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Largest Earthquake in 35 Years Hits Arkansas – Is “Fracking” or “Injection Wells” a Contributing Factor?

By SARAH EDDINGTON, Associated Press – Tue Mar 1, 12:07 am ET

GREENBRIER, Ark. – The central Arkansas town of Greenbrier has been plagued for months by hundreds of small earthquakes, and after being woken up by the largest quake to hit the state in 35 years, residents said Monday they’re unsettled by the increasing severity and lack of warning.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the quake at 11 p.m. Sunday, centered just northeast of Greenbrier, about 40 miles north of Little Rock. It was the largest of more than 800 quakes to strike the area since September in what is now being called the Guy-Greenbrier earthquake swarm.

The activity has garnered national attention and researchers are studying whether there’s a possible connection to the region’s natural gas drilling industry. The earthquake activity varies each week, though as many as nearly two dozen small quakes have occurred in a day.

"You don’t know what to expect. It’s unnerving," said Corinne Tarkington, an employee at a local flower and gift shop. "I woke up last night to the sound of my house shaking."

What woke Tarkington was a magnitude 4.7 earthquake that was also felt in Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi. No injuries or major damage have been reported, but the escalation in the severity of quakes in and around the small north-central Arkansas town has many residents on edge. Some said they’re seeing gradual damage to their homes, such as cracks in walls and driveways.

"We probably had 40 to 50 calls last night," Greenbrier police Sgt. Rick Woody said, noting that the tone of the calls had changed. After pervious quakes, most callers simply wanted to find out if a loud noise they’d heard was an earthquake, he said.

"The fear had calmed down until last night," Woody said Monday. "People’s biggest concerns (now) are whether or not these earthquakes are going to get any bigger."

Scott Ausbrooks, seismologist for the Arkansas Geological Survey, said Sunday’s record quake was at the "max end" of what scientists expect to happen, basing that judgment on this swarm and others in the past. It’s possible that a quake ranging from magnitude 5.0 to 5.5 could occur, but anything greater than that is highly unlikely, he said.

Ausbrooks said he plans to hold a town hall meeting in Greenbrier next month to address people’s concerns.

"This quake actually scared folks," he said. "It lasted longer than a lot of the others did."

Ausbrooks said scientists continue to study whether there may be a connection between the earthquakes and local injection wells, where the natural gas industry pumps waste water that can no longer be used by drillers for hydraulic fracturing. Fracturing, or "fracking," involves injecting pressurized water to create fractures deep in the ground to help free the gas.

Geologists don’t believe the fracturing is the problem, but possibly the injection wells.

A major source of the state’s natural gas is the Fayetteville Shale, an organically-rich rock formation in north-central Arkansas. A six-month moratorium was established in January on new injection wells in the area to allow time to study the relationship — if any — between the wells and the earthquakes.

In Greenbrier, many residents are starting to notice gradual damage. Tarkington said her house has started to show cracks in ceilings and walls.

"You can see the wear and tear on our houses," she said. "I wish they’d go away."

Taylor Farrell, 29, a Greenbrier resident and employee at a local flea market, said a large crack formed in her driveway several months ago, and as the earthquakes continue, the crack has spread into her garage.

She said she and her husband had removed everything from the walls of their house, including family photos and television sets, because many photos had fallen in recent quakes.

"Other than that, there’s really not much more you can do," she said. "It’s Mother Earth. It’s going to do what it’s going to do. All we can do is wait for the big one and hope and pray it doesn’t happen."

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OSHA QuickTakes – March 1, 2011

In this issue

OSHA’s commonsense regulations support American jobs

OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels issued a Feb. 15 statement on the agency’s role in supporting good, safe jobs as a congressional subcommittee heard testimony on the effects of federal regulations on job creation. Michaels said, "Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s commonsense regulations have made working conditions in this country today far safer than 40 years ago when the agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs. The truth is that OSHA standards don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers. OSHA standards don’t just prevent worker injuries and illnesses. They also drive technological innovation, making industries more competitive."

Visit OSHA’s Web site to read the complete statement.

