OSHA Appoints New Region 1 Administrator

Kim Stille to lead the New England Office

On May 1, Kim Stille was appointed to head up the New England (Region 1) OSHA Office.

Kim started with OSHA in 1987 as an industrial hygienist in the Peoria, Illinois, office. From there, she became the assistant area director in Little Rock Arkansas. Since April 1997, Kim has served as the area director in Madison, Wisconsin. In this capacity, she has led some of the most effective and unique enforcement actions for the agency.

Kim has been the recipient of many awards, including three DOL Secretary’s Impact Awards, the Distinguished Career Service Award, and an Assistant Secretary’s Commendation Coin. She also served on a number of details in the National Office, including most recently as the acting deputy director for enforcement programs, where she helped develop and implement key policy initiatives.

CBIA would like to extend congratulations and welcome to Kim.

 

Connecticut Retailer Faces $165K in OSHA Fines

Emergency exits blocked

Emergency exits blocked by piles of store inventory appears to be a recurring hazard at Forever 21. The fashion retailer’s employees at Westfarms Mall in Farmington were among the chain’s workers put at risk of not being able to exit the store swiftly because of fire or another emergency, OSHA inspectors determined after receiving a complaint.

“Emergency exits and hallways were blocked by store inventory. Boxes were unsafely stacked, which created serious safety threats,” said Warren Simpson, OSHA area director in the Hartford Area Office. “Four stockroom employees were assigned to work in these conditions. At the time of the inspection, they were working around the clock before Black Friday, when inventory levels were higher.”

During the November 2014 inspection, boxes were stored in the hallway leading from the retail space to an emergency exit, which reduced the exit to 23 inches of passable space. Required space for exits is a minimum of 28 inches. Additionally, the emergency exit routes were obstructed by piles of boxes as high as 10 feet. Boxes were stored unstably and could fall and injure workers.

Forever 21 employees have been exposed to these dangers previously. OSHA has conducted 37 inspections of company stores in the past five years. It cited the women’s fashion retailer 12 times for similar hazards, including stores in Bridgewater, New Jersey, in 2012 and Burlington, Massachusetts, in 2013.

Due to the recurring nature of these hazards, OSHA has cited Forever 21 Retail Inc. for three repeated violations.

Proposed fines total $165,000 for the conditions at the Westfarms Mall store.

“The company’s corporate office is responsible for safety and health requirements at retail locations nationwide, yet it allows these hazards to occur repeatedly,” said Simpson. “Forever 21 must take steps to address these types of hazards effectively at its stores.”

Could the Safety Manager Get Jail Time?

Employee trapped, dies inside industrial oven

On April 27, 2015, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Bumble Bee Foods and two employees with willfully violating worker safety rules, allegedly causing the Oct. 11, 2012, death of an employee who became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company’s Santa Fe Springs, California, plant.

The accident occurred when Bumble Bee employee Jose Melena entered a 35 foot cylindrical oven, used to sterilize cans of tuna, as part of his normal duties. Coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded multiple carts, collectively containing about 12,000 pounds of tuna, closed the front door, and started the oven. The victim inadvertently became trapped in the back of the super-heated, pressurized steam cooker and died.

During the two-hour heat sterilization process, the oven’s internal temperature rose to about 270 degrees. Melena’s severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker, prosecutors said. Melena worked for the company for about six years.

On April 27, 2015, Bumble Bee’s former Safety Manager Saul Florez, the company’s Director of Plant Operations Angel Rodriguez, and Bumble Bee Foods LLC were charged with three felony counts each of an OSHA violation causing death.

In response, Bumble Bee issued a statement and is exploring all of its legal options.

If convicted as charged, Florez and Rodriguez face a maximum sentence of three years in state prison and/or a $250,000 fine. San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

For information about the dangers associated with working in confined spaces, click here.

New National Safety Stand-Down Video Unveiled

Event this week and next

The 2015 National Safety Stand-Down is here! From May 4 to 15 companies across the country will stop their work, provide focused talks on fall prevention, and recommit themselves to on-the-job safety.

A new promotional video is now available to encourage employers in various industries to participate. The video reminds viewers that falls are the leading cause of death in construction, having killed more than 3,500 workers over the last decade, but every fall can be prevented with the right equipment and training. Last year more than 1 million employers and workers across the country joined the effort, and this year OSHA and its partners hope to reach over 3 million people at over 20,000 stand-down events.

Learn how you can be a part of this international effort by visiting our 2015 Stand-Down page. Download or order free fall prevention training materials in both English and Spanish, including the new 2015 Stand-Down poster, find a list of local events, and receive a certificate of participation signed by Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

 

EEOC Issues Proposed Rule on ADA and Wellness Programs

Rule would permit incentives, emphasize confidentiality

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) describing how Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employer wellness programs that are part of group health plans. The NPRM is available here and was officially published on Monday, April 20, 2015. Members of the public have 60 days from that date (or until Friday, June 19) to submit comments.

The EEOC’s proposed rule would provide much needed guidance to both employers and employees about how wellness programs offered as part of an employer’s group health plan can comply with the ADA consistent with provisions governing wellness programs in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the EEOC is also publishing a Fact Sheet for Small Businesses and a Question and Answer document for the general public.

Many employers that provide health insurance also offer workplace wellness programs intended to encourage healthier lifestyles or prevent disease. These programs sometimes use health risk assessments and biometric screenings to determine an employee’s health risk factors, such as body weight and cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure levels. Some of these programs offer financial and other incentives for employees who participate or achieve certain health outcomes.

Although the ADA limits the circumstances in which employers may ask employees about their health or require them to undergo medical examinations, it allows such inquiries and exams if they are voluntary and part of an employee health program.

The NPRM further requires that if an employee health program seeks information about employee health or medical examinations, the program must be reasonably likely to promote health or prevent disease. Employees cannot be required to participate in a wellness program, and they cannot be denied health coverage or disciplined if they refuse to participate

The EEOC’s proposed rule makes clear that wellness programs are permitted under the ADA, but that they may not be used to discriminate based on disability. The rule explains that under the ADA, companies may offer incentives of up to 30% of the total cost of employee-only coverage in connection with wellness programs. These programs can include medical examinations or questions about employees’ health (such as questions on a health risk assessment).

This limit is generally consistent with limits that HIPAA imposes on wellness programs. The rule also makes clear, however, that the ADA provides important safeguards to employees to protect against discrimination based on disability. Accordingly, medical information collected as a part of a wellness program may be disclosed to employers only in aggregate form that does not reveal the employee’s identity and must be kept confidential in accordance with ADA requirements.

“The EEOC worked closely with the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury in developing this NPRM to harmonize the ADA’s requirement that medical inquiries and exams that are part of an employee health program must be voluntary, and HIPAA’s goal of allowing incentives to encourage participation in wellness programs,” said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang.

Employers also may not subject employees to interference with their ADA rights, threats, intimidation, or coercion for refusing to participate in a wellness program or for failing to achieve certain health outcomes. Finally, individuals with disabilities must be provided with reasonable accommodations that allow them to participate in wellness programs and to earn whatever incentive an employer offers.

In addition to setting a limit on incentives, the NPRM, which includes interpretive guidance that will be published along with the final rule, requires that employers provide employees a notice that describes what medical information will be collected, with whom it will be shared, how it will be used, and how it will be kept confidential. The interpretive guidance also includes an extensive discussion of both legal requirements and best practices that ensure confidentiality of employee medical information.

The Commission looks forward to receiving comments on the NPRM that will shape the final regulation.   In addition, the Commission has asked a number of specific questions in the preamble to the NPRM on which it seeks comment before finalizing the rule. Methods for commenting are specified in the notice in the Federal Register.

The Challenges in Achieving Perfect Workplace Safety

Questions you should be asking

Zero-injury safety targets are easy to communicate and seem to be everywhere, but such goals can be counterproductive to a company’s efforts if the context in which they are used does not go beyond slogans and good intentions, according to the lead article in the April issue of the American Society of Safety Engineers’ Professional Safety Journal.

“Achieving zero-injury targets requires the will to support perfection and the ability to recognize and change every factor that could lead to injury,” writes author Michael Burnham. “Organizational conflicts and inefficiencies and the realities of human cognition limit the capacity to identify latent hazards, so each must be overcome if perfection is to be realized.”

In fact, Burnham recommends companies answer eight important questions before embarking on zero-injury safety programs with the first one being: How will zero as a target motivate employees? If the odds of reaching a goal are less than 50%, the article states management is trying to fool employees into performing and it will not work.

“When goals challenge employees, require skill learning, provide feedback, and create in the performer a sense of personal control, optimum motivation can be reached,” Burnham writes. “If a goal does not motivate employees to continue current levels of performance or to improve performance, its very purpose is defeated.”

Read more about what questions company executives should be asking.

Fatal Workplace Injuries Decline over Two Decades

Fatal injury rate higher among older workers

In 2013, 4,585 workers in the United States died from an injury suffered at work. This is the second-lowest figure since BLS began publishing national data in 1992. Although fatal workplace injuries have fallen 23% since 2000, a worker died every two hours in the United States from a workplace injury in 2013.

The rate of fatal workplace injuries has fallen since 2006, the first year that BLS published hours-based rates. The overall national rate of 3.3 fatal workplace injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2013 was the lowest published hours-based rate since 2006.

Fatal injuries affect workers of all ages. In 2013, five workers under age 16, and three workers age 90 or older died from workplace injuries.

Older workers have higher rates of fatal injury than younger workers; workers age 65 and older had a rate that was more than double the rate for all workers in 2013.

