Workplace Hazards in Houston & Nationwide
After the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed in 1970, the number of workplace hazards have been reduced. When work-related threats are kept in check, employees are less likely to be hurt. The mix of OSHA, improvements for safety equipment, and increased monitoring of work environments has led to much safer workplaces today. Even so, more efforts need to be made to counter the hundreds of thousands of electrocutions, slip and fall accidents, chemical burns, and scaffolding accidents, as well as injuries sustained from falling objects, flying debris, and defective machinery that still occur every year. Many of these hazards result in serious injuries.
However, workplace safety is an ever-growing industry.
One person dying on the job due to unsafe work practices is one too many, but the reality is that there are hundreds who die and thousands more who are injured every year due to unsafe work environments. This is unacceptable, and employees must understand the work hazards that they face in their job environments. If you’ve been injured by a workplace hazard, your employer may be compelled to pay for your medical care, lost income, and basic needs while you recover. If the injury is permanent, you may be able to secure compensation for the rest of your life. All it takes to learn about your case is a free phone call with our industrial accident lawyers.
Contact Arnold & Itkin today for a free consultation. Our top-rated lawyers can help you take the next step.
The Importance of Workplace Safety
All Texas employers have an ethical and legal obligation to provide workers a safe and secure environment, free from hazards of serious physical injury or death. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency that issues and enforces workplace standards in the United States. If an employee is injured due to an employer’s failure to meet OSHA standards, that employee may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, funeral costs, lost income, and rehabilitation treatment.
OSHA Safety Standards
Working in plants and other heavy industry jobs can be very dangerous. The constant handling of chemicals and complex machinery leaves plenty of room for human error, which can lead to serious injury, property damage, and even death. For this reason, OSHA sets critical standards for worker safety in an industrial environment.
One of the most important is Process Safety Management (PSM), which "contains requirements for preventing or minimizing the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable or explosive chemicals…which may result in toxic, fire or explosion hazards." OSHA governs most workplaces in the private sector. This includes hospitals, offices, shipyards, warehouses, oil and gas refineries, chemical plants, and construction sites.
OSHA requires employers to:
- Make sure that all employees have safe equipment, tools, and materials.
- Report any fatal workplace accident that resulted in three or more workers being hospitalized.
- Provide training and medical examinations where required.
- Keep detailed records of all accidents, injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
- Acknowledge, correct, and post OSHA citations.
What OSHA Violations Look Like
While the laws are designed to protect workers from getting injured, all too often they are not enforced or are flagrantly ignored by companies and property owners. Our attorneys have, unfortunately, tried many cases in which a worker was injured after a work-site fire because the exit routes were either blocked or insufficient in number. Too often, companies put worker safety behind profits. We cannot rely solely on OSHA to police dangerous work practices. When companies fail to provide escape routes, and their workers get burned, we need to hold those companies responsible.
Too many workers have been hurt or killed while the companies cover up their misdeeds and continue to profit.
Machines, equipment, tools, and vehicles should be maintained regularly or whenever a test or signal indicates that a repair is needed. Floors, stairs, guardrails, and other features should be periodically maintained as well. Defective machinery can cause catastrophic injuries.
Improper maintenance can lead to forklifts, steers, cranes, or derricks experiencing problems with:
- Braking and steering
- Transmission or hydraulic systems
- Frayed electrical wiring
- Oily and wet floors, stairways, or decks
Periodic inspections can detect defective ladders and scaffolds or defects in equipment such as cranes. Inspections can also reveal whether workers are operating machines properly or following safety protocol, such as using personal protective equipment or safety guards. When employers fail to inspect machines and other equipment adequately, they are not doing their job to maintain a safe work environment.
INSUFFICIENT TRAINING & SUPERVISION
Employers must train employees on how to perform their work safely and regularly supervise employees to make sure they are following protocol. For example, workers should be taught how to properly operate power tools such as saws or drills, or how to move heavy equipment or boxes without straining their backs. They should also be required to wear gloves, coveralls, and goggles when operating equipment.
EXPOSURE TO HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS
An employer has violated OSHA regulations if it has exposed employees to serious injury or death. An employer puts workers in danger by failing to place guards on moving parts of equipment and machinery, forcing employees to work around chemicals and dust that exceed permissible exposure limits, ignored specific requirements for air sampling in confined spaces, or failed to use proper sloping/storage of excavated materials.
