Weekly Toll

Amazon Cited Again….And Again…And Again

There should no longer be any doubt in anyone’s mind — even in Jeff Bezos’s mind– that Amazon has major workplace safety problems. Earlier this week, OSHA cited Amazon for exposing workers to ergonomic hazards at a company facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado. OSHA is proposing $15,625 in penalties in response to an employee complaint of musculoskeletal disorders related to the site’s processing speed and blocked fire exits.  The facility is a delivery site that processes 5,000-10,000 packages per hour and receives about 50,000 packages per day.

On February 1, OSHA issued citations and $46,875 in penalties to three Amazon warehouses – in Aurora, Colorado; Nampa, Idaho; and Castleton, New York – for failing to keep workers safe and delivered hazard alert letters for exposing workers to ergonomic hazards.

These inspections followed referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York that led the agency to find and cite (with  $60,269 in penalties) similar violations at other Amazon warehouse facilities in Florida, Illinois and New York in January. At all six locations, OSHA investigators found Amazon exposed warehouse workers to a high risk of low back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders related to high frequency with which employees must lift packages and other items, Heavy weight, awkward twisting and bending and long hours required to complete assigned tasks.

And last year, Washington State OSHA announced a $60,000 citation for multiple “Willful Serious” ergonomics violations, filed under Washington OSHA’s general duty clause, at Amazon’s warehouse and fulfillment center in Kent, Washington.  That citation found that “There is a direct connection between Amazon’s employee monitoring and discipline systems and workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).” The Kent citation was the third location in the last year where Washington State had issued a General Duty Clause ergonomics violation against Amazon.

One Year After Social Worker Murder

One year ago Deidre Silas, a social worker for the Illinois Department of Child and Family Serviced (DCSF) was killed while checking in on a house where six adults and five children were crammed together in a two-bedroom, 900-square foot home filled with rotting garbage and animal feces. While trying to persuade their mother to allow her to check on them, a man related to one or more of those children allegedly stabbed Silas to death.

Today, according to child welfare investigators, advocates, watchdogs and others who work in the field say little has changed for the better. There are still too few caseworkers and too many cases. While killings of child welfare social workers remain rare, verbal abuse, threats and violence against them are not. A Chicago Tribune investigation found at least a dozen child welfare workers in Illinois were attacked or seriously threatened between 2013 and 2017. Between 2017 and early 2022, 21 suffered physical assaults or violent threats, according to DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

Meanwhile, OSHA continues on its slow slot to issuing a workplace violence standard that would protect health care and social service workers. OSHA is currently in the earliest phase of rulemaking. A final rule, at this rate could still take at least another 4 years — assuming no Republican administrations during that time.

Construction Company Owner Arrested, Faces Felony Manslaughter Charge for Trench Death

Marlon Diaz

Peter Dillon, the owner of the now-defunct A4S LLC,  turned himself in to authorities in Summit County after a warrant was issued for his arrest on Jan. 24.  Dillon is facing a felony manslaughter charge in the death of 20 year-old Marlon Diaz on November 16, 2021 near Breckenridge, Colorado. A steel trench box — which should have been used to support the trench walls — was sitting nearby the site, unused. Last May, OSHA issued three willful citations to A4S LLC for not ensuring the excavation was inspected by a competent person, failing to instruct employees on the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and not having a trench protective system in place, as well as a serious citation for not having a safe means of egress. The agency proposed penalties of $449,583 and placed the company in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Giving Arizona OSHA Another Chance

For a long while, Arizona OSHA has been a problem child. One of OSHA’s 27 state plan states that run their own OSHA programs (or public employee only plans), Arizona has stood out over the past decade as a state that has refused to increase penalty, adopt federal OSHA standards or follow federal OSHA enforcement policies. Meanwhile, the Arizona Republic recently conducted a major investigation of Arizona OSHA finding that “During departed Gov. Doug Ducey’s eight years in office, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health – known as ADOSH for short – has been more concerned with the growth and profitability of Arizona’s companies than holding them accountable for safety violations.”

For those reasons, federal OSHA proposed last year to revoke Arizona OSHA’s state plan status, which would have allowed federal OSHA to take over enforcement in the state.  Earlier this month, federal OSHA announced that it would withdraw its proposal to reconsider and revoke final approval of Arizona’s State Plan for occupational safety and health.

