Showing posts with label safety communication. Show all posts
Showing posts with label safety communication. Show all posts

More signs of ramped-up OSHA enforcement and penalties

It seems that some of these efforts have drawn some controversy, most notably the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which kicked off two years ago, replacing the agency's Enhanced Enforcement Program with the aim of focusing enforcement efforts upon:

(H)igh-emphasis hazards, which are defined as high gravity serious violations of specific fall standards -- 23 such standards are listed in general industry, construction, shipyards, marine terminal, and longshoring -- or standards covered in National Emphasis Programs focused on amputations, combustible dusts, crystalline silica, lead, excavation/trenching, shipbreaking, and process safety management.

OSHA employer penalties rising

Employer should be wary of increased efforts by federal and state OSHA officials to enforce and penalize employers. While some actions aimed at increasing penalties have been bottle-necked in Congress and in federal courts, but such roadblocks alone won't stop employers from facing increased headaches and costs from OSHA visits to workplaces. Increased OSHA inspections will allow the agency to spot and cite violations with increased frequency, the federal agency is also changing the rules which govern how penalties are applied to greatly reduce the latitude given to employers and set employers up to face quickly-increasing fines for workplace safety violations.

In writing for the Society of Human Resource Management labor attorney Allen Smith reported on a presentation by Nina Stillman, a labor attorney with Morgan Lewis in ChicagoAs penalties are capped by existing federal laws, OSHA has increased penalties by ramping up the use of repeat violator citations. Stillman said OSHA “is doing repeats all over the place.” Such citations are very costly for employers, costing up to five times the penalty of the first-offense citation. 

Stillman also reported that OSHA has increased the penalties by:

Why Work Zone safety legislation matters

Meet my car - or rather what's left of it.

Several weeks ago, my car was parked inside two closed-off lanes on one of my company's highway projects. In spite of the distance away from traffic, a driver entered the closed lanes and rear-ended it going 90. Not surprisingly, some time after the collision, he blew a .15.

It's a graphic example of the dangers faced in work zones every day by construction workers, dangers which are all too frequent.

But a lot of research indicates the majority of those who will die in work zones are in cars, not workers. On my company's projects, we've had eight motorists and three pedestrians killed in our work zones and zero workers in the last ten years.

Senate Bill 1464, which was introduced in the Senate today, would establish a work zone penalty which would provided dedicated funds for work zone enforcement costs and an additional two-point penalty.

If you've got any questions, feel free to ask me - or come join me in one of my work zones and see for yourself.

Become certified in CPR and First Aid - for free!

As Upstate Congressman Mick Mulvaney recently discovered, you never know when someone might be in urgent need of help, such as CPR. With the right training, you might be able to save a life in an emergency situation with just a little bit of training.

For those who don't know, as part of my job, I am a Red Cross-certified instructor, which means I can teach First Aid, CPR, Biohazards and some other important life-saving and safety skills. In addition to classes for workers, I've taught community organizations, staff in schools and courts and private citizens these skills.

You don't have to have a medical background to take this class. Many people, including teachers, law enforcement officers, construction personnel, and even teenage babysitters, take these classes to learn how to respond to save lives. All you need is four or so hours of your time on a weekend to learn how.

So here's your chance to - regardless of party label - get FREE Red Cross CPR and First Aid training.

Senate Bill 705: Long-overdue reforms for underground utility safety

Ongoing efforts to amend and update South Carolina's laws regarding underground utility safety took two major steps forward last week. The first was on Monday, when stakeholder groups reached consensus upon the entire draft legislation to be filed in the State Senate and then on Thursday, when Senate Bill 705 was filed.

The legislation, which would update laws which haven't been updated since 1978 ahead of a major disaster or pending federal intervention, features several key points:

Sometimes miracles really DO happen

Today, stakeholder representatives and lobbyists met at the State House to work out the final details of language for a draft bill on a key Blogland issue: Underground utility safety.

In the last meeting, after reaching consensus on amending most aspects of state law (Title 58, Chapter 35), two issues were left for Senators to resolve in an upcoming hearing on the bill. During the today's meeting, stakeholders were able to reach agreement on those issues, completing negotiations aimed at updating the nation's oldest state law overseeing underground utilities.

