Professional Valve Service Ltd., a company that repairs and maintains vacuum valves for various industries, and one of their supervisors have significantly less money now, after pleading guilty last week for failing to train a worker and were hit with a total of $130,000 in fines for an accident in which a worker died while performing maintenance at Fort Vale.
The accident happened on February 10, 2014, when the worker was maintaining a vacuum valve at the company’s plant in Sarnia. The process involved using a modified version of the manufacturer’s procedure for disassembling the valve, involving the use of a drill press to remove the valve cap, which meant that, if pressure was suddenly released, the equipment would be contained by the press and the operator’s body would not be above the threaded rod.
When the accident happened, the worker was disassembling the valve alone, so there were no witnesses, but at some point, the threaded rod was released from an internal nut and the resultant pressure drove it through the worker’s head. He was found soon after the accident by a co-worker and died in hospital died two days later.
This was just the second time this particular worker had worked on one of these valves. He had been with Professional Valve for less than six months and had no similar experience previously, but he had never received any formal training on maintaining the valves because a company supervisor, Joe Heynsbergen, assumed that he already knew what he was doing.
Professional Valve Service Ltd. pleaded guilty to failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the safety of the worker. For that, they were fined $125,000. For his part, Heynsbergen also pleaded guilty and was fined an $5,000 individually. The sentence and the penalties were handed out by Justice of the Peace Anna Hampson in Sarnia court. The fines were also accompanied by a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act.
In all, a supervisor has to pay $6,000 and his company has $137,500 less in its bottom line, just because a supervisor simply assumed a worker was properly trained when he wasn’t. Another example showing that training workers doesn’t cost a company money, it pays.
A key component of workplace safety is the ability to reduce or eliminate the threat of fire, and a key to preventing tragedy is a working fire extinguisher. Well, you might want to take a look at the fire extinguishers in your workplaces because earlier this month, the Canadian government expanded a recall of Kidde and Garrison brand fire extinguishers. The recall now covers nearly 2.7 million devices throughout Canada. Most unusual, this recall includes some extinguishers that are more than 40 years old.
According to Health Canada, the recall was initiated because the fire extinguisher can become clogged or require excessive force to operate, which means they could very well fail during a fire. In addition, they note that the nozzle may detach from the fire extinguisher with sufficient force to pose a serious safety hazard.
The initial recall covers 1.2 million Kidde and Garrison fire extinguishers with plastic handles and push-button indicators that were sold between Jan. 1, 1973 and Aug 15, 2017, as well as push-button types that were sold between Aug. 11, 1995 and Sept. 22, 2017. The expansion of the recall includes fire extinguishers that had not been included in previous recalls, which occurred in March 2009 and February 2015.
Kidde ordered the recall along with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In all, more than 37 million extinguishers are being recalled in the U.S. According to Health Canada, Kidde has received reports of two cases where their fire extinguishers didn’t work properly in Canada. That is in addition to the report of one death in the United States involving a car fire among nearly 400 reports of extinguisher malfunctions in the U.S., leading to at least 16 reported injuries.
To find out which model numbers for the affected products can be seen on the Health Canada website.
In Wisconsin last Friday, U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it has cited a Cambria mill where five workers were killed in a May 31, 2017 grain dust explosion for numerous workplace safety violations in connection with the incident. As a result, the company faces fines totaling $1,837,861.
The explosion and fire killed five workers and seriously injured a dozen others, including a 21-year-old worker who lost both of his legs when they were crushed by a rail car. OSHA noted that the explosion at the Didion Milling Inc. plant likely resulted from the company’s failure to correct the leakage and accumulation of highly combustible grain dust throughout the facility, as well as its failure to control ignition sources and to properly maintain equipment.
In all, OSHA smacked Didion with 14 “willful” citations, with most of them involving hazards related to fire and explosion. The company also has been placed in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which provides for extra scrutiny for the foreseeable future.
In a statement, Didion Milling, Inc. noted that they had been and would continue to work with OSHA and other agencies and industry experts to determine the cause of the explosion. The company also said, “… (they do) not agree with the severity of the penalties levied against our family-owned business or the conclusions released by OSHA today.” The company has said it will rebuild the corn milling facility, using the latest technology and industry best practices to keep workers safe.
For their part, in their statement, OSHA said, “Didion Milling could have prevented this tragedy if it had addressed hazards that are well-known in this industry. … Instead, their disregard for the law led to an explosion that claimed the lives of workers, and heartbreak for their families and the community.”
