Archive for the ‘Safety & Health’ Category

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.

April 28: Workers Memorial Day

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Each year, April 28 is designated as Worker Memorial Day, a day to mourn the dead and recommit to safety in the workplace. Despite progress in reducing on-the-job deaths, 13 workers are killed at work every day, with many more suffering grievous and life-changing injuries. Here are some sites and resources commemorating the day.

wmd
OSHA: Workers Memorial Day

Workers’ Memorial Day is observed every year on April 28. It is a day to honor those workers who have died on the job, to acknowledge the grievous suffering experienced by families and communities, and to recommit ourselves to the fight for safe and healthful workplaces for all workers. It is also the day OSHA was established in 1971. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their workers. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

OSHA provides a clickable map to find activities near you.

safe-jobs

AFL-CIO: Workers Memorial Day

From this year’s  fact sheet:

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the effective date of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Act — which guarantees every American worker a safe and healthful working environment — created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set and enforce standards and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct research and investigations. This year also marks the 47th anniversary of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, and 39th anniversary of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.

But despite the progress:

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is 45 years old, and is out of date. Millions of workers lack coverage, penalties are weak and worker and union  rights are very limited.

Thousands of workers still face retaliation by their employers each year for raising job safety concerns or reporting injuries —fired or harassed simply because they want a safe place to work. The OSH Act’s whistleblower and anti-retaliation provisions are too weak to provide adequate protection to workers who try to exercise their legal rights

In 2014, nearly 4,700workers were killed on-the-job by traumatic injuries and an estimated 50,000 – 60,000 died from occupational diseases. On an average day, more than 10,000 workers are injured or become ill because of workplace hazards, and 150 workers lose their lives as a result of workplace injuries and diseases.

See events listed by AFL-CIO, as well as this year’s fact sheet.

Other resources

 

Healthcare providers struggle with violence-related risk management

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

There’s no question but that healthcare workers face a growing threat of violence from patients while going about their day-to-day jobs. In a 2015 survey, the International Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation reported a 40% increase in violent crime from 2012 to 2014, with more than 10,000 violent incidents mostly directed at employees. High stress, armed patients and visitors, drug and alcohol intoxication, mental health issues and more all contribute to an increasingly dangerous environment. OSHA reports that:

From 2002 to 2013, the rate of serious workplace violence incidents (those requiring days off for an injured worker to recuperate) was more than four times greater in healthcare than in private industry on average. In fact, healthcare accounts for nearly as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined.

Recently, Susannah Levine reported on the challenge that healthcare facilities face in her Risk & Insurance article, Hospitals Struggle with Security Risks. The article discusses the pros and cons of an armed approach to healthcare security, as well as the insurance implications of various risk management and security measures. Liability insurance may be a determining factor as to whether healthcare facilities opt for armed security or rely on less lethal tools like Tasers and sprays.

“Barry Kramer, senior vice president, Chivaroli & Associates, a health care insurance broker, said that armed security in health care settings is more of a risk management concern than a coverage issue.

“It would be highly unusual for our clients’ liability policies to exclude claims involving security guards, whether or not they’re armed with guns,” he said.

He said many health care risk managers are not equipped to manage exposures associated with licensing and certifying guards or registering the facility’s own firearms.

For facilities that lack the bandwidth to manage, train and track certifications for in-house security staff, Kramer said,third-party vendors, such as local law enforcement or private security companies, can be contracted, since they have firearms experience as well as liability insurance coverage.”

In February, the New York Times discussed various approaches and philosophies that healthcare facilities employ to mitigate risk. The article by Elisabeth Rosenthal – When the Hospital Fires the Bullet – centers on the case of a 26-year-old mental health patient who was shot by police in a Houston hospital. In the course of the article, Roenthal presents various approaches to security:

To protect their corridors, 52 percent of medical centers reported that their security personnel carried handguns and 47 percent said they used Tasers, according to a 2014 national survey. That was more than double estimates from studies just three years before. Institutions that prohibit them argue that such weapons — and security guards not adequately trained to work in medical settings — add a dangerous element in an already tense environment. They say many other steps can be taken to address problems, particularly with people who have a mental illness.

Rosenthal contrasts the approach of Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, where the strongest weapons its security officers carry is pepper spray to that of the Cleveland Clinic, which has its own fully armed police force and also employs off-duty officers.

Guns in hospitals

Meanwhile, as risk managers struggle with the dilemma of whether to arm or not to arm, patients and visitors are often armed, enabled by state and local gun laws – just one more factor that healthcare facilities are coping with. At of the beginning of the year, Texas law allows for guns in state mental health hospitals. Campus Safety Magazine reports on how Kansas College Hospitals are preparing to allow guns on campus to comply with a new law. Gun laws in health systems vary by state – while a federal law bars guns from schools, there is no such law about firearms in hospitals.

