Protected or Neglected: Workplace Safety

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Web Exclusives:
Dole Food's Leaked Memo And Official Response - Read the leaked Dole Foods memo about worker safety, along with a response to SoCal Connected from the company.

Cal/OSHA Documents - Read a letter Cal/OSHA employees sent complaining about the actions of the board that can reduce or eliminate fines for violating worker safety rules.

Timeline: A History of Worker Safety - Scroll through a brief time line of the history of worker safety, from ancient Sumeria to modern times.

Job Safety: Top 10 Violators - Which employers have been most often cited for workplace safety violations? We've got a top ten list, and it's sure to surprise you.

Charts: Are Employers Getting Off The Hook? - Employers are often able to get fines for workplace safety violations reduced - or thrown out all together. An inside look at the process...inside.

Chart: Average Workplace Safety Fine - $1200 - We've compiled a table that shows all the Cal/OSHA safety violations, and fines imposed, for the past fiscal year. Plus a link to more data.

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Cal/OSHA has internal problem that make them unfair in there citations.

things i saw as a job site EMT/safety man working construction and mining.

The wrong company fined for injuring/endangering a worker.
I have seen companies fined when another companies employee cause the worker to be injured.
This is common on job site where multiple contractors are working.and falling objects are a big cause.
And in many cases the workers that caused the falling objects were illegals.
When a worker drops something they yell "headache" to worn everyone below.
Most illegal don't speak English and even though they are told what to yell its not there language and by the time they remember what to yell in English its to late.

One accident you cited on your program was a electrician that had 30 years experience that electrocuted himself working on lighting.
As a electrician i was trained from day one on safety when working on electric circuits this started when i trained in the US navy till i last worked before i went on disability from agent orange exposure in Vietnam.
There is no way a trained electrician with 30 years experience could get electrocuted unless he purposely endangered himself through not fallowing safety protocol.
that protocol is de-energise, lockout/tag out, and test for power. If this is not fallowed its stupidity of the electricians own fault.

oh there are environmentalist that work for Cal/OSHA that cite mining operations for breaking safety rules that the federal MSHA say is not a violation and sometimes they/or there bosses tell them to do it because they want to stop mining in the state.

This reply is to Anned....the deceased was following safety protocol. The pad lock on the lock out box had been cut with bolt cutters while he was on his lunch hour and when the deceased returned from lunch he was killed. I know this because he was my father!! My dad had just received an award for safety. You don't know the whole story so don't make assumsions.

Thank you for your excellent report. While the focus on the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board is warranted and accurate, it is only one of many Cal/OSHA issues that have a detrimental impact on worker safety protection. Woefully inadequate staffing and resources, incompetent management, low staff morale, lack of leadership, inadequate training all play a huge role in this dysfunctional agency. Those who have fought to repeal the OSHA regulations and program since its inception have figured out that it is politically easier to sabotage the program and render it ineffective. Californians once voted to restore the Cal/OSHA program when Gov. Deukmejian disbanded it. It is time again for them to demand real worker safety protection from its government.

A Retired 23-year Cal/OSHA senior staff member

It is true that there are many employers who attempt to skirt workplace safety laws. These employers should be punished. There are also employers that are extremely safety conscious and are also cited by DOSH.

In 2002 AB 2837 was signed into law. The Bill increased penalties for serious violations, as well as administrative penalties for non-reporting of injuries. Because of the significant increase in penalties the number of appeals increased substantially. The Appeals Board has been working through the backlog of appeals for several years, in response to critics who complain that resoltuion of appeals takes too long. To reduce the backlog many appeals are settled for low amounts. One can see that the same critics who pushed for passage of AB 2837 created the backlog and resulting low settlements. It would have been nice for SoCal Connected to discuss this history in their report.

It would also have been beneficial to note that many DOSH citations are poorly written, not substantiated by the evidence, or make reference to the wrong set of facts/regulation. When these citations are written, employers have a right to challenge their validity. When the employer prevails it should serve as an incentive for DOSH to do a better job, not for the Appeals Board to dole out harsher penalties.

