OSHA: Contractor Purposely Ignored Safety

April 29th, 2016

trench toThe U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited a Birmingham, Alabama contractor, Stephens Plumbing, Inc., for one willful and four serious safety violations related to excavation and trenching safety. Basically, OSHA cited the company for purposely ignoring safety standards with regard to trenching. In all, the company faces fines of $43,800.

According to the OSHA news release, during a routine inspection, an OSHA inspector witnessed workers in a trench that was at least 10 feet deep working without the cave-in protection necessary under OSHA regulations. That is the violation brought the willful citation. However, there was more; the company also was issued a citation for a serious citation for not having trained workers to recognize, prevent and avoid cave-in hazards.

The other three serious violations they cited the company for included; failing to provide a safe means to enter and exit the excavation; failure to ensure that all soil removed from the trench was not placed directly on the edge of the opening, and for allowing workers to work in an excavation with water accumulated in the bottom.

In their report, OSHA noted that “Stephens Plumbing knew the excavation was unsafe, but they put workers in the trench anyway because management said ‘the job needed to get done.’ Luckily, a compliance officer was there to stop the work before a collapse occurred. It only takes seconds for a trench to collapse and bury an employee under thousands of pounds of earth, often resulting in serious injury or death.”

Toronto Scaffolding Collapse

April 28th, 2016

ScaffoldingIn an incident that had the potential to be a major tragedy, seven people, one of them a baby, barely avoided suffering serious injuries on the afternoon of April 18, when scaffolding collapsed and fell into a pile of rubble on the street in Forest Hill, which is one of Toronto’s busiest neighbourhoods. The accident happened at about 2:30 p.m. at the site of a closed Chinese restaurant that is being demolished to make way for a new public transit stop along a new route.

Toronto Police, firefighters and paramedics arrived soon after the collapse and rescued the seven people, who were believed to have been trapped in the remains of the scaffolding. All seven were transported to local hospital with what were only described as “non-life-threatening injuries.”

Police note that one of those who suffered such a close call was an infant. According to police, it’s likely that the baby carriage likely saved the child’s life. Thankfully, the injuries he suffered were described as “quite minor” by police. All of the injured were either close to or inside the scaffolding at the time of the collapse, but it was not immediately known which of the injured were working on the demolition and which were pedestrians just passing by.

After the collapse, investigators from the Toronto Police Department and the Ontario Ministry of Labour swarmed the surrounding neighbourhood to look for clues as to the causes and consequences of the accident. They continue to investigate.

U.S. Officials Offer Guidance on Zika

April 27th, 2016

WarningLast week in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new information and guidance with regard to protecting workers from occupational exposure to Zika virus. This guidance included steps for protecting outdoor workers who may be exposed, including mosquito control workers.

The interim guidance and recommendations for workers includes specific ways that workers can protect themselves from mosquito bites, as well as how to limit exposure to an infected person’s blood or other bodily fluids. The CDC and OSHA have promised to continue to update this guidance as new information becomes available with regard to Zika virus transmission and related health effects. Their recommendations are based on available accumulating evidence, expert opinion, and knowledge about the risk associated with Zika transmission.

The primary method by which the Zika virus spreads is via bites from infected mosquitoes, although it is also possible for the virus to spread through exposure to an infected person’s blood or other bodily fluids. There is currently no vaccine to prevent a Zika virus infection, and there is no specific treatment available for those who become infected. Because of the primary method of transmission, it is believed that outdoor workers may be at the greatest risk of exposure to the Zika virus. Therefore, employers are being asked to take action to protect workers by doing the following:

 

  • Either provide workers with or encourage them to wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible, leaving the amount of exposed skin minimal. Make sure the clothing is lightweight and loose-fitting and that also provides protection from the sun, in addition to mosquito protection.
  • Provide workers with hats fitted with mosquito netting, to protect their face and neck.
  • Provide workers with and encourage workers’ use of insect repellents containing EPA-registered active ingredients.
  • Eliminate sources of standing water, which attracts mosquitos and train workers on the dangers of standing water.
  • Reassign workers who are at the highest risk, such as those who may become pregnant or whose partner may become pregnant to indoor assignments to the extent possible.
  • Regularly go to the CDC Zika website frequently for the most updated information.

Keeping your workers safe is the job of every employer. Take the steps now and make sure you keep up to date, so that you can fulfill your responsibilities.

Many Company Officers Lack Safety Knowledge

April 26th, 2016

InvestigatorWhile it has been known for years that it is the leaders of a company, including executives and managers, whose commitment largely determines the health and safety culture of any workplace, there has been a question as to how much they know about health and safety themselves. Well, a new survey has given us a glimpse into just how much company leaders know about their own organizations. According to the study, throughout Canada, approximately 55 per cent of such leaders have been trained with regard to their own company’s occupational health and safety program and policies. Compare that to the 70 per cent of workers who have been properly trained.

