R.G. Ray Corp., a Buffalo Grove, Ill., based manufacturer, is facing $150,300 in fines proposed by OSHA following an accident on Jan. 20, 2003 in which an employee lost three fingers in an improperly maintained power punch press.
OSHA opened its investigation on Jan. 23 in response to the reported amputation accident. The agency arrived at the plant after receiving information about the amputation and concerns that workers believed such an accident might reoccur. The subsequent inspection found considerable problems with a dangerous and willful lack of machine guarding and power press maintenance as well as serious problems with electrical hazards, periodic inspection of power presses and other point of operation hazards.
"This company was aware of the hazards associated with power press operations and chose to ignore them," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "OSHA's commitment is to prevent the occurrence of such injuries and we are prepared to help employers achieve that goal. However, when employers fail to do their part in this effort, they'll find us ready to fully enforce our standards."
R.G. Ray Corp. employs approximately 350 full-time workers in the manufacture of specialty automotive clamps. OSHA previously cited the company for violations of workplace safety regulations for mechanical power press operation in March, 2000, and for not reporting an amputation injury in 1999.
The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to appeal before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA Proposes Revision to Voluntary Protection Programs Benchmarks
OSHA is seeking comments on a proposed revision to its Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) that would change the benchmark injury and illness rates used to determine whether VPP applicants and participants meet the rate requirements for the VPP Star Program. This change would also apply to the requirements for construction applicants' qualification for the Merit Program.
One way that OSHA determines the qualification of applicants and the continuing qualification of participants in the VPP Star Program, the most challenging participation category, is to compare their injury and illness rates to industry rates -- benchmarks -- published annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For Star eligibility, rates must be below the benchmark BLS rates.
Currently, the benchmarks are two rates from the most recent year's BLS industry averages for nonfatal injuries and illnesses. The OSHA proposal would change those benchmarks to require that to qualify for the Star Program, applicants' and participants' rates must be below the two BLS industry rates for at least one of the three most recent years published. This change would also allow construction sites that do not meet Star rate requirements to be considered for the Merit Program if company-wide three-year rates are below the proposed benchmark rates.
OSHA has been concerned for some time about the effect on some VPP applicants and participants of substantial fluctuations from year to year in a limited number of BLS industry rates. In some industries, it is not unusual to have annual rate fluctuations of 20 to 30 percent and more. It is not clear why some national rates fluctuate to this degree. The effect of these rate fluctuations is to create an unpredictable moving target that, in any particular year, may not fairly represent the injury and illness situation in an industry.
This proposed revision to the VPP is intended to lessen the effect of the BLS rate fluctuations by allowing the agency to use one out of the three most recent years of published BLS rates as its benchmark for Star qualification.
The Federal Register notice seeking comments was published on Friday, July 25, 2003. Comments on the proposed changes must be submitted by August 25, 2003.
OSHA Extends Comment Period on Draft Ergonomics Guidelines for Poultry Processing
OSHA announced in the July 25, 2003 Federal Register a 45-day extension of the comment period on the agency's draft guidelines for preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the poultry processing industry.
OSHA has received several requests from interested members of the public asking for additional time to comment on the draft guidelines first published on June 3. Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders: Draft Guidelines for Poultry Processing is now available for comment until Sept. 18, 2003.
This is the third in a series of industry-specific guidelines for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. The guidelines are intended to provide practical solutions for reducing ergonomic-related injuries and illnesses in the poultry processing industry.
OSHA has also scheduled a public stakeholder meeting on Oct. 2, 2003, to discuss the draft guidelines. The meeting will be held from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001. Interested parties must submit their intention to participate in the stakeholder meeting by Sept. 18, 2003.
Persons wishing to comment on the draft poultry processing ergonomics guidelines should submit three copies of those comments no later than Sept. 18, 2003 to: OSHA Docket Office, Docket GE2003-2, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20210. Comments of 10 pages or fewer may be submitted via fax by calling (202) 693-1648.
Additional information on submitting comments will be available in the July 25, Federal Register notice or by calling the OSHA Docket Office at (202) 693-2350 (TTY (877) 889-5627).
The fourth set of industry-specific guidelines to reduce ergonomic-related injuries will address the shipyard industry. Those guidelines are expected to be available for comment later this year.
