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“US House of Representatives Seeking to Make OSHA VPP Permanent”

Washington – Several members of the House have joined forces to reintroduce bipartisan legislation that would make permanent OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs.

Reps. Todd Rokita (R-IN), Gene Green (D-TX) and Martha Roby (R-AL) claim the Voluntary Protection Program Act is “sound policy that is not only good for the employers and employees but for the American economy overall,” Rokita said in a March 9 press release.

The proposed legislation would denote a long-term commitment to OSHA’s program, which recognizes worksites that achieve exemplary occupational safety and health performance. To be accepted into the program, worksites must implement safety and health management systems that yield below-average injury and illness rates. Successful worksites involved in VPP then gain exemption from certain OSHA inspections.

More than 2,200 worksites covering approximately 900,000 employees have participated in VPP since its 1982 inception. The VPP Act would codify the program, meaning Congress would be unable to withdraw its funding.

The legislation has remained before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee since it was read twice and referred to the committee in late April 2016.

“The Voluntary Protection Program is one of the few programs that has achieved unified support from both union and non-unionized labor, small and large businesses, and government,” Green said in the release. “I am proud to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to codify this important safety program that saves money while protecting workers.”

Added Roby: “The best way to ensure worker safety is through partnerships, not penalties. VPP helps companies become compliant with workplace safety rules on the front end to avoid costly fines and harmful penalties on the back end. It’s a smart way to ensure a safe and productive workplace, while also making government smaller and more efficient.”

The House considered similar legislation – also introduced by Rokita, Green, and Roby – in May 2015. It was referred to the Workforce Protections Subcommittee that November.

Given the current political climate,it would not be surprising to see this adopted at some point in the near future. Time will tell.

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OSHA QuickTakes – September 16, 2013

OSHA QuickTakes

#Silica
#StopFalls
#OilAndGas

In this issue

Notice of proposed rulemaking for respirable silica published in Federal Register


OSHA awards $10.1 million in Susan Harwood safety and health training grants to 70 organizations


Adams Thermal Systems to pay $1.34 million in wake of OSHA citations, criminal penalties in 2011 death of worker


OSHA orders MGM Resorts to reinstate whistleblower and pay more than $325,000 in damages


New study finds link between occupational safety and health and improved financial performance


OSHA cites Taylor’s Drain and Sewer Service with willful violations after trenching hazards found at 2 worksites


Fox Valley Systems cited for safety violations after three workers seriously injured in explosion and fire


Houston waste services company and staffing agency cited by OSHA after temporary worker dies from heat stress


Midwest States stand down for safety as OSHA heat app downloads break August record


OSHA partners with oil and gas industry to protect workers


OSHA requests nominations for members to serve on the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health


Troy Industrial Solutions celebrates SHARP status thanks to OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program


Hazard Communication: Workers must be trained by Dec. 1, 2013


New OSHA resource available on cotton press safety


Follow us on Twitter and visit us on Facebook


Better health insurance choices coming in October 2013


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OSHA QuickTakes – August 6, 2013

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In this issue

White House releases executive order on improving chemical facility safety and security


New Labor Secretary committed to workplace safety and health


Hazard alert warns of dangers of 1-bromopropane exposure


OSHA, NWS remind employers to protect outdoor workers during heat wave


Three companies ordered to reinstate workers for whistleblower violations of clean air, surface transportation and aviation acts


Echo Lake Foods fined $150,000 for 27 safety violations


Western Sugar Cooperative cited for combustible dust and other hazards


Arkansas poultry processor cited for exposing workers to hazardous chemicals


OSHA releases new fall prevention training guide with “tool box talks”


ASA/OSHA webinar reminds employers to train, protect all temp workers


Webinar answers questions about GHS requirements


OSHA schedules ACCSH meeting


Outreach campaign aims to protect health care workers from musculoskeletal disorders


OSHA helps NH responders prep for emergencies


OSHA demonstrates safe grain handling at Wisconsin Farm Tech Days


Free On-site Consultation program helps small businesses improve workplace safety and health


OSHA and partners count successes in oil and gas safety stand-down


Follow us on Twitter and visit us on Facebook


New OSHA Web resources available


Better health insurance choices coming in October 2013

OSHA QuickTakes – January 16, 2013

OSHA QuickTakes


APP Challenge winners announced: Technology promotes worker safety and health

The U.S. Department of Labor has announced the winners of its Worker Safety and Health App Challenge. Prizes totaling $30,000 are going to four entrants who submitted tools that best demonstrate for young workers the importance of recognizing and preventing workplace safety and health hazards and their right to a safe workplace.

The Safety in the Workplace Innovator Award ($15,000 grand prize) went to Working Safely Is No Accident, a website developed by the University of Tennessee Construction Industry Research and Policy Center and the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. The website offers workers, primarily young workers, conveniently accessible information on common workplace hazards and workers’ rights to a safe workplace.

The Safety and Health Data Award ($6,000) went to the United Steelworkers union for its USW Chemical Safety app, allowing users to search Material Safety Data Sheets for workplace-related information on exposure limits, health hazards, controls, personal protective equipment, handling and storing hazardous substances, and emergency procedures for hazardous substances in the workplace.

The Workers’ Rights Award ($6,000) went to the No Jack – Young Workers’ Safety Campaign website developed by the Montana State Fund (the state’s largest workers’ compensation insurer). The website targets young workers to educate them and their employers about workers’ rights to a safe and healthful workplace.

The People’s Choice Award ($3,000) went to Sidharth Garg for his Ergonomics iOS App that offers ergonomic equipment setup advice in an office setting to prevent musculoskeletal injuries. The app offers workplace-specific stretching exercises and programmable reminders to help time breaks.

To see the winning submissions and all the finalists’ submissions, see the news release. Read Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Health Dr. David Michaels’ blog post.


BNSF Railway Co. signs accord with OSHA regarding employee practices under Federal Railroad Safety Act

Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF Railway Co. has signed an accord with OSHA, announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA said violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. Section 20109 of the Act protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other things, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Ensuring that employees can report injuries or illnesses without fear of retaliation is crucial to protecting worker safety and health,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “If employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk because employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries.” For more information, see the news release.


New Whistleblower Protection Programs Advisory Committee to meet Jan. 29

Members of the new Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee will hold their first meeting Jan. 29 at the Labor Department’s Frances Perkins Building in Washington, D.C. The WPAC was created to advise and consult with the secretary of labor and the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health on ways to improve the fairness, efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of OSHA’s whistleblower protection programs.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report reasonably perceive violations of various workplace regulations. More in information is available at www.whistleblowers.gov.

