Archive for February, 2015

Whistleblowers Come Forward to OSHA in Record Numbers

Unsafe work conditions exist at worksites throughout Coventry, Warwick, and Providence, endangering workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets the rules that are supposed to protect employers and oversees compliance with rules and regulations. OSHA does not have sufficient money or staff to do its job as effectively as it should, which means that businesses do not get inspected frequently enough and safety violations often go unnoticed until someone gets hurt or killed and an investigation is triggered.463144109

A workers’ compensation lawyer knows that it is always best for safety problems to come to light before anyone suffers an injury. One way in which this occurs is when whistleblowers come forward. Whistleblowers are people who report safety violations or other wrongdoings that they discover. They are supposed to be protected from retaliation by their employers, although this doesn’t always happen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the responsibility for investigating whistleblower complaints for as many as 22 different federal statutes and not all complaints are thoroughly investigated. Last year, however, the National Law Review indicated that the agency reviewed and looked into a record number of whistleblower cases.

OSHA Reviews Record Number of Whistleblower Cases

Over the course of fiscal year 2014, OSHA took on 3,600 cases. A total of 57 percent of whistleblower complaints were filed based on anti-retaliation provisions in Section 11(C) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. There were also 463 cases which were brought under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which is designed to protect commercial drivers who blow the whistle on safety issues. The Railroad Safety Act also gave rise to 463 claims made.

In total, OSHA took on 91 more investigations into whistleblower complaints than it did in 2013. A part of the reason why the agency may have reviewed more complaints is that it has received more complaints due to media attention to monetary awards being paid to whistleblowers.

Although OSHA took on more investigations, only around 41 percent of claims passed the agency’s initial screening phase. This means a lot of people who came forward to report safety violations and who were retaliated against may not have gotten to move forward with seeking OSHA protection.

OSHA uses a preponderance of the evidence standard to determine if there is cause to further investigate a claim, and this may be resulting in some legitimate instances of retaliation not being properly addressed. According to the National Law Review, OSHA will be changing the way it responds when claims of wrongdoing are made and will switch to a reasonable cause standard instead of the current stricter standard.

The fact that OSHA is investigating more claims and considering making a move to make it even more likely that claims will be investigated is very good, since whistleblowers need to be protected so they can continue to come forward. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement and OSHA could do a better job protecting people who risk their careers to come forward and report safety problems.

Contact a Providence accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at 508-677-4900 or visit http://www.dgklaw.com to schedule your free consultation. Serving Coventry, Warwick, Providence and surrounding areas.

Providence Workers & Winter Safety Risks

For many workers throughout Coventry, Warwick, Providence and surrounding areas, the arrival of winter cold weather means a greater risk of injury or fatalities on-the-job.  Construction workers, sign installers and police officers are among the many professionals who often have to spend their workdays outdoors even during the bitter cold. A personal injury lawyer knows that these workers face the risk of frostbite, hypothermia and other health complications. It is up to employers to provide a safe working environment and adequate training so those who work outside during the winter will make it safely through the season. 

Tips for Winter Work Safety

Safety News Alert published an ironic story illustrating the dangers of working outdoors. The story was about a news station called KRDO.

KRDO, concerned about winter workplace safety, sent out a news affiliate to speak with people who work outdoors. A reporter spoke with a sign installer and with someone who works in sanitation.  The purpose of the interview was discuss risks of winter outdoor work as well as to offer safety tips.

While KRDO affiliates were reporting safety advice, the station itself was reportedly under fire for not doing enough to train workers and protect them from frigid winter weather.  Amidst the criticism, a reporter went to report an unrelated late news live shot. He had no cameraman with him, since many TV stations don’t send camera people out anymore but instead expect reporters to handle the setup themselves now that cameras have gotten smaller.

The reporter wasn’t able to get his camera and tripod set up correctly without talking his gloves off. So, he did, in weather that was only 11 degrees. He suffered severe frostbite which necessitated hospitalization. It was fortunate that he did not end up losing any fingers.

TV news reporters and every other worker who does a job outside during winter needs to know some basic safety guidelines so they don’t get frostbite or suffer even worse health consequences. Safety BLR has some tips for how employees can stay safe when they work during the winter months. Employers should:

  • Be aware of both the early and late signs of hypothermia. Symptoms can include shivering and shaking, lost coordination, fatigue, disorientation and confusion. If you don’t get out of the cold and get warmed up right away when having these symptoms, then hypothermia will progressively cause worth symptoms. For example, later stage hypothermia can cause a slowed pulse, dilated pupils, slowed breathing, blue skin and possibly loss of consciousness. Eventually, someone can die of hypothermia.
  • Take frequent breaks to warm up when you are working outdoors. You may wish to ease into outdoor work carefully if you have not been working in frigid temperatures yet so your body has time to adjust.
  • Take care on slippery surfaces. Know that ice can be on parking lots and outdoor surfaces. Indoor spaces can also get slippery as people track water inside.

Workers can follow these tips to try to stay safe. Ultimately, employers need to provide training on winter weather safety and ensure that their workers are protected from injury due to the bitter cold.

Contact a Providence accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at 508-677-4900 or visit www.dgklaw.com to schedule your free consultation. Serving Coventry, Warwick, Providence.