US Chemical Safety Board Calls on Governments to Establish OSHA Programs for Public Employees

June 04, 2007

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) urged "governments at all levels to take steps to protect public employees from preventable chemical accidents, including the establishment of programs incorporating mandatory OSHA standards."

 No worker – whether employed by the city, county, state, federal government, or the private sector – should have to suffer injury or death just to earn a living."

The hearing before the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (California), was entitled "Workplace Safety: Why do Millions of Workers Remain Without OSHA Coverage?" 

The board testimony cited the CSB's investigation of a January 2006 methanol fire and explosion at a Florida municipal wastewater treatment plant that killed two public employees and seriously injured a third. 

The accident at the wastewater facility, which is owned and operated by the City of Daytona Beach, occurred when city employees using a cutting torch to dismantle a metal roof accidentally ignited vapors coming from the vent of a nearby methanol storage tank. Flames traveled back into the storage tank through a corroded flame arrester, causing an internal explosion, multiple piping failures, and a large fire that engulfed the workers. In its investigation report, the CSB concluded that a lack of hazard communication, inadequate safety training, and no control of hot work contributed to the accident.

Chairman Merritt said, "This fatal accident that occurred in Florida should serve as a cautionary tale for the twenty-five other states that do not provide public employees with OSHA protections." This tragic accident, she added, "underscores the potentially grave dangers facing public employees who work with dangerous chemicals without workplace safety standards."

The CSB report noted that no Florida state laws or regulations exist to require municipalities to implement safe work practices or communicate chemical hazards to municipal employees. Florida is one of 26 states that have not adopted plans under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide OSHA coverage for public employees. Florida had a safety program for public workers but it was discontinued in 2000, six years before the accident.

 The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The CSB does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.

OSHA Fines Guam Construction Company $165,000 for Safety Violations


OSHA has cited a Guam construction company for alleged safety violations at a water and sewer line construction site in Barrigada Heights following an inspection last December.

OSHA cited SNL Construction for two willful violations, with proposed penalties of $140,000, for failing to provide cave-in protection and safe means of egress for employees working in a 17-foot deep trench.

OSHA also assessed a total of $25,000 in proposed penalties for five serious violations related to inadequate training, inadequate fall protection, failure to inspect the excavations daily, and unsafe and improper placement of ladders.

"These violations occurred because SNL Construction failed to follow basic safety and health requirements for its employees," said Christopher Lee, OSHA's acting regional administrator in San Francisco. "These violations could have resulted in the death or serious injury of one or more of the employees."

OSHA has cited the employer repeatedly in the past, issuing 20 serious and three repeat violations. The company has failed to pay the full amount of penalties and interest due from previous citations.

OSHA Renews Alliance with Association of Energy Service Companies


 The alliance particularly focuses on reducing and preventing exposure to hand and back hazards.

“We are pleased to renew our alliance with AESC and expect the next two years to be as successful as the first two,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. “Currently, AESC members serve on the editorial boards of OSHA Safety and Health Topics pages and eTools on the OSHA Web site. OSHA employees have provided training to the AESC on many occasions since the alliance was signed.”

“The Association of Energy Service Companies and the 650 members across the United States are truly excited about renewing our commitment of cooperation with OSHA with the resigning of the alliance agreement,” said AESC Executive Director Kenny Jordan. “Since signing the original agreement in March 2005, we have seen numerous benefits for both our membership and OSHA. We expect nothing less over the next two years as we continue with what is one of the ultimate goals of our association, to keep every person employed within our industry safe by providing a work environment and a company philosophy that is conducive to a safe workplace.”

Through the alliance, more than 66,000 AESC members have received training and information from the AESC and OSHA. OSHA representatives have also participated in the AESC Health Safety and Environmental Conference in September 2005 and the AESC Annual Health, Safety and Environmental Tradeshow and Conference last October.

OSHA Cites Hubbard Feeds in Bismarck, Proposes Fines of $144,000


OSHA has cited Hubbard Feeds Inc. of Bismarck, N.D., for unsafe working conditions following a Dec. 5, 2006, accident that injured three employees. Proposed penalties total $144,000.

The employees entered a grain storage bin to break apart bridged grain using hand tools such as iron rods, pick axes, shovels, and rope. Within 30 minutes, the bridge collapsed, burying one employee and injuring all three. In a storage bin, moldy, or frozen grain can form a hard, thick crust, or bridge, that can conceal a hazardous cavity. If a grain bridge collapses during efforts to dislodge the compressed grain, an employee standing on the crusty surface can be partially or fully submerged.

Citations issued against the company by OSHA's Bismarck Area Office allege two willful and four serious violations of the agency's grain bin entry standards. The willful citations, with proposed penalties of $126,000, were issued for failure to prevent employees from entering grain storage structures where bridged grain products and associated hazards were present, to assign a standby observer and to provide rescue equipment.

The serious violations, with proposed penalties of $18,000, were issued for failure to train employees for bin entry and rescue, to complete and certify bin entry permits, to perform all required atmospheric testing prior to bin entry, and to perform lockout/tagout of equipment prior to employees' entry into grain storage structures. Lockout/tagout procedures are designed to protect employees who service or maintain equipment from unexpected release of hazardous energy.

"Hubbard Feeds management allowed employees to enter this bin exposed to hazardous, potentially life-threatening conditions on eight occasions prior to this accident, which demonstrates a blatant and total disregard for the safety of the company's employees," said Bruce Beelman, OSHA's area director in Bismarck.

Recent studies estimate that approximately 15 fatalities related to grain bin storage entry occur annually in the U.S.

OSHA Posters and Publications: Free for the Asking


Advertisements suggesting that OSHA workplace posters must be purchased from private companies may be misleading employers. OSHA reminds employers that official posters, such as the new OSHA Job Safety and Health: 

New Local Emphasis Program Underway in Maine


LEPs are intended to address hazards or industries that pose particular risks to employees within an OSHA regional or area office jurisdiction. Through this LEP, OSHA hopes to raise employer and employee awareness of industry-related hazards through outreach activities and targeted inspections.

OSHA Proposes Updated Power Press Standard


The notice seeks comments on OSHA's project to update the general industry mechanical power press standard. The agency is accepting public comments until August 3, 2007.

"This standard has been around as long as OSHA. It's time for a complete update," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "This effort will allow us to address industry consensus standards, technical and cost issues and training, as well as reporting and record keeping requirements in our continuing effort to help keep this nation's working men and women safer at work."

The existing standard is based primarily upon the 1971 edition of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) B 11.1, the industry consensus standard for mechanical power presses. This ANSI standard has been updated a number of times since OSHA adopted the 1971 version. The most recent edition was issued in 2001.

OSHA conducted a look-back review of the mechanical power press standard in 2002. Based on analyses and information obtained during this review, the agency decided to begin development of a proposal to update all of 1910.217 to be consistent with ANSI B 11.1-2001 or a comparable consensus standard. OSHA determined that an update would address industry concerns that the mechanical power press standard is out of date and could be made safer. Public comments must be submitted in triplicate and can be sent by regular mail, express, hand delivery, or by courier service. Comments should be sent to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2007-0003, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Room N2625, Washington, D.C. 20210. Comments may be sent by fax to 202-693-1648.

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