Metro-North Ordered to Pay Largest Punitive Damages in OSHA History

Case brought under Federal Railroad Safety Act

Metro-North’s actions against an injured worker have resulted in the issuance of maximum penalties, the largest punitive damages ever in a worker retaliation case under the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

A recent OSHA investigation revealed that the worker, who is employed as a coach cleaner for the commuter rail carrier, was retaliated against after reporting a knee injury he suffered on the job. Other employees who suffered job-related injuries did not report them out of fear of reprisal. Proposed penalties include $250,000 in punitive damages and $10,000 in compensatory damages and attorney fees.

“When employees, fearing retaliation, hesitate to report work-related injuries and the safety hazards that caused them, companies cannot fix safety problems and neither employees nor the public are safe,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “In this case, the Metro-North’s conduct was deliberate and discriminatory, and we have assessed the maximum amount in punitive damages allowed under the law.”

In addition to paying punitive and compensatory damages, OSHA ordered Metro-North to expunge the employee’s record of all charges and disciplinary action. The company must also conduct training for all supervisors and managers on employee whistleblower rights and post a notice to employees of these rights.

NIST and OSHA Partner to Help Small Manufacturers Protect Workers

Agencies combine resources to reduce injuries, illnesses

OSHA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology are teaming up to protect workers in small manufacturing businesses from hazards that can cause injuries and illnesses.

Through OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program and NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the agencies are combining resources to reach small and midsize enterprises, which represent nearly 99% of manufacturing firms in the United States.

NIST provides support to individual manufacturers through its nationwide network of experts and business professionals in local centers. OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential safety and occupational health advice to small and midsize businesses in all states across the country and in several territories. For more information about the OSHA-NIST collaboration, click here.

In Connecticut, the on-site consultation program is provided through CONN-OSHA, a division of the state Department of Labor. The Manufacturing Extension Partnership services are available through the Connecticut State Technology Extension Program.

Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards

Summarizes key information

The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards is intended as a source of general industrial hygiene information on several hundred chemicals/classes for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals.

The guide does not contain an analysis of all pertinent data; rather it presents key information and data in abbreviated or tabular form for chemicals or substance groupings—for example cyanides, fluorides, and manganese compounds—that are found in the work environment. The information should help users recognize and control occupational chemical hazards.

Download the pocket guide or order free copies of the print version.

Financial Incentives Increase Likelihood of Wellness Program Participation

Incentives tied to uptake of telephone health coaching

New research shows that when employers offered financial incentives, employees were 33 times more likely to participate in telephone health coaching and did so sooner than employees without incentives. Telephone health coaching—one-on-one phone calls with a personal health coach—is one of many employee wellness programs that employers and insurers can offer today. With all that goes on in the workplace, employee wellness programs can sometimes go unnoticed; however this new research shows that adding an incentive can drastically change participation numbers, thus leading to a potential increase in overall health and a decrease in costs for health plans.

The findings were presented on Nov. 7, 2014, at The Obesity Society (TOS) Annual Meeting in Boston

“While the jury is still out about whether workplace wellness programs improve health, the programs have great potential,” said lead author Jason Block, MD, TOS member and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Population Medicine. “Our goal was to evaluate what motivates people to participate in these programs and what strategies companies and insurers can use to get everyone involved. Our data show that financial incentives clearly work to motivate participation in a health coach program.”

From Oct. 2010 to July 2013, researchers led by Block gathered data on adult members of one nonprofit health plan. They compared the uptake of a telephone health coaching program among the 16,961 members who received financial incentives to the 974,782 members who did not. Their research found that during the nearly three-year follow-up period, 10% of the members with incentives began using the telephone health coaching, whereas only 0.3% of those without the incentives did so.

Financial incentives were also strongly associated with how long it took members to begin using the program. Members who used the telephone health coaching typically had six to seven interactions with a coach over an average duration of four months, where they discussed their lifestyle, assessed their health situation and concerns, and worked to develop specific health goals.

“The idea of using employer incentives to participate in health coaching is relatively new,” says Eric Finkelstein, PhD, MHA, an associate research professor in the Duke Global Health Institute at Duke University. “This research gives us a solid foundation to build upon. The next step is to measure changes in these participants’ health behaviors and identify long-term success.”

Advice for Employers

TOS offers advice for companies looking to implement their own programs and encourages them to focus on incentives for participation rather than penalties. In a TOS position statement released in 2013, TOS members examined the research in the area and made recommendations for employers when developing these programs, including:

  1. Structure programs to reward employees for engaging in healthy habits.
  2. Avoid the use of Body Mass Index (BMI) as a basis for financial penalties or incentives.
  3. Ensure incentive programs are matched with health plans that cover evidence-based obesity treatment programs and medications.
  4. Focus programs on overall wellness for all employees rather than only those affected by obesity or overweight.
  5. Create a supportive workplace environment that provides opportunities for healthy behaviors, such as healthy food options in the cafeteria and vending machines.

“Tackling obesity in the workplace requires a holistic approach with a focus on supporting employees in their health journey,” continues Finkelstein. “Getting it right means workplaces that are encouraging healthy activities, employee cafeterias with healthy options, leaders who model healthy behavior, and health plans that cover a wide range of treatments for obesity and overweight.”

The full abstract of this study is available here.

Learn more about CBIA’s Healthy Connections wellness program here.

Employers Must Post 300A Injury/Illness Summary Form

Display in common area from Feb. 1 to April 30

OSHA is reminding covered employers to post OSHA’s Form 300A, which summarizes the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred during 2014 and were logged on OSHA’s Form 300, the log of work-related injuries and illnesses.