How Has OSHA Helped the Workplace?
One of the primary functions of the OSHA is to provide regulations that will help promote the safety of workers in industries of every kind. Over the years, they have been successful in this pursuit, and it has created regulations that have helped reduce industrial accidents and injuries.
Some of the pieces of regulations that they have helped enforce:
- Expand the use of guards to cover moving parts in all machinery;
- Standard to keep healthcare workers from being exposed to dangerous pathogens;
- Energy sources must be turned "off" during repair and maintenance;
- When handling chemicals, protective equipment must be utilized; and
- Currently, workers in 7 states must have formal OSHA safety training.
This is just a brief sampling of the different work-related regulations that have been put into place through the efforts of the OSHA. Currently, the organization has over 2,000 inspectors who make it their duty to ensure that these regulations are enforced and that employees are properly protected. In 2010 alone, there are over 40,000 inspections that took place on a federal level and over 55,000 state plan inspections.
Since 1970, workplace fatalities have decreased by more than 65%. Work injuries and illnesses have decreased by 67%.
OSHA Training Resources
OSHA conducts training programs for compliance officers, as well as the private sector. Private training institutes also offer OSHA-compliant training programs that are based on the Act's regulations.
- OSHA Training Institute: The OSHA Training Institute was established to educate and train federal and state officers who are in charge of monitoring OSHA compliance, as well as other federal and state staff.
- OSHA Training Institute & Education Centers: The OSHA Education Centers were set up as an extension of the OSHA Training Institute as a response to the demand for OSHA training from an increasing number of interested private sector companies. Currently, these Education Centers provide courses to trainers who are then able to train workers in several industries, including the construction and general industry. These programs also include modules on Hazardous Material, Ergonomics, Electrical Standards, and Fall Arrest Systems.
- OSHA Training & Reference Materials: The OSHA Training and Reference Materials Library consists of additional resources that supplement OSHA training programs, most of them developed by the OSHA Directorate of Training and Education. These cover reference materials about occupational disease and industrial accident prevention, easy-to-use tools to help in training and understanding safety issues.
- Construction Safety & Health Outreach Program: The construction industry has numerous safety considerations that require social attention, which is why OSHA's Outreach Program for the industry is one of its most popular training programs. The program covers modules on scaffolding, crane derrick, and conveyor safety, safe methods of power transmissions, excavations, compliance processes for hand tools and powered machinery, as well as the kind of personal protective equipment that should be provided to workers. Trainees are then allowed to train worker populations in the construction industry.
Importance of OSHA Compliance in Oil Refineries
Since refineries are 24-hour operations, equipment is placed under greater strain and needs to be inspected, maintained, and repaired with greater frequency than other industrial machines. Assuring the mechanical integrity of refinery equipment is important, not only for production purposes but also to prevent workplace injuries. It is crucial to maintain equipment like pressure vessels, piping, furnaces, and boiler tubes since failures in these locations can result in catastrophic incidents. If a tragic accident does occur, examining written inspection and maintenance policies can help identify whether employer negligence contributed to dangerous equipment failure.
Process Safety Information Compliance
Process safety information (PSI) compliance dictates that all employers complete a comprehensive written analysis of the potential hazards involved in operating processes. An effective PSI should include information about the toxicity of chemicals involved in operations, permissible exposure rates, chemical interactivity, and other potential hazards. It is essential for an effective PSI program to have complete and accurate information available, to serve both as a guide to employees and as the first resource for corrective action should an accident occur.
When an accident does occur, examining a refinery's written process safety information can help determine whether the employer was in compliance. The law states that employers must consult with employees when developing and implementing process safety management programs and hazard assessments. It also requires that employers train and educate employees on findings from incident investigations.
Emergency Action Plans
Emergency action plans are guidelines that will be used in the event of a sudden emergency in the workplace. Companies with less than 10 people can communicate this plan orally. Companies with more than 10 need to post it in a place where it is visible for all employees to review. Chosen employees may be designated to assist in an evacuation process. These employees are required to receive assigned jobs and be trained to carry out those jobs. If an employee's role changes, then he or she is required to attend a meeting to learn about the changes.
