Societal Costs of Unsafe Employers

Societal Costs of Unsafe Employers

When a receptionist trips over a power cord in an office and sprains a wrist, who pays the price? When a construction worker falls off a scaffold and suffers a debilitating back injury, who shoulders the burden? When an ICU nurse develops chronic pain as a result of years of moving patients without proper assistive equipment, who weathers the financial blow? According a recent report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the answer may not be what you imagine.

Most of the costs of workplace injuries are borne by the injured workers, their families and the social safety net (funded by taxpayer dollars). Employee’s out of pocket costs average 50 percent, while worker’s compensation generally only covers about 21 percent. Private health insurance (13 percent), federal government (11 percent) and state and local government (5) have to pick up the rest.

With little incentive—other than avoiding negative press and OSHA fines—for maintaining a safe workplace, some employers do little to protect their workers. Despite the Occupational Safety and Health Act—now more than 40 years old—more than three million workers are seriously injured each year. Thousands of others are killed while on the job. And the employees—and their families—may be left to face financial devastation.

“What about worker’s compensation?” you ask.

According to the OSHA report, while workers’ comp insurance was designed to cover lost wages, some medical expense, and the rehab costs associated with work-related injuries, it rarely provides adequate protection. One study cited by OSHA found that injured employees who received workers’ compensation benefits for wage loss caused by workplace accidents in New Mexico lost an average of 15 percent of the wages they would have earned over the decade following their injury. Despite benefits, their incomes were, on average, nearly $31,000 less over those ten years.

Adding insult to injury, other studies cited by OSHA in the report found that only a fraction of injured workers receive any workers’ compensation benefits at all. They estimate fewer than 40 percent of eligible workers actually apply for benefits—perhaps because they do not realize they are entitled or because they are afraid of the hassle. Some file for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits instead.

A tax-payer funded program, the number of Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid has increased dramatically in recent years according to the OSHA report. They postulate that at least part of the growth is attributable to the program’s subsidy for work injuries and illnesses, citing a study that found 36 percent of disabled individuals who had to limit or modify the kind or amount of work they do said they became disabled because of an accident, injury or illness at work.

So what can you do as an employer to reduce the societal costs—paid by your employees and other taxpayers—of unsafe workplaces? The answer is simple: increase your efforts to prevent workplace illnesses and injuries. Not only are you required by law to do so, but providing your employees with a safe workplace spares them the financial hardship and loss of future income associated with job-related accidents.

Whether you need to create a workplace safety program or would like a review of your current policies and procedures, we’re here to help. Give us a call for assistance or answers to any workplace safety questions.

New App Helps Employers Prevent Heat Related Illnesses

New App Helps Employers Prevent Heat Related Illnesses

Water, rest and shade—these are three essential ingredients for keeping outdoor workers safe during the summer months. And now there’s a fourth: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Heat Safety Tool. A new smartphone application created with the assistance of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), the app was designed to help prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths.

Every year, thousands of workers become ill from heat exposure—and some even die. When hot weather combines with high humidity, body temperatures can rise to dangerous levels. If precautions are not taken—such as plenty of water and breaks to rest in the shade or an air conditioned area—minor heat illness symptoms can quickly progress to heat exhaustion and stroke. Heat stroke is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

While outdoor workers in industries including construction, utilities, agriculture, grounds maintenance, landscaping and oil and gas support operations are often the most affected by heat-related illness, any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions is at risk—especially if they must wear bulking protective clothing or equipment or are performing prolonged strenuous work. New workers, temporary workers and those returning to work after a vacation are at greater risk until they build up a tolerance to the conditions. According to OSHA, most work-related heat deaths occur within the first few days of working in the heat.

The Heat Safety Tool calculates the heat index for the worksite based on temperature and humidity data. The higher the heat index, the hotter the conditions feel. It’s a better indicator than air temperature alone for gauging heat illness dangers, or the “risk level” displayed by the app. Risk levels are:

  • Heat index less than 91°F = low
  • Heat index 91°F to 103°F = moderate
  • Heat index 103°F to 115°F = high
  • Heat index above 115°F = extreme

Supervisors can subsequently use the tool to get reminders about protective measures they should be taking to reduce their workers’ heat illness risks. These protective measures include:

  • Requiring workers to drink fluids
  • Requiring workers to take scheduled rest breaks
  • Planning for heat-related illness emergencies
  • Adjusting operations
  • Gradually building new employees’ workloads
  • Training workers to recognize heat illness symptoms
  • Requiring workers to monitor each other for signs of heat-related illness

While OSHA does not have specific safety standards in place for workers exposed to hot and humid environments, regulations require employers to protect their employees from recognized serious workplace hazards, which include heat-related illnesses.

You can download the Heat Safety Tool for Android and iPhone on the OSHA website.

Reducing Slips, Trips and Falls

Reducing Slips, Trips and Falls

If you want to keep your employees safe, finding ways to eliminate the danger of slips, trips and falls will go a long way towards helping you do so. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), this nasty trio makes up the majority of general industry accidents each year. They also cause 15 percent of all accidental deaths. The only greater cause of fatalities is motor vehicles.

Walking and working surfaces generally play a part in slips, trips and falls regardless of industry. For this reason, the OSHA standards for walking/working surfaces apply to all permanent worksites with the exception of domestic, mining and agricultural locations. OSHA has standards employer can refer to for walking/working surfaces within general industries, shipyards, marine terminals, longshoring and construction.

Definitions

Before you begin to plan ways to prevent slips, trips and falls, it may be helpful to understand their definitions. According to OSHA, a slip is the result of too little friction between an employee’s footwear and the walking/working surface resulting in a loss of balance. Trips occur when a foot or lower leg is stopped by an object while the upper body continues moving, resulting in a loss of balance. Trips also occur with an unexpected step to a lower surface that causes a loss of balance.

There are two different types of falls, though both occur when your employee finds him or herself too far off center of balance. The first is a fall at the same level—defined as a fall to the same walking or working surface or against objects on the same surface. The second is a fall to a lower level, defined as a fall to a level below the walking/working surface.

Causes and Prevention

A common cause of slips is a wet walking/working surface due to spilled product or the presence of water, mud, dirt, grease or other fluids. If you keep surfaces free from all such forms of contamination, you’ll greatly reduce the incidence of slips.

Highly polished floors, freshly waxed surfaces and transitions from one type of walking surface to another (such as carpet to vinyl) can also cause slips. Make sure your cleaning crew is using appropriate cleaning products and processes that will not cause workplace slips.

Trips are often the result of objects that have placed in areas where they do not belong, such boxes in aisles or other clutter in walkways and work areas. Keep everything in its place and maintaining a neat and tidy workplace can reduce the incidence of trips.

Unmarked steps and ramps also cause trips, as do irregularities in walking surfaces. Use signs and other means to communicate visual warnings to your employees and worksite visitors. Track where trips occur in your workplace and eliminate walking surface transitions and irregularities if they are a regular source of incidents.

Poor lighting can increase the incidence of both trips and slips. Make sure your worksite is adequately lit and that you’re keeping lights clean. Lights that are covered in dust and dirt aren’t much better than no lights at all.

Stairway floor openings should all be guarded by standard railing on all sides (except entrance). Ladderway floor openings should also be guarded by railing. Pit and trapdoor floor openings should be guarded by covers and attended by someone when the cover is not in place. All of these measures can help prevent falls to a lower level.

Slips, trips and falls can reduce productivity and damage your company’s bottom line. Fortunately, most can be prevented with proper construction and implementation of a workplace safety program. Contact us today for a program review or additional assistance.