Results of OSHA Pilot Beryllium Medical Monitoring Program Announced

April 04, 2005

OSHA recently announced the results of a pilot program to test its compliance safety and health officers for sensitization to beryllium. Under the agency's pilot beryllium medical monitoring program, OSHA offered voluntary testing to its personnel who may have had potential exposure to beryllium in the course of their work. Beryllium is a metal found in nature, particularly as a component of coal, oil, certain rock minerals, volcanic dust, and soil and is often used in metal working, ceramic manufacturing, electronic applications, laboratory work, dental alloys, and sporting goods.




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Atlanta Region Joins Mexican Consulate in Atlanta to Assist Hispanic Workers

Hispanic workers in the Atlanta region concerned about safety and health hazards at their worksite can now express those concerns by calling a hotline in the area. The hotline (404-262-4466) was established through the agency's Alliance with the Mexican Consulate and Georgia Tech Research Institute's Safety, Health and Environmental Technology Division. Bi-lingual consulate employees have been trained by the Department of Labor to screen calls and connect workers to appropriate staff.




OSHA's Midwest Region Continues Falls Initiative

A special emphasis program in OSHA's Kansas City region aimed at reducing worker injuries and deaths in the construction industry is continuing. Charles Adkins, Regional Administrator, explained that during the last 10 years, 39 percent of fatal and catastrophic incidents in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, occurred in the construction industry, and falls accounted for 38 percent of those incidents. The initiative's focus will remain on falls, contact with overhead power lines, and the use of scaffolds.




FACOSH to Meet April 12

The Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH) has scheduled its next meeting in Washington on April 12. The 16-person council advises OSHA on issues concerning the safety and health of federal employees. The meeting is open to the public and will begin at 1:30 p.m. in Room N-3437 of the Department of Labor Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW. Agenda items include discussion on federal recordkeeping changes, seatbelt safety, Voluntary Protection Programs and strategic partnerships, and Federal Agency Training Week. Details are in the Mar. 24, 2005, Federal Register.




Intent-to-Sue Notice Served By Sierra Club, Public Citizen Against AEP

In Austin, TX on Monday, American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), the nationÆs largest utility company, was notified by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Texas office of Public Citizen of their intent to sue for violations of federal pollution laws at one of its Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) division power plants in Texas. This time, the groups are focusing on evidence of illegal burning of hazardous waste at the Knox Lee power plant near Longview. The problem practices at AEP appear to stretch back over 20 years, according to the two groups.

On March 10th, the two groups filed a federal lawsuit to force clean up of extensive air pollution problems at the AEP SWEPCO Welsh power plant operation near Pittsburg in Titus County in east Texas. The March 10th lawsuit and the new notice of intent to file a second lawsuit are based in part on detailed information from AEPÆs own records, information that was first brought to light in July 2004 by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). Last summer, EIP urged the U.S. Justice Department to open an investigation of American Electric Power for extensive violations of the Clean Air Act as outlined by whistleblower Bill Wilson, a SWEPCO air quality engineer who was fired by AEP in May 2004 after calling attention to a wide range of air pollution problems at the Knox Lee, Welsh and Pirkey power plants.

According to the notice filed by Sierra Club and Public Citizen: ôBetween December 2003 and January 2004, the Knox Lee Plant received various truckloads of butyl butyrate blowdown (BBB) from its oil brokers à It appears that during January 2004, at least 21 truckloads of BBB were burned in plant boilers. One representative truckload, delivered January 6, 2004, carried 47,220 pounds of BBB (a hazardous waste material) à Evidence suggests that the BBB was dumped in the fuel storage tank, where it mixed with and contaminated fuel oil at the bottom of the tank, and was then burned. At least one January 2004 shipment was mislabeled as æfuel oils,Æ disguising its true nature as BBB. Despite the shipmentÆs false label, which had no warnings, the waste was so corrosive that one employee reported that it burned off his gloves.ö

Tom ôSmittyö Smith, director of Public CitizenÆs Texas office, said: ôBurning hazardous wastes in a plant that wasnÆt designed to handle it can poison the air and cause both short and long term health problems. Federal and state laws prohibit it for good reasons. We might never have know about this practice had not a courageous whistleblower stepped forward and told the truth."

Under federal law, AEP faces possible fines up to $27,500 a day, for violations prior to March 15, 2004. Fines for violations occurring after that date would involve higher penalties. The two groups are indicating that they will ask a federal court judge to order: (1) an end to all burning of wastes at AEP oil-fired units that are not specifically identified in the plantÆs permits; (2) a system-wide audit to identify and disclose past violations at AEP SWEPCO power plants; (3) imposition of controls to prevent future illegal burning of hazardous waste; and (4) penalties for past violations.




Construction and Mining Have Highest Percentage of Problem Drinkers

According to a recently released ranking of industry-based problem drinking patterns, construction and mining have the highest percentage of problem drinkers, with nearly one in seven workers in these fields having a serious alcohol problem.

The rankings, published by Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems (Ensuring Solutions) at the George Washington University Medical Center, also reveal that government agencies and professional services, such as law, medicine and architecture, have much smaller percentages of problem drinkers in their workforces. Problem drinking is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as having an alcohol dependence disorder or alcohol abuse disorder.

