Monday, November 26, 2012 0 comments

MA gas line eruption: Bad marks on ground to blame

A recent gas line blast in Massachusetts which damaged 42 buildings in Springfield, Massachusetts was determined to be the result of an employee following bad markings on the ground. 

This problem highlights a major concern which helped drive the efforts of myself and others to rewrite South Carolina's underground utility safety laws - the reality that contractors have to rely upon information from others and that safe digging is a partnership between contractors, utilities and locator firms. 

The picture on the right was presented by a state Senator in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing two years ago. It showed a scene in Myrtle Beach where gas lines were found six feet from the marks, helping demonstrate the lack of effective standards and enforcement which convinced legislators the time had come to change the laws.

While reforming laws to keep up with changing needs, technologies and standards is important (the 2011 law replaced one written in 1978), one should keep in mind that laws create a framework and set baselines for accountability, but they don't always provide answers in the field.

Most locators I deal with are good at what they do, so this isn't a blanket indictment of their profession. But it does point out the need to proceed with caution and get all the information available before working, as well as be sure your locator knows what they're doing. Also, if you are working on a project where SUE (subsurface utility engineering) reports give you additional information about what's below.

Always know what's below, so you don't end up a headline - or worse:
Saturday, November 24, 2012 0 comments

House GOP makes first move on immigration reform

Hit by accusations that the GOP has been unfriendly to immigrant populations, House Republicans in Congress are making the first post-election move on opening up the immigration process.

House leadership is planning to bring the STEM Jobs Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, up for a second vote as early as next week. The legislation was voted on earlier in the fall, carrying 257 votes in the House, including 30 Democrats, but failed as rules required a two-thirds vote on the legislation. The new vote will simply require a majority to secure passage.

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Consumer Electronics Association, are backing the legislation, which is said to be aimed at boosting American tech companies, who continue to contend with a lack of skilled workers, even in the slow economy. This legislation could help American high-tech companies address staffing shortages while reducing the number of educated candidates available to foreign companies.
Friday, November 16, 2012 0 comments

Labor unions shut down Hostess, no more Twinkies

If you're looking for Twinkies or Ding-Dongs on your grocery shelf in the near future, you can forget it - and you can thank labor unions for making it happen.

Struggling to get out of bankruptcy, Hostess - the maker of snack foods like Twinkies, Ding-Dongs and Wonder Bread - announced the decision to close the company after negotiations over wage and benefits packages broke down and labor unions went on strike.

A news release posted on the company's strike information website explained the issues that factored into the decision to close the company, which had been in business for nearly a century:
Monday, November 12, 2012 0 comments

How do you "sell" safety?

In addition to being an HR and Safety person, I've also spent several years as an adjunct professor, teaching public speaking and other communication courses. One of the most important things I teach my public speaking classes is that you're always selling something - your ideas, your products, your clients and yourself.

Then I get to job sites and see people who are supposed to provide safety leadership - foremen, project managers, safety leads, etc. - who couldn't see water to a dying man in a desert. These are the people who yell directives, demand to know why someone isn't following the rules and read weekly toolbox training talking points from the sheets without even looking up to see if anyone's awake or listening.

This is one of those cases where it's not just good enough to know your own trade or know the rules. Leaders have to lead, which means they have to share their ideas and bring their teams along with them. But in construction, too many in leadership roles don't have any clue how to truly lead, making the role of any safety person more challenging.

Speaking and communicating are key skills for leaders in an organization and in a field like construction, those skills are often sorely lacking.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 0 comments

OSHA to expand reach into small workplaces?

While OSHA inspections have given small employers a pass on enforcement visits, that may be about to change. According to a story on the Bloomberg BNA website, the findings of a recent study of OSHA by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA's Site Specific Targeting Program Has Limitations on Targeting and Inspecting High-Risk Worksites), included recommendations that the agency expand its inspection focus to include smaller workplaces.

The USDOL OIG office raised questions about the focus and effectiveness of OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program, a program which was established in 1999 to target general industry worksites reporting the highest injury and illness rates. The program targeted worksites based on injury and illness rates calculated from employer responses to the annual survey known as the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) survey.

One OIG recommendations called for OSHA to expand the scope of it SST program to include worksites with eleven to nineteen workers, as opposed to the current minimum number of twenty.

The OIG report criticism of the effectiveness of the SST program argued that the focus on larger worksites meant the agency was skipping over a large number of high-risk worksites:
Tuesday, November 6, 2012 0 comments

Three good articles on presenting more effectively

Communication is a large part of my day job - and what I teach in my part-time adjunct professor teaching slots. While the aspects of my job which relate to media and community relations obviously involve communicating effectively with audiences, a lot of work related to human resources and safety also requires effective communication skills.

Good ideas, useful products and smart options get lost all the time because someone may be knowledgeable about something but can't get their points across effectively.

I got an email today from Speechworks, one of a number of email lists that I'm on, which features three good articles discussing how to communicate and present more effectively in professional settings that fit well with what I've learned from professional experience and what I teach in the classroom. I hope you find them useful.
Monday, November 5, 2012 0 comments

Surviving DOL Wage and Hour audits

Since we're talking about compliance audits which can result in fines and costly and time-consuming administrative policy changes, let's talk about another agency which can come a'knocking: U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL).

The agency has been stepping up inspections for years, looking for companies which under-pay their workers, going back to the agency's Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2006-2011.

I've been through these before and my company passed with flying colors. Like most regulatory and compliance visits you'll encounter, they would be the most fun you've had on the job, but if handled properly - and prepared for beforehand - they're survivable.

But learning what they are, how to handle them, understand the process, and handle paperwork defensively beforehand are the keys to getting on top.
Friday, November 2, 2012 0 comments

What triggers an OSHA inspection - and how to reduce them in your workplace

While everyone wants to have the kind of safety program which protects employees, protects the company's bottom line and keeps OSHA inspectors happy, one wants to keep OSHA inspections at their workplace to a minimum.

If you're a safety compliance officer, or if your job involves running operations on a project site or in a plant, or you deal with these issues at an administrative level, you should know what can trigger an OSHA inspection. Do more to avoid these things and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble, save your employer some money and in the process of eliminating what gets the attention of OSHA, you'll likely reduce your workplace exposure to hazards.

There are two kinds of inspections: unprogrammed, which are inspections which come up in response to situations that may arise, and programmed, which are planned and scheduled inspections (as determined by your state's OSH staff) and most employers (read on to find out why I say "most") can expect from time-to-time.

To help better clarify what can initiative an unprogrammed inspection, Page 9-3 of the OSHA'S Field Operations Manual warns that an "inspection is normally warranted if at least one of the conditions below is met", defining the conditions as including: