Vale Loses Appeal to Ontario Labour Board Ruling

April 27th, 2015

Vale Loses AppealVale Canada Ltd has lost a court appeal of an Ontario Ministry of Labour order to perform daily inspections of cage dogs, a backup safety mechanism on mine shaft elevators which are intended t0 stop an elevator that was free-falling due to a malfunction. The company maintained that performing inspections once per week was sufficient, but the Ministry disagreed and ordered daily inspections.

The Ontario Labour Board, in a decision released April 10, ruled that inspections of the safety catches, which is performed in a process called “chairing the cage,” must be done daily. That procedure mimics what happens when the elevator, also called the “cage” fails. When that happens, the claw-like “dogs” on top begin to spin, cutting into the shaft’s wooden timbers and slowing and stopping the cage’s free-fall.

The problem comes because the “dogs” can eventually erode, or they can be broken or compromised by falling debris, which could prevent them from spinning or attaching to the wooden timbers. According to Vale, because their cages are equipped with a “boot” that catches debris and prevents it from falling into the dogs, making weekly inspections was sufficient. Their maintenance supervisor also testified at the hearing that a weekly visual inspection of the dogs and other parts was enough to detect corrosion or obstruction. The company said it took two employees 10-15 minutes a day to conduct the daily inspections and was ultimately unnecessary.

However, others testified that many other companies were able to “chair” or inspect the cages in less than five minutes. They also noted that, while the boot in place at the Vale mine reduced the risk of debris falling into the dogs, it didn’t eliminate it.

In their ruling, the Labour Board said that, even if the daily inspections actually took 10-15 minutes each, the Occupational Health and Safety Act “requires these safety catches to be examined for any defects on a daily basis.” They rejected Vale’s argument that the OHSA didn’t require daily inspections, as well as their assertion that the inspections were an unnecessary delay that didn’t improve safety. They ordered Vale to continue the daily inspections, as they had been doing during the appeals process, anyway.

OSHA Updates PPE Standards

April 24th, 2015

OSHA Updates PPE StandardsAs part of a multi-year agency initiative to update consensus standards referred to in its rules, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed some changes to its personal protective equipment (PPE) standards for eye and face protection in every covered industry sectors except agriculture.

According to the details published last month, the proposed updates to its PPE standards are intended to conform to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 2010 consensus standard Z87.1, which covers Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices, and which is their latest update. The 2010 version differs from earlier versions of the standard by focusing on specific hazards and the type of PPE needed to protect workers from that hazard. Among the specific hazards noted include droplet and splash, impact, optical radiation, dust and mist exposure, and each hazard cited specifies the type of PPE needed for protection, such as spectacles, goggles, face shields, or welding hats.

While the rules regarding face and eye protection for most industries were last revised in 2009, this marks the first update in the OSHA construction PPE standards since 1993. In addition, the proposed changes revise sections of the construction standard to bring its language in line with the revised rules in other industries, so that there is less confusion.

OSHA is confident this proposal will be accepted readily based on the fact that the construction rule update received unanimous approval last year from the agency’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, which includes representatives from both unions and contractors.


Canadian CEOs Call for More Worker Training

April 23rd, 2015

More Worker TrainingThe Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which represents some of the largest companies in Canada has called on employers throughout the country, in all industries and sectors, to place a greater emphasis on training and make absolutely certain their workers’ skills are up to date.

The Council made the plea on April 13 at an Ottawa conference, in the hope of sparking what it hopes will become a national discussion on the importance of skills development on the part of all Canadian workers. They point out that one of the keys to recruiting and keeping skilled workers is thorough and proper training, and that Canadian employers should do more to ensure that all Canadian workers have the skills and the education to find and hold on to good jobs.

The Council made note of a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada suggesting that the average Canadian employer spends only about two-thirds as much as U.S. companies when it comes to education and training of their workers. That skills gap has the effect of making Canada less competitive on the global stage.

They also want to look into ways to encourage young Canadian workers to be more successful in the transition from classroom to workplace. To that end, a roundtable was announced by the Council and another group representing post-secondary educational institutions for just that purpose.

OSHA Fall Safety Stand-Down Could Be Biggest Ever

April 22nd, 2015

OSHA Fall Safety Stand-DownA construction worker falls on the job every day in the United States. In fact, falls are a leading cause of death in the construction industry, with hundreds falling to their death every year, and thousands more falling and being seriously injured. And most could have been avoided with something as simple as basic fall protection, such as a safety harness. Despite this simple solution, lack of fall protection is the most-cited violation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

That is the reason why OSHA held a weeklong Fall Safety Stand-Down in 2014, which was joined by tens of thousands of employers and more than a million workers across the country. It was, by far, the largest occupational safety event ever held, and yet OSHA is hoping to triple those numbers and that success during this year’s two-week long Fall Safety Stand-Down, which will be held from May 4-15, 2015.

From May 4-15, employers and workers at construction sites all over the country will pause during their workday to hold topic talks, demonstrations and training with regard to how workers and employers can use safety harnesses, guard rails and other means to protect everyone from falls.

