OSHA watch

NEP to reduce or eliminate worker exposure to silica revised

Effective Feb. 4, the National Emphasis Program (NEP) on respirable crystalline silica for general industry, maritime and construction to “identify and reduce or eliminate” silica-related hazards was revised.

Significant changes include:

  • Enforcement of the standards for RCS, promulgated in 2016. One standard covers general industry and maritime, and the other covers construction. Both standards set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for RCS of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). The former TWA PELs for respirable quartz silica were calculated based on silica content and were approximately equivalent to 100 µg/m3 for general industry and 250 µg/m3 for construction and shipyards (81 FR at 16294, March 25, 2016).
  • Updated list of target industries, listed by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes.
  • For inspection procedures, compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) are referred to current enforcement guidance for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standards.
  • State Plan participation in this NEP has been made mandatory.
  • Area and Regional Offices shall comply with this NEP, but they are not required to develop and implement corresponding Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs) or Regional Emphasis Programs (REPs).
  • Area Offices will conduct outreach programs three months prior to initiating NEP-related RCS inspections.
  • Area Offices are no longer required to send abatement verification to the National Office.

Low hazards industry list updated

The list of low-hazard industries used to determine whether small-business employers are exempt from programmed safety inspections has been updated. Employers in these industries that employ 10 or fewer employees are exempt from programmed safety inspections. The appropriations language contains exceptions for inspections stemming from fatalities, the hospitalizations of two or more employees, imminent danger situations, employee complaints, and health hazards, among other situations.

National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Amputation extended to manufacturing industries in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia

The NEP on amputations will target industrial and manufacturing workplaces in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia where it’s been determined that unguarded or improperly guarded machinery and equipment played a role in employee injuries. A concerted education and prevention effort will also be made to raise awareness. NEP enforcement activities will begin after March 10, 2020, and will remain in effect until the program is cancelled.

New hazard bulletin: grease traps

The new bulletin provides information on how to properly cover grease traps to prevent workers from tripping or falling into them.

Technical corrections and amendments to 27 standards

According to a final rule published in the Feb. 18 Federal Register, the corrections are to 29 CFR 1904 (recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses), 1910 (general industry), 1915 and 1918 (maritime), and 1926 (construction).

National stand-up for grain safety week

The National Stand-Up for Grain Safety Week will take place April 13-20.

New webpage to observe 50th anniversary

A new webpage marks the 50th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Visit www.osha.gov/osha50 to find 50th anniversary events.

Cal OSHA Guidance on requirements to protect health care workers from 2019 novel coronavirus

The guidance covers the safety requirements when providing care for suspected or confirmed patients of the respiratory disease or when handling pathogens in laboratory settings in California.

Cal OSHA – Employee access to employer’s Injury and Illness Prevention Plan

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (“Standards Board”) approved a rule allowing employee access to their employer’s Injury and Illness Prevention Plan within five days of a request, effective January 1, 2021.

 

Recent fines and awards

Florida

  • The U.S. District Court for the Middle District, Fort Myers Division, sentenced Stalin Rene Barahona, former owner of the now-dissolved SB Framing Services Inc. in Naples, to 30 days in prison. Barahona pleaded guilty to one count of willfully violating federal fall protection standards.

Georgia

  • Pearson Farms LLC was cited for safety violations after an employee suffered fatal injuries at the farm’s post-harvest operations facility in Fort Valley. The employee, who was performing maintenance on a conveyor system, was caught between the load on a forklift and a metal railing. The farm faces $128,004 in penalties.
  • Garick LLC, operating as Smith Garden Products, was cited for exposing employees to safety hazards at the Cumming facility. The manufacturer of specialty mulch products faces $148,867 in penalties. The inspection was conducted in accordance with the National Emphasis Program on Amputations and the Regional Emphasis Program for Powered Industrial Trucks.

Michigan

  • Dearborn Heights School District violated whistleblower statutes by unjustly disciplining, publicly discrediting, and terminating an employee who reported unsafe working conditions to federal and state agencies. The school district was ordered to reinstate the employee and pay a total of $102,905.78 in back wages, damages and other compensation.

Missouri

  • Royal Oak Enterprises was cited for exposing employees to multiple safety and health hazards at company facilities in Branson and Summersville. The charcoal manufacturer faces $339,702 in penalties.

New York

  • Nonni’s Foods LLC was cited for exposing employees to falls and other hazards at the Ferndale facility. Inspected after an employee fell and was hospitalized, inspectors discovered that the employer instructed employees to retrieve stored material by standing on the forks of a forklift that elevated them to a storage area atop a break room, which did not have guardrails. The manufacturer of premium cookies faces $221,257 in penalties.

