Posts from Jordan Barab

Harder Times for Poultry Workers

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

A 59-year-old employee at Allen Harim poultry plant in Harbeson, Delaware was killed last week from a serious head trauma after being struck in the head with a piece of equipment on an electric hoist when he and another employee were attempting to change the battery on a pallet jack.

This was not Allen Harim’s first workplace safety and health problem.

In 2015, OSHA issued a $35,000 citation to the company, warning the poultry processor that “The combination of musculoskeletal disorder hazards, lack of proper medical treatment for musculoskeletal disorders and underreporting of injuries at this plant must be addressed.”  The OSHA citation also included a violation for not allowing workers to use the bathrooms. OSHA also sent a Hazard Alert Letter to Allen Harim, warning of deficiencies in the facility’s medical management program.

And workplace safety is not Allen Harim’s only problem.  The Washington, D.C., nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project issued a report yesterday, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses” noting that Allen Harim is facing a $241,000 fine for dozens of wastewater-related violations found at its Harbeson plant between 2012 and 2016 – which the company has appealed. The report studied poultry processing companies who dumped illegal levels of nitrogen, fecal bacteria or other pollutants into the waterways across the country.

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Slaughter in the Trenches -- "We mean nothing to no one."

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Two workers, Juan Baez-Sanchez, 42, and Victoriano Garcia-Perez, 56, both Mexican immigrants, died in the collapse of a 12 foot deep trench outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming last week.  The men, who worked for Mountain West Services, owned by developer Jamie Mackay, were working alone.  The trench may have collapsed hours before help was summoned by delivery person who noticed an abandoned excavator.  Some evidence indicates that the trench initially collapsed on Garcia-Perez and Baez-Sanchez was trying to rescue him when the trench continued to collapse on top of him.

Early last month, 27-year-old Fernando Romero Martinez was killed in a trench in Ashton, Idaho that collapsed on top of him while he was attempting to put pipe connections together. In mid-August, Anthony Smith was killed in a trench collapse outside of Philadelphia when a 15 foot deep trench caved in on top of him.  In late July, 33-year-old Abel Sauceda was killed in a 12 foot deep trench collapse at a construction site in Daly City, California. In June, Rosario “Chayo” Martínez was killed in a trench collapse in Granby, Colorado. And at the beginning of June, 20 year old Kyle Hancock was buried alive earlier in a 15-foot unprotected trench outside of Baltimore, Maryland.

What did all of these workers have in common? First, and most obvious, their deaths were preventable. Their employers were in violation of one of OSHA’s most important — and easiest to comply with — standards.  OSHA’s trenching and excavation standard requires trenches to be protected from collapse if they are more than 5 feet deep and the agency has extensive educational resources about the hazards facing workers in unprotected trenches. It’s unlikely they had been trained about the hazards of unshored trenches or their rights under the law. It’s unlikely they knew that a cubic yard of soil weighs as much as a small car, and it’s unlikely that they’d be rescued from a trench collapse alive.

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Working in Mordor: Workers and the Hazards of Oil & Gas Pipeline Work

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

It is Halloween night, 2016, and, as I reach the outskirts of town, it feels as though I am entering Mordor. Bursts of red and yellow flames shoot up out of the earth, illuminating the pitch darkness. These are the byproducts of oil fracking, the natural gas and methane that are burned away by producers drilling for oil

To get to refineries, oil and gas have to travel. Either by train (and we’ve seen the problems with travel by rail), or by pipelines. Pipeline work is hard, dangerous and under-regulated. This according to a long, comprehensive and fascinating article by Antonia Juhasz of Pacific Standard about work on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

Juhasz opens in 2016 with the tragic death of Nicholas Janesich, a 27-year-old from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, who is working on a “ripper,” a piece of farming equipment that is used to restore the ground above where the pipeline has been laid so that grass can grow.

At some point along the way, the Ripper struck a large rock, locking a spring-loaded shank in the air, OSHA reports. Janesich got out, and set to work trying to fix it. He appears to have tried using a jack stand as a makeshift pry bar, jamming the long steel rod into the spring above his head. The spring did recompress, according to Indianhead’s incident report, sending the shank back down into position, but with such extreme speed and force that the pry bar was launched directly into the top of Janesich’s head. Somehow, he managed to climb back into his tractor, take off his shirt, and wrap it around his head before collapsing onto the steering wheel, where he remained—critically injured and very alone.

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Don’t Want to be Incinerated in Your Sleep? Too Bad

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Well there’s some very bad news for those of you who don’t want to be blown to smithereens in your sleep by a bomb train or your local fertilizer supplier.

Brakes are for wimps

As those of you who read my posts on the Lac Megantic disaster where 47 people were incinerated by a “bomb train” that derailed in the middle of town, brakes on trains are complicated and often fallible safety devices.  This is how they work:  A brake pipe runs the length of the train which supplies air to reservoirs mounted on each of the cars. When the brakes are needed, the engineer uses control valves to reduce brake pipe pressure and the engineer releases the brakes by charging the brake pipe. This system has problems. As we saw at Lac Megantic, turning off the locomotive also turns off the air brakes. In addition, being as the air is controlled by the engineer in the locomotive, it can take time for the braking to reach the end of a long train, causing uneven braking as the cars in front brake before the cars behind them, causing the faster rear rail cars to bump into the slower forward cars.

This was a brilliant system — when it was invented around the time of the Civil War.  And this is still the main way that trains are stopped 150 years later.

Now you may be saying “Huh?” We can pretty much run the world — or destroy the world — from a computer screen, but trains carrying tens of thousands of gallons of highly combustible crude oil through highly populated areas still depend on 150 year old braking technology?

Well, the bad news is “yes.”

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Kavanaugh: Is There Honor in Getting Your Fingers Bitten Off?

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

When Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh comes back before the Senate next week to respond to allegations of attempted rape, the Senators may want to follow up on his SeaWorld dissent and testimony (See here and here) by discussing another related story.

For those of you just tuning in, in 2010 SeaWorld killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was dismembered and killed by a killer whale during a live show in front of hundreds of horrified spectators, including small children.  OSHA, which had proven that SeaWorld was aware that the whale that killed Brancheau, had been involved in previous trainer fatalities, and that killer whales in general were hazardous to trainers, cited SeaWorld and ordered them to use physical barriers or minimum distances to separate trainers from whales. SeaWorld appealed, and both the OSHA Review Commission and the federal Appeals Court found in OSHA’s favor.

Kavanaugh dissented from the majority opinion, arguing in his 2014 written opinion that OSHA had paternalistically interfered in a worker’s right to risk his or her life in a hazardous workplace lamented that OSHA was somehow attacking the human spirit.  Whale trainers aren’t just workers, they are sports icons, according to Kavanaugh: “To be fearless, courageous, tough—to perform a sport or activity at the highest levels of human capacity, even in the face of known physical risk— is among the greatest forms of personal achievement for many who take part in these activities.” And here OSHA was attempting to paternalistically take that ability away from these sports icons.

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OSHA Update: Good Budget News from Congress

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Good Budget News for OSHA

Last June we reported some good budget news for OSHA from the Senate, and now it’s gotten a bit better. Conferees from the House and the Senate have just agreed on a budget for OSHA for Fiscal Year 2019 beginning on October 1. Both Houses still have to pass the final bill and the President has to sign it, which probably won’t happen until December.

The better news is that the final total for OSHA is $557,787,000, $1 million more than the Senate had originally agreed on last June and almost $9 million more than the President’s request. The total includes $10,537,000 for the Susan Harwood Worker Training grant program that Trump has been trying to kill, and $3.5 million for the Voluntary Protection Programs. The new total is a increase of $5 million over the FY 2018 budget of $552,787,000. It’s not clear yet exactly where that $5 million is allocated, although the President’s budget had requested $5 million more for enforcement and $3 million more for compliance assistance.

The bill also provides $102,850,000 to OSHA state plans — a $2 million increase over FY 2018 and the first increase for the state plans since FY 2014.  The state plan budget still has not recovered from pre-sequestration levels when it totaled $104,196,000 in FY 2012.

The bill also requires that agency to fund the Harwood program’s longer-term capacity building development grants which the agency had eliminated in FY 2017.

The House FY 2019 appropriations bill had originally cut $7 million from OSHA’s budget and proposed to eliminate the Harwood program as requested in Trump’s budget proposal.  The President’s budget has requested $549,033,000 for OSHA and only $100,165,000 for the state plans.

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There He Goes Again: Kavanaugh Still Doesn’t Get It

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Good news!

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh does not think it is unreasonable for workers to expect to come home safely at the end of the day, even if they work in the entertainment industry.

So he claims in his response to a written question from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Unfortunately, “expecting” isn’t doing. And Kavanaugh, in his dissent from the SeaWorld case, in his testimony before Congress, and now in his written responses, seeks to take away the the ability of workers to make that expectation a reality.

Now, I’m not an attorney, but I do get to play one in this blog — and, at least when it comes to occupational safety law — I seem to have a better understanding of occupational safety and health law than a certain person who may take a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court of the United States before the autumn leaves start falling. And that’s disconcerting.

Background

For those just tuning in, in 2010 SeaWorld killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was dismembered and killed by a killer whale during a live show in front of hundreds of horrified spectators, including small children.

