Congress to Consider Strengthening OSHA

April 30, 2007

Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced a bill on April 26 to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to expand the scope of the law, to increase protections for whistleblowers, and to increase penalties. The bill would require employers to pay for personnel protective equipment and extend the applicability of the OSHA Act to federal, state, and local employees. The bill would also prohibit OSHA from designating violations as “unclassifiable,” increase civil penalties to as much as $100,000 and criminal penalties to as much as 10 years in jail.

Nation's Workplaces Too Unsafe According to AFL-CIO Study


According to a new AFL-CIO annual study, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, the nation’s workplace safety laws are too weak to effectively protect the nation’s workers. In 2005, there were 5,734 fatal workplace injuries, with significant increases in fatalities among Latino, African–American, foreign-born, and young workers.

On average, 16 workers were fatally injured and more than 12,000 workers were injured or made ill each day of 2005. These statistics do not include deaths from occupational diseases, which claim the lives of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers each year. Overall, the rate of workplace fatalities decreased slightly from 4.1/100,000 workers in 2004 to 4.0/100,000 workers in 2005.

“The number of workers killed, injured, and diseased on the job each year is a national tragedy and disgrace. It’s time for the Bush Administration to wake up and see there are real solutions to preventing workplace injuries and deaths. Enforceable safety laws, better funding for OSHA, voices for workers on the job,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Instead of rolling back workplace safety measures, the Bush Administration should meet its responsibility to provide needed protections for America’s workers.”

The proposed FY 2008 budget for worker safety and health programs provides $490 million for OSHA, which, adjusting for inflation, represents a $25 million cut since the administration took office. Federal OSHA enforcement staffing levels have been cut from 1,683 to 1,543 positions and staffing for the development of safety and health standards from 100 to 83 positions.

To inspect each workplace, it would take federal OSHA 133 years with its current number of inspectors. In seven states (Florida, Delaware, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, and South Dakota), it would take more than 150 years for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace. In 18 states, it would take between 100 and 149 years to visit each workplace once.

The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 63,670 workers. This compares to a benchmark of one labor inspector for every 10,000 workers recommended by the International Labor Organization for industrialized countries. In the states of Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, Nebraska, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, the ratio of inspectors to employees is greater than 1/100,000 workers.

The fatality rate among Latino workers in 2005 was 23% higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. In 2005, fatal injuries among Latino workers increased by 2% over 2004, with 923 fatalities among this group of workers, the highest number ever reported. The rate of fatal injuries to Latino workers decreased from 5.0 per 100,000 workers in 2004 to 4.9 per 100,000 workers in 2005.

Wyoming, Montana, and Mississippi had the highest rates of worker fatalities in the last year while Rhode Island and Vermont had the best record of workplace safety. Twenty-four states saw an increase in either the rate or number of fatalities between 2004 and 2005, with Mississippi, Montana, and South Dakota having the biggest increases in fatality rates.

The release of the AFL-CIO Death on the Job report coincides with Workers Memorial Day, April 28, which commemorates workers who died or were injured in the past year. As part of the day of remembrance, community and union members from around the world are participating in hundreds of events to remember local workers and draw attention to the “unfulfilled promise” of worker safety.

Also for the week of Workers Memorial Day, two hearings were being held in Congress to investigate current job safety protections in the United States. On Tuesday, April 24, the House of Representatives investigated if OSHA standards are keeping up with workplace hazards. On Thursday, April 26, the Senate was to hold a hearing on the state of workplace safety and health protections. Peg Seminario, the director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO will testify before the Senate committee, arguing that enforceable safety regulations are crucial to protecting today’s workforce.


Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Issues Statement on Worker Memorial Day 2007


Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr. issued the following statement regarding Worker Memorial Day, April 28, 2007:

"On Worker Memorial Day, we pay tribute to those who have died as a result of job-related hazards. No one should have to risk their life while trying to earn a living. Even one job-related fatality is one too many. We honor their memories and rededicate ourselves to our purpose: to assure the safety and health of America's working men and women.

"We have made steady progress since that day, 36 years ago, when OSHA was first created. The overall workplace injury and illness rate, at 4.6 per 100 employees in 2005, is the lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting data in 1973. Since 2002, the injury and illness rate has decreased by more than 13 percent. The overall fatality rate has fallen by 7% and by 18% among Hispanics since 2001.

"The dedicated men and women of OSHA take pride in these achievements, yet we remain steadfast in our mission to bring every working man and woman home safe and healthy every day -- they and their families deserve no less."

