OSHA Cites Plant for Unsafe Work Practices That Led to Amputation Accident

September 04, 2003

OSHA has cited Sloss Industries for failing to protect Birmingham, Ala. plant employees by allowing unsafe work practices which led to the amputation of a worker's leg. The company was also cited for exposing employees to falling, slipping and tripping hazards. OSHA proposed penalties totaling $105,000.

Sloss Industries produces coke, chemical by-products and slag wool at the Birmingham facility.

On March 5, an employee climbed onto the first of six rail cars loaded with coal and headed down a hill to the plant's coal dump area, using hand-brakes to control the speed of the gravity-driven cars. As he neared the dump area the wheels locked, but continued to slide. Using hand bars on the side of the first car, he attempted to leap onto the second car and apply the hand brakes, but he fell under the moving wheels, severing his leg.

OSHA issued six serious citations with proposed penalties of $30,000 for allowing employees to climb the sides of moving rail cars; for failing to protect workers from fall hazards caused by bent, broken and smashed hand bars, faulty brakes and other damaged equipment, including a system that should have prevented run-away cars.

The agency issued two repeat citations with total proposed penalties of $75,000 for exposing employees to slipping hazards on flooring slick with hydraulic fluid, and for fall hazards where guardrails were missing or damaged.

OSHA had previously cited Sloss Industries, owned by the Jim Walter Corporation, for substantially similar conditions and those citations have become a final order of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The company has 15 working days to contest the latest citations and proposed penalties before the Commission.

FMCSA to Issue Exemptions to Some Diabetic Truck, Bus Drivers Using Insulin

The U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that it will exempt certain insulin-treated diabetic truck and bus drivers from the diabetes prohibitions in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The new program for these exemptions will apply to drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) in interstate commerce. The FMCSA is not amending its diabetes standard.

The FMCSA will accept applications for diabetic exemptions beginning Sept. 22, 2003. The maximum exemption period is two years, and the agency may renew exemptions at the end of the two-year period, or after an exemption period expires. Under federal law, the agency may grant an exemption only if it is likely to achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to or greater than the level that would be achieved without the exemption.

FMCSA will leave open the diabetes exemption docket for new information and data on alternatives to the specific exemption conditions. FMCSA will continue to evaluate the program as it collects additional information about insulin-treated diabetic drivers and in the future may modify the program accordingly.

Before granting an individual's exemption, the FMCSA must publish a notice in the Federal Register, identify who will receive the exemption and the provisions from which they will be exempt, the effective period for exemption, and the terms and conditions of the exemption. The agency will evaluate comments received before making a final decision that also will be published in the Federal Register. Likewise, denied exemption requests will appear in the Federal Register with the reasons for rejection.

An immediate revocation of exemption will occur if an individual fails to comply with the terms and conditions of the exemption; the exemption has resulted in a lower level of safety than before the granting of the exemption; or continuation of the exemption becomes inconsistent with the goals and objectives of the regulations.

The FMCSA diabetes exemption process has three components. The first is a screening component to identify qualified applicants. This process examines the applicant's experience and safety in operating CMVs with insulin-treated diabetes, the history of hypoglycemia, and the results of examinations by medical specialists. One important requirement in the screening process will be that applicants have three years of safe CMV driving experience while using insulin. The second component provides guidelines for managing diabetes while operating a CMV, including supplies to be used and the protocol for monitoring and maintaining appropriate blood glucose levels. The last component specifies the FMCSA's process for monitoring insulin-treated commercial drivers. It addresses the required medical examinations and the schedule for their submission. It indicates how glucose measures should be taken and reviewed, and how episodes of severe hypoglycemia and accidents should be reported.

The FMCSA's decision to establish an exemption process is based on a number of factors including studies of the effects of insulin-treated diabetes on driver performance, a review of USDOT and state exemption programs, and substantial medical input from a panel of endocrinologists.

Those applying for an exemption must send a request and documentation by letter to the FMCSA Diabetes Exemption Program, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590. The FMCSA will issue a final decision within 180 days of receiving a completed application, and during that time will assess the potential safety performance of each applicant.


NIOSH Identifies Hazards of Baling Equipment, Suggests Ways to Prevent Deaths, Injuries

Several workplace measures for preventing job-related deaths and injuries associated with baling and compacting machines are recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in a new bulletin.

Thirty-four workers were killed between 1992 and 2000 when they were caught in or crushed by the powerful compacting rams in baling or compacting machines, according to data analyzed by NIOSH. Baling or compacting machines are widely used in manufacturing and retail trade businesses to compress large amounts of cardboard, scrap metal, and other solid waste into smaller bales for handling and transportation.

In some balers or compactors, materials are placed directly into the chamber where they will be compressed. In other models, the materials are fed into a chute or hopper. Fatalities generally have involved situations in which employees entered a compactor to clear a jam, fell into the path of the ram, or reached into the machine while it was operating.

Material jams commonly occur in balers and compactors. Because many machines are automatically activated by the material that flows into them, the compacting ram stops moving when a jam occurs, the bulletin notes. Employees may not recognize that these machines are still turned on and can begin operating again suddenly. Employees also may not fully appreciate the hazards of entering or working near the hoppers that feed material into the machine, according to NIOSH.

Safety measures recommended by NIOSH include the following:

  • Whenever a baler or compactor is being unjammed, maintained, or repaired, it should be de-energized. In addition, pursuant to OSHA rules on lockout and tagout, the controls should be locked to prevent the machine from being turned on again inadvertently, and should be tagged to inform other employees that the machine is temporarily out of operation.
  • Balers and compactors should be equipped with machine guards and with safety interlocks that will immediately stop the machine if an employee attempts to gain access to the ram or the ram area.
  • Employers should establish and follow standard procedures for dealing safely with jams and other disruptions, and for requiring machine operators to account for the presence of co-workers before activating the equipment.
  • Platforms incorporating stairs and railings should be provided near the opening of feed chutes to provide safe access for clearing jams.
  • Employers should train their employees to recognize the hazards of working near balers and compactors, and to be familiar with safe working procedures.
  • Employers should not assign employees under age 18 to service, load, operate, or help operate balers and compactors, except for one limited exemption allowed by law as long as certain safety requirements are followed. The exemption under U.S. labor standards allows workers aged 16 and 17 to load de-energized scrap paper balers and cardboard box compactors, as long as the equipment is turned off, the switch is locked in the “off” position, and the employer posts a notice that the machine meets given design requirements. Where this exemption is allowed, the employer should ensure that these safety requirements under the exemption are met, NIOSH recommended.


Minnesota OSHA Increases Penalties

Previously, the law provided that a general duty citation could not exceed $7,000 for each violation.

The OSHA law was also amended to say that "if there is no willful or repeated violation and the employer has fewer than 50 employees, the employer shall be assessed an initial fine of $5,000 and an additional fine of $5,000 for each of the following four years. The commissioner may elect to waive the $5,000 fine for any of the following four years if the employer received no citations in the preceding calendar year."

The law modification also provides that "if the business or enterprise employs fewer than 50 employees, this subdivision (part of the law) may not apply to the death of an employee who owns a controlling interest in the business or enterprise, except if the commissioner determines that a fine shall be assessed."

OSHA criminal penalties were increased from a maximum of $20,000 to a maximum of $70,000 for a first violation. For a subsequent violation, the fine was increased from a maximum of $35,000 to a maximum of $100,000.

These changes became effective August 1, 2003.

OSHA Assistant Secretary Meets with International Counterparts To Discuss Workplace Safety

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Health and Safety John Henshaw met last week with the other leaders of the Trinational Occupational Safety and Health Working Group, Dr. Alberto Aguilar Salinas, Mexican director general for workplace safety and health, and Gerry Blanchard, Canadian director general for operations. The three workplace safety officials met in Mexico City to review the results of the Occupational Safety and Health Working Group's activities over the past year and to consider proposals for future activities.

"The Trinational Occupational Safety and Health Working Group is an important vehicle for collaboration among our three countries to improve workplace safety and health in North America," said Assistant Secretary Henshaw. "The work that this group has done and is about to do will provide tremendous benefit to workers in our respective countries."

The working group leaders acknowledged the accomplishments of the four subgroups -- Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems and Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), Handling of Hazardous Substances, Inspector and Technical Assistance Staff Training, and Trinational Web Page. The leaders also agreed to possible future cooperative activities, including: a best-practice workshop on ergonomics in the automotive sector; recognition of companies with effective safety and health management systems; consideration of a globally harmonized system for the classification and labeling of chemicals; and training Mexican inspectors and technical assistance staff on machine guarding and pressure vessels and boilers.

In addition to the working group meetings, a one-day workshop on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) was held with approximately 30 representatives from the three countries, including various Mexican ministries. Presentations included an overview of chemical hazard communication in Mexico, a presentation on the GHS system, and discussion of GHS implementation issues in the three countries.

The three leaders also shared experiences and best practices in each country's construction industry at a two and a half day seminar, Aug. 26-28, 2003. Representatives from government, industry and labor exchanged information on training methods, procedures, and management systems that have been effective in reducing work-related accidents and illnesses in the industry.

Recent cooperative activities of the working group include training of nearly 100 Mexican inspectors from 32 states on fire protection and life safety and electrical power generation and a tripartite workshop on best practices in the manufacturing industry with a focus on the automotive sector. A Trinational Web site will soon be launched to provide more information about past and future cooperative activities of the working group.

A meeting on the rights of migrant workers in the United States also took place during the week. The meeting allowed members from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to exchange information and improve collaboration on efforts to protect migrant workers. It is part of an ongoing exchange among the U.S. Department of Labor, Mexico's Foreign Ministry, and the Mexican embassy and consulates in the U. S. to establish local partnerships around the United States where there are large numbers of Mexican workers.

OSHA Issues Safety and Health Information Bulletin on Process Used In Oil Refinery Operations

A new Safety and Health Information Bulletin issued by OSHA, in association with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aims to prevent chemical accidents by alerting workers about the hazards associated with Delayed Coker Unit (DCU) operations -- a process used in refining crude oil.

In recent years, DCU operations have resulted in a number of serious accidents despite efforts among many refiners to share best practices on safety and reliability. Unlike other types of petroleum refinery operations, the DCU involves both batch and continuous operations. The batch stage of the operation, which involves drum switching and coke cutting, presents unique hazards and is responsible for most of the serious accidents attributed to DCUs.

The new information was developed jointly by OSHA and EPA to increase awareness of possible hazards due to the increasing importance of DCUs in meeting energy demands and the frequency and severity of serious accidents involving DCUs.

The bulletin targets the most significant hazards involving the coke drums -- large cylindrical metal vessels that can measure 120 feet tall and 29 feet in diameter. It also includes lessons learned and examples of actions that can be taken to help minimize risks associated with the situations and conditions that are most likely to cause accidents.

The bulletin also includes information on controlling hazards, including evaluating hazardous conditions, modifying operations to control hazards, actively maintaining an effective emergency response program, and familiarizing workers about risks and emergency procedures to help reduce serious incidents associated with DCU operations.