Articles Posted in Georgia Job Safety

The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act is intended to provide compensation to individuals who are injured at work. Workers’ compensation benefits are meant to help workers return to work, and in the case of a death, to provide compensation to workers’ dependents to ease the burden of financial loss. Workplace accidents occur every day, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) tracks workplace injuries and seeks to improve working conditions for all workers in the United States in order to reduce workplace injuries. OSHA also investigates workplace accidents to figure out what went wrong. Recently, however, it removed a number of safety standards that may have improved working conditions for some workers.

Government Ends Certain Workplace Safety Standards

According to one news source, the government recently decided to end 16 workplace safety regulations that were in the process of being created. They were 16 OSHA standards that were either in pre-rule, proposed rule, or final rule stages, and that were recently eliminated, according to a government report that was recently released.

Combustible Dust Rule Created After 2008 Georgia Explosion

One rule of note that was removed was the combustible dust rule. The combustible dust rule was created to prevent combustible dust explosions after a 2008 sugar dust explosion in Georgia. The explosion occurred at a sugar processing plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia. In all, 14 workers were killed in the explosion, and 38 others were seriously injured. A U.S. Chemical Safety Hazard Investigation Board found the explosion occurred due to the large accumulation of combustible sugar dust in the facility. After the explosion, the U.S. Congress passed a bill requiring OSHA to develop a combustible dust standard, but it never took effect because the Senate never moved forward with the bill.

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If an employee is injured on the job in Georgia, the employee is generally entitled to medical, rehabilitation, and financial benefits to help the employee return to work. However, an “injury” compensable under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act has to meet certain requirements. A compensable injury is limited to an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment. It may include an aggravation of a preexisting condition that arises out of and in the course of employment.

Generally, a compensable injury does not include diseases. Most workers’ compensation claims involve occupational injuries rather than occupational diseases. However, a disease is compensable when it “results naturally and unavoidably from the accident.” O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1. Distinguishing a disease from an injury is not always clear. If an employee develops a disease from a sudden and unexpected exposure to an injurious risk at work, the injury will typically be an occupational injury. However, if a claimant’s disease arises from an expected, gradual exposure to a risk, the disability will generally be considered an occupational disease. For example, an employee who develops an injury after being exposed to a risk gradually over a long period of time would generally have an occupational disease claim.

If employment contributes to an injury, it is normally considered an accident and is compensable. An accident generally means an event that was not expected or designed. Injuries resulting from haste and inattentiveness are also generally covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

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For those whose profession requires that they occasionally work on the side of Georgia highways, it will come as no surprise to hear that the shoulder of a road is a dangerous place to be. In fact, it is estimated that upwards of 400 deaths per year are caused by accidents occurring on road shoulders across the country.

Over the past several years, every state has enacted its own version of a “Move Over Law,” which requires motorists to slow down or give room to emergency vehicles and workers on the road’s shoulder. While each state’s law is slightly different, most laws require motorists to accommodate police, firefighters, emergency responders, tow-truck drivers, accident clean-up crews, and other state transportation workers.

Georgia’s move over law was enacted in 2003 and requires drivers to move over when emergency vehicles are present. If it would be illegal or impossible to change lanes, the driver must slow down to a “reasonable and proper speed,” given the current road conditions.

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Earlier this year, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would have helped Georgia firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer obtain much-needed workers’ compensation benefits. House Bill 216 passed both Georgia houses of congress, only to be vetoed by the Governor before the bill could become law.

The bill would have established a rebuttable presumption that certain types of cancer found in firefighters were “occupational diseases” under the state’s workers’ compensation statute. The presumption would only arise if the firefighter were able to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that their work caused the cancer. If the firefighter was able to meet that initial threshold, the burden would shift to the insurer to prove that the cancer was not work-related. As the law stands now, cancer is categorized as an “ordinary disease of life,” and those unfortunate enough to encounter a cancer diagnosis are unlikely to receive benefits.

Governor Deal’s rationale for vetoing the bill was that it was too broad because it failed to establish a timeline or to limit the types of cancer covered. He also stated that the rate of cancer among Georgia firefighters was not “abundantly demonstrated.”

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Workplace injuries are a common occurrence across Georgia. In fact, with a total of over 103,000 workplace injuries last year alone, Georgia ranks higher than average in workplace accidents across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These injuries occur across a broad range of jobs.

