Steel Beam Distributor Faces $81,600 in OSHA Fines for Safety Hazards

July 29, 2004

A Bridgeport, Conn., company that engages in the nationwide distribution of heavy steel beams has been cited by OSHA for allegedly exposing employees to multiple workplace hazards.

Bushwick Metals Inc. is facing a total of $81,600 in fines for 36 alleged serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA's combined safety and health inspections of the company's facilities took place between Jan. 29 and April 7, 2004, and revealed that employees were being exposed to hazards ranging from slips, trips and falls to unguarded and hazardous equipment and machinery to fires and electrical shocks.

"Employers must provide their employees with a safe and healthful workplace," said Robert Kowalski, OSHA's area director in Bridgeport. "There is no excuse for exposing workers to the types of hazards we found in this facility."

OSHA cited Bushwick Metals Inc. for 35 alleged serious violations of safety standards for exposing employees to hazards including: falls from access ways to overhead bridge cranes; numerous tripping hazards; slipping hazards; unguarded floor holes, open sided floors and stairways; exposed and improperly stored flammable materials; no procedures for dealing with potential releases of hazardous energy; defective and unsafe use of powered industrial trucks; defective cranes; electrical hazards; defective and unguarded equipment and machinery; among others. These alleged violations carry penalties totaling $80,400.

The company was also cited for one alleged serious violation of OSHA's health standards, with a $1,200 proposed penalty, for failing to maintain a list of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace and to have on hand material safety data sheets for those chemicals. Finally, the company was cited for four "other than serious" violations, which carry no proposed penalties.

Bushwick Metals has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to elect to comply with them, request and participate in an informal conference with OSHA, or contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.




Box Manufacturing Plant Cited for Hazardous Work Conditions

OSHA has cited Elberta Crate & Box Company for failing to protect workers from safety hazards at the company's Bainbridge, Georgia plant.

The company received two alleged willful citations, with proposed penalties totaling $110,000, for exposing workers to serious injuries from unguarded "points of operation" on box-making machinery and uncovered, energized electrical connections. The investigation, which began on Jan. 27, 2004, found that management had been made aware of the requirement to install machinery guards following a 2002 accident, and that maintenance crews were routinely failing to replace covers on electrical panels and connections after cleaning operations.

Additionally, the company received 17 alleged serious citations, with proposed penalties of $49,000, for exposing workers to fall hazards from unguarded stairs and work platforms; failing to provide employees with personal protective equipment and follow lockout-tagout procedures that render machinery inoperable during cleaning and maintenance; failing to maintain an emergency eye wash station; blocking emergency exits; improper use of compressed air; and additional machine guarding and electrical hazards.

OSHA initiated the inspection, as a "follow-up" to an August 2003 fatality investigation.

The agency issues a willful citation when a company has shown intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. A serious citation is issued when 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, which also operates plants in Florida and North Carolina, has 15 working days to contest the OSHA citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.




CDC Makes Advances in Identifying and Measuring Chemical Agents in Humans

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Journal of Analytical Toxicology have collaborated on a special edition of the journal devoted to assessing human exposure to chemical agents. The edition highlights new methods using state-of-the-art instruments to measure low-level exposure to chemicals, including, those that might be used by terrorists, such as nerve agents, sulfur mustard agents, and cyanide compounds, and provides detailed animal-exposure information and reference values for assessing potential human exposure.

“Exposure to chemical agents is a relatively modern concern and the literature base describing methods for detecting exposure is scant,” said Dr. John Barr, a CDC research chemist and guest editor of the journal. “This research is the most complete compilation of methods and data related to biomonitoring for chemical agents.”

The 15 journal articles will serve as a preview of new techniques and methods that have been developed and are used by the National Biomonitoring Program (NBP), which is part of CDC’s Environmental Health Laboratory. The program specializes in measuring toxic substances or their metabolites in human specimens, such as blood or urine. NBP has developed methods to measure about 300 environmental chemicals from 2-3 tubes of blood and a regular urine sample.

In a chemical event, biomonitoring data provides information about the extent of exposure in a given individual and the proportion of a population affected by the exposure. The methods described in the journal will be used to identify people who need treatment, those at risk of developing long-term health effects or delayed health effects, and those who are worried that they may have been exposed to a chemical agent. The methods also will be used to assist in other disciplines like forensics.

“This research is setting the analytical standard and will increase the scientific and public health community’s knowledge about measuring these agents,” said Dr. Bruce A. Goldberger, Ph.D., Editor in chief of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.

Abstracts for the special issue can be found at http://www.jatox.com/current.htm




Recommendations to Prevent Firefighter Deaths in Training Dives are Offered by NIOSH

Recommendations are made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in a new report to prevent the risk of injury, illness, and death in training dives that prepare fire fighters for search, rescue, recovery, and other missions that may entail diving.

