Fed-OSHA seeks suggestions for strengthening VPP

Fed-OSHA is holding a stakeholder meeting July 17, in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future direction of its Voluntary Protection Programs. The agency’s aim is to “reshape VPP so that it continues to represent safety and health excellence, leverages partner resources, further recognizes the successes of long-term participants, and supports smart program growth.”

Fed-OSHA is asking for comments and suggestions from the public on how to accomplish this. Specifically, the agency is looking for ideas on how to:

  1. enhance and encourage the efforts of employers, workers and unions to identify and address workplace hazards through VPP;
  2. support increased participation in VPP while operating with available resources and maintaining the integrity of the program;
  3. modify VPP to enhance the efforts and engagement of longterm participants;
  4. modify Corporate VPP for greater leverage and effectiveness; and
  5. further leverage participant resources such as Special Government Employees.

The meeting will be held July 17, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Frances Perkins Building, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20210. Attendees must register by July 10 and can choose from several levels of participation in the discussion. Those unable to attend in person can submit comments until September 15.

The agency also is planning a second stakeholder meeting, tentatively scheduled to occur in conjunction with the VPPPA National Conference the week of August 28th in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Cal/OSHA Seeks Huge Penalties in Refinery Explosion

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited ExxonMobil Refining for 19 alleged violations following an investigation into the February 18 explosion at the company’s Torrance refinery. The incident only slightly injured four workers, but investigators concluded that management had been aware of hazardous conditions at the unit in question, yet took no steps to correct them.

Included in the citations were six alleged willful violations. DOSH seeks $566,600 in penalties in the case.

The explosion occurred after hydrocarbons from a cracker unit leaked into an electrostatic precipitator. DOSH says that as far back as 2007, the refinery identified flammable vapor leakage into the precipitator as a problem area, but the facility “failed to correct the danger.”

The six willful-serious violations, which each come with proposed $70,000 penalties, allege that ExxonMobil:

  • Failed to isolate or repair the leaking heat exchanger tube bundle;
  • Failed to isolate the main column on the fluid catalytic cracker or empty its contents prior to starting maintenance on a flue gas expander during an emergency shutdown;
  • Used a defective spent catalyst slide valve during the shutdown;
  • Did not ensure that the refinery’s mechanical integrity program was implemented and followed;
  • Failed to take precautions to prevent ignition during the FCC emergency shutdown; and
  • Failed to implement an emergency shutdown procedure that would have maintained a barrier between the main column and FCC reactor.

DOSH also cited ExxonMobil for 12 serious violations, with proposed penalties ranging from $7,200 to $21,600 each, as well as one general violation and $800 penalty.




Standards Board Finally Gets Seats Filled

Gov. Jerry Brown has reappointed four current members of the Cal/OSH Standards Board and named two new members to Cal/OSHA’s rulemaking body. The appointments are being said to provide both stability and new faces to the board.

The newly appointed members are Robert Blink, 62, of San Francisco, and John Sacco, 60, of Rocklin. Both are longtime professionals in the occupational safety and health and occupational medicine fields.

Reappointed are chair David Thomas, 57 and David Harrison, 43, both labor representatives, management representative Barbara Smisko, 63,  and occupational safety representative Laura Stock, 61.

Blink is an occupational medicine physician at Vista Oaks Occupational Medicine and has been vice president and medical director at Worksite Partners Medical Group since 1988. He started his career as an emergency physician in 1979. He eared his M.D. from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and a master’s degree in public health from U.C. Berkeley.

Sacco has been principal industrial hygienist and safety engineer at Earthshine Consulting since 1998. He previously served as risk manager for the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority, senior industrial hygienist at Continental Technical Services and an IH and safety professional at Fireman’s Fund. He earned a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of Texas at Dallas.

The two men will fill the occupational health seat vacated by Hank McDermott and management seat vacated by Bill Jackson. 



Short Window to Comment on Heat Illness Guidance

Do you have questions about Cal/OSHA’s new revisions to the heat illness prevention regulation? Do you want the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to address your ideas and concerns in its updated guidance document on the regulation? You have to act fast – before Friday, March 6 if you want to weigh in.

DOSH announced its intention to “clarify” requirements of the regulatory changes at the February 19 meeting at which the Standards Board adopted them. The revised standard is now in the hands of the Office of Administrative Law and it is anticipated that they will become effective on May 1, in time for the growing season, but it is an accelerated schedule for employers, who must implement the changes and train workers on them.

In the meantime, DOSH is inviting interested parties to “identify the topics and issues you have questions about or would like us to elaborate on,” as the agency revises its current heat illness prevention guidance documents, says Chief Juliann Sum.

Send your comments to Chief Counsel Amy Martin at  amartin@dir.ca.gov ; or to Gretta Windmon,  gwindmon@dir.ca.gov or Grace Virrey,  gvirrey@dir.ca.gov .

The February 27 edition of Cal-OSHA Reporter brought you extensive coverage of the issues surrounding the heat illness revisions and a synopsis of the changes. Premium subscribers can access that coverage by clicking here.



