“At-will employee” no defense for firing an employee after reporting a safety hazard

The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently denied an employer’s motion to vacate a jury’s award of punitive damages to a former employee of an iron-casting company who claimed he was terminated for reporting alleged safety and health hazards. When no corrective action was taken after he repeatedly complained about a roof leak that leaked directly into an electrical box and created a slipping hazard, he filed an anonymous complaint with OSHA.

The agency conducted an unannounced inspection and a few days later he was fired. He then filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA that found Hamburg, Pennsylvania-based Fairmount Foundry fired him in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In Acosta v. Fairmount Foundry Inc., a jury awarded $40,000 for lost wages, pain and suffering and punitive damages to the former employee, Zachary Zettlemoyer.

The company argued the jury had not been instructed on at-will employment and another trial was warranted. But the court denied it. “Even if we gave an at-will employment instruction explaining Mr. Zettlemoyer could be terminated for any reason or for no reason at all, Fairmount Foundry could not have terminated him for engaging in protected activity,” the judge stated. “Fairmount Foundry does not explain how an instruction on at-will employment prejudiced it and, given our charge on the elements of a retaliation claim and pretext, we see no prejudice.”

Moreover, in response to a motion by the Department of Labor, the court awarded prejudgment interest on the $25,000 back pay award and ordered Fairmount Foundry to reinstate Mr. Zettlemoyer. It also permanently enjoined Fairmount Foundry from violating Section 11(c) and ordered Fairmount Foundry (to) expunge from Mr. Zettlemoyer’s personnel record any adverse reference to discharge on October 8, 2015; post a court-approved anti-retaliation notice in a common area for a period of sixty days; and provide a neutral reference regarding Mr. Zettlemoyer’s employment, if requested by subsequent employers.

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

5 ways to make visual communication more effective

Much has changed in the area of safety communications. Gone are the days when wordy messages printed on paper with a burst of color sufficed. The channels for communication are many, including email, signage, bulletin boards, intranet, tool talks, meetings, apps, videos and so on. Furthermore, workers from different generations have different communication preferences. So it’s understandable that employers struggle to simplify their workplace communication and keep it relevant.

Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. MessagingSafety communications must resonate with workers or they will be forgotten or ignored. Know your takeaway and keep it simple. Focusing on real-life incidents with the use of visuals and a few powerful words that engage emotions is most impactful. Not only are they remembered longer, they are more visible from a further distance and reach a multi-language workforce. This contrast in messaging was shown in a recent webinar by The Marlin Company.
  2. Keep it fresh and repeatEven the best messaging gets stale. A cardinal rule in advertising known as the Rule of Seven says that a prospect needs to see or hear your marketing message at least seven times before they take action and buy from you. Using different channels can help convey a consistent message in different ways, but not all workers have access to email and their smartphones during working hours. Signage is often a solution.

    Yet over time, static signage can have a wallpaper effect – present but unseen. Digital signage offers great opportunities here. It is easily changed, software updates can be done for multiple locations, and employers aren’t dependent on personnel physically rotating signs. Multiple screens enable employers to target groups of workers and display unique content for the area in which they work. Messaging for call center personnel can differ from those in production.

  3. PlacementWhile proper placement seems like a no brainer, employers commonly get it wrong. Signs that are too far from a hazard aren’t effective because employees may not be able to see the hazard, making it easy to ignore. If a sign is too close to a hazard, employees may not have enough time to take precautions. And they need to be at eye level and not obscured.
  4. Be strategic 
    • Too much communication can send mixed messages and be confusing. Workers can ignore all of it because it’s just too much to take in at one time, or simply not really see it because something else caught their attention.
    • Keep it short. Unless there is a captive audience, videos should be less than a minute. Think of them as a commercial. Emails and texts should be concise and clear.
    • If there is a captive audience and a PowerPoint is used, put one topic or idea on each slide with appropriate graphics, then talk about it in plain language. Don’t read from the slides.
    • Be selective about the messaging you use in places where employees gather -breakrooms, cafeterias or time clock areas. Promoting health and wellness programs, recognizing employees, information on company events, and appropriate humor can be appropriate here.
  5. Have workers contribute contentTap experts on staff and use them in your messaging. It’s often been said that Millennials are the selfie generation and that the sweet spot to reach Millennials is a 30 – 60-second video, particularly if they are in it. But workers of all ages value recognition even though most are reluctant to step forward and volunteering to participate is not human nature. Invite workers to share stories from their own work histories about how following a safety practice protected them or a co-worker – or near misses or mistakes that could have been prevented. Stories are memorable.

Case study:

An article in the March issue of Risk and Insurance told the story of the Vermont School Board Insurance Trust (VSBIT) challenges of frequency and costs of claims related to snowy weather and icy paths. Shoveling and salting sidewalks were only as effective as the staff involved and the commitment of leadership to safety.

After exploring solutions, they embarked on a pilot program at 10 schools, placing signage at every entrance and exit, alerting passersby of icy conditions. A small mechanism would change colors – from silver to blue – when temperatures dropped below 37 degrees (car warning start at 37 degrees because icy conditions are not always obvious).

These schools had 39 losses that cost almost $240,000 the prior 5 years. After implementation, the same schools had only one slip and fall in total. The feedback from member schools was all positive and the program is expanding.

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

Things you should know

Deadline to submit pay data to EEOC extended

A federal court judge has granted the EEOC’s request to extend the deadline for employers to report equal pay data (known as Component 2) of the EEO-1 to September 30, 2019. Notice has been posted on the EEOC website.

Preventing falls in construction: NIOSH issues fact sheet

NIOSH has published a new fact sheet intended to help construction employers and workers prevent falls from roofs, ladders, and scaffolds.

FMCSA webpage answers FAQs on upcoming database of CMV drivers who fail drug, alcohol tests

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created a webpage that outlines specifics of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a national online database intended to provide – in real time – the names of commercial motor vehicle drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests.

‘Dirty Dozen’ list of workplace safety violators released

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) released its 2019 “dirty dozen” companies that the organization says failed to protect workers from preventable illness, injury and death.

This year’s list includes:

  • Amazon.com Inc., Seattle
  • Atlantic Capes Fisheries Co., Cape May, New Jersey, and the staffing firm it uses, B.J.’s Service Co Inc., New Bedford, Massachusetts
  • Bedrock Detroit LLC, Detroit
  • Beiza Brothers Harvesting LLC, Moultrie, Georgia
  • Facebook Inc., Menlo Park, California, along with contractors Accenture PLC, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., PRO Unlimited Inc. and Tech Solutions Co.
  • Genan Inc., Houston
  • Integra Health Management Inc., Timonium, Maryland
  • The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
  • McDonald’s USA LLC, Oak Brook, Illinois
  • Purdue Pharmaceuticals LP, Stamford, Connecticut, and the opioid industry
  • Tooma Enterprises Inc., Sterling Heights, Michigan
  • XPO Logistics, Greenwich, Connecticut

 

Report on women and safety in the workplace

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) released a report on women and safety in the modern workplace. The report focuses on three main challenges faced by women and offers potential solutions.

WCRI releases comp state trends reports

The 18 states in the CompScope report are Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

According to an article in Business Insurance, key findings include:

  • The median indemnity costs per claim across the states for three years starting in 2015 was $17,778, with North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Georgia ranked in the top three and Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas in the bottom three.
  • The median cost per claim with more than seven days lost time between 2015 and 2018 was $41,888, with Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia ranked in the top three and Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas in the bottom three.
  • The median medical payments per claim in 2017 was $13,524, with Wisconsin, Virginia, and Indiana ranked in the top three and Massachusetts, California and Texas ranked in the bottom three.
  • Twenty-nine percent was the median percentage of 2015 claims with more than seven days of lost time and 36 months of experience that had a defense attorney involved. Among the states with the highest attorney involvement were Illinois, New Jersey and California. Those with the lowest were Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

New resource to help employers understand mental health issues

The DOL, in coordination with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and its Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), has launched a new resource, Mental Health Toolkit to help employers better understand mental health issues and to provide guidance on how to cultivate a supportive workplace.

Workers’ marijuana use major contributor to rise in positive drug tests, analysis shows

The rate of positive drug tests for illicit substances among U.S. workers in 2018 reached a 14-year peak, with marijuana playing a significant role, according to the annual Drug Testing Index from lab services provider Quest Diagnostics.

Researchers found that 4.4% of the combined U.S. workforce tested positive – up from 4.2% in 2017 and 2016 and the highest since 2004 when the rate was 4.5%. “Post-accident” positive tests showed rate increases: to 8.4% from 7.7% in 2017 among employees in the general workforce, and to 4.7% from 3.1% among workers in safety-sensitive jobs.

Boom lift scenario now part of NIOSH simulation tool

NIOSH has added a boom lift scenario to its Aerial Lift Hazard Recognition Simulator.

The training tool includes a scissor lift operation simulation, provides realistic workplace scenarios “to help potential aerial lift operators acclimate to aerial lift operation and to identify the common occupational hazards during use,” but is not intended to be a replacement for required training.

Protecting first responders from fentanyl exposure: NIOSH releases video

NIOSH has released a 13-minute video intended to protect first responders who face potential exposure to fentanyl – a synthetic opioid considered up to 50 times more potent than heroin – and other illicit drugs.

State News

California

  • The number of independent medical review determination letters calling for review of treatment denials and modifications peaked to 184,733 in 2018, 7.3% more than in 2017 according to the California Workers’ Compensation Research Institute. Full report.
  • 55% of medical bill reviews were overturned according to a report by the California Department of Industrial Relations.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau determined that the modest improvement in pure premium workers’ compensation rates so far in 2019 does not warrant a midyear filing.

