The daunting challenge of maintaining a drug-free workplace

With a national opioid crisis that defies holistic solutions, the legalization of medicinal marijuana in more than 30 states and recreational marijuana in 10 states, increases in deadly overdoses in the workplace, changing state laws, confusion over OSHA’s anti-retaliatory drug testing rule, and concerns about medical privacy, no employer should think they are immune to the problem. In fact, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), 15.6% of American workers live with a substance disorder and The Hartford reports that 64% of HR professionals are ill-prepared to help a worker with an opioid addiction.

These factors, coupled with a tight labor market and low unemployment, have led some employers to soften zero-tolerance policies for jobs where safety is not critical and there is a low risk of injury or error. The decision to relax zero-tolerance policies requires buy-in from company leadership and supervisors as well as serious evaluation of the consequences. Although the legalization of marijuana exponentially increases the complexity of the issue, the reasons for maintaining a drug-free workplace remain constant: safety of employees and customers, lower absenteeism, reduced turnover, fewer workers’ comp claims, fewer workplace conflicts, and reduced liability for workplace accidents.

It’s also troublesome for supervisors because substance abuse often falls below the radar of the workplace. Yet, for five consecutive years, unintentional workplace overdose deaths have increased by at least 25%. Drug testing, which is often a critical component of a zero-tolerance policy, can identify those at risk.

Here are five things to consider when evaluating a drug policy:

Legal concerns

While federal law regulating drug testing affects some heavily-regulated industries, there is no comprehensive federal law regulating drug testing in the private sector. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires all recipients of federal grants and some federal contractors to maintain a drug-free workplace.The ADA does not consider drug abuse a disability and allows drug testing; however, disability discrimination is a significant legal risk. If an applicant is not hired or an employee is terminated because of a positive drug test and the medication was legally prescribed for a disability, the employer could be liable. Reasonable accommodations must be provided at application, hiring, and during employment.

State laws that do regulate workplace drug testing vary widely and are constantly changing. Generally, state laws allow employers to drug test job applicants. However, many have rules about providing notice, preventing discrimination, and following procedures to prevent inaccurate samples. The laws governing testing of current employees varies widely by state, with some prohibiting random testing and others requiring ‘reasonable suspicion.’ There are also laws governing post-accident testing. It’s critical to understand and stay abreast of the laws in all the states in which you operate.

Marijuana

Marijuana is one of employers’ biggest worries and one of the driving reasons for employers to relax pre-employment drug testing. There is legitimate fear that it will reduce the pool of qualified candidates. Some address this issue by removing marijuana from the test panel for many positions that are not safety-critical.

The laws vary significantly with states that have legalized marijuana and case law is limited and evolving. Some states have card holder anti-discrimination statutes and some states prohibit firing of an employee who tests positive for marijuana while others allow it. Although all marijuana use is still illegal under federal law, state courts across the country are deciding cases on medical marijuana use and accommodation. Employers are wise to consider whether positive drug tests are connected to medicinal use before making employment decisions.

Employers should be careful about penalizing employees for off-duty marijuana use, since some states have statutes protecting employees. However, most states permit employers to prohibit marijuana use on their premises and to discipline employees who come to work under the influence.

While the uncertainty is unnerving for employers, a growing number of states are writing statutes to remove the ambiguities. Statutes in Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington DC, and West Virginia address employment protection for medical marijuana patients. It’s still possible to restrict marijuana use in these states, but care needs to be taken in crafting and enforcing a policy.

If you choose to differentiate marijuana policies from other drug policies, consider these questions:

  • Will treating marijuana differently create problems in the workforce?
  • Under what circumstances will employees be tested for marijuana?
  • What are the consequences of not testing (i.e. more injuries, absenteeism)?
  • What is the process to determine a medical exception to the policy?
  • What happens when an employee fails the test?

Workers’ Comp

Substance abuse can contribute to workplace accidents and a drug-free workplace helps prevent accidents, thus lowering workers’ comp costs. In some states, employers implementing a drug-free workplace receive a premium discount. As of October 2018, 13 states had such laws. While the requirements and discounts vary, the states include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming.

In addition, some states have enacted laws to make it easy for employers who properly drug test to deny workers’ compensation benefits. For example, Florida law provides that if the employee tests positive for drugs, then “it is presumed that the injury was occasioned primarily by…the influence of the drug upon, the employee.”

Medical marijuana raises thorny issues for employers. Can a claim be denied if an employee tests positive for using state-approved medical cannabis? Can an injured employee receive medical marijuana to treat a workplace injury? Both are new and evolving issues that will be the subject of future court cases and state regulations. The Minnesota Department of Labor & Industries issued rules allowing cannabis as a reimbursable form of medical treatment.

OSHA

The anti-retaliatory provisions of OSHA’s e-Recordkeeping rule resulted in considerable confusion about post-injury drug testing policies, which was somewhat clarified in a guidance memo in October 2018. Before doing post-accident drug testing, employers should:

  • Have a reasonable basis to conclude drug use could have contributed to the injury
  • Test all employees whose conduct could have caused an accident, even if they were not injured
  • Identify high hazard work as a reason for testing
  • Determine if the drug test can provide insight to the root cause of incident
  • Consider whether drug test is capable of measuring impairment at the time the injury occurred
  • Ensure employees are not discouraged or dissuaded from reporting injuries

Remember, the rule does not affect new hires, random testing, or testing to comply with state or federal laws or required by Workers’ Comp insurers.

Privacy

Although challenges to workplace drug testing policies on the grounds that they violate employees’ privacy have generally not been successful, the manner in which the test is conducted and how the results are used have been successfully challenged. Drug test results are considered protected health information and must be kept confidential. Further, as laws on employee privacy continue to evolve, testing that is not clearly authorized by law could be open to legal challenges.

Conclusion

Zero-tolerance policies are strong stands that send an important cultural message, but like any policy it should be evaluated periodically. How effective has it been? Has it hampered recruitment and retention efforts for positions that are not safety-critical? Has it prevented workers from seeking the help they need to deal with substance abuse? Does it impede flexibility?

Anecdotally, more employers are tailoring drug testing to the job and adding a fitness-for-duty component. Any policy changes require serious consideration as protecting employees remains the top priority. However, no change in policy should excuse an employee who is impaired while working. There’s just too much at risk.

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

Legal Corner

ADA 
More appellate court decisions support regular attendance as an essential function of most jobs

In Trautman v. Time Warner Cable Tex., LLC, (5th Cir. Dec. 12, 2018), Vitti v. Macy’s Inc., (2d Cir. Dec. 21, 2018), and Lipp v. Cargill Meat Sols. Corp., (8th Cir. Dec. 19, 2018), the Fifth Circuit, Second Circuit, and Eighth Circuit each found that employees claiming disability discrimination were lawfully terminated for attendance policy violations and affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. While the decisions show that unreliable attendance can render an employee unqualified for his or her job, it’s not a given and rests on the facts of the case- employers need to be vigilant in their documentation and process and consistent in the treatment of all employees.

