A White House proposal to eliminate funding for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board signals a full retreat from two decades of progress against chemical disasters and would, if enacted, put American lives in jeopardy, health and safety experts said.

While little known to the masses, the CSB is to chemical disasters what the much better-funded National Transportation Safety Board is to airline crashes, train derailments and bridge collapses. Without the recommendations that come from these boards, preventable accidents repeat themselves.”

Texas is no stranger to chemical catastrophes. The CSB was instrumental in investigating the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 and the 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company that rocked the small town of West, Texas. That incident killed 5, injured more than 250 and damaged 150 buildings.

In Trump Budget Would Eliminate Chemical Safety Board, Jack Kaskey and Jennifer A. Dlouhy of Insurance Journal also highlight the important role that the CSB plays in investigating accidents, and offers several concrete examples of industry recommendations that enhanced safety practices in dangerous industries.

“The CSB makes no rules and issues no penalties, but often identifies dangerous industry practices that are overlooked by enforcement agencies. Its scope of responsibility has included multi-fatality disasters from a 2013 fertilizer distributor in West, Texas, to BP Plc’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blowout in 2010.

CSB probes have led to many industry improvements that have saved lives without gaining public notice, said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers of America. After a 2012 fire at a Chevron Corp. refinery in Richmond, California, the CSB discovered that the pipe used was subject to corrosion and rupture because of the materials it carried. Though there were no rules against using that kind of pipe, the industry changed its practice because of the CSB, Wright said in a phone interview.”

The CSB issued this statement in response to news of the cuts:

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is disappointed to see the President’s budget proposal to eliminate the agency. The CSB is an independent agency whose sole mission is to investigate accidents in the chemical industry and to make recommendations to prevent future accidents and improve safety. For over 20 years, the CSB has conducted hundreds of investigations of high consequence chemical incidents, such as the Deepwater Horizon and West Fertilizer disasters. Our investigations and recommendations have had an enormous effect on improving public safety. Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public is safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB. As this process moves forward, we hope that the important mission of this agency will be preserved.

 

Here are just a few other notable CSB investigations we recall:

Other commentary on the proposed elimination of CSB

 

 

Navigating extreme height, Chinese workers build cliff walks

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

China has many incredible cliff walks – some for necessity so that remote villagers can connect with the world beyond and some for tourism so visitors can connect with vistas of natural splendor. Check out this 300m glass bottomed cliff walk that is proving popular with intrepid tourists. Even more terrifying – a death-defying hiking trail some people are willing to undertake all to get a cup of tea.

So much for the trails, what about the workers who construct them? We get a short glimpse in this video of Chinese construction workers building a glass-bottom walkway on Laowang Mountain, Jiangxi, China. The clip says workers are in their 50s and work a 10 hour day, earning between $43 and $58 dollars a day. They build about 65 feet a day. Other than hard hats, they don’t appear to have much in the way of safety equipment.

The workers aren’t the only ones braving these heights – look at the extremes these tiny, brave Chinese kids are willing to go through to get an education!

It wasn’t that long ago that U.S. workers were climbing the cliffs of the skyscrapers to build our cities here in the U.S., and safety equipment wasn’t to be seen. Check out this clip of workers building the Empire State Building – not only did they have no safety equipment, they played catch with red hot iron rivets!

Thankfully, safety standards have come a long way in our country since. Fall protection at 1776 feet: One World Trade Center. Although we’ve come a long way in terms of safety, we haven’t come far enough: The high price for fast phones: Cell tower deaths.

If you are a as fascinated with working at extreme heights as we are, you might enjoy more from our prior posts.

Dangerous Jobs: window washing at extreme heights.

You think your job is tough? Climbing Up The Tallest Antenna Tower 1,768 feet

Safety Nets, Hard-Boiled Hard Hats & The Halfway to Hell Club: Safety Innovations in the Golden Gate Bridge Construction

 

Reading the tea leaves: The Trump administration and OSHA

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

depositphotos_81825950_s-2015

Employers are in a state of limbo between one presidential administration and another, trying to intuit the potential impact as potential names of candidates for the  cabinet and key administrative posts are floated, debated and named. Much is still in the realm of speculation.

One thing is becoming clear: Despite the ambiguity that Trump’s recent comments about possibly preserving some parts of Obamacare, it’s clearly on the chopping block. Any doubts were laid to rest in naming Representative Tom Price of Georgia as the secretary of Health and Human Services. An orthopedic surgeon, Price is an ardent foe of the ACA. He is likely to set his sights on Medicare and Medicaid,  too.

But what of other workplace issues? A key indicator will be naming a prospective Secretary for the Department of Labor. Several names have been floated, but as of this writing, no definitive pick has been named. PA congressman Lou Barletta has been cited by many as leading the pack of those under consideration – there are some reports that he has been offered the position, but no confirmation yet. Other possible contenders include Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants (parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) and Victoria Lipnic, a commissioner on the Equal Employment and Opportunities Commission and former assistant labor secretary under George W. Bush. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s name has also been raised by some, a selection that would be chilling to labor unions.

At EHS Today, Sandy Smith offers a not-to-be-missed insider view of Transitioning to a Trump Administration: What It Could Mean for the Department of Labor and OSHA.

Her article offers informed perspective by Former Assistant Secretary of Labor Edwin G. Foulke Jr., who spearheaded OSHA under George W. Bush. He also was the chair of Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) during the transition from George H. Bush to Bill Clinton.

Foulke talks about the immediate process, offering a detailed look at the steps and timeline involved in the transition. He also offers his thoughts on what labor and OSHA issues he expects that the Trump administration will revisit. Here are the items he lists, but click through for the details.

  • Walking-Working Surfaces Standard
  • Respirable Silica Standard
  • Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
  • Whistleblower Statutes
  • Increased OSHA Penalties
  • OSHA Enforcement
  • Non-Company Personnel Participation in OSHA Inspections
  • Restroom Access for Transgender Workers
  • Compliance Assistance
  • Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission

For another take on this, labor and employment law attorney Mark S. Kittaka also looks at Trump’s Potential Impact on OSHA in an article in the National Law Review. Kittaka rehashes some of Trump’s stated priorities and notes that,

“Even without changing a single regulation, Trump could simply limit OSHA’s enforcement ability by cutting their budget. This was a tactic used by President Ronald Reagan and with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, this is a distinct possibility.”

He identifies the following areas as likely to come under scrutiny:

  • Electronic Recordkeeping/Non-Discrimination Provisions
  • Recordkeeping as a Continuing Violation
  • Silica
  • Interpretation Letters

In other news, CNN reports that Trump will tap billionaire Wilbur Ross for Commerce secretary, As the administration’s chief business advocate, he’s the type of appointment Trump promised: a non-politican executive from the business community. Ross would be expected to help Trump reshape global trade and revive steel and coal, both industries in which he has experience.

But in coal industry, there were some problems. According to CNN:

Ross’s foray into the coal industry, however, ran into trouble in January 2006 when 12 miners were killed after an explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia. His company, the International Coal Group, had taken over the mine a couple months earlier.

According to federal reports, the mine had recorded 96 safety violations in 2005 that were deemed “serious and substantial.” The mine was fined nearly $134,000, an amount later reduced in court.

Read another profile of Ross from our go-to coal industry expert, reporter Ken Ward Jr., who speculated about a potential Ross appointment on his Coal Tattoo blog earlier in the month. Ward notes

“It is worth pointing out that if he got either the Commerce or Treasury slot, Ross would not be in charge of coal mine safety and health regulation for the Trump administration. Folks who are concerned about those issues would obviously be better off watching to see who President-elect Trump makes Secretary of Labor — and then who exactly is chosen to by Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.”

OSHA penalties jump 78% this month

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Beginning this month, the Department of Labor (DOL) has increased the maximum penalties associated with violations of The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) by 78%, the first such increase since 1990. Any citations issued by OSHA on or after August 1, 2016  will be subject to the new penalties if the related violations occurred after November 2, 2015. In addition, OSHA will adjust penalties to inflation annually, but will have a cap of 150 percent of the existing penalty amount.

Here’s a summary of the old vs the new penalties

OSHA-violations

The increase in penalties is not limited to OSHA; This is part of a sweeping modernization that passed in 2015: The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act. Here’s a Fact Sheet for Inflation Adjustment Act Interim Final Rules.

In addition to OSHA, other penalty increases will affect:

  • Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
  • Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OCWP)
  • Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

The US Department of Labor Blog talks about how the Inflation Adjustment Act was intended to strengthen the deterrent effect of penalties. In The Benefits of Penalties, Sharon Block notes that penalties had not been raised since a gallon of gas was $1.20 and a first class stamp was 25 cents.

“Adjusting our penalties can lead to significant benefits for workers and responsible employers who will have a more level playing field when competing with those who try to gain a competitive advantage by cutting corners on safety and other basic protections for American workers. As always, we at the Labor Department define success as encouraging employers to comply with the law, not by the amount of penalties we assess, so we stand ready to continue to provide technical assistance to all employers who want to do the right thing.”

This is sure to raise some consternation among the nation’s employers, particularly following the OSHA’s controversial new reporting rules. It would appear the the DOL is serious about putting some teeth in enforcement programs designed to protect workers.

Unfortunately, despite the steeper fines, the deterrence factor has historically been mitigated by the all-too-frequent subsequent slashing of fines after they have been levied. See this 2013 NPR Report: Enforcement Of Penalties Weak In Grain Bin Deaths, in which levied fines were negotiated down by 90% or more – a not unusual practice. These fines may be steep to small employers, but to large national, they are a cost of doing business.

BERKES: Employers have the right to challenge and negotiate citations and fines. And OSHA routinely relents. Those major fines – over a hundred grand – they dropped 80 percent of the time, according to an analysis of OSHA enforcement by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity. The agency discount ranged from 40 to 97 percent.

In all the grain deaths we identified, OSHA fines were cut on average more than half. This, Michaels suggests, is part of the process.

MICHAELS: We do everything we can within the current regulatory framework. We look at the individual characteristics of the case, the characteristics of the employer. We don’t think reducing a fine to, you know, $700,000 or $500,000 or $200,000 is going easy on this industry.

BERKES: But given the persistent death toll, it doesn’t seem fines are providing the deterrent effect they’re supposed to. As for criminal prosecutions.

Related resources

 

OSHA’s New Reporting Rule Raising Hackles

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

OSHA recently released a final rule on injury reporting and electronic recordkeeping that is raising hackles in many quarters – if you aren’t aware of the rule, this post will get you up to speed and will present an overview of the controversy.

The rule requires that certain hazardous industries submit injury and illness data electronically, which will then be shared and publicly accessible online. In addition, the rule strengthens worker protections around reporting. Employers are obligated to inform employees of their reporting rights and must not deter or discourage injury reporting in any way, and may not retaliate against employees for reporting.

Here’s a copy of OSHA’s new rule, which was published on May 12, 2016. Here’s a brief summary excerpt:

OSHA is issuing a final rule to revise its Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses regulation. The final rule requires employers in certain industries to electronically submit to OSHA injury and illness data that employers are already required to keep under existing OSHA regulations. The frequency and content of these establishment – specific submissions is set out in the final rule and is dependent on the size and industry of the employer. OSHA intends to post the data from these submissions on a publicly accessible Web site. OSHA does not intend to post any information on the Web site that could be used to identify individual employees.

The final rule also amends OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation to update requirements on how employers inform employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses to their employer. The final rule requires employers to inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation; clarifies the existing implicit requirement that an employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and not deter or discourage employees from reporting; and incorporates the existing statutory prohibition on retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. The final rule also amends OSHA’s existing recordkeeping regulation to clarify the rights of employees and their representatives to access the injury and illness records.

Large employers (250+), unless exempt from reporting, are now required to submit data electronically. In addition, high hazard industries with 20-249 employees will also have electronic reporting obligations

Poster for informing employees of their rights

The electronic reporting requirements are in effect as of January 1, 2016. The employee notification and anti-retaliation provisions go into effect on August 10, 2016.

Proponents and opponents of the OSHA rule speak out

OSHA and labor proponents say that the new rule will modernize reporting and offer transparency that fosters safer workplaces.

Just as public disclosure of their kitchens’ sanitary conditions encourages restaurant owners to improve food safety, OSHA expects that public disclosure of work injury data will encourage employers to increase their efforts to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.

“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities. Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at greatest risk, and enable ‘big data’ researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer.”

