Catching Up: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Battle for Workplace Safety — Short Stuff

Short Stuff DispatchesJust got back from a couple of weeks away and thought I’d spend some time catching up on what’s been happening. And as long as I’m doing that, you should benefit from it as well. Here’s some of the things that have been going on over the last few weeks that you may have missed.

Susan Harwood Training Grants: OSHA has announced new Susan Harwood Grant recipients. The grant program, which focuses on vulnerable workers and workers in small businesses, has been slated for elimination by the Trump administration in the FY 2017 budget.  Although the FY 2017 House Appropriations Bill agreed to eliminate the program, the Senate bill preserves it.  The current grant round is based on FY 2016 funding. OSHA has eliminated the 4-year capacity building grants and replaced them with 1-year Targeted Training grants that cover a much more limited number of issues than during the Obama administration. Nevertheless, despite fears, many of the grass roots non-profit groups that focus on the most vulnerable workers received grants. These include: Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas w, Interfaith Worker Justice, MASSCOSH, NYCOSH and National COSH, the Work Environment Council of New Jersey, Workers Defense Project, Nebraska Appleseed and Casa de Maryland. Unions such as the UAW, Laborers, SEIU, the Utility Workers and New Jersey State AFL-CIO. A number of colleges and universities received grants as well as business associations such as the National Association of Tower Erectors, Tree Care Industry Association, Inc, the American Road and Transportation Builders, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. Association and the Structural Building Components Association.

Fox-Henhouse Problem at MSHA: A confirmation hearing was held for MSHA nominee David Zatezalo (along with Cheryl Stanton for wage and hour administrator and Peter Robb for general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board). Tim Kaine (D-VA) grilled Zatezalo over a pattern of violations notice that MSHA had sent to Zatezalo’s coal company, Rhino Resources. He blamed it on the actions of a rogue manager.  WV Senator Joe Manchin (D) announced prior to the hearing that he would oppose Zatezalo’s nomination because he was “not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.” And Patty Murray (D-WA) also expressed some sketicism at the hearing:  “I fear (your selection) is another example of a nominee of a fox to guard the henhouse.” There was some good news, according to Celeste Monforton in the Pump Handle. When asked by Kaine about Don Blankenship’s request to re-open the investigation of the Upper Big Branch explosion where 29 miners were killed, Zatezalo responded “Senator, absent any new evidence I don’t see any reason why it should be reopened.”

And Speaking of Don Blankenship: The Supreme Court has refused to hear Blankenship’s appeal of his conviction for conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in an April 5, 2010 explosion, according to Ken Ward at the Charleston Gazette. Blankenship has maintained that  an Act of God and MSHA’s actions caused the explosion. The court saw it differently and Blankenship finished serving a hear in jail last May. Blankenship’s reaction to the Supreme Court decision: “The Supreme Court not agreeing to hear my case came as no surprise. Our Court system is so tangled up trying to decide whether illegal is illegal and whether males can use female public restrooms that they have no time to concern themselves with whether American citizens have received a fair trial. The judicial system is broken top to bottom and it’s not fixable.” And this:  “Twenty-nine Americans died because of the government and yet our government falsely accused the dead miners of killing themselves.” No Don. They blamed you for killing them.

Cell Tower Workers Keep Dying: Three employees of Tower King fell 1,000 feet to their deaths from the top of a cell tower on September 27. It was not Tower King’s first offence. “A spokesperson for OSHA, Michael Aquino, provided CBS4 News with documents showing Tower King II was cited in 2011 for three “serious” safety violations after a routine inspection. In 2008, the company was cited for two “serious“ safety violations, after receiving a “referral” from a third party.” The men were identified as Marcus Goffena, 31, from Sydney, Ohio, Brachton Barber, 23, of Longwood, Florida, and Benito Rodriguez, 35, of Tampa.  Since 2003, 132 workers have fallen to their deaths while working on communication towers, according to WirelessEstimator.com, an industry website. National COSH issued a statement stating that the tragedy shows  “how the need for rigorous enforcement of safety laws and regulations – especially in the communications tower industry.” OSHA Is allegedly working on a new standard to protect cell tower workers. The standard was almost ready for the first step of the regulatory process, the small business review panel, when the Obama administration ended. Of course, if the Trump administration is serious about moving forward on a standard to protect cell tower workers, it will have to identify two protections to remove from workers to be in compliance with Trump’s Executive Order.

Nag, nag, Nag — The Chemical Safety Board: Jeff Johnson has written a comprehensive article about the origins and operations of the Chemical Safety Board for the Alicia Patterson Foundation. President Trump has proposed to eliminate the CSB although Congress appears unwilling to go along. Johnson discusses some the tragedies that the Board has tried to address over the years. Although the CSB can only issue recommendations and not enforce the law, Johnson points out that the CSB “is a perpetual industry nag. It has stepped on toes and does not have powerful friends. Its history says much about the difficulty in protecting residents living near factories and workers laboring in chemical companies, refineries and the multitude of businesses that handle potentially dangerous chemicals in America. To this day, huge accidents are the driving force keeping the board alive.”

OSHA: Hire More Inspectors: Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has sent a letter to OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt expressing concern about OSHA’s normally low number of enforcement staff and the agency’s failure to fill numerous open positions. DeLauro notes that as a result, the number of inspections have fallen in states around the country.  She requested data on OSHA’s current staffing by October 31. Trick or treat? Time will tell.

Saving Young Construction Workers: New workers are at greatest risk for injury on the jobsite.  In order to address this problem, the Center for Construction Research and Training, with funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has produced training materials for young construction workers. Many new workers enter the construction industry through training programs at community colleges and technical schools, rather than through apprentice programs.  Check out and share Your Construction Safety Program: Safe Students, Safe Workers, and related online self-assessment tools, with Career Tech Ed (CTE) programs in your communities. The guide is based on research UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program conducted in partnership with the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University. It provides descriptions of essential program elements, key research results from a national survey of CTE programs, along with promising practices, action steps and resources for administrators and instructors to help strengthen their safety programs.

 

Harwood (See Susan Harwood Worker Training Program) Labor Unions Mine Safety MSHA OSHA Susan Harwood Worker Training Program

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