News roundup

May 25, 2000
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OSHA deputy assistant secretary Jim Stanley resigned from the agency last month for "an offer he couldn’t refuse" to become vice president for health and safety at AK Steel, according to an OSHA spokesperson. Stanley has his work cut out for him in the newly created position: The 3,300-employee Middletown, Ohio, mill, among the nation’s largest, has one of the steel industry’s worst accident records. Eight workers died in AK job accidents in two years starting October, 1993, according to a December 12 report in the Wall Street Journal. Stanley will report directly to AK Steel’s CEO, an OSHA spokeswoman says.

Elements of the most recent senate OSHA reform bill may discourage employees from voicing safety and health concerns to OSHA, the Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ Association stated in comments presented to bill sponsor Senator Judd Gregg last month. The association says it maintains reservations about sections of S. 1423, "The Occupational Safety and Health Reform and Reinvention Act," that would limit worker protections, grant incentives without adequate assurance of increased workplace protection, and exempt employers from scheduled inspections based merely on third party or consultation program reviews.

The VPPPA does, however, applaud sponsors of the bill for their efforts to include incentives for voluntary compliance activities in the bill.

But the VPPA’s point may be moot: OSHA reform bills won’t go far this year, sources say. The budget battle and presidential politics are just too distracting. At a recent meeting sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers, NAM officials urged business lobbyists to counter the heavy anti-reform offensive of organized labor. But lobbyists say their CEOs just aren’t interested in OSHA reform. They don’t see it going anywhere, making it not worth their time or money. Plus, big-company execs with good safety programs don’t want to roll back requirements and give competitors who don’t spend on safety an advantage.

The labor lobbying apparently had an impact on Ballenger Bill co-sponsor congressman Mike Forbes (R-NY) who recently withdrew his name from the OSHA reform legislation, HR 1834, a source says. The freshman representative from Long Island was one of 153 co-sponsors of the House Bill. A local union-affiliated group, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, had lobbied Forbes’ office repeatedly, urging him to withdraw his support. Forbes staffers did not return calls seeking comment.

Union leaders also lobbied against Ballenger’s legislation in a demonstration outside the York, Pa., office of Rep. Bill Goodling (R-Pa) in late December. Union members urged Goodling, chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, to oppose his party’s effort to reform OSHA.

NIOSH will hold town meetings this month in Chicago, Boston and Seattle to solicit recommendations for its National Occupational Research Agenda. The agency plans to include 15-25 research priorities on the agenda, which will be presented at the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of NIOSH and the OSH Act on April 29 in Washington. Workers, organized labor, businesses, researchers, health professionals, government officials, and elected officials are expected to participate. Individuals may pre-register or register on-site to speak at any of the town meetings, or send written comments. For more information, contact NIOSH: (800) 356-4674.

NIOSH and the national institute of mental health awarded $2.8 million to University of Pittsburgh professor of psychiatry and psychology, Andy Baum, Ph.D., for the study of psychological effects on workers who are survivors of petrochemical disasters. Investigators will interview survivors of disasters and other petrochemical facility workers to determine what circumstances promote psychological recovery in order to develop interventions that reduce stress and associated social costs. Twenty-one petrochemical explosions and fires occurred around the country between 1982 and 1991, according to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. An average of four people died and 18 were injured in each incident.

Three key factors impede EHS managers’ ability to improve environmental management at their companies, according to a survey of 185 North American businesses. Consulting firm Arthur D. Little, which conducted the survey, suggests that the combined factors have created a "green wall" that obstructs successful corporate environmental programs. Factors cited by EHS managers are: ·

  • lack of integration between environmental and business issues in the company; ·
  • their own failure to convince management that environment is an important business issue; and, ·
  • insufficient resources.

More than 70 percent of respondents pointed to either a lack of acceptance of EHS by the business staff, or a separate EHS culture as major roadblocks to integrating EHS functions into business.

To overcome the barriers, environmental managers need to shift their self-image and operating style from technical advisors to business strategists," says Robert Shelton, director of environmental health and safety consulting at A.D. Little.

For health and safety professionals in construction, a new web site features information on several areas of the building industry, including environmental protection and occupational health and safety. The non-profit Building Industry Exchange Foundation set up the site to be a clearinghouse of educational and informational resources for building industry professionals. Visit the site at http://www.building.org.

Corporate safety work has "significant potential to outsource fully," says a study on change in human resources departments conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council in Washington, D.C. According to a report in Fortune magazine’s January 15 issue, the council’s study concluded that four areas of personnel management have great potential for being outsourced because they create little competitive advantage for a company, offer economies of scale to outside employers, and reduce exposure to liability or regulatory claims by being outsourced. Human resource areas other than health and safety the study determined to be ripe for outsourcing are: benefits administration; information systems and recordkeeping; and employee assistance programs.

A well-conceived ergonomics program can reap significant profits for companies, with returns in as little as six months, according to Marilyn Joyce, director of The Joyce Institute, a division of Arthur D. Little. For instance, Joyce attributes a 71-percent cut in workers’ compensation costs and a 50-percent productivity increase at a Serta-Adams Wuest mattress plant to an ergonomic redesign of the plant’s workflow and shipping operations. Joyce also points to annual savings of $1 million at Nintendo of America as a result of a $400,000 ergonomic investment at the video game manufacturer.

An ergonomics guide to avoiding workplace injury, a new brochure from the American Industrial Hygiene Association, tells how to avoid or reduce potential musculoskeletal problems at work. A chief cause of cumulative trauma disorders, according to the AIHA, is repeated or sustained work involving high force or using a bent or extended wrist. Activities like gardening, fly-casting, and bowling can aggravate CTDs, AIHA says. Contact AIHA at (703) 849-8888.

A panel appointed to review the effectiveness of Ontario’s workplace health and safety agency recommended in a report to Minister of Labor Elizabeth Witmer folding the agency -which provides required health and safety committee certification training to Ontario workplaces- into the province’s Workers’ Compensation Board. The WCB Board of Directors is composed of industry, insurance, labor and medical interests. One dissenter calls the plan a "recipe for disaster."

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