IBEW 1245 Health and Safety Committee members Dan Boschee, Art Torres and Business Representative Rich Lane attended the National Safety Council labor caucus in Chicago. The four-day conference features national safety experts, reports on new changes in federal statutes and labor caucuses being conducted by labor unions in the electrical, gas, transportation, communication and broadcast industries. Below are some of the highlights that may be of interest to Local 1245 members.
Transmission Switch Worker Fatality
IBEW Local 77 Business Manager Lou Walter reported that a transmission lineman attached to IBEW Local 659 died while working to install a transmission switch. He was killed when he got between two ground points sending 22kV through his body. The lineman was in the process of removing jumpers and was working the last phase when he got between two ground points on the bracket grounded line. Walters pointed out the importance of staying “bonded” onto the phase being worked. The current source was believed to be induced current from another transmission line.
Gas Worker Perishes in Trench
In Denver Colorado a gas worker collapsed and died in a trench. At first it was thought that he was overcome by gas but an autopsy revealed that the death was from other causes related to heat stress. At the time the worker was wearing arc flash clothing and the temperature in the trench was well over 100 degrees.
Amended Federal Crane Rule Expected Soon
Regulations governing Federal crane rules have continued to be a source of debate over operator qualifications. Unfortunately, when rules were instituted by FedOSHA there was little distinction between utility operator qualification of digger derricks in the normal operation of electric facilities and the extra heavy lift capability of large cranes. IBEW International safety officer Jim Tomaseski reported at the IBEW caucus that OSHA has effectively backed off of utility enforcement based on operator qualifications until the new rules better define qualifications by the first of next year. For now the rule sticks that operation of a digger derrick under Federal Rule 1926 Subpart B has no restrictions for utility operators except in the use for street lighting. The IBEW International has stayed close to this issue and asked that no interpretation of the current rule stand until a final rule is issued.
OSHA Budget Cut By Feds
OSHA 2014 projected yearly budget, $569 million, is less than 1% of total national budget. To date, in order to balance needs and enforcement the Whistleblower budget has been increased by 40%. On the down side Republicans have set a goal to reduce OSHA’s 2014 budget by $100 million and the National Institute of Safety and Health by $33 million. In effect the effort is to defray the cost of Obamacare through defunding of national safety programs.
The Right to Refuse Due to Imminent Danger
Workers have the right to refuse work which they believe to be an imminent danger but there are specific rules that apply. An OSHA 11C complaint can be filed with OSHA within 30 days of dismissal or violation but there are strict criteria that apply. The employee must clearly articulate why the task or condition is unsafe and stay on the job or nearby at a safe distance so that management has the opportunity address the issue. OSHA uses the “reasonable person” test to determine if a person with like experience and of like kind would also consider the task or condition to be unsafe.
Utility Safety and Health Mock Incident Training: AVISTA, Spokane, Wash.
Washington state utility Avista has performed unannounced mock emergencies for crews to test preparedness in the event of an employee emergency. The exercises helped to improve communication and point out gaps between responding agencies such as sheriff, hospitals, ambulance and line crews. The intent was to make as close to real as possible. A line crew was called out of a meeting to respond to two men hung up in primary. Dummies were placed on line and crew had to rescue them. Crew was only told minutes to responding that it was an exercise. Glitch came when organizers forgot to inform sheriffs department and a deputy followed the ambulance crew. One requirement was that any means of communication had to be accompanied with “this is a mock drill” so that anyone else listening knew it was not a real emergency. These training exercises were recorded and placed on YouTube.
Sleep Apnea May Affect Future Class A Drivers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a notice to study data related to sleep apnea and impaired driving for Class A license holders. Representatives of the trucking industry are concerned that some unsafe driving may be related to driver’s lack of sleep while others in the industry ask if required apnea screens to qualify for a Class A license may be regulation gone awry. In the initial stages it is not known what the study may reveal and if it will eventually prompt categorization of drivers by diagnosis or lead to a safer industry.
Prescription Drugs Surpass Alcohol as Drug of Choice
According to a study performed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration prescription drug use of opioids has increased eight fold from 5 million prescriptions in 1991 to 45 million in 2010, making prescription abuse of pain killers more used than alcohol. What is the reason? Georgia Karuntzos of SAMHSA cites the ease of which opioids can be obtained and the difficulty for users to stop using them. Most users become addicted due to an injury that when healed or stabilized the drug use continues. A study conducted by SAMHSA with airline flight attendants in cooperation with the flight attendants union was conducted with 2163 flight attendants recording a 98.5% response rate. From that survey it was revealed that 15% used pain meds on duty and 3.6% indicated that they thought pain meds compromised their job performance. The study also showed that 80% of work prescriptions were for opioids.
Opioid abuse has received more attention as the medical community is reporting a steady increase of deaths due to overdose among people who are working and otherwise in good health. Opioids have a suppressive effect on the respiratory and cardiovascular system and in cases of overdose victims have been known to go to sleep and die unexpectedly. The only known antidote for opioid overdose is the drug Naloxone. For more information go to the SAMHSA website.