E-Blasts

On February 8, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a long-awaited opinion in the Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC case. The opinion is available here. In that case, the employer was a plastics manufacturer in Orange County. In 2007, it installed an electric water heater designed for residential use in its facility.  Two years later, the water heater exploded, killing two employees. Cal/OSHA investigated the fatalities, determined the explosion was caused by “manipulation and misuse” of the water heater, and cited the employer for five violations of occupational safety and health regulations.

In accordance with Cal/OSHA general safety orders, employers are required to maintain first-aid materials readily available for employees on every job. This is not a particularly onerous requirement given the prevalence of comprehensive commercial first aid kids.  However, what many employers may not know is that the first-aid materials must be approved by a consulting physician.  See California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 3400.  Buying a standard, commercially available and comprehensive first aid kit is not sufficient to satisfy a company’s legal obligations.  And although in the past this may not have been a requirement that was strictly enforced, according to the Ventura County Agricultural Association, there have been reports of increased Cal/OSHA citations issued for failure to provide Cal/OSHA with proof of a physician’s review and approval of the first-aid kit. While there have been efforts to re-write this general safety order to not require physician approval of the first-aid kit, the current law still requires it, and apparently OSHA is still enforcing it.

 

Although the fires in Northern California have been extinguished, cleanup efforts have only just begun and there are significant hazards facing those involved in cleaning up the aftermath. In light of these hazards, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) recently issued a notice on Worker Safety and Health during Fire Cleanup. Particular hazards that Cal/OSHA wants employers to be aware of are:

  • Fire from heat sources such as smoldering wood or debris coming into contact with flammable material. Fire extinguishers should be provided at every cleanup job.

  • Electricity from reenergized power lines and electrical equipment after an outage. Precautions must be taken when generators are used at worksites and if water has been near electrical circuits or equipment.

  • Flammable gases from pipes and tanks. Employers must make sure pipes and tanks are properly shut off if they are potentially damaged or leaking.

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning from gasoline or diesel-powered pumps, generators and pressure washers. This equipment may be used for fire cleanup but is prohibited indoors in most situations.

On-site safety lapses not only lead to devastating employee injuries, but will also likely result in the company being subjected to an OSHA investigation and monetary penalties.  Tyson Foods recently found this out when OSHA slapped them with 15 workplace safety violations and fines totaling $263,498 on August 16, 2016.  The violations and resulting fines were the result of an investigation triggered by a single incident at a Tyson processing plant. A Tyson employee, who was deboning chicken, got his finger stuck in an unguarded conveyer belt when he tried to dislodge chicken parts that were jammed in the belt.  The accident resulted in the employee’s finger being amputated. 

Cal/OSHA issued a press release on August 1, 2017 reminding employers to observe outdoor workers for signs and symptoms of heat illness, as the National Weather Service is predicting high temperatures for the Central Valley this week. The press release is available here. Cal/OSHA emphasized that the symptoms to look out for include headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, cramps, exhaustion, and fainting, and stated that drinking enough water is one of the “most effective heat illness prevention techniques.” Cal/OSHA encourages all workers to drink at least one quart of water every hour.

Because the federal government was not already taking enough money from American companies, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will begin imposing higher penalties for violations starting August 1, 2016. The maximum penalties for repeated or willful violations could increase from $70,000 to over $125,000 and the penalties for serious violations will increase from $7,000 to over $12,500. Unbelievably, these penalties are only the best estimate currently available on the likely increase of penalties and the actual increase even more than indicated once they are implemented in August of 2016. Though OSHA has the discretion to not utilize the full increase, it is likely that OSHA will start assessing penalties at the new much higher rates.

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