Virgin Islands Becomes Public Employee Plan
OSHA and the U.S. Virgin Islands have agreed to convert the Territory's comprehensive state plan to a public employee only state plan. Federal OSHA assumed exclusive jurisdiction over private sector employers and workers in the Virgin Islands beginning July 1, 2003.
"This agreement will benefit the working men and women of the Virgin Islands," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "It allows OSHA to devote its resources to providing safety and health protection in private sector workplaces and enables the Virgin Islands to focus on enhancing protection for public sector employees and to increase safety and health assistance for small businesses."
Under the converted State plan, the Virgin Islands will continue its enforcement coverage of Territorial and local government employers and employees. The Territory has also agreed to enter into a new cooperative agreement with OSHA to provide on-site consultation services to the private sector. These program modifications are being made through mutual agreement with Governor Charles Turnbull and in recognition of unique circumstances affecting the Virgin Islands program.
The agreement imposes no new rights or obligations on employers and employees in the Virgin Islands. Private sector workplaces have been subject to Federal OSHA enforcement of safety standards since 1995 and subject to Federal OSHA health standards since the inception of the OSHA program. Public employees have been subject to enforcement under the Virgin Islands program since initial plan approval in 1973.
The Virgin Islands received initial approval for its comprehensive state plan in 1973 and final approval in 1984. The plan covered both occupational safety and health for public sector workplaces. However, the Territory did not exercise enforcement authority over occupational health issues in the private sector; enforcement of health standards and other health-related requirements were provided by Federal OSHA. OSHA assumed concurrent enforcement authority of safety standards in 1995.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 encourages states and territories to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. States must set job safety and health standards that are "at least as effective as" comparable federal standards. OSHA approves and monitors State plans and provides up to 50 percent of an approved plan's operating costs.
The final rule formalizing this action was published in the July 23, 2003, Federal Register.
Numerous Safety Hazards Result in $45,000 in OSHA Fines for Candle Manufacturer
A Saugerties, N.Y., candle manufacturer's failure to address a cross-section of workplace safety hazards has resulted in $45,000 in fines from OSHA.
American Candle Co., Inc. has been cited for alleged serious and repeat violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act following an OSHA inspection initiated in February, according to John Tomich, OSHA's area director in Albany.
"These are all basic safety concerns for a manufacturing environment, and OSHA's safety and health standards are designed to address them," said Tomich. "Left uncorrected, they expose employees to a wide range of hazards from fires and electrocutions, to falls, hazardous chemicals, eye injuries, and being unable to exit the building swiftly in an emergency."
The company faces $33,600 in fines for 16 alleged serious violations, for aisles and work areas blocked by trash, pallets, and stock; improperly guarded open sided floors; failure to properly mark exits and direction of travel to exits; storage of flammable liquids in an unapproved container; excess storage of flammable liquids outside a proper storage room or building; improper storage of combustible liquids; improper storage of oxygen and acetylene containers; flexible cords used in place of fixed wiring; damaged electrical cables; and several instances of unguarded or inadequately guarded moving machine parts.
An additional $11,400 in fines are proposed for four alleged repeat violations encompassing blocked access to exits; failure to establish a procedure to prevent the unexpected startup of machinery during maintenance; excess air pressure in a compressed air hose used for cleaning; and failure to develop, implement and maintain a written hazard communication to inform employees of the hazardous chemicals with which they work.
American Candle Co., Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, and/or contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA Unveils Two New Web Pages
"OSHA wants to provide the best and most accessible information possible to help employers, employees and businesses stay safe, healthy and successful," said John L. Henshaw, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. "It is critical to the health and safety of America's workers that information on emergency preparedness and safety for responders be readily available to those who need it. It is also important to the success of small businesses that they understand what OSHA can do and how OSHA can help them."
The new emergency preparedness page focuses on the occupational safety and health aspects of emergency preparedness and response, providing links for responders and general worksites looking for technical assistance. The site is arranged to provide information based on type of employer (responders and general worksites) as well as on specialty topics like chemical, biological, personal protective equipment or bioterrorism. There are also links to other government websites that offer information and technical assistance.
The redesigned small business page is home to information on the consultation program and a new section on the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). The site has several other new sections, including a section on the benefits OSHA provides to the small business employer and Small Business Success Stories. The page has links to OSHA's Safety and Health Data Tools, Technical Links to Safety and Health Topics, and the wide of array of compliance assistance pages. There is also a Helpful Websites section with links to other governmental compliance assistance sites.