Posts Tagged ‘scaffolding’

The Yogi Berra HWR, plus AIG, Florida lawyers, scaffolding & more news notes

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Anthony Wright hosts Health Wonk Review at Health Access WeBlog this week, and he serves up some of the wit and wisdom of baseball great Yogi Berra with this week’s best of the health care blogs. It’s a perfect posting for our times when “the future ain’t what it used to be.”
Florida – a bill that would restore a cap on attorney fees passed its first hurdle this week when approved by the Florida House. It must also pass the Senate and be approved by Governor Crist. Attorney fees were considered one of the primary cost drivers in the Florida system and a cap on fees was one of the cornerstones of the 2003 reform, but was overturned in the Supreme Court Murray decision last November. See our prior posts on the topic: Attorney Fees in Florida: What is “Reasonable” and Florida Lawyers Win, Employers Lose.
AIG – In addition to all the other ongoing investigations, state insurance regulators are currently examining whether AIG violated rules governing workers’ compensation sales. “The probe is an offshoot of a 2005 lawsuit from then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who said AIG shortchanged the premiums used in calculating its obligations to state pools. In most states, companies that sell workers’ compensation must fund pools that serve as insurers of last resort to cover injuries at employers that pose unattractive risks.” The 50 state regulators expect to have their investigation completed by June.
Legal matters – In this month’s Legal Clinic at Human Resource Executive, employment law attorney Keisha-Ann G. Gray tackles a few tricky legal questions: the length of time an employer must keep a job open for an employee who suffered a work-related injury, which touches on the anti-retaliation principles that apply across many states; also, a discussion about the relationship between the FMLA and workers’ comp leave.
Scaffolding – Scaffolding (general requirements, construction 29 CFR 1926.451) was the most frequently cited standard in fiscal year 2008 by federal OSHA. It is also the standard for which OSHA proposed the second highest penalties. OSHA has resources to help employers and employees identify scaffolding hazards and solutions to those hazards at scaffolding and the OSHA publications page.
Workplace violence – HUB International Risk Consulting is offering a free Webinar on April 9: To learn more or register: Workplace Violence, What You Don’t Know Could Kill You

Health Wonk Review, scaffold survivor update, hand protection, and potential cancer cluster

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Jane Hiebert White has posted a great edition of Health Wonk Review: Washington Week at Health Affairs – and she notes that this issue coincides with Academy Health’s Annual Research Meeting held in DC this past week, a gathering based on the concept that health policy should be informed by research. In this HWR issue, one of the major themes centers on health care reform. It’s worth your time to check it out – it may be one of our biggest and most substantive issues yet.
Survival story – at the beginning of the year, we posted about miracle survivor Alcides Moreno who lived through a NY scaffolding collapse which sent him plummeting 47 stories. Today, the New York Post features a story about Moreno entitled 47-story guy walking tall. But not all the news associated with this story is good: his brother who was also on the scaffold was killed in the fall. Earlier this week, The New York Times covered the OSHA report about the accident, which found fault with City Wide Window Cleaning, the service that employed the Morenos, and Tractel, the firm that had repaired the scaffold.

OSHA issued five citations against City Wide for what it called serious violations. Three carried proposed fines of $7,000 apiece, the highest the agency can impose. One was for lack of a system to protect against falls — cables that would have left the Morenos dangling at the top of the building when the scaffold gave way.

Another citation against City Wide was for failing to train employees in how to inspect the scaffold, and for not training them to wear “personal protective equipment” before they stepped onto the rig. The article lists other charges against both companies. Commenting about the fines imposed, the Daily News editorializes that death comes cheap, noting that, “Financial penalties like that are meaningless as a deterrent to corner-cutting by contractors.”
Hand injury prevention – According to an article on hand injuries by Don Groce in Occupational Hazards, gloves can prevent injuries and reduce costs. Recent research shows that “The cost of hand injuries in just one sector of the construction industry is six times what it would cost those employers to offer every employee appropriate hand protection.” This preventive measure represents potential to reduce pain, reduce lost productivity, and save dollars. According to the CDC, hand injuries account for more than a million emergency department visits by U.S. workers per year. Groce’s article also discusses advances in glove manufacturing and various types of safety glove alternatives.
Dupont cancer cluster? – Celeste Monforton of The Pump Handle raises the question of whether there is a cancer cluster associated with Dupont in response to 19 cases of rare carcinoid tumors among DuPont employees, with 6 of the cases surfacing among workers at the Washington Works plant in West Virginia. She reports that adverse health effects have been associated with exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8), the chemical used to make Teflon and other non-stick surfaces.