Why?  According to OSHA, the state committed to ” adopting outstanding federal standards and directives, enacting state laws to ensure that Arizona’s future maximum and minimum penalty levels track with OSHA federal levels, and authorizing adoption of an emergency temporary standard when either OSHA or the Industrial Commission of Arizona determines that grave danger criteria are met.”

The main reason, of course, it that there’s a new boss in Arizona: Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs, who in addition the changes OSHA has mentioned, is committed to enforcing worker protection laws. Nevertheless, OSHA noted recent public reports of a downward trend in inspections in the plan’s enforcement program, and will keep an eye on the program. Meanwhile, a group of Arizona safety and health activists is calling on Governor Hobbs to overhaul the agencies that administer and enforce workers’ rights in Arizona, especially the Industrial Commission of Arizona and the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.  They are also calling for the appointment of workers and their representatives to serve as commissioners and agency staff people. And finally, “both agencies can dramatically increase their racial, linguistic and cultural diversity and capacity.”

OSHA is generally reluctant to revoke state plans. First, the agency would then have to take over the costs of enforcing the law, costs which the state currently pays. And second, if a state plan is revoked, public employees in the state would lose their OSHA coverage. (Public employees are not covered by federal OSHA. They only have a right to a safe workplace in state plan states.)

Cooperation vs. Confrontation?

Whenever your friendly (generally) Republican business owner or politician starts lecturing about how OSHA is too confrontational and all employers need is good information and not penalties because their workers are like family, remember this:

KINGMAN, KS ‒ A Kingman plastics manufacturer’s failure to make sure required safety procedures were followed contributed to the death of a worker who suffered fatal injuries when he became entangled in a rotating part inside a bagging machine while trying to clear a jam, a federal workplace safety investigation found.

Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration responded to the Aug. 4, 2022, fatality at Great Lakes Polymer Technologies LLC and found that duct tape over the safety interlock prevented the machine from shutting down. The victim was caught by the machine and pulled into its rotating bars.

Would you do that to your family members?

There are of course, plenty more examples like this one. But duct tape over the safety interlock. Really? Oh, and just to add insult to injury (or death), Great Lakes Polymer Technologies is contesting the $292,421 penalty.  Anyone out there think more cooperation and education from OSHA would have helped here?

2 thoughts on “Dispatches From the Front Lines of Workplace Safety and Health”
  1. Thank you Jordan. I continue to appreciate the updates and perspective on safety and health issues like these.

  2. Concerning the fatality in Kansas….who is responsible? As we’ll see below it is not that simple.
    Looks like they have had the same plant manager since 2012.
    The private equity firm, Royal Capital Management of Toronto, formed Great Lakes Polymer Technologies
    January 2019 Great Lakes Polymer Technologies OSHA inspection due to finger amputation
    October 2020-Lone Star Funds acquires BASF Construction Chemicals for $3.6 billion and forms new German-based company MBCC. Read directly below about the man behind Lone Star. And look at who invests in them.
    August 2021-MBCC acquires Fabpro Polymers(also known as Great Lakes Polymer Technologies).
    Swiss chemical company Sika is in the process of acquiring MBCC from Lone Star for $6billion.

    Nice flip for Lone Star, huh? $2.4 billion in less than 2.5 years. A guy who renounces his US citizenship for “tax purposes” and we think this guy is going to invest in safety at the Kansas plant? We can point the finger at Lone Star and other private equity firms, but in some sense they are acting no differently than someone flipping a house and doing so as cheaply as possible to maximize profit….on a much grander scale, of course.
    When there is this kind of money at stake, nothing OSHA could ever throw at them in terms of penalties would be a deterrent. ‘Well throw them in jail instead.” Throw who in jail? The plant manager? He is just a cog in the system doing what he is told. He could be the most dedicated guy to safety, but likely has to tow the line or risk getting fired…just like safety pros do on occasion to keep their jobs.
    OSHA is impotent not because of any one political party. Don’t care who is in office, how many standards they promulgate or how big the fines are….the money involved is so big and people are so dependent on investments to survive to retirement…OSHA is but a tiny bump in the road. These tiny “victories’ of punishing small business owners are little consolation. The ownership of facilities and companies today is so convoluted…blaming them is like shaking your fist at the wind.
    I don’t see how “exposing” these facilities is really going to make a difference in the big scheme of things. Do we think any investors in Lone Star threatened to pull their funds after this fatality? That is the only thing that will get their attention of a private equity firm with $85billion in assets…not any OSHA fine.

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