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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

OSHA loses inspectors under Trump administration

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency responsible for protecting workers, has lost a total of 40 inspectors during President Trump's first year in office. By early October of 2017, the number of OSHA inspectors fell below 1,000. This should be of concern to residents of Oklahoma who work in high-risk industries like construction and manufacturing as the decrease in inspectors has affected regional OSHA offices as well.

The decrease is part of the president's effort to shrink the federal workforce through attrition; over 16,000 federal government employees have been let go with organizations like the IRA and EPA being affected the most. While OSHA has since recruited two dozen new officials to carry out its work, the concern is that OSHA remains understaffed. Offices in the southeast region, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida, lost the most inspectors. Mississippi, which has the highest worker fatality rate in the nation, had 26 percent of its inspectors cut.

Workplace injuries up, with transportation incidents topping list

Workplace fatalities are continuing to increase, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately one out of every four fatal injuries on the job are due to transportation incidents, the top cause of workplace incidents. Employees in Oklahoma and throughout the United States are also at an increased risk of experiencing injuries due to workplace violence and exposure to harmful substances, although injuries attributed to fires and explosions are on the decline.

The BLS report on workplace injuries also notes a sharp increase in overdoses occurring while individuals are on the job. The number of fatalities related to overdoses is also on the rise, reflecting a national trend of issues with drug abuse and misuse. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has stated a commitment to address the rising opiate epidemic in the workplace with education and outreach efforts.

Court tosses industry challenge to silica rule

Oklahoma employees who have to work around silica should be aware of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It rejected the challenges from industry groups regarding the silica rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The court also required the agency to explain why medical surveillance provisions were left out of the silica rule.

The rule was issued in March 2016 and was created to provide protection for the greater than 2 million workers in the United States who are exposed to crystalline silica. It lowers the acceptable exposure limit during an eight-hour work period for multiple industries to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The new limit represents one-fifth of the previous limit for the construction industry and one-half of the former limit for other industries.

Deaths on the job rise for third year straight in 2016

Residents of Oklahoma may be concerned about the danger of workplace injuries, particularly after the release of a report about fatalities related to on-the-job accidents in 2016. During the year, workplace fatalities rose for the third consecutive year in a row, reaching a total of 5,190. This is the highest number of workplace deaths in the United States since 2008, when 5,214 workers were killed on the job. During 2016, workers lost their lives at a rate of 14 per day to workplace injuries and accidents.

Several significant factors led to the increase in workplace injuries and fatalities in 2016. The single most common cause of on-the-job deaths during the year was transportation incidents like auto accidents. Transportation injuries took the lives of 2,083 workers during the year. The causes of the workplace injuries and deaths varied, but slip-and-fall deaths increased by 6 percent and took the lives of 849 workers.

Workplace fatalities increase, according to BLS census

In Oklahoma and across the United States, workplace injuries are a common occurrence. According to a 2016 census by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace accidents led to 5,190 fatalities, a 7 percent increase from 2015 and the highest number since 2008. This amounts to 14 workers being killed every day.

The BLS also stated that the transportation industry had more fatalities than any other industry: One in four worker deaths in 2016 were caused by transportation incidents. Cases of workers being assaulted and killed by other workers also increased by 23 percent. A third major cause of fatalities was linked to the current opioid crisis; the number of worker overdoses increased by 32 percent.

Delays in the injury and accident reporting rules

Many Oklahomans are injured each year while they are working. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal agency tasked with enforcing safety regulations. The agency's new injury and illness reporting requirements, which would make companies submit reports of injuries and illnesses electronically to the agency, have been delayed.

OSHA passed reporting rules that were effective on Jan. 1, 2017. Since that time, some employers have filed lawsuits against OSHA because of the reporting requirements. In June, OSHA issued a proposed extension of the reporting requirement deadline from July 1 to Dec. 1, 2017. The agency has also indicated that it was in the process of determining whether or not the rule should be revised.

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.

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