FLASH: Heat Illness Changes Approved – It’s Training Time

Over the objections of employer groups and applause from labor representatives, the Cal/OSH Standards Board approved major revisions to the state’s heat illness prevention standard. Executive Officer Marley Hart said the board would request an early effective date for the revisions from the Office of Administrative Law – April 1 instead of July 1.

That means that employers must revise their heat illness programs and train employees on an accelerated schedule, with barely five weeks before the changes become enforceable. Under normal circumstances, the changes would trigger on July 1, as OAL sets effective dates quarterly and April 1 is too early. But Cal/OSHA wants the changes in place for the growing season.

The revisions, which the Division of Occupational Safety and Health say are necessary based on the Division’s enforcement experience, are aimed at specifying the requirements for provision of water and shade. It also ramps up requirements under the high-heat provisions and adds new language on emergency response procedures, acclimation and training. Specifically:
<li>Water must be “fresh, pure, suitably cool” and located as close as practicable to where employees are working, with exceptions when employers can demonstrate infeasibility.</li>
<li>Shade must be present at 80 degrees, instead of the current 85, and accommodate all employees on recovery or rest periods, and those onsite taking meal periods.</li>
<li>Employees taking a “preventative cool-down rest” must be monitored for symptoms of heat illness, encouraged to remain in the shade and not ordered back to work until symptoms are gone. Employees with symptoms must be provided appropriate first aid or emergency response.</li>
<li>High-heat procedures (which will remain triggered at 95 degrees) shall ensure “effective” observation and monitoring, including a mandatory buddy system and regular communication with employees working by themselves. During high heat, employees must be provided with a minimum 10-minute cool-down period every two hours.</li>
<li>Emergency response procedures include effective communication, response to signs and symptoms of heat illness and procedures for contacting emergency responders to help stricken workers.</li>
<li>Acclimation procedures including close observation of all employees during a heat wave – defined as at least 80 degrees. New employees must be closely observed for their first two weeks on the job.</li>
The board voted 5-1 to approve the changes, with management representative Bill Jackson casting an emphatic “no.” He commented, “My belief is that the Division made the decision that this is necessary, and by god, we’re going to do this. There isn’t an ounce of necessity” to it.

But chairman Dave Thomas, who last month stated publicly that he was opposed to the proposal as written, said he had changed his mind after re-reading the proposal and remembering his charge as board chair. “This is reasonable enough for me,” he said.

Employer representatives hammered the necessity argument, saying DOSH has refused to provide requested data to prove the changes are necessary. But labor reps said the continuing deaths and illnesses they believe are attributable to heat illness support the argument for change.

<em>Cal-OSHA Reporter</em> will have training in place for owners, managers, and safety personnel shortly.



We Are America and We are Charlie

By J Dale Debber

We realize from responses that most of our readers and viewers prefer us to stay on the topics we cover for you on a regular basis: occupational heath and safety and workers compensation.

Today we must, because of our profession, bring you this representation of the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose headquarters was attacked for exercising freedom of expression. This magazine in many ways is far from my personal beliefs; it is secular and far left. Today I stand – and I ask you to stand – with my brothers and sisters who have been brutally murdered for artistically expressing themselves.

Charlie Hebdo
Charlie Hebdo

There is one reason that we are able to provide you with the coverage we do. That reason is freedom of the press and equally as important, freedom of speech. That concept was so important to America's founders that it is embodied in the 1st Amendment to our foundational documents:
“Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It is a guarantee that you can express your thoughts in any form including speech.

That free speech not only applies to the press, which is supposed to keep our politicians and system honest, but to speech which includes artistic expression. It applies to books, drama, art, painting TV, movies, and to satire such as William Shattner’s satirical TV lawyer Denny Crane.

Today elements in the world are trying to control what you can think through threats, fear and murder. If you express something they don’t like in any way they want you to believe they will kill you. They act in order to scare us. The president of France called the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo “an act of war.”

The president of the United States, through his spokesperson Josh Earnest, rightly said on the 12th “that the publication of any kind of material in no way justifies any act of violence.”  That’s good. But then Earnest went on to encourage the media to use “responsibility” and to discourage media outlets from publishing the Charlie Hebdo cover or other materials that could create a dangerous reaction. Both CNN and MSNBC cowered in fear – whether of offending or of reprisal – rather than show this cover.

Understand that I have been a reporter for a long time and have kept the lid on things for the sake of instant safety, such as the specific location of the race riots I covered in the 60s. We protect the names of innocents such as kids or rape victims, and we certainly protect military information while events are transpiring. But the president stopping the free expression of ideas – in the art of satire or in any other fashion – is not in any way the same thing.

If you run from a bully the bully will pick on you more. This is a lesson many of us learned in elementary school before political correctness subsumed reality. Standing down in the face of a threat from the Middle East is interpreted by its mindset as weakness.

It assures in the enemy the kind of confidence that begets more violence.