Good Monday morning,
These are the stories that will drive conversations in the safety and health community this week…
UP ON THE HILL
Another BP roast: The Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety holds a hearing this Thursday, “Workplace Safety and Worker Protections at BP. Trekking up the Hill again: Steve Flynn, Vice President of Health, Safety, Security and Environment, BP Global, London, United Kingdom
Over in the House:
In what is called a full committee markup, House Education and Labor Committee this Wednesday will put the finishing touches on The Miner Safety and Health Act (H.R. 5663), which includes provisions to increase OSHA penalties and criminal prosecution capabilities. The bill will likely be passed along a straight party line vote and go to the House floor, where chances are good it will be approved by the full House in the next month, again along a straight party line vote.
The Senate is a different story, where Democrats hold a slimmer majority and a slippery ability to shutdown a Republican filibuster, which could occur if the MSHA/OSHA bill gets as far as the Senate floor. Some OSHA watchers believe the Senate is where the bill will come to die.
PLAYING GAMES WITH NAMES
The Coalition for Workplace Safety is a well-funded attempt by the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce, and more than 20 other industry groups that takes strong exception to the MSHA /OSHA bill H.R. 5663, blogs Celeste Monforton at The Pump Handle. Monforton is a former colleague of OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels at George Washington University.
Writes Monforton: “One would think that a coalition of businesses who have the web address ‘working for safety’ would want any outlier employers who violate OSHA regulations to be identified and receive tough sanctions. Business leaders say they want a system that promotes fair competition. They should embrace an OSHA enforcement system that identifies companies that cut corners on safety or outright violate the law, and get the book thrown at them.”
Reactions to Monforton’s post:
“Shows how far down their priority list defeating safety legislation is. No new talking points in years, shoddy wordpress website using the sandbox theme. No logo! Their mailing list is on mailchimp. Cmon guys, even I sprung for a $15 icontact account. You guys collectively probably spend $20k/MONTH on your servers. Let's be real here.
Really disappointed in the chamber for this in this. “
“This was my favorite (Jonathan) Snare (former OSHA chief who testified last week at a House hearing on the bill) quote of the day: ‘Punishing employers at the end of the day will not result in any actual real world impact that improves workplace safety and health.’
And giving out speeding tickets won't stop speeders... Radar won't make you slow down. Absolutley no ‘actual real world impact’... right Mr. Snare? I mean -- why even BOTHER to have laws? They don't do any good anyway... right? We just need to EDUCATE and COOPERATE... right? “
Despite progress over the last several decades, mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. The Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 (H.R. 5663) would provide stronger tools to ensure that mine operators with troubling safety records improve safety, empower workers to speak up about safety concerns and give the Department of Labor the tools it needs to ensure that all workers go home safely at the end of the day.
WHERE INDUSTRIAL HYGIENISTS AND SAFETY PROS PART WAYS
The House Education and Labor Committee lists these groups as supporters of the MSHA/OSHA reforms bill: American Industrial Hygiene Association; Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center; Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Interstate Mining Compact Commission.
The American Society of Safety Engineers? Don’t rush to reform OSHA, ASSE announced last week in a position statement on the bill. ASSE favors increased OSHA fines and criminal penalties, but doesn’t want to see significant OSHA reforms piggybacked on to MSHA reforms.
IS KILLING WORKERS AS SERIOUS AS KILLING A LAKE?
This was the soundbite nugget from Patricia Smith, solicitor for the U.S. Labor Department, at a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee last week.
Current law sets the max penalty for a workplace incident in which a worker dies at $7,000 – a fraction of the penalty for serious environmental crimes.
Worker safety must be put on par with environmental safety, said Smith, a former labor commissioner for New York State.
“Most employers want to do the right thing,” Smith said. “But sometimes they need a little nudging. A $7,000 penalty is not a big nudge.”
She said the bill’s criminal penalties “are based on similar provisions in the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, meaning that killing a person will be treated just as seriously as killing a lake.”
