Wednesday, August 26, 2015

10 Years After Katrina, Lead Poisoning Exposed

Recovering city works to protect children from lead exposure

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, New Orleans was devastated by flooding and destruction. Nearly ten years later, the city has been repairing and rebuilding – but with unexpected obstacles along the way. After the hurricane there was turmoil as long time residents left and newcomers moved in, changing the city’s structure. The inner city, long occupied primarily by low income families, hadn’t suffered severe flooding, but general upheaval meant residents were replaced by young, middle class families. The neighborhood has settled somewhat over the years, but recent discoveries of childhood lead poisoning mean that the inner city is once again in turmoil as residents are realizing hidden dangers in their new homes.

Lead paint removal is crucial to children's health
Long-time residents and newcomers alike face lead poisoning in New Orleans
Families and health officials in New Orleans have long been aware of the dangers of lead, recognizing that exposure to lead in childhood can lead to lifelong physical and mental health challenges. Racial tensions in the city were heightened by a pattern of inequality in health: black residents were historically twice as likely as white residents to live in neighborhoods where there children were exposed to unhealthy amounts of lead. Many children were tested for lead poisoning, and levels of lead in neighborhoods were monitored; before the storm, the risks of lead were widely recognized.

After Katrina, discussions about lead shifted: while hurricanes can produce new health problems, officials found lower levels of lead in New Orleans soil and lower rates of lead poisoning throughout the city. While the cause is still unclear, many suggest that the storm brought cleaner soil to cover and seal off lead-laden yards and parks. The lower levels of lead and the appearance of a fresh start made it all the more surprising when new residents began discovering that their children’s blood contained startlingly high amounts of lead, just as earlier residents had found.

The inner city, which had mostly been spared extreme flooding, had missed the clean soil brought in by the storm and still had the same high levels of lead that had always been present. Poor lead paint removal techniques by untrained or unknowing workers had contributed to the problem: rebuilding the city meant releasing new lead particles into the air and soil. The Environmental Protection Agency has regulations guiding how structures containing lead should be built, demolished, or renovated; EPA lead certifications ensure that workers can build while protecting themselves and the families around them. Without these certifications, workers had simultaneously rebuilt and poisoned the city that was trying to be reborn.

Some families have taken to covering their yards, cleaning meticulously, and wiping down shoes and pets to avoid any lead-contaminated dust; others have been forced to move, unable to identify the source of the contamination. Families that can’t afford to move can only watch and worry while their children inhale dangerous particles, unable to detect or avoid the threat to their health. 

There is hope, though: neighborhoods are coming together to cover backyards, clean playgrounds, and ensure that all work in the city is done smartly and safety. During these efforts, well-trained renovators and contractors are crucial; families are acutely aware of the importance of proper lead removal strategies, and the demand for EPA Certified Lead Renovators is high. With determination and proper techniques, the city is working to reclaim poisoned neighborhoods and protect children from lead exposure.

Renovation activities in older homes can create lead hazards if not performed correctly. Property owners and contractors alike should be familiar with the EPA regulations and lead-safe work practices prior to performing any home renovation or painting projects on pre-1978 structures. Visit to learn more!

Monday, August 24, 2015

OSHA Investigation Leads to Years in Prison

Construction company owner and project manager punished after worker's death

Workplace safety is crucial in construction
Raul Zapata paid the price for a company's disregard of OSHA regulations.

Workplace safety can be a matter of life or death, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) takes its role seriously. A recent court ruling is the culmination of a 3 ½ year long example of everything that can go wrong when construction companies don’t follow OSHA regulations, and the severe consequences of ignoring their responsibilities or forgoing OSHA training.

In January 2012, a crew from U.S. Sino Investment was working at a residential construction site in Milpitas, California when a building inspector issued a stop-work notice to project manager Dan Luo. The excavation lacked shoring and the company did not have anyone competent in excavation onsite, violating OSHA regulations and making the site unsafe for workers. Luo and the company ignored the notice and kept working, rejecting their responsibilities as employers. Three days later a 12-foot high wall collapsed and instantly killed Raul Zapata, a worker on the site. In a striking example of the company’s disregard for worker safety, neither Zapata nor anyone on site was wearing head protection while they worked.

Past OSHA investigations had led to high-profile fines, but this case had even higher stakes. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) led a criminal investigation into the company and their violations of workplace safety measures. After over three years, a Superior Court judge sentenced Luo and company owner Richard Liu to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

Christine Baker, director of the Department of Relations (which includes Cal/OSHA), emphasized the division’s dedication to protecting workers. She highlighted employer responsibility, saying “California employers must provide workers with the necessary protection and training so they can do their jobs safely. When our investigations uncover negligent behavior by employers, we exercise our full jurisdiction to protect workers – including referrals to district attorneys for prosecution.”

Workplace safety is a matter of life or death! Protect your workers on the job and keep your company away from lawsuits; check out our OSHA Safety courses to make sure you’re in compliance with OSHA regulations.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Health and Safety Violations Result in Nearly $2 Million Fine

Kehrer Bros. and affiliates exposed workers to asbestos

Asbestos removal is crucial, but risky.
Health and safety violations endanger workers and lead to massive fines.
After endangering their workers, a construction group was fined nearly two million dollars this week – the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) discovered that supervisors had been knowingly endangering their workers by exposing them to asbestos. Kehrer Brothers Construction was fined $1.792 million, while their affiliate D7 Roofing was fined an additional $147,000. The companies’ wallets and their reputations suffered a blow as OSHA chief David Michaels condemned their work as “outrageous, illegal behavior.”

Asbestos exposure is widely recognized as dangerous to children and adults alike; it affects the lungs of those exposed and can cause a range of cancers. OSHA enforces regulations to ensure that anyone working near asbestos protects themselves and others; basic adjustments to a worksite can dramatically reduce the risks associated with exposure. Kehrer Brothers, however, flouted these regulations by bringing untrained, unknowing workers to renovate a former school where asbestos were present. Despite knowing the risks, the company gave workers no special instruction, made no accommodations for their breathing, and failed to even provide basic safety equipment like hard hats or eyewear.

The group hired workers under the H2B visa program, which lets companies hire foreign employees. Vulnerable newcomers – many of whom did not speak English – were intimidated and threatened; Michaels relates how “Kehrer also threatened to fire his employees if they spoke with our investigators.” The company has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Kehrer Bros. was fined $70,000 per untrained employee; trainings cost as little as $89 per person. Quality asbestos removal is crucial, and it’s in urgent demand – get certified to safely work with asbestos and protect your company from fines.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

OSHA Violation Leads to Massive Fine in Texas

Occupational Safety and Health Administration levies nearly $424,000 fine against Texas company

While following safety regulations may take time and effort, most companies recognize the importance of ensuring their workers’ safety and make sure they do everything right. One company, however, chose not to comply with industry standards while on the job in Richmond, Texas. While they may have saved a bit of time by skipping important procedures, Hassell Construction Co. – and their employee – are paying the price for neglecting safety.

Workplace safety is crucial at all jobs.
OSHA training is important to
avoid accidents and fines.
Hassell’s employees were working inside an eight foot deep trench that had been left unprotected, putting all of them at risk. While they were working the trench collapsed and trapped one employee inside. His coworkers dug him out using their bare hands, pulling him to safety only moments before the trench collapsed again. After being trapped underground the employee is facing serious injuries.

OSHA responded by slamming the company with $434,900 in fines for failing to protect their workers and putting all of them at risk. 

According to Safety News Alert, their violations included:

  • 6 egregious (per-instance) willful violations for failing to protect workers in an excavation from a cave-in
  • Failure to remove debris from the edge of the excavation
  • Failure to provide a safe means to get in and out of the excavation for workers
  • Failure to conduct atmospheric testing inside excavations after a sewer leak

OSHA chief David Michaels condemned the company’s violations, pointing out that, “For more than 2,500 years, man has known how to prevent deadly trench collapses. It is absolutely unacceptable that employers continue to endanger the lives of workers in trenches.” The citations were issued on the same day as OSHA fined Cotton Commercial USA Inc. $362,500 for safety violations in another town.

OSHA often fines companies heavily for not protecting employees; its influence is felt across the nation. The Administration's persistence in punishing violators points to the importance of workplace safety; regulations and requirements are designed to protect workers and avoid injuries like those suffered by the Hassell employee. It’s crucial that employers fulfill their responsibilities by knowing and following all regulations – and good safety practices don’t only protect workers but also ensure that companies maintain a good reputation.

Protect your workers on the job and avoid heavy fines; check out our OSHA Safety courses to make sure you’re in compliance with OSHA regulations.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sustainable Design Creates Popular Student Housing

LEED certified buildings in California has growing appeal

Green architecture is a growing field.
Green housing at the school is a significant draw for new students.
A project that once gave administrators pause has turned into a thriving student housing complex that unites the community in a sustainable environment. While decision makers at the University of California, Riverside weren’t sure they were ready to commit to a fully environmentally friendly project, the success of Glen Mor 2 – a LEED Gold-seeking project nestled among the mountains – has become an example of the benefits of sustainable design and now has the full support of university staff. The complex, which especially attracts older students and transfer students, integrates the campus with the community and turned an underused piece of land into a beautiful central destination.

Administrators’ changing opinions reflect the changing perspective of property owners across the nation, who increasingly recognize green building as a way to not only protect the environment but also to improve their projects and increase success. Green architecture is in growing demand due to benefits like those realized on the UC Riverside campus.

Innovations at Glen Mor 2 serve as examples of how sustainable design creates striking aesthetics: thoughtfully placed windows, for example, not only keep rooms cool but also increase natural light and contribute to unique facades for each building. Since green architects focus on integrating features from surrounding environments, the complex makes use of an overgrown arroyo as a scenic and accessible open space. Bridges and pathways encourage a lifestyle where walking is the primary mode of transportation, reducing fuel use and facilitating serendipitous community interaction.

While administrators hesitated to support the project, viewing LEED certification requirements as costly and time consuming, the reality of sustainable design proved to be an advantage rather than a setback. The complex’s low energy costs, beautiful aesthetics, and popularity among students make it an asset to the university and serve as an example for property owners across the nation. As projects like this become commonplace, LEED certification is only going to increase in demand; green architects and contractors will see an increase in their business.

Sustainable design is a growing field in California and across the U.S.! Grow your business by getting LEED Accredited to take advantage of the growing market for energy efficient buildings.