Why Workers’ Comp Claims Spike in the Summer

Construction Site

Workplace injury rates rise during the summer months. When summer rolls around, companies in many sectors, including agriculture and construction, significantly increase production.

Increased road construction raises risks for workers and drivers. Many of the newly hired workers are young and inexperienced, creating a high potential for workplace injuries.

Toiling in the sun is also a leading cause of weather-related injuries, including heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Heat illnesses occur when the body overheats to the point it cannot cool off, even with profuse sweating.

Young workers

Too often, young workers enter the workforce with little or no on-the-job safety training, heightening safety risks.

Recently, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries released a report showing that teens are twice as likely to be hurt on the job as adults.

In Washington state, a total of 547 youths aged 17 and under were injured in the workplace in 2014, up nearly 14.7% over the previous year. Of the total, 173 were in the food and hospitality industries. The next largest total, 80, was reported in both the retail trades and agriculture.

Falls to the floor increased 77%, to 55 cases, as the chief cause of injury.

Young workers, aged 14 to 24, have more accidents because they lack the knowledge, training, and experience to prevent them. Some common issues employers encounter with young workers are:

  • They do not understand what can go wrong.
  • They do not always follow the rules.
  • They fail to use personal protective equipment (PPE) or use it incorrectly.
  • They horse around on the equipment.
  • They do not ask questions.
  • They think they are infallible.

It’s also important for supervisors to recognize the physical, cognitive and emotional developmental differences between young and adult workers. It takes extra effort to train and supervise seasonal employees on working safely.

Here are some training suggestions:

  • Repeatedly demonstrate job procedures and safety precautions. Don’t overlook the basics, such as starting and stopping equipment.
  • The step-by-step instructions for any task must include the task’s hazards and how to avoid them. Take the time to clearly explain the risks of not following the proper steps. Use examples.
  • Explain when and how to use PPE, as well as where to get it, how to inspect it, and how to remove and store it properly.
  • Train one-to-one with young workers and observe them performing tasks.
  • Encourage them to report problems and to ask questions.
  • Assign specific clean-up tasks and emphasize the importance of a clean, clutter-free worksite.
  • Control the hours worked. Many popular summer jobs, such as construction workers, landscapers, and jobs in hospitality and food industries, require long hours of work in the heat that can lead to fatigue, inattention, and stress, increasing the likelihood of injury.
  • Provide a mentor.
  • Demonstrate that safety is a priority at your facility. Words aren’t enough. New workers also need to see actions that reinforce the message: clean worksite, properly labeled hazardous substances and readily accessible safety data sheets, workers wearing required PPE and who are concerned about workplace safety and show it, and so on.

Heat illness dangers

While there are many excellent resources on dealing with heat, it’s important for employers to recognize that there are individual differences among workers and those who are struggling may be hesitant to complain.

The American Society of Safety Engineers calls heat the “unseen danger” at construction sites because the symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue.

Workers new to outdoor jobs are particularly vulnerable. Implementing an acclimatization program, providing adequate water and frequent breaks are all critical, but the best way for employers to prevent heat illnesses is to consistently interact with workers to gauge how they’re feeling and provide current information on weather conditions.

Also, using apps, such as OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool, is a good way for workers to monitor their risk levels.

A New Approach to Preventing Workplace Injuries

Metal Roof Roll Forming Machine

While overall workplace injuries have been falling in the last decade, the numbers of deadly and catastrophic injuries are actually on the rise.

A new report recommends that employers focus their injury prevention efforts on reviewing accidents that could have resulted in serious injury or death, as well as on near misses, where a potentially serious accident was narrowly avoided.

The “Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices” report, by the Campbell Institute, recommends that employers focus on their internal processes that could lead to serious injuries and fatalities, rather than on human error itself.

They should focus on identifying and fixing holes in their safety management system, examine their workplace culture, and change or modify work processes so as to eliminate the chances of human error affecting safety.

The report recommends that organizations don’t put the blame on the injured worker, but instead take a look at internal factors that contributed to an accident. To identify events or near events that could have led to serious injury or death, the prevention model in the report recommends focusing on and studying:

  • Precursors to accidents
  • Near misses
  • All recordable injuries

By identifying potential precursors to such events and educating employees about those precursors, companies can focus on eliminating the potential for accidents to occur in the first place.

One key component of this method is to identify which smaller accidents or near misses had the most potential to inflict serious injury or death.

Recommendations

Establish a system for reporting near misses. Consider:

  • Addressing issues such as workers being afraid of the consequences of reporting a near miss. Try to instill trust among your workers that they won’t be punished for a near miss, and that reporting them can help prevent future serious injuries.
  • Define what constitutes a near miss.
  • Include near-miss training during new employee orientations.
  • Get buy-in from management and supervisors to foster a culture of reporting near misses.
  • Make reporting simple and straightforward.
  • Make sure that your investigation includes a precise log of what led up to the near miss, as well as the root cause.
  • Take corrective action after conducting the investigation.

When rolling out the plan, hold a safety meeting explaining to employees why the company is focusing on the smaller incidents and near misses, and how a minor incident can turn major. Explain the importance of looking at potential rather than actual outcomes for minor incidents.