These data are from the BLS Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities program. BLS published the final counts of fatal work injuries in the United States in 2013 on April 22, 2015.

When Health Risks Go Down, Productivity Goes Up

Health improvements must be maintained over time

Changes in employee health risk factors have a significant impact on work productivity, reports a study in the April Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

The productivity benefits of improved health are “cumulative over time,” highlighting the need for companies to make “continuous investments in the culture of health,” according to the study by Laura Haglund-Howieson, MBA, of StayWell in St Paul, Minn., and colleagues.

The researchers analyzed health assessment surveys from nearly 97,000 workers between 2009 and 2011. The employees’ “Health Risk Scores” were analyzed as predictors of work absenteeism as well as “presenteeism”—health-related issues limiting work ability.

At the initial survey, there was a “fairly strong correlation” between health risks and productivity. In addition, reductions in health risks between surveys were related to improved productivity in future years—an effect that was cumulative over time.

“The key implication is that health improvements must be maintained over time so the productivity impacts can accumulate,” Haglund-Howieson and coauthors write. They note that average health risks decreased “slightly but significantly” over the three years of the study—probably because of the health promotion programs that were available to employees.

The effects of changes in health risks were relatively small, suggesting that other factors not considered in the study also affect productivity. The researchers suggest that additional types of policies—such as flexible work times and worker recognition programs—may be necessary to improve productivity for all workers.

Scaffold Breaks, Seriously Injuring Workers

Area company faces nearly $300,000 in OSHA fines

Three roofing workers employed by Provencher Home Improvement of Beverly, Massachusetts, were hospitalized after a two-story fall from a scaffold platform that broke beneath them according to OSHA inspectors. The incident occurred, inspectors said, because a spruce plank used as the platform could not support the workers’ weight, was not graded for scaffold use, and the plank’s invoice was clearly marked “not for scaffold use.”

OSHA found numerous violations in its inspection and has cited the company’s owner Daryl J. Provencher with fines totaling $294,500. The incident underscores the severity of fall hazards in the construction industry. Each year, hundreds die as a result of falls, many of which are preventable when proper safety rules are observed.

“Had this employer obeyed the law and followed OSHA standards, this incident and the resulting serious injuries to three workers would not have occurred. It was completely preventable,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Instead of purchasing and using scaffold grade planking that could support the load, this employer needlessly gambled with the safety and well-being of its employees.”

The three workers who fell were taken to local hospitals for treatment. Two were admitted as inpatients and the third received outpatient treatment. Their injuries included spinal, eye, facial, chest and rib fractures, broken bones, broken ribs, and a punctured lung.

OSHA identified additional hazards at the jobsite, including scaffold platforms that exceeded the maximum allowable height of 20 feet, ladders that did not extend at least three feet above landings for stability, and not ensuring that the employees were using fall protection. Other hazards encompassed the use of defective or damaged scaffold components, missing or inadequate scaffold anchorage, and failure to train employees in scaffold erection and safety. These conditions resulted in the company being cited for three willful, one repeat, and five serious violations.

The willful and repeat violations stem from the company’s knowledge of the hazards and prior history of OSHA violations. It had been inspected repeatedly since 2005 resulting in a total of 47 violations and $123,720 in fines for the two entities. Three of the inspections involved scaffold violations, five involved ladder hazards, and three involved fall protection violations. The previous inspections took place at worksites in Danvers, Hamilton, Peabody, Revere Beach, and Salem.

Read the citations here.

If you would like more information about OSHA enforcement activity, plan to attend CBIA’s 2015 Safety & Health Conference, May 21 in Cromwell, where OSHA administrators will be on hand to answer your questions.

Connecticut Builder Cited by OSHA

Faces $52,000 in fines

Rock Hard Homes, Inc., a residential home builder in Southbury, was cited by OSHA for four repeat and one serious violation of workplace fall safety standards.

Violations include: failure to equip employees with an adequate fall protection system while they worked on a pitched roof approximately 28 feet above the ground; allowing employees to walk and work on surfaces without fall protection and exposing them to falls through holes, including skylights; improperly using portable ladders to access upper landings in which the ladders did not extend beyond the landings by the required three feet; and use of defective equipment.

The repeat citations stem from this employer’s history of similar fall protection violations cited by OSHA in August 2011 in Brookfield and May and June 2013 in Norwalk.

“While an accident did not prompt this inspection, the penalties proposed in this case demonstrate the severe nature of the cited hazards and the employer’s lack of concern for its workers,” said Robert Kowalski, OSHA area director in Bridgeport. “Fall hazards can and should be prevented through the use of proper equipment, training and safeguards for workers.”

Falls are the leading cause of death among construction workers, with 294 fatalities in the nation and 5 in Connecticut in the most recent figures from 2013. To help combat this deadly trend, OSHA is hosting a National Safety Stand-Down from May 4 to 15 in which employers will talk to their employees about safety practices and procedures on the job sites.