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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Chemicals and their impact on exposed skin

As many as 13 million workers in Oklahoma and throughout the country may be exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. Although many chemical safety programs have focused on preventing chemicals from being inhaled, less has been done about preventing absorption through the skin. If a chemical does make contact with a worker's skin, he or she could be at risk for developing conditions such as infections or skin cancer.

Allergic or irritant contact dermatitis are other conditions that a worker may develop as a result of chemical absorption by the skin. Those who work in painting, cleaning or food service may be among those most at risk of developing such conditions. Workers in the health care or agriculture industries may also be at a higher risk. There may be many ways in which a person may develop a skin condition on the job.

Top safety violations in the workplace

Workers in Oklahoma should be aware of the most frequently occurring workplace safety violations that may result in injury. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, violations related to fall protection-general requirements topped of the list for the sixth consecutive year. The list details the top 10 most common workplace safety violations that occurred from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017.

There were over 6,000 citations related to fall protection-general requirements that were issued during the 2017 fiscal year for the federal government. Violations related to communications regarding hazards, scaffolding, breathing protection and tagout and lockout requirements finished out the top five.

OSHA upholds BBP standards with enforcement action

In the waste collection and recycling industry, there's always the risk of bloodborne pathogen exposure due to the presence of needles and other sharps, which are often contaminated with blood. Residents of Oklahoma who work in this industry should know that OSHA has been doing a lot to uphold its standards regarding BBP determination and control.

A settlement agreement with TOMRA NY Recycling LLC has led to several corporate-wide changes. Every employee, including every temporary and leased employee, who manually sorts recyclable bottles and cans must now undergo annual training in OSHA's BBP standards; be provided with puncture-resistant gloves, tongs, or other engineering controls; and be given a series of hepatitis B vaccinations.

How worker classification could impact worker safety

The gig economy has become a common phrase for Oklahoma workers and others throughout the country. While there is no set definition, it generally refers to work that is paid per job as opposed to per a given amount of time. In most cases, those who do gig work are classified as independent contractors, which may pose health and safety issues.

For instance, independent contractors are usually not covered by workers' compensation insurance. Instead, they must provide their own benefits, and they may also have to provide their own health and other forms of insurance. Those who perform gig jobs may be paid less, which matters because there is thought to be a link between higher wages and better worker safety.

How floor mats create a safer work environment

Business owners in Oklahoma may be wondering how they can prevent accidents in the workplace. After all, in 2016, employers in the U.S. paid out nearly $62 billion on injury claims for employees missing six or more days of work. Private industry employers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, reported nearly 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries in the same year.

Since slip and fall accidents are so common, business owners will want to concentrate on what's on their floors. Matting is especially important for a safe work environment, and there are reasons why. First, mats placed in dry and wet areas alike reduce the risk for slips by providing added traction. Second, mats made from chemical- and grease-resistant rubber can drain water, oil, and other slippery substances whenever there are spills.

Ruling may lead to expansion of machine definition

Oklahomans who work in industrial settings are likely aware of the lockout procedures that are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Under these standards, machines that might release energy that could injure workers are supposed to have their energy sources turned off before the workers can work on them. The lockout standards also mandate that employers block off dangerous machinery from workers so that they do not accidentally come into contact with the machines while they are working.

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit expanded the definition of a machine under the lockout rules. The court considered whether two different machines that work together should be considered to be one unit for purposes of turning off the power to both of them.

Proper protection from arc flashes

Oklahoma employees who perform electrical work can be at risk for arc flash injures. Every year, 2,000 people around the country are treated in hospitals due to injuries sustained by arc flashes. However, electrical workers can minimize their risk to the workplace hazard by wearing the proper personal protective equipment.

The clothing used for arc flash protection has undergone a transformation with the last few years. The fabric that is being used can be worn more comfortably by workers, and the synthetic blends gives them more protection. In order for the personal protective equipment for electrical work to be effective, it has to be resistant to flames. It has to be self-extinguishable on the first day a worker puts it on and remain so after extended use. The equipment also has to be able to endure at least 25 industrial wash cycles.

Overcoming blind spots in the workplace

Oklahoma residents who work at loading docks or deal with heavy equipment are at risk from collisions caused by blind spots. The lack of visibility in one's workplace can result in accidents that cause significant physical injuries and even death.

Even if there are safety measures in place, accidents can still occur because the precautions are not infallible. For example, it is easy for people who work inside or outside a busy and noisy warehouse to ignore the warning sounds emitted by machines like forklifts. Employees can become so used to the sounds that they fail to pay them any attention.

Aging workforce creates new challenges in workplace safety

Oklahomans who have just turned 65 may not be as inclined to retire as their counterparts from previous generations. Financial pressure or the desire to work has prompted people to stay on the job through their 60s and even 70s. According to the Pew Research Center, 18.8 percent of people age 65 and above held full or part-time jobs in 2016. The physical effects of aging and different communication styles across generations have created challenges for workplace safety managers and trainers.

A research scientist who studies workplace health and safety said managers should speak directly with older workers to get feedback about any challenges that they might be experiencing. Physical jobs require particular attention, and safety managers should shape duties to fit the current abilities of older employees.

Workplace safety violations

Oklahoma construction workers may be interested to know that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified falls as the leading contributing factor in accidental fatalities on construction sites. In 2015, out of the 937 workplace fatalities that were reported around the country, 350 of them were attributed to falling. In 2017, construction falls are first on OSHA's list of top safety violations.

To improve safety in the workplace, OSHA has begun assessing large fines for violations like repeat offenses. In one example, the agency fined a roofing contractor in Florida in excess of $1.5 million after it was repeatedly cited for fall-protection violations. The company was also placed into OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which means it will be marked for additional inspections and monitoring.

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