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

OSHA watch

Long-awaited proposed rules to clarify crane operator requirements issued

A proposed rule was published in the May 21 Federal Register. The rule drops the requirement (which never went into effect) that operators be certified for lifting capacity. It also reinstates an employer’s duty to ensure a crane operator is qualified to control the machinery safely.

Comments are due by June 20.
Spring regulatory agenda has some surprises

Several potential standards that were moved off the Trump administration’s main regulatory agenda and placed on a long-term actions list in July 2017 are now back on to the regulatory agenda under the prerule stage, meaning the agency is considering taking action. These include standards to prevent workplace violence in the health care sector, improve emergency response and preparedness, an Update to the Hazard Communication Standard, and a tree care standard.

Also on the prerule list are potential regulations related to communication tower safety and potential revisions to the Table 1 compliance methods in the silica standard for the construction industry. The infectious disease potential rule and a standard to update regulations for process safety management and prevention of major chemical accidents remain on the long-term actions list.
Use of General Duty Clause for heat related violations under review

Use of the general duty clause to issue citations against employers for heat-related hazards prompted an uncommon invitation from the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to file briefs by May 14. Then the review commission scheduled rare oral arguments in two cases involving the use of the clause for June 7 – the heat stress case and one against a health care facility for a fatal workplace violence incident.
Enforcement notes

California

  • Four citations and $71,435 in penalties were issued for inadequate lighting and traffic controls to Consolidated Disposal Services LLC, after a security guard at the company’s dumpster yard in Gardena was fatally struck by a truck.
  • UMC Acquisition Corp. in Downey faces $86,615 in penalties for 11 citations after unguarded moving belts and pulleys resulted in the amputation of a worker’s fingers.

Florida

  • Premier Behavioral Health Solutions of Florida Inc. and UHS of Delaware Inc. were cited for failing to protect employees at their Bradenton facility from workplace violence. Proposed penalties are $71,137.
  • Desouza Framing Inc. was cited for exposing employees to dangerous falls at two worksites. The Jacksonville-based residential framing contractor faces penalties of $199,178 for two willful citations of failing to provide fall protection.
  • P&S Paving Inc., a Daytona Beach underground utility construction company, faces $138,927 in proposed penalties for allowing employees to work in a trench without cave-in protection, failing to train employees on trench hazards, and provide a safe means to enter and exit the trench.
  • Orlando-based SIMCOM Training Centers was ordered to reinstate a flight instructor who was terminated after he raised concerns about potential violations of Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations. The company must pay $201,882 in back wages and interest, $100,000 in compensatory damages, and reasonable attorney fees.
  • Douglas N. Higgins Inc., a South Florida utility company, was cited after an employee suffered fatal injuries when a steel plate fell on him as he installed sewer lines at a Naples Park worksite. The company faces $162,596 in proposed penalties, the maximum allowed.

Georgia

  • Oldcastle Lawn & Garden Inc. of Shadydale, a manufacturer of mulch, was cited for exposing workers to amputation, struck-by, caught-in, combustible dust, electrical, fall, fire, and noise hazards. Proposed penalties for the 36 violations are $251,108. The inspection was part of the National Emphasis Program on Amputations.

Kansas

  • Wichita roofing contractor Jose Barrientos was cited for exposing employees to falls and other safety hazards when inspectors observed roofers working without appropriate fall protection at a residential site. Proposed penalties total $191,071 for two willful and six serious violations.

New York

  • A Buffalo U-Haul facility faces $108,095 in fines after a renovation exposed their workers to asbestos and silica hazards.
  • Following a fatal fire, New Windsor-based Verla International LTD, faces proposed fines of $281,220 for failing to protect its employees from dangerous chemicals, and other hazards.

Pennsylvania

  • In response to a complaint of imminent danger, Hua Da Construction in Philadelphia was cited for exposing employees to dangerous workplace safety hazards and faces proposed penalties of $222,152 for multiple violations related to electrical, fall, and struck-by hazards.
  • In a follow-up inspection, Luzerne County employer, Midvale Paper Box Co. faces penalties of $201,212 for exposing workers to safety hazards, including lockout tagout violations, electrical hazards, and forklift training.
  • Strong Contractors Inc., based in Bensalem, faces $110,971 in penalties for exposing employees to falls and failing to provide appropriate eye protection while working at Trinity Baptist Church. The company has been cited 14 times since March 2017.

Tennessee (Tennessee OSHA)

  • Vorteq Coil Finishers LLC in Jackson was issued 12 citations and $57,750 in penalties after an unguarded pinch point resulted in the amputation of a worker’s fingers. Inspectors found that the employer failed to provide machine guarding, train workers on the control of hazardous energy and confined space hazards, and inspect cranes.

