Category Archives: Safety

Workplace Safety De-Regulation Continues

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

The con continues.  Many American workers were conned into initially voting for Donald Trump, and that con game continues with the Trump Administration and its views on worker safety.  Campaign promises of benefitting the US worker ring hollow with each and every anti-worker de-regulation push.

Recent reports reveal the administration is removing or delaying OSHA protective regulatory standards on numerous fronts.  (Updated OSHA agenda reflects Trump administration focus on de-regulation).   The administration previously acted against improved employer recordkeeping for workplace injuries and illnesses. Now, the anti-worker protection agenda continues with the administration effectively pulling important items from the regulatory agenda.  

From the above-linked report, some of the important issues “removed” from the OSHA regulatory agenda are: Preventing Backover Injuries and Fatalities; Noise in Construction; Bloodborne Pathogens; and Combustible Dust. 

Failure to have adequate regulations–and penalties–has real world consequences.  Just look at what happened in Cambria, Wisconsin in May 2017 when a corn mill exploded and workers died from what appears to be Combustible Dust.  This was and continues to be a devastating workplace accident for a smaller town in Wisconsin.  Sadly, a Journal Sentinel story indicated:

A review of online OSHA records shows the plant was cited in January 2011 for exposing its workers to dust explosion hazards. The records state that plant filters lacked an explosion protective system.

The agency ordered the mill to correct the problem by April 2011. The records show Didion paid a $3,465 fine and the case was closed in September 2013.

Such minimal OSHA fines or penalties likely provided corresponding minimal incentives to improve safety standards or hazardous practices.  The limited incentives are bolstered by relatively toothless “employer safety violation” penalty in a Wisconsin worker’s compenstion claim, which is capped at a maximum of $15,000.  

Further “anti-regulation” pushes likely increase the lack of safety incentives for employers. Those anti-regulation efforts are alive in Wisconsin and on the federal stage–especially in the Trump agenda.

Workers should be aware that anti-regulation may equal anti-worker.   And anti-safety.

 

Westport, WA Seafood Company Fined More Than $100,000 for Unsafe Forklifts

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Forklifts are among the most hazardous vehicles in the workplace, with a great risk of injury and death if they’re not maintained and operated safely. Employers who knowingly and repeatedly expose workers to unsafe forklifts may face stiff penalties.

That’s what happened with a company in Westport. The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited Ocean Gold Seafoods Inc., a total of $117,740 for willful and repeated serious workplace safety violations at its seafood processing plant. Many of the violations were related to forklift safety.

The fines include a willful violation with the maximum allowed penalty of $70,000 for not performing regular safety inspections and not fixing defective items on the vehicles, like nonworking horns and broken seatbelts.

An L&I inspection found that the company rarely performed forklift inspections, and defects that were reported weren’t fixed. There were several instances where forklift seatbelts weren’t in working order, including one that was pulled completely out and wouldn’t retract. Other defects included machines without working horns. This prevented operators from notifying employees in limited visibility areas that a forklift was coming through the door and put pedestrians at risk of being struck and killed.

The employer was cited for a repeat-serious violation with a penalty of $15,400 after the inspector saw two workers operating forklifts without wearing their seatbelts. The seafood company was cited for the same issue in August 2015.

Being crushed by a forklift tipping over is the leading cause of forklift-related deaths in the U.S. If there’s an accident or tip-over, operators are much safer strapped into the seat because they are at lower risk of falling out.

Ocean Gold was cited for nine additional violations for exposing workers to fall hazards; failure to ensure emergency brakes were set on unattended forklifts; defective stair tread; exposed electrical wires; equipment and clutter stored in front of control panels; and unsafe use of extension cords. The violations carried penalties totaling $32,340.

A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. General violations are the lowest level and are cited when the violation itself wouldn’t cause serious injury or death.

The employer has 15 days to appeal. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

 

Company Fined Over $1 Million After Explosion at Newport, WA, Plant

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Zodiac Cabin & Structures Support LLC has been fined $1,316,000 for workplace safety and health violations following an explosion at its carbon fiber production plant north of Spokane. Seventeen workers were injured in the oven explosion at the Newport, Wash., facility last July.

 

A nearly six-month investigation by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) concluded that the explosion could have been prevented if Zodiac had used required safety interlocks and safeguards to ensure that the curing oven was used safely and as advised in a consulting engineer’s report.

 

L&I cited the employer for 17 willful violations for knowingly and willfully exposing workers to the risk of serious injuries. The investigation found the company used defective equipment and didn’t ensure safe procedures were used when processing flammable materials in its industrial curing oven. Each violation carries the maximum penalty of $70,000.

 

“Had this explosion occurred during the day when many more workers were present, there could have been many more injuries and possibly even deaths,” said Anne Soiza, L&I assistant director of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “As it is, 17 people were injured and their lives put at risk from an incident that was highly predictable given the operating conditions.” 

 

Along with the willful violations, L&I cited the company for 18 serious violations, all with the maximum penalty of $7,000 because of the high potential for death or permanent serious harm.

 

Due to the danger of an explosion, specific safety interlock controls and other safety procedures were supposed to be in place before the highly flammable resins were used in the 90-foot drying oven. Those controls were not in place, despite the fact that Zodiac had advice from its contracted consulting engineer detailing the steps needed to ensure safe operation prior to using the flammable uncured resins.

 

The investigation found that flammable resins had been run through the oven a number of times prior to the explosion. L&I also discovered that 11 days before the incident, the plant was evacuated due to flammable vapors that created a risk of explosion in the same operation.

 

Four of the serious violations cited were for not ensuring effective energy control procedures were in place to protect workers when they had to reach inside the curing oven for cleaning, service or maintenance.

 

The company was also cited for eight “confined space” serious violations related to employees entering the 90-foot oven to perform cleaning, service or maintenance. Working inside a confined space area, such as the oven, without safety precautions can be deadly to both workers and would-be rescuers. Confined space hazards can include suffocation, toxic atmospheres, entrapment and other dangerous conditions that are fully preventable.

 

An additional six violations were related to failing to prevent ignition of flammable vapors and protect workers from inhaling harmful vapors and chemicals, such as from solvent and formaldehyde.

 

As a result of the willful violations, Zodiac Cabin & Structures Support LLC has been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.

 

The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

 

For a copy of the citation or photo, please contact public affairs at 360-902-5413.

CBS’s 60 Minutes: The King of Coal and the Massey Mine Disaster

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The following is an exerpt from the online version of the program “King of Coal” which aired on March 6, 2016. 

In December, for the first time in U.S. history, a CEO of a major company was convicted of a workplace safety crime. His name is Don Blankenship and he was once known as the “King of Coal.” The company he ran, Massey Energy, owned more than 40 mines in central Appalachia, including the Upper Big Branch mine, located in Montcoal, West Virginia, a state where coal is the dominant industry.

In 2010, the Upper Big Branch Mine was the site of the worst mining disaster in the U.S. in 40 years — the kind of accident that isn’t supposed to happen anymore. It was just after 3 o’clock on April 5, when a massive explosion tore through miles of underground tunnels, killing 29 miners. Prosecutors accused Don Blankenship of ignoring mine safety laws and fostering a corporate mentality that allowed the disaster to occur.

It was an early 1900s type of explosion. Conditions should never have existed for that to take place. – Stanley Stewart

READ the full script of the interview by Anderson Cooper, the correspondent, and WATCH the full episode and associated video clips HERE.

 

Photo credit: SMU Central University Librariesvia Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

Back Injuries in Nursing – One Nifty Idea to Avoid Them

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The American Nursing Association’s Handle with Care campaign seeks to educate, advocate, and facilitate change from traditional practices of manual patient handling to emerging, technology-oriented methods. The campaign seeks to highlight how safe patient handling produces benefits to patients and the nursing workforce.  The ANA’s Handle with Care Fact Sheet provides the following thought-provoking data:

A Profession at Risk

  • Compared to other occupations, nursing personnel are among the highest at risk for musculoskeletal disorders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists RNs sixth in a list of at-risk occupations for strains and sprains that included nursing personnel, with nurses aides, orderlies and attendants (first); truck drivers (second); laborers (third); stock handlers and baggers (seventh); and construction workers (eighth). 
  • Additional estimates for the year 2000 show that the incidence rate for back injuries involving lost work days was 181.6 per 10,000 full-time workers in nursing homes and 90.1 per 10,000 full-time workers in hospitals, whereas incidence rates were 98.4 for truck drivers, 70.0 for construction workers, 56.3 for miners, and 47.1 for agriculture workers. 
  • Lower back injuries are also the most costly musculoskeletal disorder affecting workers. Studies of back-related workers compensation claims reveal that nursing personnel have the highest claim rates of any occupation or industry. 
  • Research on the impact of musculoskeletal injuries among nurses:
    • 52 percent complain of chronic back pain; 
    • 12 percent of nurses “leaving for good” because of back pain as main contributory factor; 
    • 20% transferred to a different unit, position, or employment because of lower back pain, 12 percent considering leaving profession; 
    • 38 percent suffered occupational-related back pain severe enough to require leave from work; and 
    • 6 percent, 8 percent, and 11 percent of RNs reported even changing jobs for neck, shoulder and back problems, respectively.