While some jobs are commonly known to be dangerous, such as construction and factory work, others come as a bit of a surprise. A recent article in the Atlanta Patch outlines a newly released report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, discussing the most dangerous jobs in Georgia.

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Earlier this October, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended that a roughly $300,000 fine be levied against a Georgia recycling company after it was discovered that the company engaged in several repeated safety errors. According to one industry news source, the OSHA representative who conducted the inspection stated that the company’s failure to comply with OSHA safety standards shows that the company “lacks concern to protect workers at [the] facility.”

Evidently, the recently announced fines are in relation to an inspection that took place earlier this year in April. The facility recycles textile and plastic waste into small pellets that the automobile industry can then use to create various plastic components through the process of injection molding. The safety violations discovered by the OSHA representative involved the company failing to follow up on the following:

  • Properly storing and handling liquid petroleum;
  • Protecting petroleum gas tanks with crash rails or other guards;
  • Ensuring that nameplates were kept in good condition and legible;
  • Implementing an effective hearing-preservation plan; and
  • Implementing a clear protocol for shutting down and securing machines and other equipment.

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Earlier this month in Miami, Florida, one man died and five others were injured when scaffolding that had been erected adjacent to a Miami high-rise collapsed. According to one local news report covering the tragedy, the man who died actually suffered from a cardiac arrest as he was running from the falling debris. Another woman below was injured when the scaffolding landed on her car. In addition, two construction workers working on the project were seriously injured by the falling scaffolding.

Bystanders told reporters that suddenly and without apparent reason, the scaffolding started to collapse. Wooden planks and metal rods were strewn on the ground below as emergency responders attempted to get medical attention to those in need.

Georgia Workplace Injuries

Employers are responsible to create a safe workplace for their employees. However, despite best efforts, sometimes accidents happen. Thankfully, in Georgia, injured workers may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in relation to their job, regardless of whose fault the injury is. In the above example, it would seem clear to most that the construction workers injured due to the falling scaffolding were injured in the course of their employment and should be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, should they need them. However, the workers’ compensation program is essentially an insurance system, and a claim requires approval before benefits can be paid out. In some cases, even seemingly meritorious claims are rejected, delaying and potentially preventing injured workers from obtaining benefits.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency under the federal Department of Labor charged with assuring worker safety. The Administration’s mission is to assure “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Most private employers, as well as some government employers, are covered under OSHA.

Simply put, OSHA establishes a set of rights and responsibilities for both employers and employees regarding workplace safety. Part of this duty includes establishing a series of workplace standards that all OSHA-covered employers are supposed to follow. These standards, generally based on relevant industry standards, are designed to ensure that all covered workplaces are safe for employees. OSHA periodically inspects workplaces and cites employers for violations of the standards.

According to a recent industry news report, OSHA proposed a series of 18 changes to the current standards that may go into effect later this year. The last change to OSHA standards was in 2011. Most of the changes are designed to bring current standards more in line with industry standards that may have fallen out of date as the industry evolved. Some of the changes also codify, or standardize, various standards across an industry that may be different in certain geographical areas.

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The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is fighting against a federal magistrate’s ruling denying the agency a warrant that would allow it to inspect a poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia for alleged worker safety violations. The U.S. Magistrate stated that federal regulators first must set forth clear probable cause, or else inspections end up becoming “tools of harassment.” In this case, the judge held, this standard had not been met.

OSHA is appealing.

Although the agency already conducted a cursory search of the facility, it had requested an expanded inspection. The magistrate, however, held that the probable cause standard wasn’t met and, interestingly, could not be met solely on the basis of a worker’s complaint or a reported work injury. OSHA had asserted that those should be reason enough, but even so, this was a situation where there were high numbers of work-related injuries. The agency believes the company to be not only in violation of serious safety rules but also poor record-keeping practices. Continue reading

The new electronic record-keeping rule finalized by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) will require employers to submit injury and illness report information directly to OSHA in electronic form. OSHA will then remove identifying information from these reports and make them public and searchable in a database.

Officials hope the new requirements will improve worker safety nationwide. Specifically, they are counting on the notion that by making this injury information public, employers will want to avoid a bad reputation. They want not only to improve public relations, but also ensure they will still attract the best and brightest workers. Potential employees who can easily access a company’s poor safety track record are going to be reticent to even apply.

It’s worth noting the new rule isn’t applicable to every employer. It will apply to employers in certain industries designated, “high hazard.” Plus, the rule also has a provision that extends further anti-retaliation protections to employees who report workplace safety issues or workplace injuries.  Continue reading