OSHA watch

Interim enforcement guidance on silica standard for construction

The interim enforcement guidance for the Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction Standard (1926.1153), which is now enforced in full, was issued Oct. 19 in a memorandum to regional administrators. The guidance is intended to help gauge whether employers meet various requirements, including those for inspections and avoiding citations, but does not provide guidance on all of the standard’s provisions. A final compliance directive is in the review process.

Information on silica hazards and related standards are now in one location on the website.


New fact sheets: Zika virus and evaluation of Shipyard Competent Person programs

The fact sheet on the Zika virus details how laboratory exposures occur, often through bodily fluids, and how to prevent exposures.

The Shipyard Competent Person programs fact sheet offers guidance on determining the necessary qualifications of experts who must be employed to determine whether a confined space is safe for workers and prescribe protective measures.


Pennsylvania construction firms join Strategic Partnership program

Shoemaker-Skanska Construction and the Philadelphia Regional Building Trades Council entered into a strategic partnership to protect approximately 300 workers during renovation and construction of a shopping mall complex in Philadelphia. P.J. Dick Incorporated entered into a strategic partnership to protect approximately 200 workers during the construction of an insurance office building in Erie.


Enforcement notes

California

  • HBuilt Inc. in Oakland received two serious citations and $80,000 in penalties for failing to train workers on potential hazards and safe operation of machines, ensure proper machine guarding, and provide workers with gloves designed to prevent cuts.

Georgia

  • Structural Subcontractors Service LLC, a Birmingham-based structural framing company working on a job site in Georgia, faces penalties of $102,669 for exposing workers to fall hazards. Inspectors found workers wearing fall protection harnesses, but were not tied off to prevent a fall. The inspection was initiated as part of a regional emphasis program.

Massachusetts

  • Citations and proposed penalties against Dudley-based Shield Packaging Co. Inc. and two staffing agencies following a May 2016 incident in which an employee was injected with a flammable propellant gas have been settled. The packaging company will pay $150,000, about 50% of the original levy, and the two staffing agencies, Leominster-based ASI Staffing Group Corp. and Worcester-based Southern Mass Staffing, will pay $12,471 and $12,222 respectively. The company also agreed to document that all hazards are corrected, retain a professional engineer to approve the design and installation of a safety interlock on the machine that injured the worker, retain a qualified safety consultant to perform a comprehensive inspection of the plant, and develop a workplace safety and health program, while the staffing agencies also agreed to implement specific comprehensive safety and health measures.

Michigan

  • Ten citations and $102,600 in penalties were issued to SET Enterprises Inc. in New Boston for exposing workers to amputation hazards. Inspectors determined that the company failed to train workers on potential hazards and safe operation of machines, ensure proper machine guarding, and provide workers with gloves designed to prevent cuts.

New York

  • Acme Parts Inc. has agreed to pay $40,000 in penalties after high lead levels were found in the manufacturing facility as well as hire a qualified lead hazards and abatement consultant to evaluate the facility and to recommend improved practices.
  • An administrative law judge affirmed citations issued against Webster-based LM Sanderson Construction Inc. whose employees were photographed working on a site without fall protection and assessed total penalties of $5,600. The employer failed to meet its burden in contending the violation was the result of unpreventable employee misconduct or that literal compliance with the standard’s requirement was infeasible under the circumstances.

Pennsylvania

  • Pittsburgh contractor, Ski Masonry LLC, is facing $201,354 in proposed penalties for exposing workers to fall and electrical hazards after an employee was fatally electrocuted.
  • In response to a complaint, the owner of a New Jersey construction company has been cited for exposing workers to alleged hazards at a Philadelphia job site, including allowing employees to work on a scaffold that was too close to power lines, failure to train on scaffold hazards, not providing hard hats and failing to develop and implement an accident-prevention program. The owner, Vyacheslav Leshko, faces $191,215 in proposed penalties.

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

HR Tip: Failure to pay for pre-shift work can be costly

A recent settlement in a class-action lawsuit, Tompkins v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, is a reminder to all employers about the obligation to pay for pre-shift work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state laws. A federal court approved a $775,000 settlement for Farmers Insurance’s alleged failure to compensate auto claims representatives, appraisers, and adjusters in several states for pre-shift work.

The alleged unpaid activities included starting up computers and accessing Farmers’ software applications, obtaining daily assignments, determining the locations the workers would need to visit, mapping routes, contacting customers and auto repair facilities, downloading required forms and gathering paperwork, as well as traveling to the workers’ first appointments of the day. The settlement, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted both the FLSA collective action and state law class claims and covers nearly 400 current and former employees.

Employers are reminded that activities before the official time a shift begins are compensable if they include tasks the worker is employed to perform or are an “integral and indispensable part of” the job and include mandatory pre-shift meetings. Employers should review policies and practices regarding compensation for pre- and post-shift work, as well as educate managers about the wage laws that require payment for all hours worked.

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

Important takeaways from recent studies and reports

Strategies to reduce costs and risks of musculoskeletal disorders

A report by the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) urges employers to look at their own experiences with claims, disability, workers’ compensation and health risk assessment data to best prioritize program selection and implementation to better manage MSDs. It addresses several strategies to mitigate cost and health issues and suggests using onsite ergonomics training, online courses on the subject and workplace redesigns. It also suggests new approaches to treatment, such as online pain education, direct access to physical therapy by bypassing physician referrals, and directing employees away from “unnecessary diagnostic imaging and expensive visits to specialists.” Finally, the report examined ways to ensure that if surgery is needed, that the care is performed in an efficient and cost-effective way.

Obesity and worker productivity by occupational class

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has published a new study, “Impact of Obesity on Work Productivity in Different US Occupations: Analysis of the National Health and Wellness Survey 2014-2015”, which examines the impacts of obesity by different occupational classes on work productivity and indirect costs of missed work time.

BMI results were as follows:

  • Protective Services: 38% overweight, 39% obese
  • Transportation: 38% overweight, 36% obese
  • Manufacturing: 35% overweight, 30% obese
  • Education: 31% overweight, 30% obese
  • Healthcare: 31% overweight, 30% obese
  • Construction: 38% overweight, 29% obese
  • Hospitality: 32% overweight, 27% obese
  • Arts: 34% overweight, 26% obese
  • Finance: 36% overweight, 25% obese
  • Computer: 36% overweight, 25% obese
  • Legal: 38% overweight, 24% obese
  • Science: 37% overweight, 21% obese

The researchers concluded that there was a positive association between work productivity impairment and increases in BMI class that varied across occupations. Obesity had the greatest impact on work productivity in construction, followed by arts and hospitality, and health care occupations. Work impairment was least impacted by increases in BMI in Finance, Protective Services, Computers, Science, and Legal. It was estimated that the indirect costs associated with the highest BMI group in construction was $12,000 compared to $7,000 for those with normal BMI.

Would your floors pass the slip and fall test? 50% fail

Half of the floors tested for a slip-and-fall study failed to meet safety criteria, suggesting that many fall-prevention programs may overlook the effects of flooring selection and ongoing maintenance on slip resistance, according to a study by CNA Financial Corp.

Given the high frequency of slips and falls, these findings underscore the need for attention to floor safety and regular surface resistance testing to avoid fall accidents and related injuries.

Fatigue costs employers big bucks

Key findings from a recent study on fatigue by the National Safety Council (NSC) include:

  • More than 43 percent of all workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts. As employees become tired, their safety performance decreases and their risk of accidental injury increases.
  • Missing out on sleep makes it three times as likely to be involved in an accident while driving. Also, missing as little as two hours of sleep is the equivalent of having three beers.
  • Employers can see lost productivity costs of between $1,200 to $3,100 per employee per year.
  • The construction industry has the highest number of on-the-job deaths annually. In a 1,000-employee national construction company, more than 250 are likely to have a sleep disorder, which increases the risk of being killed or hurt on the job.
  • A single employee with obstructive sleep apnea can cost an employer more than $3,000 in excess healthcare costs each year.
  • An employee with untreated insomnia is present but not productive for more than 10 full days of work annually, and accounts for at least $2,000 in excess healthcare costs each year.

Experts say employers can help combat fatigue by offering breaks, scheduling work when employees are most alert, and promoting the importance of sleep.

Workers welcome employers’ help in dealing with stress

Workers want their employers to offer assistance in coping with work-related stress, according to a new report from the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable.

The report also concludes that employees think more highly of employers offering resiliency programs. Valued programs include methods for dealing with difficult people, improving physical health, remaining calm under pressure, coping with work-related stress and accurately identifying the causes of work-related problems. It also includes actionable strategies for effective workplace resilience programs.

Supportive communication and work accommodation help older workers return to work

While early supportive contact with injured workers and offers of work accommodation are important to all injured workers, a recent webinar hosted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) and presented by Dr. Glenn Pransky, founder of the highly acclaimed, but now-defunct Center for Disability Research within the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, noted that these two strategies are particularly effective with older workers.

His research involved workers’ comp cases in New Hampshire related to low back and upper extremity problems. Negative responses, including lack of support, anger, disbelief, blaming the worker, or discouraging the worker from filing a claim resulted in significantly longer disability, and the effect was especially strong among older workers.

Click to hear the DMEC webinar

Loss control rep visits cut lost-time injuries in construction

Visits by insurance loss prevention representatives to construction job sites can lead to fewer workplace injuries, according to a study by a Center for Construction Research and Training supported research team at the University of Minnesota. One contact was associated with a 27% reduction of risk of lost-time injury, two contacts with a 41% reduction of risk, and three or more contacts with a 28% reduction of risk, according to the study. The study also found that these visits are often low cost and that the reduction in lost-time injuries reduced workers’ comp costs.

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

Don’t let your holiday party become a legal liability

No one wants to be a spoil sport. Holiday parties are supposed to be festive and fun, but they can also be a breeding ground for liability under tort, workers’ compensation, sexual harassment, discrimination, and other laws. Planning ahead to minimize exposure can help ensure a lawsuit-free event.

Workers’ Compensation

A North Carolina case last year, Lennon v. N.C. Judicial Dept., illustrates the issues that are common when an employee is injured at an office event. Whether such injuries are covered under workers’ compensation laws will depend on many factors (which can vary by state), but the overriding question is whether the employee was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the incident.