This year’s version of the National Fall Safety Stand-Down is part of an overall OSHA fall prevention campaign, which was launched three years ago. They plan to make note of the toll that falls have not just on workers, but also their families and others. They hope the Stand-Down will help everyone avoid fall hazards and the tragedies that result.

Preventing Workplace Fatigue

April 21st, 2015

FatigueFatigue is a potentially dangerous condition that can seriously increase the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace. As an employer, you have to be sure that workers are not experiencing the signs or effects of fatigue while on the job, because ignoring it could put your workplace at risk. To do this, you should include fatigue and sleep information in your workplace’s safety guidelines and by even developing a fatigue management plan.

Fatigue results from a lack of sleep, of course, but it can be made worse through long periods of mental activity, stress or anxiety, or through tedious, boring, repetitive tasks. Acute fatigue can result from getting less sleep than normal before a work shift, and can be cured by getting adequate sleep later. Chronic fatigue, however, is more of a long-term problem that results from an extended period of sleep loss. Sometimes, these conditions can build over weeks or months, and create a constant problem.

Some of the symptoms and signs of fatigue can include the obvious, such as sleepiness or tiredness, but they can also include an inability to concentrate, memory lapses and slower-then-usual reaction times. Fatigue can seriously reduce a worker’s communication skills, as well as negatively impact their ability to do complex planning or to make decisions. It can also reduce their ability to handle stress, as well as their usual productivity. According to studies, the risk of mistakes at work increases substantially if workers get less than 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep or if they are awake (not just working, but awake) for more than 17 consecutive hours.

Over the long term, fatigue can have other negative effects on health, from a loss of appetite and digestive problems to chronic depression, all of which can lead to a higher absentee rate, more sick time, increased medical costs and a higher rate of turnover.

The best way to prevent worker fatigue and the problems that come with it is to create shift schedules that allow workers enough time for continuous sleep, and factor in other daily activities, such as meal times, socializing, relaxing and commuting, especially when workers are required to work long hours. In those situations, consider providing such amenities as prepared meals, a sleep room, where workers can take an occasional nap or sleep a little before heading home.

Employers should also make sure every work area has good lighting, reasonable noise levels and comfortable temperatures where possible, and consider rotating tasks during a shift so that workers have a variety of tasks and don’t become bored. Also, be flexible enough with tasks that those workers who may seem fatigued can be assigned something that is less safety-sensitive.

Workers also have a responsibility to try to get enough sleep, which is said to be between 7.5 to 8.5 hours daily. Studies have shown that workers following certain guidelines suffer less from fatigue than others. Among these guidelines include going to bed the same time every day and making the room as cool, dark and quiet as possible. They should also exercise regularly, and avoid caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, especially right before bedtime.

Large Companies Call for Greater Information Sharing

April 20th, 2015

Greater Information SharingAccording to some mine managers who attended a mine safety conference in Sudbury last week, mining companies currently don’t discuss best mine safety practices with each other because the sense of competition precludes it, and that is something that needs to change.

This revelation came in the wake of a mine safety review released by Ontario officials this week, which called for better mine safety and greater cooperation between mining companies and the Ministry of Labour, and which also made 18 recommendations for making mining safer for workers, including a formal plan to manage hazards, mandatory site risk assessments, as well as a risk assessment of the entire mining industry every three years, emergency response plans and recording seismic and ground instability events.

At the conference, which was held on April 16, the mining industry was portrayed as being somewhat disconnected, with safety standards that are inconsistent, varying widely among different companies, in part because they refuse to share good safety information.

One possible solution was presented at the conference, when the director of the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health at Laurentian University in Sudbury suggested that her department become a safety information repository, meaning that the companies would be able to compare notes on safety practices without actually having to speak to one another.  The Centre could also serve the industry by explaining academic occupational health and safety studies in plain language for industry stakeholders. That way, by working with other workplace safety experts, they could eventually develop a set of industry-wide safety standards and best practices and communicate them to mine workers, without having to force very competitive companies from having to share directly.

OSHA Investigating Pennsylvania Road Worker Death

April 17th, 2015

OSHA Investigating Pennsylvania Road Worker DeathThe U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is on the scene to investigate a terrible accident in southwestern Pennsylvania, in which a worker for a highway contractor was killed as he was working as part of a crew that was installing guardrails along a busy highway.

According to the Washington County Coroner’s office, 43-year-old highway worker Legrant Blackwell was killed on Thursday, April 9, when a vehicle owned by the contractor who employed him, Green Acres Contracting Co., backed up over him.

Pennsylvania State Police investigated and ruled the death an accident. According to their report, Blackwell was working in the vehicle’s “blind spot” when he was run over at about 3:20 p.m. as he worked on the project on U.S. Route 22 in Hanover Township. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The name of the vehicle’s driver was not released, nor was the type of vehicle used described at all.

