Category Archives: OSHA

Kit Case, Causey Wright's Paralegal & Media Manager

Workplace Safety De-Regulation Continues

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

The con continues.  Many American workers were conned into initially voting for Donald Trump, and that con game continues with the Trump Administration and its views on worker safety.  Campaign promises of benefitting the US worker ring hollow with each and every anti-worker de-regulation push.

Recent reports reveal the administration is removing or delaying OSHA protective regulatory standards on numerous fronts.  (Updated OSHA agenda reflects Trump administration focus on de-regulation).   The administration previously acted against improved employer recordkeeping for workplace injuries and illnesses. Now, the anti-worker protection agenda continues with the administration effectively pulling important items from the regulatory agenda.  

From the above-linked report, some of the important issues “removed” from the OSHA regulatory agenda are: Preventing Backover Injuries and Fatalities; Noise in Construction; Bloodborne Pathogens; and Combustible Dust. 

Failure to have adequate regulations–and penalties–has real world consequences.  Just look at what happened in Cambria, Wisconsin in May 2017 when a corn mill exploded and workers died from what appears to be Combustible Dust.  This was and continues to be a devastating workplace accident for a smaller town in Wisconsin.  Sadly, a Journal Sentinel story indicated:

A review of online OSHA records shows the plant was cited in January 2011 for exposing its workers to dust explosion hazards. The records state that plant filters lacked an explosion protective system.

The agency ordered the mill to correct the problem by April 2011. The records show Didion paid a $3,465 fine and the case was closed in September 2013.

Such minimal OSHA fines or penalties likely provided corresponding minimal incentives to improve safety standards or hazardous practices.  The limited incentives are bolstered by relatively toothless “employer safety violation” penalty in a Wisconsin worker’s compenstion claim, which is capped at a maximum of $15,000.  

Further “anti-regulation” pushes likely increase the lack of safety incentives for employers. Those anti-regulation efforts are alive in Wisconsin and on the federal stage–especially in the Trump agenda.

Workers should be aware that anti-regulation may equal anti-worker.   And anti-safety.

 

After the International Nutrition Building Collapse: OSHA Releases Report

The International Nutrition building.

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

I was going to write about a summary from the official OSHA news release and provide a compilation of web resources regarding the Jan. 20 International Nutrition building collapse in Omaha. This is relevant now because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quite recently found the cause of the collapse after an investigation and levied proposed fines for the tragedy that killed two, injured nine, and doubtlessly affected all the other workers at the plant and all those folks’ loved ones in the greater community.

“OSHA has proposed penalties of $120,560 and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program after its investigation into the collapse,” according to the official news release from OSHA.

The building’s collapse was because of “overloading nine storage bins on the building’s roof level,” the news release said, and the company was also placed on OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Here is one link that was more of what I was expecting from the OSHA news release:

Business Insurance website: OSHA cites Omaha feed company for fatal plant collapse 

However, the business did respond via statement to at least three local media channels, and links to those stories are below. The level of denial by the business was frustrating, and I think the Omaha World-Herald newspaper nailed the tone of the story with its headline: “International Nutrition disputes OSHA’s conclusions that overloaded rooftop bins caused collapse.”

So not only does “the company strongly disagree with OSHA’s report,” it is “saying the citations are only allegations and that company officials didn’t know of any condition that contributed to the collapse,” said the reporter for KETVOmaha7 (this quote is attributed to International Nutrition’s attorney, Pat Barrett in the World-Herald article).

The business’ statement also included this quote from the WOWT.com story: “We look forward to presenting the facts demonstrating our commitment to employee safety – both before and after the accident. … At the same time, we welcome the opportunity to work with OSHA to continue to improve employee safety.”

I thought this was telling about the company’s “commitment to employee safety” from the WOWT.com article:

“In total, OSHA has visited the facility 13 times dating back to 1974. Eight of those visits led to violations; however, it had not landed on the Severe VEP program until now. OSHA officials told WOWT 6 News that usually occurs when companies rack up violations of $100,000 or more.”

To get more in-depth information, here are links to both the company’s statement at http://www.omaha.com/international-nutrition-s-july-statement/article_0997a878-10fc-11e4-8481-0017a43b2370.html and OSHA’s Citation and Notification of Penalty report at https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/International_Nutrition_955579_Jul18_2014.pdf  

Finally, here’s a link to the actual news release again from OSHA: January structural collapse leading to 2 worker fatalities, 9 injuries at International Nutrition in Omaha caused by overloaded storage bins; OSHA cites company for 13 safety and health violations

“The company manufactures a feed supplement using multiple dry ingredients, rice hulls, solulac and limestone – the ingredients that were stored in the nine bins on the roof of the structure,” according to the KETVOmaha7 report.

The reality when it comes to workers’ compensation and lawsuits is nuanced, but the incident is stark in its details, and this information is from multiple news sources.

In 30 seconds, “close to 1 million pounds of steel, concrete, equipment and ingredients crashing through the plant” occurred, according to the World-Herald.

That 30 seconds and its aftermath is an experience that will take months and years for many to recover from. It is an experience that no worker or their loved ones should have to endure.

Fear of Reporting Safety Claims

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Workers often fear retaliation if they report a safety violation or work injury related to a violation. Concerns about being fired or other forms of retaliation by employers permeate the process of worker’s comp claims filing. Studies have indicated that retaliatory fear prompts many workers not to file either OSHA or workers’ comp claims. Workers also don’t want to be perceived as careless or complaining. In a Government Accounting Office (GAO) study of OSHA reporting, occupational health providers often reported to workers’ fear of retaliation as a reason for underreporting. Fully 2/3 of health providers “reported observing worker fear of disciplinary action for reporting an injury or illness.”

Pressure from co-workers also prompts failure to report safety violations and comp claims. Safety incentive programs (sometimes called “safety bingo” ) create incentives not to report, since non-reporting leads to a reward for a work group. If one worker reports his injury, the entire crew may pay the price. The GAO survey found this peer pressure to be a troubling factor contributing to underreporting to OSHA. (Anecdotally, I remember a worker who cut off his finger on a Friday, wrapped it in a hankie and put it in his pocket , rather than report the injury and disappoint his fellow employees looking forward to a case of beer reward for “100 consecutive safe work days”).

OSHA is currently proposing new electronic, public reporting rules for large employers.