Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Workplace Safety in High Tech Fields

Dangers may be lurking for workers in the high-tech nanotechnology industry, according to bloggers over at the Pump Handle, which is focused on public health issues.

An international survey published in the May issue of Environmental Science and Technology addressed precisely this question: are nanomaterials firms and laboratories installing adequate, nano-specific environmental health and safety (EHS) programs, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, exposure monitoring and product stewardship programs?

The results of the survey?

Workplace monitoring and nanospecific waste disposal were uneven and were only associated with the subset of organizations believing in special risks. A majority of organizations expressed a need for more toxicological information and EHS guidance.

Workers’ Comp Commissioners in Connecticut Regularly Take Fridays Off

Workers compensation commissioners in Connecticut may be contributing to the case backlog that they’ve been tasked to reduce.

A Connecticut newspaper, the Journal Inquirer, discovered that many workers’ compensation commissioners are leaving the office early on Fridays – or not bothering to show up at all – but they’re still being paid for a full day’s work.

In a telephone survey that Journal Inquirer reporters conducted on three nonconsecutive Fridays in March and April, nearly all of the 12 commissioners assigned to the panel’s six regional offices were said to have left for the day by 1:30 p.m.

The “trial” commissioners serve five-year terms and are paid between $140,779 and $145,780 per year, while the Workers’ Compensation Commission chairman, who acts as chief administrator and does not try cases, is paid $155,779 annually.

By custom and tradition, the “trial” commissioners, who are charged with ensuring that workers get prompt payment of lost-time work benefits and medical expenses for on-the-job injuries, are supposed to use Friday afternoons to read briefs and write their opinions in the cases they’ve heard.

When reporters asked to speak with various commissioners, they were told they were “gone for the weekend,” “gone for the day,” “not available,” “not in for the day,” “back Monday” or some other excuse that put them out of the office when they should have been working.

During the survey, which occurred over a two-month period, only one commissioner took a reporter’s phone call. And he indicated that he was retiring that day.

When quizzed about the absences, the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro said the commissioners were probably taking personal time or had refused to take reporters’ phone calls to avoid ex-parte communications. But that explanation didn’t hold up upon further scrutiny by the reporters.

“With respect to anyone not there on a Friday afternoon, as long as they have accredited that time — meaning either to their personal leave time or their vacation time — if they have done that, they are meeting their obligations and requirements,” he said.

However, when pressed Mastropietro acknowledged that none of the absent commissioners had requested time off.

This happened time and again and on several Fridays throughout March and April. The commissioners seem to have made it a habit to put in an abbreviated work week. That could be affecting injured workers who are awaiting a commission decision so they can begin receiving workers’ compensation benefits. It’s most certainly affecting workflow at the Workers’ Compensation Commission in Connecticut.

The Commission is facing a backlog of cases – a situation that’s been exacerbated turnover. Since 2006, the commission has had to replace seven of its 15 members because of retirement or death. Two commissioners have just recently retired in April.
At least one employee has lodged a complaint about the number of commissions suffering from the “Friday flu.”

Meanwhile, one commission employee, who requested anonymity, said regional office staffers had complained to their bosses about the early exits on Fridays — and, in one instance, lodged a whistleblower complaint challenging the hours a supervisor claimed to have worked.
To read more about the Hartford Journal Inquirer investigation, visit Hartford Business online at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/news5214.html. Or visit the newspaper Web site at http://www.journalinquirer.com/articles/2008/04/18/connecticut/doc4807543e80f4e202382654.txt

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lessons Learned from Maine’s Costliest Workers’ Compensation Injuries

The Maine Department of Labor SafetyWorks! Program, which provides workplace training and education for companies and their employees, is taking a look at the state’s 100 costliest workers’ compensation cases with an eye toward prevention.

A workshop, which is open to all workers within the state, will examine the causes and outcomes of the costliest workers’ compensation claims in the state. The discussion will focus on case management and long-range prevention. While the class is free and open to all workers, it’s designed for those who administer workers' compensation and disability prevention programs. For details about the course, follow this link. And for information about SafetyWorks!, visit the program’s Web site.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Risk of On-the-Job Injury High for Hispanic Hotel Workers

A university and a labor union are joining forces to keep Hispanic hotel workers safe while at work. These employees are at increased risk for being hurt on the job.

Hotel workers suffer higher injury rates than service workers overall. Housekeeper, in particular, are at risk for musculoskeletal disorders. This group is predominantly female, and many of these housekeepers are immigrants.

This study and suggestions for reducing these types of workplace injuries were presented at a public health conference in Washington, D.C. The full presentation on workplace injuries involving hotel housekeepers is online.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Companies may face million-dollar fine in deaths of five workers

The U.S. Department of Labor recently proposed fining two companies more than $1 million for federal workplace safety violations following a fire that resulted in the deaths of five workers.

The fire took place Oct. 2 at the Xcel Energy hydroelectric plant near Georgetown, Colorado. Five workers were trapped in a tunnel and died from asphyxiation. RPI Coating Inc., the California company that hired the five workers, was cited by the Department of Labor for using unsafe electrical equipment. Xcel Energy was cited for failing to install carbon monoxide alarms and other violations.