Posts Tagged ‘fatalities’

Automation Designed To Keep People Safe Can Produce The Opposite Result Through No Fault Of Its Own

Monday, September 18th, 2017

A fascinating article in today’s Daily Alert from the Harvard Business Review describes how our dependence on automation can erode cognitive ability to respond to emergencies.

In “The Tragic Crash of Flight AF447 Shows the Unlikely but Catastrophic Consequences of Automation,” authors Nick Oliver, Thomas Calvard and Kristina Potocnik, professors and researchers at the University of Edinburgh Business School, report on their analysis of the horrific crash of Air France flight 447 in 2009. Their research, recently published in Organizational Science, describes in riveting detail the series of preventable cascading events that led to the deaths of all 228 passengers and crew.

Although the crash of AF447 is a transportation tragedy, it also can serve as a stark reminder that employees who depend on technology, especially technology that controls dangerous work, say self-driving 18-wheel trucks, for example, need a lot of training to take the right steps when technology reacts to emergencies. Without that training, the authors contend, the cognitive ability to take manual control and successfully deal with the emergency is problematic at best.

The authors provide an example:

Imagine having to do some moderately complex arithmetic. Most of us could do this in our heads if we had to, but because we typically rely on technology like calculators and spreadsheets to do this, it might take us a while to call up the relevant mental processes and do it on our own. What if you were asked, without warning, to do this under stressful and time-critical conditions? The risk of error would be considerable.

This was the challenge that the crew of AF447 faced. But they also had to deal with certain “automation surprises,” such as technology behaving in ways that they did not understand or expect.

The point here is the technology offering up the “automation surprises” was doing exactly what it was programmed to do. The technology did not fail; the pilots, all three of them, failed in their response to the “surprises.”

We are now at the beginning of a monumental shift in the way work (and play) is done. The natural gravitational movement of artificial intelligence assuming more and more control in our daily lives is unstoppable. Think of how it has brought tremendous improvements in air safety. To prove that, consider this astounding statistic: In 2016 the accident rate for major jets was just one major accident for every 2.56 million flights. But this bubble of safety can breed terrible complacency. How humanity deals with and prepares for the rude “automation surprises” that will surely come along on the way to the future should be a critical component in the thinking of organizational leaders and safety professionals.

 

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.

9/11: A 15 Year Remembrance

Friday, September 9th, 2016

On September 11, 2001, the nation took the biggest of gut-punches. Thousands died that day and hundreds of thousands, all around the world, have died since. If you were in the insurance industry that day, you probably lost at least one friend, maybe more. I know I did. The world changed after that day, and barbarism raised its head like a volcano rising from the crash of tectonic plates.

First Responders have been particularly savaged. More than 5,000 have been victimized by cancer. Dr. Michael Crane, the head of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital’s 9/11 Health Program Clinic estimates he sees ten to fifteen new cases per week. Today, CBS This Morning told the story of one of them, Sal Terderici. It is heartbreaking.

We all sought healing in our own ways. Because I’m a musician and a singer, I sought to deal with the tragedy by writing an anthem about it. I recorded it in Worcester’s Mechanics Hall and renowned guitarist Peter Clemente accompanied me. We gave the song to Denis Leary, a Worcester native who had lost a cousin, a firefighter, as he battled the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Company fire in 1999. Five of his cousin’s comrades also died in that fire. Denis became passionate about helping firefighters following that. You may recall his hit TV show, Rescue Me, which ran on FX from 2004 through 2011. Rescue Me was a seven year homage to a noble profession. Denis took our song and used it to help raise money for the fallen firefighters of September 11.

This coming Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of, arguably, the worst day in American history. To mark the event, I want to share our anthem with you. You can find it here.

Tom Lynch

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.

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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

 

Studies: Opioid epidemic grows; Is obesity a smoking gun in rise of prescription drugs?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

You may have taken hope from studies that pointed to a decrease or leveling of the rate of deaths related to opioid and prescription drug use in 2012-2013. If so, the Centers for Disease Control wasted no time this year in throwing some cold water on those hopes.

On January 1, via the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC issued new data on Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths — United States, 2000–2014.

                      Age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths and drug overdose deaths involving opioids: US 2000–2014

mmwr opioid trends

Here are some of the key findings:

  • During 2014, a total of 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, representing a 1-year increase of 6.5%, from 13.8 per 100,000 persons in 2013 to 14.7 per 100,000 persons in 2014.
  • Rates of opioid overdose deaths also increased significantly, from 7.9 per 100,000 in 2013 to 9.0 per 100,000 in 2014, a 14% increase.
  • In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes
  • The 2014 data demonstrate that the United States’ opioid overdose epidemic includes two distinct but interrelated trends: a 15-year increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin.
  • From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses.
  • The rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin).

