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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Staffing agencies, host employers and safety

Many people in Oklahoma work for staffing agencies that facilitate temporary employment gigs for them. A staffing agency may send a temporary worker to a location for one day, several days or several weeks depending on the host employer's needs. While these people are on the job, the staffing agency and the host employer both share a responsibility to protect their health and safety.

In mid-October, the National Safety Council and the American Staffing Association published a fictional case study to help educate staffing agencies and host employers about their safety obligations. The case study looked at a fictional situation where a temporary worker was sent to an indoor work site to use welding equipment that emitted harmful fumes.

OSHA updating rules on falling hazards in the workplace

An OSHA ruling more than 25 years in the making has cleared the final hurdles towards implementation. Workers in Oklahoma and around the country may soon find their workplace safety protections against falling more robust than ever before.

Guard rails and other physical barriers are the primary forms of fall prevention in the workplace. OSHA reflects this in its rule, but there is now additional emphasis on personal fall prevention systems. This is meant to provide the flexibility for the employer to choose between the most appropriate systems while still providing adequate workplace protection for all employees.

Workers' compensation benefits decline to historic low

According to a study, workers' compensation benefits have fallen to the lowest level since 1980 around the country. This may be due to changes in the laws in Oklahoma to limit access to workers' compensation when workers are injured. It might also be attributed to fewer people being injured at work or their returning to work much faster.

Workers' compensation benefits fell to $0.91 cents for every $100 in payroll between 2010 and 2014. During that same time period, part of the cause is that as the economy emerges from the recession, more people have returned to work and have been injure on the job.

Preventing combustible dust explosions

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a fact sheet to help reduce combustible dust explosions at manufacturing plants in Oklahoma and nationwide. These explosions have the potential to occur at any plant that contains dust particles, including dust particles that aren't normally considered flammable.

According to OSHA, the risk of explosions increases when fine dust particles become airborne. Coal, charcoal, metals, dyes, cellulose, spices, bar soap and even sugar have all been known to explode under the right conditions. For example, an accumulation of finely divided sugar exploded at a Georgia sugar plant in 2008, killing 14 people. In another case, one worker was killed and five others were injured when grain dust exploded at a farm feed mill in Georgia.

OSHA report regarding Oklahoma workplace injuries

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released its findings on the severe injury reporting process the agency put in place effective Jan. 1, 2015. Under this system, employers are required to notify OSHA of work-related hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye within 24 hours of the event taking place.

Based on data submitted to OSHA, there were over 7,600 hospitalizations and more than 2,600 amputations in 2015. This data only includes information from states that are federal OSHA states, and it does not include reports from businesses in states with their own safety and health programs.

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.

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