The Importance of Workplace Safety
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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.
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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, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets critical standards for worker safety in an industrial environment. One of the most important rules is the Process Safety Management (PSM) regulation, 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, then 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 ship 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, with help from their efforts, there has been more than a 65% reduction in fatalities in the workplace and a 67% decrease in the injuries and illness.
OSHA Training Resources
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration 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 particularly important to maintain critical 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 office. Companies with less than 10 people can communicate this plan orally. Companies with more than 10 need to post it on a poster 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 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 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.
Contact a Texas Attorney for a Free Case Evaluation: (888) 493-1629
If your employer has demonstrated negligence, carelessness, or indifference to OSHA standards, they could be responsible for your injury or illness. Talk to a Texas attorney from Arnold & Itkin LLP if you would like to discuss your case in full in a free consultation. We examine every aspect of your case to defend your rights. We’re more than happy to discuss your case by phone or with our simple online form.
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