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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Scrap Metal Facility Where Worker Died Had Never Been Inspected By Safety Regulators

By Alan Pyke - Think Progress, September 8, 2014

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 Illinois scrap metal recycling company has been fined nearly half a million dollars for various safety violations after a worker was killed when his arm got trapped in a conveyor belt that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says should have been turned off.

But despite a pattern of violations at other facilities run by the same company, OSHA had never inspected the South Beloit, IL facility prior to the March accident that killed Alfredo Arrendondo, an OSHA spokesman told ThinkProgress after reviewing records for the region.

The newly announced penalties come atop previous violations at other Behr & Sons facilities elsewhere in the state and in neighboring Iowa. The company has received six separate inspections at its facilities in the past 5 years, according to an OSHA press release on the $497,000 fine issued to Behr’s South Beloit, IL facility. As part of that citation, OSHA has deemed the company a severe violator for its pattern of neglect toward worker safety.

“There’s a culture of unsafe work practices at not only this facility but throughout the whole company,” OSHA regional spokesman Scott Allen said in an interview. “So we’ve put these folks into the severe violator program so right now we can inspect any of the plants, not just this particular facility. And they’ll stay on that program until we feel that they’ve not only corrected all those problems but shown a culture change in their safety procedures.”

But OSHA has been starved of the resources it would need to apply that kind of rigorous scrutiny more broadly and proactively. Thanks to budget cuts, there were fewer OSHA inspectors to ensure compliance with federal rules in 2011 than there were in 1981 — even though there are twice as many workplaces to supervise.

Chapter 26 : They Weren’t Gonna Have No Wobbly Runnin’ Their Logging Show

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Now Judi Bari is a union organizer,
A ‘Mother Jones’ at the Georgia-Pacific Mill,
She fought for the sawmill workers,
Hit by that PCB spill;
T. Marshall Hahn’s calling GP shots from Atlanta,
Don Nelson sold him the union long ago,
They weren’t gonna have no Wobbly,
Running their logging show;
So they spewed out their hatred,
And they laid out their scam,
Jerry Philbrick called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

—lyrics excerpted from Who Bombed Judi Bari?, by Darryl Cherney, 1990

Meanwhile, in Fort Bragg, the rank and file dissent against the IWA Local #3-469 officialdom grew. Still incensed by Don Nelson’s actions over the PCB Spill, and not at all satisfied with a second consecutive concessionary contract, the workers now had yet another reason to protest: a proposed dues increase. Claiming that the local faced a financial crisis, the embattled union leader proposed raising the members’ dues from $22.50 per month to $29, an increase that amounted to more than a 25 percent rise. Ironically, IWA’s Constitution limited the monthly dues rate to 2½ times the wages of the lowest paid worker. The local’s financial shortage had resulted from a decrease in the wages and the loss members due to G-P’s outsourcing logging jobs to gyppos and automation of jobs in the quad mill. [1] The usual suspects readied themselves to blame “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” once again.

Nelson presented his proposal in the form of a leaflet posted on the employee bulletin boards and distributed in the employee break rooms throughout the G-P Mill in Fort Bragg. The leaflet stated, “we are voting to maintain the ability of our union to function.” A group of rank and filers, however, led by a mill maintenance janitor, named Julie Wiles and her coworker Cheryl Jones, as well as some of the eleven workers affected by the PCB spill and others who had been most dissatisfied with the recent round of contract negotiations, responded by producing a leaflet of their own opposing the dues increase. Their leaflet stated, “Last year Union officers’ wages plus expenses were $43,622. This year they were $68,315. That’s a whopping 69 percent increase! Considering our lousy 3 percent pay raise, how can the Union ask us for more money?” The rank and file dissidents’ leaflets were quickly removed from the employee bulletin boards. [2] This wasn’t to be the worst of it, though.

FEDERAL AUDIT SLAMS CAL/OSHA PERFORMANCE - California Below National Average in Several Key Worker Health & Safety Measures

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, August 25, 2014

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 latest federal review of California’s worker health and safety program found critical understaffing and other major deficiencies. The findings reinforce the substance of a complaint filed this February against the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The latest U.S. Department of Labor “Comprehensive Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) Report” for Cal/OSHA covering the period ending September 30, 2013 was released this month. Paralleling the issues raised by the PEER complaint, this new review concludes:

  • “Cal/OSHA remains understaffed and, as a result, is challenged to fulfill its important mission”;
  • “The lack of staffing affects the citation lapse time, the number of inspections conducted, and the response time to complaints. In particular, the number of inspections conducted by current Cal/OSHA staff is well below the federal average. To compound this problem, there has been a steady decrease in inspectors since FY 2011”; and
  • “Cal/OSHA inspections result in a rate of serious, willful or repeat violations significantly lower than the federal average [26.73% vs. 57.0% for safety and 9.09% vs. 53.7% for health]. This suggests that the agency’s limited resources are not being applied most efficiently and effectively.”

Among the effects cited in the report are workers exposed to hazards longer due to “a long citation lapse time, the time between the start of an inspection and the issuance of a citation.” The state’s new budget does provide for a handful of new compliance officers but still leaves Cal/OSHA at staffing levels below those at the end of Schwarzenegger administration in 2011.

“California workers are paying the price for a cratering Cal/OSHA.” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor seeks financial and other sanctions unless improvements occur. “California needs to be jolted out of its occupational death spiral.”

Dangers Inherent In Fracking Jobs

By Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment - Popular Resistance, July 24, 2014

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.

Yesterday many of Southern Illinois’s elected officials, and representatives of the fossil fuel industry, held a one-hour press conference to complain about the fact that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has still not completed the rule-making process in order for fracking to begin in Illinois. Fracking is a controversial process used to drill for oil & gas. Millions of gallons of water, mixed with toxic chemicals and sand, are injected into mile-long horizontal wells at high pressure to fracture rock layers and release oil and gas.

It is important that the public is aware of the dangers inherent in fracking jobs. Within one year in Texas 65 oil & gas workers died, 79 lost limbs, 82 were crushed, 92 suffered burns & 675 broke bones.  The fatality rate among oil and gas workers is nearly eight times higher than the all-average rate of 3.2 deaths for every 100,000 workers across all industries.

A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study revealed that worker exposure to crystalline silica—or “frac sand” —exceeded “relevant occupational health criteria” at all eleven tested sites, and the magnitude of some exposures exceeded their limits by a factor of 10 or more. “Personal respiratory protection alone is not sufficient to adequately protect against workplace exposures.” Inhalation of crystalline silica can cause incurable silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and autoimmune diseases.

Representative Brandon Phelps stated at the press conference that North Dakota should be a model for Southern Illinois. A report by the AFL-CIO found that the fracking boom has made North Dakota the most dangerous state for U.S. workers—with a fatality rate five times higher than the national average—and that North Dakota’s fatality rate has doubled since 2007. The AFL-CIO called North Dakota “an exceptionally dangerous and deadly place to work.”

Statistics provided by THE COMPENDIUM OF SCIENTIFIC, MEDICAL, AND MEDIA FINDINGS DEMONSTRATING RISKS AND HARMS OF FRACKING (UNCONVENTIONAL GAS AND OIL EXTRACTION)

http://concernedhealthny.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/CHPNY-Fracking-Compendium.pdf

Rail Worker Rights Leaving 19th Century Behind

IBEW Press Release - IBEW.org, July 9, 2014

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 author is also not affiliated with Railroad Workers United. This article is reposted in accordance with Fair Use guidelines.

J.J. Giuliano has been local chairman of the Selkirk unit of Albany, N.Y., Local 770 since 2003. Keeping his members safe is Giuliano’s top priority, and along with the leaders of the other trades at Selkirk, he sat on the shop’s safety committee.

“For 10 years we made recommendations to management and for 10 years not one of them was funded by the company,” Giuliano said. “I stayed on because I wanted to look out for my guys. But at a certain point we were letting the company get away with avoiding solving safety problems.”

