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Slidell Workers' Compensation Law Blog

OSHA drone inspections raise concerns

In a 2018 memorandum, OSHA authorized its inspectors to use drones to take pictures and video recordings on construction sites. Construction contractors in Louisiana and across the U.S. are concerned about the legal consequences of this move. For instance, employers have the right to protest against inspections that go beyond their original scope and begin to invade privacy.

Multi-employer construction sites pose a unique issue as well. If one employer agrees to the drone inspection, this will affect the rights of those other employers who did not agree. Debates also continue over the ownership of airspace above construction sites.

OSHA finds widespread violations of scaffold safety rules

Construction workers in Louisiana often use scaffolds, and they depend on these temporary platforms to hold their weight. When scaffolds collapse or people fall, serious injuries and even deaths result. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has many regulations in place to promote scaffold safety, but inspectors continually find improper scaffolding practices at job sites. This category of safety violation represents the third most common source of citations against employers.

In 2016, the agency issued 3,900 citations related to unsafe scaffolds. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated that 72 percent of scaffold accidents arise from falls and structurally deficient platforms. Annually, scaffold accidents hurt about 4,500 workers. About 60 fatalities occur every year as well.

Construction deaths dropped slightly but fatalities remain high

Construction workers in Louisiana encounter many hazards on any given day, but 2017 proved to be slightly less deadly for them than 2016. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that tallied construction worker fatalities, deadly incidents across the country dropped 2 percent in 2017 among private-sector workers. A total of 971 people lost their lives on the job in the construction industry in 2017.

Despite the apparent progress, the numbers remained higher than in 2014 and 2015. Fatal accident rates varied within the construction industry with roofers and structural iron and steel workers experiencing higher than average rates. Among roofers, 45.2 per 100,000 full-time workers died from workplace accidents, and steel workers experienced 33.4 deaths per 100,000 workers. People working in the category of building construction reported an 8 percent increase in fatalities for 2017, but deaths among civil engineers fell by 4 percent.

Holidays increase stress, risk for injury among retail workers

OSHA is reminding employers in Louisiana and across the U.S. that they must protect their retail workers during the holiday season. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health states that although retail workers may earn extra pay by working additional hours, the consequences are lost family time and lost sleep. In 2016, 24 percent of American employees said that work compromised their ability to fulfill personal and family obligations.

With long work hours comes workplace stress and inattention to what one is doing. When safe practices are overlooked, retail workers only raise their chance for sustaining injuries related to slips, falls and manual lifting. Mental health is also affected, so employers should have plans in place in the effort to reduce workers' anxiety. These plans also ensure employees that they can voice their concerns and respond accordingly when their safety is at risk.

Temporary workers are entitled to protection as well

Both employers and staffing agencies in Louisiana and throughout the country are responsible for ensuring that temporary workers are kept safe. They could both be held liable if a worker is not properly trained or if other safety guidelines are ignored. According to OSHA, temporary employees tend to be asked to do hazardous work and may be more likely to be retaliated against by an employer. In some cases, they are asked to do jobs without adequate descriptions of their responsibilities.

Generally speaking, both sides are responsible for making sure that they correct any hazards they have control over. This is because both sides are considered to be in control of the person doing the temporary work. Typically, ignorance is not an excuse as it relates to putting employees into harm's way. Both temporary agencies and the companies that employee temporary workers are encouraged to communicate with each other on a regular basis.

OSHA announces top work-related violations for 2018

Employers and workers in Louisiana are generally in agreement when it comes to doing everything possible to maintain safe work environments. During a recent safety event where this particular topic was addressed, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a preliminarily listing of the agency's top violations for 2018. The majority of the issues documented involved fall hazards and failure to take sufficient preventative actions.

A failure to provide sufficient fall protection tops the list. Many citations issued for this reason involved contractors working around unprotected sides or edges on steep or low-sloping roofs. A lack of sufficient hazard communication is another oversight that led to many violations. OSHA noted that individuals working at auto facilities and hotels or motels were more likely to be carrying out duties without a written safety program, proper training or required safety data sheets (SDSs) on file.

Most workers' comp claims result from routine activities

Certain accidents that occur while engaged in work-related activities can be serious. Catastrophic injury or death can be the result in the worst-case scenarios. Fortunately, however, the vast majority of claims filed under Louisiana workers' compensation laws involve less severe accidents or no accident at all. Isolated incidents or recurring, repetitive movement can lead to workers' injuries as well.

The workers' compensation system was established to remove fault as an issue in resolving injury claims by workers against their employers. Liability is not an issue as long as the injury is work-related and the employer and employee are covered under the relevant state workers' comp statutes. The injured worker could potentially recover for medical expenses and treatment, lost wages and rehabilitation services where appropriate. Most claims result from everyday activities performed routinely on the job.

Updates made to OSHA's trenching and excavation NEP

There has been an increase in the number of workers killed during trenching and excavation operations. OSHA reported 130 such fatalities between 2011 and 2016. Nearly half died between 2015 and 2016, and about 80 percent were in the private construction industry. Construction workers in Louisiana should know that OSHA has taken an important step to increase enforcement of trenching and excavation safety standards.

On October 1, 2018, OSHA released an updated National Emphasis Program for trenching and excavation. For 90 days following that date, OSHA's regional and area offices will be providing outreach to employers who need help with compliance.

OIG: work-related injuries underreported by OSHA

An audit report from the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General states that OSHA may be underreporting severe and fatal workplace injuries by 50 percent or more. Employees in Louisiana may know that OSHA made changes to its injury and illness recordkeeping rule, which went into effect back in January 2015. Despite these changes, OSHA is inconsistent in issuing citations against employers who report an injury late, the OIG continues.

The report, which was released on Sept. 13, also calls attention to a lack of guidance and training among OSHA staff members when it comes to detecting and identifying underreporting. It points out that OSHA has limited assurance that employers have corrected hazards and that this could be due to OSHA not having enough information to aid in enforcement and compliance assistance.

OSHA tries to reduce fatal construction accidents

About 20 percent of worker deaths that occurred around the country in 2016 were in the construction industry according to OSHA. Louisiana construction workers are generally hurt or killed by four major types of hazards. These include falling, being electrocuted and getting hit by objects. Getting stuck between objects was another typical way in which a construction worker was killed on the job.

To help workers stay safe, OSHA has started the Focus Four Hazards campaign. It aims to partner with private companies to create greater awareness around these hazards and how to mitigate them. One of the ways that this was accomplished was by managers holding toolbox talks with employees. These talks provided an opportunity to remind workers of the importance of workplace safety. It also gave managers and employees the chance to discuss safety plans or ways to avoid potential hazards on a job site.