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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Using Violation Tracker to Analyze Workplace Safety and Labor Relations

By Phil Mattera - Dirt Digger's Digest, November 5, 2015

It’s widely known that BP has a terrible workplace safety record, especially at its Texas City refinery, where 15 workers were killed in a 2005 explosion blamed in large part on management. In 2010 BP had to pay a record $50 million to settle OSHA allegations relating to the incident and the serious deficiencies in its subsequent remediation efforts.

Figuring out which other companies have created the greatest hazards for their workers has been more difficult — until now, that is. Violation Tracker, a new database on corporate misconduct, brings together information on some 100,000 environmental, health and safety cases filed by OSHA and a dozen other federal regulatory agencies since 2010. The database links the companies involved in the individual cases to their corporate parents, and the penalties are aggregated. Here I look at the largest OSHA violators identified by Violation Tracker and discuss a key characteristic they tend to have in common.

Companies with the most OSHA penalties, 2010-August 2015

  • BP: $63,860,860
  • Louis Dreyfus (parent of Imperial Sugar): $6,063,600
  • Republic Steel: $2,635,000
  • Tesoro: $2,532,355
  • Olivet Management: $2,359,000
  • Dollar Tree: $2,153,585
  • Ashley Furniture: $1,869,745
  • Kehrer Brothers Construction: $1,822,800
  • Renco: $1,535,475
  • Black Mag LLC: $1,218,500

(Source: Violation Tracker. Amounts are totals of “current penalties” for serious, willful or repeated violations of $5,000 or more after any negotiated reductions in OSHA’s initial proposed fines.)

Last February, members of the United Steelworkers union walked off the job at BP refineries in Ohio and Indiana as part of a strike focusing on safety problems in the industry. USW president Leo Girard stated at the time: “Management cannot continue to resist allowing workers a stronger voice on issues that could very well make the difference between life and death for too many of them.” BP’s $63 million in OSHA fines and settlements since 2010, far more than any other company, have put it at the forefront of that deadly resistance.

Tesoro, another unionized oil refiner criticized by the USW for its safety shortcomings, has the fourth highest OSHA penalty total ($2.5 million) among the companies in Violation Tracker. In 2014 the union called on the company to develop a “comprehensive, cohesive safety program” after an accident at a California refinery in which two workers were seriously injured. The USW also took the company to task for disputing a report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board citing “safety culture deficiencies” among the causes of a 2010 explosion at a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington that killed seven workers.

Kehrer Brothers Construction, on the top-ten list of OSHA violators with $1.8 million in penalties, is nominally a union contractor, but it was the subject of a 2010 lawsuit by the Roofers union complaining about wage theft. Earlier this year, OSHA accused the company of bringing in non-English speaking workers under H-2B visas and knowingly exposing them to asbestos on the job.

Not all of the largest OSHA violators are rogue unionized employers. Some are firms that have managed to keep unions out. Chief among those is Imperial Sugar, which in 2010 had to pay $6 million to settle more than 120 violations linked to a 2008 explosion at its non-union plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia that killed 14 people and seriously injured dozens of others. (Imperial, acquired by Louis Dreyfus in 2012, had unions at some of its other facilities.)

Dollar Tree, which has racked up more than $2 million in OSHA fines since 2010, is one of the large deep-discount retailers that target the portion of the population that cannot afford to shop at Walmart. The non-union chain has been cited repeatedly for piling boxes in storage areas of its stores to dangerous heights and blocking emergency exits.

Ashley Furniture was fined $1.8 million by OSHA earlier this year at its non-union plant in Arcadia, Wisconsin for 38 willful, serious or repeated violations stemming from the company’s failure to protect workers from moving equipment parts. One worker lost three fingers while operating a woodworking machine lacking required safety protections. OSHA recently proposed another $431,000 in fines for similar problems at another Ashley facility in Wisconsin.

A more obscure company in the OSHA top ten is Olivet Management, a real estate developer fined more than $2.3 million for exposing its own workers and contractor employees to asbestos and lead during clean-up activities at the site of the former Hudson Valley Psychiatric Center in Dover Plains, New York. The company was created by Olivet University, which calls itself “a private Christian institution of biblical higher education.”

There’s a smaller third category of top OSHA violators, represented by Republic Steel: a company with decent union relations that appears to have gotten sloppy in its safety practices. In 2014 Republic agreed to pay $2.4 million as part of a settlement with OSHA resolving violations at its facilities in Ohio and New York. The settlement, which also involved the creation of a comprehensive illness and injury prevention program, was praised by the USW. Yet this year Republic was fined another $162,400 for repeated and serious violations at its plant in Lorain, Ohio.

The lesson of all this seems to be that workers face the greatest hazards in non-union companies and rogue unionized firms, but they also need to be vigilant in workplaces with decent labor-management relations.

