Category Archives: Worker Safety

U.S. DOL and TX Pottery Manufacturer Reach Settlement Following Worker Fatality

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Marshall Pottery, Inc., have reached a settlement agreement including a penalty of $545,160, after the death of an assistant plant manager.

On April 16, 2017, investigators determined that the manager was servicing a kiln and became trapped inside when it activated. The company was cited for six willful violations and 21 serious violations. Citations were issued following OSHA’s investigation into failures to implement confined space and lockout/tagout programs.

“This company was cited for similar violations in 2008 after another fatality at the plant,” said OSHA Area Director Basil Singh, in Dallas. “Failures to implement lockout/tagout and confined space programs are unacceptable. Employers must use all required safeguards and procedures to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies.”

The company had 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Upon receipt of the citations and penalties, the company scheduled an informal conference with the OSHA area director.  At the meeting, OSHA and the company reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to abate the violations. 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

OSHA News Release: 11/28/2017
Contact Names: 

Chauntra Rideaux

Phone Number: 
Contact Name: 

Juan Rodriguez

Phone Number: 
Release Number: 
17-1383-DAL

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.

 

Louisiana Court Holds Employer Responsible for Failing to Protect Employee From Off-Duty Threat of Violence by Coworker

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp News and comes from www.jdsupra.com.

A Louisiana appellate court has ruled an employee may sue her employer for negligence for injuries sustained on the job when the injuries resulted from a dispute that began outside of work. The case is particularly instructive for disputes that originate outside of work where one or both of the participants is a Louisiana employee.

“If an employer knows or should know of a dangerous condition or person on his premises, the employer is obligated to take reasonable steps to protect its employees.”

Background

In Carr v. Sanderson Farms, Inc., No. 2015 CA 0953 (February 17, 2016), Carr asserted a claim of negligence against her employer Sanderson Farms for injuries she sustained from an assault at work. Specifically, Carr alleged that her Sanderson Farms coworker, Webb, deliberately struck her with a pallet jack multiple times. Carr further alleged that, prior to this incident, while she and Webb were away from the workplace, Webb threatened her with bodily harm. Carr alleged that she told Sanderson Farms about the threats, to which Sanderson Farms responded that it would take no action because the threats were not made on Sanderson Farms property.

At the trial court level, Sanderson Farms filed a motion arguing that Carr’s negligence claim was barred by the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act. In general, an employee who is injured by a negligent act at work is restricted to asserting a claim for workers’ compensation and may not sue for his or her employer’s negligence under the act. The trial court agreed with Sanderson Farms and granted the employer’s motion dismissing the case. Carr appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal, the court considered whether, under these circumstances, Carr could sue Sanderson Farms for its negligence, if any, in failing to prevent Webb’s attack on Carr. The court, relying on La. R.S. 23:1031(E), explained that “although negligence claims by an employee against her employer for injuries sustained on the job are typically barred by the exclusivity provision of the workers’ compensation act, the act does not cover injuries arising out of a ‘dispute with another person or employee over matters unrelated to the injured employee’s employment.’” When an injury is explicitly excluded from the Workers’ Compensation Act, the court reasoned, the employer is not immune from a negligence suit based on that injury. The court emphasized that in Carr’s case, her claim for workers’ compensation benefits was dismissed because of the finding that her injury arose out of a “non-work related dispute.” As a result, the negligence claim could proceed against Sanderson Farms.

Next, the court considered whether “a cause of action can be stated in negligence against an employer by an employee who was the subject of an intentional act committed by a co-employee, after the employee notified the employer of threats by the co-employee made away from the workplace.” 

Click here to read the full version of this post, including additional details of the appellate court finding that Carr’s negligence claim, as now plead, was not barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Key Takeaways

The message of Carr is that a Louisiana employer is potentially liable for negligence under Louisiana law if an employee puts the employer on notice of a non-work related dispute that might spill into the workplace. Such notice might create a duty on the part of the employer to prevent harm to that employee by the intentional act of a fellow employee. Carr’s analysis extends to harm threatened by a non-employee who might come to work to harm an employee as well. The case carries a cautionary message for employers regarding domestic or romantic disputes involving Louisiana employees.

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Mukilteo, WA Company Fined $645,000+ for Exposing Roofers to Fall Hazards

The WA Department of Labor and Industries issued a press release noting that a Mukilteo, WA roofing company faces large fines for multiple safety violations that exposed workers to potential falls from more than 30 feet high and other hazards at job sites in Issaquah and Vancouver.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited America 1st Roofing & Builders Inc., for 21 safety violations in all, found during four separate inspections. In total, the company faces $645,540 in penalties.

During the inspections, L&I discovered eight violations of rules that require proper fall protection equipment and work plans to protect employees working 10 feet off the ground or more. L&I inspectors saw employees working 11 to 18 feet off the ground. Based on the company’s history and prior knowledge of the hazards and regulations, these violations were cited as “willful,” each with a penalty of $66,000.

A ninth violation was also cited as willful with the maximum legal penalty of $70,000, after one inspection found an employee working unprotected on a rooftop 32 feet off the ground.

The inspections began in August 2016, when an L&I investigator saw a worker on the roof of a three-story home under construction. America 1st has been cited for repeat-serious violations of fall protection rules at least six times in the last three years.

“Seven construction workers fell to their deaths last year in our state,” said Anne Soiza assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Falls are the leading cause of construction worker deaths and hospitalizations, and yet they’re completely preventable by using proper fall protection and following safe work practices.”

Along with the fall protection violations, America 1st was cited for unsafe ladder use; not ensuring walk-around safety inspections at the beginning of each job and weekly; not requiring hard hats when working under overhead hazards; scaffold safety; not having an accident prevention program; and for not having someone with first-aid training at the worksite.

The company has appealed, and the appeals are pending.

A serious violation exists when there’s a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or intentional disregard of a hazard or rule.

For a copy of the citation, contact Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

 

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KING5: Inside WA State’s Crane Inspections

Ryan Takeo, KING; April 26, 2017 –

As Seattle remains the nation’s crane capital, Labor & Industries described how it oversees the machines.

About two weeks ago, a crane in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood malfunctioned and almost injured workers and a passing bicyclist.

“I have seven inspectors that are statewide,” said Brian Haight, Region 8 compliance manager for The Department of Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of Washington’s Labor & Industries.

The state relies on 70 state-certified, private inspection companies.

“They have to pass a rigorous set of tests and applications to have a certain level of experience,” he said.

Those private inspectors must sign off on the cranes before assembly, after assembly on-site, and at least once a year, according to Joe Sadler of Exxel Pacific. One of the general contractor’s sites is a new Even Staybridge Hotel by IHG at the corner of Mercer Street and Fairview Avenue in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. 

Sadler is Exxel Pacific’s safety director.

“The reason we have so many rules and regulations really is typically because at some point in time someone got hurt or worse,” he said.

The turning point was a deadly 2006 crane incident. It killed a man while he was inside his Bellevue apartment next to the construction site.

“It got everyone’s attention to the fact that there weren’t a lot of regulations out there,” said Haight. He said it spurred the state legislature to add regulation to the industry.

Read the rest of the report and see video version here…

 

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Worker Memorial Day Honored WA Workers Who Died as a Result of Job-Related Injuries and Illnesses

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries hosts a Worker Memorial Day ceremony each spring to honor those who have died in the previous year from job-related injuries or illnesses. This year, fallen workers from all walks of life were remembered on April 27th during a ceremony at the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries’ (L&I) building in Tumwater. 

The state ceremony is one of many held in communities across the nation in April to remember those who died from work-related causes.

Families of the fallen workers were invited to attend the service, which included comments from speakers, a reading of the names of the workers who have died, and an outdoor portion where relatives were invited to ring a bell hanging in L&I’s Worker Memorial Garden. The names of the workers were also entered into a Worker Memorial book, displayed in the agency’s lobby. 

Eight truck drivers, five loggers, two nurses, a police officer, a fire chief and a flagger are among the 79 people who died from work-related causes who were honored at this year’s Worker Memorial Day observance. The men and women range in age from 19 to 90 and did all types of work, including retail clerk, business owner, truck driver, farmworker, chiropractor and arborist.

