Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Fascinating

Exoskeletons Work Miracles

Make workers stronger, allow people with traumatic injuries to walk again, prevent injuries, boost productivity, lighten heavy loads—do all this and more with the inventions of UC Berkley Professor Homayoon Kazerooni’s. It was Kazerooni who pioneered the exoskeleton technology that started in the late 1970s with devices that allowed paralyzed people to walk again and has now grown into workplace technology that lightens loads in all manner of jobs. To read the EHS Today story of these amazing developments and see several illustrations of the tools Mr. Kazerooni has designed, click here.

Deer Tick Nurseries

I ran across a fascinating article the other day written by Jesse Elwert Peters, an ecologist, eco-friendly landscape designer, consultant, garden coach and writer with her business, Jessecology, based in Saratoga Spring, NY. Like most of us who have any affinity for the out-of-doors, the issue of deer ticks and the diseases they carry is never far from the surface. We usually blame the increasing abundance of deer and call for eradication of the beast wherever possible. But Jesse has a different take. She blames landscapers and homeowners and garden centers that pull their plants from anywhere in the World. Specifically, she sees the problem in her area as Barberry. It’s non-native, invasive, fast growing and spreading and deer won’t eat it. But, it’s a perfect host for ticks and the mice that make their homes underneath and then spread the tick anywhere they run. Planting native plants is the solution! To read her column and find a list of native plants, click here.

Is Corporate Social Responsibility A Myth?

ISHN Magazine does a great job of covering EHS issues about which we need to know. One of those in the current issue is all about the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts that have been with us for the past 25 years. Intended to eliminate dangerous working conditions and illegal plants in the worldwide supply chain, it appears that the billions of dollars spent to date have had very limited impact. The article covers the research done by the Harvard Business School and it’s well worth reading, especially if your organization thinks its efforts are making a difference. You’ll find the article here.

Trump Hides “Inconvenient” Data

It comes as no surprise that the Trump administration is removing abundant data about the performance of U. S. companies that once was one click away for anyone interested. The effort is impacting data from many government agencies, says the Washington Post. Of significant concern to me is data on the OSHA website that I use to understand the issues facing an organization with which I might choose to consult. For the full story, click here.

Explaining Complex Ideas

Those of us in the safety business have often been challenged to explain complex rules and ideas to others who may not have the background or knowledge to fully comprehend. At times we’re successful, sometimes we’re not. That’s why I was thrilled to find this clip of a Rockwell International engineer explaining the workings of a new turbo encabulator. Click here to watch how in one minutes, 49 seconds he brings us all up to speed on the new design.

Fire Station Health Risks

Fire stations are built to house men and women whose job it is to protect property and save lives. But new research from Boston, with financial assistance from a NIOSH grant, has found that firefighters are likely at risk in their own station houses. Turns out that their gear, their equipment and their in-quarters living environment may be contaminated by chemicals to which they are exposed on the job. For the full story and several related sources, see the last article in the latest NIOSH Research Rounds at

Former OSHA Executive Takes On The Chamber of Commerce

“Confined Space” is a newsletter covering workplace safety and labor issues produced by Jordan Barab. Barab, a long time Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA (2009-2017), writes that the U. S. Chamber of Commerce is far more interested in union-breaking than in protecting workers. To make his point, he gives several specific examples of how the Chamber responded to requests for input from the Trump administration. Candidly, having been in this business for well over 50 years, what he says rings true. You can decide for yourself if you read the article here. While you’re on his website, take a look at the rest of his writings—and go back for more in the days and weeks ahead.

Rules of the Road for Urban Cyclists

I’ve been an avid cyclist most of my life. I’m riding shorter distances as I’ve gotten older, but my current bike odometer just turned 9,000 miles. I feel comfortable on the road and in urban traffic and I know and follow the rules. Never the less, I found an article in the current CityLab from The Atlantic to be a great refresher. Titled The Definitive Rules of the Road for Urban Cyclists, the piece reports a multitude of safety tips from a riding instructor and includes links to several YouTube videos. If you, or friends or family members ride bicycles, you might find the few minutes it takes to read the article and watch the videos life saving. You’ll find the article here.

Nuts! Going from Bad To Worse

We already know that the Trump administration is aggressively targeting science and research in global warming, the environment and the workplace. Many of the people we count on to bring us the facts and data we need to make our lives better are, or soon will be, looking for work. Now, according to an ISHN article, we’ll need to add the good folks at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. The Institute, founded in 1954, has announced that peer-reviewed research will end and nearly four-dozen scientists and researchers will be laid off when the program ends on June 6. Many people in the safety business are already flying blind when it comes to knowing what works and what doesn’t. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. See the full ISHN article here.

