October 06, 2002

Failing to protect employees working in a confined space, which caused the death of one worker and injured three others, could cost Bradenton-based E.T MacKenzie of Florida, Inc. $68,700 in penalties.

The fatality occurred Sept. 27 at a new subdivision in Nokomis, Fla., when a work crew of six accidentally broke a grinder pump, allowing sewage to enter a 23-foot deep, four-foot wide temporary lift station in which they were working.

When one of the employees, sent into the confined space to make repairs, was overcome by toxic fumes, a second employee quickly entered and tied a rope around him so he could be lifted to safety. While another employee pulled the first victim to safe ground, the rescuer sank beneath the sewage. A fourth employee then entered the deadly lift station, located the sunken employee and was pulled, along with the other employee's body, to the surface. The three surviving employees were treated for exposure to hydrogen sulfide.

"This tragic series of events could have been avoided if all work had stopped as soon as the high pressure feed broke off the grinder pump," said Les Grove, OSHA's Tampa area office director. "If the employees had been properly trained, they would not have re-entered the hazardous confined space."

OSHA fined the company $49,000 for one willful violation for knowingly allowing workers to enter a confined space at a construction site without proper training on hazard recognition and protection.

An additional penalty of $19,700 was proposed for five serious violations -- no competent person to conduct frequent and regular inspections of the confined space; failure to provide appropriate personal protective equipment; failure to use accepted engineering control measures, such as forced ventilation, in the confined space; lack of a fall protection system to prevent employees from falling into the manhole, and use of a defective ladder.

Grand Ledge, Mich.-based E.T. MacKenzie Co. employs about 250 workers nationwide installing underground pipe, vacuuming sewers and performing some sewer-manhole work. The company, which has about 50 workers in Florida, has 15 working days to contest the OSHA citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


A new, web-based resource from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shares information on ways in which some health-care facilities have established programs for protecting employees from the risk of job-related needlesticks.

The NIOSH web site is "Safer Medical Device Implementation in Health Care Facilities: Lessons Learned" The site describes five essential steps for developing, establishing, and maintaining a needlestick-prevention program, and offers first-hand experiences from hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and dental facilities as to how they put those steps into effect. The facilities discuss barriers they encountered in establishing the programs, how those barriers were overcome, and lessons learned from their experiences.

"Sharing information on what works in actual practice, why it works, and how it can work elsewhere is a key step in helping health-care employers to protect their employees from the risk of bloodborne infections from needlesticks," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "We are pleased to join with our partners to help disseminate this information widely."

Job-related needlesticks can lead to serious or potentially fatal infections from bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Even when a serious infection is not transmitted, the emotional impact of a needlestick injury can be severe and long lasting. Under the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000 and the subsequent revision of OSHA's bloodborne pathogens standard, health care facilities are required to use safer devices to reduce the risk of needlesticks.

The five strategic steps for needlestick prevention programs are 1) forming a sharps injury prevention team, 2) identifying priorities, 3) identifying and screening safer medical devices, 4) evaluating safer medical devices, and 5) instituting and monitoring the use of safer devices. For each step, the NIOSH web page includes links to the accounts by health care facilities as to how they put that step into effect.

NIOSH invites additional health care institutions to share their experiences on the web site. The site includes a link for contacting NIOSH and obtaining guidelines on submitting information. For purposes of confidentiality, the site does not disclose the names or locations of the facilities involved.


Simple, versatile, and effective ways to protect farm workers from back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders are outlined in a new Spanish-language booklet from NIOSH.

"Soluciones Simples: Ergonomia Para Trabajadores Agricolas" provides illustrated, easy to read guidelines and tip sheets for Spanish-speaking farm workers, their employers, safety professionals, and others. The document includes good working practices in general for repetitive tasks, as well as tips for many specific tasks and tools. The information is based on case studies, field observations, and other applications in which the approaches have been shown to be successful.

Farm workers get backaches and other pains in the shoulders, arms, and hands more than any other occupational health problem. In California alone, more than 3,000 work-related back injuries are reported each year among farm workers, with estimated annual costs of more than $22 million just in workers' compensation, and there may be many more similar injuries that go unreported. Of the 1.8 million hired farm workers in the U.S., 75 percent report they read English only a little or not at all, and 84 report that their primary language is Spanish, according to government data.

Among the simple solutions outlined in the publication are these:

  • Using smaller, lighter tubs with hand grips in harvesting grapes can reduce stresses on the back, arms, fingers, and knees significantly. The impact on productivity is negligible; even though smaller tubs hold smaller quantities of grapes, farm workers who used the smaller tubs felt less tired and made up much of the difference by making more trips to the collection site over the course of the working day.

  • In using traditional short-handled, thin-handled rakes for harvesting berries, farm workers can experience back stress from extended stooping, and wrist and hand strain from awkward gripping. The rakes can be modified to add side handles, or a long-handled, stand-up rake can be used instead. At a cost of $300 for a stand-up rake, it would take 17 to 30 working hours for a harvester to pay for the implement, which should be sturdy enough to use for many seasons.

  • Using a bench-mounted power cutter, instead of hand shears, to make cuttings from thick woody plants can reduce general fatigue as well as repetitive stress to the hand, wrist, and arm. Reducing fatigue also may increase productivity over the course of the day.

  • Back stress in washing leafy greens can be reduced by putting batches of greens in mesh bags and immersing the batches in a wash basin, rather than stooping repeatedly over the basin to wash the greens by hand. Productivity increases because more produce can be washed at a time.


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is reminding miners and mine operators of the increased hazards that colder weather creates at both surface and underground mines. MSHA's Winter Alert campaign, which runs annually from October through March, emphasizes increased vigilance and adherence to safety principles during winter.

"The risk of underground coal mine explosions increases this time of year, as do hazards associated with ice and snow that collect at surface facilities and prep plants," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Dave D. Lauriski. "We must all be mindful of the seasonal changes that can affect our work environments."

All coal mines contain methane, and when the barometric pressure drops during colder weather, methane can migrate more easily into the mine atmosphere, increasing the risk of an explosion. Furthermore, dry winter air results in drier conditions underground and this makes coal dust more likely to get suspended in the mine atmosphere, which also can contribute to an explosion. Limited visibility, slippery walkways and freezing and thawing highwalls also contribute to potential mishaps during the winter months.

This year's Winter Alert campaign features a series of posters. The "Highway to Safety" theme focuses on the prevention of coal mine explosions, stressing mine examinations, proper ventilation, rock dusting and mine evacuation. "Don't Let Winter Put You on Ice" addresses hazards specific to surface facilities and prep plants.

Throughout the Winter Alert campaign, mine safety and health specialists will regularly visit mines around the country to heighten awareness to the changing conditions that take place during the winter months. Managers and inspectors will distribute materials that focus on "best practices" for performing miners' jobs and provide compliance assistance in developing solutions to health and safety problems that crop up during the colder months.

A nationwide effort to raise awareness of safety hazards at metal and nonmetal mines begins at this same time in response to a recent rise in fatalities. MSHA personnel will visit metal and nonmetal mines to discuss fatal accidents and encourage mine operators and miners to focus on safe work procedures. They also will attend regional conferences, seminars and meetings to share information on hazard recognition.

MSHA personnel will partner with state mining agencies and national and local industry associations in both the Winter Alert and Focus on Safe Work outreach programs.


Greif Bros. Corporation headquartered in Delaware, Ohio, agreed to a corporate-wide settlement with OSHA to abate safety hazards relating to power presses at its facilities nationwide. The company operates at 185 locations in over 40 countries and employs over 10,000 workers, including more than 700 who work at facilities using press brakes that will be directly affected by the agreement.

The citations involved the company's Houston Specialty Drum Plant in La Porte, Tex., which produces metal drums and steel pails. The company was cited for 17 violations, all of which concerned mechanical power presses, with a total penalty of $669,500. Citations were issued for failure to protect employees from malfunctioning friction brakes and potentially malfunctioning equipment as a result of not performing mechanical power press inspections, making repairs or testing before operation. Exposure to power press hazards can result in amputations, lacerations, and crushed limbs.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach a corporate-wide agreement that will result in a safety and health program to protect employees against the hazards associated with power presses," said John L. Henshaw, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "This case demonstrates that OSHA is exercising strong enforcement in appropriate circumstances."

Greif Bros. agreed to abate all hazards detailed in the citations at all its plants nationwide. The company will also initiate hazard awareness/recognition training in English, Spanish, and any other language necessary to ensure comprehension for employees who are likely to operate power presses. The company also agreed to inspect all power presses at least weekly.

Greif Bros. will also have safety and health audits of its facilities conducted by a third-party auditor and will take corrective action where hazards are identified. OSHA has the authority to make unannounced monitoring visits during the audit and corrective action schedules. The company will establish and maintain a system to address employee safety and health concerns, train its managers in handling safety and health matters, and more effectively communicate safety and health issues to employees.

The citations resulted from an OSHA inspection initiated on April 4, 2002, as a result of an employee complaint.


An electrical contractor's failure to ensure that power lines were properly grounded contributed to the electrocution death of an employee at TVA's Crossville, Tenn. Substation. OSHA's inspection of the fatality has led to a settlement in which L.E. Myers Company agreed to pay $105,000 in OSHA penalties and committed to safety improvements at job sites throughout the southeast.

The accident that brought OSHA to the L.E. Myers job site occurred on April 2. An employee, working from an elevated basket, was electrocuted when he came in contact with an ungrounded incoming power line energized by a buildup of induced voltage.

"This tragedy could have been avoided if the employer had simply left the grounds in place until all site work was completed in the substation," said Ron McGill, OSHA's Nashville area director. "Management at L.E. Myers was fully aware of OSHA requirements. Yet, workers were exposed to electrocution hazards and had not been trained in proper procedure and protection."

In addition to paying the OSHA fine, L.E. Myers has hired a vice-president of safety and health with significant safety and health experience in the electrical transmission industry. Under the agreement, the company will also implement a comprehensive safety and health program, including accountability provisions and safety training for employees.

L.E. Myers, based in Rolling Meadows, Ill., employs nearly 1200 workers, eight of whom were on the Crossville TVA site.