The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created at the federal level on December 29, 1970, with the goal of assuring “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” Since its creation, the agency has evolved and become commonplace in the workers’ compensation scene as a means of investigating work injuries and providing information to interested stakeholders. Parties seeking to reduce workers’ compensation program costs should understand OSHA and view the agency as a partner in making workplaces safe for employees.
Understanding OSHA Basics
There are many misconceptions about OSHA. It is important to those seeking to provide a safe workplace to understand better the requirements and how the agency is responsible for enforcing safety standards.
OSHA standards and agency overview covers most private sector employers. While it does not cover many state and local government agencies, employees of these entities are subject to protections by the federal act and applicable state programs.
The federal act also allows states to create their own OSHA programs. In these jurisdictions, the state agency receives funding from the federal government to run its program. This allows states to develop their own standards, provided they meet the federal minimums required under the Act. There are currently 22 OSHA approved programs that include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
EH&S News, NES Safety Topic – October 26, 2017 Written by: Brittiny Harris, NES, Inc.
Wildfires Create Smoke Inhalation Hazards
California is dealing with one of the most disastrous fire seasons in its history, and with these fires come serious smoke inhalation hazards.
The loss of life is tragic, and the loss of property is extreme. Beyond these concerns, fires have ravaged many California cities and surrounding areas, spewing huge amounts of smoke into the atmosphere and covering surfaces in a thick layer of toxic ash. Smoke inhalation hazards are a prominent problem that firefighters (and firefighters’ support personnel), cleanup crews, industrial hygienists, private citizens, and all others in the affected regions are dealing with and will continue to encounter as a result of these wildfires.
Many of these smoke inhalation hazards are created not only from the burning trees and grass but from burning houses. As they burn, houses produce highly dangerous gases, chemicals, and fine particles that can cause severe health issues if inhaled. The paint, metal, batteries, and many more products commonly found in and around houses create dangerous fumes causing serious smoke inhalation hazards for employees trying to contain the fire and for residents in the area.
Given the massive scope of the 2017 California wildfires, a tremendous amount of smoke and ash has been released into the atmosphere. It is therefore important to realize that prevailing winds can carry significantly dangerous quantities of smoke tens and even hundreds of miles from its originating source.
OSHA Warns About Smoke Inhalation Hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken action to advise employers on how to protect their employees from smoke inhalation hazards and from the painful side effects of the ash toxins. OSHA advocates three different methods to protect people who are close to the fire and dealing with smoke inhalation hazards.
Smoke Hazard Safety Measures
OSHA’s first recommendation is to always have engineering controls in place. These include keeping indoor areas smoke free with clean air from ventilation systems. The general population has been advised to adjust air-conditioning units and use car vent systems to recirculate the air in order to avoid allowing outside air into the car.
The next line of defense endorsed by OSHA is administrative controls. When smoke inhalation hazards are present, keep employees, children, and the general population around the affected areas indoors. Limit time spent outside whenever possible.
Personal Protective Equipment
OSHA also recommends employees use personal protective equipment (PPE), specifically respirators along with any barriers that can be used between your skin and the hazardous smoke.
OSHA does specify that respirators are only needed if the air is designated to be “unhealthy”, “very unhealthy”, or “hazardous” according to California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 8 §5141 General Industry Safety Orders. N95s disposable respirators through P100s respirators are not required to be fit-tested, but they do come with user instructions and are a valued option for PPE. OSHA urges respirator users to shave facial hair and to avoid wearing a hat over the straps of the mask in order for it to fit correctly. OSHA, however, does recognize that the respirators do not protect against exposure to gases, vapors, oils, pesticides, and other chemicals. It should also be noted that the respirators do not provide oxygen, they only filter out harmful particles; because of this, there is a higher risk of heat illness among those who already have trouble breathing.
OSHA cautions employees who are using a respirator to always be aware of how they are feeling while using the respirator. If the employee is feeling dizzy, faint, lightheaded, nauseous, or disoriented in any way, he or she should remove the respirator, proceed to a safer area, and get medical attention. Employees are advised to use a new respirator every day and dispose of dirty respirators and any respirators that become hard to breathe through.
Due to the increasing costs of medical care in the United States, expenses related to the medical portion of workers’ compensation claims continue to be a major driver in the industry. As a result, it is important for members of claim management teams to understand not only when medical expenses are compensable, but also the types of benefits available to injured workers.
What Medical Bills Do I Need to Pay For?
The first step to understanding when medical expenses are compensable is to understand the statutory requirements in the jurisdiction you are handling. This is especially important for claim professionals that handle multiple states. While this may sometimes require guidance from an attorney, the general rule is that medical bills on admitted claims are compensable if they are “reasonable and necessary” to cure and relieve the effects of a personal injury.
What Does This Mean?
While some states are moving away from a liberal construction of their workers’ compensation acts, this standard generally means that care is compensable for a myriad of treatment modalities. This can often include care beyond a treating physician and staff, but also include a number of specialists:
General medical care;
Psychological and psychiatric care;
Acupressure and acupuncture;
Christian Science treatment;
Surgery, surgical supplies and hospital treatment;
Diagnostic procedures such as x-rays, EMGs, MRIs and CT-scans;
Prescription and over-the-counter medicines;
Durable medical equipment such as braces, crutches, splint, etc.;
Glasses, Spectacles, Hearing Aids, etc.;
Artificial members; and
Various forms of nursing services.
The bottom line in almost all states is that the exposure for medical expense claims on admitted injuries is lifetime medical benefits.
The board often reduces or dismisses penalties against companies that Cal-OSHA has fined.
Rosa Frias was working the evening shift at Bimbo Bakeries in South San Francisco when she reached into her bread-making machine to remove a hunk of dried dough.
She screamed as her left hand, and then her lower arm, were sucked into the gears of the Winkler stringline proofer.
That night, the limb had to be amputated above the elbow.
The incident drew a $21,750 fine from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
But Bimbo paid nothing. It appealed to the Cal-OSHA Appeals Board, which dismissed the case on a technicality: The inspector had retired and Cal-OSHA could not prove that he had had permission to enter the factory.
Since that 2003 accident, five more employees in Bimbo’s California plants have lost fingers or parts of fingers in accidents in which inspectors found similar safety violations. In two of those accidents, the appeals board reduced the fines by thousands of dollars.
“That is mind-boggling,” said Linda Delp, director of UCLA’s Labor Occupational Safety and Health program.
It is not, however, unusual for companies to fare well on appeals. A Times review found that the board has repeatedly reduced or dismissed penalties levied by Cal-OSHA over the last few years, even in situations in which workers have died or been seriously injured. The board’s actions have done more than save companies money. They have undermined Cal-OSHA’s efforts to prevent future accidents, according to labor advocates, inspectors and state documents.