What can employees do about dangerous work conditions?

A Cleveland-area manufacturer was recently hit with nearly $90,000 in proposed penalties after being cited for a variety of dangerous work conditions. Fifteen serious violations, one repeat violation and one other-than-serious violation were issued following inspections earlier this year. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration cited fall hazards, slippery work surfaces, lack of proper machine guarding and electrical safety hazards, among other violations.Dangerous Work Conditions

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 4,800 fatal work-related injuries occurred in 2014. Nearly 3 million nonfatal injuries or illnesses were reported in private industry workplaces throughout the same year. Employers are required by OSHA to eliminate known dangers in their facilities, provide employees with proper protective equipment and teach workers about hazards they may encounter.

Dangerous work conditions commonly investigated by OSHA include:

Fall Hazards

Falls from elevated platforms and work stations or into holes in facility floors are among the most common causes of death and serious injury in the workplace. Employers are required to use guard rails, toe-boards and any other means necessary to prevent workers from suffering these injuries.

Eye & Face Hazards

According to OSHA, thousands of employees are blinded each year by preventable workplace injuries. These incidents are often caused by chemical, environmental and mechanical hazards that could have been addressed with proper eye and face protection. Related expenses, such as worker compensation and medical bills, total around $300 million each year.

Respiratory Hazards

OSHA Respiratory Protection Standards require approximately 5 million employees to wear respirators in their workplace. Dust, smoke and vapors are among the threats to the respiratory health of these workers. Hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses could be prevented if all employers and employees followed OSHA’s guidelines.

How do I file a complaint or request an inspection of my workplace?

If you believe there are serious health or safety hazards in your workplace, or feel your employer is not following OSHA standards to prevent dangerous work conditions, filing a complaint could prevent injuries or even save a life. OSHA keeps all complaint information confidential, and it is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for exercising their right to a safe workplace.

Three Ways to File an OSHA Complaint

  • Download and fill out an OSHA complaint form. Fax or mail the form to your OSHA Regional or Area Office.

NOTE: Written complaints are more likely to result in onsite inspections.

If you have questions about health and safety in your workplace, email OSHA.

If you or a loved one suffered a serious workplace injury, call 1-800-ELK-OHIO for a free case review or fill out an online contact form

Key Facts About Back Injuries in the Workplace

Human backBack injuries are common in many types of work environments and can happen to anyone, at any time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than one million workers suffer from back injuries each and every year. Preventing back injuries is considered to be one of the greatest workplace challenges employers and employees face. An employment attorney is trained to help workers who have hurt themselves on the job, including back injuries. Here are some facts about this common work-related health problem:

  • Back injuries account for approximately one out of every five workplace illness or injury claims.
  • Back injuries are especially common in those who handle materials as part of their occupation. Lifting, carrying, and lowering these materials are all to blame. Those in the healthcare field are also prone to back problems, as a result of consistently being on their feet throughout the day.
  • An estimated 4 out of 5 reported injuries are to the lower back.
  • Three out of four reported injuries are directly related to lifting.
  • Ergonomic chairs and tools are designed to help workers maintain a good posture and prevent workplace injuries. Some experts claim that one-third of compensable back injuries could be prevented through the regular use of these items.
  • Workers who experience a back injury and are unable to return to the workplace, either for a short- or long-term period, may be eligible for disability compensation. By hiring an employment attorney, he or she can be sure to receive all compensation that is due.

If you experience an injury at work, it is important to report it right away — even if you don’t think the injury was serious. Failure to report a work related injury now can result in serious future consequences. To learn more about workplace injuries, contact an experienced employment attorney.

OSHA: Is Your Boss Keeping You Safe?

SafetyThe Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) was enacted by Congress in 1970. It governs workplace safety in both the private sector and the United States federal government. The Act’s main goal is to ensure that employers maintain a safe working environment for their employees. A personal injury attorney can help you file an OSHA claim if you are injured in a workplace accident or exposed to unsafe working conditions.

One of the most important parts of OSHA is the general duty clause. This clause imposes three duties upon employers:

  1. Maintain conditions and/or utilize practices that are reasonably necessary to protect employees on the job.
  2. Be familiar with the safety standards applicable to their business establishments.
  3. Regulate and promote employee use of the appropriate safety equipment.

