Apprenticeship Training Connected with Safer Workplaces

January 16, 2023
Apprenticeship programs result in safer workers. That’s the conclusion of a first-of-its-kind study by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). As apprenticeship programs continue to grow, they could reduce serious worker injuries and workers’ compensation claims.
“Apprentices are safer because they’re learning all the proper techniques,” said Peter Guzman, manager of L&I’s Apprenticeship Program. “Now the science backs us up.”
People and businesses can get started at L&I’s apprenticeship website.
The results of the study come at a time of expansion for registered apprenticeship programs in Washington. There is record involvement, with 22,000 workers currently participating in apprenticeships across about 200 registered programs in the state. While construction trades such as carpenter, ironworker, and electrician remain have the most active participants, there are growing programs in the high-tech, aerospace, and medical assistant fields.
The study, by L&I’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program, linked registered apprenticeship data with plumber certification information. Then, it compared worker compensation claims between 2000-2018. The work underwent a rigorous peer review and publication last fall in the prestigious Journal of Safety Research. SHARP researches ways to prevent workplace injury.
The findings show workers’ compensation claim rates were 31 percent lower among journey level plumbers with apprenticeship training compared to plumbers who did not complete an apprenticeship.
This study provides support for what many believe: There are fewer injuries among apprentices,” said Dr. Dave Bonauto, SHARP manager.
SHARP epidemiologist Dr. Sara Wuellner, a 13-year agency veteran, led the study. “While the study focused on plumbers, it indicates apprenticeships not only provide well-trained workers, they also contribute to a safer workplace,” she said. “Other studies could look at specific parts of apprenticeship and show how that occurs.”
Wuellner said on-the-job training, mentorship, and classroom instruction are elements of apprenticeship training that can improve safety. She added other variables, might also make a difference, including prior education, union participation, or an employer safety program.
PJ Moss, apprenticeship coordinator for Seattle Area Pipe Trades, said he feels the study can be generalized across other trades.
“I don’t think it’s unique to plumbers,” Moss said. “People who go through an apprenticeship receive more structured safety training.
Moss’s program is affiliated with Plumbers, Pipefitters & HVAC United Association Union Local 32 and the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Washington. He said the program receives about 1,000 applicants annually.
L&I’s Apprenticeship Program is spreading the word about the study’s findings. Program representatives have presented the study to state and national apprenticeship organizations.
“The connection to worker safety is more evidence of the value of apprenticeship programs,” Guzman said. “These programs prepare people for well-paying, meaningful careers.”
Fatal Work Injuries Increased Nearly 9 Percent in 2021, Report Finds
The number of deaths caused by injuries in U.S. workplaces in 2021 represented an 8.9 percent increase from 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (PDF). In total, 5,190 fatalities were recorded in 2021, up from 4,764 fatal work injuries in 2020. The fatal work injury rate for 2021 was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, the highest annual rate since 2016. This translates to one worker death caused by a work-related injury every 101 minutes in 2021, BLS states.
In a statement dated Dec. 16, 2022, Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said that this sharp increase in fatal work injuries “serves as call to action for OSHA, employers and other stakeholders to redouble our collective efforts to make our nation’s workplaces safer.”
As in 2020, transportation incidents were the most frequent type of fatal event in 2021, with 1,982 fatal transportation-related injuries representing 38.2 percent of all work-related fatalities. Likewise, workers in transportation and material-moving occupations were the occupational group with the highest number of fatalities, with 1,523 deaths recorded.
BLS found increases in workplace fatalities due to violence and other injuries caused by people or animals, from 705 deaths in 2020 to 761 in 2021—with the largest subcategory, intentional injuries by people, increasing by 10.8 percent. Women represented 14.5 percent of fatalities caused by intentional injuries by a person, the report found, although women comprised only 8.6 percent of all workplace fatalities.
2021 also saw 798 worker fatalities caused by exposure to harmful substances or environments, the highest number for the category since BLS began this series of reports in 2011. Injuries also rose within the category of slips, trips, and falls. However, the number of workplace suicides decreased between 2020 and 2021, from 259 to 236.
Parker also drew attention to the report’s finding that Black and Hispanic or Latino workers were disproportionately affected, with the 653 deaths among Black workers in 2021 representing an all-time high. BLS also found that the workplace fatality rates for Black and Hispanic or Latino workers were 4.0 and 4.5 fatalities per 100,000 FTE workers, respectively. Within both groups, transportation incidents were the leading cause of fatalities, with 267 transportation-related work fatalities occurring among Black or African American workers and 383 occurring among Latino or Hispanic workers. For Black workers, injuries due to violence and other injuries by people or animals was the second highest cause of fatalities due to work-related injuries, while for Hispanic or Latino workers, it was slips, trips, and falls.
For more detailed information on fatal workplace injuries by injury type and occupational group, read BLS’ full report (PDF).
Frigid Temperatures Led to ‘Unprecedented’ Increase in Chemical Incidents
The December plunge in temperatures across much of the United States contributed to an “unprecedented” increase in the number of chemical incidents reported to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, according to Steve Owens, the CSB chairperson.