OSHA requires the following to be included in every emergency action plan:
- Procedures for reporting fires and emergencies
- Procedures for emergency evacuation
- Exit route assignments
- Procedures for employees that may need to stay behind
- Procedures to account for all employees post-evacuation
- Alarm systems set
- Procedures for employees to perform rescue operations
- Procedures for employees to perform medical duties
Fire Prevention Plans
In any building, there is the risk of a fire. All employees should be prepared as to how to handle this sudden emergency. According to OSHA, it is important that all companies have fire prevention and emergency action plans in place. At Arnold & Itkin, we are dedicated to keeping companies accountable and seeking compensation on behalf of injured workers. If you are harmed because your company did not have an emergency action plan or a fire prevention plan, then you may be able to sue for damages.
OSHA requires, at minimum, the following elements for fire prevention plans:
- Listing all major fire hazards
- Training employees how to handle hazardous materials
- Listing protection necessary to control major risks
- Creating strategies to control flammable materials
- Naming who is responsible for controlling fuel source hazards
- Maintaining safeguards on heat-producing equipment
- Designating employees to maintain equipment and prevent or control sources of ignition or fires
If you work at a company where these requirements were not followed, you may be able to seek compensation if you are injured. All companies need to make sure to enforce their emergency action and fire prevention plans to enhance the safety of those around them.
What Are the Most Common Workplace Hazards?
Some of the most common hazards that industrial employees face include:
- Defective Equipment: In some work environments, the general understanding for employees is that they “use a tool until it no longer works.” Although a boss may never say something that straightforward, what they do say is, “We don’t have money to replace (insert damaged tool here) and if it gets the job done, why replace it?” When an employer says this to an employee, they are communicating that the employee’s safety is not as important as the money that would be spent on replacing the tool. This can lead to wounds caused by defective equipment, which stretch far beyond the ones that can be fixed with a Band-Aid. Industrial accidents involving defective equipment often result in amputations, crushing injuries, and other severe trauma.
- Toxic Exposure: Although OSHA outlines exposure limits for various chemicals in workplace settings, new hires are not always trained on these safety standards. There have been various law cases were workers were asked to dump or use chemicals in way against OSHA’s standards. As a rule of thumb, if a worker does not understand the makeup of the chemical they are using, they should not be using it until they receive clarification on safe-use practices. If employees choose to use the chemicals without proper handling knowledge, or if they are ill-informed of the risks, they could end up with irritations, burns, or deadly diseases.
- Unsafe Machinery: In reality, most any machine in a construction site or development plant could be used unsafely. When workers are cutting, pounding, and shaping raw materials, there are always inherent risks. However, proper safety training, up-to-date safety equipment, and correct usage of these machines will drastically minimize the inherent risks that these machines pose. Too often, machinists use the same machine while not fully understanding how it operates. If an employee understands what a machine does and is able to use it correctly, but does not understand how it works, this can arguably mean they are not properly trained. Understanding how a machine works helps employees understand what they need to look for when assessing the machine’s health. One loose screw, one broken setting, and one button is all it takes for a machine to break down and potentially hurt someone. Employers need to be held responsible to train employees in how a machine works so that employees stay safe.
Injury from Falling Objects
Workers are often at risk of heavy objects falling. These accidents occur due to a lack of communication that prevents workers from being warned when work is going on overhead, when loads are being moved or secured improperly, or when protective head gear is not worn.
Causes of Injuries from Falling Objects
- Inadequate signage warning about work going on overhead
- Falling objects dropped by workers at a higher level
- Objects falling from construction scaffolding and platforms
- Dropped hand tools and equipment being used on a higher level
- Loose boxes or other objects that get displaced and fall off from stacked merchandise
- Improperly secured loads being lifted or carried overhead, leading to objects getting dislodged
Anytime a work environment is multi-leveled, workers who are underneath other employees are at risk from falling objects. These kinds of injuries are usually easy to prevent, but, at times, simplicity overrides safety. The extra time that it takes to secure a pile of bricks or to move an object in a perilous position may be deemed as “unnecessary work.” This can lead employees to make unsafe decisions because they were told by their employer that there was no time to worry about potential risks.
