January 29, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

When workplace disasters make headlines, worker health and safety advocates have an opportunity to push for better legislation and enforcement. Recent news stories follow up on the response to last year’s mining disasters and the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery. (As always, Jordan Barab’s Confined Space has comprehensive back stories to these disasters.) Plus, there’s news about police officer deaths, prison labor, and a safety fine for Tyson’s.

After the Mining Disasters
Last year, 12 mine employers died following an explosion at the Sago mine in West Virginia; two miners died in a fire at the Aracoma mine, also in West Virginia; and five miners died in the Kentucky Darby mine explosion.

Associated Press: Many of the state and federal safety measures adopted in the wake of the Sago explosion still have yet to take effect  — rescue chambers and wireless communication equipment haven’t made it to the mines yet (and probably won’t until federal requirements kick in more than two years from now), and emergency air packs are on backorder.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: On the one-year anniversary of the Aracoma fire, which started at a coal conveyor belt used for ventilation, two US Representatives from West Virginia have introduced legislation directing the U.S. Secretary of Labor to revise mine safety regulations “to require, in any coal mine, regardless of the date on which it was opened, that belt haulage entries not be used to ventilate active working places.”

Louisville Courier-Journal: A Courier-Journal investigation found that during mine safety investigations in the months prior to the deadly explosion in the Darby mine, MSHA issued an average of seven times more citations per inspection than did the state inspector.

BP Texas City
Occupational Hazards has been covering the explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery, which killed 15 and injured 180 in March of 2005 . An independent panel headed by James Baker investigated BP’s five US refineries and concluded that BP suffers from a lack of “effective process safety leadership” at the highest levels, and that the Texas City tragedy was “a process safety accident.” (See Jordan Barab’s take on the report here.) Following this news, the United Steelworkers – which represents 4,300 US BP employees – announced that it has reached a safety accord with BP.

In advance of the next series of BP trials (scheduled to begin in February), a federal judge has warned that some of BP’s publicity work could taint potential jurors, and BP will be shuttering a website created to make public documents related to the fatal 2005 explosions. (The site was part of a settlement between BP and Eva Rowe, who lost her parents in the blast.)

Other Occupational Health News
MSNBC: Traffic fatalities among police officers are on the rise.

In These Times: U.S. prisoners working for a computer-recycling operation are being exposed to hazardous chemicals through their prison jobs.

The Hutchinson News: After a worker died in an ammonia leak at a Tyson’s plant, federal safety regulators have fined the company $40,000 for safety violations.

Tri-Valley Herald: The nonprofit Asian Law Caucus is reaching out to nail salon workers as part of its worker health and safety program. 

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