Unintentional Death Rate Spikes

1992 was a good year! It was the low year for the unintentional death rate as calculated by the National Safety Council. Since then, the rate has been increasing and the most recent report, covering data from 2015, showed a year-to-year increase of 7.7%. Wow! The reason, according to the Council’s Injury Facts publication, is more distracted driving, falls and opioid use. The result, the NSC says, is that 58,000 fewer people would have died in 2015 if the preventable death rate had kept pace with the overall fatality rate. If you are a National Safety Council member, you can download the book at no cost. For non-members, there is a fee. Click here for the order page. Another option is to go to EHS Today where you’ll find a comprehensive article on the subject along with several charts. You can access the article by clicking here.

Your Mean Boss Is Miserable!

Yep, the nasty, angry, red-faced, SOB many people work for gets little satisfaction from his or her behavior. A study by the Academy of Management Journal has found that mean behavior toward others leaves bosses feeling awful. The study author says, “everybody would benefit” if companies just hired people who were more empathetic, cooperative, kind and like helping others. How about that? You can find an excellent article on the study in the May 11 issue of the Washington Post. Click here to access it.

Electronic Recordkeeping Rule Suspended

We knew it was coming. In 2016, the Obama administration issued a rule that required many employers to submit worker injury and illness data to OSHA electronically. The rule seemed reasonable to me. Considering doing business with a certain company? Just go to the OSHA web site and examine their injury and illness record. Lots of injuries? High incidence rate? Might want to consider someone else who takes better care of employees. The rule was too logical, it seems, and several business groups challenged the rule and asked the new administration to dump it. “It could unfairly damage the reputation of some of their members,” they claimed. I’ve always believed that there is a direct relationship between the number of workers you injure on the job and the overall quality of work you do for your customers. If you’d like to read more about this decision, see the May 17 Washington Post article here. Notice it’s listed under politics.

Lock ‘Em Up? Maybe Not

We know where 45 and his AG stand. Prison is the only solution to illegal activities. Cut them no slack! Throw the book! Tough on crime is the only answer. What a sad state of affairs. Decades of experience, research, data analysis and alternative approaches have shown conclusively that fewer inmates and shorter sentences work well. They save the public billions of dollars that can go for critical community and infrastructure projects and they lead to significantly better outcomes for the lives of those affected. When incarceration drops, so do crime and recidivism rates. If you’d like to read more on this issue, start with the May 18 issue of the New York Times where you’ll find an excellent article here.  
Is Tesla Production Safe?
About 10,000 employees work at the tesla plant in Fremont, CA. It’s an old automobile plant that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is turning into the factory of the future. It’s highly automated and Tesla-provided photos show hardly any people. But for workers, it appears that the future is not yet here. There are reports of 12-hour shifts six days a week under horrible ergonomic conditions, of frequent ambulance visits to the plant and of a production above all else philosophy. Musk apparently admits that start-up has been challenging but that things are getting better. However, the article in The Guardian that is my source for this piece paints a less than flattering picture. You can read the full article by clicking here.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

News From The Safety Front Lines

Facts On Falls

I was working on the end of my barn the other day and decided to tackle the trim on a peak window 20 feet above the ground. I’m a former firefighter and was, in the old days, comfortable 80 feet in the air on a ladder truck or church-raised straight ladder. I set my nearly new ladder, checked the angle and climbed to the window with my tools and ladder belt fixed. Then I realized that I’m 78 years old and quietly told myself “this is dumb” and climbed down. I tell you this because OSHA has just announced another push on ladder safety.
Here’s what OSHA tells us. “Falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers, accounting for 350 of the 937 construction fatalities recorded in 2015. These and other facts about fall hazards are highlighted in new resources from OSHA that employers can use in their discussions with employees during the National Safety Stand-Down. Two videos have been posted on the Stand-Down homepage and a series of infographics can be downloaded from OSHA's Fall Prevention Campaign webpage.” You’ll find both pages very helpful at both work and home.

Learning Something New

For many people, life involves moving rapidly from one demand to another with little time for relaxation and reflection. That’s too bad. Most of the really smart, super capable people I know take time every day for decompression and learning. To that end, I refer you to the article “40 Amazing Places to Learn Something New Every Day.” No, I haven’t tried them all, but those that I have explored suggest all 40 are worth your time. You’ll find the article here.

What Do You Know About Public Health?

