Recent OSHA Enforcement Activity

Rhode Island, Massachusetts companies cited for serious violations

A Rhode Island firm was cited by OSHA for exposing its workers to lead and potentially dangerous falls while scraping and abrasively removing lead-based paint from an outbuilding

OSHA opened inspections on May 8 when two OSHA inspectors observed employees climbing an extension ladder that was set up at an incorrect and unsafe angle.

An OSHA official stated that “The hazards were both immediate and long-term. A fall from an improperly used ladder could have disabled or killed workers within seconds. Exposure to lead-based paint without proper safeguards could, over time, contribute to chronic health conditions. The society’s care and maintenance of historic structures should not come at a cost to the health and well-being of its workers. It must take effective action to ensure that these hazards don’t occur again.”

OSHA found that the company did not determine the level of lead exposure for each employee and did not provide interim safeguards, including appropriate respiratory protection; personal protective clothing and equipment; areas to change out of lead-contaminated clothing; hand-washing facilities; biological monitoring; and hazard communication training. In addition, a vacuum cleaner lacked a high-efficiency particulate air filter used to collect lead-contaminated debris. Finally, the employer did not train workers in the proper procedures of working with ladders.

As a result, the firm was cited for 10 serious violations and proposed $51,840 in fines. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Employees at a Massachusetts company were exposed to possible electrocution from working close to energized power lines at a work site where required safeguards were not used. The OSHA inspection found that employees used a trench rod and a fiberglass pole with a metal end to lift overhead power lines, so that workers could move excavating equipment under the lines and onto the work site. The company faces $70,290 in proposed fines

The OSHA area director pointed out that “This employer knew the overhead power lines were dangerous, but did not take steps to protect workers or shield them from contact and electrocution. Electricity is swift and deadly. While it is fortunate no one was injured or killed in this case, the hazard of death or disabling burns was real and present.”

OSHA had previously cited the company in 2011 for a similar hazard. Based on the employer’s knowledge of the hazard, OSHA has cited the firm for a willful violation with $69,300 in proposed fines. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Another violation, with a $990 fine, was cited for improper labeling of a trench box.

New Data Sheds Light on Distracted Driving

Be sure your drivers, other employees are aware of these hazards

Recent data from Lytx, Inc., a manufacturer of video-based driver safety technology used by commercial fleets, has found that eating or drinking while driving is nearly as dangerous as any cell phone distraction–handheld or hands-free–and greatly increases a driver’s risk of being in or causing a collision.

“I see people eating while driving almost every day. What we’ve learned is that this type of distraction is nearly as dangerous as talking or texting on your phone,” said Del Lisk, vice president of Safety Services for Lytx. “We know that distracted driving is a significant factor in vehicle collisions, and our predictive analytics show that distractions such as eating and drinking or smartphones and tablets are among the leading causes of collisions. Everyone should think about that the next time they are unwrapping a burrito on the freeway. Getting into a collision and potentially causing serious injury simply isn’t worth it.”

Lytx’s data found that:

  • Drivers with food or drink distractions are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a collision than drivers who do not eat and drink while driving.
  • Drivers using a hands-free device are 4.6 times more likely to be involved in a collision than drivers who did not use their hands-free device.
  • Drivers with smartphone or tablet distraction are 4.7 times more likely to be involved in a collision than drivers who did not use their cellular handheld device.

Distracted Driving Near-Collisions Double on Sunny Days

Lyxt also released data revealing that more drivers are apt to engage in distracted driving when weather conditions are clear than during inclement weather. In fact, your chances of having a near-collision while driving nearly doubles in good weather conditions.

“We have concluded that drivers are not as alert and may engage in distracted driving more often when the weather is clear,” says Lisk. “We have released this data to remind drivers the perils of distracted driving and importance to drive alert regardless of the weather conditions.”

Lytx analytics experts studied more than 2.5 billion miles driven from September 2011 to April 2013. The data found the ratio of near-collision incidents is 8.6 to 1 in clear weather compared to 4.6 to 1 in inclement weather.

