Legal Corner

ADA
Employer takes proper steps to win approval of terminating employee taking opioids

In Sloan v. Repacorp, Inc. (S.D. Ohio February 27, 2018), an employee who worked 10% – 20% of his time on heavy machinery was taking both prescription morphine and non-prescription opioids. The company’s handbook requires all employees to notify management if they are taking nonprescription or prescription medications and testing positive for these could result in termination. However, the employee did not inform his supervisors.

After his company learned of his drug use, the employee voluntarily submitted to a drug test and tested positive for hydrocodone, the opiate found in Vicodin. When he was terminated less than two weeks later, he filed suit on charges including disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. He alleged he was disabled because of degenerative disc disease and arthritis in his neck and back and fired because of his disability.

The company, however, had made a good faith effort to involve him in the interactive process. It asked him to consult with his doctor to see if there were alternative medications or treatments for his pain that did not include opiates, but he refused. The court noted that he was not fired because he was a direct threat to himself or others, but because he failed to participate in the interactive process. Thus, he impeded the company’s ability to investigate the extent of his disability and determine whether a non-opiate medication could reasonably accommodate his disability.

This decision serves as a reminder that individualized assessments should always be made and an employee’s lack of cooperation during the interactive process is often a strong defense to both ADA discrimination and retaliation claims.


Workers’ Compensation
Statute of limitations for temporary disability awards clarified – California

In County of San Diego v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Kyle Pike, a deputy sheriff suffered an injury to his right shoulder on July 31, 2010, and received benefits for five years up to July 31, 2015. He sought to reopen the petition and receive temporary disability benefits and a WCJ awarded the benefits and the Board agreed.

However, a dissenting panel member argued that the statute does not permit an award of temporary disability more than five years after the date of the injury. The Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District, agreed, noting the language of the statute clearly indicates that temporary disability payments cannot be awarded for periods of disability occurring more than five years after the date of the underlying injury.

Interactive process and accommodation required after injury – California

In Bolanos v. Priority Business Services, an injured worker returned to work with restrictions and suffered a hernia while he was working in the office. He settled a workers’ comp claim for the hernia, but the company told him they could no longer accommodate him. He filed suit alleging disability discrimination and retaliation and a jury awarded him almost $40,000 and attorney fees of $231,470.50, plus $10,697.08 in costs.

The company argued that it could not show it engaged in the interactive process and reasonably accommodated the employee because a trial judge disallowed evidence of the workers’ compensation claim and settlement from consideration by the jury. However, the Court of Appeals found the company was not prejudiced by the trial judge’s ruling.

Implanted surgical hardware does not qualify as continued remedial care – Florida

Under Florida statutes, workers have two years from date of injury to file a worker’s compensation claim, but the time can be extended to one year after the date that the employer last paid indemnity benefits or furnished remedial care. In Ring Power Corp. v. Murphy, an employee who injured his back underwent spinal surgery and doctors used rods and screws to stabilize his spine while the bone grew back together.

A judge determined that a petition for benefits seeking additional medical treatment was not time barred because the company was continuously furnishing remedial treatment as long as the rods and screws remained within the worker’s body. The 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed noting that the pins and screws no longer served a purpose.

Worker’s suspected intoxication not factor when insurer fails to meet 120-day deadline to deny compensability – Florida

In Edward Paradise v. Neptune Fish Market/RetailFirst Insurance Co., an employee fell and fractured his hip while emptying the garbage. The employer was informed of the injury but did not report it to the insurer. The injury was complicated by infections and, ultimately, five surgeries were required. Ten months after the accident, the worker filed the first notice of the injury and the insurer elected to pay and investigate under Florida’s 120-day rule. The insurer did not file a notice denying compensability of the workplace injuries because of intoxication until almost 16 months after the injury. The court noted the failure to meet the 120-day deadline to deny the compensability of an injury claim waived the insurer’s intoxicated-worker rights.

Appellate court misconstrued “arising out of employment” requirement – Georgia

In Cartersville City Schools v. Johnson, a school teacher was denied benefits by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation’s Appellate Division for a fall incurred while she was teaching a fifth-grade class because the act of turning and walking was not a risk unique to her work. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals noted, “For an accidental injury to arise out of the employment there must be some causal connection between the conditions under which the employee worked and the injury which (s)he received.”

It said the Appellate Division overlooked the proximate cause requirement and focused on the concept of equal exposure – that the teacher could have fallen outside of work while walking and turning, as she did while she was at work. Therefore, it erroneously concluded her injury resulted from an idiopathic fall and was not compensable. Although an employee could theoretically be exposed to a hazard outside of work that mirrors a risk faced while at work, it does not mean an injury resulting from the workplace hazard is non-compensable.

No death benefits for family in asbestos claim – Georgia

In Davis v. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., an employee, who worked at a Louisiana-Pacific facility in Alabama, moved to Georgia after leaving his position. Several years later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died. His family filed a claim for death benefits arguing that, although he was last exposed to asbestos in Alabama, his diagnosis and death occurred in Georgia.

While the court acknowledged that there was not a work-related “injury” until he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the “accident” that resulted in his condition was his exposure to asbestos while he was employed in Alabama. Had the worker’s contract been executed in Georgia he would have been eligible for benefits, but it was made in Alabama and, therefore, the state did not have jurisdiction over the claim.