New York

  • The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board announced that the maximum weekly wage benefit rate will climb, from $905 to $934, effective July 1.

Pennsylvania

  • Insurance Commissioner approved a nearly 13% reduction in loss costs for workers compensation insurance.

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

OSHA watch

Anti-retaliation provisions of electronic record-keeping rule survives employer challenge

An Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) administrative law judge’s decision to reject two defenses offered by the U.S. Postal Service to a citation preserves the controversial anti-retaliation provisions under its electronic record-keeping rule. The USPS allegedly issued a seven-day working suspension to a carrier because he reported a work-related injury. The USPS argued that the alleged standard and/or penalties were invalid because they were beyond the legal power or authority of OSHA and/or were arbitrary and capricious.

Process Safety Management standard extended beyond hazardous chemicals in ruling

Legal experts warn that a recent OSHRC ruling regarding safety violations in a deadly oil refinery explosion in 2012 could have wider implications for companies dealing with highly hazardous chemicals. OSHRC affirmed 12 violations of Process Safety Management standard by Wynnewood Refining Co, which argued the PSM was never intended to include processes that do not manage such chemicals – such as the steam boiler involved.

Prior to this ruling, it was widely understood that utilities unrelated to the manufacturing process were not included in the requirements for PSM. Experts say it is unclear how far the standard extends now.

Social media campaign to educate young workers

#MySafeSummerJob, a social media campaign to educate young workers about their rights in the workplace, how to speak up about dangerous work conditions, and how to protect themselves on the job, was launched in concert with several worker safety organizations. From April 15 through May 17 outreach will promote safety among young workers. Check out materials and ideas at the #MySafeSummerJob website.

Regional construction safety campaign shifts focus to falls

In concert with the Mid-Atlantic Construction Safety Council, a four-month campaign was launched to address the four leading causes of fatal injuries in construction. In March, the campaign focused on electrical hazards, and during April the emphasis was on struck-by hazards. This month is falls, and caught-in / between hazards will be the focus in June. The campaign serves employers and employees in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Email OSHA-Focus4-Region3@dol.gov for more information.

OSHRC finalizes revisions to its procedural rules

The OSHRC has finalized what it calls “comprehensive” revisions to its procedural rules, in part to reflect technological advances. Slated to take effect June 10, the changes include mandatory electronic filing for “represented” parties and a new method intended to streamline calculating time periods.

Proposal to watch: joint employer revisions

The Department of Labor announced a proposal to “revise and clarify” the issue of joint employers. The department is proposing a four-factor test “based on well-established precedent” that would consider whether the potential joint employer actually exercises the power to hire or fire the employee; supervise and control the employee’s work schedules or conditions of employment; determine the employee’s rate and method of payment; and maintain the employee’s employment records.

The proposal could differ from the interpretations put forth by other federal agencies and would not nullify regulations promulgated by individual states that have different standards.

The public has 60 days from April 1 to comment on the proposal.

Webpage on radiation emergency preparedness and response launched

A webpage intended to educate workers about how to protect themselves in radiation-related situations ranging from a small, isolated spill in a laboratory to a potentially catastrophic release at a nuclear facility is now live. The Radiation Emergency Preparedness and Response webpage provides resources on health and safety planning, medical monitoring and dosimetry, and other relevant topics for workers “who may be impacted by radiation emergencies” or “who may be involved in emergency response operations or related activities.”

Cal/OSHA proposing to re-adopt emergency rules for e-filing injury reports

Emergency rules were adopted Nov. 1, 2018 and the re-adoption would give additional time to proceed with regular rulemaking on a permanent basis. In addition to requiring electronic reporting for companies with at least 250 workers, the rules require businesses with 20 to 249 employees in industries such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture to electronically file injury logs.

A notice for proposed permanent rules is expected to be published by May 10.

MIOSHA launches emphasis program on roadway accident

The state emphasis program on roadway accidents will run through December 31, 2019 and is intended to increase the priority of inspections related to construction roadway safety and initiate inspections upon observing a roadway project with workers present.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Cal North Farm Labor Inc., a farm labor contractor and Crain Walnut Shelling Inc. face more than $100,000 combined in proposed penalties after a worker was fatally crushed by a bin dumper at a walnut processing and packing facility in Los Molinos.
  • Staffing agency Priority Workforce Inc. and JSL Foods Inc., a maker and distributor of pasta and baked goods face more than $300,000 in fines for serious citations after a temporary worker lost two fingers cleaning machinery at a Los Angeles food manufacturing facility.
  • Accurate Comfort Systems Inc. received four citations and faces $75,750 in penalties after a worker suffered serious injuries in a fall from a ladder on a 12-foot-high work area.

Florida

  • Inspected as part of the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction, Florida Roofing Experts, Inc. faces $132,598 in fines after inspectors observed workers performing residential roofing activities without fall protection.

Georgia

  • Investigated under the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation, Riverside Military Academy Inc., a military college preparatory academy in Gainesville, was cited for exposing employees to trenching hazards, faces $381,882 in penalties, and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Citations included allowing employees to work inside a trench without cave-in protection and a safe means to enter and exit the excavation, and failing to locate underground utilities prior to work.
  • Specialty chemical manufacturer, Plaze Aeroscience, operating as Plaze GA, was cited for exposing employees to fire and burn hazards at the company’s facility in Dalton and faces $107,164 in penalties.

Michigan

  • Mt. Clemens-based Powder Cote II received seven citations and faces $65,000 in penalties for failing to provide fall protection or guardrail systems, guard rotating shafts and machinery, and failing to control the startup of machinery during maintenance.

New York

  • Remington Arms, LLC, based in Madison, North Carolina was cited for 27 violations of workplace safety and health standards and faces $210,132 in penalties after a worker’s fingertip was amputated while using an unguarded metalworking machine at its Ilion manufacturing plant.

Pennsylvania

  • Framing contractor, Navy Contractors, Inc. was cited for willfully exposing employees to fall hazards at residential construction sites in Royersford, Collegeville, and Center Valley after inspections saw employees working without fall protection. The company faces $603,850 in penalties.
  • A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District has found that Lloyd Industries Inc., a manufacturing company based in Montgomeryville, and its owner William P. Lloyd unlawfully terminated two employees because of their involvement in a safety investigation. Damages will be determined in phase 2 of the trial.
  • A jury has concurred with the findings of a whistleblower investigation and awarded $40,000 for lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages to a former employee of Fairmount Foundry Inc. The employee claimed that the Hamburg iron-casting company terminated him for reporting alleged safety and health hazards.
  • New Jersey contractor, Brutus Construction, Inc. was cited for exposing workers to fall hazards at a Souderton residential construction site. Inspectors saw employees working on roofs without fall protection and the company faces nearly $182,000 in penalties.

Wisconsin

  • A follow-up inspection revealed that Beloit-based Avid Pallet Services, LLC, failed to correct violations related to wood dust and respiratory hazards. The company faces penalties of $188,302.

For additional information.

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

Ten most dangerous jobs

Going by the sheer number of on-the-job deaths, the truck drivers and sales drivers classification was by far the most dangerous, accounting for nearly 1,000 (987) deaths in 2017. However, the chances of a fatality are much higher in specific industries when the fatal work injury rate, calculated per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, is used. According to a recent report in EHS Today, the ten most dangerous jobs of 2019 are:

No. 1 – Fishers and related fishing workers

Moving up from number 2 to become the most dangerous profession, fishers and related fishing workers experienced 41 fatalities in 2017, an increase of almost 58% from 2016. The fatality rate was 99.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. Risks: drowning, struck by lightning, crushed by equipment.

No. 2 – Loggers

Falling from the most-dangerous profession to number 2, loggers experienced 55 fatalities, a drop of almost 65% from 91 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 84.3. Risks: falls, struck-by, dangerous tools such as chainsaws and axes.

No. 3 – Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

Pilots and flight engineers experienced 59 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 58.6, a drop from 2016. Risks: crashes.

No. 4 – Roofers

Roofers experienced 91 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 45.2, slightly lower than in 2016. Risks: falls, struck-by, and heat.

No. 5 – Refuse and recyclable material collectors

Refuse and recyclable material collectors experienced 30 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 35.0, very similar to 2016. Risks: dangerous machinery, crushed by equipment, struck-by, traffic accidents, struck by vehicle.

No. 6 – Structural iron and steel workers

Steel and ironworkers experienced 14 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 33.4, a slight decrease from 2016. Risks: falls, struck-by, heat, crushed by materials.

No. 7 – Truck drivers and other drivers

Employees who drive for work – including truck drivers – experienced 987 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 26.8 out of 100,000 workers, which was higher than in 2016. Risks: traffic accidents, struck by vehicle, other drivers, construction zones, sleep deprivation, texting/talking while driving.

No. 8 – Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers

Agricultural workers experienced 258 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 24.0 out of 100,000 workers, very similar to 2016. Risks: dangerous machinery, chemicals, heat.

No. 9 – Grounds maintenance workers

Grounds maintenance workers experienced 244 fatalities in 2017 for a fatality rate of 21.0, a decline from 2016. Risks: heat, cold, noise, chemical exposure, ergonomics-related issues, machinery.

No. 10 – Electrical power-line installers and repairers

New to the list, electrical power-line installers and repairers experienced 26 fatalities for a fatality rate of 18.7. Risks: electrocution, falls to a lower level, transportation incidents.

Supervisors of construction workers (which ranked at #9 last year), fell off the list of the top 10.

