Category Archives: Worker safety

U.S. DOL and TX Pottery Manufacturer Reach Settlement Following Worker Fatality

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Wright.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Marshall Pottery, Inc., have reached a settlement agreement including a penalty of $545,160, after the death of an assistant plant manager.

On April 16, 2017, investigators determined that the manager was servicing a kiln and became trapped inside when it activated. The company was cited for six willful violations and 21 serious violations. Citations were issued following OSHA’s investigation into failures to implement confined space and lockout/tagout programs.

“This company was cited for similar violations in 2008 after another fatality at the plant,” said OSHA Area Director Basil Singh, in Dallas. “Failures to implement lockout/tagout and confined space programs are unacceptable. Employers must use all required safeguards and procedures to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies.”

The company had 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Upon receipt of the citations and penalties, the company scheduled an informal conference with the OSHA area director.  At the meeting, OSHA and the company reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to abate the violations. 

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.

OSHA News Release: 11/28/2017
Contact Names: 

Chauntra Rideaux

Phone Number: 
Contact Name: 

Juan Rodriguez

Phone Number: 
Release Number: 
17-1383-DAL

Workplace Safety De-Regulation Continues

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

The con continues.  Many American workers were conned into initially voting for Donald Trump, and that con game continues with the Trump Administration and its views on worker safety.  Campaign promises of benefitting the US worker ring hollow with each and every anti-worker de-regulation push.

Recent reports reveal the administration is removing or delaying OSHA protective regulatory standards on numerous fronts.  (Updated OSHA agenda reflects Trump administration focus on de-regulation).   The administration previously acted against improved employer recordkeeping for workplace injuries and illnesses. Now, the anti-worker protection agenda continues with the administration effectively pulling important items from the regulatory agenda.  

From the above-linked report, some of the important issues “removed” from the OSHA regulatory agenda are: Preventing Backover Injuries and Fatalities; Noise in Construction; Bloodborne Pathogens; and Combustible Dust. 

Failure to have adequate regulations–and penalties–has real world consequences.  Just look at what happened in Cambria, Wisconsin in May 2017 when a corn mill exploded and workers died from what appears to be Combustible Dust.  This was and continues to be a devastating workplace accident for a smaller town in Wisconsin.  Sadly, a Journal Sentinel story indicated:

A review of online OSHA records shows the plant was cited in January 2011 for exposing its workers to dust explosion hazards. The records state that plant filters lacked an explosion protective system.

The agency ordered the mill to correct the problem by April 2011. The records show Didion paid a $3,465 fine and the case was closed in September 2013.

Such minimal OSHA fines or penalties likely provided corresponding minimal incentives to improve safety standards or hazardous practices.  The limited incentives are bolstered by relatively toothless “employer safety violation” penalty in a Wisconsin worker’s compenstion claim, which is capped at a maximum of $15,000.  

Further “anti-regulation” pushes likely increase the lack of safety incentives for employers. Those anti-regulation efforts are alive in Wisconsin and on the federal stage–especially in the Trump agenda.

Workers should be aware that anti-regulation may equal anti-worker.   And anti-safety.

 

Republicans Just Made It Easier For Employers To Hide Workplace Injuries

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey, from Causey Wright.

Today’s post was shared by Jay Causey and comes from www.huffingtonpost.com.

They used an arcane procedural maneuver to repeal a significant safety regulation issued by the Obama administration.

WASHINGTON ― The Republican-led Congress moved to dismantle yet another corporate regulation on Wednesday, in a move that safety experts say will make it easier for employers to hide serious workplace injuries from the government.

The Senate voted 50-48 to strike down a rule issued late in Barack Obama’s presidency that requires large employers to keep an ongoing record of health and safety incidents. The Obama administration issued the rule in an effort to solidify what it considered long-standing policy at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

By doing away with the rule, Republicans are effectively cutting down the length of time that employers in dangerous industries are required to keep injury records ― from five years to just six months. Former OSHA officials say that doesn’t provide enough time to identify recurring problems with particular employers or industries.