Children can sue over birth defects related to father’s on-the-job exposure – Illinois

The exclusive remedy afforded by worker’s comp does not apply to two teenagers who suffered birth defects as a result of their fathers’ workplace exposure to toxins because they were seeking damages for their own injuries, not their fathers’ noted the 1st District Court in reversing the Circuit Court of Cook County. The fathers’ employer, Motorola, had argued successfully to the Circuit Court that the birth defects were derivative of a work-related injury to their fathers’ reproductive systems. However, upon appeal, the 1st District Court noted the children weren’t employees of Motorola, and they were suing over their own injuries, not their fathers’.

Failure of company to get out-of-state coverage nixes death claim – Illinois

In Hartford Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Worldwide Transportation Shipping Co., the Iowa-based shipping company hired an Illinois truck driver who only worked in Illinois. After he died from a work-related injury, his widow filed an Application for Adjustment of Claim against Worldwide under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Since the company only had workers’ comp coverage in Iowa at the time of the fatal accident and none of the insurer’s conduct suggested that coverage extended to out-of-state drivers, the insurer was not liable for death benefits.

Dismissal of tort claims against co-workers upheld – Missouri

Four cases that occurred during the period (2005 – 2012) when the comp law did not extend an employer’s immunity to co-workers were recently considered by the Supreme Court and the dismissal of the tort claims upheld. “For purposes of determining whether a co-employee can be liable for an employee’s injury between 2005 and 2012, the co-employee’s negligence is assumed,” the court said. The focus needs to be on whether the breached duty was part of the employer’s duty to protect employees from foreseeable risks in the workplace.

In Conner vs. Ogletree and Kidwell, Conner suffered an electrical shock when he came in contact with a live power line. The Supreme Court said the failure of his co-workers to ensure that the line was de-energized was a breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace. In Evans vs. Wilson and Barrett, the court said that a worker’s negligent operation of a forklift was also a breach of his employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace.

In McComb v. Nofus, the court said the decision of two supervisory employees to send a courier out into a dangerous winter storm was not a breach of any personal duty owed to McComb. In Fogerty v. Armstrong, the court said a worker’s misuse of a front loader was a breach of the employer’s duty of care.

Average weekly wage includes compensation, value of meals and lodging for former pro athlete – Nebraska

Nebraska’s statute states that wages do not include “board, lodging, or similar advantages received from the employer, unless the money value of such advantages shall have been fixed by the parties at the time of hiring.” In Foster-Rettig v. Indoor Football Operating, a professional indoor football player received $225 for each game he played in, plus an additional $25 per game if the team won or played well. The team also paid for him stay at a particular hotel in Omaha seven days a week during the football season and he got 21 meal vouchers for local restaurants.

His career was ended by a back injury and he filed a comp claim. At trial, he provided expert evidence about the value of the hotel room and meals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the compensation court that benefits should be based on an average weekly wage of $903.25, including an average salary of $231.25 per week from playing in games, plus an average of $350 per week for lodging and $320 per week for his meals.

Landlord liable for labor law claim even if tenant contracted for work without their knowledge – New York

In Gonzalez v. 1225 Ogden Deli Grocery Corp. a deli leased retail space, hired a painter to add a decoration to its sign, and set up the A-frame ladder. The painter fell from the ladder and filed a Labor Law action against the landlord for his injuries. Under Section 240(1), property owners have absolute liability for failure to protect workers from elevation-related risk and Section 241(6) imposes a non-delegable duty on owners to comply with the safety regulations of the code. Even if the deli contracted with the painter without the knowledge of the landlord, the landlord was liable, according to the Appellate Court. The landlord only presented unsworn statements from the deli owner and a deli worker and hearsay statements cannot defeat summary judgment if they are the only evidence.

Tort claim against co-employee can proceed – New York

In Siegel v. Garibaldi, an employee who was walking to the campus safety office to clock out was struck by a car driven by a co-worker, who was heading home. The injured worker received comp benefits and filed a tort action against his co-worker. While the appellate court noted that the law ordinarily limits a worker to a recovery of workers’ compensation benefits if he is injured by a co-worker, in this case, the driver was no longer acting within the scope of his employment. The road was open to the public and the risk of being struck in a crosswalk is a common risk shared by general members of the public.

Expert medical evidence is required to establish occupational disease claim – North Carolina

In Briggs v. Debbie’s Staffing, an employee operated a large mixing machine at a refractory manufacturer. Employees were required to wear respiratory protection masks because the process produced a lot of dust. After the employee was fired for attendance-related issues, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, asserting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. While a physician initially opined that the asthma was likely caused by the working conditions, he did not know the worker was a smoker and had worn a respirator mask and testified this might affect his opinion on causation.

The employee argued that his own testimony about the working conditions were sufficient to establish a claim, but the appellate court noted only an expert is competent to opine as to the cause of the injury and present medical evidence that the employment conditions placed the employee at a greater risk than members of the general public.

Slip and fall on shuttle bus compensable – Pennsylvania

In US Airways Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, a flight attendant was trying to place her luggage on the racks in a shuttle bus that was taking her from the airport to an employee parking lot, when she slipped on water on the floor and injured her foot. The airline argued that the incident did not take place on the airline’s property and that the shuttlebus was part of her commute to work, since it did not own the shuttlebus and did not require its employees to park in the parking lot. The Commonwealth Court ruled that her commute ended at the parking lot and work began on the shuttle, thus, her injury was compensable.

