December 21, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

The Center for Public Integrity’s excellent Hard Labor series continues with two more stories about workers killed on the job. In “‘They were not thinking of him as a human being,’” Jim Morris writes about Carlos Centeno, who died after suffering from burns to 80% of his body. Centeno had been assigned by a temporary staffing agency to the Raani Corp. plant in Bedford Park, Illinois, and he was scalded by an eruption of of a citric acid solution. According to federal investigators, factory bosses refused to call an ambulance, even as Centeno screamed in pain. More than 90 minutes after being burned, Centeno finally arrived at an emergency room; he died of his injuries three weeks later. Morris writes:

A narrative account of the accident that killed him — and a description of conditions inside the Raani Corp. plant in Bedford Park, Ill. — are included in a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration memorandum obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. The 11-page OSHA memo, dated May 10, 2012, argues that safety breakdowns in the plant warrant criminal prosecution — a rarity in worker death cases.

The story behind Centeno’s death underscores the burden faced by some of America’s 2.5 million temporary, or contingent, workers a growing but mostly invisible group of laborers who often toil in the least desirable, most dangerous jobs. Such workers are hurt more frequently than permanent employees and their injuries often go unrecorded, new research shows.

Raani’s “lack of concern for employee safety was tangible” and injuries in its factory were “abundant,” Thomas Galassi, head of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, wrote in the memo to David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Chris Hamby’s article “Even after workplace deaths, companies avoid OSHA penalties” tells the story of several worker deaths, including that of Jack Grobsmith, who was crushed to death at Crucible Specialty Metals in Syracuse, New York. OSHA cited the company for more than 70 violations and issued nearly $250,000 in fines — but, Hamby reports, the agency collected none of that money because it failed to file paperwork promptly after Crucible’s bankruptcy filing. Sue Grobsmith didn’t know about OSHA collecting no money for violations related to her husband’s death, until she heard about it from a reporter. Hamby writes:

Even after investigating a death and issuing a penalty, federal OSHA or the state agencies it oversees have failed to collect any of the original fine in one of every 10 cases since 2001, the Center found. In many other cases, regulators have settled for a fraction of the penalty initially imposed.

Overall, the federal and state agencies have collected at least 40 percent of the monetary penalties initially assessed after workplace inspections, forgoing $1.3 billion in the process, a Center data analysis found.

Most overdue debts end up at a private collection agency under contract with the Treasury Department. Yet a Center analysis of Treasury Department data found that only about 12 percent of OSHA debts have been collected in recent years. The penalties OSHA is allowed by law to impose are significantly lower than those assessed by many other enforcement agencies, providing little incentive for the government or collection agencies to prioritize them.

Read these and other articles in the series here.

In other news:

EHS Today: Employees at Sandy Hook Elementary risked their lives — and in some cases lost them — protecting students when a shooter attacked. In addition to 20 children, six adults at the school were killed: Rachel Davino, behavioral therapist; Dawn Hochsprung, school principal; Anne Marie Murphy, special education teacher; Lauren Rouseau, teacher; Mary Sherlach, school psychologist; and Victoria Soto, teacher.

Reuters: The latest study on Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers found an increased risk of prostate and thyroid cancers, although the relatively small number of cancers diagnosed among study subjects means the findings should be interpreted cautiously.

Environmental Health News: A case-control study of pregnant women in France found that those exposed to chemical solvents at work had a higher risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects.

 Associated Press: South Korea’s Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Services declared that the breast cancer of a worker who died this year was caused by working at a Samsung semiconductor plant in Seoul.

Center for Construction Research and Training: The new Work Safely with Silica website provides the latest silica-related regulatory requirements, research, training materials, and FAQs, plus an online planning tool that makes it easy for construction contractors and other stakeholders to create job-specific plans for controlling silica dust.

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