November 1, 2017 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At BuzzFeed News, Zahra Hirji and Jason Leopold report that the news organization has obtained internal emails, recordings and interviews from oil company BP showing that executives are struggling to “reset” its Alaska operations after a string of incidents that threatened workers’ lives.

For example, on Sept. 10, two workers inadvertently triggered a leak of 1,200 kilograms of gas, which could have ended in a deadly explosion. The incident had not been publicly reported until now. In an email following the incident, BP Alaska President Janet Weiss wrote: “We must change now; we must have a reset.” Hirji and Leopold write:

By Sept. 12, BP Alaska had experienced at least 27 incidents in 2017, compared to 23 in all of 2016, according to one of Weiss’s emails. And this year has already seen more events resulting in toxic spills and leaks — called A-G LOPC events, for “loss of primary containment.”

Five of these toxic releases were classified as risky “Tier 1 events.” In BP’s 2016 US Economic Impact Report, these events were described as “the most consequential events involving an unplanned or uncontrolled release of materials.” The 2006 oil spill in Prudhoe Bay, for example, was Tier 1.

“I’m deeply concerned that with these trends, we are not in a stable state,” Weiss wrote in the Sept. 12 email.

Weiss later shared a PowerPoint slide listing the five Tier 1 episodes. The first, on March 19, involved about 37 gallons of crude oil spilling inside one company building. Two weeks later, on March 30, a 352-gallon outdoor oil spill happened at a different location.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed to BuzzFeed News that BP Alaska did report the March 30 event. Officials said the earlier, smaller spill did not require reporting.

Read the full article at BuzzFeed News.

In other news:

EHS Today: An article reprinted from Confined Space — the blog from former OSHA official Jordan Barab — offers a rundown of Scott Mugno, President Trump’s nominee to head OSHA. Mugno is vice president for safety, sustainability and vehicle maintenance at FedEx Ground in Pittsburgh. Barab writes that while Mugno is knowledgeable about worker health and safety, he has a “few upsetting notions.” For example, at a Chamber of Commerce event, Mugno suggested “sunsetting” certain OHSA rules, saying: “We’ve got to free OSHA from its own statutory and regulatory handcuffs.” In the article, Barab goes over the issues that worker advocates should be watching out for, such as whether Mugno will fight for a robust OSHA budget related to enforcement and compliance assistance and whether he will support OSHA efforts aimed at protecting the most vulnerable workers. Barab writes: “Given the circumstances we’re forced to live under for the next three years and three months, I’m somewhat hopeful – always optimistic (even about the Dodgers) – and ready to provide valuable advice to the new assistant secretary should he seek it. We can always hope.”

Huffington Post: Dave Jamieson reports that Democrats have unveiled a “comprehensive” plan to strengthen labor and make it easier for workers to unionize. A plank of the party’s “Better Deal” agenda, the proposal would ban states from enacting so-called “right to work” laws that allow workers to stop supporting unions even if they reap the benefits of union-fought protections; create new penalties for companies that engage in union busting; extend collective bargaining rights to more public-sector employees; and prohibit the use of permanent replacement workers during labor disputes. Jamieson noted that five states have passed right-to-work laws since 2012. He writes: “If that sounds like a wish list for unions, it pretty much is. As a pillar of the Democratic Party, unions have wanted for years to see mainstream Democrats push for major reforms to the law that would rejuvenate the ranks of organized labor. At the press conference Wednesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka applauded the proposals, but also emphasized that many Democrats have taken their union support for granted.”

NBC News: Suzy Khimm reports that the National Chicken Council is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow poultry plants to operate “at any line speed” that they believe they can safely handle — a reversal of an Obama-era worker safety rule that limited line speed to 140 birds per minute for plants participating in a new inspection program. Khimm notes that poultry plant workers are already about twice as likely to experience serious injuries when compared to other workers in the private sector, with companies Tyson Foods and JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride among the 10 companies with the highest numbers of occupational amputations and hospitalizations. She writes: “Celeste Monforton, a public health expert at George Washington University, opposes a line speed increase, but anticipates that the industry will ultimately get its way. ‘The fact that we had to fight the Obama administration to do this makes it hard for me to foresee success in beating this back. The benefits are to the industry, and costs are borne by the workers.’”

Capital & Main: David Dayen reports that a mass firing of hundreds of employees at a Tesla plant has worker advocates accusing the company of getting rid of pro-union workers. A number of the workers fired were members of a Fair Future at Tesla, a union organizing campaign. The company claimed the terminations were related to performance, but none of the union-supporting workers were able to get copies of their negative reviews. The firings come after workers began voicing their concerns about hazardous working conditions, workplace intimidation and low pay. Dayen reports that a number of job listings in the Bay Area suggest Tesla is attempting to replace pro-union workers with contract workers. In response to the firings, United Automobile Workers filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Dayne writes: “Tesla has previously been accused of union-busting. Workers filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint in April, alleging the company spied on employees passing out pro-union literature and eventually barred them from doing so. The complaint also cites Tesla forcing workers to sign a confidentiality agreement that they say violates the right to organize. An administrative law panel will hear that case next month.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years. Follow me on Twitter — @kkrisberg.

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