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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Sleep apnea rule spurs a reaction

Truck drivers and railroad workers in Oklahoma and across the country may soon be required to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can produce frequent interruption in breathing while an individual is sleeping. The respiratory condition affects 28 percent of drivers of commercial motor vehicles and can contribute to distraction and diminished functionality when an individual is awake. Such effects can make the resultant impaired driving a safety issue, placing others on the road at risk.

The proposal, which is backed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration, generated a substantial reaction from the public. Commenters questioned whether it was appropriate for the agencies to monitor the diagnosis and treatment of the respiratory condition for transportation workers. Many objected to requiring the commercial vehicle drivers or the carriers to pay for the exams and treatments, which can be extremely costly.

An unsafe work culture can put employees in danger

Oklahoma workers face risks on the job whether they work in offices, factories or at construction sites. To keep them safe, employers need to evaluate the physical risks at their work sites. They should also consider whether the work culture is making a work site less safe and determine whether employees are following all of the relevant safety guidelines.

The physical risks at a work site are the hazards that are for the most part easy to see. Workers at a construction site might be at risk of falling or being struck by falling objects, and factory employees might be at risk of sustaining repetitive motion injuries or coming into contact with toxic substances. An office is not a risk-free environment, and office workers can be seriously injured in slip-and-fall accidents if their work area is cluttered.

Companies' valuation linked to workplace injuries

It's probably no surprise to Oklahoma workers who are involved in on-the-job accidents that injuries are going to cost both them and their employers money. Workers across the United States are involved in 3.5 million accidents every year - accidents that cost $250 billion annually.

It may surprise both groups to know that a company's valuation can be affected by the injuries its employees suffer. If injuries involving company workers occur, the lower company's cash flow stock valuation tends to drop; conversely, the company's cash flow stock valuation tends to increase when the number of injuries goes down. This conclusion was reached by University of Texas - Dallas researchers who extrapolated data on worker injuries from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Researchers said their study is one of the first to recognize this correlation.

Workplace safety should be emphasized before accidents happen

According to workplace safety professionals, there is a disturbing trend in many industries; oftentimes, companies place little emphasis on their safety program until the unexpected happens. Experts caution that companies in Oklahoma and throughout the U.S. should make workplace safety a high priority, especially among new employees, and identify any shortcomings in their safety program prior to an accident occurring.

While this advice seems almost obvious, a surprising number of businesses have only rudimentary safety training in place as employers may feel that time spent training cuts into productivity and their bottom line. This may be a fatal error, safety professionals warn, as a workplace accident, no matter the severity, can harm a business in myriad ways. An on-the-job accident may lead to decreased employee morale and productivity as well as increased insurance premiums and the possibility of costly lawsuits and fines or citations from OSHA.

Workplace computer time can cause eye problems

Many Oklahoma employees are required to use a computer at work. While computers are a convenient tool, there are health hazards associated with spending too much time in front of one. Carpal tunnel syndrome is perhaps the best-known computer-related health hazard, but individuals may also develop "computer vision syndrome" as a result of staring at a screen for too long.

Monitor glare and flickering can trigger eye problems, as can the constant change in focus caused by staring at a physical document and then looking back at a screen. Over time, a worker can develop dry eyes and blurred vision. Other possible symptoms include neck, shoulder and upper back pain. This pain is sometimes triggered when a worker continuously leans forward to get a better look at his or her screen.

With Zika here, employers must keep mosquitos away

Oklahoma residents may have heard the news about the Zika virus spreading to the continental United States. In July, four people in the Miami area contracted Zika after being bitten by local mosquitoes. Before the Florida cases, it was only found in South America and the Caribbean, and Americans were only believed to be at risk for Zika if they traveled to those areas.

Now that Zika mosquitoes are in the U.S., employers must be vigilant about protecting their employees from mosquito bites. Though symptoms of Zika are usually mild in adults, the virus can cause severe birth defects in unborn children when a woman is infected before or during a pregnancy. Employers in the southeastern United States should be especially careful about mosquitoes in the workplace.

The financial cost of workplace accidents

Work injuries in Oklahoma cost employees and their families in lost working hours and medical bills. Employers also lose money from the lost productivity that can result from workplace accidents. According to data that was gathered in 2013 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers lost almost $62 billion due to serious workplace accidents.

Some workplace accidents are particularly expensive for employers and account for most of the annual cost of disabling work accidents. Over $51 billion of workplace accident costs in 2013 were the result of the top 10 most common disabling workplace injury causes. Those injury causes include falls, overexertion and repetitive motion. To prevent expensive workplace accidents, employers should make safety a core value rather than just a priority.

Indoor air quality, mold and safety in the workplace

In Oklahoma and elsewhere across the nation, employees who work in buildings that are subject to high humidity levels or dampness from water leaks or flooding may want to be aware of the health risks that could be exacerbated by poor indoor air quality or mold. According to an article published by the National Safety Council on July 24, research studies show that asthma, bronchitis, rhinosinusitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and other respiratory symptoms and infections are associated with exposure to these factors. These findings have been noted in a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health alert.

NIOSH directs a number of recommendations to managers, supervisors and building owners regarding mold and improved safety in the workplace. These suggestions include the regular inspection of their building's HVAC system and the timely repair of any problem as well as the cleaning and replacement of any building material that appears to have been compromised by the presence of water or mold. The need for establishment of an indoor environmental quality team composed of a coordinator and representatives selected from among the employees, employers and management officials who work in the building is also indicated.

Workers' compensation and the commute to work

Most Oklahoma employees are covered by their employer's workers' compensation insurance, but understanding how coverage works can be confusing. Most accidents or injuries that are job-related are covered, even if they don't happen on the work site. Injuries that happen while a person is traveling for work may be covered, but injuries on the way to work are for the most part not, due to a provision in the law called the going and coming rule.

The going and coming rule means that workers' compensation does not cover employees while they are using their own vehicle to travel to work or from work at the end of a work shift. In many instances, however, people are covered while traveling for their job. For instance, if workesr must travel from one job site to another during a work shift, they are usually covered. People who must travel as part of their job are also usually covered by workers' compensation. This type of coverage applies where people are using their own vehicle or a company vehicle. People who drive company-owned vehicles as part of their job, such as bus drivers, are also covered while performing their job.

Workers' compensation insurance in Oklahoma

Employers are generally required to purchase workers' compensation insurance that provides financial benefits to workers who are injured or become sick while on the job. Workers are covered while at their workplaces or performing their duties at another location, but coverage is not extended to those injured in automobile accidents while commuting to or from their places of employment.

In return for receiving workers' compensation benefits, injured or sick workers give up the right to file personal injury lawsuits against their employers. However, litigation may be initiated when workplace injuries occur because safety rules are not followed by the employer. For this reason, it is important that employers assess the risk of the work environment in order to implement any necessary safety measures.

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