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Newsletter
Volume 97
December 1, 2011
Seasons Greetings!
As we enter into the holiday season, all of us at the Asmark Institute would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year. We appreciate your business and look forward to working with you as we enter the new year!
Professional Applicator Training Launched in Bloomsburg, PA
The new Professional Applicator Training course made its debut in Bloomsburg, PA on November 8th to a full class of 30 participants. Steve Harrison,Launch of Professional Applicator Training Marketing Manager with Crop Production Services was the first person to schedule the class for the applicators in his division. Dr. Robert Wolf is the lead instructor for the course, but being the first class, Chris Southard and Dustin Warder with the Asmark Institute tagged along to help get the course kicked off smoothly. Crop Production Services has a long history of providing training for their professional applicators so it was no surprise when Steve was the first person to schedule a day of training. Comments from the course were extremely positive, especially for the first day with all the new material and equipment that is involved in the course. Since the 8th, there have been two days of training hosted by Ohio Valley Ag at their new location in Greensburg, Indiana and three days of training in Missouri, hosted by Steve Taylor and Jeff Leonard with Missouri Agribusiness Association. Thanks to all that have helped kick this course off. Training will resume in March 2012. Watch for a 2012 schedule to be posted early in January.
DOT Hours of Service Deadline Delayed
An Hours of Service rule change that would likely limit the amount of time a commercial driver can spend behind the wheel has again been delayed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that the hours of service rule, scheduled for release on October 28th, will likely be delayed until early in 2012.
DOT Bans Handheld Cell Phones for Commercial Drivers
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the rule which prohibits the hand-held use of cell phones for Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) operators. The latest action follows a 2010 rule that prohibits texting while driving a commercial vehicle. The rule comes with the same set of fines and penalties of up to $2,750 for a driver and up to $11,000 for a carrier that enables or forces drivers to engage in the behavior. Multiple offenses can lead to a disqualification of a driver's CDL. The rule applies to commercial operators engaged in interstate commerce as well as intrastate haulers of hazardous materials. LaHood made the announcement Wednesday, November 23rd, and the rule will take effect 30 days after it is officially published in the Federal Register.
OMB Begins Review of Revised HazCom Rule
Although it has taken over five years to work through the regulatory process, OSHA's revised Hazard Communication rule, which adopts the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), has finally made it to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB has 90 days to formally review the rule before it is either published in the Federal Register; changed before publication; withdrawn before a review is completed; or returned to the agency for further analysis or modification. Under an Executive Order issued by President Clinton on September 30, 1993, all significant regulatory actions require OMB review to analyze the costs and benefits of rules and, to the extent permitted by law, permit action only on the basis of a reasoned determination that the benefits justify the costs.
California CARB Rule 2012 Deadline Fast Approaching
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently reminded owners of heavier diesel trucks that they need to act now in order to comply with California's Truck and Bus regulation, which has its first diesel filter deadlines in January 2012. The regulation provides owners of heavier trucks and buses (those with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating greater than 26,000 lbs.) with two options to reduce diesel emissions. They can:
  • Follow a staggered implementation schedule that requires 1996-1999 model engines be retrofit with a diesel particulate matter (PM) filter by January 1, 2012; or
  • Use a flexible phase-in option that requires any 30 percent of vehicles in the fleet to have a PM filter. (Note: This option requires fleet owners to report information about all their heavier vehicles to CARB by January 31, 2012. Fleets that report can also take advantage of credits and special provisions.)
Owners of small fleets (defined as one to three trucks with a GVWR greater than 14,000 lbs.) can postpone the January 2012 compliance requirement for their heavier trucks until 2014, but must report their fleet information to CARB by January 31, 2012 in order to receive the extension. Lighter diesel trucks with a GVWR of 14,001 to 26,000 pounds have no compliance requirements until 2015. Business owners may find funding opportunities to upgrade their fleets through either the Carl Moyer Program, which offers incentive grants for buying cleaner-than-required engines yielding early or extra emission reductions, or by using Proposition 1B funds, which are available under the Goods Movement Emissions Reduction Program. Call 866-634-3735 or click here for more information on compliance assistance and funding opportunities.