One Possible Tool

The website idées créatives posted this elegant video of an automatic bed that could allow for patient repositioning and assist with moving into and out of the bed, shown in a nursing home or hospital setting. 

 

 

 

Halloween Safety Tips

Today’s post comes from guest author , from Jon L Gelman LLC.

Halloween traditionally infers scary and dark. Those elements, complicated by sensory limiting costumes and environment, gives rise to the need for elevated safety concerns in the workplace and at-home surrounding Halloween events.

From a fall resulting in a dislocated shoulder, to an open flame resulting in second degree burns, each year the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) receives reports of injuries involving Halloween-related costumes, décor, and lighting. These incidents are preventable. Using CPSC’s three-step safety check (pdf), consumers can ensure that their fright night fun is not haunted by Halloween injuries

“Too often Halloween make believe has resulted in real life injury,” said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. “Fortunately, prevention is simple. Choose flameless candles, flame-retardant materials, and well-fitting costumes to reduce the risk of injury this Halloween.”

With CPSC’s quick and easy Halloween safety check (pdf) and just five minutes of inspection, consumers can avoid problems that previously have plagued the trick-or-treat trail. This safety check will help consumers to: (1) prevent fires and burns, (2) ensure that kids can see and be seen, and (3) outfit kids for safety.

Halloween-related incidents can involve a number of hazards, including burns from flammable costumes that come into contact with open flames-particularly candles used to illuminate jack-o-lanterns; falls and abrasions from ill-fitting costumes, shoes, and accessories; and fires caused by burning candles left unattended, near combustible decorations or knocked over by kids and pets.

The federal Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA) requires costumes sold at retail to be flame-resistant. To prevent costume-related burns, CPSC enforces this requirement and recalls costumes and other products that violate the FFA. When making a costume at home, CPSC encourages consumers to use fabrics that inherently are flame resistant, such as nylon and polyester.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Halloween ranks among the top 5 days of the year for candle-related fires. To prevent candle fires, CPSC encourages consumers never to leave a burning candle unattended. Battery-operated flameless candles and other flameless lighting are safe alternatives to traditional candles.

Unique jack o’ lanterns and creatively-carved pumpkins are a new popular trend. Read CPSC’s OnSafety blog on pumpkin-carving injuriesand how to prevent them

Additional safety tips to help make this year’s holiday safe:

Decorations
Keep candles and jack o’ lanterns away from landings and doorsteps, where costumes could brush against the flame.


Remove obstacles from lawns, steps, and porches when expecting trick-or-treaters.
When indoors, keep candles and jack o’ lanterns away from curtains, decorations, and other items that could ignite. Do not leave burning candles unattended.

Whether indoors or outside, use only decorative light strands that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets.

Don’t overload extension cords.

Costumes
When purchasing costumes, masks, beards, and wigs, look for flame-resistant fabrics, such as nylon or polyester; or look for the label “Flame Resistant.” Flame-resistant fabrics will resist burning and should extinguish quickly. To reduce the risk of contact with candles and other fire sources, avoid costumes made with flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves, large capes, or billowing skirts.


Purchase or make costumes that are light colored, bright, and clearly visible to motorists.
For greater visibility during dusk and darkness, decorate or trim costumes with reflective tape that will glow in the beam of a car’s headlights. Bags or sacks also should be light-colored or decorated with reflective tape. Reflective tape is usually available in hardware, bicycle, and sporting goods stores.

Children should carry flashlights to be able to see and to be seen.

To guard against trips and falls, costumes should fit well and not drag on the ground.
Children should wear well-fitting, sturdy shoes. High heels are not a good idea.
Tie hats and scarves securely to prevent them from slipping over children’s eyes and obstructing their vision.

If your child wears a mask, make sure it fits securely, provides adequate ventilation, and has holes for eyes large enough to allow full vision.

Swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be made of soft, flexible material.

Treats
Children should not eat any treats before an adult has examined them carefully for evidence of tampering.


Carefully examine any toys or novelty items received by trick-or-treaters who are younger than 3 years of age. Do not allow young children to have any items that are small enough to present a choking hazard or that have small parts or components that could separate during use and present a choking hazard.

Anacortes, WA Refinery Fined $77,000 for Workplace Violations Following Toxic Release

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Shell Oil Products is facing $77,000 in fines from the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) for workplace health violations after an investigation into an uncontrolled toxic release last February.

L&I began the investigation at Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes after learning of an incident during which the refinery’s main flare released contaminants into the environment. The release prompted numerous odor complaints from the community nearby.

A refinery flare is a disposal system that burns off waste gases and vapors that cannot be used during production. It’s also a safety device that can help prevent fires or explosions during power outages or other emergencies. The flare must be decontaminated and shut down periodically for maintenance.

The investigation found that the company had skipped critical decontamination steps while shutting down the main flare for routine maintenance. Failing to implement safe work practices caused an uncontrolled release that exposed workers to toxic substances including mercaptans, hydrogen sulfide, hydrocarbons and pyrophoric iron.

The company was also cited in 2013 for skipping critical steps when shutting down the flare. In that case, there was an explosion that nearly injured several contractors and Shell employees.

For the recent incident, Shell Oil Products was cited for one willful violation and fined the maximum of $70,000 for knowingly and intentionally not following safe work practices for the control of hazards when shutting down the flare.

The company was also cited for one serious violation with a penalty of $7,000 for giving workers the incorrect procedure for shutting down the flare.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation exists if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

Over the last three years, L&I has responded to several complaints that resulted in 11 inspections at the refinery.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

Photo: Paul Joseph Brown/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A Day At The Amusement Park Can End In Catastrophic Injury

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

While at a party recently, a friend of mine was checking Facebook and relayed to us in a near panicked voice about an amusement park rollercoaster that fell off its track and killed 13 people. The group he was addressing had very mixed reactions. Some reacted with horror and shock, but others playfully advised him that they had seen this story before and it was actually a hoax. 

Thankfully that latter was correct and the story was in fact a cruel hoax. However, this served as a reminder that unfortunately not all visits to amusement parks end happily.  This is peak amusement park season as many camps are finished and summer vacation is still in full swing. I remember vividly going on class trips from Stella Maris High School to Great Adventure Amusement Park in New Jersey.  We were deposited at the park and directed to meet back at an appointed time. It was exciting as we were essentially left to our own devices. As we were all in high school, there were no age or height requirements put upon us, so no ride was off limits. We went on all the rollercoasters available to us at that time, all the thrill rides, and we were scared silly in the Haunted House.  All of the girls had a great time; we all returned to our assigned meeting place at the end of the day and were deposited safely back at the school parking lot. A year after I graduated from high school, a fire in the haunted house at Great Adventure killed eight teenagers. Even today, more than 30 years later, the memory of that tragedy still lingers. 

Most of the millions of visitors to amusement parks every year leave with fond memories. However, for some a day at the park ends with injury or worse, even death. Just a couple of weeks ago in London, four people were injured on a ride called the Smiler when it slammed into an empty car, and 16 people were left dangling for four hours. In 2013, a woman was killed in Texas when she was thrown out of her seat while on a rollercoaster. The causes of injuries or even death in amusement parks can include rides that malfunction, human error on the part of the operator or the participant, all of which may result in brain injuries, aneurysms, drowning, broken bones, or head, neck, and back injuries.

 

Currently there is no federal oversight of amusement parks. Regulation is left to the state and local governments. According to a  report in US News and World Report, some parks fail to turn in their safety reports that include affidavits in which inspectors attest they’ve performed the inspections required by law.  According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), currently 44 of 50 states regulate amusement parks. Those that do not are Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah, and according to the website, these states have few if any parks.

Since federal safety officials are not allowed to address safety on rides, the state must bear the full burden of oversight that includes data collection, technical investigation of the accidents, and negotiating mitigation of manufacturing defects. It is debatable as to whether or not state or local agencies are putting the proper resources into these programs. Amusement parks can be a lot of fun but when it comes to putting your trust in the park, you should know the risks. Follow the safety regulations put up at the parks, know your limits, and have a great time! 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.