 

OSHA Updates Policy on Temporary Workers

Host employer, staffing agency are ‘joint employers’

On April 13, 2013, OSHA launched its Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI) in an effort to ensure the safety of temporary workers. In July, it updated this policy stepping up its enforcement efforts in this area.

The July memorandum clarifies the responsibilities of hosts employers and agencies providing laborers, pointing out that the staffing agency and host employer are ‘joint employers’ of the worker. This joint responsibility makes each responsible for compliance with safety requirements.

Read the memorandum here.

Small Businesses: Wellness Programs Can Significantly Improve Worker Health

Get started with CBIA’s Healthy Connections program

Employees at small businesses are less likely to have access to worksite wellness programs, according to a research reviewin the June 2014 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

But smaller companies that can overcome the barriers and implement wellness programs can realize achieve meaningful improvements in employee health, report Kira McCoy, BA, of Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass., and colleagues. They write, “Preventative health initiatives and disease management receive less attention in small business, yet are equally important for clinical implications of working American’s health.”

The researchers analyzed the findings of 19 studies of worksite wellness programs in small business. A 2008 study suggested that less than 5% of small worksites offered comprehensive wellness programs, compared to nearly one-fourth of larger businesses. More than half of the U.S. workforce is employed by small companies with fewer than 500 employees.

Costs were identified as a key barrier to starting wellness programs in small business—not only direct program costs but also indirect costs such as time and staff. Smaller companies are also less likely to offer health insurance, and thus don’t have the financial incentive of lowering employee insurance premiums by improving employee health. There may also be issues related to employee privacy and perceived “meddling” in workers’ private lives at smaller companies.

But the few studies that have evaluated wellness programs at smaller companies have shown reported improvements in employee health. Those studies reported improvements in outcomes including diet, physical activity, and emotional health.

McCoy and coauthors call for more into how best to disseminate effective health promotion programs to smaller companies. The availability of technical assistance and incentives for workplace wellness programs under the Affordable Care Act “reinforces the urgent need for more high quality research that specifically addresses adoption, implementation, efficacy and sustainability of worksite wellness within small business settings.”

Learn more about CBIA’s Healthy Connections wellness program.

Creating a ‘Culture of Health’ Makes for Strong Financials

‘Focusing on health and safety of a workforce is good business’

Companies that build a culture of health by focusing on the well-being and safety of their workforce may yield greater value for their investors, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

The stock market performance of companies that had received ACOEM’s Corporate Health Achievement Award (CHAA), which annually recognizes the healthiest and safest companies in North America, was conducted at HealthNEXT LLC and analyzed by lead authors Raymond Fabius, MD, and R. Dixon Thayer, and colleagues. Companies that receive the award must be engaged in demonstrable and robust efforts to reduce health and safety risks among their employees.

Tracking an initial theoretical investment of $10,000 in publicly traded CHAA-recipients from the mid 1990s to 2012, researchers found that these award-winning CHAA companies outperformed the S&P 500. Four investment scenarios were created, using a combination of simulations and past market-performance to create investor portfolios for comparison. While the margin of return varied, CHAA recipients outperformed the market in each of the four scenarios.

In the highest-performing scenario, CHAA companies had an annualized return of 5.23% vs. −0.06% for the S&P 500. In the lowest-performing scenario, CHAA companies had an annualized return of 6.03% vs. 2.92% for the S&P 500.

“Our results strongly support the view that focusing on health and safety of a workforce is good business,” said the study authors. “Engaging in a comprehensive effort to promote wellness, reduce the health risks of a workforce, and mitigate the complications of chronic illness within these populations can produce remarkable impacts on health care costs, productivity, and performance.”

The authors acknowledge that the study focuses on the performance of a small collection of companies on the stock market for a limited number of years, and that more research is needed before a strong causal relationship can be established between health and safety programs and market results. But they conclude that the study adds new evidence-based data to a growing body of literature indicating that “healthy workforces provide a competitive financial advantage in the marketplace.”

“Although correlation is not the same as causation, results consistently and significantly suggest that companies focusing on the health and safety of their workforce are yielding greater value for their investors,” the authors write.

 

Female Employees Place Higher Priority on Health Than Male Counterparts

Study shows marked differences in perspectives and behaviors

As employers look for new ways to improve the health and well-being of their workforce, a survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health, and The Futures Company reveals that female employees are more concerned about their health and place a higher priority on staying healthy than their male counterparts. However, they are also more likely to view personal stress, affordability and lack of employer support as obstacles to improving their personal health.

The 2014 Consumer Health Mindset survey, which analyzed responses from more than 2,700 U.S. employees and their dependents covered by employer-sponsored health plans, shows marked differences in the perspectives, behaviors, and attitudes that male and female employees display toward their health and well-being.

The survey found that 

  • 65% of female employees feel they have control over their health compared to 50% of males.
  • 73% of females feel managing their emotional health and their stress levels are important to their overall health, compared to 54% and 57% of males, respectively.
  • 67% of females believe getting routine medical screenings is an important factor in maintaining their health, compared to only 52% of males.
  • 58% of female employees say they experience high stress, compared to 44% of males.
  • 44% of female employees are more likely to cite affordability
    as an obstacle in achieving good health, compared to 37% of males.

“While women are generally more actively engaged in their health care and understand what they need to do to get and stay healthy, employers need to ensure both men and women are making good health a priority,” said Joann Hall Swenson, health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt. “To effectively encourage healthier behaviors across the entire employee population, companies need to implement a holistic health and wellness strategy that considers different segments of the workforce, targets decision makers, and encourages active employee participation in health decisions.”

Obstacles to Staying Healthy
While female employees are more aware of the activities that are important to their health and wellness, the survey shows they are also more likely than their male counterparts to feel there are barriers to getting and staying healthy.

StressFifty-eight percent of female employees say they experience high stress, compared to 44% of males. In addition, 39% of females are more likely to say their stress has increased over the past 12 months, compared to only 26% of male employees.

Recent industry research shows that highly stressed people are 30% less likely to eat healthily, 25 percent less likely to exercise and 200 percent more likely to fail to achieve their goals in weight loss programs. These employees also get half as much sleep as people reporting low levels of stress.

Affordability—Female employees are more likely to cite affordability as an obstacle in achieving good health (44%) compared to males (37%). For example, female employees who are enrolled in a consumer-driven health plan are more likely to say they sacrifice care (29% versus 18%), seek lower-cost options (27% versus 17%), or postpone care (27% versus 13%).

Employer Support—According to the survey, female employees are also less likely to feel they get appropriate support from their employer. Only 35% of females say their employer is extremely/very supportive in helping them get and stay healthy, compared to 45% of males.

Female employees are also more likely to want tools and solutions from their employer to help them better manage their health.

  • 60% of females would like their employer to offer free health tools and programs (versus 52% of males).
  • 56% of females would like to be rewarded for health achievements (versus 50% of males).
  • 48% of females would like a personalized online view of how they use health care and other health information (versus 43% of males).

Aon Hewitt’s 2014 Health Care Survey reveals that employers are taking steps to assist individuals in making health care more accessible and affordable. According to the survey, 21% of employers offer on-site primary and/or preventive care services, and 23% are considering adding these services in the next three years. Seventy-two percent of employers currently offer on-site health improvement programs surrounding fitness, weight loss, and nutrition education, and 23% are considering adding these programs in the next three years.

Reaching Genders More Effectively

For employers to more effectively reach their entire workforce about their personal health, Aon Hewitt experts suggest the following steps:

Segment the workforce. Leveraging workforce data, employers need to segment their employee population and covered dependents demographically and attitudinally (i.e., what they value) and then design programs, incentives, and marketing materials that best appeal to the unique needs of their workforce. Once organizations assess the overall profile of male and female employees, they can tailor specific marketing and communication campaigns with better precision.

