Safety and OSHA News

A look back at Top 10 OSHA trends to watch in 2014

Many items on our “watch list” for OSHA in 2014 had some significant developments this year: 

  • Criminal prosecutions for OSHA violations. These are still rare. But in 2014:
    • In a plea agreement, MR Asphalt of Covallis, MT, and its President, Martin Romano, were sentenced to three years probation and $20,000 in fines and restitution in the death of an employee. The employee fell 15 feet onto concrete below. Romano faced up to six months in prison.
    • Authorities in California arrested Richard Liu in connection with the death of a worker in a trench. Liu faces involuntary manslaughter charges with a maximum penalty of four years in jail. His company, US-Sino, faces up to $1.5 million in fines. A carpenter employed by Liu was buried alive under a 12-foot excavation wall in Milpitas, CA.
    • While not an OSHA case, this is a big one. Former Massey Energy CEO Donald Blankenship could spend the rest of his life in prison after a federal grand jury handed up a four-count indictment against him in connection with the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that claimed 29 lives. Blankenship is 64 and faces a maximum 31 years in prison.
    • David Scott Wolfe, owner of Three Frogs Inc. of La Mesa, CA, faces 6.5 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines in connection with the death of a tree trimmer and other charges. The employee was operating an aerial lift when a branch fell and killed him.
  • Comments on OSHA’s proposed silica standard update and the agency’s response. OSHA held informal public hearings on its proposal in March 2014. Post-hearing comments were closed in July. The proposal includes a more stringent permissible exposure limit for silica. OSHA has pledged to enact the new regulation by January 2017.
  • Updating injury and illness reporting requirements. Starting Jan. 1, 2015, this OSHA regulation gets an update. See our coverage here.
  • OSHA’s proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program requirements. We noted the clock was ticking on this one. Sure enough, it was moved to the back burner on OSHA’s priorities list this year.
  • Process safety management changes. OSHA and EPA continue to work on this one, but it’s slow going. Some in Congress have recently vented their frustration with the pace of developing regulations to improve chemical safety.
  • Use of OSHA’s General Duty clause, particularly for chemical exposures. OSHA continues to successfully use its all-purpose standard to cite companies for violations for which specific regulations don’t exist. This includes one case involving exposure to a chemical above the industry standard:
    • In a case involving an employee fatality, OSHA issued a GDC violation to CSA Equipment Co. in Mobile, AL, for failing to provide a clear view of the designated path of a forklift. CSA challenged the violation on the ground that there was no feasible abatement method – a requirement for issuing a GDC violation. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld the violation.
    • Fiberdome Inc. has agreed to pay a $2,000 penalty and accept a GDC citation for allowing an employee to be exposed to styrene over the industry-agreed-upon level at its Lake Mills, WI plant. The company also agreed to follow the styrene industry’s voluntary permissible exposure limit of 50 parts per million over an 8-hour time weighted average. OSHA’s PEL for styrene is 100 ppm.
    • An appeals board upheld a $10,000 Iowa OSHA fine to UPS for two GDC violations: one for poor lighting, and one for inadequate employee training on gate procedures, in connection with the death of an employee.
    • SeaWorld ended its appeal of a GDC violation in connection with the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at the company’s Orlando park. A killer whale pulled Brancheau underwater. SeaWord has agreed to pay a $12,000 fine and abate the hazard by keeping its trainers out of pools with killer whales during public performances.
    • An OSHRC judge upheld a $1,250 penalty to Wild West City in Stanhope, NJ, in connection with the non-fatal shooting of an actor at a cowboy show. The GDC violation was for exposing employees to this hazard: being struck by bullets or projectiles when firearms were used by employees reenacting shootouts.
  • Willful vs. serious violations. A couple of examples of how OSHA used willful violations in 2014 to rack up big penalties:
    • OSHA issued seven willful and one serious violation for a total of $497,000 in fines to Behr Iron & Steel in connection with the death of a worker at the company’s South Beloit, IL plant.
    • Wire Mesh Sales in Jacksonville, FL, faces $697,000 in OSHA fines for 8 per-instance willful, 22 serious, 1 repeat and four other-than-serious violations. OSHA inspected the company after a 32-year-old worker was struck and killed by a part because a machine guard had been disabled, according to the agency.
  • Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). As a follow-up to a previous audit, the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General plans to determine whether OSHA has implemented effective processes within the VPP to follow up on fatalities and catastrophes that VPP participating companies experienced.
  • Recording ergonomic injuries. OSHA recently issued two serious General Duty Clause citations for musculoskeletal disorder hazards to Wayne Farms in Jack, AL.
  • Fines for noncompliance with Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. In an interview with Safety and Health magazine, deputy director of OSHA’s Enforcement Directorate, Patrick Kapust, said more than 1,400 violations in 2014 were for hazcom training requirements and 534 violations were specifically for violation of the training requirements for labels and safety data sheets.
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