News Roundup

Unions are upset about OSHA enforcement activity in 1995. AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario fears inspectors have been pushed into partnership work with employers and away from enforcement responsibilities." This is a major problem, she says." According to tables prepared by the AFL-CIO, inspections are down across the board. Total inspections in 1995 dropped 31 percent; safety inspections were down 35 percent; health inspections dropped 20 percent. The analysis points out a marked decrease in the number of penalties issued too: OSHA issued 41 percent fewer serious violations, and 38 percent fewer violations overall.

The tables do not note that the agency more than doubled the number of egregious case fines it issued over the previous year, and issued 79 percent more fines of over $100,000 in 1995.

Due to the federal government shutdown at press time, OSHA officials were unable to comment on the drop in inspections and penalties. But the decline was expected, given the agency's stated emphasis on quality over quantity.

The occupational safety and health review commission grants a discretionary review of its decision overturning 13 serious OSHA violations and five others against Beverly Enterprises, a national nursing home operator, after both OSHA and the Service Employees' International Union appealed the decision last month. OSHA cited five Beverly facilities in Pennsylvania under the general duty clause for unsafe lifting practices that were allegedly causing worker back injuries. The OSHRC ruled that OSHA did not prove a hazard existed.

Effective January 1, companies employing one commercial driver or more must comply with new Department of Transportation substance abuse regulations mandating:

comprehensive company substance abuse policies;

training and education for supervisors;

drug and alcohol testing for all employees with commercial drivers' licenses;

designation of a substance abuse professional; and,

compliance with recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

The occupational fatality rate held for the third year in a row at 4 per 100,000 workers in 1994, according to the National Safety Council's 1995 Accident Facts. Other job accident data in the report reveal:

Workers in all industries suffered 3.5 million disabling injuries in 1994;

Mining and quarrying has the highest death rate, at 27 per 100,000 workers;

The estimated total cost to the nation of work-related deaths and injuries in 1994 was $120.7 billion.

Total time lost in 1994 due to job injuries was 125 million days.

19.6 percent of fatal job injuries were suffered in highway accidents in 1994.

OSHA plans to launch a national program to emphasize safe lifting in nursing homes, according to Service Employees International Union Director of Health and Safety Bill Borwegen, who was consulted on the design of the program. The program will provide educational seminars to nursing home employers and workers to encourage compliance with OSHA lifting standards. Also in the works is an enforcement initiative targeting nursing homes, Borwegen says.

"The nursing home industry spends $1 billion a year on workers' comp, 60 percent of which is paid for by taxpayer dollars through Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements," Borwegen says. "OSHA reinvention talks about initiating more data-driven programs. This data screams at you."

The national safety council offers congress 14 guidelines for achieving OSHA reform. Among the recommendations:

  • Focus inspections and enforcement on the most serious hazards and the most dangerous workplaces;

  • Don't reduce penalties (especially for egregious violations), if they are judiciously used;

  • OSHA's underlying goal should be prevention. Workplaces with effective preventive programs should be excused from violations for minor paperwork violations, mislabeling, etc.

  • Respond to all employee complaints concerning valid safety and health hazards

  • NIOSH, or any other research entity, must conduct research coordinated with standard-setting needs and OSHA's regulatory and policy agenda;

  • Develop a sensible system of data collection to serve needs of employers, employees, OSHA, NIOSH, and prevention;

  • Retain the general duty clause and continue to use it to address new hazards not subject to standards.

The bureau of labor statistics asks workers about job training in a survey aimed at gaining insight into employer-provided training. The BLS survey, which will be mailed directly to randomly selected employees, asks workers to log any formal or informal training, including safety and health training, they receive over a ten-day period.

The nation's workers' comp system is the "healthiest it has been for some time," according to National Council of Compensation Insurance President William Hager. Hager attributes improvements in the system to reduction in loss trends, improvements in the residual market, to NCCI obtaining adequate loss costs, and to statutory reform. According to Hager, legislative reforms removed more than $1.2 billion in costs from the workers' compensation system between 1991 and 1994, and saved $109 million for 1995.

Meanwhile, comp fraud costs the insurance industry $5 billion annually, the National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates. NICB may be contributing to the "healthy system" NCCI lauds: the bureau reports already nabbing a record 103 workers' comp fraud offenders in 1995.

Most common fraud schemes uncovered include cooperating with dishonest professionals to collect benefits for exaggerated or nonexistent injuries; working a second job while collecting benefits from another employer; and claiming a non-work related injury was sustained on-the-job to collect benefits.

Safety engineers are wanted for membership in the American Society of Safety Engineers. The professional organization says it aims to recruit 4,000 new members through April, 1996, and expand its international membership to achieve 36,000 members by the year 2000. For an ASSE membership application or for a free safety and health professionals' 1995/96 Resource Guide containing information about ASSE products, services and programs call (708) 692-4121.

Reacting to the death of a 19-year old Florida man who suffocated in a Showell Farms, Inc., corn storage tank in October, 1993, OSHA is proposing an amendment to its grain handling standard. The revision will address workers in flat storage buildings like the Showell facility.

A national task force formed by House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) will study variations in prices and costs in the workers' compensation insurance system and investigate inconsistencies in the time it takes to report claims, according to a report from the National Council on Compensation Insurance. NCCI recommends the Speaker look at state-based solutions to the system's troubles.

OSHA cites a hospital for failing to correct previously cited tuberculosis and formaldehyde exposure hazards. The violations were initially cited in late 1994. OSHA charged the Health Care System of Newark, New Jersey, with failing to install negative-pressure ventilation in tuberculosis isolation rooms and with failing to provide workers caring for TB patients with proper respiratory equipment. OSHA fined the hospital $168,875, including more than $150,000 in fines for failure-to-abate.

OSHA reduces the cost of its CD-ROM disk to $79 per one-year subscription. The Windows, Macintosh and DOS-based computer-compatible disk contains all OSHA standards, the OSH Act, OSHA Federal Register notices, and much more. To order "OSHA Regulations, Documents and Technical Information on CD-ROM" contact the Government Printing Office at (202) 512-1800.

The coalition on occupational safety and health, a group of companies advocating OSHA reform, collected 2,700 signatures to a letter backing the Ballenger reform bill. A labor leader says the list is insignificant because most signatories are obscure employers like "Margie's Hallmark," and "McKinley's Funeral Home." But a spokeswoman at the National Association of Manufacturers, which houses the COSH, says the Republican Congress "tends to listen to the small guys who feel OSHA's impact most."

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