Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

OSHA Testing Can Reduce Employer Liability, Saves Companies Money

This guest post was contributed by Joseph A. Ginarte. He is a specialist New York accident lawyer and the proprietor of the Ginarte Law firm. He enjoys writing and sharing his insights on various legal blogs.

Every day, more than twelve workers die on the job, which adds up to a total of 4,500 worker fatalities each year. Another 4.1 million workers suffer serious injury or illness related to their jobs, according to a white paper published by Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor (OSHA).While it’s not possible to prevent every accident, the need to promote safety in the workplace is obvious. Programs designed to prevent workplace injury and illness are well established in countries like Canada, Australia, Norway, Japan, Korea and all the 27 member states of he European Union.  In addition 15 states in the United States, including California, require such programs.

Yet many business owners resist mandatory workplace inspections and tighter safety regulations imposed by OSHA. Conventional wisdom claims that safety testing and workplace regulations, such as those imposed represent a job-killing financial drain on businesses. However, the results of a study conducted in May 2012 by researchers at the Harvard Business School, the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley and Boston University soundly refute those assertions. In fact, the study shows that OSHA testing can actually result in significant savings for companies along with reducing company liability.

Reduced Employer Liability

According to the study, workplaces in high hazard industries that had been subject to random OSHA inspections reported a reduction of 9.4 percent in injury claims. This reduction in claims translated to savings of 26 percent in workers’ compensation costs in the four years following the inspections.  These figures were compiled in comparison with a similar number of uninspected companies in the same high hazard industries.

Significant Savings

The average savings to companies that had undergone OSHA inspections was $355,000 US, according to the study. Further, savings were realized in workers’ compensation claims as small as $2,000 US as well as much larger.  The study also found absolutely no evidence that workplace inspections had a negative impact on company profits.

In their original report, the researchers estimated that if the conditions of the study were duplicated across the entire country, the potential savings could total as much as $6 billion US to employers and employees, when compensation for pain and suffering are excluded. However, as a result of more recent research, the study’s researchers revised their estimate of savings upward in June 2012, from $6 billion US to $20 billion US.

Objective Measurements

The study was able to overcome design and bias flaws present in earlier studies by taking advantage of a 1993 California mandate that requires the California division of OSHA to conduct random workplace inspections. The study looked ad companies that were randomly inspected between 1996 and 2006, along with a similar number of companies that were not inspected. The number of injuries recorded from both groups of companies was drawn from worker compensation claims and other independent sources. By contrast, previous studies of this type had not used random data. Instead, all of the workplaces studied had been the site of a workplace accident or complaint. The information was drawn from OSHA logs, which often become more detailed as time passes.

 

For Further Reading

  • Harvard Business School: New Study Shows That Workplace Inspections Save Lives, Don’t Destroy Jobs
    hbs.edu/news/releases/toffelscience051712.html
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Injury and Illness Prevention Programs – White Paper
    osha.gov/dsg/topics/safetyhealth/OSHAwhite-paper-january2012sm.pdf
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Interesting Bill in Congress Imposes Prison Term for Safety Violations

I got tipped off about HB 2067, introduced by California U.S. Rep Lynn Woolsey, from Finance-Commerce.com.   Styled the “Protecting America’s Workers Act,” the bill’s summary explains that it would let the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforce stiffer penalties for willful safety violations that result in serious injury or death.”

What kind of stiffer penalties?    Well, many are concerned that the bill could extend criminal liability to foremans, superintendents and safety directors within an organization.

Is this a serious problem?   Will this bill gain traction?

The folks at 16deathsperday.com would argue the problem is serious, and certainly hope that the bill moves through congress.    According to the organization, 16 workers are killed each day in the United States “because of reckless negligence on the part of their employers.”

If HB 2067 becomes law, and this organization’s numbers are correct, that could expose employees and owners to stiffer penalties and possible criminal sanctions 16 times per day.

Track the bill over at OpenCongress.org here, and stay tuned to the Monitor for future updates if this thing gets pushed through.

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Are Washington Cranes and Crane Operators Ready for New Regulations Starting in 2010?

Most in the Pacific Northwest should remember the 2006 crane collapse in Bellevue, WA that killed a Microsoft employee.   What many might not know is that in response to the collapse, the 2007 Washington State Legislature increased the state’s regulation of cranes and crane operators.    Compared to other states, the Washington regulations are quite extensive, Washington being only the 2nd state (California) to have licensing requirements for cranes and crane operators.

The question is whether the state is ready for the January 1, 2010 effective date for the new regulatory scheme.   With the effective date only days away, Labor & Industries is worried that the answer is no.

The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that as of December 22, 2009, less than 10% of cranes have been certified.  Fortunately, the lag seems isolated to the certification of the cranes themselves, as the crane operators have mostly become compliant.   ENR.com reports that as many as 2000 crane operators have received their licenses.

What You Need To Know

Labor & Industries has issued WAC, Part L, §§ 296-155-525 through 296-155-533 setting forth the certification requirements for cranes and crane operators.