Other key findings:

  • There were a total of 5,147 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2017, down slightly from the 5,190 that were registered in 2016.
  • Fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), accounting for 887 (17 percent) worker deaths.
  • Transportation incidents remained the most frequent fatal event in 2017 with 2,077 (40 percent) occupational fatalities.
  • Violence and other injuries by persons or animals decreased 7 percent in 2017 with homicides and suicides decreasing by 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
  • Unintentional overdoses due to non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while at work increased 25 percent from 217 in 2016 to 272 in 2017. This was the fifth consecutive year in which unintentional workplace overdose deaths have increased by at least 25 percent.
  • Fatal occupational injuries involving confined spaces rose 15 percent to 166 in 2017 from 144 in 2016.
  • Crane-related workplace fatalities fell to their lowest level ever recorded in CFOI, 33 deaths in 2017.
  • Fifteen percent of the fatally-injured workers in 2017 were age 65 or over – a series high. In 1992, the first year CFOI published national data, that figure was 8 percent. These workers also had a higher fatality rate than other age groups in 2017.

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

Employee behavior and heat-related illness: 5 problem-solutions

Educational campaigns and accessible resources coupled with technology and meteorology precision have made it possible for employers to provide site-specific weather information and the proper resources and training for employees to combat the risk of heat exposures. Tools such as OSHA’s heat index app calculate the heat index for the worksite, display a risk level for workers, and provide reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level.

Yet, every year thousands of workers suffer from heat illness and some die. Why?

In some cases, it’s organizational factors such as indifferent or callous supervision, poor workplace conditions, and unrealistic production expectations, which reflect the company’s overarching culture. Yet, many employers are proactive and do an excellent job in training employees and implementing procedures to prevent heat stress that aren’t followed by some employees.

Here are five problem-solutions related to employee behavior and heat stress:

  1. Problem: Risk perceptionSome employees simply underestimate how serious heat illness can be. They’ve worked in the heat before without incident – been there, done that – can’t happen to them. Moreover, the symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue.

    That’s why the American Society of Safety Engineers calls heat the “unseen danger” at construction sites. If a heat rash appears or a cramp develops, workers can dismiss them as an inconvenience and continue working without applying a powder or getting water or a sports drink. Even signs of heat exhaustion such as thirst, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, and irritability can be interpreted as being tired from working in the sun.

    Potential solutions: Make rest and shade breaks mandatory, pre-shift reminders about the symptoms of heat stress, foster a ‘stop and think’ culture, buddy system, make sure employees are aware of the worst-case scenario, and use testimonials and share previous incidents to heighten awareness.

  2. Problem: Don’t understand hydrationDehydration not only leads to heat stress but also impairs visual motor tracking, short-term memory, and concentration leading to work-related accidents. Most workers know that staying hydrated is critical when working in hot and humid environments.

    But “staying hydrated” means different things to different people. To some, it means waiting until they are thirsty to drink. To others, it means grabbing an ice-cold soda loaded with sugar.

    As a general guideline, the recommended amount of water intake is one quart per hour (ideally one cup every 15 minutes) of active work for the average adult. However, every worker is different. Workers with underlying medical conditions or those who are new to the work environment have unique hydration requirements.

    Potential solutions: Have water easily and readily available, provide reusable water bottles, enforce breaks, educate with detailed information about how to hydrate (frequency, water vs.sports drinks, predisposing medical factors, effects of diet, drinking alcohol) and the symptoms of dehydration, and issue frequent reminders and weather alerts throughout the day.

  3. Problem: Inexperienced workersSummer work means many young and inexperienced workers and OSHA statistics prove that these workers are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Whether it’s lack of knowledge, an immature attitude, fear, a desire to fit in and prove their worth, or an invincible mindset, some young workers try to side-step an acclimatization program and keep up with more seasoned workers with deadly results.

    Potential solutions: Have a mentoring program, tailor training, establish consequences for failure to follow rules, and consistently interact with workers to gauge how they’re feeling.

  4. Problem: Heat illness mythsEven well-trained employees can fall back on myths, misconceptions, and inaccuracies in the “heat” of the moment. Some common myths are:
    • When you’re having heat stroke, you don’t sweat
    • Acclimatization will protect you during a heat wave
    • Salt tablets are a good way to restore electrolytes lost during sweating
    • Off-duty drinking and diet do not adversely affect the ability to manage job-related heat
    • Medications/health conditions will not affect the ability to work safely in heat

    Potential solutions: To debunk myths, employees need to understand them. Make them a part of ongoing training.

  5. Problem: Bantering and sense of controlBanter is commonplace in many physically demanding jobs. Good-natured joshing and jibing can reduce stress and help to build strong teams. Yet, when bantering moves to rough-and-tumble horseplay or bullying it can lead to dire consequences. When workers are made to feel that needing a break is a sign of weakness – “don’t be a wimp,” “man-up” – a critical line is crossed.

