Tag Archives: OSHA

What Do You Mean, I Can’t Sue My Employer?

OSHA find the owner of the Didion Milling Plant in connection with an explosion that killed 2 workers and injured several more.

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

I sat down this morning with a television reporter interviewing me about a horrific explosion in Wisconsin that killed 5 workers and injured many more.  The explosion on May 31, 2017 at the Didion Ethanol Plant in Cambria, Wisconsin occurred when corn dust exploded, destroying the entire plant.  OSHA hit the company with a $1.8 million fine, calling it a preventable explosion.

The reporter’s question to me was “Why can’t the employees sue their employer?”  The answer goes back over 100 years in Wisconsin to the “Grand Bargain” that was struck between management and labor.  Sometimes referred to as the “great tradeoff,” employees traded away their right to sue their employer, even for egregious safety violations, in return for wage loss and medical benefits to be paid regardless of fault.  The goal was to relieve the injured employee from the burden of paying for medical care and replace lost wages.  At the turn of the 20th Century, Wisconsin workplaces were often dangerous places, and employers had little incentive to make them safer.  Injured workers could rarely afford the kind of legal cost for recovery efforts in court and employers benefitted by use of contributory negligence, assumption of risk and co-employee negligence as bars to an employee’s recovery in court.

The administrative system that was established by worker’s compensation was created to provide a direct remedy to the employer and to limit (by Exclusive Remedy) litigation against the employer.  The system was supposed to insure a method of providing benefits to an injured employee during the period of disability and to ensure the employees were not reduced to poverty because of injuries.

Speed, dependability, and financial assistance were components of the new system, and by making employers responsible for injury, the law offered strong incentives to make workplaces safer.  Unfortunately, that has not occurred.  The latest statistics indicate that over 100 people die annually in Wisconsin and over 5,000 annually across the nation.

Revealing to a grieving widow that the remedy available is limited to four times the deceased worker’s annual income is precious little consolation for loss of a spouse’s life and lifetime income.

Trump Dumps Workplace Safety

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

When FBI Director James Comey calls President Trump a liar, the world takes notice, but when Trump lies about workplace safety, the world takes little notice.  Trump’s administration has recently provided significant “relaxation” in the government’s approach to occupational safety.  The administration recently delayed action on a rule that would require the employer to electronically report workplace injuries so they can be posted for the public.  OSHA has also put off enforcement of an Obama-era standard for silica, a mineral linked to a disabling lung disease and cancer.  I’ve dealt with many silica exposure claims in Wisconsin particularly coming from the Kohler Corporation in Kohler, Wisconsin where silica is a necessary ingredient in many bathroom fixture manufacturing processes.  The administration has also proposed changes in beryllium exposure limits.  After 40 years of development a new rule under the Obama administration was set to lower workplace exposure to beryllium a mineral linked to a lung disease estimated to kill 100 people annually.  The nation’s largest beryllium producer had agreed to back the new restrictions.  A few weeks ago as the rule was going into effect the new administration proposed changes that many expect may exempt major industries from this tougher standard. 

When asked about the Trump administration’s approach to workplace safety a White House spokesman said “The President and his administration care very much about worker safety…”  Yet another lie.  See also Under Trump, Worker Protections Are Viewed With New Skepticism

Post-Injury Drug Test? OSHA Says Not So Fast

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

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.

In May, OSHA published a rule prohibiting employers from having policies that force employees hurt on the job to take drug tests because of concerns about retaliation. This blog has long recognized the potential for retaliation that mandatory drug tests pose and supports the proposed rule by OSHA. OSHA’s new rule was drafted at roughly the same time as the release of the U.S. Department of Labor report that was critical of the shortcomings in state workers’ compensation systems.

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.

Due to push back from employers, the rule’s enforcement will be postponed until Nov. 1 and will likely be delayed longer due to a court challenge to the rule. A challenge to a Labor Department rule deeming that home health aides were employees for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act took over a year to work its way through the federal courts, until it was upheld by a federal circuit court in June.

Even if the rule is implemented, post-injury drug testing will not disappear from the workplace. Employers can still test if they have a reasonable suspicion of intoxication or drug use. Most federal and defense contractors will be exempt from the OSHA rule, as well as truckers and railroad employees. Furthermore, in states with drug-free workplace laws, mandatory post-injury testing may still be permitted, depending on the language of the statute. Nebraska allows employers to fire an employee who refuses a lawful request for a drug test. If the new OSHA rule is ultimately upheld by the federal courts, I would expect a push by employers to amend drug-free workplace laws.