The results of this survey are disappointing to safety experts and they should disappoint the companies, who are required by law to be fully responsible for workplace health and safety. How can they make sure their workplace is the safest it can be if they don’t even understand their own company’s policies? More importantly, if they don’t know the policies, how can they know whether or not they’re working?

For example, the survey showed that, while every employer must implement a workplace violence and harassment prevention program and fully train workers as to what’s in it, many employers apparently believe they should only follow the letter of the law. They found that 93 per cent of employers who responded have implemented such a policy, but only 33 per cent had performed a risk assessment in the previous 12 months, despite the requirement in many provinces that employers review their health and safety policies and program annually.

This kind of thing would seem to be important, given that more than half of respondents (53 per cent) reported having received a complaint of workplace violence or harassment over the previous year. It’s also important because OHS officials all over Canada conduct workplace inspections and failing to pass inspection can cost your company money. In all, 46 per cent of respondents to the survey had a workplace visit by an OHS officer over the previous year and 33 per cent of them had been given an order or a direction by an inspector during that year.

National Day of Mourning

April 25th, 2016

hardhatThis coming Thursday, April 28 will mark the National Day of Mourning for workers who have died or been injured while working on the job all over the country. In honour of those fallen workers, the federal and provincial governments will fly flags at half-staff and safety officials have events planned to remind employers and workers of the potential cost of an unsafe workplace and to encourage them to not become a statistic.

Many will observe the day by holding ceremonies, wearing black armbands or ribbons, lighting candles, and everyone will pause for a moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. However, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is reminding everyone that the National Day of Mourning is more than a chance to remember the dead, however; it’s also an opportunity to call on employers and workers to work hard to protect the living.

While workplace injury statistics are improving in recent years, there is still a lot more to do. In 2014,  a total of 919 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada, which comes to more than 2.5 every single day. That same year, there were 239,643 claims for lost time due to work-related injury or illness, which comes to more than 650 every day. Even more tragic; of those statistics, 13 of the deaths and 7,998 of the illnesses were young workers aged 15-19. Keep in mind, those numbers only include claims reported and accepted by workers’ compensation boards, so those numbers may actually be higher.

The Day of Mourning, which was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1983, became official in 1991, when the Canadian Parliament passed the Workers Mourning Day Act. Now, the Day of Mourning is international in scope and honoured in almost 100 countries.

Calgary Worker Knocked into Trench

April 22nd, 2016

TrenchOn Friday afternoon, April 15, a construction worker was rushed to hospital with possible life-threatening injuries at a worksite near the Coast Plaza Hotel in northeast Calgary, after he was struck by a piece of heavy equipment, causing him to fall into a trench.

Paramedics and rescue crews with the Calgary Fire Department responded to the job site after they received a 911 call at 1:20 p.m. The rescue personnel worked to shore up the trench before pulling the man out and transporting him to hospital.

According to witnesses, the man was apparently struck with the bucket of a track hoe that was located at the job site. Apparently, throughout the ordeal, the victim appeared to be conscious and was apparently moving but it was unclear exactly how badly he was hurt until he arrived at hospital. The man was not identified, but in their reports paramedics said he seemed to be in his 40s.

Alberta occupational health and safety officers were almost immediately called in to investigate and their investigation is ongoing, although no charges have been lain as yet.

Roofer Cited Twice in One Month

April 21st, 2016

Fall SafetyAfter inspections by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a Georgia roofing company, Jasper Contractors Inc. was cited for four willful safety violations at two separate job sites in Jacksonville, Florida. Because of this, the company faces $280,000 in proposed penalties. But that’s not the extraordinary part of the story.

Not only is this not the first set of citations against this company, it’s the second time they have been cited for safety violations just within the month of April. Earlier this month, the company was cited for willful violations at a third job site in Jacksonville and they already faced $140,000 in penalties for those. For the most part, the citations are for exposing workers to fall and other hazards.

At all three job sites, OSHA inspectors discovered that Jasper Contractors was not ensuring that workers were properly equipped with or wearing fall protection equipment, thereby exposing workers to the risk of falls of as much as eight feet. In addition, they cited the company because they found workers not using eye protection while operating powered nail guns. In fact, since 2009, OSHA has performed 13 inspections of jobsites run by Jasper and found 24 violations, primarily for a lack of fall and eye protection and ladder safety. In all, the company has been hit with  more than $516,000 in penalties, according to OSHA records.

The most extraordinary aspect of this case, however, may be contained in the statement by OSHA’s Jacksonville office that accompanied the announcement of the citations. It read,

“Despite its claim that its employees ‘are adults who know the risks,’ Jasper Contractors has a legal responsibility to protect its employees. This company’s dismissive approach toward workplace safety is illegal and irresponsible. OSHA will continue to use all its available resources to ensure workers are protected.”

