Archive for April, 2016

A Year of Injuries, and Lessons

 

This article was posted on the U.S. Department of Labor Blog

Filed in Español, Safety By Dr. David Michaels on March 17, 2016

In January 2015, we started requiring employers to report any work-related severe injury – such as an amputation or an injury requiring hospitalization – within 24 hours. In the first year, we received 10,388 reports, or nearly 30 a day.

Each report told the story of a man or woman who went to work one day and experienced a traumatic event, sometimes with permanent consequences to themselves and their families. But the reports also created opportunities for OSHA to engage with employers in ways we had never done before, and to ensure that changes were made to prevent similar incidents from happening to others.

hospitalizations

We learned things that surprised us, encouraged us and sometimes disappointed us. Today, we published a report of our evaluation that features stories from our offices around the country and reflects on lessons learned in the first year.

Our two main goals for the new reporting requirement were to engage more employers in identifying and eliminating serious hazards themselves, and to allow us to better target our enforcement and compliance assistance efforts to places where workers are most at risk. After reviewing the field reports and associated data, we are confident that both goals are being met.

A few examples explain how:

  • In Chicago, a conveyor loaded with liquid chocolate suddenly started up as a worker was cleaning a roller. Her arm was pulled in and mangled so badly that she required a plate and skin grafting. To prevent future injuries, the employer installed metal guards to shield workers’ arms and hands from moving machinery as well as warning alarms and flashing lights that are activated 20 seconds before the conveyor moves.
  • In Idaho, a valve cover (long known to be problematic) snapped shut on the hand of a truck driver who was loading a tanker, severing his fingertip. After the amputation, the employer devised a new hands-free tool for closing the valve, and alerted the manufacturer and other employers likely to use the same equipment.
  • At a sawmill, a chipper operator’s arm was amputated after he tried to clear a conveyor jam. In response, the owner suspended operations for a week and made improvements that went far beyond what OSHA required, including installing electrical shut-offs within easy reach of all workers, placing catwalks around the entire mill, and providing handheld radios for all employees.

In these cases and many more, employers worked closely with OSHA specialists to protect the safety and health of their workers. In fact, we responded to more than half of all injury reports  not by sending inspectors to the scene but by asking employers to conduct their own incident investigations and propose remedies to prevent future injuries.

At other times, the reported hazards warranted a worksite inspection, and we were able to investigate the incident and determine whether hazards remained.

But we were also disappointed by a handful of employers who went to great lengths to conceal injuries or hazards. In one stunning example, a manufacturer tried to hide an entire production line from OSHA inspectors after a staffing agency reported the amputation of a worker’s finger. Inspectors who uncovered the back room found a row of machinery with exposed parts that could have caused other workers to lose their fingers.

While we have made progress toward ensuring that severe injuries are quickly reported, we believe a sizable proportion of these types of injuries are still not being reported. That’s why we’re developing outreach strategies, including working through insurers, first responders, and business organizations to ensure that all employers know of their obligations to report severe injuries. Those who choose not to report should know that, now that the requirement is in its second year, OSHA is more likely to cite for non-reporting, and we have increased the maximum penalty for not reporting a severe injury from $2,000 to $7,000.

We will continue to evaluate the program and make changes to improve its effectiveness. To help protect the safety and health of the nation’s workers, it is essential that employers report all severe injuries, either by phone or online. Learn more at osha.gov/report.

Dr. David Michaels is the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Behr Iron & Steel Inc. Pleads Guilty to OSHA Violation Causing Death of Employee

A Rockford-based company pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Iain D. Johnston to willfully violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, resulting in the death of an employee at the company’s facility in South Beloit, Ill.

BEHR IRON & STEEL INC., a high volume ferrous and nonferrous scrap processor, admitted in a plea agreement that on March 10, 2014, the company failed to provide lockout/tagout protection and confined space protection as required under OSHA regulations for the company’s employees who were cleaning a shredder discharge pit.  The company admitted that those violations caused the death of an employee who got caught in a moving, unguarded conveyor belt.

The Company faces a maximum sentence of 5 years’ probation, a maximum fine of $500,000, and restitution to the victim employee in an amount determined by the Court.  Sentencing is scheduled for July 12, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.

The guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Ken Nishiyama Atha, Regional Administrator of OSHA in Chicago.

“Justice cannot restore life to the victim whose body was crushed because Behr Iron and Steel failed to provide protection from dangerous machinery on the job,” said Mr. Atha.  “Safety training at the plant was woefully insufficient.  Behr must be held responsible by the courts for ignoring safety standards and failing in its obligation to protect its workers on the job.”

Behr’s South Beloit facility recycles metals contained in such things as automobiles and refrigerators.  According to the plea agreement, OSHA regulations require employers to adopt safety procedures to ensure that dangerous machines are properly shut off and unable to start up again prior to the completion of maintenance or servicing work.  The safety procedures include placing a lock on the power source of the machine and a tag on the lock warning that the machine cannot be operated until the warning is removed, and identifying the employee who has the key to the lock.  OSHA also promulgated regulations that address the need to protect employees from entering a confined space without safety precautions.

Metals shredded through a shredding machine in Behr’s South Beloit facility fall onto a conveyor belt located about ten feet underground in a shredder discharge pit, which was approximately six feet long and six feet wide.  The shredded materials were then moved by a conveyor belt out of the discharge pit and through a sorting process.  Some of the shredded metals fall onto the ground of the discharge pit near the conveyor belt.  One or two Behr employees working on the shredding machine were required to clean the discharge pit on a daily basis.  The employees shoveled shredded materials from the floor of the discharge pit onto the running conveyor belt.

On March 10, 2014, a Behr employee was cleaning the discharge pit when the employee’s arm was caught by the unguarded conveyor belt.  The employee was pulled into the machinery and killed.

Behr admitted that there was no lock or operable emergency shut off switch in the discharge pit for the conveyor belt, and the conveyor belt did not have guards designed to protect employees.  Behr also admitted that employees in the discharge pit were not adequately trained to use the shredder or the conveyor belt, and that the company had not developed and implemented confined space protection for employees entering the discharge pit.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott R. Paccagnini.