Category Archives: Workplace Safety

Remember Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28

Posted on by

The writers of this blog spend a lot of time encouraging readers to reflect by thinking about the lives of others who are less fortunate, where each individual reader has been, and where they are headed. We often encourage advocates for workers’ rights and safety. This encouragement does sometimes come at the expense of business profits. But keeping workers safe is always the right thing to do.

Observing Workers’ Memorial Day on Monday, April 28, is one way to take the time to reflect, act as an advocate, and help workers and their loved ones. This AFL-CIO fact sheet included the thought-provoking quotation below, along with some specific points that encourage action.

“This year we will come together to call for good jobs in this country for all workers. We will seek stronger safeguards to prevent injuries and save lives. We will stand for the right of all workers to raise job safety concerns without fear of retaliation, and for the freedom to form unions and speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.”

By reflecting on the risks that all workers take and acting to promote safety, we think Workers’ Memorial Day will be even more successful. And most importantly, all of our loved ones will have safer workplaces.

There are many resources to access to find out more about Workers’ Memorial Day events near you. Today’s blog post was written a couple of weeks in advance of the events so people can plan ahead to attend.

Here are some links, along with the specific information for Nebraska and Iowa:

Iowa

Nebraska has three separate events available to the public this year. 

  • USMWF’s 5K Family Fun Run/Walk Fundraiser
    Sunday, April 27, 1:30 p.m., Registration Starts
    Holmes Lake Park, Lincoln
    via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm to sign up, learn about fees, and get more details about the event
  • Nebraska’s 3rd Annual Safety Expo
    Monday, April 28, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
    IBEW Local 265 Union Hall, 6200 S. 14th St., Lincoln
    Via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm
    The event is free, but space is limited, and registration is required by printing out or emailing this form http://www.usmwf.org/safety_expo_form.pdf As of April 9, there were still spaces available to attend.
  • 5th Annual Workers’ Memorial Day Candlelight Vigil
    Monday, Apr. 28, 7 p.m.
    Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln
    via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm This event is also free, and no registration is needed.
    According to the Lancaster County Democratic Party, via email in 2013, “representatives from State, Federal, United Support Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF), Unions, Co-workers, Employers and the community come together and honor the men and women that have been injured or killed in a preventable work related incident.”

Please see the websites below for more general details about Workers’ Memorial Day: http://www.workermemorialday.org/WMD2014.htm  

The Right to a Safe Workplace

Posted on by

Workplace SafetyUnder federal law, every employee has the right to a safe workplace. If you believe your workplace is dangerous and changes in safety policy are ignored, you can request an inspection from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Workers’ compensation, which is regulated on a state-by-state level, covers medical bills, lost wages, disability and vocational rehabilitation services for employees injured on the job. If you have any questions regarding these benefits, please contact an experienced lawyer in your area.

If you believe you work in an unsafe work area, here are some tips to be aware of to make sure your workplace is as safe as possible, and you protect yourself from significant injury:

  1.  Know the hazards in your workplace.
  2. While in a seated position, keep your shoulders in line with your hips. Use good form when lifting.
  3. Injuries occur when workers get tired. Take breaks when you’re tired.
  4. Do not skip safety procedures just because it makes the job easier or quicker. Using dangerous machinery is the one of the leading causes of work injuries.
  5. Be aware of where emergency shutoff switches are located.
  6. Report unsafe work areas.
  7. Wear proper safety equipment.

If you are injured due to an unsafe workplace, and you are unsure of the benefits that you are entitled to, contact an experienced attorney in your area.

Has Online Filing Added to OSHA Whistleblower Backlog?

Posted on by

OSHA’s recent decision to allow employees to file whistleblower cases online has led to a large increase in filings and has added more delay to claims that were already backlogged before online filing. According to OSHA investigators, this increase in filings hasn’t been met with a proportionate increase in staff. One investigator estimated it takes over 400 days for OSHA to conclude investigating claims.

The delay created by the backlog hurts investigations for many reasons. Witnesses become unavailable, and recollections of events change. Unscrupulous employers also can use the delay to hide or destroy documents and intimidate witnesses.

Of course, employees who feel they have been retaliated against oftentimes have the option of filing a state or local fair employment agency claim on the basis of retaliation. Employees might also have the option of filing for retaliatory discharge without filing a fair-employment claim, as is oftentimes the case if they are fired for filing workers’ compensation. However, this summer the U.S. Supreme Court likely made many types of retaliation cases more difficult to win with their decision in the Nasser case. The court ruled in Nasser that employees claiming retaliation cases under federal Title VII must prove that exercising their rights under Title VII was a “but for” cause of their termination.

But under whistleblower laws under OSHA – such as the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which protects interstate truckers, and Dodd-Frank, which protects workers in the financial services industry – an employee must only show that their report of illegal conduct was a contributing factor to their termination.

Employees with a retaliation case should consult with an experienced employment attorney to determine the best forum for any wrongful-termination case.

Harvest Time Reminds of Need for Grain Handling Safety

Posted on by

The grain harvest is still going strong in many portions of the Great Plains, but farmers and agricultural workers may be at that point where they just want to get it done and take shortcuts. However, taking shortcuts can often lead to bigger safety problems for these ag workers.

Although folks who are in the field and transporting grain to elevators are much more visible right now, safety issues with grain elevators go on throughout the year. So for people who live or work around grain elevators, which would be pretty much everyone in many small Nebraska and Iowa towns, please be aware of the dangers that grain handling can present, including explosions from grain dust, falls, or suffocation, among many of the other hazards out there.

One of the area television stations, 10-11 Central Nebraska, recently featured a special report on “Nebraska Grain Industry Safety” titled “OSHA, Grain Industry, and Families Work to End Injuries and Deaths.” 

That effort got us thinking about compiling a list of links and previous blog posts that we have run in regards to both agriculture and also grain handling as resources.

Here are a couple of general links, and then below that are links to past blog posts from the firm that talk about either workers’ compensation for ag workers or grain-handling issues.

OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Grain Handling

Facebook Community: Grain Mill Accidents

OSHA Looks at Challenge of Nebraska Grain Elevators’ Safety

Learn & Live: Grain industry hazards lead to deaths, injuries each year; US Labor Department’s OSHA working with Nebraska grain associations to promote awareness of grain industry hazards

Employer Pleads Guilty for Grain Elevator Death

Temporary Employees Cannot Be Excluded From Workers’ Compensation

The 11 Most Life-Threatening Jobs on the Planet

What Nebraskans In Farming Industries Should Know About Workers’ Comp

Please continue to be safe this harvest and avoid dangerous shortcuts! Because all loved ones deserve to have their workers come home to them.

Safety Begins at Home: Riddell All-American Sports Cited for Serious Safety Violations by OSHA

Posted on by

Riddell-The Official Helmet of the NFL

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law in New Jersey.

August and September mean more than back-to-school for many high schools and colleagues in Nebraska and Iowa. This also means the fall sports season and the start of high-risk and high-reward football, too. As more knowledge is gathered about the risks of concussion and injuries to student athletes, there is also more awareness and people working hard to lessen those risks and keep players safer.

In fact, according to a previous blog post, Nebraska – A Rare Example Of How To Treat Student Athletes Better, Nebraska actually has a system akin to workers’ compensation that is meant to protect student athletes in college who get hurt or die.

“Since 1984, Nebraska law has provided additional protection for college athletes. Our schools offer a rare exception among college athletics programs by offering students a form of workers’ compensation.

This difference is because in 1984 the Nebraska Legislature enacted a law (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 85-106.05), which mandated that the University of Nebraska establish an insurance program to provide coverage to student athletes for personal injury or death while participating in university- organized games or practice in an intercollegiate athletic event.

This law covers students in ways similar to workers’ compensation, providing medical coverage and some monetary benefit to athletes who become disabled while participating in an official collegiate game or a practice.”

Essentially, State Sen. Ernie Chambers worked hard to advocate for students, and it looks like, according to Mr. Gelman, the Riddell sports equipment company could definitely learn from our state’s protections. Although businesses should uphold safety standards as a best practice, it is reassuring that OSHA helps protect workers, often retroactively, but sometimes proactively, serving as a referee in the also high-risk and high-reward game of business.

