When Safety Officials Fail to Act

February 10th, 2016

WorksafebcIn the aftermath of an terrible accident in which two workers died at a lumber yard in New Westminster, British Columbia, an examination of workplace safety agency WorkSafeBC records revealed that the employer, United Gateway Logistics Inc. (UGL), has developed a significant history of occupational health and safety violations in the two-and-a-half years prior to the accident, although the agency has apparently never taken any action.

According to WorkSafeBC, the latest incident at UGL, a company specializing in export container lumber reloading, happened on Jan. 23, when two workers were found beneath a pile of lumber that apparently had fallen on them. The emergency call about the accident was received by the New Westminster Police Department just before 1 p.m. that day. Police worked the accident scene until about 7 p.m., then turned the scene over to WorkSafeBC.

What investigators have confirmed so far is that there were no witnesses to the incident and that a forklift driver at the worksite made the call to 9-1-1. However, this was the 18th such inspection within about 32 months because of potential violations. In fact, a previous report, dated Dec. 21, 2015, just a month before this latest incident, noted that there were outstanding orders regarding load-handling attachments that had been installed on mobile equipment. It also cited a lack of “written procedures for providing first-aid services at the worksite” and noted that “The employer has not maintained a record of worker injuries and exposures to contaminants covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation that are reported or treated at this worksite.”

The first inspection report during the period investigators looked at, which was dated April 30, 2013, made note of outstanding orders regarding an unsafe loading dock, an under-qualified forklift operator and a lack of high-visibility clothing in hazardous areas, and the list of infractions from subsequent reports noted that the company failed to conduct regular safety inspections and failure to follow basic OHS regulations regarding forklift operation.

According to the Dec. 21, 2015 report, “WorkSafeBC has determined that there are grounds for imposing an administrative penalty.” However, despite the numerous violations found, UGL has yet to be charged or penalized for any of the safety infractions noted in the report.

Crane Collapses in New York City

February 9th, 2016

Crane Safety officials in New York City, as well as those from the state and federal government, are investigating the reasons as to why a huge 565-foot construction crane crashed into a lower Manhattan street late last week as it was being lowered during a storm that featured strong winds. The crane collapse killed one pedestrian and injured three others and it crushed a row of cars parked in its path. The accident happened about 10 blocks north of the World Trade Center. The boom of the mobile crane landed across an intersection, where the wreckage stretched out for more than a block.

The incident could have been a  lot worse, if not for the quick and possibly heroic efforts of the crane operator. The construction worker, 56-year-old Kevin Reilly, was able to steer the falling crane away from the nearby buildings that lined Worth Street and kept  it in line with the street as it fell. This demonstrates the importance of training those who operate these huge machines not just for normal operation, but also what to do when things go wrong.

Due to fears of that morning’s snowfall and wind gusts that topped 20 miles per hour, construction crews had decided to take down the crane before the winds had a chance to topple it. Reilly was in the process of lowering the front end of the huge crane when a violent wind gust swept down the street. While the crane was equipped with a counterweight to balance the enormous arm as the operator lowers it to the ground, the wind gust apparently was too strong and threw everything off balance, resulting in the collapse.

Several agencies are participating in the investigation, which is ongoing, although the theory about the wind gust seems to investigators to be the most likely reason for the collapse. Officials with the City of New York were hoping to have the 330-ton crane removed from the street within  a couple of days by cutting the arm into 35 pieces. Investigators also removed the crane’s “movement recording computer”  to uncover more clues to the reason for the collapse.

Essential PPE: Heat Exchangers

February 8th, 2016

Essential PPEAs anyone who has spent any time outdoors in really cold weather can attest, the cold can have a negative effect on breathing and the ability of the lungs to function well, even for someone without asthma. In very cold air, difficulty breathing can make any work far more uncomfortable and difficult and if the worker has to be outside working for long hours in frigid environments, it can even have a negative effect on their immune systems, putting them at greater risk for illness. In all, working outside in cold weather leads to lower productivity and more sick days.

As most people who work in the cold know, wrapping a scarf or any kind of soft cloth around the mouth can at least reduce the likelihood of what is called “winter asthma,” but technology has brought us an even better solution for the most extreme cold, in the form of heat exchanger masks. These masks warm inhaled air and capture exhaled air, thus humidifying and warming the inhaled air to make breathing far more comfortable for workers.

And they seem to work; according to researchers, the lung capacity of people who breathed cold air through a heat exchanger decreased 4.3 per cent, whereas the lung capacity of those who breathed without one decreased 19 percent. These masks can also increase lung capacity for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Even in healthy workers, a heat exchanger reduces a worker’s stress during any strenuous activity in the cold.

Different heat exchanger masks on the market have different temperature ratings, which make note of a temperature point at which the moisture in the mask is likely to frost and become less effective. This is crucial when choosing a mask that will work best in the conditions workers will face. For the most part, heat exchanger masks tend to be up to 80 percent efficient, meaning that, when the outdoor temperature is around 0°F/-17°C, the worker’s inhaled breath can be warmed to at least 75°F/24°C before it enters the body, which would feel like breathing a nice spring day. The efficiency, of course, will vary based on the user’s lung capacity and respiration rate.

On an extremely cold day, a heat exchanger can certainly be an essential item of personal protective equipment to consider to keep workers safe and healthy.

Massachusetts Roofer Hit with Heavy OSHA Fine

February 5th, 2016

roofersOnce again demonstrating that they are serious about reducing the incidents of falls nationwide, the U.S Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has slapped a roofing contractor based in Framingham, Massachusetts with numerous citations and a potential $188,000 penalty for potentially exposing workers to dangerous and potentially deadly fall hazards. And because the company seems to be making a habit of this, they have also stepped up enforcement against the roofer.

The citations came about as a result of a  site inspection at a residential job site in Woburn, where inspectors noted that the roofer, AS General Construction Inc., was putting workers at risk of falls of more than 26 feet from an unguarded roof. They also found a poorly-constructed ladder-jack scaffold, as well as violations involving personal protective equipment and other issues. OSHA cited the company for 16 violations in all, including two willful, seven repeat and seven serious violations.

As should be obvious from the seven repeat violations, which cited that way because they were similar to other violations cited between 2011 and 2015, according to OSHA, AS General Construction has a bleak history when it comes to OSHA violations. For that reason, they have been placed in the Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP), which focuses on employers who willfully or repeatedly place workers at risk. Under the SVEP, OSHA will conduct more frequent inspections if it has reasonable grounds to believe similar violations are occurring.

WorkSafeBC Concerned About Hearing Loss

February 4th, 2016

Hearing_protectorsAccording to WorkSafeBC, 2014 test results have shown that workers in the province’s oil and gas industry at all levels are far more likely to suffer hearing loss than other industries. Their findings show that more than 36 per cent of oil and gas workers demonstrated signs of noise-related hearing loss.

Because that number is more than double that of other industries, officials at the agency fine that number alarming and they have indicated that they intend to look into ways to make sure employers in the oil and gas industry are taking seriously their legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their workers, including the prevention of noise-related hearing loss.

According to the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, all employers are required to monitor noise levels in every workplace and provide appropriate hearing loss prevention programs to all workers exposed to hazardous noise levels. In addition, all workers who are subjected to high levels of noise should be undergoing regular hearing tests, at least annually.

Despite these requirements, WorkSafeBC data suggest that only about 15 per cent of oil and gas workers who should have been tested in 2014 actually were tested. The data also indicate that hearing protection is insufficient in many oil and gas workplaces and is in need or re-evaluation by industry employers, in any case. Most troubling is that 27 per cent of young oil and gas workers who should be wearing hearing protection report doing so. They are concerned enough, employers should expect a crackdown.

