Much needed clarification from OSHA on anti-retaliation provisions

My fellow Certified WorkComp Advisor, Dustin Boss, has allowed me to share his summary of the OSHA anti-retaliation clarification that the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) just issued.

OSHA issued a standard interpretation clarifying its position on the new recordkeeping rule’s anti-retaliation provisions. OSHA’s memorandum essentially “rolls back” its enforcement of the anti-retaliation provisions, particularly concerning safety incentive programs and post-accident drug testing.

Why is this important? Many employers struggled to understand the anti-retaliation provisions since they were published in May 2016 in guidance materials accompanying the new regulations. Up until now, OSHA’s explanations have been extremely vague and confusing. But with this new publication, the confusion ends as the interpretation supersedes all the prior guidance on this topic.

So what changed?

OSHA clarifies that it does not prohibit workplace safety incentive programs or post-incident drug testing. It allows that incentive programs can be an important tool to promote workplace safety and health and encourages programs that reward workers for reporting near-misses or hazards and involvement in a safety and health management system.

OSHA also provides that rate-based incentive programs are permissible under the rule as long as they are not implemented in a manner that discourages reporting. If an employer takes a negative action against an employee under a rate-based incentive program, such as withholding a prize or bonus, or a slice of pizza, because of a reported injury, OSHA will not cite the employer under the anti-retaliation provisions as long as the employer has implemented adequate precautions to ensure that employees feel free to report an injury or illness. It hints that the more “substantial” the reward, then the more the employer may need to do to reassure employees they are free to report without retaliation. In other words, pizza parties are back.

In addition, it states that most instances of workplace drug testing are permissible. Examples of permissible drug-testing include:

  • Random drug testing
  • Drug testing unrelated to the reporting of a work-related injury or illness
  • Drug testing under a state workers’ compensation law
  • Drug testing under other federal law, such as a U.S. Department of Transportation rule
  • Drug testing to evaluate the root cause of a workplace incident that harmed or could have harmed employees. If the employer chooses to use drug testing to investigate the incident, the employer should test all employees whose conduct could have contributed to the incident, not just employees who reported injuries.

What should employers do now?

Employers should keep in mind that the regulations do not mention safety incentive programs or drug testing policies. The discussions about prohibitions on drug testing and incentive programs were included in prior guidance given by OSHA, as is yesterday’s interpretation rolling back that position. Thus, this position could change with the next election. For now, employers have some more certainty that the current OSHA is not going to pursue these types of retaliation claims unless there is some strong indications that the employer took action to discourage reporting.

That said, employers need to remember that the key aspect for determining whether their incentive programs are OSHA “compliant” is to treat all employees in a consistent manner and ensure that employees feel free to report an injury or illness.

Regarding employer drug testing programs, to strike the appropriate balance, drug testing policies should limit post-incident testing to situations in which employee drug use is likely to have contributed to the incident, and for which the drug test can accurately identify impairment caused by drug use.

For additional information, see OSHA’s memorandum entitled, “Clarification of OSHA’s Position on Workplace Safety Incentive Programs and Post-Incident Drug Testing Under 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv).”.

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

Things you should know

NLRB issues proposed rule on joint employers

As expected, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has announced publication of a proposed rule on joint employers. The rule will effectively discard the expanded definition of joint employer in the Browning-Ferris Industries decision during the Obama era and return to the much narrower standard that it had followed from 1984 until 2015. An employer may be found to be a joint-employer of another employer’s employees only if it possesses and exercises substantial, direct and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment.

NIOSH publishes guide on air-purifying respirator selection

NIOSH has issued a guide intended to help employers select appropriate air-purifying respirators based on the environment and contaminants at specific jobsites.

Top trend in workers’ comp reform – legislation impacting first responders

According to National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the introduction of legislation impacting first responders was the top trend in workers’ compensation reforms countrywide, although few bills have passed. In 2018, there were 103 bills dealing with first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer, but only five bills passed. Washington and Florida both passed bills that would allow first responders with PTSD to file workers’ compensation claims under certain circumstances, and Hawaii and New Hampshire revised or enacted presumption bills for firefighters battling certain types of cancer. New Hampshire also passed a law that calls for a commission to “study” PTSD in first responders.

Worker fatalities at road construction sites on the rise: CPWR

A total of 532 construction workers were killed at road construction sites from 2011 through 2016 – more than twice the combined total for all other industries – according to a recent report from the Center for Construction Research and Training, also known as CPWR. In addition to the statistics, the report highlights injury prevention strategies for road construction sites from CPWR and several agencies.

State-by-state analysis of prescription drug laws

The Workers Compensation Research Institute published a report that shows how each of the 50 states regulates pharmaceuticals as related to workers’ compensation. Some of the highlights include:

  • 34 states now require doctors to perform certain tasks before prescribing
  • At least 11 states have adopted drug formularies
  • 15 states do not have treatment guidelines to control the prescription of opioids, and preauthorization is not required
  • In at least 26 states, medical marijuana is allowed in some form and nine of those states specifically exclude marijuana from workers’ compensation

Guide and study related to workers and depression

Workers who experience depression may be less prone to miss work when managers show greater sensitivity to their mental health and well-being, recent research from the London School of Economics and Political Science shows. The study was published online in the journal BMJ Open.

In March, the Institute for Work and Health published a guide intended to aid “the entire workplace” in assisting workers who cope with depression or those who support them.

11 best practices for lowering firefighter cancer risk

A recent report from the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Volunteer and Combination Officers Section and the National Volunteer Fire Council details 11 best practices for minimizing cancer risk among firefighters.

NIOSH offers recommendations for firefighters facing basement, below-grade fires

The Workplace Solutions report offers strategies and tactics for fighting basement and below-grade fires, along with a list of suggested controls before, during and after an event.

Predicting truck crash involvement update now available

The American Transportation Research Institute has updated its Crash Predictor Model. It examines the statistical likelihood of future truck crashes based on certain behaviors – such as violations, convictions or previous crashes – by using data from 435,000 U.S. truck drivers over a two-year period.

This third edition of CPM includes the impact of age and gender on the probability of crashes. It also features average industry costs for six types of crashes and their severity.

State News

California

  • Governor signed four bills related to comp. A.B. 1749 allows the first responder’s “employing agency” to determine whether an injury suffered out of state is compensable. A.B. 2046 requires governmental agencies involved in combating workers compensation fraud to share data, among other changes to anti-fraud efforts. S.B. 880 allows employers to pay indemnity benefits with a prepaid credit card. S.B. 1086 preserves the extended deadline for families of police and firefighters to file claims for death benefits.
  • Governor vetoed bills that would have prohibited apportionment based on genetics, defined janitors as employees and not contractors, identified criteria doctors must consider when assigning an impairment rating for occupational breast cancer claims, called for the “complete” disbursement of $120 million in return-to-work program funds annually, and required the Division of Workers’ Compensation to document its plans for using data analytics to find fraud.
  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation revised Medical Treatment Utilization Schedule Drug List went into effect Oct 1.
  • Independent medical reviews (IMRs) used to resolve workers’ comp medical disputes in the state rose 4.4 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017; however, in over 90 percent of those cases, physicians performing the IMR upheld the utilization review (UR) physician’s treatment modification or denial. – California Compensation Institute (CWCI)

Florida

  • Workers’ compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for first responders like firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement officers and others went into effect Oct. 1.

Indiana

  • Workers’ Compensation Board will destroy paper documents in settlements. If parties mail or drop off paper-based settlement agreements and related documents, it will trash them and notify the parties by phone or email to submit online. The board urges parties to follow the settlement checklist and procedure posted on its website.

Minnesota

  • The Department of Labor and Industry formally adopted a number of changes to fees for rehabilitation consultants.
  • Department of Labor and Industry approved rule changes that slightly increase fees for medical and vocational rehabilitation services, and increase the threshold for medical, hospital and vocational rehabilitation services that treat catastrophically injured patients.
  • Effective Jan. 1, the assigned risk rate, which insures small employers with less than $15,000 in premium, and employers with an experience modification factor of 1.25 or higher, will decrease 0.7%.

Missouri

  • A new portal from the Department of Labor offers safety data, video, and training programs.

New York

  • The Workers’ Compensation Board has launched its virtual hearings option for injured workers and their attorneys. For more information.
  • Attorneys or representatives are now required to check-in to all hearings using the online Virtual Hearing Center when appearing in person at a hearing center.

Virginia

  • The Department of Labor and Industry has issued a hazard alert warning of the potential dangers of unsafe materials handling and storage in the beverage distribution and retail industry.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Annual Report for 2017 shows claims and first report of injury are trending up, bucking the downward trend nationally. There has also been a big jump in alternative dispute resolutions.

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

 

OSHA watch

OIG finds flaws in fatality and severe injury reporting program

In a recent audit report the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General noted OSHA is not doing enough to ensure it has complete information on work-related deaths and severe injuries, and is not consistent in citing establishments that fail to file required reports. While disputing some of the findings, the agency agrees that better case documentation could promote consistency in issuing citations, but expresses concern that the report suggests the “burden to ensure reporting of injuries and illnesses falls on the agency” instead of employers.

Budget increase expected

A “minibus” appropriations bill approved by the congressional conference committee includes a $5 million increase in OSHA’s budget. It also allocated no more than $102.4 million to State Plans, an increase of $1.5 million, the first increase since 2014. The Susan Harwood Training Grants Program is slated to remain viable for another fiscal year, receiving around $10.5 million.

Federal compliance assistance efforts are scheduled for a $2.5 million increase to $73.5 million, and at least $3.5 million is going to the Voluntary Protection Programs. The enforcement budget is slated for a $1 million boost to $209 million.

Legionellosis webpage updated

The Legionellosis webpage has been updated to include information on preventing, identifying and managing workplace exposure to Legionella bacteria hazards. The Legionella eTool, is a device intended to assist employers, health care providers, and safety and health professionals when inspecting jobsites for Legionellosis.

New trenching resources

An updated Quick Card on trenching operations provides information on protecting workers around trenches, including daily inspections, and trench wall safety.

A new 45-sec public service announcement on trench safety, 5 Things You Should Know to Stay Safe, features U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and highlights well-known and proven safety measures that can eliminate hazards and prevent worker injuries.

Website to feature safety tip of the week

Every Monday, the OSHA homepage will feature a brief safety tip to help employers and workers prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. Each tip will link to educational and training resources.

California – Recordkeeping violations extended to five years

A bill, AB 2334, expanding the statute of limitations for recordkeeping requirements under the jurisdiction of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) was signed into law and becomes effective January 1, 2019. The bill changes the definition of “occurrence” in the California Labor Code for purposes of the statute of limitation for violations relating to recordkeeping, “until…corrected, or the division discovers the violation, or the duty to comply with the violated requirement ceases to exist.” In effect, it gives Cal/OSHA the authority to issue citations for recordkeeping violations that exist during the entire five-year period employers are required to maintain injury and illness records. Previously, employers could not be cited for violations that took place more than six months before the citation was issued, the same as the federal statute.

Enforcement notes

California

  • San Jose-based GreenWaste Recovery Inc., a waste removal company, was cited $46,270 for serious violations after a worker was run over by a truck and killed.
  • Disneyland was cited and fined $33,000 for failing to properly clean water storage tanks following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in August of last year that affected three employees as well as visitors. Disneyland has appealed.

Florida

  • Five contractors were cited for seven workplace safety violations after a fatal pedestrian bridge collapse at the International University campus in Miami and face proposed penalties totaling $86,658. Violations included exposing employees to crushing and fall hazards and allowing multiple employees to connect to an improperly installed lifeline.
  • Inspected as part of Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction, Coastal Roofing, Inc. of Jacksonville, faces $105,283 in proposed penalties for exposing workers to fall and other hazards.