Wisconsin

  • For the second time, a Milwaukee battery manufacturer, C & D Technologies Inc., was cited for exposing employees to lead and failing to implement an effective lead management program. The company faces proposed penalties of $147,822 for two repeated and six serious violations.

For more information.

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

Things you should know

Workplace deaths rise and workplace violence is now the second-leading cause

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited in the AFL-CIO’s 2018 edition of Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 5,190 workers were killed on the job in 2016, an increase from the 4,836 deaths the previous year, while the job fatality rate rose to 3.6 from 3.4 per 100,000 workers. Workplace violence is now the second-leading cause of workplace death, rising to 866 worker deaths from 703, and was responsible for more than 27,000 lost-time injuries, according to data featured in the report.

35% of workers’ compensation bills audited contained billing errors

Out of hundreds of thousands of audited workers’ compensation bills, about 35% contained some type of billing error, according to a quarterly trends report from Mitchell International.

The top cause was inappropriate coding, which produced 24% of the mistakes and unbundling of multiple procedures that should have been covered by one comprehensive code accounted for 19% of billing mistakes.

Only 13 states adequately responding to opioid crisis – National Safety Council

The National Safety Council (NSC) released research that shows just 13 states and Washington, D.C., have programs and actions in place to adequately respond to the opioid crisis going on across the country. The states receiving the highest marks of “improving” from the Council are Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia. Eight states received a “failing” assessment including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming.

NIOSH answers FAQs on respirator user seal checks

Seal checks should be conducted every time respiratory protection is used on the job, and employers and workers should ensure the equipment is worn properly so an adequate seal is achieved, NIOSH states in a recently published list of frequently asked questions.

NIOSH publishes fact sheet on fatigued driving in oil and gas industry

According to a new NIOSH fact sheet, fatigue caused by a combination of long work hours and lengthy commutes contributes to motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death in the oil and gas industry.

New tool allows employers to calculate cost of motor vehicle crashes

Motor vehicle crashes cost U.S. employers up to $47.4 billion annually in direct expenses, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, which has developed a calculator to help organizations determine their own costs.

It has separate calculators for tabulating on- and off-the-job crashes, as well as one for determining return on investment for employee driving safety programs.

Watchdog group releases list of Dirty Dozen employers

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) announced their list of the most dangerous employers, called “The Dirty Dozen.” Among those listed: Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc., Mooresville, North Carolina-based Lowes Cos. and Glendale, California-based Dine Brands Global Inc., which owns Applebee’s and International House of Pancakes locations.

CMS finalizes policy changes for Medicare Part D Drug Benefits in 2019 with focus on managing opioid abuse

The policy change addresses the Implementation of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA), which requires CMS’ regulations to establish a framework that allows Part D Medicare prescription plans to implement drug management programs. Part D plans can limit access to coverage for frequently abused drugs, beginning with the 2019 plan year and CMS will designate opioids and benzodiazepines as frequently abused drugs.

Stakeholders hope that CMS will apply similar thinking to Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside (WCMSA) approvals in which the beneficiary is treating with high-dosage opioids.

Study: workers exposed to loud noise more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol

A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was published in this month’s American Journal of Industrial Medicine that indicates workers who are exposed to loud noises at work are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

IRS FAQs on tax credit for paid leave under FMLA

The IRS has issued FAQs, which provide guidance on the new tax credit, available under section 45S of the Internal Revenue Code, for paid leave an employee takes pursuant to the FMLA.

US Supreme Court rules car dealership service advisers exempt from being paid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act

The FLSA exempts salesmen from its overtime-pay requirement and “A service adviser is obviously a ‘salesman,'” said the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision in Encino Motorcars L.L.C. v. Navarro et al. This reversed a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that held the advisers were not exempt from being paid overtime.

Legal experts note that this expands the FLSA’s interpretation more broadly and could have implications for other businesses.

State News

California

  • The Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) quarterly report for year-end 2017 projects an ultimate accident year combined loss and expense ratio of 92%, which is 5 points higher than that for 2016 as premium levels have lowered while average claim severities increased moderately. More findings.
  • Cal/OSHA reminds employers to protect outdoor workers from heat. The most frequent heat-related violation cited during enforcement inspections is failure to have an effective written heat illness prevention plan specific to the worksite. Additional information about heat illness prevention, including details on upcoming training sessions throughout the state are posted on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention page.
  • The Department of Justice certified that the state’s prescription drug monitoring program is ready for statewide use. Doctors will have to start consulting the program before prescribing controlled substances starting Oct. 2.
  • According to a recent report by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), the state ranked fourth-highest in terms of average claim costs among 18 states examined and a major contributing factor is the relatively high percentage of claims with more than seven days of lost time.

Florida

  • A new law, HB 21, takes effect July 1 and puts a three-day limit on most prescriptions for acute pain and toughens the drug control monitoring program. The bill also provides for additional treatment opportunities, recovery support services, outreach programs and resources to help law enforcement and first responders to stay safe.

Georgia

  • The State Board of Workers’ Compensation’s latest fee schedule update, which became effective April 1, includes the first-ever dental fee schedule and reimbursement rates for air ambulance services as well as other amendments.

Illinois

  • According to a recent report by WCRI, the average claim cost of $16,625 was the highest among 18 states examined and the percentage of claims with more than seven days of lost time ranked third.

Massachusetts

  • Deaths on the job reached an 11-year high in 2017, an increase attributable to the state’s many construction projects, as well as an increased prevalence of opioid addiction, according to a newly released report.

Michigan

  • Work-related injuries requiring hospitalization increased for the third straight year recent data from Michigan State University shows.

Minnesota

  • The Department of Labor plans to adopt what it calls “cost neutral” changes to workers’ compensation vocational rehabilitation fees and other rules without a public hearing, unless one is requested by at least 25 people, in keeping with state law. Comments can be made until May 31.
  • Paid claims and premiums have dropped significantly in the last 20 years (54 percent relative to the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) employees from 1996 to 2016), while benefits have risen slightly, according to the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation System Report for 2016.

North Carolina

  • The Supreme Court denied review of an appeal by medical providers who argued that the Industrial Commission violated the state’s Administrative Procedure Act when it adopted an ambulatory surgery fee schedule. The fee schedule that became effective on April 1, 2015, remains in effect.

Tennessee

  • According to a recent report by WCRI, the average total cost per workers’ compensation claim decreased by 6% in 2015, driven by a 24% reduction in permanent partial disability and lump-sum benefit payments.

Wisconsin

  • In an effort to combat the misclassification of workers, the state has netted $1.4 million in unpaid unemployment insurance taxes, interest and associated penalties, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.
  • According to a recent report by WCRI, medical costs in workers’ comp increased five percent per year rising in 2014 with experience through 2017.

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

Update: July 1 deadline for OSHA 300-A electronic data submission

Employers can now begin to electronically report their Calendar Year (CY) 2017 Form 300A data to OSHA. All covered establishments must submit the information by July 1, 2018. Remember, not all establishments are covered by this requirement. To review which establishments need to provide their 2017 data, click here.

Covered establishments with 250 or more employees are only required to provide their 2017 Form 300A summary data. OSHA is not accepting Form 300 and 301 information at this time. Employers can view their submitted CY 2016 Form 300A summary information, but they cannot edit or submit additional 2016 data on this website. According to the OSHA website, the agency is currently drafting a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to reconsider, revise, or remove provisions of the “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” final rule.

State Plans that have not adopted the rule

While most states have adopted the federal requirements, there are six states that have not or are delaying enforcement: California, Maryland, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. On April 30, 2018 OSHA issued a press release instructing employers to submit 300A data even if they are in a state that has not adopted the rule. There has been a mixed reaction from the states, but it is generally agreed that Fed OSHA does not have any authority over State Plan employers (only State Plans) and that the remedy for delinquent State Plans is rescinding the approved state plan status, which few expect to happen.

Here is a summary of the responses:

  • California: advised employers to submit 300A data on fed OSHA’s ITA portal
  • Maryland: not requiring employers to submit
  • Minnesota: adopted regulations became effective on May 21, 2018
  • South Carolina: Legislature formally adopted Federal regulation effective May 25, 2018, but are giving employers 6 months to comply (effective date will be November 25, 2018)
  • Utah: instructed employers they may submit 300A data but are not required
  • Wyoming: issued statement confirming rule does not apply to WY employers
  • Washington: issued statement that employers are “still not required to electronically submit data”

Employers in these states may want to adopt a wait and see approach to see what course of action the state in which they operate adopts or how Fed OSHA proceeds on enforcement.

Anti-retaliation provisions

The anti-retaliation provisions of the rule, which became effective December 1, 2016, remain in effect. Essentially, this prohibits employers from discouraging workers from reporting an injury or illness. Employers must inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation, which can be satisfied by posting the OSHA workplace poster. An employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and not deter or discourage employees from reporting, and the regulation specifically addresses internal injury reporting policies, post-injury drug testing, and safety incentive and compensation programs.

What employers should do

  • Assess whether your establishment meets the reporting criteria
  • Provide refresher training on the requirements
  • Before submitting, audit injury and illness recordkeeping forms
  • Be sure the latest version of the OSHA Rights poster is posted
  • Evaluate injury reporting policies, drug testing policies, and safety incentive and management compensation plans to ensure they do not discourage reporting of injuries
  • If in a state where the rule has not been adopted, stay abreast of both state and federal actions

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

Legal Corner

ADA
Multi-month leave not required in 7th Circuit states – Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a 7th Circuit decision that the ADA doesn’t require employers to allow workers with disabilities to be off the job for two months or more. In Raymond Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft Inc, the 7th Circuit ruling that a multi-month leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the ADA does not comply with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity’s position and disagrees with other courts.

The Severson decision allows employers in the 7th Circuit to, without violating the ADA, terminate the employment of workers who make months-long leave requests, but employers should be cautious about denying leaves of less than two months and obtain written confirmation of the requested time off. Under Wisconsin law, there is a more lenient interpretation of reasonable accommodation than under the ADA, so it important to consider the state statute as well.

Telecommuting a reasonable accommodation

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $92,000 verdict and $18,184.32 for back pay and lost benefits award for a city utility attorney who was denied her request to telecommute during her 10-week bed rest for pregnancy complications. The utility had reversed its policy on telecommuting in 2011, requiring all lawyers to work onsite, but she had been allowed to work from home when she recovered from neck surgery, shortly after the policy change.

In her 23rd week of pregnancy, her doctors placed her on modified bed rest for approximately 10 weeks. She made an official accommodation request with supporting documentation, which was denied based on the argument that physical presence was an essential function of the job, and telecommuting created concerns about maintaining confidentiality.

She filed a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination, failure to accommodate and retaliation under the ADA and was awarded $92,000 in compensatory damages and $18,184.32 for back pay and lost benefits by a jury. Upon appeal, the attorney testified that in her eight years of employment, she had never tried cases in court or taken depositions of witnesses, even though those duties were listed in her position description. The court found that she was adequately performing her duties telecommuting, as her job duties were not tied to her presence in the office. Mosby-Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, 6th Cir., No. 17-5483 (Feb. 21, 2018).

Workers’ Compensation
Worker entitled to attorney’s fees although benefits were less than he sought – Florida

In Portu v. City of Coral Gables, a fire fighter developed hypertension, but his impairment rating was based on those of a female patient and were adjusted from 35% to 4%. State statute provides that a worker will be entitled to a fee award if the claim is successfully prosecuted after being denied by his employer. Also, a fee award will not attach to a claim until 30 days after the date the claim petition was provided to the employer or carrier.

A judge denied the claim for attorney fees because the city paid benefits within 30 days of the revised impairment rating assessment, and it couldn’t have paid benefits earlier because it had no way of calculating the correct amount. An appellate court, however, found he was entitled to attorney’s fees because the carrier had denied the claim, the employee had successfully prosecuted the claim, and 30 days had elapsed from “the date the carrier … receives the petition.” It did not matter that the claim petition had sought benefits based on a higher impairment rating.

Police officer entitled to duty disability pension for injuries in training session – Illinois

In Gilliam v. Board of Trustees of the City of Pontiac Police Pension Fund, a police officer was injured during a voluntary bicycle patrol training session and was denied a line-of-duty pension because her disability had not been caused by an “act of duty.” An act of duty is defined as an act “inherently involving special risk, not ordinarily assumed by a citizen in the ordinary walks of life, imposed on a policeman.”

The decision went through a series of appeals and the courts determined that there are “special risks associated with bicycle patrol” and what mattered was whether she was injured while attempting a bicycle maneuver that involved a special risk.

No additional payment for provider who accepted partial payment from Medicaid – Minnesota

In Gist v. Atlas Staffing, a worker for a temporary employment agency was assigned to a position that involved working with silica-sand tanks. About two years later he stopped working and shortly after was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. He received treatment in Minnesota and Michigan, which was partially paid for by Medicaid and Medicare.

He then filed a workers’ comp claim, asserting the exposure to silica had caused the kidney failure and the treating medical center intervened seeking payment for the portion that Medicaid and Medicare had not paid. A workers’ compensation judge found in favor of benefits but noted the medical center should be paid “in accordance with all other state and federal laws.”

The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, which noted that while a treatment provider is entitled to a payment for medical services provided to an employee, to the extent allowed under the workers’ compensation medical fee schedule, even if the provider has already received partial payment from a private, non-employer insurer, in this case payment was received from Medicaid. A federal regulation requires providers who participate in Medicaid programs to accept a Medicaid payment as “payment in full.”

Award of schedule benefits overturned because summary judgment is not a way to resolve factual disputes – Nebraska

In Wynne v. Menard, a retail worker injured her knee and in a later accident injured her shoulder. The court awarded her temporary total disability benefits and ordered that the benefits continue until she reached maximum medical improvement, at which time she underwent a functional assessment evaluation. While the evaluator imposed no restrictions on her ability to sit, her treating physician said she could not sit for more than 10 minutes at a time, and a court-appointed vocational expert questioned this finding.

The state Supreme Court said there was a triable issue of fact as to the extent of her disability and the Workers’ Compensation Court erred by weighing the relative merits of the evidence and awarding her schedule benefits for her knee and shoulder since summary judgment is not a way to resolve factual disputes. The case was reversed and remanded.

