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Staying safe and warm during winter construction work

Winter weather can make it harder to work safely on a Pennsylvania construction site. This is because surfaces that are coated in snow and ice can be too slick to walk or climb on safely. Ideally, scaffolding, ladders or other tools that a worker will climb on will be built from materials designed to withstand cold temperatures. Any surface that can't be properly treated should be made off-limits until the weather improves.

When treating icy or snowy surfaces, it is important to use an approved de-icing product. Those that are salt-based may be prohibited because of their potential impact on ground water. If snow or ice will be removed by employees, employers should be sure that they can handle the physical demands of doing so.

OSHA announces top 10 workplace safety violations for 2018

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently announced its annual top 10 list of workplace safety violations reported in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. The list includes violations cited by inspectors between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018. All but one of the violations has appeared on the list in previous years.

The top violation involved failure to provide fall protection, with 7,270 citations issued. This violation has topped OSHA's annual list for several years, and it has been frequently issued to contractors in the roofing, framing, masonry and new single-family housing construction industries. The second most common violation was failure to provide hazard communication, with 4,552 citations issued. This type of citation was often handed out to employers in the auto repair and hotel industries. The third most common violation was failure to meet general scaffolding requirements, with 3,336 citations issued. This type of citation was issued mostly to masonry, siding and framing contractors.

NEP focuses on trench and excavation issues

Many construction workers in Pennsylvania understand just how dangerous it can be to work in a trench or on an excavation site. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 130 deaths on such sites between 2011 and 2016. That's why OSHA has begun a National Emphasis Program (NEP) related to excavation and trenching. The program began on Oct. 1, and it features both prevention and employer outreach efforts.

Employers are encouraged to review the Trenching and Excavation Quick Card for more information about how to comply with current rules. Previous violations related to excavation and trench work have resulted in significant proposed fines. Earlier this year, OSHA suggested a fine of $250,000 to a company that had its employees working in a trench without cave-in protections. Another company was subject to a proposed fine of over $400,000 for a similar scenario in addition to other violations discovered by the agency.

Tuberculosis: an overview for workers

Pennsylvania residents who work in places where the same people share the same space for an extended period of time should be aware that transmission of tuberculosis is a risk that they face. This includes healthcare employees and those who work in prisons, jails, homeless and social assistance shelters and emergency shelters. The risk usually arises with a patient, prisoner or shelter client who has unrecognized TB.

TB is an infectious disease that primarily targets the lungs and larynx. When persons with TB expel air through talking, coughing and sneezing, they expel droplets containing the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis along with it. These droplets become dry and hang in the air as droplet nuclei; those who breathe in the droplet nuclei will then be infected.

Fatigue is a chronic issue in the construction industry

Chronic fatigue is a serious issue for many people in Pennsylvania. From trying to function at work to driving safely, being overly tired can affect every facet of your life. However, when you are working at a construction site, fatigue-related hazards can be especially dangerous. 

Not everyone sees eye-to-eye on this issue. Most construction employers agree that fatigue is a safety risk, while fewer workers feel the same way. This could represent a lack in communication and safety training on the part of the employer. 

OSHA Combats Trenching Workplace Accidents Through Outreach

Pennsylvania's construction industry is an important part of the state's economy, but sobering statistics reveal that construction professionals are facing increasing workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities when trenching and excavating. From 2011 to 2016, 104 deaths have been attributed to cave-ins related to trenching across the United States according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number has grown over time with 2015 and 2016 seeing spikes in workplace deaths connected to trenching accidents. Unofficial union data also points to dozens of deaths being attributed to trenching cave-ins during 2017.

This has led the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to implement an outreach and education program designed to reduce and eliminate workplace accidents related to construction trenching. This program also includes enhanced enforcement of safety laws and regulations in order to increase safety compliance by employers and workers alike.

CDC recommends preventative measures for carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an occupational injury of the hands and wrists that afflicts workers in Pennsylvania who perform repetitive or forceful tasks. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of the industries with the highest risks for this condition that compresses the median nerve within the carpal tunnel of the wrist. Symptoms include pain, numbness, weakness and tingling in the hands and wrists. Job duties that involve repetitive tasks, vibration or forceful use of hand tools raise the risks for workers.

An analysis of 139,336 probable and possible CTS cases by the CDC showed that textile workers in the fabric, finishing and coating industry had the highest rate of CTS. Apparel manufacturing came in as the second most common industry associated with CTS. Animal slaughtering and meat processing represented the industry with the third highest rates of the injury. Women had a greater chance of suffering from the condition; compared to men, women experienced CTS 3.3 times more often.

OIG audit finds OSHA reporting system lacking

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not collecting enough information on workplace deaths and injuries that occur in Pennsylvania and around the country, according to a government audit report. In addition, the agency does not always issue citations to employers that fail to report these incidents.

For the report, which was released on Sept. 13, auditors from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General examined data collected from 3,642 deaths and 18,805 severe injuries reported between January 2015 and September 2016. They then compared that data with fatality and injury data posted on OSHA's website. They found that the agency did not provide enough guidance and training on how to detect the underreporting of injuries. They also found that the agency did not do enough to ensure that employers properly mitigated safety hazards once an incident had occurred.

Historical data can help prevent workplace injuries

Many workplace injuries in Pennsylvania could potentially be prevented with better employer understanding and responses to previous incidents. The principle that most workplace accidents are actually predictable and preventable underlies the approach of OSHA. This agency refers to workplace injuries as "incidents" rather than "accidents," because an accident is something unexpected that could not be foreseen. While some workplace accidents may indeed be caused by sudden and unpredictable external factors, most injuries or even deaths are caused by the situation at the work site, where employers can take action to reduce the risk of injury.

Employers can help to bolster workplace safety by taking account of every incident that occurs in the workplace. When it is clear which types of accidents and injuries repeatedly occur, this can point to the need for changes and proactive actions to avoid further incidents.

Groups petition OSHA for a heat protection standard

Workers across the state of Pennsylvania often must work in adverse weather conditions, including high outdoor temperatures. Over 130 organizations have joined a collaborative effort to request that OSHA establish a heat protection standard.

The petitioners are requesting multiple protections for workers, including frequent rest breaks, availability of shade, access to water, medical monitoring and personal protective equipment, such as cooling vests. They are also requesting more education and training to prevent heat-exposure related incidents, record keeping of injuries and deaths related to heat exposure and protection for workers who report violations of the heat protection standard.

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Law Office Of Deborah M. Truscello
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Media, PA 19063

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