OSHA Announces Focus on Health Hazards of Microwave Popcorn Butter Flavorings Containing Diacetyl


OSHA announced that it is initiating a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to address the hazards and control measures associated with working in the microwave popcorn industry where butter flavorings containing diacetyl are used.

"We recognize that there are potential occupational health hazards associated with butter flavorings containing diacetyl," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "Under this program, OSHA will target inspection resources to those workplaces where we anticipate the highest employee exposures to these hazards."

The NEP applies to all workplaces where butter flavored microwave popcorn is being manufactured.

In January 2006, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released an investigative report on a microwave popcorn production facility. Several employees from this facility were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans – a severe obstructive lung disease. Following a number of lung function tests and air sampling, NIOSH determined that inhalation exposure to butter flavoring chemicals is a risk for occupational lung disease. OSHA's National Emphasis Program will provide direction on inspection targeting and procedures, methods of controlling the hazard and compliance assistance.

The 24 states and two U.S. territories that operate their own OSHA programs are being encouraged, but not required, to adopt a similar emphasis program.

OSHA Cites Building Components of Idaho for Safety Violations


OSHA has issued willful, serious, and repeat citations against Building Components of Idaho Inc., based in Nampa, Idaho, for alleged safety violations found during an inspection at a construction site in Meridian, Idaho. The citations, which involve the installation of roof trusses manufactured by the company, carry proposed penalties of $73,000.

The OSHA inspection was initiated to investigate the cause of a structural collapse that occurred during the installation of trusses on a wood-frame building.

The willful citation addresses failure by the employer to adequately brace the exterior walls and roof trusses despite knowing the applicable OSHA standard and accepted industry practices for adequate bracing. This citation alleges that the company did not determine if walking/working surfaces had the structural integrity to safely support employees. Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

The serious citation alleges that the company did not use proper materials to brace trusses which may have allowed trusses to strike or pin employees.

The repeat citation alleges that the employer allowed employees to work on the exterior top plate of the structure while setting trusses without fall protection. The citation is classified as “repeat” because the employer was cited previously for a similar condition.

OSHA Cites Brandenburg Industrial Services for Demolition Hazards after Worksite Accident


OSHA has cited Brandenburg Industrial Services Co. Inc. for alleged safety and health violations and is proposing a total of $69,500 in penalties.

OSHA initiated its investigation of the Bethlehem demolition and asbestos abatement contractor on Nov. 7, 2006, after being notified of an accident at the demolition site of a former hotel in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The company was issued one repeat violation with a proposed penalty of $35,000 and seven serious violations with proposed penalties of $34,500.

"A Brandenburg employee fell through three floors of the building while operating machinery during the demolition," said Andrew Hedesh, area director of OSHA's area office in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "Without the proper safety precautions at its demolition sites, the company continued to leave its employees open to the risk of injury."

The repeat violation was issued because the company failed to ensure that the twelfth floor of the building being demolished was strong enough to support the weight of machinery being used on that floor.

The serious violations addressed the company's failure to brace floors weakened by deterioration or damage; failure to use barricades in areas where material and debris are dropped; lack of curbs around floor openings where machines are operated; failure to ensure floor load capability where debris is stored; failure to install and use protective canopies where employees enter and exit a structure being demolished to protect against hazards associated with demolition work; temporary power system exposing employees to possible electrocution; and lack of frequent and regular inspections of the jobsite by competent persons.

OSHA Renews Alliance with ADSC: International Association of Foundation Drilling


OSHA has renewed its 2005 alliance with the ADSC: International Association of Foundation Drilling to continue its focus on safety and health issues including, fall protection, silica, pinch-point, and equipment operation hazards and to provide expertise in communicating such information to employers and employees in the industry.

"OSHA and the ADSC have done a great job helping the foundation drilling industry to protect its employees," said Assistant Secretary for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "Nearly 300,000 industry professionals have been reached through OSHA's Safety and Health Topics pages, ADSC events and the OSHA and ADSC Web sites."

"The ADSC has found its participation in the alliance program to have brought major value to the association and moreover to the industry it represents," said S. Scot Litke, ADSC executive director. "The regional and local alliances that have been established through our association's chapters as a result of our national alliance have served to further enhance the alliance objectives, that is, to provide a safe working environment for our industry's personnel. The ADSC is pleased to be able to renew its commitment to this excellent working relationship."

Through the alliance, ADSC members sit on the editorial boards of 11 OSHA Safety and Health Topics pages and OSHA staff has participated in a variety of ADSC events. These events include the ADSC Mid-Atlantic Chapter OSHA 10-hour Outreach Training Program; the ADSC Board of Directors Meeting; and the Geo3 Comprehensive Quality Assurance/Quality Control Technical Conference, and Interactive Field Day and Exhibition.

