The Harper Law Blog

The Harper Law Blog offers news, announcements, thoughts and articles on life, law and our practice areas of emphasis.

Are drinking fountains safe?

Posted Tuesday, February 20, 2007 by Ed Harper

Recently, I noticed a sign above the drinking fountain at my work out club. The sign said in essence “Spitting into a drinking fountain is against Washington State Law”. Now, I’ve never thought this could be an issue in our society, but have you ever had to drink water from a fountain after a young child had gurgled much of the water back into the faucet, or been behind a person and they rinsed their mouth out and spit out the remnants? Apparently this is a common occurrence.

An expert in infectious diseases from my alma mater, USC, states that you might want to think twice about drinking from a fountain which you suspect has been the subject of unsanitary practices. John Leedom, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine states “Indoor and outdoor faucets are only as safe as the water coming out of them- Spigots that stay wet, particularly on a leaking fountain, could be harboring bacteria. That is especially true if someone coughed, sneezed or spit on it recently, Avoid fountains that do not look clean, he suggests, and run the water for 15 seconds before drinking to help wash away contamination.” Leedom, quoted in USC Health magazine, Winter 2007.

I have also heard that golf clubs have faced litigation for not cleaning the water cannisters where they have water stored which is provided to the golf patrons. Several clubs now serve water only in water bottles because the possibility of bacteria forming in their water coolers. The United States EPA requires water from drinking fountains to be tested regularly for evidence of contamination, but many small clubs and communities likely have not been able to get to testing all their water fountains. Additionally, the pipes and fittings inside older fountains can pose a risk of leaching metals into the water. With outdoor fountains especially, let the water run for 30 seconds to let the fountains have some time to clear out any sediment in the water, states Dr. Leedom.

So, when you are at the club, or a park, or anywhere, remember don’t spit in the fountain and avoid drinking from a fountain that you do not feel is clean. According to Dr. Leedom that if you feel a problem exists but have to have a drink, let the water run for 15 – 30 seconds to let the pipes clear.

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Sound Transit: Obayahsi Construction Company failure to abide by safety rules leads to death

Posted Monday, February 19, 2007 by Ed Harper

A recent death of a construction worker could have been prevented at a Sound Transit construction site. A state audit showed that managers at the construction site were not required to be at safety meetings as required by Washington State Law. A WAC requires attendance at weekly safety meetings for all management officials.

The construction worker was killed when a train on the tracks he was working collided with a parked train. According to the Seattle Times article last week stated

“The contractor digging Sound Transit’s Beacon Hill tunnel, where a worker died this week, failed to establish a culture of safety on the job site last year, an audit found.

The contractor, Obayashi Corp., is performing the tunnel work where a small supply train hit a parked locomotive and derailed early Wednesday morning.

A mechanic, 49-year-old Michael Merryman, died of internal injuries when he was thrown from the train or jumped outside the tunnel entrance.”

The independent audit, released Friday, further found that while the company has good safety procedures, its Beacon Hill managers were not participating in safety meetings and inspections. Those duties were left to Obayashi’s safety manager. Frequent employee turnover made it difficult to promote safety awareness, said the audit, completed last month by an independent consultant.”

This is second major train incident in Seattle at a Obayashi worksite in the last five months. In October, 2006, five workers avoided serious injury because of human error and a failure in the braking system on a supply train. Two workers had to jump from the flatbed railway car. Two supervisors for Obayashi had to serve three day suspensions for these violations.

Actual interest in safety has been lacking on this job site. Merely stating safety is a concern does not make it so. Obayashi should be ashamed of how it fails to follow-through on protecting its workers and one worker has died as a direct result.

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Chlorine Chemical leak due to worker error: Corporate blame game should not go unnoticed

Posted Saturday, February 17, 2007 by Ed Harper

According to Tacoma News Tribune, a worker at a Tacoma chemical plant released between 900 to almost 1300 pounds of chlorine gas into the air. This required emergency responders – firefighters – to cap the leak.

The company blamed the worker.

