Legal Corner

FMLA 
PTSD triggered by supervisor warrants suit reinstated under FMLA but disability charge dismissed under ADA

In Cindy Tinsley v. Caterpillar Financial Services Corp., a former financial services worker complained about a hostile work environment created and allowed by her supervisor (allowing coworkers to bounce stress balls off the ground), unrealistic deadlines and excessive workload. She requested a transfer or leave and was granted the leave, but not the transfer. Shortly after completion of 18 weeks of leave, she received a negative performance review and was placed on an improvement plan, which she would not sign. She then retired because the company denied her requests for additional leave or a new supervisor.

She filed lawsuits alleging Caterpillar had violated the ADA by not providing her with reasonable accommodations and had retaliated against her for making an FMLA claim. While she argued her PTSD limited only her ability to perform the major life activity of “work,” the three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upheld the dismissal because her PTSD did not substantially limit her from performing a class of jobs or broad range of jobs.

The ruling, however, reinstated her FMLA retaliation charge. It said she had succeeded in making the prima facie case of availing herself of a protected right under the FMLA and that the company had not provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. The case was remanded to the district court.

Workers’ Compensation 
Bunkhouse rule means farm-related injury compensable – California

In Gonzalez v. Athwal Farms, a farm worker lived on the farm in a rented trailer and was seriously injured on a Sunday when he was driving across the farm to check several agricultural pumps before heading to a store. Prior to the accident, he had been drinking beer with friends. The “Bunkhouse Rule,” which applies when the nature of work necessitates the employee live on the employer’s premises and the injury has a causal relationship to the employment, was applied by the WCJ and affirmed by the panel. While evidence was presented that the employee had consumed four to eight beers, the farm failed to establish an affirmative intoxication defense.

IMR physician required to review entire record – California

In Bowen v. County of San Bernardino, the WCAB affirmed the WCJ’s decision granting the applicant’s appeal of the denial of the continued use of the prescription drug, Norco. While the IMR found that there was no documentation of functional improvement with the use of Norco, the reviewer had not looked at all the submitted reports nor considered the entire record prior to rendering the determination.

Asbestos exposure has very long tail – Florida

In Meehan v. Orange County Data & Appraisals, an appellate court overturned a judge’s decision allowing an employer to end its coverage of asthma medications for a worker who suffered breathing problems after exposure to asbestos in the late 1990s. Fifteen years later, the employer terminated coverage for treatment based on a peer review of the case.

The judge found the doctor for the insurer who determined that treatment was no longer necessary more credible and approved the termination. The appeals court reversed, finding that no “competent, substantial evidence” existed to deny treatment and that the employer and the insurer had accepted the claim as compensable. Once the compensability of an injury is established, an employer cannot challenge the causal connection between the work accident and the injury.

Employer must authorize treating physician but cannot be compelled to pay excessive fees – Florida

In MarineMax Inc. v. Blair, a worker who had received treatment after a fall from a ladder sought to resume treatment with the same physician. The physician had begun his own practice and demanded payments in advance which were beyond legislative statutory rates. The company authorized treatment with another physician but the employee refused, arguing he had an existing patient-physician relationship.

A judge of compensation claim (JCC) ordered the employer to “authorize and pay” the doctor, but a majority of the District Court of Appeals reversed in part. While it acknowledged that the company could not “deauthorize” the doctor, the company could not be compelled to provide payments that exceed the applicable fee schedules.

Fall during lunch break not compensable – Georgia

In Daniel v. Bremen-Bowdon Investment Co., an employee on lunch break was walking to her car, which was parked in the employer’s lot. She fell on a public sidewalk on the way to her car. While an ALJ found she was entitled to benefits, the State Board of Workers’ Compensation reversed and a superior court judge affirmed the denial.

State law provides an “ingress and egress” rule, which allows benefits if the injury is on employer’s premises in the act of going to or coming from the workplace. However, there is a “scheduled break exception,” which does not allow benefits for injuries occurring during a regularly scheduled break when the worker is free to do as he/she chooses. Since the injury occurred while she was leaving her workplace during her regularly scheduled lunch break, it was not compensable.

Supreme Court to decide whether workers’ compensation settlement can be exempt in a bankruptcy proceeding – Illinois

In Re Hernandez, No. 18-1789, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals certified the question whether the proceeds of a workers’ comp settlement can be exempt from the claims of medical care providers who treated the injury or illness associated with that settlement. When the worker filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, she reported as exempt her pending workers’ comp claim, which was settled for $31,000 two days after her filing. She owed over $125,000 to three health care providers.

The circuit said it was not willing to decide because the Act never said which assets were available to healthcare providers and both parties had plausible arguments.

Discrimination suit not barred by exclusive remedy – Minnesota

In a split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that an employee, who sustained a work-related injury and who was receiving workers’ compensation benefits, may proceed with a suit against his employer under the state’s Human Rights Act (“HRA”). In Daniel v. City of Minneapolis, a firefighter received workers’ comp for injuries to his right ankle and was reimbursed for the cost of a pair of tennis shoes, rescue boots and orthotic inserts.

After a few weeks he was told he could not wear the black tennis shoes because they did not comply with the Department’s policy for station shoes. He reinjured his ankle and later injured his shoulder when he lost his footing.

He was placed on light duty, but not allowed to wear the tennis shoes, which he considered necessary to perform the light duty.The Department then placed him on leave and said he could return if his work restrictions allowed him to wear shoes that were compliant with their footwear policy. While there were several meetings to try and find a shoe that would work for both parties, no agreement was reached.

The firefighter alleged that the city had violated the HRA by not providing the reasonable accommodation of allowing him to wear doctor-prescribed shoes inside the station house. He also alleged that the city retaliated against him for requesting an accommodation. A trial court determined the claim under the HRA was not barred because the workers’ comp act did not provide a remedy for his discrimination claim; however, a court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court held that the employee could pursue claims under each act (Workers’ Compensation Act and Human Rights Act) because they each provide a distinct cause of action that redresses a discrete type of injury to an employee.

Disability benefits can’t offset TTD award – Minnesota

In Bruton v. Smithfield Foods, the Supreme Court has ruled that an employee’s claim for temporary total disability benefits cannot be offset by benefits paid to the employee for the same period of disability under the employer’s short-term disability plan. While the court recognized the decision penalized the employer for their wage-loss benefit, it noted “there is no statutory authority for an offset of workers’ compensation benefits by the amount of benefits paid under an employer’s self-funded, self-administered STD plan in state law governing workers’ comp.”