Solis and Michaels discuss DOL’s proposed 2012 budget in live Web chat

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis held a live Web chat Feb. 14 to answer questions from the press and public about the Department of Labor’s FY 2012 Budget Request. During the two-hour online discussion, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels responded to questions about OSHA’s proposed budget for 2012*. The requested $583 million budget is intended to address new challenges including hazards faced by vulnerable workers and increasing free on-site compliance assistance for small business employers to provide safe workplaces to their employees.

Increases in OSHA’s budget request include an additional 45 investigators for the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program (OSHA enforces 20 whistleblower statutes) and $1 million for its On-site Consultation Program for small businesses.

OSHA sends letter to 10,000 grain handling facilities on protecting workers from engulfment hazards in grain bins

OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels recently sent more than 10,000 letters to grain handling facilities reminding them of their responsibility to comply with the Grain Handling Facility standard. These new letters are in addition to the more than 3,000 letters OSHA sent to the grain industry in August, reaching many more establishments than in the first mailing. These letters were sent in response to a dramatic increase in the number of workers engulfed and suffocated in grain bins. Last year, 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments. According to researchers at Purdue University, there were 51 grain bin entrapments in 2010 — more than in any year since they started collecting data on entrapments in 1978. OSHA fined two Illinois companies nearly $1.4 million in January after three workers, including two teens, were suffocated in grain bins. OSHA offers a grain storage bins fact sheet* to explain how to avoid engulfment hazards.

OSHA issues enforcement guidance on providing and paying for personal protective equipment for general industry workers

A new directive went into effect Feb. 10 that provides OSHA enforcement personnel with instructions for determining whether employers have complied with the agency’s personal protective equipment standards. These PPE standards require employers to provide–at no cost to workers–protective equipment, such as goggles and face shields to prevent eye injuries; earplugs and earmuffs to prevent hearing loss; and respirators to protect workers from exposure to air contaminants. The new Enforcement Guidance for Personal Protective Equipment in General Industry* clarifies what type of PPE employers must provide at no cost to workers and when employers are required to pay for PPE. The directive also provides guidance that allows employers to use PPE that complies with current consensus standards, and updates PPE enforcement policies based on court and review commission decisions. See the news release for more information.

OSHA commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire

March 25, 2011, is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire, which killed 146 workers in a New York City garment factory. As OSHA celebrates 40 years of protecting workers, we remember the victims of this terrible tragedy and the advocates and journalists who exposed the indisputable, overwhelming evidence that the fire and the deaths were preventable. OSHA has created a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Web page where you can learn more about this tragic event that led to a sustained legacy of reform that helped pave the way for OSHA’s 40 years of ensuring safe and healthful workplaces.

Oilfield services company fined nearly $340,000 for failing to record worker injuries and illnesses

OSHA issued $337,500 in fines to Superior Energy Services Inc. and five subsidiary companies, citing them with 38 violations of the OSHA recordkeeping standard. OSHA inspectors found that the parent corporation, a New Orleans-based provider of oil and gas field services and labor, allowed its subsidiaries to willfully disregard requirements to record employees’ work-related injuries and illnesses in the OSHA 300 log. Together, the violations cited include 187 instances of improperly recording or failing to record information in the OSHA log. See the news release for more information on Superior Energy Services’ failure to properly record injuries and illnesses that its workers suffered on the job.

Company fined almost $240,000 after worker loses his arm

OSHA cited Prologix Distribution Services-East LLC with 14 safety and health violations and fined the company $239,000 after a worker was seriously injured at the company’s Doral, Fla., facility. OSHA began a safety investigation in August 2010 following a report that a worker trapped in a machine had to have his right arm amputated at the elbow. In September, the agency began a separate inspection focused on health-related concerns at the plant. Inspectors found that the company willfully disregarded the safety of workers by allowing them to operate unsafe machinery. The company also exposed workers to the risk of serious injury or death from explosion hazards from combustible dust accumulation and improperly stored propane tanks. See the news release for more of Prologix’s safety and health violations.

