Category Archives: Health & Safety

Indoor Mold: Better Coordination of Research on Health Effects and More Consistent Guidance Would Improve Federal Efforts

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-08-980, September 30, 2008

Recent research suggests that indoor mold poses a widespread and, for some people, serious health threat. Federal agencies engage in a number of activities to address this issue, including conducting or sponsoring research. For example, in 2004 the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine issued a report requested by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) summarizing the scientific literature on mold, dampness, and human health.

For These Companies the Penalties Are Pocket Change

Source: Robert Lewis, Salon.com, September 17, 2008

Pressure to settle cases means that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration collects less than half the fines it levies. But the real cost comes in worker health and safety.
After an explosion tore through a sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., this February, killing 14 workers and injuring 40, the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration acted swiftly, announcing an $8.8 million fine against Imperial Sugar for not protecting workers against the hazards of combustible dust. The proposed fine, disclosed in July, is the third highest in the agency’s 37-year history. But if that same history is a guide, OSHA will end up collecting half that much money, or less.

ProPublica reviewed the agency’s previous 25 highest announced penalties. In 19 cases, the fines were sharply reduced after appeals and negotiations, dropping an average of 65 percent. Three others were settled the day they were announced after closed-door talks between the agency and companies. Three remain open. Citations for “willful” violations, which can bring criminal prosecution, were frequently adjusted to lesser charges that carry only civil penalties. Some cases plodded through the system; five dragged out for more than a decade. The reduced penalties are the end result of a system that emphasizes reaching settlements — settlements often proposed by OSHA itself, rather than the company under scrutiny.

Examining Evidence On Whether BLS Undercounts Workplace Injuries And Illnesses

Source: John W. Ruser, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, August 2008

The BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses offers many advantages over other data systems, and BLS has been working on improvements to increase its accuracy and scope; nevertheless, there is a debate about whether the survey undercounts injuries and illnesses to any significant extent

Health-Care-Associated Infections in Hospitals: An Overview of State Reporting Programs and Individual Hospital Initiatives to Reduce Certain Infections

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-08-808, September 5, 2008

From the summary:
Health-care-associated infections (HAI) are infections that patients acquire while receiving treatment for other conditions. Normally treated with antimicrobial drugs, HAIs are a growing concern as exposure to multidrug-resistant organisms (MDRO) becomes more common. Infections caused by MDROs, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), lead to longer hospital stays, higher treatment costs, and higher mortality. In response to demands for more public information on HAIs, some states began to establish HAI public reporting systems. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a system–the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN)–to collect HAI data from hospitals and some states have chosen to use it for their programs. In addition, some hospitals have adopted initiatives to reduce MRSA by routinely testing some or all patients and isolating those who test positive for MRSA from contact with other patients. GAO was asked to examine (1) the design and implementation of state HAI public reporting systems, (2) the initiatives hospitals have undertaken to reduce MRSA infections, and (3) the experience of certain early-adopting hospitals in overcoming challenges to implement such initiatives. GAO interviewed state officials, reviewed documents, and surveyed or conducted site visits at hospitals with MRSA-reduction initiatives.

Hands Down: Hygiene Habits Remain Stagnant

Source: Soap and Detergent Association, Press release, September 18, 2008

Despite the threat of getting sick during cold and flu season, less Americans say they are regularly washing their hands.

The fourth Clean Hands Report Card®, issued by The Soap and Detergent Association, gives Americans a “C-minus” for their hand hygiene habits, the same grade they received back in 2006.

The Report Card is based on a series of hygiene-related questions asked of 916 Americans during a telephone survey conducted in August 2008 by Echo Research.

Among the findings of SDA’s 2008 survey:
• Only 85% say they always wash their hands after going to the bathroom (down from 92% in 2006).
• 46% of respondents wash their hands 15 seconds or less. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SDA recommends washing with soap at least 15-20 seconds.
• 39% surveyed seldom or never wash their hands after coughing or sneezing (compared to 36% in 2006).
• 35% don’t always wash before eating lunch (in 2006, 31% failed to wash up before lunch.
See also:
Summary and Key Findings

Fatal Workplace Injuries in 2005: A Collection of Data and Analysis

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 16, 2008

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), administered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in conjunction with the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and New York City, compiles detailed information on all work-related fatal injuries occurring in the United States. In an effort to compile counts that are as complete as possible, the fatality census uses diverse sources to identify, verify, and profile fatal work injuries. Source documents such as death certificates, news accounts, workers’ compensation reports, and Federal and State agency administrative records are cross-referenced to gather key information about each workplace fatality.

