Guam’s three fatalities in the workplace in the first three months of the year have taken the numbers beyond the annual average for the island and each could have been avoided.
Frank Strasheim administrator for Region IX of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor said of the three deaths “All were preventable.”
He told the Journal Guam’s workplace fatalities were “regrettably fairly consistent at an average of two per year — some years it’s three some years it’s one.” Not an admirable record — but fairly consistent with national fatalities.”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics fatalities in the workplace have shown a gradual decline from 5.5 to 4.0 deaths per 100 000 workers between 1992 and 2002 with 1998’s figures at 4.5 deaths per 100 000.
The three fatalities on Guam occurred in February March and April. On Feb. 22 26-year old Antonin Wengu fell from a height of approximately 15 feet and died from head injuries three days later. The Big Light Construction work site involved was Shell gas station in Dededo which opened on Dec. 31.
Wengu was flown to Manila on Continental Micronesia accompanied by a doctor and two nurses. He died as the plane was arriving was returned to Guam for viewing and was buried in Chuuk. His sister Marisa N. Wengu-Reyes accounting clerk with Market Wholesale told the Journal she was not sure if the family would be suing. She said “I can’t give you any information right now – we might.” She said she had not been interviewed by the federal agency as part of its investigation. “OSHA didn’t get to us yet.” The contractor is liable in the first instance for workplace accidents. The Journal was unable to reach Big Light Construction. Shell Guam declined to comment but said a statement would be issued by its attorney Joyce Tang partner in Civille and Tang. A statement had not been received by press time.
On March 10 45-year-old Peter Andrada fell from a height of about 15 feet at an LA Painting & Construction work site at the SandCastle Entertainment Center in Tumon. On April 2 42-year-old Roland Boudreau died from head injuries sustained from falling off a golf cart at Polaris Point. OSHA’s Region IX office in San Francisco told the Journal “It appears that the deceased was not an employee of Ambros but Ambros employees may have been driving the cart; jurisdiction has not yet been determined.”
Five enforcement and investigations staff visiting Guam for the month of April for an enforcement tour from the Region IX office are investigating the fatal accidents besides a regular workload of other workplace incidents. “In a typical year three teams visit ” the administrator said. “Not to be too predictable we will send an individual out just to throw the schedule off.” Tours can be scheduled up to six times a year last anywhere from two to eight weeks and are comprised of any number of OSHA compliance officers trainers grant analysts and management staff depending on the agenda for the tour ” the Region IX office told the Journal.
OSHA investigations Strasheim said did not normally cover accidents on public roads fatalities outside of the work environment employees of the government of Guam or areas where other federal authorities had jurisdiction. “What we are looking for are people that get killed under OSHA jurisdiction. We cover contractors as well as federal agency employees civil servants and private contract employees.”
An employer has eight hours to notify OSHA of an accident and OSHA has 24 hours from the notification to send an investigator. “We usually make that ” he said.
He said the investigation would ask “Was the employer responsible per our standards? Something may have happened as a result of the isolated conduct of the employee.”
Monetary penalties range from no penalty through hundreds of dollars to thousands. “If we believe the employer was willfully responsible with a clear death the penalty would be $70 000. If the investigation showed the employer was criminally negligent the matter is referred to the U.S. attorney. If there is willful violation and death we sit down with the U.S. attorney’s office ” Strasheim said.
Concealing a fatality Strasheim said or an accident was extremely serious. “The employer would be subject to citations and penalties if they don’t tell us about the accident. If we found out a body had been shipped to the Philippines we would get very upset. We certainly want to know why we were not informed that the body was shipped out of the country.”
Strasheim said “We would check with medical authorities to see if they recommended the patient be transported. It usually raises our curiosity straight away when a patient is transported. In a recent case there was a compelling medical reason. There have been several occasions where the patient was still alive (when they left). That’s all I’ prepared to say at the moement.”
On Guam concerning the incidents between April 9 2000 and Nov. 18 2004 OSHA staff carried out 10 fatality investigations of which eight were found to have hazards related to the fatality; and issued citations for a total of 21 serious violations six other-than-serious one willful and one repeat violation.
In the Northern Mariana Islands following incidents from July 20 2000 and July 21 2004 OSHA investigated four fatalities of which two were found to have hazards related to the fatality and issued citations for a total of five serious and one other-than-serious violations.
The Guam consultation office has a staff of five and the Saipan consultation unit has a staff of three. “On-site services are provided free of charge to employers by local government agencies through grants from federal OSHA ” Region IX staff told the Journal.
Regular visitors to the Mariana Islands include Strasheim and Connie Hunt director of enforcement and investigations for the region who also serves as supervisor on OSHA tours in the Pacific. The Region IX office told the Journal that activities during tours include not only inspections but “informal conferences for employers wishing to discuss citations litigation of contested cases outreach programs and training and review of activities being conducted under grants.”
OSHA has had jurisdiction in all U.S. territories since the OSH Act was signed in 1970. Region IX covers California Nevada Arizona Hawaii and the Pacific territories.
“OSHA increased scheduled activities in the Pacific territories following the growth of high-hazard industries including construction and garment manufacturing (and the associated increase in foreign workers living in labor barracks in Guam and Saipan throughout the 1980s and 1990s ” staff said.
“Primarily Guam and Saipan have continued to hold our attention ” Strasheim said. In addition to workplace incidents he said “We are interested in warehouses for safety and health any type of industry where amputation might result — we have focused on a couple of tuna factories in American Samoa — and ergonomic injuries.”
Strasheim first began coming to the Mariana Islands in 1994. “I have made it out every year since ” he said. “All the reports I saw until that time gave me an erroneous impression that it was a sleepy little community and I was a little taken aback. Guam has made so much progress. If you open your eyes Guam is really a thriving community.
“Since the 1990s we have increased our presence proportionately to the influx of industry. It’s not an inconsistent thing. We need to remind people that we’re talking about loss of lives and we take that very seriously.”
Apart from the Enforcement & Investigations team that conducts inspections staff from the Voluntary Programs & Outreach & Analysis & Evaluations teams provide training and outreach services to employers and employees meet with employer groups and local government officials and monitor OSHA grants. Following extraordinary circumstances such as typhoons OSHA staff in the Pacific suspend regular enforcement actions and provide consultation and assistance to local government and employees.
Alliance members in Guam include Guam Community College the Onsite Consultation Program at the Guam Department of Labor Andersen Air Force Base OICC Marianas (check name?) the Guam Shipyard Guam Contractors’ Association Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association Guam Chamber of Commerce Guam Employers Council and the Society of Human Resource Management.
In the Northern Mariana Islands alliance members include the Northern Marianas college the Division of Environmental Quality of the office of the governor the Immigration and Employment Services at the Department of Labor the Department of Public Safety the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands the Saipan Contractors Association and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.
OSHA partners in programs in the Mariana Islands with a number of employers in the Pacific Rim Construction Safety Excellence Council the Guam Contractors’ Association the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Upcoming training opportunities include the Guam Contractors’ Association Safety and Health Conference from May 16 to 20 and the 3rd Annual CNMI Governor’s Safety and Health Conference from Aug. 15 to 19. OSHA can be reached on Guam at (671) 647-6510 and on Saipan at (670) 236-0913. MBJ