Recently there have been many discussions and lawsuits about NFL player safety arising out of serious brain concussions from football. In a ironic turn, a company who manufactures football safety gear has itself been cited for serious safety violations at its own manufacturing facilities. The apple certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Riddell All-American Sports Co. with eight alleged serious violations following an investigation that began in August 2012 from a complaint for exposing workers to multiple safety and health violations at its Alamo Downs Parkway facility in San Antonio. Proposed penalties total $44,000.

The serious violations include failing to ensure electrical equipment was free from recognized hazards, provide adequate machine guarding while operating industrial sewing machines, provide a fall protection program to prevent fall hazards from the basket of a powered industrial truck and implement a respiratory program. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

“It is the employer’s responsibility to assess the hazards in the workplace and provide a safe and healthful environment for its workers,” said Kelly Knighton, OSHA’s area director in San Antonio. “In this case, it is fortunate that no one was hurt.”

Elyria, Ohio-based Riddell, which employs about 25 workers at the San Antonio site, paints helmets for various sports, such as football and hockey. The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s San Antonio office or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s San Antonio office at 210-472-5040.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

“Opting Out” of Worker’s Compensation Hurts Workers and Employers (Part 2)

Posted on by

Today’s post comes from guest author Tom Domer, from The Domer Law Firm in Wisconsin. It is a follow-up to a post last week. There is a disturbing trend among states to essentially gut workers’ compensation systems and laws by being “business friendly” and then calling that practice variations of “alternative worker’s compensation programs.” I always thought businesses were more profitable and successful when their employees worked in a safe environment and were taken care of if they happened to get injured on the job. And the reality is that in the race for a bigger profit, the injured workers pay in human capital. The wisely written “cautionary note to employers” below is the workers’ consolation prize, apparently.

Last week we explained Wisconsin’s rich history of protecting injured workers through its mandatory workers’ compensation system. This week we’ll look at what is happening in Texas and Oklahoma, where it is not mandatory for employers.

Alternative worker’s compensation programs( like that of Texas’—and now Oklahoma— non-subscriber / “Opt Out” scheme) have the potential to significantly reduce workplace safety. Since experience rating is a fundamental component of worker’s compensation insurance systems, the comp system provides economic incentives to employers through reduced insurance costs to companies with reduced injury rates and safe workplaces.  Texas’ “opt out” option  means that an employer can choose to be self insured or become a non-subscriber and opt out of worker’s compensation insurance entirely. Those employers opting out of worker’s compensation systems are not experience rated and there is no economic incentive to reduce workplace injuries and ensure safe work environments for their employees.

Most recently on April 17, 2013 a fertilizer plant exploded in Texas, killing 15 and injuring approximately 200 people. EMS workers, firefighters, and other first responders were among the casualties.  The West Fertilizer Company was approved to have no more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate in the plant, but instead, 270 tons were reported to be on site. West Fertilizer failed to inform the Department of Homeland Security of the amount of fertilizer it had. Texas had as well the worst recorded industrial accident in America in 1947 when 3,200 tons of ammonium nitrate resulted in almost 600 deaths and 3,500 injuries.

Texas has the worst work-related fatality rate in the nation.

Texas has the worst work-related fatality rate in the nation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 433 reported fatalities occurred in 2011 alone in Texas with the highest (4.79 per 100,000 workers) for the last ten years. (Oklahoma is in line to follow).

Oklahoma’s worker’s compensation measure was signed into law May 5 and it drastically changes how Oklahomans are compensated for on the job injuries. Republican Governor Mary Fallin has tried to change the worker’s compensation system for over 20 years in State politics.  She indicated the bill would reduce costs for businesses. The law changes worker’s compensation system from a judicial to an administrative one, allowing businesses to opt out of the worker’s compensation systems as long as they provide “equivalent” benefits to injured workers. Opponents of the law indicate that it is unfair to injured workers because it will reduce their benefits. The implementation of “equivalent” benefits, and what kind of injuries are covered or uncovered by those who “opt out” of the system is yet to be determined.