In this case, the injured employee worked for the division of the county clerk’s office that was in charge of planning the annual office holiday party. During regular working hours, she designed invitations, arranged for catering, and helped plan the party. She also volunteered to serve as the “emcee” for the event. All employees were invited, but not required to attend, and the cost of the food and venue was paid for by a group of private attorneys who sponsored the party. Even if they did not attend, all employees were expected to contribute $13 to pay for a gift to the clerk of court and for cleaning up after the party.

On the evening of the party, she fell and suffered a fracture of the wrist and coccyx and a tear of her shoulder. She received short-term disability benefits and filed a workers’ comp claim for days missed from work, permanent partial disability, and medical expenses. When the insurance company denied the claim, it went through a series of appeals, which upheld the denial.

The appellate court used a six-question analysis to help determine if the injury arose out of the scope of employment:

  1. Did the employer in fact sponsor the event?
  2. To what extent was attendance really voluntary?
  3. Was there some degree of encouragement to attend, evidenced by such factors as:
    1. taking a record of attendance
    2. paying for the time spent
    3. requiring the employee to work if he did not attend or
    4. maintaining a known custom of attending?
  4. Did the employer finance the occasion to a substantial extent?
  5. Did the employees regard it as an employment benefit to which they were entitled?
  6. Did the employer benefit from the event, not merely in a vague way through better morale or good will, but through such tangible advantages as having an opportunity to make speeches and present awards?

While laws will vary by state, employers who take careful steps to disassociate the event from work and confirm that the venue and service providers are properly licensed will minimize their risk.
Tort

While drinking too much at a holiday party may derail a career, alcohol is at the root of many lawsuits and employers need to take steps to ensure that the revelry does not get out of hand. When excessive drinking occurs, employers can face claims of social host liability, negligence, and respondeat superior, which holds employers responsible for the acts of employees such as DUI cases.

A recent New York case, Gillern v. Mahoney, illustrates the exposure that excessive drinking can cause, even when the employer had no role in the celebration. A number of employees organized a holiday party and when a co-worker became intoxicated, they contacted his wife (also an employee and a nurse) to take him home. When she arrived, they assisted her in getting her inebriated husband into the car. When at home, she let him sleep it off in the car, but later, she found him dead on the car floorboard.

Even though the party was not sanctioned or paid for by the employer, was not held on its property, and all participating employees were off duty, the employer was sued for the worker’s death. Upon appeal, the appellate court found that the action of the co-employees was not the proximate cause of the decedent’s death and the employer and various co-employees could not be held responsible in tort.

It would be an easy solution not to serve alcohol, but that is not always realistic. Employers need to establish limits on the amount and type of alcohol that will be served. Definite “no’s” are an open bar and allowing employees to serve drinks. Limit the number of drinks with a drink ticket system or don’t provide free drinks at all, close the bar early, hold the event off site at establishments with a liquor license and properly trained bartenders, provide plenty of food, and arrange alternative transportation. Be sure management leads by example. Advise employees to be responsible with a statement on the party invitation and/or a written reminder on the responsibilities to drink only in moderation and to avoid driving after drinking.
Harassment

This year, where we seem more divided than ever and some are emboldened to mock or denigrate others, if it can go wrong, it will. In a social situation with alcohol, employees can lose their inhibitions and do offensive things that they wouldn’t normally do in a work environment. Yet, an employee’s diminished capacity is not a defense to claims of harassment or assault and employers could be held responsible because they created the environment for that conduct to take place. Other issues that can lead to lawsuits are a religiously themed party and religious symbolism, hanging mistletoe, inappropriate postings on social media that could lead to claims of a hostile work environment, harassment or discrimination.

While hosting a party off-site can better protect your company, employees can also assume office standards of conduct do not apply. Employers should remind workers that behavior at the party should comport with the same behavior that is acceptable in the workplace and that the same reporting procedures apply should any incidents occur. Make the dress code known and avoid holiday attire or costumes. Remind supervisors and managers to set a professional example, by staying clear of talking about promotions, performance, and other business matters related to individual employees, and not selectively offering personal compliments.
Gift exchanges

Similar to office parties, Secret Santa and Yankee Swaps, and other forms of gift exchange are popular during the holiday season. It’s important to make this voluntary and set parameters for appropriateness, inclusivity, and price.
Nine actions to minimize risk

While each state has its own nuances in the law, employers can best protect themselves with these actions:

  • Hold the party off-site and not during office hours
  • Ensure that attendance is truly voluntary; there is no coercion to attend and no high expectation of attendance
  • Be cautious about inviting vendors, clients or others with whom you have a business relationship
  • Refrain from engaging in business activities, such as speeches and distribution of awards
  • Avoid asking employees to perform specific functions at the party or recognize that in so doing, they could be considered in the scope of employment
  • Limit or do not serve alcohol
  • Remind employees that normal workplace standards of conduct are to be respected, including the use of social media, and immediately stop inappropriate conduct
  • Confirm that the venue is properly licensed
  • Understand your exposure and corresponding insurance coverage

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

OSHA watch

Preliminary list of top ten violations includes Fall Protection – Training Requirements for first time

While the preliminary list of the Top 10 violations for Fiscal Year 2017 remains largely unchanged from 2016, there is a newcomer in ninth place- Fall Protection – Training Requirements.