PTD award not properly challenged, but medical payments reduced – Missouri

In Customer Engineering Services v. Odom, an employee suffered serious injuries while moving a 250-pound photo printer. When he reached MMI, he still had pain and his personal doctors found he had complex regional pain syndrome. For some time he received physical therapy and pain management covered by his wife’s insurance, totaling $36,539.

He never returned to work and an ALJ found him to be permanently and totally disabled. The company appealed, but an appellate affirmed the ruling. The court said the rules of appellate procedure require CES to support all the factual assertions in its argument with specific page references to the record, and the company failed to comply. It also noted the company ignored the evidence that supported the PTD award and focused only on evidence that supported its position.

The court, however, reduced the medical liability by $2,510 since the employee received some treatment before informing the employer of the need for continued treatment.

Contractor liable for injuries to subcontractor’s employee – Nebraska

In Martinez v. CMR Construction & Roofing, the Supreme Court ruled the contractor was the statutory employer of a man who sustained serious injuries after he fell off a roof, even though he was acting as an employee of a subcontractor. Texas-based CMR had verified the subcontractor’s workers’ comp insurance and directed the subcontractor to add the company to the policy and produce a certificate demonstrating that the company would be notified of any changes to the policy.

After the accident, it learned the subcontractor’s insurance had been cancelled a few months earlier for nonpayment. CMR appealed the decision of lower courts arguing it did not qualify as a statutory employer because it required its subcontractor to obtain workers comp insurance. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, noting the Texas-based comp insurer had never been authorized to issue workers’ comp coverage in Nebraska and that the policy clearly showed that coverage did not extend to states other than Texas.

Court weighs in on comp benefits for medical marijuana – New Hampshire

In Re Appeal of Panaggio, the Supreme Court said the state’s medical marijuana laws do not bar a request for reimbursement, overruling a decision by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. While it found workers’ compensation insurers provide payments for medical treatments and that they may be subjected to the same state statutes that cover medical cannabis as a viable medical treatment, it failed to address the question of whether such a practice conflicts with federal law. The court remanded the question back to the Board.

Retroactivity question key to indemnification of contractor – New York

In Guthorn v. Village of Saranac Lake, a project manager of a subcontractor fell from a ladder and suffered injuries. While the contractor had drafted a subcontract that required the subcontractor to indemnify the contractors against any claims arising out of its work on the project, the subcontractor began work and the injury occurred before the contract was executed. When the contractor discovered it did not have an executed contract, it sent another subcontract agreement, which was executed, including the indemnification clause.

The Appellate Division, 3rd Department noted that the Workers’ Compensation Law requires an express written agreement for indemnification. An indemnification agreement executed after a workers’ accident can be applied retroactively if the agreement was made prior to the incident and the parties intended to apply it as of that date. The court denied summary judgement, noting a question regarding whether the agreement was intended to apply retroactively.

Company car does not make injury during commute compensable – North Carolina

In Wright v. Alltech Wiring & Controls, an appeals court denied benefits to the widow of employee killed in auto accident. The company provided a vehicle to the worker who visited client job sites to prepare estimates. His normal routine was to go to the office before visiting the job sites and return to the office at the end of the day. He used the company car for the commute to and from work.

One day, after leaving work he spoke to the owner of the company briefly on his cellphone, then stopped at a Target store. After leaving Target, he was in a vehicular accident on his normal route and died from his injuries. The widow filed for comp benefits, but an appeals court upheld the findings of the Commission that the death did not occur in the course and scope of his employment. In most cases, injuries occurring during a worker’s commute are not compensable, and the company handbook made it clear that commuting to and from work was not considered work time.

Forum state means wrongful death claim is subject to a subrogation lien – North Carolina

In Walker v. K&W Cafeterias, a truck driver was killed in a motor vehicle accident while driving for his employer in South Carolina. His widow was awarded $333,763 in workers’ compensation death benefits in North Carolina. She also filed a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver in South Carolina, which was settled for $962,500, most of which came from underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage.

The employer sought and was awarded a subrogation lien for the total amount of death benefits. While South Carolina law does not allow for subrogation of UIM proceeds for workers’ compensation benefits, the N.C. Court of Appeals noted under traditional conflicts of law, procedural and remedial issues are determined by the law of the forum where the remedy was sought. Subrogation rights on UIM funds are procedural and remedial in nature and the forum where relief was sought was North Carolina.

Domestic service exception nixes benefits for in-home caregiver – Pennsylvania

In Van Leer v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd, the Commonwealth Court ruled that an in-home caregiver was not eligible for comp benefits. The caregiver worked for a woman suffering from mild dementia and her primary responsibilities were to get the woman ready for bed, make sure she got her medications and stayed in bed throughout the evening.

The workers’ comp act is not applicable to any person “who at the time of injury is engaged in domestic service,” which is based on whether the worker serves “the needs of the household.” The court upheld earlier decisions that the caregiver’s job duties consisted entirely of service to members of the household. In this case, the dementia patient was the household.

Injuries while attending mandatory off-site training not compensable – Virginia

In City of Va. Beach v. Hamel, an appellate court reversed an award of comp benefits to a licensed professional counselor who was injured when she tripped and fell over raised tree roots when she was attending an off-site mandatory training. The court noted that while the counselor may have been mandated to attend the meeting at a community college, she had not been told where to park or which route to take to the building. Her risk of falling was equal to that of any member of the general public.

Electrocuted airport worker not entitled to benefits – Virginia

In O’Donoghue v. United Continental Holdings Inc., a divided appeals court upheld the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Commission that a United Airlines Inc. employee’s injuries were caused by “an act of God” and not compensable. The employee was a ramp serviceman loading and unloading airplanes. The ramp was temporarily closed during a thunderstorm and when it reopened the worker positioned a metal ladder next to the airplane that had just arrived. When he touched the toggle switch to open the cargo door, he felt electricity go through his body and reported he had been struck by lightning.

Under the statute, the mere occurrence of an injury due to a lightning strike while at work is insufficient; it must be proved that the conditions of the employment collaborated in causing the injury. It could not be assessed whether being injured by a lightning strike was an actual risk of the conditions of employment, thus, it was not compensable.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Things you should know

NSC survey: 75% of employers affected by opioids

Seventy-five percent of U.S. employers say they have been directly affected by opioids, but only 17% of them feel “extremely well prepared” to manage the issue, according to a survey by the National Safety Council. 38% have experienced absenteeism or impaired worker performance as a result of drug use and 31% have had an overdose, arrest, a near-miss or an injury because of employee opioid use.

In spite of the results, employers say they are more concerned about hiring qualified workers, employee benefits costs and worker compensation costs than they are about employee use of legal prescription opioids or illicit use/sale of opioids.

April is distracted driving awareness month

It’s another opportunity to remind employees of the dangers of distracted driving.

Draft brewery resources

The expansion of the craft brewery industry is continuing at a rapid pace and WorkSafeBC has produced resources to assist brewery and distillery employers with their health and safety programs. They include a downloadable guideposters, and a videofeaturing Red Truck Beer Company’s approach to safety.

EPA training designed to help prevent paraquat poisonings

The Environmental Protection Agency is offering training intended to help prevent poisonings among workers who apply the toxic herbicide paraquat, as required by agency regulations.

Guidance on lifting during and after pregnancy

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has guidance on appropriate limitations throughout pregnancy and immediately after giving birth.

State News

California

  • The number of prescriptions for drugs that do not require a utilization review under the year-old workers’ compensation formulary increased to 38.5% in 2018, up from 35.2% in 2017, and payments for drugs not listed on the formulary increased by more than 10 percentage points, according to the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute.
  • State Fund announced it has launched SafeAtWorkCA.com, a new online safety resource designed to help employers protect their workers and build cultures of safety.
  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation updated four chapters of the state’s medical treatment guidelines, and added a new section covering post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder.

Illinois

  • The Department of Insurance no longer requires a narrative when errors are discovered in carriers’ aggregated data reports.
  • The legislature approved a bill that allows some workers to sue their employers for occupational injuries, specifically those that have passed the statute of limitations. Currently, an employee’s exclusive remedy lies under either the Workers’ Compensation or Occupational Disease Acts. The new bill allows workers who suffer a disability due to exposure to asbestos more than 25 years after the last exposure not only to file a civil action, but also no longer be confined to the limitations on compensation under the Occupational Diseases Act. The bill was sent to the governor’s office.

Virginia

  • Maximum and minimum compensation rates will increase, by about 1.85% on July 1, the Workers’ Compensation Commission announced. The maximum compensation rate will increase to $1,102 from $1,082, while the minimum rate will increase to $275.50 from $270.50. The reimbursement rate of 55.5 cents per mile has not changed since October 2011.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

HR Tip: Two important FMLA documents

ABA’s summary of 2018 FMLA decisions

Each year, the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Federal Labor Standards Legislation Committee publishes a comprehensive report of FMLA decisions handed down by the federal courts in the previous year. This handy report summarizes every FMLA decision from 2018 in a user-friendly manner.

Opinion letter

In a recent opinion letter, the U.S. Department of Labor addressed whether an employee could delay FMLA leave and instead utilize accrued paid leave when the absence clearly would qualify as FMLA leave. The answer was a straight forward “no”.

An employer is prohibited from delaying the designation of FMLA-qualifying leave as FMLA leave. Once an eligible employee communicates the need to take leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason, neither the employee nor the employer may decline FMLA protection for that leave.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA watch

2020 budget proposal

President Trump’s proposed budget calls for a $300,000 increase in the agency’s budget, but includes an increase of almost $4 million for safety enforcement and workplace inspections and the number of full-time equivalent workers at the agency will increase by 33. Whistleblower protection is also slated to receive an extra $1.1 million, and the number of federal inspections budgeted in 2020 is projected to rise by about 300 to 33,133.

Six states sue over electronic reporting rollback

Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York are challenging the “illegal and unjustified attempt to roll back (the regulation’s) requirements for the public reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses…” in State of New Jersey v. R. Alexander Acosta. The states allege the Administrative Procedure Act was violated when the agency changed its course without a “reasonable explanation” for its new policy.

Input on powered industrial trucks sought

Request for Information published in the March 11 Federal Register seeks input to aid in a possible update of the powered industrial trucks standard (1910.178). This standard covers forklifts, fork trucks, tractors, platform lift trucks and motorized hand trucks, among others.

Comments on the RFI are due by June 10.

New trenching and excavation videos

A free 11-minute video highlighting the importance of soil classification when planning trenching and excavation work has been released in English and Spanish.

The Region 6 Training Institute Education Centers recently released a video on trenching and excavation safety. The one-hour video addresses best practices, cave-in protection, resources and other hazards workers encounter in trenching.

Registration is required to access the video.

Revised webpages address safety in the agriculture and maritime industries

The Agricultural Operations webpage was revised to make it easier for users to find safety information on agriculture-related hazards, such as grain bins and silos, heat, machinery, pesticides, and other chemicals.

The revised Maritime Industry webpage offers compliance materials, training information, and other resources to eliminate hazards in longshoring and marine terminals, commercial fishing, and shipyards.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Santa Ana-based Aardvark Clay & Supplies Inc., a ceramics firm, faces more than $250,160 in penalties for willful failure to properly guard equipment after an employee was fatally entangled in a clay manufacturing machine. Although the manufacturer had provided safety guards for the machinery, the employer removed the guards.
  • Underground Construction Co., Inc. of Benicia received three citations and proposed penalties of $27,000 after two of its employees contracted Valley Fever. The workers were exposed to the fungal disease while using hand tools to dig trenches in Kings, Fresno and Merced counties-areas where the soil is known to contain harmful spores that cause the infection.
  • West Coast Land and Development Inc., based in Concord, faces fines of $26,540 for eight violations after a worker was crushed to death by vertically stacked plywood at a San Rafael construction site.

Florida

  • Two contractors, PCL Construction Services Inc. and Universal Engineering Sciences, were cited for safety violations after two employees suffered fatal injuries at a worksite for the new JW Marriott Hotel in Orlando. Inspectors found the contractors failed to inspect formwork, shoring, working decks, and scaffolds properly prior to construction to ensure that the equipment met the required specified formwork drawings. The contractors collectively received three violations totaling $157,792 in proposed penalties, including one willful citation to PCL.
  • The Higgins Group Corp., operating as Higgins Premium Pet Foods, faces $95,472 in penalties for exposing employees to amputation, fall, and other safety hazards at its facility in Miami.
  • Ammunition manufacturer, AMTEC Less Lethal Systems Inc., faces $188,290 in penalties for multiple serious violations, and a willful violation after an explosion fatally injured two workers at the company’s Perry facility.
  • Brinker Florida Inc., operator of a Chili’s Grill and Bar restaurant in Doral, was cited for exposing employees to burns, falls, and other hazards after an employee suffered burns when falling from an unguarded platform into a hot water bath. The company faces proposed penalties totaling $62,513.
  • Roofing and waterproofing contractor, TarHeel Corp., faces $32,013 in penalties for failing to provide employees with fall protection systems and to properly train their employees after an employee suffered fatal injuries in a fall at the Forest Glen Community in Naples.
  • Venice-based Olin Landscaping faces $16,102 in penalties for failing to protect employees from heat-related illnesses and injuries and failing to report a workplace fatality to OSHA within 8 hours, as required.

Georgia

  • Inspected under the National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Trenching and Excavation, Corley Contractors Inc., based in Dallas, faces $106,078 in penalties for exposing employees to excavation hazards while installing water and sewer lines at a worksite in Acworth.
  • Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program on Lead, U.S. Battery Manufacturing Co. is facing $115,594 in fines for exposing workers to lead, unguarded machinery, and other safety hazards at its facility in Augusta.

Massachusetts

  • The DOL has filed a lawsuit against Boston-based contractor Tara Construction Inc. and its chief executive officer, Pedro Pirez, alleging that they retaliated against an injured employee by facilitating his arrest. The worker incurred a serious injury when he fell from a ladder and reported it to DOL. The Department alleges that shortly after the employee engaged in protected activities, the defendants initiated a law enforcement investigation and facilitated the employee’s detainment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Nebraska

  • Western Engineering Company Inc. faces $89,032 in penalties when an employee suffered fatal injuries after being pulled into an unguarded slat/drag conveyor at the company’s North Platte asphalt plant. Serious violations related to machine guarding, lockout tagout, confined spaces, and air monitoring.

Pennsylvania

  • Warminster-based Etna Construction Inc. faces $208,560 in fines for failing to protect its workers against trenching hazards at a Philadelphia worksite.

Virginia

  • Virginia Occupational Safety and Health issued 12 citations and $528,692 in penalties to T.D. Fraley & Sons, Inc., after a worker who was removing scaffolding sections received an electric shock from contact with a power line.

Wisconsin

  • Nemak USA Inc., based in Sheboygan, faces penalties of $26,520 for two serious health violations, the maximum penalty allowed by law, for exposing workers to metalworking fluids used on aluminum after three employees were diagnosed with occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a debilitating lung disease.
  • In Secretary of Labor v. Packers Sanitation Services Inc., an administrative law judge with the OSHRC held that Packers Sanitation Services, based in Kieler, failed to guard a quill puller machine and ensure walking services were safe for employees and upheld the assessment of nearly $20,000 in citations.
  • A follow-up inspection of Avid Pallet Services LLC of Beloit found that the company failed to implement sufficient engineering controls to limit dust exposure, as well as train employees on the health hazards of wood dust. The company faces penalties of $188,302 for repeat, serious, and other-than-serious safety and health violations.

For additional information.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

PPE and women: 13 do’s and don’ts

The recent cancellation by NASA of the highly publicized first-ever all-woman spacewalk is a good reminder of the importance of proper fitting PPE. Even with extensive training on the ground, getting the right fit for a spacesuit in microgravity can be a challenge since the body changes slightly in space due to fluid shifts or spine elongation.

Only one suit for a medium-size torso, which is the size that best fits the two astronauts, is ready for use on the station. While the decision was made by one of the astronauts who thought a large-size suit would be fine, but after a spacewalk a week earlier decided the medium-size was a better fit, it was met by some with disbelief on Twitter. The number of women entering traditionally male-dominated fields continues to grow and many have encountered improperly fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and personal protective clothing (PPC). (The two female astronauts were part of a class that had 50/50 gender representation.)

According to The Washington Post, “Across social media platforms, women told of giant overalls, wading boots that were the wrong size, oversize gloves that kept them from being nimble, a lack of bulletproof vests that accommodated their chest sizes and a dearth of petite-size personal protective equipment at construction sites.”

While there is increased awareness and significant strides have been made in PPE for women, the fact remains that most PPE was designed based on average male body measurements and it has only been in recent years that manufacturers have tailored PPE to women. When there are products specifically designed for women some worksites just don’t have them readily available.

The best practices of providing PPE for women are very similar to those for men. Here are 13 do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t assume your PPE is appropriate for all of your employees. Find out what is and isn’t working by getting feedback from employees. Monitor the use and identify situations where it is not used when it should be.
  • Don’t ask women to wear PPE that is too big. It is not going to provide adequate protection and in some cases creates even more serious safety risks.
  • Don’t alter PPE. It should be certified to specific standards, and alterations beyond built-in adjustment features can make the garment no longer compliant – and unsafe.
  • Don’t subject women to derogatory remarks or disingenuous humor about how they look in PPE.
  • Don’t assume women are only concerned about “how it looks.”
  • Don’t criticize, ignore, or retaliate against employees who report ill-fitting PPE.
  • Don’t penalize employees who refuse to work when appropriate PPE is not available.
  • Do involve employees in the selection of PPE.
  • Do provide the same range of sizes for women as for men, and ensure suppliers have properly assessed the appropriateness of their equipment to women and men.
  • Do ensure employees try on several sizes or types of PPE before it is issued to ensure the best fit.
  • Do educate employees about why the PPE is to be worn and train how to properly use it.
  • Do make appropriate provisions for pregnant women.
  • Do get supervisor buy-in.

The gender pay gap is substantially less in many non-traditional jobs than in other professions, and training and apprenticeships present great opportunities for women. Yet, as noted in the Construction Productivity Blog, “recruitment bias, company cultures where harassment isn’t thoroughly addressed and even reasons as simple as tools and gear not made for women in mind, also all play a critical role into why more women aren’t considering building as a career.”

Attracting women to non-traditional fields can help industries deal with an acute labor shortage and have economic benefits. According to the Peterson Institute, construction companies that were in the top 25% in gender diversity of their workforce were 46% more likely to outperform their industry average. Providing the right PPE is another way companies can recruit and retain more female talent.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Understanding OSHA’s general duty clause

Often referred to as the general duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires that employers provide “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm…” It’s only used where there is no standard for a particular hazard and citations must be serious and/or willful violations. The citation is for the hazard, not for a particular incident or lack of a particular abatement method.

2003 OSHA Letter of Interpretation clarified the elements necessary to prove a violation of the General Duty Clause:

  • The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed
  • The hazard was recognized (a recognized hazard exists if the hazard is recognized either by the employer or by the employer’s industry)
  • The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm (Establishing whether a hazard is serious is similar to how OSHA classifies a serious violation for its standards, the Field Operations Manual states)
  • There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard

While this criteria can make it difficult for OSHA to prove a violation, OSHA’s use of the clause has expanded over the years and many are concerned about its use as an enforcement mechanism and the confusion it creates for employers. Increasingly it’s been applied to ergonomic, heat-related, and workplace violence hazards. Two recent cases have tested the use of the clause:

Heat-related hazards

Secretary of Labor v. A.H. Sturgill Roofing Inc., was a closely watched case in which serious citations were issued against the company for not adequately implementing a heat illness prevention program and not providing adequate training to employees on heat related hazards. A temporary employee who had various pre-existing medical conditions experienced heat stroke and died three weeks later from complications.

His responsibility was to stand near the edge of the roof where other employees brought him a cart full of cut-up pieces of roofing material that he then pushed off the roof into a dumpster. The foreman encouraged all employees to utilize the access to ice, water, rest and shade, without fear of reprisal. By late morning, the temperature rose to about 82°F with 51% relative humidity.

The citations had a negative effect on the employer’s bidding opportunities and it appealed the decision. An administrative law judge affirmed the citations, but the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) vacated the citations against the commercial roofing company. In so doing, it noted that the citations did not meet two of the required elements – the existence of a hazard and a feasible means of abatement. OSHA had defined the hazard as “excessive heat” but, according to the commission, to constitute a cognizable hazard under the clause, a worksite condition must pose more than the mere possibility of harm. The conditions at the jobsite were not such that they would put a reasonable employer on notice.

While employer representatives welcomed the decision, experts caution that the decision turned on a very specific set of facts and the commission did not state that the clause could never be used to cite employers for such hazards. The possibility of an OSHA appeal exists.

Workplace violence

In Secretary of Labor v. Integra Health Management Inc., a 25-year-old recent college graduate with no prior experience in social work or working with the mentally ill was hired by Integra, a Maryland-based company, and assigned to a client with schizophrenia. Integra employs service coordinators to help its clients, who are identified by health insurers as not receiving appropriate care for chronic medical conditions including mental illness. It provides training in various manners, but employees are not clinically trained.

Unbeknownst to Integra and the referring health insurer, the client had a prior criminal record, including aggravated battery and assault. He attacked the employee with a knife, stabbing her nine times and killing her. In the Integra case, the commission was asked for the first time to decide whether workplace violence is a recognized hazard that the employer must remove from its workplace, according to the decision.

The administrative law judge affirmed an OSHA citation issued to Integra alleging a violation of the general duty clause for exposing employees “to the hazard of being physically assaulted by members with a history of violent behavior.” The OSHRC affirmed, noting a direct nexus between the work being performed by Integra’s employees and the alleged risk of workplace violence and feasible measures to abate the hazard as recommended by OSHA.

While affirming the citation, the Commission expressed concern about OSHA’s use of the general duty clause to address workplace violence risks. Chairwoman Heather MacDougall, who recently resigned, noted, “My hope is that this precedent will be revisited in a future decision and, even better, that OSHA will continue in its effort to promulgate a standard that addresses workplace violence.”

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Occupational health and safety risks now top cost disruptor

Employers looking to boost the bottom line would be smart to closely examine the costs of their health and safety incidents. While high-profile disruptions such as cyber-attacks, IT outages, or extreme weather get more attention, health and safety incidents are the leading financial loss drivers for businesses around the globe, according to the BCI 2019 Horizon Scan. The eighth report in the series analyzes the risks and threats recognized by 569 organizations worldwide, comparing them against the impact of actual disruptions in the past year.

Employers perceive occupational and health issues to be low risk (ranking #12) in the coming 12 months; yet, it was the most frequent and costliest cause of disruption in the past 12 months. It cost companies $1.1186 billion, almost four times the $307 million for IT disruptions and eight times the $144 million for cyber-attacks. Further, the report notes that there is a likely relationship between the health and safety incidents and the high costs of reputational damage.

Howard Kerr, CEO at the BSI, commented: “It’s easy for business leaders to be kept awake at night by high-profile risks such as cyber-attacks, technology disruptions and IT outages, but they must not ignore the smaller, more frequent risks that steadily erode the bottom line. Organizations that don’t take all threats they face seriously, or otherwise develop plans to manage them, are exposing themselves to not only reputational loss, but also what can become quite severe financial costs. Achieving true organizational resilience means identifying not only the big risks, but also the under-rated issues that may just seem like ‘business as usual’ and can easily be missed.”

This disconnect can stem from a failure to understand the true costs of injuries, general acceptance of injury rates as a cost of business, an unfounded belief that there is a trade-off between profits and measures to keep the workplace safe, other priorities, and so on. While many executives give lip service to “safety pays” and the value of caring for their employees, they also feel the pressures to increase profits by cutting costs. Yet, safety and profitability can coexist.

Culture comes from the top down and management commitment is the key performance indicator. Executives may believe that the mantra “we want you to go home safe each day” reflects the company’s culture but it is often viewed skeptically as drivel by employees, who feel that production trumps safety. It takes a lot more than words to demonstrate a real commitment to safety.

Management commitment to safety includes financial investment, amount of time and team members involved, technologically advanced tools such as wearables, training hours, capital projects for high-risk issues and so on. Committed leaders are familiar with the major risks and risk mitigation efforts in their facilities.

Successful executives often require a report on every serious injury and review it with the leadership team. This sends the message to mid-management that safety is an integral part of operations. They also develop a set of leading indicators that encourage a continual focus on risk reduction.

The BCI report illustrates that the cost of injuries slowly erodes the bottom line, but falls under the radar. Workers’ Comp is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cost of an injury. There are many indirect costs such as lost productivity, hiring and training replacement employees, higher overtime, incident investigation, repairing damaged equipment or property, lower morale, and implementation of corrective measures. There also can be legal and administrative expenses and higher Workers’ Comp premiums for at least three years.

The National Safety Council provides helpful information on the ROI of safety at an aggregate level. But employers can take a deep dive and analyze the costs associated with two or three injuries in their organization. It’s worth the effort to quantify all the related figures. The results not only paint a clear picture of the economic value of improving safety to top management, but also help employees understand the costs come out of profits and affects their wages, bonuses, and benefits.

Unless there is a catastrophic event, health and safety incidents do not have the immediate, malicious impact that an IT disruption or cyber-attack can create. But they are highly costly and disruptive and will slowly erode the bottom line. Failure to recognize that this is not “business as usual” will have serious consequences for the longevity and resiliency of the company.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Things you should know

Studies:

Do higher deductibles in group health plans increase injured workers’ propensity to file for workers’ compensation? – Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI)

Finding: Injured workers are more inclined to seek workers comp coverage to avoid out-of-pocket health expenses when “facing a substantial financial burden” of group health deductibles.

Workers’ Compensation and Prescription Drugs – NCCI

Finding: Prescription drug prices continue to increase, but there is lower utilization.