Cautionary note to employers: since those employers that “opt out” of worker’s compensation are no longer allowed the benefit of the exclusive remedy provision of worker’s compensation, workers who are not covered by worker’s compensation can sue their employers. For example, in a recent Colorado case where an undocumented worker (who by Statute in Colorado was not covered under worker’s compensation) received over a $1 million verdict against the negligent employer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_industrial_disasters

Worker’s compensation systems benefit both employers and workers, and the dangers of opting out of the system means a retreat to harsh industrial conditions, producing  the same kind of inequities  that workers’ comp remedied over a century ago. The situation calls to mind the maxim that those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.

“Opting Out” of Worker’s Compensation Hurts Workers and Employers (Part 1)

Posted on by

Our good friend Tom Domer posted the following article about the history of workers compensation in America. Nebraska, like Wisconsin, was an early pioneer. Our Workers Compensation law was effective in 1913. Current efforts to allow business to opt of workers compensation protection for workers seems to be gaining momentum. Going back to the 19th century in treatment of workers is not acceptable. We can’t let the forces of big business and greed take us back to the robber baron days of old. Reading the history and understanding how important workers compensation protection is essential and I thank Tom for his well written and thoughtful discussion.

More than a century ago, Wisconsin’s initial efforts in worker’s compensation led the nation. In 1911 Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to place a broad constitutionally valid worker’s compensation system into operation. Recent events, specifically Oklahoma’s passing legislation to allow employers to “opt out” of worker’s compensation (following the “lead” of Texas) calls into question the great bargain made between employers and workers over a century ago. Prior to the enactment of worker’s compensation in the early 20th Century, workers who were injured on the job had to overcome three common law obstacles in order to recover from their employer.

Under contributory negligence, a worker could not recover from the employer if the worker had been negligent in any way and that negligence contributed to the accident, regardless of how negligent the employer may have been.

Under assumption of risk, if a worker knew or should have known of the danger inherent in the task at issue before undertaking it, the employer was not liable for an accident arising from the task even if the employee was not negligent.

Under the fellow servant rule, employers could not be held liable for accidents caused by fellow employees.

The combined effect of these common law defenses served to deny Continue reading

OSHA settles with Nebraska-based ConAgra Foods to protect workers from anhydrous ammonia

Posted on by
con_agra_foods

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law in New Jersey. This settlement is an example of what can happen when OSHA visits one plant and the settlement is implemented throughout the company, or “corporate-wide.” According to the story, “The agreement is the result of an inspection conducted at the company’s American Falls, Idaho, facility, initiated under OSHA’s PSM Covered Chemical Facilities National Emphasis Program, established to reduce or eliminate the workplace hazards associated with the catastrophic release of highly hazardous chemicals.” So the benefit of the company’s implementation is that workers in a number of plants in a number of states will now be safer.

ConAgra Foods, Inc. dba Lamb Weston, Inc. has signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect workers at five of its facilities from the release of anhydrous ammonia from refrigeration systems.

The agreement protects workers at Idaho, Arkansas, Missouri and Ohio facilities of the Nebraska-based company. It requires ConAgra to implement controls to reduce hazards associated with release of ammonia from low pressures receivers.

“This agreement ensures that ConAgra will protect workers from releases of ammonia by enclosing older LPRs that were not already enclosed, and by providing other controls such as normal and emergency ventilation to prevent exposure,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “OSHA’s corporate-wide settlement agreements are highly effective tools for ensuring that companies take a systemic approach to addressing hazards that can injure or kill their workers.”

OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard requires employers to document that equipment that was designed to meet codes and standards no longer in general use is still safe to operate under OSHA standards. OSHA originally cited ConAgra for failing to determine whether these older LPRs were being operated safely.

Under the agreement, ConAgra will implement administrative and engineering controls at the covered LPRs to control hazards associated with the release of ammonia. This includes building enclosures around equipment that is not already enclosed. Each enclosure must include normal and emergency ventilation that meets specified requirements, automatic switches for both normal and emergency ventilation and ammonia detection alarms. Egress doors for the enclosures will be required to include panic hardware and to swing in the direction of egress.

The agreement is the result of an inspection conducted at the company’s American Falls, Idaho, facility, initiated under OSHA’s PSM Covered Chemical Facilities National Emphasis Program, established to reduce or eliminate the workplace hazards associated with the catastrophic release of highly hazardous chemicals.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.