OSHA Cites Roofer for 19th Time

August 24th, 2016

Fall SafetyLast week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that they had issued 10 citations to Barringer Brothers Roofing, an Illinois contractor that the agency notes has willfully disregarded worker safety laws for years. As a result of these latest citations, the company faces $89,100 in new penalties. The firm is owned by Robert Barringer III.

The latest inspection was commenced on May 18, 2016, after OSHA inspectors observed a number of roofers at a home under construction in Belleville, Ill. who were working at a height of 13 feet without adequate fall protection. What makes this one remarkable is that it’s the 19th time since 2006 that OSHA has cited Barringer Brothers for its failure to mitigate the risk of potentially debilitating or fatal falls. In addition, the agency reports that Barringer is currently in default of $267,900 in previous OSHA penalties. The contractor was placed in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program back in April of this year.

OSHA is currently attempting to collect all previous penalties. They have cited Robert Barringer III previously under several operating names, including Barringer Brothers Roofing, Barringer Brothers Inc., and Barringer Brothers Construction Inc.

In addition to the lack of fall protection, during this latest inspection, which occurred in May 2016, OSHA said it found workers using nail guns without eye protection, they found no fire extinguishers and there was no accident prevention program in place at the site, which is something the contractor was cited for back in 2013.  In their report, OSHA noted that “Robert Barringer has shown a callous disregard for the safety of his employees and utter indifference to the law” and they promised to “use every option available to us to hold him accountable for his shameless behavior.”

Pokémon Go and Worker Safety

August 23rd, 2016

Distracted DrivingAlthough it’s only been about a month since the smartphone gaming app Pokémon Go has been available in Canada, the game is enormously popular, to the point that a number of workplace safety experts and employers are concerned about the potential for the game to place workers in harm’s way. There have already been reports of workplace near-accidents related to the game, so it may be just a matter of time before disaster hits.

Pokémon Go uses a technology called “augmented reality” to hunt fictional creatures using their smartphones. While many suggest it’s a fun game to play during free time, employers might think about banning the app at the workplace before it begins to reduce productivity and certainly before it causes accidents to happen. There have been reports of formerly excellent employees being caught playing the game multiple times during the workday, including a few truck drivers and machine operators, whose attention is required to keep others safe and productivity moving forward.

Some safety experts are recommending that employers act quickly and preemptively on this and enact a complete ban on the game and make sure it has been clearly posted before there are problems. Of course, many will download it on a company phone, but employers should also ban its play on company time, even if workers are using their own personal phones.

These types of bans are not always easy to enforce, but they may be worthwhile, if only for the safety concerns. We know all about the prevalence of distracted driving; what if a driver on the job is found to have been catching Pokémon when they get into an accident? The risk of fatalities and serious injuries is greater, it creates liability on the part of the employer and it could potentially tarnish the company’s brand. This is not an idle worry, there have already been a number of reported traffic accidents while playing Pokémon Go. It’s just a matter of time before heavy equipment operators or machine operators become distracted by this or some other game while they’re working. Pokémon Go is so popular, it will surely usher in dozens of similar games, so this is just the beginning.

It may be time to implement a strict policy that clearly prohibits all employees from downloading games on their work phones and from playing any games on work time. The safety of other workers may be at stake. What do you think should be done?

Failure to Lock Out Robot Costs Company

August 22nd, 2016

lockoutAfter a trial and a conviction for violations of the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act, Matcor Automotive Inc., an Ontario-based manufacturer of metal auto parts, was hit with a huge fine of $270,000, primarily because hey didn’t require that workers lock out machinery before working on it.

The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred on January 15, 2013 at a company facility in Brampton, when a robotic device left a worker with a devastating injury. The incident started when someone advised a supervisor of a problem with a robot cell and the supervisor instructed a maintenance worker to fix the problem. The maintenance worker, believing the repair would be easy one, entered the robot cell without locking out power to the robot or any other nearby machinery. In order to reach the part of the robot that needed to be repaired, the worker had to position himself on a railing adjacent to a conveyor belt to the left of the tooling.

