OSHA Quick Takes – June 15, 2010

In This Issue

Federal Gulf oil response: OSHA maintains strong presence ensuring safety of oil spill cleanup workers

Since the week of April 26, OSHA staff and senior leadership have been on the scene of cleanup operations along the Gulf Coast in response to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. OSHA, working through the Unified Command, is ensuring cleanup workers are being provided the required training (in a language workers can understand) and that their safety and health are being protected by BP and its contractors. Hazards related to oil spill cleanup include heat, falls, drowning, fatigue, animal bites, and exposure to oil and chemicals being used in the cleanup process.

OSHA is deploying between 20 and 25 compliance officers daily to affected areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to monitor the safety and health of more than 13,000 oil spill cleanup workers. OSHA personnel have made more than 700 site visits throughout the area, including monitoring the safety of workers on vessels that are performing cleanup operations.

“We’re on the beach, we’re in the marshes, we’re on the boats,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek. In the past two weeks Dr. Michaels, OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis visited worksites and discussed safety issues with workers performing oil spill cleanup operations along the beaches and on the Vessels of Opportunity. OSHA participated in briefings at Unified Command centers in Louisiana as part of a team involving the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Environmental Protection Agency to maximize their combined efforts to safeguard workers. OSHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Coast Guard, the federal agency coordinating the oil spill response, to establish specific procedures for sharing information and ensuring that BP and its contractors are complying with safety and health standards.

Heat stress is a serious health concern for cleanup workers. There have been more than 100 incidents of heat related illnesses. Many workers are working 12-hour days, seven days a week, in full protective gear–which has increased the risk to workers. OSHA has worked with BP to institute a program that includes, among other items, a matrix that sets out specific work/rest requirements based on the heat and relative humidity, and guidelines for determining if wearing protective clothing and equipment will increase hazards to workers.

As part of its comprehensive oversight of worker safety, a team of OSHA industrial hygienists is conducting independent air monitoring on shore and on cleanup vessels. OSHA is monitoring hazards from exposure to oil and any other toxic chemicals that may threaten worker health. OSHA posted this data on its Web site, and will continue to post all new data. “We must be vigilant” because “conditions can change,” Michaels told BusinessWeek. For more information about OSHA’s activities in the Gulf and to get worker safety guides and factsheets in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, visit the oil spill cleanup response Web page.

Barab testifies before Senate on protection of oil refinery workers

OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab testified June 10 before the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety about the need to better protect workers in the nation’s energy production industries. Barab addressed recent tragedies such as the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers, and injured 17 others and the explosion at a Tesoro oil refinery in Washington State that left seven workers dead. Barab explained that OSHA’s nationwide inspections of oil refineries found the same violations committed by multiple refineries, including refineries with common ownership and different units in the same refinery. Barab said, “This cycle of workers being hurt or killed because their employers failed to implement well-known safety measures points out major deficiencies in chemical process safety management in the nation’s refineries and, quite possibly, to systemic safety and health problems in the entire petrochemical industry.”

Barab stressed the urgent need for petrochemical companies to instill an organization-wide culture of safety among workers and supervisors; reform management systems that routinely fail to address safety violations until catastrophic events occur; and develop a more accurate method for determining risks of fires, explosions, or other catastrophic accidents. See OSHA’s Web site for Barab’s full testimony and information on oil refinery Process Safety Management.

OSHA improves its online database of chemical exposures by adding a search engine

As reported in the May 4, 2010, QuickTakes, OSHA posted 26 years of data on a Web page detailing workplace exposures to toxic chemicals such as asbestos, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, and silica. This Web page has since been enhanced by the addition of a search engine to make the data more accessible and expand its usefulness as a research tool. The page’s online form now allows users to search and sort records of OSHA samplings for toxic chemical exposure by categories such as establishment, industry, state, year range, substance and OSHA inspection number. Users can also download sampling data from 1984 to 2009, either in one full set or by individual year.

NACOSH establishes oil spill response workgroup to advise OSHA

The National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health established an oil spill response workgroup at its June 8 meeting, which will advise OSHA on a range of issues, including necessary personal protective equipment for workers involved in oil spill cleanup and conducting long-term health evaluations of workers exposed to oil and other chemicals during cleanup operations. Minutes from the meeting, including resolutions passed by the oil spill response workgroup, will be published on the NACOSH page. NACOSH advises the secretaries of labor and health and human services on worker safety issues such as Latino outreach, hazard communication, the whistleblower program, and overall occupational safety and health programs and policies.

Mail processing plants fined nearly $800,000 for electrical and other hazards

OSHA fined three U.S. Postal Service mail processing and distribution centers in Pennsylvania $796,500 for electrical hazards that could have seriously injured or killed workers. Inspectors found that employers at one facility in Pittsburgh and two in Philadelphia willfully violated the law by exposing workers to potentially deadly hazards, including shocks, burns, and electrocution. For more information, see the separate news releases on citations against the Pittsburgh facility ($299,500) and the two Philadelphia facilities ($497,000). These citations follow recent OSHA fines totaling $985,000 against USPS processing and distribution centers in Providence, R.I., Denver, and Bedford Park, Ill., reported in the May 15 QuickTakes.

Elevator manufacturer fined more than $346,000 for ignoring worker safety and health hazards

OSHA issued 18 citations against the CEC Elevator Cab Corp. for potentially life-threatening worker safety and health hazards, many of which had been discovered during a previous inspection. OSHA fined the Bronx, N.Y., company $346,500 after inspectors found that several violations the company was cited for in October 2009 had not been corrected. See the news release for more information.

Seafood plant fined $214,500 for exposing workers to potential ammonia leak

OSHA issued High Liner Foods Inc. $214,500 in fines for willfully violating the law by failing to properly inspect and maintain the ammonia piping system used to freeze seafood at its Portsmouth, N.H., processing plant. The piping, which was corroded and encased in ice in many locations, could have led to a potentially deadly ammonia leak or similar catastrophic incident. See the news release for more information.

Contractor fined more than $125,000 after partial building collapse

OSHA cited New York Plank Services LLC for disregarding worker safety after inspectors found that the partial collapse of a Brooklyn building under construction was caused by the company’s failure to properly stabilize concrete stairs during installation. The $125,800 fine against the company also resulted in part from the company’s failure to provide workers with fall protection when it sent them to remove damaged pieces of concrete from the stairwell 40 feet above the ground. See the news release for more information.

UPS must compensate driver fired for refusing to drive unsafe truck

OSHA ordered United Parcel Service to pay an Earth City, Mo., truck driver who was fired after raising safety concerns $111,008 in back wages, benefits, damages and attorney’s fees. OSHA investigated the worker’s claim that UPS terminated his employment in retaliation for his refusal to drive a truck because lights on the trailer and tractor didn’t work. The evidence showed the driver had a reasonable concern of serious injury to himself and the public. See the news release for more information and OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program Web page for detailed information on worker whistleblower rights.

OSHA schedules first virtual stakeholder meeting

In an effort to provide more opportunity for public participation in the rulemaking process, OSHA is holding its first virtual stakeholder meeting June 28 to seek input about combustible dust workplace hazards. The live chat will be held for one hour, beginning at 1 p.m. EDT, but individuals can continue the dialog with OSHA on this site through July 7, 2010. This is the agency’s first virtual meeting where stakeholders will have the ability to continue the dialog according to their time preferences. The format provides quick and easy access to a broader audience such as small businesses who would otherwise not be able to participate.

This virtual stakeholder meeting is the fourth in a series of stakeholder meetings addressing combustible dust hazards. Go to the OSHA Web site to participate in the online meeting. Further details are available in the Federal Register notice.

New Introduction to OSHA instruction required in Outreach Training Program 10- and 30-hour courses

OSHA’s Training Institute now requires instructors to include a newly revised Introduction to OSHA presentation in all Outreach Training Program classes. The revised two-hour Introduction to OSHA focuses on workers’ rights, including the right to be informed of hazardous chemicals, review workplace injury and illness information, request and participate in an OSHA inspection, and be protected from retaliation for exercising these and other safety and health rights. For more information see the news release. The Introduction to OSHA materials can be viewed online.

OSHA and the Philadelphia School District promote teen worker safety

The Department of Labor recently concluded its third annual YouthRules! Ambassador Program, a collaborative effort between the Philadelphia School District, OSHA, and DOL’s Wage and Hour Division and Office of Public Affairs. This year DOL partnered with Philadelphia’s Mastbaum Technical High School to train teen workers about workplace protections so that they can, in turn, teach their peers. Visit the YouthRules! Web site for more information on DOL’s efforts to prepare the 21st century workforce.

Job openings

Are you interested in a career with the Department of Labor? The department has job opportunities throughout the country, such as openings in OSHA for Safety and Occupational Health Specialists and Program Analysts.

See DOL’s electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

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