Reportable incidents to CSB include those that result in fatalities, serious injuries, or substantial property damage. From Dec. 6 through Dec. 26, 18 separate chemical incidents were reported to the agency, including two that resulted in fatalities and five in injuries. CSB called on chemical facilities to better prepare for the challenges of cold weather, which can cause pipes to break and instruments to fail. Cold can also result in the formation of a hydrate, a chemical combination of water with a compound, which can expand and block pipes, according to CSB.
Owens said the increase in incidents “may be partly due to the unique safety challenges posed by cold weather, but regardless, companies need to heighten their focus on safe operations and recognize that taking important precautionary actions, like winterization, can help prevent major chemical accidents.”
Data (Excel file) made available by CSB list all reported chemical incidents that occurred in 2022. The total of 36 incidents between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 is more than twice the number that occurred during the same period in 2021 and 2020, CSB said.
The agency did not release descriptions of the recent incidents or indicate whether any are under investigation at the agency. Local news reports in December describe a variety of mishaps in facilities across the country, including fires, gasoline leaks, ammonia releases, and explosions. In two of the incidents, cold weather was identified as a contributing factor. A gas spill occurred at an oil refinery when temperatures in the area fell to -6 F. The next day, malfunctions and fires at a refinery were attributed in part to temperatures that reached a low of 2 F.
For more information, visit the CSB website.
Alabama Company Pleads Guilty in Worker Death Case
ABC Polymer Industries, LLC pleaded guilty recently to a willful violation of an OSHA standard that caused a worker’s death. The charge involves an Aug. 16, 2017, incident at the Helena, Alabama, plant owned by ABC Polymer Industries, LLC, in which a worker was pulled into a cluster of unguarded moving rollers and killed. U.S. District Judge Annemarie Carney Axon for the Northern District of Alabama accepted the plea.
According to court documents, ABC Polymer operated multiple plastic extrusion lines at its facility, which molded raw materials into flat rectangular plastic sheets. The machinery pulled the sheets through a series of rollers arranged in clusters before cutting them into plastic threads or tapes, which were sold for use in various products. According to court documents filed in connection with the case, the machine at issue in the worker’s death was equipped with a “cage” or barrier guard that could be pulled down over one of the exposed sides of the rollers. OSHA standards require moving machinery such as this to be guarded while the machine is energized.
However, ABC Polymer was aware that its employees routinely raised the guard on its machines to cut tangled plastic off the rollers, thereby operating the machines without the required guarding. ABC Polymer also trained its employees to cut tangled plastic off the rollers while the rollers were in operation. ABC Polymer admitted that it knew or should have known that these practices exposed employees to a risk of injuries and death in violation of federal law.
“This victim’s tragic death was entirely preventable,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Employers who willfully violate OSHA standards are gambling with their employees’ health and lives. We will continue to hold accountable those who fail to follow these critical safety rules.”
“This tragic loss of life could have been avoided by following federal safety standards,” said U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama. “We are grateful for the work of our OSHA partners in holding employers accountable for the safety of their employees. My office will use the tools available to us to protect Alabama workers and prosecute employers who willfully violate federal safety laws.”
Federal law makes it a class B misdemeanor to willfully fail to follow an OSHA safety standard, where the failure causes the death of an employee. The class B misdemeanor is the only federal criminal charge covering such workplace safety violations. The count of conviction carries a maximum sentence of a $500,000 fine, or twice the financial gain to the defendant or twice the financial loss to another, whichever is greater, and restitution to the victim. Judge Axon scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24 where she will determine the sentence after considering the relevant statutory factors.
This case was investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor.
TCEQ Approves Fines Totaling $409,492
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality yesterday approved penalties totaling $340,887 against 18 regulated entities for violations of state environmental regulations.
Agreed orders were issued for the following enforcement categories: five air quality, one multi-media, one municipal wastewater discharge, two petroleum storage tank, four public water supply, and one water quality.
Default orders were issued for the following enforcement categories: one multi-media and three petroleum storage tanks.
In addition, on Dec. 20 and Dec. 27, 2022, the executive director approved penalties totaling $68,605 against 26 entities.
Contractor Continues to Expose Workers to Potentially Deadly Falls
Less than four months after citing a Trenton roofing contractor for exposing unprotected workers to deadly fall hazards, OSHA is once again holding the employer responsible for putting its workers’ safety at risk.
As part of its Local Emphasis Program on falls in construction, OSHA opened an inspection of Guelsin Lima, operating as Extreme Roofing and Siding, LLC, at an Upper Saddle River worksite on July 6, 2022. During the inspection, OSHA inspectors observed four workers on a roof exposed to a 30-foot fall hazard without fall protection, as well as additional violations at the worksite on other days that week. At the time, Lima was employed as a roofing subcontractor on a Toll Brothers Inc. residential construction project.
Following the July inspection, the agency issued Lima 12 citations – nine willful and three serious violations – and proposed $584,333 in penalties for exposing workers to fall hazards, improperly using ladders, and failing to provide head and eye protection.
“Guelsin Lima has a significant OSHA history and is fully aware of what OSHA standards require. This latest inspection offers further proof that the operator of Extreme Roofing and Siding LLC simply refuses to comply with the law,” explained OSHA Area Director Lisa Levy in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. “We will use our full authority to hold this employer, and others who continually put employees in danger, accountable.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 986 construction workers died on the job in 2021, with 378 of those fatalities related to falls from elevation.
OSHA’s stop falls website offers safety information and video presentations in English and Spanish to teach workers about fall hazards and proper safety procedures.
Fatal Arc Flash, Blast Lead to Multiple Violations
OSHA has cited Eversource Energy Service Co. for five violations of workplace safety standards after its investigation of a fatal arc flash and arc blast in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood on July 12, 2022, that led to a worker’s death.
At the time of the incident, Eversource employees were doing maintenance work on electrical equipment located inside an underground electrical vault at 28 Bowdoin St. As one employee set the equipment back into place, an arc flash and blast occurred inside the vault. The employee suffered severe burns and later died.
Investigators found that Eversource:
  • Did not fully deenergize the electrical equipment or follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations when employees conducted maintenance
  • Failed to make a reasonable estimate of the heat energy to which employees would be exposed if an arc flash and blast occurred
  • Did not adequately train the employees on electrical equipment hazards, provide rescue equipment nor test oxygen levels before the employees entered the vault, an enclosed space
“Eversource could have prevented this arc flash and blast – and its tragic outcome – by ensuring effective and necessary training, procedures and work practices were provided and followed,” said OSHA Area Director James Mulligan in Braintree, Massachusetts. “The company knew the hazards related to this type of high voltage equipment, yet it failed to safeguard its employees as the law requires.”
OSHA has cited Eversource for two willful and three serious violations with a total of $333,560 in proposed penalties.
Barley Supplier Repeatedly Exposes Workers to Workplace Safety Hazards
A Wisconsin company that supplies malt barley to major craft breweries, home breweries, and other spirit and food production in the Midwest has again been found exposing employees to dangerous workplace hazards by federal safety inspectors.
OSHA has proposed penalties of $174,351 to Briess Industries of Chilton after inspectors identified two repeated and 14 serious safety and health violations after responding to a complaint of unsafe working conditions at the company’s Manitowoc malthouse in August 2022. Inspectors found workers crafting the malt exposed to machine, respiratory protection, confined space and other hazards.
OSHA found the company – operating as Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.– exposed workers to amputation and other injuries by failing to adequately implement and periodically test procedures for controlling hazardous energy before servicing and maintenance. In 2019, OSHA cited the company for similar violations.
Federal safety inspectors also noted the company did not assess the safety and health hazards of malthouse confined spaces, as required. The company also failed to implement a permit required confined space program and train workers on the confined space hazards. Inspectors also found the company’s safety failures exposed employees to fall hazards from the roof, and entanglement and amputation hazards created by unguarded augers.
“Dangers like those we identified in this inspection are common in the manufacturing industry,” said OSHA’s Area Director Robert Bonack in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Briess Industries again put workers who convert barley into malt at risk of serious machine hazards and other dangers.”
“Employers are legally responsible for providing workers with a safe and healthful workplace. Briess Industries must commit to following federal safety standards before a serious injury or worse occurs,” Bonack added.
OSHA’s machine guarding and control of hazardous energy webpages provide information on what employers must do to limit worker exposures to machine hazards.
Blueprint to Decarbonize America’s Transportation Sector Released
The Biden-Harris Administration recently released the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization. Developed by the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Blueprint is a landmark strategy for cutting all greenhouse emissions from the transportation sector by 2050. It exemplifies the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government approach to addressing the climate crisis and meeting President Biden’s goals of securing a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Blueprint builds on President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, which together represent historic investments in the future of our nation that will transform how we move and live while we build the backbone of a safer and more sustainable transportation system. 
Jointly announced by U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan, the Blueprint is the first milestone deliverable of the historic memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the agencies in September of last year. The Blueprint will be followed by more detailed decarbonization action plans, to be developed and implemented by these agencies in cooperation with governments at the State, local, and Tribal level, philanthropic organizations, the private sector, and global partners.
The transportation sector—which includes all modes of travel through land, air, and sea to move people and goods—accounts for a third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions, negatively affecting the health and well-being of millions of Americans, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. Transportation costs are the second largest annual household expense in our country and for the poorest Americans, the financial burden of transportation is disproportionately and unsustainably high. 
A well-planned transition to a decarbonized transportation system can address these and other inequities and provide equitable, affordable, and accessible options for moving people and goods. Further developing and deploying clean-energy technologies such as electric vehicles and hydrogen and sustainable fuels, while also building out the supporting infrastructure for clean transportation, will create good-paying jobs in all segments of the transportation sector while strengthening America’s energy independence.  
The Blueprint is a critical step in the ongoing partnership between DOE, DOT, EPA, HUD, and stakeholders and will be followed by more detailed sector-specific action plans to create a comprehensive suite of strategies to realize an improved and sustainable transportation future. Learn more about the MOU and Blueprint
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