OSHA, which had proven that SeaWorld was aware that the whale that killed Brancheau, had been involved in previous trainer fatalities, and that killer whales in general were hazardous to trainers, cited SeaWorld and ordered them to use physical barriers or minimum distances to separate trainers from whales. SeaWorld appealed, and both the OSHA Review Commission and the federal Appeals Court found in OSHA’s favor.

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Kavanaugh’s Lies About SeaWorld: Annotated

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Allow me to be blunt: Judge Brett Kavanaugh lied about the SeaWorld case during his Senate Confirmation testimony last week and he showed very little understanding of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Being as Judge Kavanaugh is a great girls basketball coach in the crime-ridden streets of Bethesda, Maryland, however, these facts probably won’t make much difference to Republicans in his confirmation vote.

But for those who take the Supreme Court — and workers’ rights — seriously, the facts are the facts. And these facts should be very troubling for American workers.

I can’t figure out how the lies in Kavanaugh’s testimony or his legal misunderstanding of the OSHAct would get a passing grade in the first year of law school, much less a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court of the United States.

In case you’re just tuning in, in 2010 SeaWorld killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was dismembered and killed by a killer whale during a live show in front of hundreds of horrified customers, including small children.

OSHA, which had proven that SeaWorld was aware that the whale that killed Brancheau, had been involved in previous trainer fatalities, and that killer whales in general were hazardous to trainers, cited SeaWorld and ordered them to use physical barriers or minimum distances to separate trainers from whales. SeaWorld appealed, and both the OSHA Review Commission and the federal Appeals Court found in OSHA’s favor. The only dissent throughout the entire process was Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh who argued in his 2014 written opinion that OSHA had paternalistically interfered in a worker’s right to risk his or her life in a hazardous workplace, that OSHA had violated its long-standing precedent not to get involved in sports or entertainment, that the agency had no authority to regulate in the sports or entertainment industries and that Congress — and only Congress — could give OSHA that authority.

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Kavanaugh Testifies, While Workers Continue to Die

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Firefighter dies after propane tank explodes in Tilford

Rapid City, SD — A local firefighter died Friday afternoon while fighting a structure fire and searching for an unaccounted for person during a blaze in the Tilford area. As the structure burned, the fire moved to a nearby propane tank, causing it to explode. A firefighter was killed in the explosion. Sturgis Fire Department was dispatched just after 4 p.m. to the small community of Tilford between Rapid City and Sturgis for a report of a structure fire. When firefighters arrived they found the structure fully involved and the fire was spreading to other outbuildings in the area. Crews continued to fight the blaze late Friday night. Bussell said one firefighter “died in the line of duty,” while fighting the blaze and a Meade County Sheriff’s Deputy was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. There is also one civilian who is unaccounted for at this time.

Missouri deputy killed after car washes off road

GREENE COUNTY, MO (KCTV) — A sheriff’s deputy from the Greene County Sheriff’s Department died late Friday evening after his patrol car was washed off the road. Deputy Aaron Paul Roberts has been identified as the deputy killed. Paul had cleared a 911 call in the 9500 block of Farm Road 2. While he was returning, he radioed that his car was washed off the road. Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott said Roberts was 35 years old.

Forklift operator killed in accident at NYC warehouse

New York, NY — Authorities say a 43-year-old man has died in a forklift accident inside a New York City warehouse. The New York Police Department says officers responded around 1 a.m. Thursday to a 911 call reporting an injury at The Chef’s Warehouse on Food Center Drive in the Bronx.  When officers arrived they found a forklift operator suffering from a severe head injury. He was taken to Lincoln Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Late Thursday night police identified the victim as Shakeem Farnum of Lafayette Avenue in the Bronx. Police say Farnum was operating a forklift when he leaned out of the vehicle and his head got wedged between the vehicle and a metal shelf.

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Union Matters

Keeping Cancer Cures a Corporate Profit Center

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Who knew fighting cancer could be so lucrative? Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center CEO Craig Thompson, for one. Last year, Thompson pulled down nearly $600,000 in cash and stock from his service on two for-profit drug company boards, all on top of his $6.7 million in Sloan Kettering pay the year before. No wonder Thompson looked the other way while his chief medical officer “failed to disclose” in medical journal articles that he had received millions from companies that could be banking on matters he was writing about. In September, that scandal went public, and Thompson at first insisted that working with for-profit companies must remain a priority. Last week, amid mounting public outrage, Thompson retreated and announced he would resign his corporate board seats. But the real scandal remains: a hospital-Big Pharma complex that focuses single-mindedly on patentable pharmaceuticals that generate huge returns for corporate execs and shareholders.

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Unions for All, Unions for 15

Unions for All, Unions for 15