State or­dered to fix Cal/OSHA

A fed­eral re­view finds se­ri­ous prob­lems, par­tic­u­larly with the ap­peals board.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextar - Jes­sica Gar­ri­son jes­sica.gar­ri­son @latimes.com

The U.S. La­bor Depart­ment is­sued a crit­i­cal re­port on en­force­ment of work­place safety in Cal­i­for­nia on Tues­day and or­dered the state to fix myr­iad prob­lems, in­clud­ing poor train­ing of safety in­spec­tors and de­lays in re­spond­ing to com­plaints.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials took aim at the state Di­vi­sion of Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health, say­ing, among other things, that in­spec­tors do not al­ways re­view a com­pany’s his­tory statewide be­fore de­cid­ing whether to cite it for re­peat vi­o­la­tions. They also found that the di­vi­sion’s ap­peals process “falls short.”

The prob­lems found with Cal­i­for­nia’s pro­gram were “rel­a­tively se­ri­ous, es­pe­cially with the ap­peals board,” said Jor­dan Barab, deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of La­bor for oc­cu­pa­tional safety and health.

The La­bor Depart­ment’s re­view mir­rors many of the find­ings of a Times in­ves­ti­ga­tion last fall that found the di­vi­sion’s ap­peals board re­peat­edly re­duced or dis­missed penal­ties levied by health and safety in­spec­tors, even in sit­u­a­tions in which work­ers died or were se­ri­ously in­jured.

The Times high­lighted the case of Bimbo Bak­eries USA, where nine em­ploy­ees have lost parts of fin­gers or a limb in sev­eral Cal­i­for­nia plants since 2003. Af­ter most of those ac­ci­dents, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that bak­ing ma­chines did not have proper guards to pre­vent em­ploy­ees from reach­ing in to dis­lodge dough that got stuck. It is not clear that in­spec­tors rec­og­nized the prob­lem as a pat­tern across the plants.

Many of the penal­ties levied by the Cal/OSHA were dis­missed or re­duced on tech­ni­cal­i­ties by judges work­ing for the ap­peals board, so the com­pany wasn’t re­quired to im­me­di­ately fix haz­ards.

The Times fo­cused on sev­eral se­ri­ous ex­am­ples, in­clud­ing the case of a worker on the Golden Gate Bridge, Kevin Scott Noah, who plum­meted 50 feet to his death.

ACal/OSHA in­ves­ti­ga­tor con­cluded that the con­trac­tor had not pro­vided em­ploy­ees with scaf­folds; it is­sued three “se­ri­ous” ci­ta­tions and a $26,000 fine, records show.

The con­trac­tor ap­pealed on the grounds that Cal/ OSHA had is­sued the ci­ta­tions to Shim­mick Obayashi, the name listed on the com­pany’s busi­ness cards. The com­pany’s full name was the Shim­mick Con­struc­tion Co. Inc./ Obayashi Corp.

An ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge tossed the case out, writ­ing that Cal/OSHA had failed to de­ter­mine the com­pany’s le­gal name.

Candice Traeger, chair­woman of Cal/OSHA’s ap­peals board, could not be reached Tues­day for com­ment

Work­place safety ad­vo­cates hailed the fed­eral ac­tion, say­ing it un­der­scored that safety in Cal­i­for­nia has been suf­fer­ing for years.

“I don’t think peo­ple re­al­ize how bro­ken our sys­tem is,” said Gail Bate­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Work­safe, a non­profit that ad­vo­cates for work­ers.

But Len Welsh, the chief of the state’s Di­vi­sion of Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health, took is­sue with some of the more than 40 find­ings about his di­vi­sion.

“They got a lot of stuff frankly wrong, and em­bar­rass­ingly so,” he said. For ex­am­ple, he said, one find­ing ac­cuses the di­vi­sion of not open­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into seven fa­tal ac­ci­dents quickly enough. But an­other find­ing says there were two such ac­ci­dents. When his of­fice ques­tioned the find­ings, fed­eral of­fi­cials couldn’t ex­plain the dis­crep­ancy, he said.

Cal/OSHA and the ap­peals board have 30 days to re­spond to the re­port and de­velop cor­rec­tive plans.

The re­view was part of an ex­am­i­na­tion of all 25 states that run their own work­place safety pro­grams.

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