The 12 voting and three ad-hoc members of the WPAC were chosen to represent the interests of labor, management and the public. They will serve two-year terms and meet at least twice a year.

For more information, read the Federal Register notice.


Semiannual regulatory agenda published

The Office of Management and Budget has published the Fall 2012 unified agenda. The agenda lists regulatory actions now in development and under consideration by each federal agency, providing information about each rule and its stage of development. OSHA’s updated agenda includes projected timelines for several safety and health standards. For more information, view the DOL Fall 2012 Agency Rule List from Reginfo.gov.


New Clinicians webpage provides resource for healthcare professionals

OSHA has launched a new webpage directed specifically to clinicians. Physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, paramedics and other health care professionals often encounter work-related health and safety issues as they care for their patients. The Clinicians’ webpage provides information, resources and links to help clinicians navigate OSHA’s website and provide care for workers. Topics on the webpage include evaluating occupational exposures, OSHA requirements for recordkeeping and medical records, and setting up a safe outpatient office.


Protecting recovery workers in the aftermath of Sandy

OSHA Regional Administrator Robert Kulick speaks at a safety forum in New Jersey

OSHA continues to monitor safety conditions for workers involved in the cleanup of Hurricane Sandy. Since the hurricane hit the East Coast two months ago, OSHA has conducted more than 4,400 briefings and other outreach activities, reaching nearly 61,000 workers and employers performing recovery work in Sandy-impacted areas.

OSHA staff is monitoring cleanup sites daily in New York and New Jersey to ensure that workers are protected from exposure to dangerous levels of environmental hazards such as carbon monoxide, asbestos and silica. The data and analysis are posted on OSHA’s Sandy sampling website. For more information, see the news release.

At a Dec. 17 forum in Wall Township, N.J., OSHA joined other agencies and organizations to discuss worker safety and ways to assist residents, business owners, unions, volunteers and advocacy groups. Robert Kulick, OSHA’s New York regional administrator, reminded attendees that employers are responsible for assessing their workplaces for hazards, training their workers, and providing their workers with all necessary controls ? such as personal protective equipment.

Guidance, fact sheets and other information are on OSHA’s Hurricane Sandy webpage.

Learn About Personal Protective Equipment
Read About Hurricane Recovery Assistance
Learn How OSHA Is Keeping Sandy Workers Safe
Read the Secretary of Labor’s Blog Post


Review Board Decision: Worker can’t be fired for reporting an injury

The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board has upheld OSHA’s finding that the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation of New York and New Jersey violated the rights of an employee when it disciplined the worker for exercising her rights under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The employee was injured when a chair she sat on broke, causing her to fall. When she reported the injury, the railroad charged her with having caused the accident by failing to “inspect the chair” before sitting in it. The worker then filed a complaint with OSHA, which found in 2010 that the company had violated the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA.

OSHA ordered PATH to pay $1,000 in punitive damages and to take corrective actions, which included expunging disciplinary actions and references to them from various records as well as compensating the worker for attorneys’ fees.

PATH filed an appeal before DOL’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, which upheld OSHA’s findings in the case. PATH then filed another appeal before the Administrative Review Board. The ARB’s December 2012 decision upheld the OALJ decision.


OSHA settlement affirms company responsibility to train temporary workers

The MacMillin Co., a Keene, N.H.-based contractor, has reached a settlement with OSHA to correct all cited hazards and pay a $100,000 fine in connection with the September 2011 death of a worker who fell 27 feet on the Keene Middle School construction site. OSHA cited the company for failing to inspect a scaffold for defects, adequately train workers in scaffold erection and inspection, and determine the feasibility of or ensure the use of fall protection for workers during the scaffold erection. The company initially contested its citations, but now has agreed to settle the case. In addition to correcting cited conditions and paying the fine, the company will now provide the same level of training to its temporary workers as it does to its permanent staff, and sponsor presentations on fall protection training for those erecting and dismantling scaffolding. See the news release for more information.


OSHA cites two Wisconsin companies after crane collapse killed worker on bridge construction site

After a truck driver was killed and another worker seriously injured, OSHA cited Lunda Construction Inc. in Black River Falls and Choice Construction Cos. Inc. in Menomonee Falls, Wis., with 10 safety citations. The July 5 incident occurred when a crane collapsed at a bridge construction site on U.S. Route 41 near Oshkosh. The truck driver died when he was struck by the boom of a crane that overturned while bridge girders were being erected with multiple cranes, and a crane operator was seriously injured when he was thrown from the cab as the crane fell. See the news release for more information.


OSHA cites roofing contractor nearly $160,000 for exposing workers to fall hazards

OSHA has cited Rochester, N.Y.-based A.M. Stern Inc. for alleged willful, repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards while workers installed a roof in the town of Fairport. The roofing contractor faces a total of $159,250 in fines for exposing workers to falls of 15 to 30 feet while working at the unprotected edges of a building’s roof. OSHA inspectors determined that the designated on-site safety monitor was not positioned close enough to workers in unprotected sections to warn them about the fall hazards. OSHA also issued the contractor five serious citations, including failure to provide medical evaluations and training for workers required to wear respirators, allowing an untrained worker to operate a forklift, and not providing workers with information and training on hazardous chemicals.

See the news release for more information.


Diesel Hazard Alert issued by OSHA, MSHA

OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration are warning workers and their employers about hazardous exposure to diesel engine exhaust. Diesel engine exhaust, which contains a mixture of gases and small particles including diesel particulate matter, can create a health hazard when not properly controlled. The agencies have issued a hazard alert about workers’ exposure to these materials. Diesel engines provide power to a variety of vehicles, heavy equipment and other machinery used in industries such as mining, transportation, construction, agriculture and maritime operations. The health effects of short-term exposure can be headache, dizziness, and irritation of the eye, nose and throat severe enough to distract or disable workers, while long-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer. The hazard alert offers information for employers and workers on engineering controls to mitigate exposure, as well as the OSHA and MSHA enforcement standards for a variety of industries. For more information, see the Hazard Alert.


OSHA Site-Specific Targeting program aims to reduce injuries and illnesses in high-hazard workplaces

OSHA has issued its annual inspection plan under the Site-Specific Targeting 2012 (PDF*) program to direct enforcement resources to workplaces where the highest rates of injuries and illnesses occur. The SST program is one of OSHA’s main programmed inspection plans for high-hazard, non-construction workplaces that have 20 or more workers. The SST plan is based on data collected from a survey of 80,000 establishments in high-hazard industries.

