August 31, 2001

A cluster of safety and health hazards that could expose workers to amputations, fires, electrocution, crushing injuries, falls, hearing loss and hazardous chemicals and substances has prompted $140,000 in fines against a Berlin, Conn., door lock manufacturer.

OSHA cited Corbin Russwin, Inc. for 57 alleged violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, following safety and health inspections conducted between February and August. The inspections were carried out under OSHA's Site Specific targeting program, which schedules inspections for workplaces with a higher than average number of lost work days due to injuries and illnesses.

"The sizeable fines proposed in this case reflect the breadth and number of hazardous conditions identified and cited in these inspections," said Thomas Guilmartin, OSHA area director in Hartford. "Chief among them are 47 instances of inadequate machine guarding or point of operation guarding on mechanical power presses and other machinery, including one machine on which an employee suffered a partial finger amputation in 2000."

Other citations address deficiencies involving failure to supply workers with personal protective equipment, electrical safety hazards, wet floors, failure to provide wash basins for employees working with acids and caustics, unlabeled containers of hazardous chemicals, failure to ensure the use of seatbelts by forklift operators, inadequate process safety information for the plant's sulfur dioxide system, no backflow and flashback protection for a soldering torch, and inadequate safeguards for employees exposed to lead, cadmium and excess noise levels.

Corbin Russwin, which employs 387 workers at the Berlin plant, has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


Seat belt use is continuing an upward trend - reaching its highest level since the federal government began regular national surveys in 1994, according to a major study released by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"We are pleased to see this historic level of seat belt use in America," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. "An ever-increasing number of drivers and passengers in this country understand that seat belts save lives. Seat belts are the most effective safety device in a car."

The new data - drawn from a large-scale observational study conducted by NHTSA in June 2001 - show a 2 percentage-point increase in seat belt use to 73 percent in less than one year. The study, known as the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), is conducted periodically by the agency to obtain nationwide estimates of shoulder belt use and to support the agency's occupant protection programs. The last such survey was conducted in the fall of 2000, revealing a rate of 71 percent.

"The challenge of increasing seat belt use on our roadways is a critically important one. These new statistics are a very encouraging sign that we're moving in the right direction on belt use," said NHTSA Administrator, Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge.

Of special note in the latest survey were strong gains in seat belt use in the South, where the seat belt use rate rose to 76 percent, up from 69 percent last fall. This was due in large measure to increased enforcement efforts, such as "Click It or Ticket" campaigns, in that region.

However, the seat belt use rate slipped in the Northeast, from 67 percent to 62 percent. Also, fewer pickup truck occupants are buckling up - the rate is down from 62 percent to 59 percent.

Besides indicating a 2 percentage-point increase in overall seat belt use, the latest national seat belt use survey shows that:

  • Seat belt use rates in the South (76 percent), West (77 percent) and Midwest (72 percent) are now statistically similar, while the Northeast continues to lag behind (62 percent).
  • Seat belt use among passengers increased significantly to 72 percent in June 2001 from 68 percent in the fall of 2000. Overall, passengers are no longer significantly less likely to buckle up than are drivers.
  • Seat belt use rates continue to grow in states with stronger enforcement laws. Seat belt use has reached 78 percent in states with primary enforcement and 67 percent in states with secondary enforcement.

In states with a primary seat belt law, motor vehicle occupants can be stopped and cited by law enforcement officials for failing to wear belts whether or not another violation has occurred. In states with secondary enforcement, the vehicle must be stopped for another offense before the occupant can be cited for failing to wear a belt.

The latest NOPUS estimates were derived from a survey conducted during a seven-day period beginning on June 3, 2001. A total of 175,000 drivers and 50,000 front-seat passengers were observed for seat belt use at 2,000 roadway and intersection sites throughout the country. The margin of error for NOPUS is 2.5 percentage points.


Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao told participants at the 17th Annual Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association (VPPPA) conference in New Orleans that she supports legislation to codify OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act.

"VPP has earned a permanent place in OSHA's mandate," the Secretary told 2,000 representatives of companies participating in OSHA's premier partnership program. "This is a leading example of how employers, employees and government can work together. Because, in the end, protecting employees is the work of us all."

Since taking office, Chao has advocated prevention and education, not just after-the-fact enforcement, as a key to reducing workplace injuries and illnesses. This is a step toward advancing that principle.

Chao applauded VPP participants for their commitment to workplace safety and health and willingness to draw other sites into VPP through a mentoring program established by the VPPPA. She announced that OSHA and the VPPPA have agreed to work together to double participation in the VPP among small businesses.

"From large multinational companies to single site, family-run businesses, protection programs can benefit all eligible employers-including small business owners," she said.

Under the new initiative focused on small businesses, OSHA will help find workplaces interested in participating. VPP companies will mentor the candidates by modeling excellence, answering questions and helping the small companies complete the application form to participate.


Massachusetts Electric has agreed to pay a $6,300 fine to settle OSHA charges that inadequate training of employees contributed to an explosion at its Glendale sub-station that killed one and severely burned two other workers.

The company has agreed to the fine and will implement training procedures designed to future accidents. The explosion occurred during a routine maintenance procedure that went awry when a 4,000-volt power line that had not been properly shut down ignited insulating oil.

OSHA said the effected employees had not been trained by the employer in an energy control procedure which would have protected them from accidentally working on a live circuit, and said the method of conducting the work prescribed by the employer did not protect employees by allowing for verification that the circuits being worked on had been deenergized.


Ninety-five percent of business executives report that workplace safety has a positive impact on a company's financial performance, according to the findings of The Executive Survey of Workplace Safety announced by the Liberty Mutual Group. Of these executives, 61 percent believe their companies receive a return on investment of $3 or more for each $1 they invest in improving workplace safety.

The survey also reveals executives realize the benefits of workplace safety go beyond the company's bottom-line, with 70 percent reporting that protecting employees is a leading benefit of workplace safety.

The survey also helps shed light on the impact two types of costs associated with workplace accidents are having on U.S. businesses: Direct costs, or payments to injured employees and their medical care providers, and Indirect costs, such as lost productivity, overtime costs, etc. Ninety-three percent of executives surveyed see a relationship between these costs, with 40 percent of them reporting $1 of direct cost generates between $3 and $5 of indirect costs.

By comparing the findings on indirect costs with its own research on the direct costs of workplace accidents and illness, Liberty Mutual calculates U.S. businesses are paying a staggering $155 billion to $232 billion on workers compensation losses annually. The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index announced this spring provided the first-ever ranking of the 10 leading causes of workplace accidents based on the direct cost of each accident cause. The Index estimated the total direct cost of all workplace accidents was $38.7 billion in 1998, the most recent year for which data was available at the time.

Moreover, the survey findings reveal that business executives may be focusing attention on certain causes of workplace accidents at the expense of others, and may need to realign their workplace safety priorities.

For example, executives report "Repetitive Motion" is the most important cause of workplace accidents and that they will focus workplace safety resources on this accident cause. However, five other accident causes each produced greater direct costs for companies in 1998, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. The Index reported that workplace injuries caused by "Repetitive Motion" produced $2.3 billion in direct costs for employers in 1998, about a quarter of the $9.8 billion of the leading accident cause - "Overexertion."

Similarly, executives may place less priority on accident causes that have greater potential financial impact. For example, survey participants report "Falls on the Same Level" as the 7th most important cause of workplace accidents. However, the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index ranked this category as the 2nd most important accident cause.

"Workplace safety has a ripple affect, either positive or negative, on so many aspects of U.S. business operations today," said Joseph Gilles, Liberty Mutual Executive Vice President, Commercial Insurance. "The first step for executives is to take preemptive measures to prevent employee pain and suffering caused by workplace injuries. Identifying the accident causes that have the greatest impact on their company and focussing workplace resources on these will help a company reduce costs and achieve strategic corporate goals -- such as assuring employee satisfaction and health, positioning the company as a low-cost provider, shortening production and delivery time, and improving product quality. Given the importance of workplace safety, companies should make sure their efforts are directed at those accident causes that have the greatest potential impact on their operations and employees."

Survey results are based on interviews with 200 executives responsible for workers compensation and other commercial insurances at 125 mid-size firms (100 to 999 employees) and 75 large companies (over 1,000 employees) representing a range of geographic locations and industries.

This survey is part of Liberty Mutual's ongoing focus on Workplace Safety. It follows the Spring 2001 release of the Workplace Safety Index, the first ranking of accident causes by direct costs to employers using Liberty Mutual claims data, combined with findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance. Both studies are available at http://www.libertymutual.com.


A Jersey City, N.J., metals reclaiming firm's failure to protect its employees from exposure to toxic metals is bringing a proposed fine of $102,000 by OSHA. OSHA is citing the Metallix Corporation for two alleged willful and 29 alleged serious violations of OSHA standards. The company has until September 12 to contest the citations.

OSHA inspected the facility in response to an employee's complaint of inadequate protection against exposure to lead and other toxic metals. Metallix Corporation reclaims metals such as lead, beryllium, copper, silver, and cadmium by incinerating and melting scrap from computers and other electronic equipment. During the process employees can be exposed to airborne particles of the metals.

"Our investigation revealed that this employer, despite being advised to reduce or eliminate employee exposure, failed to take the appropriate action. Protecting employees from the insidious toxic effects of metal exposure requires a complete and well implemented compliance program. Employers cannot choose to take some actions while ignoring other safeguards," said David Ippolito, OSHA area director in Parsippany.

OSHA alleges that the company willfully violated OSHA standards by failing to ensure that employees were provided medical surveillance for lead exposure, and by not giving training on the hazards of the chemicals to which they were exposed and on proper lockout-tagout procedures to follow when conducting maintenance on machinery. The willful violations carry a total proposed penalty of $62,500.

Alleged serious violations for which the employer was cited included:

  • failure to prevent employee overexposure to silver, beryllium, and lead;

  • failure to notify employees of the results of tests of exposure to lead and cadmium;

  • failure to carry out proper housekeeping to ensure that surfaces were as lead-free as possible;

  • failure to use cleaning methods that did not reintroduce lead into the workplace;

  • failure to ensure that employees overexposed to lead showered at the end of their shifts;

  • failure to conduct biological monitoring for lead as often as required;

  • failure to have medical surveillance for workers exposed to cadmium;

  • failure to train laboratory employees about the hazards of the chemicals in their workplace and maintain material safety data sheets on the chemicals;

  • failure to have an effective hearing conservation program and train employees exposed to excessive noise;

  • failure to provide adequate eye protection, respiratory protection, hand protection against cyanide, and fire-fighting training;

  • failure to provide training in lockout-tagout procedures for maintenance workers to prevent the accidental start-up of machinery during repair or servicing.

The serious violations carry a total proposed penalty of $39,000.

Metallix Corporation was also cited for failure to properly record injuries on the required log of injuries and illnesses, an alleged other-than-serious violation with a proposed penalty of $500.

A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard for, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the OSHA act and regulations.

A serious violation is defined as a condition which exists where there is a substantial possibility that death or serious physical harm can result.

An other-than-serious violation is a hazardous condition that would probably not cause death or serious physical harm but would have a direct and immediate relationship to the safety and health of employees.