Alberta Seeks Input on New OHS Rules

November 21st, 2014

alberta-flagAs part of the Alberta government’s regular review, officials at the Alberta Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour and Work Safe Alberta have proposed a number of changes to the provincial Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Code. As part of that process, citizens of the province are being asked to provide input on the changes.

The OHS Code governs health and safety practices in provincial workplaces and proscribes specific rules and regulations designed to keep workers safe. As part of the review process, Albertans are given an opportunity provide their input by completing an online survey, which will be open until January 31, 2015.

Among the subjects covered by the proposed changes this time around include noise exposure, scaffolds and temporary work platforms, personal protective equipment use, and the replacement of the province’s workplace hazardous materials information system to a system that is harmonized with the United States and other countries. There is also a new section regarding  bullying and harassment in the workplace and another on health and safety management systems in the oil and gas sector.

Every five years, the government of Alberta reviews and updates large portions of the OHS code, to make sure that the rules keep up with ongoing changes in technology and industries. In addition to the survey noted above, officials have been consulting with stakeholders since 2011.

New World Trade Center Window Washers Rescued

November 20th, 2014

window washerLast Wednesday, Nov. 12, emergency crews from the Fire Department of New York City rescued two window washers after they became trapped on a scaffold that had collapsed, and was dangling precariously 68 stories above the ground below at the newly opened One World Trade Center building in lower Manhattan.

The call came in to the Fire Department at 12:42 p.m., and firefighters were on the scene just four minutes later. In what one firefighter described in some reports as “a fairly straightforward operation,” they cut a large hole in one of the building’s glass windows with a diamond saw. This was not easy, since the glass has three layers, including one layer that was two inches thick. Firefighters then pulled the workers to safety through the opening at approximately 2:15 p.m.

According to police reports, a cable on the scaffold had apparently broken as it was being raised to the roof of the building, where the crane that was guiding the scaffold was located. The entire time, the platform of the scaffold was was hanging at “a 75-degree angle.”

The workers, who were later identified as 41-year-old Juan Lizama of New Jersey and 33-year-old Juan Lopez of the Bronx, were working for a company called Upgrade. They were immediately taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where they were treated for a mild case of hypothermia. No injuries were reported.

The scaffolding was designed, built and installed by a company called Tractel. That company also designed the scaffolding that collapsed at the Hearst Tower in Manhattan in June 2013. In that incident, the scaffolding buckled, and two workers had to be rescued from a height of 550 feet.

Tips for Safe Winter Driving

November 19th, 2014

winter drivingWinter has returned with a fury within the past few weeks, and with winter comes treacherous driving. Because the danger of such conditions is very real, the insurance industry, which has a vested interest in keeping us safe, has issued some of their top tips for properly preparing to drive in winter, and preventing disaster. Here are their top tips:

  • Pay close attention to weather warnings from Environment Canada’s local weather offices, and drive according to the weather conditions. Slow down and leave extra room for stopping.
  • Keep your vehicle in good mechanical shape, especially when it comes to your vehicle’s battery, belts, hoses, radiator and ignition systems. Also, make sure all fluids stay topped off all winter, especially oil and antifreeze.
  • Be sure that your tires are winter tires, that they have plenty of tread. You should also inspect them every couple of weeks to make sure they’re always at the proper pressure.
  • Do a regular inspection of the wipers, and make sure your windshield-washer reservoir is full. You should also keep an extra jug of washer fluid in your vehicle.
  • Always keep the gas tank topped off.
  • Carry an emergency kit at all times, including a flashlight with extra batteries and a candle for light, extra antifreeze, blankets, hazard markers, a snow shovel, an ice scraper and brush, booster cables and a bag of sand. Also, carry some extra food and water.
  • Always have a fully charged cell phone in your vehicle, as well as a map, and plan an alternate route, if that becomes necessary, and make sure you have the phone number of a local towing company.
  • Always tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to get there.

By following these rules, you can make winter driving safer, and make it more likely you’ll get where you’re going. Be safe this winter.

Welding Tragedy Leads to Huge Fine

November 18th, 2014

weldingA fuel distribution company, National Distribution Services Inc., has been cited and fined more than $99,000 by the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA,, after an explosion at the company’s facility in Corona, California that left one worker dead and another with serious burns.

The incident occurred on May 6, 2014, when the two workers were attempting to weld a section of a 9,000-gallon tanker truck that had not been properly purged or tested for flammable vapors, and which contained an unknown amount of crude oil at the time. The truck exploded, and the two workers were later found on the floor of the plant. One worker was dead, and his right lower arm and hand had been completely severed from his body. The second worker suffered severe burns to more than 50 percent of his body.

Cal/OSHA investigators determined that the company had failed to implement required safety procedures for working with flammable vapors, and that they had failed to train its workers with regard to the dangers of welding close to combustible materials.

Moreover, as the agency investigated that incident, they discovered there had been another explosion at the same facility involving the same two workers. That one occurred on September 25, 2012,when a fuel tankers lid blew through the ceiling when they were welding a truck filled with flammable vapors. There had been no injuries that time. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the owner of National Distribution Services once served prison time after a 1993 incident at a previous business he owned, in which a worker was killed while welding a fuel tanker that had not been purged or tested.

In the wake of this latest incident, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an emergency restriction order, which prohibits the company from working on cargo tank vehicles. That order was issued in August and the company appealed the order in September.

Company Appeals WorkSafeBC Penalties for Explosion

November 17th, 2014

Sawmill fireMore than two years ago, in April 2012, a sawmill owned by Lakeland Mills Ltd. exploded, killing two workers and injuring 22 others in Prince George, British Columbia. In May of this year, WorkSafeBC issued sanctions against the company, and assessed penalties totaling more than $724,000.

Now, Lakeland Mills has filed a “Request for Review” of the penalties and issued a press release calling the amount excessive. In a press release, company officials said, “To accept a regulatory sanction for this tragedy would leave the wrong impression that Lakeland and its people were not diligent or were reckless.” They also noted that accepting such a high level of fines “would not fairly reflect what Lakeland believes is the whole truth about this tragedy.” They also said that no one with the company had any idea that workers were “in harm’s way.” Therefore, they decided that filing an appeal would help protect their reputation.

Lakeland Mills was able to escape criminal charges for the incident largely because Crown Counsel felt they couldn’t press charges under the Workers Compensation Act because of problems with the WorkSafeBC investigation. However, the WSIB report on the incident, which was released on April 14 of this year, concluded that the explosion had been quite preventable. While  the evidence gathered from that investigation was too tainted for a criminal trial, WorkSafeBC said it justified the issuance of a claims cost levy of $626,663 and an administrative penalty of $97,500.

In its statement, Lakeland claimed that it had taken all reasonable steps to reduce all foreseen risks before the explosion occurred, and that they made what they characterized as “diligent inquiries” about the hazards of combustible dust in the wake of a similar explosion at a Burns Lake sawmill three months earlier. They also claim to have taken steps to purchase new equipment that wuold have made dust collection safer. They also noted that Crown Counsel had deemed the incident unforeseeable.

Wisconsin Company Gets OSHA Fine for Lack of Training

November 14th, 2014

OSHAAfter a thorough inspection in the wake of a complaint is received about a worker who had been found unresponsive in a restroom at a company plant, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has found that Wisconsin-based Bremer Manufacturing Co. Inc. failed to properly train workers on the physical and health hazards of chemicals in the workplace. The company faces a potential fine of nearly $82,000.

The worker in question had been working with isocyanates containing resin on the sand molding line. Isocyanates are raw materials that make up all polyurethane products, including chemicals, insulation materials, surface coatings and adhesives.

The OSHA inspection centered on workers who were handling hazardous chemicals, including resin-containing isocyanates, which can result in health problems for workers, including breathing difficulties, irritation to a number of organs and even chest tightness. These types of health consequences can happen even when exposure limits are below levels deemed permissible by OSHA and other federal agencies, especially if they are constantly being exposed to these types of chemicals or they already have other health problems.

OSHA cited the company for one willful violation, for their failure to properly train workers with regard to general workplace chemical hazards. They were also issued a citation for a repeat violation, because the company was cited for the same thing in 2010. The company was also cited for a serious violation of OSHA standards for their failure to establish a written respiratory protection program.

Ontario Company Hit With Huge Fine for Worker Fall

November 13th, 2014

fall-arrest_scaffoldxsmallInnovative Industries, which carries on business on behalf of 2006652 Ontario Limited, recently pleaded guilty to violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and were fined $80,000 for an incident two years ago, in which a worker fell to his death through a skylight as he was working on the roof of an industrial building in Brantford.