EcoUnionist News #59

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 4, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

Bread and Roses:

Feds Find Gaping Holes in CALOSHA Safety Net; Serious Enforcement and Inspection Failures Put California Workers at Risk

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, July 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — The, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the worker health and safety program in California for falling below minimum performance standards in response to a complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the state
Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) must upgrade its enforcement and inspection programs or face a variety of federal sanctions.

In a letter to PEER dated June 26, 2015, OSHA Area Director David Shiraishi upheld the bulk of the “Complaint about State Program Administration” that PEER filed in February 2014. In its review, OSHA found that Cal/OSHA:

  • Fails to conduct an adequate number of inspections in dangerous workplaces and fails to follow its own policy of doing follow-up inspections on serious violators;
  • Does not issue citations in a timely manner, thus delaying hazard abatement and prolonging dangerous conditions. OSHA found the “amount of time Cal/OSHA takes to issue citations is 69% longer than OSHA for safety inspections and 33% longer for health inspections”; and
  • Takes too long to respond to worker complaints of unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Cal/OSHA “averaged almost working four days to initiate investigations for complaints alleging serious hazards” with one serious complaint sitting 106 days. For non-serious complaints, Cal/OSHA averaged more than two weeks before inspecting with one case sitting 300 days.

The OSHA letter contains recommendations for how Cal/OSHA can remedy the identified failures while concluding that “the State Plan is required to remedy these deficiencies.” Like California, nearly half the states are funded by OSHA to operate their own state plans which, by law, must be at least as effective as the federal program. This finding means that California is not meeting that minimum threshold.

EcoUnionist News #52

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 16, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Fracking the EPA:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

1267-Watch:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism

Silent Epidemic of Workplace Chemical Exposures Rages on; New Worker Right-to-Know Database Maps All OSHA Health Inspection Readings

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, May 28, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — Workplace chemical exposures are the nation’s eighth leading cause of death but the U.S. lacks any strategy for preventing the more than 40,000 premature deaths each year, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today the group unveiled a Worker Right-to-Know website displaying 30 years of Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) chemical exposure readings from inspections back to 1984 so workers can see what substances they encountered and to help guide OSHA in improving safeguards for worker health.

Occupational exposures kill malignantly, from cancer, neurological breakdown, cardiopulmonary disease, and other chronic maladies. While this toll claims the lives of more than 10 times the workers killed in all on-the-job accidents combined, OSHA spends in excess of 90% of its budget on safety issues.

“More Americans die each year from workplace chemical exposure than from all highway accidents, yet we have no national effort to stem this silent occupational epidemic,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that allowed chemical exposure on-the-job is roughly 1000 times higher than in the general ambient environment. “In the U.S., environmental protection stops at the factory door.”

The new PEER database allows comprehensive workplace exposure data to be searched by year, by state, by establishment type and by substances detected. Individual inspection data may also be viewed. It also provides a geospatial display of all OSHA workplace monitoring sampling results. PEER hopes the readings will give workers and their doctors clues about the origins of otherwise mysterious illnesses.

These occupational risks may be on the rise as thousands of new chemicals are introduced in U.S. workplaces each year. Yet OSHA figures show a slow decline in health sampling. At its current rate of health inspections, it would take OSHA nearly 600 years to sample chemical exposure at half the nation’s industrial facilities that handle hazardous substances.

On a policy level, PEER is asking responsible agencies to come to grips with the problem by calling for –

  • OSHA to start using its own air sampling data to pinpoint where health inspections are most needed and to increase the number of such inspections; and
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to conduct an updated national survey of occupational exposures, a survey it last did thirty-five years ago.

“Reversing this long lethal trend requires a national commitment to ‘green’ the American workplace,” added Ruch. “Above all, OSHA needs to rediscover its ‘H’ by taking affirmative steps to sharply reduce the slow poisoning of American workers.”

Two Years After West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Are Workers Any Safer? New Report Says No

By Elizabeth Grossman - In These Times, April 17, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On April 17, 2013, a massive fire and explosion tore through the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killing 15 people—including 10 volunteer firefighters—and injuring more than 200. Fueled by the 30 or so tons of explosive ammonium nitrate on site, the blast ripped through the wooden building and its flammable contents, destroying three nearby schools, a nursing home and devastating 37 city blocks. A federal government investigation into the disaster found enormous gaps in information made available to first responders and the community about the plant’s highly hazardous materials – information that could have prevented or reduced the loss of life, injuries and damage.

Two years after this catastrophe, the Center for Effective Government has taken a look at the disclosure practices around such hazardous chemicals—and found what’s required of these facilities to still be “inadequate and insufficient.”

In a report released this week, the Center for Effective Government, a non-partisan government watchdog, examined emergency response planning and reporting on chemicals required of plants like West Fertilizer under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA)—enacted in response to the 1984 release of deadly methylisocyanate gas from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India that killed thousands and injured many more—and the Clean Air Act. Instead of comprehensive and coordinated reporting and planning that could help prevent the loss of life and injuries, CEG found “a patchwork of laws and regulations that cover chemicals and are supposed to be safeguarding the public,” says CEG Open Government Policy program director Sean Moulton.

“There are gaps between these programs, and West Texas, really highlighted this,” says Moulton. “It’s very hard to know what information is where and how planning is rolled out. It’s very clear that responders in West, Texas didn’t know how to respond,” he says.

Absent information about hazards at the plant, volunteer firefighters arriving on the scene were unaware of that ammonium nitrate might be in the process of exploding. There was—and still is—nothing that would have compelled anyone to alert community residents or local government that schools, healthcare facilities, homes or businesses were located near a plant housing massive quantities of explosive materials. And under current laws and regulations, nothing required the West Fertilizer company to report its use and storage of ammonium nitrate to the EPA or authorities with whom it might develop an emergency response plan...

Read the entire article here.

EcoUnionist News #44

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Health and Safety:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #40

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 5, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Carbon Bubble:

Health and Safety:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

OSHAgate

By Steve Zeltser - The Daily Censored, February 16, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The epidemic of refinery explosions and derailments  leading to massive explosions seem to increase by the week. Behind this collapse of health and safety protection according to advocates is the failure to protect health and safety whistleblowers. The fear of workers to complain about serious health and safety problems is a key part of this failure. Now a Federal lawyer at OSHA Darrell Whitman has charged along with health and safety whistleblowers that the agency management and the DOL have not been enforcing the law to protect not only the whistleblowers but the health and safety of all Americans.

In an explosive document sent to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez in May 2014, Federal OSHA attorney Darrell Whitman, charged that there is systemic corruption in the agency that is preventing the protection of health and safety whistleblowers. As a result of making these charges with extensive documentation, Whitman has himself become a target of workplace bullying and moves to terminate him from the agency. In fact according to Whipple his supervisor Joshua Paul who is also an attorney at the agency ordered him to falsify federal documents  which is a criminal felony. On February 21, 2015 the agency sent a mover to his house and took his documents and badge preventing him from doing his work.
Whitman has a lot of years under his belt. He has been working over 10 years for state and Federal agencies so he knows a bit about how the Federal government operates.

His latest job was as an investigator in the OSHA program that investigates health and safety complaints by workers in industries from oil, rail, trucking and other companies in OSHA region 9 which covers nearly 40 million workers in the West.
As one of the 6 OSHA staff in this unit, there have been only three that actually doing investigations. Whitman investigates whether OSHA complaints by workers are valid and then makes a determination of whether or not their complaints are serious enough to gain a merit status. Under Federal law this merit status provides full back pay and can provide punitive damages to workers who are terminated for making their health and safety complaints.

Labor Movement Malpractice: Relinquishing the Fight for Workplace Health and Safety

By Garrett Brown - Portside, January 28, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

An underlying theme of California's most prominent union organizing campaigns in recent years-among warehouse workers east of Los Angeles, carwasheros in Los Angeles proper, and recycling workers in Oakland and southern California-has been worker concerns about unsafe and unhealthy conditions at work.  As labor visionaries like Tony Mazzocchi predicted, workers are deeply concerned about and can be successfully organized around workplace health and safety issues.  Rank-and-file concerns about health and safety, however, have not been taken up by union officials or lobbyists who view health and safety as a lower priority than labor legislation or gubernatorial appointees.

As a result, labor officials in California have passively watched as Democratic Governor Jerry Brown put California's state workplace health and safety agency-Cal/OSHA or DOSH-on a starvation diet. Since 2011, the agency has employed fewer field inspectors and has counted on lesser enforcement resources than under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The unions also stood quietly by (with a couple of notable exceptions) when Ellen Widess, appointed as chief of Cal/OSHA in April 2011, was forced to resign in September 2013 following an intense employer campaign against her.

Cal/OSHA under Widess worked with Warehouse Workers United to identify the many hazards facing warehouse workers (heat, forklifts, falls) and to cite both the warehouse operators and the temporary staffing agencies as the workers' employers.  Cal/OSHA seriously investigated hotel workers' ergonomic complaints (UNITE HERE); health care workers' concerns about workplace violence and assaults (SEIU and CNA); and recycling workers' exposure to chemicals, biological, and mechanical hazards in the "green" industry (Longshore and Teamsters unions).  Yet the state's labor officials' and lobbyists' strategy of maintaining access and friendly relations with Brown and his appointees-at all costs-has undermined the resources at Cal/OSHA and led to the weakening of enforcement and worker protections.

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