OSHA watch

Comments sought on possible revision to silica standard

request for information was published August 15 in the Federal Register for input on potential revisions to Table 1 of the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction. Table 1 includes the task or equipment, engineering / work practice control methods, and required respiratory protection / minimum assigned protection factors for all shifts. The deadline to comment is Oct. 15.

New webpage on leading indicators

A new webpage is aimed at helping employers use leading indicators to improve their health and safety programs.

Employers reminded to submit Form 300A data

media release reminds employers who have not already done so to submit their 2018 Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form300A). The deadline was March 2.

Access FREE electronic OSHA 300 Recordkeeping Software that creates the OSHA required data transmission file for online reporting here.

New way to track OIG recommendations

The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General has launched a Recommendation Dashboard website showing the status of its 235 recommendations for 12 agencies, including OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Recent fines and awards

California

  • Garden Films Productions LLC, based in Culver City, was cited for failing to protect employees from hazards while filming a movie in Norcross, Georgia and faces penalties of $9,472.

Florida

  • L N Framing Inc. was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a Jacksonville worksite and faces $58,343 in penalties.
  • Point Blank Enterprises Inc., operating as The Protective Group in Miami Lakes, was cited for exposing employees to amputation and other safety hazards and faces $92,820 in penalties.
  • Brad McDonald Roofing & Construction Inc. was cited for exposing employees to fall and other safety hazards at two construction sites in Lutz and Palmetto. The residential and commercial roofing work company faces $274,215 in penalties.

Georgia

  • Atlanta Kitchen LLC was cited for exposing employees to amputation, silica, and other safety and health hazards at its Decatur manufacturing facility. The countertop manufacturer faces $132,604 in penalties.

New York

  • Arbre Group Holding, doing business as Holli-Pac Inc., was cited for willful and serious violations of workplace safety and health standards at its Holley facility. The company, which packages frozen fruits and vegetables for retailers, faces a total of $200,791 in penalties.

Indiana

  • Five Star Roofing Systems Inc., based in Hartford City, was cited for repeatedly exposing employees to fall hazards while performing roofing work at a commercial building site in Lake Barrington, Illinois. The company faces $220,249 in penalties.

Missouri

  • H. Berra Construction Co., based in St. Louis, was cited for exposing employees to excavation and trenching hazards at a residential construction site in Saint Charles, and faces penalties of $143,206.
  • Missouri Cooperage Company LLC, a subsidiary of Independent Stave Company, was cited for exposing employees to amputation, noise, and other safety and health hazards at the spirits and wine barrel-making facility in Lebanon, and faces $413,370 in penalties.

Pennsylvania

  • A federal judge in the U.S. District Court has awarded $1,047,399 in lost wages and punitive damages to two former employees of a Montgomeryville-based manufacturer, Lloyd Industries, after a jury found the company and its owner fired them in retaliation for their participation in a federal safety investigation.
  • New Finish Construction, LLC, based in Fairchance, must pay $25,000 in fines for safety violations that led lead to the death of a worker. An ALJ of OSHRC affirmed two citations relating to working near energized sources, but vacated three citations and their accompanying penalties.

Tennessee

  • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was ordered to reinstate a former employee who was placed on paid administrative leave, and then later terminated in retaliation for raising nuclear safety concerns and pay $123,460 in back wages and interest, and $33,835 in compensatory damages, as well as attorney fees.

Wisconsin

  • Choice Products USA LLC was cited for continually exposing employees to machine safety hazards at the cookie dough manufacturing facility in Eau Claire. The company faces $782,526 in penalties, and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

For additional information.

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

HR Tip: DOL opinion letter: Parent attendance at school IEP meetings are covered by the FMLA

In a recent opinion letter, the DOL concluded that the FMLA covers an employee’s attendance at a school meeting where their child’s individualized education program (IEP) will be discussed. In so doing, the DOL concluded that the employee’s attendance at the IEP meetings constitutes “care for a family member…with a serious health condition.”

FMLA guru, Jeff Novak, suggests employers:

  • Treat a request for FMLA leave to attend an IEP meeting consistent with how all other intermittent FMLA leave requests are handled, including requiring the employee to provide notice for a foreseeable leave of absence and provide appropriate certification to support the leave request. The medical certification should contain specific language supporting the need for the employee to attend IEP meetings for the child.
  • Since it may be difficult to determine if it is an actual IEP meeting, closely review the need for attendance specifically at school meetings so that there is some connection to the child’s IEP or issues that implicate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Unless there is objective evidence that the employee is lying about attendance at the IEP meetings, employers should tread carefully in requesting documentation to support attendance at every IEP meeting.
  • Train your managers about this new obligation so that these requests are not being outright rejected in the context of FMLA leave, which may be their knee jerk reaction.

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

Update: marijuana in the workplace remains daunting for employers


With changes in state and local statutes, court decisions trending toward acceptance and protecting employee rights, and the burgeoning popularity and availability of unregulated CBD, it’s no surprise that many employers and insurers identify marijuana as one of the top challenges in maintaining a safe workplace. Here’s an update:

Legislation affecting workers’ comp

While there has been much activity on the legislative front related to medical marijuana and the workplace, the landscape remains hazy for most employers. 2019 enacted legislation includes: Illinois legalized marijuana for recreational purposes; Nevada prohibits employers from refusing employment to applicants who test positive for marijuana in a preemployment drug test; New Jersey amended its medical marijuana statute to prohibit employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees based solely on their status as a medical marijuana patient; and Rhode Island enacted legislation that employers are not required to pay for medical marijuana costs, but employers may not refuse to “employ or otherwise penalize a person solely for their status as a medical marijuana cardholder,” with certain exceptions. In April, the New York City Council passed a law that prohibits employers from testing applicants for marijuana.