Here are three critical things to keep in mind:

Cranes Must Be Inspected

Every crane used in Washington construction projects must be inspected by a certified inspector (see below).   The general guidelines for a crane inspection are set forth in WAC 296-155-53200, which among other things requires review of the crane’s maintenance records, safety devices, wire rope in light of manufacturer’s specifications, and the performance of load tests.

Inspectors Must Be Certified

Not just anyone can inspect Washington cranes and certify them…the inspectors themselves must be first certified by Labor & Industries.   Becoming a certified inspector of cranes not only requires properly applying for the license, but a mixture of know-how and experience with cranes, and passing examinations.

Crane Operators Must Be Licensed

In addition to the cranes themselves being subject to a strict inspection process, those in charge of operating the cranes are also regulated by the new provisions, and must have a license starting January 1, 2010.   The crane operator requirements are found within WAC 296-155-53300.   The regulation requires operators to:

(1) Pass a substance abuse test;

(2) Have a specific number of hours of experience in operating cranes; and

(3) Hold a valid crane operator certificate for the type of crane being operated, issued by a crane operator testing organization accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting acgency, which includes a successful passing of a written and practical examination.

#1 and #2 are non-ambiguous requirements.   #3, however, can be subject to interpretation and circumstance.    The Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued DOSH Directive 8.60 on December 23, 2009, to address this requirement.   The Directive states in its § IV that:

[I]f compliance staff encounter crane equipment in use for which there is no nationally accredited operator written or practical test established and the equipment is operated by a non-certified operator, the CSHO shall not cite the employer for a violation of WAC 296-155-53300(1)(a).  Instead, the CSHO shall include a message on the citation or notice issued advising the employer that once an appropriate certification is avaialble as described in the rule that the employer has one year to ensure that such non-certified crane operators become certified.   The employer will be allowed to continue operating the crane provided the employer makes documentation readily available to the department indicating that the operator has been competently trained, evaluated and tested by the employer on the operating procedures for the piece of equipment in use as recommended by the crane equipment manufacturer.

Certainly, we’ll soon run into questions about what is “competent” training, evaluation and testing…  For now, however, the most important issue is getting your crane certified and your operator in compliance with the new WAC requirements.   Starting January 1st, Labor & Industries will be checking projects for compliance, and in these times when margins and schedules are tight, a L&I violation on these new crane requirements is something worth avoiding.

Check out International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302, announcement of the Rule Change, which has some usable information, and a “Crane Operator Experience Declaration Form.”  This form is to be signed by crane operators, who will declare their pre-2010 experience with a specific crane to employers.

This article was originally posted on Wolfe Law Group’s topic-specific Northwest Construction Law Blog.

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Another Construction Safety Reminder – Fall at Yankee Stadium

Last week, we posted about the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Atlanta as a reminder to contractors of the importance of construction safety. Another high profile construction accident occurred this week in New York, as a worker on the new Yankee stadium was hospitalized after a fall from a mobile scaffold.

This is just another reminder to contractors, subcontractors and other tradesman who do dangerous business that safety should be taken seriously. One small fall can cost your project bad press, an OSHA investigation, workers compensation claims and rate increases, insurance battles, and more.

Chris Hill, a construction attorney with Durrette & Bradshaw, published an article recently on his “Construction Law Musings” blog titled: Be Ready In Case Of A Construction Disaster.

Chris’ point?

“If you are unlucky enough to be an owner, architect, engineer, or contractor on a project that results in disaster, you need to get legal counsel, immediately contact your insurance company and have an independent third party evaluate the situation. For further steps, please check out this article I wrote for Business Law Bulletin of Virginia.”

His article in the Business Law Bulletin of Virginia is a great resource for contractors all over the country faced with construction accidents or disasters. More resources can be found at our prior post here.


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Construction Accidents Happen Everyday…

I’ve recently set up certain Google Alerts and subscribed to a few RSS feeds that provide updates regarding construction safety standards, issues and problems. Most surprising about the information being distributed is just how often construction accidents happen.

Just last week, I was alerted to an incident in Atlanta where a pedestrian bridge under construction had collapsed leaving one dead and 15 others injured.

On the morning of that accident, a construction company began what they thought was just another morning. As 2009 approaches, it’s nearly certain that they are restlessly pouring through their insurance policies, speaking to authorities, worrying about OSHA fines and lawsuits, calculating the project’s new delay and having other thoughts that make it increasingly difficult for them to continue work as usual.

A construction accident like this is devastating for two reasons: First, people die and get hurt. Second, your construction business has enormous liability exposure and can plummet into a downward spiral of bureaucracy and legal headache.

The legal and economical problems associated with a construction accident like this are nearly unmeasurable. A problem like this can happen to your company, and so it’s important to take precautions.

A good place to get started? Try the OSHA online assistance center for the Construction Industry.

Here are some other blogs about construction safety that publish great information about the topic on a day-to-day basis:

While we haven’t posted on construction safety in the past here at the Construction Law Monitor, we will be keeping an eye on these important issues and making further mention of them. Stay tuned.

Posted in:     Around The Web, Safety  /  Tags: , , , , ,   /   Leave a comment