Worker was not permanently and totally disabled – Tennessee

For almost twenty years, the employee worked in a factory of General Motors. He suffered several on-the-job injuries and his last injury required surgery on his right shoulder. When he was cleared to return to work with restrictions, GM could not accommodate him and he never returned to work, nor sought other work. He filed a request for permanent total disability benefits, asserting that he had no vocational opportunities.

Two qualifying experts expressed conflicting opinions as to his vocational abilities and the employee said he did not consider himself unable to work, although not in the type of positions he had held in the past. The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel ruled against the benefits, noting it’s the trial court’s discretion to accept the testimony of one expert over another and to consider an injured employee’s testimony concerning his abilities and limitations.

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

Things you should know

NCCI report: National Medicare Set Asides and Workers Compensation: 2018 Update

A new report from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), Medicare Set Asides and Workers Compensation: 2018 Update analyzes trends in the submission of Medicare set-asides (MSA) to understand the cost drivers and the medical care of workers injured on the job who are or are likely to become eligible for Medicare based on 11,500 Medicare set-asides.

About 64% of claimants are eligible for Medicare, not because of age but because they have been on Social Security Disability for at least two years. Another 29% of claimants are eligible due to age, and about 7% are likely to become eligible within 30 months. Overall MSAs represent more than 40% of total submitted workers’ compensation settlement costs. More than half of MSA’s involve an attorney.

Estimated future drug costs are the main reason that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are requiring increases of Medicare set-aside amounts.

New CPWR database shows 42 percent of construction worker deaths involve falls

In a 33-year period, falls accounted for nearly half of all construction worker deaths and more than half of the workers killed lacked access to fall protection mostly in the residential building, roofing, siding and sheet metal sectors, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). The new searchable database includes reports of fatality reports for 768 construction industry fatalities.

ISHN’s annual hand protection update

Industrial Safety and Hygiene News has released its annual hand protection update.

First blood test for concussions approved by FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a blood test to evaluate and diagnose concussions, the first of its kind. This new kind of testing is quick and may reduce reliance on CT scans which can expose patients to radiation.

Up to 21 percent of asthma-related deaths may be from on-the-job exposures: CDC report

Occupational exposures may have contributed to 11 percent to 21 percent of all asthma-related deaths among 15- to 64-year-olds between 1999 and 2016, according to a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Musculoskeletal disorders widespread among plastic surgeons

Nearly 80 percent of plastic surgeons experience work-related musculoskeletal issues or injuries, according to the results of a recently conducted survey of practitioners.

Cyber incidents top list of ten highest threats to U.S. businesses

Allianz’s Risk Barometer 2018 has released its annual survey of risk experts from 80 countries. For the first time, the No. 1 risk in the U.S. (with 45% of the vote) is cyber incidents (moving up from No. 2 last year), with business interruption the largest loss driver after a cyber incident.

Depression and fatigue increase risk of work-related injuries in women: report

A new study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that women who suffer from depression, anxiety and fatigue are more likely to be injured at work. Nearly 60 percent of women, as compared to 33 percent of men, reported that they experienced a behavioral health condition before they were injured.

State News

Massachusetts

Nebraska

  • The Supreme Court has signed off on changes to Rule 15: Records Checked Out governing the procedures for filing workers’ compensation appeals. It also adopted changes to non-adjudicatory Rules 26, 47 and Addendum 2. View amendments.

New York

Pennsylvania

  • A bill that would have created a drug formulary for injured workers failed to pass the House ending in a split 98-98 vote.

Tennessee

  • The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has produced a bullet-point summary to help explain the changes to the medical fee schedule rules, which are now in effect.

Wisconsin

  • Employers now subject to tort claims for temp workers’ injuries (see Legal Corner).

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

OSHA watch

Enforcement of the Beryllium standard delayed two months

To ensure that stakeholders understand their obligations and there is time to provide consistent instruction to inspectors, the enforcement date of the rule lowering occupational exposure to beryllium has been pushed back to May 11, 2018 from March 12, 2018.

Budget justification reveals upcoming regulatory actions

According to the congressional budget justification, a revised final rule on beryllium in the construction industry and shipyards will be released prior to FY 2019, which begins October 1. The agency also is set to issue revisions to its Recordkeeping rule and Respirator Fit Testing Procedures (1910.134 App A) in FY 2018, as well as a proposed update to its Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) to align it with the current version of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling.

Another long-awaited proposal to revise the crane operator certification requirements in the Cranes & Derricks in Construction Standard (1926.1427) is on the horizon, as is one to include ANSI Consensus Standards in OSHA’s Powered Industrial Trucks Standard (1910.178).

THE Standards Improvement Project IV, including LOTO, is scheduled to be completed in FY 2018.

Inspection goals

With a target goal of 30,840 inspections (1,556 fewer than in FY 2017), inspections will focus on “the highest-impact and most complex inspections at the highest-risk workplaces.” The FY 2019 proposed budget by the Trump administration is the same as the agency’s current budget and includes an addition of 42 new fulltime employees for enforcement and 32 for areas such as compliance assistance, outreach, and the Voluntary Protection Programs.