BP 24/7: Of morons, imbeciles and idiots
You gotta love Internet rants… We received this email last week: “The answer to the question of whether BP's oil spill workers are properly trained is obvious, except to morons, imbeciles and idiots. How could those 40,000 individuals be properly trained? If someone was already PROPERLY & EFFECTIVELY trained, those individuals would ALREADY have a job! So WHERE could BP find 40,000 individuals ALREADY properly & effectively trained? Nowhere on earth! And if you think BP provides PROPER & EFFECTIVE training BEFORE having contractors start to perform work, then you're forgetting BP's history when BP blew up their refinery in Texas City, killed 15 and injured dozens more because they failed to properly & effectively train and supervise their contractors onsite.”
SAFETY COMMITTEES: DO THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
A recent study on Pennsylvania employer safety committees could figure into the coming debate as OSHA moves forward with a standard to require businesses to have and implement injury and illness prevention programs (I2P2). All talk out of OSHA up to now does not indicate the agency intends to mandate committees as part of I2P2. But when public hearings are eventually held on a standard draft, you can expect calls for the rule to include mandatory safety committees.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports close to 9,000 Pennsylvania companies have state-certified workplace safety committees that aim to promote safer work environments. The committees can also help their employers earn a five percent discount on workers' compensation insurance premiums.
But do safety committees keep businesses safer” Tough to say, according to a study by think tank Rand Corp.
The study, recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, was based on various data collected from 1996 to 2007, according to the Post-Gazette. Rand found injury rates at Pennsylvania companies with certified safety committees did not decline more than injury rates at nonparticipating workplaces.
One reason companies with safety committees may not have had a bigger drop in injury rates is that committee members aren't meeting training requirements. More than 50 percent of companies that participated in the study did not comply with training provisions.
Some firms already had safety committees in place and joined the state program to earn the 5 percent discount but did not make any changes that resulted in fewer safety-related incidents.
"Maybe there should be penalties for noncompliance or, at a minimum, firms that don't comply should return their discount," the study’s lead researcher told the Post-Gazette.
U.S. STEEL’S “BIG SAFETY THING”
OSHA is investigating what caused two explosions in 11 months at the Clairton Plant of U.S. Steel's Mon Valley Works. The second explosion last Wednesday injured 20 people and 9 people were sent to the hospital.
"They're doing some preliminary work (on a $1.2 billion project). If they have to stop that to get this big safety thing in check, they'll stop if they have to, to make it safe," an official told the Scranton Wellness Examiner.
The first explosion on Sept. 3, 2009 took the life of 32 year old, Nicholas Revetta. Maureen Revetta, his wife was told by OSHA that there would be an investigation on how this explosion came about. They also stated that they would investigate the case for six months.
"I had to find out on my own that the investigation was closed," Revetta told the newspaper. "It was closed after four or five months. They didn't even use the whole six months."
Revetta filed a civil lawsuit Jan. 22 seeking $25,000 against U.S. Steel and its security company U.S. Security Associates for failing to maintain equipment that could pose a harm to the employees of the plant.
"It is very upsetting that we had this explosion back in September and OSHA and U.S. Steel never came to a firm conclusion as to what caused it, yet they let hundreds of men back in the mill," Mrs. Revetta's attorney John Gismondi said. "It makes you wonder how safe it is for people who have to report to work there every day."
NURSE IS SHOT 3 TIMES; HOSPITAL FINED $6,300
A hosptial in Danbury, CT where a nurse was shot in March failed to provide workers with adequate safeguards against workplace violence, according to OSHA.
In a press release last Friday, OSHA said the hospital has allowed "serious violations" of its regulations to occur by "failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious injury to workers, in this case the hazard of employees being injured by violent patients."
The citation comes with a $6,300 fine.
The OSHA report cited incidents over the past 18 months in which violent patients injured staff in the hospital's psychiatric unit, in its emergency department and on its general medical floors.
According to a report in the Danbury News-Times, in the shooting incident on March 2, the hospital staff found 86-year-old Stanley Lupienski in a hospital corridor. According to police, Lupienski pulled out a revolver and began firing, shooting Andy Hull, a nurse, three times.
Lupienski, charged with first-degree assault, first-degree reckless endangerment, illegal discharge of a firearm and carrying a pistol without a permit, is now confined at the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, according to the News-Times.
Hull has not returned to work at the hospital, according to the newspaper.