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Harrisburg Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Software startup aims to improve workplace safety

Every year, workers' compensation claims cost employers and insurance companies across the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars. Everything from radiation exposure to slip-and-fall hazards can present themselves in a Pennsylvania workplace. In fact, analysts say that 500 workplace injuries happen every minute throughout the world.

However, an Iowa-based software startup called MākuSafe has developed a wearable band that can help reduce on-the-job accidents. This band records environmental and motion data in real time, reporting not only basic information like changes in temperature and lighting but also any hazardous situations and near-misses. This data is processed in a cloud platform for workplace safety managers to analyze.

How to create a safe environment for workers

Employers in Pennsylvania and throughout the country don't like to miss project deadlines. However, the consequences of a workplace accident could be more significant than missing a deadline because safety rules were prioritized. To ensure that companies are putting the proper emphasis on workplace safety, owners and managers should create and champion a culture that values it. As a general rule, the workers will follow the lead of their managers.

To get employees to buy into a safety program, they should be given the opportunity to give feedback. This can be done through private conversations or through discussions that occur prior to the start of a shift. During pre-shift meetings, managers should emphasize the importance of following safety rules as well as talk about any hazards that have been identified in recent hours or days. To further encourage communication between workers and managers, safety surveys should be distributed to employees.

Worksite safety increased by preemptive safety measures

According to the 2018 Safety Performance Report issued by the Associated Builders and Contractors, Pennsylvania construction sites that use the organization's Safety Performance Evaluation Process (STEP) could see a drastic improvement workplace safety. The report states that job site safety can be enhanced by up to 670 percent more than the average for the industry. Enacting the proactive measures may also lower reportable safety incidents by up to 85 percent.

Leading indicators, or proactive safety measures, like orientations for new hires and substance abuse programs, create safer work environments. Additional leading indicators of the STEP program include toolbox talks, the creation of site safety committees, orientations that are tailored to a specific site and the analysis of near-hits and near-misses. The report also noted that the inclusion of C-Suite engagement was necessary to have an effective safety program. This could lower the total recordable incident rate by up to 70 percent.

Workplace noise linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol

Loud noises in the workplace may be harming the health of Pennsylvania workers, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The research was published in the April issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

For the study, CDC researchers analyzed data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey. They discovered that around 25 percent of American workers, or 41 million people, have been exposed to on-the-job noise at some point in their lives. Of all the workers, 28 percent had high cholesterol levels and 24 percent developed high blood pressure. The study linked 9 percent of the high cholesterol cases and 14 percent of the high blood pressure cases to work-related noise. Meanwhile, 12 percent of the workers had hearing problems. More than half of those cases were linked to on-the-job noise.

Mitigating pinch points at work

Pinch points are any point at which a Pennsylvania worker could be caught between two machines whether one or both are moving. It is also a point at which a worker can be caught between a machine and material. Examples of machines that can have pinch points include powered doors, powered rollers and plastic molding machinery. To keep workers safe, employers should inspect a machine to see if there any pinch points to be aware of.

Workers should be empowered to report pinch points to a supervisor immediately so that the situation can be rectified. Pinch points should either be guarded or eliminated completely when possible. If guards are in place, employees should be told not to move or do anything to them. Employee training should be conducted to warn them about the hazards that they could face by tampering with a guard.

OSHA alliance aims to reduce entertainment workplace injuries

Many consider the entertainment industry to be exciting and full of glamour. However, the complex set constructions, stunts and other arts projects can also be a source of workplace accidents and injuries. For example, Pennsylvania workers in the entertainment industry could be injured by electrical issues, falls or problems with ergonomics. Because of the concern for workplace safety in entertainment, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is renewing an existing alliance with industry associations and unions to help cut down risks for workers.

The alliance partners OSHA with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology for the next five years. The three organizations will work together to prevent on-the-job injuries and accidents by promoting safety standards and helpful technology like fall avoidance and fall arrest systems.

Black lung on the rise among coal miners

In Pennsylvania and other states with a sizeable coal mining industry, the number of coal miners being diagnosed with black lung disease is on the rise. In 2016, NPR surveyed 11 black lung clinics and found that there were 962 cases that year. Since then, the investigation begun by NPR has tallied over 1,000 more. This can be shocking considering how there were just 31 cases at the end of the previous century.

The NPR report confirms another alarming trend: the coal miners who have been diagnosed with black lung are younger than ever before and have been working for less time than workers of past decades. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also surveyed three clinics for instances of complicated black lung, an extreme form of the disease. It discovered that the three together diagnosed 416 workers with it.

Silica hazard rules to be enforced with tougher fines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has instituted penalties for construction companies violating standards for silica in Pennsylvania and across the United States. As of January 2018, OSHA changed the fines that construction companies will have to pay if they violate the standards for crystalline silica that was created in 2013.

Under the revised fine system, companies will have to pay $12,934 for each violation, $12,934 for each day that the company does not make changes to come up to standards as well as up to $129,336 for ongoing and repeated violations, according to OSHA. Since 2013, there have been major changes to safety standards for crystalline silica. This is a form of dust particle created when workers cut into concrete, saw bricks, sand concrete walls or engage in fracking.

Advocates call for improved safety monitoring

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are calling for improved tracking and surveillance of workplace injuries in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S. Following a yearlong study of occupational safety and injury information systems, the agency released a study that indicates a need for governmental agencies to implement methods to share data and better monitor work-related injuries.

Analysts say employers should implement improved health surveillance systems and monitor metadata to achieve the goal of fewer workplace injuries and illnesses. Health surveillance is the term for monitoring the health of individuals at risk for injury or disease through exposure to hazardous materials or unsafe work conditions. Periodically checking the health of workers leads to earlier detection of toxic exposure and places an emphasis on prevention as opposed to post-injury treatments. The study also recommends sharing of data between NIOSH, OSHA and the BLS to reduce redundancies and improve overall responsiveness to occupational health and safety concerns.

Regulations meant to reduce black lung disease at risk

Sen. Bob Case, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, joined other Democrat senators to protest the possibility that the Mine Safety and Health Administration's Respirable Dust Rule could be altered or eliminated. The senators sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to explain the importance of the dust rule for protecting coal miners from coal dust that causes the incurable and sometimes fatal black lung disease.

The appearance of the Respirable Dust Rule on a list of regulations that the Trump administration wants to re-evaluate prompted the senators to highlight the need to protect miners' health. The rule currently sets the acceptable amount of coal dust in the air to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter. This threshold went into effect three years ago and reduced the safety threshold from 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter. In their letter, the senators described how at least 10 years would be needed to determine the efficacy of the rule for reducing sickness among workers.

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