Ore crushing facility fined more than $200,000 for risking workers’ health and hearing

OSHA cited Cimbar Performance Minerals with 20 health and safety violations and fined the company $214,550 for exposing workers to hazardous chemicals and excessive noise levels at the company’s Cadet, Mo., ore crushing facility. Inspectors found that employers had failed to protect workers from exposure to lead and arsenic. Overexposure to lead can cause brain damage, paralysis, kidney disease and even death, and acute exposures to arsenic can cause lung distress and death. Inspectors also cited the company for willfully ignoring its responsibility to protect workers from the risk of hearing loss due to excessive noise levels from machinery. See the news release for more information on Cimbar’s health and safety violations.

Quick action by OSHA inspector helps avert worker injuries in trench collapse

When a compliance safety and health officer from OSHA’s Chicago North Area Office arrived at a jobsite in January to conduct a trench inspection, he observed an employee working in an unprotected six-foot deep trench that had undermined sections. The compliance officer identified the hazards to the employer who voluntarily removed the worker from the trench. Within minutes, the undermined section collapsed directly onto the area where the employee had been working. Detailed information on excavation safety is available on OSHA’s Trenching and Excavation Safety and Health Topics Web page.

Alliance Program Roundtable meets to promote construction worker safety and health

The OSHA Alliance Program Construction Roundtable met Feb. 17 at Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C., to share information about OSHA initiatives and the agency’s direction. OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels addressed 21 representatives from 14 Alliances about subjects including OSHA’s 40th anniversary, Regulatory Agenda and FY 2012 Budget Request*. The group also received overviews of OSHA’s most frequently cited standards, as well as updates on topics including distracted driving, injury and illness prevention programs, cranes and derricks, residential fall protection, and the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The group provided feedback on new Roundtable-developed Construction Safety Design Solutions that focus on preventing falls in the construction industry. The Roundtable members previously developed a variety of free compliance assistance materials for workers and employers, as well as Construction Safety Design Solutions that OSHA is considering as the possible basis for OSHA compliance assistance products.

OSHA signs safety and health alliance with Mexican Consulate in Little Rock

Under an Alliance signed Feb. 18 by OSHA and the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock, Ark., consulate personnel will work closely with OSHA’s Arkansas and Oklahoma offices to improve workplace safety and health for Mexican workers in these states. The Alliance will focus on enhancing safety and health training and educational goals, outreach and communication. The consulate, which serves approximately 120 people a day, represents and assists Mexican workers in the construction, manufacturing and poultry industries. See the news release, available in English and Spanish, for more information on this Alliance.

Metal casting facility gets help from OSHA’s free On-site Consultation Program

When the Clow Valve Company’s metal casting facility in Oskaloosa, Iowa, was experiencing OSHA recordable incident rates nearly twice the national average for its industry, it contacted Iowa OSHA’s On-site Consultation Service and requested an on-site visit. The OSHA On-site Consultation Program is a free and confidential service that small and medium-sized businesses may use to improve their safety and health performance. Representatives from Iowa On-site Consultation identified 19 safety concerns and 21 industrial hygiene issues during a comprehensive review of the company’s facility. Clow Valve abated potential hazards through actions such as installing electrical wiring upgrades and additional ventilation systems for pollution control. As a result of these and other safety and health improvements, Clow Valve achieved Star status in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program in 2009 and had a recordable incident rate that was less than half the national industry average at the end of 2010. See OSHA’s Web site for more information on this safety and health success story.

North Carolina issues forklift hazard alert to prevent workplace injuries and deaths

North Carolina’s Occupational Safety and Health Division published a hazard alert* on the dangers of forklifts and material handling. Seven fatalities occurred in North Carolina during 2010 as a result of material handling incidents. The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division offers free training to employers on occupational safety and health standards.

Oregon OSHA begins emphasis program on amputations

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division, referred to as Oregon OSHA, began an emphasis program last month to reduce risks of workplace injuries that result in amputations. The agency is focusing on inspections of job sites with machinery, equipment and processes that cause amputations and job sites where amputations have occurred. Industries with significant hazards and high amputation rates include meatpacking plants, food processing, pulp and paper mills, sawmills, cabinet manufacturing, sheet metal work, foundries and commercial printing–among others. From 2005 to 2009, Oregon had more than 800 accepted workers’ compensation claims for amputations, nearly all of which involved fingers. Read the Oregon OSHA news release* for more information.

Job openings

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CFITrainer Podcast: Steve Austin speaks on Federal Funding for Fire Grant Program

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