Healthcare Violence Prevention Resources

OSHA: Worker Safety in Hospitals – Caring for our Caregivers

OSHA: Preventing Workplace Violence: A Road Map for Healthcare Facilities

OSHA: Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers

Mitigating Workplace Violence at Ambulatory Care Sites

Emergency Department Violence Fact Sheet

Healthcare Crime Survey 2015

Prior related posts

More perils for healthcare workers

Violence in healthcare: 61% of all workplace assaults are committed by healthcare patients

Report on violence & aggression to Maine’s caregivers; Injuries include bites, kicks, being hit

Chemical Safety Board Issues Report on West Fertilizer Company Explosion

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Two days after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a giant explosion rocked the small town of West TX. Twelve emergency responders who rushed to the initial fire at the scene were killed in the subsequent blast, as were three civilians. More than 260 were injured and treated at hospitals; 150 buildings were damaged.

Initially, local authorities feared the blast was a terrorist event, but the cause of the blast was the storage of 270 tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN). To give some perspective to this, in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building, Timothy McVeigh used 2 tons of ammonium nitrate.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) issued a draft version of its 265-page Investigation Report into the April 2013 Fire and Explosion at West Fertilizer Company for public preview. The CSB’s January 28 public meeting to release its West Investigation Report will be available via live webcast at 6 pm CST

The report is dedicated to the 12 emergency responders and 3 members of the public who lost their lives. It represents one of the most destructive incidents ever investigated by the CSB.

“The CSB’s analysis includes findings on the technical causes of the fire and explosion; regulatory changes that could have resulted in safety enhancements to the facility; the failure of the insurer to conduct safety inspections or provide an adequate level of coverage; shortcomings in emergency response, including pre-incident planning or response training of the volunteer fire fighters; and deficiencies in land use planning that permitted the City of West to encroach upon the WFC over the years.”

The CSB directed recommendations to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Labor, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Commission on Fire Protection, and other regional entities.

CSB estimated that total insurance-related losses were around $230 million, but the WFC was only insured for $1 million. One part of the report looks at related policies and regulations, including ” … the failure of the insurer to identify the risks posed by FGAN. A few years prior to the incident, WFC was dropped by one insurer for failing to address safety concerns identified in loss control surveys. The company that insured WFC at the time of the incident did not appear to have conducted its own safety inspections of the facility.”

The CSB’s analysis also pointed to:

  • A lack of training in hazardous materials response and pre-incident planning on the part of the West Volunteer Fire Department.
  • Shortcomings in federal and state regulations and standards that could reduce the risk of another incident of this type.
  • The location of the WFC relative to the surrounding community, which exacerbated offsite consequences.

In terms of the location, the risk to the public continues:

“CSB’s analysis shows that the risk to the public from a catastrophic incident exists at least within the state of Texas, if not more broadly. For example, 19 other Texas facilities storing more than 10,000 pounds of FGAN are located within 0.5 miles of a school, hospital, or nursing home, raising concerns that an incident with offsite consequences of this magnitude could happen again.”

Related coverage:

Dallas News: Federal investigators: Texans still face risk of West-like blast

The Waco Tribune: Report: Public still not safe from West-style industrial blasts

There are many ongoing related lawsuits. In October, The Waco Tribune reported: 1st West explosion trial gets settled

Earlier coverage

Interactive: West plant before and after – before & after aerial photos show scope of destruction

Ellis County remembers West fertilizer plant explosion – “The day a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, Ellis County community members went to Facebook and Twitter to share their reactions. Here’s a look back at not only how the explosion that killed 15 people and destroyed most of the town unfolded, but reactions from the terrible tragedy.”

West blast survivors share their stories

Special Report: Poor planning left Texas firefighters unprepared

An excellent Reuters report by M.B. Pell, Ryan McNeill and Janet Roberts was issued in May of 2013.

“The lack of preparedness endangers not only firefighters and emergency medical technicians, but also people nationwide living near chemical stockpiles similar to those that exploded in West.

At least 800,000 people in the United States live within a mile of 440 sites that store potentially explosive ammonium nitrate, which investigators say was the source of the explosion in West, according to a Reuters analysis of hazardous-chemical storage data maintained by 29 states.”

Another section of this report indicates how adequate preparation and training might have saved lives:

“Firefighters who have battled ammonium nitrate fires elsewhere – without death or injury to first responders – say having the Tier II information was critical to their success. They knew what they were facing going in, and responded accordingly.
Called to a fire at a similar fertilizer facility in 2009 in Bryan, Texas, firefighters opted not to fight the blaze. Although the circumstances were somewhat different – firefighters knew going in that ammonium nitrate already had ignited – the first responders decided to keep a safe distance and evacuate nearby residents. No one was injured, and the fire burned itself out.