ôThe fact is, for every industry, the numbers are too high,ö said Eric Goplerud, Ph.D., Director of Ensuring Solutions. ôAlcohol problems take a tremendous toll on the workplace, and itÆs in the interest of every workplace to confront the problem and encourage treatment. Treatment works: it saves companies money, and it saves peopleÆs lives.ö

The rankings are based on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services AdministrationÆs National Survey on Drug Use and Health and were computed using the Alcohol Cost Calculator for Business, which provides industry-by-industry comparisons as well as industry-specific calculations of the likely impactùincluding costsùof alcohol problems on any one workplace. This tool was created by Ensuring Solutions to help employers grasp the impact of alcohol problems and to encourage them to help their employees obtain treatment through health insurance plans and Employee Assistance Programs.

ôEmployees with alcohol problems are not likely to leave those problems behind when they come to work, and no business can afford to risk workplace safety by simply hoping they will,ö said Elena Carr, director of Working Partners. ôSmart employers take steps to protect their business by educating their employees about the dangers of alcohol abuse and encouraging those with problems to seek help before it affects the safety of all. Working Partners is committed to helping employers establish programs to prevent workplace substance abuse.ö

DOL also has special initiatives to address substance abuse as it impacts the construction and mining fields in particular. Although not required under its regulations, DOLÆs Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strongly supports drug-free workplace programs that include assistance for employees with substance abuse problems and established an alliance with four international labor unions in a collaborative effort to improve worker safety and health in the construction industry through such programs. Similarly, DOLÆs Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) initiated an outreach effort to educate miners and mine operators about substance abuse issues and recently convened a summit to identify effective strategies to keep the nationÆs mines alcohol and drug free.




Safety of Computer Recycling in Prisons Questioned

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been directed to investigate a whistleblower disclosure that a prison computer recycling operation is exposing both prison staff and inmates to harmful levels of toxic materials, according to a letter from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel released yesterday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Attorney GeneralÆs report is supposed to be reviewed by both the independent Office of Special Counsel and the prison safety manager, who revealed the dangers, prior to its public release.

The federal penitentiary at Atwater, a maximum-security institution located just outside of Merced, California, has operated a computer recycling plant since 2002 but the operation has been plagued by safety problems and shutdowns. After repeated attempts to cut toxic contamination had been rebuffed, Leroy Smith, the safety manager at Atwater, filed a complaint with OSHA and sought whistleblower redress with the Office of Special Counsel.

At Atwater, inmates using hammers break computer terminals down to components parts for recycling. Particles of heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, barium and beryllium, are released when inmate workers break the glass cathode ray tubes during shipping and disassembling. The factory at Atwater provides an open food service in the contaminated work areas. This past Tuesday OSHA entered the Atwater prison to conduct its required inspection. Contrary to its own rules, OSHA negotiated a pre-scheduled time for its inspection with prison authorities.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is an agency under the U.S. Department of Justice, headed by the new U.S. Attorney General and former White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales. In his new position, Gonzales oversees one of the largest prison systems in the world. The Gonzales report to the Office of Special Counsel was due on February 28, 2005. As the whistleblower, Smith has a right to see and comment upon the report before the Special Counsel decides whether more investigation is needed.

ôWipe samples taken off skin, clothing, floors and work surfaces have shown dangerous levels of hazardous dust,ö stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that containment systems used by the prison for dust particles are crude, at best. ôWhile the inmates are not going anywhere, staff who go home with toxic dust on their clothing risk spreading contamination to their families.ö Six other federal prisons have similar computer recycling plants but Gonzales has confined his investigation to Atwater.

Smith is a 13-year Federal Bureau of Prisons employee with a spotless record and past performance awards. San Francisco attorney Mary Dryovage, who is representing, in his whistleblower action, said, ôIt is a shame that conscientious public servants have to run a gauntlet of retaliation just to do their jobs.ö




Latest Report on Lost-Worktime Injuries and Illnesses

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported March 30 that a total of 1.3 million injuries and illnesses in private industry required recuperation away from work during 2003. The three occupations with the greatest number of injuries and illnesses were laborers and material movers, truckers, and nursing aides, orderlies and attendants. Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jonathan L. Share said in a statement that the report provides important information that will "assist OSHA in its ongoing effort to target our resources in the way that has the most positive impact on workplace safety and health?" The 2003 data was compiled for the first time using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and the Standard Occupational Classification Manual.




Alabama Companies Join with OSHA to Protect Auto Manufacturing Workers

Ensuring that automotive workers have the safest and healthiest possible work site is the goal of a partnership between OSHA, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Hyundai suppliers, the Alabama Industrial Development Training Institute and Safe State-Alabama Consultation Program. The agreement will be signed Friday, April 1 in Montgomery, AL.

"This collaboration covers workers at Hyundai's first automotive facility in the United States and is the first to include workers employed by an auto manufacturer's suppliers," said Ken Atha, OSHA's Mobile area director.

"The partnership is targeted to reduce hazards prevalent in the automotive industry," said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA's Birmingham area director. "Effectively controlling and isolating stored energy; properly guarding machinery; and using, storing and disposing of hazardous chemicals in an appropriate manner -- all of these contribute significantly to a safer and healthier workplace."

Since its Strategic Partnership Program began in 1998, OSHA has formed more than 330 partnerships, impacting almost 13,000 employers and more than 573,000 workers across the United States.