Dispatches From The Front Lines of the Battle For Workplace Safety: Short Stuff

More Freedom and More Catastrophic Fertilizer Explosions: After a catastrophic ammonium nitrate explosion at West Fertilizer exploded in 2013 killed 15 people, injured 130 more and destroyed much of the town of West, OSHA discovered that the facility was not covered by OSHA’s Process Safety Management and had therefore not been inspected since the mid-1980s. The reason was the little known “retail exemption” that categorized the fertilizer facility as a retail establishment, exempted from the PSM standard, despite the thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate and ammonia it contained. Working under a Chemical Safety and Security Executive Order issued by President Obama, OSHA set out to fix the flawed definition of a retail establishment, but the Agricultural Retailers Association successfully lobbied Congress to stop OSHA from regulating such establishments.  Last month, the ARA award its Legislator of the Year award to Oklahoma Senator James Lankford for leading the effort to defend “the industry’s freedom to operate,” as well as their freedom to blow up workers, emergency responders and towns.

Coal Baron Report:  You gotta feel for them. Coal barons who kill miners are a persecuted, sorry, disliked, persecuted bunch of sad sacks. And when you’re down, the only thing you can do is blame the government or God for killing your miners, run for the Senate and sue anyone who reminds the public of your past misdeeds. We’ll see how that works out for them.

Coal Baron No. 1, Don Blankenship, who was CEO of the company that experienced the devastating explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine that killed 29 men in 2010, and spent a year in jail, is running for the Senate in West Virginia. Blankenship blamed the Mine Safety and Health Administration for causing the explosion, despite the fact that all of the reports on the explosion blamed Mr. Blankenship’s negligence. Surprisingly, he actually has some support in West Virginia from those who blame President Obama for the decline of the coal industry. But others, like Judy Jones Petersen whose brother, Dean Jones, was killed in the disaster, told Blankenship “You took 29 lives away from families like mine. Shame on you for coming back.”

But shame doesn’t seem to be on the mind of Blankenship, nor of Murray Energy Corporation owner Bob Murray, who owned the Crandall Canyon mine where 6 workers died in a collapse in 2007. Murray blamed an earthquake for the collapse, despite the fact that not even the Bush administration’s investigation found any evidence that God used an earthquake to smite the miners.  Murray, like another politician in the news lately, is notoriously sensitive to any public criticism and he sued comedian John Oliver who did a hilarious piece on Murray on Last Week Tonight. Murray Energy had sent a cease and desist order to the show when he heard that Oliver would be highlighting Murray’s safety record and opposition to coal dust regulations.  The bad news for Murray is that a West Virginia judge dismissed the defamation lawsuit filed by Murray against Oliver.  Murray is considering appealing to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

You can watch the Oliver’s hilarious take-down of Murray here:

No Safety, No Work: North Carolina highway construction workers are striking for safer working conditions, better pay and health care. “Protesters who work for Border Rebar said the company is mistreating workers and they are asking NCDOT and other government agencies to stop working with the company. Caleb Sanderlin told Eyewitness News reporter Tina Terry that the company mistreats workers by not providing proper training and safety equipment. He said he was injured on the job and wasn’t given workers’ compensation. “Don’t give them these contracts until they sit down with their workers and they do what’s right,” said Sanderlin.” The city of Charlotte says that Border Rebar is a subcontractor with a company the city contracts with and they therefore have not authority over their operations. Eyewitness News reports that Border Rebar had received several OSHA violations last year for failure to provide personal protective equipment and failure to provide adequate forklift training.

Tow Truck Drivers Too: Seems like almost every Weekly Toll listing workers killed on the job includes at least one tow truck driver death. (Here, here and here.) And we don’t even hear about the ones that are just injured. Usually, they’re hit by a car, but some have also been shot.  Tow truck drivers in the St. Louis area have had enough after one tow truck driver was hit by a car and another was shot in St. Louis earlier this month.  According to KMOV.com in St. Louis, “Sunday morning, a group of tow truck drivers from both Missouri and Illinois gathered in Bethalto to try and get the word out about the dangers of their profession. “I love getting out there and helping people that are stranded and needing help,” said Adam Main, a tow truck driver of 14 years. But Main said every time he steps out of his truck, he’s worried for his life. “Is this going to be the time I get hit again? People will just not move over,” he said. The drivers and their families are pleading with the public to drive more carefully. “We all have families. We want to go home to them. So please slow down; give us some space,” said Adam Main.

Thank You For Your Service. Now Go Away and Leave Us Alone: Congress and the Clinton Administration created a process during the 1990’s to compensate tens of thousands of “nuclear veterans” — workers who contracted cancer and other serious diseases from working with radioactive materials, beryllium and other toxic chemicals to build the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The complex compensation program was constantly plagued with problems determining who was eligible, prompting the Obama administration to create an advisory board composed of scientists, doctors and worker advocates that issues recommendations that have led to significant improvements in the process. But President Trump has now let nearly all of the board member’s terms expire, according to ProPublica — and so far hasn’t nominated new ones. According to Chris Lu, Labor Department Deputy Secretary during Obama’s second term, “You have seen this happen throughout the federal government,” he said. “It reflects a larger level of disorganization, some might say dysfunction. It is very troubling that this board is allowed to lapse.” Former Board member Ken Silver, an occupational health professor at Eastern Tennessee State University warned that, “For two years our board put a lot of brain power and cutting-edge expertise into developing recommendation. Without appointing another board, those recommendations may disappear into the ether.”

2-In/1-Out Regulatory Obstacle Survives…For Now: A federal Court said that a lawsuit by the Communications Workers of America and Public Citizen could not go forward because they could not yet show that their members had been harmed by Trump’s Executive Order that requires two regulations to be withdrawn for every one that is issued.  “Trump’s executive order is a big favor to big business, and it puts workers’ lives at risk,” Chris Shelton, president of the CWA union, said in the statement. “We shouldn’t have to wait for a member to get sick, or injured, or die because of this executive order before the courts will take action. We’re disappointed in the court’s decision, but we’re not backing down from representing our members and defending workers’ lives.”

 

Mine Safety Process Safety Management Short Stuff

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