Key to the response, said Chief Joe Ondrasek of the Brazos County Fire Department Precinct 4, was having the fertilizer company’s Tier II report in hand. Firefighters were unable to contact the plant manager immediately, he said, and therefore relied on the report to inform their response.

A federally funded program intended to grant fire departments online access to the Tier II reports was not being used in West. Although some firefighters in Texas said they know about and use the system, known as E-Plan, others said they didn’t know of its existence or how to access it.

Federal funding for the E-Plan system was eliminated last October, which could hurt efforts to keep it up and running.”

Halloween special: Scariest posts from our archives

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Apparently, it’s human nature to love being scared. It’s certainly proven true with blog posts — some of the most popular and highly visited entries from the archives are the ones that set your teeth on edge. Truth is usually scarier than fiction. We’ve dusted them off and present them to you.

In the spirit of Halloween, here are some of our scariest and most popular posts from the “it could have been worse” genre:

The truly terrifying posts

The above posts run the gamut but they have one thing in common: they mainly had happy endings. The really terrifying posts – the ones that should keep us all awake at nights – are ones that end badly. Here are some frequently visited posts in the “it shouldn’t have happened but it did” category. Sadly, this list is hardly exhaustive in the horror genre. Too many workers leave for work in the morning and don’t come home again at night:

Blankenship on trial: Potentially precedent setting case re CEO criminal responsibility

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

A day that many in West Virginia have waited for has come to pass: Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Mining, is on trial. Proceedings began on October 1 in Charleston Federal Court and are in the jury selection phase.

Get your popcorn ready for what promises to be a very interesting and potentially precedent setting case. Holding a CEO criminally responsible for charges related to work safety violations is extremely rare. Observers are interested particularly in light of the Justice Department’s new emphasis and directive on prioritizing accountability and prosecution of individuals rather than just corporations. And no one is watching the proceedings with more interest than the families of the 29 miners who lost their lives.

The Charleston Gazette is following the trial closely with Don Blankenship on Trial, a special reporting section that includes day-by-day trial coverage updates and stories, timelines, a list of legal documents, historical articles, videos, maps and more. It also includes photos and profiles of the deceased.

Coverage also includes links to podcasts by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. WVPB has also been reporting on the case, offering an extensive background and podcasts of the trial events. You can find the latest podcast on the link above, or find a roster of the daily podcasts here or at the WVPB site’s dedicated Blankenship Trial page, where other reportage is also available.

The 16 minute Episode One is well worth a listen. WVPB’s Ashton Marra interviews
Howard Birkus, investigative reporter for NPR on coal mining and work safety, and Mike Hissam, Partner of Bailey & Glasser law firm. They set the stage for the trial and talk about its precedent-setting nature. Birkus says that it is “”extraordinarily rare to hold a CEO responsible for criminal or civil violations at their companies” noting that prosecutors need a paper trail, electronic trail or inside people who will testify. Hissom talk about how this case is on the leading edge of the Obama Justice Department’s new guidelines on criminally prosecuting individuals rather than just fining a corporation. They discuss how CEOs are often insulated from decision-making, but that Blankenship is unique and legendary in his micro-managing practices.

For background on the Justice Department’s new focus on criminal prosecutions, see the New York Times: Justice Department Sets Sights on Wall Street Executives. Matt Apuzzo and Ben Protess report on new rules, issued in a memo to federal prosecutors nationwide:

“Though limited in reach, the memo could erase some barriers to prosecuting corporate employees and inject new life into these high-profile investigations. The Justice Department often targets companies themselves and turns its eyes toward individuals only after negotiating a corporate settlement. In many cases, that means the offending employees go unpunished.

The memo, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, tells civil and criminal investigators to focus on individual employees from the beginning. In settlement negotiations, companies will not be able to obtain credit for cooperating with the government unless they identify employees and turn over evidence against them, “regardless of their position, status or seniority.” Credit for cooperation can save companies billions of dollars in fines and mean the difference between a civil settlement and a criminal charge.”

For background on the case, How we got here offers a history of the case.

The reporting traces Blankenship’s rise to power in the coal mining industry and his influence in the state’s politics on through to the April 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that claimed the lives of 29 miners. Several investigations revealed ” … a pattern of violations by Massey of key safety standards, including proper mine ventilation, control of the buildup of explosive dust, and maintenance of equipment to prevent sparks that could set off a blast.” To date, four criminal convictions have occurred. Then in November of last year:

“… a federal grand jury meeting in Charleston indicted Blankenship, charging him with four criminal counts. A superseding indictment was later filed that combined two of the counts. Blankenship faces charges that he conspired to violate federal mine safety standards and to hide those violations from government inspectors and that he lied to federal securities regulators about Massey’s safety practices to try to stop the company’s stock prices from plummeting after the disaster.”

More resopurces
See our prior stories on Don Blankenship here

Follow Ken Ward on Twitter

Follow other reporting and commentary on twitter at #Blankenship