Worker Injured by Pavement Roller

February 3rd, 2016

Worker Injured by Pavement RollerLast week, there was a grisly accident in which a California road construction worker in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood ended up in San Francisco General Hospital in serious condition with injuries described as “life-threatening,” after he was struck by a pavement roller.

The accident happened last Thursday afternoon, January 28. When first responders from the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Fire Department arrived at the scene at 18th and Vicente streets at 12:14 p.m, they discovered a worker, who was believed to be in his 50s, lying next to the pavement roller. They gave the man emergency medical care before transporting him by ambulance to the hospital.

Officials with the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA is currently investigating the incident, which involves LC General Engineering & Construction Inc., a contractor for the San Francisco Public Works Department and which is the worker’s employer. They are working on a city street construction project.

According to a spokesperson with the safety agency, LC General has not been subject to a Cal/OSHA investigation within the last 5 years and they are said to be cooperating fully with Cal/OSHA and police investigations. As of today, the victim of the accident has not been identified and the exact nature of his injuries have not been disclosed.

Propane Company Fined $5.3 Million

February 2nd, 2016

Propane Company FinedFor those employers who still believe that a safe workplace isn’t necessarily worth the investment comes the story of Sunrise Propane. On Aug. 10, 2008, there was a devastating explosion and fire at one of their plants, in Toronto, that left one employee dead and forced the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes in the middle of the night.

Last week, after noting that the explosion and fire caused “unprecedented” devastation, Ontario Justice Leslie Chapin slammed the company, which is no longer in operation, with a $5.1 million fine, at the same time it ordered company directors Shay Ben-Moshe and Valery Belahov to pay $100,000 each. The company has two years to pay their fine, while the directors have three years to pay theirs. This massive amount was still almost $2 million less than prosecutors had asked for.

According to testimony at trial, the initial blast took place when propane vapours ignited during a truck-to-truck propane transfer, which is a very risky process. Witnesses to the explosion described seeing fireballs being launched in the sky, air filled with smoke and shattered windows throughout the area. In addition, lawns nearby were coated with deadly asbestos. In June 2013, the company and the two directors, Ben-Moshe and Belahov, were found guilty of nine provincial offences related to the explosion, which killed 25-year old worker Parminder Saini. In addition, a 55-year-old firefighter who responded to the emergency call died from a heart attack.

In convicting the company, the court ruled that Sunrise Propane had failed to provide safety training and a safe working environment and that they had discharged a contaminant. In addition to those, they were also convicted of contravening several provincial orders related to the explosion cleanup. They also ruled that Ben-Moshe and Belahov had failed to take all reasonable care to prevent safety violations.

The government shut down all three Sunrise Propane plants not long after the blast. A lawyer for the company had asked for reduced fines, claiming that his clients don’t have the money, but the judge was skeptical of that, saying she had “no reliable information” to support that claim.

Safety Tips for Plowing Railroad Crossings

February 1st, 2016

Plowing Railroad CrossingsIn Canada, when winter rears its cold, frostbitten head, we manage to adapt. That’s what makes snowplows so important. After the stress of driving a long distance on snowy and icy roads, there may be no more comforting sight than the flashing light of the snowplow ahead because we rely on them to keep our way clear.

One crucial area in which we depend on snowplows to clear a safe path comes with railroad crossings and, when it comes to such crossings, snowplow operators require special knowledge to clear them without causing damage to either the railroad tracks or their equipment. This is why it’s very important for all operators to keep up on their railroad crossing skills before every winter. The folks at Operation Lifesaver have a page full of snowplow rail crossing safety tips, but here’s a quick summary of some of the most important ones:

  • When approaching a crossing, stop the plow no less than five metres from the nearest rail and make sure there is enough room on the other side of the tracks for your plow, should it stall or get stuck.
  • Raise the blade of the plow high enough to clear the tracks and the signals, to prevent damage to them or the plow.
  • You should avoid piling snow on or near railway crossings, of course, but it’s also important to keep the area under gate arms or other mechanisms clear because that may result in a malfunction.
  • Don’t pile snow on the access roads that run along the tracks.
  • Take extra caution at crossings without gates, flashing lights or other warnings. You always have to look and listen to make sure you can proceed safely.
  • Sand and other abrasives are very bad for railroad tracks; a buildup can even cause a derailment, so do not apply sand less than three metres from the tracks.