The 2013-2014 increase was geographically pervasive. In 2014, the five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were:

  • West Virginia (35.5 deaths per 100,000)
  • New Mexico (27.3)
  • New Hampshire (26.2)
  • Kentucky (24.7)
  • Ohio (24.6).

States with statistically significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014 included Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

For more analysis of the data, see Kim Krisberg’s story at The Pump Handle.

Obesity: A Smoking Gun?

Is obesity a contributing factor to the opioid epidemic? That’s certainly an avenue worth further investigation. Recent research shows more evidence of the increase in prescription drug use and study authors suggest an obesity connection.

In November, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health issued a report which was published in in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association: Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012

NPR’s Alison Kodjak reports on the study in Americans Are Using More Prescription Drugs; Is Obesity To Blame?

Two of the key findings:

  • 59% of adults used a prescription drug in a 30-day period, up from 50% a decade earlier.
  • The share of people taking more than five prescription drugs in a month doubled to 15%.

Lead author Elizabeth Kantor said that:

” … the rise in prescription drug use may have to do with the rise in obesity, since many of the most widely prescribed drugs treat obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The study found, for example, that the share of people using cholesterol-lowering agents, mostly statins, jumped from 7% to 17%.”

 

Related opioid reading matter:

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

Fall from Grace: Dupont in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program

Friday, August 14th, 2015

For many who have had careers committed to safe workplaces, it’s a bit of a heartbreak to see that Dupont, once a pinnacle of safety, is now placed in OSHA’s “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” This action is the result of investigations spawned by the deadly chemical leak at the La Porte, TX facility last November. The leak claimed the lives of four workers and hospitalized another. Sandy Smith reports in her EHS Today article, OSHA Revisits DuPont Facility Where Four Workers Died, Issues More Citations:

In his remarks about the enforcement action against the company, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels took aim at the company’s reputation for safety. “DuPont promotes itself as having a ‘world-class safety’ culture and even markets its safety expertise to other employers, but these four preventable workplace deaths and the very serious hazards we uncovered at this facility are evidence of a failed safety program,” said Michaels.

Neena Satija and Jim Malewitz report in the Texas Tribune: New OSHA Penalties for DuPont After Deadly Leak

“We have concerns about the safety culture,” David Michaels, the agency’s director, said in an interview Thursday. “We expect chemical facilities where highly toxic materials are used to have a culture that focuses on ensuring worker protection. It appears to have broken down.”

In a May interview with The Texas Tribune, Michaels called the initial $99,000 fine “petty cash” for the multibillion-dollar company and said he wished he could dole out harsher penalties.

On Thursday, he said fines matter little for any company that large, but shining a spotlight on a company that has long touted a goal of “zero safety incidents” will send a message to employers nationwide.”

A must-read account: Up In the Tower

In reading accounts of the November chemical disaster, it’s apparent that this came very close to being much worse – not just for plant workers, but also the larger community.

We call your attention to Up in the Tower, an excellent and eye-opening article in Texas Monthly by Lise Olsen that dissects the events leading up to and during the tragic November day. It lays bare many of the failures, warning signs and build up to the day’s events. By painting portraits of the deceased workers and their actions, it also puts a human face on the tragedy.

Olsen outlines how Dupont’s fall from grace began a number of years ago, a result of many factors: pressure to increase profits for shareholders, corporate restructurings, high turnover with more experienced workers retiring or leaving and being replaced by less experienced workers. Dupont experienced prior safety failures leading to fatalities:

DuPont experts continue to deliver lectures at global safety conferences and make millions peddling their safety programs to other companies, with results that they say have been proved. But the corporation’s pristine safety reputation suffered after toxic releases killed two workers at chemical complexes in New York and West Virginia. One longtime DuPont employee was fatally poisoned in 2010 after cheap plastic tubing burst inside a shed at DuPont’s plant in Belle, West Virginia, dousing him with phosgene, a gas that had been used as a chemical weapon in World War I. That same year, an explosion killed a contract welder and injured his co-worker in Buffalo, New York. They hadn’t been warned of a possible gas buildup inside the tank they were repairing. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a small federal agency that investigates the nation’s worst industrial chemical accidents, reviewed both cases and criticized DuPont. Company officials had failed to follow their own maintenance and safety rules, the board said. “In light of this, I would hope that DuPont officials are examining the safety culture company-wide,” the board’s former chairman John Bresland announced in July 2011.

