In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its workplace safety guidelines, making a series of changes addressing slip and fall accidents, a common cause of workplace injuries. Presented at the 2016 National Safety Council Congress & Expo in Anaheim, CA, the document is particularly geared toward those in small- and medium-sized businesses and delineates a structure for tackling various safety and health issues in a range of workplaces.
In general, OSHA has implemented stricter standards for “general industry” businesses. Now similar to those used in the construction industry, these mandates involve greater assessment of workplace hazards and regular inspections to ensure companies comply with OSHA’s requirements. Additionally, they factor in advanced technologies, a more diverse workforce, sedentary jobs and resulting musculoskeletal disorders and the notion that allegedly “safe” environments, like healthcare and retail, come with certain hazards.
Although OSHA’s changes went into effect about a year ago, several companies appear to have been left out of the loop, following the older guidelines and inadequately protecting their workers. For a rundown of updates, here is what OSHA added or revised.
More Safety Protections
In previous decades, workplaces were only required to have guardrails in certain locations, such as high platforms, to protect workers from falls. The new guidelines added this long-standing protective mechanism to 15 other areas. OSHA claims this update will help 115 million workers.
Stricter Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Retaliation Rules
What prevents many employees from filing a workers’ compensation claim or telling a supervisor about safety hazards? The threat of retaliation, which could result in immediate termination, demotion or on-the-job abuses. Yet, OSHA further opens this window to include any post-accident drug testing and incentive programs that could potentially result in punishment or push-back.
What should employers and their workers know?
- All employees should be educated about the new anti-retaliation rule, especially in relation to on-the-job illnesses and injuries.
- Workplaces are prohibited from post-accident drug testing, unless an employee is suspect. OSHA claims that such measures deter workers from reporting their on-the-job injuries and illnesses.
- Employers cannot implement an incentive program that ties into reporting injuries and illnesses, such as various “safety first” efforts that reward employees if the workplace remains injury-free for a certain number of days. However, workplaces can still use other incentive programs without such a basis.
- Any recorded injuries and illnesses must be posted electronically and OSHA further has the right to post this data for everyone to review through its website. Although many believe having this information available will essentially guilt a workplace into following safety protocols, it additionally places less of a burden on OSHA’s own data analysis and makes it easier for them to keep track of and to issue citations for certain types of conditions, including ergonomic injuries, illnesses related to toxic materials and chemical exposure.
New Drug Testing Standards
Following any on-the-job injury, an employer could require a worker to submit to a drug test to eliminate the possibility that medications, illegal or otherwise, contributed to his or her condition. Unfortunately, workers – especially those prescribed painkillers – found themselves penalized in certain cases and would forego reporting the incident.
OSHA’s new standards factor in this possibility and, to encourage more honest reporting, now limit how much post-incident drug testing an employer can do. For instance, if an injury resulted from a machine malfunction, a lack of guarding, repetitive usage, a chemical splash or even an insect bite, OSHA doesn’t consider these scenarios reasonable enough to drug test an employee. However, if the drug use potentially contributed to the injury, OSHA still allows employers to use this procedure to identify any possible impairments.
Changes to Incentive Programs
Several workplaces set up incentive programs for various reasons, sometimes geared toward health and wellness and others for on-the-job safety. Although workplaces can continue to utilize such measures, rewards should not be based on reported illnesses and injuries. Rather, workplaces can base their programs on:
- Following safety rules.
- Worker participation in safety activities.
- Identifying hazards or assisting with injury investigations.
If your slip and fall injury is a result of an employer intentionally not following OSHA’s standards, you may have a case. No worker – full-time or a contractor – deserves to be put in harm’s way because a business refuses to implement proper safety procedures. To present your claim, contact our lawyers today.