Georgia

  • As a result of a follow-up inspection that was part of a formal settlement, Great Southern Peanut LLC of Leesburg, a peanut processing facility, faces $309,505 in proposed penalties and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Citations included failing to develop and implement procedures for confined space entry, train employees on confined space hazards, reduce compressed air to the required level, and meet recordkeeping requirements.

Michigan

  • Packaging Specialties, Inc. of Romulus faces 17 citations and $144,900 in penalties for repeatedly exposing workers to safety hazards, including failing to train workers to safely operate aerial lifts, and conduct periodic safety inspections for the control of hazardous energy.

Missouri

  • After an employee was killed at the St. Joseph sawmill site, American Walnut Company LLC was cited for two repeated and 14 serious safety violations and faces fines of $199,183. The repeat violations related to failing to protect employees from amputation hazards and keeping walking-working surfaces free of debris.

Nebraska

  • Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services (NRCS) and its executives are criminally charged after workers’ deaths. At the time of the incident, the company received 30 citations reaching almost $1 million and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. They now face a 22-count criminal indictment that they not only failed to implement worker safety standards, but then tried to cover it up during the subsequent inspection. They also are charged with mishandling hazardous wastes removed from rail tanker cars during the cleaning process.

Pennsylvania

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed all workplace safety citations against Pro-Spec Corp., doing business as Pro-Spec Painting, an abrasive blasting and painting company in Easton and Quakertown and assessed $44,536 in penalties.

Virginia

  • Lanford Brothers Company faces five citations and $304,130 in penalties for exposing workers to respirable crystalline silica hazards while using jackhammers to remove concrete from bridge piers.

For more information.

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

 

OSHA Update

Walking/Working Surfaces Rule – important deadline approaching, enforcement lessons

Falls are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death in the workplace. Approximately 20 percent of the workplace fatalities, disabling injuries, and days away from work in general industry result from slips, trips, and falls. Each year, the Walking/Working Surfaces Rule is among the most cited standards by OSHA. Four of the agency’s 10 most cited standards in 2017 were related to fall prevention, including the rules for ladder safety and scaffolds.

OSHA began its attempts to update the rule in 1990, which was finally accomplished in 2016, with a 513-page document. The update to the general industry walking-working surfaces standards (found in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D) and its scaffold standards (found in Subpart I) clarified definitions, eliminated overly specific application conditions, better organized the requirements, simplified general requirements, aligned more closely with the construction standard, and gave flexibility to use personal fall protection systems in lieu of guardrail systems. It has met with few legal challenges.

November 19 deadline for existing fixed ladders

With the exception of some requirements for updating fixed ladders, the requirements of the updated standards became effective in 2017. Under the revised standard, cages or wells for fall protection on fixed ladders higher than 24 feet are no longer acceptable. However, there are grandfather provisions and a phase-in period for the new provisions:

  • Fixed ladder systems installed before November 19, 2018 must have a cage, well, ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system
  • Fixed ladder systems installed on or after November 19, 2018 must be equipped with a personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system (cages or wells for fall protection are no longer acceptable) (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(B))
  • When any portion of a fixed ladder is replaced, the replacement must be equipped with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(C))
  • Cages and wells on all fixed ladders extending more than 24-feet must be replaced with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system by November 18, 2036 (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(D))

Insights from enforcement statistics

Since OSHA’s fiscal year begins in October, the most recent enforcement statistics include 3.5 months under the old rules and 8.5 under the new. However, they do shed light on vulnerable areas for employers. (Statistic from Conn, Maciel, Carey webinar, Lessons learned from OSHA’s updated Walking/Working Surfaces Rule)

The highest number of citations were under Section 1910.22 General Requirements:

  • 291 citations for general housekeeping
  • 122 citations for clean and dry floors
  • 53 citations for walkways free from hazards
  • 18 citations for maximum load intended

Lesson: Clearly the number one issue is keeping floors and surfaces clean, dry, and clear of hazards. This type of citation is low hanging fruit for OSHA. It’s also important to note that while the rule does not have a requirement for posting a maximum intended load notice, employees must know the maximum intended limit.

Section 1910.28 is the second most cited section. This requires employers to protect workers from all fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least four feet above a lower level.

  • 205 citations for unprotected sides and edges
  • 55 citations for fall protection stairways
  • 49 citations for falls – holes
  • 26 citations for falls around dangerous equipment

Lesson: Unprotected sides and edges are a pain point for employers and OSHA. Though the rule states specific details for different situations, it offers more fall prevention and protection options than guarding, such as safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), positioning systems, travel restraint systems, and ladder safety systems and identifies the exceptions to the requirement.

Grandfathering provisions

In addition to the grandfathering provisions for fall protection for existing fixed ladders discussed above, the rule also allows grandfathering for:

However, in the preamble it notes that grandfathering is not allowed for guardrail height. Grandfathering status is unclear for the dimensions between ladder ledges and step bolts.

OSHA resources

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Safety risks soar with workforce shortage

The USG U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index (CCI) is a quarterly economic index designed to gauge the outlook for, and resulting confidence in, the commercial construction industry. While earlier reports indicated that the shortage of skilled workers affected schedule performance and jobsite efficiency, the September index added a new dimension – 80 percent of contractors agree that the skilled labor shortage also impacts jobsite safety and it’s the number one factor increasing safety risk on the jobsite.

Tighter time schedules are the number two factor and exacerbate the safety risks. Aggressive scheduling may cause contractors to use workers with less experience or training, and can push employees to work longer hours, which can lead to shortcuts and compromised processes.

