Citations Highlight Importance of Vigilance in Preventing Trench Cave-ins
A month after a 33-year-old worker died while working in an unprotected trench, OSHA inspectors found another employee of the same Missouri plumbing contractor working in a similarly unprotected trench at another job site.
OSHA determined that, in both cases, Arrow Plumbing, LLC, of Blue Springs failed to provide basic safeguards to prevent trench collapse and did not train its employees to recognize and avoid cave-in and other hazards. Trench collapses are among the most dangerous hazards in the construction industry. In 2016, OSHA received reports of 23 deaths and 12 injuries nationwide in trench and excavation operations. In the first five months of 2017, 15 deaths and 19 injuries have been reported nationwide.
“We call on all employers involved in excavation work to review their safety procedures, and to ensure that all workers are properly protected and trained on the job,” said Kimberly Stille, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Regional Administrator in Kansas City, Missouri. “We support the efforts by the National Utility Contractors Association to raise awareness of trenching hazards in the U.S.”
OSHA opened its first investigation of Arrow Plumbing after a 33-year-old employee died on December 15, 2016, when a 12-foot trench collapsed at a home construction site in Belton. A second investigation began on January 20, 2017, at a Kansas City work site where inspectors found the contractor’s employees working in an unprotected trench at another residential work site. No employees were injured there.
OSHA found similar violations at both work sites, and they included the company’s failure to install a support system to protect employees in an approximate 12-foot-deep trench from caving-in; training workers on how to identify hazards in trenching and excavation work, and providing a ladder at all times so employees could leave a trench.
Overall, OSHA cited Arrow Plumbing for six willful and eight serious violations of workplace safety standards and proposed $714,142 in penalties.
NUCA, with the support of OSHA, is sponsoring a Trench Safety Stand-Down Week from June 19 to 24, to educate and encourage employers and workers on precautions. NUCA is requesting all contractors, municipalities, military and others involved with trenching operations to hold a stand-down. Resources and more information are available at http://www.nuca.com/tssd. A poster for the event is also available.
OSHA provides the construction industry and others with guidance on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of trench. An e-tool covering safety procedures is available here.
OSHA also provides “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs” advice to the business community. In addition, the agency offers compliance assistance, tips, consultation for small- and medium-sized businesses, educational materials, training and other information to employers and workers on common workplace safety hazards and how to prevent illness and injury.
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Explosives Manufacturer Cited for Workplace Explosion that Caused Serious Injuries
Cal/OSHA has cited explosives manufacturer Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Company $293,235 for multiple serious and willful accident-related workplace safety violations following an investigation of an explosion in Hollister that seriously injured a worker.
On December 1, 2016, a technician was preparing explosives in metal tubing, known as Small Column Insulated Delays (SCIDs), for neutron radiation analysis. She had mounted 79 SCIDs onto aluminum support brackets attached to an aluminum metal tray. While attempting to apply tape to secure the SCIDs to the tray, 75 of the 79 tubes exploded. The explosion sent metal shrapnel flying in all directions, seriously injuring the technician.
Cal/OSHA inspectors determined that Pacific Scientific failed to take the steps necessary to protect the worker from explosive hazards. The willful serious violations included the employer’s failure to:
· Protect the employee’s workstation from the explosive tubes in the holder, despite Pacific Scientific’s own manufacturing procedures that require the use of a safety shield when working with the loaded holders
· Identify, evaluate, and control hazards associated with handling the explosive tubes during their manufacture.
· Provide clear written instructions on how to mount the SCIDs safely to a metal tray for required analysis
“This explosives manufacturer put employees at risk by failing to follow their own safety procedures, and unfortunately a worker was seriously injured,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum.
As a result of the inspection following the 2016 accident, Cal/OSHA cited Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Company for nine workplace safety and health violations, three of them in the willful-serious category with four serious and two general.
A willful violation is issued where evidence shows that the employer committed an intentional and knowing violation—as distinguished from inadvertent, accidental or ordinarily negligent—and the employer was conscious of the fact that what it was doing constituted a violation, or was aware that a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate the hazard.
A serious violation is cited when there was a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazardous condition.
