February 18, 2011
A special government program to improve worker safety in hazardous industries rarely fulfilled its promise, a Labor Department audit concluded yesterday, and over the past six years, dozens of deaths occurred at firms that should have been subjected to much tighter federal safety enforcement.
The report was the first detailed appraisal of a highly touted Bush administration initiative that called for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to devote attention and resources to improving safety at companies with a troubled history of job-related fatalities. The study found that officials failed to gather needed data, conducted uneven inspections and enforcement, and sometimes failed to discern repeat fatalities because records misspelled the companies’ names or failed to notice when two subsidiaries with the same owner were involved.
Last year, the administration also changed the program’s rules, sharply reducing the number of companies eligible for special attention. Proper enforcement might have “deterred and abated workplace hazards at the worksites of 45 employers where 58 subsequent fatalities occurred,” Assistant Inspector General Elliot P. Lewis wrote in the report.
Article: Washington Post
Despite four outbreaks of salmonella illness from peanut products in the past three years, the federal government has not changed the safety measures required of peanut companies or instructed its inspectors to test for the bacteria.
In all, the outbreaks have killed nine people and sickened more than 1,400.
Although officials at the Food and Drug Administration promised to intensify inspections after a salmonella outbreak caused by Peter Pan peanut butter in 2007 sickened 628 people, the agency did not increase checks or require microbial testing at peanut plants, officials have acknowledged in congressional hearings.
That is still true today, even after Congress and President Obama sharply criticized the FDA for oversight failures leading to the recent outbreak of salmonella illness linked to products sold by Peanut Corporation of America. That outbreak, which began in September and is slowing, has sickened more than 690 people, killing nine, and triggered the largest food recall in U.S. history.
During its investigation of the Peanut Corporation case, the FDA discovered about 20 additional facilities that have been making peanut products without the knowledge of federal regulators. It learned about the facilities because they were buying peanuts from PCA, said Michael Herndon, an FDA spokesman. The agency will not name the 20 facilities or say where they are located, he said, adding that FDA inspectors are planning to visit each site shortly.
“It’s a little depressing, but not surprising, that they found another 20 facilities they didn’t know about,” said Jean Halloran, director of food safety for Consumers Union. She pointed to the fact that unknown to federal regulators, one of Peanut Corporation of America’s three facilities had operated in Plainview, Tex., for four years until the outbreak.
Article: Washington Post
Zoll Medical Corp. said some of its AED Plus external defibrillators, used in public settings such as airports, have defective batteries and software, leading to failures to deliver a shock and two patient deaths.
Zoll began on Feb. 12 asking customers to download new software for 180,000 units that will help detect a potential defective battery, the company said. About 80,000 units that have been installed for at least three years are at the highest risk, said the Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based company.
The two patient deaths were among four reported cases Zoll reviewed in which a shock was not delivered to a patient and “the battery may have experienced the identified problem,” the company said in its statement. Company officials said they couldn’t give any further details on the deceased.
“We did an extensive and thorough investigation,” said Ward Hamilton, Zoll’s senior vice president of marketing, in a telephone interview. “We’re still investigating but there’s a point where you have to let people know.”
Zoll fell as much as $1.64, or 12 percent, to $12.49 in extended Nasdaq trading. The company declined 47 percent in the past 12 months.
Each year 250,000 to 450,000 Americans suffer a sudden heart stoppage known as a cardiac arrest due to a rhythm disturbance or silent coronary artery disease, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. About 95 percent of such patients die, according to the agency. Defibrillators deliver a shock aimed at restoring a normal heart rhythm.
“Studies show the rate of survival remains low, sometimes in the range of between 5 percent and 7 percent on average in the United States” even with resuscitation efforts, Hamilton said.
The AED Plus devices are located in health clubs, airports, schools and other public places, and used by emergency medical services personnel, Hamilton said. The malfunctions include batteries that don’t work and self-test software that fails to detect battery problems, according to the company’s statement.
