Texas Mill Cited by OSHA for Dust, Electrical Hazards

January 30th, 2015

OSHAThe U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued citations for 33 serious violations to Lubbock, Texas-based Minsa Corp., along with a proposed fine of up to $151,200.

At issue at the plant, located in Muleshoe, Texas, was the dangerous accumulation of combustible grain dust. Under the right circumstances, grain dust can be a significant ignition source, and OSHA requires all employers to implement an effective housekeeping policy. An effective policy requires more than lightly dusting once in a while. It requires near elimination on a regular basis and buildup prevention.

In addition to the citations for problems with grain dust buildup, OSHA inspectors also found that the internal parts of some of the plant’s electrical equipment had been contaminated with foreign materials; that openings in a breaker box that were not being used had not been properly closed and that a junction box had been left uncovered as well. All of these problems exposed workers to live electrical parts and created significant electrocution hazards.

That wasn’t all. In addition to those hazards, OSHA also cited the company for exposing workers to dangerous machinery that was unguarded, for not clearing access to emergency exit routes and for fall hazards based on the fact that a high platform lacked a guardrail.

General Motors of Canada Fined for Plant Worker Death

January 29th, 2015

JusticeLast week, General Motors of Canada pleaded guilty in an Ontario court to violating several provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), and were $160,000, for an incident in which a 2,000-pound lift table fell on a worker and crushed him.

The incident that led to the charges occurred on December 17, 2012 at GM’s plant in Oshawa. One worker was explaining a task to a co-worker, regarding the automatic guided vehicle (AGV) repair crib. The first worker explained the preliminary steps for the task, including the removal of screws from a ball screw assembly, when he was called away. While he was away, the co-worker removed all of the screws except one.

Upon returning to the scene, the first worker began to show his co-worker how to retract the ball screw while he was sitting on top of the AGV’s frame, with the lift table raised above, when the lift table and a pallet used to hold the car frame suddenly fell on top of him.  Immediately, other workers at the plant rushed in use pry bars to raise the lift table off the worker. Soon after, the worker was transported to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he was treated for injuries that included broken bones.

 The Ontario Ministry of Labour investigated the incident, and found there was no blocking material in place between the lift table and the AGV to prevent it from falling. Also, Ministry engineers determined that the lift table collapsed because the assembly’s only remaining screw failed. Though workers had implemented a safety bar designed to hold the lift table’s weight, it has slipped out of place and the last screw was not strong enough to hold up the lift table, and it fell on the worker.

GM of Canada pleaded guilty to the charge of failing as an employer to ensure that the measures and procedures prescribed in Section 74 of Ontario Regulation 851/90 were carried out in the workplace. That OHSA regulation states that “machinery, equipment or material that is temporarily elevated and under which a worker may pass or work shall be securely and solidly blocked to prevent the machinery, equipment or material from falling or moving.”

The $160,000 fine was ordered by Justice of the Peace Mathilda Lewis in Whitby court. She also added the 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge required by the Provincial Offences Act, which brings the total hit to the company’s bottom line to $200,000. Creating a safety culture in a workplace doesn’t cost a company, it pays.

OSHA Cites, Fines Company For Fall Injury to Teen Worker

January 28th, 2015

Fall ProtectionThe U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has slapped Reybold Homes Inc., a Delaware home construction company, with several citations and fines totaling $77,000 for violations following an accident that caused a high school student to suffer serious injuries in a fall from a one-story balcony while he was working on a job site as part of a program to encourage students to gain job experience.

The teen was working at the multi-family construction site as part of a cooperative education program in July 2014, when he fell from the unguarded balcony. The cooperative education program was designed to allow high school students to integrate supervised, paid work experience into their classroom education. However, the bulk of the hefty fine was for a willful violation, which OSHA said was “willfully exposing him to fall hazards by not providing proper safeguards.”

The company was also hit with a citation for a serious violation because the teen had never received training before the incident. All of this would seem to defeat the stated purpose of the cooperative education program.

OSHA said in a statement, “This young man suffered a preventable injury that requires ongoing treatment, and may affect future employment. Employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe working environment and safe work practices.”

