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Baltimore Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Keeping workers safe from hazardous energy

Hazardous energy is present in many workplace environments in Maryland and across the country. Several million workers routinely deal with hazardous energy, and when one is injured an average of 24 workdays are lost while the employee recovers. In addition, hazardous energy-related accidents account for roughly 10 percent of all serious accidents in many industries.

Hazardous energy comes from chemical, thermal, pneumatic, hydraulic, mechanical and electrical sources generated from equipment and machines. Employees can be severely injured or killed when the machines they are maintaining or repairing suddenly and unexpectedly release an uncontrolled buildup of hazardous energy.

Work risks for trenching and excavation jobs

While construction is one of the most dangerous jobs for Maryland workers, some areas of focus can be more risky than others. One of the most worrisome issues in a trenching job is the potential for a cave-in, but other concerns that could be dangerous or even deadly include the potential for drowning, being asphyxiated, or being exposed to dangerous airborne materials. There are also challenges in dealing with utility lines because of the possibility of an explosion or electrocution. Both employers and workers need to be aware of these risks so that they can effectively guard against dangerous situations.

Protective equipment and systems are integral in ensuring worker safety on an excavation job. Proper tools on a site for getting into and out of an area are crucial. Ladder quality is important, and proper placement is also critical. If a hazardous situation arises, workers need to be able to get out quickly. Proper placement, uniformity of coordinating parts, and safe surfaces are a priority. Proper placement of the excavated materials is also important because these materials could roll back onto workers or cause a cave-in.

Workplace injury list reveals overexertion's high price tag

Compared to the general working population, Marylanders who specialize in certain fields may be at higher risk of overexertion and related musculoskeletal disorders. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2014 showed that more than 30 percent of injuries and illnesses were related to MSDs even though the overall rate per 10,000 workers had decreased slightly from the previous year.

In January 2016, insurer Liberty Mutual released its 2016 Workplace Safety Index that used data from 2013 to show that overexertion was the top cause of incidents that could result in disabling injuries. While same-floor falls and falls to lower building levels came in second and third in terms of direct costs to businesses, the cost of overexertion was almost equal to these amounts combined.

Mining deaths continue to decline in 2015

Maryland residents who work in the mining industry may be familiar with the importance of on-the-job safety, but they may wonder how effective safety practices are. Since the Mining Safety and Health Administration was established in 1978, the number of deaths has consistently fallen. That year's deaths totaled 242, and the number in 2015 totaled 28, a decrease of nearly 90 percent over the 37-year period.

Mining has taken a hit in recent years in terms of demand for coal, one of the primary mining products. Only 11 of the 28 deaths in 2015 occurred in coal mining settings, and this may be due in part to the closure of numerous mines and the loss of many jobs. The industry has been affected by economics as power plants are turning more to natural gas because of lower costs. However, officials with MSHA indicate that the primary reason for an improved fatality record is the fact that safety standards are continuing to be developed and enforced successfully.

For-hire employee rights in Maryland

It is expected that many ride sharing companies will start treating their contracted workers like employees in the near future. A number of businesses that have started up recently depend on independent contractors. The best known examples are probably Lyft and Uber, which are riding sharing companies that allow individuals who work for them to determine their own hours.

Along with ride sharing services, many individuals have begun working for food delivery services, but as with ride sharing, they are not considered employees of the businesses they deliver for. As a result of not actually being employees, companies are able to save large amounts of money on insurance and Social Security. Of course, this also means that employees aren't receiving these benefits.

Workforce is growing older across the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 25 percent of the workforce is expected to be age 55 or older by 2022. The changing face of the working demographic in Maryland and around the country is largely because baby boomers are choosing to remain in the workforce for longer periods than the generation before them.

The BLS reports that workers who are older experience fewer on-the-job injuries. Data from 2014 showed that older workers - those 65 or older - had an injury rate of 94.2 per 10,000 full-time employees, the lowest rate of all age groups. Overall, the injury rate for workers was 107.1 per 10,000.

Dangers and risks in the health care workplace

Maryland health care workers may be aware that their workplace is hazardous in a number of ways, some of which are better known than others. For example, many medical experts know that pathogens, or infectious microbial life forms, can live on in blood even after it has left the body. Medical workers usually understand that these pathogens can exist on many surfaces and in many substances inside a health care workplace, The response to clean these areas usually revolves around disinfection and sanitization. However, this level of antisepticism contains its own risks.

Cleaners that use alcohol, phenolic compounds and quaternary ammonium chlorides are all commonly used as hospital disinfectants. Unfortunately, these all contain the potential to irritate the skin or cause other unhealthy side effects.

Workplace hazards for Maryland workers to look out for

Employers that do not take adequate precautions to guard against winter hazards may experience more workplace injuries. Maintaining workplace safety requires different precautions during the winter, when many retail businesses in Maryland see a sharp increase in their rate of online sales as well as in-store customer traffic. As a result, conditions on store and warehouse floors often deteriorate. Businesses can prevent accidents by investing in basic winter safety equipment and strategies, including the practice of implementing pallet-racking inspections to ensure that proper procedures are being followed.

OSHA recommends that employers prevent slip-and-fall accidents and other winter hazards by providing shoes with proper gripping soles. Employers should also post clear signs in hazardous areas around the sales floor and other work spaces. Good lighting is essential to help customers and employees see where they are going and prevent them from slipping and falling over items or unsafe surfaces. Wet floors should be dried as soon as possible, and floors coated with grit can prevent slips even on wet surfaces.

An overview of nonfatal occupational injuries

Although fatal occupational injuries may garner a high level of attention from Maryland residents, nonfatal issues can be a significant concern for both employers and employees as well. In 2014, state statistics indicated that more than 68,000 cases were recorded for all injuries and illnesses connected with Maryland workplaces. More than 75 percent of these cases occurred in private industries.

One of the private industrial sectors with high numbers of occupational illnesses or injuries was trade, transportation, and utilities with nearly 14,000 occurrences. Health services and social assistance accounted for approximately 12,500 cases. Hospitals represented nearly half of the reports associated with the health services sector, and nursing facilities represented nearly one-third of this sector's incidents. These same sectors within government entities represented a significantly smaller portion of the overall instances of nonfatal occupational illnesses and injuries than in private settings. More than one-third of government cases occurred in the educational setting, and more than one-third occurred in public administration.

Contractor responsibility when workers are injured or killed

Construction work is one of the most dangerous types of jobs people do in Maryland. Because of the potential hazards involved, there are federal and state safety regulations in place to help make construction sites safer for workers and minimize the risk of accidents.

Since construction sites normally have several parties involved, including general contractors, subcontractors and their employees, it may seem difficult to determine who is responsible when a worker is injured in an accident. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, provides the health and safety rules for construction sites. According to their regulations, general contractors can be held responsible when a worker is injured, as can the subcontractor for whom the worker was doing the work.

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