Pennsylvania

  • Cleveland Brothers Inc., doing business as CB HYMAC, was cited for exposing workers to hexavalent chromium fumes and other safety hazards at the company’s shop in Camp Hill. The company, which provides hydraulic service and repair, machining and chroming services, was cited for one willful violation and 18 serious and two other-than-serious citations, totaling $280,874 in penalties.
  • CLF Construction Inc. and Toll Brothers Inc. were cited for exposing employees to fall hazards after a CLF employee suffered fatal injuries in a fall at a worksite in Media. Proposed penalties are $170,560 for Philadelphia-based subcontractor CLF Construction, and $74,217 for Horsham-based general contractor Toll Brothers.

For additional information.

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

Study: Safety management in the construction industry 2020

SourceDodge Data & Analytics, 2020

Findings: The report examines safety management in construction. Key findings include:

  • Jobsite workers and supervisors dominate the four factors selected by the highest percentage of contractors as essential aspects of a world-class safety program: jobsite worker involvement (84%), strong safety leadership abilities in supervisors (83%), regular safety meetings with jobsite workers and supervisors (82%) and ongoing access to safety training for supervisors and jobsite workers (77%).
  • The most popular safety policies are the site-specific ones, including creating site-specific safety and health plans and training programs for all employees and subcontractors. However, there is room for wider adoption of these measures, especially among small contractors (fewer than 20 employees).
  • While most contractors (66% or more) encourage workers to react to and report hazards onsite, far fewer ask workers for input on safety conditions (50%) or involve workers in safety planning (39%).
  • Toolbox talks remain the most effective way to communicate safety messages and provide information on tools, practices, and materials.
  • Contractors still expect to increase their use of online training in the next few years, but, surprisingly, a lower percentage reported using it than in 2017.

Takeaway: While involving jobsite worksite workers has topped the list of essential aspects of a world-class safety program since 2015, this report shows that strong safety leadership by supervisors and regular safety meetings between jobsite workers and supervisors are also essential. The study reveals more opportunities to engage jobsite workers as well as opportunities to strengthen the training of supervisors.

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

NSC report addresses how existing technologies can save lives and reduce serious injuries

Although workplace injuries are trending down, workplace fatalities are rising. While a fatality may seem like an impossibility at your workplace, 5,250 workers died on the job in 2018 – on average, more than 100 a week or more than 14 deaths every day. The worst part is that most of these deaths were preventable. Not only is a fatality a tragedy, but it also can have a long-lasting effect on the emotional health, productivity, and attitude of the workforce.

In its first Work to Zero research report, Safety Technology 2020: Mapping Technology Solutions for Reducing Serious Injuries and Fatalities in the Workplace, the National Safety Council (NSC) looks at 18 different non-roadway, hazardous situations in which workers are most likely to die and provides anywhere from five to eight potential technology solutions for each situation.

The top four hazardous situations and corresponding technologies identified in the report include:

  • Work at height: This includes deaths resulting from falling to a lower level, falling objects, and injury from the sudden arrest of a lifeline. Contributing to these risks are worker behavioral failures, leadership failure, and scaffolding/platform failure. Top technology solutions include mobile anchor points, aerial lifts and platforms, and self-retracting lines.
  • Workplace violence: This includes deaths resulting from intentional physical violence to a colleague, weapon violence, and violence due to robbery. Contributing to these risks are lack of workplace awareness, lack of training or supervision, and lack of security measures. Top technology solutions include real-time response management mobile apps, video cameras, and wearable or mobile-app based panic buttons.
  • Repair and maintenance: This includes deaths resulting from machine energization, being struck by machinery, or being entangled in machinery. Contributing to these risks are lack of training or supervision, fatigue, and machinery malfunction. Top technology solutions include machinery cutoff light curtains, power management systems, and permit to work technologies.
  • Construction and Installation: This includes falls to a lower level, control of energy, and electrocution. Contributing to these risks are leadership failure, lack of training, and lack of workplace awareness. Top technology solutions are VR and digital training, proximity sensors, and fall protection kits.

Other hazardous situations addressed in the report are logging equipment operation, tending a retail establishment, electrical work, emergency response, vehicle-pedestrian interactions, process safety operations, cleaning, loading and unloading, confined space entry, inspections, heavy equipment operation, excavation, machinery operation, and hot work.

Download report.