The summary must be posted between Feb. 1 and April 30, 2015, and should be displayed in a common area where notices to employees are usually posted.

Employers with 10 or fewer employees and employers in specific low-hazard industries are normally exempt from federal OSHA injury and illness recordkeeping and posting requirements.

Due to changes in OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements that went into effect Jan. 1, 2015, certain previously exempt industries are now covered. Lists of both exempt and newly covered industries are available on OSHA’s website.


Don’t Forget!

New injury reporting requirements effective Jan. 1

Up until now, employers had to report the following events to OSHA:

  • All work-related fatalities
  • All work-related hospitalizations of three or more employees

Effective Jan. 1, 2015, employers will be required to report these events:

  • All work-related fatalities
  • All work-related in-patient hospitalizations of one or more employees
  • All work-related amputations
  • All work-related losses of an eye

Employers must report a work-related fatality within 8 hours of finding out about it.

For any in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or eye loss, employers must report the incident within 24 hours of learning about it.

Only fatalities occurring within 30 days of the work-related event must be reported to OSHA. Further, for an inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye, incidents must be reported to OSHA only if they occur within 24 hours of the work-related event.

Employers have three options for reporting an incident:

  1. Call the nearest OSHA Area Office during normal business hours.
  2. Call he 24-hour OSHA hotline: 1.800.321.6742).
  3. OSHA is developing a new means of reporting events electronically, which will be released soon and accessible on the agency’s website.

More information and video


Workers at Freight Facility Exposed to Deadly Hazards

Company faces $330,800 in OSHA fines

Employees at the Central Transport LLC freight shipping terminal in Billerica, Mass., were exposed to electrocution, falls, crushing and other injuries due to their employer’s knowing and repeated disregard for basic worker safeguards, OSHA has found. The company faces $330,800 in fines for these hazards.

“Several hazards were brought to management’s attention, but the company took no corrective action, while other conditions were strikingly similar to violations for which Central Transport was previously cited at its locations in Illinois and Mississippi. The cited conditions put employees at risk of deadly or disabling injuries,” says Jeffrey A. Erskine, OSHA’s acting deputy regional administrator for New England. “It’s clear that Central Transport must systematically and effectively address and eliminate hazards at all its locations. The safety and well-being of its employees, now and in the future, depend on it.”

OSHA found that the building’s roof leaked water on to the work floor where electrical cabinets and forklift battery chargers were located. Employees stood in water while plugging in battery chargers and drove forklifts in slippery conditions. This exposed workers to possible electrocution, forklift tip-overs, and slipping hazards.

Employees also were exposed to falls from the loading dock entrance ramp, which lacked required guardrails. Crushing or struck-by injuries arose from the use of defective forklifts, which were not removed from service. Given the company’s knowledge of and failure to address these conditions, OSHA cited Central Transport for four willful safety violations, carrying $242,000 in 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.

Two repeat violations, with $44,000 in fines, were issued for hazards similar to those cited in 2012 at company facilities in Hillside, Illinois, and Pearl, Mississippi. These violations involved unstable and insecure stacking of materials and failure to inform employees of the dangers associated with hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Eight serious violations, with $44,800 in fines, were issued for inadequately evaluating workers’ ability to operate forklifts; unattended forklifts; lack of fire extinguishers; and tripping and electrical hazards.

A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. 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.

The citations can be viewed here.

Central Transport, based in Warren, Michigan, employs about 4,300 workers at 170 locations nationwide, including 18 employees at the Billerica location. The company has 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.

Cold Stress

Protect your workers this winter

Workers who are exposed to extreme cold or work in cold environments may be at risk of cold stress. Extreme cold weather is a dangerous situation that can bring on health emergencies in susceptible people, such as those without shelter, outdoor workers, and those who work in an area that is poorly insulated or without heat.

What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can more rapidly leave your body.

These weather-related conditions may lead to serious health problems, including hypothermia, immersion hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains.

Learn more from the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) about the causes and symptoms of cold stress and how to protect your workers. Get NIOSH Fast Facts here.



Workplace Becoming Safer

Decline in worker injuries continues

Earlier this month, the federal government released its Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses—2013 report. And for the 11th year in a row, with the exception of 2011, there was a decline in the number of workers injured. Key findings from the report include:

  • The total recordable cases (TRC) incidence rate of injury and illness reported by private industry employers declined in 2013 from a year earlier, as did the rate for cases of a more serious nature involving days away from work, job transfer, or restriction–commonly referred to as DART– marking the first decline in the DART rate since 2009.
  • Manufacturing continued a 16-year trend in 2013 as the only private industry sector in which the rate of job transfer or restriction-only cases exceeded the rate of cases with days away from work. The rates for these two case types declined by 0.1 case in 2013 to 1.2 cases and 1.0 case per 100 full-time workers, respectively.
  • The incidence rate of injuries only among private industry workers declined to 3.1 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2013, down from 3.2 cases in 2012. In comparison, the incidence rate of illness cases was statistically unchanged in 2013.

Read the full report.

OSHA Getting Audited

Office of Inspector General planning five audits for 2015

In its 2015 Office of Audit Workplan, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Labor includes plans for discretionary audits of five OSHA programs, including the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program and its National and Local Emphasis Programs. Discretionary audits are based on risk and potential impact on the agency’s mission and goals.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Labor conducts audits to review the effectiveness, efficiency, economy, and integrity of all DOL programs and operations, including those performed by its contractors and grantees. This work is conducted in order to determine whether the programs and operations are in compliance with the applicable laws and regulations, DOL resources are efficiently and economically being utilized, and DOL programs achieve their intended results.

Learn more here.