Everyone who has ever worked with heavy machinery knows and understands that it is sometimes necessary to improvise to get the job done. This is true, regardless of the industry and the perceived need. That said, some improvisations are generally unsafe and should be avoided at all costs.
Case in point: double-stacking forklifts as a method for moving a giant piece of machinery to a second-floor opening is not the safest way to improvise a solution to a problem. And now, we have a video proving us naysayers correct.
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2plNL9w2XBo&feature=youtu.be
Even at the beginning of the video, it is clear that many bad decisions have already been made before the video starts. The load is on the forks of a small counterbalance forklift, which in turn is parked on the forks of a much larger forklift. Both forklifts have workers operating them. So far, they have managed to raise the very precarious load about halfway to its destination. The driver of the larger forklift is gently moving everything forward, since they have about another ten feet to cover to reach the opening, but as anyone could have guessed going in, the entire contraption tips forward very dangerously before luckily righting itself.
The driver of the larger forklift realizes that his machine is completely out of balance now because he moved the center of gravity so far forward, so he tilts the bottom lift back as far as it can go. At the same time, the man “operating” the smaller forklift raises his forks in a vain attempt to bring the load even with the second-floor opening, which looks like it might work for a split second, until the whole operation comes crashing to the ground. Luckily no one was hurt or killed. One solution would be to use a larger forklift or a crane. Use the right tool for the job.
Just as winter got started for this year, the City of Windsor, Ontario has launched an online service that allows residents of the city to see where snow plows and salt trucks are at any given time.
The service will show residents where these service vehicles are and have been over the previous two hours. Even better, those residents who wish to complain to the city that their streets are never plowed will now have a tool to help them prove it because every Monday, residents will be able to download the activity of the entire fleet over the previous week.
The availability of this information is part of the City of Windsor’s Open Data efforts. At any given time, the data on the site will be delayed about 30 minutes, according to the city’s operations department, but everyone hopes the information will be useful for planning routes and for monitoring the city’s snow removal efforts.
At the end of last month, the Government of Ontario introduced Bill 177, otherwise known as the Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures) 2017. One thing every employer should know is, the omnibus bill will amend dozens of separate statutes that are part of the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act. That is a lot of very important changes. However, the most critical change for an employer will involve the increased potential fines.
For example, the allowable maximum fine for OHS violations is currently $500,000 per offense for corporations and $25,000 for individuals (along with a possible jail sentence of up to 12 months). These maximum fines have not changed for nearly 30 years, but Bill 177 increases them significantly, to $1.5 million for corporations and $100,000 for individuals. If the amendments become law, which most expect will happen, it is expected that the Ontario Ministry of Labour will argue for higher penalties.
Employers should also be aware that Bill 177 also provides Ministry of Labour prosecutors with greater flexibility in the number of alleged violations (or “counts”) they can include when laying charges. However, the bill will change the current law, which allows the Ministry of Labour to initiate charges within one year of the violation, to one year from the date the Ministry becomes aware of the alleged offense. This obviously won’t affect incidents that are reported in a timely manner, but for non-injury related allegations or violations that do not immediately come to the attention of the Ministry of Labour, there will no longer be a shield in place.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the state of Texas leads the nation in a dubious category; the number of fatalities caused by trench collapses. With a few weeks left in 2017, there have thus far been three trench fatalities statewide.
That is one reason trench rescue demonstration was held recently in Robstown, Texas, just outside Corpus Christi. Many in attendance seem to have been surprised by the odds against surviving a trench collapse if a worker is caught in one. One public works official with the City of Corpus Christi told was quoted saying that he was “amazed” that most rescues are unsuccessful. And that was someone who digs trenches as a regular part of his job.
Many others in attendance also seemed surprised that it’s necessary for rescuers to dig with their hands, rather than use equipment, for reasons that should seem obvious. Some suggested that it would be nice to have some sort of vacuum system to get the collapsed dirt out of the hole. Some also noted that the density of the clay in many parts of Texas makes such a rescue even more difficult.
Attendees to the demonstration learned that the biggest factors when it came to trench collapse survival were weight and time. The weight of the dirt averages about 100 pounds per square foot, or 2,700 pounds per square yard, which is the equivalent of two standard truckloads of dirt. Workers can only last a few minutes under that amount of dirt, so by the time rescuers get to the scene and start doing their job, time is already working against them. All those factors combine to makes the prevention of trench collapses extremely important, through proper digging and by bracing the trench walls.
