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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Safety rules for trenching and excavation

The trenching and excavation guidelines established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were established to prevent worker injuries in Oklahoma and the rest of the country from two of the most hazardous construction operations. The guidelines aim to prevent the occurrence of cave-ins, which has been identified as the primary risk associated with trenching and excavation and most likely to result in a worker fatality. The regulations are also intended to prevent incidents involving mobile equipment, falls, falling loads and dangerous atmospheres.

Different types of protective systems are used to provide safety. Workers can be protected with shielding by using trench supports, such as boxes, to stop soil cave-ins. Sloping, or carving the trench wall at an angle that is slanted away from the excavation, can be implemented. Shoring can be applied through the installation of aluminum hydraulic supports to stop soil movement.

Man denied workers' compensation benefits for work injury

Many Oklahoma employees have desk jobs that require them to sit and fill out forms. While sedentary jobs may not seem hazardous, it is possible to suffer an injury while sitting at a desk. However, people who sustain an injury at their desk will only be allowed to claim workers' compensation benefits if they can prove that the injury arose out of their job duties.

A Chicago worker was denied workers' compensation benefits after he failed to prove that his work injuries arose from his job duties. The man sustained a wrist injury while reaching for a pen that he had accidentally knocked to the floor while he was filling out forms. When the man's chair slipped as he reached for the pen, he braced his fall with his hand and jammed his wrist. The man required surgery to repair his wrist injury.

Risky industries for on the job injuries

According to the Department of Labor, last year over three million workers were injured or got sick on a job in the private sector. In Oklahoma, attorneys frequently handle work-related cases including spine, back, brain, neck and leg injuries. These accidents result in lost wages due to unpaid sick leave and medical expenses. The industries where on-the-job injuries most frequently occur might be surprising.

The most common industry for on-the-job injury is animal production, which includes raising and fattening animals. Animal production takes place on farms, ranches, and feedlots, and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) record 6.6 injuries per 100 workers in 2015. Second most common is in residential care and nursing facilities. The rate of injury is 6.5 out of 100. Shockingly, that number is nearly double in government-run facilities.

Gun rights in the workplace

Approximately 2 million people are victims of workplace violence every year throughout the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the fifth leading cause of workplace fatalities is homicide, representing approximately 8 percent of the total. However, Oklahoma recognizes the right to carry firearms, and workplaces must make accommodations between providing reasonable security and allowing constitutionally-protected freedoms.

Some sort of balance between workplace safety and workplace freedom must always be maintained. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to keep the workplace free of known hazards, a term which could certainly be used to describe firearms. At the same time the state of Oklahoma recognizes and respects the right of employees to go armed about their daily business, and that includes their place of work.

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.

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