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

Study: Demand conditions and worker safety: evidence from price shocks in mining

SourceYale Insights

Findings: The study examines the relationship between demand and safety. While it’s often speculated that higher demand could lead to improved profits and more investment in safety, the authors found that it incentivized firms to focus on production over safety. “In economic terms, the opportunity cost of focusing on safety – that is, the potential profits lost – goes up when demand is higher. And that creates a second force counteracting the greater ability to invest in safety.”

The research is based on the mineral mining industry in the US, where accident reporting is carefully monitored and the global price reflects demand. Researchers found that a 1% increase in price led to an increase of .15% in serious injuries and mortality – evidence supporting the opportunity cost hypothesis. Records from the mine inspections provided even starker evidence that high demand leads mines to prioritize production over safety. A 1% increase in price led to a .13% increase in violations of health and safety regulations; many deemed from a negligent or willful act by the employer.

Takeaway: For years, safety and production were viewed as competitors suggesting workers and managers had to choose whether to work safely or get the job done quickly at any cost. Smart employers ingrain safety into production by treating it as an integral part of the systems and processes and this relationship is not compromised when production pressures intensify. If there’s a race to beat the clock, there are no winners – injuries and losses inevitably occur.

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

OSHA watch

Citation penalties increase for inflation

Effective January 15, the DOL increased civil penalty amounts for violations to adjust for inflation by 1.01764%. Here are the new maximum penalties:

Type of Violation Penalty Minimum Penalty Maximum
Serious $964 per violation $13,494 per violation
Other-than-Serious $0 per violation $13,494 per violation
Willful or Repeated $9,639 per violation $134,937 per violation
Posting Requirements $0 per violation $13,494 per violation
Failure to Abate N/A $13,494 per day unabated beyond the abatement date (generally limited to 30 days)

Coronavirus resource

An online resource on a new coronavirus outbreak that includes a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interim guidance, quick facts about the outbreak, and information on preventing exposures is available.

Letter of interpretation addresses headphones in workplace

Although there is no specific regulation that prohibits the use of headphones on a construction site or any other workplace, there are permissible noise exposure limits under the Hearing Protection standard and employers must protect employees subject to sound levels exceeding these limits. While the letter acknowledges that some manufacturers promote their products as “OSHA-approved” or “OSHA-compliant,” these are misleading as the agency does not register, certify, approve, or otherwise endorse commercial or private sector entities, products, or services. It further cautions that the use of headphones may produce a safety hazard by masking environmental sounds that need to be heard and it is the employer’s responsibility to protect workers from such hazards.

Earthquake safety resource

A new Earthquake Hazard Alert focuses on keeping emergency response workers safe.

Recent fines and awards

California

  • In Nolte Sheet Metal Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board, the Court of Appeals, 5th District in Fresno unanimously affirmed citations for four serious violations, although the file prepared by the Cal/OSHA office on the day of the inspection was later taken during a car burglary. The company had argued it did not consent to an inspection, the lack of the original inspection file amounted to spoliation and denied the company due process, and the violations were improperly classified as serious.

Georgia

  • In Packers Sanitation Services Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously upheld an administrative law judge’s finding that the company failed to protect its employees from dangerous machinery.

Florida

  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has found a Jacksonville-based roofing contractor, Travis Slaughter owner of Great White Construction Inc. and Florida Roofing Experts Inc, in contempt for failing to pay $2,202,049 in penalties. The court ordered the companies and Slaughter to pay the outstanding penalties of $2,202,049 plus interest and fees, and required them to certify that they had corrected the violations within 10 days of the court’s order. If the companies and Slaughter fail to comply, they face coercive sanctions, including incarceration and other relief the court deems proper.
  • In addition to the above, Florida Roofing Experts Inc. was cited for failing to protect workers from falls at two work sites in Fleming Island and one in Middleburg. Roofing Experts Inc. faces penalties totaling $1,007,717.
  • Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction, CJM Roofing Inc., based in West Palm, was cited for exposing employees to fall and other hazards at three residential worksites in Royal Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie. The contractor faces penalties totaling $291,724.
  • An employee of Shooting Gallery Range Inc. in Orlando will receive $30,000 in back pay and compensatory damages under a whistleblower settlement. The employee alleged he was fired for reporting safety concerns relating to lead exposure.

Illinois

  • Goose Lake Construction Inc. was cited after an employee suffered serious injuries when an unprotected trench collapsed, burying him up to his waist at a Glencoe, worksite. Proposed penalties are $233,377.

Massachusetts

  • National retailer, Target Corp., was cited for emergency exit access hazards at stores in Danvers and Framingham and faces a total of $227,304 in penalties.