FMLA 
Employee must turn over social media posts

In Robinson v. MGM Grand Detroit, LLC, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan found that an employer does have the right to Facebook and other social media accounts when an employee sues for discrimination and violations of the FMLA. The case alleged that an employee of MGM Grand was terminated because of his race and disability and in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. In discovery, the employee refused to provide his social media posts. A federal magistrate ruled that the employee’s Facebook, Google Photo, and Google location accounts were relevant for the case and ordered the employee to turn them over for the time he was out of work.

Workers’ Compensation 
NLRB: independent contractor test overturned

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has returned to a previous standard for evaluating the status of independent contractors versus employees. In the SuperShuttle DFW Inc. case, which involved shuttle-van-driver franchisees of SuperShuttle at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the board concluded that the franchisees are not statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act, but rather independent contractors excluded from the law’s coverage.

This decision overrules FedEx Home Delivery, a 2014 NLRB decision that modified the applicable test for determining independent-contractor status by severely limiting the significance of a worker’s entrepreneurial opportunity for economic gain.

Federal appeals court sends Browning-Ferris joint employer standard back to NLRB

The federal appeals court in the District of Columbia has partially upheld the Obama-era Standard in Browning-Ferris Industries of Cal., Inc. v. NLRB. The court said that it was permissible for the Board to create a standard that considered both an employer’s reserved right to control and its indirect control over employees’ terms and conditions of employment. However, the Board failed to articulate the scope of what it considers “indirect” control, so the issue was remanded. The impact on the Board’s rulemaking remains to be seen.

Employer not vicariously liable for a fatal car accident caused by an intoxicated employee – California

In an unpublished decision, Pryor v. Fitness International, an appellate court ruled that an employer was not vicariously liable for a fatal car accident caused by an intoxicated employee. When a supervisor determined that a membership counselor was impaired and sent him home early, the counselor’s car struck a bicyclist, who died from his injuries. The widow asserted the company was vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence because he was acting within the scope of his employment when he became intoxicated, and/or when he struck her husband. Further, they were negligent in hiring, retaining and supervising.

The court found that the employee was acting in a purely personal capacity when he became intoxicated and killed the bicyclist. The fact that he was sent home by the supervisor did not implicate the “special errand” rule under workers’ comp. Further, the company had no duty to try to prevent the collision, so it could not be held directly liable for negligence.

Job placement agency can’t be sued by worker who passed drug tests but was not offered job – Florida

In McCullough v. Nesco Res. LLC, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a job applicant who was required to take two drug tests (and passed) but was not offered a position cannot sue the placement agency. The Drug-Free Workplace Program Statute does not provide an aggrieved applicant with a private right of action. The Court said the “penalty” for the employer’s failure to abide by the statute was its loss of the discount in workers’ compensation premiums that it could enjoy with full compliance.

Lawsuit against employer for off-duty worker’s death can proceed – Minnesota

In Henson v. Uptown Drink, the Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit filed against a bar after the death of an off-duty employee may proceed. The bartender and other employees, including an off-duty employee, forcibly removed two men who had become drunk and belligerent. The off-duty employee fell and hit his head on concrete, causing a traumatic brain injury that led to his death. His family sued, but the district court ruled the suit was barred by the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the death arose out of and in the course of his employment. The case then proceeded under innkeeper negligence and violation of the Dram Shop Act and went through several appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court decision, ruling in part that “a reasonable fact-finder could determine that (the patron’s) intoxication, violent outburst, and subsequent physical resistance, taken together, were the proximate cause of the fall that killed…”

Comp carriers must split death claim in spite of mistaken duplicative coverage – Missouri

In Employers Preferred Ins. Co. v. Hartford Accident and Indem. Co., a husband and wife each procured a workers’ compensation policy for a bakery they owned. An employee died in an automobile accident in the course of his employment and Employers paid the claim, but sought an equitable contribution from Hartford. When a Hartford agent told the husband after the accident that the Hartford policy was active, the husband filed a cancellation request, Hartford retroactively cancelled the policy, and issued the bakery a full refund of the premium and maintained it did not owe any contribution to Employers.

However, the Eighth Circuit found state law barred Hartford from cancelling a policy and eliminating its duty to defend and indemnify, after an insured had become liable for a workers’ compensation claim.

Nebraska resident hired in state but injured in Alaska cannot collect in state – Nebraska

A Washington seafood company recruited, drug tested, and hired prospective employees in Nebraska, but did no actual work in the state, therefore it was not an “employer” for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In Hassan v. Trident Seafoods & Liberty Mut., an appellate court held that a resident who was hired in Nebraska and later sustained work-related injuries in Alaska, receiving some workers’ compensation benefits from that state, could not maintain a workers’ compensation claim in Nebraska

Worker must sue third party in state that paid benefits – Nebraska

Drivers Management LLC, a Nebraska trucking company, contracted with Eagle KMC LLC, an Arizona company, to train employers. A truck-driver-in-training was injured and collected workers’ comp from Drivers Management. Almost two years later, she filed a personal injury suit against Eagle and other parties. Because Drivers Management had a subrogation claim against any third-party recovery, it was named as a defendant. The suit was filed in Arizona and upon appeal, the court held that Arizona laws do not apply because workers’ compensation benefits were adjudicated and paid in Nebraska, which “governs subrogation, lien, and assignment rights in this action.”

Causal link must be more than a “possibility” – New York

In Bufearon v City of Rochester Bur. of Empl. Relations, a worker was injured in a work-related auto accident and received medical treatment for his left shoulder, left hip, low back,and cervical spine. The self-insured employer accepted liability for all treatment except for the cervical spine.

While a workers’ compensation law judge found that the cervical spine injury was compensable, the Workers’ Compensation Board reversed and the appellate court agreed, noting the Board had the power to determine the causal relationship based on substantial evidence. The court found the medical testimony conflicting, and neither treating physician reviewed the employee’s medical records from his prior cervical spine surgery. Therefore, the Board’s finding the physicians’ opinions regarding causation were mere expressions of possibility and speculation was proper and the injured worker failed to prove that his cervical spine issues were causally related to his accident.

No “grave injury” nixes 3rd party claim for indemnification – New York

In Alulema v. ZEV Electrical Corp., a worker allegedly suffered a brain injury while at work, resulting in disabling cognitive and emotional symptoms and filed a tort claim against a subcontractor. The subcontractor filed a third-party complaint against the employer, seeking indemnity or contribution.

Under state law, if an employee suffers a “grave” injury, the employer may be liable to third parties for indemnification or contribution. To be classified as a grave injury, it must leave the worker unemployable “in any capacity.”

An appellate court overturned the trial court and found no grave injury. Testing did not substantiate his claims of cognitive and emotional symptoms and he was actively looking for employment and had obtained his GED.

Court dismisses worker’s claim against Trump campaign for distress – North Carolina

In Vincent Bordini v. Donald J. Trump for President Inc. and Earl Phillip, an appellate court ruled it had jurisdiction rather than a workers’ compensation court over a suit alleging a Trump 2016 presidential campaign data director pointed his gun at a co-worker causing emotional distress and other damage. The director, who possessed a concealed carry permit, allegedly took out his gun and held it against the worker’s knee with his finger on the trigger while in the car.

While the campaign contended the case should be heard as a workers’ comp claim, the court noted, “The risk of being intentionally assaulted at gunpoint by a coworker is not one which a reasonable person may have contemplated when accepting an information technology job on a presidential campaign.” Therefore, it was not preempted by workers comp law.

Nevertheless, the court found that the campaign could not be held vicariously liable because the director was an independent contractor, not an employee. He was hired through a political consulting firm, had no set work hours, and was not under a regular employment contract.

Disability commences on the work day following the injury – Pennsylvania

While neither the statute nor case law addresses when a disability commences if an injured employee is paid full wages the day of their injury, the Commonwealth Court ruled the disability commences on the work day following the injury. It noted the bureau’s interpretation states that payment is to be made “on the date the claimant is unable to continue work by reason of injury unless he is paid full wages for the day.”

In Stairs v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board, a worker was injured and taken to the hospital by ambulance and did not return to work, but received full pay for the day of the injury. The employer sent a notice of temporary compensation payable, acknowledging the worker had suffered a back injury on Friday, March 27, 2015, and stated that the 90-day period to contest his claim would run from March 30 through June 27, 2015.

Under state statute, if the employer does not file to contest within 90 days its notice of temporary compensation payable will be converted into a notice of accepting liability for the claim. On the 90th day of the disability the company filed to contest the claim, although the Bureau issued a notice of conversion the following day. The worker appealed but the commonwealth court ruled that the employer’s notice was timely filed and the notice of conversion issued by the bureau was void.

Although symptoms abated, bricklayer entitled to ongoing benefits but not penalties from employer – Pennsylvania

In Kurpiewski v. WCAB (Caretti) and Caretti v. WCAB (Kurpiewski), the Commonwealth Court found a bricklayer was entitled to ongoing benefits, although he no longer had symptoms nor did he need treatment for a skin condition arising from his long-term exposure to chromium. His chromium sensitivity prevented him from working as a bricklayer. The worker also sought penalties, based on the employer’s failure to timely accept or deny liability for his claim.

The court found the employer had violated the law by failing to acknowledge or deny the claim within 21 days. Although it filed an answer contesting his claim, it did not issue a separate notice of denial. However, the court noted not every violation requires a penalty and remanded the imposition of a penalty to the judge.

Worker awarded benefits in spite of “close question” on causation – Tennessee

In Butler v. Tennessee Municipal League Risk Management Pool, a laborer worked on installing a water line at the county landfill. Two days later he was diagnosed with invasive pulmonary aspergillosis and has not returned to work.

While he argued it was a result of working in the trench, the pool said he had developed it on his farm. Since aspergillus spores are everywhere, causation is difficult to prove. However, through the testimony of his coworkers, it was established that several workers developed respiratory ailments after installing the water line at the landfill. In addition, four doctors opined that the invasive aspergillosis was caused by a massive exposure to the aspergillus fungus while digging the trench.

In overturning the denial of benefits, the Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel noted it was “strangely coincidental” all of the men fell ill with similar symptoms while working at the landfill and given the beneficent purpose of the workers’ compensation system, it found in favor of the worker.

Falling asleep at the wheel nixes benefits – Virginia

In Norris v. ETEC Mechanical Corp., a master electrician fell asleep while driving home from a job site and suffered serious injuries.The court found that the accident occurred in the course of employment, but did not arise out of his employment. The state uses the “actual risk” test to determine whether an injury arose out of employment. While he said he fell asleep because he was tired, he did not relate the drowsiness to his work.

To keep benefits, employee must be bound by release – Virginia

In Giles v. Prince George Cty. Pub. Sch, a worker suffered multiple injuries and filed several claims. Later, with the help of an attorney, she entered into a settlement agreement that included some exceptions to her treatment and prohibited further claims arising from the accident. Shortly after the settlement, she demanded benefits for her right shoulder, which was an exception in the agreement. The commission treated this as a request to review the settlement, but the worker argued she did not want a review, but wanted additional benefits. The Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s denial of benefits, noting she could not keep the benefits of her agreement and at the same time not be bound by her release.

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

Things you should know

Updated Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Reference guide issued

The updated guide, version 2.9, addresses spinal cord stimulators and the inclusion of off-label prescription drugs, particularly Lyrica as well as updating Life Tables and examples of settlements not meeting The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) review thresholds, but which would still require consideration of Medicare’s interests.

The NGHP User Guide was also updated and CMS will maintain the $750 threshold for no-fault insurance and workers’ compensation settlements, where the no-fault insurer or workers’ compensation entity does not otherwise have ongoing responsibly for medicals.

Some experts suggest that the changes are another indication that CMS intends to make Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) enforcement a priority in 2019.

New app can help determine what’s allowed in MSAs

The CMS launched its “What’s Covered” app to give consumers more information about their Medicare benefits. It also can be a valuable assist for injured workers with MSAs.

Study: Most manufacturing workers experience fatigue

study by the American Society of Safety Professionals suggests that the automation of manufacturing processes may be contributing to worker fatigue, which was found in 58% of the workers studied. Fatigue monitoring, such as wearables that monitor heart rate, are a possible solution. The report also notes three interventions to help mitigate fatigue: posture variance, chemical supplements and rest breaks.

Work comp insurers cite top concerns

Every year for the past decade, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) surveys carrier executives in the workers’ compensation industry to better understand their market perspectives, needs, and challenges. Learn what keeps them up at night.

New guidance for pain management in the age of the opioid epidemic

draft report from the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force, which acts in an advisory capacity for the federal government, calls for individualized, patient-centered pain management. Public comments are welcome.

Study: Injured workers in the mining and construction industries and those in rural areas more likely to receive opioid prescriptions

study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found 33% of injured workers employed in mining and 29% in construction received opioids for certain injuries and are more likely to receive higher doses and for longer time periods. The study also found that older workers were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions compared with younger workers, with 49% of injured workers age 49 or older receiving opioids compared to 42% of workers between the ages of 25 and 39.

Meanwhile, a higher percentage – 66% to 79% – of workers who sustained fractures, carpal tunnel and neurologic spine pain received at least one opioid prescription for pain relief. It’s postulated that those in rural areas receive more opioids because there are fewer pain management options available.

New video on performing tower modifications

new video from the National Association of Tower Erectors highlights the importance of understanding and following the proper sequence of performing tower modifications.

Injured Massachusetts teen workers lacked health and safety training: report

Nearly half of the teen workers in Massachusetts who were injured on the job between 2011 and 2015 said they did not receive health and safety training from their employer, according to a Massachusetts Department of Public Health annual report on teen worker safety. Four industries – accommodations and food service (37 percent), retail trade (19), health care and social assistance (11), and construction (4) – accounted for more than 70 percent of all work-related injuries involving teens in the state.

NIOSH releases resources on dampness and mold assessment

NIOSH recently introduced checklists to help employers assess damp areas and identify mold. The Dampness and Mold Assessment Tool has two versions – one for general buildings and one for schools – as well as a four-step assessment cycle.

CPWR releases alert, toolbox talk on lightning safety

Stressing the importance of lightning awareness while working outdoors, the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) has published a hazard alert and toolbox talk addressing the topic.

State News

California

  • Division of Workers’ Compensation has updated its formulary for injured workers to include drugs to treat traumatic brain injury, effective Feb. 15
  • FMCSA granted a petition to pre-empt the state’s meal and rest break rules for commercial motor vehicle drivers

Florida

  • OSHA resumes normal enforcement activity following Hurricane Michael

Massachusetts

  • A new law applies OSHA standards to all public employees, including municipal workers and quasi-public agency workers

Michigan

Minnesota

  • New law recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder as a compensable condition for first responders

New York

  • Governor vetoed bill that would have regulated and permitted acupuncturists to treat injured workers in the state’s workers compensation
  • WC Board launches virtual hearing app, WCB VHC, which is free in the iOS App Store

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

OSHA watch

Maximum penalty of repeat or willful violation rises to $132,598

The cost of non-compliance is on the rise with the annual adjustment for inflation, effective January 24, 2019. The chart below shows the 2019 increases for each type of violation:

Violation Type/Description CFR Citation 2018 Max Penalty 2019 Max Penalty
Serious 29 CFR 1903.15(d)(3) $12,934 $13,260
Other-than-Serious 29 CFR 1903.15(d)(4) $12,934 $13,260
Willful 29 CFR 1903.15(d)(1) $129,336 $132,598
Repeated 29 CFR 1903.15(d)(2) $129,336 $132,598
Posting Requirement 29 CFR 1903.15(d)(6) $12,934 $13,260
Failure to Abate 29 CFR 1903.15(d)(5) $12,934 $13,260

Reminder: Feb. 1 was deadline for posting Form 300A

Each year, from Feb. 1 to April 30, OSHA’s Form 300A, which summarizes job-related injuries and illnesses logged in the prior calendar year, must be displayed in a common area where notices to employees are usually posted. Details can be found in our January 2019 issue.

Final rule on electronic recordkeeping issued

As expected, the final rule eliminates the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees or those with 20 to 249 employees in certain industries with historically high occupational injury and illness rates to electronically submit information from Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) and Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) each year. These establishments are still required to electronically submit information from Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). The final rule also requires covered employers to electronically submit their Employer Identification Number with their information from Form 300A.

The deadline for electronic submissions is March 2, 2019. More information.

A lawsuit has already been filed by the Public Citizen Health Research Group, the American Public Health Association and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists arguing the final rule violates of the Administrative Procedure Act.

FAQs on silica standard for general industry published

The FAQs, which include answers to 64 questions organized by topic, provide guidance to employers and workers on the standard’s requirements, including exposure assessments, hazard communication and methods of compliance.

Free compliance assistance resources on falls offered online

To help employers prepare for the sixth annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, set to take place May 6-10, the following resources are online:

Requirements for trainers in Outreach Training Program revised

Among the 18 changes, which are scheduled to go into effect April 1, is eliminating the 90-day grace period after a trainer card expires, as well as updating the trainer code of conduct and responsibilities.

New safety resource on safe operation of tractors

A new rollover protection brochure provides information in English and Spanish on the safe operation of tractors. It emphasizes the importance of using rollover protective structures and seat belt systems to help reduce worker injuries.

Enforcement notes

California

  • US Postal Service faces fines of $149,664 for not addressing worker safety in high-heat conditions after a mail carrier was found dead in a postal vehicle on a record-setting 117-degree-Fahrenheit day in July.

Florida

  • Compass Group USA Inc., operating as Chartwells Dining, was cited for exposing employees to burn and chemical hazards at its cafeteria in Coral Gables. The company faces $134,880 in penalties for exposing employees to hazards associated with exit routes, failing to provide suitable facilities for quick drenching for employees who work with cleaning chemicals, and for not providing effective training to the employees working with the chemicals.
  • Inspected under the REP for Falls in Construction, Ad-Ler Roofing Inc. was cited for exposing employees to dangerous falls at a Naples residential worksite, one month after similar violations were found at another worksite. The Fort Myers-based contractor faces penalties of $91,466.

Missouri

  • New Haven-based Franklin County Construction LLC faces $56,910 in penalties after an employee suffered fatal fall injuries when a roof truss collapsed.

Nebraska

  • Hastings-based Noah’s Ark Processors is facing $182,926 in penalties after an employee suffered severe burns caused by exposure to anhydrous ammonia at one of its meat processing facilities. Sixteen serious violations were issued relating to process safety management (PSM) program deficiencies, failing to guard roof openings, and electrical safety and lockout/tagout violations.
  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed a serious violation and $11,408 penalty after an employee was hospitalized due to an arc flash. Jacobs Field Services’ policy of permitting employees to remove portions of their personal protective equipment after they had determined the load side – but not the line side – of an electrical disconnect box was de-energized violated the statute.

New York

  • St. Louis, Mo-based Western Specialty Contractors is facing criminal charges and $155,204 in penalties for exposing employees to serious injuries. Operated by an untrained employee, an unsecured mini-crane overturned and fell four stories at an NYC worksite.
  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed a serious violation against Fairport-based Ontario Exteriors Inc. when a worksite policy that directed its employees to traverse a steep second-story roof without fall protection at the beginning and end of each work day resulted in the injury of one worker. The law judge reduced the fine in half to $1,811 noting that the court believes the company will comply with fall protection requirements in the future.

Pennsylvania

  • Spear Excavating LLC based in Pennsburg was cited for exposing employees to trenching hazards at a worksite in Malvern. The company faces $106,057 in proposed penalties. The inspection was initiated by a complaint.
  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed a serious citation and $11,408 fine against Coastal Drilling East LLC after an employee’s finger had to be amputated following a workplace accident. Cited under the general duty clause, the company argued that abatement of the cited condition was infeasible and the violation was the result of unpreventable employee misconduct, but the law judge cited an absence of training, instruction, and supervision and inconsistent enforcement.

Wisconsin

  • Two utility contractors – Bear Communications LLC of Lawrence, Kansas, and subcontractor V C Tech Inc. of Ypsilanti, Michigan – were issued a serious safety violation, and face penalties of $12,934 each – the maximum penalty allowed when they failed to establish the location of underground utilities prior to beginning excavation work. A volunteer firefighter responding to the incident was fatally injured.

For additional information.

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

HR Tip: Have you updated these policies in your 2019 employee handbook?

Keeping the employee handbook updated with the latest laws and company policies is a challenging, but necessary, task. 2018 was a busy year particularly at the state and local levels as new and amended employment-related laws took effect in 27 states. Here are 20 areas that may need attention. Employers are encouraged to discuss with knowledgeable counsel the local, state, and/or federal laws that will apply to the employer’s workplace in 2019:

  1. Sexual harassment
  2. Discrimination protection based on gender identity
  3. Retaliation procedures
  4. Reasonable accommodations for women who are pregnant or breast feeding
  5. Update to leave laws (supplement may be necessary for multi-state employers)
  6. Medical and recreational marijuana
  7. Drug use
  8. Equal pay and wage discrimination
  9. Use of cellphone while driving
  10. Independent contractors
  11. E-cigarettes and other tobacco substitutes
  12. Weapons in the workplace
  13. Changes to employee benefits
  14. Remote work policies
  15. Data privacy
  16. Social media
  17. Workplace conduct
  18. Arbitration and At-will acknowledgement
  19. Minimum wage
  20. Problem areas requiring a clearer policy or different strategy

Updating the handbook is also an opportunity to train managers and reinforce policies with employees. Employers should also obtain acknowledgments of receipt each time they update their handbooks.

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

A new approach to serious injury and fatality prevention

Since the advent of Heinrich’s Injury Pyramid in 1931, it has been generally accepted that there is a predictive relationship between the frequency and types of non-injury, minor injuries and the serious, life-altering or threatening injuries, at the top of the triangle. The safety triangle theorizes that for every major injury there are 29 minor injuries and 300 non-injury incidents. Though this triangle is considered a gold standard, many safety professionals realize that all non-injury or minor incidents are not equal and some have more potential to result in a serious injury or fatality (SIF).

A recent report by the Campbell Institute, Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices recommends a redesign or enhancement of the model. The new SIF prevention model would look at all incidents – namely, precursors to accidents, recordable injuries, lost-time injuries and fatalities – and seek out those with serious injury and fatalities potential. It encourages organizations to focus on the process factors that lead to SIF, rather than human error, which will always occur. They should focus on repairing gaps in their safety management system, workplace culture, and changing or modifying work processes that eliminate human error.

For example, a workplace with a production problem may ignore or even condone shortcuts and speed, which can lead to bad decisions by workers. A forklift operator may drive too fast and not wear a seatbelt, which can lead to a serious accident. While there can be a tendency to blame the worker, the production demands were the proximate cause and the precursor to the event. According to the author of the paper, Joy Inouye, a key to lowering the fatalities in the workforce lies in an organization’s ability to look inward. “Instead of blaming the worker for not putting on his seatbelt, start to look at those organizational factors that contributed to that.” The report includes examples of companies that have successfully revamped strategies for identifying risk factors.

Trends in injury patterns validate the need for a shift in thinking. While employers have done a good job in reducing the total recordable incident rate, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of workplace fatalities and catastrophic injuries. Diving deeper into near misses and smaller, less serious incidents could help prevent on-the-job deaths or catastrophic injuries. By identifying potential precursors to such events and educating employees about those precursors, companies can focus on eliminating the potential for such incidents to occur.

The report recognizes that isolating incidents with the potential for SIF requires serious groundwork. It suggests next steps like organizing a think-tank that defines “serious injury”, “precursor” and “potential.” To determine whether an incident is a potential SIF or not, it may make sense to define and use a Severity Scale that can be consistently understood by anyone, one that is tied to potential outcomes. For example, most severe could be an injury that would lead to the death of an individual, and the least severe could be first aid and immediate return to work. Including specific injury examples can be helpful.

Implementation raises the bar of safety management and requires a proactive, rather than reactive approach. It will take careful planning – both around the processes used and the responsibilities assigned.

What employers can do

  • Review and evaluate your near miss reporting system
    • Do workers fear the consequences of reporting something they may be blamed for or is there a culture of trust and all workers participate in reporting?
    • Is near miss training part of new hire orientation?
    • Are supervisors and management onboard and do they foster a reporting culture?
    • Is reporting simple and straightforward?
    • Does the report provide a solid log of what leads up to the incident?
    • Is the definition of near miss clear?
    • Is there a thorough investigation that identifies the root cause?
    • Are corrective actions taken and employees notified?
  • Have supervisors explain to employees why the company is focusing on the smaller incidents and near-misses, and how a minor incident can turn major. Explain the importance of looking at potential rather than actual outcomes for minor incidents.
  • Think-outside-the box. A recent article in Risk and Insurance described how Wente Family Estates vineyards teamed up with the criminology department at Holy Names University in Oakland to take a look at workers’ comp data to analyze injuries and near misses, pinpointing problem areas and gathering insight on how to prevent future losses. The idea was based on a partnership between United Airlines and the University of New Haven that used interns from the criminology department as part of a data visualization project, leading to a 23 percent reduction in employee injuries and a 29 percent reduction in aircraft damage on the ground.

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

OSHA: 2018 enforcement facts and what to watch for in 2019

What happened in 2018

A recent webinar by Conn Maciel Carey L.L.P., a Washington-based law firm, took a look at OSHA enforcement action in 2018 with surprising results:

  • Despite expectations that many of the enforcement programs would be retired, the agency continues to implement the same number of enforcement emphasis programs as were implemented at the end of the Obama administration (150 local and regional programs and nine national)
  • There was a $5M increase in the FY 2019 budget and state OSH programs received a $2M increase, the first since FY14, rather than the expected budget cuts
  • Still no Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA (longest ever vacancy)
  • Statutory requirement to increase penalties annually remains in place
  • Number of inspections was similar to FY2017, and larger than FY16, the last year of the Obama administration – 32,202
  • Total violations issued was slightly lower than FY 2017 – 52,141 – and about 12% lower than FY16
  • A high percentage of inspections result in the issuance of violations – 28%. This has been relatively stable over the past eight years, indicating it is very difficult to have a clean OSHA inspection
  • The average penalty per serious violation increased significantly – 37.6% to $5,016
  • Although the number of $100,000+ penalty cases dropped from the record-setting 218 in FY17, there were 168 in FY 2018. This is still one of the top five years of $100,000+ enforcement actions
  • The heavy use of repeat violations has continued, with 5.1% of all violations in this category. The percentage has been over 5% since FY2016
  • A 2016 site-specific targeting inspection plan offers insights on how OSHA will use the 300A injury data collected under the new e-recordkeeping rule. Establishments with elevated DART rates and those that did not submit the required data are the primary targets, but others can be inspected
  • There has been continued expansion of the general duty clause to cite employers for heat stress, ergonomics, workplace violence, and chemical exposures below PEL
  • A May 2018 memo formalized the use drones to collect evidence, including the requirement that the agency obtain employers’ consent. Some fear the use of drones has the potential to expand OSHA’s violation-finding capabilities during any inspection and that the guidelines are too vague

Significant case decisions

  • The Obama administration expanded the “look-back” period, which is the basis of repeat violations to five years from the three years that was in the field operations manual. In Triumph Construction vs. Sec of Labor, the court found that OSHA is not bound by any look-back period since it is not in the statute or the regulations. Although the five-year period is still in the manual, legally there can be an indefinite look-back period.
  • The ability of OSHA to expand an unprogrammed injury inspection (based on a reported hospitalization) to a wall-to-wall inspection was addressed in U.S. v. Mar-Jac Poultry. The 11th Circuit court rejected the warrant to inspect the facility based on the injuries recorded on the 300 log, which it found did not establish reasonable suspicion of violations.
  • OSHA successfully defended the legality of its multi-employer policy and ability to cite a general contractor as a “controlling employer” in Acosta vs. Hensel Phelps.
  • Under the Obama administration, there was an effort to expand “per day” violations, which a grain handler challenged. The OSHRC ALJ granted Summary Judgment to the employer, noting per day penalties are inconsistent with the statute except when regulation language is clear such as for failure to abate.
  • EPA tried to delay the implementation of the EPA’s RMP amendments that were made in the final hours of the Obama administration, but the court found the delay rule unlawful.

What’s happened in 2019?

  • OSHA was fully funded so its enforcement activities were not affected by the government shutdown
  • There was a delay in the annual increase in penalties because the Federal Register was shut down, but the increase is in place now (see OSHA Watch below)
  • Scott Mugno was re-nominated for Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA on January 16
  • A final rule on electronic recordkeeping eliminates the requirement for large and certain high-risk establishments to annually submit 300 logs and 301 incident reports. The establishments are still required to electronically submit information Form 300A and to submit their employer identification number

What’s expected

  • Further amendments to beryllium standard
  • Final rule to remove critical language of “unexpected energization” from Lockout Tagout standard
  • Hazard Communication standard revisions to align with the current version of Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling (GHS)
  • Possible changes to Table 1 of the new Silica rule
  • Further challenges to electronic recordkeeping

Takeaway: To date, there has not been the pullback on enforcement that was expected under the Trump administration. It remains aggressive and citations are more expensive. If a company is inspected there is only a one in four chance that it will not receive a citation. Forward-thinking companies are vigilant about compliance.

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

Things you should know

2018 WorkComp Benchmark Study released

The sixth annual Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study Report by Rising Medical Solutions, Inc. focuses on key issues influencing medical management performance and the most potent strategies to address these issues.

BLS report: Fatal injuries remain over 5,000

The number of fatal work injuries dropped slightly in 2017 to 5,147 down from 5,190 in 2016. Fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the BLS’s reporting, accounting for 17.2% of employee deaths, while transportation incidents again account for the most deaths with 2,077, or 40.4%.

In 2017, 15.1% of fatally injured workers were age 65 or over – a series high. The number of deaths among Hispanic or Latino workers rose 2.7% to 903 in 2017.

Report: Injured restaurant workers miss an average of 30 days

AmTrust Financial Services Inc., a provider of workers compensation insurance, took a deep dive into common restaurant injuries, lost time, industry loss ratio trends and how to implement loss control best practices in its report, Restaurant Risk Report. Cafés and coffee shops had the highest lost time, on average 45% more time lost than all other restaurant types. Wrist injuries are the biggest danger for coffee shop workers, with “barista wrist” resulting in an average of 366 days to return to work.

Study: Musculoskeletal injuries to long-haul truck drivers

Nearly half of all musculoskeletal injuries reported by long-haul truck drivers are to their arms, backs or necks – the majority being sprains and strains – according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Drivers most often were injured because of a fall (38.9 percent) or contact with an object or equipment (33.7 percent).

Of those injured, 53 percent required time away from work, at a rate of 355.4 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers, which is more than double those of other hazardous professions. The researchers said the study suggests the need for injury prevention and interventions and ways to improve recovery when injuries occur.

Report ranks states by risk of violence from Black Friday

A report ranking states by risk of violence during Black Friday was recently released by Reviews.org. Included in the report are the employers that have the most incidents during Black Friday.

State News

Florida

  • Department of Economic Opportunity announced that the statewide average weekly wage paid to injured workers by employers will be $939 starting Jan. 1.

Minnesota

  • A total of 101 fatal work-injuries were recorded in Minnesota in 2017, an increase from the 92 fatal work-injuries in 2016 and 74 fatal work-injuries in 2015. More information

Missouri

  • The Department of Insurance is recommending a 3.5 percent decrease in workers’ compensation insurance loss costs for 2019, the fifth year in a row rates will decrease.

New York

North Carolina

  • The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Benchmark shows that medical payments per workers’ comp claim decreased significantly since 2013, falling 6 percent each year through 2016.
  • The Industrial Commission has finalized settlement agreement rules, The “Group 2” rules aimed to clean up some inconsistent language and streamline the settlement process, as well as clarify wording relating to attorney’s fees. The rules took effect Jan. 1.
  • The Commission approved Group 1 rule changes, which took effect Dec. 1. Medical motions, responses and appeals on medical motions must be submitted electronically and must include the opposing party’s position on the matter.

Pennsylvania

  • Insurance commissioner approved two loss cost reductions that together will amount to a 14.74% decrease, starting Jan. 1. Loss costs are one of many factors that determine premiums for workers’ comp insurance.
  • Department of Labor and Industry reported that the maximum compensation rate will rise by 2.3%, to $1,049 per week, starting Jan. 1. It’s website offers a chart to determine compensation based on the employee’s average weekly wage.
  • Department of Labor and Industry announced that it has adopted the Red Book, published by Truven Health Analytics, to determine the average wholesale price of prescription drugs.

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

Legal Corner

ADA
Bank pays $700,000 for inflexible disability policy

A bank has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit for violating the ADA. Hudson City Savings Bank, which merged into Wilmington Trust Co., a subsidiary of Buffalo, New York-based M&T Bank Corp. in 2015, had a long-standing inflexible policy of placing employees with impairment or disabilities on involuntary leave or discharging them until it received a medical provider’s clearance to return to work with no restrictions.

Disability discrimination case of health worker who refused vaccine dismissed

In Janice Hustvet v. Allina Health System, a unit of Minneapolis-based Allina Health System merged with Courage Center in Minneapolis. Allina required Courage Center employees who had patient contact to get a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella as part of a preplacement health assessment screen. An independent living skills specialist refused noting she had many allergies and chemical sensitivities.

When she was fired, she filed a disability discrimination suit under the ADA. The court found that the requirement to undergo a health screen was job-related and consistent with a business necessity. Further, there was insufficient evidence that her chemical sensitivities or allergies substantially or materially limit her ability to perform major life activities.

Workers’ Compensation
Apportionment for pre-existing, asymptomatic conditions allowed – California

In City of Petaluma v. WCAB (Lindh), a police officer suffered head injuries during a training exercise, experienced headaches and lost vision in his left eye. A medical assessment determined that he had a pre-existing vascular condition that predisposed him to a loss of eyesight. While an administrative law judge and the WCAB granted a 40% permanent disability without apportionment, the 1st District Court of Appeal noted statutes provide that permanent disability must be apportioned based on causation, as long as there is substantial medical evidence that the disability was caused, in part, by nonindustrial factors. The condition does not have to manifest itself; an asymptomatic condition, means a condition that is present but for which there aren’t any symptoms.

The court therefore ordered the case sent back to the board to issue an award apportioning 85% of Lindh’s disability to his pre-existing condition, and 15% to his industrial injury.

Workers’ fraud means carrier can seek modification of benefits – Florida

Florida’s statute allows a judge of compensation claims to change benefits if there is a change in condition or if there was a mistake in a determination of fact. In U.S. Fire Insurance Co. v. Hackett, the carrier had been paying for around-the-clock attendant care provided by the husband and daughter of the injured worker. Over 25 years after the accident, the injured worker stopped seeing her treating doctor.

The carrier then conducted surveillance and found she was not receiving all the attendant care for which they were paying and questioned the need for continued care. While a judge agreed that the husband and daughter were deceiving the carrier, she denied the carrier’s petition for modification, reasoning that the evidence established fraud, not a change in medical condition. She also stated she did not have the authority to compel an IME. The Court of Appeal for the 1st District disagreed and reversed the decision.

Injured worker cannot sue third party – Illinois

In A&R Janitorial v. Pepper Construction Co.; Teresa Mroczko, an employee of a janitorial service was cleaning an office building. At the same time, a subcontractor was replacing carpets and a desk that had been placed in an upright position fell and injured the custodian. She collected workers’ comp benefits from her employer, but did not file a timely personal injury action against the construction company.

Under Illinois law, if a worker does not file a personal injury action, her employer can. While the litigation was pending, the worker filed her own action, but was denied as untimely. Later, she filed a petition to intervene in her employer’s case. While a judge denied the petition, the Appellate Court reversed and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court reversed on res judicata grounds – the matter had already been adjudicated by a competent court and may not be pursued further by the same parties.

Temporary staffing employee cannot sue assembly plant – Indiana

An employee of a temporary staffing agency was assigned to work in an assembly plant. When her hand was crushed by a punch press and a finger was severed, she collected workers’ comp from her employer, the temporary staffing agency. Later she filed suit against the assembly plant, claiming negligence.

The assembly plant argued that it was immune from civil liability since the worker was an employee and the courts agreed. The Indiana statute provides “a lessor and a lessee of employees shall each be considered joint employers of the employees provided by the lessor to the lessee.”

Attorney’s text message to IME does not bar medical report and testimony – New York

In Robert G. Knapp v. Bette & Cring LLC, Workers’ Compensation Board, a divided appellate court ruled that the Workers’ Compensation Board erred in barring the introduction of the IME’s report and testimony at a later hearing because the attorney sent a text message to the physician and not the opposing counsel.

The message requested an update on the loss of use of the worker’s left foot, which had been determined at 40.5% for comp benefits. Following the exam, the IME found an 88% scheduled loss and the Board reopened the case. The Board credited the employer’s physician’s report and awarded a 50% loss, precluding the IME’s report.

In overturning the decision, the appellate court noted the message ‘appears to be a limited communication’ and did not reflect an effort to influence the physician’s testimony or opinion.

Injured employee can continue medication beyond its recommended short-term use – New York

In Matter of Byrnes v. New Island Hospital, an appellate court ruled that an injured nurse could continue use of Amrix, a muscle relaxant, which is recommended for only short-term use on the board’s Non-Acute Pain Management Guidelines, but which she had been using for over 16 years. The injured worker’s doctors argued that the medication, in combination with other therapies, allowed her to perform the activities of daily living and to continue working as a nurse and the effects of the drug vary by individual.

The court supported the board’s finding that the medication was medically necessary.

Additional compensation awards subject to durational limits – New York

In Mancini v. Office of Children and Family Services, the state’s highest court ruled the additional compensation awards permissible under Section 15 (3) (v) of the Workers’ Compensation Law are subject to the durational limits set out under Section 15(3)(w) – those for workers with non-schedule injuries. The ruling is a continuation of the state’s trend toward caps on benefits that started with the 2007 reforms.

Supreme Court overturns compensability award based on preexisting condition – North Carolina

In Pine v. Walmart Associates, a long-time employee fell and was released to return to work, but continued to experience pain. A few months later, imaging revealed nerve damage and she filed a workers’ compensation claim. Walmart accepted liability for the right shoulder and arm injuries, but denied liability for the condition of her cervical spine as well as other injuries, since she had a pre-existing degenerative disc disease.

The Industrial Commission found her injuries and subsequent pain were the result of the earlier fall and were compensable based on the Parson’s presumption that injured workers should not be required to prove their need for treatment was related to the original injury every time they seek further medical care. While noting the commission applied the incorrect standard in determining compensability, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

While this was under appeal, legislation was enacted that amended the statute, Section 97-82(b), to clarify that the Parsons presumption applies only to the specific injury that was accepted on a Form 60. Since the statute was applicable to all cases not yet resolved, the worker was not entitled to a presumption that her other conditions were compensable. Further, it was unclear if the commission made findings of causation independent of the application of the presumption; therefore, the decision had to be set aside.

Petition for civil contempt cannot compel interest payments on benefits delayed while employer appealed award – Missouri

In Smith v. Capital Region Medical Center, a widow was awarded benefits for the death of her husband. When the employer appealed the award, there was a delay of about 1.5 years before the Court of Appeals affirmed it. The widow filed a petition for civil contempt to compel the employer to pay the interest owed, but the court noted Section 511.340 prohibits the use of civil contempt to enforce the mere payment of money.

First employer liable for reoccurrence of injury of worker hired through labor union – Nebraska

In Weyerman v. Freeman Expositions, a stagehand was a member of a local union. The union had a collective agreement with Complete Payroll, which was considered the employer of members of Local 42 when they worked on its jobs, but the union also had agreements with other companies, including Freeman Expositions, which specified it was the “employer” when union members were working on its jobs.

The stagehand was injured while working for Freeman and the treating doctor cleared him to return to work in about a week. Complete Payroll sent the worker to another job, but he was unable to perform because of back pain. Then he was cleared to return to work, but did not go back and began seeing another doctor and filed for workers’ compensation.

The workers’ compensation court found he suffered an injury to his back while working for Freeman Expositions and that he suffered a recurrence of the injury several weeks later and he had not reached MMI. While the Court of Appeals acknowledged conflicting evidence, it affirmed the decision that Freeman was liable for both injuries.

Question of disability limits benefits for daughter with incurable eye disease – Pennsylvania

In Aqua America v. WCAB (Jeffers), a worker was killed in an auto accident, leaving behind a wife and four children. Under the law, payment of benefits to minor children continue until they reach the age of 18 and beyond, if they have a disability.

His daughter suffers from an incurable, progressive eye disease, which will eventually leave her legally blind. The widow sought dependency benefits that would continue after her daughter turned 18.

While a workers’ compensation judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board approved the daughter’s benefits beyond the age of 18, until the employer could prove she was capable of self-support, the Commonwealth Court overturned. It noted disability involves “not merely physical impairment, but loss of earning power” and there was no evidence regarding loss of earning power.

Patient’s ulcer not attributable to pain medications – Tennessee

In Steak N Shake v. Yeager, a restaurant worker suffered serious injuries in a fall and was given prescriptions for several pain medications. A week after his fall, he returned to the hospital complaining of weakness, dizziness and chest pain and a doctor posited that the ulcer was likely caused by the combination of meds. The Department of Labor ordered the restaurant to pay for his care.

His hospital bill was over $48,000 and the restaurant contested it by filing a civil suit against the worker. In so doing, they obtained admissions that the worker had taken more meds than prescribed and he consumed an average of three ounces of liquor daily. While a trial judge upheld the award, the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel reversed and the Supreme Court upheld the Panel’s decision not to award benefits.

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

OSHA watch

Revised Beryllium Standard for General Industry proposed

The proposed rule, published in the Dec. 11 Federal Register, would revise provisions regarding recordkeeping, personal protective clothing and equipment, written control exposure plans, disposal and recycling, medical surveillance, and hazard communication. It also would change or add six terms in the “definitions” paragraph of its regulations: beryllium sensitization, beryllium work area, chronic beryllium disease, CBD diagnostic center, confirmed positive and dermal contact with beryllium.

Another proposed change is removing Appendix A, which lists suggested controls, and replacing it with a new Appendix A, “Operations for Establishing Beryllium Work Areas.”

The enforcement date for the provisions affected by this proposal was December 12, 2018. While this rulemaking is pending, compliance with the standard as modified by this proposal will be accepted as compliance. The deadline to comment on the proposed rule is Feb. 11.

Initiative to increase awareness of trenching and excavation hazards and solutions launched in southeastern states

As part of the agency’s focus on trenching safety, area offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi have launched an initiative to educate employers and workers on trenching safety practices. They are reaching out to excavation employers, industry associations, equipment rental organizations, water utility suppliers, and national and local plumbing companies to educate them to identify trenching hazards. Compliance assistance resources are available on the updated Trenching and Excavation webpage.

CPWR infographic provides trench safety tips

CPWR, The Center for Construction Research and Training, developed an infographic focusing on trench safety, including best practices to protect workers in trenches.

(English / Spanish)

Winter weather resources

The Winter Weather webpage provides information on protecting workers from hazards while working outside during severe cold and snow storms. This guidance includes information on staying safe while clearing snow from walkways and rooftops.

Court ruling: general contractors can be cited for hazardous conditions at multi-employer worksites, even if those conditions do not directly affect their own employees

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, recently overturned a ruling of the OSHRC that Hensel Phelps Construction Co., a general contractor, could not be held liable for violations from one of its subcontractors, under the multi-employer work site policy despite it not having any employees exposed to the hazard.

In Acosta v. Hensel Phelps Construction Co., the Fifth Circuit aligned with seven other federal circuit courts in granting OSHA authority to issue citations to controlling employers.

Certification organization releases employer guides on updated crane operator requirements

The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators has published three employer guides on the updated crane operator requirements, which went into effect Dec. 10. The two-page guides address the rule’s training, certification and evaluation regulations.

(Training / Certification / Evaluation)

Area offices must use four-part test when citing respiratory hazards without PELs

Area offices must apply a four-part test before issuing General Duty Clause citations for respiratory hazards that do not have a permissible exposure limit, according to a memorandum sent to regional administrators.

The memo, issued Nov. 2, notes that area offices cannot base a General Duty Clause citation on only a “measured exposure” in excess of an occupational exposure limit or a documented exposure to a “recognized carcinogen.” Instead, they must use the following tests in those situations:

  1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed.
  2. The hazard was recognized.
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or physical harm.
  4. A feasible and useful method to correct the hazard was available.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Santa Cruz-based Future2 Labs Health Services Inc., a manufacturer of cannabis products faces $50,470 in penalties for 10 violations, following an explosion that left a worker seriously injured.
  • A Riverside construction company, Empire Equipment Services Inc., was cited $66,000 for serious workplace safety violations that resulted in the death of a worker when a 17-foot-deep trench collapsed.
  • The U.S. Army Reserve 63 Regional Support Command at a Sacramento maintenance facility was issued safety violations, after a federal civilian employee was fatally injured when the automated lifting mechanism of a utility vehicle cargo box failed and pinned him between the bed and the vehicle frame
  • Southern California Edison received six citations, totaling $95,435 in penalties, after a worker suffered a serious electric shock. Inspectors determined that the company failed to control hazardous energy, isolate exposed underground cables with protective coverings, and eliminate all possible sources of backfeeding energy.

Florida

  • Jacksonville-based Derek Williams, operating as Elo Restoration Inc., was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at two separate worksites in St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction, the roofing contractor faces $116,551 in penalties.
  • Elo Restoration was also cited, along with Travis Slaughter, operating as Florida Roofing Experts, Inc., for exposing workers to fall hazards at another St. Augustine worksite. Responding to a complaint of unsafe roofing activities, inspectors determined that the companies failed to ensure workers were attached to a fall protection system. Both companies were issued the maximum allowable penalty of $129,336.
  • L.A. Disaster Relief and Property Maintenance LLC, a property maintenance and land clearing company, faces $94,415 in penalties for failing to implement a hazard communication program after an employee suffered burn injuries at a McDavid worksite.
  • Doral-based Nupress of Miami, Inc., a commercial printer, faces $71,139 in penalties for exposing workers to amputation, electrical, and other hazards.
  • Turnkey Construction Planners Inc., a roofing contractor based in Melbourne, was inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction and faces $199,184 in penalties for exposing employees to fall hazards.

Georgia

  • Parts Authority LLC, doing business as Parts Authority Georgia LLC, a wholesale auto and truck parts distributor based in Norcross, faces $133,406 in penalties for exposing employees to fire, electrical shock, and struck-by hazards.

Missouri

  • World Wrecking and Scrap Salvage Services Inc., a demolition company, was cited for failing to provide fall protection after two employees suffered fatal injuries at a demolition site in St. Louis and faces penalties of $23,280.

Nebraska

  • Clearwater-based Thiele Dairy was cited for failure to develop and implement safety and health programs related to grain bin entry after an employee suffered fatal injuries and faces penalties totaling $78,899.

Pennsylvania

  • In Secretary of Labor v. J.D. Eckman Inc., an administrative law judge of the OSHRC vacated citations against the bridge and highway construction company related to a workplace incident in which an employee was fatally struck in a traffic control zone. The citation was issued under the General Duty Clause, which the judge found inapplicable under the circumstances.

For more information.

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