Standard interpretation of cold compression therapy as medical treatment beyond first aid

While several individual components of a cold compression therapy device are included on the list of first aid treatments, physical therapy is considered medical treatment. In response to a letter about a cold compression therapy device that uses cold therapy, non-rigid wraps, and compression to treat an injury, a standard interpretation was issued that found cold compression therapy devices are medical treatment for purposes of recordkeeping requirements.

New publications on tree care and silica offer worksite safety solutions

Solutions for Tree Care Hazards highlights common hazards in the tree care industry and provides safety measures for employers and workers.

A revised fact sheet that summarizes the major requirements of the respirable crystalline silica standard for general industry and maritime is now available.

 

Enforcement notes

California

  • A-1 Roof Management and Construction, Inc., in Novato, faces $80,620 in fines for exposing workers to fall hazards from unprotected floor openings and failing to install barriers near skylights. A worker suffered serious injuries after he fell 23 feet through a skylight.
  • Napa-based Gorilla Tree Service was cited for $23,200 for serious workplace safety violations following an investigation of an accident that killed a 24-year-old worker.

Florida

  • An administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) affirmed citations issued against Fort Walton Beach-based Elmer Cook Construction Inc., but lowered the assessed penalties to $2,100 for each violation, noting the company’s small size (4 employees) and because there was no evidence of a history of violations.

Georgia

  • Dalton-based, First Source Worldwide LLC, faces $256,088 in penalties for willful citations for failing to install a fall protection system, and develop and implement a written permit-required confined-space program as well as other violations relating to machine guarding and PPE.
  • Thomson-based auto parts manufacturer HP Pelzer Systems Automotive Inc. was cited for safety violations and proposed penalties totaling $129,336 after an employee suffered a finger amputation.

Illinois

  • Manuel Gallardo, owner of Gallardo’s Construction Services based in Palatine, faces $281,286 in proposed penalties after inspectors observed employees exposed to fall hazards on six Chicago-area residential roofing projects between August and November 2017.

Massachusetts

  • A Beverly-based general contractor, A.C. Castle Construction Co. Inc, argued it was wrongly held responsible for the acts and omissions of a subcontractor, the sole proprietorship of Daryl Provencher. However, an administrative law judge of the commission determined that the subcontractor and A.C. Castle “acted as a single employer in the worksite” and that Mr. Provencher “was a supervisory employee working for A.C. Castle.” The decision was upheld by the Appeals Court.

New York

  • Carthage Specialty Paperboard Inc., has reached a settlement agreement to improve efforts to prevent safety and health hazards in their Carthage facility after being cited for 62 health and safety violations in June 2017. The company will pay $175,000 in penalties.

Tennessee

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC vacated a safety citation and $5,000 in penalties issued against a barge building facility in Ashland City operated by Trinity Marine Products Inc. after determining that regulators failed to prove the technological and economic feasibility of engineering and administrative controls of airborne pollutants.

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

HR Tip: ABA’s summary of 2017 FMLA cases

Every February, 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 2017 in a user-friendly manner.

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

OSHA’s removal of the term “unexpected energization” from the LOTO standard likely to lead to more citations

Under the Obama administration, OSHA began an effort under the Standards Improvement Project 4 to fix minor, noncontroversial issues in several existing regulations, including the lockout/tagout regulation. While these issues typically include correcting typos, eliminating redundancies and clarifying vague language, the proposal to remove the term “unexpected energization” from the lockout/tagout regulation is a significant change, according to many experts.

There was a 6th Circuit court case in 1996, Reich v. GM Delco interpreting the term “unexpected energization” that is used in the standard. Employers have relied upon this decision for over 20 years. In this case, the court found that alarms and flashing lights provided sufficient warning of a machine starting up and removed the risk of unexpected energization and overturned the willful lockout/tagout violations.

In so doing, the court noted that the standard “unambiguously renders LOTO inapplicable where an employee is alerted or warned the machine is about to activate.” It went on to say that it applies “where service employee is endangered by a machine that can startup w/out employee’s foreknowledge.” It is not unexpected if:

  • Alarm gives clear, audible, timely warning
  • Controls located so servicer is necessarily aware of start-up
  • Equipment unplugged & exclusively controlled by servicer

Experts postulate that the change will result in more citations because it removes one well known method of addressing hazardous energy. OSHA also is scheduled to complete its Standards Improvement Project IV in FY 2018.

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

Getting LOTO wrong is costly: Here’s how to get it right

Many companies believe they are in compliance with OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) standard; yet, it is one of the most difficult to comply with and is the number five violation in general industry and construction. To give you an idea of the standard’s complexity, a compliance directive to explain the enforcement policy and inspection procedures for compliance officers is 136 pages long, whereas the standard is only a few pages.

An increased focus on violations of Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) and Machine Guarding (1910.212, .213, .217, and .219) began in 2006 with the Amputations National Emphasis Program (NEP). This became even more pronounced when OSHA changed the requirements for reporting work-related fatalities and severe injuries in 2015. Employers must report any in-patient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye within 24 hours of learning of the incident.

When an amputation is reported, it’s almost certain that an inspection will take place. In 2017, more than 10% (3,596) of all OSHA inspections were under the Amputations NEP, 75% of which were in manufacturing, and 1,247 were triggered by employer reports.

What’s important to note is that this resulted in 7,850 citations, including 302 willful and repeat violations, which carry maximum fines of $126,749. The proposed total cost of the citations is over $55 million. In addition to the potential for costly fines is the even more ominous possibility of being placed in OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP).