Nonetheless, lawmakers in Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland and Vermont considered, but did not pass various proposals that would have allowed or required reimbursement for medical marijuana. A bill in Kentucky to clarify that employers and insurers are not required to reimburse an injured worker for marijuana failed.

At the federal level, while decriminalization is viewed as unlikely in the short term, there are pending proposals to decriminalize marijuana (S1552), allow state regulation without federal interference (HR2093), and protect financial institutions and insurance companies that provide services for legitimate cannabis businesses (HR1595).

Shift in court case decisions favors employees

A recent article in the National Law Review, “Courts Are Siding with Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana,” notes that while the first wave of court cases related to marijuana legalization and the workplace tended to side with employers, the tide is now turning. “Recent decisions in federal and state courts indicate that employers need to proceed with caution when they make employment decisions concerning drug tests for cannabis use.”

In Arizona, the court found an employer wrongfully terminated an employee who was a registered user of medical marijuana and failed a drug test following an injury. In Delaware, a court held that a medical marijuana user may proceed with a lawsuit against his former employer after a positive post-accident drug test result for marijuana led to his termination. In Connecticut, a federal judge ruled that the employer violated an anti-discrimination provision of Connecticut’s medical marijuana law when it withdrew the job offer to a “qualified patient” using medical marijuana.

In New Jersey, an appeals court ruled that medical marijuana use is covered under the state’s ban on disability-based employment discrimination. The case, Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc, is expected to be heard by the state supreme court. In Oklahoma, the court of appeals concluded that the presence of THC in an employee’s blood after a workplace accident does not automatically mean that the employee was intoxicated and could be denied workers’ compensation benefits. The case, Rose v. Berry Plastics Corp, is on appeal to the state supreme court.

Employers and insurers were victorious in Florida when a workers’ compensation judge (JCC) found that Florida’s medical marijuana statute prohibits reimbursement under workers’ compensation, and that requiring employers and insurers to pay for a worker’s medical marijuana would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act. The JCC also determined that employers and insurers should not be required to pay for a worker’s medical evaluation to obtain medical marijuana because the cost of the evaluation would be part and parcel of the cost of obtaining marijuana. The case, however, has been appealed to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

CBD is everywhere and unregulated

Late last year, the Agricultural Improvement Act removed hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal cannabinoid in cannabis, from the list of Schedule I drugs. The popularity of CBD, cannabinol-based products, skyrocketed with an aggressive marketing campaign, promoting its value as an alternative to pain meds with none of the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis. While states and local governments are beginning to make their own regulations for the hemp industry, the void in oversight has given rise to shady companies looking to capitalize on the burgeoning CBD market.

Available online, in supermarkets, coffee shops, convenience stores, retail establishments, and pet stores, there is so much variability in the potency and purity of CBD products, it is raising havoc in the positive testing for THC. Packaging for CBD oil may claim to be THC-free or below traceable limits, but they can contain enough to be detected during a drug screen.

While the DOT has made it clear a positive test for THC as a result of CBD use will not be excused, employers are struggling with how to address situations where an employee defends a positive drug test by claiming use of CBD.

More research on medicinal benefits and testing, but few definitive results

There continue to be many studies with varying results and heated debate about the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Addressing the often-discussed association between medical marijuana and lower levels of opioid overdose deaths, a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found it unlikely that medical cannabis – used by about 2.5% of the U.S. population – has had a large offsetting effect on opioid overdose mortality.

While more testing options are being researched, tests can only detect tetrahydrocannabinol components, which means that the individual used it anywhere for a day or two to several weeks prior to testing. It does not make a determination of impairment. While some states have adopted laws about levels for driving under the influence, there is still no agreement about levels of impairment.

All of this is compounded by the fact that there are few state or federal guidelines concerning maximum, minimum, or even standardized dosages for treatment. There are only three prescription drugs derived from cannabinoids that are approved by the FDA.

What employers can do

Employers need in be diligent in their focus on mitigating cannabis-related risks in their workplaces:

  1. Stay abreast of state regulations and recent court cases.
  2. Continue to update drug and fitness for duty policies with legal counsel. Determine how CBD use will be treated.
  3. Train supervisors to detect signs of possible impairment and what to do when they suspect impairment.
  4. Discuss with your testing provider how CBD is monitored.
  5. Educate employees that almost all CBD products are not regulated by the FDA and to adopt a “buyer beware” approach. Consumers purchasing online or at unlicensed retailers are taking a risk of products that contain THC and additives such as pesticides or chemicals, that can result in a positive drug test.

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

Ten questions to assess your workplace’s preparedness for an active shooter

While most organizations will never experience an active shooter situation, it’s clear it can happen anywhere and to anyone. According to FBI data, 250 active shootings took place between 2000-2017. From 2000 to 2006, shooting incidents averaged 6.7 a year, jumping to 16.4 a year from 2007 to 2013, and then averaging 22 a year between 2014 and 2017. Nearly half (42 percent) of the incidents between 2000 and 2017 took place at businesses or areas of commerce. In addition, nearly 80% of the 500 workplace homicides in 2016 were caused by shooting, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Employers can no longer afford to have a “It will never happen here” or “There’s nothing we can do” mentality. The unpredictability and increase in violence mean employers have to be prepared. Here are ten questions to ask:

  1. Do your hiring practices look for red flags of a person capable of violence or who has a volatile temper? Social media can provide a wealth of information about prospective employees. Hate speech, threats of violence, obsession with guns or violent content, postings of killer’s manifestos, excessive alcohol or drug abuse, undue anger and hostility and so on. Effective screening and background checks are critical even in tight labor markets.
  2. Have employees had recent basic awareness training? The unfortunate reality is that every employee and business owner must be mindful of their surroundings and the potential for an active shooter or other threats. Most shooters are suicidal and their crises are known to others before the attack. Words almost always precede actions and no threat should be passed off as idle words. Involve workers by educating them on warning signs, such as marked change in behavior or appearance, sudden withdrawal, depression or disgruntlement, outbursts of anger, empathy with those committing violence, and so on.
  3. Are employees comfortable reporting their concerns? People who see or sense something is wrong often do not say something. They may fear they are overreacting and unduly labeling a person as a potential threat, worry about confidentiality, or there may be an absence of clear reporting protocols. Employers who respond with punitive actions against the accused foster a climate of silence. However, if these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated.

