OSHA recently revised its online whistleblower complaint form to help users file a complaint with the appropriate agency. The form provides workers with another option for submitting retaliation complaints to OSHA.
The updated form guides individuals as they file a complaint through the process, providing essential questions at the beginning so they can better understand and exercise their rights under relevant laws. One significant improvement to the system includes pop-up boxes with information about various agencies for individuals who indicate that they have engaged in protected activity that may be addressed by an agency other than OSHA. The new form is available in English and Spanish.
"Workers who report unsafe conditions and wrongdoing have a range of legal protections from retaliation," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. "The revised online complaint form works to ensure whistleblowers file their complaints with the appropriate federal agency for prompt action."
In addition to the online form, workers can file complaints by fax, mail, or hand-delivery; contacting the agency at 800-321-6742; or calling an OSHA regional or area office.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities laws, trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, public transportation, workplace safety and health, and consumer protection laws. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov/.
Birmingham RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Birmingham, AL, on August 8–10 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.
Indianapolis RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Indianapolis, IN, on August 15–17 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.
Richmond RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Richmond, VA, on August 22–24 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.
What’s in Your Drinking Water?
Starting now, the vast majority of Americans can learn about every potentially harmful chemical in their drinking water and what scientists say are the safe levels of those contaminants. EWG’s new national Tap Water Database is the most complete source available on the quality of U.S. drinking water, aggregating and analyzing data from almost 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The organization has earned a reputation for ambitious data-mining research projects that shake up policy debates and consumer markets. EWG’s online Farm Subsidy Database, listing millions of subsidy recipients, and its Skin Deep guide to over 70,000 personal care products, draw tens of millions of visitors every year.
With EWG’s new Tap Water Database, simply by entering their zip code or local utility’s name, users will find all contaminants detected in tests by the utilities themselves and reported to federal or state authorities. Instead of comparing the levels of pollutants to the legal limits set by regulatory agencies—often the result of political and economic compromise, or based on outdated studies—EWG’s guide relies on what the best and most current science finds are the levels that will fully protect public health, especially that of infants, children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable populations.
“Americans deserve the fullest picture possible of what’s in their tap water,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “But they won’t get that information from the government or, in many cases, from their utilities. The only place they’ll find that is EWG’s drinking water report.” Click here to see how EWG's Tap Water Database stacks up against a local water utility's Consumer Confidence Report.
According to EWG, a glass of tap water also comes with a dose of industrial and agricultural contaminants that have been linked to cancer, brain and nervous system damage, or developmental defects. “Just because your tap water gets a passing grade from the government doesn’t always mean it’s safe,” Cook said. “It’s time to stop basing environmental regulations on political or economic compromises, and instead listen to what scientists say about the long-term effects of toxic chemicals and empower Americans to protect themselves from pollutants even as they demand the protective action they deserve from government.”
The vast majority of utilities are in compliance with federal regulations, but their water still often contains contaminants in concentrations exceeding the levels that scientists say pose health risks. Many of the existing legal limits are set far above levels that are truly health protective. Because the Environmental Protection Agency has not added a new chemical to the list of regulated contaminants in 20 years, more than half of the contaminants detected in U.S. tap water had no regulatory limit at all, meaning they could legally be present at any concentration and that utilities don’t have to test for them or tell their customers about them.
EWG researchers spent the last two years collecting data from state agencies and the EPA for drinking water tests conducted from 2010 to 2015 by 48,712 water utilities in all 50 states and D.C. All told, the utilities tested for approximately 500 different contaminants and found 267.
Contaminants detected in the nation’s tap water included:
- 93 linked to an increased risk of cancer. More than 40,000 water systems had detections of known or likely carcinogens exceeding established federal or state health guidelines—levels that pose minimal but real health risks, but are not legally enforceable.
- 78 associated with brain and nervous system damage
- 63 connected to developmental harm to children or fetuses
- 45 linked to hormone disruption
- 38 that may cause fertility problems
The safety of the nation’s drinking water was thrust back into the headlines in the summer of 2015, when extremely high levels of lead were discovered in the water supply of Flint, Michigan. Data compiled by EWG shows that between 2010 and 2015, nearly 19,000 public water systems had at least one detection of lead at levels that could pose a risk to bottle-fed infants.
Other frequently found contaminants of concern include:
- Chromium-6, made notorious by the film “Erin Brockovich.” This carcinogen, for which there are no federal regulations, was detected in the drinking water supplies serving 250 million Americans in all 50 states.
- 1,4-Dioxane, an unregulated compound that contaminates tap water supplies for 8.5 million people in 27 states at levels above those the EPA considers to pose a minimal cancer risk.