One of the criteria OSHA uses to place an employer in the SVEP is 2+ Willful, Repeat, or Failure to Abate violations related to high emphasis hazards. There are only nine high emphasis hazards and amputations is one of them. According to a Conn Maciel Carey PLLC webinar, 68% of the SVEP cases fall under this qualifying criterion.

When OSHA puts an employer in the SVEP, it issues a press release before employers can contest the citation(s). This can have a negative impact on recruiting employees, obtaining bids and permits, and be devastating to a company’s reputation. Moreover, there are mandatory follow-up inspections, inspections at related facilities, and corporate-wide abatements. It’s not a place employers want to be – once designated as a severe violator, there is no clear-cut method for getting out of the program. And it’s not only large employers that are affected. Small employers make up the majority, with about 75% having 100 or fewer employees and roughly 55% having 25 or fewer employees.

Lastly, LOTO is among the most frequent OSH Act criminal violations.

What employers get wrong

When OSHA conducts an inspection, it’s relatively easy to spot LOTO violations. In 2017, the most frequent standard section cited was related to machine-specific procedures: 1910.147(c)(4)(i) – procedures shall be developed, documented, and utilized for the control of potentially hazardous energy. Employers that are cited often misunderstand the scope of activities covered by LOTO. They often focus exclusively on electrical hazards, but the standard covers a broad range of energy sources, such as mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, or other types of energy.

The program must include written equipment-specific LOTO procedures for all equipment, including vehicles such as forklifts and trucks, with hazardous energy sources and must include all energy sources. While it is possible to group equipment and machinery that have the same hazardous energy sources and the same or similar methods of controlling the energy, some employers do not understand the criteria for grouping that is set forth in section IX of OSHA’s compliance directive, or may neglect to list all covered machinery in the scope of the energy control procedure.

In some cases, employers neglect to document key elements of the procedure. There are also specific rules that apply when a contractor services the machinery and noncompliance leads to citations.

Employers and employees may mistakenly believe a procedure falls under the minor servicing exception. The standard contains specific criteria that must be met for the minor servicing exception to apply and all elements must be satisfied for an exception. Other common mistakes include not updating the procedures when changes occur, applying the construction rather than general industry standard, and overlooking facility support and operational equipment, such as HVAC machinery, boilers, and compressors.

The second most frequently cited standard is 1910.147(c)(6)(i) – the employer shall conduct a periodic inspection of the energy control procedure at least annually to ensure that the procedure and the requirements of this standard are being followed. In this case, annual means every twelve months. Some companies have the wrong person conducting the inspection. It must be an “authorized employee” other than the workers utilizing the lockout/tagout procedure being inspected.

If machines are grouped together the inspection must be of a representative number of employees implementing the procedure. “Representative” is subject to interpretation, so it’s important to have a rationale for the number chosen (complexity, older procedure, etc.). Moreover, the outcome of the inspection must be reviewed with all authorized employees as part of the periodic inspection. Employers also must “certify” that the inspections include the machine or equipment on which the energy control procedure was being utilized, the date of the inspection, the employees included in the inspection, and the person performing the inspection. And inspections must take place for each one of the LOTO procedures.

The third most cited standard is 1910.147(c)(1) – The employer shall establish a program consisting of energy control procedures, employee training and periodic inspections to ensure that before any employee performs any servicing or maintenance on a machine or equipment where the unexpected energizing, startup, or release of stored energy could occur and cause injury, the machine or equipment shall be isolated from the energy source and rendered inoperative.

A written lockout procedure is not required when a machine only has one energy supply that’s easy to identify and lock out. The machine can’t have any potential for stored energy and locking that one energy isolating device completely de-energizes the machine. Even if an employer uses an outside contractor for servicing and does no in-house servicing, a LOTO program is required because there are affected employees.

Fourth is related to training. 1910.147(c)(7)(i) – The employer shall provide training to ensure that the purpose and function of the energy control program are understood by the employees and that the knowledge and skills required for the safe application, usage, and removal of the energy controls are acquired by the employees.

Employers do a good job of training authorized employees, but sometimes overlook affected employees (who operate equipment being serviced) and all other employees who may be present in areas where LOTO is utilized, including management. Also, temporary employees often are forgotten. Another common problem is failure to develop “Group Lockout” procedures when more than two employees service a machine or to require use of a Group Lockout device.

Other common citations include wrong use of locks, wrong use of tags, and working under someone else’s lock.

Complying with OSHA’s Control of Hazardous Energy policy is difficult and the consequences for violating the regulation can be severe. Proposed changes in the regulation (see next article) may lead to more citations. An effective program will reduce the potential for employee injury as well as regulatory liability.

