MSHA announces results of July impact inspections

Hazards cited at Nebraska operation mirror those found following March fatality

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 225 citations and six orders during special impact inspections at 15 coal mines and six metal and nonmetal mines in July.

Begun in force in April 2010, the monthly inspections involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns. MSHA conducted impact inspections at mines in Alabama, California, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The details of one of the mines’ inspections are listed below:

MSHA conducted an impact inspection on July 29 at Ulrich Gravel, Inc., Ulrich Pit, in Valley County, Neb. Inspectors found hazards similar to those identified after a mining fatality occurred at this operation just five month ago. On March 17, a 44-year-old miner was maneuvering a loaded haul truck along an elevated roadway next to a dredge pond, when the vehicle drifted into the water. The victim was removed from the truck, and died two days later in a trauma center.

Enforcement personnel issued 13 citations to the mine operator for violations of various mandatory health and safety standards and two imminent danger orders removing miners from dangerous, unprotected walkways located near open water.
Inspectors cited the mine operator for the following violations:

  • Lack of berms or guardrails on mine haulage roads located adjacent to bodies of open water
  • Failure to provide berms for large pieces of equipment that travel the roadway
  • Obscured visibility caused by cracks in the windshield of a front-end loader
  • Failure to provide hard hats in an area where falling materials could strike miners
  • Handrails made of loose and sagging cable, creating hazards for miners walking across raised planks

During their inspection, federal enforcement personnel watched as a contract welder and a pumper slid down a bank and stepped on a Jon boat, then stepped from the boat to the pontoons of the dredge, to an 8-inch piece of pipe and to the walkway on which they were working. Those actions could easily have led to slipping, tripping or falls near water that could have resulted in drowning.

“MSHA is looking hard at conditions that can lead to fatal accidents to reverse the recent increase of deaths in the metal and nonmetal mining industry,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “This inspection identified an apparent failure by the mine operator to take necessary actions to find and fix hazards similar to ones resulting in a miner’s death at the mine. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 holds mine operators accountable for conducting workplace examinations, and MSHA will enforce that law.”

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 987 impact inspections and issued 14,786 citations, 1,256 orders and 57 safeguards.

Editor’s Note: MSHA’s Monthly Impact Inspection List for July 2015 is available online.

MSHA News Release: [08/25/2015]
Contact Name: Amy Louviere
Phone Number: (202) 693-9423
Release Number: 15-1656-NAT

Suit seeks recovery of more than $1.6M in losses to employee profit-sharing plan after Illinois health care provider allegedly made improper distributions

CHICAGO — The U.S. Department of Labor is suing an Illinois home health care provider alleging that the company, the profit-sharing plan and two of its trustees improperly authorized distributions of $1,601,908 in profit-sharing plan assets, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

The department’s suit names Palos Hills-based Alliance Home Healthcare Inc.; the Alliance Home Healthcare Inc. Profit Sharing Plan; and company owners and plan trustees, Reginaldo Sulit and Dalisay Sulit.

The action alleges that the company President and Secretary/Treasurer, Dalisay Sulit and Reginaldo Sulit, respectively, and the company took distributions of more than $1 million, to which they were not entitled. The suit asserts that these plan withdrawals were not in the best interests of the participants and beneficiaries of the employee benefit plan, as required by the law. The withdrawn plan assets were used for non-Plan purposes, including directly benefitting the company.

“Plan funds must be invested in the interest of workers and retirees, not used to prop up a struggling firm,” said Jeffrey Monhart, regional director of the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration in Chicago. “Too often, we see employee benefit plan funds used illegally by company owners and management, jeopardizing the financial security of workers and retirees.”

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division in Chicago, the suit seeks the restoration of all related plan losses, including lost opportunity costs, and a court order requiring the defendants to account for and restore losses to plan participants.

The department is also seeking to permanently enjoin the defendants from serving as fiduciaries or service providers to any plan covered by ERISA. The suit requests the appointment of an independent fiduciary, who would be compensated at the company’s expense, to distribute the plan’s assets to participants and beneficiaries and to terminate the plan.

