AROUND THE NATION

  • NEW YORK
    NYC Applies Scaffold Safety

    While delivering a progress report addressing New York City's strategic plan to protect workers on scaffolds, Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster announced that the majority of the plan's safety recommendations have been implemented, leading the way to safer work environments for scaffold employees.

    The plan, adopted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in early 2007, outlines measures based upon 13 recommendations made by the Scaffold Worker Safety Task Force. The Buildings Department, OSHA and the mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs have worked together since May 2007 to implement 12 of those recommendations, which include creating and fully staffing a Buildings Scaffold Safety Team, increasing legislation and adding new penalties for scaffold safety violations.

    Lancaster delivered the progress report at a January outreach event at a Bronx worker center and was joined by representatives from OSHA, the Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Latin American Workers' Project. She stressed that their focus on scaffold safety already has started to pay off.

    “Suspended scaffold-related accidents on construction sites decreased by 40 percent over the last year, from 10 in 2006 to six in 2007,” Lancaster said. “With the proper protocols in place, we can demand that contractors and riggers provide a safe working environment for those who are building and maintaining our city.”

  • PENNSYLVANIA
    Pa. Workers' Comp. Costs Reduced

    Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell announced a 10.22 percent overall decrease in workers' compensation costs, which will result in $250 million in savings for Pennsylvania employers.

    Rendell, who said the state has experienced significant decreases in the rate of workers' compensations claims, attributed the reduced costs to safer workplaces. He also claimed the Work Safe PA initiative, which was implemented 5 years ago, helped businesses and employees improve the workplace safety practices that led to lower costs.

    The 10.22 percent cost decrease is an average; costs and savings will vary by business type and claim history, and not all employers will see savings. In addition, businesses with state-certified workplace safety committees will receive a 5 percent discount on their workers' compensation premiums. Unemployment compensation taxes for 2008 also will be reduced an estimated $141 million.

    This is the fourth time the Pennsylvania government has reduced workers' compensation costs since 2003. In total, these four deductions equal more than $750 million in savings for employers in the past 6 years.

  • TEXAS
    University to Pay $1 Million

    Texas A&M University agreed to pay the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services an unprecedented $1 million in fines for numerous safety violations in its research program on bioterrorism agents.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated the university in 2007 after one of its workers became sick with brucellosis in 2006 and three others were exposed to Q fever. CDC suspended university research activities after their inspections revealed that A&M failed to report one illness and several infections in its labs for more than a year. In addition, they found missing vials of brucellosis-causing bacteria Brucella; unauthorized workers with access to infectious diseases; improper storage of dangerous agents and infected animals; and troubling sanitation problems.

    Texas A&M President Elsa Murano said she “proposed the large agreement in hopes the matter can be resolved quickly.” She also said OIG has accepted the settlement agreement, acknowledging that the university was at fault in letting safety breaches be made, but was confident that all safety issues have been addressed.

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