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

OSHA and EEOC regulatory updates and enforcement stats on first year of Trump administration

OSHA

Rule and policy status

  • Maximum penalties for violations increased to adjust for inflation as of Jan. 2, 2018.OSHA is required to annually adjust civil penalties under a 2015 law that significantly increased the maximum penalties allowed for violations. In January, the maximum penalty for willful and repeat violations increased from $126,749 to $129,336. The maximum fines for other-than-serious, serious, and failure to abate violations rose from $12,615 to $12,934 per violation.
  • General industry compliance date for Beryllium Standard – March 12, 2018
  • General industry compliance date for Silica rule – June 23, 2018
  • Certification of crane operators – Nov. 10, 2018
  • Elements of Walking-Working Surfaces & Fall Protection – Nov. 19, 2018
  • Rewrite of Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) remains active in the final rule stage under the Standards Improvement Project to make non-controversial changes to confusing or outdated standards. The proposal is to remove “unexpected energization” language from the standard.
  • Injury Data Electronic Submission. OSHA is working on a draft of a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to “reconsider, revise, or remove provisions of the “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” final rule. While July 1, 2018 remains the deadline for the next data submission, OSHA recently changed its website to read: “Covered establishments with 250 or more employees are only required to provide their 2017 Form 300A summary data. OSHA is not accepting Form 300 and 301 information at this time.” Pundits are speculating that changes will include increasing the thresholds for high hazard industries and small employers, limiting submission to Form 300A, and eliminating the Anti-Retaliation provisions.
  • There has been no pullback in the criminal prosecution of employers for willful violations that result in a fatality. A.G. Sessions has not archived the Yates memo, which was issued under the Obama administration and expanded individual accountability for corporate wrongdoing and encouraged use of the tougher environmental statutes. Many expect continued criminal prosecutions.
  • There has been a shift away from the enforcement-heavy philosophy of the Obama administration and an increase in compliance assistance programs and alliances. NBC News recently reported that the number of OSHA inspectors fell 4 percent over the first nine months of 2017; 40 inspectors had left the agency and not been replaced. Impact varied by region, with the Southeast region losing 10 inspectors and experiencing a 26% decline in inspections in the first eight months of the Trump administration. However, inspections in 2017 did increase overall.
  • To date, there has been no change to the expanded scope of the Obama administration’s repeat violation policies. However, this should be watched as many expect a return to the treatment of individual, independent workplaces rather than an umbrella corporate approach and a lookback period of three, rather than five years.
  • There is an effort underway to revitalize the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).
  • There was a significant shift away from public shaming. Only 45 press releases related to fines were published in 2017, compared to an average of 463/year for the previous five years. (Conn Maciel Carey L.L.P.)
  • Even though Fed OSHA is reducing the emphasis on enforcement, some state OSH programs, such as California, are increasing enforcement.

Enforcement stats

A recent webinar by the law firm, Washington-based Conn Maciel Carey L.L.P. took a look at OSHA enforcement action in 2017 and the results may surprise you:

  • While the number of OSHA inspections declined each year from 2012 to 2016, they increased 1.4% from 31,948 in 2016 to 32,396 in 2017
  • The number of violations issued has declined since 2010. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of violations declined from 59,856 to 52,519 or 12.2%
  • The percentage of inspections that resulted in no citations issued has remained relatively stable – between 23% and 27%
  • The average penalty per serious violation was $3,645 in 2017, up from $3,415 in 2016
  • The cases with proposed penalties of $100,000 of more jumped dramatically from 154 in 2016 to 218 in 2017, but million-dollar cases fell from an average of 8.4 per year to 6 in 2017
  • The number of repeat violations dropped from 3,146 in 2016 to 2,771 in 2017

 

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Rule and policy status

  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has vacated the EEOC’s wellness rule effective Jan. 1, 2019, instructing the agency that its goal of revising the rule by 2021 is too slow
  • The Obama rule for large companies to report wages by race and gender on the EEO-1 form was stayed by the Office of Management and Budget in August 2017, except for the new March 31 filing deadline. Covered employers must file their 2017 Form EEO-1 no later than March 31, 2018 and the snapshot period used to compile data should be one pay period during the period from October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017
  • A pullback on efforts to expand Title VII to cover sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is expected

Enforcement stats

  • Retaliation charges accounted for the largest number of charges (41,097) filed in fiscal year 2017 for the seventh consecutive year and represented 48.8% of all charges
  • While the overall number of charges filed declined by 7.9%, there was only a slight decline in retaliation charges
  • Following retaliation, race was the second most frequent charge filed with the agency in fiscal year 2017 (28,528) – 33.9% of the total. This was followed by disability, 26,838, or 31.9% of the total; sex, 25,605, or 30.4% and age, 18,376, or 21.8%.
  • The agency also received 6,696 sexual harassment charges and obtained $46.3 million in monetary benefits for victims of sexual harassment

According to the 14th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report issued by Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P, key 2017 trends were:

  • The monetary value of top workplace class action settlements rose dramatically, with the top 10 settlements in various employment-related class action categories totaling $2.27 billion, an increase of more than $970 million from 2016’s $1.75 billion
  • Evolving case law precedents and new defense approaches resulted in better outcomes for employers in opposing class certification requests
  • There was no “head-snapping pivot” in filings and settlement of government enforcement litigation despite the change in administration. In fact, government enforcement litigation increased in 2017
  • Several key U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past year were arguably more pro-business than past year’s decisions

Despite the change in the administration and the Trump deregulatory agenda, the enforcement stats suggest workplace issues are still a high priority for OSHA and the EEOC. Some speculate this will change when new leadership is fully in place. Others suggest that significant enforcement will continue since the language and requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act make deregulation difficult without legal challenges and even if the risk of being subjected to systemic EEOC litigation lessens, employers who do not have robust and effective anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and practices will remain at significant risk of litigation from private attorneys.

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

Things you should know

Fatal work injuries reach highest level since 2008

Workplace fatalities increased for the third year in a row in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, rising to 5,190, a 7% increase from the 4,836 fatal injuries reported in 2015. Double-digit increases were reported in workplace violence and overdose fatalities.