Kentucky: KYU Number No Longer Needed
If you operate in Kentucky, the Kentucky Motor Transport Association (KMTA) has made your job a little easier. KMTA has confirmed that carriers subject to the Kentucky weight distance tax will not need the KYU number displayed on their trucks. Instead the KY Transportation Cabinet will use U.S. DOT numbers to administer the tax.
EPA Launches Interactive Enforcement Tool
The EPA and State Enforcement Actions Map allows you to access federal and state enforcement information. The site uses an interactive format; users can input the year, the enforcement type (air, water, or waste) and regulatory enforcement level (local, state, or federal). Then users can click on a state to view facility locations or a facility to learn its name and the enforcement action and a link to a detailed facility compliance report. EPA plans to update the map on a monthly basis to include up-to-date information about the enforcement actions taken for violations of air, water, and waste laws. The new mapping feature is part of EPA's Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, which contains data for more than 800,000 regulated facilities. Click here to access EPA's ECHO dashboard.
New Occupational Pesticide Data from EPA
EPA recently developed new web pages that contain technical information guidance for assessing pesticide exposure for workers. This information is intended for anyone conducting occupational pesticide exposure assessments. The updated information can be found in the Occupational Pesticide Handler Unit Exposure Surrogate Reference Table. EPA uses the term "handler" to describe individuals who are involved in, and may be exposed to pesticides during the pesticide application process in agricultural and non-agricultural settings. Handlers can include mixers, loaders, applicators and flaggers. Post-application exposure may occur while workers perform job-related activities in areas that have been treated with pesticides. These activities include hand-harvesting fruits and vegetables, thinning orchard crops, scouting fields for pests, working in greenhouses and maintaining golf courses. Follow these links to information on Handlers or Post-application.
OSHA Collects 40% More Dollars on 6% Less Citations in 2011
OSHA is handing out significantly greater penalty amounts. The agency posted its preliminary data on the most frequently cited OSHA regulations for fiscal year 2011, which ran from October 2010 through September 2011. While the number of total citations dropped 6% to 86,776, total penalties increased 40% over 2010 figures, for a grand total of almost $158.9 million. Looking at just the average cost per citation, dollar amounts jumped 49% from $1,228 to $1,831 per citation. The overall penalty rate in the top 10 also surged over 107% from $924 in 2010 to $1,916 in 2011.
29 CFR:
Name:
Violations:
Penalties:
Rate:
Rate Rank:
1926.501
Fall protection
6,502
$21,413,359
$3,293
1
1926.451
Scaffolding
6,352
$15,040,168
$2,368
3
1910.1200
Hazard communication
5,378
$3,367,984
$626
10
1910.134
Respiratory protection
3,209
$2,326,874
$725
9
1910.147
Lockout/Tagout
3,131
$6,770,372
$2,162
4
1910.305
Electrical wiring
2,959
$3,869,352
$1,308
8
1926.1053
Ladders
2,920
$5,278,650
$1,808
5
1910.178
Powered industrial trucks
2,869
$4,618,280
$1,610
6
1910.303
General electrical
2,394
$3,598,077
$1,503
7
1910.212
Machine guarding
2,303
$6,569,169
$2,852
2
Totals in top 10
38,017
$72,852,285
$1,916
--
OSHA's General Duty Clause was cited 1,154 times for a total penalty of $4.2 million, which calculates to a penalty rate of $3,644. This rate is an increase of 35% from $2,701 in 2010. General Duty Clause violations are used for citing safety and health hazards not tied to a specific regulation. Click here for more information on the top-cited standards.
Trial Lawyers Pull Indiana Retailers Into Lawsuit
Ten Indiana retailers were served with a subpoena requesting them to produce ten years of records on their purchase, sale, application and any related documents pertaining to the use of the EPA registered pesticide atrazine. Beth Bechdol with the Agribusiness Council of Indiana (ACI) is assisting these retailers in responding to the subpoena. The law firm serving the subpoenas, Korein Tillery, has filed multiple lawsuits against atrazine manufacturers. Syngenta has been engaged in defending a lawsuit filed in Madison County, Illinois since 2003. Korein Tillery has filed another lawsuit against Syngenta in federal court. The lawsuits allege that the use of the legal crop protection product atrazine is detrimental when applied according to the label, even though EPA has established maximum detection levels for water supplies and has repeatedly approved the registration of atrazine for use in agriculture.
