Posts Tagged ‘fatalities’

Tomorrow is Workers Memorial Day

Monday, April 27th, 2015

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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.

How Americans die on the job

Friday, September 19th, 2014

in her post How Americans die on the job, in 5 charts, Danielle Kurtzleben of Vox media analyzes and summarizes data from the Labor’ Department’s most recent preliminary Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2013 The charts offer a quick look at of some of the most deadly jobs, activities and demographics.
The good news is that fatalities continue trending down, as can be seen in the chart below. In 2013, 4,405 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States, lower than the 4,628 recorded work fatalities in 2012. The numbers could adjust – final 2013 data isn’t released until the late spring of 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that, “Over the last 5 years, net increases to the preliminary count have averaged 165 cases, ranging from a low of 84 in 2011 to a high of 245 in 2012.”
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Oh God, for one more breath

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

The excellent site Letters of Note publishes a fascinating collection of historical letters, postcards, telegrams and memos — a great site for browsing. On a recent visit, we came upon a heartfelt letter from miner Jacob Vowell, his last communication before suffocating in the Fraterville Coal Mine in Tennessee. The letter was to Sarah Ellen, his beloved wife and mother to their 6 children, one of whom, 14-year-old Elbert, was by his side in the mine. The 1902 disaster killed most of the 216 miners who were working when an explosion occurred. (Source of the photo and more about the Fraterville disaster).
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This letter seems particularly poignant in light of the recent terrible mining tragedy in Soma, Turkey that has claimed more than 300 lives.
Ken Ward Jr. of Coal Tattoo points us to a four-year old report that warned of the life-threatening risks in the Soma mines. Accounts from survivors also give testimony to a lax safety record and climate of fear. And as if the tragedy weren’t terrible enough, Prime Minister Erdogan’s handling of the event and the governmental response to grieving families seems like something out of a Dickensian novel. More recently, several arrests have been made.
In the “people who live in glass houses” department, Ken Ward asks why we can’t do better right here in the U.S. in his post, Why is it OK for mine operators to break the law? Last week, Eric Legg and Gary Hensley were killed at Patriot Coal’s Brody Mine No. 1. NPR investigations revealed that this mine consistently violated federal mine safety laws, but federal regulators say they were powerless to shut it down.

Despite the threat to miners, federal regulators say they do not have the authority to simply close the mine.

“MSHA failed to use an even tougher tool at the Brody mine. The agency has the authority to seek a federal court injunction that would place a mine under the supervision of a federal judge. The judge could then order the closure of the mine if its owner failed to fix chronic safety problems.

But in the 40 years it has had this authority, MSHA has used it only once — in 2010 against Massey Energy’s Freedom Mine No. 1 in Kentucky. Massey then closed the mine.”

On this topic, it’s also worth reading Alan Neuhauser’s article In US News & World Report, Experts: Coal Mining Deaths Preventable. Here’s a key excerpt:

“We have not come up with any new ways to kill coal miners,” says Celeste Monforton, a mine safety researcher and advocate who worked at the Mine Safety and Health Administration. “These are things that we’ve known for a long time and we know how to prevent them.”

Instead, for the fifth straight year, the coal mining industry is once again well on its way to recording more than 20 workers’ deaths this year.

“Very few accidents are act of God,” says Mary Poulton, head of the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona. “Almost all of them are something we should have been monitoring or controlling or dealing with. When these things happen, it’s a tragedy because our systems failed.”

OSHA: No More Falling Workers

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

In May 2012, we posted about the excellent Frontline – Pro Publica documentary report on on cell tower worker deaths: The high price for fast phones: Cell tower deaths. Since that time, the issue has gotten worse, not better. In 2013, there were 13 cell tower-related fatalities. In the first two months of 2014, there have already been 4 fatalities related to cell towers.
In response to these deaths, The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is collaborating with the National Association of Tower Erectors and other industry stakeholders to ensure that every communication tower employer understands their responsibility to protect workers performing this high-hazard work. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels has issued a warning letter to Communication Tower Industry Employers reiterating these responsibilities.
In addition, OSHA has launched resources to focus on protecting cell tower employees in its No More Falling Workers initiative. It has created a new Web page – Communication Towers – targeting the issues surrounding communication tower work.
Education is great in as far as it goes, which isn’t all that far. The problems that plague the industry and the related deaths revolve around the unrelenting deadlines to complete towers to meet demand and the complex network of contractors and subcontractors that allow the tower owner to shrug off responsibility for any deaths.
Travis Crum of the Charleson Gazette echoes the problems found in the Frontline-Pro Publica report in his reporting about three West Virgina tower-related fatalities earlier this month: Company that owns collapsed Clarksburg cell towers had fatalities before

“These incidents seem likely to continue as cell companies push contractors and their employees to meet rising demand for 4G and 4GLTE data networks, said Randy Gray, a former OSHA inspector from Kentucky.”

“Gray said cellphone companies are racing to replace older 3G networks with 4G, or fourth-generation, networks. This rapid expansion places cell tower climbers at risk, Gray said, who now does private consulting on accidents and fatalities at cell tower sites.”

He also explains why it’s so difficult to hold the cell tower owners/networks responsible:

To make matters worse, Gray said, it’s difficult for OSHA to hold companies such as SBA responsible, because there’s a web of contractors and sub-contractors who often shield them from scrutiny.

OSHA investigators must prove several elements before citing a company, Gray said, one of them being knowledge of potential hazards.

“With the owner of the cell tower not being present at the time of the fatality, it’s hard to prove they had knowledge about what the employees were signing off on,” he said. “So these companies start layering themselves between the people who work on the ground, and this layering, in my opinion, protects them from possibly being cited by OSHA or being involved in OSHA inspections.”

So while it’s great that OSHA is warning employers and putting an emphasis on tower worker safety, it will serious accountability to drive the change.
Related:
Wireless Estimator tracks U.S. tower-related fatalities
13 Cell Tower Maintenance Workers Died on the Job in 2013
Cell tower worker fatalities continue: More than a dozen deaths since 2012
OSHA Urges Tower Employers to Protect Workers After Recent Spate of Fatalities
Cell Tower Deaths Get OSHA’s Attention
West Virginia Firefighter Killed in Secondary Collapse at Cell Phone Tower Rescue, Two Workers Also Dead

What’s odd about this picture?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Delaine Davis has been sentenced to 4 to 6 years in Wyoming Women’s Center jail. Her crime was workers’ compensation fraud of $11,072. She knowingly collected workers comp benefits while being gainfully employed in another job. In addition to her jail term, she was ordered by Judge Marvin L. Tyler to pay $11,072 in restitution to the State of Wyoming.

Is it just us, or does that penalty seem a little harsh? Perhaps there are some extenuating circumstances that contributed to the sentence that weren’t revealed in news reports. Certainly, we would agree that fraud is bad and should be punished – we have no argument with that. Apparently, Ms. Davis willfully violated the law. She should indeed be required to pay restitution and suffer some punishment for her crime — but 4 to 6 years seems pretty steep to us — particularly in contrast to the “up to 6 month” jail penalty for a willful violation resulting in a worker fatality under OSHA’s general duty clause:

(e) Any employer who willfully violates any standard, rule, or order promulgated pursuant to section 6 of this Act, or of any regulations prescribed pursuant to this Act, and that violation caused death to any employee, shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or by both; except that if the conviction is for a violation committed after a first conviction of such person, punishment shall be by a fine of not more than $20,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or by both.

In looking further into the data, we turned up this SHRM article: Report Finds OSHA Resources Lacking, Penalties Weak, which notes that:

“The median penalty for a fatality investigation conducted in FY 2012 was $5,175 for federal OSHA, and the median current penalty for the state OSHA plans combined was $4,200, according to OSHA enforcement data.

Criminal enforcement under the OSH Act has been and remains exceedingly rare, the report said.

Only 84 cases have been prosecuted since 1970, with defendants serving a total of 89 months in prison. During this time there were more than 390,000 workplace fatalities, according to Labor Department data. In FY 2012 13 cases were referred for possible criminal prosecution.”

Fraud is serious business and we all pay the price. Wyoming has chosen to wield a pretty big stick in doling out punishment, noting that “Workers’ compensation is intended to help workers injured on the job, We won’t stand for people who defraud and abuse this important program.” OK. But when it comes to protecting workers and keeping them safe, the state takes less of a hard line and more of a courtesy approach to safety, generally favoring carrots over penalties. This hasn’t produced great results: While there have been some small improvements of late, Wyoming has a pretty ignominious record when it comes to worker fatalities. Except for the most recent year, Wyoming has consistently ranked as the worst or the next-to-the-worst state for worker fatalities over the past decade.

“He was the greatest roofer I knew and look what happened”

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

This powerful “digital story” about falls through skylights from the California Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) would be an excellent training video for construction workers, builders, and anyone who works on roofs.

According to FACE: “More construction workers die from falls than from any other on-the-job injury. Fatal falls and serious injuries may result from inadequate guarding and fall protection for work around skylights. This video explains the events that led to a roofing supervisor’s death after he fell 30 feet through a warehouse roof skylight onto a floor. Photographs from the fatality investigation are supplemented with scenes recreated by co-workers who were there that day. Fall prevention recommendations are highlighted. Roofing and construction companies are encouraged to include this video as part of a comprehensive safety training program.”
The video was produced by the California Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program in the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health.
Related:
OSHA: Preventing Worker Deaths and Injuries from Falls Through Skylights and Roof Openings
Fall Protection: Traps that Workers Can’t Avoid
OSHA Safety Videos for Construction

Walking down the grain … and the fines

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

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Image: John Poole, NPR

 


It’s called “walking down the grain,” it’s illegal and it results in suffocation deaths on farms with frightening regularity. It refers to the practice of workers going into grain silos and bins with shovels and picks to break up clogs in the grain so that it can flow smoothly. It’s a highly dangerous practice that can result in sudden entrapment similar to being sucked in by quicksand. It can happen in less than a minute.
This summer is starting as many others, with a lone worker trapped and suffocated in a grain silo – his would be rescuers talk about futile attempts to save him. News reports say that he fell in – until OSHA investigations, we may not know the particulars around why he entered the bin alone and had no protection, such as harnesses. Sometimes farmers do this on their own. Sometimes, they send workers in to walk down the grain – often teens, immigrants or some other temporary workers who may not be aware of the dangers. That was the case in 2010 when a 20 year old and two teens were entrapped in an Indiana silo. One teen survived.
2010 was a year for the record books. Heavy rains the prior year made for very moist, clumpy grain in storage. Twenty-six people died in that year, the worst year in decades.
According to the Center for Public Integrity:

“At least 498 people have suffocated in grain bins since 1964, according to data analyzed for the Center and NPR by William Field, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University.

At least 165 more people drowned in wagons, trucks, rail cars or other grain storage structures. Almost 300 were engulfed but survived. Twenty percent of the 946 people caught in grain were under 18.”

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It should be noted that these are reported incidents.
Walking down the fines
This spring, the Center for Public Integrity and NPR produced a special investigative series called Buried in Grain. In a recorded segment, the sole survivor of the Indiana grain bin entrapment recounts the experience, a gripping and powerful account. The first segment also talks about another dangerous practice: how almost all the fines levied by OSHA in such fatalities wind up being slashed in what might be termed “walking down the fines.” In subsequent reports, the series talks about why storage bin rescues are so risky and complex, and a third offers prevention strategies.
Liz Borowski of The Pump Handle links to various other news reports and resources on grain bins and temporary workers. The Pump Handle, an excellent blog that reports on public health and policy issues, has been great in keeping attention on this subject. We also point you to the powerful video on Grain Bin Safety issued by The National Corn Growers Association and the National Grain and Feed Foundation, previously posted here.
Farming is a dangerous livelihood. Storage facilities present many other dangers. A year after the deaths discussed in the above report, we posted about two teens who both lost legs in a grain bin augur accident. Other grain storage hazards beyond engulfment and suffocation or being caught in machinery include lung disease and poisoning from fumigants, mold, and grain dust. Plus, the risk of explosions from combustible dust: this year has seen at least two deaths related to a grain bin explosion in Indiana.
OSHA has put bin operators on notice and provides a variety of tools and resources about grain handling safety. Many are cynical, however, that with weak enforcement and continued “walking down the fines” the practice of “walking down the grain” won’t go away any time soon.

image credit: OSHA

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day

Friday, April 26th, 2013

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Each year, April 28 is designated as Workers Memorial Day. OSHA says that, “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.”
Here are some planning resources for marking the event.
The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health provides links to Workers Memorial Day Events, as well as a Workers Memorial Day Fact Sheet (PDF) and other resources.
AFL-CIO Workers Memorial Day has resources at their site, including a toolkit (PDF) to prepare for the event and a Collection of Worker Memorials.
USMWF Worker Memorial Day also has a list of planned events and a touching slide show tribute to workers who were killed on the job.
See 2012 Reports:
Death on the Job – AFL-CIO
Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces
California Dying at Work Report
North Carolina Workers Dying for a Job

UBB mine disaster: the plot thickens as former CEO Blankenship implicated

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

In the ongoing saga of the federal investigation into the April 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster that resulted in the deaths of 29 miners, things recently took a dramatic turn. The legal-criminal proceedings have resulted in four convictions to date. Now, in the most recent proceedings, a top Massey official has implicated former CEO Don Blakenship.

According to a news report by Ken Ward Jr in the Charleston Gazette:

Former Massey official David C. Hughart pleaded guilty to two federal criminal charges that he plotted with other company officials to routinely violate safety standards and then cover up the resulting workplace hazards.

But a fairly routine plea hearing here took a surprising twist when U.S. District Judge Irene Berger pressed Hughart to name his co-conspirators and Hughart responded, “the chief executive officer.”

Hughart did not use Blankenship’s name, but Blankenship was CEO of Massey from 2000 until 2010, during the period when the crimes Hughart admitted to committing occurred.

On his Coal Tattoo blog, Ward looks at media coverage this news generated and how it was reported. He talks about what’s next in the Upper Big Branch criminal probe. The prosecution has stated that “This is not the end of the investigation.”

You can follow Don Blankenship’s doings on his fairly new website, where he is self billed as “Native of Appalachia, Job Creator, CEO, and American competitionist.” He posts his thoughts about mine safety, among other things, in an essay page. In his page of media coverage, Ken Ward’s clips and the UBB mining investigations are unsurprisingly absent.
You can also follow his opinions and comments on Twitter at @DonBlankenship. Ironically, his most recent post accuses President Obama of lying, with a link to an essay which claims that Obama lied about climate change in his State of the Union address.

We’re coming up on the third anniversary of this terrible Massey mine tragedy. The investigation and criminal probe of company officials continues, but it’s important to look beyond that to ensure future safety. Ken Ward takes the MHSA to task for waiting 32 years to enforce the landmark mine safety act of 1977.

We point you to the Miners Memorial Page at the tribute site, Faces of the Mine. Scrolling through a page of 29 portraits brings home the enormity of this tragedy in a visceral way.