State Policies on Treatment Guidelines and Utilization Management: A National Inventory – WCRI

Finding: There are vast differences in states’ workers’ compensation treatment guidelines and how those guidelines are enforced.

California Workers’ Comp Prescription Drug Utilization and Payment Distributions, 2009-2018: Part 1 – California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI)

Finding: NSAIDs overtake opioids as the top workers’ comp drug group; dermatologicals are most costly.

Characterization of occupational exposures to respirable silica and dust in demolition, crushing, and chipping activities

Finding: Certain job tasks may expose construction workers to silica dust at levels more than 10 times the permissible exposure limit set by OSHA.

Antineoplastic drug administration by pregnant and nonpregnant nurses: an exploration of the use of protective gloves and gowns

Finding: Nearly 40 percent of pregnant nurses don’t wear protective gowns when administering powerful cancer drugs, putting their own health and that of their unborn babies at risk.

Workplace bullying and workplace violence as risk factors for cardiovascular disease: a multi-cohort study

Finding: The effect of bullying and violence on the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the general population is comparable to other risk factors such as diabetes and alcohol drinking.

Compounded topical pain creams to treat localized chronic pain: a randomized controlled trial

Finding: Topical creams were not effective in reducing pain in a study of 399 pain patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

NIOSH updates Sound Level Meter app

NIOSH has released an updated version of its free Sound Level meter app, designed to measure noise exposure in the workplace. It is available from the Apple App Store.

NIOSH releases software tool for hazard recognition training in mines

This new training tool is a beta release developed by NIOSH’s Mining Program. It is a PC-based software application that allows both novice and experienced miners to test their examination skills in a simulated, interactive environment with more than 30 panoramic photos from a real surface limestone mine, or with uploaded images taken by smartphones or digital cameras in their own mine in any sector.

Download a beta version of the EXAMiner software.

American Society of Safety Professionals issues guidance on workplace violence

The document, “How to Develop and Implement an Active Shooter/Armed Assailant Plan,” contains recommendations from more than 30 safety experts on how businesses can better protect themselves ahead of such incidents. There is a related free video and infographic.

NSC publishes Managing Fatigue

Managing Fatigue, gives employers specific, actionable guidance on implementing an effective fatigue risk management system.

NSC releases The State of Safety

The State of Safety assesses states’ safety efforts by examining laws, policies and regulations around issues that lead to the most preventable deaths and injuries. In addition to receiving an overall grade, states earned grades in three different sections:

  • Road Safety
  • Workplace Safety
  • Home & Community Safety

NIOSH publishes new skin-hazard profiles for five chemicals

The new profiles are:

  • Atrazine
  • Catechol
  • Chlorinated camphere
  • Pentachlorophenol
  • Sodium fluoroacetate

State News

California

  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation has given medical providers who treat injured California workers free online access to the state’s drug formulary and treatment guidelines.

Michigan

  • The Workers’ Compensation Agency has published its Health Care Services Rules and Fee Schedule, which took effect on Jan. 8. It includes a new definition and rule language regarding telemedicine services. The health care services rules and fee schedule may be found here, on page 238. More information

North Carolina

  • Rules approved by the North Carolina Industrial Commission regarding workers’ comp settlement agreements, which were effective January 1, were published in the North Carolina Register on page 1583.

Pennsylvania

  • Some 15 insurance carriers, including Pennsylvania’s largest workers’ compensation writer, have now agreed to retroactively cut rates, part of a do-over requested after a data-reporting error led to higher premiums last year.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Legal Corner

ADA 
Court clarifies ADA website accessibility obligations

When the ADA was enacted, Congress did not anticipate the role of the Internet and focused on physical access barriers. Title III does not provide guidance for the Internet or web-based and mobile applications, but it does not limit coverage to brick-and mortar locations or exclude online locations. As a result, there have been a number of lawsuits and the decisions are split regarding whether Title III’s definition of “public accommodations” is limited to physical spaces.

For the first time, a U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled on this issue in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza. The Ninth Circuit held that Domino’s violated Title III of the ADA because its website’s incompatibility with screen reader software impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises, which are places of public accommodation.

Critical to the decision was the nexus between Domino’s website and app and physical restaurants. While technically this ruling only applies to states covered by the Ninth Circuit, it reflects a nationwide trend and the DOJ’s position that businesses should make websites accessible to disabled individuals by relying on a set of private industry standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.

Workers’ Compensation 
Timeliness of denial of benefits clarified – Florida

Florida statutes allow an employer to pay benefits to a worker while investigating his claim, for up to 120 days. An employer waives the right to deny compensability unless it can establish material facts that it could not have discovered through reasonable investigation within the 120-day period.

In Rente v. Orange County BOCC, the employer issued a notice of denial eight months after the injury. A judge allowed the denial, finding the injured worker had made misstatements to the spine surgeon about his prior symptoms and treatment to his low back, which was the proximate cause of delay in the employer’s decision to contest his claim. However, the 1st District Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, noting the judge needed to make a determination of when the employer had material facts regarding the issue of causation and compensability, which would trigger the employer’s 120-day period to commence an investigation and either accept or deny his claim.

Workers’ comp settlement does not bar recovery in tort suit – Illinois

In Armstead v. Nat’l Freight, Inc., a semi-truck driver for a Pennsylvania corporation sustained injuries in a vehicular accident with a National Freight truck in Grundy County. The Pennsylvania work comp settlement described his injury as a knee strain and noted its terms did not bar subsequent third-party action against various defendants for injuries he alleged he sustained to his back and shoulder.

He also sued National Freight and the driver, but they argued he could not present evidence of injuries other than to his knee, since the settlement said that it was his only injury. An appellate court reversed the circuit court’s grant of partial summary judgment and remanded for further proceeding, noting a statement could not be considered a judicial admission when it was made in the course of another proceeding and could not be used to bar his tort claim.

No extra benefits for worker who did not seek job rehab services – Illinois

In Euclid Beverage v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission et al., a long-term worker in the beverage distribution industry injured his back and was terminated because he could not be accommodated on light duty. He received temporary total disability, maintenance, and permanent partial disability benefits.

Shortly after his termination, he was offered a job that did not rely on physical ability, but he declined to interview. A few years later, the employer filed for review and the Circuit Court overturned the award for maintenance benefits, “finding that the record did not demonstrate that the claimant participated in a vocational rehabilitation program or (a) self-directed job search.” State law only mandates that an employer pay maintenance benefits if an injured worker was or is enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program.