The full list:

  1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) – 6,072
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) – 4,176
  3. Scaffolding (1926.451) – 3,288
  4. Respiratory Protection (1910.134) – 3,097
  5. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) – 2,877
  6. Ladders (1926.1053) – 2,241
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) – 2,162
  8. Machine Guarding (1910.212) – 1,933
  9. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503) – 1,523
  10. Electrical – Wiring Methods (1910.305) – 1,405

Enforcement policy for construction silica standard announced: 30-day grace period

A memorandum explaining how the enforcement for the construction silica standard would proceed was issued shortly before the effective date of Sept. 23, 2017. For the first 30 days of enforcement employers who, in good faith, are trying to comply with the requirements of the standard but are unable to reduce exposures below the new permissible exposure limit or are unable to fully comply with Table 1 will not be issued citations. Instead, they will receive “compliance assistance and outreach.”

If during an inspection it appears that an employer is not making any efforts to comply with the standard, air monitoring will be conducted and citations may be issued. Additionally, the memorandum notes that inspection and citation guidance for its compliance officers and a compliance directive will soon follow.

One-year delay on crane operator certification requirements sought

In 2010 a final rule regulating cranes and derricks in the construction industry, Cranes and Derricks in Construction, Subpart CC (29 C.F.R. 1926.1400, et al.) was promulgated and set to go into effect in November 2014. After a public comment period and concerns expressed by stakeholders, the agency extended the crane operator certification requirements from November 10, 2014 to November 10, 2017. During this three-year period, the intention was to develop a new standard that addressed operator qualification requirements. It’s now proposed to further delay the November 10, 2017 deadline by one year to November 10, 2018 to address the stakeholder concerns.

New PSM guide focuses on petroleum refineries

A guide intended to help oil refineries comply with the Process Safety Management Standard (1910.119) makes recommendations for employers to review their PSM programs to ensure violations are not present, and suggests ways to avoid specific violations within each PSM area.

Latest ‘Fatal Facts’ examines fall from forklift-elevated pallet

Detailing the death of a full-time warehouse worker who was killed after falling seven feet from a pallet to a lower level, the latest Fatal Facts, warns employees and employers about the dangers of falling from pallets raised by forklifts and advises employers on how to prevent such fatalities.

MIOSHA offers kit, video to help medical and dental offices comply with regs

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released a toolkit and video to help doctors and dentist offices comply with state health standards. The kit includes a compliance checklist for applicable MIOSHA health standards, posters, sample templates for required written policies, and training programs. To download the kit, visit www.michigan.gov/miosha, click on “A to Z Topic Index” on the left side of the page and then scroll to the letter “D” to find a section for “Doctors/Dentist Office.”
Enforcement notes

California

  • Cal/OSHA issued five citations and $51,160 in penalties to Aero Pacific Corp. in Placenta for safety violations after a worker was struck and killed by a moving spindle. Inspectors determined that, among other violations, the company failed to identify and correct machinery hazards in the workplace, and train workers on the control of hazardous energy.
  • Cal/OSHA issued five citations and $68,435 in penalties to RWC Building Products in San Marcos following the death of a worker who fell from a truck-mounted conveyor belt. Inspectors concluded that the company failed to ensure that workers were wearing approved personal fall protection equipment while unloading material onto a roof, did not perform periodic inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices at job delivery sites, and failed to provide effective training for supervisors to recognize safety and health hazard.

Florida

  • Following an inspection initiated by a complaint of unsafe work conditions, Hometown Foods USA dba Bagelmania Inc. in Medley was cited for 16 safety and health violations, including failing to ensure proper machine guarding on equipment, provide personal protective equipment, develop a lockout/tagout program, and develop a hearing conservation program. Proposed penalties are $129,145.

Illinois / Georgia

  • The Chicago facility of Atlanta-based BWAY Corp., a manufacturer of rigid metal, plastic, and hybrid containers, is facing $503,380 in proposed penalties and has been placed in the Severe Violator Program after four separate reports of employee injuries, three of which involved amputations. Included in the violations were repeated citations for failing to train workers in lockout/tagout procedures that prevent unintentional machine movement and inadequate machine guarding on a mechanical power press, belts and pulleys, and chains and sprockets.

Minnesota

  • Minnesota OSHA issued three citations and $184,100 in penalties to Visu-Sewer Inc., in Saint Paul for safety violations when a worker was fatally injured after becoming entangled in sewer lining equipment. Inspectors determined that the company failed to train workers in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions, did not equip a hydraulic roller to cut off power, and allowed workers to use equipment modified from the manufacturer’s specifications for safe operation.

Nebraska

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed in part and vacated in part citations against a residential roofing contractor, Papillion-based Elite Builders Inc., that claimed the citations were issued with vindictive motivation and with an improperly executed warrant. The company was inspected twice and on the second inspection, it refused entry to the site and told the inspector to get a warrant. The judge rejected the arguments about the validity of the warrant and vindictive prosecution, but found the agency failed to prove the company did not provide adequate fall protection training as well as violations related to scaffolding construction and guardrails.

Pennsylvania

  • The OSHRC upheld a willful safety violation and vacated another violation in an incident that caused a four-story freestanding wall to fall on top of an adjacent Salvation Army retail store, killing six people inside and injuring 12 others. After the contractors were prosecuted criminally, the Commission settled the case with the general contractor, and then addressed the contractor who did the demolition. The central issue of the case was whether the contractor, Mr. Benschop, was an employer with an employee at the worksite or an employee of the general contractor. The Commission found that he was an employer and had willfully placed his employee in danger, but it applied a 20% discount to the penalty due to the small size of the employer, resulting in a final assessed penalty of $56,000.