All parties in the meeting from the wide range of stakeholder groups represented agreed to accept the legislation in its entirety, meaning the upcoming Senate hearing (to be scheduled) will likely be a formality with little or no opposition, placing the legislation on a fast track to be passed through the Senate, then to the House and then hopefully signed into law by June.

This is the outcome of an amazing amount of work by who were able to look beyond their own realm and work to put safety first, allowing these issues to be addressed by consensus among stakeholders, rather than waiting for federal intervention or a major disaster, as has often been the motivator for reform efforts in many states.

So what will change? A lot, including:

Calling 811 in South Carolina: It's a good idea, but it could be better

Today is national Call 811 day. This is the day intended to promote the usage of the national Call-Before-You-Dig number - 811 - which is intended to put callers in touch with utility companies to ensure that any underground utility facilities are marked before they dig.

Not surprisingly, that's not quite how it works in South Carolina, as well as just five other states in these United States where utility companies are NOT required by law to be members of the state's "One Call Center".

South Carolina is also one of just 18 states which do NOT require all utilitlies to respond to the caller, a widely-used industry practice known as "Positive Response", either by marks on the ground or an "all clear" notice. So if you call and there are no marks on the ground, that may not mean it's safe to go digging. We've heard from more than one Blogland reader who called, saw no marks, thought it was all clear after three days' wait, and hit unmarked lines.

These are the dangerous realities of the state's outdated laws on underground utility safety and damage prevention which were enacted in 1978, laws which may be so far outdated as to prompt federal intervention to force the state act in the interests of public and worker safety.

The sad truth is that in many states, reforms only take place after tragedies occur, such as what took place in Minnesota:

What is the proper way to do CPR?

As a Red Cross instructor who teaches CPR and First Aid for my employees, as well as community safety classes, I've been asked quite a few times about my opinion about the "Compression Only" approach to performing CPR upon those in cardiac arrest.

Current Red Cross CPR instruction calls for those rendering aid to give repeating cycles of two breaths, followed by thirty chest compressions. This is intended to force oxygen into the body, then circulate it by working the heart, and should be performed until either an AED device can be deployed or professional rescue personnel can be arrived.

In a memo sent out this week, the Red Cross advised that it could not endorse the use of no-breathing CPR in the place of standard CPR, based upon a lack of sufficient research to validate this new approach:

Joe Riley: "Working hard to make something ugly smell like a rose"

An investigative story in today's Post and Courier blows the whistle on Charleston Mayor Joe Riley's efforts to downplay the major leadership failures which cost the lives of nine firefighters in June 2007, as well as avoid accountability for the root cause failures to blame for the tragedy through an effort at covering up a report which identified critical failures by City government.

Our hats are off to Glenn Smith, whose story looks at recently-released emails between investigators and City of Charleston government, reporting that the emails provide:

Fresh insight into the team's investigation and the challenges it faced. The messages, obtained by the city in connection with ongoing lawsuits surrounding the fire, were released to The Post and Courier in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The messages show some team members had strong opinions early on that the Fire Department was mired in the past and that then-Fire Chief Rusty Thomas was an impediment to progress. They became increasingly frustrated with Riley, as well, over his unwavering loyalty to Thomas and his steadfast defense of the department's antiquated tactics.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Riley kept insisting that the chief and his department were among the best in the country and that the fire casualties were the result of a "perfect storm" event, not outdated tactics, equipment and training. Team members strongly disagreed, e-mails show.

Keep Safe in the Summer Heat!

Part of my day job involves occupational safety. The single biggest challenge in my occupation this time of year is heat safety.  While we've had no on-site problems, the news stories regularly bring news of those who are overcome by heat and serve as a good reminder to be careful out there.
Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, and here in South Carolina, it will be far more prevalent than cold-related injuries and fatalities. To help you protect yourself - and others - here's some good advice from someone whose job it is to keep people safe:

Become certified in CPR and First Aid - for free!

As some of you know, I am Red Cross-certified to teach First Aid, CPR, Biohazards and some other important life-saving and safety skills.

You don't have to have a medical background to take this class. Many people, including teachers, law enforcement officers, construction personnel, and even teenage babysitters, take these classes to learn how to respond to save lives. All you need is four or so hours of your time on a weekend to learn how.