“It was more or less operator error,” said George Karscig, manager of the Pioneer Americas plant at 2001 Thorne Road. “There was no equipment failure involved in the release.” Several investigating agencies will be looking into the incident. According to the Tacoma News Tribune 2/17/07 article,

“In addition to the company’s internal investigation, state and federal officials are investigating, officials said. The state Department of Labor and Industries and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have begun looking into the accident. Labor and Industrial officials also have notified the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, officials said.”

In essence, the company has admitted to its own negligence by pointing their finger at their own worker. Through the legal principle of “respondeat superior” or “let the master answer”, defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, the employer is responsible for the mistakes of their workers. Provided the worker was working within the course and scope of his employment. Clearly, this worker was doing his duties.

Based on a 1993 EPA study, Washington had 10% of the 40 locations nationwide where chlorine is processed. Chlorine is used in variety of situations from cleaning products to wood pulp products. Environmental and safety concerns abound based on the hazardous nature of chlorine gas. If only exposed to a minor amount, recovery can be quick and complete.

However, exposure to a large amount of chlorine gas can be life-threatening. According to the study, Chlorine is a primary irritant to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat and to the linings of the entire respiratory tract (Stokinger 1982). The extent of acute injury to humans depends on the concentration and duration of exposure as well as the water content of the tissue involved and the presence of underlying cardiopulmonary disease (HSDB 1994).

The safety of our citizens and our workers should be of paramount concern to us as a society. Corporate blame should focus on their own failures, rather than trying to blame their own workers in an attempt to shift their responsibility. Choices were made by this company which caused this incident to occur and justice will only be served to investigate and punish the company for their poor choices.

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Airbags: Do benefits outweigh the risks?

Posted Wednesday, February 14, 2007 by Ed Harper

A recent study has exposed more problems with airbags and the damaging impact the explosion of an airbag can have on one’s hearing. The study, conducted by Auditory Physician, G. Richard Price has shown one could sustain significant hearing loss when involved in a collision where the airbag explodes in their American car.

The scientific data determined by Dr. Price shows that 17 percent of people exposed to deployed airbags in American cars will suffer from permanent hearing loss. His research also shows airbag deployment is more hazardous to the ear when a car’s windows are rolled down. The study will be released at a National Hearing Conservation Assoc. conference this week in Georgia.

“We often consider only the benefits of safety technology, rather than the unfortunate potential side effects,” said NHCA Director of Education Brian Fligor. “This type of study highlights how common everyday occurrences present a very real hazard to our hearing.”

In this author’s mind, the life-saving benefits do outweigh the risks. I have represented individuals who have sustained permanent injuries from airbag explosions. Cardiac complications (arrhythmia-an irregular heartbeat) tinnitus (a constant ringing in their ears) and burns to the skin all have been caused by an airbag explosion. However, when one considers the life-saving benefits an airbag can have, they are a necessity.

We all should consider the consequences a motor vehicle collision can have to the occupants of the vehicles. We should all slow down and drive more carefully.

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New Sonic stadium: Should it be funded by the taxpayers?

Posted Tuesday, February 13, 2007 by Ed Harper

Today, Clay Bennett is testifying in Olympia at a hearing chaired by Margarita Prentice, Rep. Renton. Bennett is the new owner of the Sonics who hails from Oklahoma. He would like to build a new stadium somewhere on the east of Lake Washington and he has an ally in Rep. Prentice. She is a Sonic season ticket holder who would love to have the Sonics in her backyard. There are two sites still in the running for the stadium on the Eastside, Auto Row in Bellevue, and the Boeing property in Renton. Heck, the Seahawks as moving south down Interstate 405 next year for their practice facility, and why shouldn’t the Sonics move too?

Problem is, Margarita Prentice has already proposed providing $300 million to help retire debt of Safeco Field and Qwest Field and pay for a portion of the new Sonic Stadium. No, it won’t be called Starbuck’s Stadium with Howard Schultz having moved on. The tax increase will be in the form of a .05 cents in the local sales tax on restaurant purchases. Prentice states this will put a majority of the burden on out of town guests. Since when do out of town guests provide the majority of our purveyors of our eating establishments?

It is likely in my mind that the Sonics are going to move only it will be about 1500 miles east to Oklahoma City and not just 15 miles to Renton. This is another example of the sports franchise owners holding a region hostage demanding new stadiums at the expense of taxpayers. Wake up Olympia and just say no!

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