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I think it was around Christmastime last year, while frantically traipsing through the mall in search of bargains, that an over-eager kiosk salesperson stepped into my path.  Wonderful, I thought.  Another person trying to sell me overpriced hand cream. I tried to go around her, hoping she’d get the hint—to no avail.  Oddly, instead of launching into a speech about my unhealthy cuticles, she asked me if I was a smoker.

And that’s when I noticed she was selling e-cigarettes:  plastic cigarettes that look almost exactly like the real deal. (They even puff out odorless vapor that looks strikingly like cigarette smoke.)  She explained to me that these can be a great tool for quitting smoking, because they look and feel like cigarettes.  “It’s just like smoking, but without the nasty health effects.”

What a cool idea, I thought.  My father, a former (heavy) smoker, told me once that quitting smoking was a total nightmare for him.  Why? Because he didn’t just crave the nicotine in the cigarettes; he craved the whole smoking ritual: taking that first puff of the day while sipping his coffee, taking breaks at work and chatting with his friends, etc, etc.  Quitting smoking wasn’t just about omitting nicotine from his life; it was about changing his lifestyle.

From that perspective, e-cigarettes seem like a good way to ease the transition from smoker to non-smoker. They look like cigarettes, taste like cigarettes, and feel like cigarettes but the “smoker” is no longer exposed to  40+ human carcinogens multiple times a day.  On top of that, e-cigarettes don’t produce that thick, noxious cloud of smoke that clings to your hair, skin, and clothing, and makes everyone around you cough.   “I feel like this could save my life,” said one satisfied customer, who reported cutting her smoking from 3 packs a day to 1 ½ packs a day.(1)

But Katie Zezima of the New York Times astutely points out the dark side of these products—namely, that we don’t really know anything about how safe they are. Read the rest of this entry »

Nevada’s OSHA has found that the death of a carpenter was caused by the contractor’s pressuring employees to put construction speed before safety.  Lyndal Bates, 49, was working at the construction site of a new casino in the Las Vegas strip last June when he mistakenly attached his safety harness to a piece of scaffolding that he was tearing down.  Nevada OSHA has cited the contractor, Marnell Corrao Associations, with 5 violations related to the incident, for a total of $11,000. Marnell, not surprisingly, is appealing the ruling. The Las Vegas Sun has more on the dangers facing construction workers in Las Vegas here and here.

In other news:

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This happens. We live with that.”

These are the words of ironworker Luis Guzman, who was working at the site of a new Manhattan skyscraper Tuesday when his fellow worker, Anthony Espito, 43, fell 40 stories (roughly 400 feet) to the ground. He was killed instantly. It appeared Mr. Espito was in fact wearing a safety harness, but it wasn’t attached to anything.

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I recently started helping track worker fatalities over at The Weekly Toll, and it has been quite a harrowing couple of weeks.  There’s something about waiting to get news of another fatality– a fatality that more than likely could have been prevented– that leaves me feeling a little edgy, maybe even a little sick. Which is why for the last couple of weeks I have been wringing my hands at the number of deaths resulting from falls.  Falls from roofs, falls from water towers, falls down elevator shafts…. you get the idea.  And maybe I’ve been a little naive, because apparently, fatal falls don’t happen once and a while. They happen ALL THE TIME.

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Kane at Osha Underground has posted an insightful, deservedly hostile response to OSHA Administrator Ed Foulke’s testimony at Tuesday’s Senate hearing on combustible dust explosions.

In response to Foulke’s insistence that “The fatalities and injuries at the Port Wentworth sugar refinery probably could have been prevented, had Imperial Sugar complied with existing OSHA standards on housekeeping and other OSHA requirements, Kane notes:

Ed’s insistence that [National Fire Protection Association] codes on explosive dust do not need to be adopted is defying the experience of the industry that OSHA regulates…Ed is clueless that a hot bearing or tramp metal in a duct system can ignite dust creating a fatal explosion.

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I recently started a new job, and since I don’t know the surrounding neighborhood well yet, I’ve been taking different routes through it every morning on my way to the office. Yesterday, steps from the White House, I approached a small construction site, shuffling to escape the unmistakable roar of a jackhammer on concrete. But then something stopped me in my tracks. The morning sunlight shining brightly down on the workers revealed the swirling clouds of dust emanating from the trembling sidewalk.

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In all the rigmarole of the holiday season, you might not have heard about the consumer safety hazard associated with Christmas lights (or noticed the fine print warnings on their boxes).

It’s no secret that lead is used in light strings’ polyvinyl chloride insulation to prevent deterioration and to guard against fire. But what is a new development this year is the revelation that handling the wiring while you “deck the halls” may result in significant lead exposure.

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A mere nine months after the National Academy of Science told OMB to junk its junk science proposal, the Bush administration is at it again. On Wednesday, OIRA administrator Susan Dudley and OSTP’s associate director Sharon Hays sent a memorandum to all executive agencies. The memo advised that “after carefully evaluating [the] constructive recommendations from the NAS, as well as feedback from rigorous interagency review, and public comments” OMB decided not to issue a final version of its risk assessment bulletin, but instead, to issue a memorandum “to enhance the scientific quality, objectivity, and utility of Agency risk analyses and the complementary objectives of improving efficiency and consistency among the Federal family.”

Translation: Fine, we’ll nix the bulletin, but if you think we’re just going to walk away without getting our two cents in, you’ve got another think coming.

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On March 23, 2005 a series of explosions ripped through BP’s Texas City refinery. The disaster claimed the lives of 15 and injured many more. (You can read some of the press coverage here and here.)

Here are a few interesting tidbits fresh from the courtroom where BP lawyers are working to discredit the claims of four workers injured in the blast. These particular cases are the first to reach the courtroom, as at least 1350 of 3000 claims filed against BP have been settled behind closed doors.

In case anyone had any doubts that BP knew of warning signs, read on. Read the rest of this entry »

In the last few days, we have all been in a state of shock over the situation in Utah. Like several of my colleagues, I have been praying for the trapped Utah miners and their families and friends. I have been tuning in to the press conferences with mine owner Bob Murray, and I have been refreshing CNN’s website over and over again to get the latest news on the rescue efforts.

Today, I walked passed a yellowed newspaper article from the Washington Post we hung on the side of a filing cabinet 20 months ago, in January 2006.

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