“Work-related deaths are devastating for the families and friends left behind. We should all be able to count on our loved ones returning home from work safely each day,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “There’s no greater legacy that we could create than preventing tragedies like these from ever being repeated.”  

Falls happen in all types of jobs, and they remain a leading cause of worker deaths. Violent crime also impacts workplaces. Eight work-related deaths last year were homicides, the highest number since 2009. Overall, recent data shows construction, trucking and agriculture continue to be among the most hazardous jobs for Washington workers. 

Workplace deaths in Washington are declining. In the early 2000s job-related deaths often numbered more than 100 annually. Still, Director Sacks said even one work-related death is too many.

The 79 workers who were remembered during the ceremony included those who died of incidents that happened in 2016, and people who passed away last year as a result of previous work-related illnesses or injuries. The ceremony also honored 12 people who died before 2016 but whose deaths were not included in previous observances.

Governor Jay Inslee took part in the ceremony, along with representatives of the Association of Washington Business, the Washington State Labor Council and the Washington Self-Insurers Association. The observance was also open to the general public.

For a complete list of those being honored, with photos and family comments for many of those honored, read more here.

Photo Credit: KUOW/JOHN RYAN  JAN 2, 2015

Republicans Just Made It Easier For Employers To Hide Workplace Injuries

Today’s post was shared by Jay Causey and comes from www.huffingtonpost.com.

They used an arcane procedural maneuver to repeal a significant safety regulation issued by the Obama administration.

WASHINGTON ― The Republican-led Congress moved to dismantle yet another corporate regulation on Wednesday, in a move that safety experts say will make it easier for employers to hide serious workplace injuries from the government.

The Senate voted 50-48 to strike down a rule issued late in Barack Obama’s presidency that requires large employers to keep an ongoing record of health and safety incidents. The Obama administration issued the rule in an effort to solidify what it considered long-standing policy at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

By doing away with the rule, Republicans are effectively cutting down the length of time that employers in dangerous industries are required to keep injury records ― from five years to just six months. Former OSHA officials say that doesn’t provide enough time to identify recurring problems with particular employers or industries.

They also say the change gives unscrupulous employers little incentive to keep an accurate log of injuries, since it will be more difficult for them to be penalized for not doing so. When employers have a track record of such injuries, it can lead to higher workers’ compensation costs and more government scrutiny.

“This will give license to employers to keep fraudulent records and to willfully violate the law with impunity,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA policy adviser now with the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers.

Read the full story here.

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NYTimes: 2 Years, 31 Dead Construction Workers. New York Can Do Better.

On Dec. 23, on the Upper East Side of New York City, yet another construction worker died. His name has not yet been released, but he was the 31st to die on the job in the city in the past two years. He was working on a nonunion work site, as were 28 of the 30 others. Fabian Para, who worked nearby, explained that “he was on the third floor, and he was wearing a harness but wasn’t hooked to a cable, and when he fell, he just went down.”

Just three weeks earlier, Wilfredo Enriques fell to his death at the old Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. Deaths 27 and 28 occurred on Nov. 22, when a steel beam fell four stories at a Queens job site, crushing George Smith and Elizandro Enriquez Ramos. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the workers’ deaths were a “tragedy” and that “we need to know, of course, right away whether it was mechanical, or was it human error? We don’t know yet.”

Actually, we do know; it is abundantly clear: We are in the midst of a public health epidemic brought on by inadequate safety regulations and public inattention. Construction-safety lapses happen because it pays for companies to run the risk of letting them happen. When the dead are largely foreign born and, in many cases, undocumented, no one much cares.

Spending in the construction industry is at a record high. And yet many contractors can’t be bothered to pay for training programs and safety measures, even those required by law, such as installing “fall protection” systems like nets and railings. The federal agency tasked with enforcing such safety protocols, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is severely understaffed. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of building permits issued in New York City jumped by more than 18 percent, but the number of OSHA inspectors for all of New York State dropped by more than 13 percent (as of 2014, there were only 71 left in the state).

