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OSHA recommends fining ... The Buffalo News

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by OwlWithVowel, Apr 7, 2009.

  1. OwlWithVowel

    OwlWithVowel Member

    This is truly unbelievable...

    Amid 62 reporter deaths, OSHA singles out News
    Fine disputed in fallfrom stadium stairs
    By Michael Beebe

    Sixty-two reporters died doing their jobs last year. As far as anyone knows, only one of their employers— The Buffalo News — has been recommended for fines by a federal agency.

    Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have recommended fining the newspaper $31,500 for the fall that News sportswriter Tom Borrelli suffered while climbing a steep set of stairs Nov. 8 at Buffalo’s All High Stadium, where he was covering a high school football game.

    Borrelli, 51, was paralyzed from the neck down after the fall, and he died of his injuries Nov. 20.

    “Reporters were exposed to the hazards of falls and head injuries whenever they used the press box,” said Arthur J. Dube, regional director of OSHA’s Buffalo office.

    “The newspaper was aware of these conditions. [It] should have prevented the reporters from using the stairs and the press box until they were corrected. That’s my opinion.”

    All High Stadium has had the same stairs and press box since the stadium was built in 1926. Thousands of reporters, coaches and statisticians have climbed the ship’s ladder-type stairs since then. Plans for a new press box that would have eliminated the stairs were cut out of a multimillion- dollar renovation, completed by the Buffalo Public Schools in 2006.

    OSHA, which is responsible for enforcing safety standards in the workplace, confirmed roughly the same faults with the stairs leading to the press box that inspectors from the state Labor Department found.

    State investigators charged the Buffalo Public Schools with serious violations and gave the system until July to repair the stairs.

    But OSHA, which has jurisdiction over private-sector workers in New York, decided that the newspaper was at fault.

    Margaret M. Sullivan, editor of The News, said she found OSHA’s recommendations “illogical.”

    “The News’ role is to cover events, not to fix staircases,” Sullivan said. “Reporters go into all kinds of situations and environments, including countries at war. That’s the very definition of the job.”

    Lawrence R. Bayerl, director of human resources and general counsel for The News, said he is studying options for appeal.

    John Moriello, president of the New York State Sportswriters Association, was even more critical of OSHA.

    “The idea that OSHA can even think of assigning blame to the newspaper is nothing less than stunning,” said Moriello, a former reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle who now reports for Fox Sports.

    “The school district — and the school district alone — bears responsibility for the terrible tragedy that cost Tom Borrelli his life,” Moriello said. “The accident took place on school property, at a facility that they should have been maintaining and upgrading on a regular basis.”

    Borrelli’s wife, Karen, and his father, George, retired political reporter for The News, were at the Newseum in Washington, D. C., last week for a ceremony honoring the memory of Borrelli and the 61 other reporters who died on the job in 2008.

    The Borrellis have served notice on the school system that they intend to sue, but both they and their lawyer, Francis M. Letro, said they have no intention of suing The News.

    “He loved his job, he loved sports,” Karen Borrelli said at the Newseum ceremony.

    Susan Bennett, a former wire service reporter who serves as a vice president of the Newseum, a tribute to the journalism profession, said she and her staff are not aware of any of the 1,913 reporters on the memorial wall whose employer was cited for their deaths.

    “To my knowledge, it doesn’t apply in any case, with any news organization, on the journalists’ memorial,” she said.

    She and other journalists said that the OSHA decision breaks dangerous new ground for news organizations and that the thinking could spread to other occupations.

    “It’s one thing if you’re a coal-mining company, but I can’t even imagine this,” she said of OSHA’s proposed fines for The News. “That would apply to transit companies that send bus drivers into bad neighborhoods. You can just extrapolate that example into almost any industry.”

    She recalled covering the Liberty City riots in Miami for United Press International.

    “I remember I called them from the airport and said, ‘I don’t know how to get there; they can’t give me directions.’ ‘Well,’ they said, ‘just rent a car with a big engine.’ Those were my instructions from my bureau.”

    The press box at All High Stadium, located behind Bennett High School, is on the roof of the stadium.

    To get there, reporters and others have to climb 13 steep metal stairs, prop open a hatch and then walk across an unprotected walkway on the stadium roof to the press box.

