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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

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.

Why OSHA enforcement may be best for workers

Employers in Oklahoma and elsewhere must generally abide by workplace standards set by OSHA. However, companies with a proven safety track record may have the opportunity to opt to participate in Voluntary Protection Programs. According to the former assistant secretary of OSHA, there has been no rigorous study proving that VPP is effective. In most cases, VPP participants were larger companies that had the resources to create quality safety programs.

The use of VPP may not have much of an effect when it comes to reducing workplace injuries and illnesses. For companies to take part in the program, OSHA had to conduct thorough inspections, which took time and resources away from other matters. Furthermore, a former OSHA official said that budgetary restraints made it impossible to add new companies to the program. Instead, time and money were spent on re-approving companies that were already part of VPP.

OSHA issues fact sheet on silica exposure standards

Oklahoma maritime and general industry employers should be aware that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a compliance fact sheet on standards for worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Studies have shown that crystalline silica, which is found in stone, artificial stone and sand, can cause cancer. Exposed workers can also develop a chronic lung disease known as silicosis.

OSHA's final rule for respirable crystalline silica standards went into effect in June 2016. The rule lowered the allowable exposure limit for silica to an average of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air per eight-hour shift. Maritime and general industries employers were given until June 23, 2018, to comply with most requirements. These requirements include mandatory protections for employees working around silica, training programs for employees, the assessment of work site exposures and written exposure reduction plans.

Study finds that mental health may affect work safety for women

Female workers in Oklahoma might be more likely to be injured at work if they are suffering from fatigue or mental health issues. According to a study that appeared in the "Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine," anxiety, depression and fatigue may all increase the likelihood that a woman will be injured at work. Male employees do not appear to be affected in the same way.

Nearly twice as many women who were injured on the job reported suffering from anxiety, poor sleep or similar issues prior to the injury as men; women reported at 60 percent compared to 33 percent for men. However, the study's lead author said it was unclear why this was the case with women and that further research is needed. According to her, the higher injury rate might be attributable in part to other social and cultural factors or to different stresses. She also said the study indicated the need for a more integrated approach to safety that accounted for well-being and health.

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