Good Monday morning,
On the day after soccer’s World Cup final, it strikes us the job of a safety and health manager is like that of a referee… when game is over (or the day is done) and no one is talking about the referee (or the safety manager), as though he was invisible, he has done his job well.
Driving conversations this week in the occupational safety and health community…
OUCH: OSHA hits U.S. Postal Service with huge fines for electrical safety problems.
The price of a first-class stamp might have to go up to 50 cents.
NEW STRAETGY: USPS is the first, but not the last, target of a new “enterprise-wide” enforcement strategy used by OSHA.
The Washington Post reported last week: “These are bad times for the U.S. Postal Service. Now, according to the Labor Department, it's also a place that can be electrifying -- literally. The Labor Department said the USPS may have serious electrical work-safety violations at all of its 350 processing and distribution centers.
”Labor's solicitor filed a complaint Tuesday with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, asking it to compel USPS compliance with electrical safety standards at all of its facilities. The complaint followed the discovery of numerous, similar violations in postal buildings by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A department statement said this is the first time Labor has sought ‘enterprise-wide relief as a remedy.’
”The complaint says that the USPS has known ‘for many years’ of its failure to comply with OSHA's electrical safety-related work practices standards. "Over the last ten years, at least eight USPS employees have sustained injuries in electrical arc flash/blast accidents," the complaint says. One violation caused a fatality.
”OSHA has imposed $2.9 million in penalties for violations at 21 postal facilities. The USPS has contested most of the citations, a Labor spokeswoman said.
” In unusually strong language for one governmental agency to use about another, David Michaels, assistant labor secretary for OSHA, said, ‘Even though it was aware of the hazards, USPS failed to institute the necessary measures to protect its workers. The complaint filed today seeks to put a stop to this irresponsible behavior.’
SHIFTING BP NARRATIVE FOCUSES ON WORKER SAFETY AND HEALTH
As the BP Gulf oil spill nears its three-month mark (July 20), more media and activist attention is going to the safety and health of cleanup workers.
The thrust: there must be no repeat of the long-term illnesses suffered by Ground Zero cleanup workers.
This puts the spotlight front and center on OSHA. Hard questions are being asked. Can 25 OSHA inspectors ensure proper protection and training for 33,000 cleanup workers spread across the Gulf Coast, and in 6,000 boats?
According to Greenwire: “In an under-the-radar release of new test results for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill workers, BP PLC is reporting potentially hazardous exposures to a now-discontinued dispersant chemical -- a substance blamed for contributing to chronic health problems after the Exxon Valdez cleanup -- among more than 20 percent of offshore responders.
“In a June 9 report on worker test results, BP confidently asserted that the health hazards of exposure to both dispersant chemicals and the components of leaking crude ‘are very low.’ In its latest summary, BP replaced those three words with an assurance that health risks ‘"have been carefully considered in the selection of the various methods employed in addressing its spill.’
The new BP summary, including results up to June 29, show the Valdez-linked chemical 2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore. The NIOSH standard for 2-butoxyethanol, which lacks the force of law but is considered more health-protective than the higher OSHA limit, is 5 ppm.
Some public-health advocates pointed out that BP references the NIOSH ceiling of each chemical it tested for except 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient in the Corexit 9527 dispersant that BP phased out after spraying it in the Gulf during the early days of the spill. ‘They're playing with these numbers,’ said Mark Catlin, a veteran industrial hygienist who has studied the worker-health fallout from the 1989 Valdez spill.
PETITION PRESSURES OBAMA TO PROTECT CLEANUP WORKERS
The web site “BP Makes Me Sick” was launched last week to collect digital signatures for an online petition urging the Obama administration to take stronger measures to protect oil leak responders in the Gulf of Mexico. Already the petition has garnered the support of 11 House Democrats and 31 congressional candidates, as well as more than 31,000 others.
The petition draws a comparison between "the denial of protective gear that hurt so many 9/11 clean-up workers" and reports from public-health advocates that BP has denied requests for respiratory protection from Gulf oil leak responders.
"President Obama and the federal government must demand that BP allow every clean-up worker who wants to wear respiratory protective equipment to do so -- and ensure that workers get the equipment and training they need to do their jobs safely," the petition states.