Alliance Home Healthcare established the plan on Jan. 1, 2000 to provide retirement benefits to eligible employees. As of Dec. 31, 2006 — the last year an annual report was filed — the plan had 127 participants and $1.6 million in assets. Alliance Home Healthcare provides skilled health care services to patients in their homes.

EBSA’s Chicago Regional Office investigated the case, and the department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Chicago is litigating it. Workers and employers with questions about benefit plans can contact a benefits adviser toll free at 866-444-3272 or online at

Perez v. Alliance Home Healthcare Inc., Alliance Home Health Care Inc. Profit Sharing Plan, Reginaldo Sulit, Dalisay Sulit
Civil Action Number: 1:15-cv-07481

EBSA News Release: [08/26/2015]
Contact Name: Scott Allen or Rhonda Burke
Phone Number: (312) 353-6976
Email: or
Release Number: 15-1229-CHI

Court Rules Minimum Wage and Overtime Protection Reinstated for Marginalized Home Care Workers

A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated Obama administration labor protections for home health-care workers, paving the way for minimum wage and overtime benefits to be paid to the nation’s two million workers who provide in-home care for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Home health-care workers are disproportionately women (more than 90 percent), people of color (more than half), and immigrants (one in four). One in five are single mothers.

These workers often make poverty-level wages for difficult work under stressful conditions, and for 40 years they have been classified by the Labor Department in such a way that they can’t qualify to make minimum wage or receive overtime pay.

“This ruling is a resounding victory for home health-care workers employed by agencies,” said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These are among the poorest workers in the United States and have been historically excluded from federal labor protections.”

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Sri Srinivasan cited a “dramatic transformation” of the home care industry over the past four decades as a valid reason for the change. While most caregivers used to be directly employed by individual households, the vast majority of workers now work for staffing companies that service hundreds or thousands of customers, Srinivasan said.

He also noted a massive shift to providing care for the elderly in their own homes rather than in nursing homes, which requires workers to offer more advanced medical care and assistance to clients than the mere “companionship” services envisioned in 1974. The new regulation, which was upheld by a three-judge panel after being stymied by a district court ruling late last year, closes this loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that exempted “companionship” workers from overtime or minimum wage requirements.

This loophole reflected an outdated view of home care workers as informal “sitters” for elderly or disabled people, advocates say. The loophole also ignored the reality of what home care work entails (feeding, bathing, rehabilitating, managing medications, and more) and how large the $84 billion home care industry is.

Home care work is among the nation’s fastest-growing occupations, but it has a 50 percent turnover rate partly due to low pay, long and unpredictable hours, and physical and emotional stress from the work itself.

“High demand makes home care one of our nation’s fastest-growing occupations—but finding skilled, committed workers for caregiving jobs is becoming increasingly difficult,” Deane Beebe, media relations director for the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a first step to addressing this labor shortage.”

Even when home care workers technically make the minimum wage, they may effectively make less because they don’t get compensated for travel or overtime, and they often can’t get enough hours to make ends meet. Three out of five home care workers rely on public assistance.

The regulation expands protections to workers serving private households and hired by “third party” employers, which describes the vast majority of home care workers today.

Home health care industry officials are reportedly still considering their options, including whether to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, as BuzzFeed News notes, implementation will be the next challenge once the rule goes into effect. Wage theft is rampant even in industries that have wage and overtime protections. And there are still certain classes of workers who don’t enjoy those basic legal protections, including many agricultural and domestic workers as well as employees of small businesses with annual gross sales of less than $500,000.


Palo Alto prepares to raise minimum wage

City Council to consider plan to set local rate at $11 per hour, with a view toward $15 in 2018

Palo Alto is a relative latecomer when it comes to establishing a minimum wage, but a new proposal that the City Council is set to discuss Monday, Aug. 24, looks to place the city ahead of the regional pack.

The council will consider a proposal that would set the local minimum wage at $11 an hour starting in 2016 and put the city on a path to see the figure rise to $15 by 2018. The plan, which was crafted and unanimously endorsed by the council’s Policy and Services Committee in April, would align the city with a broader push across the state to raise the minimum wage.

