OSHA and EPA take on Spider-Man, Notre Dame, Congress and Thermostats

OSHA and the EPA have been making headlines lately, showing up in unexpected places – on the football field, on Broadway, your living room. Here’s a rundown of regulatory agency highlights from the last month.

First, IOSHA (Indiana's state OSHA office) announced this week that it was fining both the University of Notre Dame and the Broadway production of Spider-Man; Notre Dame for the death of a student videographer who died while filming practice for the Fighting Irish football team and Spider-Man for a series of incidents that have injured several actors performing in the stunt heavy show.

Notre Dame was hit with a $77,500 fine for the death of a student who died when the scissor lift he was using blew over in 50+ mile per hour wind gusts. According to the Chicago Tribune, The Indiana Occupational Health and Safety classified the accident as a preventable workplace fatality. The article, written by Stacy St. Clair reports that Notre Dame was hit with 6 violations:

  • Knowingly exposing employees to unsafe conditions by directing its untrained student videographers to use the scissor lift during a period of time when the National Weather Service issued an active wind advisory with sustained winds and gusts in excess of the manufactured specifications and warnings. $55,000 fine.
  • Not properly training the student employees in the operation and use of scissor lifts. $5,000 fine.
  • Not doing annual, monthly or weekly inspections on the scissor lift for more than a year. $5,000 fine.
  • Not having a scissor lift service as required by the maintenance schedule in the operator’s manual. $5,000 fine.
  • Not having an operator’s manual kept in a weather-proof box. $5,000 fine.
  • Missing some warning labels and having some labels that were weathered and faded. $2,500 fine.

The fines for missing or weathered warning labels is a good reminder for all employers that safety information must be maintained and refreshed as needed, including labels on chemical containers. You can read about Notre Dame's response to IOSHA's findings.

Spider-Man came under OSHA scrutiny after four separate incidents resulting in injuries to the cast. Already the most expensive musical in Broadway history, OSHA added to their expenses with three serious violations of workplace safety after actors and stunt performers were “exposed to the hazards of falls or being struck during flying routines because of improperly adjusted or unsecured safety harnesses…fall hazard[s] stemmed from unguarded open-side floors that lacked fall protection…[and failing] to shield employees from being struck by moving overhead rigging components.”

The fines for Spider-Man totaled $12,600 but may have also led to additional consequences for the production staff. A few days after OSHA announced the fine, the show’s director, Julie Taymor, was ousted from Spider-Man and the show closed down for what is being called a major retooling.

Next, the EPA has been in the news recently, most notably for the fights the EPA is having with Congress over funding and greenhouse gases (GHG). Plastics News.com has an insightful article about the battle between Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration on the EPA’s role in monitoring  GHG’s.

The EPA contends, and was affirmed by the Supreme Court, that it has the responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases. Republican lawmakers and some Democrats call it an over reach and are seeking to limit the EPA’s role through new legislation. This comes on top of a House bill, introduced in February to dramatically cut the EPA’s budget by $3 billion.

In less contentious news, the EPA was featured in an article published by the Seattle Times on the shift of consumers and manufactures away from mercury thermometers. The article stated that at least 18 states have banned or restricted sales of mercury thermometers and that the National Institute of  Standards and Technology (NIST) will no longer “provide calibration services for manufacturers and users of mercury-in-glass thermometers — a critical service it had provided to American industry since 1901.”

Additionally, the article continues, the EPA is working with NIST to revise federal standards related to mercury use in thermometers. EPA spokesman, Dale Kemery, is quoted in the piece, saying, “Due to elemental mercury's high toxicity, EPA seeks to reduce potential mercury exposures to humans and the environment by reducing the overall use of mercury-containing products, including mercury-containing thermometers.”

Thermostats, the article points out, have traditionally been one of the most ubiquitous users of mercury, but today, the manufacturers have moved away from its use and even formed a nonprofit corporation to recycle old devices, resulting in the collection of “560,000 thermostats nationwide, containing more than 2 ½ tons of mercury, between 1998 and 2006.”

It’s a great reminder that even little things can add up to a whole lot of trouble.