Seven ways to improve Workplace Health Promotion Programs for all-sized employers

While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they eventually morphed into comprehensive programs for worksites of all sizes. They’re touted as an effective business strategy to improve the health and productivity of workers, reduce health care costs, attract new employees, and retain existing ones.

Studies of wellness programs have produced conflicting results. Some find that the programs are a good investment with a 3 -1 return, while others have found they may change certain behaviors, but don’t improve job performance. Although the result vary, there’s a common thread – utilization did not live up to expectations.

A recent study, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace Health Promotion Programs (WHPP) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work Organization Characteristics in US Workers” by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that just under half of employees have access to them and among those who do have access, just about half utilize them. The study found that although approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs, only 58 percent of those with access actually participate. That’s roughly one in every four workers.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPP’s and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Workers who worked less than 20 hours a week, worked regular night shifts, were paid by the hour, or worked for temporary agencies were also less likely to participate. Researchers also identified barriers that keep workers from participating, including time constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concludes that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs and maximize participation. Another recent survey by Future Workplace and View sought to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how these perks impact productivity.

The results were surprising. It was not fitness facilities or technology-based health tools that topped the list, but air quality and natural light. Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing. Only 1 in 4 of the 1,600 employees surveyed say the air quality in their office is optimal for them to do their best work and nearly one-half say the quality of air makes them sleepy. In the number three spot was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Just as people want to have a personalized consumer experience, employees want to be able to customize their work environment – control the temperature, mask noise, have natural light and so on. It’s not as impossible as it sounds. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone. Similar arrangements can be made for temperature and light.

Here are seven steps employers can take to improve their results:

  1. Make WHPPs employee-centric. Complement the workplace health assessment with a survey of your employees to determine their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program accordingly.
  2. Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs. The synergistic possibilities of integrating common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on with the wellness program are significant.
  3. Personalize as much as possible. Employees expect the ability to personalize their workspace. More workers expect the company that employs them to take their well-being into account in all aspects of work.
  4. Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health. Studies show that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are overlooked.
  5. Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior. Personal behaviors, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. They are embedded in routines and habits. It’s going to take time, effort, and reinforcement and there will be setbacks. Employees who are cynical and are distrustful of their employer will not be committed.
  6. Give employees a sense of ownership. Much like a culture of safety, employees must buy into a culture of wellness. Consider a wellness committee from a cross-section of departments and employees to provide input and drive participation.
  7. Monitor employee satisfaction. While employers often struggle with measuring the ROI of WHPPs, common factors include health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ comp claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures such as satisfaction and morale.

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

Things you should know

NSC offers free toolkit to fight opioid abuse

The National Safety Council (NSC) is offering a free toolkit to help employers address the opioid crisis. The Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit addresses warning signs of opioid misuse, identifying employee impairment, strategies to help employers educate workers on opioid use risks, drug-related human resources policies, and how to support employees struggling with opioid misuse.

Workplaces most common site of mass shootings: Secret Service report

In its second Mass Attacks in Public Spaces report, the Secret Service examined 27 incidents in 18 states that involved harming three or more people. Most occurred in workplaces (20) and were “motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic or other issue.”

Worker participation key to preventing safety accidents: CSB

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) published a new safety digest discussing the importance of worker participation to avoid chemical mishaps. The report outlines how the shortage of worker engagement was a factor in various incidents examined by the CSB.

2018 guidelines more effective in preventing carpal tunnel: NIOSH

Previous studies showed that the 2001 American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for Hand Activity was not sufficiently protective for workers at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and led to a revision of the TLV and Action Limit in 2018. A new study compares the effectiveness of the 2018 and 2001 guidelines, concluding that the 2018 revision of the TLV better protects workers from CTS.

NIOSH notes that many workers are exposed to forceful repetitive hand activity above the guidelines and urges compliance with the updated guidelines.

First aid provisions in workers’ compensation statutes and regulations: NCCI

The National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) has compiled state statutes and regulations related to First Aid in Workers’ Comp. The document does not include review or analysis of the statute or regulation, of relevant caselaw, or other guidance and is subject to change.

Mandatory treatment guidelines may lead to fewer back surgeries

States with mandatory use of medical treatment guidelines in utilization review, reimbursement and dispute resolution may lead to lower rates of lumbar decompression surgery among workers with low back pain, according to a new report by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

The 27 states in the study include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Engineered-stone fabrication workers at risk of severe lung disease

Exposure to silica dust from cutting and grinding engineered stone countertops has caused severe lung disease in workers in California and three other states. The CDC released information on cases in Washington, California, Colorado and Texas in an article published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. According to the article, 18 cases of silicosis were identified in the four states from 2017 – 2019. Two of those workers died from the illness.

Campbell Institute offers a guide on how to get started with leading indicators

An Implementation Guide to Leading Indicators is intended to help employers initiate the process when implementing leading indicators for the first time.

Annual wind energy safety campaign focuses on hands

The American Wind Energy Association will offer several free resources in October as part of its annual month-long safety awareness campaign aimed at helping protect renewable energy workers from on-the-job injuries. The theme of the 2019 campaign is Take a Hand in Safety: Protect These Tools.

NIOSH releases international travel planner for small businesses

The 36-page travel planner is a new resource intended to help small-business owners ensure the health and safety of employees who travel internationally.

State News

California

  • Governor Newsom has signed two bills relating to workers’ comp. A.B. 1804 will require the immediate reporting of serious occupational injury, illness, or death to the Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health. A.B. 1805, modifies the definition of “serious injury or illness” by removing the 24-hour minimum time requirement for qualifying hospitalizations, excluding those for medical observation or diagnostic testing, and explicitly including the loss of an eye as a qualifying injury for the new reporting requirements. Both bills will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Legislators approved a landmark bill that requires companies like Uber and Lyft to treat contract workers as employees. The Governor is expected to sign it after it goes through the State Assembly. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have vowed to fight it.
  • Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara approved the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau’s annual regulatory filing that will, among other things, lower the threshold for experience rating.
  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) announced that the temporary total disability rate will increase 3.8% next year, not more than 6% as the agency previously announced.
  • The DWC has issued an order modifying its evidence-based treatment guidelines for work-related hip and groin disorders. Effective October 7, 2019, the changes involved two addendums to the workers’ compensation medical treatment utilization schedule and incorporate the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s most recent hip and groin disorders guidelines.
  • The DWC launched an updated free online education course for physicians treating patients in the workers’ compensation system.

Illinois

  • Beginning July 1, 2020, hotels and casinos will be required to have anti-sexual harassment policies that include, for certain workers, access to a safety button or notification device that alerts security staff under the newly created Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act.
  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation requiring freight trains operating in the state to have at least two crew members, challenging the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent effort to prevent states from regulating train crew sizes. Scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2020, S.B.24 is to be known as Public Act 101-0294.

Minnesota

  • Department of Labor and Industry has posted new workers’ compensation medical fee schedules that took effect Oct. 1. The schedules update reimbursement for ambulatory surgery centers, hospital inpatient, and outpatient services, and provide new resource-based relative values for providers.
  • The workplace fatality rate in Minnesota grew to 3.5 per 100,000 full-time workers in 2017, the highest rate in at least a decade, according to new data from the Safety Council. Almost one in three fatal workplace injuries involved driving a vehicle.

North Carolina

  • The Industrial Commission announced that the maximum for temporary and permanent total disability will go from its current level of $1,028 to $1,066, starting Jan. 1.

Pennsylvania

Tennessee

  • New rules for medical payments went into effect September 10, 2019. Not only are reimbursement rates increasing for providers and hospitals, but the conversion factor may now “float” or follow Medicare’s changes, rather than being fixed.
  • The NCCI is recommending a 9.5% decrease in loss costs for the voluntary market in 2020, a figure that’s half of what the rating organization recommended for this year.

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

Legal Corner

ADA

Employer can require reassessment of restrictions

In Booth v. Nissan North America Inc., the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that Nissan did not violate the ADA when it required an employee on its assembly line to have a doctor review his restrictions to determine if they could be adjusted to allow him to perform more tasks. The company had accommodated the job restrictions for some time and then restructured the assembly line to include more tasks. When the employee claimed this would violate his job restrictions, the company asked him to get a new assessment and the doctor cleared him to perform the tasks. An employee under a work restriction does not have an automatic right to a preferred position or to prevent having the restriction re-evaluated from time to time, based on the legitimate business needs of the employer.

FMLA

Employer can ask employee to explain misconduct while on FMLA leave

While employers can’t make an employee on FMLA leave do work or participate in on-call activities, the 3rd Circuit Court held that they can insist upon a prompt response to allegations of misconduct, including serious breaches of policy as in Reagan v. Centre LifeLink Emergency Medical Services Inc. Prior to her leave, the employee had started her own business that competed with LifeLink. When the company found out, they required her to sign a non-compete agreement to continue employment. While the employee was on FMLA leave for a non-work-related injury, her supervisor discovered several breaches of the non-compete agreement.

The general counsel sent a letter to the employee requesting explanations within 10 days for the apparent violations. The employee responded by email one day after the due date and did not address the concerns, but said she was seeking legal counsel. The company immediately fired her and she sued in federal court, claiming that LifeLink interfered with her rights under the FMLA. LifeLink filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the claim, which the district court granted.

Workers’ Compensation

Injured worker receives $630,000 in damages on disability and retaliation claim – California

In an unpublished decision, Abarca v. Citizens of Humanity LLC, the 2nd DCA upheld an award of $630,000 in damages to an injured worker on his disability discrimination and retaliation claim. When he experienced pain, he was referred to HR, but was not advised to fill out a claim form. When a doctor imposed restrictions, he was fired. He sued asserting retaliation, disability discrimination, wrongful termination, and other violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. A second doctor diagnosed him with degenerative disk disease, insomnia, anxiety, and depression and opined he was temporarily totally disabled.

Question of Social Security eligibility nixes PTD for injured worker – Florida

In SBCR Inc. v. Dos, an appellate court overturned an award of PTD for an injured worker when he turned 62. A JCC had awarded the benefits believing the employee did not meet the requirements for Social Security disability to have at least 40 quarters of coverage by age 62. The worker stated his injury prevented him from working enough, but provided no documentation of his denial. Therefore, the court found there was not enough evidence to support the JCC’s award.

Widow denied death benefits for husband’s auto accident – Massachusetts

In Yang’s Case, an appellate court upheld earlier rulings that a business owner’s death in an auto accident was not work related. The case demonstrates the complexity of intertwined businesses as the deceased owned a business in Massachusetts, which had comp coverage and one in New Hampshire that did not. Despite being a separate company in a separate state with no connection other than ownership, the company’s finances were entwined.

When the NH company failed, he closed it. He was traveling to NH to meet with a prospective buyer of the property when the accident occurred. The court agreed with earlier rulings that he was traveling to serve his personal interests.

State supreme court overturns benefits for Ex-NFL player with head trauma – Minnesota

In Noga v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club, a former defensive linesman for the Minnesota Vikings, was denied compensation for dementia arising from head trauma because the statute of limitations had passed. The ruling reversed an award of total permanent disability benefits. He stopped playing football in 1994 and was awarded comp for orthopedic injuries in 2004. At the time, the doctor identified neurological issues, including blackouts and headaches, which could be attributed to injuries incurred while playing for the Vikings.

He became legally blind and was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and filed a comp claim for the head injuries in 2015. The six-year statute of limitations had passed since both Noga and the Vikings knew of the issue in 2004, but Noga argued the team waived the statute of limitations because they acknowledged he had a neurological health issue when they treated him while playing. The supreme court disagreed.

Court of appeals revives teacher’s case for benefits for fall injuries – Missouri

In Maral Annayeva v SAB of the TSD of the City of St. Louis, an ALJ and the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission denied benefits for a teacher who fell after entering the building. The denial was based on the employee’s credibility and medical opinions based on subjective descriptions, as well as the questioning of her attorney. Although she initially described the floor as “normal,” upon questioning by her attorney she mentioned dirt, ice, dust and moisture.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded the commission’s decision, finding there was no conflicting evidence or testimony to dispute the employee’s statements about the condition of the floor. The court ruled the employee’s injury did arise out of her employment because she was required to walk the hall each day to clock in, thus, she was exposed to the inherent condition of the employer’s workplace.

