Employee safety - Will Y2K bug bite workers?

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-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), June 29, 1999


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06/28/99- Updated 09:29 AM ET

Will Y2K bug bite workers?

Some warn focus hasn't touched on employee safety

By Del Jones, USA TODAY

Lawyers and consultants are warning that worker safety hasn't received appropriate attention as the world heads into the final months before the Year 2000 "millennium bug."

* Factories. "It's conceivable that valves in chemical manufacturing plants could break down, causing chemical spills," says Richard Hunter of the Gartner Group.
* Buildings. "In almost every building, we find something," says Rob Watt, vice president of the Delstar consulting company that has checked more than 1,000 high-rise buildings in Canada. Most buildings six stories and taller use computerized systems that alert authorities when there is a fire alarm. Many could fail in a real fire or could stretch fire departments dangerously thin if they send out false alarms, Watt says.
* Oil rigs. "An offshore oil rig has 8,000 to 10,000 embedded chips," warns Jeff Pasek, chairman of the Cozen and O'Connor's labor and employment department. "If any of these chips fail, critical safety systems may leave employees exposed to risk of injury." Pasek recently mailed a newsletter to corporate clients warning they risk Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines as high as $70,000 per safety violation.

By some estimates, companies have spent more than $50 billion combing systems for equipment that could malfunction if the Year 2000 is misread as 1900, the so-called Y2K bug.

But while the Securities and Exchange Commission is forcing companies to disclose detailed reports about Y2K's impact on investors, OSHA is taking an "outreach" approach, steering companies to a Web site that gives advice such as checking air monitoring, security and alarm systems.

It mailed letters in April to the 12,500 employers with the highest injury and illness rates, advising them of general Y2K risks. "OSHA hasn't threatened employers with citations and penalties," spokesman Frank Kane says.

Not all Y2K safety problems are theoretical. Recently, 4 million gallons of raw sewage backed into parks and streets near Los Angeles when a gate was mistakenly closed during a Y2K test.

Two years ago at a Chrysler plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., clocks were turned ahead for a Year 2000 trial run. The security system shut down and wouldn't let workers in or out.

DaimlerChrysler says that's long been fixed. According to a report filed with the SEC, 99% of DaimlerChrysler's critical business computer systems were Y2K compliant by December 1998, and 65% of "critical plant floor equipment" will be compliant by this September.

But companies say Y2K problems are a greater threat to production than safety.

Oil rigs and refineries, "are absolutely safe," says American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Kendra Martin. They are designed to shut down in a Gulf of Mexico hurricane, so a computer chip malfunction might risk production but not employees, she says.

After exhaustive testing of its systems, Eastman Chemical believes that its workers were never at risk, even if nothing had been done.

"Safety would never have been an issue, but we didn't take that chance," says Larry Purdue, Eastman's Y2K expert.

Y2K safety could be a problem at small and midsize plants, says Gerlad Poje, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board's Y2K project coordinator.

Will people be pulled off oil rigs and refineries on New Year's Eve just to be safe? "To the contrary, they will be over-staffed in the event of a production shutdown," Martin says.

"Do I think elevators are going to crash to the ground? No," consultant Watt says.

Worst case: Elevators will return to the lobby and sit idle awaiting maintenance.


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), June 29, 1999.

My daughters father-in-law and my neighbor work on an off shore oil rig. He is the electrician on the rig. He has been told, they would shut down before the rollover. Guess that we will wait and see. Keep on getting those preps.

-- Mary (timmary0@airmail.net), June 29, 1999.


"But while the Securities and Exchange Commission is forcing companies to disclose detailed reports about Y2K's impact on investors,"

end snip\

Why can SEC have details, but JQP cannot? grrrr!!

-- R. Wright (blaklodg@hotmail.com), June 30, 1999.

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