OSHA IN THE CROSS HAIRS
The agency cites its chemical monitoring results to support its position that most Gulf workers do not need respirators. The dangers of heat stress can cause negative symptoms of their own and may be exacerbated by the use of heavy respiratory protection, OSHA officials have said.
Activists and bloggers question whose side is OSHA on? Is OSHA being tough enough? Is the cop on the beat asleep on the beach?
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), wrote to OSHA chief David Michaels last week asking a series of questions about the agency's enforcement of respirator rules, given the assignment of "only 25 inspectors" to focus on oversight of worker protection in the Gulf.
Michaels has acknowledged that safety training given to some Gulf volunteers may be inadequate to protect them from the chemical hazards of oil cleanup. In a statement issued last Wednesday, he urged any local worker fearing that insufficient guidance was given to call OSHA or file a complaint.
QUESTIONING BARAB’S COMMITMENT
Michael Whitney, a blogger at the progressive site FireDogLake, last week posted an interview with Jordan Barab, the current deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.
Why Barab and not Dr. David Michaels, Barab’s boss?
We’ve never seen an OSHA deputy get the press that Barab has consistently received, via interviews and speeches, in the past year.
According to Barab, "symptoms of nausea, vomiting, nose bleeds, and headaches" cited by cleanup workers so far have "almost all have been heat related."
"We're really looking, but haven't found anything significant in the chemical samplings. We're looking for people getting sick, but it tends to be overwhelmingly heat related," Barab told Firedoglake.
In late June, OSHA issued guidelines for worker health and safety in the Gulf, including the limited use of respirators for workers around exposed crude oil near the source of the oil gusher. This came after more than 28,000 Firedoglake activists called on BP to provide respirators for cleanup workers...
Writes blogger Whitney: “As for BP's cooperation on worker safety, OSHA is satisfied -- much more than when OSHA's head, David Michaels, complained of BP's lack of effort on the topic in late May. ‘At this point, we're getting along fairly well with BP. Even though a lot of what we're asking them to do we don't have standards for, BP is pretty much doing what [we] want them to do,’ said Barab. ‘When they're not, with a little pressure, they do it.’
Whitney: “Now why should we believe anything Jordan Barab says? Isn't he just another part of the Obama/BP corporate police state? Keith Olberman reports that Obama doesn't care about worker safety, so why should we expect his OSHA bureaucrats to?
“I think we've got the right guy at OSHA now -- and he wouldn't be there if Obama hadn't beaten McCain. That's no excuse to slacken the pressure on either the Obama
administration or BP on issues of worker safety, but maybe, just maybe, there's some reason to believe that the Gulf oil spill is not another 9/11 or Katrina, and that government may actually be striving to work in the people's interest.”
WAL-MART: It’s not the money, it’s the precedent
You would never think a $7,000 OSHA fine could so roil the world’s largest retailer…
But in a hearing in front of an administrative law judge in New Yorklast week, Wal-Mart argues that the tragic event wasn't foreseeable and that OSHA, which assessed the fine, is asking them to admit guilt for not obeying crowd-control standards that weren't on the books in November 2008.
Walmart's appeal of the fine is being supported by some trade groups, which argue it could be damaging to the entire retail industry.
Nineteen months ago, Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary maintenance worker, was pushed to the ground and asphyxiated after an estimated 2,000 shoppers broke through the glass doors at a Wal-Mart store on Long Island, N.Y., as they raced to buy a limited assortment of sharply discounted television sets, computers and other gifts in the predawn hours the day after Thanksgiving.
Six months later, OSHA filed a citation against the Bentonville, Ark., retailer, alleging it didn't furnish a place of employment that was "free from recognized hazards" that were likely to cause death or serious physical harm to an employee due to "crowd crush."
Wal-Mart would be required to correct the hazard by having a "qualified person in crowd management techniques" preplan large sales events. In addition, the agency wrote that there should be "an adequate number of trained crowd managers" and effective signage and information for awaiting customers.
Wal-Mart's appeal of the fine was reported Wednesday, July 7 in The New York Times.
If the citation against Wal-Mart is upheld, the retailer and its peers are concerned that OSHA could hold them responsible for an employee being injured by a customer in whatever OSHA defines as a crowd, even if the event was beyond the business's control.
"They could potentially say blitz sales are dangerous and prevent them from holding them," said a laywer. "This is a big deal for everybody. Anyone experiencing crowds is subject to this."