Worker must show disability made it impossible to secure work – New York

In Matter of Figueroa v Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., Inc, an office assistant who worked for approximately 41 years began to experience pain in her hands and wrists and filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Shortly thereafter, she retired from her position at the age of 59.

Three years later she began efforts to reenter the job market, attending an orientation session, taking classes on preparing a résumé and cover letter to assist her in finding a job and subsequently submitting job applications to various retail companies. The employer challenged the Board’s award of benefits during the time period she had reattached to the labor market. The court agreed that she had to demonstrate her inability to obtain work was due to her causally-related disability, as opposed to her age, economic conditions or other factors. It found the Board’s decision to award claimant wage replacement benefits during the period of her labor market reattachment was not supported by substantial evidence.

Worker’s estate entitled only to portion of posthumous schedule loss of use award – New York

In Matter of Estate of Youngjohn v Berry Plastics Corp., an appellate court noted that when an injured employee dies without leaving a surviving spouse, child under 18 years old or dependent, only that portion of the employee’s schedule loss of use (“SLU”) award that had accrued at the time of the death is payable to the estate. That rule applies even when the SLU award is posthumous.

Temporary worker cannot maintain tort suit against borrowing employer – New York

In Ferguson v. National Gypsum, a temporary worker was injured while working for National Gypsum and filed suit seeking damages. The Appellate Division’s 4th Department found the claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers’ Compensation Law based on the special employer concept. Since National had complete and exclusive control over the manner, details and results of the injured worker’s work, the court said the company was his special employer and enjoyed immunity from civil liability.

Family of worker killed cannot sue in civil court – North Carolina

An appeals court ruled that workers’ comp is the only recourse for a family of a mechanic crushed to death while repairing a machine at a plywood manufacturing plant. The deceased was hired by a staffing agency, but the manufacturer controlled the worker’s day-to-day work activities, controlled the work the worker performed and paid him an hourly wage. Therefore, the plywood manufacturer was the worker’s special employer and it could not be liable in a wrongful death action. – Estate of Belk v. Boise Cascade Wood Prods., L.L.C.

Superior court judges have broad discretion in review of attorney fees – North Carolina

Overturning a decision by the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court noted that superior court judges have broad discretion to review the reasonableness of an attorney fee award provided by the state Industrial Commission. In Saunders v. ADP Totalsource Fi Xi, the court noted that under state law, the commission must approve a fee for an attorney in a workers’ compensation case. However, if the attorney disagrees with the commission’s decision, he/she can seek a review by a superior court judge.

Parent company not liable for death of subsidiary’s employee – Pennsylvania

In Grimsley v. Manitowoc Co. Inc., a worker was killed when he was pinned between two cranes. The employer, Grove U.S., LLC, was fined by OSHA and the widow received workers’ comp benefits. Later, she filed a wrongful death and survival action asserting negligence and strict liability against the parent company, Manitowoc Co., arguing the crane was owned by Manitowoc and branded with its logo.

The U.S. District Court granted summary judgment to the employer, parent company, and several other subsidiaries finding Grove was entitled to the exclusive remedy provision under the Workers’ Compensation Act and Manitowoc did not exercise significant control over Grove to establish liability.

Benefits continue for worker released to full duty – Pennsylvania

In an unreported case, Heartland Employment Services, LLC v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Ebner), a worker suffered a significant injury to the lumbar spine, including a herniated disc and lumbar radiculopathy and had spinal fusion surgery. The medical treatment was successful, and the injured worker was released back to work, without restriction.

The employer argued that an ability to work without restrictions mandates a finding of full recovery and termination of benefits. However, the court noted, “Employer appears to conflate the diagnosis of full recovery from a work injury with a physician’s release to return to work without restrictions. While Claimant was capable of returning to work, the WCJ found she had not recovered from the effects of her work injury.” As such, the WCJ did not err in granting benefits for medical expenses with wage loss benefits suspended upon Claimant’s return to work.

No comp benefits despite failure to use on-site defibrillator – Tennessee

In Chaney v. Team Techs, the Supreme Court, reversing a decision of a state trial court, found an employer isn’t liable for workers’ compensation benefits because they failed to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) that was available to help an employee who was suffering from a non-employment related medical emergency. Although the court noted that under the state’s emergency doctrine, an employer can be liable for benefits if it failed to render reasonable medical aid to an employee who had become helpless at work, the employer had called emergency responders and the doctrine could not be extended to require an employer to utilize an AED.

The first responders were able to revive the worker who collapsed because of a heart condition, but she suffered a permanent brain injury because of a lack of oxygen to her brain and sought workers’ comp benefits. While the employee’s injury had occurred in the course of the employment injury, it did not arise out of the employment.

Subrogation lien cannot include nurse case management expenses – Tennessee

In Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division v. Watson, a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals ruled that nurse case management fees are not recoverable as part of an employer’s workers’ compensation subrogation lien. A meter reader suffered injuries when she was attacked by a dog and received workers’ compensation benefits. She also settled a tort claim for $80,000.

Since the court had never decided whether an employer’s statutory subrogation lien extends to nurse case management fees, it considered an Illinois decision in which the cost of services for a “medical rehabilitation coordinator” had been excluded from the subrogation amount.

The court concluded that such fees are not included in a lien, since the provision of case management services is not mandatory and is for the benefit of an employer, not the worker.

Requirements for workers to receive additional PPD benefits clarified by Supreme Court – Tennessee

In Batey v. Deliver This Inc., a delivery driver injured his back and underwent surgery. Under Tennessee law, when a worker reaches maximum medical improvement for a compensable injury and receives a permanent medical impairment rating, they receive an “original award” of permanent disability benefits. There are various provisions for increasing this amount if the worker does not return to work when the award ends.

A trial court determined that he was entitled to 275 more weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. Although the WCAB found errors in “defining an employee’s burden of proof” and in defining the phrase “employee’s pre-injury occupation,” it noted the errors were harmless and the Supreme Court agreed. Both the appeals court and the state Supreme Court, however, denied a motion for prejudgment interest on his claim, citing the exclusive remedy provision in the comp law.

Violation of safety rule nixes benefits – Virginia

In Jones v. Crothall Laundry, a team leader at a commercial laundry entered a fenced area through an unapproved opening, instead of through the approved interlock gate that would have deactivated machinery inside the fence. An appellate court affirmed a finding by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission that the employee’s action constituted a violation of a known safety rule, that the violation was the proximate cause of his serious injury to a leg, and that the worker, therefore, could not recover workers’ compensation benefits. The employer had proved the rule was reasonable, for the benefit of the employee, that it was known, the employee intentionally breached the rule, and the breach was the cause of his injury.