Lack of English skills not sufficient reason to excuse compliance with the notice statute – New York

In Matter of Nukicic v. McLane Northeast, an appellate court found that the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) acted within its statutory powers when it found that a worker failed to provide the employer with the required notice of injury. The truck driver, who was not proficient in English, told two supervisors that he had pain in his knee and that a physician placed him “off work” for a short period. However, he never connected the pain to his work.

Heart attack after dealing with difficult customers did not arise out of an in course of employment – New York

In Issayou v Issayuou Inc, the owner of a hair salon sustained a heart attack minutes after dealing with difficult customers. The WCB found the employer’s medical expert, who concluded the condition was advanced, triple vessel, obstructive coronary artery disease, most credible. The appellate court agreed and also noted that the level of stress faced by the salon owner was no greater than that experienced by other similar workers.

Paralysis from car accident not compensable – North Carolina

In Bache v. Tic-Gulf Coast, the Court of Appeals affirmed an Industrial Commission’s finding that a traveling worker was not in the course and scope of his employment when he was in a car accident that took place after he had dinner and a beer. The employee, who lived in Florida, worked for a company that had been contracted to perform construction at a power plant in Wayne County. He received an hourly rate and a per diem rate to cover duplicate living expenses.

While driving home from a restaurant after work, he was in a single car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.10. He filed for comp benefits, arguing he was a traveling employee and that state law provides that “employees whose work requires travel away from the employer’s premises are within the course of their employment continuously during such travel.”

However, an appellate court upheld earlier rulings denying benefits. He was living locally and his job was conditional on his moving to North Carolina for the two-year project. It was unlike a business trip and the travel was entirely personal.

Rare comp and tort claim net settlement of over $9 million – North Carolina

A temp employee who was assigned to work for a manufacturer as a janitor suffered severe burns over most of his body in an explosion. Initially, the temp agency was identified as the employer, but when an issue of negligence was raised, the plant argued that the worker was a joint employee of the factory and of the temp agency and it was protected by the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp.

However, the contract between the plant and the temp agency clearly stated that the temp agency was to be considered the employer. Therefore, the tort claim against the plant could proceed. Mediation and reports from expert witnesses showed the factory had violated its own safety policies and was vulnerable to a negligence claim and heavy damages. The tort claim was settled for $8 million and the workers’ comp carrier agreed to waive the subrogation lien and pay a settlement of $1.25 million.

The terms of the settlement require that the names of the factory, its insurer and the worker be kept confidential.

Bank teller’s carpal tunnel not compensable – Pennsylvania

In Elsa Olivo v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board et. al., the Commonwealth Court affirmed the ruling of an WCJ and the WCAB that a bank teller failed to prove that her work caused her carpal tunnel. She had worked as a teller for eight years and spent about 25% of the time counting money and sought total disability after being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists.

Two examining doctors opined that she was able to return to work with no restrictions and an IME found that she exaggerated her symptoms. One of the doctors noted “for something to be deemed work-related carpal tunnel it would have to be something that involves a high force, (high) torque vibration situation…bank teller not being one of them.”

Violation of restraint policy does not nix benefits – Tennessee

While a residential treatment facility argued an employee violated its policies, the Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board ruled he was entitled to benefits for an injury he sustained while trying to restrain a patient because he did not willfully violate the policy. Further, it was noted the facility failed to show they engaged in a serious enforcement of the policy.

In Tennessee Clinical School v. Johns, a relatively new employee was asked to stay beyond his shift and get a group of teenage boys up for breakfast. One boy resisted, and when a scuffle occurred, the employee attempted to restrain the boy and seriously injured his shoulder. The court found the restraint policy was not a “hard and fast rule” and permitted restraining actions if a resident posed a threat.

Psychological injuries from assault compensable – Tennessee

In Natchez Trace Youth Academy v. Tidwell, the Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s disability finding and monetary award to an employee, who was injured by a youth living at the residential treatment facility where he worked. His facial injuries required plastic surgery. Following a week’s time off, he returned to light duty with the stipulation he would not have to interact with the residents.