NY scaffolding: one miracle survivor saved by physics; others not so lucky

Monday, February 4th, 2008

When cables broke on a scaffold on the 47th floor of a New York high-rise residential building on a crisp December day, it took only about 6 seconds for the two window washers who had been on the platform to plummet 500 feet to the ground. Edgar Moreno was killed instantly but, astonishingly, his brother Alcides Moreno survived the fall.
The word “miracle” is often tossed about lightly, but in this case, Alcides Moreno’s survival was part miracle, part physics, and part good medicine. As Moreno fell, he clung to the scaffolding, riding it to the ground and the platform provided wind resistance that slowed his fall. While his brother Edgar struck the ground at a probable speed of about 100 miles per hour, experts say that Alcides’ descent probably slowed to about 45 miles per hour. Platform cables acting like the tail of a kite may have slowed him further.
Philip Barie, chief of critical care at New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, who has treated fall survivors before, talked about the odds:

“You get above six stories, it gets unusual,” he said. “You get above 10 stories, it’s rare. We’ve had two people survive 12, one person survive 14 and one person survive 19. Forty-seven stories is uncharted territory.”

Barie said he didn’t know if Moreno set a record. No, he did not, at least according to the Free Fall Research Page. The record was made by a Russian airman, who survived a 22,000 foot fall in 1942 after his bomber was attacked by German planes. (There are many other fascinating fall survival tales at this site, and Moreno’s story is on the front page.)
Of course, Moreno suffered grievous injuries – broken ribs, a broken arm, shattered legs and spine damage. He was in a coma for weeks and has undergone more than 16 operations. But within a few weeks, the prognosis looked good not only for his survivability, but likelihood that he would be able to walk again. In mid-January, he was dismissed from the hospital to a rehab facility.
Few miracles, many deaths
It is sadly ironic that Morena survived a 500 foot fall, but William Bracken was killed in a 19-foot fall in a scaffold collapse in Mooreville, PA about 10 days ago. And in the city of New York alone, there have been at least two more scaffolding deaths since Moreno’s fall. High winds were blamed for a scaffold collapse in Brooklyn that killed Jose Palacios in a 12-story fall last week. This followed on the heels of the death of Yuriy Vanchytskyy in a 42-story fall from the top of Trump SoHo, a condominium hotel under development.
Repeat safety violations
State records show that in the Moreno incident, the scaffolding had been cited for 10 violations in June, including four that were repeat violations. According to news reports, the brothers had complained about safety issues but were told the scaffolding was safe. Neither of the brothers were wearing safety harnesses when the accident occurred.
Repeat citations are not an uncommon story. A New York Times investigation into the collapse that killed Vanchytskyy found that his employer, DeFama Concrete, had a history of safety violations, had been fined tens of thousands of dollars in penalties, and had another worker death on record – the 2004 death of an employee who perished after falling 60 feet from the platform of a crane. In that accident, OSHA found a failure to provide sufficient safety devices. These fines and citations are apparently little more than a slap on the wrist because offending contractors are still hired to work on some of the city’s most prestigious new construction projects.
Worsening employment practices and the underground economy
City Limits looks at the matter of construction safety in New York, a problem that seems to be worsening:

“According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on work fatalities, construction deaths in New York City more than doubled from 2005 to 2006, from 20 to 43. (Data for 2007 is not yet available.) Over that period, New York City also had a higher percentage of construction deaths than the U.S. overall, according to BLS: “the construction sector accounted for 43 percent of all fatalities; nationally, construction also led other sectors … accounting for 21 percent of all job-related fatal injuries.” The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), however, reported that between Jan. 1, 2007 and Oct. 31, 2007, construction-related fatalities dropped 43 percent from the same period in 2006, from 14 to 8, and injuries stayed constant – but accidents on high-rise sites increased from 23 to 42.”

Part of the problem? City Limits links to and cites a recent report by the Fiscal Policy Institute (PDF) attributing much of the problem in New York construction to “worsening employment practices.” City Limits summarizes this part of the report:

” …the construction industry employs more than 200,000 workers in New York City, almost a quarter of whom work in the illegal “underground” construction industry. Not only does this lead to a half-billion-dollar annual financial loss because of unpaid payroll taxes and workers compensation premiums, according to the report, but it correlates with dangerous practices. Data from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “indicate a strong correlation between construction fatalities and the characteristics of the underground economy: half of the deaths occurred among workers at very small construction companies, three-fourths of the workers involved worked for non-union companies, and failure to provide safety training was cited in over half of the cases.”