Practical steps can be taken to prevent underwater entanglements, depletion of air supply, panic, and other circumstances that can put firefighters at risk of drowning, decompression sickness, lung collapse or lung damage, and other adverse effects, NIOSH stated.

"From investigations conducted by NIOSH, we know that serious problems can occur in training dives unless proper safeguards are established and followed," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "The new NIOSH report, the latest in our series of ‘Workplace Solutions’ bulletins, offers effective ways to prevent such risks, based on findings from our case studies."

Among other safety measures, fire departments should set and enforce standard operating procedures for dive training, ensure that instructors are certified to conduct dive training, develop and use pre-dive checklists, ensure that divers maintain communication with each other and with personnel on the surface, ensure that equipment checks are performed on a scheduled basis, and provide divers with refresher training, NIOSH recommended.

Among further precautions, fire departments should ensure that backup divers are trained and available to rescue divers in distress, and that a medical unit is on site with oxygen for quick response in the event of an emergency, NIOSH also recommended. Training exercises should be conducted in a closed environment such as a swimming pool before attempting the exercise in open water, and divers should be provided with alternative back-up air supplies, NIOSH said.

Fire fighters should follow all standard operating procedures, maintain continuous contact with their dive partners, perform equipment checks before each dive, ensure that underwater teams operate individually to avoid entanglements in ropes, monitor their air consumption regularly, and consider performing at least 12 dives per year to maintain skills, NIOSH recommended.

"Workplace Solutions: Divers Beware: Training Dives Present Serious Hazards to Fire Fighters," DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-152, also includes case studies and technical references to provide further guidance to fire departments and fire fighters. The document is available on the NIOSH web page at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2004-152/ can be ordered at no charge from the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH.

It is the latest in a series of NIOSH "Workplace Solutions" documents that provide practical recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths, based on results of NIOSH research and other authoritative sources. Previous documents in the series are available through the NIOSH web page at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/default.html.




Most Workplace Bullying is Worker to Worker, Early Findings From NIOSH Study Suggest

Most incidents of bullying in the workplace appear to be perpetuated by employees against one another, early findings from a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggest.

The findings suggest that efforts to make changes at the organizational level to prevent bullying in the workplace should include steps to improve relationships among co-workers, and should not strictly focus on improving supervisor-employee and customer-employee relationships, the researchers said in reporting the preliminary results.

The study points to further research that would be needed before researchers could offer definitive recommendations for preventing bullying as a potential factor for work-related stress. The findings were reported at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, held July 28-Aug. 1, 2004, as a progress report on the study.

Since the results are based on a survey of a representative but small sample of respondents, other studies involving larger numbers of respondents would be needed to confirm the findings. In addition, other research would be needed in greater depth to identify the reasons for acts of bullying in the workplace, the circumstances in which bullying is most likely to occur, and specific measures for improving interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

Data reported from the survey indicate the following:

  • 24.5 percent of the companies surveyed reported that some degree of bullying had occurred there during the preceding year.
  • In the most recent incident that had occurred, 39.2 percent involved an employee as the aggressor, 24.5 percent involved a customer, and 14.7 percent involved a supervisor.
  • In the most recent incident, 55.2 percent involved the employee as the “victim,” 10.5 percent the customer, and 7.7 percent the supervisor.

Information was collected from key respondents at 516 private and public organizations; the respondents were human resources professionals or other individuals who were knowledgeable about their organization. The organizations ranged in size from five employees to 20,000 employees each. Bullying was defined as repeated intimidation, slandering, social isolation, or humiliation by one or more persons against another.

The study is part of NIOSH’s research to identify factors associated with work-related stress and to recommend practical interventions. For further information about NIOSH’s research and recommendations for reducing work-related stress, visit the NIOSH web page on work stress at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/stress/.




ExxonMobil Enacts Cell Phone Policy

The National Safety Council praised Exxon Mobil Corporation for its safety leadership in enacting a ban on cell phone use by ExxonMobil employees and contractors while driving on company business.

The new policy was developed after ExxonMobil commissioned an analysis of available science on cell phone use that concluded talking on a cell phone significantly degrades driving performance. The ExxonMobil report analyzing cell phone research is available at the National Safety Council website.

"This action by ExxonMobil concurs with the policy of the National Safety Council that states that best practice is to not use a cell phone while driving," Alan C. McMillan, President of the National Safety Council, said. "The Council's policy also recommends that employers assess whether to allow employees to use cell phones and other devices while driving, and if so, what sensible restrictions should be followed. ExxonMobil has demonstrated that the safety and health of its employees and contractors is a key corporate value and we applaud them for that."