    Potential solutions: How workers perceive the ease or consequences of horseplay or bullying is a key factor. All organizations should make clear what is acceptable and set clear boundaries. Importantly, drill home the message that workers are responsible for each other’s safety and make sure supervisors walk the talk.

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

Understanding the drivers of serious injuries by industry Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index

Produced annually, the Liberty Mutual 2019 Workplace Safety Index identifies the leading causes of the most disabling non-fatal workplace injuries (resulting in more than five days of lost time) and ranks them by total Workers’ Compensation costs. While the findings have always provided insight into critical risk areas so businesses can better allocate safety resources, this year’s report delves deeper by reporting the causes and costs of the most serious workplace injuries by eight industries.

U.S. companies lose more than $1 billion per week due to workplace injuries, according to the report that is based on data from Liberty Mutual, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance. The top causes of the most serious workplace injuries have been stable over the past several years, with overexertion (lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying) and falls from the same level topping the list. Here are the top ten causes and their costs:

  1. Overexertion involving outside sources. Cost: $13.1 billion
  2. Falls on the same floor level. Cost: $10.4 billion
  3. Struck by object or equipment including falling objects from above. Cost: $5.2 billion
  4. Falls to lower level from a ladder or platform. Cost: $4.9 billion
  5. Other exertions or bodily reactions from activities (crawling, reaching, bending, twisting, climbing, kneeling, or walking). Cost: $3.7 billion
  6. Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicle. Cost: $2.7 billion
  7. Slip or trip without fall. Cost: $2.2 billion
  8. Caught in or compressed by equipment or object. Cost: $1.9 billion
  9. Repetitive motions involving microtasks, such as working on an assembly line. Cost: $1.63 billion
  10. Struck against object or equipment. Cost: $1.2 billion

Even when broken down by eight industry sectors, there was consistency with overexertion and falls on the same level in the top five causes for each of the sectors. Here are the industry results:

Construction – $9.87 billion in losses ($189.81 million a week)

  1. Falls to a lower level
  2. Struck by object or equipment
  3. Overexertion involving outside sources
  4. Falls on the same level
  5. Slip or trip without a fall

Professional and business services – $7.86 billion in losses ($151.15 million a week)

  1. Falls on the same level
  2. Overexertion involving outside sources
  3. Falls to a lower level
  4. Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicle
  5. Struck by object or equipment

Manufacturing- $7.62 billion in losses ($146.54 million a week)

  1. Overexertion involving outside sources
  2. Falls on the same level
  3. Struck by object or equipment
  4. Caught in or compressed by equipment or object
  5. Repetitive motions involving microtasks

Health care and social services – $5.17 billion in losses ($99.42 million a week)

  1. Overexertion involving outside sources
  2. Falls on the same level
  3. Intentional injury by person
  4. Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicle
  5. Other exertions or bodily reactions

Retail – $5.09 billion in losses ($97.88 million a week)

  1. Overexertion involving outside sources
  2. Falls on the same level
  3. Struck by object or equipment
  4. Other exertions or bodily reactions
  5. Falls to a lower level

Transportation and warehousing – $4.37 billion in losses ($84.04 million a week)

  1. Overexertion involving outside sources
  2. Falls on the same level
  3. Roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicle
  4. Other exertions or bodily reactions
  5. Falls to a lower level

Wholesale – $4.04 billion in losses ($77.69 million a week)

  1. Overexertion involving outside sources
  2. Struck by object or equipment
  3. Falls to a lower level
  4. Falls on the same level
  5. Other exertions or bodily reactions

Leisure and hospitality – $3.46 billion in losses ($66.54 million a week)

  1. Falls on the same level
  2. Overexertion involving outside sources
  3. Struck by object or equipment
  4. Struck against object or equipment
  5. Other exertions or bodily reactions

While James Merendino, Vice President and General Manager at Liberty Mutual Insurance, acknowledges that efforts to improve safety need to be based on a specific employer’s operations and employees, he says there are three techniques that have proven successful in improving safety in a variety of industries.

  • Establish a strategic safety plan. This involves identifying the top safety risks facing the company and how they will be mitigated and managed. This includes existing risks, as well as integration of new technologies or procedures.
  • Set expectations. The commitment of senior management must be unwavering, consistent, and visible. It must be an integral part of the business plan for the company’s success.
  • Directly involve front line employees in the strategic safety program. This is an on-going process that benefits both the employer and employees. These are the people who do the work, are closest to the hazards, and know the shortcuts that can be taken.

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

PPE and women: 13 do’s and don’ts

The recent cancellation by NASA of the highly publicized first-ever all-woman spacewalk is a good reminder of the importance of proper fitting PPE. Even with extensive training on the ground, getting the right fit for a spacesuit in microgravity can be a challenge since the body changes slightly in space due to fluid shifts or spine elongation.

