Tag Archives: Workplace Safety

Steel company fined $115,400 by US Labor Department’s OSHA for failing to abate workplace hazards

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon L Gelman LLC.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Jersey Shore Steel for four violations, including three failure-to-abate citations, at its Jackson facility. Proposed penalties total $115,400 after OSHA’s follow-up inspection opened in April.

“By not abating past violations, Jersey Shore Steel keeps its employees vulnerable to hazards that can cause injuries and, possibly, death,” said Paula Dixon-Roderick, director of OSHA’s Marlton Area Office. “It’s vital to correct all hazards immediately to protect workers at the facility.”

The failure-to-abate notices, which carry $111,000 in penalties, relate to the company’s failure to develop and implement a written lockout/tagout program that prevents inadvertent machine start-up; require fork truck operators to have their performance evaluated at least once every three years; and train workers to use portable fire extinguishers. A failure-to-abate notice applies to a condition, hazard or practice, found upon reinspection, that the employer was originally cited for and failed to correct.

The company was also cited for one repeat violation, with a $4,400 penalty, due to the lack of machine guarding on a press brake. 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 similar violation was cited in November 2012.

The citations can be viewed at: http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/jersey_shore_steel_insp_900106_sept30.pdf*.

Jersey Shore Steel has requested an informal conference with the OSHA area director in Marlton.

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Race

North Carolina needs a Commissioner of Labor who is fair to workers. Certainly cooperation between employers and employees is key. However, when thousands of workers are not being paid their duly-earned wages, we have a problem.

 

In 2014, the News & Observer published an article entitled “For Many Workers Cheated out of Wages, NC Department of Labor Offers No Help.” The article stated that “[f]or at least 2,011 workers, more than half of the 3,694 who asked for help in the past fiscal year, the agency took no action. Employers didn’t get fined. No one was charged with a crime for not compensating the workers’ time and labor.” When Berry ran for office in 2000, her campaign platform centered on how “[g]overnment should tread lightly in the lives of people and business . . . [w]hen her agency must get involved, Berry favored working in consultation with businesses rather than confronting them.” (see N&O article from 2014, and from 2015 “At NC Department of Labor, Little Help for Unpaid Workers”).

 

Fast-forward to 2016. Cherie Berry is now being criticized for accepting “improper contributions” from corporate executives who have cases pending before her agency. Berry accepted $20,000 from at least four companies which were recently being investigated by the Labor Department. In particular, one donor, Ronald Cameron, is chairman and CEO of Montaire Farms which investigated for a workplace fatality. Berry responded to the criticism by saying that “everyone gets treated the same.”

 

Former Raleigh mayor, Charles Meeker, is running against Berry for Labor Commissioner. Meeker’s campaign focuses on improving worker safety, accurate classification of workers, and making sure that workers are paid what they are owed. Meeker also would like to remove Berry’s photo from all elevators and, in its place, put up photos of working people. Both candidates deserve serious consideration. I encourage you to evaluate them and be sure to vote for the candidate of your choice.

 

Heat Illnesses and Workplace Safety

People who work outdoors are more likely to become dehydrated and are more likely to develop a heat-related illness. Heat stroke is the most serious type of heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. When this happens, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10-15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has provided information to help recognize heat stroke and administer the proper first aid. Symptoms of heat stroke include hot, dry skin or profuse sweating, hallucinations, chills, throbbing headache, high body temperature, confusion/dizziness and slurred speech. Take the following steps to treat a worker with heat stroke: (1) call 911 immediately; (2) move the worker to a cool, shaded environment; (3) cool the worker by soaking their clothes with water; (4) spraying/sponging/showering them with water and (5) fanning their body.

Employers should take precautions to protect their workers from heat illness. The CDC offers guildelines, including scheduling hot jobs for the cooler part of the day, acclimatizing workers by exposing them for progressively longer time periods to hot work environments and providing rest periods with water breaks. The CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provide more informational resources at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/.   

Safety Violations Matter: Wisconsin Court Reaffirms Basis for Employer Safety Penalties

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

In most instances, an injured worker cannot sue her employer for a workplace injury. However, if an injury results from an employer’s reckless, intentional, or illegal action, an injured worker can bring a separate claim against the employer directly. An employer’s violation of the Wisconsin state safety statute  or of any Department of Workforce Development (DWD) safety administrative rule which causes a worker’s injury can trigger a 15% increased penalty for the employer (Section 102.57 of the Worker’s Compensation Act). This increased compensation is based on the amount of compenstion paid by the insurance carrier and is capped at $15,000. The big deal is that the safety violation penalty is not paid by the insurance company–it is paid directly from the employer’s pocket (which also makes for increased litigation of these claims!).;

In a win for injured workers, a recent Court of Appeals case (Sohn Manufacturing v. LIRC), decided on August 7, 2013, reaffirmed the ability of the Worker’s Compensation Department to hold employers responsible for unsafe behavior. In the Sohn case, the worker operated a die cutter machine, and the employer instructed her to clean it while the anvil rollers were running. The worker suffered a severe hand injury when her hand was pulled into the machine. A state investigator found an OSHA violation as well as a violation of the state safety statute (Section 101.11). An administrative law judge and the Labor and Industry Review Commission affirmed an award of a safety violation under 102.57 of the worker’s compensation act.

The employer challenged this ruling in court, arguing that the federal OSHA law preempted Wisconsin’s ability to enforce safety procedures under Section 102.57 and that an OSHA investigation cannot form the basis for a state safety violation claim injured workers should be thankful that the Court of Appeals rejected both of these arguments. First, the Court explicitly stated that OSHA does not preempt Wisconsin’s ability to award penalties under Section 102.57, as the safety violation statute is not an enforcement mechanism and OSHA was not intended to impact state worker’s compensation rules. More importantly, the Court indicated that an OSHA violation of a federal workplace safety regulation can be used as basis to demonstrate an employer’s violation of Wisconsin’s state safety statute (Section 101.11).

While the decision was not surprising, it reaffirms the state’s commitment to holding employer’s accountable for safety violation rules under the worker’s compensation system. Workers and practitioners also should remain aware of any OSHA violation found post-injury. A document demonstrating a federal OSHA violation can form the immediate basis for a safety violation under Section 102.57.