Addiction and substance abuse issues also decrease worker and jobsite safety. Almost 40% of contractors say they are highly concerned about the safety impacts of worker use/addiction to opioids, followed by alcohol (27%) and marijuana (22%). Notably, the report showed that while nearly two-thirds of contractors have strategies in place to reduce the safety risks presented by alcohol (62 percent) and marijuana (61 percent), only half have strategies to address their top substance of concern: opioids, which is a newer growing concern.

Language barriers also are a leading safety risk, particularly in the Northeast (34%) and West (31%).

 

Strategies to reduce safety risks

To address safety risks caused by workforce shortages, contractors believe the most effective strategies are an improved safety culture and more leadership training.

  • Improving the safety climate on jobsites (63 percent)
  • Improving the firm’s safety culture (58 percent)
  • Providing more leadership training for supervisors (48 percent)
  • Tracking and assessing safety records (34 percent)
  • Using safety-enhancing technologies (33 percent)

General Contractors in the Northeast are relying more than others on leadership training for supervisors. Large contractors are using safety-enhancing technology (47%) more than small contractors (27%).

The study dove deeper into the most impactful way to achieve a strong safety culture. It presented a list of practices associated with a strong safety culture and asked contractors to select those with the highest impact on safety outcomes. Training at all levels topped the list (67%). More than half (53%) of contractors believe that ensuring accountability at all levels has a high impact. Other indicators include improving communication (46 percent), demonstrating management’s commitment to safety (46 percent), improving supervisory leadership (43 percent) and aligning and integrating safety as a value (42 percent).

More general contractors consider empowering and involving employees (58%) and demonstrating management commitment (55%) to have a high impact on safety outcomes, compared with trade contractors (35% and 34%, respectively.)

The top strategies contractors are using to reduce safety risks caused by substance abuse are testing, prescreening before hiring, education, communication oversight by supervisors, zero tolerance policies, counseling, and access to rehab.

The labor shortage in the construction industry is projected to last another three years, requiring increased emphasis on safety training and supervision. Four out of five (80%) contractors said they experienced some competitive advantage from their safety programs, although larger companies with more resources and expertise gain a greater advantage. They cite insurance, liability, and new business as top benefits.

Even a few injuries can push worker comp rates sky high, raise the experience modifier, reduce bidding opportunities, lower morale, and put more pressure on workers who are already expected to do more with less. A renewed emphasis on safety that is inclusive and forward thinking will help curb the risks.

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

 

Legal Corner

ADA
Failure to accommodate is costly for employers

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Linda K. Atkins v. Dolgencorp L.L.C., dba Dollar General Corp., a federal appeals court affirmed a jury verdict of more than $277,000 to a former diabetic Dollar General worker. She worked the register and was often alone, so she could not leave her station when she experienced a low blood sugar episode. Her manager refused to let her keep a bottle of orange juice at her register, so when she had an attack she took a bottle of juice from the store cooler and drank it, later paying the $1.69 she owed for each bottle and told her manager.

She was fired for violating Dollar General’s “grazing policy,” which forbids employees from consuming merchandise in the store before paying for it. The appeals court affirmed the jury awards of $27,565 in back pay and $250,000 in compensatory damages, and the court awarded her lawyers $445,322 in attorney’s fees and $1,677 in expenses. The jury found Dollar General failed to provide reasonable alternatives to keeping orange juice at her register.

In Stanley Christie v. Georgia-Pacific Co., Ace American Insurance Co., director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Program, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco awarded permanent total disability to a man who injured his back working for a large paper company that failed to prove that they provided the employee with adequate accommodations after returning to work. While the company assigned him to a less-demanding warehouse position, the position required some lifting, which was difficult for him.

When he learned that the company was eliminating its early retirement program, he decided to retire because he did not feel he could work in pain for another six years. About two years later, his treating physician said he had reached maximum medical improvement, and he filed a claim seeking permanent total disability benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, for which he was eligible.

The DOL’s Benefits Review Board, denied the claim, arguing his loss of wages was due to retirement, not the work injury. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously reversed, noting that his inability to work pushed him to retirement and the company had failed to provide suitable alternative work and had not documented any accommodations.

Workers’ Compensation
Injured worker cannot sue utilization reviewer – California

In King v. Comppartners, Inc., an utilization reviewer denied a treating physician’s request to continue prescribing Klonopin, a psychotropic drug, for an injured employee. The injured worker argued that the reviewer owed him a duty of care and had caused additional injuries by denying the request without authorizing a weaning regimen or warning him of the possible side effects of abruptly ceasing the medication. When he stopped taking the medication, he suffered four seizures.

The case found its way to the state Supreme Court, which found that utilization reviewers, in performing their statutory functions, effectively stood in the shoes of employers. As such, they were provided with the same immunity from tort liability as employers.

Safety consultant owes duty of care – California

In Oscar Peredia et al. v. HR Mobile Services Inc., parents filed a wrongful death claim against HR Mobile Services Inc., a workplace safety adviser for the employer of their son, who died in a work-related accident. The 5th District Court of Appeal found that HR Mobile agreed to assist the employer in carrying out its workplace safety obligations, and accepted a role in conducting safety inspections and safety training. As such, it can be held liable for injuries the third party suffers as a result.

Public employer can fire an injured worker who cannot perform essential job functions – Massachusetts

In Robert McEachen v. Boston Housing Authority (BHA), a carpenter for the Boston Housing Authority was injured and placed on FMLA and medical leave. About a year later, a termination hearing was held with the union and the employee and it was concluded that “he is unable to return to work and cannot perform the essential functions of his job.” The employee did not disagree and argued he could return to work in a modified duty capacity, supervising other carpenters. Such a position did not exist.

When he was terminated, he appealed to the Civil Service Commission, which upheld the BHA decision, noting the employee was unable to perform the essential functions of the job. A three-judge panel of the state appellate court affirmed.