    Recently, police say a concerned coworker’s tip may have saved lives after a Long Beach Marriott cook allegedly planned to shoot coworkers and hotel guests. Employees need to understand it’s not about getting a co-worker in trouble, but ensuring the safety of all. It’s about early intervention. And those who are experiencing violence in their personal lives, such as an abusive partner, should be comfortable that sharing the information can be done confidentially.

  4. Are there clear procedures that are followed when an employee is terminated? According to an LA Times article, a change in job status was frequently the trigger for a workplace shooter. They often believe that everyone is against them and termination, no matter how many warnings had been given, is a painful affirmation. Show compassion and offer assistance. While every situation has unique elements, having clearly articulated processes and procedures known by everyone in your organization for terminating an employee is key.
  5. Is there a clear and specific emergency response plan? Best practices change, so there should be a plan to review response plans regularly. The situation is chaotic; the more employees know about how to report and react to an active shooter incident, the better chances of survival. Knowing when to run, hide, or fight and what to do when police arrive is critical.

    There are many resources available, including a Department of Homeland Security’s booklet offering detailed advice.

  6. When was the last time you assessed your physical plant and surroundings for security and tested your security policies and procedures? Having an outside security firm audit can help identify vulnerabilities.
  7. Do you know how your employees feel about workplace safety? A quick survey might provide unexpected insights and lead to important discussions.
  8. Do you have sufficient insurance? In addition to the emotional and psychological impact of such shootings, organizations face sizable property, casualty, business interruption, and workers’ compensation insurance claims, as well as possible litigation. Many businesses think their existing policies cover these events, but they can fall short of covering the huge expenses. Some businesses are supplementing their coverage with active shooter insurance. It’s important to review your coverage with advisors to ensure it is adequate.
  9. Are you prepared to manage the consequences of an active shooter incident? Once injured workers have been taken care of and families notified, attention should be turned to the emotional and psychological state of the survivors. A plan should exist to get them the help they need. Moreover, any critical personnel or operational gaps left in the wake of the shooting should be addressed. Then the situation and response to it should be analyzed and an after-action report prepared.
  10. Are you prepared for the reputation fallout? Reaction will be swift. Your actions will be scrutinized in real time in the media and on social media. Today, there’s no waiting for investigations and so on. How an organization responds can threaten or strengthen its operations.

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

Legal Corner

ADA 

Employee unable to wear safety shoes can be terminated

In Holmes v. General Dynamics Mission Systems Inc., a U.S. District Judge in Virginia dismissed an employee’s claims alleging violations of the ADA after she was terminated for being unable to perform the essential functions of her job, specifically, wear required safety shoes. She worked at the manufacturing facility for 18 years and was given an exemption in 2003, based on a note from her doctor.

However, the company stopped exempting her in 2013 because an outside auditor found violations of the protective footwear policy and stated that future violations could jeopardize the company’s certifications. The company did research and present alternative footwear to her and when none were acceptable, she was placed on an excused absence and encouraged her to seek custom-made safety shoes, which the company would reimburse.

After more than two years of absence and no evidence that she pursued the custom-made shoes, she was terminated.

Employer’s failure to raise “regarded as” defense results in jury award to employee

In Robinson v. First State Community Action Agency, a manager told an employee she either had dyslexia or didn’t know what she was doing and placed her on a performance plan. She sought a medical opinion about dyslexia, which was not conclusive, and gave it to her manager who gave it to HR. The HR Director told her the evaluation did not have any impact on her ability to perform essential job functions, and she was to follow the performance improvement plan and she then sought a reasonable accommodation. A few weeks later she was fired.

She sued, alleging the employer regarded her as disabled and failed to provide a reasonable accommodation and a jury agreed. The employer appealed, arguing that the jury instructions didn’t reflect changes that the ADA Amendments Act in 2008. While the 3rd Circuit agreed that the jury instruction was made in error, and “after the 2008 amendments went into effect, an individual who demonstrates that she is ‘regarded as’ disabled, but who fails to demonstrate that she is actually disabled, is not entitled to a reasonable accommodation,” the employer had waived the right to contest it because it had not opposed the use of the argument earlier.

The case is a harsh reminder of the importance of raising all possible defenses early in the litigation to preserve the rights on appeal.

Workers’ Compensation 

No liability for Six Flags in workers’ electrocution – California

In Ingram v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., an appellate court declined to overturn a jury trial verdict that declared Six Flags was not negligent for the injuries suffered by two workers who were electrocuted while repairing a ride. Although one of the electricians thought he had deenergized the equipment at Magic Mountain, there was an arc flash explosion, which caused serious burns.

They sued the parent company, Six Flags, arguing it failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and made changes to its safety program after the incident. However, Six Flags has a policy that forbids working on energized electrical equipment, provides training on how to shut off power, and successfully argued to exclude its post-incident safety program changes from the trial.

Failure to return to light duty work nixes award of TPD – Florida

In MJM Electric Inc. v. Spencer, an appellate court reversed a judge of compensation claims’ decision in favor of an injured worker because the employer had offered suitable light duty work. The electrician was injured at work and saw an authorized physician, but never returned to work in spite of multiple messages from his employer that light-duty work that fell within his work restrictions was available.