It’s a horrifying and daunting problem, but to their credit, city officials are taking action, and some improvements have occurred since 2006. A Suspended Scaffold Worker Safety Task Force was formed and several scaffolding-related laws were enacted to increase penalties. Many are also calling for an overhaul of the Department of Buildings, the regulatory body, which many fault for being slow and reactive.
Of course, all the deaths that we’ve discussed have occurred since these laws were enacted. The city needs to continue focusing on this issue because Alcides Moreno’s story notwithstanding, the miracle plan does not make for good safety policy.
(Thanks to rawblogXport for pointers to many of the links we’ve cited.)

News roundup: Health Wonk Review, OH, NY, fraud, BP and safety

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Health Wonk Review – Daniel Goldberg is this week’s host of Health Wonk Review and he offers up an abundance of varied links with interesting context and commentary. And while visiting HWR, please be sure to check out Daniel’s excellent Medical Humanities Blog. In today’s posting, he offers a good introduction to the nature of medial humanities as a discipline and the role that medical humanists play in health care. His blog is well worth an extra look-see, encompassing a literature review, a medical humanities lexicon, and an information exchange on events and conferences, among other things. His sidebar links are extensive and also give a good window into the multi-disciplinary nature of medical humanities as a subject matter.
Ohio – One of our readers kindly sent us a link to an interview with the new Administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, Marsha Ryan, who says that the state’s $21 billion system is “pretty broken.” She also states that it may take years before public trust is restored, unsurprising in the wake of wide-ranging corruption in the Bureau that led to 16 convictions. She also indicated that she plans to review group discounts that have been offered to business alliances, such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce or National Federation of Independent Business. According to a recent investigation, some companies were given discounted rates, a practice that raised questions about fairness but which turned up no illegalities.
California – In news of another state workers comp body that is seeking to restore trust and transparency, the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) has named Janet Frank as new president as of October. She will take the reins from interim president Lawrence E. Mulryan who was appointed after the prior president, James C. Tudor, and vp, Renee Koren, were fired. Sally Roberts of Business Insurance reports that there are a number of ongoing investigations to learn if misconduct or illegal activities occurred, particularly in relation to the payment of administrative fees in connection with SCIF’s group insurance programs.
More on fraud – On Tuesday, Tom Lynch blogged about a judge indicted for insurance fraud. One of our readers noted that the same issue of Insurance Journal also included another fraud item about four workers comp claimants in Texas sentenced for cheating the system. The four claimants collected a combined total of $17,346 for double-dipping, or collecting benefits while gainfully employed. Unlike the case of the judge, there was no suspension with pay for these folks: Penalties for the four included probations ranging from 1 to 5 years, community service requirements, and restitution. While fraud is certainly wrong and to be condemned under all circumstances, we agree with our reader that the juxtaposition of the two fraud cases and the disparity of the consequences present a study in irony. Presumably, the judge will have his day in court, and if the charges are proven, will have a steeper penalty imposed.
BP contests OSHA fines – According to Occupational Hazards, BP is contesting $92,000 in recent OSHA penalties for violation of safety rules related to process safety management and hazardous conditions at the Texas City refinery. This is the site of the March 2005 disaster in which 15 workers were killed and many others injured. For a recap of the investigations of that event, see Josh Cable’s excellent article, Anatomy of a Tragedy, a sad case study in safety and prevention gone awry. He notes, “Perhaps the real tragedy is that federal investigators believe that the accident – like so many other workplace accidents – was entirely avoidable.”
Health & safety resources
OSHA added a Health Care module to its Compliance Assistance Quick Start tool, which offers online free compliance assistance resources. The purpose of the module is ” …to help employers understand OSHA regulations applicable to the healthcare industry, including recordkeeping, reporting and posting requirements. It also contains information on developing a comprehensive safety and health program and on training employees.”
Dale Lindemer offers a practical overview of Scaffolding Good Practices in the August issue of Occupational Health & safety – a good resource on “dos and don’ts” to help prevent the most common hazards: falls from elevation; collapse/overturning of the scaffold;being struck by falling tools, work materials, or debris; and electrocution, principally due to proximity of the scaffold to overhead power lines.

