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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Warning signs play an important workplace safety role

It is probably safe to assume that most Oklahoma employees pay little attention to the safety signs scattered about their workplaces, but a great deal of research has been done into how best to warn them about hazardous conditions and machinery. The standards for safety signs are set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but many of the warning notices at workplaces around the country are out of step with the latest best practices.

Most of these signs provide warnings to workers using words only, and OSHA rules still reference decades-old sign standards. The latest guidelines from the American National Standards Institute recommend signs that communicate information graphically and provide workers with more details about the hazard and what they should do to protect themselves. ANSI has been publishing safety sign standards since 1941 when most workplaces relied on crude arrows to point out dangerous conditions to workers.

Alert issued by mine safety agency

Tractor-trailer truck drivers on Oklahoma job sites should be careful around power lines. After a tractor-trailer that was dumping gravel made contact with an overhead power line, leading to some damage but no injuries, the Mine Safety and Health Administration put out what is known as a "close call alert". This included a list of best practices for safety when working near an active power line.

When possible, the area near the power line should be avoided. If equipment will be operated within 10 feet of the lines, the lines should be de-energized. In the accident that occurred, the truck did not allow the 10 feet of clearance that is recommended. The best practices warned that during transport, some equipment might be higher than usual.

Union report highlights dangers workers face

Oklahoma residents may be interested to know that 150 American workers die each day from preventable work-related injuries and illnesses. This was according to a report released by the AFL-CIO. This translates to 4,836 workers who died from workplace injuries while another 50,000-60,000 died from occupational diseases. Furthermore, the number of immigrant workers who died on the job was at its highest levels in almost a decade. In 2015, 943 immigrant workers were killed, which was the most since 2007.

The union cited both negligence on behalf of corporations as well as safety laws that they considered to be weak. It also warned that the Trump administration could threaten worker safety gains made when Barack Obama was in the White House. A representative from the AFL-CIO said that the people who are impacted by possible safety rollbacks are more than numbers. Therefore, the issue of worker safety needs to be a top priority at all times.

OSHA campaigns to prevent fall fatalities in the workplace

For Oklahoma construction workers, falls are still one of the leading causes of fatalities in their occupation. Many employees and employers still fail to use proper fall protection equipment. In an effort to reduce the number of tragic incidents, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched an annual campaign to raise awareness about workplace fall hazards.

During the week-long event, employers can voluntarily take the time to hold a stand-down, during which they go over fall protection safety with their employees. In addition to talking about fall hazards, the employers can reinforce safety by discussing protection methods and reminding employees what the company's safety policies are. These campaigns also provide potential opportunities for the employees to talk about the fall hazards that they encounter while on the clock.

Tips for keeping chemical manufacturing workers safer

Employees working at chemical manufacturing plants in Oklahoma and around the country face possible threats to their safety each workday. An accident with a hazardous chemical could result in catastrophic and life-threatening injuries. There are strategies, however, that could reduce or prevent these injuries from occurring.

The common types of injuries at these plants are chemical burns, inhalation of chemicals and chemical exposure. Employees can also suffer injuries from overexertion, trips and falls and scrapes and cuts. The causes of accidents at these plants include incorrectly maintaining safety equipment, improper training, and complacency or human error. Safety equipment that is incorrectly maintained could malfunction, possibly leading to serious accidents that could put employees in harm's way. Likewise, employees who are improperly trained are more susceptible to injuries, since they may not know the right procedures regarding the operation of safety equipment as well as loading and unloading materials. Proper training can also prepare employees to know what to do in the event of an emergency. However, most accidents in chemical manufacturing plants happen because employees fail to follow their company's safety procedures or because they took shortcuts.

Mining industry sees vast improvement in safety

Oklahoma miners and their family members are likely aware of just how dangerous the industry can be. For example, it was not uncommon for there to be several hundred fatalities every single year in the 1970s. Thanks to the work of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, however, mines have become safer and the number of fatalities have been reduced.

The MSHA began operation following the implementation of the Mine Act of 1977. The goal of the administration was to prevent illnesses, injuries and deaths for those working in the mining industry while making the workplace healthier for all involved. The MSHA is responsible for inspecting every mine to ensure that it is following proper protocols under the act.

Staying safe while using stepladders at work

Regardless of their occupation, it is likely that many Oklahoma workers will be required to use a stepladder at some point, even if it is just for hanging decorations for an office party. While stepladders are seen as simple devices to use, there is still a risk of injury. In that regard, the Canadian Center for Occupation Health and Safety has offered advice to keep employees safe.

Employees should only use stepladders that appear to be in working condition. They should avoid using stepladders that have cracks or loose rivets. Stepladders that are corroded in places or that have a slippery substance on them should also be avoided. Employees are also advised to use stepladders correctly, which means they should avoid standing on the top of the stepladder. The braces should be fully open and locked.

The HNOC classification in the workplace

Oklahoma employees who work around hazardous materials might be aware that there is a type of hazard known as a "Hazard Not Otherwise Classified." This categorization is a result of changes to the Hazard Communication Standard. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration created the category to cover classes that the agency did not adopt and that were also not covered by a Globally Harmonized System hazard category.

An HNOC is intrinsically hazardous. This means that under normal conditions or in foreseeable emergency situations, the substance may create a workplace safety issue. Therefore, while water can be hazardous if it spills and causes a fall, is hot and causes a burn, or is cold and causes hypothermia, it is not normally hazardous and so would not be classified as an HNOC.

The hazards of grain storage facilities

Oklahoma has hundreds of livestock farms and ranches of all sizes, many of which have storage facilities for grain and other feed. A study that is conducted annually by Purdue University tracks the number of accidents connected to grain handling, and its report for 2016 has revealed a significant increase in fatalities over the previous year.

The study showed a total of 29 grain entrapment incidents around the country in 2016. These are defined as situations in which a worker climbs into a silo to loosen grain that has clogged or otherwise stopped flowing and then ends up being engulfed by the material. This number represented an increase of slightly more than 20 percent from the number of such incidents in 2015. A total of 18 workers were fatally entrapped in 2016 compared to 14 in the previous year. The Purdue study also found that 22 other workers died in non-entrapment grain incidents, including falls in a silo.

Workplace safety and health programs in Oklahoma

More than 4 million workers a year sustain severe occupational injuries or illnesses. While such incidents negatively impact employees and their families, companies also suffer losses in expenses and productivity. Every week, companies spend a billion dollars on workers' compensation, which is money that could be better spent growing small businesses and creating jobs.

To help make workplaces safer, OSHA has introduced a Safe and Sound Campaign and is encouraging employers to evaluate their health and safety programs. A representative from OSHA stated that when employers identify and control injury-causing hazards in their workplaces, they can focus on creating better health and safety programs while improving competitiveness and saving money.

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