Dispatches From the Front Lines of the War On Worker Safety: Short Stuff

dispatchesThe Incredible Disappearing Security Breach: Hard to know what to say about this. Remember that alleged security “breach” in OSHA’s website that’s collecting injury and illness data from employers covered by OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements? That’s the same database that was supposed to be up in February, with a submission deadline of July 1.  It was finally put up on August 1, and the submission deadline until December 1. Then just two weeks after it was put up, the website was taken down due to this alleged security breach. Now it turns out there wasn’t really a breach at all and the site is back up.  But the damage has been done. Even though no confidential information is required for the December 1 submission, Avi Meyerstein of  Husch Blackwell LLP writes that “the fact that the ITA portal was believed to have suffered a breach raises concerns as to whether the data is properly protected, and adds credence to the concerns about misuse and manipulation of the portal’s data.”  And the Society of Human Resource Management warns the false alarm is causing “employers distrust the agency’s ability to safeguard confidential information from hackers, raising questions about whether the electronic reporting requirements—under review by the Trump administration—should be scrapped.”

Or at the Church Lady used to say, “Well isn’t that convenient!”

“OSHA’s decision to remove the identity of workers killed on the job reduces their deaths to a statistic.”  — Dennis Stallworth

Lives, Not Statistics: Families of workers killed on the job are not happy about OSHA’s decision to remove the names of workers from the OSHA website, and to bury the fatality information on a data page, according to Jennifer Gollan of Reveal who interviewed a number of family members. The father of Jody Gooch, killed in an explosion earlier this year, said that “The fines are pretty ridiculous,” Joe Gooch said in an interview, referring to OSHA’s penalties, which are capped under federal law. But the list “puts a face to the accidents.”  Dennis Stallworth, father of Sedrick Stallworth who was killed in the same explosion that killed Gooch, said “OSHA’s decision to remove the identity of workers killed on the job reduces their deaths to a statistic.”  Meanwhile, in an Atlanta Constitution blog post, Lois Norder notes that OSHA’s revised list ” includes the deaths of only two Georgia workers so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. But information compiled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that at least 32 Georgia workers have been killed on the job in that time.”  Norder could probably be speaking for almost every state. She goes on to list all of the workers who have been killed in Georgia this year.

We’re perfectly capable of blowing ourselves up without terrorists: Seven emergency responders are suing Arkema Chemicals for over $1 million because the company didn’t warn the responders about the hazardous materials at the plant. Chemicals exploded at the plant after Hurricane Harvey flooding cut the plant’s power, making it impossible to cool volatile chemicals. The police officers who were exposed to smoke from the explosion “were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe. Medical personnel, in their attempts to provide assistance to the officers, became overwhelmed and they too began to vomit and gasp for air.”  Meanwhile, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who delayed the Obama administration’s updated Risk Management Program regulation that would have improved coordination between responders and chemical plants, claimed that the delayed regulation would have made plants vulnerable to terrorism. “These chemical plants are terrorist opportunities as well. They present soft targets to terrorists who come in and do something pretty bad in those communities,” Pruitt said on ABC News’s Power House Politics podcast.  Meanwhile, Nick Ashford, professor of technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  also points out that the Obama regulation would have required chemical plant operators to consider inherently safer operations, including “storing fewer chemicals, using better tanks, and improving backup power systems, in other words, feasible, effective, and immediately needed improvements.” Inherently safer operations also have the virtue of removing targets that terrorists might find tempting. Hard to target a hazardous process or chemical if they’re not there. Listening Scott?

Irma to Florida Gov Rick Scott — Too Little, Too Late: Florida Governor Rick Scott has been all over the airwaves in the wake of Hurricane Irma praying for Florida residents, expressing concern and doling out hope. But where has he been while all of the scientists have been warning that climate change is going to sink Florida beneath the waves? Answer: Nowhere, according to the Washington Post which notes that “his administration has done little over the years to prepare for what scientists say are the inevitable effects of climate change that will wreak havoc in the years to come. ” Local officials, academics and even some political allies say Scott has scarcely acknowledged the problem and, along with the Republican-led legislature, has shown little interest in funding projects to help the state adapt and become more resilient in the face of storms such as Irma.

Surprise? Palestinians Die Most Often In Israeli Construction Sites: In a story that has strong parallels with immigrant workers in the US, an Israeli attorney has started compiling names of workers killed on the job in Israel and found that “Most of those killed are Arab Israelis and Palestinians from the territories,” Tagari told Al-Monitor, adding that this is probably why no one had bothered to count them. According to the data she compiled for 2016, one-third of the dead were West Bank or Gaza Palestinians, one-third of them Arab Israelis and the remaining one-third almost equally divided between Jews and non-Jews, the majority of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  In another parallel, Tagari stressed that “The Palestinian workers are the most vulnerable to extortion,” Tagari said, explaining that they are afraid to complain lest they lose their permit to work in Israel, which requires great effort to obtain. She underscores that all her data pertains to construction sites in Israel only, and not to construction work by Palestinians in the West Bank, which she described as a “no-man’s land.”

Baby It’s Hot Outside; Deadly Hot: Twenty-seven workers died, and more than 2800 suffered injuries from heat exposure in 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Transportation and material moving occupations accounted for one-quarter, or 720 of the nonfatal cases with days away from work that resulted from exposure to environmental heat in 2015. Most of the fatalities happened during the summer, which makes sense.  OSHA launched a Water. Rest. Shade. campaign several years ago to fight heat-related illness, and also started issuing more heat-related citations under the General Duty Clause. OSHA doesn’t have a standard addressing heat exposure. We’ll see if the agency is still going after employers who expose their workers to highly hazardous levels of heat.

“Do a lot of the E.P.A. reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes.” — OMB Director Mick Mulvaney

War on Science: The New York Times and Washington Post  are somewhat exercised at the Trump administration’s war on science. The editorial pages of  both the Times and the Post have gone after the administration for canceling a study on the health effects of mountain top removal. The Post points out that “One would  imagine that the Trump administration, which swept into power claiming to support the people who live in coal country, would prioritize federal spending on those very people’s health. Instead, the Interior Department has halted a study on how so-called mountaintop-removal coal mining affects people who live around these landscape-stripping operations.” EPA and other agencies are replacing real scientists with political hacks, censoring the words “climate change,” cutting budgets and, as we discussed last week, appointing a coal industry executive to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration.  Trump’s OMB Director Mick Mulvaney is overjoyed, according to the Times: “He complains of ‘crazy things’ the Obama administration did to study climate, and boasts: ‘Do a lot of the E.P.A. reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes.’”

Well, if I was a vengeful God, I’d be using catastrophic hurricanes, floods, fires and earthquakes to send a message that “I am not amused.” And if I was Mick Mulvaney, I wouldn’t go outside during thunder and lightning storms.

Another Way to Discourage Employers From Endangering Workers? Two extremely lucky workers were rescued from a collapsed trench by firefighters from around Macomb County, MI last month.  OSHA is investigating, and may issue some smallish fines as the employer, Titanium construction, has no previous OSHA history. But maybe there’s another way to send a strong message to the employer that it’s not OK to endanger his employees. Chesterfield Township fire Chief Doug Charbonneau thinks Titanium should be billed for the rescue activities because the expenses were “outside the scope of what the tax base normally pays for.” He thinks the cost could be between $50,000 to $100,000. And when added to the OSHA citation, it could come to real money…

While the Feds fiddle with workers lives…. CalOSHA last month adopted the full and complete OSHA beryllium standard. That’s the same standard in which Federal OSHA has issued a proposal to weaken protections for construction and maritime workers.  OSHA State Plan states (of which California is one of 21) are required to issue standards that are “at least as effective” as federal OSHA standards. Of course, they can also be more effective, which is what CalOSHA’s will be if the feds go through with their plan to weaken protections for construction and maritime workers.

 

Chemical Plant Safety Hurricane Harvey Immigrants International MSHA Office of Management and Budget Recordkeeping Short Stuff

2 Comments

  1. State plan states will have to take the lead on worker protections for the next few years, CalOSHA has done so for years, but even Virginia (VOSH) has opted to stick with the original silica enforcement date of June 23, 2017, for construction. Perhaps, if Congress does add riders to the Appropriations legislation blocking implementation of the silica standard, about half of exposed workers will still get protections through state plan implementation.

  2. While I agree that it is a terrible thing for any worker to loose their life, there is much more to the story regarding Palestinians and work site fatalities. Simply stating that “Most of those killed are Arab Israelis and Palestinians from the territories…” is a short-sighted headline grabber. The summary provided is an injustice to the more complicated issue. I would guess the majority of construction jobs are performed by Palestinians very much like situations across the globe, thus the higher statistics.

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