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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Possible developments with workers' compensation

Oklahoma employees who like to remain apprised of developments in the workers' compensation field may be interested to know of the issues they should pay attention to in 2017. The possible changes in the industry may be the result of the 2016 presidential election and the outcomes of the gubernatorial elections that will occur in 2017.

A repeal of or changes to the Affordable Care Act may impact workers' compensation. The passage of the ACA resulted in many health insurers leaving the marketplace, which in turn caused premium prices to increase and competition to decline. A worker's compensation industry expert has stated a focus should be placed on the population wellness instead of continuing to use the present sick care system.

Workplace scissor lift safety tips

Several Oklahoma companies require their employees to operate scissor lifts as part of their job. In one year, there were 20 investigated injuries and 10 fatalities resulting from preventable workplace scissor lift-related accidents around the country, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA found that employers were to blame for the majority of these workplace injuries and fatalities because they failed to adequately train their employers regarding scissor lift safety measures. It is also the duty of employers to ensure controls are in place that address positioning, stabilization and fall protection when scissor lifts are used.

Shift work and its impact on health

Many people in Oklahoma have work schedules that do not include typical nine-to-five days. Shift work, or work that is performed outside of regular working hours, usually requires them to alter their sleep schedule. Some shift workers must begin work before 6 a.m., and others must get all of their sleeping done during daylight hours.

An analysis of the effects of shift work on sleep and health was published in a peer-reviewed medical journal in late 2016. According to the authors, certain shift schedules have a more negative impact on sleep than others. People that start working before 6 a.m. usually miss out on quality sleep, and workers that sleep during the day usually only get between four and six hours of it. Researchers found that shift workers with evening schedules tended to get the best sleep.

High rate of musculoskeletal injuries in construction

Construction workers in Oklahoma and around the country are more vulnerable to injuries called work-related musculoskeletal disorders than workers in other industries according to a study that appeared in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. WMSDs are caused by overwork and overexposure to vibrations. Actions such as twisting, holding awkward positions and bending also contribute to this damage to joints, tendons, muscles and nerves.

WMSDs were down in 2014 compared to 1992 with a drop from 55,000 to 18,000. However, one researcher said that although the decrease might be attributable to continuous interventions within the industry, it could also be influenced by underreporting and a shift in OSHA's requirements for record keeping. While injuries are down, time recovering is up with days missed from work going from 8 in 1992 to 13 in 2014. The age of the worker and the number of years on the job are both factors in a higher rate of WMSDs with workers who have been in the industry more than five years who are older than 55 more vulnerable to injury. Injured workers also lose out on wages. In 2014, that total wage loss was around $46 million.

Updated beryllium exposure standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is tasked with regulating workplace standards in the United States. Oklahoma residents who work in the construction, shipyard or general industries may be interested in knowing that OSHA recently issued a final rule reducing the occupational exposure limits for beryllium. The agency claims that the rule will prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related diseases and save the lives of 94 workers each year.

Beryllium is commonly used in multiple industries, including energy and electronics. However, the lightweight metal is extremely toxic when released into the air where it can be inhaled by workers and can cause various forms of lung damage, including chronic beryllium disease. Even low levels of beryllium in the air can result in health issues. According to the rule, which was published on January 9, 2017, and will be effective 60 days after its publication, workers who are exposed to beryllium based on the agency's previous guidelines face a substantial health risk.

Suspension trauma following a fall

When Oklahoma employees are required to work at great heights, they are always at risk for falling. To prevent accidental falls, fall arrest personal protective equipment, which often include full-body harness systems, are used. While these systems can save a worker's life, they often leave users suspended, potentially leading to suspension trauma and orthostatic intolerance.

OSHA states that suspension trauma occurs when a person is immobilized while being suspended. Symptoms can vary depending on a person's health, but weakness, fainting and blood pulling in the veins are common. In worst case scenarios, the condition can even lead to death. Suspension trauma can set in within just a few minutes, and it may occur more quickly if the person is unconscious. It is recommended that employers have a plan in place to get to suspended employees as quickly as possible.

Smartphones could lower workplace repetitive injuries

Many Oklahoma residents use their smartphones to stay in touch with their friends, family members and acquaintances and browse the internet, but these devices can also be used to improve safety in the workplace. Modern smartphones contain high resolution cameras and powerful processors that can analyze video footage quickly and easily, and these features are being used to develop an application that could reduce the number of repetitive motion injuries suffered by American workers.

Conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome lead to thousands of missed workdays each year in the United States and cost American employers millions of dollars in lost productivity and increased workers' compensation premiums. However, the process for identifying activities that could cause repetitive motion injuries is far from exact and involves the subjective process of grading the risks faced by workers on a scale of one to 10. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have looked into this problem, and they feel that modern technology could do a far better job.

Safety matters for an aging workforce

While experience can come with age, Oklahoma employers must also consider the challenges of hiring elderly workers for certain types of tasks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 25 percent of the workforce will be at least 55 years of age in 2024. As people continue to work during their golden years, they certainly bring the benefit of experience to the table.

Although experience is beneficial, an older worker can be more seriously affected by a workplace injury. The time needed to heal tends to be greater for older employees, which can lead to greater costs and more lost work days. Statistics show that the average lost days of work for construction employees at or over the age of 65 is nearly twice the average for people between 45 and 54 years of age. When all industries are considered, there is a smaller difference between age groups in lost days because of injuries. However, the average time lost is still greatest in the oldest group of workers.

What employees must do when injured on the job

With only a few exceptions, employees who are hired and subsequently injured while on the job in Oklahoma are covered by the state's workers' compensation laws. Under these laws, employers are protected from certain liability lawsuits, and workers have the right to receive benefits for compensable injuries and related disabilities in turn. However, workers' compensation laws are complex, and injured employees may want to better understand what they must do following a workplace accident or diagnosis of an occupational disease in order to keep their rights intact.

Reporting a job-related injury or disease is a time-sensitive matter. If an employee has been injured in an isolated event, the worker must either report it to the employer or obtain medical treatment within 30 days. In the event that the employee has suffered injuries or the effects of an occupational disease that were caused by exposure to repeated workplace trauma, the employer must be so notified within a 90-day period of that worker's separation from employment.

Truckers miss more work days due to illness, injury

In August 2016, an Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulation went into effect that requires certain employers to submit on-the-job injury and illness information electronically. Although it generally applies to employers who have at least 250 employees, companies in specific high-risk industries that employ a minimum of 20 workers are also affected by the ruling. Residents of Oklahoma and other states across the nation may be interested in knowing that certain general and freight trucking companies fall within the group of high-risk industries that must comply with the requirements of the regulation.

The reason appears obvious when data that has been previously gathered by the agency is taken into consideration. A report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that tractor-trailer and heavy-truck drivers suffer more job-related injuries which require them to miss days at work than do workers in most other industries in this country. Statistics indicate that truck drivers fall ill more often while at work than do workers who are otherwise employed.

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