OSHA recently developed a standard for confined spaces in the construction industry (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA). These spaces can present conditions that are immediately dangerous to your workers’ lives or health if not properly identified, evaluated, tested and controlled. As a result, preparing to respond to an accident in a confined space is just as important as training workers to enter them.
One provision of the standard requires employers to develop and implement procedures for summoning rescue and emergency services in permit-required confined spaces. Any employer who relies on local emergency services for assistance is required to meet the applicable requirements of the OSHA standard.
However, not all rescue services or emergency responders are trained or equipped to conduct rescues in confined spaces. When you identify an off-site rescue service, it is critical that the rescuers can protect your employees. The emergency services should be familiar with the exact site location, the types of permit-required confined spaces and the necessary rescue equipment.
Pre-planning for a rescue will ensure that the emergency service is capable, available and prepared to save your workers.
Before the start of any rescue operation, you must evaluate prospective emergency responders, and select one that has the following traits:
- Adequate equipment for rescues, such as the following:
- Atmospheric monitors
- Fall protection
- Extraction equipment
- Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for the particular permit-required confined space
- The ability to respond and conduct a rescue in a timely manner based on the site conditions, and the capability to conduct a rescue if faced with potential hazards specific to the space. These hazards may include the following:
- Atmospheric hazards
- Flooding or engulfment
- Poor lighting
- Chemical hazards
- The ability to notify you in the event that the rescue team becomes unavailable.
To ensure the safety of your workers, you must take a proactive role in securing the services of emergency responders. This includes finding the most efficient way of contacting emergency responders, conducting a tour of the project site with them and communicating any changes made to the site before a rescue becomes necessary.
Communicating With Emergency Responders
Talking with emergency responders about the hazards they might encounter during a rescue will assist in preparing for the situation. The following are some questions responders should be able to answer when you request their services:
- Are you able to respond and conduct a rescue in a timely manner based on the site conditions?
- Do you have the appropriate equipment for response and rescue?
- Are you prepared for the hazards identified at the project site?
- Are you aware of the exact location of the work site? This includes information on access routes, gates, site plans and GPS coordinates.
- Can you visit the site and hold a practice rescue?
- What is the best way to contact you? How would I communicate any changes to site conditions throughout the project?
- Could other emergencies or group training preclude you from responding, and how will that be communicated?
Complying with OSHA’s new standard will protect your workers and save you from costly penalties. Contact us today at 831-661-5697; we can provide you with our comprehensive resource, “Permit-required Confined Spaces in Construction Program and Training Materials.”
According to a report by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor, a staggering 69 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses may not be represented in the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, which many trust as a gauge of the safety of American workplaces. On a corporate level, not reporting or underreporting workplace injuries can have serious ramifications for the organization and the employer, which can include fines, exorbitant and unnecessary, health costs and more.
Research has found that the employer’s behavior, policies and attitude are key determinants in a worker’s decision to report an injury. Not only is it essential that employees are educated on the importance of reporting injuries, it is also important to examine your company policies so you are not inadvertently discouraging reporting. The consequences of underreporting can be severe.
Consequences of Underreporting
The unfortunate trend of injury underreporting can have serious ramifications at both the industry and company level. Widespread underreporting can be quite damaging to workers’ compensation rates on a large scale. Employers may not realize it, but such an underreporting problem may lead to more audits by insurance companies of their clients and higher rates for everyone. Many employers erroneously believe that reporting injuries leads to audits and higher rates.
At the company level, underreporting injuries can be quite costly for the employer. If it is an OSHA-reportable incident, the employer may face significant fines if it is not properly recorded or reported.
In addition, often when an injury isn’t reported or properly cared for immediately, it worsens and leads to higher health care costs and more lost time. Even if it is never reported as a workplace injury, the employer still loses out on health care costs and productivity. If it is eventually reported, it becomes much more difficult to prove that it was workplace-related. Additionally, a study reported by the Hartford Financial Services Group found that injuries reported four or five weeks after the incident are 45 percent more expensive than injuries reported within the first week due to increased health costs and possible legal fees, or even a lawsuit, associated with late reporting.
One of the best ways to control workers’ compensation costs is through early reporting and intervention. Not only will it save money in health bills and legal fees, but it will also help to constantly improve your safety program. When there is an injury, consider it an opportunity to examine current safety procedures and decide if there is a suitable change that could be made to prevent similar injuries in the future. Thus, prompt reporting can be a productive element to your safety program in your quest to always strive for the safest work environment. Rather than accepting a vicious circle where injuries are not reported and thus nothing is done to fix the problem, leading to more injuries, take advantage of injury reporting as a proactive solution to safety.
Reasons for Underreporting
There are several reasons why employees may not report injuries immediately or at all.
Incentive programs: Many employers have reward or incentive programs to promote their safety initiatives, such as rewards for going a certain number of days without an injury. This can create a negative attitude toward reporting an injury, since doing so could cost that employee, a co-worker or a superior a reward or bonus.
Having incentive programs are a good idea, but a more effective strategy is to reward positive, safe behaviors. This can include reporting a safety hazard, attending a safety meeting or training class or equipment maintenance. Rather than rewarding for days without an injury, reward behaviors that strive to avoid injury, or even reward employees for prompt reporting when an injury occurs.
Fear of negative ramifications: Some employees fear that reporting an injury will create an image of them as weak to their co-workers and managers. He or she also may fear that such an image will be a detriment to his or her career.
Dispel this fear by assuring all employees that reporting an injury will have no negative impact on their job, and ensure follow through on all levels of the company. Work to promote a safety culture where prompt injury reporting is encouraged and praised. Injury reporting should never be frowned upon, even subtly or behind closed doors. If employees find out you are angry about a reported injury, he or she is less likely to report an injury in the future.
Some companies have a policy mandating drug testing after any incident whether or not there is evidence of drug use. This deters some employees from reporting injuries as well. Consider making the drug testing conditional depending on the circumstances of the injury and whether there is evidence that drug use was a factor.
For more information about injury reporting or your company’s workers’ compensation and safety programs, please contact Scurich Insurance at 831-661-5697 today.
California Department of Industrial Relations
The DIR has published the following materials regarding wage and hour laws in the state:
Employers can use this DIR model poster to satisfy their posting requirements.
On April 30, 2018, the California Supreme Court adopted a new test for classifying workers as independent contractors for purposes of the California wage orders. In Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court ruled that employers must use a three-part “ABC test” to establish whether a worker may be properly classified as an independent contractor for this purpose.
Whether a worker is covered by a particular law or is entitled to receive a particular benefit often depends on whether the worker is an employee or an independent contractor. In general, employment laws, labor laws and related tax laws do not apply to independent contractors.
For purposes of federal labor and employment laws, no standard test has emerged to determine the true character of an independent contractor relationship. In fact, employers may have to apply various tests to determine how issues of employment benefits, workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, wage and hour laws, taxes or protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) affect their workforces.
In addition, employers should be aware that state and local variations of these tests may apply in certain situations.
California Wage Orders
Several federal laws regulate wage and hour requirements. California law also imposes state wage and hour requirements. When federal and state laws are different, the law that is more favorable to the employee will apply.
The Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC), part of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), established wage orders to enforce and administer California’s wage and hour requirements throughout the state. Because the IWC is no longer in operation, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) currently enforces the wage orders.
In total, there are 17 California wage orders, plus a minimum wage order, that California employers must comply with. Each wage order covers a separate industry and imposes requirements relating to minimum wages, work hours and basic working conditions (such as meal and rest periods) for California employees.
Overview of Dynamex v. Superior Court
In Dynamex v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court was asked to determine what standard applies under California law for purposes of determining whether workers should be classified as employees or as independent contractors under the California wage orders. In this case, a group of delivery drivers sued their employer, Dynamex, arguing that the drivers had been misclassified as independent contractors, rather than employees. The delivery drivers claimed that, due to this misclassification, Dynamex violated Wage Order No. 9 (the applicable order governing the transportation industry), as well as various sections of the California Labor Code.
Prior to 2004, drivers working for Dynamex who performed similar pickup and delivery work as the current drivers were classified as employees. In 2004, however, Dynamex adopted a new policy and contractual arrangement under which all drivers are considered independent contractors, rather than employees. Dynamex argued that, in light of the current contractual arrangement, the drivers are properly classified as independent contractors.
The Supreme Court’s ruling—The “ABC Test”
Historically, courts have applied a multifactor balancing test in determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. However, the California Supreme Court abandoned the traditional balancing test, and instead adopted a new three-part test that California employers must use when determining whether a worker can be classified as an independent contractor for purposes of the wage orders.
This three-part test is commonly referred to as the “ABC test” due to its three factors to consider. Under this test, a worker is properly considered an independent contractor to whom a wage order does not apply only if the employer establishes that all of the following are true:
- That the worker is free from the control and direction of the employer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
- That the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the employer’s business; and
- That the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as the work performed for the employer.
This test generally favors a determination that workers are employees, rather than independent contractors. The ABC test presumes that all workers are employees and allows workers to be classified as independent contractors only if the employer demonstrates that the worker in question satisfies each of the three conditions.
Impact on Employers
Employers that employ independent contractors in California will want to ensure that their workers are properly classified under the new ABC test adopted by this ruling. As a result, these employers should review their employment relationships and contractual arrangements to evaluate the impact that this ruling may have on their business.
Employers in California should also keep in mind that this ruling applies for purposes of the California wage orders only. Other existing worker classification tests continue to apply for federal law purposes.
Contact Scurich Insurance for more information on wage and hour laws in California.