It seems certain that these won’t be the last fines this company pays. It’s hard to imagine a company that pays so much in fines and has that attitude. It seems this business sees the fines as part of doing business. In Ontario Canada, a Ministry of Labour inspector has the authority to issue a Stop Work Order until the problem is rectified. All of these laws are in place to protect the worker from harm.

Supervisor Pleads Guilty to OHS Violations

April 20th, 2016

constructionA supervisor at the construction site of Mississauga’s Sheridan Centre mall has pleaded guilty to violating health and safety regulations. As a result of that guilty plea, he has agreed to pay a $22,000 fine for an incident in which a steel collapse killed a worker,  33-year-old Christopher Crawford, a married father of three from Kitchener, on Jan. 13, 2014.

Crawford who had 13 years’ experience and belonged to the SMWU, was working as a sheet metal worker for Rockwood-based Vixman Construction, at the site of a new Target store at the mall, when the building’s steel frame collapsed, trapping and crushing him beneath the twisted metal. According to court testimony, it is believed that the weight of the decking material placed on the steel structure may have caused the collapse.

The supervisor for Vixman Construction, Fernand Landry, specifically pleaded guilty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to failing to ensure that decking was not placed, left or stored in a location or manner that endangered a worker in the collapse. The $22,000 fine was assessed by Justice of the Peace Kelly Visser in Brampton city court, and a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge was added, as required by the Provincial Offences Act. That means he will pay a total of $27,500 for his failure to protect his workers.

Four Occupational Health and Safety Act charges had also been laid against Vixman Construction as an employer, but after the supervisor’s guilty plea, those charges were withdrawn.

A New Way to Stop Texting and Driving?

April 19th, 2016

texting and drivingSince April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, police departments and legislators  all over North America are looking at the toll distracted driving is taking on our lives and our roads, and they are looking for ways to limit the carnage. One of the latest ways that is under increased scrutiny, however, is certain to create controversy.

If you are in an accident, police may now have a way to make your smartphone tell on you to police if you were texting. The Textalyzer, a creation by Israeli software company Cellebrite, will be able to tell police whether or not a vehicle’s driver had been texting immediately before the accident happened. It was given its name in part because it basically takes on the same role as a Breathalyzer in a DUI case, in that it can be put into use at the scene of the accident to help determine whether the driver had been texting just before the accident and may have caused it.

From Cellebrite’s point of view, the Textalyzer can let police know if someone was texting while driving without giving police too much information. However, the device is bound to face some court challenges because others, including many privacy advocates, are worried that, in addition to tattling on the driver and letting police know they were texting, the device may also provide police with other information that they are not necessarily entitled to.

As a little background, a number of sources have reported that Cellebrite very well may have supplied the assistance the FBI used to crack open the Apple iPhone 5c that had been owned by the San Bernardino terrorists in California, after they had asked Apple to assist and the company refused. While texting and driving isn’t on the same level as attempting to force Apple to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, there is likely to be a great deal of controversy over police being able to gather evidence this way. Lawmakers are wasting no time, however, in trying to make this tool available to police. Already, legislators in New York are considering a bill that would force a driver involved in an accident to turn over their smartphones for analysis, much as they now have to give a breath or blood sample on a drunk driving charge, and it is likely to snowball from there, as other states desperately look for ways to get people to stop texting and driving.

What do you think of this device? Is it a great way to stop people from texting and driving, or is it a potential privacy problem? What about using services like Siri? Siri allows a person to send and receive text messages handsfree. Android types phones have similar capabilities.

Ontario Announces Blitz Schedule

April 18th, 2016

Ontario Announces Blitz ScheduleLast week, the Ontario Ministry of Labour announced their intention to conduct more than 20 targeted safety blitzes all over the province, beginning in May. Over the next 10 months, through March 2017, safety inspectors and employment standards officers will use these blitzes to inspect all sorts of workplaces, including construction sites, manufacturing plants, mines and retail and food service locations, looking for potential violations of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, as well as the Employment Standards Act.

According to the news release announcing the blitzes, Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn noted,

“Every worker has the right to work in a healthy, safe, and fair workplace. Targeted blitz programs like these increase awareness, compliance and overall safety among workers and employers throughout the province.”

The first blitzes will begin May 2, and target temporary foreign workers and young workers in a variety of workplaces, including retail and food service locations, but also construction and any other sector known to hire large numbers of such workers. Soon after that, on May 16, they will target fall safety in the construction, mining and industrial sectors, a blitz that will be ongoing through July 15. There is little time to prepare, so you might want to start immediately. The full schedule of safety blitzes can be found here.

These blitzes are considered by the Ministry of Labour to be a significant part of their enforcement strategy to increase compliance with both the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Since 2005, the Ministry of Labour has recovered more than $144 million in wages and other money owed to employees. In addition, since June 2008, when the blitz strategy started, OHS inspectors have issued more than one million compliance orders for safety issues throughout Ontario.