Green Acres Contracting Co. had been hired by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to replace the highway’s guardrails, which had been badly damaged in an earlier vehicle accident. The only statement the company has made since the accident is to offer their condolences to Blackwell’s family and to point out that all indications were that the incident was an accident. However, since all workplace accidents are preventable, that seems to be a hollow distinction. OSHA’s investigation will determine what happened and who is responsible.

Who is “Competent” to Investigate Workplace Harassment?

April 16th, 2015

judgementBecause a worker who filed a complaint against an employer had not agreed that a manager was impartial, the Federal Court of Canada has held that said manager was not a “competent person” to conduct an investigation into workplace harassment under the Canada Labour Code.

The worker, who was an employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), filed a written complaint that alleged harassment by a supervisor, in the form of “miscommunication, favouritism, humiliation, unfair treatment and a lack of respect.” That complaint was filed in December 2011.

In response to the complaint, the CFIA assigned a manager with the task of conducting a “fact-finding” review of the issues that had been raised in the complaint.  The manager undertook an investigation of the matter and came to the conclusion that, while there were certainly communication issues and there was some unresolved tension, there was no evidence of harassment.

After reading that conclusion, the worker then contacted a federal Health and Safety Officer (HSO) and alleged that the manager who conducted the investigation was not impartial enough to have conducted such an investigation. In response, the HSO issued a Directive to the CFIA, requiring that they appoint an impartial person to investigate the issues in the complaint, pursuant to the Canada Labour Code.

Dissatisfied, the CFIA then appealed that Directive to an Appeals Officer of the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal of Canada, which took the CFIA’s side. It was then that the worker then appealed to the Federal Court of Canada, which took note that the Canada Labour Code sets out specific procedural protocols that an employer must follow when there is a complaint of “workplace violence.” They also noted that “harassment may constitute workplace violence, depending on the circumstances,” such as when a proper investigation of a harassment complaint by a competent person determines that the harassment could result in harm or illness to the employee.

The court then pointed out the definition of “competent person” to conduct a workplace violence investigation requires that such a person have the necessary knowledge, training and experience and that he or she is “impartial and is seen by (all) parties to be impartial.” Because the employee who filed the complaint did not agree that the manager was impartial, he was, by legal definition, not a “competent person” to conduct the investigation. That meant the manager’s investigation couldn’t be used and sent the complaint back to the Appeals Officer for re-determination of the issues.

OSHA Labels Oil and Gas Work “High Hazard”

April 15th, 2015

OSHA Labels Oil and Gas Work High HazardAccording to a new policy directive by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Oil and gas drilling companies could now be subject to even tougher enforcement from now on, as they have placed all oil and gas drilling, well operations, and support work into the category of “high hazard” worksites, which could mean easier entry into the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which could be bad for business.

In all, every employer who falls under any of these three North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) groups are now subject to increased inspections:

  • NAICS 211111, crude petroleum and natural gas extraction;
  • NAICS 213111, drilling oil and gas wells; and
  • NAICS 213112, support activities for oil and gas operations.

According to the new directive, the “high hazard” designation means that if OSHA conducts an inspection and finds multiple willful or repeat violations or issues one or more failure-to-abate notices, or any combination of those, the employer will be placed in SVEP.

The reason for the new designation comes after government data for 2012 demonstrated that the fatality rate for oil, gas, and mineral extraction workers was significantly higher, at 15.9 deaths for every 100,000 full-time workers, than that of the general workforce, which was 3.4 workers per 100,000.

Many in the oil and gas industry are noting that the number, which comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, can be misleading, since oil and gas workers are included with the entire mining industry, including coal mining and other mineral resources extraction.

Employers should try to avoid being placed into the SVEP because once a business has been tagged, its other worksites are subject to a greater number of OSHA inspections, even those that have had no accidents or complaints. A company can’t remove themselves from the SVEP for at least three years and even then, that can only happen if it has a clean record and they can convince OSHA that they deserve to leave SVEP.

Day of Mourning: April 28

April 14th, 2015

Day of Mourning April 28Every April 28, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), along with other occupational safety organizations from around the world, hold an annual National Day of Mourning, which is intended to honour workers whose lives have either been lost or seriously altered by workplace injuries, disabilities or disease.

The National Day of Mourning was first officially recognized by the federal government in 1991, although the Canadian Labour Congress had been honouring workers this way for eight years by that point. Since then, the Day of Mourning has been adopted by the AFL-CIO and the International Confederation of Free Trade and has spread to countries around the world.

The purpose of the National Day of Mourning is not just to remember those workers who have been affected by workplace accidents, but also to encourage employers and workers alike to publicly renew their commitment to better health and safety practices and procedures in the workplace. To help promote what CCOHS considers an important day for promoting safety awareness, they are offering a number of items free of charge to employers, including posters, stickers and pins, all of which are available at the CCOHS website.

Though the 902 workplace deaths in Canada was the lowest number recorded since 2000, that still represents nearly 2.5 workplace deaths every single day, and that number seems to have been persistent for a very long time. In all, between 1993 and 2013, 18,941 Canadian workers lost their lives, which comes to an average of 902 per year, or 2.5 workplace deaths every day. That suggests a lot more has to be done to keep workers safe.