Work injuries involving transportation incidents remained the most common fatal event in 2016, accounting for 2,083 fatalities, or 40% of the overall total. But violence and other injuries by persons or animals increased 23% to 866 cases, becoming the second-most common fatal event in 2016. Fatal work injuries from slips, trips and falls were the third-most common fatal event last year.

Texas was the state with the highest number of worker deaths (545), followed by California (376), Florida (309) and New York (272). In all, 36 states experienced increases in deaths due to workplace injuries in 2016.


Operation Airbrake puts 2,700 CMVs out of service for brake-related violations

An unannounced inspection blitz of commercial motor vehicles resulted in 14 percent being placed out of service for brake-related violations, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. On Brake Safety Day, which took place Sept. 7, CVSA inspectors checked 7,698 trucks and buses in the United States and Canada. The inspections resulted in 1,064 vehicles being taken out of service for brake violations and 1,680 (22 percent) for other infractions.


New video for tower workers: Safe use of snow-tracked vehicles

A new video highlights the proper operation of snow-tracked vehicles when accessing remote tower locations.


NIOSH withdraws proposed rule on respirator leakage standards

NIOSH has withdrawn a notice of proposed rulemaking that would have established standards for total inward leakage of half-mask air-purifying particulate respirators. According to NIOSH, the public comment period produced enough evidence to convince the agency to rescind the notice.

 

 

State News

California

  • A new law lowering the corporate officers’ ownership threshold for opting out of work comp coverage to 10%, from a current 15%, will be effective July 1.
  • The closed drug formulary for workers’ compensation will be updated quarterly by a committee of three doctors and three pharmacists who will meet several times a year, according to the Division of Workers Compensation.
  • The Department of Industrial Relations announced 376 workers died on the job in 2016, down slightly from 388 deaths in 2015 but still higher than the most recent low of 344 in 2014.

Florida

  • The Office of Judges of Compensation Claims reported that claimants’ attorney fees increased 36% in the latest fiscal year, following the state Supreme Court’s April 2016 decision in Castellanos v. Next Door Co., which reinstated hourly fees for claimants’ attorneys.

Illinois

  • Medical payments per workers compensation claim were 24% higher than the median for other states examined in a new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI).

Kansas

  • In 2016, there were 74 fatal work-related injuries according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 50% of which were transportation incidents.

Michigan

  • Workers’ compensation medical payments are among the lowest in the country, according to a WCRI study medical payments per claim, limited to 2.2% per year, due in part to lower prices paid for professional services as well as lower payments per service for hospital outpatient services.

Missouri

  • The Department of Insurance is recommending a 3% decrease in workers’ compensation insurance loss costs for 2018, on top of a 4% decrease that took effect on Aug. 1.

Minnesota

  • Minnesota experienced 92 workplace fatalities in 2016, a 24.3% increase over the prior year and 48.3% above the 2015 rate. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting accounted for the most deaths, followed by construction.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Assigned Risk Plan has issued a notice regarding rates for new and renewal policies, effective Jan. 1 through March 31. Because certain classification codes have been eliminated and two new classification codes created, MWCARP is publishing new rate pages, effective Jan. 1. The eliminated classification codes are 1655, 1853, 3175, 3223, 4053, 4061, 4101, 6017, 7228, 7229 and 9149.The new classification codes are 7219 and 7225.

Mississippi

  • Workers die on the job at a rate double that of the national average, according to the National Employment Law Project. The national average is 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, while Mississippi’s rate is 6.8, the fourth highest number in the country for 2015, behind North Dakota’s more than 12, Wyoming’s 10 and Montana’s 7.5. The leading fatal work injuries by occupation were 35% for transportation/material moving and 17% for construction/extraction.

New York

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that will require workers’ compensation insurers to notify policyholders 30 days before hiking their renewal premiums by more than 10%.
  • The medical share of total workers’ compensation benefit costs dropped to 37% in 2015 and 2016 from a high of 42% in 2007, while the national average is 51.4%, according to a report by the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board.

North Carolina

  • Medical payments per workers compensation claim decreased 6% per year from 2013 through 2015, according to the WCRI, likely due to fee schedule rules.
  • The Industrial Commission reminds stakeholders of a new employee misclassification statute that went into effect Dec. 31.

Pennsylvania

  • Acting Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman has approved an emergency loss cost increase of 6.06%, effective Feb. 1, in response to the state Supreme Court’s Protz decision.

 

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

OSHA watch

Industry challenge to silica rule rejected by court

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rejected all industry challenges to the silica rule and ordered the agency to explain why it omitted medical removal provisions. Industry groups had challenged the rule on several points, including whether there was evidence it would reduce a significant risk of material health impairment, whether it was technically and economically feasible, and if it violated the Administrative Procedure Act. It also challenged whether substantial evidence supports two ancillary provisions of the rule: allowing workers who undergo medical examinations to keep the results confidential from their employers; and prohibiting employers from using dry cleaning methods unless doing so is infeasible.

Labor unions challenged two parts of the silica rule: the requirement that medical surveillance for construction workers be provided only if the employee must wear a respirator for 30 days for one employer in a one-year period; and the absence of medical removal protections. The court rejected the first, but asked for an explanation of the second.


New and revised fact sheets on silica now available

More than a dozen fact sheets that provide guidance on the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction have been released.


Redesigned webpages make it easier to find training resources

Employers and employees can get information on job safety classes, trainers, tools, and 10-hour and 30-hour cards on the redesigned training webpage.

Tips to protect workers from winter hazards

The Winter Weather webpage provides information on protecting employees from hazards while working outside during severe cold and snow storms, including information on staying safe while clearing heavy snow from walkways and rooftops.


Alliance participants issue alert on use of multi-gas monitors in the oil and gas industry

A new hazard alert explains how multi-gas monitors can protect workers from atmospheric hazards in oil and gas operations.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Following the collapse of a temporary mold and vertical shoring at an Oakland construction site, which hospitalized 13 workers, Cal/OSHA issued serious and serious accident-related citations to subcontractors Largo Concrete Inc. and N.M.N. Construction Inc. for $73,365 and $70,320, respectively. General citations were issued to general contractor Johnstone Moyer Inc. for $3,630.

Florida

  • Inspected under the NEP on Trenching and Excavation, Tallahassee-based, R.A.W. Construction LLC faces proposed penalties of $148,845 for exposing its employees to trench collapse hazards.

Georgia

  • Inspected under the NEP on Trenching, Dustcom Limited Inc., a Garden City construction company, was cited for failing to protect its employees from trench collapse hazards and faces proposed penalties of $130,552.

Illinois

  • Three companies working on the renovation of Chicago’s Old Post Office were cited for failing to comply with respiratory protection, provide training, and properly handle PPE. American Demolition was also cited for failing to establish a written lead compliance program. Proposed penalties for American Demolition Corporation, Valor Technologies Inc., and Tecnica Environmental Services Inc. are $105,765, $64,538, and $50,194, respectively.

Indiana

  • A Jeffersonville home and farm supply center, Rural King Supply, is facing proposed fines of $14,000 after state safety inspectors allegedly found elevated carbon monoxide levels at the facility due to emissions from improperly maintained forklifts.

Kansas

  • A comprehensive settlement has been reached with Bartlett Grain Company LP requiring the company to implement safeguards, training, and audit procedures at its 20 grain handling facilities in six states.The agreement resolves contested citations issued in April 2012 after six individuals were killed and two injured as a result of an explosion at the Atchison grain elevator. Bartlett Grain has also agreed to pay $182,000 in penalties.

Michigan

  • MIOSHA issued a second Cease Operations Order, the strongest enforcement action the agency can levy, against Sunset Tree Service & Landscaping, LLC of Bay City for continuing to operate without abating hazards on the jobsite.

Missouri

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed citations issued against Wentzville-based Auchly Roofing Inc. for failing to use fall protection, but reduced the penalties from $7,482 to $2,494 based on the small size of the employer, good faith safety efforts, and a clean record for 20 years. The company contested the citations, arguing that the violations were de minimis in nature and that compliance with the fall protection standards cited presented a greater hazard to the employees.

New York

  • A jury and judge ordered Albany-based asbestos abatement and demolition company, Champagne Demolition, LLC and its owner, Joseph A. Champagne, to pay $173,793.84 to a former employee who was fired in June 2010 after reporting improper asbestos removal practices at a school worksite in Gloversville.

Pennsylvania

  • US Environmental Inc. was cited for 12 safety violations, including willfully exposing workers to confined space and fall hazards at its Downingtown location. Proposed penalties are $333,756.
  • The owner of Pittsburgh-based, A Rooter Man, pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of willfully violating an OSHA regulation, resulting in the death of a worker. Sentencing, which could include prison, is scheduled for February 2018.

 

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

HR Tip: NLRB overturns Obama-era rulings related to joint employment and handbooks

A newly appointed Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) returned to the standard that companies must have “immediate and direct” control over a worker to be considered a joint employer. Under the Obama rule indirect control by one organization over another was enough to establish a joint employer relationship (Browning-Ferris decision). Applying the reinstated pre-Browning Ferris standard, the Board agreed with an administrative law judge’s determination that Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. (Hy-Brand) and Brandt Construction Co. (Brandt) were joint employers and, therefore, jointly and severally liable for the unlawful discharges of seven striking employees.

In the employee handbook case, the board overruled a prior decision placing limits on employer handbook policies that could be “reasonably construed” by workers to limit their right to engage in protected concerted activity-so-called Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rights.

The underlying case in the ruling involved a policy by The Boeing Company that prohibited employees from taking photos on company property “without a valid business need and an approved camera permit.” The company argued this was necessary to protect sensitive information and the NLRB found that the no-camera rule was lawfully maintained.

In this decision, the board replaced the “reasonably construe” standard with a new balancing test that will consider the following factors with regard to a “facially neutral” handbook policy:

  • The nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights.
  • The employer’s legitimate justifications associated with the rule.

The board outlined three categories of employment policies, rules and handbook provisions:

  • “Category 1 will include rules that the Board designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. Examples of Category 1 rules are the no-camera requirement maintained by Boeing, and rules requiring employees to abide by basic standards of civility. Thus, the Board overruled past cases in which the Board held that employers violated the NLRA by maintaining rules requiring employees to foster “harmonious interactions and relationships” or to maintain basic standards of civility in the workplace.”
  • “Category 2 will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.”
  • “Category 3 will include rules that the Board will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. An example would be a rule that prohibits employees from discussing wages or benefits with one another.”

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