Good piece from Charlie Domer. Unfortunately, workplace deaths are on the rise across the country.
There is a bad trend in Wisconsin: Deaths on the job are on the rise.
Specifically, OSHA (on December 18, 2017) issued a release that there were five Wisconsin worker deaths in the last 22 days!:
(Madison): On November 27, 2017, a 26 year old employee was abrasive blasting and cut his inner thigh (femoral artery) with the abrasive blasting nozzle. Reference OSHA’s Abrasive Blasting web page for safety and health related information regarding abrasive blasting operations.
(Eau Claire): On December 1, 2017, a 60 year old employee working on a logging site was struck by a backing forwarder (skidder) machine. Reference OSHA’s Logging web page for safety and health related information regarding logging operations.
(Milwaukee Area Office): On December 5, 2017, a 32 year old employee was struck in the head when an approx. 50 lb. part being worked on flew out of a CNC machine.
On December 5, 2017, a 59 year old employee was struck in the abdomen by a piece of wood that had kicked back from a table saw. Reference OSHA’s Woodworking web page for safety and health related information regarding woodworking operations.
(Milwaukee Area Office): On December 9th, 2017, a 36 year old employee was struck-by a materials van and pinned between the van and loading dock the van was being backed up to. Employers are encouraged to review dock areas to identify hazards and take necessary corrective actions. Reference OSHA’s e-Tool on Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift) for information on dock safety.
These recent workplace deaths are in the same year as the devastating plant explosion in Cambria, Wisconsin, on May 31, 2017, resulting in the death of 5 workers and injuring many more. OSHA proposed a $1.8 million fine related to this fatal explosion.
Sadly, these workplace deaths are on the rise in our country as a whole. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its latest report on fatalities in the workplace, with data through 2016. Unfortunately, the number of fatalites is the highest ever since 2008. An informational chart can be found here.
While employers indicate there are ever-increasing safety measures at workplaces, accidents–even catastrophic ones–still happen. And they are happening with more frequency.
Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, there are no pain and suffering damages for those family members left behind by the deceased worker. A dependent (generally a surviving spouse or children under the age of 18) can bring a claim for death benefits–which are four times the worker’s annual earnings. This amount can be (and can feel) woefully inadequate following a worker’s death.
Thanks to Anthony Lucas from The Jernigan Law Firm about this post on occupational skin diseases.
Occupational skin diseases are one of the most common occupational diseases. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that in the United States more than 13 million workers are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through their skin. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, over 15% of the reported occupational diseases were skin diseases.
These diseases include, but are not limited to, contact dermatitis (eczema), allergic dermatitis, skin cancers, and infections. Contact dermatitis, which has symptoms of painful and itchy skin, blisters, redness, and swelling, is the most commonly reported occupational skin disease. Workers in food service, cosmetology, health care, agriculture, cleaning, painting, mechanics, and construction industries and sectors are at risk of developing these diseases.
This type of occupational disease is clearly preventable. To control and prevent exposure to chemicals that cause occupational skin diseases, OSHA recommends that employers switch to less toxic chemicals, redesign the work process to avoid the splashes or immersion, and have employees wear protective gloves and clothing.
Democrat Lee Carter, a democratic socialist, won an election to represent Virginia’s 50th District in the state’s House of Delegates.
Lee Carter took a bad experience with a work injury and turned it into motivation to win election to the Virginia legislature last November. But the nature of Carter’s bad experience with his work injury shows why electing true worker advocates to state legislatures may not be enough to protect injured workers.
Multi-state claims can also subvert democratic rule. A worker has some input over workers compensation laws in the state where he or she lives and votes through their respective state legislatures. A worker who is forced to bring a claim in another state does not have that influence unless they happen to be among the 6 percent of private sector employees represented by a union. But even then, it may be burdensome to bring a claim in another state.
But workers have a say over national laws through their Congressional representatives. Minimum standards and some uniformity in state workers’ compensation laws would give injured workers more say in the types of benefits they would receive if they were hurt out of their home state or hurt for an out of state employer. Minimum standards legislation would also draw more national attention to the short coming of various state workers’ compensation laws. Renewed pushes for federal standards for workers’ compensation happened in the early Obama administration and towards the end of the Obama administration. National standards for workers’ compensation legislation will probably have to wait for a change in the partisan makeup of the two elected branches of the federal government.
At least in Nebraska, employers are required to file First Reports of Injury with the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court. The information contained in those reports serves a similar function to OSHA logs and would allow workers, unions, attorneys and or regulators to identify recurring safety problems. Those reports are also public records. I recently testified against an insurance industry supported bill in the Nebraska legislature that would have made those reports confidential records.
The example of beryiluim could explain why exposure to manganese levels at supposedly safe levels can lead to occupational disease. Those supposedly safe levels of exposure may not actually be safe. Another explanation about why supposedly safe levels of manganese lead to Parkinson’s could be found in the practices of the coal industry. Howard Berkes of NPR and Ken Ward Jr., author of the excellent Coal Tattoo blog for the Charleston (WV.) Gazette Mail teamed up to report on how coal companies would fudge coal dust level testing to make it appear that miners were exposed to much lower levels of coal dust than they were actually exposed.
OSHA’s rules could also be reversed by Congress under the Congressional Review Act. In 2001, the OSHA ergonomics rule that would have reduced musculo-skeletal injuries was reversed under this law.
Mike Elk of Payday Report recently ran an article detailing that workplace deaths among Latinos were the highest in 2015 than they had been since 2007. This spike was attributed in part to aggressive immigration enforcement by the Obama administration which immigrant advocates believed made workers afraid to speak out about working conditions over fear of deportation.
Workers who report an on-the-job injury may not be subject to mandatory drug testing if a new rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that prohibits blanket post-injury drug tests withstands a court challenge from employers.
Though OSHA implemented the limits on drug testing to limit retaliation, the rules limiting drug testing also help preserve employee doctor choice, which is an integral part of workers’ compensation law in Nebraska and other states. Many employers will inform employees that they must get drug tested at an occupational medicine clinic if they have a work injury even if workers have a right to see their own doctor. This can lead to employees being forced back to work too soon and or not receiving sufficient treatment for their work injuries. Both the fear of retaliation and the circumvention of doctor choice rules lead the costs of work injuries to be borne by employees, which is a major concern of the Department of Labor.