Pennsylvania

  • Webb Contractor Corp. was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at three separate worksites in the Lehigh Valley area. Inspected after a compliance officer observed employees performing residential roofing work without protection, the roofing contractor, based in Bala Cynwyd, faces $605,371 in penalties.
  • Metarko Excavating LLC was cited for exposing employees to trenching hazards at a Cranberry Township worksite. The company faces $59,311 in penalties.
  • Philadelphia Energy Solutions was cited for serious violations of safety and health hazards related to process safety management (PSM) following a fire and subsequent explosions at the company’s Girard Point Refinery Complex in Philadelphia. The company faces $132,600 in penalties.

Wisconsin

  • Milwaukee Valve Company Inc., based in Prairie du Sac, was cited for exposing employees to lead and copper dust at rates higher than the permissible exposure levels. Proposed penalties are $171,628.

For additional information.

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

Understanding and combating medical provider fraud in Workers’ Compensation

While many employers have good antennae to identify employee claim fraud, medical provider fraud can be more difficult to detect, but packs a stronger financial punch. A recent article in the Insurance Journal, “Medical Provider Fraud: The Most Common Schemes to Watch For” reports that according to California’s Department of Industrial Relations, which has been at the forefront of fighting medical provider fraud in recent years, the most common schemes include:

Fraudulent Billing and Billing Codes. The medical provider bills for visits or services that never occurred, billing both the workers’ comp payor and the employee’s health insurance for the same services, double-billing, billing separately for claims that are normally covered by a single fee, or using an incorrect billing code to charge more.

Unnecessary Treatments. The medical provider performs unnecessary treatments, examinations or procedures to profit from them.

Illegal Kickbacks. Working with other providers and receiving undisclosed payments or other benefits for making a referral.

Soliciting. Working with runners, cappers or steerers to solicit or obtain injured workers for the medical provider.

Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment. Pharmacies providing generic drugs and billing for brand-name prescriptions, billing for medical equipment that was never dispensed, or selling used medical equipment as new to upcharge.”

The unethical providers can be part of a “claims mill” when marketers, doctors, lawyers, and medical providers work together to maximize their income. One of the most famous, Operation Spinal Cap, involved a scheme that stretched over 15 years and originated in Southern California. The scheme billed workers’ compensation insurers hundreds of millions of dollars for spinal surgeries on patients who had been referred by doctors and others who typically got illegal kickbacks of $15,000 per patient. In addition to the monetary cost, over 160 patients have filed lawsuits, many of them experiencing excruciating pain as a result of the surgery.

Lone providers can also be offenders. In some cases, billing patterns of upcoding therapeutic procedures and exercise can be subtle, but when extrapolated over hundreds of claims, can drive incremental revenue.

The good news is that many insurance companies have adopted data technologies that cut the time needed to recognize fraud. But employers still have an important role to play. The best ways to help combat medical provider fraud, as well as ensure the best outcome for your injured worker, are:

  • Partner with occupational medical providers who can diagnose and treat workers’ injuries effectively and familiarize themselves with the specific conditions of your workplace to create a practical, effective treatment plan that returns an injured employee to work quickly and safely. Educate employees on the value of working with such providers.
  • Stay focused on your Recovery-at-Work program.
  • Communicate with your injured employees to determine if they have concerns about their treatment. Encourage second opinions by qualified physicians if surgery is recommended.
  • Recognize delayed recovery problems, unusual treatments, increase in frequency of appointments, excessive billing early and report to the claims adjuster.
  • Be aware of trends. It’s a red flag if the same medical providers and law teams are working on problematic claims.
  • Report any suspicions of medical provider fraud.

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

Workplace Wellness Programs the Key to Cutting Insurance Costs

According to numerous studies, healthier employees lead to lower premiums. And if employers can make their employees healthier without cutting benefits or shifting more premium costs to their employees, is there a downside? After all, Fortune 1000 companies have been using wellness to combat rising health care costs for years.

According to a Duke University study, the cost of obesity among full-time employees is estimated to be $73.1 billion. As a result of health problems linked to obesity, lost job productivity could be more costly than medical expenditures. The report recommended that employers promote healthy foods in the workplace, encourage a culture of wellness
from the CEO on down, and provide economic and other incentives to employees who show signs of improvement. While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they have 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.

Sadly, these programs have no value if they’re not used. A study by the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace
Health Promotion Programs (WHPPs) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work
Organization Characteristics in U.S. Workers,” found that approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs and only 58 percent of those with access actually participate.