They also say the change gives unscrupulous employers little incentive to keep an accurate log of injuries, since it will be more difficult for them to be penalized for not doing so. When employers have a track record of such injuries, it can lead to higher workers’ compensation costs and more government scrutiny.

“This will give license to employers to keep fraudulent records and to willfully violate the law with impunity,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA policy adviser now with the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers.

Read the full story here.

Photo credit: Mel1st via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Worker Memorial Day Honored WA Workers Who Died as a Result of Job-Related Injuries and Illnesses

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Wright.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries hosts a Worker Memorial Day ceremony each spring to honor those who have died in the previous year from job-related injuries or illnesses. This year, fallen workers from all walks of life were remembered on April 27th during a ceremony at the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries’ (L&I) building in Tumwater. 

The state ceremony is one of many held in communities across the nation in April to remember those who died from work-related causes.

Families of the fallen workers were invited to attend the service, which included comments from speakers, a reading of the names of the workers who have died, and an outdoor portion where relatives were invited to ring a bell hanging in L&I’s Worker Memorial Garden. The names of the workers were also entered into a Worker Memorial book, displayed in the agency’s lobby. 

Eight truck drivers, five loggers, two nurses, a police officer, a fire chief and a flagger are among the 79 people who died from work-related causes who were honored at this year’s Worker Memorial Day observance. The men and women range in age from 19 to 90 and did all types of work, including retail clerk, business owner, truck driver, farmworker, chiropractor and arborist.

“Work-related deaths are devastating for the families and friends left behind. We should all be able to count on our loved ones returning home from work safely each day,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “There’s no greater legacy that we could create than preventing tragedies like these from ever being repeated.”  

Falls happen in all types of jobs, and they remain a leading cause of worker deaths. Violent crime also impacts workplaces. Eight work-related deaths last year were homicides, the highest number since 2009. Overall, recent data shows construction, trucking and agriculture continue to be among the most hazardous jobs for Washington workers. 

Workplace deaths in Washington are declining. In the early 2000s job-related deaths often numbered more than 100 annually. Still, Director Sacks said even one work-related death is too many.

The 79 workers who were remembered during the ceremony included those who died of incidents that happened in 2016, and people who passed away last year as a result of previous work-related illnesses or injuries. The ceremony also honored 12 people who died before 2016 but whose deaths were not included in previous observances.

Governor Jay Inslee took part in the ceremony, along with representatives of the Association of Washington Business, the Washington State Labor Council and the Washington Self-Insurers Association. The observance was also open to the general public.

For a complete list of those being honored, with photos and family comments for many of those honored, read more here.

Photo Credit: KUOW/JOHN RYAN  JAN 2, 2015

Mukilteo, WA Company Fined $645,000+ for Exposing Roofers to Fall Hazards

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Wright.

The WA Department of Labor and Industries issued a press release noting that a Mukilteo, WA roofing company faces large fines for multiple safety violations that exposed workers to potential falls from more than 30 feet high and other hazards at job sites in Issaquah and Vancouver.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited America 1st Roofing & Builders Inc., for 21 safety violations in all, found during four separate inspections. In total, the company faces $645,540 in penalties.

During the inspections, L&I discovered eight violations of rules that require proper fall protection equipment and work plans to protect employees working 10 feet off the ground or more. L&I inspectors saw employees working 11 to 18 feet off the ground. Based on the company’s history and prior knowledge of the hazards and regulations, these violations were cited as “willful,” each with a penalty of $66,000.

A ninth violation was also cited as willful with the maximum legal penalty of $70,000, after one inspection found an employee working unprotected on a rooftop 32 feet off the ground.

The inspections began in August 2016, when an L&I investigator saw a worker on the roof of a three-story home under construction. America 1st has been cited for repeat-serious violations of fall protection rules at least six times in the last three years.

“Seven construction workers fell to their deaths last year in our state,” said Anne Soiza assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Falls are the leading cause of construction worker deaths and hospitalizations, and yet they’re completely preventable by using proper fall protection and following safe work practices.”