Last year, the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) was subpoenaed as were 50+ ag retail locations and farmers across Illinois to turn over these types of documents. Jean Payne, President of IFCA, worked tirelessly on this matter on behalf of their organization and its members along with Syngenta and other parties. When we learned that several Indiana locations also had been served, we immediately coordinated with Jean as well. The pending lawsuits against Syngenta and a reputable product should be a concern to all of us in the ag community. Not content to pursue the manufacturers of a licensed and approved product, the Korein Tillery law firm is now seeking to spread the burden to ag retailers and even farmers.
Supreme Court to Hear Health Care Appeal
The Supreme Court said it will hear arguments next March over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The decision to hear arguments in the spring allows plenty of time for a decision in late June, just over four months before Election Day. This sets up an election-year showdown over the White House's main domestic policy achievement that aims to extend medical insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans. The central provision in question is the requirement that Americans buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.
Postal Reform Bill Would Preserve Services for Retailers
The 21st Century Post Service Act, sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), would stabilize the financial health of the U.S. Postal Service and help preserve services important to the retail industry. The Postal Service is the second-largest employer in the country after Wal-Mart and its 32,000 offices represent more domestic outlets than Wal-Mart, Starbucks and McDonalds combined. With USPS projected to lose $10 billion in 2011, the legislation would allow the agency to use money it has overpaid into one of its pension funds - the Federal Employee Retirement System - to offer buyouts and reduce the active postal workforce by 100,000 or more employees over the next three years. USPS would also be allowed to work with its unions and the Office of Personnel Management to develop a new health care plan that would cut insurance costs roughly in half while maintaining adequate benefits, and to recalibrate pre-funding requirements for retiree health benefits. Of particular interest to retailers, the Postal Service's recent proposal to eliminate Saturday deliveries would be barred for two years, and the organization would be required to complete a study evaluating the option of downsizing before closing any local post office or other facility.
The Price of Thanksgiving Dinner Increases
The American Farm Bureau Federation's (AFBF) 26th annual informal price survey found the average cost of this year's feast for 10 is $49.20, a $5.73 price increase from last year's average of $43.47. The retail cost of menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings increased about 13 percent this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. "The cost of this year's meal remains a bargain, at just under $5 per person," said AFBF President Bob Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Texas.
Demand for EHS Professionals Grows
Employers expect to hire 25,000 occupational safety and health professionals over the next five years.
In response to growing concern and debate over the supply and demand for occupational safety and health professionals in the United States, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) authorized a national assessment to be conducted on the occupational safety and health workforce. The results, which were just released in an October 2011 report, indicate that based on current trends, future national demand for occupational safety and health services will significantly outstrip the number of professionals with the necessary training, education, and experience to provide such services. Specifically, the employer survey data revealed employers expect about 10 percent of safety professionals to retire within the next year.
Year-End Tax Planning In A Nutshell
Businesses should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, starting in tax year 2010 and continuing into tax year 2011, the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases increased to $500,000 and the bonus depreciation increased to 100% for qualified property. Beginning in tax year 2012, however, the Section 179 deduction is scheduled to drop to $125,000 and the bonus depreciation to be reduced to 50% and then be phased out completely. In other words, in 2011 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to $500,000 (subject to a dollar-for-dollar reduction in that $500,000 for property placed in service that exceeds the maximum amount of $2,000,000). Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50%) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired. Note: Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation that would extend for another year the bonus depreciation and small business expense deductions.
Sleep Apnea: DOT Disqualifier, Yet Goes Unmentioned in the Regulations
Sleep Apnea is a condition that, when left untreated, can be life-threatening to any person behind the wheel of any type of vehicle. The scary part about this is that sleep apnea often goes unrecognized and thereby is left untreated. Sleep apnea prevents an individual from getting the sleep and rest needed to be fully alert throughout the day. Across the United States, more than 15 million people are afflicted with this condition, including an estimated 26% of drivers of commercial motor vehicles, according to a study done by the FMCSA. What's even more odd, as critical as it is for all individuals who operate a motor vehicle to be fully alert, is that there is no mention of sleep apnea anywhere in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). Yet, drivers diagnosed with this condition can become immediately disqualified from driving until the condition is properly treated.
