Dispatches From the Front Lines Of Worker Safety and Health: Short Stuff

DispatchesEPA Suffers From Shortage of Common Sense: Attorneys General from 11 states — New York, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have filed a lawsuit claiming that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed two-year delay of the Accidental Release Prevention Requirements for Risk Management Programs is illegal under the Clean Water Act.  You may recall that Pruitt delayed the regulation last month, partially due to the evidence-challenged allegation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) that the fire that led to the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion was the result of arson. EPA had updated these protections in response to President Barack Obama’s 2013 Executive Order on “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” following the catastrophic explosion at West Fertilizer that killed 15 people and wiped out part of the city of West, Texas. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated that: “Protecting our workers, first-responders and communities from chemical accidents should be something on which we all agree. Yet the Trump EPA continues to put special interests before the health and safety of the people they serve. It’s simply outrageous to block these common-sense protections – and attorneys general will keep fighting back when our communities are put at risk.”

Better Late Than Never: Yesterday was August 1 and OSHA has kept its (delayed) promise to unveil its Injury Tracking Application. Establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, and establishments with 20-249 employees that are classified in certain high risk industries are required to send in the annual summaries of their injuries and illnesses by December 1, 2017. The deadline was delayed from the original date of July 1, 2017 and the injury tracking application that was unveiled today was originally supposed to be unveiled by the end of February. The regulations, issued by the Obama administration last year, requires the information to be sent to OSHA and prohibits companies from retaliating against workers for reporting injuries and illnesses.  Industry opposed the reg because the data will be made public, and industry association spread misinformation that the anti-retaliation provisions would prohibit automatic post-incident drug testing. Actually, the reg would only affect drug testing in those situations where employers use it to punish workers for reporting. Interestingly (but keeping with this Administration’s odd practice), no press release was issued announcing the application. It’s at the top of OSHA’s website, but you’d never know it if you didn’t think to check the website.  Generally, agencies like to use press releases to push important information out to the affected companies, but as I’ve said before, this administration seems somehow embarrassed that it actually enforces the law. (Correction: OSHA did issue a press release on July 14 announcing that the website would be available on August 1, and providing the link.)

Competing with bread and blankets: The Trump administration says it wants to protect American jobs, but as the Washington Post pointed out a couple of weeks ago, by proposing to gut the budget of DOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs  (ILAB), they’re undermining their (alleged) efforts. This confuses and angers Steelworkers President Leo Gerard because “The intent [of ILAB]  is to prevent American manufacturing workers earning family-supporting wages from competing with third world children paid with bread and blankets.”  The result, says Gerard: “Without specific protections in NAFTA and without even the Bureau of International Labor Affairs programs, U.S. workers are subjected to a no-win competition with exploited foreign workers. The Americans end up unemployed, like those at Carrier and Rexnord. The foreign workers continue to be abused.”

You are getting sleepy, very sleepy: Fatigued worker productivity costs employers $1,200 to $3,100 per employee annually according to a National Safety Council report. Sleep deprivation especially affects shift workers. Lack of sleep can be a serious safety hazard especially if you drive for a living, or work in a complicated, potentially hazardous job in a refinery or nuclear power plant. You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued, according to the NSC and losing even two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of having three beers. Pretty scary.  So what to do? According to the NSC, “change begins with the individual.” Really? What does that mean for workers? “Get enough sleep.” Right. and “If you work the night shift, try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule even on your days off.” Well that’s all well and fine. But what if you don’t have any days off? Or what if you’re one of the almost 8 million people in the United States who need more than one job to support yourself or your family?

Danger — Working While Latino: Six US Senators have written to Secretary Alexander Acosta expressing asking what measures he will take to protect Latino workers and expressing their concern about planned cutbacks in OSHA’s budget, and repeal of health and safety regulations. A total of 903 Latinos died on the job in 2015, the highest total of any year since 2007, according to a recent report by the AFL-CIO. Latino immigrants often work the most menial jobs in America and their on-the-job death rate is 18 percent higher than the average worker, recent statistics show.  Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). The letter focused on the budget cuts as well as Congressional Review Act resolutions that repealed OSHA’s Volks Rule (that enabled the agency to enforce recordkeeping violations) and the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule that monitored federal contractors’ compliance with labor laws.  And they didn’t mention it, but it also won’t help that the Administration has proposed to terminate the Susan Harwood Worker Training Grants, most of which conduct trainings and produce materials in Spanish.

Acts of God, Acts of Man: Few things make me angrier than when preventible workplace incidents are blamed on an “Act of God.” Last week marked the 15th anniversary of the 2002 Quecreek Mine incident where nine miners were rescued after being trapped for four days in a flooded mine after accidentally breaking into an abandoned shaft full of water. Mine owner David Rebuck had called the flooding an “act of God,” but as Charles McCollester, former director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Labor Relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania wrote in an excellent March 17, 2003 article in The Nation, “The flood of testimonials to the mercy of God threatens to obscure the very human factors that led to the near-disaster. God may well have had a hand in the rescue, but human avarice and more than a century of fierce corporate manipulation and struggle for profit and control were behind the wall of water that swept into the Quecreek mine.” McCollester describes how “The flooding of the nonunion Quecreek mine reveals much about government inadequacy stemming from chronic underfunding; government incompetence and/or complicity with powerful vested interests; corporate irresponsibility and greed; and coordinated anti-union activity.” Words to remember on this anniversary.

Blowing the Whistle: If your employer has retaliated against you for reporting an injury or reporting any wrongdoing or violations of the law, you may be protected by the law. Or at least you may be protected by one of many laws. It’s often difficult to know what law or which agency will protect you. OSHA, for example, enforces 21 whistleblower or anti-retaliation laws, in addition to the anti-retaliation protections provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Other laws cover employees who work for financial institutions, airlines, railroads, nuclear power plants, and on and on. And agencies other than OSHA also protect some workers. Figuring out what law covers you is difficult. So OSHA is trying to make it a bit easier with a new online whistleblower form that was released yesterday. The form takes you through a number of questions and requests information that will help OSHA determine what law you may be covered under and also includes pop-up boxes with information about various agencies for individuals who indicate that they have engaged in protected activity that may be addressed by an agency other than OSHA.

Headline of the Week: Who wrote this? “Discord Between OSHA And Employer Results In $1.9M Penalty.”  Uh no. Actually, repeatedly violating numerous OSHA standards, endangering and hospitalizing workers resulted in a $1.9 million penalty.  On July 20, 2017, OSHA issued 94 citations, totaling $1,922,895 in proposed penalties against Aluminum Shapes, LLC. Several of the citations, including fall hazards, lack of stair rails and machine guarding, were repeat violations. In eight previous visits since 2011, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) cited a manufacturer for 60 violations that resulted in proposed penalties of over $500,000. In its most recent inspection, OSHA discovered that two workers had been hospitalized in two separate incidents. And in the understatement of the week, OSHA Regional Administrator Robert Kulick, in a rare OSHA press release, stated that “Aluminum Shapes’ extensive list of violations reflects a workplace that does not prioritize worker safety and health.”  I’d replace the word “prioritize” with “consider,” and rewrite the headline to read: “Discord Between Employer and the Law Results in $1.9M Penalty.”

Alex Acosta Budget Environmental Protection Agency International Mine Safety OSHA Short Stuff West Fertilizer Explosion Whistleblowers

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Nick. You’re right, OSHA did issue a press release on July 14 announcing that the website would go up on August 1, and providing the link. I issued a correction.

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