Welders Exposed To Increased Risk Of Parkinson’s Even If Manganese Within Legal Limits

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

Welders have an increased risk of Parkinson’s even if manganese exposure is within legal limits according to a recent article in the on-line journal Neurology, which is the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Welders who did flux core arc welding in confined spaces were particularly vulnerable to Parkinson’s according to the study. Workers in Nebraska who would attempt to get compensation for manganese exposure would face problems if the onset of symptoms happened after an employee stopped working. A court case in Nebraska held that an employee who didn’t experience symptoms of an occupational disease until after he retired was not entitled to be compensated because he wasn’t earning wages when the injury manifested. Welders and others who are exposed to manganese on a regular basis should recognize the early symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors, difficulty sleeping, constipation and loss of smell and report these symptoms to their doctors and employers as soon as possible so they can be treated under workers compensation and receive workers compensation disability benefits.

The study comes on the heel of a final flurry of OSHA rule making at the Obama administration. In May 2016 OSHA finally adopted a silica exposure rule for workers exposed to sand particles which can cause lung problems. Earlier this month OSHA lowered exposure thresholds for berrylium which is another pulmonary hazard, particularly for construction workers.

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.

Distracted Driving – A Workplace Hazard

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

The dangers of distracted driving prompted OSHA to launch a Distracted Driving Initiative in 2010. The initiative’s primary focus has been to encourage employers to prohibit their employees from texting while driving for work.

One in ten traffic-related fatalities involved distraction in 2015 (the most recent year for statistics) according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The U.S. Government Website for Distracted Driving defines distracted driving as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” These activities include, but are not limited to, texting, using a cell phone, eating, drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, using a navigation system, and adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player.

Texting while driving is one of the more dangerous distractions because it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver. Although it is illegal to text while driving in 46 states, many drivers, especially younger drivers, have admitted to texting while driving. According to OSHA, drivers who text while driving focus their attention away from the road for an average for 4.6 seconds, which at 55 mph is equivalent to driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

To learn more about distracted driving and to take the pledge to drive phone-free, visit www.distraction.gov.

Reversing OSHA Rules Will Undercut Workplace Safety

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

President Trump recently signed a Congressional resolution revoking an Obama administration OSHA rule that required employers to retain records of work injuries for five and that prohibited retaliation against workers for reporting injuries. The revoked OSHA rule would have also limited drug testing of employees who reported injuries.

Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project and a former OSHA official criticized the action because limiting the amount of time an employer must retain records about injuries because it doesn’t provide enough information to identify recurring safety issues.

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 recently revoked OSHA rule also would have prohibited retaliation against employees who report OSHA violations. Nebraska already has anti-retaliation laws that protect employees who claim workers’ compensation benefits that would cover many cases where an employer would have to record an injury for OSHA. My opinion is that the OSHA General Duty clause which states that employers have a duty to provide a workplace free of recognizable hazards provides additional anti-retaliation protections to Nebraska employees through our state whistleblower statute. But the revocation of the OSHA anti-retaliation rule may weaken those protections.

The OSHA record keeping/anti-retaliation rule was revoked through the Congressional Review Act. You can read more about that law works here. Congress and President Trump have also revoked an executive order that would have prevented employers who violated fair employment laws from obtaining federal contracts. You can read more about that rule here.

Occupational Skin Diseases

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

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.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Hundreds of individuals have been exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide while at work, including 150 employees at Middleville Tool and Die in Michigan when a hi-lo vehicle malfunctioned emitting carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide fumes, and 3 construction workers in Berkley, California who were operating a gas power washer inside a building. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a dangerous risk for workers.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and poisonous gas that results from the incomplete burning of natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, and other carbon-containing materials. Workers may be exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide in boiler rooms, warehouses, petroleum refineries, steel production, blast furnaces and coke ovens.

Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, chest pain. Within minutes and without warning, large amounts of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness, suffocation, and death. If caught early, carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed; however, there may be permanent brain and heart damage from the lack of oxygen to the organs during the exposure.

There are several measures employers can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning including installing effective ventilation systems that remove carbon monoxide from work areas and installing carbon monoxide monitors with audible alarms. To be safe, employees should report any situation to their employer that might cause carbon monoxide to accumulate and be alert to any ventilation problems.

If you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning move to an open area with fresh air and call 911. For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, read the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet.