Tag Archives: OSHA

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Safety Violations Matter: Wisconsin Court Reaffirms Basis for Employer Safety Penalties

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

In most instances, an injured worker cannot sue her employer for a workplace injury. However, if an injury results from an employer’s reckless, intentional, or illegal action, an injured worker can bring a separate claim against the employer directly. An employer’s violation of the Wisconsin state safety statute  or of any Department of Workforce Development (DWD) safety administrative rule which causes a worker’s injury can trigger a 15% increased penalty for the employer (Section 102.57 of the Worker’s Compensation Act). This increased compensation is based on the amount of compenstion paid by the insurance carrier and is capped at $15,000. The big deal is that the safety violation penalty is not paid by the insurance company–it is paid directly from the employer’s pocket (which also makes for increased litigation of these claims!).;

In a win for injured workers, a recent Court of Appeals case (Sohn Manufacturing v. LIRC), decided on August 7, 2013, reaffirmed the ability of the Worker’s Compensation Department to hold employers responsible for unsafe behavior. In the Sohn case, the worker operated a die cutter machine, and the employer instructed her to clean it while the anvil rollers were running. The worker suffered a severe hand injury when her hand was pulled into the machine. A state investigator found an OSHA violation as well as a violation of the state safety statute (Section 101.11). An administrative law judge and the Labor and Industry Review Commission affirmed an award of a safety violation under 102.57 of the worker’s compensation act.

The employer challenged this ruling in court, arguing that the federal OSHA law preempted Wisconsin’s ability to enforce safety procedures under Section 102.57 and that an OSHA investigation cannot form the basis for a state safety violation claim injured workers should be thankful that the Court of Appeals rejected both of these arguments. First, the Court explicitly stated that OSHA does not preempt Wisconsin’s ability to award penalties under Section 102.57, as the safety violation statute is not an enforcement mechanism and OSHA was not intended to impact state worker’s compensation rules. More importantly, the Court indicated that an OSHA violation of a federal workplace safety regulation can be used as basis to demonstrate an employer’s violation of Wisconsin’s state safety statute (Section 101.11).

While the decision was not surprising, it reaffirms the state’s commitment to holding employer’s accountable for safety violation rules under the worker’s compensation system. Workers and practitioners also should remain aware of any OSHA violation found post-injury. A document demonstrating a federal OSHA violation can form the immediate basis for a safety violation under Section 102.57.

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What Football Can Teach White-collar Employees About Layoffs, Severance

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

With football season upon us, I would like to use football to explain some common situations that employees face.

I get a lot of calls from white-collar professionals who have long careers with a company but then are laid off a few months after a new boss is hired. This happens a lot in football when a general manager/athletic director replaces a head coach and the head coach fires the previous coach’s assistant coaches. White-collar employees in middle-management positions are essentially the equivalents of assistant coaches in football. In the world of football, it is assumed that a new head coach can bring in his new assistants. The same assumption holds true in the business world.

Assistant coaches are oftentimes “bought out” of their employment contracts. Sometimes white-collar professionals have employment contracts, but more often than not they do not. Sometimes professionals are offered severance agreements, but unless there is an employment contract, that severance is not a buyout. Employers are also under no obligation to offer severance. If severance is offered, that doesn’t necessarily mean that an employer wrongfully terminated the employee.

Of course, no employee can be terminated because of age, disability, sex, race, nationality, or in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity like filing for workers’ compensation or filing with OSHA. But even if there is some appearance of wrongful motivation on behalf of the employer, the employer can still defeat a potential lawsuit if they have a legitimate business reason for terminating the employee. Going back to a football analogy, if the new head coach wants to switch an offensive or defensive scheme, they have the right to hire the person they choose. The fact the new hire might be less effective than the old hire is not a decision that a court will second guess in a wrongful termination. Sure, if there is something else wrongful going on, it is something a court or a jury could consider, but in a case where there is a recent change in management, employees will have difficult time overcoming the assumption that the new boss just wants to “put in their team.”

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Workplace Violence and Sandy Hook Elementary School

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

In light of the horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last week it may be time to re-evaluate workplace violence, which seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Technically, workplace violence is any act where an employee is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted in the workplace. It can include threats, harassment, and verbal abuse, as well as physical attacks by someone with an assault rifle. 