In September 2013, Giuliano was done with the charade. He sent a letter to the plant superintendent telling him that he was quitting the committee. He listed 21 safety violations that threatened the health of IBEW members, public safety or both that had repeatedly been brought to the company’s attention and never fixed. They included everything from managers green-lighting locomotives for use without testing safety equipment to requiring workers to repair trains covered in pigeon feces but refusing to provide, or even allow the use of, protective clothing.

“When local management decides to act as though safety is a priority, this organization will re-evaluate its position in this matter,” he wrote. “Until that time, should it ever come, our concerns will be brought elsewhere.”

Giuliano handed over the letter Friday and posted a copy of it to the local’s glass-enclosed bulletin board. Two and half hours into his next workday, Giuliano was cited for violating safety rules and was later suspended for five days.

“It’s typical. Instead of fixing a problem, they attack the person who points it out,” Giuliano said.

Up until 2008 that would have been the end of the story. As a 2007 congressional hearing found, punishing workers instead of fixing safety hazards has been standard in the rail industry since the days of the robber barons more than a century ago. It was nearly that long ago that President Theodore Roosevelt signed many of the laws still regulating the rail industry.

As Social Security, workers’ compensation insurance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight and whistleblower protections were made standard for most working people, rail workers were left outside looking in.

The first safety protections for rail workers weren’t even enacted until the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970, said Larry Mann, an attorney and noted rail safety expert. But Mann says the scope of the law was extremely limited and enforcement by the Federal Rail Administration, which has historically been run and staffed by former rail company managers, was lax at best.

But in 2007, the late congressman from Minnesota, James L. Oberstar, inserted a few paragraphs into the massive bill implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Section 100 of 106, in part written by Mann, dramatically expanded the rights and protections of rail workers. Oberstar later said that the goal of the law was a complete overhaul of a safety culture” preoccupied with blame, with fault and with individuals.”

The law protected rail workers from retaliation for reporting safety hazards and injuries (see sidebar for full list of protections and prohibited retaliations) that echo whistleblower protections for aviation, nuclear, pipeline and financial industry workers.

The penalties for doing so were purposefully harsh. Workers were to “be made whole” meaning if they lost their job, had their credit rating ruined and lost their house, the company would have to reinstate the worker, pay to fix their credit rating and recover the house or pay for its loss if it was found guilty. All that in addition to back wages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

“We snuck it in,” Larry Mann. “The companies didn’t see it coming, thank God.”

It wasn’t just the companies who were surprised. Charles Goetsch, one of 14 attorneys designated by the IBEW to represent injured railworkers. (Find the full list here). He found out about it only after it passed.

“I thought ‘I’ve been waiting for this law for 30 years,’” Goetsch said. “It was huge transfer of power to the workers and they didn’t have to negotiate away a thing to get it.”

Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device Thirteen Days Before Temp Worker's Death

By Michael Grabell - ProPublica, July 9, 2014

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.

Inside the sugar plant in Fairless Hills, Pa., nobody could find Janio Salinas, a 50-year-old temp worker from just over the New Jersey border.

Throughout the morning, Salinas and a handful of other workers had been bagging mounds of sugar for a company that supplies the makers of Snapple drinks and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. But sugar clumps kept clogging the massive hopper, forcing the workers to climb inside with shovels to help the granules flow out the funnel-like hole at the bottom.

Coming back from lunch that day in February 2013, one employee said he had seen Salinas digging in the sugar. But when he looked back, Salinas was gone. All that remained was a shovel buried up to its handle. Then, peering through a small gap in the bottom of the hopper, someone noticed what appeared to be blue jeans.

It was Salinas. He had been buried alive in sugar.

As harrowing as the accident was, federal safety investigators recently discovered something perhaps even more disturbing: A safety device that would have prevented Salinas' death had been removed just 13 days before the accident because a manager believed it was slowing down production.

U.S. INDUSTRIAL SAFETY LAGS ALARMINGLY BEHIND DEVELOPED WORLD: U.S. Industrial Loss Burden 3 Times European Union and Gap Is Growing

Press Release - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), July 9, 2014

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 — America’s industrial infrastructure is substantially more susceptible to catastrophic failure than those in other industrialized countries, according to reports posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In certain key sectors, such as petrochemicals, aging U.S. refineries are become more dangerous with each passing month.