According to OSHA, nationwide, there were 11 fatalities due to trench collapses in 2014 and another 11 in 2015, but the number soared to 23 in 2016. Texas saw two trenching fatalities in 2016 and there have been three so far in 2017. There were two in Texas last year and three more this year. This is the third annual such demonstration, but organizers hope to hold another next year, and every year until the problem is fixed.
A judge in Newfoundland and Labrador recently described a recent occupational health and safety investigation that followed a fatal accident as “completely inadequate” and dismissed the charges brought against the employer by Service NL. It is unknown what NL OHS officials plan to do to remedy the situation and fix the investigation process.
The incident in question happened in June 2015, in Trepassey, when 20-year-old C.J. Curtis, was working on a roof and plummeted through a skylight to the ground 20 feet below, killing him. According to a police report, no harness was in use at the time of the accident. The worker’s employer, Southern Construction (1981) Ltd. was charged with four occupational health and safety violations, but Judge James Walsh dismissed the charges, noting that the company was “safety conscious” and had a safety plan in place, and he took direct aim at both the RCMP investigation and the investigation conducted by provincial occupational health and safety officials.
The judge noted that the matter “was poorly investigated.” He said there was no evidence that the accident scene had been secured immediately after the accident and had been preserved for the duration of the investigation. He noted that no one took measurements of the various points at the site of the accident; most of the evidence consisted of “rough estimates and speculation.” He also noted that no photos were taken at the scene until more than eight hours after the accident.
In a statement, Judge Walsh said, “This investigation was completely inadequate… The event of June 16, 2015, in which Mr. Curtis lost his life, is tragic. The Crown has, I conclude, conceded that the company had done what it was required to do with regard to his safety.” He added, “Southern Construction presents as a good corporate citizen that is very safety conscious. It has a safety plan in place. It ensured that its workers received proper safety training. It ensured that proper safety equipment for each worker was on site.” Put simply, the sloppiness of the investigation meant Service NL had essentially conceded the case to Southern Construction.
In their defense, Service NL noted the incident occurred at around 8:35 a.m., and their occupational health and safety division was notified at 12:20 p.m., about four hours later. By the time investigators were notified and traveled to the job site, another 3½ hours had passed, at which time “the officers then proceeded to carry out their investigation in accordance with established policies and procedures for such an incident.”
Service NL has promised to conduct a further review of Judge Walsh’s rationale for dismissing the charges and will determine whether procedural changes are necessary for investigations.
Last week, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a Connecticut contractor, Manafort Brothers, with two willful and six serious violations because they exposed the workers at the demolition of Eversource’s Schiller Station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire project site to hazards related to mercury, respirators, protective clothing and sanitary conditions. Along with the citations, Manafort Brothers also faces total fines of $329,548.
The OSHA investigation that led to the citations and fines was triggered by several complaints by workers at the site. The investigation determined that Manafort Brothers had failed to take appropriate action to protect employees from the dangerous chemical as they conducted a demolition operation on a mercury boiler.
For its part, Manafort Brothers has said that it stopped work on the project in June 2017, just after the inspection, so as to evaluate its safety procedures, along with many experts and consultants. They said they wanted to ensure workers were not exposed to mercury at levels above acceptable limits. They also claim to have retrained workers before they resumed demolition operations in September. Because of those factors and others, Manafort Brothers plans to challenge the citations and fines.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited a Black River Falls, Wisconsin-based contractor, Lunda Construction, for one willful and five serious safety violations after an investigation found numerous violations that resulted in an accident that led to the injury of one worker and death of another while they were working on a bridge construction project in the Twin Ports last September. As a result of the violations, the company is facing fines of up to $105,000.
The incident that led to the investigation came when an 18-year-old worker, Kelsey Hagenson, was mixing cement and another worker ran into him with a forklift. Hagenson had only been working for the company three months at the time. The worker operating the forklift had been with the company for 15 years, but he had not been trained to operate the forklift and he also had limited use of his right hand at the time.
According to OSHA’s report on the incident, the company showed indifference or intentional disregard for employee safety. They noted that “the employer is required to provide training to all of their employees on the types of equipment they are required to operate. In this instance, Lunda did not do that.”
In addition to the citations and fines, OSHA has placed the company into their Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which means they are subject to even greater oversight and more random inspections. Over the past five years, the agency has inspected Lunda Construction 30 times and cited them for 12 serious violations that could result in serious injury or death.