Safety and OSHA News

Top 10 safety stories of 2008

New regulations; accidents with multiple fatalities; the President-elect’s take on what OSHA should be doing. What is the top safety story of 2008?

We polled our editors of safety publications at Progressive Business and came up with this list:

10. More research on dangers of nano-particles to exposed employees. Among the new studies, one that showed long, thin carbon nanotubes exhibited the same effects as long, thin asbestos fibers when injected into mice.

9. The National Institutes of Health says the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is no longer limited to hospitals. Outbreaks of one strain — community-associated MRSA — have turned up in athletes, prison inmates, the military, daycare attendees and those who live in communal conditions such as college dormitories.

8. MSHA proposes and enacts a flurry of new mining rules in the wake of previous years’ mining disasters, such as Crandall Canyon, including: a policy letter on underground communication and tracking devices; a new final rule that increases the pounds per square inch that pressure seals must withstand in an explosion; a proposal to test miners for drugs and alcohol; and a final rule requiring additional safety equipment for rescue teams at underground mines.

7. California gets serious with heat stress on the job. The company that hired a pregnant teen who died of heat stroke this spring after working in a vineyard without enough shade or water was hit with the highest fine ever issued to a farming operation in the state. Merced Farm Labor’s license was also revoked until Aug. 24, 2011 after the death of Maria Jimenez.

6. The employer payment for most types of PPE rule takes effect. OSHA started enforcing the new rule May 15, 2008. The only exceptions: non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear; shoes or boots with built-in metatarsal protection requested by an employee; logging boots; and everyday work or ordinary clothing used solely for protection from weather.

5. An explosion at an Imperial Sugar Refinery near Savannah, GA, kills 14 people and injures dozens more. The blast destroyed a packaging plant. The cause, ignition of dust, placed an emphasis on workplace ignitable dust hazards.

4. Amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act to place burden on employers. The revision may dramatically increase the number of employees who can legally qualify as disabled. Action step for employers and those in charge of safety: Instead of an open-ended light-duty assignment that might define a worker as disabled, re-assess the returning worker’s condition every two weeks.

3. Distracted drivers prove fatal and costly. A Sept. 12 collision between two trains in California killed 25 people. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating, but preliminary information shows the locomotive engineer of one train was using his cell phone to text within 30 seconds of the accident. In the wake of the crash, the Federal Railroad Administration enacted a new rule banning railroad employees from using cell phones (except in emergencies) and other electronic devices on the job. In another case, International Paper Co. agreed to pay $5.2 million to settle a personal injury lawsuit after one of its employees used her cell phone while driving for work. The employee hit another car, and its driver had to have an arm amputated as a result.

2. Now OSHA can multiply PPE and training fines by the number of employees. Under a new rule, OSHA can issue per-employee citations for those types of violations starting Jan. 12, 2009.

1. President-elect Barack Obama promises an “invigorated” OSHA. Obama supported the Protecting America’s Workers Act as a Senator. The bill would increase OSHA penalties. Obama has also called on OSHA to issue standards “in a timely and more effective manner.” While the financial crisis may delay some reforms the new administration may want, some changes can be made by just shifting existing funding.

Vote for your top safety story or nominate one of your own in the Comments Box below.

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  • Jeff

    Rather than increase the amount or number of fines handed out by OSHA, perhaps the feds could help struggling companies abate unsafe conditions. Many companies have been forced into a corner where survival of the company has take precedence over compliance with OSHA (and it’s the worker that suffers).

  • Steve H

    Being in compliance with OSHA is a no brainer, and companies bidding on jobs should have the sense to figure safety into the bid. On the other hand, documentation is the key on training, near miss accidents, and employee warnings about safety. Not only will this help you with OSHA if heaven forbid, there is an accident, but it might also help you when fighting Unemployement benefits for the worker that you fired because he would not comply with your safety program. I applaud OSHA for doing what should have been done 25 years ago.

  • Chuck Woodings

    Some of these things are great but until the worker is hit in his pocket directly when he violates a safety rule willfully we are going to have problems. The workers are far to willing to assume too much personal risk and they think they can get away with it. This said I do emphatically support the call for more and better training. In reviewing accidents, I figure that about 80% to 90% of them are the result of insufficient or total lack of training.

  • Mike Middlemas

    If all other industries were scrutinized as closely as the mining industry…..including regular inspections and monetary penalties for violations, maybe we would eliminate some of the needless injuries taking place on a regular basis. I left the mining industry and worked in a distribution center for a fortune 500 company and not once was OSHA in the front door to make an inspection. Now that I have been back in the mining industry for the last 5 years, it is rare that a day goes by that we do not have a MSHA inspector on site.

  • Richard Hardesty

    While not regulated under OSHA in the US, one of the top 10 safety stories has to be the use of melamine to fake protein test results. This has far reaching managment and cost implecations for all of industry.

  • Angelia

    I have to agree with Steve. Compliance requirements have been in place for since 1970 and to use the defense that “workers suffer” from regulatory mandates is inexcusable. Although some aspects of OSHA have changed over the years, the basics are pretty consistent. I remember when there were no lockout requirements, no hearing conservation requirements or even HAZCOM requirements (on the first job I had in 1973 I was told “don’t sniff that stuff, it’ll make you high”. When I asked what it was, nobody could tell me.) And I also remember when safety training was a joke that consisted of the boss telling me “don’t get hurt. Now get to work”. It scares me to think that this still happens today.

    For almost 40 years, OSHA has been telling companies to clean up their act and keep their people safe. Since industry could not regulate itself, the government decided to do it for them. The really sad part is that here we are, almost 40 years later, and people still get killed just trying to make a living.

    Whether it’s the mining industry, logging, commercial fishing, or widget making, people get hurt everyday for various reasons, from companies failing to protect them to people being just plain stupid. And while OSHA can fine the daylights of non-compliant companies (I think “egregious” now carries the highest penalties), you just can’t fix stupid!

  • Dave Rodriguez

    Until the general contractor starts requiring all trades on the job to have and document they are training their workers on the job, their are still going to be injuries small or big on the job and the subcontractor is going to be included in the suit. Some companies are getting jobs without a safety program and walking around willy nilly looking at workers wearing all the right PPE and getting hurt from their own stupidity.

  • Chris White

    The way I see it, we are all in this together. In the past the government has given tax breaks for several things, but have they ever given the contruction industry breaks for providing a safe and healthy work place other than a Drug Free Work Force which involves insurance? I propose that general contractors and subcontractors that are able to prove they are doing everything in accordance to the CFR Standards will be allowed to receive a dollar for dollar tax credit or cut for all money spent on training and PPE. Most GC’s spend this money on an annual basis but rely on subcontractors for the bulk of the work on their jobs. If the government really wants to make sure everyone goes home unharmed at the end of the day, give us additional incentives to make this happen. At that point, we have no excuse.