    Borrelli apparently hit his head at the top of the stairs and tumbled down them.

    The press box is usually filled with a radio play-by-play team from WJJL, coaches, newspaper reporters, photographers and sometimes television crews.

    Dube was asked whether any organization other than The News was cited.

    “No, because the accident happened to a Buffalo News employee,” Dube said.

    OSHA inspected the stadium Nov. 20 and found five serious violations:

    • Fixed stairways were less than 22 inches wide.

    • Fixed stairs were installed at an angle to the horizontal greater than 50 degrees.

    • Stair railings and handrails were not installed according to regulation; instead, there was a single pipe-rail 26 inches above the stair tread.

    • Fixed stairs did not have at least 7 feet of vertical clearance between the stair treads and the overhead obstructions.

    • A side-hinged door was not used at the top of the stairs; instead, there was a hatchway.

    The maximum fine for each violation is $7,000. Dube recommended a fine of $6,300 for each, or $31,500 for all five violations.

    OSHA does not require The News to repair the stairs. The citation said the violation was already corrected.

    The stairs at All High remain as they were the day Borrelli fell. The school system taped them off after the accident but reopened them and the press box for the Harvard Cup playoff semifinals Nov. 15.

    How could the violations have been corrected if they remain the same?

    “I don’t know what was corrected physically,” Dube said. “We cited The Buffalo News. The Buffalo News editor told us that they would not send anyone there to that facility until the conditions were corrected. So if you keep people from harm’s way, or you keep people from the hazard, then it’s considered abated.”

    Sullivan said the newspaper never required reporters to use the press box. “Our assignments have always been to cover the game, not to go up in the press box,” she said.

    “Many reporters prefer to cover a game from the sidelines, and that’s entirely possible. We’ve never sent reporters up those stairs; however, at this point, we are planning to tell reporters to steer clear of the stairs until changes to them are made.”

    Rich Kozak, a high school English teacher who is the play-by-play announcer for Harvard Cup series games for WJJL Radio, said he hopes to continue broadcasting from the press box.

    “While many concerns about the safety of the press box area have been discussed, there are risks in any employment,” Kozak said. “Without access to the press box facility to cover games, I feel it would leave a huge abyss in the coverage of City of Buffalo high school sports.”

  2. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    What a crock of shit.
  3. Bubbler

    Bubbler Well-Known Member

    That is truly one of the more stupid rulings I've ever seen.
  4. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    I can't believe the News was fined for this.

    But I also can't believe no one ever has complained enough about this access route to have it improved in some way:

    Prop open a hatch? An unprotected walkway (what does that mean?) to the stadium roof?

    That doesn't sound like a good idea for anyone at any time, from 1926 to today.
  5. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    Sounds to me that if this sticks, OSHA is going to be fining every newspaper in the country because every paper has at least one arena, stadium or sports facility that is a massive piece of shit and it is hazardous to get to the press box.
  6. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    Is anybody going to hold, you know, the owner of that press box, the school district, accountable? (I'm aware the family is suing.)
  7. pseudo

    pseudo Well-Known Member

    Fining THE NEWS for this, not the city of Buffalo?!?!?!?!? Pardon the language, but you have got to be fucking kidding me.
  8. Cadet

    Cadet Guest

    Stupid ruling or not, I'm appalled by that completely biased article. You want to whine and say you're being singled out? Fine, write an editorial. But a news article reporting the facts should do just that.
  9. apeman33

    apeman33 Well-Known Member

    I certainly didn't read that article the same way you did.
  10. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    This is what happens when there's pressure to be a team player and not complain.
  11. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    Not knowing the stadium, I'm guessing unprotected means no handrails, etc., to keep you from falling off the side of it if you slip.
  12. J-School Blue

    J-School Blue Member

    Did OSHA officials just think they'd get more blood from the newspaper stone than the school district stone?

    The ruling is very odd. I'd think a case against the district would be pretty open-and-shut, particularly since they trimmed slated improvements from a recent reconstruction project.

    Whatever does or doesn't happen with the district, this sets a strange precedent that I can't see standing up to any appeal.
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