If some of my readers elsewhere in the Palmetto State would like to organize a First Aid and CPR class elsewhere, please let me know. I've even talked with some Blogland readers in one county about challenging both parties into holding a bi-partisan class. Just find a half-dozen interested parties and I'll be glad to come to wherever you are and teach it. So email me at and let me know where you're at and let's see what can be worked out.

State Senate Bill 1068 requires Utilities and Contractors to put Safety First in South Carolina

Underground utilities may not sound like an exciting issue - until you've hit one, costing money, possibly causing service outages, and if you're not lucky, blowing up a large area.

That's what could easily happen with the state's existing laws, which were enacted in 1978 - and have not been updated since.

The "Call Before You Dig" 811 system is a nice idea, but it won't protect you because, unlike most states in the country, calling that service does NOT mean utilities will be notified.  That means if you call, they may not mark, and if they fail to respond, or mark improperly or inaccurately, there is NOBODY under S.C. law who can hold them accountable.

How does THAT make you feel?

Highway work zone safety

As my company's I-26 project continues, so do the hazards to which our employees are being exposed. Those who read Saturday's edition of the Charleston Post and Courier might have read the latest front page story about the ongoing problem which included yours truly:

Construction workers are being injured, and authorities are turning to the public, once again, and asking them to think about what they are doing when they travel through the work area.

If Earl Capps could write the manual for driving in a highway construction zone, it would all come down to three words.

"Be considerate, thoughtful and cautious," he said.

That simple advice works with the vast majority of drivers who are responsible and make efforts to be cautious when traveling through construction work zones. However, there are those drivers who just don't get it. Those drivers who don't want to drive safely and obey the posted speed limits get to meet the troopers who've been assigned to patrol the work zone. Those troopers work long hours and in some dangerous conditions. Having watched these troopers work on a lot of nights, I can't say enough about them.

But since the problem doesn't seem to go away, it's obvious that more help is needed - but in the current budget situation, more help won't be coming.

However there are legislators who have offered to help find ways to fund more troopers for work zones around the state without putting the cost on taxpayers. Expect more discussion on this subject in the upcoming months ...

My thesis, in print

For those of you who don't know what nine months of hell looks like when it's over ... several printed and bound copies of my thesis arrived yesterday. *

"This is the kind of spontaneous publicity I need! My name in print! That really makes somebody! Things are going to start happening to me now."

- Steve Martin, The Jerk

*For those of you who don't know, one is generally required to submit bound copies to their school after the thesis has passed the review panel. Archived copies will be kept by the college/university as reference materials, as well as to help guide future thesis projects.

The end of the line (I passed)

Even though the title of this Judas Priest album is "Point of Entry, whenever I see this album cover, it seems more like "the end of the line" to me.

It's official - my thesis was reviewed, defended, and accepted. Having successfully defended my thesis, as well as paid $6.50 in library late fines, I'll get to graduate in two weeks.

My eight-and-a-half-year academic journey reached the end of the line, so perhaps it was fitting that I would think of this album today. Perhaps the end of the line, as the album cover says, is just the "Point of Entry" for whatever is to come next.

.... I want to thank my thesis committee members:

  • Dr. Amanda Ruth, my graduate program advisor,
  • Dr. Vince Benigni, who also supervised my senior project in '04, and
  • Dr. Elena Strauman, who (as expected) came up with some of the most insightful comments and recommendations.
Even though he was unable to participate in the thesis committee due to his usual overload of academic duties, thanks also go out to Dr. Robert Westerfelhaus, who has been a true friend and mentor through years of undergraduate and graduate work. He's been a real source of inspiration, a deliverer of torment and pain, and one of the people most responsible for how I've come as far as I have.

Thanks to them, as well as everyone else for the encouragement, patience, and prayers along the way.

Thesis update: Do you trust your co-workers? Managers?

... as my all-consuming thesis project continues, I've been tabulating survey responses from work crews. The results have produced rather interesting data with regard to how much workers trust one another and management when it comes to priortizing safety in their jobs.

Safety or production: What's important?

The workers were asked to choose to assess the priority given to safety and production - they could say safety was more important, production, or they were roughly equal in priority:

  • Nearly 63% of workers said they priortized safety over production, 33% balanced it with productivity, and the remaining four percent prioritized productivity.