Target decision makers. Employers should intentionally communicate with individuals who are making the health decisions in a family. For example, companies may want to consider sending targeted communication that appeal uniquely to each gender on how to manage health services and expenses. Companies can also offer opt-in gender-specific health texts with language and tips more suited to each gender.

Encourage active participation in health decisions. Although women are more likely to make health care decisions for their families, employers should also encourage males to more actively participate in health decisions and activities. In general, male workers tend to look online for their health information and recommendations, so companies should target their health communication by offering credible sources for health and medical advice.

Make dealing with stress a priority. Employers should identify the top issues driving stress within their population (looking at both work-related and personal drivers) and develop a strategy to address these issues. To appeal to women, companies should make these offerings easy and convenient to work around their family lives. Since male workers are more likely to cope with stress in sedentary ways, employers should also try to encourage exercise as a top motivator for managing stress. Additionally, to help employees respond in a healthy way to life stressors, companies should consider implementing programs targeted at building resilience.

“Employers need to shift their communications mindset to focus on engaging all employees and their families rather than communicating to the ‘benefit plan participant,’” said Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “To do so, companies need to understand that one size does not fit all and develop communications that are unique and targeted to meet the broad needs and interests of their entire employee population.”

 

Prescription Painkillers: Five Things Employers Need to Know

National Safety Council urges companies to combat the nation’s fastest growing drug epidemic

The number of people overdosing from opioid prescription painkillers is staggering, killing 45 people each day. Twenty-three percent of the workforce has misused prescription painkillers, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, making opioid use a serious threat to employee safety. Even when employees are taking opioid painkillers at the correct dosage with a valid prescription, subtle impairment may compromise workplace safety.

Today, the National Safety Council released a guide for employers, The Proactive Role Employers Can Take: Opioids in The Workplace, to help companies understand how employee prescription painkiller use or abuse could directly impact business and what employers can do to stem this issue.

There are five things employers should know about prescription painkiller use and how it affects employee safety and the financial security of their business:

  1. Opioid painkillers compromise employee safety. Even after an employee returns to work, he or she could still feel the effects of prescription painkillers. Although an employee may take a legitimately prescribed amount of painkillers, he or she may be too impaired to operate equipment, drive, or perform other job duties safely.
  2. Workers prescribed opioids have significantly higher workers’ compensation claims. Workers prescribed even one opioid have four times more expensive total claim costs than workers with similar claims who didn’t get opioids (Hopkins Accident Research Fund Study). Employers and insurers have been held financially accountable for overdose deaths tied to injured workers (Business Insurance, 2012).
  3. Employers play an important role in helping their employees seek treatment. Research shows that employee recovery rates are higher when employers offer or suggest treatment, rather than friends or family (Psychiatric Services, 2009) .
  4. Opioid painkillers can delay recovery and return to work. “Return to work” and “fitness for duty” criteria vary widely, so it’s often difficult for employers to determine when an employee can safely begin working while under the influence of prescription painkillers (Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, 2013). Opioid painkillers also delay recovery from workplace injuries (Spine, 2007).
  5. Using opioid painkillers increase the likelihood of disability claims. Receiving more than a one-week supply of opioids soon after an injury doubles a worker’s risk of disability one year later (Washington State Department of Labor and Industries).

“Most employers understand how detrimental illegal drugs can be in the workplace, but few recognize the toll of the prescription painkiller epidemic,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO at NSC. “Strong Drug-Free Workplace Programs, comprehensive benefits packages, easily accessible Employee Assistance Programs, and company-wide education are risk reduction efforts every employer must undertake to help protect the health and well-being of their employees as well as [the] company bottom [line].”

It’s also important to review how state and federal disability discrimination and drug testing laws apply to this area of risk management and safety and health oversight. CBIA has resources to help, ranging from sample policies, supervisor training, and direct telephone consultation on specific problem situations. Call CBIA’s HR Hotline at 860-244-1900, or email: CBIA’s HR Counsel Mark Soycher at mark.soycher@cbia.com.

NSC also released a toolkit with information to help employers revise existing workplace drug policies and programs.

 

 

Recent Fatalities Reminder to Eliminate Demolition Hazards

New training resources for construction demolition industry

On June 20, a construction worker taking down an old Blockbuster Video building in New Jersey was trapped and killed when the last standing wall of a building under demolition collapsed on top of him. Six months earlier, a 25-year-old construction worker in Chicago was struck and killed by pieces of falling concrete while conducting renovations on a shopping mall. These tragedies follow the June 5, 2013, collapse of a four-story building undergoing demolition in Philadelphia that killed six people and injured 14. These deaths could have been prevented. To help prevent these tragedies and save lives, OSHA has developed new educational resources and training for the construction demolition industry.

The agency recently launched an updated demolition website to address the hazards common in demolition operations and the safety measures that can be taken to prevent them. The updated demolition page provides information on applicable OSHA standards, hazard assessments, measures that can be taken to prevent injuries and illnesses before site work begins, and a link for stakeholders to share stories about demolition safety.

From 2009 to 2013, OSHA issued nearly 1,000 citations for violations of its construction demolition standards. The most common citation issued was for failure to conduct an engineering survey to determine the condition of the structure prior to demolition. This includes determining whether an unplanned collapse of the building or any adjacent structure would injure those working in the vicinity.

Safety Retaliation Cases Settled

West Springfield furniture retailer must pay former employee $12,500

OSHA has entered into an agreement with McKees Rocks Industrial Enterprises Inc. and James T. Lind, company president, resolving a lawsuit alleging a worker was wrongfully terminated for filing an OSHA complaint. OSHA inspected the Pennsylvania industrial park and terminal facility after the worker raised safety concerns. Following OSHA’s inspection, the worker was initially reassigned duties but later fired.

OSHA found the company violated Section 11(c) of the OSH Act when it fired the worker in retaliation for his safety complaint. The judgment provides the worker $100,000 in damages and the removal of all disciplinary action.

OSHA has also reached a settlement with Donald Pottern, doing business as Crown Furniture, after the agency found merit to a worker’s complaint that he had been fired by his employer two days after he filed a complaint with OSHA alleging safety and health hazards at the store.

Pottern will pay a former employee $12,500 and take other corrective action to resolve an anti-discrimination lawsuit filed against the West Springfield, Mass., furniture retailer by the U.S. Department of Labor after an OSHA investigation. To ensure payment, Pottern has provided the department with a security interest in a car that he owns, so that the department may lawfully secure possession and sell it to satisfy unpaid portions of the judgment, if necessary. Pottern must also expunge the former employee’s personnel record and provide a written, neutral job reference for him, if requested.

More information

OSHA’s Severe Violator List Expands

Ten Connecticut companies included

The most recent issue of OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) shows an increase to 423 companies being listed as violators. (See full list.) In 2010, OSHA instituted the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) to more effectively focus enforcement efforts on recalcitrant employers who demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees through willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations of the OSH Act. The program replaced the Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP), an earlier program that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found to be an inefficient and ineffective means of identifying and addressing the most severe violators.

On the July list, construction companies continue to dominate making up 61% (257) of the cited companies. Unsurprisingly, the latest BLS data shows more deaths in this industry than any other. In stemming fatalities and other serious injuries, the program allows OSHA to increase its oversight of assigned employers. Companies can be removed from the list for the following reasons:

  1. A period of three years from the date of the final disposition of the SVEP inspection citation items including: failure to contest, settlement agreement, Review Commission final order, or court of appeals decision.
  2. All affirmed violations have been abated, all final penalties have been paid, and the employer has abided by and completed all settlement provisions and has not received any additional serious citations related to the hazards identified in the SVEP inspection at the initial establishment or at any related establishments.

In the event an employer fails to adhere to the terms and provisions of the agreement, the employer will remain in the program for an additional three years and will then be reevaluated.