Safety First

Safety First—December 2001
by Mary Erio

The following is an advance text of a taped presentation to be aired on the Heartland Labor Forum  radio show December 20.

1. A recent three part special report by the Kansas City Star investigates trucking safety, and finds that the government inspection system is failing. 

For decades, government regulators have talked tough about getting weary truckers off the road. Industry leaders say trucker fatigue is a minor cause of accidents. Most wrecks are caused by bad automobile drivers, they say. 

But the Kansas City Star, which spent nine months examining truck crashes found that fatigue is a much bigger problem than the industry acknowledges.  Sometimes hallucinating, sometimes nodding to sleep after driving 20 hours at a stretch, drivers continue to drift their 40-ton rigs into oncoming traffic, plow  through toll booths or crash into the backs of slower vehicles, sometimes wiping out entire families. 

More truckers continue to die in accidents each year than workers in any profession in America. The number of people killed in all large truck crashes has climbed above 5,000, totaling 5,211 last year, or a daily average of 14 deaths. That's not counting 140,000 injuries last year. Julie Anna Cirillo, the government's chief truck safety officer, acknowledges that the death toll is far too high. 

Among The Star's findings: 

The trucking industry not only downplays fatigue, it wants to lengthen the hours truckers can drive at a stretch based on a study that the industry itself helped conduct. 

Federal inspections of trucking companies are so few that three-fourths of all companies have never been visited. And completed reviews are so weak that companies with documented problems continue to operate without sanctions. 

Meanwhile, the highways are getting more crowded. But government and industry predict that truck traffic will increase 20 percent in the next decade. 

And that's not including NAFTA. President Bush is expected to sign a bill that  will open the U.S.-Mexican border early next year under the North American Free Trade Agreement. That would bring thousands more trucks onto the nation's highways from a country whose safety regulations already are weaker  than the troubled U.S. system. 

Alarmed that trucks—only 3 percent of all vehicles—were involved in 13 percent of all traffic deaths, lawmakers created a new truck safety agency in 1999. Then they ordered it to cut truck related fatalities in half in 10 years. The new agency didn't meet its 2000 goal of dropping fatalities below 5,000. 

You can read the rest of the story in the Kansas City Star, December 16, 17 and 18, or online.   

2.  From the IAM website news, 

A shipbuilder's use of worn and frayed power cords repaired with insulating tape does not violate Occupational Safety and Health Act requirements, the Fifth Circuit holds.  The appeals court reverses an Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission decision, ruling that the labor secretary's view that an OSHA standard prohibits the use of frayed and worn power cords under any circumstances in the shipbuilding industry is "unreasonable" in terms of safety and cost, well as inconsistent with the published regulatory scheme. 

The appeals court also reverses the commission's ruling that Marine Nashville Inc. violated safety requirements by using wood‑framed plug‑in boxes to supply power in a shipyard. The court  holds that the shipbuilder was entitled to notice that OSHA had found its wood‑framed boxes unsafe because the agency withdrew a similar citation in 1989. 

Upon reading the above rulings that place corporate convenience above worker safety, GVP Lee Pearson wondered "What will happen next?  These repeated attacks on the workers of America have to stop some day. When our judicial system thinks its okay for our working  brothers and sisters to work on the water, around frayed electrical and wooden junction boxes, it has gotten out of hand.  I hope everyone gets upset with this and demands that our leaders stop this insanity.” 

3.  OSHA has provided a variety of resources to help employers comply with the revised Recordkeeping Rule, effective January 1st, 2002. 

The new OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) has been simplified and can be printed on smaller legal sized paper. The new OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) includes more data about how the injury or illness occurred. Maximum flexibility has been provided so employers can keep all the information on computers, at a central location. Sections have been added clarifying work relationship when employees travel or work out of their home.   Different criteria for recording work-related injuries and work-related illnesses are eliminated. 

Employers are required to record all needlestick and sharps injuries involving contamination by another person's blood or other potentially infectious material.  Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are treated like all other injuries or illnesses: they must be recorded if they result in days away, restricted work, transfer to another job, or medical treatment beyond first aid. 

Increased employee involvement is required.  Employers are required to establish a procedure for employees to report injuries and illnesses and to tell their employees how to report.  The new rule informs employers that the OSH Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who do  report. 

Employees are allowed to access the 301 forms to review records of their own injuries and illnesses. Employee representatives are allowed to access those parts of the OSHA 301 form relevant to workplace safety and  health.  Employers must provide records to an OSHA compliance officer who requests them within 4 hours. 

4. OSHA has also issued an updated compliance directive for the bloodborne pathogens standard, including revisions mandated by the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. The updated standard became effective last April 18. 

The compliance directive guides OSHA's safety and health inspection officers in enforcing the standard that covers occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials, and ensures consistent inspection procedures are followed. 

The directive implements changes made to the standard that focus on the requirement that employers select safer needle devices as they become available and involve employees in identifying and choosing those devices. The standard now also requires most employers to maintain a log of injuries from contaminated sharps. 

The directive highlights the major new requirements of the standard including: 

(1)  evaluation and implementation of safer needle devices as part of the re-evaluation of  appropriate engineering controls during an employer's annual exposure control plan; 

2)  documentation of the involvement of non-managerial, frontline employees in choosing  safer devices; and 

(3) establishment and maintenance of a sharps injury log for recording  injuries from contaminated sharps.

Also included in the directive are engineering control evaluation forms, a web site  resource list, a model exposure control plan which incorporates the most current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control regarding management of occupational  exposure to the hepatitis B and C viruses, and the HIV virus. More information about the revised Recordkeeping standard, and Bloodborne Pathogen Standard can be found on OSHA home page at  

Wishing you a happy and safe holiday season, this is Mary Erio for Safety First.

© 2001 by Mary Erio