The California minimum wage is set to rise from $9 to $10 per hour in January 2016, though cities from across the state are moving ahead with their own local laws that go beyond this standard.

San Jose voters led the way by adopting a minimum-wage ordinance in 2013, with the hourly rate currently set at $10.30 and tied to consumer price index (CPI) increases. San Francisco followed suit last November with an even more aggressive proposal, one that increased the wage to $12.25 on May 1 and that gradually raises to $15 by July 2018.

Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, Oakland, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Diego have all adopted minimum-wage ordinances in recent years, with varying amounts and adjustment mechanisms. In Santa Clara County, the cities of Campbell, Morgan Hill and Santa Clara are now considering such ordinances.

Palo Alto’s new law is modeled in many ways after those of its neighbors, namely Mountain View and Sunnyvale. Councils in both cities adopted ordinances last October that set the minimum wage at $10.30, effective July 1 of this year. The ordinances also call for annual adjustments in the minimum wage, based on the CPI.

Mountain View, like San Francisco, has also embarked on the “$15 by ’18” path, which Palo Alto also plans to follow.

Though Palo Alto has only recently started exploring a local minimum-wage ordinance, it is moving fast. The topic came up during a debate before last November’s council election, with just about every candidate enthusiastically endorsing a higher minimum wage. In February, four council members formally sparked the move in a colleague’s memo that proposed a local minimum wage.

Councilmen Marc Berman, Pat Burt, Tom DuBois and Cory Wolbach cited the high cost of living in Palo Alto and noted that if the minimum wages were adjusted based on local cost of living, they “would be considerably higher in Palo Alto and the Peninsula than most elsewhere in the state.” The memo called the proposed minimum-wage ordinance “a modest but constructive step toward providing adequate income for all workers.”

“Our lowest wage workers perform valued services in Palo Alto and often have to work multiple jobs with long commutes to barely make ends meet,” the memo states. “A local minimum wage would be a modest step in supporting these workers who are vital to maintaining the services we value and that are essential to our local economy. In addition, the strength of our community and society relies on maintaining a level of economic fairness and opportunity for all.”

While most cities are focusing on their own particular minimum-wage ordinances, others are building coalitions and calling for more coordination. In June, the mayors of Mountain View and Sunnyvale co-wrote a letter to their counterparts in Palo Alto and Campbell (which is also pursuing a minimum-wage ordinance) urging a “joint approach” to reaching the $15-per-hour standard.

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2018 will … help lift working families out of poverty,” Mountain View Mayor John McAlister and Sunnyvale Mayor Jim Griffith wrote in the letter. “With more income, minimum-wage workers would have more spending power and inject more money into the local economy, which would benefit businesses through increased sales and local governments through increased sales-tax revenue.”

McAlister also serves on the Cities Association of Santa Clara County subcommittee that focused on the minimum wage and that in June released a report calling for better regional coordination of these efforts.

“A lack of consistency in minimum wage rates creates serious problems for jurisdictions, locations, and employers,” the subcommittee wrote, noting that differences in minimum-wage requirements can affect the city’s economic competitiveness. “Additionally, jurisdictions have already received reports from employers in Santa Clara County stating that cities without an increased minimum wage are losing quality employees to opportunities in cities with higher minimum wages.”

If the Palo Alto City Council embraces the specific recommendations from its committee, the city’s minimum wage would hit the $11 mark in January, exceeding the $10.30 levels in Mountain View and the state threshold of $10.

It would be adjusted every year based on cost of living and it would cover employers who are either subject to the city’s business registry requirements, conduct business in Palo Alto or maintain a business facility in the city, according to a new report from the Office of the City Attorney. The city also plans to enter into an agreement with the City of San Jose Office of Equality Assurance to enforce the local ordinance, a similar arrangement to the one that the office enjoys with Mountain View and Sunnyvale.

Palo Alto’s proposed ordinance also expressly prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about an employer who doesn’t comply with the law. Violators could face an daily fine, an administrative compliance order or, in the most extreme cases, a civil action launched by the city for injunctive relief.