Only one suit for a medium-size torso, which is the size that best fits the two astronauts, is ready for use on the station. While the decision was made by one of the astronauts who thought a large-size suit would be fine, but after a spacewalk a week earlier decided the medium-size was a better fit, it was met by some with disbelief on Twitter. The number of women entering traditionally male-dominated fields continues to grow and many have encountered improperly fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and personal protective clothing (PPC). (The two female astronauts were part of a class that had 50/50 gender representation.)

According to The Washington Post, “Across social media platforms, women told of giant overalls, wading boots that were the wrong size, oversize gloves that kept them from being nimble, a lack of bulletproof vests that accommodated their chest sizes and a dearth of petite-size personal protective equipment at construction sites.”

While there is increased awareness and significant strides have been made in PPE for women, the fact remains that most PPE was designed based on average male body measurements and it has only been in recent years that manufacturers have tailored PPE to women. When there are products specifically designed for women some worksites just don’t have them readily available.

The best practices of providing PPE for women are very similar to those for men. Here are 13 do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t assume your PPE is appropriate for all of your employees. Find out what is and isn’t working by getting feedback from employees. Monitor the use and identify situations where it is not used when it should be.
  • Don’t ask women to wear PPE that is too big. It is not going to provide adequate protection and in some cases creates even more serious safety risks.
  • Don’t alter PPE. It should be certified to specific standards, and alterations beyond built-in adjustment features can make the garment no longer compliant – and unsafe.
  • Don’t subject women to derogatory remarks or disingenuous humor about how they look in PPE.
  • Don’t assume women are only concerned about “how it looks.”
  • Don’t criticize, ignore, or retaliate against employees who report ill-fitting PPE.
  • Don’t penalize employees who refuse to work when appropriate PPE is not available.
  • Do involve employees in the selection of PPE.
  • Do provide the same range of sizes for women as for men, and ensure suppliers have properly assessed the appropriateness of their equipment to women and men.
  • Do ensure employees try on several sizes or types of PPE before it is issued to ensure the best fit.
  • Do educate employees about why the PPE is to be worn and train how to properly use it.
  • Do make appropriate provisions for pregnant women.
  • Do get supervisor buy-in.

The gender pay gap is substantially less in many non-traditional jobs than in other professions, and training and apprenticeships present great opportunities for women. Yet, as noted in the Construction Productivity Blog, “recruitment bias, company cultures where harassment isn’t thoroughly addressed and even reasons as simple as tools and gear not made for women in mind, also all play a critical role into why more women aren’t considering building as a career.”

Attracting women to non-traditional fields can help industries deal with an acute labor shortage and have economic benefits. According to the Peterson Institute, construction companies that were in the top 25% in gender diversity of their workforce were 46% more likely to outperform their industry average. Providing the right PPE is another way companies can recruit and retain more female talent.

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

Understanding OSHA’s general duty clause

Often referred to as the general duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires that employers provide “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm…” It’s only used where there is no standard for a particular hazard and citations must be serious and/or willful violations. The citation is for the hazard, not for a particular incident or lack of a particular abatement method.

2003 OSHA Letter of Interpretation clarified the elements necessary to prove a violation of the General Duty Clause:

  • The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed
  • The hazard was recognized (a recognized hazard exists if the hazard is recognized either by the employer or by the employer’s industry)
  • The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm (Establishing whether a hazard is serious is similar to how OSHA classifies a serious violation for its standards, the Field Operations Manual states)
  • There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard

While this criteria can make it difficult for OSHA to prove a violation, OSHA’s use of the clause has expanded over the years and many are concerned about its use as an enforcement mechanism and the confusion it creates for employers. Increasingly it’s been applied to ergonomic, heat-related, and workplace violence hazards. Two recent cases have tested the use of the clause:

Heat-related hazards

Secretary of Labor v. A.H. Sturgill Roofing Inc., was a closely watched case in which serious citations were issued against the company for not adequately implementing a heat illness prevention program and not providing adequate training to employees on heat related hazards. A temporary employee who had various pre-existing medical conditions experienced heat stroke and died three weeks later from complications.

His responsibility was to stand near the edge of the roof where other employees brought him a cart full of cut-up pieces of roofing material that he then pushed off the roof into a dumpster. The foreman encouraged all employees to utilize the access to ice, water, rest and shade, without fear of reprisal. By late morning, the temperature rose to about 82°F with 51% relative humidity.

The citations had a negative effect on the employer’s bidding opportunities and it appealed the decision. An administrative law judge affirmed the citations, but the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) vacated the citations against the commercial roofing company. In so doing, it noted that the citations did not meet two of the required elements – the existence of a hazard and a feasible means of abatement. OSHA had defined the hazard as “excessive heat” but, according to the commission, to constitute a cognizable hazard under the clause, a worksite condition must pose more than the mere possibility of harm. The conditions at the jobsite were not such that they would put a reasonable employer on notice.

While employer representatives welcomed the decision, experts caution that the decision turned on a very specific set of facts and the commission did not state that the clause could never be used to cite employers for such hazards. The possibility of an OSHA appeal exists.

Workplace violence

In Secretary of Labor v. Integra Health Management Inc., a 25-year-old recent college graduate with no prior experience in social work or working with the mentally ill was hired by Integra, a Maryland-based company, and assigned to a client with schizophrenia. Integra employs service coordinators to help its clients, who are identified by health insurers as not receiving appropriate care for chronic medical conditions including mental illness. It provides training in various manners, but employees are not clinically trained.

Unbeknownst to Integra and the referring health insurer, the client had a prior criminal record, including aggravated battery and assault. He attacked the employee with a knife, stabbing her nine times and killing her. In the Integra case, the commission was asked for the first time to decide whether workplace violence is a recognized hazard that the employer must remove from its workplace, according to the decision.

The administrative law judge affirmed an OSHA citation issued to Integra alleging a violation of the general duty clause for exposing employees “to the hazard of being physically assaulted by members with a history of violent behavior.” The OSHRC affirmed, noting a direct nexus between the work being performed by Integra’s employees and the alleged risk of workplace violence and feasible measures to abate the hazard as recommended by OSHA.

While affirming the citation, the Commission expressed concern about OSHA’s use of the general duty clause to address workplace violence risks. Chairwoman Heather MacDougall, who recently resigned, noted, “My hope is that this precedent will be revisited in a future decision and, even better, that OSHA will continue in its effort to promulgate a standard that addresses workplace violence.”

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

Occupational health and safety risks now top cost disruptor

Employers looking to boost the bottom line would be smart to closely examine the costs of their health and safety incidents. While high-profile disruptions such as cyber-attacks, IT outages, or extreme weather get more attention, health and safety incidents are the leading financial loss drivers for businesses around the globe, according to the BCI 2019 Horizon Scan. The eighth report in the series analyzes the risks and threats recognized by 569 organizations worldwide, comparing them against the impact of actual disruptions in the past year.

Employers perceive occupational and health issues to be low risk (ranking #12) in the coming 12 months; yet, it was the most frequent and costliest cause of disruption in the past 12 months. It cost companies $1.1186 billion, almost four times the $307 million for IT disruptions and eight times the $144 million for cyber-attacks. Further, the report notes that there is a likely relationship between the health and safety incidents and the high costs of reputational damage.

Howard Kerr, CEO at the BSI, commented: “It’s easy for business leaders to be kept awake at night by high-profile risks such as cyber-attacks, technology disruptions and IT outages, but they must not ignore the smaller, more frequent risks that steadily erode the bottom line. Organizations that don’t take all threats they face seriously, or otherwise develop plans to manage them, are exposing themselves to not only reputational loss, but also what can become quite severe financial costs. Achieving true organizational resilience means identifying not only the big risks, but also the under-rated issues that may just seem like ‘business as usual’ and can easily be missed.”

This disconnect can stem from a failure to understand the true costs of injuries, general acceptance of injury rates as a cost of business, an unfounded belief that there is a trade-off between profits and measures to keep the workplace safe, other priorities, and so on. While many executives give lip service to “safety pays” and the value of caring for their employees, they also feel the pressures to increase profits by cutting costs. Yet, safety and profitability can coexist.

Culture comes from the top down and management commitment is the key performance indicator. Executives may believe that the mantra “we want you to go home safe each day” reflects the company’s culture but it is often viewed skeptically as drivel by employees, who feel that production trumps safety. It takes a lot more than words to demonstrate a real commitment to safety.

Management commitment to safety includes financial investment, amount of time and team members involved, technologically advanced tools such as wearables, training hours, capital projects for high-risk issues and so on. Committed leaders are familiar with the major risks and risk mitigation efforts in their facilities.

Successful executives often require a report on every serious injury and review it with the leadership team. This sends the message to mid-management that safety is an integral part of operations. They also develop a set of leading indicators that encourage a continual focus on risk reduction.

The BCI report illustrates that the cost of injuries slowly erodes the bottom line, but falls under the radar. Workers’ Comp is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cost of an injury. There are many indirect costs such as lost productivity, hiring and training replacement employees, higher overtime, incident investigation, repairing damaged equipment or property, lower morale, and implementation of corrective measures. There also can be legal and administrative expenses and higher Workers’ Comp premiums for at least three years.

The National Safety Council provides helpful information on the ROI of safety at an aggregate level. But employers can take a deep dive and analyze the costs associated with two or three injuries in their organization. It’s worth the effort to quantify all the related figures. The results not only paint a clear picture of the economic value of improving safety to top management, but also help employees understand the costs come out of profits and affects their wages, bonuses, and benefits.

Unless there is a catastrophic event, health and safety incidents do not have the immediate, malicious impact that an IT disruption or cyber-attack can create. But they are highly costly and disruptive and will slowly erode the bottom line. Failure to recognize that this is not “business as usual” will have serious consequences for the longevity and resiliency of the company.

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