OSHA is trying to compensate for the low fines by shining a spotlight on the company’s practices so an article like Olsen’s may have wider exposure than the typical OSHA releases, which tend to mainly garner coverage in trade publications. Certainly, the fines are little comfort to the surviving families, as Olsen notes:

The penalties and company assurances seem small to Gilbert and his family. He and his wife canceled the big fiftieth-wedding-anniversary party they’d planned with all four of their children. Their sons’ smiling faces appear in the family portraits that line their shelves and walls, but family gatherings are more somber now. Gibby’s widow comes alone; Robert’s wife is raising their young children without him. Gilbert has accepted that Robert died trying to rescue his co-worker. He takes some comfort knowing that Gibby helped save another man’s life and perished trying to save his brother. His sons died heroically, but, he says, their deaths could have been easily prevented if their employer, a multibillion-dollar corporation, had invested in upgrades and followed its own rules. “It wasn’t necessary for them to die.”

 

— Reader comment from our mailbox —

Good Morning.

I was the carrier claims service representative for E. I. DuPont de Nemours from the late 80’s through most of the 90’s at both the Belle, WV plant, as well as, Waynesboro and Martinsville, VA. In the conduct of my responsibilities there, I became somewhat familiar and was impressed by the safety culture at these plants. It’s sad to see this strong emphasis on “Safety First” deteriorate to this point.

I would hope that the pursuit of profit wasn’t a cause of this change in attitude, or the weakening of union influence on safety matters by collusion or desperation for jobs, but it’s hard to think of another explanation.

Regards,
R.S.L, AIC

Tomorrow is Workers Memorial Day

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Safe-Jobs-Save-Lives-Poster_large

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembering those who have suffered and died on the job and renewing the fight for safe workplaces.

Here are some resources and events about tomorrow’s observances.

OSHA: 4,585 [U.S.] workers died on the job in 2013

Interactive Map of 2014 Worker Fatalities

Death on the Job report, 2014

Workers’ Memorial Day — April 28, 2015
CDC’s Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report

Find Workers Memorial Day events near you

Intolerance for Unsafe Workplaces
Edward Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

Occupational exposure is OSHA’s focus for this year’s Workers’ Memorial Day

5 “Easy” Ways to Improve Temp Worker Safety
Alliance for the American Temporary Workforce

#WorkersMemorialDay

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BP disaster: 10 years and 58 refinery deaths later…

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

A decade after the BP Texas City explosion that killed 15 and injured 180, U.S. refineries are nearly as deadly as ever, according to Blood Lessons, an investigative journalism report by Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune that looks at the aftermath of the tragedy at the facility itself and the industry at large. The report shows that serious risks remain unaddressed; survivors of the terrible event are distressed that even seemingly simple lessons haven’t been learned, such as locating flimsy break tents close to the refineries. The fatalities a decade ago largely occurred in just such temporary shelters.
In fact, it would appear that refineries are not a lot safer than they were then:

“No single refinery accident has matched Texas City’s devastation, but at least 58 people have died at American refineries since the BP blast, according to data compiled from Occupational Safety and Health Administration records, news accounts, lawsuits and union reports. There were at least 64 deaths in the 10 years before the accident.

The Department of Energy has tracked almost 350 fires at refineries in the past eight years – nearly one every week. There are about 140 refineries across the United States. Members of the United Steelworkers union like Ambrose have been out on strike, protesting at 15 locations. They’re worried, among other things, about safety, claiming that old refineries are routinely pushed far beyond safe operating limits, that fires occur too frequently and that trailers and tents remain in harm’s way.”

While OSHA stepped up inspections through a nationwide refinery emphasis program, it discontinued the highly labor-intensive program and lacks staff to enforce existing rules.

For other chapters in the report see:
Anatomy of a Disaster, which includes an animated video of what caused the BP explosion.
Survivors Remember, interviews and videos with survivors.
A deadly industry – Assembled data shows how and where refinery workers continue to die.

In other remembrances, Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso addresses the 10th Anniversary of the BP disaster in a brief video:

He faults organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of BP for the disaster, citing
a weak safety culture, a deficient process safety management program, and obsolete equipment. These problems have continued in the refinery industry in decade since. He cites two large incidents, one being the 2010 Tesoro blast that killed 7 workers in Anacortes, Washington.

The CSB notes that current federal and state regulations are not strong enough on preventive measures and say that more regulatory oversight is required to strengthen prevention.
Related: The extended CSB report on the BP investigation, issued about one year after the tragedy.