According to the FMCSR driver qualification regulations, 391.41(b)(5) states that a person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person "...has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely." Basically, if the driver has a respiratory dysfunction (or potentially has a respiratory dysfunction) that will interfere with the driver's ability to safely operate the vehicle, the medical examiner is not to certify the driver. Section 391.41(b) clearly addresses other conditions such as a loss of a foot, leg, or hand that could disqualify a driver. The regulation goes on to list even more conditions as disqualifiers; diabetes, heart ailments, high blood pressure, arthritis and other muscular and vascular diseases, epilepsy, and visual and hearing impairments.
For all these conditions, the regulations are fairly explicit. However, when it comes to sleep apnea, a condition that hampers the lifestyle of many drivers, there are only guidelines issued by the FMCSA to provide the medical examiner with information to make a reasonable decision on a driver's qualification. Most medical examiners will follow these guidelines to ensure the safety of the driver and the public who shares the highway with them. Some medical examiners may only view these guidelines as an option for consideration and will certify a driver who otherwise would be assigned for clinical treatment.
The FMCSA will continue to meet with the Medical Review Board and the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to discuss options on how better to deal with this topic of great concern. While these meetings will advance the issue, they are not an automatic indicator of a future regulation addressing this condition. It is up to each motor carrier to deepen their own understanding of sleep apnea, strengthen their line of communication with their company medical examiner, and put processes in place to effectively assist their drivers in dealing with this disqualifying condition.
Most Quotable: Whoever said, "an elephant is a mouse designed by a committee," definitely didn't think much of large groups for decision-making, but probably had firsthand knowledge of how our government has come to be. As for the "Super Committee," Fred Allen, American humorist and radio personality, probably said it best. "A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done."
2011 Asmark Institute, Inc. This information is believed to be reliable by the Asmark Institute, however, because of constantly changing government regulations, interpretations and applicability or the possibility of human, mechanical or computer error, the Asmark Institute does not guarantee the information as suitable for any particular purpose.
Seasons Greetings!
As we enter into the holiday season, all of us at the Asmark Institute would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year. We appreciate your business and look forward to working with you as we enter the new year!
Professional Applicator Training Launched in Bloomsburg, PA
The new Professional Applicator Training course made its debut in Bloomsburg, PA on November 8th to a full class of 30 participants. Steve Harrison,Launch of Professional Applicator Training Marketing Manager with Crop Production Services was the first person to schedule the class for the applicators in his division. Dr. Robert Wolf is the lead instructor for the course, but being the first class, Chris Southard and Dustin Warder with the Asmark Institute tagged along to help get the course kicked off smoothly. Crop Production Services has a long history of providing training for their professional applicators so it was no surprise when Steve was the first person to schedule a day of training. Comments from the course were extremely positive, especially for the first day with all the new material and equipment that is involved in the course. Since the 8th, there have been two days of training hosted by Ohio Valley Ag at their new location in Greensburg, Indiana and three days of training in Missouri, hosted by Steve Taylor and Jeff Leonard with Missouri Agribusiness Association. Thanks to all that have helped kick this course off. Training will resume in March 2012. Watch for a 2012 schedule to be posted early in January.
DOT Hours of Service Deadline Delayed
An Hours of Service rule change that would likely limit the amount of time a commercial driver can spend behind the wheel has again been delayed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that the hours of service rule, scheduled for release on October 28th, will likely be delayed until early in 2012.
DOT Bans Handheld Cell Phones for Commercial Drivers
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the rule which prohibits the hand-held use of cell phones for Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) operators. The latest action follows a 2010 rule that prohibits texting while driving a commercial vehicle. The rule comes with the same set of fines and penalties of up to $2,750 for a driver and up to $11,000 for a carrier that enables or forces drivers to engage in the behavior. Multiple offenses can lead to a disqualification of a driver's CDL. The rule applies to commercial operators engaged in interstate commerce as well as intrastate haulers of hazardous materials. LaHood made the announcement Wednesday, November 23rd, and the rule will take effect 30 days after it is officially published in the Federal Register.
OMB Begins Review of Revised HazCom Rule
Although it has taken over five years to work through the regulatory process, OSHA's revised Hazard Communication rule, which adopts the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), has finally made it to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB has 90 days to formally review the rule before it is either published in the Federal Register; changed before publication; withdrawn before a review is completed; or returned to the agency for further analysis or modification. Under an Executive Order issued by President Clinton on September 30, 1993, all significant regulatory actions require OMB review to analyze the costs and benefits of rules and, to the extent permitted by law, permit action only on the basis of a reasoned determination that the benefits justify the costs.
California CARB Rule 2012 Deadline Fast Approaching
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently reminded owners of heavier diesel trucks that they need to act now in order to comply with California's Truck and Bus regulation, which has its first diesel filter deadlines in January 2012. The regulation provides owners of heavier trucks and buses (those with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating greater than 26,000 lbs.) with two options to reduce diesel emissions. They can:
  • Follow a staggered implementation schedule that requires 1996-1999 model engines be retrofit with a diesel particulate matter (PM) filter by January 1, 2012; or
  • Use a flexible phase-in option that requires any 30 percent of vehicles in the fleet to have a PM filter. (Note: This option requires fleet owners to report information about all their heavier vehicles to CARB by January 31, 2012. Fleets that report can also take advantage of credits and special provisions.)
Owners of small fleets (defined as one to three trucks with a GVWR greater than 14,000 lbs.) can postpone the January 2012 compliance requirement for their heavier trucks until 2014, but must report their fleet information to CARB by January 31, 2012 in order to receive the extension. Lighter diesel trucks with a GVWR of 14,001 to 26,000 pounds have no compliance requirements until 2015. Business owners may find funding opportunities to upgrade their fleets through either the Carl Moyer Program, which offers incentive grants for buying cleaner-than-required engines yielding early or extra emission reductions, or by using Proposition 1B funds, which are available under the Goods Movement Emissions Reduction Program. Call 866-634-3735 or click here for more information on compliance assistance and funding opportunities.
Kentucky: KYU Number No Longer Needed
If you operate in Kentucky, the Kentucky Motor Transport Association (KMTA) has made your job a little easier. KMTA has confirmed that carriers subject to the Kentucky weight distance tax will not need the KYU number displayed on their trucks. Instead the KY Transportation Cabinet will use U.S. DOT numbers to administer the tax.
EPA Launches Interactive Enforcement Tool
The EPA and State Enforcement Actions Map allows you to access federal and state enforcement information. The site uses an interactive format; users can input the year, the enforcement type (air, water, or waste) and regulatory enforcement level (local, state, or federal). Then users can click on a state to view facility locations or a facility to learn its name and the enforcement action and a link to a detailed facility compliance report. EPA plans to update the map on a monthly basis to include up-to-date information about the enforcement actions taken for violations of air, water, and waste laws. The new mapping feature is part of EPA's Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, which contains data for more than 800,000 regulated facilities. Click here to access EPA's ECHO dashboard.
New Occupational Pesticide Data from EPA
EPA recently developed new web pages that contain technical information guidance for assessing pesticide exposure for workers. This information is intended for anyone conducting occupational pesticide exposure assessments. The updated information can be found in the Occupational Pesticide Handler Unit Exposure Surrogate Reference Table. EPA uses the term "handler" to describe individuals who are involved in, and may be exposed to pesticides during the pesticide application process in agricultural and non-agricultural settings. Handlers can include mixers, loaders, applicators and flaggers. Post-application exposure may occur while workers perform job-related activities in areas that have been treated with pesticides. These activities include hand-harvesting fruits and vegetables, thinning orchard crops, scouting fields for pests, working in greenhouses and maintaining golf courses. Follow these links to information on Handlers or Post-application.
OSHA Collects 40% More Dollars on 6% Less Citations in 2011
OSHA is handing out significantly greater penalty amounts. The agency posted its preliminary data on the most frequently cited OSHA regulations for fiscal year 2011, which ran from October 2010 through September 2011. While the number of total citations dropped 6% to 86,776, total penalties increased 40% over 2010 figures, for a grand total of almost $158.9 million. Looking at just the average cost per citation, dollar amounts jumped 49% from $1,228 to $1,831 per citation. The overall penalty rate in the top 10 also surged over 107% from $924 in 2010 to $1,916 in 2011.