For the 2012 SST, OSHA’s Nursing and Personal Care Facilities National Emphasis Program will conduct programmed inspections of nursing and personal care establishments, unlike previous years when these inspections fell under the SST program.

In addition to the SST program, OSHA implements both national and local emphasis inspection programs to target high-risk hazards and industries. See the news release for more information.


OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program leads to decline in injury and illness rates at New York vocational rehab center

After seeing a spike in workplace injuries, Chemung Advocacy, Resources and Care/Southern Tier Industries turned to OSHA for help to reduce injuries among its 210 workers. The company, based in Elmira, N.Y., provides support services for developmentally disabled children.

Chemung ARC/STI worked with the state’s On-site Consultation Program in Binghamton to identify and correct hazards, and develop a workplace safety and health action plan. A year after asking OSHA for assistance, the company saw its injury and illness rates fall below the average rates for the vocational rehabilitation services industry. For more information, see the Chemung ARC/STI success story.

OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. As part of OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program, highly qualified safety and health professionals from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs.


Stakeholders discuss preventing vehicle backup injuries

New OSHA website provides information on preventing backover incidents in construction

OSHA held its first of several informal stakeholder meetings Jan. 8 to provide employers, workers, safety professionals and equipment manufacturers with an opportunity to inform OSHA about how workers are injured and killed by vehicle backovers and what can be done to prevent these incidents.

Two dozen representatives from industry and worker groups attended the Jan. 8 meeting in Washington, D.C. The discussion focused on the effectiveness of technology, training, best practices and other methods to protect workers from harm.

OSHA will hold three more informal meetings Feb. 5 in Arlington, Texas. Those interested in participating must register electronically, by fax or mail. Details are in the Dec. 17, 2012 Federal Register notice. Following the conclusion of the meetings, OSHA will post a summary of comments on its website.

In 2011, 79 workers were killed on the job when backing vehicles or mobile equipment crushed them against an object or backed over them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More information on backover hazards, including a prevention video, is on OSHA’s Preventing Backovers webpage.


Study finds poultry plant workers at risk for Campylobacter infections

In a new study about to be published, researchers investigating cases of Campylobacter infections among workers at a Virginia poultry-processing plant suggest ways to lessen the risk of infection. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health conducted the study as part of a health hazard evaluation requested by plant management. The study will appear in the February issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. For more information, see the study.


New OSHA publications and webpages available in Spanish and Korean

Hispanic workers make up more than one-third of all construction workers in America, and falls are the leading cause of death in construction. In December, OSHA posted online a Spanish-language version of the agency’s fall prevention website, which provides numerous educational resources, including stickers, wallet cards, fact sheets and posters. These resources show how falls can be prevented and lives can be saved through three simple steps: Plan. Provide. Train. Visit the Spanish language page for fall prevention. To order any of OSHA’s outreach materials, call OSHA’s Office of Communications at (202) 693-1999 or visit OSHA’s Publications page.

OSHA’s Guide for Nail Salon Workers (PDF)*, now available in Korean (PDF*), provides information and support for nail salon workers to stay healthy and safe while giving manicures and pedicures. The guide describes possible hazards in nail salons and good work practices that should be used to protect nail salon workers from chemical hazards, muscle strains and diseases. To order free copies of the guide in Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish or English, call OSHA’s Office of Communications at (202) 693-1999 or visit OSHA’s Publications page online. For more information, see OSHA’s Health Hazards in Nail Salons webpage.


Winter storm hazards: Webpage offers help for employers and workers

Winter Storms

OSHA’s Winter Storms webpage provides information on protecting workers from hazards they may face during winter storm response and recovery operations. The webpage provides guidance on how employers and workers involved in cleanup and recovery operations can recognize snow storm-related hazards and the necessary steps that employers must take to keep workers safe while working in these conditions. The page includes guidance for workers clearing heavy snow in front of workplaces and from rooftops, workers encountering downed power lines or traveling on icy roads, and utility workers restoring power after winter storms.

The Winter Storms webpage includes links to guidance from OSHA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Safety Council and other agencies and organizations.


Seasonal Flu: Webpage provides information on preventing spread of seasonal flu in the workplace

Flu Season

With an increasing number of severe flu cases this season across the United States, OSHA is urging employers to take precautions to protect workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that at least 47 states are reporting widespread geographic influenza ? 10 times higher in some cities than this time last year.

OSHA’s Seasonal Flu webpage offers information about how to reduce the spread of the flu in workplaces. It provides information on the basic precautions, such as frequent hand washings and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, that should be used by employers and workers in all workplaces.

OSHA also provides additional precautions that should be used by employers and workers in healthcare settings, such as strictly following infection control practices and using gloves, gowns, and other protective equipment to reduce exposures, and encouraging sick workers to stay home.

OSHA QuickTakes – November 15, 2012

OSHA QuickTakes

In this issue

OSHA staff works to assure that recovery workers are protected as Hurricane Sandy cleanup and reconstruction continues throughout eastern U.S.

OSHA is urging workers and members of the public engaged in Hurricane Sandy cleanup and recovery efforts in New York and New Jersey to be aware of the hazards they might encounter and the steps they should take to protect themselves. To provide assistance and information, OSHA has published a comprehensive new Hurricane Sandy cleanup and recovery webpage, with resources on the common hazards associated with hurricane recovery work, including fact sheets, concise QuickCards, frequently asked questions, and safety and health guides. The page is also available in Spanish. A number of fact sheets and QuickCards on hurricane-related hazards have also been translated into Portuguese.

Hazards of recovery work may include downed electrical wires, carbon monoxide and electrical hazards from portable generators, fall and “struck-by” hazards from tree trimming or working at heights, being caught in unprotected excavations or confined spaces, burns, lacerations, musculoskeletal injuries, being struck by traffic or heavy equipment, toxic chemical exposure and drowning from being caught in moving water or while removing water from flooded structures.

“Storm recovery workers are working around the clock to clean up areas impacted by the storm,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s New York regional administrator. “We want to make sure that workers and employers are aware of the hazards involved in cleanup work and take the necessary precautions to prevent serious injuries.” OSHA field staff members are providing safety assistance, technical support, and information and training to those involved in the recovery efforts. As of Nov. 14, OSHA Regional and Area Office staffs in storm-affected areas have reached more than 35,000 at-risk workers through targeted outreach, safety and health briefings, health risk assessments and coordination of donated personal protective equipment.

