Workers Who File Claims More Likely to File Subsequent Ones

A new study has found that people who have had workers’ comp claims in the past are more likely to file future claims compared to those who have never suffered an on-the-job injury.

The study – the subject of an article published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine – concluded that a past claim is the most predictive factor in determining the likelihood of future workers’ comp claims.

While the findings shed light on a significant driver of workplace injuries, employers are in a difficult position as asking prospective employees about past claims experience is illegal in most jurisdictions.

The main findings of the study, “Reoccurring Injury, Chronic Health Conditions, and Behavior Health: Gender Differences in the Causes of Workers’ Compensation Claims,” are:

  • A higher proportion of both men and women who had filed workers’ comp claims in the past also experienced a subsequent workplace injury.
  • For both genders, a past claim is the most predictive factor in determining the likelihood of filing a future claim.
  • Women who had certain pre-existing behavioral risk factors like depression, poor sleep habits and headaches were more likely to file a subsequent claim if they had already filed one. These same risk factors did not add to the likelihood among men in filing second claims.
  • Future claims are associated with individual workers’ overall health.

 

The takeaway

Besides addressing workplace hazards proactively, anytime you have a workplace injury, you should investigate to determine how the incident occurred. Once you identify what went wrong or broke down in your processes leading to the incident, you can address the problem through new safeguards and training.
Also, if an employee does file a claim, when they are back on the job you should give them additional safety training and attention to reduce the chances of them suffering future workplace incidents.

And what about prospective employees? First off, most states bar employers from asking prospective hirees about any past workers’ comp claims they have filed with previous employers.

The Federal Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as numerous state laws, seeks to protect job seekers from discrimination in hiring as a result of filing valid claims.

The bottom line is that an employer cannot request workers’ compensation records in order to have a policy of not hiring anyone who has made a claim. It is discriminatory to penalize a person who has exercised a lawful right in a lawful way and filed a valid claim.

If you are considering trying to obtain past workers’ comp records, you should consult with a labor lawyer before making any moves.

 

 

When the Customer Is Sexually Harassing One of Your Employees

Society has become increasingly aware of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Several high-profile offenders have seen their careers harmed or ended.

Employers are beginning to realize the harm this behavior among employees can cause. However, the problem might not be the business’s workers; in many cases, it is the customers.

Harassment by customers may occur in any business, but it is especially prevalent in certain industries. In the hospitality sector, some customers – generally male, but not exclusively so – who have been drinking may lose their inhibitions and behave inappropriately toward waitresses, bartenders, casino dealers or housekeeping staff.

Female sales representatives in the financial services sector may be subjected to unwanted attention and language, particularly during client dinners where most of the diners are men. And nurses are regularly subjected to male patients exposing themselves or touching them improperly.

Often, employees are reluctant to report these incidents for fear of losing their jobs. But employers who do learn of these problems have at least a legal responsibility to address them. If a worker brings a complaint about a customer’s behavior to management or the human resources department, the employer should:

 

  • Listen to the employee and take them seriously.
  • Thank them for coming forward.
  • Let them know that the issue will be addressed with the customer.
  • Ask them to report any further incidents that may occur.
  • Do nothing to imply that they will be retaliated against.

 

Some employers, such as restaurants, have a no-questions-asked procedure whereby a server can report to a supervisor that a customer is making them feel uncomfortable and the supervisor will immediately assign someone else to that table.

In addition to nipping a problem in the bud, this policy tells employees that their complaints will be considered legitimate.

After learning of a situation that may potentially be sexual harassment, the employer should:

 

  • Investigate the incident, including discussions with any witnesses.
  • If the customer is from another business, refer the matter to an appropriate person at that company. This should be someone with the authority to take any necessary action.
  • If the customer is an individual, separate the employee and the customer.
  • If the customer persists, issue a warning.
  • As a last resort, ask the customer to leave the premises.

 

The legal implications

Employers cannot afford to ignore these problems. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations hold an employer liable for harassment by non-employees over whom it has control, such as customers on the premises, if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.

The EEOC levies penalties of up to six figures for sexual harassment.

In addition, victimized employees may sue their employers for tolerating hostile work environments. Settling these lawsuits can be costly.

If the employers do not carry employment practices liability insurance, settlement costs and attorney and court fees will be paid for out of pocket.

Lastly, the failure to protect employees from harassment can lower workplace morale. This will inevitably lead to increased staff turnover. The employer will lose valuable employees and be faced with the cost of hiring replacements.

Federal law gives employees the right to feel safe at work, free from mistreatment by co-workers, supervisors and non-employees. It is also good business practice to provide a place where people want to work.

Employers must be vigilant about possible mistreatment of staff by customers and vendors. Tolerating this behavior may save a customer in the short run, but it will cost the business dearly in the longer term.

A final thought: Sexual harassment is not the sole preserve of men harassing women. It is also an issue of women harassing men, men harassing men, or one female harassing another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Injured Workers in the Loop to Reduce Claims Costs

One perennial topic in workplace safety is how to get injured workers back on the job as quickly as possible, and when it is safe to do so.

The key, experts say, is to help the injured employee better engage in the workers’ comp system, so they have a better understanding of the claims process and what they can expect from it.

Employers that have the best success actually advocate for the injured worker, instead of just giving them the standard booklets on what to expect and then leave them until they are healed up enough to go back to work.

That won’t cut it. For many people the workers’ comp system is daunting and when they don’t hear from their claims adjuster or anybody at work about their case for extended periods of time, they get nervous. And if that happens, and they feel adrift, they may seek out legal counsel for their claim, at which point it can spiral out of control for the employer.

The trend among forward-thinking employers is to use a few techniques for improving satisfaction among their injured workers, which in turn usually leads to less missed time from work and lower claims costs.

 

Early treatment

Studies by Rand Corp. back up what industrial medicine doctors have known for some time: Getting an early and accurate diagnosis and putting the injured worker on a treatment plan greatly helps them recover faster – and it prevents the misuse of medicines.

This fast-track – or sports medicine – approach has the added effect of letting the employee know they are valued and that the employer cares about their swift recovery.

One of the most important parts of this early treatment is to get the right diagnosis early, so the doctor can plan a course of treatment.

 

Speak openly

Once an employee is off work for a workers’ comp claim, they can easily start feeling disaffected and lost, particularly if they are left out of the loop about their claim. This is where the employer can step up to show they really care about the worker’s rehabilitation.

If you are at any point planning to discuss the claim, the injured worker should be in on the conversation. This is important because some injured workers mistakenly believe their job is at risk after filing a claim, and they may be feeling disaffected with their workplace.

Unfortunately too, their treating physician and the claims adjusters will often not have the time to sit down and put the injured worker’s concerns to rest.

Your H.R. manager can keep them engaged through education and explaining the processes.

 

Advocacy

Besides advice and someone to listen to for the injured worker, some employers have also taken steps to advocate for their injured employees through the workers’ comp process and representing their interests before the claims adjuster.

Employers who have had the best success sit down with the injured worker as early as possible to lay out the entire process for them, from the first doctor’s visit (which they likely have had already at that point) to what to expect when dealing with the claims adjuster. Companies that explain the process can greatly reduce the potential for litigation.

The main reason injured workers hire attorneys is that they don’t understand what’s going to happen and they don’t understand the workers’ compensation process. Acting as an advocate for the injured worker, and holding their hand through the process, will go a long way to easing their fears.

Third party administrator Sedgwick makes a point of working with injured workers before they undergo surgeries or other medical procedures, in a process they call “prehabilitation.”

They talk to them about what to expect during the recovery process, including the type of pain they may experience and what to do about it.

 

Monitor and explain treatment

The proactive employer will stay in touch during treatment and help the worker monitor their process. If the employer is engaged, the injured worker is more likely to stay on track with the treatment regimens prescribed by the doctor.

This may involve coordination with the treating physician so that any physical rehabilitation is done with their job responsibilities in mind. A good therapist can also explain why certain exercises are necessary for the injured worker.

Also, urge the rehab center and the claims adjuster to ensure that the injured worker sees the same therapist every time.

 

Stay engaged

One way to speed the recovery process along, reduce litigation and lower the chances of the injured worker becoming disaffected is to stay engaged with them. You can communicate with the treating physician, claims adjuster and injured worker about the possibility of the individual coming back to limited or restricted duty.

Just remember, your engagement with the injured worker must be done in a way that best meets the person’s needs.

Also, if there is friction between the worker and a superior, make sure it’s not their superior that’s engaging with them during this process. You don’t want any undue stress on the injured employee during this sensitive and critical period.

Knowing the employer is concerned about their well-being, and is looking forward to their return, can aid recovery.

 

How to Prevent Violence in the Workplace

Workplace violence is a major problem in the United States. People are hurt or killed every month by co-workers or patrons.

While it is not as common a problem as sexual harassment or discrimination, workplace violence is preventable if certain measures are taken to keep employees safe. Follow these tips:

Create a harassment prevention policy – Each level of worker should be represented. Employees, managers and executives must all be informed about the policy. Be sure that complaints can be filed and will be addressed privately but quickly.

Create open lines of communication – Perpetrators are able to carry out their plans if they think that victims will be silent. If there are regular meetings of teams or the entire workforce, people have a chance to voice their concerns and relieve tensions.  Encourage employees to talk to one another and managers about issues, and develop a strong resolution plan with clear steps.

Promote workplace violence awareness – One of the best ways to prevent violence is to train people what to do if there is an intruder or a disgruntled employee. Establish an emergency management team and levels of communication that will facilitate help arriving quickly if there is a major issue.

Set and communicate consequences of threatening behavior – Employees should clearly understand how to identify threatening behavior. They should also understand what constitutes unacceptable behavior and the consequences of it.

Implement a zero-tolerance policy for improper conduct – Be sure that every worker knows about the code of conduct. If workers display signs of violence toward each other, their employment should be terminated. Also, put on display signs that let intruders or disgruntled patrons know that the company has a zero-tolerance policy for violence or threatening behavior.

Promote inclusiveness, acceptance in the workplace – Employees can benefit from diversity workshops that help them learn about differences in religion, ethnicity, age and other factors. Set up activities that help teams get acquainted and embrace their differences.

Keep conflicts from escalating into violence – Watch teams closely to see how they work together. In some instances, tensions can arise but are not relieved properly. This means that the tensions only grow and may lead to violence. Conflict resolution should be encouraged and should be an effective process.

Recognize each worker’s individual value – Every worker should understand why his or her role is vital to the success of the company. Clearly portray this, and thank workers when they contribute. Many workers who become disgruntled and carry out violence do so because they are not appreciated or properly acknowledged for their contributions. Try to notice when workers go above and beyond.  Also, be sure to treat workers equally and fairly at all times.

Encourage workers to report threatening or violent incidents – Reporting should be kept confidential to ensure that employees feel safe. Also, ensure that there is a zero-tolerance policy in place for retribution after a report.

Reduce asset theft risks – Robbery is often a factor in workplace violence. Keep the amount of assets in the workplace to a minimum. To reduce the amount of available monetary assets, use electronic pay systems. Also, keep a locked safe on the premises for any amounts of cash or other important assets.

The takeaway
When employers have a solid plan in place to prevent workplace violence, employees are able to avoid becoming disgruntled and behaving unacceptably.

Take all the steps necessary to reduce the chances of a violent confrontation at your company. Encourage your staff to voice concerns about any problems they may be having outside the workplace that they fear could spill over into the workplace, such as a stalker or an ex who has threatened them with bodily harm.

They should also know that there are channels for communicating openly and voicing concerns.

OSHA Goes Back More Than Five Years for Repeat Violations

OSHA can look beyond five years to assess “repeat violations” when considering the penalties against an employer for breaching workplace safety regulations, a U.S. appellate court has ruled.

Repeat violations can be assessed at 10 times the amount of a safety violation, which makes the ruling a game-changer for companies who have been cited more than once, even if that citation was issued more than five years ago. It increases the stakes for employers who until now chose not to contest more routine violations because of the cost of defending them.

Under OSHA regulations, the maximum penalty for a serious violation is $12,934, but if it’s not the first time OSHA has cited the employer for the infraction, the maximum fine balloons to $129,336.

Up until 2015, the agency would typically not look back more than three years when deciding if a violation was a repeat. But in 2015, OSHA changed that period to five years in the field operations manuals for its inspectors.

Despite those changes, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February this year that the field operations manuals are not legally binding and that OSHA is not restricted from going further back than five years to establish repeat violations.

The court made the ruling in the case of a company called Triumph Construction Corp. that had been cited in 2015 for a repeat violation, and which OSHA had fined based on Triumph receiving a prior citation for the same infraction more than three years earlier.

Triumph challenged OSHA’s authority to go back more than three years to establish a repeat violation, saying that doing so was “arbitrary.”

But the court stated that the earlier guidance of three years and the new guidance of five years were not actually binding on the agency because the Occupational Safety and Health Act or OSHA regulations do not actually set time limits on issuing repeat citations.

 

What you can do

The best option for employers is to make sure they are in compliance with all OSHA regulations in the workplace in the first place, and have all the required safety precautions in place to reduce the chances of workplace incidents.

For employers that have been cited before, it’s of utmost importance that they continually pay special attention to safety issues for which they’ve already been cited. Now that this ruling has set a precedent, it could open up all employers to repeat violations no matter how long ago they were cited for the original infraction.

The law firm of Fisher Phillips, in a blog on the lawsuit, recommends that employers who may have been reluctant in the past to challenge a citation, should consider doing so if they feel they have a good-faith defense. If they are successful in fighting the citation, it cannot be used as the basis for a repeat violation.

“The cost-benefit analysis for contesting non-repeat citations has changed. If an employer previously believed that contesting a $12,500 serious citation was not worth the legal cost, the risk of being hit with a repeat violation $125,000 several years down the road may tilt the balance toward contesting those lesser citations,” Fisher Phillips wrote.

The law firm said that employers should be especially vigilant about contesting citations that involve “a routine activity, task, or equipment where a repeat [violation citation] is more likely to arise in the future.”

It also emphasized the importance of maintaining comprehensive records from prior OSHA inspections and citations and documentation about actions taken to fix the problem, in order to avoid citations for the same hazards in the future. “This will hopefully prevent the issuance of a repeat citation, no matter what the repeat time period OSHA may attempt to enforce,” they wrote in their blog.

 

 

Ruling May Open Firms up to Prosecution, Employee Suits in Safety Cases

The California State Supreme Court has issued a landmark opinion that paves the way for employees who have been injured at work due to their employer’s violations of Cal/OSHA regulations to sue for unfair business practices and other violations of the state’s Business and Professions Code.

This broadens the scope of employer liability in workplace injuries and steps beyond the workers’ comp bargain that in exchange for having their medical bills and lost wages paid for, employees give up the right to sue their employer for creating an unsafe work environment that may have contributed to their accident.

The California Supreme court – in Solus Industrial Innovations, Inc. vs. Superior Court – ruled that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act does not bar employees or prosecutors from bringing unfair competition and consumer protection claims based on workplace safety and health violations.

This opens up a new possible area of liability for employers, according to an analysis of the decision by Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

Solus may result in a spike in workplace safety and health litigation against employers,” wrote Joshua M. Henderson, partner in the complex discrimination litigation practice group of Seyfarth.

 

Case background
The case stems from a 2009 incident when two Solus wokrers were killed after a water heater exploded. The equipment exploded when its safety valve malfunctioned and because there were no other safety features on the heater “due to manipulation and misuse,” according to Cal/OSHA.

Afterwards, the California Bureau of Investigations launched an investigation, as it is required to do after workers are killed on the job. It forwarded its findings to the Orange County district attorney, who in turn charged the plant manager and maintenance supervisor with felony violations of the Labor Code.

Orange County prosecutors also filed a civil action, accusing Solus of:

 

  • Violating the state Unfair Competition Law – It alleged that Solus, by maintaining an unsafe work environment, had engaged in unfair and unlawful business practices
  • Violating the state Fair Advertising Law – It alleged that the company had engaged in false advertising by making “numerous false and misleading representations concerning its commitment to workplace safety and its compliance with all applicable workplace safety standards,” in order to attract and retain customers and employees.

 

The DA sought over a million dollars in civil penalties in the lower court case. Solus asked for the trial court to dismiss the case, but the court rejected the motion. On appeal of the decision, the Court of Appeal reversed, saying that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act pre-empted state unfair competition law, which barred the civil action.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the case could proceed, which sends it back to the local court for hearing. In reversing the Court of Appeal, the high court said that since California has its own workplace safety enforcement mechanism, state law can indeed be used.

The case now goes back to the trial court for action on the DA’s civil claims.

 

Why it’s important
Seyfarth’s Henderson said employers should be concerned because:

  • Solus does not require a final order of the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board affirming the underlying administrative citations. This means that an employer could theoretically beat back Cal/OSHA citations and still be sued under the Business and Professions Code.
  • An employee or DA could sue a company for Business and Professions Code violations in relation to a workplace injury even if OSHA does not issue a citation. Employees may attempt to establish injury in fact in litigation without resorting to filing an administrative complaint with the Division.
    Damages are barred under the unfair competition law, but restitution and injunctive relief are not. The bar would be high though, as an employee must prove they had some kind of economic injury.
  • The statute of limitations is four years for unfair competition claims and three years for false advertising claims.

 

Addressing Workplace Bullying Can Head off Lawsuits

While poor employment practices, harassment and discrimination are coming to the forefront in the U.S., one workplace liability that organizations should not overlook is bullying.

Social media trends have shined the spotlight on a variety of ways people are treated poorly, but the bullying focus has mostly been on schools and not workplaces, which can be breeding grounds for bullying as well. And workplace bullying can lead to lawsuits against your organization, in addition to possible workers’ comp claims.

There has been a bit of an epiphany recently that many employment practices lawsuits concerning stress in the workplace, psychiatric injury, harassment and other issues have their root in bullying by someone in the workplace – often a superior.

Bullying has been present in workplaces for as long as they have existed, and for the most part it has just been swept under the rug. This is especially true for sales people and management with production goals hanging over their heads. Many people are browbeaten by superiors, but the question is: When does leaning on an employee to perform cross the line and become bullying?

 

Bullying statistics

  • 19% of workers have been victims of workplace bullying.
  • 61% of the perpetrators are described as a boss or supervisor.
  • 65% of the workers who reported being bullied also said they had lost their jobs.
  • 37% of workers said their workplace bullying experiences were covered up by others in the workplace.

 

Source: Workplace Bullying Institute survey (2017)

 

Seven essential elements of workplace bullying

  • Repeated behavior
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Direct or indirect behavior
  • Verbal, physical or otherwise
  • Conducted by one or more persons
  • Takes place at the workplace in the course of employment
  • Capable of being reasonably regarded as undermining a person’s dignity.

 

Source: Johan Lubbe, partner at law firm Jackson Lewis LLP

Bullies in the workplace appear to be gender neutral. Women account for 58% of workplace bullies, according to the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute.

That said, women are the primary targets, according to the WBTI. Women bullies choose female targets 87% of the time, and male targets only 13%. Men bullies choose female targets 71% of the time, and male targets 29%.

 

Workers’ comp ramifications

Workplace bullying can lead to stress and, if it becomes debilitating, a worker can file a workplace stress injury claim. This is mostly the case in California, but workers’ comp stress claims are becoming more common throughout the country.

More and more jurisdictions are accepting stress as a valid workers’ comp claim, particularly if it leaves someone unable to work because of their nerves.

 

Employment practices liability

Employers should address workplace bullying before it is too late, because it can create liability issues when left unaddressed.

Employers should pay attention to company culture, watch out for cliques that may make newer employees feel unwelcome, and resist making allowances for the companies’ best performers if they are accused of bullying, according to experts.

If you have an employment practices liability policy, coverage for bullying claims may already be covered. But EPLI is very fact-specific and the facts of each case determine a lot on the coverage provided.

Workplace bullying might fall under wrongful acts or workplace harassment. Another area where coverage could be triggered is accusations of “infliction of emotional distress.”

While bullying is not currently covered by any laws, there have been efforts in state legislatures to get laws on the books making workplace bullying an actionable offense.

 

Workplace Distractions Hurt Your Employees and Your Business

Workplace distractions are ever-present. They reduce workers’ productivity, increase their stress, cause injuries and lower morale. Some are the result of modern technology, but others have been around a lot longer.

Following an interruption, it typically takes a couple of minutes to return concentration to work. These short interruptions and recovery periods add up to large amounts of lost productive time.

There are a multitude of distractions that can affect employee safety and productivity that employers need to be aware of.

 

  1. Smartphones– Smartphones and tablet computers are a major distraction, especially in office environments. Text messages, alerts and the urge to check Facebook and news – not to mention game apps like Candy Crush and Words With Friends – can pull employees’ attention away from the task at hand.
  2. E-mail– Misuse of e-mail can be another productivity sapper. This includes strings of e-mails sent to arrange a time for a meeting or conference call, when scheduling software could accomplish the same thing with one or two messages. It also includes clicking the “reply all” button, sending a thank-you intended for one person to a group of ten. Again, these small interruptions compound over time.
  3. Old-fashioned interruptions – A co-worker who stops by to ask a quick question and sticks around to chat for a few minutes. Meetings that are held because they’ve always been held, regardless of whether they accomplish anything. The colleague who sits three cubicles away and is incapable of having a quiet conversation.
  4. Personal issues– In some cases, a worker’s distractions may come from himself. His job may be boring, causing his mind to wander while he uses a tool or pours a hot drink. He may have problems at home – financial difficulties, family members who are ill, elderly parents, a child going through a rough time.
  5. Work pressures– This includes perceived pressure to finish a job quickly. Manufacturing or warehouse employees may feel pushed to fill an order in a hurry, or construction workers may face short deadlines.
  6. Complacency– Sometimes, employees have done a job for too long and have grown complacent in their knowledge. This can lead to their missing crucial steps in the process, resulting in faulty work – and worse.

 

The fallout

Distractions are not only annoying; they can also be dangerous.

Tripping hazards, machines that use saws, punches, drills or lasers, and workplace chemicals can all cause serious injuries if workers are not paying attention.

An employee driving a forklift in a warehouse can collide with furniture or goods. Kitchen workers plus knives and stoves, plus distractions, can easily produce injuries that are costly and upsetting for the rest of the staff.

To an extent, distractions are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. One thing employers can do is to encourage frequent breaks. There is a limit to how long someone can focus intently on a task. Occasional stretch or walk breaks can help workers clear their minds, relax a little, and take care of personal phone calls and messages.

If necessary, managers can block employees from accessing certain websites or limit use of smartphones to break times. They can also model and encourage proper use of e-mail.

Meetings can be scheduled only when a group discussion is necessary to accomplish work results. To keep them on track, they should be time-limited and have stated agendas.

If it doesn’t interfere with customer service, employees can wear earbuds or headphones to muffle loud conversations. Employees subject to frequent interruptions from gossipy co-workers should be permitted to hang up “do not disturb” signs when necessary.

It is possible to reduce distractions without burdening the workplace with excessive rules. Employers who do so will raise morale, prevent injuries, improve quality and boost profits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Reduce Accidents among Your Driving Employees

We’ve often discussed the scourge of distracted driving in America, brought on in large part due to the use of smartphones and leading to a significant spike in vehicle accidents, injuries and deaths. That in turn has led to a jump in both commercial and personal auto insurance pricing.

The risk for businesses is even greater as a careless driving employee can result in a substantial liability claim, particularly if a third party is injured. If one of your drivers is found to have been engaged in distracted driving, any judgment or settlement for a personal injury could easily cost more than $1 million.

While you can hold meetings about the dangers of distracted driving and what your driving employees can do to reduce the chances of crashing, in the end it comes down to trusting that they will do the right thing.

So what can you do? We suggest a holistic approach to the issue.

1.   Understand distracted driving

Just how bad is the distracted driving problem? In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. During daylight hours, an estimated 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads.

But smartphones are not the only source of distraction. Road safety experts say there are three types of distraction for drivers:

  • Manual – This can include looking around for a lost object in the car, reaching under the seat or behind to the back seat.
  • Cognitive – This can include a driver who is lost in thought and not paying full attention to driving.
  • Visual – Anything that makes a driver takes their eyes off the road, like looking at the GPS or searching for a song on an iPod.

 

Some distractions actually are a combination of two or all the above, like texting or posting stuff on Facebook.

All of your training for your driving employees must emphasize the need to address all types of distracted driving, and should include scenarios to help them make proper decisions when behind the wheel.

2.  Hire good drivers

When hiring personnel who drive, consider what their primary responsibility is. For example, if you own a plumbing operation, your drivers are not necessarily going to be professional drivers, since their primary duty is fixing plumbing issues.

But if you are hiring any workers who will be driving as part of their job, even if it’s not their primary responsibility, you should still make sure they are good drivers by checking their driving records.

Hiring safe drivers is one of the best ways for you to ensure you are putting safe drivers behind the wheel. After all, past driving behavior is the best indication of future performance.

If you think any prospect will be driving as part of their job, you should pull their DMV records. Look for anything serious like DUIs or frequent citations for moving violations. You should decide what your level of tolerance is for driving histories.

In addition, check their resumes to see whether they were driving as part of any of their prior jobs, and if they have experience driving the same type of vehicle they would be driving for you.

Also ask about any medications the applicant may be taking, as some can affect their driving.

Finally, consider requiring candidates that would be driving to take a road test as part of the recruitment process.

3.  Coach current employees to be safe drivers

You should hold regular training for all of your current employees that may drive as part of their job, even if they are only running to the office supply store or on an occasional errand.

You should attack this in a three-pronged approach:

  • Pull their DMV driving records annually.
  • Subject them to road tests where they are graded on their safe driving.
  • Hold an annual meeting to go over safe driving policies; reinforce the dangers of distracted driving and stress the need to always focus on the task at hand.

 

You should also have safe driving policies in writing that are enforceable. Your policies should list all the behaviors your workers are prohibited from engaging in while driving.

Some rules you can include:

  • Never answer the phone while driving, even if you have a hands-free device.
  • Bar programming a GPS while on the move and require that they pull over when safe to do so.
  • Never hold your smartphone in your hand while driving.

 

Your policy should also specify the consequences and any disciplinary action for breaking the rules.

You should maintain records of these policies. This is of utmost importance if one of your employees is in an accident and accused of negligence. Your policy and proof of training can protect your organization.

4.  Take advantage of technology

Many companies are installing GPS tracking devices in their vehicles so they can receive real-time information about a vehicle’s location and rate of speed. This gives you valuable insight into any dangerous habits your drivers may be engaging in.

You can also install technologies that will block cell phone signals while the vehicle is moving.

5.  Have procedures for dealing with accidents

Despite your best efforts, your driving employees may still have accidents. They should be trained in the procedures they should follow after an accident.

Some companies include accident kits in their vehicles. They are typically a small bag or box that’s kept in the glove compartment.

The kit should explain what they should do, including:

  • Taking photos from all angles after an accident.
  • Completing a form on which to record details of the accident, including where it took place, how it occurred, the damage to third parties, the other driver’s insurance information, road conditions, and more. Require your drivers to take down all the details at the scene of the accident.
  • Calling the police in the event of an accident.

Employees should not discuss who was at fault with the police, but they can work with them to document the accident. Plus, a police officer can provide a calm, outside perspective on a stressful situation.

 

 

OSHA Continues Its Focus on Multi-Employer Worksites

OSHA is continuing its focus on multi-employer worksites, and contractors that oversee the work of other employers’ and subcontractors’ workers need to be aware of the long reach the workplace safety agency has.

Having employees who work for multiple employers on the same project or in the same facility is becoming more common. This is true especially in the construction and manufacturing industries, but also anywhere a workspace is owned by one company but filled with multiple contractors, consultants and temporary workers employed in a variety of operations.

Under its “Multi-Employer Citation Policy,” OSHA uses a two-step process to determine which employers it will cite in a workplace.

First, it defines the type of employer each employer on a worksite is:

  • Creating – Creating employers are those whose workers create a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard. Employers that create violative conditions are citable even if the only employees exposed are those of other employers at the site.
  • Exposing – Exposing employers are those whose workers are exposed to a hazard on a multiemployer worksite. Only exposing employers can be cited for a general duty clause violation. If the exposing employer created the violation, it is citable as a creating employer.
  • Correcting – A correcting employer is defined as being engaged in a common undertaking on the same worksite as the exposing employer, and responsible for correcting the hazard. The correcting employer can be cited if it doesn’t exercise reasonable care in preventing and discovering violations and does not meet its obligations to correct hazards even if none of its workers were exposed to the hazard.
  • Controlling – Controlling employers are the employers with general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations or require others to correct them. Control can be established by contract or, in the absence of explicit contractual provisions, by the exercise of control in practice.

 

A single employer may fall into more than one category.

Once the employer is defined, the agency tries to determine if the employer’s actions were sufficient to meet its obligations. If OSHA determines that the employer did not meet its obligations, the employer will be cited.

 

Controlling employers have highest burden

Worksite owners and operators are typically the controlling employers under OSHA policy and carry a higher compliance burden than other employers at the site.

OSHA holds controlling employers responsible for exercising “reasonable care” to prevent and detect violations on the worksite. Reasonable care generally requires:

  • Periodic inspections of the worksite
  • Implementation of an effective system for correcting hazards
  • Effective enforcement of a site-wide safety and health compliance program.

 

Controlling employers are not required to inspect for hazards as frequently or to have the same level of knowledge of the applicable standards as the employers they have hired.

 

The final test

If an OSHA inspector finds workers painting the ceiling under exposed, hot wires, which employer would be cited?

In a case like this, three employers could be on the hook:

  • The general contractor – As the controlling employer, the general contractor can be cited for allowing all workers present to be exposed to the hazard.
  • The electrical contractor – The electrical contractor is the creating employer and can be cited for not covering the exposed wiring. The electrical contractor’s employees do not need to be present at the time when OSHA finds the painters working around the exposed wires. The electrical contractor can also be the correcting employer.
  • The painting contractor — The painting company is the exposing employer and can be cited for allowing its employees to work in a hazardous environment.

 

As you can see, it’s not hard for a contractor to be swept up in a multi-employer citation. Knowing where you stand as one of four types of employers, will help you understand your responsibilities to ensure a safe workspace.

Even if you don’t put your own employees at risk, you may be putting the workers of another firm in danger, and in OSHA’s eyes, you are equally liable for any accidents that might occur.