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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

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.

Safety survey indicates generation and communication gaps

A survey conducted by Rave Mobile Safety resulted in some statistics that may be helpful to Oklahoma employees and employers alike. The survey provides insight into how workers and companies handle workplace safety communications. Among the conclusions drawn from the survey was that Generation Z and Millennial workers were less informed regarding matters of workplace safety than were Baby Boomers. About 53 percent of Millennials who responded were unaware of their workplace's emergency plans, compared to 34 percent of respondents who were 45 or older.

Only 8 percent of Millennials said they were very likely to report a situation where a worker's safety was a concern. Almost half of the group 45 and older said they were very likely to report a situation like that. The survey included data from 530 people.

New guidelines to reduce EMS worker fatigue

Oklahoma EMS workers may be interested to learn that a new set of guidelines has been established to reduce their on-the-job fatigue levels. The guidelines were created by the National Association of State EMS Officials and the Univesity of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and they were published in the journal Prehospital Emergency Care on Jan. 11.

According to studies, EMS workers suffer from severe physical and mental fatigue during their shifts. This is made worse by limited recovery between shifts, poor sleep quality and overall lack of sleep. In fact, half of all EMS workers report that they get less than six hours of sleep each day.

Reducing work injuries in warehouses

In Oklahoma and elsewhere in the U.S., warehouses and factories tend to have higher injury rates than other workplaces. OSHA has listed 10 of the most common risk factors in warehouses; they include forklifts, electrical wiring, improper lockout/tagout procedures, poor hazard communication and floor wall openings. Fires, explosions and exposure to harmful chemicals are also frequent causes of injury.

Employers know better than anyone else about the risks in their warehouses. Doing something about these hazards will require that employees be prioritized over making profits and even meeting deadlines. Employers should first of all provide adequate training on work procedures, machinery and safe conduct in the workplace.

Remaining safe around backing vehicles

Oklahoma workers should be aware that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of job site deaths caused by backing vehicles has been constant across the country from 2012 to 2015. To remain safe at work and to avoid being injured or killed by vehicles that are traveling in reverse, there are some best practices that can be used.

When a vehicle is in use, a spotter with the right training can be on guard for pedestrians, other vehicles or workers traveling on foot. However, this can also place the spotters in danger of being struck be vehicles or other equipment that are moving in reverse.

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.

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