The combined losses from the fires, explosions and spills regularly plaguing U.S. chemical plants takes a proportionately greater toll than in the rest of the world. For example, the reinsurance giant, Swiss Re, concludes that the sum of all reinsurance losses (the “loss burden”) in refining, petrochemical processing and gas processing industry in the U.S. is approximately three times that of the comparably sized sector in the European Union (EU), with the rest of the world similar to the EU cluster.

Beyond economic losses, the toll on American workers is also higher. A study entitled “Occupational Fatality Risks in the United States and the United Kingdom” published earlier this year in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found the fatality rate of U.S. workers approximately three times that of workers in the U.K. American worker deaths from chemical exposure were more than 10 times higher than their U.K. counterparts; death by fire nearly 5 times and by explosion nearly 4 times as likely.

Rather than improving, some key U.S. industrial sectors are declining.

Oil Boom Kills More Workers, But Government Takes No Action

By Andrew Breiner - Think Progress, February 26, 2014 (used by permission)

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.

Just last Friday [February 21, 2014], oil drilling claimed the life of another worker. Nathan James Scott, 26, was struck by a welding truck and died at a drilling site in Converse County, Texas, owned by Houston-based EOG Resources. An investigation into his death is in progress. But federal regulations and investigations haven’t been enough to stem the climbing death and injury rates in the oil and gas industry. In fact, the federal government has declined to issue even basic safety rules for onshore drilling, and is in the midst of cutting funding for workplace safety inspections.

The fatality rate for workers in onshore oil and gas drilling is startlingly high compared with other industries, seven times higher than the average, and injuries are far more common. In Texas, the oil industry kills more of its workers than any other. And as an investigation by the Houston Chronicle found, the federal government isn’t taking action to make it safer.

A Tale Of Two Explosions

By Andy Piascik - Industrial Worker, June 2013

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, two days after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the West Fertilizer plant in Texas exploded. Fourteen people are known to have been killed and close to 200 were injured. Approximately 150 buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed.

For days, we were witness to nonstop media coverage of the events in Massachusetts, culminating in the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Once Tsarnaev was in custody, our television screens were alight with footage of local residents celebrating happily in the streets, complete with chants of “USA!” Though media coverage of the events in Texas was extensive, it was nowhere near that of the pursuit and killing of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

The possibility that the bombing in Boston was the work of international terrorists was a major theme from the outset and the primary reason for the huge disparity in coverage of the two events. U.S. officials and media pundits have besieged us for years with the notion that we are at war, surrounded by enemies—they’re even in our midst!—so let’s be sure those SWAT teams have plenty of firepower, and by the way, let’s find another country to invade.

The explosion in Texas, on the other hand, was far less newsworthy because it was a workplace accident and workplace accidents happen all the time. And that’s precisely the point: they happen all the time. The massive BP oil spill is just three years in the past, yet it is largely forgotten by the punditocracy.

Never mind the massive ecological destruction and the 11 people who died as a result, or that not one single high-ranking BP executive or U.S. government official has been charged, let alone tried or convicted, for their deadly negligence. It’s old news and, more importantly, it’s business as usual. Similarly relegated to the “no longer newsworthy” file is Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia, which also occurred three short years ago and killed 29 miners. As with BP, no high-ranking Massey executives or government officials have been brought to trial or convicted, though the trail of deceit, cover-up, documented negligence and possible bribery is long enough to fill a phone book. Some degree of justice is still possible in the Texas case but it certainly won’t come as a result of any government or judicial vigilance. In all of these cases, as in hundreds if not thousands of others of similar magnitude, so-called oversight bodies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are so weak as to be a joke. Higher-ups who underfund and obstruct the work of such agencies are thus complicit each time a workplace blows up or burns to the ground.

Tony Mazzocchi Talks About Chemicals and the Workers: 1978 National Film Board of Canada

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