- Nitrate, chemical from animal waste or agricultural fertilizers, was detected in more than 1,800 water systems in 2015, serving 7 million people in 48 states above the level that research by the National Cancer Institute shows increases the risk of cancer—a level just half of the federal government’s legal limit for nitrate in drinking water.
The new national drinking water guide is the latest in a long line of large database projects from EWG that have helped shape federal policy debates and shifts in industry behavior alike.
EWG last published a national drinking water report in 2009 in collaboration with the New York Times’ Charles Duhigg as part of the paper’s award-winning investigative series, Toxic Waters. Using EWG’s tap water data and analysis, the Times detailed how the failures of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act have allowed millions of Americans to drink water with levels of contaminants that “can pose what scientists say are serious health risks—and still be legal.”
Because federal drinking regulations are inadequate, Americans are left to take matters into their own hands. The first step concerned consumers can take is to buy an in-home water filtration system. Along with the Tap Water Database, EWG also provides a list of filter systems that can significantly reduce the contaminant levels in their water.
Canada Takes Next Steps in Banning Asbestos
Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labor, announced that, as part of the Government of Canada’s comprehensive ban on asbestos, it is enhancing the Canada Labor Code for workers by lowering the exposure to airborne chrysotile asbestos to as close to zero as possible.
These changes to occupational health and safety regulations on asbestos come into force earlier this month. They will significantly lower the risk of workers coming into contact with asbestos in the workplace, while ensuring consistency with most provincial and territorial regulations for airborne asbestos fiber. They will also align the asbestos exposure standards with the highest, safest standard in Canada and internationally.
The new regulatory provisions include an asbestos exposure management program, which requires employers to provide education and training for employees involved in asbestos-related work activities, such as handling, removal, repair, or disturbance of asbestos-containing materials that could expose employees to asbestos in the workplace.
In addition to the amendments to occupational health and safety regulations on asbestos, the broader Government of Canada strategy to ban asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018 includes new regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, updates to national building codes to prohibit the use of asbestos in new construction and renovation projects across Canada and support for listing chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention as a hazardous material.
Aluminum Shapes Fined $1.9M for 51 Safety and Health Violations
OSHA has again cited a Camden County aluminum manufacturing company with a long history of noncompliance with OSHA standards—this time for 51 safety and health violations and proposed penalties of $1,922,895.
OSHA initiated its inspection of Delair-based Aluminum Shapes, LLC, on January 23, 2017. Since 2011, the agency has inspected the facility eight times, cited the employer for 60 violations and assessed $516,753 in penalties.
During its 2017 inspection, OSHA inspectors learned that two employees were hospitalized as a result of separate workplace incidents. The first incident occurred when employees entered a tank to drain residual sludge containing dehydrated sodium hydroxide, aluminum oxide, and decomposed metal. After reporting to their supervisors that they were experiencing chemical burns to their skin and attempting to wash off the chemicals, employees were directed to re-enter the tank, where they suffered further chemical injuries, resulting in the hospitalization of one employee.
The second incident occurred when a machine operator suffered a broken pelvis after being caught between the unguarded moving parts of a metal fabrication machine.
OSHA issued willful citations due the company’s failure to:
- Provide appropriate personal protective equipment
- Conduct air monitoring prior to permit-required confined space entry
- Have an attendant during permit-required confined space entry
- Complete a required confined space entry permit to identify, evaluate and control hazards in the space
- Provide confined space training
- Use proper Lockout/Tagout (Control of Hazardous Energy) Procedures
- Provide workers with locks and hardware to lock out equipment being serviced, maintained, or repaired
- Lack of specific procedures for the use of blocking devices
- Train workers in Lockout/Tagout
“Despite its lengthy OSHA history, Aluminum Shapes still does not comply with federal safety and health standards,” said Paula Dixon-Roderick, director of OSHA’s Marlton Area Office. “These hazards leave workers vulnerable to the risk of serious injury and possible death.”
OSHA also cited the company for repeat violations, including fall hazards, lack of stair rails and machine guarding, and electrical hazards. The company also received serious citations for inadequate ladders, inappropriate respiratory and hearing protection, insufficient entry permits, and lack of machine guarding and hazardous chemical training. Other-than-serious violations included the company’s failure to record each injury on its injury log.
“Aluminum Shapes’ extensive list of violations reflects a workplace that does not prioritize worker safety and health,” says Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York. “The company can more effectively protect its workers by implementing a comprehensive safety and health management system.”
Holly Construction Recognized as "Best of the Best" in Workplace Safety and Health
Holly Construction Company has again received highest honors in workplace safety, the Michigan Voluntary Protection Program in Construction (MVPPC) Star Award from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA). Holly Construction is one of only two construction companies in Michigan to achieve renewal of MVPPC Star status.