Two million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year. What’s worse is that workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths in the United States. Last year, for example, one in every five fatal work injuries was attributed not to accidents but to workplace violence,  and  some employees are at an increased risk for harm. For example, employees who work with the public or who handle money are more at risk (i.e. bank tellers, pizza delivery drivers, or social workers). According to the 2011 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, robbers were found to be the assailants in almost a third of homicide/workplace violence cases involving men, whereas female workers were more likely to be attacked by a relative (i.e. former spouse or partner) while at work.  

Preventing workplace violence is a challenging task and OSHA advises employers to create a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Creating a safe perimeter for employees is crucial. Likewise, having an emergency protocol in place should reduce the number of fatalities in an attack, and that’s exactly what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut when the school’s protocol saved the lives of many children.

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OSHA Reaches Employer Agreement to Stop Discouraging Employee Accident Reports

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

Statistics regarding the reporting of accidents have historically been challenged for accuracy as employees have been fearful about reporting events, and employers have been reluctant for numerous reasons, including the potential of increased insurance costs. Now OSHA has taken a significant step to legitimize the process by seeking an employer accord not to take adverse actions against employees for reporting injuries in the workplace.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co., headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. FRSA’s Section 20109 protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA’s mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.”

The major terms of the accord include:

  • Changing BNSF’s disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation. As of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF has reduced the probations of 136 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.
  • Eliminating a policy that Continue reading
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Let OSHA Do Its Job

OSHA is being prevented from fulfilling its mission.

In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety & Health Act (the Act), which created the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Among other things, the Act requires every employer to provide a safe workplace. To help employers reach this goal, OSHA promulgated hundreds of rules in the decade after it was created. OSHA’s rulemaking process has, however, slowed to a trickle since then.

While the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health recently identified over 600 toxic chemicals to which workers are exposed, in the last 16 years OSHA has added only two toxic chemicals to its list of regulated chemicals. This is because Congress, Presidents and the courts have hamstrung OSHA. For example, in March 2001 the Bush Administration and a Republican Congress effectively abolished OSHA’s ergonomics rule, a rule the agency had worked on for many years.

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses.

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses. Workers are being injured and killed by known hazardous circumstances and OSHA can’t act.

Congress and the President need to break this logjam – we need to free OSHA to do its job of safeguarding workers.

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Death On The Job – AFL-CIO’s Releases Its 21st Annual Report

Today’s post comes from guest author Edgar Romano from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

The AFL-CIO has released its 2012 report on worker fatalities which also examines the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) role in ensuring safe workplaces. The AFL-CIO has been producing this report for 21 years, and we hope they continue to do so.

Since Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

In 2010, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,690 workers were killed on the job—an average of 13 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. Workers suffer an additional 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each year. The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous— Continue reading

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The Dangers Of Hotel Room Cleaning

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Exposure to harsh chemicals and repeated bending can take its toll.

Today’s post is the second part of a post from our colleague Edgar Romano at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP in New York.

As we shared with you last week, hotel housekeeping may not seem dangerous, but it can be grueling physical labor.

A recent study published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that tasks including dusting, vacuuming, changing linens, making beds, and scrubbing bathrooms may lead to a range of injuries. Some of the most common ones include:

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How To Stay Safe On Snowy Roads

Follow these tips to stay safe on winter roads.

Today’s post comes from my colleague Rod Rehm of Nebraska.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently launched a fantastic web page on how to stay safe if you have to work during or after a winter storm.

If the weather is poor, staying off the road is clearly the best thing to do. However, if you have to drive during a winter storm, here are some great tips OSHA offers on preparing your vehicle for dangerous weather.

Inspect your vehicle thoroughly.

  • Brakes: Make sure they provide balanced and even breaking. Check that the brake fluid is at the proper level.
  • Cooling System: Ensure the proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water.
  • Electrical: Check the ignition and makes sure the battery is fully charged and that the connectors are clean. Check that the alternator belt is in good condition.
  • Engine: Inspect all engine systems.
  • Exhaust: Check the exhaust for leaks and that the clamps and hangers are snug.
  • Tires: Check for good tread depth and for signs of damage or uneven wear. Check inflation.
  • Visibility: Inspect exterior lights, defrosters, and wipers. Install winter wipers. _ Check your oil levels.

Bring a winter emergency kit including: