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El Paso Workers'' Compensation Law Blog

OSHA renews focus on trench safety with updated national program

Plumbers, construction workers and utility workers in Texas sometimes need to excavate trenches, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants to make sure that employers and workers take the risks seriously. In October, the agency enhanced its National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation to increase resources available to help employers comply with regulations and educate workers.

The program seeks to improve compliance by distributing educational materials, such as a trenching safety poster and a new web page with information about preventing soil collapses that can injure or kill workers. Employers can also discuss specific concerns with compliance assistance specialists who can inform them about safe work practices.

OSHA on how to protect temporary workers

To protect temporary workers from exploitation and unsafe job sites in Texas, OSHA requires certain requirements to be met. The responsibility of meeting these requirements falls with both the staffing agencies and host employers. First, both sides should know that they have a joint liability to temp workers and that this should be laid out clearly in their contract.

The main responsibility is to ensure a work environment that is safe and OSHA-compliant, especially in regard to hazard training and communication as well as recordkeeping whenever incidents arise. Staffing agencies must provide health and safety training, general though it may be, while host employers must be more specific so that temp workers are trained for that particular workplace.

Failure to provide fall protection tops OSHA violations list

OSHA strives to help both workers and employers in Texas enjoy safe workplaces. Nevertheless, there some work environments where established regulations haven't been implemented or properly followed. In order to shine a spotlight on such issues, OSHA has issued its list of the most common workplace violations found in 2018. Accounting for more than 7,000 citations, fall violations, which often involve contractors working on steep roofs and other high surfaces without protection, once again topped the list.

At No. 2 on the list was hazard communication violations. These are issued for failing to have a written program in place to deal with known hazards. Failure to maintain or develop safety data sheets is a related issue that also resulted in multiple violations.

OSHA initiative for safer trench work

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is releasing new guidelines that could make trenching and excavation work safer for employees in Texas. This National Emphasis Program (NEP) comes as a response to a number of trench-related deaths and accidents in recent years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Data, there were 130 fatalities linked to trenching and excavation between 2011 and 2016. Most of the deaths (80 percent) were in the private construction industry.

CDC identifies which jobs are riskier for carpal tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which a compressed median nerve causes pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the hand or wrist. Anyone who engages in activities that put the hands and wrists in awkward postures or that involve forceful, repetitive tasks is at risk. Unfortunately, some Texas jobs have a high rate of CTS among employees.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified what industries and occupations see the highest CTS rates. Its data was culled from the California Department of Public Health, which analyzed workers' compensation claims for CTS in that state.

DOL report criticizes OSHA data gathering practices

At least half of the severe injuries suffered each year by workers in Texas and around the country are not reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to a report released on Sept. 13 by the Department of Labor. The DOL's Office of Inspector General concludes in the report that changes made to OSHA's record-keeping rules, which were implemented in January 2015, have done little to address the issue.

The OIG audit report criticizes OSHA for not doing enough to gather information about work-related illnesses and injuries and questions the number of citations handed out to employers that do not take the filing requirements seriously. The OIG says that OSHA could improve workplace safety significantly by training employers to detect and prevent underreporting as the information currently being gathered is not sufficient to effectively guide the agency's enforcement practices.

The top five hazards that affect construction workers

OSHA has stated that there were 1,000 construction deaths in 2016. Moreover, 60 percent of the deaths were preventable. Construction workers in Texas should be familiar with the five leading causes of death in the construction industry: they are falls, struck-by incidents, electrical accidents, caught-in-between incidents and exposure to hazardous materials.

Falls account for a third of all construction deaths. Such deaths could occur because of unstable work surfaces, a lack of fall prevention equipment like guardrails and safety nets or a lack of personal protective equipment like hard hats and non-slip work boots. Ladders and scaffolding that do not comply with safety standards will also increase the risk.

Amazon called out for worker injuries

Companies in Texas and every other state have an obligation to keep workers safe. However, Amazon was a part of the April 2018 "dirty dozen" list created by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. According to the list, there were seven deaths at Amazon warehouses since 2013, and three of those deaths took place within a five-week period in 2017.

While the company touts its safety record, one employee claimed that he was terminated after a back injury. His lawsuit claims that a manager said the 43-year-old man was too young to have back problems. The man was terminated before he was even able to see a doctor. An employee in Pennsylvania was terminated weeks after getting hurt while working in a fulfillment center. There have also been reports of employees quitting because of the stress and exhaustion that they experience while on the job.

Tree care workers face high risks and patchy safety regulations

On-the-job hazards come at tree care workers in Texas from all directions. They can get hurt or killed by falling from high places, getting struck by falling limbs, coming in contact with electrical utility wires or encountering problems with chainsaws or wood chippers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have regulations specifically for tree care workers. They work under rules developed for various occupations like loggers or construction workers. Although OSHA plans to create safety standards for tree workers, employers currently observe a patchwork of OSHA rules, state regulations and Arboricultural Operations--Safety Requirements.

Employers and employees can work together to promote workplace safety. Managers of a tree company could meet with workers to gather information about hazards and ideas for improving safety. Training should aim to inform workers about how to recognize power line dangers and use fall protection equipment correctly.

OSHA guidelines on preventing struck-by injuries

Being struck by objects is one of the four most deadly hazards in the workplace according to OSHA. Struck-by injuries can be caused by a range of objects, including falling, flying, rolling, swinging and slipping objects. Employers and employees in Texas will want to know what OSHA guidelines are regarding the prevention of these injuries.

The first step is for workers to wear the personal protective equipment that's required in their respective industries. This can include hard hats, goggles and steel-toe shoes. Workers should never work on machinery unless they have received the proper training. They should also make sure the safety devices on their equipment are functional.

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