If you need to contact OSHA, please call the toll-free hotline 1-800-321-OSHA. The U.S. Department of Labor also maintains a Hurricane Recovery Assistance webpage with additional recovery information.

OSHA Region II Regional Administrator Robert Kulick (second from left) and Secretary Hila L. Solis (center) visit hurricane victims and recovery workers in New York on Nov. 5, 2012.

Black Friday is November 23: OSHA urges retail employers to protect workers from injuries during holiday sales with safe crowd management planning

In 2008, a New York worker was trampled to death while a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors of a large store at the opening of a “Black Friday” sale. OSHA is encouraging retail employers to take precautions to prevent this type of tragedy during major sales events this holiday season. This year, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels has sent a letter to the CEOs of major retail employers urging them to follow common-sense crowd control measures to prevent worker injuries. OSHA has prepared a set of guidelines to help retail employers and store owners avoid injuries during the holiday shopping season, or other events where large crowds may gather. See OSHA’s Crowd Management Safety Guidelines Fact Sheet for more information. Crowd management planning should begin in advance of events that are likely to draw large crowds, and crowd management, pre-event setup, and emergency situation management should be part of that plan.

 

Crowd management plans should include: trained security personnel or police officers on-site, barricades or rope lines for pedestrians provided well in advance of customers arriving at the store, barricades so the customers’ line does not begin at the immediate entrance of the store, emergency procedures in place that address potential dangers, and security personnel or customer service representatives available to explain approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public.

See the news release for more information.

Tennessee Valley Authority contractor convicted of falsifying safety and health records to collect bonuses

Last week, a federal jury in Chattanooga convicted the former safety manager of Stone & Webster Construction on eight counts of major fraud for falsifying safety records at three Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear power plants in order to collect more than $2.5 million in safety bonuses.

The jury found that the bonuses were paid for meeting certain performance goals, including one tied to worker safety, which was determined by workplace injury rates as well as the total number of injuries at each of the three nuclear facilities. When workers’ injuries—which included broken bones, torn ligaments, hernias, lacerations, and shoulder, back, and knee injuries—jeopardized the bonuses, the safety manager fraudulently misclassified them as nonrecordable, non-lost-time, and non-work-related incidents. OSHA cited the company in 2007, made a referral to the Department of Justice, and provided key witness testimony in the DOJ case.

Northern Illinois Flight Center ordered by US Labor Department’s OSHA to reinstate, pay more than $500,000 to illegally terminated pilot

An investigation by OSHA found that Northern Illinois Flight Center violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, known as AIR21, by illegally terminating an employee. The whistleblower, a pilot from Illinois, was dismissed after contacting the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss violations of the pilot certification process. As a result, OSHA has ordered the company to immediately reinstate the employee and pay more than $500,000 in back wages, benefits and damages.

The pilot alleges that he was asked to falsify a pilot certification for a training flight he performed with another pilot. He maintained that all required elements were not completed during the training flight conducted Feb. 16, 2009, so he could not certify the form. He also alleges that, on March 23, Northern Illinois Flight Center supervisors attempted to coerce him into signing a backdated and incorrect form. During a subsequent conversation, the pilot informed his supervisors that he wanted to contact the FAA directly to get clarification on the issue, and between March 25 and 27, the pilot contacted the FAA Flight Standards District. The pilot was terminated April 7, with no reason stated. The investigation upheld the pilot’s allegations and found that he would not have been terminated if he had not requested to meet with the FAA for the purpose of discussing the pilot certification process and forms.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the AIR21 and 21 other statutes. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. For more information, read the news release.

OSHA reaches nationwide settlement for recordkeeping and safety violations at Pa. warehouse

The U.S. Department of Labor has reached a settlement with The SHS Group, LP, the Council for Educational Travel-USA, and Exel Inc. that resolves federal minimum wage and overtime violations, and also resolves $143,000 in fines for safety and health violations found at an Exel-operated facility in Palmyra, Pa. The settlement also includes commitments by Exel to implement proactive procedures to help ensure future Fair Labor Standards Act and OSHA compliance at each of their over 300 facilities across the country.

Exel will implement a site-specific record-keeping policy, a noise abatement plan and a hearing conservation program at the Palmyra facility. Exel will also implement revised polices that address noise exposure at all Exel production facilities and record-keeping policies at all facilities nationwide. Additionally, Exel will revise its U.S. Corporate Wide Incentive Program to eliminate incentive payments based on the number of reported or recorded injuries and illnesses at a facility that may discourage reporting. This action is consistent with OSHA’s current efforts to eliminate “bonus” plans that potentially incentivize nonreporting of injuries or illnesses.

“We are pleased that Exel has agreed to revamp its injury and illness record-keeping program and to change its incentive program,” Dr. Michaels said. “When workers don’t feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk. Exel’s actions will positively impact the safety and health of its workers.” Read the news release for further details.

Mass. contractor agrees to pay $200,000 fine, significantly overhaul safety practices in settlement related to cave-in hazards

As part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor, P. Gioioso & Sons Inc., a Hyde Park contractor with a long history of violating excavation safety standards, has agreed to pay a $200,000 fine for exposing its employees to cave-in hazards. The contractor also will significantly overhaul its safety practices to minimize trenching hazards and enhance worker safety.

P. Gioioso & Sons Inc., which primarily works on underground water and sewer mains, has been cited nine times since 2000 by OSHA for violations of trenching and excavation safety standards, most recently in 2011 at work sites in Cambridge and Framingham.

In addition to paying the fine, Gioioso will notify OSHA of all excavation jobs to be undertaken by the company in the next three years, and allow OSHA inspectors free access to enter and inspect the work sites without a warrant, as well as provide documents related to the work being performed at the sites. Gioioso also will develop and put into effect a comprehensive safety and health program that includes an annual audit by an independent, qualified safety and health consultant. Finally, the company will develop and implement a permit system for all of its excavations that will identify and evaluate the hazards of each operation prior to digging, and specify the means by which those hazards will be controlled. For more information, read the press release.

OSHA revises exemption for digger derricks in its Cranes and Derricks standard

OSHA has published a final rule that broadens the current exemption for digger derricks used in the electric-utility industry. Digger derricks are pieces of equipment used to drill holes for utility poles. These digger derricks are commonly used by companies to place poles inside holes and attach transformers and other items to the poles.

The digger derricks exemption is part of the Cranes and Derricks final standard that was issued Aug. 9, 2010. After publication of this standard, OSHA received comments about the scope of the exemption. Upon review of these comments, OSHA decided to revise the current exemption for digger derricks to cover all digger-derrick use in the electric-utility industry.

