March 08, 2001

Following votes this week by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to repeal OSHA's final Ergonomics Standard, which went in to effect January 16, 2001, it is likely that President George W. Bush will soon sign legislation to officially repeal the standard.

Voting in the Senate and House largely followed along party lines, although some Democrats in both the Senate and House also voted for the repeal and some House Republicans voted against it. Republicans have stated that the standard would place a serious financial burden on businesses that would cause layoffs and force companies in to bankruptcy. Democrats maintain that the standard was needed in order to protect workers from repetitive-motion injuries, eliminating almost one-third of the 1.8 million such injuries reported each year.

The House and Senate used the Congressional Review Act of 1996 to initiate the repeal. The act allows Congress to quickly rescind legislation less than 60 days old by limiting debate and barring amendments and filibusters on the issue. The act also bars Federal agencies from issuing similar regulations unless Congressional approval is given, effectively cutting off OSHA's means of instituting similar regulations to those just repealed.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has expressed an interest in issuing a new rule on ergonomics. Those opposing the existing rule insist that they are not opposed to all ergonomic controls, but that the existing standard was not efficient.


OSHA's Atlanta-West office has started the second phase of a local emphasis program to reduce industrial powered truck fatalities, particularly in North Georgia's carpet and rug industry.

"Within the past four years we've investigated 13 fatalities involving powered industrial trucks or fork lifts," said Susan Johnston, OSHA's Atlanta-West area director. "Four of these deaths occurred in North Georgia carpet and rug manufacturing plants, including the warehouse areas. The sad thing is, these tragedies did not have to happen."

As Johnston announced the new effort to prevent these accidents, she emphasized the agency's two-pronged approach: outreach education followed by strong enforcement.

In February, hoping to reach as wide an audience as possible, OSHA mailed information to local area powered industrial truck and fork lift vendors and asked them to distribute the packets to all customers. The packets included the new OSHA training requirements and urged employers and employees to review operating procedures, upgrade personnel safety training, examine --- and if necessary --- repair equipment and systems.

Patricia Morris, assistant area director and contact person for the outreach effort, said, "In too many of these fatalities the truck operator's view was obstructed. That's preventable. Safety training and safe operating practices are key to saving lives."

The forklift safety campaign will continue through Jan. 31, 2002. OSHA will focus on carpet and rug industry locations in the Atlanta-West area which includes 32 western counties from mid- to north Georgia. While the inspection phase will be geared to hazards related to powered industrial truck operations, if other hazards are observed they will be addressed.


OSHA has cited Mount Airy, N.C.-based Pike Electric, Inc. for 10 serious safety violations and proposed penalties totaling $61,000 following the investigation of a fatal accident in Loganville, Ga.

According to William Grimes, OSHA's Atlanta-East acting area director, an employee working in an elevated lineman's bucket was electrocuted on Sept. 11 when he came in contact with a 14,400-volt power line.

"While upgrading an electrical system, this employee disconnected electrical feed. When his back made contact with the de-energized primary circuit at the same instant that contact was made with the live primary conductor, the worker was electrocuted," said Grimes.

"Basic safety precautions -- responsible training and appropriate protective equipment -- could have saved this worker's life," added Grimes.

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.

Among the serious citations issued against the company for failing to protect workers from potential hazards were:

  • failure to properly train employees on recognition and avoidance of hazards;
  • failure to ensure the employees were insulated or guarded from energized parts;
  • allowing employees to work too close to conductors without protections;
  • not assuring that an operator was at equipment controls during a stringing operation;
  • not providing properly grounded equipment;
  • failure to properly guard belts, pulleys and chains, and
  • failure to inspect live-line tools before use, remove defective tools from service, and assure that tools had proper certification ratings.

Pike Electric, Inc. does contract work throughout the South and mid-West. Prior to this inspection, federal OSHA and state occupational safety and health agencies had conducted over 80 inspections at company job sites, 26 of which were initiated because of accidents or fatalities.

The company has 15 working days to contest OSHA's citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


OSHA cited Mead Coated Board, Inc., and proposed penalties totaling $72,650 for safety violations at the company's Cottonton, Alabama, plant.

Inspection of the paper manufacturer began after an accidental release of hazardous hydrogen sulfide gas caused evacuation of the mill and sent six employees to the hospital. None were seriously injured.

OSHA cited the company for one willful violation with a $55,000 proposed penalty because Mead did not have a written lockout procedure for shutting down during maintenance tanks containing hazardous chemicals. The company failed to meet its own requirement that each piece of equipment have a specific, written lockout process. The paper industry routinely uses lockout procedures to ensure that machinery remains inoperable during maintenance and repair.

In addition to being cited for not having specific written lockout checklists, Mead received a repeat citation with a penalty of $10,000 for failure to perform the lockout procedures that would have isolated and de-energized the tanks while they were undergoing maintenance. The citation was categorized as repeat because the company had been cited previously for a substantially similar hazard.

"The gas leak occurred in the chemical recovery tank farm, an area of the mill where by-products of the paper manufacturing process are stored," said Lana Graves, OSHA's Mobile area director. Graves explained that acidic brine from one storage tank mixed with black liquor from another tank generating hydrogen sulfide. "The hazardous vapor was released into the air because the tanks had not been properly ælocked out' prior to an outside contractor commencing work on them."

Graves added, "We issued a willful citation against Mead because the company's failure to act showed blatant disregard for OSHA lockout standards, particularly since outside contractors had, on several occasions, noted the absence of specific lockout procedures for certain equipment," said Graves.

Five serious citations accounted for the remaining $7,650 in proposed penalties. These included:

  • deficiencies in the company's emergency response plan;
  • failure to identify and evaluate respiratory hazards, like hydrogen sulfide;
  • failure to provide respirators for employees working where hazardous vapors could be generated;
  • not conducting annual audits of the lockout program, and
  • failing to inform outside contractors about hazardous chemicals in their work area.

OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the OSH Act and regulations.

Mead Coated Board has 15 working days to contest OSHA's citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.