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

HR Tip: Enforcement of joint employer liability for temporary worker safety remains strong

While OSHA has moved away from an enforcement-based strategy on many initiatives, OSHA’s deputy director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs made it clear at a recent conference that the agency is continuing to enforce joint employer liability for temporary worker safety and plans to issue more guidance for employers. The agency conducted nearly 600 inspections of workplaces with temporary workers in fiscal year 2016 and is continuing to conduct these inspections.

In addition, in every inspection compliance officers are directed to look for the presence of temporary workers and the unique hazards they are exposed to. OSHA has issued seven bulletins providing guidance to employers as part of the temporary worker initiative on injury and illness record-keeping requirements, personal protective equipment, whistleblower protection rights, safety and health training, hazard communication, bloodborne pathogens, and powered industrial trucks training.

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

EEOC ordered to reconsider wellness rules

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) rules about the fees employers can assess workers who do not participate in wellness programs were ruled arbitrary by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 22. Rather than vacate the rules, the court sent them back to the agency for redrafting. The court’s decision does not vacate the EEOC rules and employers are obligated to comply with existing rules, but should be alert to future changes.


Work conditions ‘unpleasant, potentially hazardous’ for more than half of Americans: study

Nearly 55 percent of American workers claim they encounter “unpleasant and potentially hazardous” conditions on the job, according to a study from nonprofit research institute RAND Corp., Harvard Medical School, and the University of California, Los Angeles. Nearly 1 in 5 workers reported exposure to a “hostile or threatening social environment at work” and 1 in 4 said they do not have enough time to complete job tasks.


National survey on fatigue indicates it is a hidden, but potentially deadly workplace epidemic

Some 43 percent of Americans say they do not get enough sleep to mitigate critical risks that can jeopardize safety at work and on the roads, including the ability to think clearly, make informed decisions, and be productive, according to a new National Safety Council survey-based report, Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes & Consequences of Employee Fatigue. An estimated 13 percent of workplace injuries could be attributed to fatigue.


CDC launches website on worker wellness programs

To help employers start or expand employee health promotion programs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created the Workplace Health Resource Center website.


New app from NIOSH: Lifting Equation Calculator

In an effort to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders, NIOSH has released a mobile app based on the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation, an internationally recognized standard for safe manual lifting.


Updated ergo guide from NIOSH offers strategies for preventing MSDs

The NIOSH Musculoskeletal Disorders Research Program has updated its guidance document on the formation and function of ergonomics programs. Intended for both workers and employers, it provides strategies for identifying and correcting ergonomic hazards, as well as references, forms and questionnaires.


Guide offers best practices for safely using bleach to clean and sanitize

A new safety guide published by the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine Division offers best practices for workers exposed to bleach, including janitors, housekeepers, environmental engineers, and hospital, restaurant, maintenance and agricultural workers.


FMCSA, FRA withdraw rulemaking on sleep apnea

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration have withdrawn an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on obstructive sleep apnea. “The agencies … believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address OSA,” FMCSA and FRA stated in a notice published in the Aug. 4 Federal Register.


Operation Safe Driver Week set for mid-October

Law enforcement officers are expected to keep a particularly sharp eye on the roads Oct. 15-21 during the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Operation Safe Driver Week. Officers will be looking for commercial motor vehicle and passenger vehicle drivers engaging in dangerous behaviors such as speeding, texting, following too closely and not wearing seat belts.


Opioids updates

  • One in 12 US physicians received a payment involving an opioid during a 29-month study of pharmaceutical industry influences on opioid prescribing, according to researchers who will publish their findings in September’s American Journal of Public Health. During the study, 375,266 non-research opioid-related payments were made to 68,177 physicians, totaling $46,158,388.
  • A study from the Worker’s Compensation Research Institute examines the prevalence and trends of longer-term dispensing of opioids in 26 state workers’ compensation systems. It also documents how often the services (i.e., drug testing, psychological evaluation, and treatment, etc.) recommended by treatment guidelines were used for managing chronic opioid therapy.

Study casts doubts on effectiveness of marijuana in combatting chronic pain

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was published on the Annals of Internal Medicine website. Limited evidence suggests that cannabis may alleviate neuropathic pain in some patients, but insufficient evidence exists for other types of chronic pain. There was also sufficient evidence to conclude that cannabis use among the general population probably increased the risk of car accidents, psychotic symptoms, and short-term cognitive impairment. It was noted more research is needed.

CSB releases animated video on Louisiana refinery fire

The Chemical Safety Board has released an animated video that examines the cause of last year’s ExxonMobil refinery fire, which severely burned four workers in Baton Rouge, LA.

State News

California

  • New regulations aimed at preventing incidents such as the 2012 Chevron Corp. fire at oil refineries will take effect Oct. 1.
  • Ratings bureau proposes small workers’ comp premium increase for 2018.
  • Workers’ comp bill safeguarding pregnant women put on hold.

Florida

  • NCCI recommends comp premium decrease of 9.6% effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Illinois

  • The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) recommends a 10.9% workers’ compensation premium rate decrease for Illinois.
  • Governor vetoes state-funded comp insurance plan.