Last year was the one-hundredth anniversary of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and to celebrate, the School issued a list of 100 objects that have impacted public health for good or ill. Consider birth certificates, window screens, the desk chair and even American cheese. These make the list. Read the list in a Washington Post article and find out how these objects have made a difference. You’ll find it at

Social Media, Fake News and Alternative Facts
Until recently, the combined issues of social media, fake news and alternative facts have been a theme song of Number 45’s White House that I’ve found easy to write off as the confused musings of a block of hard-core staff and supporters. I know where “real” news comes from and I know that “alternative” facts don’t really exist. Then I read a piece by Steve Crimando, a member of Firestorm’s Expert Council and a specialist on psychological support operations at the Anthrax Screening Center. It’s a thoughtful, academic article that deals with real news and actual facts and one that tells readers the next threat of nuclear or biological disruption will be totally unlike past events. In the future, bad information will travel at lightning speed and panic will likely overwhelm reasonable and thoughtful efforts to inform the public. To read the full article, click here.
Job Requirements In The United States

Do you ever wonder what other people must do at work and how hard the work might be? For many people, all they know about the workplace is what they’ve learned at the places where they work or have worked. In fact, it’s a big world out there and the range of work is all over the place. Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a summary of job requirements and the data is quite instructive. For example, 61% of the average workday is spent standing or walking. The average lift at work is a maximum of 36 pounds. Nearly two thirds of workers must reach overhead. For the press release on the report, click here. There is much more information in the press release and there is a link at the end to take you to more detail.

Serious Workplace Injuries Cost Over $1 Billion Per Week!

EHS Today reports that the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index now shows serious, nonfatal workplace injuries in the U.S. amount to nearly $60 billion in direct workers compensation costs annually. Add the minor injuries and non-compensation costs typical of workplace injuries such as overtime, replacement training costs, lost productivity, reduced productivity, product damage and uncompensated costs to the individual and the total figure is much, much higher. To see the EHS article and additional data, click here.

Employee Safety Impacted by Financial Goals

A recent article in EHS Today reports on a study by two accounting professors that disclosed any effort to increase earnings (such as increased workloads, hours worked, speed of work flow and cuts in discretionary expenses) resulted in an increase in injury/illness rates. Less union presence, a lower link between compensation premiums and claims and when the firms have less government business all strengthen the relationship between injuries and benchmark beating. For the full article, click here.  
CSB Releases ExxonMobil Explosion Report
A February 18, 2015 explosion at the ExxonMobil Refinery in Torrance, CA, caused extensive property damage and contaminated the environment up to a mile away. The investigation disclosed numerous problems, including failure of the safety management process system, unverified safeguards, no pre-established safe operating limits, use of outdated procedures and degraded equipment. The plant was subsequently sold by ExxonMobil and since then has experienced multiple additional incidents. To read the full CSB press release, click here.
AMA Issues LED Light Warming

This is the lead paragraph from a Washington Post article of last fall. “The American Medical Association issued a warning in June that high-intensity LED streetlights  such as those in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and elsewhere emit unseen blue light that can disturb sleep rhythms and possibly increase the risk of serious health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The AMA also cautioned that those light-emitting-diode lights can impair nighttime driving vision.” With LEDs comprising 13% of roadway lighting in the US, concern is obvious. However, adjusting the light to be more yellow may be a solution. For more on the story, click here. Photo by Plillips
Say No To 12 Foot Traffic Lanes!

For high volume urban and local streets, the experts say we should return to the old standard of 10 foot width and no more. We’ve crept up over the years to 11 and 12 foot lanes with the belief that wider lanes are safer. But, the are not! Relax, high speed roads can still be 12 feet wide because we expect people to drive above the posted speed (nominally 70 MPH) and the wider lanes account for that. On city streets, however, drivers tend to ignore the posted speeds and drive at what they see as a safe speed. However, you have more pedestrians and bikes in the city and the pedestrians have further to walk to clear traffic and the bikes don’t fit. And, with higher speed on wider lanes, pedestrian death rates climb dramatically because 30 MPH is 7 times more deadly than 20 MPH if you’re hit. There is lots more on this topic in the Atlantic CityLab article at You will also find references in the piece to other articles on the topic. The image accompanies an article by Jeff Speck on John Rosenbarger's 12-ft wide Spring Street traffic lanes: “A 12-foot lane is a 70 mph lane" says Speck.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The April Wrap-Up

The CSB and The Business Case for Safety

The U. S. Chemical Safety Board released a business case for safety on April 14 based on its review of four major chemical incidents. Looking at the costs associated with the 2005 explosion and fire at BP Texas City, the 2010 explosion and fire aboard the Macondo/Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the 2012 explosion and fire at the Chevron Refinery and the 2013 fire and massive explosion at West Fertilizer, the CSB concludes that hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent to deal with the result of chemical incidents it has investigated. Each of the four CSB accident investigations detail both human and financial tolls that these incidents had on the company and the surrounding communities. To see the report summary, click here