Because there are so few inspectors, only a small fraction of construction sites are ever inspected. When sites are inspected, not surprisingly, OSHA finds a high level of violations. And even when sporadic inspections lead to fines for violations, the fines are too small to deter misconduct. According to records kept by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit group that lobbies for worker safety, of the city contractors that were inspected from 2009 to 2014, 73 percent had at least one “serious” OSHA violation, mostly of “fall protection” standards — precisely the violation responsible for the most deaths.

Predictably, the number of construction injuries and fatalities has soared. The Department of Buildings recorded a 250 percent increase in construction injuries from 2011 through 2015, with construction fatalities increasing each year as well.

Read the full story on NYTimes.com

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WA Workplace Deaths Fall to Near-Historic Low in 2015

Workplace deaths in Washington declined to a near-historic low in 2015, according to a new Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) report.

Last year there were 58 work-related deaths in the state — 18 fewer than in 2014. 

L&I data shows only 2011 and 2013 had fewer work-related deaths reported (53 and 54, respectively). Workplace deaths in Washington have declined by about 3.5 percent a year since 2006, when 90 were recorded.

“The decline in these numbers means more people avoided serious workplace incidents and were able to go home safe and healthy,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “We’re working closely with businesses and workers in our state to improve safety, and this trend shows we’re making progress. That’s encouraging, but there’s more to do.”

L&I workplace safety efforts include offering workshops and training throughout the state, providing free safety and health consultationsand improving outreach to Spanish-speaking workers.

There were fewer fatalities in 2015 involving motor vehicles and machines. In addition, there were no natural catastrophes like the 2014 Oso landslide, which accounted for five deaths. However, in 2015, three U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighters died when their fire engine crashed.

Falls continue to be a leading cause of work-related deaths, accounting for 25 percent (15) of the fatal incidents last year. That’s five more than the 10-year average and the highest number of fall-related deaths since 2006. One-third of fatal falls were from ladders. Even a fall from a ladder just six to ten feet high can be fatal. Six of the nine construction deaths in 2015 were fall related: two were roofers, two were carpenters, one was a plumber and one was a glass installer.

Farm workers, loggers and other workers in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector accounted for 15 of the fatalities in 2015. That’s two less than in 2014; however, there has been an average annual increase in the number of deaths in this sector since 2006.

The data comes from the just released 2015 Washington State Work-Related Fatalities Report.  The report includes information on work-related deaths in 2015 that were due to a traumatic incident that same year. It’s based on preliminary information analyzed by theFatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program. FACE is part of L&I’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program.

Washington is one of seven states funded by the national FACE research program to identify and study fatal workplace injuries. In recent years, our state has had among the lowest worker fatality rates in the country; the latest data shows that trend is continuing.

“L&I and businesses can use the information in this report to find even better ways to improve safety and health at work and prevent workplace fatalities,” said SHARP Research Director Dr. David Bonauto. “Our hope is that the report will encourage an ongoing discussion of safety and health at every worksite in our state.”

L&I has several resources on its website to help employers and workers address a wide variety of safety hazards. The agency also has safety consultants available to visit worksites for assistance with workplace hazards. Visit http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety for more information.

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NPR: Coffee Workers’ Concerns Brew Over Chemical’s Link To Lung Disease

Heard on Morning Edition, April 15, 2016.

Step into Mike Moon’s Madison, Wis., coffee roasting plant and the aroma of beans — from Brazil to Laos — immediately washes over you.

Moon says he aims to run an efficient and safe plant — and that starts the minute beans spill out of the roaster. He points to a cooling can that is “designed to draw air from the room over the beans and exhausts that air out of the facility. So it is really grabbing a lot of all of the gases coming off the coffee,” he explains.

Why are these gases so worrisome? Because they contain a chemical called diacetyl — a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process that, in large concentrations, can infiltrate the lungs and cause a severe form of lung disease.

You might remember hearing about diacetyl several years ago, when a synthetic version of the chemical, which is used to give a buttery flavor to certain snack foods, was implicated in causing severe lung problems among workers at a microwave popcorn facility.

Now it looks like that chemical could affect the coffee world as well. People at home grinding or brewing up a pot need not worry, but the chemical could pose a danger to people working in commercial coffee roasting plants.

Read the rest of the story here…

 

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