Most labor unions are proponents of the new rule: Teamsters Applaud New OSHA Rule to Modernize Worker Injury & Illness Report System

The new rule will go a long way in correcting a widespread problem that saw many large employers routinely withholding these reports from their own workers, in violation of OSHA’s current mandate. This will especially help the many workers in non-union companies to get this important information without fear of retaliation by their own supervisors. With this rule, OSHA will move employers into a modern, electronic reporting system to promote accurate and broad public understanding of the dangers in today’s workplaces.

Opponents say that the public posting of injury data constitutes a “public shaming” and that data may be misunderstood or exploited by competitors and other parties. In addition, employers say that the previous recordkeeping process allowed revisions to injury and illness records, a process that may be unavailable now once reported. Some opponents also raise concerns about employee privacy, although OSHA says reported data will not be identifiable by employee.

The following are some initial reports of opponent concerns.

The Hill: OSHA to publicly disclose workplace injuries online

But the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) accused the Labor Department of “publicly shaming” companies into compliance.

“This administration put a target on nearly every company and manufacturer in the United States,” NAM vice president Rosario Palmieri said in a statement.

“Manufacturers are supportive of regulations aimed at increasing transparency, and we pride ourselves on creating safe workplaces for the men and women who make things in America,” Palmieri said. “However, this regulation will lead to the unfair and unnecessary public shaming of these businesses. This is a misguided attempt at transparency that sacrifices employee and employer privacy.”

Business Insurance: RIMS sounds alarm on latest OSHA injury-reporting rules

Inaccurate safety ratings, reporting redundancies and cyber exposures will result from the new rule on electronic record-keeping of workplace injuries released by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration that takes effect Jan. 1, 2017, the agency said in a statement.

OSHA’s new rule requiring the publishing of employee injuries can increase litigation against an organization and can also be used against an organization by industry competitors, RIMS said in the release.

The organization is also concerned about the ambiguity of the cause of a workplace injury potentially creating misconceptions about an organization’s workplace safety, the statement said.

RIMS also listed OSHA’s web-based reporting application as an issue because of its additional cyber exposures.

Safety + Health: Critics of OSHA recordkeeping rule air concerns at House hearing

Critics of OSHA’s recently released recordkeeping rule, which would make worker injury and illness data public, voiced their concerns during a May 25 hearing convened by the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

The National Law Review: OSHA Electronic Recordkeeping Rule Creates Significant Reporting Requirements, Potential Enforcement Risks

This article summarizes the new rule and offers compliance recommendations for employers. It also raises employer concerns:

The implications of OSHA’s new reporting requirements are significant, as the new rule creates a number of concerns and challenges due to the public disclosure of employer safety data. For one, the OSHA recordkeeping process has always allowed a continuing opportunity to revise injury and illness records with new changes to the reported event. But once the injury and illness data is initially reported and disclosed, it may be difficult for employers to revise this public information. Additionally, the data may be misinterpreted or misrepresented by the media or competitors. Further, employee privacy is a concern. Although OSHA states that it will use software to remove private employee information from the disclosures before posting, the effectiveness of this software remains to be seen. Finally, the cost and resources necessary to implement electronic data collection and maintenance will be significant. OSHA’s financial estimates likely ignore the time and effort required to bring an employer into compliance, especially ones without any electronic collection procedures currently in place.

Construction Equipment: New Electronic OSHA Reporting Requirements Raise Serious Concerns

Before, employers could only be cited by OSHA for not having a workplace illness/injury procedure in place. Now OSHA can cite an employer if the company’s procedure is not ‘reasonable’ or discourages employees from reporting.

Before, OSHA had to wait for an employee to file a whistleblower retaliation claim to investigate the company. Now, OSHA can cite and fine employers directly and demand abatement for alleged retaliation against employees who report workplace injuries and illnesses.

Before, employer reports of injury/illness events were in an open chronological format that allowed updates and changes to the report as needed. Now, because the electronic report will be made public at the initial filing, it may be difficult for employers to revise the report at a later date. This means the first filing will stay on the Internet as it was written and later updates may or may not be easily found. This can lead to either accidental or willful misinterpreted of the information by anyone who has an Internet connection.

We doubt we’ve heard the end of this story so stay tuned.