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Minneapolis Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Setting the record straight about machine safety

In 2015, OSHA fined companies in Minnesota and elsewhere $6.8 million for violations of Machine Guard Standard 1910.212. However, employers actually spend more when an employee is injured because other costs such as damaged equipment or defending against lawsuits must also be factored in. Each year, 800 people who maintain or operate machinery die while another 18,000 suffer crushing injuries, lacerations or the possibility of having body parts amputated.

Companies may believe that new machines are safe because they are built to meet modern safety standards. However, this is not always the case. Employers are encouraged to specify whether the machines are supposed to comply with ANSI or European standards. Machines built in the European Union are generally the safest on the market. All machines must meet OSHA standards regardless of when they were made. While older machines were grandfathered at one point, those grandfather clauses expired years ago.

Is your job a literal pain in the neck (or back)?!

To one degree or another, all jobs carry a certain amount of risk. However, certain occupations have a much higher chance of serious work-related injuries, especially to the neck and back. This type of injury is no small matter. Injured employees deal not just with pain and suffering but missed work and lost wages as well. In fact, sometimes the injured employee must transfer to a different job or change or restrict work activities because of the injury. How at risk are you?

Serious business

Tips to improve worker safety

Minnesota companies should make worker safety a top priority. Ideally, safety will be a component in every decision that is made throughout the organization and will become a part of the company's culture. When workers are healthy, they are more likely to be productive and efficient.

Adding value for customers makes it more likely that they will buy goods or services from that company. Therefore, worker safety may be seen as an extension of good customer service. Employers are urged to think of their employees like members of their families, and there is no harm in making worker safety a personal matter. By opening up to workers, they may offer solutions to hazards that exist or may exist at some point within the company.

How to make an effective danger sign

A good safety sign is one that is easy to read and understand. If even a single Minnesota worker does not understand the message the sign is trying to convey, it could put that person and others in danger. Today's technology allows employers to create their own signs with little more than a desktop printer. This means that they no longer have to wait until new ones are delivered to them.

Employers are urged to be mindful of how many signs that they post. One large sign posted in a strategic location can be better than several smaller signs. Ideally, employers will think more about the distance that a sign needs to be seen from as opposed to what it looks like when measuring its effectiveness. Furthermore, cost should not determine the type of material that is used when creating a sign.

How earnings pressure impacts injury rates

Minnesota residents may be interested to know that research has indicated a link between meeting earnings forecasts and an increased risk of employee injury or illness. A study found that there was a 5 to 15 percent increase in a company's injury/illness rate when it matches or barely exceeds analyst forecasts. This is partially because of the high volume of work employees may face when attempting to meet financial expectations.

When there is a deadline to meet or another expectation to adhere to, managers may ask workers to spend more time at the office or work harder than they normally do. Employees may also take it upon themselves to work harder than their bodies are naturally able to. They may also disregard safety protocols that make reduce productivity in the short-term. The increase in injuries and illnesses may also be caused by cuts in spending related to employee safety.

Processing poultry is dangerous work

Minnesota residents may not be surprised to learn that severe work-related injuries are more common in hazardous workplaces like sawmills, steel manufacturing facilities and automobile assembly plants, but they may not know that workers in the poultry processing industry are even more likely to require hospitalization or lose a limb or an eye than their counterparts in these seemingly more hazardous fields. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration collects severe injury reports from employers around the country, and researchers from the National Employment Law Project have relied on this data to come up with a list of the nation's most dangerous jobs.

The NELP researchers studied injury reports submitted by employers in 29 states in 2015 and 2016, and they noticed that poultry processing workers suffered injuries at unusually high rates. The researchers also compiled a list of the companies that had reported the most severe injuries during the time period studied. While the list was dominated by companies with hundreds of thousands of employees like Walmart and United Parcel Service, poultry processing firms claimed the fourth and sixth places despite having far smaller work forces.

A fall harness can save or claim your life

Falls from heights form a significant percentage of the annual death toll in the U.S. workforce, including in Minnesota. If your job involves working at extreme heights, your life is in jeopardy every day. Did you know that the fall protection you wear to save your life could also cause your death?

Although a properly secured safety harness can arrest your fall, the time you spend hanging in it can cause severe injuries that might even be fatal. According to the American National Standards Institute, the life of any person left suspended in a fall harness for more than six minutes is at risk.

AFL-CIO report expresses concern for worker safety

An AFL-CIO report has found that 150 workers died daily in 2015 from work-related injuries or illnesses that were preventable. In all, 4,836 workers died from injuries while between 50,000 and 60,000 died from disease related to their job. Furthermore, workers in Minneapolis and throughout the country are less safe under the Trump administration than they were during the Obama administration, according to the report. The AFL-CIO president said that while the Obama administration had strengthened many enforcement policies and improved workers' rights, those same safety initiatives were now under threat. The report estimated that since the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970, the lives of more than 550,000 workers have been saved.

Latino workers appear to be particularly vulnerable with a fatality rate that is almost 20 percent higher than the national average. The states with the highest rates of worker fatalities overal in 2015l were Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, Nebraska, Montana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming and North Dakota.

Chemical plants and injury prevention

Workers at Minnesota chemical manufacturing plants are exposed to a variety of risks. In order for the workplace to be safe, it is essential that employers develop methods to decrease the chances of accidents occurring and that they have effective fall prevention strategies. Knowing the different types of injuries that can occur and why they happen is key.

Chemical manufacturing plants are particularly dangerous places to work because of their products can be toxic and extremely flammable. Typical injuries that can occur may include chemical exposure, burns and inhalation. Employees may also sustain cuts, abrasions, overexertion and trips and falls. Accidents can still occur in chemical manufacturing plants even if there are safeguards in place to lower the risk. To know what steps to take to prevent future accidents, both employers and workers should know why and how they happen.

Report released on construction worker fatalities

On April 6, the Associated General Contractors of America released a report on construction industry fatalities. The reports contain information that could help keep construction workers in Minnesota and throughout the country safer. For example, one of the findings was that smaller construction firms had a significantly higher rate of fatalities than larger firms. Almost half of all fatalities happened at firms with fewer than 10 employees. This could be because smaller firms lack a comprehensive safety program and drug testing. They may also attract workers with less experience.

Younger workers are less prone to fatalities. The report found that there was a steady increase in fatalities from the age of 35 and that fatalities peaked for workers over 64. This suggests that experience may not always correlate with safety and that companies may need to adjust their safety training with the needs of older workers in mind. In contrast, the fatality rate among Hispanic workers is proportional to their representation in the industry. In the past, Hispanic workers represented a disproportionate number of fatalities, so this suggests the industry has made effective changes.

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Law Office of David M. Bialke
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