29 CFR:
Name:
Violations:
Penalties:
Rate:
Rate Rank:
1926.501
Fall protection
6,502
$21,413,359
$3,293
1
1926.451
Scaffolding
6,352
$15,040,168
$2,368
3
1910.1200
Hazard communication
5,378
$3,367,984
$626
10
1910.134
Respiratory protection
3,209
$2,326,874
$725
9
1910.147
Lockout/Tagout
3,131
$6,770,372
$2,162
4
1910.305
Electrical wiring
2,959
$3,869,352
$1,308
8
1926.1053
Ladders
2,920
$5,278,650
$1,808
5
1910.178
Powered industrial trucks
2,869
$4,618,280
$1,610
6
1910.303
General electrical
2,394
$3,598,077
$1,503
7
1910.212
Machine guarding
2,303
$6,569,169
$2,852
2
Totals in top 10
38,017
$72,852,285
$1,916
--
OSHA's General Duty Clause was cited 1,154 times for a total penalty of $4.2 million, which calculates to a penalty rate of $3,644. This rate is an increase of 35% from $2,701 in 2010. General Duty Clause violations are used for citing safety and health hazards not tied to a specific regulation. Click here for more information on the top-cited standards.
Trial Lawyers Pull Indiana Retailers Into Lawsuit
Ten Indiana retailers were served with a subpoena requesting them to produce ten years of records on their purchase, sale, application and any related documents pertaining to the use of the EPA registered pesticide atrazine. Beth Bechdol with the Agribusiness Council of Indiana (ACI) is assisting these retailers in responding to the subpoena. The law firm serving the subpoenas, Korein Tillery, has filed multiple lawsuits against atrazine manufacturers. Syngenta has been engaged in defending a lawsuit filed in Madison County, Illinois since 2003. Korein Tillery has filed another lawsuit against Syngenta in federal court. The lawsuits allege that the use of the legal crop protection product atrazine is detrimental when applied according to the label, even though EPA has established maximum detection levels for water supplies and has repeatedly approved the registration of atrazine for use in agriculture.
Last year, the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) was subpoenaed as were 50+ ag retail locations and farmers across Illinois to turn over these types of documents. Jean Payne, President of IFCA, worked tirelessly on this matter on behalf of their organization and its members along with Syngenta and other parties. When we learned that several Indiana locations also had been served, we immediately coordinated with Jean as well. The pending lawsuits against Syngenta and a reputable product should be a concern to all of us in the ag community. Not content to pursue the manufacturers of a licensed and approved product, the Korein Tillery law firm is now seeking to spread the burden to ag retailers and even farmers.
Supreme Court to Hear Health Care Appeal
The Supreme Court said it will hear arguments next March over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The decision to hear arguments in the spring allows plenty of time for a decision in late June, just over four months before Election Day. This sets up an election-year showdown over the White House's main domestic policy achievement that aims to extend medical insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans. The central provision in question is the requirement that Americans buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.
Postal Reform Bill Would Preserve Services for Retailers
The 21st Century Post Service Act, sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), would stabilize the financial health of the U.S. Postal Service and help preserve services important to the retail industry. The Postal Service is the second-largest employer in the country after Wal-Mart and its 32,000 offices represent more domestic outlets than Wal-Mart, Starbucks and McDonalds combined. With USPS projected to lose $10 billion in 2011, the legislation would allow the agency to use money it has overpaid into one of its pension funds - the Federal Employee Retirement System - to offer buyouts and reduce the active postal workforce by 100,000 or more employees over the next three years. USPS would also be allowed to work with its unions and the Office of Personnel Management to develop a new health care plan that would cut insurance costs roughly in half while maintaining adequate benefits, and to recalibrate pre-funding requirements for retiree health benefits. Of particular interest to retailers, the Postal Service's recent proposal to eliminate Saturday deliveries would be barred for two years, and the organization would be required to complete a study evaluating the option of downsizing before closing any local post office or other facility.
The Price of Thanksgiving Dinner Increases
The American Farm Bureau Federation's (AFBF) 26th annual informal price survey found the average cost of this year's feast for 10 is $49.20, a $5.73 price increase from last year's average of $43.47. The retail cost of menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings increased about 13 percent this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. "The cost of this year's meal remains a bargain, at just under $5 per person," said AFBF President Bob Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Texas.
Demand for EHS Professionals Grows
Employers expect to hire 25,000 occupational safety and health professionals over the next five years.
In response to growing concern and debate over the supply and demand for occupational safety and health professionals in the United States, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) authorized a national assessment to be conducted on the occupational safety and health workforce. The results, which were just released in an October 2011 report, indicate that based on current trends, future national demand for occupational safety and health services will significantly outstrip the number of professionals with the necessary training, education, and experience to provide such services. Specifically, the employer survey data revealed employers expect about 10 percent of safety professionals to retire within the next year.
Year-End Tax Planning In A Nutshell
Businesses should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, starting in tax year 2010 and continuing into tax year 2011, the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases increased to $500,000 and the bonus depreciation increased to 100% for qualified property. Beginning in tax year 2012, however, the Section 179 deduction is scheduled to drop to $125,000 and the bonus depreciation to be reduced to 50% and then be phased out completely. In other words, in 2011 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to $500,000 (subject to a dollar-for-dollar reduction in that $500,000 for property placed in service that exceeds the maximum amount of $2,000,000). Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50%) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired. Note: Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation that would extend for another year the bonus depreciation and small business expense deductions.
Sleep Apnea: DOT Disqualifier, Yet Goes Unmentioned in the Regulations
Sleep Apnea is a condition that, when left untreated, can be life-threatening to any person behind the wheel of any type of vehicle. The scary part about this is that sleep apnea often goes unrecognized and thereby is left untreated. Sleep apnea prevents an individual from getting the sleep and rest needed to be fully alert throughout the day. Across the United States, more than 15 million people are afflicted with this condition, including an estimated 26% of drivers of commercial motor vehicles, according to a study done by the FMCSA. What's even more odd, as critical as it is for all individuals who operate a motor vehicle to be fully alert, is that there is no mention of sleep apnea anywhere in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). Yet, drivers diagnosed with this condition can become immediately disqualified from driving until the condition is properly treated.
According to the FMCSR driver qualification regulations, 391.41(b)(5) states that a person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person "...has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely." Basically, if the driver has a respiratory dysfunction (or potentially has a respiratory dysfunction) that will interfere with the driver's ability to safely operate the vehicle, the medical examiner is not to certify the driver. Section 391.41(b) clearly addresses other conditions such as a loss of a foot, leg, or hand that could disqualify a driver. The regulation goes on to list even more conditions as disqualifiers; diabetes, heart ailments, high blood pressure, arthritis and other muscular and vascular diseases, epilepsy, and visual and hearing impairments.
For all these conditions, the regulations are fairly explicit. However, when it comes to sleep apnea, a condition that hampers the lifestyle of many drivers, there are only guidelines issued by the FMCSA to provide the medical examiner with information to make a reasonable decision on a driver's qualification. Most medical examiners will follow these guidelines to ensure the safety of the driver and the public who shares the highway with them. Some medical examiners may only view these guidelines as an option for consideration and will certify a driver who otherwise would be assigned for clinical treatment.
The FMCSA will continue to meet with the Medical Review Board and the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to discuss options on how better to deal with this topic of great concern. While these meetings will advance the issue, they are not an automatic indicator of a future regulation addressing this condition. It is up to each motor carrier to deepen their own understanding of sleep apnea, strengthen their line of communication with their company medical examiner, and put processes in place to effectively assist their drivers in dealing with this disqualifying condition.
Most Quotable: Whoever said, "an elephant is a mouse designed by a committee," definitely didn't think much of large groups for decision-making, but probably had firsthand knowledge of how our government has come to be. As for the "Super Committee," Fred Allen, American humorist and radio personality, probably said it best. "A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done."
2011 Asmark Institute, Inc. This information is believed to be reliable by the Asmark Institute, however, because of constantly changing government regulations, interpretations and applicability or the possibility of human, mechanical or computer error, the Asmark Institute does not guarantee the information as suitable for any particular purpose.