The rule will become effective Feb. 7, 2013, unless OSHA receives significant adverse comment by Dec. 10. See the Federal Register notice for more details.

OSHA publishes confirmation notice of direct final rule updating national consensus standards in its head protection standards

OSHA has published a notice confirming the effective date of the direct final rule for OSHA’s head protection standards. This final rule updates the incorporation by reference of national consensus standards to include the latest edition of the consensus standard. It updates references in OSHA’s standards to recognize the 2009 edition of the American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection, and deletes the 1986 edition of that national consensus standard because it is out of date. The final rule applies to the personal protective equipment provisions of its general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring, marine terminals, and construction standards that detail requirements for head protection. OSHA included the construction industry in this rulemaking to ensure consistency among the agency’s standards.

OSHA also issued a second notice withdrawing the notice of proposed rulemaking that accompanied this direct final rule. The notices will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 at www.regulations.gov, the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

OSHA seeks nominations for members to serve on the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health

OSHA announced Nov. 9 that nominations are being accepted for eight new members to serve on the 15-member Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. ACCSH, established under the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, advises the Secretary of Labor and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health on construction standards and policy matters.

Member nominations will be accepted until January 7, 2013, for those interested in serving two-year terms representing employee, employer, public and state safety and health agency representative groups. Individuals may submit nominations by mail, facsimile or electronically at www.regulations.gov, the Federal eRulemaking Portal. See the Federal Register notice for details.

OSHA establishes partnership with Black & Veatch Construction to enhance safety at Energy Center Project

OSHA has established a strategic partnership with Black & Veatch Construction Inc. to reduce workers’ exposure to hazards and the likelihood of serious injuries at the Columbia Energy Center Air Quality Control Systems Project site in Pardeeville, Wis. The Wisconsin On-Site Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program, which is operated by the state but funded by federal OSHA, is also participating in the partnership.

Black & Veatch Construction will implement a site-specific safety and health program. Approximately 600 workers are anticipated to be on-site at the peak of the project. Read the news release for more information.

Through its Strategic Partnership Program, OSHA develops alliances with employers, workers, professional and trade associations, labor organizations and other interested stakeholders to establish specific goals, strategies and performance measures to improve worker safety and health.

Link between patient and hospital worker safety explored at healthcare events

Dr. Michaels and Dr. Rosemary Sokas at Frontline Hospital Workers and the Worker Safety/Patient Safety Relationship workshop on Oct. 25.

Frontline Hospital Workers and the Worker Safety/Patient Safety Relationship – a day-long workshop held in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25 – highlighted the role that frontline healthcare workers (nursing assistants, environmental services workers, ward clerks, and others) play in assuring safety not only to the patients they care for, but to co-workers and staff in healthcare settings. Dr. Rosemary Sokas, MD, MOH, chair of the Department of Human Science at the School of Nursing & Health Studies at Georgetown University organized the event. Dr. Michaels delivered opening remarks

 

Workshop sessions focused on the intersection of worker safety and patient safety, and specific steps that healthcare institutions have used to implement a “culture of safety” in the workplace. Approximately 85 workshop attendees broke out into small groups to discuss specific issues such as violence in healthcare settings, infectious disease concerns, safe patient handling, slips and falls, injury and illness reporting, reporting adverse patient safety events, and creating a research agenda for effective safety interventions.

Dr. Michaels also addressed hazards in the healthcare industry via webcast at the OSHA Executive Seminar on Healthcare Worker Safety on Nov. 8 at the University of Texas at Arlington. A recording of this presentation is available at https://cpro-ced.uta.edu/p997a1hg5fo/. To learn more about hazards in the healthcare industry, visit OSHA’s Healthcare Safety and Health Topics page.

Compliance Assistance: OSHA has updated the General Industry Digest

OSHA’s updated General Industry Digest – a booklet that summarizes General Industry safety and health standards to help employers, supervisors, workers, health and safety committee members, and safety and health personnel learn about OSHA standards in the workplace – is now available. The digest includes updated information on revisions to General Industry standards since the digest was last published in 2001.

Several other new and revised publications have also recently been published, including a Spanish-language version of the Construction Industry Digest (PDF*) and a revised brochure on Free Safety and Health Consultation Services (PDF*). To order these or many other outreach materials, call OSHA’s Office of Communications at 202-693-1999 or visit OSHA’s Publications page.

Study: Work-related injuries from All-Terrain Vehicle use are increasing

A recently published review by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of hazards related to All-Terrain vehicle use shows that work-related injuries are on the rise. NIOSH estimates that 11 million of these vehicles were in use in 2010 (for both recreational and work-related purposes). Forty-one workers were killed using ATVs in the final year of the NIOSH study. OSHA has published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin on hazards of ATV use in the workplace that provides information on the operating conditions and specific activities that most often lead to ATV-related injuries and fatalities; the guidelines and training an employer can use to help protect employees; and the work practices that workers can follow to reduce the potential for ATV-related accidents. For additional information on ATV safety, see the NIOSH publication All-Terrain Vehicle Safety at Work (PDF*).

OSHA Quick Takes – August 15, 2012

In this issue

Reach young workers with important health and safety information: Take the Worker Safety & Health App Challenge before the September 16 deadline!

Hurry – there’s only one month left to submit entries for the Worker Safety & Health App Challenge at www.challenge.gov. Your challenge is to use publicly available government information (i.e., DOL/OSHA data, NIOSH data, and other online government resources) to educate young workers on the safety and health risks in real work scenarios.

Question: What makes a good safety and health app? Answer: Successful apps could take many different forms: interactive and informative games, social or professional networking sites, or data visualization tools that teach young people about safety and health hazards and their rights in the workplace. Submissions may be designed for Internet browsers, smartphones, feature phones, social media platforms, or as native Windows or Macintosh applications.

For more information about the cash prizes (up to $30,000!) and the competition guidelines, watch a short video, read Dr. Michaels’ blog, and visit the challenge page.

OSHA to co-sponsor stakeholder meeting on safety and health approaches in the oil and gas industry on September 20

OSHA, along with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), United States Coast Guard (USCG), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) invite public participation in an upcoming stakeholder meeting on the use and implementation of performance-based regulatory models for enhanced safety and environmental performance in the United States oil and gas industry.