Reybold Group has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to either bring the company into compliance, meet with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before an independent OSHA Commission.


WorkSafeBC Encouraging Protection of Workers in the Cold

January 27th, 2015

Extreme ColdWorkSafeBC is trying hard to remind employers and workers that working in the cold is a potential hazard, and that precautions should be taken this time of year.

They have reason to be concerned. Between 2009 and 2013, 87 British Columbia workers were injured because of what is called “cold stress.” Among the most common types of cold stress include hypothermia, trenchfoot, Raynaud’s Disorder, and even frostnip and frostbite. The agency is stressing that extreme cold should raise serious health and safety concerns among employers. Every time temperatures are expected to drop significantly, employers should perform a risk assessment and develop and implement a cold exposure plan to prevent injuries.

Such a cold exposure plan should take into account what each employee is doing and where, what conditions they will be exposed to and for how long. They should then take whatever steps are necessary to reduce the health hazard, which could include putting up wind barriers or placing space heaters at key locations at the site. Employers and workers should also evaluate and address ice and slipping hazards.

WorkSafeBC is also recommending many other actions employers can take to reduce the risk. Among them include:

  • Encourage workers to be well rested, because fatigue creates extra risk for workers.
  • Encourage workers to stay hydrated. But get them to do so with water and stay away from coffee and tea as much as possible.
  • Encourage workers to cover as much skin as possible to limit exposure, and to layer clothing to trap heat and allow sweat to escape. Also, keep clothing dry.
  • Wear gloves when touching metal.
  • Provide workers with warm dry areas, and encourage them to take frequent breaks, especially if the work they are doing is difficult.
  • Keep up with weather reports and make adjustments as needed.

Employers and workers all should understand the danger signs of excessive exposure and monitor workers to keep them safe. Among the warning signs of excessive exposure can include excessive shivering, slurred speech, confusion, slower than usual breathing and heart rates, numbness or even a loss of consciousness. Their skin may also develop white patches or take on a gray pallor, or may start to harden. If any of these symptoms appear, get them to a warm, dry place and take their temperature. If it is 96.8 degrees or lower, you may have a problem.

WorkSafeBC has a page at their website, Exposures — Physical Exposures if you would like more information.

Expanded Definition of “Worker” in Ontario

January 26th, 2015

Expanded definition of workerWhen the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 came into effect in Ontario last November, the definition of “worker” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) became far more broad, and made Ontario’s definition more consistent with the definition used across Canada. Employers must know this definition if they’re going to comply with the regulations and avoid huge penalties.

Under the OHSA in previous years, only those employees who performed work or a service for pay were defined as “workers.” What that meant was, those who were not paid were not covered under the OHSA. However, with the new definition of “worker” the OHSA applies to additional workers, such as these:

  • Those employees who performs work or supplies services for pay or other compensation.
  • A student, whether in a secondary school or college, who works or provides services for no pay or other compensation, if it’s part of an authorized work experience program approved by a school board or any program approved by any post-secondary institution, such as a college or university.
  • Someone who receives training from an employer, but who is not an “employee,” as defined by the Employment Standards Act (ESA), but who meets certain conditions.
  • Any other person who works or provides services to an employer for no pay or other compensation.

Under this expanded definition, all workers, whether they are paid or unpaid, are entitled to the same rights under the OHSA. It also makes all workers responsible for knowing their duties under the OHSA. It also means all workers, whether paid or not, are entitled to be properly trained, informed and supervised in a way that protects their health and safety.

This expanded definition is not exclusive to Ontario; some form of this definition has been in place for some time in most other provinces. But no matter where your main business is located, ensuring that all workers, whether they’re paid or not, receive the same treatment and the same protection in the workplace. Training workers and making them aware of workplace hazards is a prudent move for any employer, and will prevent your workers, your reputation and your bottom line.

Cal/OSHA Cites Two Companies for Young Worker Injuries

January 23rd, 2015

Electrical_HazardJuly 2014 was not a good month for young workers in California. Two of them were killed and another was seriously injured within a single week that month in separate accidents having to do with making contact with high-voltage electric lines.