People Are Dying To Avoid Using Seat Belts

That’s correct. Fourteen percent of Americans do not wear seat belts regularly in moving vehicles! But wait! Nearly 86% do, so what’s the big deal? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the unbelted make up roughly half of all motor vehicle fatalities. Another interesting fact about seat belt use is that states and counties where belt use is a primary enforcement priority (in other words, a seat belt violation alone can get your stopped) have a much higher rate of seat belt use. For a U.S. map by county showing seat belt use and other information on the subject, see the Washington Post article here.

America’s Toxic Workplace

OSHA has estimated that chemical exposure kills 50,000 American workers a year and sickens more than 190,000, but Dr. David Michaels (OSHA head under President Obama) and other experts say these figures are gross underestimates. The reason is complicated. EPA exposure limits for the general population are often much lower than OSHA limits. In many cases, there are no OSHA permissible exposure limits or the existing limits are out of date. Finally, limits are driven by economic and technological feasibility rather than risk assessments. As for a solution to this problem, it will depend heavily on the Trump regulatory policies and Alexander Acosta, the new Labor Secretary.  For more on this subject, see the opinion piece by Rachel Cernansky in the April 10 New York Times at  
The Federal Crime Agenda

According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, crime is surging in American cities and that belief is likely to drive the Trump approach to addressing crime. Strangely, however, Number 45 and his AG are misinformed. While violent crime has risen in Baltimore and Chicago, driving most of the rise Mr. Sessions cites, crime overall in the nation’s 30 largest cities has fallen! As The Atlantic’s CityLab reports, “violent crime has dropped from 716 incidents per capita to 366, and murder from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3” in the past 25 years. While reality trumps belief, there are several moves afoot to address the crime “increase.” To read about them in the CityLab article by Brentin Mock, click here.

Boston Trench Collapse Brings Heavy Charges

On October 21, 2016, in Boston, Robert Higgins (47) and Kelvin Mattocks (53) died when the 12-foot trench they were working in collapsed, breaking a fire main and filling the hole with water in seconds. OSHA has cited their employer, Atlantic Drain Service, Inc., previously for the same conditions. Atlantic Drain faces $1,475,813 in penalties and the company owner has been charged with two counts of manslaughter. You’ll find full reports on the OSHA web site and in EHS Magazine at
What gets me is that the report and the citations are just words and numbers, but I found a photo of Steven Smith, a co-worker of Higgins and Mattocks, who tried desperately to rescue his co-workers and failed. His anguish in photos by Mark Garfinkel of the Boston Herald is haunting. You’ll find the piece on his story at

Psychological Traits Can Predict Safe Behavior
Esteban Tristan, Ph.D., writing in EHS Magazine on-line, reports on some fascinating psychological studies that point to our ability to predict and control Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIFs). SIFs comprise about 21% of all incidents and are those that result in time lost from work, life-altering injuries and loss of life. Over two thirds of all SIFs come from not following life saving rules or from unexpected changes in exposure. While injuries are often the result of multiple complex factors, says Tristan, human behavior plays an important role in the outcome of any event. In a large study, researchers tested on the four psychological factors associated with safety-related behaviors and incidents and found that those who tested low on the factors were eleven times more likely to sustain a serious injury! To read the full article, click here. 
Understanding Highway Speed Limits
Pick up the local newspaper or watch the evening news and you will frequently find an article that deals with speeding and related traffic issues. For drivers, the speed limit may seem to be too low. For nearby residents and pedestrians, the speeds are often viewed as too high. Who makes the ultimate decision and how is the decision made? If you need to answer that question, the Federal Highway Administration has developed a helpful fact sheet on the subject. It’s one page, available in PDF format for printing and distribution, and it’s available here.

How To Handle An Overbook Flight or (Name A Crisis)

Guy Higgins, writing in Firestorm’s regular newsletter, discusses the United Airlines “re-accommodation” of a passenger boarded at Chicago bound for Louisville. Much of the article has already been reported extensively, but his suggestions at the end about anticipating, and addressing, a crisis is instructive. You’ll find the article here. 

America’s Gun Problem Explained

Both the American public and research support gun control; but Congress refuses to take action. Vox News has written an excellent article on the topic that tells us whey we’re where we are and what could help—if the will power is found. The article has lots of charts and data and information on the rest of the World and how the gun issue is handled. If you’d like to be informed, read the article at