Prevention of Accidents from Falling Objects
- Canopies or nets must be used to catch any falling objects
- Any loads that must be lifted to a high position must be secured properly with strong restraints
- If a load is placed on a construction scaffold, there must be secured guardrails
- Workers must be discouraged from lifting loads or lowering them over other workers’ heads
- All precautions must be taken to prevent materials from falling from a platform while they are being stacked
- When any overhead work is going on, workers below must be given sufficient warning with signs or barricades
- Workers must be provided protective equipment (ex: hardhats) to protect them from injuries
Have You Been Injured by Flying Debris?
Many industrial workers are commonly exposed to flying debris. Flying debris can cause eye, head, and ear injuries. Small pieces of construction debris in the form of cement fragments, wood chips and shavings, or pieces of brick can be dislodged and dispersed into the air at great speed. Injury from flying debris is common in the logging industry where slivers of wood may be discharged at high speed from machines such as saws and wood chippers. Workers who are at risk for eye and head injuries in the logging industry include buckers, chippers, and fellers. In fact, the danger from flying debris is found in almost all logging operations. Workers may also be injured by metal slivers when they are involved in welding and other metalworking activities.
Workers should always put on safety goggles before returning to their jobs, and if employers do not provide goggles or face masks for jobs that require them, the employer could be held accountable for any eye injury that occurs.
Common Injuries Caused by Flying Debris
- Eye Injuries: The US Bureau of Labor statistics estimates that 2,000 eye injuries occur every day. Of these, 70% are caused by flying debris. Flying debris particles can include gritty dust, wood shavings, glass pieces, etc. Foreign objects that enter a worker’s eyes can injure the retina, causing bleeding, swelling, and bruising of eye muscles. Emergency attention is critical.
- Ear Injuries: Small pieces of debris like wood chips can enter the ear and get lodged inside because of the high speeds at which they are discharged, causing serious ear injuries.
- Head Injuries: Workers in the construction, logging, or mining industries are at increased risk of being struck by larger pieces of flying debris that can cause head injuries.
Tips for Preventing Flying Debris Injuries
Employers are required to provide appropriate personal protective gear to protect against injuries caused by flying debris. Protective equipment includes head protection gear such as hard hats, as well as eye and face protection. Safety glasses can protect workers who are involved in woodworking, metalworking and machining, or grinding from accidents. The American National Standard Institute (ANSI) approves only those safety glasses that have attached side shields. They include both plastic and polycarbonate lenses tough enough to meet industrial safety requirements. Safety goggles offer more protection than safety glasses against injury from flying debris. Besides protecting from flying debris, safety goggles also protect eyes from toxic exposure from splashing liquids.
Workplace Hazards FAQ
What should I do if I notice a hazard at work?
If you notice a hazardous situation at work, the most important thing you can do is to speak up. Tell your supervisor or manager. Ideally, inform him or her in writing, so you have a record of your complaint. Your safety and the safety of your co-workers depend on people like you making hazards known so they can be fixed. You have the right to report safety violations and hazards without fear of retaliation by your employer. If you’re fired, demoted, or suspended because you report a hazard, talk to an attorney about your rights. You could get your job back and may be entitled to additional damages.
Can my employer be held liable for workplace hazards?
Generally speaking, employers are not held liable for workplace hazards because on-the-job injuries fall under workers’ compensation, which provides medical care and financial support on a no-fault basis. This means workers are covered regardless of who may be to blame. If gross negligence or intentional misconduct are involved, however, you could have grounds for a lawsuit against your employer. The same applies if someone other than your employer or someone you work with caused the accident. A third party can be subject to a personal injury, wrongful death, or product liability lawsuit.
There is a path to justice, and our team at Arnold & Itkin can find it for you. No matter what.
What should I do if I have been injured on the job?
If you or a loved one was injured by a workplace hazard and you believe that it was preventable, contact our industrial injury attorneys immediately for a free consultation. Time is of the essence, as employers are sometimes informed by insurance agencies to get rid of incriminating evidence that caused work-related injuries. Our firm goes into work environments and assesses why someone got hurt so that we can find out who should be held responsible for the trauma our client received. We seek after the truth of who is at fault in work-related accidents. We know how much is on the line, and we know that only the best Houston personal injury attorney will do.
If you would like to learn more about workplace hazards and how it can affect your claim, contact us for a free consultation. You pay nothing unless you receive compensation!