Speakers at the September 20-21 meeting in Texas City, Texas, will address the current regulatory landscape and discuss the challenges and benefits of non-prescriptive, outcome-based approaches to reduce the frequency and severity of harmful events. Public attendees will have the opportunity to make comments at the meeting, and all members of the public may submit comments in writing. Those interested in attending must register by September 5. The meeting will also be webcast live for online viewing. For more information, visit the registration Web site. The meeting will be announced in an upcoming Federal Register.

Register now: August 16 free fall prevention webinar explains why ‘Safety pays, falls cost’

Fall Prevention poster

On August 16, from 2-3:00 p.m. EDT, OSHA’s Director of Construction, Jim Maddux, and NIOSH’s Director of Construction Safety and Health, Dr. Christine Branche, will co-moderate a webinar to discuss how to prevent deadly falls in the construction industry, hosted by OH&S magazine. To register for the free webinar, and to learn more about efforts by OSHA, NIOSH, The Center for Construction Research and Training, and the NORA Construction Sector Council to protect construction workers from fatal falls, visit the registration page.

Falls are the leading cause of death in construction. In 2010, there were 264 fall fatalities out of 774 total fatalities in construction. These deaths are preventable. Help support OSHA’s Fall Prevention campaign by reaching out to workers and employers in your community with the resources available at www.osha.gov/stopfalls, including stickers, wallet cards, fact sheets, and posters. To order these or any of OSHA’s outreach materials, call OSHA’s Office of Communications at 202-693-1999 or visit OSHA’s Publications page.

Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH); request for nominations

OSHA announced August 2 that nominations are being accepted for members to serve on the upcoming Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH). MACOSH functions as an advisory body and reports to the Secretary of Labor through OSHA on matters relating to occupational safety and health programs, enforcement, new initiatives and standards for maritime industries, including longshoring, marine terminals, and shipyard employment.

Member nominations will be accepted until September 17, 2012, for those interested in serving two-year terms representing employers, employees, safety and health professional organizations and government organizations. Individuals may submit nominations by mail, facsimile or electronically at www.regulations.gov, the Federal eRulemaking Portal. See the Federal Register notice for details.

Heat Ap

After the hottest month in US history, stay safe with Heat Safety Tool mobile app, other heat illness prevention materials

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that July was the hottest month in the United States since modern record-keeping began in 1895. Join the more than 49,000 others who have downloaded OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool mobile app, available in English or Spanish, which provides vital safety information in these extreme temperatures — right on your mobile phone.

Throughout the country, OSHA is on hand to provide expert guidance to workers and employers about the hazards of working outdoors in hot weather. For example, in recent weeks in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, Texas, OSHA compliance officers have operated three phone banks in Spanish on local Univision stations, taking questions from the public and providing information on the campaign.

To order any of OSHA’s heat illness prevention materials in English or Spanish, call OSHA’s Office of Communications at 202-693-1999 or visit OSHA’s Publications page.

Magnolia Torres of OSHA’s Philadelphia office discusses OSHA’s heat illness and fall prevention campaigns on Telemundo.

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. ordered by US Labor Department to pay more than $300,000 for violating Federal Railroad Safety Act

OSHA found that Norfolk Southern Railway Co. violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. An investigation by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration revealed that the railroad terminated an employee in retaliation for reporting a workplace injury. OSHA ordered the company to pay the employee more than $300,000 in damages. For more information, read the press release.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

OSHA cites metal forgings plant in Chicago for 26 safety violations, including failing to maintain cranes

OSHA cited specialty metal forgings producer A. Finkl & Sons Co. with 26 safety violations including two willful violations that involve failing to provide fall protection around open pits and rectify multiple hazards found in crane inspections. Proposed penalties total $352,700. Read the news release for more details.

Attendees at the Las Vegas forum peruse OSHA publications on Preventing Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers (PDF*) and the Dangers of Formaldehyde in Hair Smoothing Products.

Protecting women workers: Assistant Secretary reports on OSHA’s progress at Women’s Bureau roundtable

On August 9, Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, joined Secretary Solis in Las Vegas, Nev., for a special forum entitled “Working for Women: Your Job, Your Rights,” on the challenges facing women workers today. Together with the Secretary, Dr. Michaels talked about what the Department of Labor is doing to get women back to work and to protect their rights on the job. In particular, Dr. Michaels discussed OSHA’s work to protect women workers throughout the nation—highlighting the agency’s robust efforts in hair and nail salons, healthcare, outdoor labor, and construction.

OSHA eTool helps employers prevent shock and electrocution hazards

To provide assistance to employers in complying with OSHA’s Subpart S Electrical Standards for General Industry electrical installation standard, the agency has developed the new “Subpart S eTool” (eTools are “stand-alone,” interactive, Web-based training tools on occupational safety and health topics).

The eTool shows employers all of the Subpart S installation requirements that apply based on the time period in which an installation was built or last modified. Users select a requirement category and date range from a matrix, and the eTool displays the requirements applicable to an installation built or modified during that range.

The standard, which became effective in 2007, is intended to reduce the risk of injury and death caused by unsafe electrical installations.

Job openings

Are you interested in a career with the Department of Labor? DOL has job opportunities throughout the country, including openings in OSHA.

OSHA Database Underreports Workplace Fatalities

 

Federal officials have admitted that OSHA’s database for tracking workplace fatalities is deficient in several key respects.

January 01, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the division of the U.S. Department of Labor charged with protecting the safety of employees in the workplace. OSHA’s mission is to prevent construction accidents, industrial injuries, and other workplace accidents. It seeks to do this through setting and enforcing safety standards, designing and delivering education and training programs, and engaging in outreach activity.

Unfortunately, OSHA sometimes falls short of accomplishing its mission. For example, OSHA officials admitted in November 2011 that one of the ways the agency uses to monitor workplace safety – a database tracking workplace fatalities – is deficient in several key respects. OSHA’s lack of information is troubling because people need to know how many workplace deaths occur and the reasons for them in order to improve workplace safety.

Causes of Workplace Deaths

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 4,547 workplace fatalities in 2010. Massachusetts saw 51 workplace fatalities in 2010, down from 59 in 2009. The BLS reported that the causes of deaths in the workplace for 2010 were:

– Transportation incidents – 39 percent

– Assaults and violent acts – 18 percent

– Contact with objects or equipment – 16 percent

– Falls – 14 percent

– Exposure to harmful substances – nine percent

– Fire or explosions – four percent

OSHA Database Failure

OSHA has a Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), wherein OSHA partners with employers who have injury and fatality rates below the BLS average for their industries. In exchange for proactively working on safety measures, the employers in the VPP are exempt from regular OSHA inspections.