However, when staff did not arrive to replace him he was required to wake up the children. He began to experience anxiety and depression. Although he was released for full duty work without restrictions, it was unclear if this was just for his physical injuries. He did not contact the Academy and they considered him to have abandoned his position.

A trial court ruled he suffered an injury and developed depression and PTSD as a result of the incident and required a psychiatric evaluation before returning to work. The court awarded him nearly $100,000 in disability as well as additional unpaid temporary total disability benefits.

Two-cause rule does not apply to cases involving dissimilar disabilities – Virginia

In Virginia,when a work-related disability combines with a nonwork-related disability to prevent the employee from working, the entire total disability is the responsibility of the employer under the “two-cause” rule. In Carrington v. Aquatic Co., a long-term employee suffered from preexisting kidney disease that did not affect his ability to work. In a work-related accident, he injured his arm and received comp benefits. He was cleared to return to light duty, which he did.

Shortly thereafter, his kidney condition deteriorated such that he was unable to work and filed for TD benefits, arguing the two-cause rule should apply. He died during the appeals process which led to the state Supreme Court. It upheld lower rulings that the sole cause of his total disability, was his kidney failure that was unrelated to his employment. The key question was which injury kept him from working at all – thus rendering him totally disabled. Further, the compensable arm injury did not contribute to his kidney deterioration.

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

OSHA watch

Comments sought on possible revision to silica standard

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

New webpage on leading indicators

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

Employers reminded to submit Form 300A data

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

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

New way to track OIG recommendations

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

Recent fines and awards

California

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

Florida

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

Georgia

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

New York

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

Indiana

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

Missouri

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

Pennsylvania

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

Tennessee

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

Wisconsin

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

For additional information.

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

Update: marijuana in the workplace remains daunting for employers


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

Legislation affecting workers’ comp

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

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

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

Shift in court case decisions favors employees

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

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

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

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

CBD is everywhere and unregulated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What employers can do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal Corner

ADA 

Employee unable to wear safety shoes can be terminated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workers’ Compensation 

No liability for Six Flags in workers’ electrocution – California

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

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

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

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

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

Tort suit against subcontractor can proceed – Florida

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court provides guidance on PTSD provisions – Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure to complete application sufficient for denial – New York

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

Heart injury hours after accident compensable – North Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing denial of opioids affirmed – Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

OSHA watch

FY 2018 Enforcement summary released

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

Comments on updating Lockout/Tagout standard due August 18

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

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

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

Whistleblower website updated

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

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

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

Reminder: Hurricane preparedness and response

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

Cal/OSHA emergency wildfire smoke regulation takes effect

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

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

Recent fines and awards

California

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

Florida

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

Georgia

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

Illinois

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

Missouri

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

New York

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

North Carolina

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

Pennsylvania

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

Wisconsin

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

For additional information.

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

12 mistakes employers make when an OSHA inspector knocks unexpectedly

Even well-prepared employers can panic when an OSHA inspector arrives unexpectedly at the door. Why are they here and are we really prepared?

While the chances of an inspection are small (there are about 8,000,000 workplaces and OSHA and its State Plans average about 73,000 annually), advance notice is rare. In fact, Compliance Safety & Health Officers (CSHO) are prohibited by law from providing employers with advanced notice of pending inspections, with limited exceptions (see p. 3-3 of field operations manual).

Employers who are ill-prepared for an inspection and make bad decisions during an inspection face unwelcome and costly fines. Even well-prepared employers find it difficult to escape an inspection without a citation – there is a 75% chance that at least one violation will be found.