"We are pleased to recognize Holly Construction as one of the ‘best of the best’ in outstanding worker protection,” said MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman. “This company continues to excel under the most rigorous worker health and safety standards. It’s truly a credit to Holly’s strong management commitment and employee involvement, giving them an edge in today’s competitive economy."
Nella Davis-Ray, director of MIOSHA’s Consultation Education and Training (CET) Division presented a new MVPPC Star flag to Larry Kramer, CEO of Holly Construction Company, who accepted on behalf of all employees.
The MVPP and MVPPC recognizes companies with exemplary safety and health systems and is open to all Michigan employers. To be eligible for the Star program, the applicant must demonstrate that the injury and illness incidence rates for each of the last three complete calendar years are below the rates published for their respective North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. The incidence rates for Holly Construction and its contract employees continue to be well below the industry average for their NAICS code 237120 - Oil and Gas Pipeline and Related Structures Construction.
The MIOSHA review team—Bryan Renaud, team leader/construction safety consultant, and Kristin Osterkamp, senior industrial hygienist—examined each of the required elements of Holly's safety and health management system and the site-specific accident prevention program, and found that they continue to be consistent with the high quality required of MVPPC programs. The site continues to meet the MVPPC requirements and the applicable MIOSHA standards are appropriately covered.
"National statistics show that employers with a voluntary protection program (VPP) realize 60 to 80 percent fewer lost work days due to injuries than would be expected of an average site in the same industry," said Pickelman. "The MVPPC program can have a huge impact on a company’s bottom line."
Since 1972, Holly Construction Company has provided construction, repair, and maintenance services to the petroleum, power, terminal, pipeline, utility, chemical, and industrial gas industries. The company, with headquarters in Melvindale, MI, has three locations in the United States.
“Holly Construction’s greatest asset is our employees, their dedication to this company and to each other,” said Kramer. “Without everyone doing their best it would be impossible for us to be recertified as a “STAR” contractor. We are proud to again receive MIOSHA’s highest award.”
Cal/OSHA and Chevron Reach Settlement of Citations Appeal Following the August 2012 Richmond Refinery Fire
Cal/OSHA and Chevron have reached a settlement agreement for a comprehensive plan that will improve safety at the Chevron Richmond refinery and for surrounding communities. The agreement meets and exceeds California’s landmark regulation to reduce risk at refineries, which was approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board in May and is currently pending approval by the Office of Administrative Law.
The settlement requires Chevron to exceed current and upcoming requirements and to use new and innovative methods recently developed by engineering experts in the petroleum refining industry to ensure the safe operation of process safety equipment, said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. This means safer operations at the refinery, which will help protect refinery workers and those who work and live nearby.
The agreement resolves Chevron’s appeal of citations issued by Cal/OSHA on January 30, 2013, following an investigation into a fire that occurred at the Richmond refinery on August 6, 2012. Cal/OSHA cited Chevron for 17 workplace safety and health violations, including six serious and nine willful in nature. During the settlement negotiations, Cal/OSHA received input from the United Steelworkers and the EPA.
The negotiated settlement requires Chevron to institute the following extraordinary measures to ensure process safety at the Richmond refinery:
- Replace all carbon steel piping that transports corrosive liquids with chrome-alloy piping, which has better corrosion resistance, at an estimated cost of $15 million. This exceeds current and upcoming workplace safety requirements for refineries.
- Develop and implement criteria and procedures, at an estimated cost of $5 million, to monitor equipment to alert operators when equipment should be replaced. This is a new and innovative practice recently developed by refinery engineering experts.
In addition, Chevron agreed to:
- Provide specialized, hands-on training on incident command situational awareness and hazard recognition for all Chevron Fire Department personnel at the Richmond refinery with rank of lieutenant and above. The training will include at least three hours of instruction and focus on emergency response.
- Provide at least eight hours of in-person training on process safety management for operators at the refinery beyond the training that is already provided.
- Continue its collaboration with the United Steelworkers in order to meet the training requirements imposed by the new refinery safety regulation pending approval by the OAL.
- Donate $200,000, in addition to any monies already donated in 2016, to the Regional Occupational Program in Richmond, a job-readiness course offered by the Contra Costa County Office of Education in partnership with Chevron to help prepare students for jobs in the petrochemical and related industries.
- Pay the citation penalties originally proposed by Cal/OSHA in January 2013 ($782,700), plus an additional $227,300.
Cal/OSHA agreed to:
- Withdraw nine of the 17 violations cited. The withdrawn citations include four
- willful-serious category violations, three serious and two general in nature.
- Amend five of the remaining eight violations cited, as follows:
- Three willful-serious category violations downgraded to two serious and one general,
- Two serious category violations downgraded to general category.
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