Decision not to use handrail nixes comp claim – Minnesota

The Supreme Court ruled that an employee who fell down a flight of steps while at work is not due workers compensation because she chose not to use a handrail. In Laurie A. Roller-Dick v. CentraCare Health System and SFM Mutual Cos., the employee was leaving work, carrying a plant with both hands,when she fell down a flight of stairs and fractured her ankle. While she argued that her shoe stuck on the non-slip treads on the stairs, the compensation judge held that the injury did not arise out of employment because she failed to establish that the stairs were “more hazardous than stairs she might encounter in everyday life or that her work duties in some way increased her risk of falling as she descended them.”

While it was true that failure to use the handrail increased her risk of falling, there was no work-related reason not to use the handrail. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals overturned the judge’s ruling, arguing that stairs in the workplace are inherently hazardous. However, the Supreme Court disagreed and reinstated the ruling of the compensation judge.

Teacher cannot sue school for injuries incurred when breaking up a fight – Minnesota

In Ekblad v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 625, the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that workers’ comp exclusive remedy bars a teacher from suing the school after he was seriously hurt breaking up a student brawl. The employee argued negligence and negligent supervision as well as failure to provide a safe workplace and a lenient policy toward minority students’ violent misconduct.

The court found that none of the three relevant exceptions to the exclusive remedy provision – the assault exception, the intentional act exception, and the co-employee liability exception – applied in this case.

Employer rebuts 100% industrial loss because employee has marketable skills – Mississippi

In Bridgeman v. SBC Internet Services, a worker suffered a compensable injury, was unable to return to his job that involved climbing utility poles, and he was terminated by his employer. Under law, there is a presumption of 100% industrial loss when the worker proves he can no longer perform his usual employment. This presumption is rebuttable, if the employer can prove the employee could earn the same wages in another position.

If the employer successfully rebuts the presumption, the employee will not recover for a 100% industrial loss of use, but receives a recovery based on the greater of his losses from the medical impairment or the industrial loss-of-use rating. Since the employer presented evidence that the employee had a computer science degree, had been a teacher, and could perform medium to heavy work, an appeals court upheld lower court decisions that granted a 50% industrial loss of use of his arm.

Subject-matter jurisdiction can be challenged at any time – North Carolina

In Burgess v. Smith, a young woman who sold cleaning products door-to-door was killed in a single car accident, driven by her co-worker. Her mother filed a wrongful death suit against the driver and her employer and neither responded to the summons. A trial judge entered a default judgment against the defendants for more than $2 million. Five months later, the employer filed a motion to set aside the default judgment, arguing that she was an employee (although he argued earlier she was an independent contractor) and that the superior court lacked jurisdiction over the claim.

The court of appeals overturned the superior court judge denial, noting that subject-matter jurisdiction may be challenged at any time, even after the default judgment. The court remanded the case with instructions for the judge to determine if there was an employer-employee relationship.

Employee cannot sue employer for failure to provide a stress-free environment – North Carolina

In Jones v. Wells Fargo Co., a former employee argued that the bank and her supervisor failed to provide her with a safe working environment free from mental stress or anxiety and aggravated a pre-existing mental condition, which they knew about. While she argued that the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp did not apply because of “egregious and extreme conduct,” the court disagreed.

Parking lot injury compensable – Pennsylvania

In Piedmont Airlines v. WCAB (Watson), an airline employee fell into a pile of snow in the employee parking lot and broke his finger. The employee parking lot, which was owned and operated by the Department of Aviation, required an identification card for entry and the employer had issued one to the employee.

The Commonwealth Court noted that when an injury does not take place while performing job duties, it is compensable if the injury occurred on the employer’s premises, the worker’s presence on the premises was required by the nature of his employment, and the injury was caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of employer’s business. The court found that all three factors were met and, therefore, the injury was compensable.

Failure to accept modified duty means benefits can be adjusted – Pennsylvania

In Pettine v. WCAB (Verizon Pennsylvania), an employee was struck by a car when marking the road and suffered compensable injuries. He later requested that the claim be expanded to include his back and shoulder. When he declined an offer of a modified job that met his physical restrictions, vocational background, and geographical area, Verizon sought to modify his benefits.

The case went through several appeals, but in each case, the employee’s petition was denied and Verizon’s was granted.

Compromise & Release (C & R) agreement may not be used to avoid paying third party fees – Pennsylvania

In Armour Pharmacy v. Bureau of Workers’ Comp, the terms of a settlement included that the company pay for all necessary medical treatment. Many years after the injury, the company requested a Utilization Review (UR) of a newly prescribed topical cream, which was determined to be reasonable and necessary treatment.

The company then entered into an agreement with the employee that stated its liability for his medical expenses did not include any past, present or future costs for any compounded prescription cream. Several months later, the employee filled another prescription for the same cream, and the company refused to pay the more than $6,000 bill.

The court explained that the C & R bind each other, but cannot release them from liability to an entity who is not a party, in this case, the pharmacy. An employer can challenge a provider’s treatment as neither reasonable nor necessary, only through UR, and the company had not challenged the second prescription.

Benefits for volunteer firefighter overturned – Pennsylvania

In East Hempfield Township v. WCAB, a long-term volunteer firefighter was diagnosed with cancer four years after taking the job with the township. Several years later he filed for workers’ compensation benefits, asserting that his cancer had been caused by his exposure to carcinogens while volunteering for the township.

The case went through several appeals with varying decisions related to whether adequate notice of the claim had been properly given. The burden of proof is on the worker to show that notice was issued within 120 days of the injury, or the date upon which he knew, or should have known, he had a potential claim.

While the employee was diagnosed years earlier, he argued he did not know of the causal link between his cancer and firefighting and filed within 120 days when he received a doctor’s letter noting the connection. The Commonwealth Court found that the relevant inquiry was not when the employee actually knew of the work-relatedness of his injury, but rather when he should have known the work-relatedness through the exercise of reasonable diligence. The case was vacated and remanded.

