July 19, 2001

OSHA has cited Asplundh Tree Expert Co. for eight serious safety violations and proposed penalties totaling $41,000 following the investigation of a Jan. 30 fatal accident at an Oak Hill, FL job site.

The accident occurred when one of a three-member work crew removing tree branches climbed into an aerial lift and began operating the controls. The worker ? not facing the direction of the lift ? was electrocuted when he came in contact with overhead power lines.

OSHA cited the company for permitting unauthorized employees to operate aerial lifts; failing to have a designated employee observe an aerial lift and give timely warning before the lift gets too close to power lines, and failing to provide proper safety training to employees.

OSHA defines a serious violation as one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

"Nationwide, this company has been inspected 200 times in the past ten years, 43 times because of accidents," James Borders, OSHA's Jacksonville area director said. "Too many workers in Florida are being injured and killed because of unsafe work practices that are easily corrected."

In 2000, in order to address the high number of fatalities in the state related to contact with energized overhead power lines, OSHA launched a Local Emphasis Program (LEP). The program follows extensive outreach activities with an equally extensive inspection and enforcement effort.

Jupiter, Fla.-based Asplundh Tree Expert Co. had 27 workers at this job site and employs 21,000 nationwide. The company has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


OSHA cited Delphi Automotive Systems and proposed $116,000 in penalties for safety and health violations found during an abatement verification inspection at the company's Fitzgerald, Ga., facility.

OSHA had initially inspected the plant on March 22, 2000, after complaints about working conditions at the battery manufacturing plant were filed with the agency. The company was cited at that time for failing to properly protect workers from over-exposure to lead.

Last week the company was cited for three repeat violations with proposed penalties totaling $85,000 for failing to provide employees with proper respiratory protection; properly store lead-contaminated clothing, and keep lead dust from accumulating within the plant. Repeat violations occur when an employer has been cited previously for a substantially similar condition and the citation has become a final order of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The agency also issued seven serious citations with proposed penalties totaling $31,000 for unguarded floor openings, unguarded robotic machines; improperly maintained respirators and for not having "lockout/tagout" procedures in place that would make machines inoperable during maintenance and repair work. OSHA defines a serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

"The company is working with us to correct these hazardous conditions," said Teresa Harrison, OSHA's Savannah area director. "Hopefully, this cooperative spirit will translate into continued proactive measures to ensure worker safety and health."

The company, which employs 20,000 workers company-wide, has 15 working days to contest OSHA's citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


The Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has issued its investigative report into the explosion at the Willow Creek Mine, an underground coal mine located in Carbon County, Utah. The accident claimed the lives of two miners and injured eight others on July 31, 2000. MSHA investigators determined that the ventilation system at Willow Creek did not adequately dilute concentrations of explosive methane gas, which was ignited in a series of four explosions within a 30-minute period.

"This report will provide the mining industry with vital information in order to assist in preventing another such mine disaster," said Dave D. Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mcte safety and health. "Hopefully the facts we have learned here will prevent such occurrences in the future."

Beginning at 11:48 p.m. on July 31, 2000, a series of four explosions occurred underground on the longwall mining section. The most likely cause of the first explosion was an ignition of methane gas caused by falling rock in the worked-out area of the longwall panel. (Falling rock in the worked-out area is a normal, expected event in the longwall mining process.) A fire ensued. Miners, believing that the forces they felt were the result of a massive roof fall in the worked-out area, began to fight the fire. Fire fighting efforts were not successful and conditions worsened in the face area. Hydrocarbons present in the mine caught fire, igniting explosive concentrations of methane. Two closely spaced explosions occurred at about 11:55 p.m. A fourth explosion occurred at 12:17 a.m. on August 1. The investigation determined that two fatalities occurred as a result of the second and third explosions and that fire caused by the initial explosion provided the ignition source for the subsequent explosions.

The injured and the deceased miners were brought to the surface by mine rescue teams by 4 a.m. Because the fire appeared to be gaining intensity, it was decided to seal the mine. All surface openings were sealed by approximately 10:30 a.m. on August 1, 2000. The Willow Creek Mine has not been reopened.

An earlier accident involving a fire had occurred at the Willow Creek Mine on Nov. 25, 1998, during retreat of the mine's initial long wall panel. All miners were evacuated safely during that incident and the mine was sealed at the surface. Recovery efforts continued until Nov. 15, 1999, when the mine returned to normal operations until the July 31, 2000, explosion.


Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao opened the first of three public forums to be held over the next two weeks with a call for answers on the issue of ergonomic injuries and a warning to all sides to set aside politics and concentrate on worker protection.

"The issue isn't about whether we should deal with ergonomic injuries," Chao said. "It's about how we deal with them."

Chao also cautioned against repeating the mistakes that led to congressional invalidation of the previous ergonomics regulation after numerous complaints that it was too far-reaching and unworkable.

"My responsibility as Secretary of Labor is to safeguard workers' health and safety. We will not fulfill that responsibility if we pursue an approach that raises the same objections and meets the same end as the previous ergonomics standard," Chao stated.

"As they say in my home state of Kentucky, there's no education in the second kick of a mule."

Chao encouraged forum participants to work on solutions to the problem of ergonomic injuries and to set aside politics. "We can choose to do one of two things: we can play politics, or we can protect workers," she said. "The only way we will succeed in protecting workers from ergonomics hazards is if we begin with an open mind, which I urge all participants to bring to these forums."

Held at the George Mason University Arlington Campus Professional Center, the first forum featured panels representing labor and industry as well as an additional 28 speakers.

Participants in the information-gathering sessions have been asked to address three issues: how to define an ergonomics injury; how to determine whether an ergonomics injury stems from work, from other activities or some combination; and what are the most useful and cost-effective types of government involvement to address these injuries.

OSHA is accepting public comments on ergonomics through Aug. 3 via the website or sent to OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. S-777A, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Room N-2625, Washington, DC 20210.


OSHA announced that its final steel erection standard will go into effect January 18, 2002. The original effective date was to be July 18, 2001.

"This is the first OSHA safety standard developed under the negotiated rulemaking process and it's important that we continue to work cooperatively in order to protect the safety of America's iron workers," said Acting OSHA Administrator R. Davis Layne. "The revised effective date allows additional time for the Agency to conduct outreach activities and affords the industry sufficient time to adjust to the new requirements."

The new effective date gives additional time to the industry to become familiar with the new requirements and to provide training to employees in the construction industry. OSHA is also preparing outreach and training material to assist industry in the training process.

The additional six months will also allow employers time to make the necessary changes to avoid costly re-fabrication of already made components and avoid serious delays to projects that would affect all trades involved in the construction process. Components are typically fabricated 2 or 3 months prior to being erected.

OSHA will not apply the component requirements of the new standard to the following two situations: (1) to components used in steel erection projects where the building permit was obtained before the final rule was published (January 18, 2001); and (2) to components used in steel erection projects in which the steel erection work has begun before September 16, 2001.

OSHA's new rule on steel erection, developed in concert with industry and union groups, is expected to prevent 30 fatalities and 1,142 injuries annually and save employers nearly $40 million a year.

The standard enhances protections provided to iron workers by addressing the hazards that have been identified as the major causes of injuries and fatalities in the steel erection industry. These are hazards associated with working under loads; hoisting, landing and placing decking; column stability; double connections; landing and placing steel joints; and falls to lower levels.

Information regarding OSHA's decision to revise the effective date of the final steel erection standard was published in the July 17, 2001, issue of the Federal Register .


OSHA announced its inspection targeting program for 2001 aimed at workplaces that have reported high injury and illness rates. Under the 2001 Site Specific Targeting Program (SST01), OSHA inspectors may conduct limited "focused" inspections of targeted sites if the workplaces are participating in an OSHA partnership program. The agency also clarified its plan to treat the U.S. Postal Service as a private sector employer.

"Our 2001 SST program continues to focus our inspection resources on the companies where we know workers are experiencing high rates of injury and illness," said Acting OSHA head R. Davis Layne.

For employers participating in an OSHA strategic partnership, SST inspections may be deferred for up to six months after a partnership agreement is signed. Sites that have undergone a verification inspection since January 1, 1999, as part of their participation in a strategic partnership may be deleted from the inspection list so long as the verification inspection addressed all of the most serious hazards at their sites. Further, OSHA may decide to conduct a focused inspection, limited to hazards targeted by the partnership agreement, rather than the comprehensive inspection that other SST sites will receive.

Amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1998 placed the U.S. Postal Service under OSHA jurisdiction. The SST01 includes postal worksites in the inspection targeting system on the same basis as private sector sites.

Each year OSHA collects injury and illness data from about 80,000 employers. Sites are chosen for inspection under the revised SST based on injury and illness reports provided during last year's survey, which collected 1999 data. This targeting program does not cover construction worksites.

The instructions to OSHA field offices cover inspections to be conducted during the next four months. OSHA intends to offer updated guidance for the next inspection cycle early this fall.