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Workplace Safety: What To Expect From OSHA In 2014

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The New York lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy strive to bring you the latest developments in workplace safety. Frequently, that requires us to stay on top of what is happening at The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Read below for what you need to know about worker safety in 2014.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, part of the U.S. Department of Labor) imposes federal safety standards and enforces federal requirements at workplaces, including numerous regulations pertaining to the most dangerous industries, such as construction work, transportation, coal mining and oil and gas extraction. Despite political uncertainties for federal agencies, there are some work-safety areas that OSHA is expected to focus on in 2014, according to a recent article by Safety News Alert:

  • Criminal prosecutions for OSHA violations. Although criminal prosecutions are quite rare, they have increased recently and it appears they may continue to increase because OSHA is referring all fatality cases and investigations in which there are three or more serious injuries to district attorney offices for possible criminal prosecution.
  • Use of OSHA's General Duty Clause. OSHA imposes many specific requirements, but when no specific regulation exists for a potential workplace hazard, OSHA uses the "General Duty Clause" (GDC) to fine companies. Recently it has been used in heat-related deaths and chemical-exposure cases not involving a specific exposure limit violation. In addition, OSHA administrator David Michaels also indicated the GDC could be used in employee deaths involving required use of a cell phone while driving.
  • Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). VPP companies are exempt from OSHA inspections that target companies with injury rates that are higher than their industry's average. However, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General recently questioned whether OSHA has sufficient controls for the selection, re-evaluation and monitoring of companies in the VPP. OIG recommendations which could impact whether companies with serious injuries get to stay in the program.
  • Updating injury and illness reporting requirements. OSHA now requires employers to report any work-related incident resulting in the death of an employee or the inpatient hospitalization of three or more employees within eight hours. A revision to the current rules would require all work-related fatalities and all work-related hospitalizations be reported within eight hours; and all work-related amputations within 24. It would also update the industries exempt from reporting injuries and illnesses to OSHA.
  • OSHA's proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program requirement. OSHA is expected to release proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) regulations in September 2014. Many states already have I2P2 requirements or guidelines. Most I2P2s include: management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification, hazard prevention and control, education and training, and program evaluation and improvement. Although it is questionable whether OSHA will be able to propose federal I2P2 rules in 2014, OSHA chief David Michaels has said this initiative is his top priority.
  • Willful vs. serious violations. Under current OSHA regulations, "willful" violations carry a potential maximum penalty of $70,000, compared to "serious" violations that max out at $7,000. To prove a violation was "willful", OSHA must show it was "committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard." OSHA has a goal to increase the average cost of penalties, but this year OSHA suffered a setback with an administrative law judge downgraded fines issued by OSHA to BP companies from willful to serious, and reduced the fines from $70,000 each to $7,000 each. In other less-prominent cases violations have been downgraded from willful to serious on appeal.
  • Process safety management changes. OSHA intends to issue a request for information (RFI) regarding process safety management and prevention of major chemical incidents, pursuant to President Obama's executive order on improving chemical safety.
  • Comments on OSHA's proposed silica standard. This proposed OSHA rule includes a more stringent permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica. The public comment period was extended to Jan. 27, 2014 and a new rule would likely be finalized in 2014.
  • Recording ergonomic injuries. OSHA recently lost an appeal from Caterpillar Logistics over a fine for not recording an employee's work-related ergonomic injury. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals questioned the definition of a work-related injury, specifically when the work environment contributes to the resulting condition. Whether OSHA attempts to clarify what it means by "contributed to" remains to be seen.
  • Fines for noncompliance with Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Companies can now be fined for not complying with an OSHA requirement that, by Dec. 1, 2013, they train employees about new safety data sheets and symbols under the GHS revision of OSHA's hazcom standard.

It is a shared hope that 2014 makes worksites safer and new federal agendas improve worker safety. Despite the great number of OSHA safety regulations, work site accidents, and particularly construction site accidents, have continued to occur with devastating frequency.

Block O'Toole & Murphy fights to protect the rights of those injured, or tragically killed, in worksite site accidents. We are committed to helping injured workers and their families during a very difficult time. The serious personal injury attorneys at Block O'Toole & Murphy, LLP have the right experience and expertise in helping injured victims, including well over $700,000,000 in verdicts and settlements. They are available for a free consultation - at (212) 736-5300. You can also learn more about the firm by visiting the firm's website at -http://www.blockotoole.com.

Source: http://www.safetynewsalert.com/top-10-osha-trends-to-watch-in-2014/