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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Improving air quality can protect Oklahoma lab workers

Laboratories around the country employ more than 550,000 people according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and these workers face a wide variety of airborne hazards ranging from toxic fumes to deadly pathogens. Exposure to these dangers can cause a variety of debilitating health problems and may even be life-threatening, but the perils of this type of work can be greatly reduced by sophisticated air monitoring and ventilation systems.

Monitoring the air in laboratories is crucial because even inert gases like nitrogen and argon can displace oxygen in sealed areas and asphyxiate workers. Other airborne dangers such as reactive, poisonous, flammable and biological substances pose more immediate threats to worker safety. Research facilities have traditionally relied on variable air volume boxes to manage air flow and regulate air pressure, but Venturi valves have become more common for highly specialized applications.

Construction falls are common reasons for benefits claims

Oklahoma workers may be interested in the results of a Nationwide analysis of workers' compensation claims from businesses involved in construction activities. It looked at more than 10,000 claims over a period of five years and found that over 30 percent were related to falls from heights. A fall from an elevated surface tends to cause more significant injuries compared to other types of accidents. These injuries could keep a person out of work for a longer period of time.

They could also occur to multiple parts of the body, and that could result in a worker who is disabled either temporarily or permanently. Both construction workers and managers on a job site can take steps to prevent accidents from occurring. For instance, managers should develop safety plans, inspect equipment and provide ongoing training to employees. Workers should ask for scaffolds instead of ladders when working on elevated surfaces.

Certain workers more likely to die in job-related accidents

Many Oklahoma workers face serious dangers at their job sites. In fact, worker deaths around the country are on the rise, according to a report from the AFL-CIO. In 2016, 5,190 people were killed on the job, compared to 4,836 the year before.

The report found that transportation accidents were the top cause of worker fatalities in 2016, with 2,083. Those deaths included people who were driving motor vehicles at worksites and people who died in traffic accidents while traveling for their employer. The second most common cause of worker fatalities was workplace violence, with 866. The most hazardous industries for workers were agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, with a fatality rate of 23.3 per 100,000 workers. Meanwhile, the construction industry reported the highest number of worker fatalities, with 991.

Certain types of fatal construction accidents on the rise

Construction company managers and workers in Oklahoma recognize the hazardous nature of their work. Numerous safety regulations aim to prevent injuries and deaths, but caught-in, caught-between and struck-by accidents continue to claim lives. Research from the Center for Construction Research and Training has determined that deaths arising from these types of accidents are increasing at a faster rate than construction fatalities overall.

Between 2011 and 2015, construction-related deaths went up by 26 percent, but caught-in and caught-between fatal accidents rose by 33 percent. The majority of the fatalities resulted from people caught under falling materials. Older workers and young workers under age 20 experienced the greatest likelihood of dying on the job, especially ironworkers.

Grain storage and worker safety

People who work in or near grain storage areas in Oklahoma are at risk of being suffocated. A campaign sponsored in part by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is intended to help grain storage workers avoid suffocation accidents.

While commercial grain companies are required to adhere to safety regulations and rules issued by OSHA, private farms do not. However, workers in both circumstances can be injured by stored grain. The most critical factor in ensuring the safety of people who work around grain storage facilities is training.

Radiologists often suffer from work-related back ailments

According to the American College of Radiology, lower back pain affects one-third of U.S. radiology professionals. In many cases, technology is to blame for such ailments. Oklahoma radiologists often have to sit for long periods of time in front of a computer.

The authors of a review published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology in March say that modern medical imaging technology could be to blame for the problem of musculoskeletal injuries among radiology professionals. Picture archiving and communication systems have largely replaced the older film-based systems. Though there are many advantages to PACS, their use means that radiologists spent a lot of time sitting at computers.

Pinch points: a major workplace hazard

Employers in Oklahoma, especially those in the construction and manufacturing industry, will want to know what pinch points are. Various OSHA state offices have been warning about these because they're a frequent source of workplace injuries. Pinch points are areas in machinery where workers, or parts of their body, are liable to get stuck. They could be areas between two moving parts, between a stationary part and a moving part, or between a material and part of a machine.

Machines that pose numerous pinch points include metal-forming machines, powered rollers, conveyors, power transmission equipment, and assembling machines. Those in the printing industry may be endangered by printing presses while those in the plastic manufacturing industry could be caught in injection molding machinery. Robotic machines as well as common machines like powered doors, covers and hatches also present a high risk.

Trench and excavation accidents high priority at OSHA

Excavating, particularly trench digging, presents significant risks to workers in Oklahoma. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has charted a significant rise in trench collapse fatalities. In 2011, trench collapses killed two workers every month, and 2016 saw fatalities double compared to the previous five years. The agency intends to make excavation safety a priority in 2018 and encourages excavating companies to participate in the safety stand down planned for this summer by the National Utility Contractors Association.

During a stand down, employers, supervisors and workers set aside time to address workplace hazards and safety procedures. Trench safety strategies include digging slopes or graduated benches to limit the possibility of soil falling on workers. Shoring and protective trench boxes also shield workers. In many excavation situations, safety decisions must be made by professional engineers or other people who are knowledgeable about mitigating risks.

Eye safety: a major concern among workers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20,000 eye injuries occur every year in Oklahoma and the rest of the U.S. Among serious injuries, such as those leading to permanent eye damage and blindness, 40 percent arise in the construction, manufacturing, and mining industries. OSHA estimates that eye injuries cost companies a total of $300 million every year in workers' compensation benefits, lost productivity, and medical expenses.

The problem isn't with a lack of safety regulations but with a lack of proper training. Many workers think they can treat eye injuries themselves rather than get immediate medical help. Many workers neglect to wear the proper eyewear, even though it has been shown that eyewear prevents 90 percent of serious injuries. There is plenty of eye gear available that complies with OSHA standards and has the approval of the American National Standards Institute.

OSHA to extend alliance with USITT and IATSE

Oklahoma residents who work in the entertainment industry can expect continued support from OSHA. The workplace safety agency has renewed agreements with both the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). While USITT is a professional group, IATSE is a labor union.

The alliance, which is slotted to continue for the next five years, will address a variety of issues from falls to ergonomics. Specifically, those who participate in the program can learn about how to use portable power safely and create fall prevention systems. The groups will also share information with OSHA as well as participate in initiatives such as the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction. Through its partnerships with groups such as these, OSHA could help to reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities related to workplace hazards.

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