  • Just over half of them (53%) felt their co-workers prioritized safety, 13% put production first and 34% balanced the two.

  • Just over half of them (54%) felt management balanced the two interests, almost a third (29%) felt management prioritized production, and the remaining 17% believed management put safety over production.

Compliance with safe work practices

When asked how well to rate their own compliance with safe work practices as "good", "marginal" or "poor", workers again showed a higher level of confidence in themselves than others.

  • Roughly 50% of those surveyed believed they had a good level of compliance, and 46% assessed their level of compliance as marginal.

  • None of those surveyed assessed their co-workers had a good level of compliance, 83% believed they had a marginal level of compliance, and the remaining 17% believed their co-workers had a poor level of compliance.
Probably not the kind of stuff you political hacks would find interesting, but for those of you who work in "real" jobs which include hazardous environments, or have employees who work in hazardous conditions, it's certainly something to think about.

For those of y'all who don't know, my job includes HR and Safety administration, so my academic work has some very practical value for my day job.

Cultivating relationships between risk communicators and news media

For something different, here is an excerpt from a paper I wrote which examined the ability of news media to disseminate messages related to risks and hazards ...

By allowing communication professionals to disseminate their messages to large audiences with a minimum of effort, news media can play a vital and indispensable role in the process of risk and hazard communication. The relatively high levels of credibility of news media, compared to those of communication professionals and corporate executives (Budd, 2000), suggest the presentation of risk communication messages by news media would also add a degree of increased credibility to those messages. While this would suggest there is considerable value in the development and maintenance of close relationships between communicators and those who work in news media, this does not guarantee that those relationships are easy to develop.

The Public Relations Society of America’s National Credibility Index assesses the levels of credibility of various public figures (Budd, 2000). This index showed notable differences in the levels of credibility between key figures in news media and those who may be responsible for communicating messages related to risks or hazards on behalf of corporate or governmental organizations:

Official Rating (out of 100)
Network TV News Anchor 69.2
Local TV/Newspaper reporter 65.8
Head of State Dep’t/Agency 63.1
Head of Local Dep’t/Agency 62.9
Corporate President 61.6
Wall Street Executive 57.9
Public Relations Specialist 47.6

These findings are consistent with research which shows that people will turn to alternative information sources, such as news media, when they do not trust official messages which originate from risk communicators (Fessenden-Raden, et al, 1987; Fischoff, 1987). The need to rely on other parties with higher levels of credibility, such as the news media, is even greater in situations when an organization may already be viewed in a bad light by the public and audiences (Frewer, 2000).

Budd, J. (2000). The Incredible Credibility Dilemma. Public Relations Quarterly, 45(3), 22-26.
Fessenden-Raden, J., Fitchen, J., & Heath, J. (1987). Providing Risk Information in Communities: Factors Influencing What Is Heard and Accepted. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 12(3 & 4), 94-101.
Frewer, L. (2000). Risk perception and risk communication about food safety issues. British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, 25, 31-33.
Lundgren, R., & McMakin, A. (2004). Understanding Risk Communication. In Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental Safety, and Health Risks (pp. 13-28). Columbus, OH: Batelle Press.
Young, S. (1990). Combatting NIMBY with Risk Communication. Public Relations Quarterly.

Risk Communication: Understanding the difference between Hazard and Outrage

An excerpt from a risk communication paper I wrote. Lundgren and McMakin's findings about Hazard and Outrage are considered key fundamental points in this field of research:

One of the challenges faced by risk communication is in how risks are perceived by target audiences. The perception of risk plays a major role in how well, or how poorly, messages which communicate risks and hazards are received by those the messages are intended for. This perception process can produce a wide range of outcomes from risk communication efforts, some of which may not have been intended by those who craft and disseminate those messages.

According to Lundgren and McMakin (2004), one approach to risk communication, known as the Hazard plus Outrage Approach, considers how messages related to risk are perceived. This process defined two separate measures of how risks are perceived and communicated:
Hazard, a technical and objective measure of risk which examined the possibility of the occurrence of a potential hazard, the potential consequences should it occur, how to manage the risk, as well as how to respond to an incident. This measure is primarily determined by experts who are knowledgeable about risks, and
Outrage, a subjective measure of risk which looks at how risks are perceived by those who are, or could be, exposed to them. While this method of assessment can involve factual information which has been presented by risk communicators, it is also influenced by more subjective measures, such as informal communication processes, social networks, and personal and cultural values.

