How to Put the H Back into OSHA


According to testimony released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), OSHA has been missing in action as a mounting toll of occupational exposures kills tens of thousands of workers prematurely each year from cancer, neurological and cardiopulmonary diseases, and other maladies. OSHA needs to radically change direction to effectively cope with the more than 70,000 chemicals used inside American workplaces.

Occupational diseases are the eighth leading cause of death in this country, killing more than 40,000 workers every year—a toll almost ten times that of all workplace accidents combined. Yet, OSHA devotes more than 95% of its resources to safety concerns. Only about 3% of its inspections sample for toxic substances and even that number has been dropping. Meanwhile, workers are routinely exposed to thousands of times higher levels of the very substances that EPA has successfully helped reduce to trace levels in the general environment.

In testimony submitted on the final day of the OSHA Listens stakeholder outreach process, PEER lays out steps that the agency must take to create a credible health program, including:

  • Commit to setting standards on the most significant toxic substances by restoring a separate Health Standards Directorate (abolished under Bush) and reversing the internal “brain drain” by returning lost standard-writing slots. For example, OSHA is still trying to modernize its standard for silica dust, known to be a killer of workers since ancient Roman times;
  • Use an industrial process-by-process approach to increase the use of “best available technology” to control entire suites of substances, thereby leapfrogging the chemical-by-chemical approach to standards currently used;
  • Take the lead in developing the nation’s first-ever compendium of risk-based exposure goals, so that workers will have information about what levels pose acceptably small risks of disease;
  • Target health inspections where workers are exposed. OSHA has a database of all its air sampling but does not use this tool to pinpoint where health inspections are most needed;
  • Increase penalties for the longest and most serious overexposures, so that slowly poisoning workers is not a viable cost of doing business; and
  • Enlist outside experts and industry to formulate best practices for product stewardship and then use OSHA’s general duty clause to enforce those health protections.

“With a commitment to doing the hard work of taking health as seriously as safety, OSHA can make major strides at countering the silent epidemic of occupational disease in this country,” stated Dr. Adam Finkel, a risk assessment expert in academia, a former OSHA Director of Health Standards Programs and a member of the PEER Board of Directors, noting that safety issues took up the overwhelming volume of the OSHA Listens sessions. “It will take political will to redress decades of abysmal asymmetry between safety and health inside OSHA.”

“Even with its new leadership, we are concerned that the issue of workplace toxic exposure remains out-of-sight, out of mind at OSHA,” added PEER Policy Director Erica Rosenberg, noting that PEER is also leading an effort to document occupational exposures and provide workers and their doctors with new tools to recognize the causes of what are often long-developing diseases. “We know more about toxic exposures and body burdens in domestic cats and dogs than we do about exposures to American workers.”

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UL Compact Fluorescent Lamp Study Finds Lights Safer than Perceived

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has reported results from its compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) safety study that found consumers may be able to use CFLs more broadly and safely than previously believed or understood. UL’s CFL Safety Study found no fire or shock hazards in CFLs when used in light fixtures, lighting controllers, and switches traditionally used with incandescent light bulbs.

Fluorescent and LED lighting have been used commercially for decades and continue to gain popularity with homeowners due to their increased interest in energy efficiency. In fact, CFLs are installed in about 11% of available sockets in homes. The findings from UL’s CFL Safety Study give consumers several reasons to use these energy efficient light bulbs in even more applications. Study findings revealed the following:

  • CFLs perform well and safely in a variety of lighting applications
  • Temperatures of CFLs are generally lower than those of incandescents when used in a wide range of lighting applications
  • CFLs’ lifespans may be reduced when used in fixtures where switches are turned on and off repeatedly, but will not pose any safety hazards when used according to manufacturer’s specifications
  • Advancements in CFL technology improve performance and eliminate end-of-life issues that had previously raised safety concerns, like popping sounds or smoke

“Consumers are highly receptive to CFLs and LEDs because they use less energy, produce less heat and can dramatically cut down on energy bills,” said John Drengenberg, director of Consumer Safety at UL. “We conducted the study because we were seeing an increase in public concern over the safety of CFLs. Our research will provide a foundation for public education on the safety and use of CFLs.”

UL’s CFL Safety Study examined the following: substitution of CFLs into a variety of light fixtures, compatibility of CFLs with light controls and safety hazards related to switches. Additionally, it studied end-of-life behaviors of CFLs, which is where most consumer concerns lie.

The light fixture substitution analysis tested for potential temperature hazards of using CFLs in common household lamps and open fixtures. Tests found that not only were there no safety hazards, but even the hottest CFL emitted less heat than a 40-watt incandescent light bulb. Additionally, this test did not find any end-of-life safety issues.

UL also investigated CFLs when used with controls such as switches, motion-detecting switches, wireless controls and dimmers designed for incandescent lamps. While no safety problems were uncovered, the study did find performance issues such as flashing, flickering, poor light output, and reduced product life that could impact consumer satisfaction of CFLs.

“UL’s research will help give peace of mind that CFLs are safer and will provide valuable information for manufacturers as CFL technology evolves,” said Alex Boesenberg, manager of Technical Programs for the Lighting Systems Division of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. “We applaud UL’s research and ongoing standards revisions to address consumer concerns and provide ongoing awareness to better understand typical behaviors and best uses for CFLs.”

OSHA Program Protects Federal Workers

Hazardous federal worksites are the focus of the OSHA’s Federal Agency Targeting Inspection Program 2010 (FEDTARG10). The nationwide program emphasizes workplace safety and health for federal workers and contractors supervised by federal personnel.

FEDTARG10 focused on the most dangerous federal agency workplaces that experienced high numbers of lost time injuries during fiscal 2009. Field inspectors conducted 59 inspections of high hazard federal worksites and found 336 violations of OSHA safety and health standards. The top three standards cited were electrical, respiratory protection, and hazard communication. The 336 violations cited were more than twice the number cited in 2008, indicating the necessity for the FEDTARG program.

“The right to safe and healthful working conditions is not limited to private industry workers,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. “Workplace safety also extends to those working for the federal government. Continuing the targeting of federal workplaces assures consistent workplace safety standards in federal and private sectors.”

This program began in 2008 in response to a Government Accountability Office audit report that recommended the agency develop a targeted inspection program for federal worksites.

OSHA’s Office of Federal Agency Programs (FAP) represents the federal sector regarding occupational safety and health issues. The FAP provides federal agencies with guidance for implementing effective occupational safety and health programs.

Formosa Plastics Cited for Combustible Dust Hazards

OSHA has cited Formosa Plastics Corp. for 27 alleged serious workplace safety and health violations, including exposing workers to combustible dust hazards. Proposed penalties total $133,500.

OSHA initiated an investigation on October 1, 2009, in response to an employee complaint. The violations include the company’s failure to properly contain polyvinyl chloride dust particles, evaluate contractors’ safety programs and procedures, properly inspect process equipment, provide fire retardant clothing for employees, require employees to wear adequate eye protection with side shields, provide proper training, and provide employees with an infirmary, clinic, or person trained in first aid. Additionally, inspectors identified hazards involving a lack of machine guarding, a deficient process safety management program, inadequate lockout/tagout procedures for energy sources and unguarded machinery, floor holes, and walkways. OSHA issues a serious citation when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

“These violations are an indication that the employer needs to make improvements in its safety and health program,” said Domenick Salvatore, director of OSHA’s Wilmington, Delaware, office. “It is imperative that the company eliminate the combustible dust hazards, along with the other violations cited, to protect employees at this facility.”

Formosa Plastics Corp., of Delaware City produces plastic resins and petrochemicals and employs 98 workers.

Iowa Bans Texting for All Drivers; Stops All Cell Phone Use by Teens

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood applauded Iowa Governor Chet Culver for signing an anti-texting-while-driving bill into law for all drivers in the Hawkeye state. The new law also prohibits teens with intermediate or restricted licenses from using cell phones at all.

“Iowa’s streets are safer today because of this ban,” LaHood said. “If you are driving, your full attention should be on getting to where you are going safely, not texting and talking on your cell phone.”

Iowa becomes the 21st state to ban texting for all drivers. Under the ban, it’s a primary offense for teens to talk on a cell phone or text while driving. For adult drivers, using a hand-held cell phone or texting is a secondary offense which allows law enforcement officials to ticket drivers if they are pulled over for another offense.

According to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted or inattentive driving has become a national epidemic, accounting for an estimated 6,000 deaths and half-a-million injuries in 2008. In 2009, more than 200 distracted driving bills were under consideration by state legislatures, and the pace is expected to increase this year.

NHTSA has developed sample legislation that states can use as a starting point s to craft measures to ban texting. The sample bill is patterned after President Obama’s October 1, 2009, Executive Order prohibiting federal employees from texting while operating government-owned vehicles and equipment.

Secretary LaHood has also initiated rulemaking to prohibit texting by commercial truck and bus drivers. The Department has launched a federal website,, as a forum on distracted driving and information clearinghouse.

DOT Issues Rule Requiring Electronic On-Board Recorders for Truck and Bus Companies with Serious Hours-of-Service Violations

DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a new rule that will require interstate commercial truck and bus companies with serious patterns of hours-of-service (HOS) violations to install electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) in all their vehicles. Nearly 5,700 interstate carriers will use EOBRs after the final rule’s first year of implementation.

“We are committed to cracking down on carriers and drivers who put people on our roads and highways at risk,” said Secretary Ray LaHood. “This rule gives us another tool to enforce hours of service restrictions on drivers who attempt to get around the rules.”

“Safety is our highest priority,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “In addition to requiring EOBRs for carriers that have already demonstrated a pattern of hours-of-service violations, we will initiate a rulemaking later this year that considers an EOBR mandate for a broader population of commercial motor carriers.”

Electronic on-board recorders are devices attached to commercial vehicles that automatically record the number of hours drivers spend operating the vehicle. Driving hours are regulated by federal HOS rules, which are designed to prevent commercial vehicle-related crashes and fatalities by prescribing on-duty and rest periods for drivers.

Under the EOBR final rule, carriers found with 10% or more HOS violations during a compliance review will be required to install EOBRs in all their vehicles for a minimum of two years. The rule also provides new technical performance standards for EOBRs installed in commercial motor vehicles, including requirements for recording the date, time, and location of a driver’s duty status.

Additionally, carriers that voluntarily adopt EOBRs will receive relief from some of FMCSA’s requirements to retain HOS supporting documents, such as toll receipts used to check the accuracy of driver logbooks.

The rule will go into effect on June 1, 2012, to ensure EOBR manufacturers have sufficient time to meet the rule’s performance standards and to manufacture products to meet industry demand.

OSHA Fines Dairy Farm Following Investigation into Worker’s Death

OSHA issued citations to Val-O-Mo Farm Inc, in Elmwood, Wisconsin, following an investigation into the death of a migrant farmhand at the location. The agency opened its inspection in October 2009 after learning from the Dunn County, Wisconsin, sheriff’s department of a fatality reportedly due to the immersion drowning of a migrant farmhand who worked and lived at the farm. As a result of that inspection, OSHA announced it has cited the farm for six serious violations and one other-than-serious violation of federal workplace safety standards.

“Our investigation at this farm reinforced the fact that farming is dangerous work and farm owners and operators need to understand, search out and correct the hazards their workers face,” said OSHA Area Director Mark Hysell in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

OSHA’s serious citations address the failure to provide a guarding mechanism to prevent power driven machinery from accidentally falling into the earthen manure storage facility, alteration of seat belts on that machinery, lack of adequate training and instruction for operators of the skid steer machinery, potential amputation issues, and electrical shock hazards. Proposed penalties total $7,200.

The Val-O-Mo Farm covers approximately 550 acres including a variety of farm buildings such as corn bins, feed storage bunkers, a milking parlor, and multiple barns. This farm has not previously been inspected by OSHA. While many farming operations, particularly those with 10 or fewer employees, are exempt from OSHA regulations, those that have maintained a temporary labor camp within the last 12 months are not exempt and are subject to all OSHA regulations.

Michaels Tells Business Week Incomplete Recordkeeping may be Hiding Worker Injuries

An article in the March 11 issue of Business Week magazine, “Caution: Stats May Be Slippery,” highlighted OSHA efforts to ensure accurate recordkeeping on worker injuries and illnesses. The article, which featured interviews with workers and corporate safety representatives, quoted Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels’ concerns that safety achievements may have been exaggerated at some industrial companies. Michaels revealed in the article that the statistics OSHA has on workplace injuries are incomplete and, in some cases, inaccurate. His concerns grew after a Government Accountability Office report last year revealed that some workers don’t report serious injuries—such as broken arms and gashed legs—out of fear of being fired. The report also found that some employers underreport worker injuries to reduce their insurance premiums.