Along with the fall protection violations, America 1st was cited for unsafe ladder use; not ensuring walk-around safety inspections at the beginning of each job and weekly; not requiring hard hats when working under overhead hazards; scaffold safety; not having an accident prevention program; and for not having someone with first-aid training at the worksite.

The company has appealed, and the appeals are pending.

A serious violation exists when there’s a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or intentional disregard of a hazard or rule.

For a copy of the citation, contact Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

 

Photo credit: Sailing “Footprints: Real to Reel” (Ronn ashore) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Port of Bellingham Ordered to Pay Injured Ferry Worker

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter writes that the Port of Bellingham has been ordered to pay $16M in damages to an Alaska Ferries employee injured in 2012.

The verdict was returned Friday, April 1st, after a nine-day trial before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman. Jim Jacobsen, one of the attorneys representing the employee, Shannon Adamson, and her husband, Nicholas, of Juneau, said the eight-member jury deliberated about five hours before deciding the case.

The jury found the port negligent for failing to fix a control panel that operated the passenger gangway ramp at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, even though evidence at the trial showed the port knew the panel was faulty and officials there knew of a previous, similar accident in 2008.

The Bellingham Herald’s Samantha Wohlfeil reported in September of 2014 that the Port of Bellingham Commission had settled a dispute over insurance coverage and was then able to go forward with repairs to the passenger ramp – two years after the accident that injured Ms. Adamson.


Photo Credit: THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

NPR: Coffee Workers’ Concerns Brew Over Chemical’s Link To Lung Disease

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristen Wolf, from Causey Law Firm.

Heard on Morning Edition, April 15, 2016.

Step into Mike Moon’s Madison, Wis., coffee roasting plant and the aroma of beans — from Brazil to Laos — immediately washes over you.

Moon says he aims to run an efficient and safe plant — and that starts the minute beans spill out of the roaster. He points to a cooling can that is “designed to draw air from the room over the beans and exhausts that air out of the facility. So it is really grabbing a lot of all of the gases coming off the coffee,” he explains.

Why are these gases so worrisome? Because they contain a chemical called diacetyl — a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process that, in large concentrations, can infiltrate the lungs and cause a severe form of lung disease.

You might remember hearing about diacetyl several years ago, when a synthetic version of the chemical, which is used to give a buttery flavor to certain snack foods, was implicated in causing severe lung problems among workers at a microwave popcorn facility.

Now it looks like that chemical could affect the coffee world as well. People at home grinding or brewing up a pot need not worry, but the chemical could pose a danger to people working in commercial coffee roasting plants.

Read the rest of the story here…

 

Photo credit: Nic Taylor Photography viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Workers’ Compensation Basics: What is a Workers’ Compensation Accident?

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

This blog post is the third in a series that examines the basics of workers’ compensation.

To be a covered workers’ compensation claim, an employee’s personal injury must be caused by an accident or occupational disease, but what does that mean?

The Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act defines accident as: “an unexpected or unforeseen injury happening suddenly and violently, with or without human fault, and producing at the time objective symptoms of an injury. The claimant shall have a burden of proof to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that such unexpected or unforeseen injury was in fact caused by the employment. There shall be no presumption from the mere occurrence of such unexpected or unforeseen injury that the injury was in fact caused by the employment. …” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-151 (2)

Of course, many workers’ compensation injuries are not as simple or as clear as a broken arm that was the result of a fall. Some injuries are caused by repetitive motion or cumulative trauma on the job. In those cases, the injuries are still considered workers’ compensation “accidents” under the definition above, even though the injuries did not truly occur “suddenly and violently” as required by the statute. 

As for an occupational disease, the Workers’ Compensation Act defines it as “a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment and shall exclude all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed.” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-151 (3) Examples to think about would be mesothelioma for asbestos workers or black lung for coal miners.

In sum, pretty much any injury or illness that an employee receives from work can fit into the definition of “accident” under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act. However, proving the injury is much more difficult and may require the help of a lawyer.

Read the previous blog posts in the series by clicking on these links: Workers’ Compensation Basics: Are You an Employee? and What is Workers’ Compensation?