Here are 12 mistakes commonly made by employers:

  1. Refuse to let OSHA enter the worksite. While most inspections are surprises, many experts and former inspectors advise against requiring a warrant. This is likely to bring enhanced scrutiny and create an adversarial tone. A cooperative attitude is important; however, this is a good time to negotiate the limit and scope of the inspection.
  2. Fail to consider the personality of the employee designated to meet with and accompany the inspector. While it’s critical the employee be knowledgeable and intimately familiar with the operations and safety policies of the business, personality and attitude play a major role. Someone who is defensive, arrogant, or a know-it-all is likely to irritate the CSHO. The inspector’s report includes a place to note lack of cooperation. And don’t designate someone who loves to talk and tell how wonderful the company is. It’s going to fall on deaf ears and they probably will volunteer too much information. Best to designate someone who is polite, professional, can stay focused, and who is confident and willing to ask questions.
  3. Don’t have a backup for the designated employee. Inspectors will wait a “reasonable” amount of time – usually a half hour to an hour. While that might be a good opportunity to correct some small hazards and tidy up housekeeping, delaying the inspection will be noted on the form and it’s unlikely anything you do in that time is going to make a significant difference.
  4. Fail to limit the scope of the inspection. This is perhaps most important. Employers have a right to know the purpose of the inspection and to have a “reasonable inspection” at a “reasonable time.” Employers should insist on an opening conference when the CSHO explains the reason for the inspection and the employer can negotiate the scope. It’s also an opportunity to ask questions and to try to establish ground rules about how the inspection will proceed, including interviews, collection of documents, and the physical access to the facility.

    Some inspections, such as those under the Site-Specific Targeting Enforcement Program, can be wall-to-wall but most unprogrammed inspections can be limited. If the inspection was prompted by an employee complaint, the employer has a right to see the complaint and limit the inspection to related areas. If the CSHO is there to investigate an incident, take the most direct route to the site of the incident. Minimize exposure to the rest of the facility. Everything inspectors see is fair game for citations, such a missing handrails, poor housekeeping, improper signage, fire extinguishers, etc. If an officer tries to do a wall-to-wall inspection when there is a specific reason for the inspection, the employer should push back.

  5. Don’t know the criteria for emphasis program or compliance directive inspections. If there is a programmed inspection under an emphasis program or compliance directive, an employer can refuse, if they know they don’t fit the criteria.
  6. Don’t replicate the photos, videos, and notes the inspector makes. It’s important to escort the CSHO at all times and to mirror the actions of the inspector during the walkthrough. Take the same photos, videos, notes, measurements, sampling etc. so you have a clear record of what they captured. OSHA has a six-month statute of limitations to issue citations.
  7. Admit to violations. There may be violations pointed out during a walk through. For example, if an inspector points out an unguarded machine, say you will address it, but don’t admit the violation or try to go into a lengthy explanation of why it is not guarded.
  8. Don’t insist that document requests be in writing. At the opening conference, it’s best to agree that document requests, except OSHA Recordkeeping forms, be made in writing (it can be handwritten) so that there is no confusion over what documents are being requested and so that the employer is not cited for failure to produce a document it did not believe was requested. It is important to remember that the employer has no duty to produce certain documents (e.g., post-accident investigations, insurance audits, consultant reports, employee personnel information) if a regulation does not require such production. Any documents produced can be utilized to issue citations. If you don’t have the document, say so. Don’t rush to produce a new document.

    While not a comprehensive list, long-time OSHA employee and Area Director John Newquist recently published the “Scary 13” – documents employers can’t produce during an inspection – in The National Safety Council’s June Safety Health magazine.

  9. Don’t protect their trade secrets and business confidential information from disclosure to third parties. This is an employer’s right, but it is critical to keep a record and identify the documents as confidential.
  10. Don’t sit in on management interviews. A supervisor’s comments are imputed to the employer and, for this reason, employers have the right to and should be present and participate in interviews of management, regardless of whether the manager wants the representative there. That right does not exist with non-management employees, but it’s important for employees to know their rights about interviews and that they will not suffer adverse employment actions. While it’s important to be careful not to coerce, intimidate, or influence, employers can prepare employees for interviews. Also, the employer can request that “on floor” interviews be limited to five-minutes on production and processes. Employers should attempt to schedule more extensive interviews about training, background, etc. that should take place in a conference room with a table and chairs, but no white boards or documents present.
  11. Consider only the cost of the penalty. Employers have the critical right to contest OSHA’s citations, but some employers want to move on quickly, and consider only the monetary amount when deciding whether to contest, particularly when the cost is low. A recent webinar, Prepare for and Manage an OSHA Inspection by the Conn Maciel Carey law group, notes that there are several goals an employer should consider before accepting a citation, as well as strategies to reduce the impact. Accepting a citation can open the door to future, more costly repeat violations ($132,598), impact civil wrongful death or personal injury actions, affect bidding, harm customer and employee relationships, increase possibilities of being placed in the Severe Violators Enforcement Program, and affect insurance costs and coverage.
  12. Don’t immediately correct hazards, when possible. The closing conference usually takes place one to six weeks after the inspection. This is a good time to demonstrate cooperation by showing that hazards identified during the inspection have been corrected or abated.