OSHA Wants Higher Penalties and Improved Whistleblower Protections

Employers who ignore OSHA’s rules and risk workers’ lives should pay higher penalties, Assistant Secretary Michaels told Congress March 16. Michaels was on Capitol Hill giving testimony supporting the goals of the Protecting America’s Workers Act. “Safe jobs exist only when employers have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA’s requirements. Meaningful penalties provide an important incentive to do the right thing,” said Michaels to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Monetary penalties for violations of the OSH Act have been increased only once in 40 years. Michaels offered a revealing disparity between OSHA penalties and those of other agencies: In 2001, a tank full of sulphuric acid exploded at a refinery killing a worker and literally dissolving his body. OSHA’s penalty was only $175,000. Yet, in the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing an EPA Clean Water Act violation amounting to $10 million—50 times higher. “Unscrupulous employers who refuse to comply with safety and health standards as an economic calculus will think again if there is a chance that they will go to jail for ignoring their responsibilities to their workers.” Read Michaels’ testimony for more information.

Join OSHA Web Chat April 7 to Weigh in on DOL’s Strategic Plan

Would you like input on developing OSHA’s strategic plan? You can speak your mind and offer suggestions during an April 7 Web chat with Assistant Secretary David Michaels. In order to more fully engage our stakeholders in our strategic planning process, OSHA is launching an unprecedented outreach effort to solicit public comments and suggestions. Once complete, this new strategic plan will demonstration how OSHA has better aligned its strategic direction, goals, and performance measures to achieve Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ vision of “Good Jobs for Everyone.” The Web chat is scheduled from 1:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT and will be text-only with no audio. Visit the DOL’s Web site to view OSHA’s draft strategic plan, and to participate in the Web chat.

Hexavalent Chromium National Emphasis Program

OSHA initiated a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to help identify and eliminate health hazards associated with worker exposure to hexavalent chromium, a toxic chemical used in pigments, wood preservatives, cut metals, and fungicides. OSHA staff will conduct inspections and apply compliance assistance and outreach where workers are likely to be exposed to hexavalent chromium. The agency is also publishing a rule that will require employers to notify workers of any exposure to hexavalent chromium whether it is above or below the permissible exposure limit (PEL). See the directive and rulemaking for more details.

Combustible Dust Meetings Seek Suggestions for Protecting Workers

More than 130 workers have died and more than 780 have been injured in combustible dust explosions since 1980. This is the third in a series of stakeholder meetings that ask for suggestions and comments for protecting workers from combustible dust hazards in the workplace. Meetings will be held April 21 at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel and Conference Center. OSHA will use comments from these meetings to develop a proposed standard. See the Federal Register notice for more details.

NIOSH Offers Free Service to Find and Eliminate Workplace Health Hazards

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) free Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) program evaluates new or recently discovered hazards, illnesses from unknown causes, or exposures to chemical, biological, and working hazards not regulated by OSHA. For example, an evaluation at one facility found that workers were being exposed to manganese and other chemicals. NIOSH investigators recommended that the employer install safety systems, such as local exhaust ventilation, to reduce worker exposure to dust. To learn more about the program or submit a request form, visit NIOSH’s HHE Web site.

Brian Karnofsky Jailed for Muscular Dystrophy, Jailers Blocked Bail Website

Brian has been arrested and will be put in jail for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) lock-up. We need to collect $2,000 for the MDA to help bail him out. Your tax deductible donation will help MDA continue research into the causes and cures for 43 neuromuscular diseases.

If you enjoy reading the Safety Tip of the Week™, now is the time to help us give hope to kids and families that need our help. Brian’s jailers broke his website link, thinking that they could keep him in jail indefinitely. However, the website has been fixed. Now you can click here to help make Brian’s bail and support MDA.

Brian is the President of Environmental Resource Center. Many of you helped bail him out in 2007, 2008, and 2009, but he’s on his way back to jail this year. Don’t bother asking what crimes he’s committed—just know that we need your help bailing him out.

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