If you think your employer has breached one of these 3 duties, and you were injured on the job, you should schedule a consultation with an injury attorney.

OSHA also created the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which ensures that employers nationwide comply with the provisions set forth in OSHA. This involves creating and enacting workplace safety regulations, inspecting workplaces and employers to ensure that they comply with those regulations, and imposing sanctions on employers who violate OSHA provisions.

An average of 13 Americans are killed on the job every single day of the year. In addition, tens of thousands die every year from workplace disease and nearly 4 million workers each year are seriously injured on the job. A personal injury attorney can represent employees who have been injured or become ill while working. The process generally involves filing a claim through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and resolving that claim through settlement negotiations or a trial.

Whistleblower Claims

Employees who report violations of various workplace safety laws are protected from employer retaliation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Persons filing whistleblower claims, usually receive about 15-25 percent of any recovered damages, but that amount may be higher or lower depending on specific circumstances.

The statute of limitations on such claims can be as little as 30 days. Therefore, in order to preserve your claim, it is important to contact a qualified attorney and file a claim with OSHA as soon as possible.

That Was Close! – Near-Miss Incident Reporting

How many times have you marveled how lucky it was to avoid a close call while on the job? While narrowly escaping a workplace accident may just seem like a fortunate break, it’s actually an important opportunity. Taking the time to report a near-miss incident right now can prevent serious injuries in the future.

tree trimmerThe Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) defines near misses as “incidents where no property was damaged and no personal injury sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage and/or injury easily could have occurred.” Near misses also may be referred to as close calls, near accidents, accident precursors, injury-free events and, or near collisions.

Reporting unsafe acts and conditions allow problems to be identified and corrected before an injury occurs. Behaviors or conditions that can cause a near-miss incident:

  • Failure to maintain or repair equipment
  • Removal of machine guards
  • Failure to keep walkways free of slip, trip or fall hazards
  • Inadequate training or personal protective equipment
  • Not following procedures or poor procedure enforcement 

According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, for every 15 near-miss incidents, there will be one injury. So, why do many near-accidents go unreported? Employees may resist reporting close calls for a number of reasons, including:

Did you know?

In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 154 fatal work injuries in Ohio. Of those, 52 resulted from transportation incidents, 35 from contact with objects and equipment, and 32 from falls, slips, and trips. Together these three major categories accounted for more than three-quarters of all workplace fatalities.

  • Fear of being blamed for mistakes
  • They don’t want to create more work
  • Nobody cares/Reporting won’t change anything
  • They don’t want to be labeled as a troublemaker
  • Peer pressure not to report
  • Long, complicated forms to complete 

Employers can encourage workers to participate in near miss reporting by creating non-punitive policies that reward employees who take the time to report. The process should be clear and simple, with all new employees receiving training as part of their orientation.

Remember, reporting a near-miss incident can help prevent serious injuries. The life you save by speaking up just might be your own.

 

Source: The value of near-miss reporting” by Joe Thatcher, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, 2004.

 

‘Move Over Law’ Expanded to Protect Workers

New law protects workers.Governor John Kasich signed a bill into law on December 19 to protect Ohio road crews. Introduced by Senator Tom Patton (R-Strongsville), Senate Bill 137 updates the current “Move Over Law” to include highway construction vehicles.

All motorists are now required to slow down and, if possible, move to an adjacent lane when approaching construction, maintenance and public utilities commission vehicles that are parked on the roadside with flashing, oscillating or rotating lights.

The law previously required motorists to slow down or move over only when approaching police and other emergency vehicles.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, since 2008, more than 600 collisions occurred between the travelling public and ODOT vehicles and equipment.

A cornerstone of ODOT’s mission is the safety of all who drive on or work on Ohio’s roads. The expanded Move Over Law is a critical step to improving the safety of our workers, who risk their lives and well-being every day to care for the excellent transportation system the citizens of Ohio have come to expect.
– Jerry Wray, ODOT Director

Although the bill took effect immediately, there will be a 90-day grace period during which violators will receive warnings rather than citations. After March 19, 2014, drivers can be cited with a minor misdemeanor. Penalties will be increased if the driver has had multiple infractions in the last year.

The bill amends sections 4511.01, 4511.04, 4511.213, and 4513.17 of the Ohio Revised Code.
To see a complete copy of the legislation, click here.