This is not the first time Pacific Scientific has been cited for neglecting their workers’ safety. In a 2007 explosion accident, an employee suffered serious burns and needed to be airlifted to intensive care. Cal/OSHA issued general citations for lack of required body protection and serious citations regarding the manufacturer’s lack of a safety plan. More recently, a 2015 accident caused another serious injury. Again, Cal/OSHA citations noted a failure to identify a hazardous practice safety plan.
Cal/OSHA’s PSM Unit is responsible for inspecting refineries and chemical plants that handle large quantities of toxic and flammable materials. Health and safety standards enforced by the PSM Unit, including adequate worker training and participation, are intended to prevent catastrophic explosions, fires, and releases of dangerous chemicals, which could harm workers.
AJM Packaging Corporation Fined $263,000 by MIOSHA for Amputation Hazards
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has issued citations with penalties totaling $263,000 to AJM Packaging for amputation hazards at its Taylor, Michigan, plant. The citations are the outcome of MIOSHA inspections of two reports of finger amputations on machines and an employee complaint alleging numerous safety hazards.
The citations against AJM Packaging include:
· Three willful citations for not utilizing machine lockout procedures when employees perform adjustments and repairs on machines or clean the machines
· A willful citation for not providing employees with training on lockout procedures
· A repeat citation for not guarding pinch points on eleven machines
· A serious citation for not guarding gears, chains, and sprockets
· A serious citation for obstructing quick access to an emergency stop button
Lack of machine guarding and not following lockout procedures can lead to serious injuries if the worker becomes entangled or crushed in the machinery.
AJM Packaging, headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, has been the subject of an ongoing series of investigations by MIOSHA. The inspections stem from a pattern of violations that have resulted in an estimated 11 separate instances of finger and fingertip amputations by machines since 2012. Prior to the most recent inspections, the company’s facilities in Detroit, Southgate, and Taylor have underwent 16 inspections resulting in 88 citations for violations of MIOSHA rules and regulations. The initial proposed penalties for the violations totaled $895,350.
AJM Packaging’s citations prompted MIOSHA to include the company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). SVEP is a national program that focuses government resources on employers who demonstrate indifference to occupational safety and health regulations by committing willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations. SVEP inspections result in mandatory follow-up inspections by MIOSHA of AJM plants in Michigan and referrals to OSHA for the company’s plants in other states.
According to the OSHA website, AJM Packaging’s sites in New Jersey, Missouri, Georgia, and California have received 21 inspections since 2008, 53 citations for violations of occupational safety and health regulations, and $423,944 in initial penalties. The violations in the other states mirror those found in Michigan—lack of machine guarding and not following proper procedures for machine lockout.
The company has 15 working days from receipt of the MIOSHA citations to comply or contest the violations and penalties.
Hartford Health Center Employees Wrongfully Fired After Raising Concerns About Tuberculosis Exposure
When a Hartford health care facility failed to adequately respond to a tuberculosis exposure in December 2011, its interim senior vice-president for operations, director of nursing and its coordinator of its Healthy Start program actively tried or were associated with efforts to raise awareness among fellow employees, management and the public about the potential dangers. Among other things, they cooperated with public and workplace health agencies that investigated.
Two months later—on February 24, 2012—Charter Oak Health Center and its then-chief executive officer, Alfreda D. Turner, terminated the three employees. A subsequent whistleblower investigation by OSHA found that the terminations were unwarranted as the employees’ actions were protected under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
The department, the center and Turner have now agreed to a settlement, and a federal court consent judgment and order that provides the center and Turner will compensate the three former employees for lost wages and take other corrective action.
“It’s critical to workplace safety and health that employee voices not be stifled” said Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.
Added Michael Felsen, the department’s New England regional solicitor, “We remind companies that employees have a legal right to raise health and safety concerns about their workplaces without fear of retaliation, and that it’s in the interest of everyone to address those concerns.”
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, the consent judgment stipulates corrective actions, including payment of lost wages of $85,000, $30,000, and $10,000, less taxes, for the three workers, neutral letters of reference, and worksite posting and individual notifications to employees about their rights as a whistleblower.
The whistleblower investigation was conducted by OSHA’s regional Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs in Boston. Trial attorney Mark A. Pedulla of the department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston provided legal services for OSHA. The department’s complaint, defendants’ answers and consent judgment were filed between June 12 and 14, 2017. The court signed the consent judgment on June 16, 2017.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide workplace health and safety information to the employer or to the government. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor to request an investigation by the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.
Oregon Bridge Contractor Fined $189,000 for Multiple Safety Violations
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) has fined Abhe & Svoboda, Inc., $189,000 for nine safety violations—two of them willful—that exposed employees to death or serious injury as they worked on a project to restore the Ross Island Bridge in Portland.
Oregon OSHA cited the violations as the result of an investigation of a February 8, 2017, accident. Each violation, though different in detail, involved the same grave problem: a failure to protect workers from falls that would seriously hurt or kill them.
The accident happened underneath the bridge, where a suspended scaffolding system was installed. An employee was working on an upper deck, 37 feet above a lower platform. He fell through a ladder opening, landing on an employee who was working directly below on the lower platform. Both employees survived the accident, suffering multiple injuries.
The employee who fell was not protected by a fall protection system, per Oregon OSHA’s rules. In fact, an estimated eight employees were exposed to this hazard when the accident occurred, according to the investigation.
The investigation also found:
· The company failed to provide proper access to work areas, forcing employees to climb up or down the scaffolding and bridge structure, and to sidestep or step over holes ranging in size from three inches to 24 inches
· The company failed to construct and install the scaffolding system according to the minimum bracing requirements, as outlined by professional specifications
· Scaffolds and related components were not set up, dismantled, and moved under the direction of a competent person
· Employees lacked rest platforms while climbing 37-foot ladders
· The company failed to ensure that employees had a work platform that was at least 18 inches wide
· Anchorages for fall protection equipment were not installed or used under the supervision of a competent person
· Scaffolds were not inspected for visible defects before each work shift by a competent person
· A makeshift device—a wooden step stool—was used on platforms to increase the working height of employees
During the investigation, the corporate safety manager for Minnesota-based Abhe & Svoboda spoke dismissively of Oregon’s workplace safety rules, saying they change too much.
“Each and every year, falls are one of the major sources of serious injury and death in Oregon workplaces,” said Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood. “There is never a good reason to ignore the need to protect workers from such hazards. Yet, this employer brushed off time-tested fall protection rules that are designed to prevent injuries or deaths.”
Oregon OSHA cited two of the nine safety violations as willful: the failure to provide proper access to work areas, which forced employees to climb structures and step over holes, and the failure to follow bracing requirements for the scaffolding. Each willful violation carries the legal maximum penalty of $70,000. A willful violation occurs when an employer intentionally or knowingly allows a violation to occur.
Seven of the nine violations were cited as serious, each with the maximum penalty of $7,000.
Employers with Outdoor Workers Reminded that Fresh Water Must be Provided to Prevent Heat Illness
Cal/OSHA reminded employers with outdoor workers they must provide fresh water and encourage workers to stay hydrated in order to prevent heat illness, especially during heat waves.
“Outdoor workers should have enough fresh, pure and suitably cool water so that they can drink at least one quart per hour during the workday, and should not wait until they are thirsty to hydrate,” said Juliann Sum, Chief of Cal/OSHA. “This is particularly important during extended periods of triple-digit heat. Employers should remind workers of the importance of staying hydrated and ensure they have easy access to drinking water at the worksite.”
When temperatures reach 95 degrees or above, employers are required to implement high heat procedures to ensure outdoor workers are protected. Procedures include effective monitoring of all workers through methods such as a mandatory buddy system for workers or regular communication with workers who work alone. Industries affected by high heat procedures are:
· Oil and gas extraction
· Transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction materials or other heavy materials
California’s Heat Illness Prevention Standard requires employers to train workers on the signs and symptoms of heat illness, provide shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees, allow workers to take cool down rest breaks in the shade and develop emergency response procedures and train workers on how to execute those procedures when necessary.
Cal/OSHA inspects outdoor worksites in agriculture, construction, landscaping, and other operations throughout the heat season.
Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program, the first of its kind in the nation, includes enforcement of heat regulations as well as multilingual outreach and training program for California’s employers and workers. Online information on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials are available on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page and the Water. Rest. Shade. campaign site. A Heat Illness Prevention e-tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.
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