So, who’s using WHPPs and who’s not?

That depends on several factors, including the type of job and whether the employee is full time or part time.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPPs and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Employees 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 kept workers from participating, including time
constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concluded that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs and to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs in order to maximize participation.

Another factor that may be helpful in gauging participation is to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how those perks impacted productivity.

Polling among employees was surprising. It wasn’t fitness facilities nor technology-based
health tools that topped the list of why workers had job satisfaction, but air quality and natural light.

Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and well-being. Also high on the must-have list was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Not surprisingly, employees want to be able to customize their work environment, such as the temperature and natural light.

One company has taken those needs to heart by managing the acoustic levels in their employee’s space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating. Neighborhoods of workspaces were 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:

  • Make WHPPs employee-centric – Survey employees about their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program to those needs.
  • Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs – For positive results, common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on should be incorporated with the wellness
    program.
  • Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health – Studies have shown that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are usually overlooked.
  •  Personalize as much as possible – Employees love to personalize their workspace, whether it’s framed photos of their kids or Star Wars memorabilia. Along those same lines, employees expect the company to take their well-being into account in
    all aspects of work.
  • Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health – Studies have shown that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are usually overlooked.
  • Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior – Personal behaviors and habits, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. It takes take time and effort.
  • 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.
  • Monitor employee satisfaction – Attempt to measure the return on investment of WHPPs, including health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ compensation claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures, too, such as satisfaction and morale.

In addition to holding down insurance premiums, wellness programs can positively affect workers’ compensation costs, although measuring the impact takes longer because of the method of calculating the experience rating.

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

Things you should know

Funding package extends TRIA, eliminates Cadillac Tax

The federal funding package signed by President Donald Trump in late December includes a seven-year extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIA). The Cadillac tax, an excise tax on high cost employer-sponsored health plans, which was a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was permanently repealed.

Medical and indemnity payments increase with age of worker: WCRI

A recent study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found little difference in injury rates and outcomes for workers regardless of their age, with rates highest for workers aged 19 and younger, followed by workers aged 55 to 65. Younger workers are more likely to suffer from struck-by injuries or cuts and older workers more likely to suffer from falls and fractures.

The key differences are in payments per claim and lost time. Payments per claim steadily increased up to age 64, with permanent partial disability/lump sum payments averaging a little more than $10,000 per claim for younger workers, climbing to an average of nearly $25,000 for workers aged 60 to 64. Average duration of temporary disability benefits plateaued at age 45 at 24 weeks compared with nine weeks for the youngest workers.

There was a slightly more than 10% chance to have seven days of lost time at 36 months of maturity for workers aged 15 to 19 and a 31% chance for workers 65. Indemnity payments for workers aged 60 – 64 averaged $22,000 compared to under $5,000 for younger workers.

For the report.

Fatal injuries increase: BLS

Workplace fatalities increased from 5,147 in 2017 to 5,250 in 2018, but the fatal occupational injury rate held steady at 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fatalities from transportation remained the most frequent fatal occupational injury, accounting for 40% of occupational deaths. Workplace violence deaths increased 3%, including a 12% increase in suicides, and unintentional overdoses also increased. Fatalities from falls decreased 11% after reaching a 26-year high in 2017 and contact with objects and equipment fatalities declined 13%.

NCCI launches online comp court case tool

Court Case Insights,” a new resource tool from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), provides information and interpretations of court cases reported by NCCI’s legal team.

Virginia Beach mass shooting results in 450 comp claims

More than 450 city workers have filed workers’ compensation claims following a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach city offices in May that left 12 dead and six injured. Many of the claims are for mental stress.

State News

California

  • The new reporting requirements for Cal/OSHA went into effect Jan. 1. AB 1804 directs employers to immediately disclose incidents via telephone or through a new online portal. Employers may continue to send incident reports by email until the agency launches the new site.

Florida

  • The maximum weekly benefit level rises to $971, up $31.

Illinois

  • Governor signs amendments (SB 1557) to The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act to clarify workplace drug testing and other issues, including protections for an employer’s drug testing policy.
  • Legislation regulating the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in hiring practices went into effect Jan. 1.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Commission is reminding stakeholders that it has proposed a new rule, required by Senate Bill 94, that specifies how an insurer must send a complete explanation when medical bills are denied.

Massachusetts

  • new study by the Department of Health of Workers’ Compensation Data aims to help identify priorities for reducing injuries and illnesses among private workers. One finding shows that health care continues to be one of the most dangerous types of work in the state, and violence against health workers is one of the leading causes of injuries.