Move Over Law (as amended)

Sec. 4511.01(QQQ) “Highway maintenance vehicle” means a vehicle used in snow and ice removal or road surface maintenance, including a snow plow, traffic line striper, road sweeper, mowing machine, asphalt distributing vehicle, or other such vehicle designed for use in specific highway maintenance activities.”

Sec. 4511.213 – Approaching stationary public safety vehicle displaying emergency light.

(A) The driver of a motor vehicle, upon approaching a stationary public safety vehicle, an emergency vehicle, or a road service vehicle, vehicle used by the public utilities commission to conduct motor vehicle inspections in accordance with sections 4923.04 and 4923.06 of the Revised Code, or a highway maintenance vehicle that is displaying the appropriate visual signals by means of flashing, oscillating, or rotating lights, as prescribed in section 4513.17 of the Revised Code, shall do either of the following:

(1) If the driver of the motor vehicle is traveling on a highway that consists of at least two lanes that carry traffic in the same direction of travel as that of the driver’s motor vehicle, the driver shall proceed with due caution and, if possible and with due regard to the road, weather, and traffic conditions, shall change lanes into a lane that is not adjacent to that of the stationary public safety vehicle, an emergency vehicle, or a road service vehicle, vehicle used by the public utilities commission to conduct motor vehicle inspections in accordance with sections 4923.04 and 4923.06 of the Revised Code, or a highway maintenance vehicle.

(2) If the driver is not traveling on a highway of a type described in division (A)(1) of this section, or if the driver is traveling on a highway of that type but it is not possible to change lanes or if to do so would be unsafe, the driver shall proceed with due caution, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle, and maintain a safe speed for the road, weather, and traffic conditions.

(B) This section does not relieve the driver of a public safety vehicle, an emergency vehicle, or a road service vehicle, vehicle used by the public utilities commission to conduct motor vehicle inspections in accordance with sections 4923.04 and 4923.06 of the Revised Code, or a highway maintenance vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons and property upon the highway.

(C)  No person shall fail to drive a motor vehicle in compliance with division (A)(1) or (2) of this section when so required by division (A) of this section.

(D)       (1) Except as otherwise provided in this division, whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to one predicate motor vehicle or traffic offense, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of two or more predicate motor vehicle or traffic offenses, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree.

(2) Notwithstanding section 2929.28 of the Revised Code, upon a finding that a person operated a motor vehicle in violation of division (C) of this section, the court, in addition to all other penalties provided by law, shall impose a fine of two times the usual amount imposed for the violation.

(2013 Ohio SB 137, 1)

 

Source:

‘Move over’ law aims to boost safety of Ohio road crewsAP/Columbus Dispatch, December 30, 2013.

Ohio factory cited for safety violations

Republic Steel has been cited for 2 dozen safety violations and is facing federal penalties in excess of $1.1 million. Fifteen willful violations were discovered at the company’s steel manufacturing plant in Canton, Ohio.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspected the plant after receiving a formal complaint from the United Steelworks Union which alleged inadequate fall protection and other unsafe practices. OSHA determined that two workers had been seriously injured in due to falls in the past year.

Slag_runoff_Republic_SteelOSHA cited Republic Steel for several safety issues, including: tripping hazards and lack of protective equipment. The company also failed to provide fall protection for employees working at substantial heights – where agency officials found damaged and missing guardrails. In some instances, workers were exposed to falls above the slag pit, which is filled with molten metal. More than half of the violations were deemed “willful,” meaning they were committed with intentional, knowing, or voluntary disregard for the law or indifference to employee safety.

This isn’t Republic’s first brush with OSHA. Just last year, the company reached a settlement at its Lorain, Ohio plant, promising to fix similar safety violations.

“Republic Steel has a long history of OSHA violations and disregard for employee safety and health,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health. He called it “unacceptable” that the company has not taken more effective steps to improve safety at the Canton plant, particularly in light of the 2012 settlement.”

Republic Steel has been in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program since 2011 for committing willful violations, repeat violations, and failing to fix hazards after being cited. As a corporate entity, Republic Steel has been inspected 79 times resulting in the issuance of six willful, 15 repeat, 145 serious and 70 other-than-serious final order citations.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. For more information, contact our experienced workplace injury attorneys by calling 1-800-ELK-OHIO (1-800-355-6446) or complete our free, no-obligation online form.