In one incident, two 23-year-old employees of Five Star Plastering were working on a project at Mission Viejo High School as part of a three-man crew that was erecting a multi-stage metal scaffold on the football field. One worker, Daniel Pohl, was working on the top level when co-worker Joshua Shetley suddenly looked up and realized that Pohl was unconscious. When Shetley climbed up to revive Pohl, he came in contact with a 12,000 volt power line and was thrown 20-feet from the scaffold.

When first responders arrived, Pohl was pronounced dead at the scene, and Shetley was transported to Mission Hospital. His injuries were serious enough to keep him there for two weeks.

The other incident occurred at a Los Angeles job site, when 26-year-old worker Erick Ceron-Alegria, who was working for Winlup Painting, was raised on a boom lift so that he could paint balcony railings, and the lift came too close to a 66,000 volt transmission line. He made contact with the line and was electrocuted. The minimum clearance for such a line is 11 feet.

As a result of those incidents, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, has cited Five Star Plastering and Winlup Painting Inc. for numerous safety violations they say contributed to those accidents and proposed fines totaling $194,685. In both incidents, the companies were charged with failure to properly train employees, as well as failure to protect employees from the hazards of energized overhead power lines.

Cal/OSHA determined that Five Star Plastering had failed to provide its workers with any safety training and they failed to identify the electrical hazard. Citations for six violations were issued, with a total of $164,275 in proposed penalties. In the other incident, the agency found that Winlup Painting (DBA Certapro Painters) had not properly trained employees in the safe operation of boom lifts, and the company also failed to adequately identify the hazards of operating near high-voltage lines. Winlup was cited for four violations and proposed $30,410 in penalties.

“Stop the Killing” Campaign Continues to Roll On

January 22nd, 2015

judgementThere is a campaign that has been going on for some time all over Canada named ‘Stop the Killing,’ that aims to bring attention to the fact that Amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada were passed back in 2004 that would make it easier for worker safety officials to impose criminal liability on corporations for serious workplace injuries and fatalities, but more than a decade later, very few cases end up with company officials facing criminal charges or jail time.

Several labour unions and safety experts are conducting the campaign as part of a long-term attempt to bring attention to what they see as a significant oversight tool and potential deterrent that is seriously underused. The amendments were brought about in the wake of the Westray mine disaster, in which an explosion caused by a buildup of methane gas and coal dust led to the deaths of 26 miners. In that case it was determined that the explosions and the workers’ deaths came about as a result of a lethal combination of corporate neglect and government indifference. The judge in that case made more than 70 recommendations to improve the health and safety of workers, including one that the Criminal Code be amended to ensure that corporations and executives are held accountable for the consequences of neglecting workplace safety.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much movement since the Amendments passed. From 2004 through 2013, there have only been ten cases in which the Westray amendments have been invoked to bring criminal negligence charges against companies for serious worker injuries and deaths. In the 10 cases that have been brought, only five corporations and twelve individuals have faced such charges.

This ongoing campaign highlighting many of the excuses workplace safety officials are using to rationalize their non-use of Westray. Among them:

  • Police and Crown attorneys simply don’t fully see serious workplace injuries and fatalities as a criminal matter. Their mindset says that such incidents are regulatory matters, not criminal matters.
  • Police and Crown attorneys need training and resources if they are to use the Westray amendments as intended.
  • The general lack of cooperation between all of the players, including police agencies, Crown attorneys and occupational health and safety regulators.
  • The deregulation push that is currently happening with government officials and employers makes it less desirable to hold companies accountable for their negligence.

All of these problems can be overcome with education, awareness and training. The “Stop the Killing” campaign hopes to assist with that effort.

Company Fined $325k for Lack of Safety Processes, Training

January 21st, 2015

Electric_plantIt seems clear that the courts are intent on imposing higher penalties against employers who violate the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 2015. One example is the $325,000 fine assessed last week against Hydro One Networks Inc. The fine came after the company pleaded guilty for an incident in which a worker was killed as he moved power equipment at the company’s Hinchinbrooke Distribution Station in Central Frontenac Township.

The incident happened on March 5, 2013. A five-worker crew was in the process of replacing a voltage regulator. The regulator’s location was such that steel beams were overhead, so it had to be moved laterally. That meant it couldn’t be moved with a crane alone, so the crew used what is called a “jack and roll” method, in which the regulator was moved using wooden rollers.