The House of Representatives passed legislation by a wide margin on Thursday to give the Food and Drug Administration sweeping new powers over tobacco products, which kill an estimated 400,000 Americans each year.
Despite the 298-to-112 House vote, though, a closer battle is likely in the Senate between public health advocates and some tobacco industry supporters. Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, the nation’s leading tobacco producing state, has threatened a filibuster.
And while the cigarette leader Philip Morris supports the legislation, other big tobacco companies oppose it.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a prime sponsor in the Senate, plans to introduce a version of the House bill this month after a two-week Congressional recess. Mr. Kennedy will work for speedy passage, said his spokeswoman, Melissa Wagoner.
President Obama also strongly supports the legislation, the Office of Management and Budget said Wednesday, in the new administration’s first official statement on the issue.
“Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is a contributing factor to scores of diseases and conditions inflicting misery upon millions of our citizens,” the administration statement said. “Further, tobacco use is a major factor driving the increasing costs of health care in the U.S. and accounts for over a hundred billion dollars annually in financial costs to the economy.”
Article: NY Times
In one of the nation’s largest settlements in a whistle-blower case, Northrop Grumman Corp. has agreed to pay the federal government $325 million to resolve claims that TRW, which it acquired in 2002, provided defective parts for a spy satellite program in the 1990s.
But in an unusual twist, the federal government also announced Thursday that it had settled a separate, long-running dispute with Northrop and agreed to pay the aerospace company $325 million — essentially meaning that no money will change hands.
In an e-mail, a Justice Department official said that because the two settlements with Northrop were of equal amounts, “no money is exchanged.”
Though Century City-based Northrop was the loser in the whistle-blower case, it successfully resolved a 13-year-old dispute over a missile program that was canceled in 1995 for what the government said were cost and schedule overruns.
In the TRW-Northrop whistle-blower case, the settlement ended a seven-year legal fight initiated by Robert Ferro, a Newbury Park resident who was awarded $48.7 million. But instead of it being paid by Northrop, it will be paid by “Treasury’s fund,” the Justice Department official said.
Northrop said that because the settlements offset each other, they would have no material impact on its finances.
Ferro said in his lawsuit that TRW sold the government electronic components that the company knew would fail. Ferro is an electrical engineer for the Aerospace Corp., a federally funded research lab that was evaluating a satellite transistor for the Pentagon.
The whistle-blower filed the lawsuit in 2002 under the False Claims Act, which allows people not affiliated with the government to sue federal contractors on behalf of the government.
If the claimants are successful, they are entitled to 15% to 25% of the total settlement.
Ferro’s attorney’s said the settlement with his client was the largest ever in a Pentagon whistle-blower case. In 2003, the same attorney, Eric R. Havian of San Francisco, represented another TRW whistle-blower, who was awarded $27.2 million in a case involving padded bills for defense work done in the early 1990s.
Article: LA Times
Even as American International Group Inc. was sliding into insolvency in recent years and negotiating a massive federal bailout last year, it was constructing a compensation package for top executives that would provide as much as $1 billion in bonuses, according to a shareholder lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles.
AIG, which has been heavily criticized for the bonuses, has contended that it was legally obligated to pay because its compensation program was put in place before the company was given access to $70 billion in direct federal bailout money and much more in loans.
But the lawsuit, which relies on previously undisclosed information and public filings, government documents and news reports, builds a portrait of a company that constructed its executive compensation program to guarantee the payouts — even when it knew its business was deteriorating because of a variety of fraudulent activities.
The suit, among the first to hit the once-dominant insurance giant, puts together a detailed timetable for AIG’s financial meltdown and outlines the company’s compensation system, set against the backdrop of two criminal investigations that were being conducted into the company’s practices over the last eight years.
The suit names AIG Chief Executive Edward M. Liddy, retirement services Chief Jay Wintrob and Director Stephen Bollenbach, among others, alleging that they helped put together the bonus scheme that breached the company’s fiduciary duty to shareholders.
Article: LA Times