Injured worker who was left quadriplegic ineligible for benefits – Virginia

The Supreme Court affirmed an earlier ruling that denied workers’ compensation benefits to a worker injured while rehabbing a historic school building, finding the man was hired by an unlicensed contractor and was not an employee of the church and historical society that were restoring the building.

The court noted that the statute holds a party liable for the payment of workers’ compensation benefits if it has hired another to perform work that is “a part of his trade, business or occupation.” While the historical society was formed to restore the school, the court reasoned that “its trade, business or occupation did not include the complete reconstruction of the building.”

Court reverses denial of benefits to employee assaulted by coworker – Virginia

In King v. DTH Contract Services Inc., the Workers Compensation Commission denied an employee’s workers’ compensation claims for injuries he sustained when he was stabbed at work by a former co-worker, finding that the motive of the attack was relevant in determining if the injury arose out of employment. The employee worked as an overnight rest area attendant and a former employee stabbed him in the eyes with a screwdriver when he was on his way back to the office after a safety check. The assailant committed suicide and the motive was never determined.

Upon appeal, the worker argued his employment placed him at a greater risk of assault than the risk faced by the general public. The court remanded the case back to the Commission, noting other cases in the state have found that when an assailant’s motive is unknown, an injured worker does not have to affirmatively establish that the assailant’s motive was not personal. Further, it was an error to treat the motive as the only relevant issue.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA watch

“Good-faith” employers get grace period to comply on crane operator documentation requirements

The requirement that employers must evaluate their operators before allowing them to operate cranes independently is being enforced, but employers making good-faith efforts to comply have a 60-day grace period, according to the enforcement guidance effective on Feb. 7. Employers who have evaluated operators in accordance with the final rule, and are making good-faith efforts to comply with the new documentation requirement are offered compliance assistance, in lieu of enforcement. The grace period ends April 15.

New bulletin for workers wearing devices containing lithium batteries

A new Safety and Health Information Bulletin warns employers and workers of potential fire and explosion hazards stemming from lithium batteries used to power small or wearable electronic devices.

New video on ammonium nitrate emphasis program

A new YouTube video deals with inspections under the ammonium nitrate emphasis program.

Employers urged to prevent worker exposure to carbon monoxide

Employers are reminded to take necessary precautions to protect workers from the potentially fatal effects of carbon monoxide exposure. To reduce the risk of exposure, employers should install an effective ventilation system, use carbon monoxide detectors, and take other precautions as described in the Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet.

Other resources include videos (in English and Spanish), QuickCards (English) (Spanish)and a fact sheet on portable generator safety.

Alert to Nebraska employers: Increase in amputation injuries

A review of Nebraska workers’ compensation claims found 42 employees suffered amputation injuries in 2018, and employers failed to report more than 65 percent of those injuries within 24-hours, as required. The National Emphasis Program for Amputations targets inspections at workplaces with machinery and equipment that cause, or are capable of causing, amputations. Information and resources are available to help employers identify and eliminate workplace hazard.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Solus Industrial Innovations, a plastics manufacturing plant in Rancho Santa Margarita was cited for willfully, knowingly and intentionally maintaining an unsafe and hazardous work environment after two workers were killed in an explosion caused by a water heater that was never intended for commercial use. The case was referred to the local district attorney’s office and a $1.6 million judgment was obtained in a civil case.
  • Platinum Pipeline Inc., based in Livermore, received a $242,600 fine after a worker died when a trench built for a storm drain project collapsed.
  • A joint venture of Shimmick Construction Co. Inc., of Oakland and San Francisco-based Con-Quest Contractors Inc. faces a $65,300 fine after a worker was fatally struck by a steel beam in 2018 while working on a light rail tunnel project in San Francisco.

Connecticut

  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut ordered Eastern Awning Systems Inc., a manufacturer of retractable fabric patio awnings based in Watertown, and its owner Stephen P. Lukos to pay a total of $160,000 to two discharged employees who filed safety and health complaints. The judgment also requires the employer to provide neutral letters of reference for the two discharged employees, and to post the judgment and notice of employees’ rights prominently at the workplace.

Florida

  • Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction, Crown Roofing LLC was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at two separate residential worksites in Port St. Lucie and Naples. The Sarasota-based contractor faces penalties of $265,196. It has been inspected 17 times in the past five years and 11 inspections have resulted in repeat violations.
  • OSHRC affirmed two serious violations, and reinstated one stemming from an inspection of gas line work – overturning an administrative law judge’s decision – and increased the fine from $5,500 to $9,000 against Dade City-based Florida Gas Contractors Inc.

Georgia

  • Hilti Inc., a hardware merchant wholesaler, was cited for exposing employees to struck-by hazards after an employee was injured while operating a forklift at a distribution center in Atlanta. The Plano, Texas-based company faces penalties of $164,802.
  • Eye Productions Inc., a motion picture company, was cited for failing to provide adequate head protection during stunts while filming the “MacGyver” show in Chattahoochee Hills. Proposed penalties total $9,472.

Massachusetts

  • In Secretary of Labor v. HRI Hospital Inc. d/b/a Arbour-HRI Hospital, an administrative law judge vacated a citation that HRI Hospital Inc., based in Brookline, failed to adequately protect its employees from being physically assaulted by patients.

Minnesota

  • In Secretary of Labor v. SJ Louis Construction of Texas Ltd. (a division of SJ Louis Construction Inc., of Rockville, Minnesota), the ALJ determined that SJ Louis, an underground utilities contractor, failed to construct a trench in Cypress, Texas, in compliance with regulations and failed to provide employees proper egress. A penalty of $36,000 was assessed.

Pennsylvania

  • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District has entered a consent judgment ordering Blown Away Dry Bar and Salon, based in Kennett Square, to pay a $40,000 settlement to a fired hair stylist. Investigators determined the defendants retaliated against the employee when her husband reported workplace safety and health hazards to OSHA, a violation of the (OSH) Act.
  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed a general duty clause citation against Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital’s facility in Fort Washington for exposing its employees to workplace violence, as well as a $12,471 penalty.
  • KidsPeace Inc. was cited for exposing employees to workplace violence hazards at two behavioral and mental health facilities in Orefield. The company faces proposed penalties totaling $29,010.

Tennessee

  • Hankook Tire Company received 11 citations and faces $85,200 in penalties for failure to conduct periodic crane inspections, provide adequate personal protective equipment for workers handling hazardous chemicals, ensure that proper lockout/tagout procedures were followed, and guard machinery.

For additional information.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com