A snowplow operator’s job is to make the roads safe. Special caution is always necessary at railroad crossings, to protect the operator, other drivers on the road and the railroad, as well. Always make safe operation a priority, especially at railroad crossings.

OSHA Fraud Prevention Measure

January 29th, 2016

OSHA-logoThe U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responding to concerns about potential fraud by developing and introducing more durable and secure completion cards for both trainers and students who are engaged in its Outreach Training Programs. These types of courses cover such essential subjects as workers’ rights, OSHA regulations and protections, hazard identification and prevention and disaster preparedness and are required by some employers and municipalities.

As it currently stands, students who complete OSHA-certified safety courses receive cards certifying completion. However, these cards are printed on plain paper. However, beginning on March 1, 2016, the cards will be much better and more durable. They will be printed on a stock that is similar to a credit card, and they will include a watermark that will show up when copied and a QR code that can be scanned to authenticate them against a database of students and authorized trainers.

The cards provided to students will contain the student’s name, trainer’s name, date of issue and the OSHA Training Institute (OTI) center that issued the card, while trainer cards will contain the name, identification number, expiration date, and the OTI center at which the trainer was authorized. The combination of these elements are expected to reduce or eliminate the possibility of fraud.

Despite the fact that these should reduce fraud, OSHA has no plans to reissue new cards those who already have the current paper version but they will have the opportunity to purchase one from the trainer who conducted their class.

Mining Company Fined $365k

January 28th, 2016

Mining Company Fined $365kIn the wake of two separate accidents involving heavy equipment operators that happened in 2014, last week Lac Des Iles Mines Ltd. was hit with a total fine of $365,000 last week. In the incidents, one worker was seriously injured and another was killed.

The first accident happened on February 22, 2014, as a heavy equipment operator was in the process of loading mining trucks with an excavator and the working face of the stockpile failed, sending a large amount of material onto the excavator, crushing the operator’s cab and trapping the worker inside. The material also crushed the radio, so the worker was unable to call for assistance or shut down the motor while he was trapped inside. It wasn’t until another equipment operator discovered the trapped worker that mine rescue personnel were able to get to and extricate him about two hours after the incident. The worker suffered hand and leg injuries.

The second incident occurred on July 10, 2014, as a miner was operating a scoop tram, which is similar to a front-end loader that works underground to haul ore, when he was crushed by a load of muck or rock. His body was found at the bottom of an inclined excavation, just before what is called the ‘safe-limit line,’ which designates a hazard zone to workers. It is still unknown why the worker was beyond the line or why he was outside of the loader’s cab with a raised bucket full of rock and its engine still running.

After a thorough investigation, the Ontario Ministry of Labour issued a number of orders to Lac Des Iles Mines Ltd., including one to ensure that written safety precautions and procedures were established and used before, during and after removal of material, an order the company complied with by developing a written policy that no worker outside a loader would be permitted ahead of the safe-limit line without permission from a supervisor. They were found guilty of failing to ensure that written safety precautions and procedures were established and followed to prevent a worker from being outside of a loader while ahead of the safe-limit line, which brought a fine of $300,000, and for failing to ensure that a stockpile of unconsolidated material was made safe before a worker was allowed to work close to or on top of the stockpile, which brought an additional $65,000.

In addition to those fines, which were imposed by Senior Justice of the Peace Raymond Zuliani in Thunder Bay court on January 18, 2016, a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge was also added, meaning the total cost to the company was $456,250. Yet more proof that safety doesn’t cost a company nearly as much as the alternative.