Minnesota

  • Effective August 1, patients with post-traumatic stress disorder can purchase medical marijuana.
  • Department of Labor and Industry adopted the final rule from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration about walking-working surfaces and personal fall-protection systems.

New York

  • Employers should prepare to comply with the Paid Family Leave that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Pennsylvania

  • The Compensation Rating Bureau filed an emergency 6.06% loss cost increase in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision that blocks impairment rating evaluations.

 

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

Legal Corner

FMLA
Company properly terminated teller using intermittent FMLA leave

In Walker v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank N.A., the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that a bank teller who received intermittent leave for hypertension and requested removal of the notary duties of her job did not show Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) retaliation or interference in her firing. On her intermittent leave, she was permitted to come in late, leave early, or miss a day when she was not feeling well and acknowledged that she was never denied FMLA leave approval. She did not request an ADA accommodation.

While she was working she received low or unsatisfactory job performance reviews, warnings for overall unsatisfactory performance, including poor customer relationships and failure to follow procedures to protect confidentiality. She was fired approximately two years after she requested intermittent leave and filed suit.

The court found that she was terminated because of her performance failings, not because she took intermittent leave. The company had properly continued to enforce its progressive disciplinary policy during the period of intermittent leave.


Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana user can sue employer that rescinded job offer based on pre-employment drug test – Connecticut

In Katelin Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company L.L.C., doing business as Bride Brook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a recreational therapist who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder was prescribed a capsule form of medicinal cannabis in 2015, which she ingests every evening to help her sleep. Prior to her pre-employment drug test, she informed her future employer that she took medical marijuana. One day before she was to start her new job, after she had quit her former employment, the rehabilitation center rescinded her job offer over a positive drug test.

The company argued that federal law, which bans the use of marijuana, preempts Connecticut law that prohibits employers from firing or refusing to hire someone who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes. The court disagreed and found the employee can sue the employer.


Workers’ Compensation
Exclusive remedy protects general and special employer – California

The family of a Fresno paramedic who was killed in an air ambulance helicopter crash filed a wrongful death suit against Rogers Helicopters and American Airborne, claiming they were negligent in the maintenance and operation of the helicopter. A general partnership, ROAM dba SkyLife, existed between the companies, and the helicopters used in this partnership were jointly owned.

If there are dual employers, the second or “special” employer may enjoy the same protection of “exclusive remedy” under workers’ comp as the first or “general” employer. The court found the death occurred during the course and scope of employment, therefore, the family is precluded from suing the companies.


Work comp exclusivity rule does not preempt claim for emotional distress under FEHA – California

In conflict with an earlier decision from Division Three, the Court of Appeal, 4th District, has affirmed that the workers’ compensation exclusivity rule does not preempt employees’ emotional distress claims arising from discrimination or retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The case, Melony Light vs. California Department of Parks and Recreation, et al., revolved around a co-worker who alleged harassment by supervisors for support of a co-worker who took medical leave for stress arising from harassment by supervisors. The court noted that exclusive remedy provisions are not applicable under various circumstances, including from a risk not reasonably encompassed within the compensation bargain.


Employer may be liable for costs up until denial of claim – Florida

In Mathis v. Broward County School Board, a custodian, who is diabetic and had an abscess on her foot, reported a puncture injury to her foot. When the abscess worsened, she went to the hospital and was operated on for a staph infection.

When the school board denied the claim, the employee appealed, not questioning the denial of compensability but arguing the board was obligated to pay the $116,000 bill from the hospital, which was incurred before the claim was denied. The 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a judge’s finding that the employer wasn’t liable, noting if an employer elects to pay and investigate, then the law requires that it pay all benefits due “as if the claim had been accepted as compensable” until the date of denial. The case was remanded to consider the board’s defenses and if this constituted emergency care.


Comp sole remedy for alleged victim of sexual harassment – Illinois

In Nischan v. Stratosphere Quality, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that workers’ compensation was the sole remedy for a worker’s claim of battery by a corporate representative of a client, but that she had asserted a viable claim against her employer for failing to protect her from the corporate representative’s allegedly harassing conduct.

The Chrysler Group was one of Stratosphere’s biggest clients, and she alleged that Chrysler’s liaison sexually harassed her. The court said the Workers’ Compensation Act barred the claim of battery, since the act is the exclusive remedy for accidental injuries transpiring in the workplace. “Injuries resulting from a coworker’s intentional tort are accidental from the employer’s perspective unless the employer commanded or expressly authorized the tort.”


Use of indefinite article in settlement agreement leads to award of benefits – Indiana

In Evansville Courier Company v. Mary Beth Uziekalla, an injured worker settled a workers’ compensation claim for a neck injury. The settlement agreement allowed a claim for change of condition, at which point she could seek a medical opinion from the independent medical examiner.

When she exercised the provision, the designated doctor declined to give a medical opinion, so the parties agreed on a neurosurgeon, who determined that the change in condition did not result from her work injury. However, the original neurosurgeon, who also examined her, came to the opposite conclusion. The appellate court rejected the argument that the board erred in admitting the second opinion since the use of the phrase “‘a’ procedure for resolving future change of condition claims,” does not mean the agreement established the only such procedure. Indeed, the use of the indefinite article contemplates the contrary.