While he was attempting to do the repair, the worker felt pressure on his back and realized that it was the robot doing the pressing. Several co-workers managed to move the injured worker from the conveyor belt and place him on the floor, but the worker’s injuries were serious and permanent.

After a trial that took six days, the company was convicted on three counts. Based on testimony, the court found that maintenance workers were expected to make a judgment call regarding locking out and tagging out a piece of equipment. They also found that there was little actual supervision of workers at the plant. Based on that, the company was found guilty of failing as an employer to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect the health and safety of the worker with respect to working near robotic equipment and failing to ensure that the measures and procedures, as prescribed by Section 75(a) and Section 76 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation (O. Reg. 851) were carried out in the workplace.

In addition to the guilty verdict, Justice of the Peace Darlene Florence imposed $270,000 fine and also imposed the 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge required by the Provincial Offences Act.  That means the company is out $337,500 simply because they didn’t put in place a policy to lock-out/tag-out every machine whenever someone works on it. With that policy, the company may have saved a few minutes while they were lucky, but look at what happened when their luck ran out.

OSHA Investigates Virginia Plant

August 19th, 2016

OSHAEarly in the morning of Friday, August 12, officials at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Danville, Virginia, reported the death of a worker to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). What makes this one notable is that it’s the fourth fatality at that particular plant since August 2015. That’s four worker deaths in the course of 12 months, which is worrisome.

In this case, the identity of the worker and the circumstances surrounding the death were not disclosed.  OSHA has sent investigators, of course, as has the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, which investigates occupational safety in the state. This latest fatality comes just four months after Goodyear employee Greg Cooper died at the plant from a combination of drowning and thermal injuries. OSHA is still in the process of investigating that incident and the two previous accidents. Back in February, the Virginia agency cited the company for three violations of state regulations totaling $16,975 in fines, although Goodyear is contesting those citations.

The union that represents the workers at the plant, the United Steel Workers (USW) initiated an audit of five Goodyear plants around the country in the wake of the April incident because they felt that three deaths in a year was bad enough. The goal of the audit is to discover why so many incidents happen and what can be done to better prevent them. USW spokespersons, who were also on the scene following Friday’s incident, noted that, because many hazards are hidden, all employers should put in place procedures that seek to identify hazards on a daily basis, just to keep up. They note that the current audits could take a year or more to complete, but that  USW will do everything in its power to make sure that any recommendations they make are fully implemented.

In a statement Friday, Goodyear officials said only that they were sorry for the death, that it had reported the death and that they had every intention of cooperating with OSHA and state officials.

Check the Humidity

August 18th, 2016

Sign a red crossThis is the time of year when many Canadians who work outdoors must deal with not just the high heat, but also the humidity, which is the amount of moisture in the air. The combined effect of above average temperatures and very high humidity can have a negative effect on workers, which means supervisors and employers of outside workers should always be mindful of the combination and take all necessary precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses.

The body is always striving to maintain an internal temperature of 37°C, which is why the body sweats in hot weather; the sweat cools the body as it evaporates. Workers should be aware that, when the humidity is high, their sweat tends to evaporate less, if at all. When the relative humidity reaches about 90%, sweat doesn’t evaporate, which can result in higher body temperatures and a greater possibility of heat illness.

There are other factors that can lead to heat-related illnesses, such as air movement or wind speed, workload, radiant heat sources, and the relative physical health of the worker, or whether they have been able to become acclimatized to working in a hot environment. New workers should be encouraged to get used to the heat and humidity by starting to work slowly and steadily increase their workload for at least six or seven days, which is how long it can take to fully adapt to conditions. This is important; rushing things can lead to over-exertion and a greater risk of heat-related illness.

A humidex is a measure of perceived heat that results from the combined effect of high temperatures and excessive humidity. Environment Canada uses humidex ratings to inform the general public throughout the summer months when conditions of heat and humidity are potentially either uncomfortable or dangerous. Weather broadcasters often include the humidex readings for their broadcast areas in their reports, when they suggest that the temperature is one number, but with the humidity, it’s a higher number. In addition, Environment Canada also posts the humidex readings for all of Canada on its website.

If employers and supervisors know the humidex rating for a particular day is going to be high, they should  adjust accordingly. For example, if the air temperature is 30°C, with a relative humidity of 70%, the humidex rating is 41, that means that the effect is the same as working in 41°C, which means workers will experience extreme discomfort and excessive exertion should be avoided.

Take care of your workers and they will take care of you and your bottom line.

OSHA Launches Probe of Trench Collapse

August 17th, 2016

TrenchingThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently investigating an incident in Texas that occurred on Monday, August 8, in which trench collapsed and buried a worker at a construction site south of Pearland. According to initial reports from the  Brazoria County Sheriff’s Department and other first responders who rushed to the site, critical safety equipment that may have saved the construction worker’s life was available but wasn’t being used at the time of the accident.

The accident happened as workers were installing sewer lines as part of the expansion of a huge 270-acre residential subdivision that first opened in 2001. As they were working in the 15-foot deep trench they had made for the sewer lines, the walls of the trench collapsed. Of course, OSHA will have to complere its own investigation into the incident, but their trenching standards require the use of protective systems on trenches that are more than five feet deep.

What is troubling in this situation is the Sheriff’s Department report on the incident, which noted that a trench box – a four-sided rectangular steel enclosure designed to protect workers against a collapse – was available and very visible at the construction site at the time of the accident, but it was not in a position where it could protect workers from a wall collapse.

The victim of the accident was later identified as Noe Reyes, a 49-year-old employee of Jaho Paving and Utility Contractors, a subcontractor at the site. The primary contractor at the site is Savannah Development Ltd.

Two Cement Truck Accidents in a Week

August 16th, 2016

hardhatLast week was not a good one for workers working with or on cement trucks in the Ottawa area. For example, on Wednesday, August 10, officials with the Ontario Ministry of Labour were informed of an incident at a new residential construction site in the Greely area.

According to the Ottawa Paramedic Service, they treated a 43-year-old worker for both a concussion and a serious hand injury as a result of being struck by the metal pipe of a cement pumping truck. It happened as the cement was being poured into wooden forms at the time of the incident. On Thursday, it was reported that the worker was in stable condition in an unidentified Ottawa hospital.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t even the first accident of the week involving workers and a cement truck. Last Monday, another construction worker, later identified as Jacques Lambert, died after he was pulled into a cement mixer at Lafarge Canada construction site in Ottawa’s east end.

In that incident, Lambert, who was an employee of Ottawa-based Prestige Design and Construction Haulage Limited, whom Lafarge had contracted, tried to clear some caked-on concrete from the truck when he fell and was somehow pulled into the drum. According to reports from emergency personnel who arrived at the scene, several of his co-workers tried to help but said that he was too badly injured. The emergency crews rushed to the site after receiving the call and climbed the cement truck’s ladder, but found that the worker had already died.

Officials from the Ontario Ministry of Labour are investigating. None of the companies involved with either incident have commented, except to say that they are cooperating with the investigation. Any charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act must be laid within one year of the incident. If convicted, companies can be fined as much as $500,000, while individuals who are found guilty can be penalized as much as $25,000 or spend as much as 12 months in jail.

 

Company Fined for Demo Site Injury

August 15th, 2016

ExcavatorIn an Ontario court last week, a family-owned construction company that specializes in demolition services for the construction industry, Sean Teperman Consulting Corp., pleaded guilty to violations of the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act and was hit with a $50,000 fine for an accident in which a new construction worker was seriously injured.

The accident that led to the violation and fine happened on April 10, 2014, while the company was in the process of demolishing a building in Toronto. The worker, who was on only his second day on the job, was working with a crew to load dump trucks with debris using an excavator. The excavator would lift the debris and place it into the dump truck, with the worker in question acting as a spotter for the excavator operator, while being positioned in a box inside the bed. However, as the debris was being loaded, he was struck by the moving bucket from the excavator. The worker was subsequently taken to hospital for serious injuries.

An investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Labour found that the worker who was supposed to be doing the spotting was actually not even visible to the excavator operator.  They determined that this was a violation of the Construction Projects Regulation that states, “no worker shall remain on or in a vehicle, machine or equipment while it is being loaded or unloaded if the worker might be endangered by remaining there.” They also charged the company with violating OHS regulations requiring that an employer ensure that a worker is working with all protective measures and procedures required by the Construction Projects Regulation.

After the company pleaded guilty, Sean Teperman Consulting Corp. and was fined $50,000 by Justice of the Peace Sunny Ng in Toronto court. The court then imposed a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. That means a total hit to the company’s bottom line of $62,500 because failed to make sure every worker at the site was safe.

Oregon OSHA Probes Possible Violations

August 12th, 2016

Safety equipment ppeAn Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation is being conducted following news reports claiming that the workers at the site of the Franklin High School renovation may have been exposed to massive amounts of lead during the $104 million project. The news reports featured numerous first-hand accounts and photos of paint chips being piled up and workers scraping what was likely lead paint from the windows without benefit of protective suits or respirators. One worker who was equipped with a respirator but no hazmat suit was seen using a vacuum at the site, with only a single sheet of plastic several feet below being used to catch potentially harmful debris.

OSHA regulations require that workers who scrape paint wear protective clothing and use high-efficiency particulate vacuums to suck up harmful chips and dust. If the company doing the work, which is believed to be Chosen Wood Windows, can prove through air monitoring that workers are not being overexposed, the suit isn’t required. However, if they do the monitoring, they must take into account every specific task a worker does. Until that proof exists, the company is required to take all possible precautions related to “renovation of structures, substrates, or portions thereof, that contain lead, or materials containing lead.” Franklin High School was built in 1915, and OSHA regulations require that contractors presume the presence of lead in all buildings constructed before 1978.

Officials with Skanska, the contractor overseeing subcontractor Chosen Wood Windows, claim that the site had lots of lead paint chips lying around before they commenced work there, but they also say they are giving OSHA their full cooperation. Portland Public Schools noted that “Franklin is a closed site. There are no students or staff there. Skanska is solely responsible for all of the activity that occurs on that site, including best practices for the subcontractors with whom we don’t have a contract.”

This is not the first time OSHA has investigated Chosen Wood Windows. In 2012, they cited the company for serious violations and fined them after receiving a complaint that workers were getting sick from having to remove lead-based paint in a poorly ventilated room.

Exposure to lead is very serious because lead is a very strong neurotoxin that, if inhaled or consumed, is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. While there has been a lot of press focused on lead in drinking water, lead paint is actually a greater threat to health, which is why all workers are required by OSHA to use so much protection while working around it.

Does Greater Protection Lead to Greater Cost?

August 11th, 2016

Loonie_reverse_viewMany maintain that greater regulation can often lead to better protection for workers, while others maintain that regulations simply shift the cost burden from the private to the public, to the detriment of taxpayers. An example of this controversy can be found in Alberta right now, as advocates with the Farmworkers Union of Alberta have heaped praise on the province for its decision to move moving forward with new protections for workers on farms, at the same time advocates for farmers are taking the exact opposite position.

Ever since the Alberta government passed Bill 6, a farm workers’ safety bill that has drawn a tremendous amount of controversy since it was passed, according to the provincial Workers’ Compensation Board, the number of claims by farm workers has more than doubled. Some advocates claim that is a sure sign of the success of the regulation. They suggest that the increase in claims means more farm workers are being protected, which means they are more likely to get the medical care and physiotherapy they need.

Under Bill 6, known as the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, all farmers and ranchers who hire outside help are now required to provide workers’ compensation (WCB) coverage to them. Having greater protection means more workers are using the protection. For the first six months of 2016, the WCB received 395 farm worker claims, considerably more than double the 158 they received for the same time period in 2015.

Some claim, however, that the increased number of claims may be misleading. The Alberta Federation of Agriculture, for example, maintains that many farm workers who were injured before would have been covered by a private insurance plan or out-of-pocket by the farmers themselves. They maintain that the number of accidents hasn’t increased significantly and that the difference simply demonstrates that workers are just paying for their injuries differently.