News roundup: RTW, Ambulatory Care, Rhode Island shake-up, and more

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Today’s must-read list: Give disabled workers every reason to remain part of your work force – an article discussing a report by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) on the Stay at Work/Return to Work process. The report discusses the psychological, emotional, and economic impact of disability on the individual. Read the full report: Preventing Needless Disability by Helping People to Stay Employed (PDF).
Peter Rousmaniere’s column in Risk & Insurance this month – How to Avoid Getting Scalped – a look at Ambulatory Surgical Centers and their lack of transparency in billing practices. It’s worth a read.
Rhode Island – Looks like Ohio may have some company in terms of workers comp scandals. Business Insurance reports that Governor Carcieri is calling for the termination of Beacon Mutual Insurance Company’s CEO Joseph Solomon after a recent report detailed questionable practices and preferential pricing. Insurance Journal reports that Solomon and the VP of underwriting have both been suspended without pay, at least until a meeting scheduled for today. This is a big shakeup for an organization that writes about 90% of the state’s workers comp policies. Beacon Mutual was created by the state in 1991 as a nonprofit independent corporation.
Scaffolding – In Boston, work has resumed at the site of the recent scaffolding collapse. The state is considering proposals that would assign scaffolding inspections to the Department of Public Safety, as is the case with cranes at construction sites. This political football will no doubt be tossed around for awhile. Meanwhile, a new scaffolding collapse in Milton Keynes , UK has dominated the headlines this week … another worker killed. The BBC depicts the collapses in pictures. (via rawblogXport).
Employee Mutiny – You know things are bad when your work force quits en masse, leaving only a note on the door. Hospital Impact discusses this event, and raises other issues of employee morale and work force motivation in an interesting post that we found via Rita at MSSPNexus.

Safety Disappears in a Hurry

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

Dressed in surgical scrubs, Dr. Michael Tsan Ty was driving through downtown Boston on his way to Brigham & Women’s Hospital. He was in the midst of his usual 80-hour workweek as a neurology resident. Perhaps he was thinking about his post-doctoral work at MIT, where he studied the way brain cells recover after they are damaged by disease or injury. Or he might have been thinking about his small theatre group, which he somehow found time for during his hectic week. We will never know, because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: a scaffolding fell off of a building and crushed his Honda. In addition to killing Dr. Tsan, two construction workers died in the accident.
A series of articles in the Boston Globe describe how the scaffold came down during the dismantling process. It might have been human error. It might have been mechanical failure. Investigators are focusing on the apparent disconnection of a metal tie that had secured the 3-ton platform to the building. While there is much that is not known at this point, we do know this: Bostonian Masonry, a subcontractor to the general contractor Macomber Builders, was under tremendous time pressure to finish the job.
According to one employee of the masonry company, Workers had been laboring two shifts a day, seven days a week to try to get the building ready for the next school year. This push to complete the job has left many of the workers exhausted.
”The pressure is unbelievable,” said the worker.
Robert Beane, 41, the supervisor killed in the accident, worked so hard at his construction job that ”it seemed like it beat the snot out of him,” said Edward Page, who once was Beane’s roommate. Beane had plenty of construction experience and had completed a number of OSHA training programs. His co-worker, Romildo Silva, a young Brazilian with a family, dreamed of opening a hair salon. He, too, died in the accident.
Time Pressures
Where did the pressure come from? We need look no further than the public statement of the customer, Emerson College. Officials said that from the outset, the project, renovating an office building into dormitories, had been scheduled to open this fall.
”It’s going to open September 2006, and that was stated at the outset of construction,” said Emerson spokesman David Rosen. ”We expect it to be finished on time if work resumes within a week.” In other words, inspectors have a week to complete their work and draw their conclusions. A week to bury the dead and move on. Then it’s back to business as usual.
We are in no position to judge the pace of the work or the working conditions. Both Macomber and Bostonian Masonry have been cited for OSHA violations in the past, but that does not necessarily mean there were problems at this particular jobsite. At this point I would guess that human error caused the accident. But how can you factor in the deeply-rooted fatigue that appears to permeate the Emerson jobsite?
Fingers pointing everywhere, but no one is to blame. Let’s extract just one simple lesson from this incident: haste trumps safety, every time. No safety program can adequately adjust for an unreasonable pace of work. Whether you’re driving a car or working on a scaffold, when you’re in hurry, you and the lives around you are always at risk.