High court upholds total disability award for trucker with pre-existing degenerative disc disease – Tennessee

In Wesley David Fly v. Mr. Bult’s Inc. et al., the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel with the Supreme Court affirmed a circuit court ruling that a trucker’s total disability was caused by a workplace injury, not the pre-existing degenerative disc disease, which was discovered at the time of the injury. The court noted that the law requires employers to “take an employee as he is,” and “all reasonable doubts as to the causation of an injury and whether the injury arose out of the employment should be resolved in favor of the employee.”

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

OSHA watch

Compliance date for parts of general industry beryllium standard delayed

The compliance date for certain ancillary provisions in the beryllium standard for general industry is extended to December 12, 2018. The final rule published in the Aug. 9 Federal Register, states that the compliance date applies to requirements for methods of compliance, beryllium work areas, regulated areas, personal protective clothing and equipment, hygiene facilities and practices, housekeeping, communication of hazards, and recordkeeping.

New compliance assistance resources available for Silica Standard

  • A customizable slide presentation can be used to help train construction workers.
  • A five-minute video shows how to protect workers from exposure to silica dust.
  • A series of short videos demonstrates the proper use of specified dust control methods for six common construction tasks.
  • An FAQ page provides answers to frequently asked questions about the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction.

Tips on forklift safety and maintenance

New QuickCards are available in English and Spanish to aid employees and employers in the safe operation and proper maintenance of forklifts.

Guidance explains how to use the 300 log to look for trends

That was no accident encourages employers to use the 300 Log not just as a paperwork exercise or a way to look at past performance, but as part of a company’s road map to finding and fixing hazards.

Redesigned regulations webpage provides easier navigation

The Law and Regulations webpage that features information on standards and rulemaking now can be searched by keyword or number and includes the latest updates on active rulemaking. The page also features information buttons to explain regulatory language that may be unfamiliar to some users.

Free workplace violence prevention webinar available online

A free 60-minute webinar on preventing workplace violence in healthcare settings is available from The Joint Commission, a long-standing national alliance partner. The webinar includes an overview of Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers, as well as a discussion of a multi-hospital intervention study that reduced violent events.

Name-and-shame strategy still prevalent in news releases

While the rate of releasing public statements about enforcement actions taken against employers is significantly lower under the Trump administration than the Obama administration (463 a year to about 150), the tone in these press releases has not changed. Most include harsh and embarrassing quotations from senior officials. Stakeholders argue that the press releases are based merely on allegations of violations and are published prior to companies being afforded a hearing.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Roofing contractor, Petersen-Dean, Inc., faces $146,004 in fines for repeat violations of exposing workers to fall hazards.
  • New York-based Outfront Media Inc, an outdoor advertising company, faces proposed penalties of $32,435 for serious safety violations after a worker suffered third-degree burns as well as an inadequate heat illness prevention plan for its outdoor workers.

Florida

  • G&H Underground Construction faces $57,738 in proposed penalties for allowing the use of unguarded machines after an employee suffered a throat laceration at a worksite in St. Augustine.
  • Archer Western Construction Inc., an Atlanta-based company, faces $33,259 in proposed fines for safety violations after two employees suffered fatal injuries while performing trenching activities at a Miami worksite.
  • The Holly Hill-based paving company, Pavemax Corp. faces $16,814 in proposed fines for safety violations after an employee suffered fatal injuries at an Orange City worksite, including failure to train and provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards.

Illinois

  • HB Fuller Company, operating as Adhesive Systems Inc., faces $587,564 in proposed penalties for 18 health and safety violations at its facility in Frankfort. The company was cited for failing to: provide employees with respirator fit tests and respirators appropriate for hazardous atmospheres; require bonding and grounding when transferring flammable liquids; ensure that electrical equipment was approved for use in hazardous atmospheres; and conduct a personal protective equipment assessment.

Mississippi

  • After Nissan North America Inc. contested two violations, an administrative law judge of the OSHRC vacated one serious citation but affirmed the other and assessed a $12,675 penalty. The law judge affirmed the violation of training requirements in an employer’s energy control program after determining that the evidence established that the exposure was reasonably predictable and training the technicians was required.

New York

  • The OSHRC affirmed two serious citations previously vacated by an administrative law judge against a commercial laundry facility, Angelica Textile Services Inc., in Ballston Spa. A single grouped penalty of $7,000 was assessed for inadequate isolation and verification procedures for a permit required confined space and of lockout/tagout procedures. However, the review commission reclassified the penalties as serious rather than repeat violations.

Pennsylvania

  • Grove U.S. LLC. was cited for exposing workers to struck-by hazards after three employees suffered fatal injuries when a 300-ton crane collapsed at the company’s Shady Grove facility. The company faces proposed penalties totaling $14,976, the maximum amount allowed.

Tennessee

  • Day & Zimmerman NPS Inc. faces $71,599 in proposed penalties for exposing employees to electric shock hazards at the Tennessee Valley Authority Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant in Soddy Daisy.
  • Specialty Tires of Unicoi faces $6,000 in fines after a mechanic was killed when he was caught in the moving arms of an assembly machine. The company was cited for failure to have an energy control procedure and failure to conduct regular inspections of an energy control program and ensuring that employees understand and comply with such a program.
  • M&K Home Improvement faces $51,200 in penalties for exposing workers to fall hazards.

For more information.

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

OSHA watch

Proposed changes to recordkeeping rule

According to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the proposed changes would rescind “the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 and 301. These establishments will continue to be required to submit information from their Form 300A summaries.” The change is proposed to protect sensitive worker information from potential disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and to protect the privacy of employees injured on the job. Three organizations filed a suit against the U.S. Department of Labor, the Secretary of Labor and OSHA over the proposed changes.

Increase in worker fatalities gets attention in Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska

Thirty-four worker deaths in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska with the increase linked to falls, struck by objects and vehicles, machine hazards, grain bin engulfment, and burns have led to an educational campaign about the resources available. These include free compliance assistance for small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as each state’s free On-Site Consultation Program for employers. Also available is the agency’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs.

Consider screening workers for heat stress when index hits 85 degree

A threshold for moderate occupational heat risks starts at a heat index of 91° F, but that “might not be sufficiently protective,” according to an analysis, which suggests that when wet globe bulb temperature is unavailable, a heat index of 85° F could be used to screen for hazardous workplace environmental heat.

Free stickers on trenching safety offered

A new sticker intended to raise awareness of trenching safety reminds workers to “slope it, shore it, shield it.” The free stickers are available in English and Spanish.

Proposed rule exempting certain railroad work, machines from parts of crane standard

A proposed rule that would grant exemptions to its Cranes and Derricks in Construction Standard for work on or along railroad tracks was published in the July 19 Federal Register and comments will be accepted until September 1st.

New publications

Updated webpage on avian influenza

The updated Avian Influenza page provides information on protecting workers in egg and poultry production, veterinary facilities, pet shops, and food servicing who may be exposed to infectious birds or poultry products.

Michigan OSHA clarifies requirements for eyewashes and safety showers

MIOSHA released a new Fact Sheet, Eyewashes and Safety Showers.

Cal/OSHA publishes information on the hotel housekeeping musculoskeletal injury program

A fact sheet and poster is now available.

Enforcement notes

California (Cal OSHA)

  • Marine cargo handler, SSA Pacific Inc, was issued $205,235 in fines for six willful and serious safety violations following the investigation of a fatal forklift accident at the Port of San Diego.
  • Commerce-based Pixior, LLC, faces 11 citations and $97,430 in penalties after a worker was struck by a forklift.

Florida

  • North Florida Shipyards Inc., a shipbuilding and repair company, faces $271,061 in proposed penalties for multiple violations after an employee suffered fatal injuries at its Commodores Point facility in Jacksonville.
  • Bakery Management Corp., doing business as Bakery Corp., was cited for exposing employees to caught-in, fall, and electrical hazards. The Miami-based commercial bakery faces proposed penalties of $67,261.
  • Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction, Bluewater Construction Solutions Inc. was cited for exposing employees to dangerous falls at two south Florida worksites. The Melbourne-based residential framing contractor faces proposed penalties of $48,778.
  • BC Direct Corp., doing business as Robotray, a Miami-based manufacturer of bakery rack loaders, was cited for exposing employees to struck-by, electrical shock, fire, and explosion hazards and faces $42,682 in proposed penalties.

Georgia

  • Dupont Yard Inc. was cited after an employee suffered a partial hand amputation and other injuries while working on unguarded machinery in Homerville. The wooden post manufacturer faces $109,548 in proposed penalties.

Illinois

  • Cleary Pallet Sales Inc., a Genoa-based pallet manufacturer, faces proposed penalties of $216,253 after 10 employees required emergency medical treatment for carbon monoxide exposure, which was nearly 10 times the permissible exposure limit and other violations.

Michigan (Michigan OSHA)

  • Five citations and $77,600 in penalties were issued to Woods Carpentry, Inc., for exposing workers to fall hazards.

Missouri

  • Karrenbrock Excavating LLC was cited for allowing two employees to work in an unprotected trench while installing sewers. Proposed penalties are $189,221.

New York

  • Timberline Hardwood Floors LLC was cited for willful and serious violations of multiple workplace safety and health standards. The Fulton custom hardwood-flooring manufacturer faces proposed penalties totaling $182,917.

North Carolina

  • Belhaven Shipyard and Marina Inc., doing business as TowBoatUS River Forest, faces $11,640 in proposed penalties after an employee drowned when a towboat capsized while operating in a winter storm.

Wisconsin

  • Carlos Ketz, who operates as Ketz Roofing, was cited for the sixth time in the past five years for exposing employees to falls. Proposed penalties total $48,777.

For more information.

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

OSHA watch

Limited extension of the compliance dates for Beryllium Standard

A proposed rule to extend the compliance date for “certain ancillary requirements of the general industry beryllium standard” from March 12 to Dec. 12, 2018 was published in the federal registrar.

However, the proposed extension does not delay enforcement for the following requirements in general industry:

  • Permissible exposure limits (PELS)
  • Exposure assessment
  • Respiratory protection
  • Medical surveillance
  • Medical removal protection provisions
  • Any provisions where the compliance dates in the standard take effect in 2019 and 2020

For the construction and shipyard industries, only the permissible exposure limits and short-term exposure limit are being enforced until there is additional rulemaking.

 

New fact sheet outlines whistleblower protections for workers in nuclear industry

A new “Whistleblower Protection for Nuclear Industry Workers” fact sheet outlines retaliation protection for certain employees who report potential violations of the Energy Reorganization Act or the Atomic Energy Act.

 

New webpage provides safety information on workplace chemicals

The new Occupational Chemical Database compiles information from several government agencies and organizations into one online resource. The webpage includes chemical identification and physical properties, permissible exposure limits (PELs), and sampling information. Chemicals can be searched by name or identification number, or grouped by PEL, carcinogenic level, or whether they pose an immediate threat when inhaled.

 

MIOSHA targets blight removal projects to protect workers from asbestos and other hazards

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) relaunched its state emphasis program (SEP) that increases MIOSHA presence on blight removal projects across the state to address hazards such as asbestos and lead. The SEP will be in effect through February 28, 2019.

 

Enforcement notes

California

  • California OSHA issued six citations and $48,095 in penalties to Tobin Steel Company, Inc., after a worker sustained serious injuries while operating an unguarded press brake machine. Citations include failure to: conduct and document required inspections, test and maintain power-operated presses, train workers on amputation hazards, and provide adequate machine guarding.

Florida

  • Crown Roofing LLC, based in Sarasota, faces $149,662 in proposed fines for exposing employees to fall hazards at a Jupiter worksite.
  • Inspected as part of the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation, Douglas N. Higgins Inc., a South Florida utility contractor, faces $18,659 in proposed penalties for exposing employees to cave-in and other hazards at a Naples worksite. The agency previously cited the contractor for violations in January 2017 when three employees succumbed to toxic gases while working in a manhole and again in May 2018 after a steel plate fell on and fatally injured an employee.