In the lead-up to the final decision, the city is surveying local residents and businesses to get their thoughts on raising the minimum wage (the survey can be accessed at here). The city also asked residents on its online forum, Open City Hall, what they think about the proposal and received 52 responses, with about two-thirds saying they are in favor of the proposal.

Those supporting the change cited the high cost of living in Palo Alto and the need to support people who work here. Barron Park resident Joel Davidson wrote on the forum that at least a $15 wage is “necessary in this area of opulence and high rents and prices.” Alexandra Acker-Lyons of Palo Verde concurred and said living in Palo Alto or anywhere near the city is “prohibitively expensive.”

Opponents characterized the plan as well-meaning but ultimately misguided. Darryl Fenwith of Downtown North wrote on the city’s forum that while it would be nice to find a way to help low-skilled workers live in high-priced areas like Palo Alto, raising the minimum wage could actually hurt workers by “denying them employment opportunities, reducing work hours, or being dismissed from employment.” While raising the minimum wage may hurt some, it would hurt others, Fenwith wrote.

“And really, these conclusions make sense — employers react to price signals,” Fenwith wrote. In essence, they see a raise in minimum wage as equivalent to a tax on low-skilled workers.”

by Gennady Sheyner / Palo Alto Weekly

Divorce Lawyers Brace For ‘Tsunami’ After Ashley Madison Hack

NEW YORK — Divorce attorneys are bracing for a surge of new clients after the release Tuesday night of data stolen from the infidelity dating site Ashley Madison.

Hours after the hackers posted a trove of names, addresses, partial credit card numbers and email addresses of many of the site’s nearly 39 million users, law firms, like Manhattan-based divorce firm Yaniv & Associates, said they were already experiencing an influx of calls from potential clients.

“The attorneys are unavailable because there are so many people calling right now,” an employee who answered the phone told The Huffington Post on Wednesday morning. “You’ll have to call back later.”

Ashley Madison, which is owned by Toronto-based Avid Life Media, confirmed last month that data was swiped from its servers after the hackers threatened to post the stolen information online. The hacker group, which called itself The Impact Team, vowed to publish personal information on the “cheating dirtbags” who use Ashley Madison and “deserve no such discretion” unless the site got shut down. The hackers also criticized the company for charging users $19 to delete their data from the site, claiming it didn’t fully wipe user data.

On Wednesday morning, the magenta-colored site remained up, inviting new users to join its millions of “anonymous members” with an airbrushed image of a woman, her eyes hidden and finger pressed to her lips in a nonverbal shush. She has a gold wedding band on her ring finger. Below her are two badges promising security and a third insisting the site is “100% discreet.”

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop= Credit: Ashley MadisonDivorce lawyers are preparing for a ‘tsunami’ of calls after client data was released by hackers.

Avid Life Media said on Tuesday that it was working with Canadian authorities and the FBI to uncover who is behind the hack.

 “This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality. It is an illegal action against the individual members of, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities,” the company said in a statement. “The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society. We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world.”
 That won’t stop suspicious spouses from scouring the data for their partners’ names and information though. One attorney described the expected wave of spurned spouses as “the tsunami.”
“With this release of data, every curious spouse in America is going to check to see if their partner is on this list,” said Susan M. Moss, a partner at the New York firm Chemtob Moss & Forman. “This will lead to an influx of more divorces — or at the very least some very difficult conversations.”

One lawyer predicted that law firms won’t be the only ones seeing an uptick in business.

 “I think therapists are probably getting bombarded first,” said Jacqueline Newman, a managing partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd. “I’m sure it will trickle down.”
Still, she said, some of the clients she expects to speak with in the coming days won’t necessarily end up getting divorced.

“There’s definitely going to be a lot of people calling me in and wanting to quote-unquote know their rights,” Newman said. “Whether they end up divorced, time will tell. But we’ll definitely be getting a lot of phone calls.”

SOURCE:  Business Editor, The Huffington Post

Widow who claimed husband was worked to death deserves worker’s comp benefits, Pa. court rules

A Commonwealth Court panel has ordered that worker compensation death benefits be paid to a Pennsylvania widow who claimed her husband was literally worked to death.

The judges sided with Judith Dietz, who sought the death benefits for herself and her young child after her 48-year-old husband, Robert, died from a heart attack while working a 14-hour shift for the Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority.

Pennsylvania Judicial Center

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center

Judith Dietz appealed to the court after the state Workers Compensation Appeal Board denied her plea for that aid. The appeals board concluded there wasn’t sufficient proof that the long, strenuous shift Robert Dietz worked on Nov. 7, 2007 caused his fatal heart attack.Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt disagreed in the recent Commonwealth Court opinion overturning the appeals board decision. There was plenty of proof that Robert Dietz’s heart attack was work-related, she concluded.

“The overwhelming circumstantial evidence…shows that exertion from (Dietz’s) regular work activities over the course of a 14-hour workday caused his heart-attack,” Leavitt wrote.

The municipal authority had argued that pre-existing health issues and a history of smoking, not Dietz’s physically demanding job as a field maintenance worker, prompted the heart attack. Dietz did that job, which involved running a jackhammer and other strenuous labor, for 20 years.

The distinction regarding whether the heart attack was job-related was important, because a link between a dead employee’s work and the death must be established for the surviving spouse to be eligible for workers comp benefits. For example, a widow with one child is entitled to 60 percent of the dead worker’s wages and up to $3,000 for burial expenses.

Although the authority presented medical testimony that Robert Dietz’s medical history made it likely he would have a heart attack even if he was not working, Leavitt gave greater weight to a doctor who testified for the Dietz family that the long, strenuous workday provided the fatal catalyst.

The Commonwealth Court ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.


Governor approves tipped minimum wage increase

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI)- Governor Gina Raimondo has given thousands of Rhode Island residents a raise.201506558869d56ec02

The governor signed a bill into law yesterday that raises the state’s tipped minimum wage from $2.89 an hour to $3.89 an hour over the next year and a half. This is Rhode Island’s first increase in the tipped minimum wage in 20 years. The state currently has the lowest wage for tipped workers in all of New England.Governor Raimondo says the increase will help more than 22,000 tipped workers in the state. “These are hard-working people. They deserve a livable wage. My job is to make Rhode Island a place of opportunity for everybody and, if you work full-time, you shouldn’t live in poverty. So, I feel great that we increased the minimum wage,” said Raimondo.

Advocates for restaurant workers say the increase still does not go far enough.

“Even with this increase, servers are still going to be paid 31% of the full minimum wage, which is still less. That’s a second tier and that’s unacceptable in a democratic society, right?,” said Michael Araujo of ROC United.

Governor Raimondo says the change will be easier on local businesses since the dollar increase is spread out over 18 months.

WPRI 12 Eyewitness News

Cal/OSHA Cites ExxonMobil $566,600 for Torrance Refinery Explosion

Los Angeles—Cal/OSHA today issued 19 citations to ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company for workplace safety and health violations following an investigation into the February 18 explosion at the company’s Torrance refinery that injured four workers. The proposed penalties total $566,600.ExxonMobil

Eighteen of the citations were classified as serious due to a realistic possibility of worker death or serious injury. Six of these serious violations were also classified as willful because Cal/OSHA found that Exxon did not take action to eliminate known hazardous conditions at the refinery and intentionally failed to comply with state safety standards. ExxonMobil has 15 working days to appeal the citations to the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board.


“Petroleum refineries have the responsibility to keep workers safe, and to also protect nearby communities and the environment,” said Christine Baker, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). “This investigation revealed severe lapses in Exxon’s safety protocols.” Cal/OSHA is a division of DIR.