Longshoreman can pursue both WC and LHWCA benefits – Minnesota

Unless states have laws on the books indicating otherwise, injured longshoremen may seek benefits under both workers’ comp and the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. In Ansello v. Wisconsin Central Ltd., the state Supreme Court ruled that a workers’ compensation judge abused his discretion when he dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

In a dual-jurisdiction case, benefits in both jurisdictions can be pursued, but can’t be collected at the same time. The Longshore Act is more generous than the state’s workers’ compensation and typically would be accessed for wage loss and any residual benefits not paid under the state’s system. The court noted there is no danger of double recovery under concurrent jurisdiction, since employer’s awards under one are credited against any recovery under the second.


Failure to administer drug and alcohol testing in timely manner to injured worker nixes denial of benefits – Mississippi

In McCall v. Sanderson Farms, an appellate court held that an injured worker should not have been denied workers’ compensation benefits because he failed to submit to a post-accident breathalyzer test. The injured worker waited for the breathalyzer technician to arrive at the employer’s premises for more than an hour and one-half following the incident, but pain forced him to leave and seek care at the hospital, where he passed a drug test but was not administered a blood alcohol test. According to the court, the employee had not denied the test.


Drug sentence insufficient to prove worker earned money from dealing drugs – New York

Under Work Comp. Law ยง 114-a, if a person makes a false statement or representation as to a material fact he or she shall be disqualified from receiving any compensation directly attributable to such false statement or representation. In Pompeo v. Auction Direct USA LP, an injured worker who went to prison on drug-dealing charges would have lost his chance to resume collecting wage-replacement benefits after his release if his employer could prove he hid the drug-sale proceeds. However, the Board was within its powers to find that the criminal convictions alone were insufficient to establish that income had been received from the drug sales.


Widow gets death benefits for unwitnessed fall – New York

In Silvestri v. New York City Transit Authority, an appellate court ruled that a worker’s widow was entitled to benefits for his death from injuries caused by an unwitnessed fall at work that was never reported to his employer. He left prior to the start of the second overtime shift and witnesses said he was holding his stomach when he left, and that he had said he wasn’t feeling well.

His maintenance duties sometimes required him to repair subway cars while they were suspended over a pit that was 4 to 5 feet deep with a concrete floor, through the use of a ladder and he told his wife he had fallen off a ladder into “the pit” at work earlier that day. When he was having difficulty breathing and walking, he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with fractured ribs, was given painkillers and sent home. Three days later he was diagnosed with a ruptured spleen, as well as a punctured lung, and died in the hospital a day later.

While the presumption of compensability could not be used to establish that an accident actually occurred, the widow had established her claim without it.


Calculation of AWW must account for changes in wages, hours – North Carolina

In Ball v. Bayada Home Health Care, the Court of Appeals overturned the calculation of a worker’s average weekly wage that did not account for the fact that she switched from part-time to full-time employment, and that she worked more than three months after her injury at a higher rate of pay. After six months of part-time work, a nurse’s assistant took a full time position and was pushed down the stairs by a patient on her first day.

The statute sets forth five different methods for calculating a worker’s AWW and the Industrial Commission used the method for when less than 52 weeks is worked. This method sets the AWW as the sum of the worker’s earnings divided by the number of weeks actually worked, if this results in an amount that is “fair and just to both parties.” The court found that this method was unfair to the worker and set the AWW as the amount that “will most nearly approximate the amount which the injured employee would be earning were it not for the injury.”


Entire impairment rating evaluation process unconstitutional – Pennsylvania

The recent decision of the state’s Supreme Court in Protz v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal is having widespread implications for the workers’ compensation process. In Thompson v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd, the Commonwealth Court held that one legal effect was to undermine the legal authority for the entire impairment rating evaluation (IRE) process. Accordingly, the Board could not approve a modification of benefits based upon an IRE.


Loss of earning power appropriate standard in reinstatement of benefits case – Pennsylvania

In Schafer v. WCAB (Reese Masonry), the Commonwealth Court overturned lower rulings by reviving a worker’s petition for reinstatement of benefits. It explained the wrong standard was used; the worker did not need to prove a worsening of his condition or inability to perform his regular job to be entitled to wage-loss compensation; he just had to show that his earning power was adversely affected by his disability and that it arose from his original claim.


Worker awarded benefits for fall that aggravated pre-existing arthritic condition – Tennessee

In Jenny Craig Operations v. Reel, a worker tripped and fell, aggravating the pre-existing arthritis in her knee and necessitating knee replacement surgery. The company accepted liability for a temporary injury to the knee, but it denied liability for the total knee replacement and for any permanent impairment. A trial judge found the fall had caused an acceleration, advancement, or progression of her osteoarthritis, such that she required a total knee replacement and a permanent partial disability of 46.5% to her right lower extremity.

The state’s Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel agreed, noting, “an employer takes an employee as is and assumes the responsibility of having a pre-existing condition aggravated by a work-related injury which might not affect an otherwise healthy person.”

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

OSHA watch

Injury tracking application restored

The application launched on Aug. 1, as part of the compliance effort for its controversial electronic record-keeping rule, but a note on the website two weeks later said technical difficulties were making some of the ITA pages unavailable. A technology scan confirmed that there was no security breach and the application was restored.