One of the main deficits in OSHA’s workplace fatality data is that it does not include deaths that happened at employers in the VPP. By cross-referencing OSHA data and BLS data, the Center for Public Integrity discovered that OSHA data did not include 15 workplace fatalities that occurred between 2000 and 2010 because these deaths happened at VPP participant employers.

Another area in which OSHA does not have data is workplace fatalities that occur in the 21 states that administer their own version of OSHA’s VPP. These are major gaps in the database and make it difficult for OSHA to do its job properly.

OSHA officials say they are taking steps to fill the information gap regarding workplace fatalities in VPP participant employers. OSHA’s second-highest official concedes the importance of following up on fatalities at VPP participant employers and including that information in OSHA data. OSHA’s main office has issued memos on the topic to regional offices in the past few years.

Preventing Workplace Deaths

OSHA and employers can take steps to make the number of workplace deaths decrease further. Some ideas include:

– Make safety a key value for owners and managers

– Train employees in safety techniques

– Engage employees in making the workplace safer

– Monitor employees’ actions to ensure compliance with safety regulations

– Analyze “near-miss” accidents so that they do not happen again and to discover any safeguards that functioned properly to prevent fatalities

Lubrizol Corporation : OSHA Honors Lubrizol with VPP Star Recertification

CLEVELAND, October 4, 2011 – The Lubrizol Corporation announces that its Wickliffe facility has been recertified as a Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star site by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Association. The VPP recognizes employers and workers in the private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries.

The Wickliffe facility has demonstrated continuous improvement in its safety, health and security programs since VPP Star certification in 2007. A 27-page report prepared by the OSHA inspection team called attention to several areas of excellence including the Wickliffe emergency response department’s capabilities for fire fighting and emergency and hazardous materials response; the medical department’s occupational health and safety capabilities, along with the Lubrizol Essentials wellness programs for all employees; and the “Something Happened” incident and accident reporting system.

Julie Weis, the assistant area director of the Cleveland area local OSHA office, made the official presentation of the OSHA VPP Star certificate plaque on September 15, 2011. Commenting on the award, Ms. Weis noted that the Wickliffe facility deserves accolades for its “exceptional recycling and waste stream management program.” Dave Skursha, Wickliffe facility manager, accepted the plaque on behalf of all employees, saying, “The award really belongs to you—the employees who come to work every day with a mind-set of doing your jobs in a safe and healthful manner.”

About The Lubrizol Corporation

The Lubrizol Corporation, a Berkshire Hathaway company, is an innovative specialty chemical company that produces and supplies technologies to customers in the global transportation, industrial and consumer markets. These technologies include lubricant additives for engine oils, other transportation-related fluids and industrial lubricants, as well as fuel additives for gasoline and diesel fuel. In addition, Lubrizol makes ingredients and additives for personal care products and pharmaceuticals; specialty materials, including plastics technology; and performance coatings in the form of specialty resins and additives. Lubrizol’s industry-leading technologies in additives, ingredients and compounds enhance the quality, performance and value of customers’ products, while reducing their environmental impact.

With headquarters in Wickliffe, Ohio, The Lubrizol Corporation owns and operates manufacturing facilities in 17 countries, as well as sales and technical offices around the world. Founded in 1928, Lubrizol has approximately 7,000 employees worldwide. Revenues for 2010 were $5.4 billion.http://www.lubrizol.com/.

Pratt & Whitney Amercon Receives OSHA Voluntary Protection Plan STAR Designation

MIDDLETOWN, Pa., Aug. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Pratt & Whitney Amercon has been designated as a Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) STAR facility by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for reaching high standards in employee and facility safety practices. A ceremony marking STAR status was held at the company facility today. Pratt & Whitney is a United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) company.

The VPP recognize employers and workers in private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. With VPP, management, labor, and OSHA work cooperatively and proactively to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses through a system focused on: hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; and management commitment and worker involvement.

Pratt & Whitney Amercon produces components for Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines, including the F-135 engine for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. Kip Wyman, General Manager for Pratt & Whitney’s Turbine Module Center, sees safe operation at Amercon as a key to gaining customers. “Our focus on employee and facility safety means that we can be more productive,” said Wyman. “The safe work practices and conditions highlighted with STAR status enable Pratt & Whitney to be competitive in a highly competitive global marketplace.”

Receiving the STAR flag and plaque on behalf of the company was Frank Rzeznikiewicz, General Manager, Pratt & Whitney Amercon.

Pratt & Whitney is a world leader in the design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines, space propulsion systems and industrial gas turbines. United Technologies, based in Hartford, Conn., is a diversified company providing high technology products and services to the global aerospace and commercial building industries.

Bryan Kidder
Pratt & Whitney Media Relations
+1-860-557-1293
bryan.kidder@pw.utc.com

SOURCE Pratt & Whitney

“Model Workplaces” In Connecticut Not Always Safest

by Lisa Chedekel

Robert Gootkin

In February 2007, David Gootkin came to the state Capitol in Hartford to testify in favor a bill prompted by his brother Robert’s death the year before at Covanta’s waste-to-energy plant in Wallingford. The bill, which eventually was adopted, requires that operators of solid waste facilities have at least two employees or a camera in the work area when waste is being fed into a hopper.

The previous May, Robert Gootkin, a 15-year employee of Covanta’s plant, was pinned against a wall and crushed to death by a hopper lid. David told lawmakers that his brother had been working a 12-hour overnight shift alone when the accident occurred, and that it took facility personnel 30 minutes to respond to alarms that went off.  As a former employee of the plant himself, David complained that workers were being exposed to unnecessary risks. Covanta lobbied against the bill, saying it took adequate precautions.

“My brother’s death was an accident waiting to happen,” said David, who left the company before Robert died.

At the time of the accident, Covanta of Wallingford was vying for elite recognition as a model workplace from the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration [OSHA]. In 2008, the plant was awarded that recognition for its commitment to worker safety. It retains that status today, despite citations by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for excess dioxin emissions and failing to properly audit its emissions monitoring equipment, and a follow-up lawsuit last summer by the state attorney general for continued violations.

Covanta’s Wallingford plant is one of 15 worksites in Connecticut that have gained special “star” status in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs, or VPP, which recognizes select companies as model workplaces that demonstrate the “highest levels” of employee protection. The program rewards worksites deemed “self-sufficient in their ability to control workplace hazards.”