I'm an insider on the Appeals Board. You have only scratched the surface of the corruption in my opinion. There is an systematic approach to firing or silencing anyone who wants to follow the law in my opinion. Look at the turn over rate for the Board since Traeger took office and contact those people. You'll be surprised. Saunder's conclusion of "corruption" may have been kind to Traeger and Pacheco.

Your reporting and research did an excellent job of connecting the dots and showing the consequences of a system that does not protect workers nearly as well as it should. Thank you for giving attention to a set of issues that too often goes unnoticed. In particular, there continue to be serious problems in both Cal/OSHA and the OSH Appeals Board, leading to dismissal of meritorious cases and massive reductions to citations against employers who indisputably put the lives of their workers at risk. We welcome the attention of Fed-OSHA's upcoming review of Cal-OSHA and the Appeals Board.

Thanks for such an important story. The governor has done a good job of driving this state into the toilet with bad policy and placating to big business. Thanks for keeping investigative reporting alive.

I would say overall the special investigation did bring to light some of the deficiencies within the Division that most of us already knew. The segment on the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board was right on the money. It is extremely frustrating when an accident inspection is thrown out of hearing on a technicality.

The OSHA Appeals Board is part of the executive branch of government, NOT the judicial branch. What I mean by that is, administrative hearings are supposed to be more informal in nature than a criminal or civil court of law. Rules of law and evidence are lax and not held to the strict interpretation of a criminal or civil court of law. In other words, a misspelled company name, wrong date on a citation, employer is one day late on filing his appeal are to be taken into consideration, not thrown out entirely.
The Cal/OSHA Appeals Board and its members want to turn an administrative hearing into a criminal/civil court of law. Thus, this is where the frustration comes from within Cal/OSHA enforcement.

I know the Chief of Cal/OSHA (Len Welsh) was quite honest in describing Cal/OSHA enforcement. Are they in need of increased staffing? Absolutely, but try telling that to a Governor fighting a 20 billion dollar deficit. Believe me; it does little to no good.

As to Dole Fresh Foods again Len Welsh was accurate, Cal/OSHA cannot not use illegally obtained attorney - client documentation to warrant an inspection.

Is Dole an evil company? I don't honestly know. Cal/OSHA sent out its best (in my opinion), and he came up with hardly anything. And trust me, he is not known as the pitbull of the Division for nothing (I say that fondly.) If he can't find it, it is either not there or the evidence has been moved or destroyed.

Can Cal/OSHA enforcement be more efficient? Absolutely, show me one state agency that can't. But is it failing to hold to its mission? I would say it is doing the best it can with what it has. Can Cal/OSHA do better? Absolutely! But for Cal/OSHA to succeed it needs everyone to work together and not air out dirty (and incomplete) laundry for everyone to see. As many people have said "If your not part of the solution, your part of the problem", "If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen", "Opinions and criticisms are like ass**les, everybody has one." I think my point is made.

It is clear to me SoCal Connected had an agenda and part of that was airing out all of the bad laundry Ca/OSHA had. Forget about the good Cal/OSHA has done i.e. reduction in heat inspection fatalities. Let’s just concentrate on the bad, because that sells airtime. Hard to believe SoCalConnection is associated with PBS (I'll need to remember that on by next donation to my local PBS station .)

Am I glad it aired? Again Absolutely, I just wish they would have utilized all the evidence they obtained and showed the entire picture, not just the ones to serve their purpose.

Lastly, as Forrest Gump once said "That's all I have to say about that."

Thank you for your report on the failings of workplace safety law enforcement in California (Cal/OSHA). You should have stated that in California it's cheaper to violate workplace safety laws than comply with them. This is because in California the 1913 Workers' Compensation Law prevents an employee injured through their employers negligence from suing for punitive and compensatory damages. Even worse the most an injured worker can expect to receive from a workers compensation insurance claim is 8 cents on the dollar. The best way to enforce safety laws is criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits with multi-million judgments, and bad press. This will never happen because laws governing employment are based on British Master Servant laws.

Really well done OSHA / Worker's Comp special report, and I send kudos to the KCET staff!

As a Disability Management Consultant of over 23 years, I'm appalled that a company the size of Dole would have these type of internal problems, but not surprised. It's really wonderful to incentivize a work safety program. However, reinforcement theory would suggest that positive reinforcement of no-lost time incidences can create exactly the situation that appears to have happened at Dole. People got hurt and were seemingly not adequately cared for by their employer, in what appears to have been an unregulated incentive program gone bad.