Lundgren and McMakin (2004) believed the consideration of both was key in the effective transmission of messages related to risk communication, and that the larger the difference between hazards being communicated and outrage by the recipients of those messages, the greater the potential for controversy and ineffective communication.

One example of the disconnect between Hazard and Outrage, and its potential consequences, can be found in the examination of a fire-fighting department in the south-western United States by Scott and Tretheway (2005). They found that the perception of risk sometimes nullifies efforts to communicate objective information about the degree of risks faced by firefighters:

As might be expected of an organization situated in a high risk occupation, members often acted on attenuated notions of risk that minimized the dangers of hazards. In their attempts to resolve insecurities, members produced attenuated risk appraisals that were counterproductive to the extent that they enabled modes of risk management that ultimately heightened risks to self (p.19).


  • Lundgren, R., & McMakin, A. (2004). Understanding Risk Communication. In Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental Safety, and Health Risks (pp. 13-28). Columbus, OH: Batelle Press.
  • Scott, C., &. Trethewey, A. (2005, October). The Discursive Organization of Risk and Safety: How Firefighters Define and Appraise Occupational Hazards. Presented at the Carolinas Communication Association, University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Risk Communication and the Blogland

One of the new twists in the Blogland that you'll notice is some sharing of my research and related information in the field of risk communication. Risk communication explores how risks are communicated, and how such messages are received and understood by the intended audiences. This can include safety, public safety, hurricanes, and all sorts of risks and hazards.

Risk communication is a branch of the communication discipline which I've become drawn to. Why? Because it has direct applications in my work, and allows me to take my research from academia and use it for the direct benefit of those who work with me in the construction industry.

... and because understanding problems, and working towards solving them, is such a refreshing change from the BS that is commonly associated with the political process.

Risk communication draws from a lot of areas of communication research, including organizational communication, intercultural and interpersonal communication, as well as public relations. It goes beyond the scientific assessment of risks (much of which we already know) and asks how to promote the kind of true understanding which can help to diminish the threats posed by hazards.

In fact, not only have I enjoyed my explorations into this field, but I've gotten some attention for my research and this may be the area which I draw upon for my thesis work. For which I must thank Dr. Amanda Ruth at the college for introducing me to this area in her Risk Communication class from this spring.

Watch for me to share research and findings, both from myself and others, in this field here on this blog. For those of you who may work in hazardous occupations, you are certainly welcome to take my work and apply it to your workplace. I'll have several postings on this and related subject material over the next few Wednesdays, so please stay tuned ...

Ted Kennedy to hold hearings on those trapped and left to die

According to reports, Senator Ted Kennedy has responded to the recent mine disaster in Utah. The Senator from Massachusetts is now demanding hearings into how a young woman ... uh, six miners ... could be trapped, left behind by others, and left for dead:

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also demanded a list of documents Thursday from the Labor Department about the Crandall Canyon Mine and its operators.

We at the Blogland, as big supporters of occupational safety initiatives, such as the decision by our state's Comptroller General, Richard Eckstrom, to have long-overdue work to remove asbestos from his offices, certainly hope there will be a serious and thorough investigation into what happened, and how such disasters can be avoided in the future. There is still much to be done to make America's most dangerous occupations, such as mining and construction, safe.

Although we're encouraged to see such a high-profile effort to get to the bottom of what happened in Utah, we're concerned that when such matters are immediately turned over to politicians, the agenda will shift from fixing the problems to fixing the blame. This approach is all but certain to increase the polling numbers of the politicians exploiting the issue, as well as the potential for future fatalities.

While Senator Kennedy is looking into the cause of such tragedies, we at the Blogland are waiting for additional Senate hearings into other instances where people have been abandoned, left unable to escape from a sudden mishap, and ultimately died without being rescued?

Not that we at the Blogland want to point fingers or name names, but we're sure the Senator from Massachusetts will try to cross that bridge when he comes to it.