The accident occurred on November 15, 2012, as a work crew was repairing the roof and installing new roofing materials on the building. A number of skylights were located throughout the roof surface, and some of the work required that workers walk the length of the roof. The worker in question was in the process of assembling tools and materials. Apparently, no one saw him fall, but at some point a coworker found that one of the dome skylights was broken. He looked down and discovered the worker lying on the concrete floor 23 feet below, face down.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour conducted an investigation, and found that, at the time of the accident, no guard rails, barriers, protective covers, or any other safety devices were in place around or over the skylights as workers performed repairs on the roof. In addition, the worker who died had not been fitted with any type of fall protection or equipment.

As a result, the ministry determined that the company had failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of the worker, as required by the OHSA. That is the violation that Innovative Industries pleaded guilty to, in addition to pleading guilty to failing to ensure that a worker working near a skylight was using a fall protection system.

The $80,000 fine was administrated by Justice of the Peace Marsha Farnand in Provincial Offences Court in Brantford. As always, in addition to the fine, the court imposed a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. The surcharge is credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.

That’s a $100,000 hit to a company’s bottom line because they failed to take into account the safety of their workers. Keeping workers safe does not cost money, it pays.

 

Truck Loaded with Ammonium Nitrate Catches Fire in B.C.

November 12th, 2014

transporttruckOn Thursday, November 6, a truck fire was the scene of a very dangerous situation, in part because the truck was carrying a trailer loaded with approximately 40,000 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, which is a highly explosive chemical. In addition to blocking a rather large stretch of the TransCanada Highway near Kamloops, British Columbia, the potentially dangerous situation forced the evacuation of a number of homes in the immediate area, just west of downtown Kamloops.

According to the driver, the ammonium nitrate, which is used in agriculture as a fertilizer, as well as to make bombs, was being hauled from Alberta to the Gibraltar mine, which is located not far from Williams Lake, B.C. At some point, the driver looked down and noticed that smoke was coming from beneath the carpet in his cab. He pulled over quickly and tried to put out the fire with both of his fire extinguishers, but they proved to be ineffective.

It was at that point that he hopped out of the tractor and dropped the trailer. He then pulled the tractor about 50 feet away from the potentially explosive trailer. Once first responders arrived, RCMP issued an evacuation order to in the area covering a 1,600-metre radius of the fire, mostly out of what they described as “an abundance of caution.” Nearby residents were taken to a shelter a safe distance from the trailer. Also, three schoolbuses from the Kamloops-Thompson School District were delayed, thus stranding some students in their buses for a few hours.

Finally, at a little after 6 p.m., RCMP reported the fire had died down and had not spread to the trailer. Shortly after that, the evacuation order was rescinded, and the highway reopened at around 6:30 p.m.

Worker Dies When Bulldozer Tips Over

November 11th, 2014

BulldozerThe RCMP and WorkSafeNB are in the process of investigating an incident at a highway construction site near Caraquet, New Brunswick last week, in which a heavy equipment operator was killed in a disturbing accident.

The incident occurred as a crew was working at a construction site on Highway 11. So far, not many details have been released, but somehow the bulldozer the worker was operating rolled over and fell into a pool of water that was located at the bottom of an open gravel pit. As a result, the equipment’s operator became trapped beneath the water and drowned.

A stop work order was issued by WorkSafeNB while the investigation continues. Not much is known about the equipment operator. The only information released by WorkSafeNB was that the unnamed worker’s employer was from the private sector, but they chose not to release the name of the company at this time.

Bill 18 Passes, Offers Protection for Ontario Temp Workers

November 10th, 2014

newsThis week, after amending Bill 18, which is a new temporary worker protection bill, to include two key concessions to workers’ rights advocates, Ontario’s legislature unanimously voted in favour of the bill. Now, nearly a year after it was first introduced, the bill will become law.

The new law will have a significant impact on the 133,000 temporary workers in Ontario, many of whom find their work through temporary employment agencies. Before Bill 18, the employment agencies themselves are responsible for protecting the workers’ rights under the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This was the case, even though the employment agencies had very little contact with the workers once they were on the job. This situation led many temporary employees to feel unsure as to where they should turn whenever there were abuses of their. It was also discovered that many companies were using the cover of temporary agencies to avoid responsibility for such things as worker pay and workplace health and safety issues.

Bill 18 will make nearly every area of a worker’s rights the responsibility of both the agency and the company overseeing the work. Temporary workers who have grievances can now go to either one to demand protection. In addition, Bill 18 extends Occupational Health and Safety Act coverage to co-op students and unpaid interns. A lot more workers will be covered, and those who are covered will know who’s responsible. There will be a six-month grace period for employers and agencies when the Bill 18 Amendments do take effect.