Georgia

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC reinstated a citation and a $7,000 fine against an electrical services company, Smyrna-based Action Electric Co. Inc., after a federal appellate court reversed another judge’s decision to vacate the citation. The judge noted, “An Action Electric employee died from the failure of Action Electric to properly implement (lockout/tagout) procedures for inspection of the cooling machine and counterweight components.”
  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed Gainesville-based Prime Pak Foods Inc. safety fines and approved the Secretary of Labor’s request to dismiss the company’s contest notice because it was filed after the 15-day deadline to do so. Prime Pak “argues its neglect is excusable because it was denied advance notice of the citation and the right to have counsel served with the citation,” noted the ruling, which emphasizes that notices are sent “to employers,” per federal legislation.

Maine

  • After multiple investigations and citations, a Maine roofing contractor operating as Lessard Roofing & Siding Inc. and Lessard Brothers Construction Inc. was ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit to implement a comprehensive safety and training program after receiving repeated citations for exposing workers to falls. The owner, Stephen Lessard, was also ordered to produce substantial documentation that will demonstrate the extent to which he is able to pay $389,685 in outstanding fines.

Michigan

  • An OSHRC administrative law judge vacated a defense contractor’s safety citation and proposed fine after determining officials could not prove negligence in a case involving a stack of heavy boxes containing vehicle parts that fell on a worker. A warehouse employee of Sterling Heights-based General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. was seriously injured when seven crates containing 94-pound struts fell on him from a stack as he was inventorying them.

Minnesota

  • Minnesota OSHA issued eight citations and $366,150 in penalties to Gateway Building Systems, Inc., after a worker suffered a fatal fall from a grain elevator. Inspectors determined that the company failed to: ensure workers were using correct anchorage points, install proper decking and guarding over an expanded platform, and provide overhead protection for workers.

Wisconsin

  • Appleton roofing contractor Hector Hernandez was cited again after inspectors observed employees exposed to falls and other safety hazards at two Wisconsin job sites. Proposed penalties are $120,320.

For more information.

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

Things you should know

US Supreme Court upholds use of class action waivers in arbitration agreements

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that employers can force workers to use individual arbitration instead of class-action lawsuits to press legal claims.


Study: ACA resulted in lower soft-tissue workplace injuries in California

According to a study by the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California, the share of claims with soft-tissue injuries decreased by 12% in industries with lower levels of health coverage with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act from 2013 to 2015.


Safety training falls short for immigrant workers at small construction companies: study

Immigrant construction workers employed by small companies do not receive the same amount of safety and health training as their counterparts at larger companies and encounter a greater language barrier problem, according to a recent study from NIOSH and the American Society of Safety Engineers. The study was published in the March issue of the journal, Safety Science.

20 percent of workers are obese, inactive or sleep-deprived: NIOSH

More than 20 percent of workers are obese, don’t get enough physical activity or are short on sleep, according to a recent study from NIOSH. Using 2013 and 2014 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, researchers looked at workers from 29 states and 22 occupational groups.

They found that approximately 16 percent to 36 percent of workers had a body mass index of 30 or higher, and 1 in 5 workers said they had not engaged in any leisure-time physical activity in the past month. In addition, about 31 percent to 43 percent of respondents averaged less than seven hours of sleep a night.

Transportation and material moving workers had significantly higher prevalence of all three risk factors when compared to all workers. Three occupational groups had a higher prevalence of shortened sleep time compared with other workers: production, health care support, and health care and technical services.

The study was published in December in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Proper equipment, training can reduce falls overboard in commercial fishing industry: report

Falls overboard are the second leading cause of death in commercial fishing operations, according to a recent study from NIOSH.

From 2000 to 2016, 204 commercial fishing crew members died after unintentionally falling overboard and records show none of the victims was wearing a personal flotation device at the time of the fall. Other findings help identify preventive steps that would reduce the risk of falls overboard.

State News

California

  • Supreme Court adopted a new legal misclassification test that will make it much more difficult for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors (see Legal Corner – Supreme Court defines Independent Contractors).
  • The Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau is proposing a 7.2% midyear pure premium rate reduction for businesses and the insurance commissioner wants further cuts.

Florida

  • The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has approved a 1.8% rate decrease for workers compensation insurance related to U.S. corporate tax reform.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) announced that the total cost per workers’ compensation claim experienced moderate increases from three to five percent between 2011 and 2016.

Indiana

  • The Workers’ Compensation Board has released new guidelines for nurse case managers and will soon unveil new protocols for disputed claim settlement documents.

Michigan

  • The Workers’ Compensation Agency issued a reminder bulletin, noting that Explanation of Benefits (EOB) must go to the provider and worker, not third-party payers and networks.

Minnesota

New York

  • Employers will have to provide an interactive forum to satisfy the new law requiring yearly training to prevent sexual harassment. The law takes effect on October 9.

North Carolina

  • The Industrial Commission has finalized a companion guide to help providers navigate new restrictions on opioid prescribing for injured workers. Nine new rules are now in effect.

Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have created a formulary in the state for workers’ compensation prescriptions.
  • The frequency and cost share of physician-dispensed drugs decreased considerably following the implementation of legislative reforms, but the cost savings were offset by a rise in pharmacy dispensing of expensive compound drugs, according to a new WCRI study.
  • Philadelphia employers can ask job candidates to disclose their salary histories, but can’t use that information to determine their pay, a federal judge ruled April 30. To play it safe, employers might want to eliminate salary history questions from their hiring processes, experts say.

Tennessee

  • Tennessee’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation announced new claims-handling standards and rules that will take effect Aug. 2, including a rule that ends the requirement that carriers have a claims office in the state.

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