The annual CFOI report provides detailed tabulations of data from the fatality census, as well as analytical articles on various topics related to fatal workplace injuries. The report has two sections; the first section contains charts and text highlighting fatality data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, including charts derived from the three analytical articles that use CFOI data. The second section presents detailed data tables and appendices that describe the scope, methodology, and outputs of the program, along with the full text of the three analytical articles.

Draft Proposed Rule for Cranes and Derricks in Construction

Source: U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA), Billing Code: 4510-26-P, September 2008

From the summary:
The document, which follows, is a draft of the proposed rule for cranes and derricks in construction. This draft has been provided to the individuals who served as members of the Cranes and Derricks Negotiated Rulemaking Committee (C-DAC), in accordance with C-DAC’s ground rules. Those ground rules give each C-DAC member an opportunity to advise OSHA of any aspect of the document that he or she believes is inconsistent with C-DAC’s intent.

The public comment period for the cranes and derricks proposed rule has not yet begun; OSHA is not yet accepting public comments. The public comment period will not begin until the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. The proposed rule will likely be published in the Federal Register on October 3, 2008.

OSHA–the (not quite) lost films

Source: OSHA, 1980

If ever there was evidence of a sea change in labor relations, it is these lost OSHA films from late in the Carter administration. The life of these films was short: made in 1980 and destroyed in 1981. They’re great 30 minutes movies commissioned by OSHA, have Studs Terkel on narration, Johnny Paycheck on the soundtrack, and discuss both the history and significance of occupational disease and regulation. They actually show workers taking the issues into their own hands and using government regulations and agencies to prevent occupational disease and injury. The films are:
“Worker to Worker,” “Can’t Take No More,” and “The Story of OSHA.”

When Reagan appointed Thorne G. Auchter to head OSHA in 1981, he apparently had the films recalled and destroyed. A few renegade union folks withheld their copies, which circulated in bootleg fashion. They are now available on the internet and are a fabulous resource for both teaching and research.

– Link to the films on the Internet Archive

– Link to the films on YouTube

Occupational Safety and Health Statistics

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS Handbook of Methods, Chapter 9: Occupational Safety and Health Statistics, Updated September 17, 2008

Data on safety and health conditions for workers on the job have been produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) since before World War I. The first report issued by the BLS summarized industrial accidents in the iron and steel industries during the war period, presenting information on the frequency and severity of injuries, the occupation of the injured workers, and the nature of their injuries.

U.S. Policy Regarding Pandemic-Influenza Vaccines

Source: Julie Somers and Philip Webre, Congressional Budget Office, September 2008

The possibility of an influenza pandemic is cause for concern among policymakers, public health experts, and the world’s populations. Against that prospect, in 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a plan that includes a series of measures, first to monitor the spread of disease in the event of a worldwide outbreak and then to facilitate a rapid response. That second step includes developing influenza vaccines and expanding the nation’s capacity for producing influenza vaccine; creating stockpiles of antiviral drugs and other medical supplies (to avert an influenza pandemic or minimize its effects); coordinating federal, state, and local preparations; and planning for public outreach and communications.

HHS’s plan has two specific goals that relate to vaccines. The first goal is to have in place by 2011 domestic production capacity sufficient to supply vaccine to the entire U.S. population within six months of the onset of a pandemic. The second goal is to stockpile enough doses of vaccine to inoculate 20 million people as soon as possible after the onset of a pandemic.

This Congressional Budget Office (CBO) paper, which was prepared at the request of the
Senate Majority Leader, focuses on the government’s role in the vaccine market that stems from HHS’s plan. It provides information on the current state of readiness, the additional expenditures likely to be necessary to achieve HHS’s vaccine-related goals, the expenditures that are likely to be needed to maintain preparedness, and the approaches of other countries as they too face the prospect of an influenza pandemic.