Board can reject medical decision but not misread records – New York

In Matter of Gullo v. Wireless Northeast, the Workers’ Compensation Board rejected the opinion of the worker’s doctor because he had testified that he could not offer an opinion on causation since he was not familiar with the employee’s work duties. However, when he was advised of her work duties, he confirmed his opinion. The appellate court found that the Board overlooked this fact when it held that the doctor could not offer an opinion on causation. Thus, the denial of benefits was reversed.

Employer’s lien against subrogation recovery determined when settlement is made – New York

In Matter of Adebiyi v. New York City Housing Authority, an employee was injured when an ultra-high-pressure washer malfunctioned. He filed tort suits against the manufacturer and lessor of the pressure washer and received settlements of $1.6 million and $800,000. When he received judicial approval of the settlement with the lessor, the Housing Authority was granted a lien of over $222,000. At the time, the Workers’ Compensation Board was deciding whether to reclassify him as permanently and totally disabled and the employee argued the lien should not be determined until the decision was made. While a trial judge ruled in his favor, the appellate court noted the lien was appropriately determined at the time of the settlement without consideration for reclassification.

Failure of employer to timely contest claim doesn’t guarantee benefits – New York

In Matter of Nock v. New York City Department of Education, a lunch helper alleged she suffered a work-related back injury. A judge found that the department did not file a timely contest and awarded benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Board reversed and Appellate Division’s 3rd Department agreed, explaining that an employer’s failure to file a timely notice will bar it from raising certain defenses, but it does not relieve a worker of the burden to prove that the medical condition was caused by work.

Medical claim for non-FDA approved compound cream upheld – North Carolina

In Davis v. Craven County ABC Bd, an employee injured his ankle and after four years of treatment was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy and prescribed a compound cream. The carrier refused to pay for the cream, which was not approved by the FDA, or any further treatment from the prescribing physician. A new physician prescribed a similar, non-FDA-approved cream and the carrier again refused payment.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission affirmed a deputy’s order for the carrier to pay for the cream. The appellate court noted that the law did not limit the types of drugs that might reasonably be required solely to those that are FDA-approved. Reasonable treatment is a question that must be individually assessed in each case. “If requiring workers’ compensation providers to compensate injured workers for non-FDA-approved drugs is bad policy, it is for our General Assembly to change that law,” added the court.

No benefits for teacher’s stroke suffered while receiving unfavorable review – North Carolina

In Cohen v. Franklin County Schools, a high school principal received complaints about a math teacher and prepared a professional development plan. When he met with the teacher and the director of secondary education, he presented the plan, but she refused to sign it. After the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes, the teacher experienced head pain and sought medical treatment three days later. It was determined she had had a stroke and she sought comp benefits.

The Industrial Commission denied the benefits and the Court of Appeals upheld the denial, noting that the meeting was neither unexpected nor inappropriate. “At most, Cohen received critical feedback that was unwelcome to her – an occurrence that is not unusual for an employee at any job.”

Uber limousine drivers are independent contractors – Pennsylvania

In what is believed to be the first ruling on the classification of Uber drivers under federal law, a U.S. District judge ruled that drivers for Uber’s limousine service, UberBlack, are independent contractors and not the company’s employees under federal law. The judge found that the drivers work when they want to and are free to nap, run personal errands or smoke cigarettes in between rides and, thus, the company does not exert enough control over the drivers for them to be considered employees. Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc.

Chiropractor cannot collect fee for office visits and same day treatments – Pennsylvania

In Sedgwick Claims Management Services v. Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fee Review Hearing Office, an employer was obligated to pay reasonable and necessary medical expenses for an employee’s shoulder injury under a Compromise and Release Agreement. The employee saw a chiropractor as many as three times each week, who billed the TPA $78.00 per visit for office visits on dates on which he provided chiropractic treatment.

The TPA denied the office visit charges but paid for the other treatments. The state code permits payment for office visits “only when the office visit represents a significant and separately identifiable service performed in addition to the other procedure.” Thus, the Commonwealth Court overturned a hearing officer’s decision finding that a chiropractor was entitled to payment of the office visit fee, noting that payment for same day examinations was the exception, not the rule.

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

OSHA watch

Silica safety enforcement ramped up at construction sites

Since compliance requirements took effect Sept. 23, 2017, there have been 116 alleged silica violations at companies as of April 17, a Bloomberg Environment analysis of agency records show. The number of violations in the initial six months is likely to increase since it can take up to six months after an inspection to issue citations. A common misunderstanding of Table 1 among small contractors is that using respirators is the first option. Respirators are acceptable protection, but contractors are expected to first change construction methods or tools to reduce the amount of silica that becomes airborne.

Of the 116 silica violations cited, the most frequently mentioned provision was employers failing to measure silica exposure levels (29 C.F.R. 1926.1153(d)(2)(i)). Almost as frequently cited is incorrectly following Table 1’s procedures (29 C.F.R. 1926.1153 (c)(1)), intended to reduce silica exposure. Eighty percent of the cases were classified as serious violations.

Direct final rule revising Beryllium Standard for general industry issued

While enforcement of certain provisions of the beryllium rule began on May 11, the compliance date for the beryllium standard for general industry was extended and certain ancillary provisions in the final rule changed as a result of a settlement agreement with four petitioners.

The direct final rule clarifies certain definitions and provisions for disposal/recycling, along with those that apply in cases of potential skin exposure to materials containing at least 0.1 percent beryllium by weight. The direct final rule will go into effect July 4, “unless the agency receives significant adverse comments by June 4,” according to a press release.

New flier offers steps to keep tractor trailer drivers safe at destination

Developed in concert with the trucking industry, a new flier addresses the most common hazards for drivers after they reach their destination: parking, backing up, and coupling (attaching) and uncoupling (detaching) vehicles.

List of authorized outreach trainers now available online

The website now has a searchable list of authorized Outreach trainers to assist the public in finding authorized instructors for the 10- and 30-hour Outreach classes.

Mid-Atlantic regional construction safety campaign shifts focus to falls

The four-month campaign in the Mid-Atlantic states to address the four leading causes of fatal injuries in construction will focus on falls in May. Caught-in/-between hazards is the focus in June.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Mr. Good Vape LLC of Chino, was ordered to reinstate a former manager and pay $110,000 in compensation after he was fired for claiming the company’s production of flavored liquids for e-cigarette vapor inhalers violated federal environmental law.
  • California Premier Roofscapes Inc. was cited for repeat violations of fall protection safety orders and faces proposed $134,454 in penalties.

Florida

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC downgraded a citation issued against Ocala-based Jody Wilson Construction Inc. from willful to serious and reduced the penalty from $49,000 to $2,800, noting the contractor had attempted to comply with the standard, albeit incorrectly.

Georgia

  • In a settlement in a whistleblower case, Jasper Contractors, headquartered in Kennesaw, but performing roofing work in Florida, agreed to pay an employee $48,000 in back wages and compensatory damages.

Massachusetts

  • In a settlement with Lynnway Auto Auction Inc., the Billerica facility agreed to correct hazards, implement significant safety measures, and pay $200,000 in penalties, following a May 2017 incident in which a sport utility vehicle fatally struck five people during an auto auction.

Michigan

  • Grand Rapids-based excavation contractor Kamphuis Pipeline Co. faces proposed penalties of $454,750 for exposing employees to trench cave-ins and other serious hazards while installing water metering pits and lines at a North Dakota municipal project.
  • RSB Construction Services LLC, in Goodrich, faces $147,000 in penalties for failing to train workers on fall hazards, and provide required guardrail, safety net, or personal fall arrest systems for workers on a pitched metal roof.

Mississippi

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed two items of a serious citation issued to Southern Hens after an employee’s partial thumb amputation, but vacated a third item, noting the standard is concerned with the ‘how’ of the lockout procedures, not the ‘when.’ The penalty was reduced from $19,134 to $12,000.

Nebraska

  • Contractor Premier Underground LLC was cited for failing to protect its workers from excavation collapse hazards. The company faces proposed penalties of $46,930.
  • Omaha-based plumbing contractor Gavrooden Inc., doing business as Mr. Rooter Plumbing, was cited for the second time in less than six months for failing to protect its workers from excavation collapse hazards. Proposed penalties are $38,061.

Pennsylvania

  • The OSHRC has reversed an administrative law judge’s decision to vacate a one-item serious citation with a proposed penalty of $7,000, issued against Calpine Corp. because access to the exposure was reasonably predictable.

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

The many lives of an OSHA violation

Last month in the article, Court decision: OSHA not legally bound by five-year look back for repeat violations, we discussed the number of ways a repeat violation can be harmful to employers. When there is a good faith defense, it may be well worth contesting citations, even if they are minor. Here are four more reasons to do so:

In early April, Susquehanna Supply Company, Inc., of Williamsport, Pennsylvania pleaded guilty and paid a $250,000 fine for willfully committing an OSHA violation that resulted in an employee’s death. The employee died when he was working in a trench and one of the vertical dirt walls collapsed, burying him up to his chest and crushing him against the bridge’s concrete abutment. This is a reminder that OSHA fines can have multiple lives.

The highest criminal category that can be pursued against employers for OSHA violations is a misdemeanor. However, a 2015 memorandum of understanding between the Department of Justice and OSHA put some bite into the bark of criminal charges by making prosecution available through other agencies, particularly for violations involving an employee fatality and a willful conduct.

In addition to the possibility of criminal prosecution, there is also the possibility that third parties will use an OSHA citation as evidence of negligence in companion liability cases, a worker will use the intentional tort argument in a personal injury case, or an estate may sue for wrongful death. Each state has developed its own standards through legislation and legal precedent about the use of evidence of OSHA violations and cases have met with mixed success.

In some industries, an employer’s safety record is an important factor in the competitive process for new business. It’s easy to do an establishment search on OSHA’s website or obtain the information from a safety network. Bid documents will often include a question about willful, repeat or serious OSHA citations. The goal should be to reach a resolution with OSHA that will not affect the competitive position.

Also, some states, give workers an increase in benefits if the injury is tied to an OSHA violation. Some examples are:

  • California -An employee is injured by serious and willful misconduct of the employer -award increased by 50%
  • Illinois – An employer willfully violates the state Health and Safety Act (ILCS 225) -award increased by 25%
  • Massachusetts – Employer’s serious and willful misconduct causes injury -award is doubled
  • Missouri – Failure of employer to comply with state statute or order by the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation -award increased by 15%
  • North Carolina – Willful failure of employer to comply with statutory requirements or order by the North Carolina Industrial Commission – award increased by 10%
  • Wisconsin – Injury caused by failure of employer to comply with any statute, rule or order of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development -award increased by 15%

OSHA citations can be deceptive; there’s a lot more involved than paying the fine and abating the citation. They can lead to additional lawsuits, penalties by other regulatory agencies, failed bids, and increased workers’ comp costs.

Employers must send a notice of intention to contest within 15 working days of receipt of the OSHA notice of proposed penalty. Every notice of intention to contest shall specify whether it is directed to the citation or to the proposed penalty, or both. The decision to contest is a business decision that needs to be carefully weighed.

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

Legal Corner

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Interactive process and accommodation required after injury – California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No death benefits for family in asbestos claim – Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dismissal of tort claims against co-workers upheld – Missouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tort claim against co-employee can proceed – New York

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

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

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

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

Slip and fall on shuttle bus compensable – Pennsylvania

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

Worker was not permanently and totally disabled – Tennessee

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

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

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

OSHA watch

Enforcement of the Beryllium Standard begins May 11

Enforcement of the final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium in general, construction, and shipyard industries begins on May 11, 2018.

Local governments and emergency services will be notified when a company receives a serious citation

Spurred by a fatal chemical explosion and fire at a New York cosmetic factory, OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security are working on the new protocols for communicating and training with local governments and first responders.

Regional campaign on ‘focus four’ construction hazards in Region Three

Running from March to June, a campaign to raise awareness of the four leading safety hazards in the construction industry (electrocution, falls, struck-by, and caught-in or caught-between) will take place in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington. Representatives will conduct toolbox talks on each hazard.

A $1 million settlement for safety violations

Hebron, Ohio-based Sunfield Inc. has agreed to pay $1 million in fines and hire a safety and health coordinator to resolve violations found at the company’s Hebron plant. The inspection, which took place after two employees suffered severe injuries when they came in contact with moving machine parts, revealed the company lacked adequate power press guarding and hazardous energy control procedures that could have prevented the incidents.

Standard interpretation related to recording and reporting injuries of temporary workers versus HIPAA requirements

A recent standard interpretation addresses injury and illness recordkeeping requirements pertaining to an employer that supervises temporary workers on a day-to-day basis but has limited access to their medical records when an injury or illness occurs.

New fact sheet for owners and managers on conducting a walk around

The fact sheet urges business owners and managers to personally conduct periodic walk around inspections. It reviews the best way to prepare for an inspection, what to do while onsite, and how to develop an abatement plan.

New bulletins provide information on horizontal drilling hazards and chemically induced hearing loss

“Preventing Hearing Loss Caused by Chemical (Ototoxicity) and Noise Exposure” was published in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and provides recommendations to employers and safety professionals about identifying ototoxicants in the workplace and establishing hearing conservation programs where these chemicals are used.

“Avoiding Underground Utilities during Horizontal Directional Drilling Operations” highlights the hazards associated with striking different underground utilities. Horizontal directional drilling has reduced visibility compared to vertical drilling. The bulletin was based on an incident that led to an explosion at a nearby restaurant, resulting in a worker fatality.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Alhambra Foundry Co. Ltd. faces $283,390 in proposed fines for workplace safety and health violations following a confined space accident that resulted in the amputation of an employee’s legs.
  • Petro Chemical Materials Innovation in South Gate faces $72,345 in penalties for failing to de-energize and guard a moving conveyer belt while a worker was cleaning it, resulting in the amputation of the worker’s right arm.

Florida

  • Jacksonville-based Jax Utilities Management Inc., a utilities contractor, was cited for $271,606 in proposed penalties and deemed a severe violator for exposing employees to trenching hazards. The investigation was launched after an employee was injured and hospitalized when an unprotected trench collapsed.
  • Naples-based L.I. Aluminum Design Inc., a pool and patio installer, received four serious citations, and faces proposed penalties of $40,096 after a worker fatally fell.
  • Middleburg-based Southeastern Subcontractors Inc. is facing $22,173 in proposed penalties following a heat-related fatality.
  • A Texas communications contractor, Tower King II Inc., faces penalties of $12,934 after three workers were killed while trying to install a new antenna on a communications tower in Miami Gardens. The capacity of the rigging attachments was not adequate to support the loads and the workers fell over 1,000 feet.

Georgia

  • Jose A. Serrato, a Marietta-based independent roofing contractor, was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a worksite in Birmingham and cited with $133,604 in proposed penalties. Mr. Serrato has been cited seven times in the past five years.

Massachusetts

  • Luis Guallpa, doing business as Milford-based Guallpa Contracting Corp., faces penalties of $299,324 for exposing workers to fall and other hazards at a Nashua, New Hampshire work site. The company had previously been cited in 2014 and 2015.
  • Jet Logistics Inc. (JLI) and New England Life Flight Inc., doing business as Boston MedFlight (BMF), were ordered to reinstate a pilot who lost his job after complaining about safety concerns and possible violations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. JLI and BMF must pay the pilot $133,616.09 in back wages and interest; $100,000 in compensatory damages; reasonable attorney fees; and refrain from retaliating against the employee. The employers must also post a notice informing all employees of their whistleblower protections under AIR21.

Nebraska

  • An egg processing facility, Michael Foods Inc.’s of Wakefield, faces proposed penalties of $188,464 after an employee was fatally struck by a dock leveler. The proposed penalties relate to lockout/tagout, electrical and arc flash hazards violations.

New York

  • Summit Milk Products LLC faces $143,000 in proposed penalties for uncorrected and new hazards. A follow-up inspection was done after the company failed to report how it corrected violations found in an earlier inspection. Again, it was found that employees were not protected from heated milk in excess of 150 degrees and the injuries were not recorded in the 300 log.

Pennsylvania

  • Allentown-based Lamm’s Machine Inc. faces $14,782 in proposed penalties for exposing employees to hazardous chemical vapors from a degreasing operation in an enclosed space.

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

Court decision: OSHA not legally bound by five-year look back for repeat violations

A recent court decision indefinitely extending the time limitation for OSHA to assess repeat violations has serious implications for employers. The case, Triumph Construction Corp. v. Sec. of Labor, involved a repeat excavation-related citation issued to Triumph Construction Corp. in 2014. A prior citation of the same evacuation standard was issued to Triumph in 2009.

Triumph argued that the repeat citation was not appropriate because the amount of time that had passed from the original 2009 citation to the new 2014 alleged violation was outside OSHA’s stated repeat look-back policy in its Field Operations Manual (FOM), which was three years at the time. Under the Obama administration in 2016, the FOM was updated to expand the look back period to five years.

However, an OSHRC Administrative Law Judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the repeat citation. The court pointed out that neither the Occupational Safety and Health Act nor the regulations OSHA had issued under the Act spelled out any time period that limited the issuance of repeat citations. The time limitation set forth in the enforcement manual “is only a guide” and “is not binding on OSHA or the commission.”

In effect, the ruling means OSHA has the discretion, to go as far back as it wishes to identify any prior substantially similar violations to serve as the basis for a “repeat” violation.

Why it’s important

Repeat violations can harm employers in a number of ways. First, the maximum penalties are ten times higher than serious and other-than-serious violations – $129,336 compared to $12,934. Plus, a violation at one location of a multi-establishment company can be used as the basis for a repeat violation at any other location in a fed OSHA state within that organization, a policy established under the Obama administration that still stands.

Yet, even more important is the way that repeat violations are used. OSHA continues to issue the shaming press releases for significant offenses and that includes repeat violations. Also, it increases the possibility of an establishment being placed into the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), where they are publicly branded as severe violators, subject to more inspections, and have no way to get out. Further, it can affect insurance premiums and the ability to compete for contracts.

What employers should do

The best practice, of course, is to avoid OSHA inspections and citations. However, if an inspection occurs and minor penalties are issued, don’t assume that the best course of action is to pay the penalty. The court decision has made it clear that the FOM is not binding on OSHA or the Commission and does not create any substantive rights for employers. If a serious citation is issued and confirmed, the risk of a much more costly and damaging repeat violation exists indefinitely. When there is a good faith defense, it may be well worth contesting the violation.

If a citation is confirmed, employers should be vigilant to ensure that citations regarding the same hazards don’t reoccur.

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