In return for a commitment to safety and health, VPP companies get an exemption from regular inspections and are not punished for standard violations if the problems are promptly corrected.  Once in VPP’s star program, companies are re-evaluated every three to five years.

A C-HIT review found that at least six of the state’s designated VPP worksites have had significant safety or other workplace lapses in recent years.  In some cases, the problems occurred before the companies were accepted as VPP sites; in others, they occurred afterwards.

Among them is the Millstone nuclear power station in Waterford, which was granted entry into the VPP program in 2004 and retains that status today. Last November, the plant was cited by OSHA for a serious safety violation carrying a proposed penalty of $6,000. OSHA records reveal that employees who may have been exposed to hazardous fumes in June 2010 were not provided with adequate medical attention “until weeks after the incident.” The citation was later deleted.

Jordan Valentine Graphic
                         Jordan Valentine Graphic

Also last year, an inspection report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] found that Millstone violated federal requirements five times in three months, including an incident in which plant operators took five days, instead of eight hours, to report a malfunctioning unit to the NRC.  The NRC rapped the operators for failing to “err on the side of caution” in decision-making.  In November, Millstone again was cited by the NRC for two fire–safety violations.

Ken Holt, a spokesman for Millstone owner Dominion, said the company is committed to safety, adding that some of the NRC violations were self-identified. He said the fume incident cited by OSHA was not handled “as sharply as we should have.” But overall, he said: “We have a very robust corrective action program.”

Nationally, more than 2,400 worksites have gained entry into OSHA’s VPP program, which relies on companies to self-police worker safety, in cooperation with regulators. A number of the sites have experienced serious safety problems – including violations that contributed to at least 47 deaths nationwide since 2000 – often without consequences, according to a review by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News.

The safety lapses have led some critics to question whether VPP recognition—a valuable public relations tool for companies—is being implemented as it was intended. From 2000 to 2008, the number of VPP worksites tripled, despite warnings from government auditors that such ambitious expansion could threaten the program’s integrity.  Today, OSHA continues to expand the program.

“In the absence of policies that require its regional offices to document . . . actions taken in response to fatalities and serious injuries at VPP sites, OSHA cannot ensure that only qualified sites participate in the program,” investigators from the Government Accountability Office said in a 2009 report. “Some sites with serious safety and health deficiencies that contributed to fatalities have remained in the program, which has affected its integrity.”

A spokesman for the regional OSHA office referred questions about Connecticut’s VPP companies to the agency’s headquarters. Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, told iWatch News that while the VPP program relies on companies “acting in good faith,” it remains a useful tool in creating safe workplaces.

Citations, Penalties Rare

In Connecticut, four Covanta plants, including the one in Wallingford, have been granted VPP star status.

Among the others is Covanta’s Bristol site, where a boiler explosion in March 2011 injured two workers. Work was being done at the plant, which was in a partial shutdown mode, when high-pressure steam burst through a tube’s metal casing.

Records indicate that OSHA opened an investigation into the explosion on the day after it occurred—then closed the case on the same day, finding no violations.

The Bristol plant, which was accepted into the VPP program in 2006, also was the subject of a 2010 finding by the National Labor Relations Board that it had threatened and punished workers for union activities.

Jill Stueck, a spokeswoman for New Jersey-based Covanta Energy, said the company’s “strong safety culture is a core value for all workers” and is a top corporate priority, “both within our facilities and within the communities we serve.”  Forty of 51 Covanta sites have achieved VPP status, she said.

At the Wallingford site, OSHA did not fine the company after Gootkin’s death, with investigators ruling that Covanta had taken proper precautions to protect workers who were cleaning hoppers.

David Gootkin

David Gootkin said he was not surprised that the Wallingford plant received special status and has retained it.

“When I was there, they were very good at covering up things from OSHA,” he said. “I got so fed up, trying to bring up health and safety issues. No one cared.”

Cheryl Thibeault, business manager of the Wallingford plant, said the company was found blameless in Gootkin’s death and is committed to policing worker safety, in cooperation with OSHA.

“We’re really proud of our facilities that have won this honor,” she said. “Employee participation is a big part of the VPP program, and that’s something we pride ourselves on.”

Covanta is working closely with the state on modifications to the Wallingford plant to address the recent emissions problems, Stueck said.

Staying in the VPP Club

In addition to Covanta, other VPP “star” sites that have had safety and health problems include:

• Two Wheelabrator waste-to-energy facilities, in Lisbon and Bridgeport. The Lisbon plant was granted VPP status in 2003 and recertified in 2006. In April 2007, records show, OSHA investigated an accident at the plant in which an employee was injured during a boiler cleaning. The worker suffered bruises, contusions and abrasions to his face. No violations were found or fines imposed. The Lisbon plant’s VPP status was re-approved this year.

The Bridgeport facility received VPP recognition in 2005—about 18 months after the company was cited by OSHA for violations related to workers lacking proper safety equipment while working from an aerial lift, records show.  OSHA fined the company $1,000.

Melissa Lohnes, a spokeswoman for Wheelabrator, said all but one of the company’s 22 plants have attained VPP recognition, with injury rates “decreasing across the boards” because of the company’s strong commitment to safety.  Of the incidents in Connecticut, she said, “Unfortunately, we’re human, so accidents do happen. It’s not something we take lightly.”

• Hamilton Sundstrand in Windsor Locks earned VPP status in 2006. Two years earlier, the company was cited by OSHA for violating three workplace safety standards – ensuring that hazardous chemical containers were properly labeled and marked with warnings, and using proper respiratory protection. OSHA proposed a $2,275 fine, but the penalty was later deleted.

In 2007, Hamilton Sundstrand was punished by regulators again – this time for violating the Clean Air Act by discharging chemicals into the Farmington River, in excess of permit limits, and concealing or altering reported data. The company “admitted conduct by its employees that was incredibly reckless and potentially dangerous,” US Attorney Kevin O’Connor said at the time.

Dan Coulom, a spokesman for Hamilton Sundstrand, said the company is strongly committed to a safe work environment. He called the Clean Air violations “totally unrelated” to issues of workplace safety.

• Northrop Grumman of Norwalk was cited and fined $2,500 by OSHA in 2004 for a serious safety violation that led to an employee’s arm being severely fractured. OSHA investigators said the company wrongfully exposed workers to hazards that could cause injury or death when it performed a test on tanks, using pressurized air, and failed to protect workers from a tank explosion.

Northrop Grumman received VPP star status in 2008. Since then, no OSHA violations have been reported at the Norwalk site.

This story was reported in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity iWatch News.  To read the national story click here.

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