The blast on February 18 was the result of a hydrocarbon release from the refinery’s fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) unit into its electrostatic precipitator (ESP). The hydrocarbons ignited inside the ESP, causing the unit to explode. Eight workers were decontaminated after the incident, and four were sent to hospitals for treatment of minor injuries. Cal/OSHA’s investigation concluded the following:

  • A 2007 safety review uncovered concerns about flammable vapor leakage in the Explosion at ExxoMobil oil refinery in TorranceESP. Management knew of potential fire or explosion hazards as a result of the leakage, and failed to correct the danger.
  • Exxon’s incident response team, which included ExxonMobil senior management, was aware of a leaking spent slide valve on the FCC unit before the accident occurred.
  • The FCC unit had not been working properly for as many as nine years prior to the incident. There was no functional pressure transmitter and as a result, ExxonMobil was unable to monitor hydrocarbon pressure buildup in the unit.
  • There was no written operating procedure for placing the FCC unit in hot standby, which is a state between startup and shutdown that can be compared to working on an idling car.

Cal/OSHA issued an order prohibiting use of the FCC unit on February 18, and that order remains in effect until ExxonMobil can demonstrate that the unit is safe to operate.

Cal/OSHA has investigated ExxonMobil’s Torrance facility twice in the last five years for accident-related incidents that resulted in serious workplace injuries in 2011. On March 29, 2011, a refinery operator was working on the FCC unit, attempting to shut down a failed pump when a motor in the pump suffered mechanical failure and exploded. The worker suffered a fractured jaw and lost six teeth in the accident. The other accident in September 2011 did not occur in the FCC unit. Cal/OSHA issued three serious and five general citations in those cases.

Both the February 18 explosion and the August 6, 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond have led to proposed improvements in petroleum refinery regulation. The proposed changes include damage mechanism reviews (DMRs), employee participation, safeguard protection analysis and hazard control analysis.

“Cal/OSHA is working closely with other members of the Governor’s Interagency Refinery Task Force toward more protective refinery safety regulations,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Improved regulations and coordinated interagency inspections will reduce risks that can lead to serious accidents.”

The Governor’s Interagency Refinery Task Force was formed in the aftermath of the 2012 Chevron refinery fire, and includes participants from 13 agencies and departments.

Cal/OSHA’s Process Safety Management Unit is responsible for inspecting refineries and chemical plants that handle large quantities of toxic and flammable materials. Health and safety standards enforced by the PSM Unit, including adequate employee training, are intended to prevent catastrophic explosions, fires and releases of dangerous chemicals.


Bumble Bee to pay record $6 million settlement after worker cooked in tuna batch

bumblebee1 Bumblebee2
Canned-tuna producer Bumble Bee Foods has agreed to a record $6 million settlement in the death of a worker cooked to death in an industrial oven with 12,000 lbs of fish. The company and two managers charged in the incident have pleaded guilty.

Jose Melena, of Wilmington, was killed in a workplace accident at Bumble Bee Seafoods in Santa Fe Springs. Courtesy photo

Jose Melena, of Wilmington, was killed in a workplace accident at Bumble Bee Seafoods in Santa Fe Springs. Courtesy photo

The $6 million payout is the largest known in a California criminal prosecution for workplace safety violations involving a single victim, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

In October 2012, Jose Melena, 62, was performing maintenance work in a 35-foot-long industrial oven at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant when a co-worker, thinking Melena was on a bathroom break, filled the pressure cooker with thousands of pounds of tuna and turned it on.

According to a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), Melena’s supervisor then noticed he was missing. A search was conducted in the plant and parking lot before his body was found two hours later – after the oven had reached a temperature of 270 degrees Fahrenheit (132°C).

The oven where a Bumble Bee worker died in 2012 in Santa Fe Springs, California. State regulators found that the chain that pulls carts of tuna into the ovens sometimes get snagged, requiring operators to enter the ovens to pull the carts through. California Division of Occupational Safety and Health

The oven where a Bumble Bee worker died in 2012 in Santa Fe Springs, California. State regulators found that the chain that pulls carts of tuna into the ovens sometimes get snagged, requiring operators to enter the ovens to pull the carts through. California Division of Occupational Safety and Health

The settlement will be split into several parts. Bumble Bee will spend $3 million to replace all of their outdated tuna ovens with new, automated ovens equipped with video cameras that “will not ever require workers to set foot inside the super-heated, pressurized steam cookers.” Another $1.5 million in restitution will go to Melena’s family. The company will donate $750,000 to the District Attorney’s Environmental Enforcement Fund for the investigation and prosecution of OSHA criminal cases and for “improving enforcement of workplace safety and compliance rules.” Bumble Bee will pay an additional $750,000 in combined fines, penalties and court costs.