The regulator to be replaced was removed without incident. However, the 15-ton replacement regulator was being moved into place using a concrete pad moving across wooden planking. The rollers wouldn’t fit properly beneath the regulator, so they stopped moving it while a worker put wooden blocking in place and mounted a jack, to raise the regulator high enough to re-position the rollers and resume movement. Unfortunately, not long after, the regulator tipped forward and crushed the worker. While the four co-workers were able to move the edge of the regulator enough to get the injured worker out of the way, the worker died from his injuries not long after.

The Ministry of Labour investigation that followed discovered that the company had no written procedure for the jack-and-roll process, and that jack-and-roll procedures using stabilizing measures and equipment and that prevented uncontrolled forward movements had not been used in this case, and the jack’s location created a hazard for the worker should the regulator move forward.

Hydro One Networks Inc. pleaded guilty for their failure, as an employer, to ensure that materials or equipment at a project be stored and moved in a manner that does not endanger a worker, which is a violation of Ontario Regulation 213/91 (the Construction Projects Regulation) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The $325,000 fine was imposed by Justice of the Peace Jack Chiang in the Provincial Offences Court in Kingston on January 13, 2015. In addition to the fine, the court imposed a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. That’s a total hit of $406,250 to that company’s bottom line, simply for not developing and implementing a procedure that might have saved a worker’s life.

OSHA Investigating Excavator Rollover

January 20th, 2015

OSHA Investigating Excavator RolloverIn Meriden, Connecticut, one worker was transported to a local hospital on Wednesday, January 14, after the excavator he was operating rolled over and slid part way down an embankment at a construction site near the Columbus Avenue bridge.

The accident occurred at a little after 3 p.m., as crews were working on the bridge project. It is unknown what happened exactly, but something caused operator Tim Bryda’s excavator to roll over and slide down a small hill. By the time first responders arrived, Bryda had been removed from the excavator, but he was transported to Hartford Hospital with head lacerations and injuries to his left hand. He was described as “conscious and somewhat alert,” but fire officials also suggested that he had suffered trauma of some kind, because he was unable to say what caused the excavator to roll over. He did know his own name and where he was, however.

The bridge section of Columbus Avenue has been closed for months as crews excavate the area beneath the bridge to widen the Harbor Brook channel. In addition, culverts are being added to stabilize the flow of the brook.

It took two large cranes and most of Thursday to remove the excavator. In addition to police and fire officials, inspectors from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are also investigating.

Company Directors Jailed for OHS Violations

January 19th, 2015

Company Directors JailedTwo company directors for furniture importer New Mex Canada Inc. were sentenced to 25 days in jail after they pleaded guilty to Occupatonal Health and Safety Act violations that led to a warehouse worker’s death.

The accident in question occurred on Jan. 18, 2013, when a worker was using an “order picker,” which is a combination of a forklift and an operator-up platform, to move merchandise around the company’s Brampton, Ontario warehouse. The order picker, which had been modified, featured a second platform that had not been equipped with a guard rail. Not only that, but the worker was not wearing safety shoes and he was not equipped with fall protection.

At some point, the worker was found on the floor, and was soon pronounced dead of blunt force trauma to the head.

An Ontario Ministry of Labour investigation followed, and they found multiple violations of Ontario’s OHSA, as well as Ontario Regulation 851, which covers industrial workplaces. As a result, New Mex Canada was charged with failure to provide proper training and supervision to a worker regarding fall protection and/or working from height, as well as their failure as an employer to ensure that safety measures required by law were carried out. After pleading guilty to the charges, the company was fined $250,000 by the court, which also added the 25 per cent victim fine surcharge, as required by law. That makes the total cost to the company is $312,500.

In addition to the large fine, the two directors, Baldev Pura and Rajinder Saini, were charged with failing as directors of the company to take reasonable care that the corporation complied with the OHSA and Regulation 851. In pleading guilty to the charges, they were sentenced to 25 days in jail. The sentence will be served on weekends, but both were also ordered to take a health and safety course within the next 60 days.