Missouri

  • The Department of Commerce and Insurance has recommended a 1.6% decrease in workers compensation insurance loss costs for 2020. The change is one of the smallest in the country and the smallest decrease in recent years.

New York

  • The Workers’ Compensation Board has published FAQs relating to the drug formulary.
  • The law prohibiting employers from asking applicants about their salary histories went into effect Jan. 6.

Tennessee

  • The insurance commissioner approved a 7.1% overall loss cost decrease for 2020, lower than the recommended 8.2% from NCCI. The reduction will become effective March 1, 2020.

Virginia

  • The Corporation Commission has approved an overall loss cost decrease of 10.7% for the voluntary market and an 8.4% decrease for the assigned-risk market, effective April 1.
  • The State Corporation Commission (SCC) has approved revisions to the premium levels that will lower the overall premium level for the industrial, federal, surface and underground coal mine classifications in the voluntary market and assigned risk plan. The changes become effective April 1.

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

Legal Corner

Workers’ Compensation

Privette doctrine protects film studio from personal liability suit – California

In Castro v. ABC Studios Inc., ABC contracted with the owner of a gas station to film a TV show and also hired Executive Assurance (EA) to provide security for the property. On the side of the property was a metal rolling gate weighing about 900 pounds that did not have stops, in violation of Cal OSHA. On the day of the filming, a security guard employed by EA attempted to stop the rolling gate from hitting a truck and the gate fell on her, causing serious injury.

The security guard filed suit against the landowners and ABC, asserting claims for premises liability and negligence. The Court of Appeal for the 2nd District upheld the finding of the lower court that the Privette (1993 decision in Privette v. Superior Court) doctrine applied. Subject to certain exceptions, the Privette doctrine bars employees of independent contractors from suing the hirer of the contractor for workplace injuries.

After ABC was dismissed from the action, a jury found the security guard sustained damages of $2,534,613. The jury allocated 72.5% of fault to the landowners and 27.5% of fault to EA.

Injuries incurred during employer-sponsored bowling event compensable – Florida

In Reynolds v. Anixter Power Solutions, the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the denial of benefits to an employee who was injured while bowling with co-workers during an employer-sponsored event. While the employer argued the event was an excluded “recreational activity”, the court noted that the event took place during regular work hours and had, as one of its purposes, the discussion of business goals for the upcoming year. Although employees could decline the invitation, this was insufficient to prove the event was voluntary, particularly in light of the goal stated by the employer.

Daunting burden of proof for toxic exposure nixes claim – Florida

In City of Titusville v. Taylor, an appellate court overturned the award of benefits to a city employee who had spent several months working to clear a wooded area and was diagnosed with fungal meningitis. Although a specialist presented testimony that the workplace was the “most likely” source of the fungus, the law requires that occupational causation be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In noting that the employee had failed to meet his burden of proof, the appellate court lamented “the Herculean task created by the heightened burden of proof for toxic exposure claims,” but said this was a matter for the legislature, not the courts.

Stuntman’s estate awarded $8.6 million in civil suit – Georgia

A stuntman died in July 2017 while shooting a scene for the television show, The Walking Dead, in Senoia. While AMC Networks argued that the stuntman was an employee of Stalwart Films, the family argued that he was an independent contractor and the jury agreed. Jurors found AMC Networks’ entity, TWD 8, and its production company, Stalwart Films, negligent, but said AMC Networks was not liable.

Exclusive remedy does not bar class-action suit under Biometric Information Privacy Act – Illinois

In Treadwell v. Power Solutions Int’l, an employee’s putative class action against his employer alleged the use of a fingerprint timekeeping system violated the state Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”). The employee claimed he had been injured by the employer’s interfering with his right to control his biometric data and the employer argued that claims for monetary damages under BIPA are preempted by the exclusive remedy provisions of workers’ comp.

Since the employee had shown that the employer’s actions were intentional, a federal district court found that one of the exclusion provisions of exclusive remedy was met – the injury was not accidental. Further, the court noted that the damages alleged were not the sort contemplated to be compensable under the state’s workers’ comp statute.

Award for amputation insufficient – Indiana

In Senter v. Foremost Fabricators, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed and remanded a Workers Compensation Board decision, finding that an award of $12,880 was insufficient for a worker who had to have her pinkie finger and part of her hand amputated. The court noted that the Board had read the statute too narrowly and that while she was not entitled to an award for the loss of her entire hand, the Board should have used its discretion to provide a partial award for what was amputated on her hand.

Third-party cannot offset for employer’s fault – Minnesota

In Fish v. Ramler Trucking, an employee suffered injuries while helping to load a concrete beam onto a truck being operated by an employee of another company, Ramler Trucking Inc. He received workers’ comp benefits from his employer and filed a common-law negligence claim against Ramler. A jury allocated 5% of the fault to the employee, 75% to his employer and 20% to Ramler.

Ramler argued that its liability should be limited to its 20% fault. The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled a third-party tortfeasor’s liability to an injured employee could not be reduced based on an employer’s share of the blame. An employer liable to an injured employee under the Workers’ Compensation Act and a third party liable in tort to the employee do not have common liability, whether joint or several.The benefit was limited to a credit in the amount of the workers’ compensation benefits paid to the injured employee by the employer.

High court says employer entitled to credit for amount paid in vacated settlement – Minnesota

In Block v. Exterior Remodelers Inc., an employee received a $40,000 settlement for a back injury and continuation of medical benefits. Several years later, he experienced pain related to the old injury and required further surgery. His petition to vacate the settlement was granted, but there was a question whether the employer was entitled to a credit for the $40,000 already paid.

The Supreme Court noted the settlement was done properly and an award may be set aside later if the WCCA determines that there is cause to vacate the settlement.

Authorized medical treatment still applies to out-of-state care – Nebraska

In Rogers v. Jack’s Supper Club, a worker injured her back and settled her claim, with the employer agreeing to pay for ongoing medical care. Her “Form 50” physician died and she continued treatment with the doctor’s colleague and received reimbursement. Later, when she moved to Florida the company suggested they agree to a pain management specialist, but she had already chosen one and sought reimbursement for the care she received. The company argued it was not responsible for the medical expenses since it had not approved the physician. Further, it presented evidence that she was being treated with an opioid cocktail, although this was not a factor in the legal determination. The worker argued since the designated physician had died and she moved out of state, she was free to choose her doctor.

While the compensation court approved reimbursement, the Supreme Court disagreed. A new Form 50 physician could be selected either with agreement of the employer or by bringing the matter to the attention of the compensation court.

IME testimony barred based on attempt to influence decision – New York

In Matter of Keller v. Cumberland Farms, an appellate court affirmed a decision by the state Board that precluded the admission of a medical report and testimony by an independent medical examiner (IME). The physician did not turn over to the Board a letter he received from the employee’s attorney before the medical examination and an intake form completed before the examination, which the court found to violate the law.

The worker alleged that he contracted bladder and kidney cancer from years of exposure to carcinogens while working as a diesel mechanic for the employer.

Court finds Workers’ Compensation Board’s 8-page brief limitation unreasonable – New York

In Matter of Daniels v. City of Rochester, an appellate court found that the regulation that authorizes the Workers’ Compensation Board to dismiss an application for review when a brief is longer than eight pages without an adequate explanation is unreasonable,

Proximity of termination to injury claim doesn’t mean retaliation – New York

In Matter of Peterec-Tolino v. Five Star Electric Corp., a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court affirmed a Board’s determination that an electrician was fired about one month after an injury claim for legitimate business actions. The employer had been implementing a furlough replacement program that involved laying off approximately 10 percent of its electricians and had emailed his supervisor several months before the injury suggesting he be laid off for sub-standard performance. The employee also acknowledged that prior to his injury, he was told by an employer’s representative that the employer had contacted his union looking for other qualified workers to replace him.

Surveillance nixes continuation of benefits after 18 years – Pennsylvania

In Jones v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board, a maintenance custodian for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority was seriously injured in 2001. The employer attempted to terminate benefits in 2015 but was denied. In 2018, the employer tried again, submitting surveillance showing the employee, a Jehovah’s Witness, pulling a large suitcase and setting up a display of pamphlets, as well as standing on the street corner and gesturing with his arms and hands without restriction, and other activities involving lifting heavy objects.

In light of the surveillance, the workers compensation judge rejected the employee’s physician’s testimony that his condition demanded restrictions of no lifting over 10 to 15 pounds, no overhead work, no constant turning of the neck, no repetitive use of the arms, and no more than four hours of work per day. A three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court agreed that he had fully recovered from his injuries.

Two conditions must be proved for benefits – Virginia

In Sorour v. Avalon Transp., the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s denial of a limousine driver’s claim for benefits following a mysterious, one-vehicle accident that occurred while the driver was “on the clock.” While the court noted that the driver had proven his injuries occurred in the scope of his employment, he had not proven that his injuries arose out of his employment.

At the time of the accident, the driver was driving in a company vehicle to the company’s office at the request of his manager and he hit a guardrail on the exit ramp. The driver failed to prove how the accident occurred and, therefore, he did not establish the causal connection between his injury and the conditions under which his employer required the work to be performed.

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OSHA watch

Inspections increase in FY 2019

In FY 2019, which ended September 30, 33,401 inspections were conducted. This is more inspections than in each of the previous 3 years – 32,023 in FY 2018, 32,408 in FY 2017, and 31,948 in FY 2016. The agency also provided a record 1,392,611 workers with training on safety and health requirements through its various education programs.

CIC certifications no longer accepted

Certifications issued by Sanford, Florida-based Crane Institute of America Certification LLC (CIC) for crane operators engaged in construction activities are no longer valid because the CIC is no longer considered a nationally recognized accrediting agency. Employers will not be cited for work performed by crane operators holding CIC-issued certifications obtained before Dec. 2, 2019, if those crane operators acquired the certification with the good faith belief that it met government standards. However, CIC certifications or re-certifications issued on or after Dec. 2, 2019 are not acceptable.

Minor corrections and clarifications to Walking-Working Surfaces regulations published

notice published in the Federal Register corrects minor errors and clarifies requirements in the Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment standards.

Update to NEP on amputation hazards in manufacturing

Updated guidance was issued for Compliance Safety and Health Officers conducting inspections in manufacturing facilities that could potentially have incidents involving amputations. There is a new method for targeting industries that involves using amputation reports submitted by employers as well as Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) incident and amputation rate data. The 75 NAICS codes covered under the National Emphasis Program (NEP) can be found in Appendix B of the compliance directive.

There will be a 90-day outreach program offered to employees.

Recent fines and awards

Florida

  • Garabar Inc., based in Lake Worth, was cited for exposing employees to fall and eye hazards at a worksite in Royal Palm Beach. The roofing contractor faces $64,974 in penalties. The inspection was conducted under the REP for Falls in Construction.
  • Action Roofing Services Inc., based in Pompano Beach, was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at Palm Beach Gardens and Port Saint Lucie worksites. Inspected under the REP for Falls in Construction, the roofing contractor faces $146,280 in penalties.

Georgia

  • Kittrich Corp., operating as Avenger Products LLC, was cited for exposing employees to amputation, fire, and electrical hazards at the company’s Gainesville facility. The pesticide and agricultural chemical manufacturer faces $90,801 in penalties for lockout/tagout violations, improper storage of chemicals, failure to update and give employees access to safety data sheets, and more.
  • Wright Metal Products Crates LLC, based in South Bend, Indiana, and operating as WMP Crates was cited for exposing employees to amputation, chemical and other safety hazards at a worksite in Lavonia. Inspected under the NEP on Amputations and the REP for Powered Industrial Trucks, the company faces $195,034 in penalties.
  • Mavis Southeast LLC, operating as Mavis Discount Tire, was cited for exposing employees to fall, struck-by and other hazards at the company’s distribution facility in Buford and faces $191,895 in penalties.

Massachusetts

  • United Parcel Service Inc. was cited for exposing employees to multiple hazards including exit access, fire, and electrical at the shipping and delivery facility in Vineyard Haven. The company faces $431,517 in penalties for four repeated and seven serious safety violations.

Missouri

  • Martin Davila, operating as Davila Construction, was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at job sites in Wentzville, Grover, and St. Louis. The residential roofing company faces $205,098 in proposed penalties.

New York

  • Frazer & Jones Company Inc. was cited for 33 workplace health and safety violations at the manufacturer’s Solvay iron foundry. The company faces $460,316 in penalties for multiple violations, including exposing employees to crystalline silica, iron oxide, combustible dust, falls, struck-by and caught-between hazards, unsafe work floors and walking surfaces, inadequate respiratory protection and more.
  • A whistleblower investigation found that Bouchard Transportation Company Inc., B. No. 272 Corp, a petroleum barge company based in Melville, and its officers violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA) when it retaliated against a seaman who cooperated with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Pennsylvania

  • Dana Railcare, based in Wilmington, Delaware, was cited for confined space hazards after an employee asphyxiated while servicing a rail car containing crude oil sludge in Pittston. The railcar service provider faces $551,226 in proposed penalties and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Wisconsin

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed a citation of $2,800 against Guaranteed Home Improvements LLC after a worker was seriously injured in a ladder fall for using the ladder in icy and slippery conditions and failing to secure it to prevent accidental displacement. There was, however, an issue of fact regarding the side rails of the ladder, and the second citation of $2,884 was vacated.

For additional information.

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