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El Paso Workers'' Compensation Law Blog

OSHA workplace safety staffing decreases in Trump's first year

The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration may have a tougher job monitoring workplace safety in Texas due to a reported 4 percent decline in the number of OSHA inspectors across the country. Data reported from the Office of Personnel Management showed that the first year of the Trump Administration has seen a loss of 40 inspectors to attrition, who have not yet been replaced. OSHA's total health and safety inspection force was 1,000 workers strong as of 2016.

The mission of OSHA is fulfilled through a system of federal safety laws and regulations that can require employers to receive citations for violations, pay fines and take steps to prevent worker injuries and illness. OSHA was chartered in 1970 through the Occupational Safety and Health Act's enactment during the Nixon Administration to help prevent accidents from occurring at workplaces. The OSH Act ensures that recognized hazards that threaten the safety or health of employees at workplaces are removed with OSHA as its administration and enforcement arm. An injured worker may also pursue compensation after a work accident under the law.

Making work safer for women in construction

The number of women who work in construction is increasing in Texas and in other areas. The National Association of Women in Construction has teamed up with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to try to make working conditions safer for women.

During the five-year initiative, the organizations will focus on workplace hazards that affect women working in construction, such as sanitation, selection of personal safety equipment, and reduction of workplace harassment and violence. Part of the joint plan includes educating workers and supervisors about workplace safety hazards.

Plant shutdowns may require special worker training

Scheduled plant shutdowns provide Texas companies with opportunities to perform preventative maintenance and improve work processes. Shutdowns may in some cases increase plant productivity rates and lessen production downtime. Businesses that properly prepare for scheduled shutdowns are more effective at keeping projects moving and preventing workplace injuries. However, operators and management should be aware of some safety concerns unique to plant shutdown tasks.

When a company's everyday staff is used to conduct plant shutdown tasks, they may be presented with safety hazards that they've not seen during normal work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires special permits before workers may enter hazardous confined spaces, for example. OSHA defines a confined space as one that is not intended for continuous occupancy but is large enough for a person to enter, with limited means of exit and entry. Conditions that may make such a space hazardous include limited oxygen or the presence of toxic vapor. Employees working in confined spaces during plant shutdowns may need special training prior to entry.

Winter season brings new safety issues for outdoor workers

Although Texas does not experience the extreme winter weather of other regions, the season still brings cooler temperatures that could expose workers to hazards. Outdoor workers should take precautions to avoid injury or illness when the temperatures dip.

Employers also have an obligation to protect employees from cold conditions and provide training regarding the prevention of cold stress. Workers should learn how to recognize symptoms of cold weather problems like frostbite, hypothermia, chilblains and trench foot. Outdoor workers may need warm and dry shelters set up for their use during breaks. Depending on the temperature, workers might need access to a warm shelter every 15 minutes out of an hour of labor.

Workplace safety at gig economy jobs

Workplace safety is important to the Texas workforce, including those who find themselves as part of the gig economy. The term "gig economy" is a broad term encompassing employment for an individual who is paid by the job they do as opposed to an hourly wage or yearly salary. These jobs can be performed online or in person.

Gig workers fall into different categories. There are those for whom gig work is their primary source of income. For others, the gig work is simply a way to supplement their income. This variation means that the safety risk gig workers face can be drastically different. A gig worker with a full-time job is not covered by their full-time employer for the work they do on the side.

How floor mats keep workers safe

The use of a mat may make it easier for Texas employers to keep their workers safe. One of the biggest benefits of mats is that they reduce the odds that someone may slip or trip while working. These types of accidents are among the most common in the workplace, and they cost companies $2.35 billion by themselves annually.

Mats may be designed to drain after a liquid is spilled on them. They may also make it easier for oil or grease to drain through them to prevent puddles or slick spots from developing. A properly constructed mat could make it easier for those who have to stand while working. Workers may experience back or leg pain if they have to stand on an uncomfortable surface for too long. These injuries can range from annoying to serious enough to keep workers away from the job for long periods of time.

Protecting workers from arc flash explosions

It is important that Texas workers who are supposed to wear protective clothing for safety on the job do so at all times. In 2011, one electrician was severely injured when he worked without an arc flash suit. While doing a simple job, he encountered a problem. Since there was no main breaker, he had a choice between calling the power company with only half an hour left in his day or risking injury. The man chose to work on the unit without having the power shut off, and he was severely burned in an arc flash explosion.

Personal protective equipment would have lessened the severity of those injuries and prevented him from being burned across 16 percent of his body. However, the man was only one of 2,000 people each year who suffer arc flash injuries that require hospitalization. Of those, 400 die from burns or infection.

Workplace safety and age

Texas workers should know that a person's age is not as much of a factor as it used to be when it pertains to being employed. This is attributed to the fact that an increasing number of workers are postponing their retirement. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people in the United States who are 65 years or older and who work either full-time of part-time jumped from 12.8 percent in May 2000 to 18.8 percent in May 2016.

The belief that one has to or is able to retire at 60 or 65 years of age is no longer valid. In fact, there are workers who are 70 or 75 years of age, some of whom are in hazardous industrial positions.

OSHA's report on fatal incident

Texas warehouse workers should be aware of the publication released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding an incident in which a worker who was on a pallet that was elevated by a forklift fell and died from the injuries he incurred. The worker had slipped while he was on the pallet rearranging inventory and fell down 7 feet.

The inventory the warehouse stores was placed on steel racks that had shelves that reached 8 feet high from the concrete floor. The warehouse workers frequently placed one or both feet on a pallet to relocate inventory to the highest shelf as a coworker used the forklift to elevate them to the top shelf. This was despite the fact this was not the intended use of the forklift.

Taking a systematic approach to workplace fall protection

Busy workers in Texas often rely on the safety systems put in place by employers to alert them to workplace hazards. People charged with evaluating risks, especially in distribution centers and warehouses, should consider all three dimensions of the workplace environment. These workplaces often have multiple levels, such as loading docks, mezzanines and elevated platforms, that give workers access to racks of inventory.

Adherence to fall protection rules established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is essential to limit accidents and injuries. Falls represent the leading cause of severe injuries and worker deaths in general industry.

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