Comments sought on lockout/tagout

The agency plans to issue a request for information in April 2018 regarding potential updates to its lockout/tagout standard, a frequently cited violation that is increasingly deemed out of date. There has been an increase in the variance requests because advances in technology that incorporate computer-based control of hazardous energy are increasingly used in machines and can conflict with the existing lockout/tagout standard.

Employer faces over $1 million in fines, including first walking-working surfaces violations

Shortly after the requirements under new Subpart D, “Walking-Working Surfaces (WWS),” became effective, Aluminum Shapes LLC of New Jersey Camden County was inspected and cited for 51 safety and health violations with proposed penalties of $1,922,895. Among the citations were fixed ladders, portable ladders, skylights, stairs, loading docks, and other walking-working surfaces that were not compliant. One violation for failure to ensure that the side rails of a ladder extended 42 inches above the top of the access level or landing platform served by the ladder resulted in a proposed penalty of $9,959.


Website changes

  • Data on workplace fatalities removed from home page, continuing shift away from policy of public shaming
  • The publication webpage is now formatted for all devices and has been reorganized
  • More employer stories added to heat protection pages

Trench safety symposium webinar available online

Conducted in conjunction with the National Utility Contractors Association, and the University of Texas at Arlington, the symposium focused on ways to prevent trenching and excavation hazards in the construction industry.

Safety training videos for tobacco farm workers

The North Carolina Department of Labor’s Agriculture Safety and Health Bureau, the Farm Labor Practices Group, NC State University and industry stakeholders collaborated to produce safety training videos addressing agricultural safety and health hazards faced by tobacco farm workers.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Crenshaw Manufacturing Inc. in Huntington Beach received six citations and $142,715 in penalties after a worker had three fingers amputated while manually loading products into an operating punch press. Fines relate to machine guarding, failure to conduct regular inspections, and lack of training.
  • Santa Ana-based Triumph Processing- Embee Division, Inc. plant, manufacturer of aircraft parts, received a total of 23 citations, totaling proposed fines of $87,500 for exposing workers to the dangerous chemical hexavalent chromium (chromium-6), and not notifying workers that they knew or try to protect workers from exposure.

Florida

  • Jacksonville-based Great White Construction Inc., a roofing contractor, faces penalties of more than $1.5 million for 14 workplace safety violations and has been placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program due to high-gravity, willful, egregious violations related to fall hazards.
  • An administrative law judge has vacated two citations issued against Riverview-based Central Site Development L.L.C. involving a fatality of a worker of a subcontractor. The company had received two citations under the general duty clause, but the judge found the multiemployer worksite doctrine does not apply to citations issued under the general duty clause.

Massachusetts

  • UHS of Westwood Pembroke, Inc. – doing business as Lowell Treatment Center, a behavioral health facility, faces $207,690 in proposed penalties for failure to abate violations involving workplace violence.
  • An administrative law judge upheld citations and $4,000 in penalties assessed against a contractor, Chris Welch, for failing to provide fall protection and appropriate ladders for his workers who were working on a roof of a house in Springfield.
  • An administrative law judge has affirmed citations and proposed fines issued against a roofing contractor, William Trahant Jr. Construction Inc. in Lynn, who failed to show at his scheduled commission hearing. Penalties are $43,560 for failure to provide fall protection or hard hats.

New York

  • Carthage Specialty Paperboard is facing $357,445 in proposed penalties for more than 60 safety and health hazards, including more than 20 instances of machinery lacking safety guards to prevent possible amputation.

Pennsylvania

  • An administrative law judge upheld citations against Montgomeryville-based Lloyd Industries Inc.’s facility after a worker’s three fingers were amputated when a machine without safety guards crushed his hand. Proposed total penalties are $822,000.

Wisconsin

  • Marshfield-based Felker Brothers Corp., a manufacturer of steel pipes and tubes is facing $110,458 in proposed fines after a worker was struck by a machinery part and suffered a shattered jaw and concussion, a worker was exposed to hexavalent chromium at levels 1.8% higher than the permissible exposure limit and other violations.

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

HR Tip: Can employers terminate employees for off duty activities?

Following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was an active social media campaign to identify protesters and encourage employers to terminate their employment. While the legal consensus seems to be that private employers have the right to take action against employees for expressing views that could create a hostile work environment or damage the employer’s reputation, even if the activities happened off the clock, many caution to decide on a case by case basis.

There are no federal laws that would be violated if a worker were fired by a private employer. The First Amendment’s protections of freedom of speech apply only to the government, not to private employers. However, some states, such as California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota, have laws that prohibit from discriminating against employees for engaging in lawful conduct when they are off duty. In such states, there is a greater burden on the employer to justify the termination. And employers must be careful not to run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act by punishing employees who may be commenting about the terms and conditions of their employment.

In the era of social media, pictures and videos from rallies and protests go viral instantly. If a manager is using hateful speech and acts on it at work, employees can feel threatened and belittled and harassment and discrimination suits could be harder to defend.

Today, many feel more emboldened about what they can say and do and employees may not understand what they do off the job can impact their employment. For this reason, it is critical for employers to review their social media, employment or personnel policies, and other relevant policies to articulate their expectations in these situations.

Deciding whether to take action against an employee for off-duty conduct can be a slippery slope and it’s best to consult with their legal counsel before making decisions.

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