After two weeks of no response, the company fired him for job abandonment. He argued he did not recognize the number and had no voice mails. The judge of compensation claims found he was not entitled to temporary partial disability benefits for the first two weeks after his accident, but he could receive disability benefits after his termination because the company failed to meet its burden of showing suitable employment opportunities. The appeals court reversed and remanded the case.

Tort suit against subcontractor can proceed – Florida

In Heredia v. John Beach & Associates, an appellate court ruled that a man working for a subcontractor can sue another subcontractor and an employee. The injured employee was working for QGS, a subcontractor doing roadwork for Lennar Homes LLC and was accidentally struck by a truck owned by another subcontractor, John Beach & Associates, that was doing surveying work.

Under the law, when a contractor sublets work to subcontractors, all employees of the contractor and subcontractors are considered employed in one and the same business and are protected by the exclusive remedy provision. However, the court found in this case, Lennar was not performing any work, was not subletting work, and therefore, was not a contractor. The case can proceed.

Average weekly wage should be based on actual earnings not pro-ration wage – Georgia

A school custodian worked a school year schedule, but had his wage spread out over a 12-month period. In Ware County Board of Education v. Taft, an appellate court ruled that his wages should be based on his contractual rate, not the lesser actual pro-rated amount he earned during the 13-weeks preceding his injury.

Supreme Court provides guidance on PTSD provisions – Minnesota

In Smith v. Carver County, the state Supreme Court reversed a decision by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (“WCCA”), finding the 2013 PTSD statute does not require a compensation judge to conduct an independent assessment to verify that the diagnosis was in conformity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) before accepting the expert’s diagnosis.

The case involved a deputy sheriff who resigned after 10 years and was diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed psychologist. However, an independent psychological evaluator opined that he did not have PTSD, although he had adjustment disorder with anxiety. A WCJ found this opinion more persuasive and denied the claim. The WCCA overturned, finding this opinion did not address the PTSD criteria in the latest version of the DSM.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court reversed noting the compensation judge’s legalistic analysis of the DSM-5 was not to become a substitute for the professional judgment of psychiatrists and psychologists and the judge did not err in finding the independent evaluation more persuasive.

High court rules no fault auto insurer must pay for injured driver’s excess chiropractic charges – Minnesota

In Rodriguez v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., an injured bus driver received 12 weeks of chiropractic treatments, the maximum allowed under the state’s workers’ comp law. She then sought treatment from another chiropractor and payment from her personal automobile insurance policy, which denied payment based on the workers comp payments.

The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled the additional care fell outside of the comp statute because it was with a separate provider whose services had never been characterized as excessive.

Jury verdict of $74.1 million upheld in worker’s death – Missouri

The Ford Motor Co. must pay the widow of a truck driver who was struck by machinery while making a delivery at the Kansas City Assembly Plant ruled an appellate court in Ford v. Ford Motor Co. The driver, who had worked for the trucking company for less than two weeks, was delivering vehicle seats, which were removed by an L-shaped pair of conveyor lines. He entered the area between the conveyor belts to manually clear a jam during seat removal and stepped into a “pinch point” between the tables and was crushed.

The company appealed a jury verdict that assigned the company 95% comparative fault for his death and awarded his widow and son $38 million in compensatory damages, and $38 million for aggravating circumstances. The appeals court disagreed and upheld the award. The company plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Right to cross-examine employer’s expert wrongfully denied – New York

In Matter of Ferguson v. Eallonardo Construction, an appellate court ruled that a worker was wrongfully denied the opportunity to cross-examine the insurance carrier’s medical consultant on how the permanent impairment rating of 40% was reached. While the counsel for the injured worker did not file a competing report, the court ruled that the right to cross-examine the carrier’s consultant was not predicated upon the filing of a competing report. The only requirement is that a request be made at a hearing, prior to the judge’s ruling on the merits.

Failure to complete application sufficient for denial – New York

In Matter of Jones v. Human Resources Administration, an appellate court ruled that an attorney’s failure to fill out every section of an application for administrative review was a proper basis for the Workers’ Compensation Board to deny it. While the worker received benefits for an work-related injury, she was later denied the request to add additional consequential injuries to her claim. There was a no information in the box for question 13 of the RB-89 form, which requested hearing dates, transcripts, etc.

Heart injury hours after accident compensable – North Carolina

In Holland v. Parrish Tire Co., a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the Industrial Commission’s decision that a worker’s heart injury that occurred hours after he was hit in the chest with a tire was not compensable. While unloading tires for a delivery, he was hit in the chest by a tire that weighed between 100 and 200 pounds. The owner transported him to an urgent care center because he had turned gray and was uncharacteristically slow, where he was sent to an emergency room. There he was diagnosed with an aortic dissection and a collapsed lung and admitted to the intensive care unit.

He underwent surgery and was told he would have a work restriction of being unable to lift more than 40 pounds indefinitely, and was diagnosed with major neurocognitive disorder due to the open-heart surgery, adjustment disorder, and depression. Later, he was rated permanently disabled and unable to work by a treating physician and filed for workers’ comp, which was denied.

The appellate court found that the commission had not adequately considered physicians’ testimony that aortic dissections could be caused by trauma.

No comp for traveling salesman for car accident after celebration with coworkers – Pennsylvania

In Peters v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB), a traveling salesperson drove past his house on his way to a happy hour with colleagues and was injured in a car accident when returning home. Although he argued that he was traveling home from a work-sponsored event in a work van, and that as a traveling employee, his accident should be compensable, a judge, the WCAB, and the Commonwealth Court disagreed. It found that the gathering was not furthering the interest of the employer, but rather was a social gathering. Further, while a traveling employee is presumed to be within the course and scope of employment when he is driving to or from work, he had abandoned his employment by driving past his house on his way to the happy hour with colleagues.

Failure to use an automated external defibrillator not breach of duty – Pennsylvania

In Desher v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, an appellate court judge affirmed a trial court ruling denying the guardian of a worker, who suffered a cardiac arrest and a subsequent brain injury at work, damages under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). The guardian claimed the former employer was liable for the incident for not administering an automated external defibrillator (AED).

While the company had an AED within 100 yards of the incident, it did not use it and paramedics arrived within two minutes and used one. There was no evidence suggesting a heightened risk of cardiac events for employees or that it provide assistance in the form of an AED.

Continuing denial of opioids affirmed – Pennsylvania

In Jason Golembesky v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Worth & Co. Inc.), a manufacturing worker had been on high doses of opioid oxycodone since his injury in 2010. In 2016, the employer filed a utilization review petition, and the reviewing doctor opined that the opioid prescription was excessive. The worker filed a petition for review of the findings, arguing he had tried alternative methods of controlling the pain, which had not worked. The employer also presented evidence from an independent review doctor who noted the worker was taking massive dosages, essentially three times what is considered a high dose of morphine equivalent.

A WCJ and the WCAB found the opinions of the independent reviewers more credible than those of the worker’s providers.

More than ten years after injury, worker awarded benefits for right knee condition – Virginia

In Nanochemonics Holdings, LLC v. McKinney, a worker sustained a work-related left knee injury. More than ten years later, he filed a claim for a right knee condition. Stressing that the employer is responsible for all sequelae that flow from the primary work-related injury, an appellate court affirmed the award benefits, noting that the problem was caused, at least in part, by an altered gait brought about by his earlier left knee injury. While it acknowledged that the worker was morbidly obese, this did not amount to a sufficient break in causation.

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

OSHA watch

FY 2018 Enforcement summary released

OSHA conducted 32,023 total inspections in FY 2018, a number that has remained relatively stable over the past three fiscal years. For more information see the related article, Insights from OSHA’s recently released enforcement summary.

Comments on updating Lockout/Tagout standard due August 18

Comments on a possible update of the Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) standard are due by Aug. 18. Emphasis is being placed on how employers have been using control circuit devices and how modernizing the standard might improve worker safety without additional burdens for employers. It wants to hear from employers about how their operations would be affected if OSHA staff interprets the “alternative measures that provide effective protection” requirement of the minor servicing exception to include use of the same reliable control circuits. For additional details and information on how to file comments.

New training programs available to help protect construction workers from fall hazards

Two Susan Harwood Training Grant Program recipients have developed free training programs to help protect construction workers from fall hazards. The University of Tennessee training program offers three modules on OSHA’s role in workplace safety, health and safety standards affecting construction workers, and preventing common types of falls at construction sites. The University of Florida training program uses software to present 360-degree panoramas of construction scenarios to test trainees’ skills at identifying fall hazards. The training software is available in English and Spanish.

Whistleblower website updated

The streamlined design highlights important information for employers and employees on more than 20 statutes enforced by the agency. The new whistleblower homepage utilizes video to showcase the covered industries, which include the railroad, airline, and securities industries.

Whistleblower action: Truck driver reinstated after refusing to drive in winter storm

A box truck driver was reinstated and will receive almost $200,000, including $100,000 in punitive damages, from Kentucky-based Freight Rite, Inc. that fired him after he refused to drive in bad weather. Inspectors determined the termination is a violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). For more information.

Reminder: Hurricane preparedness and response

The Hurricane Preparedness and Response webpage provides information on creating evacuation plans and supply kits and reducing hazards for hurricane response and recovery work.

Cal/OSHA emergency wildfire smoke regulation takes effect

The emergency wildfire smoke regulation took effect July 29 after being approved by the state’s Office of Administrative Law.

Effective through January 28, 2020 with two possible 90-day extensions, the regulation applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne particulate matter (PM 2.5) is 151 or greater, and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.

Recent fines and awards

California

  • After a worker’s hand was crushed while cleaning a rotating auger, food processing company, SFFI Company, Inc., faces six citations and $79,245 in penalties related to lockout/tagout and training.
  • Resource Environmental, Inc., faces $49,500 in penalties after an unstable, unsupported wall collapsed during a building demolition, resulting in fatal injuries to a worker.
  • Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing was working in a crawl space replacing underground sewer pipes for airline caterer Gate Gourmet, Inc. at the San Francisco International Airport when two plumbers were poisoned by carbon monoxide, one requiring hospitalization. Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing was fined $50,850 for eight violations and Gate Gourmet faces $18,000 in proposed penalties for one violation.
  • In Secretary of Labor v. Bergelectric Corp., an OSHRC judge vacated three citations levied against the electric company, based in Carlsbad, after finding that the company did have an adequate fall protection program in place.

Florida

  • Jimmie Crowder Excavating and Land Clearing Inc. faces $81,833 in penalties for exposing employees to amputation and other safety hazards at the company’s facility in Tallahassee. An employee suffered an arm amputation after it was caught in a conveyor belt that started unexpectedly as an employee removed material.
  • The Jacksonville Zoological Society Inc. was cited for exposing employees to workplace safety hazards at the Jacksonville zoo after a zookeeper was injured by a rhinoceros. The animal park faces $14,661 in proposed penalties.
  • Tampa-based Edwin Taylor Corp., failed to provide fall protection on several occasions, one resulting in the death of a worker who fell 22 feet while building homes must pay a $101,399 fine, an administrative law judge with the OSHRC ruled.

Georgia

  • Transdev Services Inc. was cited for exposing employees at a Norcross worksite to safety and health hazards. The company faces $188,714 in penalties for obstructing access to emergency eyewash and shower stations, failing to label hazardous chemicals, provide training on hazardous chemicals and incipient stage firefighting and fire extinguisher use, and train and evaluate forklift operators properly. The company had been cited previously for similar violations.
  • Woodgrain Millwork Co., operating as Woodgrain Distribution Inc, was cited for exposing employees to chemical and struck-by hazards at the company’s distribution facility in Lawrenceville. The company faces $125,466 in penalties.
  • Norcross-based Fama Construction must pay nearly $200,000 in penalties because it was the controlling employer on a worksite and found to have repeat violations according to an OSHRC ruling.

Illinois

  • Inspected after an employee was electrocuted, Hudapack Metal Treating of Illinois Inc, based in Glendale Heights, was cited for 21 serious health and safety violations related to electrical safety and PPE. The company faces penalties of $181,662.

Missouri

  • R.V. Wagner Inc, based in Affton, was cited for exposing employees to trench engulfment hazards as they installed concrete storm water pipes in St. Louis. The company received two willful violations for failing to use a trench box or other trench protection techniques in an excavation greater than five feet in depth and to provide a safe means to exit the excavation and faces proposed penalties of $212,158.

New York

  • Northridge Construction Corp. was cited for willful and serious violations of workplace safety standards at the company’s headquarters in East Patchogue. The company faces $224,620 in penalties following the death of an employee when a structure collapsed during installation of roof panels on a shed. The penalties are being contested.
  • U.S. Nonwoven Corp., a home and personal care fabric product manufacturer, was cited for repeat and serious safety violations after an employee suffered a fractured hand at the plant in Hauppauge. The company faces $287,212 in penalties.

North Carolina

  • Burlington-based Conservators Center Inc. received three serious citations totaling $3,000, after an intern was killed by a lion during a routine cleaning,

Pennsylvania

  • In Francis Palo Inc. v. Secretary of Labor, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia declined to review the OSHRC decision finding that substantial evidence supported an administrative law judge’s ruling that due diligence by the company would have prevented the collapse that injured two workers.

Wisconsin

  • Following a fatality, Pukall Lumber Company Inc, a lumber mill in Arbor Vitae, was cited for exposing employees to multiple safety hazards. The company faces penalties of $348,467 for 15 violations, including two willful citations for failing to implement energy control procedures, and ensure the conveyer had adequate guarding to prevent employees from coming in contact with the moving parts.

For additional information.

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

HR Tip: Supreme Court ruling alerts employers to quickly compare EEOC complaints and lawsuits

In Fort Bend County v. Lois M. Davis published on June 3, the US Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is a processing rule, not a jurisdictional prescription, and an objection to it may be forfeited “if the party asserting the rule waited too long to raise the point.” This ruling revolves around the fact that employees filing suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must first file a complaint with the EEOC.

It means that employers must immediately check if charges in litigation filed under Title VII jive with those in the previously filed EEOC complaint. If the charges do not match, and employers act immediately, then they can get that claim dismissed, but delaying the action, which occurred in this case, means that chance is forfeited. The question of how long an employer can wait before raising an objection or defense without risking forfeiture was not decided by the Supreme Court and will be litigated and developed in the lower courts going forward.

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

OSHA watch

Controversial ruling on Process Safety Management Standard being appealed

A controversial ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) that extended the Process Safety Management Standard beyond hazardous chemicals has been appealed by Oklahoma-based Wynnewood Refining Co. LLC and its successors, the refinery at the center of the ruling. The OSHRC affirmed citations under the standard, even though the explosion occurred at one of the refinery’s boilers, an onsite utility operation workplace that safety and legal experts say is typically not included in process safety management.

The case was appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Free online course on preventing workplace violence

The Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine launched a free online programto train retail workers and employers on preventing and responding to violence in the workplace. The course offers tips on how to respond to violence or the threat of violence by reading body language and using de-escalation techniques, and how to establish a workplace violence prevention program. Participants may register and complete the training at their own pace.


New resources

Alerts:

Webpages:

Flyer:


Solar panels do not qualify as roofing work

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco denied a petition to review an Occupational Safety and Review Commission’s final order affirming a citation for violating fall protection standards. Bergelectric was hired to install solar panels on the roof of a hanger in San Diego and argued that the installation was on a low-sloped roof, which has laxer standards than work on unprotected sides and edges. The court determined that the installation of solar panels did not qualify as performing “roofing work” and so Bergelectric violated the fall standard because they failed to use personal fall arrest systems, safety nets or guardrails.


Enforcement notes

California

  • USF Reddaway Inc, a trucking company received four citations and $68,438 in penalties after a worker was fatally struck by a tractor at a truck terminal. Inspectors found that the company failed to ensure operators were competent to operate terminal tractors and did not implement traffic controls.
  • Anaheim-based Nexus Energy Systems Inc., a solar panel installer, faces fines totaling $193,905 for multiple serious workplace safety hazards, including failure to provide fall protection for its employees. One worker fell and suffered a broken wrist and jaw.
  • Hanwha L&C USA, LLC received eight citations and $52,705 in penalties after a forklift crushed a worker’s foot. Citations related to training and evaluating workers.

Florida

  • GA&L Construction Corp. Inc. and The Rinaldi Group of Florida LLC were cited for failing to protect employees from fall hazards after a fatal fall at a construction worksite in Miami. The two companies face $87,327 in penalties.
  • Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., based in Belle Glade was cited for exposing employees to workplace safety hazards after a worker required medical treatment due to an anhydrous ammonia leak in the farm’s packaging house. The company faces $95,472 in penalties. The inspection is covered under the National Emphasis Program on Process Safety Management Covered Chemical Facilities.
  • National discount retailer Dollar Tree Store Inc.was cited for exposing employees to safety hazards at its store on Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach. The company faces $104,192 in penalties for exposing employees to struck-by, trip, and fall hazards due to unstable merchandise stacked in excess of 7-feet high in the path of an emergency exit.

Georgia

  • Evoqua Water Technologies LLC, based in Thomasville, was cited for failing to protect employees working in excessive heat. An employee suffered heat exhaustion and was hospitalized after working in direct sunlight and wearing required protective clothing during welding and fabrication work at a Key West, Florida worksite. The company faces $21,311 in penalties, including the maximum penalty allowed by law for the heat-related violation.
  • An appeals court denied a review of citations issued to Century Communities Inc. for a fatal electrocution at a residential construction site. Although none of its employees were exposed to the hazard, Century was cited under the multi-employer worksite policy.

Illinois

  • Residential homebuilder Florentino Rodriguez of DB Custom Carpentry LLC was cited for exposing employees to falls at a residential site in Wheaton. The contractor faces penalties totaling $196,905 for one serious and two willful safety violations.

Nebraska

  • Discount retailer Family Dollar Store was cited for safety violations at an Omaha store, including failure to secure compressed gas cylinders, follow manufacturer’s instructions when using electrical apparatus, ensure emergency exit doors remain unlocked, cover overhead lights, and allowing equipment to block an exit route. Proposed penalties are $302,147.

Pennsylvania

  • Energy Transportation LLC and MW Logistics Services LLC were cited for serious safety violations after a fatal fire at a natural gas processing plant in Houston. Energy Transportation LLC, the company contracted to clean lines and vessels at the plant faces penalties totaling $51,148. MW Logistics Services LLC, the host employer, faces $47,360 in penalties. Both were cited for violations of the PSM standard.

For additional information.

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

HR Tip: Depression and suicide: a growing workplace worry

It seems daily there are stories about the growing suicide rate and the national decline in health and mental well-being, particularly among young people. There’s no escaping the issue in the workplace; it mirrors that of the general population. While workplace suicide numbers are small, they are rising and are traumatic for everyone in the workplace.

According to Happify, a mental health app, workers’ mental well-being sank to a five-year low in 2018. The analysis of a half million people shows a correlation between age and depression, particularly among employees between the ages of 18-24 who experienced a rise of 39% in depressive symptoms over the past five years. Although the increase was lower (24%), Millennials, ages 25-34, also are a high-risk group. In contrast, older employees between the ages of 55-64 showed improvements in their mental health.

While this analysis did not examine whether the causes were internal or external to their employment, it notes that earlier research found younger adults tend to be more stressed and worried about job-related matters than older workers. It’s a transitional time, figuring out who they are and what they want to do with their lives, which can be challenging.

Further, CDC research identified white, middle-aged, and primarily rural as vulnerable populations. The report also identifies construction workers as high risk – more male construction workers take their lives than any other industry. Some attribute this to a high concentration of “alpha” males who are supposed to be particularly tough but face challenges of a high-pressure environment, a higher prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse, separation from families, and long stretches without work. In response to this problem, the industry has created the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Reducing the stigma of mental health is the number one thing companies can do. While it is a devastating moral and social issue, it also has serious economic implications for employers. Some of the signs to watch out for are increased tardiness and absenteeism, decreased productivity and self-confidence, inattention to personal hygiene, isolation from co-workers, agitation, and increased conflict among co-workers.

Educating employees to increase the awareness of the warning signs and providing resources to get help are key. A starting point is simply paying attention to people at work and asking how someone is doing. A new OSHA webpage also offers confidential resources to help identify the signs and how to get help.

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

Six studies: what does and doesn’t work to improve claims outcomes

Recently, there has been a plethora of studies related to claim outcomes in workers’ comp and group health, several with surprising conclusions. Here are six of them:

Workers’ Compensation Medical Prices and Outcomes of Injured Workers – Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI)

Study: This study addresses a long-standing policy debate about the role of workers’ compensation prices in outcomes of injured workers; specifically, what happens to outcomes of injured workers when prices increase or decrease. Survey data covered workers’ experiences across 14 states, and claims data provided information from across 30 states. It focused on the pricing of common office visits, which affect most injured workers, rather than specialty medical treatment prices that wouldn’t apply to all injured workers.

When examining the link between workers’ compensation prices and outcomes, the study focused on five specific outcomes:

  • Access to care
  • Nature of medical care
  • Change in physical health and functioning
  • Return to work
  • Temporary disability duration

Findings: There is a strong link between workers’ compensation prices and the first two outcomes – access to care and nature of medical care. For example, when workers’ compensation prices were relatively higher, workers were significantly more likely to receive physical therapy within the first six weeks of being injured and went to more office visits for evaluation and management services.

However, this did not have much of an impact on the last three outcomes. “While prices are related to measures of access to medical care and the nature of medical care provided, changes in these measures when prices increase are not material enough to result in improved recovery and faster return to work,” according to the report.

Takeaway: Factors other than price are important in shaping different outcomes. “Future studies may need to focus on other system features that may explain large differences in outcomes across states.”


Health Insurance and Outcomes of Injured Workers – WCRI

Study: The study provides new empirical evidence about workers with health insurance and what that means for workers after a work-related injury. Researchers surveyed injured workers in 15 states.

Findings: Injured workers with health benefits showed a 2.5% higher return-to-work and returned to substantial work on average one week faster than workers without health insurance. They received evaluation and management services more quickly, had higher rates of satisfaction with primary providers, and had lower rates of hiring an attorney for comp claims. However, there was little difference in the likelihood of workers reporting problems obtaining medical services, or in the kind of care received.

Takeaway: Workers’ comp historically was in one silo, with health programs in another. If you are still organized in traditional silos, it’s time to change. Smart companies have adopted a holistic approach to employee health to drive down costs, improve productivity, boost the bottom line, and help employees enjoy better health.


Effectiveness of a no-cost-to-workers, slip-resistant footwear program for reducing slipping-related injuries in food service workers: a cluster randomized trial – Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health

Study: This study evaluated the effectiveness of a no-cost-to-workers, slip-resistant footwear (SRF) program in preventing workers’ compensation injury claims caused by slipping on wet or greasy floors.Laboratory tests have shown that slip-resistant shoes designed with a special tread helped prevent slipping, but studies in actual workplaces were lacking. The study population was a dynamic cohort of food service workers from 226 school districts’ kindergarten through 12th-grade food service operations.

Findings: Food services operations where workers received free highly slip-resistant shoes showed a large reduction in workers’ compensation claims for slip injuries compared to food service operations where workers did not receive the shoes. School districts filed 67% fewer claims for slip injuries after being provided the slip-resistant shoes, compared to no reduction in claims for slip injuries at the school districts that did not receive the shoes.

Takeaway: Slips, trips, and falls are the third-leading cause of U.S. non-fatal work-related injuries involving days away from work across all industries. Almost 80% of these injuries are on the same level, and these injuries are estimated to cost nearly $13 billion in direct workers’ compensation-related costs annually. These results show that providing highly rated slip-resistant shoes can help reduce claims for slip injuries.


Opioids, Pain and Absence: The Productivity Implications of Substance Abuse Among US Workers – Integrated Benefits Institute

Study: The Oakland, CA-based research organization surveyed by phone 84,579 American workers over 18 years old between 2015 and 2017, with 74% of them reporting to be working full-time. The goal of the study was to examine productivity and days missed from work due to prescription drug use among workers.

Findings:

  • 33% of workers reported taking prescription painkillers.
  • Less than 1% reported any heroin use.
  • Rates of alcohol abuse and dependence exceed the problematic use of pain relievers and other prescription medications at 7% of the workforce interviewed.
  • Use of cocaine or methamphetamine was relatively uncommon, at less than 3% and 1%, respectively.
  • Excess work absences associated with pain relievers were greater than excess absences associated with any other substance. On average, non-problematic use of pain relievers was associated with 0.8 days of excess absences per month compared with non-users. The problematic use of pain relievers was associated with 2.0 absences, or 1.2 excess days per month compared with non-users.
  • Assuming a 20-day work month, the use of pain relievers was associated with a loss of about 1.3% of the monthly labor capacity of 1,000 workers. The non-problematic use of pain relievers accounted for 96% of those losses.

Takeaway: Managing pain is a major challenge in workers’ comp. The numbers are alarmingly high, suggesting a continued problem of over-prescribing and a workforce grappling with pain issues. Although a small percentage reported abuse of pain relievers or dependence, experts postulate that “problematic behaviors” such as addiction and dependence are likely to follow. Employers should be proactive in educating employees on the risk factors and nonpharmacologic approaches to pain and work with occupational medicine providers to help their employees prevent pain management from becoming abuse and improve productivity.


Association of Opioid, Anti-depressant, and Benzodiazepines with Workers’ Compensation Cost: A Cohort Study – Accident Fund (AF) Group

Study: This analysis evaluated the impact of benzodiazepines and antidepressants in combination with opioids on workers’ compensation claim cost and closure rates.

Findings: Concurrent treatment of chronic pain, depression, and/or anxiety and occupational injuries is associated with large increases in total workers’ compensation claim cost and delayed return to work. The slowest claim closure rate occurred among workers with prescriptions for all three types of medications (58.3%), followed by claims with both opioid and antidepressant (64.8%) prescriptions. The group without any medications had the highest closure rate (91.8%), followed by the group with only opioid (89.1%) prescriptions.

Even when controlling for age, chronic pain, medical complexity, and claim development (years), antidepressant claims, to a greater degree, were more likely to remain open at the end of the three-year study period.

Takeaway: The presence of anti-depressant medications on a claim is an indicator of a potentially costly claim. Early intervention is needed to minimize the impact of behavioral issues and psychotropic medications on workers’ compensation claim outcomes.


Integrated Physical Medicine at Employer-Sponsored Health Clinics Improves Quality of Care at Reduced Cost – Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, Stanford University, Crossover Health

 

Study: The aim of the study was to evaluate clinical and economic outcomes associated with integrating physical medicine in employer-sponsored clinics.

Findings: Integrating physical medicine in employer-sponsored clinics decreased wait times to access these services to 7 days (2 to 4x faster than in the community). Patients receiving care in employer-sponsored clinics experienced marked improvements in fear of pain avoidance behaviors (a strong predictor of disability) and functional status in eight fewer visits than in the community resulting in $472 to $630 savings/patient episode. Noncancer patients received 1/10th the opioid prescriptions in employer-sponsored clinics compared with the community (2.8% vs 20%). Patients were highly likely to recommend integrated employer-sponsored care (Net Promoter Score = 84.7).

Takeaway: Musculoskeletal complaints represent the second largest cause of short-term or temporary work disability, and employers bear a disproportionate share of these costs, including approximately 290 million lost workdays annually. While the study focuses on how larger employers can strengthen onsite or near-site clinics, it notes employers should consider policies to reduce barriers to accessing physical medicine services such as direct patient access, sufficient availability of appointments, and benefit designs that incentivize use of physical medicine services before elective imaging and specialist visits.

A strategy of early access to physical therapy has been associated with a 36% improvement in patient outcomes, 52% less imaging, 56% fewer spinal injections, 59% fewer lumbar surgeries, and 62% less opioid use.

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