 

Source:

Republic Steel Faces $1.1M in Fines for Violations” by Sam Hananel (AP), ABC News, August 13, 2013.

Workplace Injuries Should Be Reported

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article stating there has been a 31 percent drop in workplace injury claims over the last decade. While that number appears encouraging, there is more to the story. In that same time period, there has also been a 50 percent rise in employer retaliation claims and some government officials worry that many injuries are not being reported. If you have been injured on the job, it is important to report the incident to your employer and seek medical attention right away.

Employer Retaliation

photo_1115_20060217Many employees feel pressure to keep workplace injuries quiet. Some workers worry that if they report an injury, their employer may withhold a raise or promotion. Others feel they may be fired. You should know that federal law bars employers from retaliating against employees for reporting injuries. Additionally, Ohio statutes provide:

No employer shall discharge, demote, reassign, or take any punitive action against any employee because the employee filed a claim or instituted, pursued or testified in any proceedings under the workers’ compensation act for an injury or occupational disease which occurred in the course of and arising out of his employment with that employer. (Ohio Revised Code 4123.90)

If you feel that your employer mistreated you because you reported a workplace injury, you may have a claim. It is crucial to handle employer retaliation and other whistleblower claims promptly; you may only have 30 days to file a claim.

Underreporting

Even if an employee does report getting hurt at work, sometimes the severity of the injury is not fully documented. A 2009 study from the Government Accountability Office reported that more than a third of health practitioners were asked by management to provide workers with treatment that wouldn’t require a formal report. If you do get injured at work, don’t try to “play it down.” Be honest with your healthcare provider about any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Peer Pressure

Contrary to popular belief, programs for maintaining safety records don’t always improve safety. When an employer institutes a safety policy that provides bonuses or prizes to groups, it can create peer pressure not to report workplace injuries.

For more information, contact our experienced workplace injury attorneys by calling 1-800-ELK-OHIO (1-800-355-6446) or complete our free, no-obligation online form.

 

Source: Workplace Injuries Drop, but Claims of Employer Retaliation Rise” by James R. Hagerty, The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2013.

Extreme Heat on the Job

As the mercury rises, my heart goes out to workers laboring in the hot sun. They repair our roads, cut our lawns, harvest our food, and in some cases, literally provide the roof over our heads. Many of these jobs have obvious dangers, but in the summer months, workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are also at risk of heat-related injuries.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), “Employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from extreme heat, and should provide training to workers on heat-related illness and their symptoms.”

Heat Index

Both air temperature and humidity affect how hot a person working outside feels. The “heat index” combines both the temperature and humidity level into a single number. For example, if the temperature is 88°F and there is a humidity level of 60%, it would feel like 95°F. The higher the heat index, the hotter the weather feels because less sweat evaporates. This hinders the body’s natural cooling system and increases a worker’s risk of developing heat illness.heat_index-sm

Take Heat-related Illnesses Seriously

Heat illnesses range from simple heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention and can result in death. When heat stroke doesn’t kill immediately, it can shut down major body organs causing acute heart, liver, kidney and muscle damage, nervous system problems, and blood disorders. Workers suffering from heat exhaustion are less alert and can get confused, putting them at greater risk for accidents.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

 Heat Exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Nausea
  • Clammy, moist skin
  • Pale or flushed complexion
  • Muscle cramps
  • Slightly elevated body temperature
  • Fast and shallow breathing
Heat Stroke:   (Call 911)

  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache
  • High body temperature (>103°F)
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • Slurred speech

 

 

Heat-related illnesses affect everyone differently, and not all symptoms may be present. Environmental factors such as working in direct sun or if there is no breeze can increase body temperature. Other risk factors include doing strenuous work, wearing bulky protective clothing, and wearing or using heavy equipment. New workers who have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions are especially susceptible to heat illness.

Water, Rest, Shade

OSHA gives this advice for beating extreme heat:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty
  • Rest in the shade to cool down
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing
  • Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers
  • Gradually increase workload for new workers to build a tolerance for working in the heat
  • Report any symptoms to a supervisor immediately