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El Paso Workers'' Compensation Law Blog

Common OSHA violations among craft brewery owners

Craft breweries are on the rise in Texas and across the U.S., but like any other business, they are subject to OSHA health and safety standards. Below are six ways that craft brewery owners often violate OSHA standards.

First of all, OSHA has rules regarding confined spaces, which can include fermenters, silos and kettles. Owners may break these rules by, for example, having workers occupy the spaces for an extended period of time or failing to post warnings about the spaces.

OSHA pledges to step up inspections over amputation risks

Texas companies may present a serious threat to their employees if they fail to take proper steps to guard equipment. Machinery used in the manufacturing process can lead to catastrophic injuries and even fatalities from a range of workplace accidents. While the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues and enforces regulations for workplace safety, workers can suffer severe effects if these guidelines are not implemented by employers. One issue of particular concern to OSHA is the risk of amputations on the job for workers operating equipment in a factory setting.

The agency defines amputations as the loss of a limb or other external body part by a worker on the job, including fingertip amputations that do not affect the bone. If an amputation takes place due to a workplace accident, employers must report the incident to OSHA. The federal agency announced that it will be launching a National Emphasis Program on amputations, updating its previous inspection guidelines issued in 2015. Between December 2019 and March 2020, the agency will focus on education and outreach for employers in the manufacturing sector.

Warehouse workers face dangers on the job

The warehouse industry in Texas is booming. Around the world, Amazon alone directs 150 million square feet of warehouse space. Even as brick-and-mortar retail is experiencing serious problems, more and more people are buying goods online, requiring ever more warehouse space and warehouse employees. Some warehouse companies are dedicating significant energy to automating their workplaces, attempting to cut down on the number of human employees while also introducing potentially hazardous robotic implements. Indeed, there is some time to come before automation will displace many workers, but their jobs are likely to become more stressful and fast-paced as a result.

Warehouse workers face increasing risks on the job as well. Between 2015 and 2017, fatalities linked to workplace injuries doubled from 11 to 22. Out of every 100 full-time warehouse workers, 5.1 are injured on the job. This is a similar injury rate to that experienced by farmworkers. New machines are being introduced into warehouses without established safety protocols. In addition, many warehouses are minimally staffed while workers are pressured to process and ship goods as quickly as possible. Managers are often tasked both with overseeing safety and productivity, a situation that can cause safety to fall by the wayside.

Providing workers with double hearing protection

OSHA has a permissible exposure limit in place that's meant to protect all workers in Texas and across the U.S. from overexposure to loud noises. The safety organization also has a hearing conservation program requirement. Employers are to train employees on how to monitor noise levels and safeguard themselves. This naturally means providing the right hearing protection devices.

In some cases, employees may need more than one hearing protection device. They may, for example, have to wear both earmuffs and earplugs. This is called double protection, and NIOSH generally recommends it when workers' exposure to noise exceeds a time-weighted average of 100 A-weighted decibels over a single eight-hour shift. The Mine Safety and Health Administration recommends that miners wear double protection when that average is 105 dBA.

OSHA makes safety training ruling

Employers in Texas and throughout America must offer safety training to any workers who may face hazards on the job. Generally speaking, they may use computers as part of employee training efforts. While these can help workers learn important skills, OSHA says that computer or online training courses are not acceptable on their own. Instead, workers must be taught skills such as putting on protective equipment in an interactive and physical setting.

According to OSHA, not allowing workers to train with qualified professionals can make it harder for them to learn important safety lessons. By working with professional trainers, workers can learn new skills or ensure that they have not forgotten skills learned in the past. Furthermore, trainers can help to correct any mistakes that a worker may be making. However, OSHA has said that it may be acceptable to offer online training as long as workers have access to a trainer if they have any questions.

Workers' compensation insurance: the basics

In Texas, as in other states, most employers are required to carry workers' compensation insurance. In the event that employees are injured on the job, this insurance can cover a portion of the wages they lose as well as help them pay for their medical treatments. The insurance also covers funeral and burial expenses in case of a fatality. Death benefits can be paid out based on length of employment and annual income.

Workers' compensation insurance has existed in some form or another since the time of the ancient Sumerians. In the 1900s, the U.S. passed the Employers' Liability Act, which granted workers "on-the-job" financial protection. Workers' compensation is used to cover both full-time and part-time employees across the nation. Freelance workers are not covered and must get workers' compensation from a private insurer.

True workplace safety requires more than reactivity

Worker's compensation was designed as a system to address the inevitability of on the job accidents and provide the injured worker with medical treatment, wage replacement and retraining if necessary without the need to prove the employer's negligence or fault. In turn, the employee cannot file a personal injury suit against the employer. However, in Texas, worker's comp is optional for most types of business. This has resulted in most Texas employers opting out of worker's comp, but they must have some means available to compensate injured workers.

Workplace safety analysts maintain that a safe work environment is not merely one with a system in place that reacts to and cares for injured workers but is one that proactively creates a culture of safety with the goal of prevention. Management must be invested in creating an atmosphere where workers look out for each other, follow safety guidelines and are not afraid to report non-compliance issues when observed.

How job quality affects workers' health

Workers in Texas and other states may be interested in the results of a study that analyzed how the work that people do and the way it is organized influence their wealth and health. Employment relationships are complex and determine opportunities for advancement, work schedules, salary and protection against dangerous or adverse working conditions.

In the study, individuals with dead-end jobs, like working in a manufacturing assembly line and having little room for new opportunities, and those with precarious jobs, like retail workers or janitors, were more likely to report poor mental and general health and workplace injury. Individuals in skilled positions with inflexible hours, like physicians, and gig workers had increased injuries and worse mental health when compared to those with standard employment.

OSHA: employers must measure respiratory hazards

Under OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard, all employers must evaluate respiratory hazards in the workplace before determining if their workers need respirators. This, as employers in Texas should know, was the decision that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came to back in September 2019.

The court made its decision after hearing a case about inadequate tests that were being made of respiratory hazards in a marine vessel repair facility. The superintendent, who was designated as the "competent person" to conduct tests, had failed to consider the hazard found in welding fumes. OSHA inspectors also found that the workers there were suffering due to improper ventilation.

Dosimetry limits radiation risks to Texas workplace safety

Though low, the risks of radiation exposure are cumulative and severe. This is due in part to the fact that some types can cause negative health consequences 10 years or longer after exposure. Workers exposed to too much radiation may face an increased risk of several types of cancer and other negative health outcomes. El Paso employees who work around radiation sources will benefit from an understanding of how dosimetry can limit health risks.

The most common exposure threat is found from ionizing radiation devices. These are in widespread use in dental and medical offices. All employees in settings with an X-ray machine are considered to be at risk. OSHA publishes a number of standards regarding radiation exposure. However, one industry author maintains that while workplace safety standards for radiation do exist, none tell "what is too much for each person."

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