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

Insights from OSHA’s recently released enforcement summary

While many anticipated a relaxing of OSHA’s enforcement actions under the Trump administration, the recently released enforcement summary tells a different story. There were 32,023 federal inspections in FY 2018, a number that has remained relatively stable over the past three fiscal years. The continued aggressive inspection strategies under the Trump administration has confounded many. There’s been a record number of $100,000+ citations, higher penalties, continuing increase in willful and repeat citations, as well as worker safety criminal prosecutions; yet, the number of inspectors has declined raising concerns of safety advocates. Also, the figures are for federal inspections. OSHA only covers about 50% of employers-state plans handle enforcement in the private sector in 22 states. State plans must be as effective as federal OSHA, but some states, such as California, have adopted stricter standards.

The enforcement summary provides valuable insight into what triggers an inspection. Over 56% of the inspections were unprogrammed inspections. These include employee complaints, injuries/fatalities, follow up inspections, and referrals. In FY 2018 (Oct. 1, 2017 – Sept. 30, 2018), OSHA conducted 941 fatality/catastrophe investigations, the highest number of such investigations in more than a decade and a 12.4% increase from 2017.

Employee complaints triggered 41% (7,489) of the unprogrammed inspections and over 23% of all inspections. Under the OSHA Act, every employee has the right to complain to OSHA and request an inspection, if they feel there is a violation of a health and safety standard. OSHA does not have the resources to conduct an inspection for every complaint, but evaluates each complaint to determine how it can be handled best – an off-site investigation or an on-site inspection. For an on-site inspection, at least one of eight criteria must be met.

Referrals prompted 6,463, about 36% of unprogrammed inspections and 20% of all inspections. Theses encompass all subtypes of referrals such as those received from compliance safety and health officers, safety and health agencies, other city/county/state/federal governments, media, and employer-reported.

A programmed inspection occurs when the inspection is scheduled because of OSHA selection criteria, such as emphasis programs or compliance directives. They tend to focus on the industries and operations where known hazards exist (e.g., combustible dusts, chemical processing, ship-breaking, falls in construction are some examples), including those that fall under an OSHA emphasis program, and accounted for 44% of the inspections.

In October, the agency launched a Site-Specific Targeting program using data from 2016 Form 300A to target non-construction workplaces with 20 or more employees. While workplaces with high DART rates and those that did not submit the required data are OSHA’s primary enforcement focus, there is also a random sample of low injury rate establishments on the inspection list for quality control purposes. What’s important to know is that these inspections are comprehensive – they are wall-to-wall.

Employer takeaway: While the data provides clues as to the situations that will trigger an inspection, all employers should recognize an inspection can be random and be prepared. If there’s been a fatality or catastrophic injury at a worksite, a legitimate employee complaint, a referral, or a previous inspection with citation, an inspection is likely.

In addition, those industries subject to local (LEP) or national emphasis programs (NEP) and worksites with high DART rates are more vulnerable. It’s important to know the criteria for LEP’s and NEP’s. If OSHA shows up for an inspection at a workplace under one of these programs when the company doesn’t fit the criteria, the employer has a right to refuse the inspection.

Employers should be cognizant of the high number of inspections prompted by employee complaints. Managers who are dismissive of safety concerns or hostile toward those who raise them expose the company to costly consequences. Those who foster a strong safety culture and encourage feedback are less likely to receive complaints or be cited by OSHA.

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