Try to be innovative in how you tackle workplace safety. For example, an article in Risk and Insurance magazine looked at a number of large employers that have worked with the criminology departments of nearby colleges to analyze injuries and near misses, in order to help identify what they could have done to prevent them.
The magazine’s report found that employers that used this method saw significant reductions in the number of workplace injuries they experienced.

OSHA Stays Serious About Temp Worker Safety

While the Trump administration has eased off a number of regulations and enforcement actions during the past two years, Fed-OSHA continues focusing on the safety of temporary workers as much as it did under the Obama presidency.

This puts the onus not only on the agencies that provide the temp workers, but also on the companies that contract with them for the workers.

As evidence of its continued focus on temp workers, OSHA recently released guidance on lockout/tagout training requirements for temporary workers. This was the third guidance document released in 2018 and the 10th in recent years that was specific to temp workers.

One reason OSHA is so keen on continuing to police employers that use temporary workers, as well as the staffing agencies that supply them, is that temp workers are often given some of the worst jobs and possibly fall through the safety training cracks.

OSHA launched the Temporary Worker Initiative in 2013. It generally considers the staffing agency and host employer to be joint employers for the sake of providing workers a safe workplace that meets all of OSHA’s requirements, according to a memorandum by the agency’s office in 2014 to its field officers.

That same memo included the agency’s plans to publish more enforcement and compliance guidance, which it has released steadily since then.

Some of the topics of the temp worker guidance OSHA has released since the 2014 memorandum include:

  • Injury and illness record-keeping requirements
  • Noise exposure and hearing conservation
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Whistleblower protection rights
  • Safety and health training
  • Hazard communication
  • Bloodborne pathogens
  • Powered industrial truck training
  • Respiratory protection
  • Lockout/tagout

Joint responsibility

OSHA started the initiative due to concerns that some employers were using temporary workers as a way to avoid meeting obligations to comply with OSHA regulations and worker protection laws, and because temporary workers are more vulnerable to workplace safety and health hazards and retaliation than workers in traditional employment relationships.

With both the temp agency and the host employer responsible for workplace safety, there has to be a level of trust between the two. Temp agencies should come and do some type of assessment to ensure the employer meets OSHA standards, and the host employer has to provide a safe workplace.

Both host employers and staffing agencies have roles in complying with workplace health and safety requirements, and they share responsibility for ensuring worker safety and health.

A key concept is that each employer should consider the hazards it is in a position to prevent and correct, and in a position to comply with OSHA standards. For example: staffing agencies might provide general safety and health training, and host employers provide specific training tailored to the particular workplace equipment/hazards.

Successful joint employer relationship traits

  • The key is communication between the temp agency and the host to ensure that the necessary protections are provided.
  • Staffing agencies have a duty to inquire into the conditions of their workers’ assigned workplaces. They must ensure that they are sending workers to a safe workplace.
  • Ignorance of hazards is not an excuse.
  • Staffing agencies need not become experts on specific workplace hazards, but they should determine what conditions exist at the host employer, what hazards may be encountered, and how best to ensure protection for the temporary workers.
  • The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and verify that the host has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace.
  • And, just as important, host employers must treat temporary workers like any other workers in terms of training and safety and health protections.

For a look at all 10 of the guidance documents OSHA has issued in the last few years, visit the agency’s temp worker page: www.osha.gov/temp_workers/

Cal/OSHA Issues Emergency Rules for Posting Injury Forms Electronically

Financial Figures Data Analyzing

Cal/OSHA is implementing emergency regulations that require California employers with 250 or more employees to submit their 2017 Form 300A summaries electronically by the end of this year. That’s the form that you signed and posted in your workplace from Feb. 1 to April 30.

Form 300A contains only the summary of injuries and is not the actual log, which contains the names of the employees who were injured.

For the electronic filing, you will simply take the same information on the form you posted earlier this year and enter it into an electronic database.

The short ramp-up period will require employers to quickly act to comply with the emergency regulations, which were approved by the state’s Office of Administrative Law in early November. The new regulations were implemented on an emergency basis to put California’s regulations on par with those of Federal OSHA.

Who do the new rules apply to?

The new regs apply to the following employers:

  • Those with 250 or more employees, unless specifically exempted by section 14300.2 of Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations.
  • Certain employers with 20 to 249 employees in specific industries that are listed in Appendix H of the emergency regulations.

Among the industries in the latter category are:

  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • A number of retail businesses
  • Transportation
  • Warehousing
  • Health care

You can find a full list of the above industries on pages 8-10 in Cal/OSHA’s emergency regulations: www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/doshreg/Recording-and-Reporting/Text-of-Amended-Regulation-Revised.pdf

Employers that do not have to fill out OSHA logs include:

  • Those that had 10 or fewer employees during the entire year; and
  • Those that have 20-249 employees, but their industry does not fall within the list of “high-risk industries,” as above.

After this catch-up period at the end of the year, all applicable employers will be required to submit their Form 300A electronically every year going forward.

Until Cal/OSHA promulgates new regulations to make that a permanent rule, the agency advises all applicable employers to follow the instructions on Fed-OSHA’s “Injury Tracking Application” webpage: www.osha.gov/injuryreporting/index.html

Cal/OSHA will be implementing its own online tool and when it does, we will notify you.