I have worked intimately with many food processing companies and their injured employees. I have dealt with the powerful effects of peer pressure within their employee / supervisorial work communities. Many crews work piece-rate where time, production and group contribution pressures often force people to stretch beyond their limits, in an effort to make more money to feed the families of these hard working laborers. Because of the need to keep their job and fear of retaliation, many will not speak up, and suffer in silence. It appears in the case of Dole, that same peer pressure forced people to keep their mouths shut and/or to make wrong choices, all in an order to get a prize. Abuses of corporate and personal greed and ethical integrity seem to be the lesson learned in the last decade.

To have client -attorney privileged blanket coverage of 26 cases and mention of a "disgruntled employee" suggests there was a problem. Having Dole's OSHA Voluntary Protection Program status questioned seems appropriate under these circumstances. In the letter by P. Nelson, Esq. to Dole, he discusses accounts of "failed to refer", "delays in the necessary medical care," "falsification of accident records, " not reporting "near misses" as OSHA recordables, and "discouragement of employees from reporting injuries." If true, these were illegal and seemingly detrimental acts to the health and welfare of these workers… so supervisors could get their bonuses. It's no wonder Dole could find no evidence after the fact in many of these cases…management wasn't documenting correctly and reportedly asking people to omit information. A toxic system at its worst! The most telltale account of a serious problem is the one where the supervisors bypassed the local industrial clinic and drove the woman with the fractured hip 100 miles from Huron to Soledad! At some point didn't someone ask why? Did anyone point out the unacceptable policy and procedure? Or was this considered acceptable? If so, how could Dole consider this type of employee treatment a "high standard?"

KCET's report has exposed some serious flaws within the Worker's Compensation /Cal-OSHA system. There should be a more coordinated and automated system between these two State mandated programs, that allows NO employer to get away with abusing the health or lives of their employees, or to escape punishment after the fact. Keep up the great reporting KCET!

Thanks very much for coverng the important issue of eroding workplace safety. Please continue your excellent work on this issue.

ttention: SoCal

Message: I really appreciated your story on Cal/OSHA. It is a shame that the governor has weakened health and safety protection for workers. No one should have to die on the job in this day and age.

Great job on the Cal/Osha report. Thank you for fearlessly exposing how workers get taken advantage of by big business. What a shame that Cal/OSHA seems to take worker safety so lightly.

This is an eye-opener of an investigation by KCET. I commend your staff's research and in-depth efforts for such a revealing segment. As I thank you for such fine work, I hope that it will not overshadow the good that Cal/OSHA has done and is still performing.
I offer no excuses that this, as well as other agencies, are faced with shortcomings. I welcome change for the better. We are an administrative Division. We don't carry stars and badges. Also, I would not want that responsibility to equate one's life/injury/illness with a price tag. A law-making body does that.
The Appeals Board of overbooking hearings is unprofessional. Facing more than one appeal in the same week is bad enough. But to have more than one appeal on the same day? What's worst, how about having them scheduled on the same day AND same hour?
The frustration of the many is also shared by the inspectors as well. Again, despite the negative aspects, we still, as public servants continue to march on to do our job, ... the job we are paid to do. We appreciate the public support, and the supporting views of KCET. Again, a job well done.

There is no doubt that investigative journalism can benefit society by exposing government inefficiency, but when reporters slant a story by basing their report on inaccuracies and mischaracterizations, by omitting pertinent information, one must take a closer look at the true intent of the journalistic endeavor. Is it to expose and inform, or exaggerate and sensationalize?

Recently, several staff members at the Department of Industrial Relations have received a letter from KCET asking for input and indicating there may be a follow-up report to the SoCal Connected episode #214 entitled “Protected or Neglected: Workplace Safety.” We would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight and address factual inaccuracies contained in the original report before any additional false allegations are aired in a succeeding broadcast.

We feel the report lacked balance and was intentionally slanted to create a negative impression of the effectiveness and intent of Cal/OSHA’s enforcement and appeal processes.

Two examples of the inaccuracies in your report:

Allegation: Citation appeals are increasing because employers know they will get a reduced penalty on appeal.
Fact: The number of appeals has decreased annually since 2007.

Allegation: The Bimbo Bakeries case in which Rosa Frias was injured was dismissed by the board and the company fined $300.
Fact: Two years ago, the current board ordered reconsideration of the decision. The decision after reconsideration is expected any day now.

Another issue of contention is some of the sources used in an attempt to validate your claims. The program includes multiple sound bites from Miles Locker, former Chief Counsel with the Labor Commission, whose professional background with the state government does not include safety or health experience.

Within the first five minutes of “Protected or Neglected”, the reporter cites “current and former state officials” who refer to Cal/OSHA’s “record of failure”, and the report links that criticism to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the reporter fails to include in his story any of the actions the administration has taken to support Cal/OSHA and workers’ rights.

• While many state programs have experienced significant budget cuts, Cal/OSHA has undergone no budget or staff cuts during Governor Schwarzenegger’s term.
• The administration has supported a move to protect the Cal/OSHA budget by moving it to a user funding source rather than continue using the state’s general fund to finance the division.
• Governor Schwarzenegger created the Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition (EEEC) in an effort to combat unlawful businesses in California in industries with a high degree of workplace safety and labor law violations. No other administration has made such a massive effort to address abuses of lower-wage workers in the state.
• The current administration supported and enacted the first heat illness prevention program in the nation. As a result, the rate of fatalities due to heat illness has steadily declined from 12 in 2005, to one in 2009.
• Last year, California became the first state in the nation to establish an Aerosol Transmissible Disease standard to safeguard workers from the spread of airborne diseases.

You also failed to mention any of the improvements or successes as a result of the hard work by Cal/OSHA employees:

• The illness and injury rates of California workers have steadily declined for the past seven years.
• California’s fatality and injury rates are actually lower during the current administration as compared to the previous administration.
• California’s workforce is the largest in the nation, yet we had a lower fatality rate in 2007 than many states including Texas, Florida and Oregon.

We would like to point out an instance when you used data, had the incorrect number, gave no comparison and therefore no perspective. Your report states California has one active field inspector for every 86,000 workers -- the actual number is one for every 67,127 workers. According to information published by the AFL-CIO, which quotes data from the U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA, the national average is one compliance officer for every 76,510 workers.

We are privileged to live in a country that guarantees our right to a free press under the First Amendment. That right is a cornerstone of our democracy but means little if the media cannot be accurate and accountable.

Regarding the criticisms made by Mr. Fryer, Socal Connected stands by the reporting of “Protected or Neglected” and denies there was a biased or slanted approach to the story. We’d like to take this opportunity to respond to Mr. Fryer’s complaints.

We submitted several interview requests to speak with Governor Schwarzenegger and all of them were turned down. If he had spoken with us, we would have included his views on Cal-Osha and given him the opportunity to tell us about his record on workplace safety. He declined all of our repeated requests.

Mr. Fryer claims we used incorrect statistics when noting Fish and Game officers outnumber Cal-Osha inspectors. Data from Fed-Osha’s own website was used to support this statement.

Mr. Fryer’s assertion that we did not report that the board is reconsidering the Bimbo's Bakery case is just wrong. It is unclear how he missed it, but that information was in the original story that aired and is on our website. It should be noted that the decision to revisit the case was made only after the agency received media and legislative inquiries about its handling of the Bimbo's Bakery investigation.

In our story, we reported the rate of appeals by the board has increased. Mr. Fryer wrote that is wrong. We stand by our reporting. We looked at the board’s own data which supports our statement. The Cal-Osha Appeals Board’s calculations of the number of appeals has been questioned by interested parties, including Worksafe. We stand by our reporting of this issue.

We also stand by the interview with Miles Locker, formerly general counsel for the State Labor Commissioner who spent nearly 16 years working on labor issues for the State of California. He is also very familiar with the politics of Department of Industrial Relations, having filed a wrongful termination suit against the state.

We had multiple sources on this story and many were former government officials and workers who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation. Their comments were vetted and confirmed through other sources.

Karen Foshay
Producer of "Protected or Neglected?"
SoCal Connected

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