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June 18th, 2008 WW Editorial Staff | Rogue of the Week
 

Paul Schuberg and Mike Reiner

Safety inspection? Get a warrant.

     
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SAFETY DANCE: Why was this North Portland plant off-limits to inspectors?

For all its concern about city workers’ welfare—like $103,000 in this year’s budget to promote employee health—you’d think the City of Portland would cooperate with the state agency that enforces job-safety rules.

Uh, not always. WW has learned that two city managers forced the Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Division to get a warrant earlier this year to inspect a wastewater treatment plant in North Portland. For that bit of obstructionism against fellow public employees, we’re naming Paul Schuberg and Mike Reiner this week’s Rogues.

Two worker injuries at the plant triggered an inspection by OR-OSHA. One of the wounded workers was a millwright who suffered internal injuries and was hospitalized overnight when a valve exploded; the other a worker who suffered a back injury after slipping while hauling debris.

OR-OSHA compliance officer Ken Langley arrived Feb. 26 to inspect the city plant. But Schuberg, a risk specialist at the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services, told Langley the plant at 5001 N Columbia Blvd. was exempt because the city had participated in OR-OSHA’s Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program.

Langley, however, learned from OR-OSHA’s Portland office the plant was no longer exempt. Schuberg then brought in Reiner, a safety and risk officer at the Bureau of Environmental Services who told Langley he’d need a warrant. Schuberg meanwhile launched into a “diatribe,” according to Langley’s report.

OR-OSHA spokeswoman Melanie Mesaros says it’s the first time the city has forced OR-OSHA to get a warrant. The only other cities listed in OR-OSHA records as having done so are Albany, Chiloquin and Cottage Grove.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Edward Jones granted the warrant Feb. 27, and Langley returned Feb. 28. He found two violations: A 100-volt junction box was missing a required cover plate, resulting in no penalty. And a heavy-duty pedestal grinder was missing tongue covers over its grinding wheels—a “serious” violation that brought a $105 penalty.

Schuberg declined to comment. Reiner says the point was to make OR-OSHA question how to best use its time, after the city became the state’s first public agency to graduate from OR-OSHA’s five-year safety and health program.

“It was not to stonewall,” he says. “We thought, you know what, maybe this isn’t a good use of your resources or ours.”

We think public agencies should get along instead of wasting resources in a pissing match—especially when the issue is workplace safety.

 
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