“While this resolution will help bring closure with the district attorney’s office, we will never forget the unfathomable loss of our colleague Jose Melena and we are committed to ensuring that employee safety remains a top priority at all our facilities,” Bumble Bee Foods said in a statement.

Along with the financial settlement, the company will plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of willful failure to implement and maintain an effective safety program within 18 months of complying with the terms of the settlement agreement, which “I hope [it] sends a message that safety rules are not a recommendation, they are a legal requirement,” said Hoon Chun, consumer protection division assistant head deputy for the district attorney, who helped prosecute the case, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Prosecutors also charged two managers with three counts of violating OSHA rules, which led to Melena’s death. Both pleaded guilty on Monday as well.

The company’s former safety manager, Saul Florez, pleaded guilty to a felony count of willfully violating lockout tagout rules and proximately causing the victim’s death. He was sentenced to three years of probation, 30 days of community labor and must take safety classes on lockout tagout and confined spaces. He must also pay $19,000 in fines and penalty assessments. If he complies with the terms of his plea within 18 months, his conviction may be reduced to a misdemeanor count.

Bumble Bee’s Director of Plant Operations, Angel Rodriguez, agreed to do 320 hours of community service, pay approximately $11,400 in fines and penalty assessments, and take classes on lockout tagout and confined space rules. If he complies within 18 months, he may plead guilty to a misdemeanor at sentencing.

The company and both men must make public statements admitting their guilt in Melena’s death.

MSHA calls for stepped-up enforcement after accidents claim 3 miners’ lives

Deadly 24-hour period prompts closer scrutiny of mining deaths

ARLINGTON, Va. — In the wake of a deadly day in mining in which three miners lost their lives in separate incidents in Nevada, North Dakota and Virginia on Aug. 3, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is stepping up enforcement efforts and intensifying outreach and education nationwide.

In a conference call with industry stakeholders today, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main expressed his concern over the alarming number of recent deaths. “In the past month alone, there have been five fatalities in the metal and nonmetal industry. Not since 2002 have three miners died in a single day in this mining sector. We cannot — we will not — accept this turn of events. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the miners who died in these tragic accidents,” said Main.

The following incidents all occurred on Aug. 3:

  • A loader operator was engulfed by a stockpile failure while standing outside his vehicle at a construction sand and gravel mine in North Dakota.
  • A miner at an underground gold ore operation in Nevada was killed when he was struck by mobile equipment.
  • An 18-year-old plant operator was buried under tons of sand and stone dust when a silo collapsed at a quarry in Virginia. MSHA has launched investigations into the causes of each of these fatalities.

Main announced that, beginning next week, the agency will begin beefed-up inspections with a focus on violations commonly associated with mining deaths, and federal inspectors will emphasize “walk and talks” with miners and operators to disseminate information on fatalities and best practices for preventing them. MSHA coal mine inspectors, along with training and educational field personnel, will be tapped to assist in the initiative.

“We will need everyone’s cooperation with these efforts to reverse the trend in mining deaths,” said Main. “Our miners deserve nothing less.”

In 2014, there were 29 deaths at metal and nonmetal mines and 15 to date this year. “MSHA inspectors will intensify their examination of the types of conditions leading to these deaths and take appropriate enforcement actions,” said Main.

Recent fatalities and other accidents at metal and nonmetal mines suggest that miners would benefit from rigorous workplace examinations conducted by experienced and trained examiners. On July 22, MSHA published a program policy letter clarifying the requirements for workplace examinations. The requirements are as follows:

  • Mine operators must examine each working place at least once each shift for conditions which adversely affect safety or health.
  • The examination must be conducted by a competent person.
  • A record of the examination must be maintained and made available for review.

MSHA News Release: [08/05/2015]
Contact Name: Amy Louviere
Phone Number: (202) 693-9423
Release Number: 15-1550-NAT