OSHA Cites Barberton Steel for Safety Violations


OSHA has proposed $105,700 in fines against Barberton Steel Industries Inc., Barberton, Ohio, for alleged multiple serious, repeat, and willful violations of federal workplace safety standards.

OSHA opened an investigation after receiving information concerning an electrical explosion that occurred at the facility in November 2006. OSHA issued one willful citation with proposed penalties of $49,000, alleging that the company failed to establish or implement a program designed to protect employees who service or maintain equipment for unexpected energization, start up, or release of stored energy. The agency issued citations for 26 serious violations with proposed penalties of $44,100 covering a variety of issues including fall protection, improper handling of LP gas cylinders, overhead crane and powered industrial truck use, electrical issues, and failing to keep standing water from the core room floor.

Repeat violations, based on citations issued in 2004 and alleged by the company to have been corrected, covered a discharged fire extinguisher, illegible control labels for two overhead cranes, and employee training deficiencies. Proposed penalties for repeat violations total $11,400, and an additional $1,200 in penalties is proposed for five other-than-serious violations.

"Foundries are potentially dangerous workplaces," said Rob Medlock, director of OSHA's area office in Cleveland, Ohio. "Employers must remain dedicated to keeping the workplace safe and healthful, or face close scrutiny by this agency." Barberton Steel Industries Inc. manufactures bronze bushings, and a variety of metal and alloy castings.

OSHA has conducted inspections at the Barberton facility multiple times since 1991 with citations covering many of the same issues including electrical and overhead crane hazards. In February 2003, a fatality inspection was initiated when the company vice president was electrocuted while investigating a power outage in an electrical distribution sub-station.

Unemployment May Drain Immune Function


The stress of unemployment may dampen healthy people's immune system function – but the good news is that finding a job can restore its fighting power, according to a new study published in the April edition of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Past research has linked chronic stress to impaired immune function and a higher risk of infection and other illness. But little is known about what happens to the immune system when the stress subsides. In the new study, researchers at the University of California San Francisco followed 100 employed and 100 unemployed adults between the ages of 29 and 45 for 4 months.

The employed subjects were matched to the unemployed subjects for factors such as gender, age, race, and education level. Individuals with chronic conditions or on medical treatments that could affect the immune system, smokers, and intravenous drug users had been excluded from the study.

Each month, the researchers collected blood samples from the participants to measure levels of "natural killer" cells, an indication of the strength of their immune system.

The researchers found that, in general, the unemployed group had weaker natural-killer activity than the working group. However, 25% of the unemployed participants found jobs during the study period, and their natural killer cells subsequently got back on track.

"We believe this is the first study in humans to document immune function recovery after the definable end of a chronic stressor," Dr. Frances Cohen and her colleagues report in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Chronic stress may impair immune function through its effects on the nervous system, according to the researchers. The adrenal glands release the hormone norepinephrine in response to stress, and in the test tube, norepinephrine has been shown to reduce natural killer cells.

But the current findings suggest that immune function is "resilient" in the face of long-term stress and can quickly recover once the stressor is gone, Cohen's team points out. Study participants' immune system recovery began within the first month of their new employment, the study found.

Further studies, according to Cohen's team, should investigate immune system recovery from different types of stressors, and try to figure out how that comeback happens.

OSHA Local Emphasis Program Focuses on Single and Multi-piece Rim Wheel Servicing


A statewide program in Kansas to identify and reduce or eliminate the hazards associated with servicing single and multi-piece rim wheels in the workplace is being implemented throughout Kansas by OSHA.

This Local Emphasis Program targets general industry businesses where servicing of single and multi-piece rim wheels is performed, including those used on large vehicles such as trucks, tractors, trailers, buses, and off-road machines. Covered vehicles normally have a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or greater. The program does not apply to servicing of rim wheels used on automobiles or on pickup trucks and vans utilizing automobile tires or truck tires designated "LT."

Inspections that OSHA conducts under the program will address all potential hazards in the work environment including equipment, machines, tools, and devices as well as machine guarding. Additionally, programs such as hazard communication and lockout/tagout, employee training and documentation related to safe operating procedures for the servicing of rim wheels will be reviewed.

OSHA's goal is to reduce employee exposures to these hazards through education and increased awareness. Training and outreach opportunities will be coordinated by OSHA's Wichita Area Office.

Kansas employers, employees, professional associations, and labor organizations can obtain information on this Local Emphasis Program by contacting OSHA's Wichita office at 316-269-6644 or toll-free at 800-362-2896.

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