by Jim Goh
Behind efforts to assist organized labor and improve the balance between work and family, increasing workplace safety is a top priority for President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress. Both the President and congressional leaders have vowed more funding for the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and stiffer penalties for workplace safety violations. MillerCoors brewery is the latest target of the new administration’s emphasis on safety in the workplace.
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Investigation leads to proposed fines
OSHA’s Region 8 office recently cited MillerCoors LLC with $128,500 in penalties for alleged safety violations at its Golden plant. The potential penalties were part of two investigations conducted by OSHA earlier this year. The first investigation took place after a maintenance electrician was found dead outside an electrical panel at the plant on February 2. The Jefferson County coroner’s office couldn’t confirm whether inadequate electrical safety measures at the brewery contributed to the electrician’s death. The second investigation involved two workers who were badly burned by an electrical arc flash at the brewery on April 9.
According to OSHA’s press release, the death and injuries are believed to have been caused by the brewery’s failure to take adequate safety precautions to protect workers against electrical hazards and ensure that personal protective equipment was available and used by employees working on or near electrical parts. OSHA slapped MillerCoors with one willful violation and nine serious violations. A “willful” violation is issued when an employer exhibits plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health. A “serious” violation occurs when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which an employer knew or should have known.
After the proposed citations were announced, MillerCoors issued a statement saying it takes safety very seriously at the brewery and is continuing to work with OSHA to respond to the issues. The company can comply with the citations, request an informal conference with the area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
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Worker safety under Obama
This case is a reminder to all employers that workforce safety is very high on President Obama’s labor agenda. During his campaign and early in his presidency, Obama promised to reinvigorate OSHA and provide the agency with more resources and stronger leadership. To that end, he has approved more funding for OSHA than was authorized under the Bush administration.
The President has also recently nominated David Morris Michaels to become the next head of OSHA. If confirmed, Michaels would replace Jordan Barab, the agency’s current acting head. Organized labor and Democrats in Congress have applauded the nomination of Michaels, describing him as an academic leader in the field of occupational and environmental health with a strong track record of administering government programs to protect workers. Industry leaders, on the other hand, describe him as overly zealous on health and safety issues.
For more information on this article and occupational health and safety issues, contact Jim Goh at (303) 295-8406.