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Tulsa Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Workplace injuries: Hearing loss develops over time

Some industries are known for exposing workers to excessive noise levels. Hearing loss is similar to workplace injuries caused by repetitive stress in that it develops over time -- victims are often unaware of the problem until it gets severe. Oklahoma employers are responsible for protecting employees from harm by complying with the regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and providing the appropriate protective equipment.

Sources of dangerous noise levels exist in most industrial facilities, as well as in construction and other occupations. To determine the need for ear protection, advisors say that if one person cannot hear what another person says who is standing an arm's length away, the noise level is likely above the prescribed 85-decibel limit. However, some workers feel earplugs can put them in harm's way.

Tower climbers at risk of suffering fatal workplace injuries

Servicing broadcasting towers and working at heights of up to 1,500 feet have cost the lives of 34 tower climbers since 2013 -- according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Not only is this a highly specialized job, but it is also dangerous, and workplace injuries can easily be fatal. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of people doing this job nationwide, including in Oklahoma, is 14,000.

One climber explained that although there are elevators inside the broadcast towers, they only go up to certain levels. If a camera at the top of the tower must be repaired, or a spring has to be replaced, it is the job of a tower climber to climb the rest of the way up the outside of the tower. If the elevator only goes up to 750 feet, the special equipment, skills and experience of the climber must take him the rest of the way.

Proper training of young workers can prevent workplace injuries

It can be exhilarating for teenagers to join the Oklahoma workforce -- either as permanent employees or temporary workers taking on summer jobs. At that age, many young workers think they are invincible, and it is up to their employers to teach them that they are as vulnerable as seasoned workers are. In fact, safety advisors say teens are twice as likely to suffer serious workplace injuries.

Sadly, hundreds of young workers lose their lives in fatal on-the-lob accidents every year. These incidents are typically preventable. Many business owners fail to provide adequate safety training, and teens are frequently tasked with operating dangerous equipment -- often without proper supervision. Federal and state regulations prohibit the operation of certain kinds of machines by young workers, but these rules tend to be ignored in some workplaces.

How should hazardous materials be labelled?

If you are one of the many Oklahoma residents who work in manufacturing or industrial positions in which you may come into contact with, use or simply be around hazardous materials, you should know about the chemicals in order to help yourself and others stay safe. One of the ways that you can do this is to understand the labels that should be on any and all packaging containing these hazardous items. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration outlines exactly what every label should include.

There are six specific elements that must be on every hazardous item's label. One of these is an icon or graphical representation of the type of hazard the item may be associated. For example, if the material is flammable, the icon may be a flame. Along with the visual cue should be a single word that identifies whether or not there is an imminent danger or whether the label provides cautionary warnings. The product itself should be clearly identified so you know what you are working with or near.

Oklahoma one of the worst states for workers' compensation

A recent report released by the National Security Council on "The State of Safety" gave Oklahoma an F overall and for protecting residents in the workplace. The state was also ranked as one of the worst in the nation for worker's compensation. It was listed as "off track" along with 15 other states who the report did not find had adequate protection for workers.

In fact, the report found Oklahoma to be "off track" in all three areas of measurement for workplace safety. The state was not found to be effective in "prevention, preparedness and enforcement," which includes training employees and proactively trying to manage emerging issues in the workplace, such as workplace violence. Likewise, Oklahoma was lowly rated for "worker health and wellbeing, " which includes having state laws that mandate workplace as both smoke and drug-free areas. 

Preventing heat-related work illness

As temperatures rise across Oklahoma, employees who work outside are more at risk of getting a heat-related illness while on the job. As Occupational Health & Safety reports, these illnesses can result in hospitalization or even death for those affected. In 2013 there were 16,320 cases of heat illness that kept employees from missing work, and 20 incidences of heat illness mandated federal citation between 2012 and 2013.

Due to the serious stress heat can put on the human body, employers are required to protect their employees from extreme temperatures. Although there is not a federal limit to how high the temperature can be while still running a worksite, OSHA regulations do require employers to have a safe work environment for their employees. Maintaining safety in extreme heat is part and parcel of that requirement. As EHS Today explains, taking extra precautions for workers in heat over 85 degrees can keep people safe, and when humidity pushes the heat index even higher, which prevent sweat from cooling the skin, this is even more important. For those directly in the sun, the heat index plus 15 degrees is likely what workers are actually feeling.

OSHA's guidelines for portable ladders

If your job requires that you use portable ladders in Oklahoma, you will want to ensure that you are familiar with the safety guidelines required for using these pieces of equipment on a worksite. It is also important that your employer properly educate you and your co-workers to help you all stay safe.

As explained by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, one of the cardinal rules of working with ladders is to inspect a ladder before you position it or step on it every single time. This will give you the chance to spot any damage to the ladder or the presence of slippery items or other hazards and take care of them before using the ladder. Looking  up is also advised to ensure the ladder will not come into contact with dangerous items above, especially if those items are electrical wires. Metal ladders should never be used in proximity to electrical poles.

Can your employer choose your doctor?

If you are injured on the job in Oklahoma, it is important to understand your rights and to make sure you are properly treated for your injuries. Business Insurance details the recent case that has clarified the laws regarding who chooses the medical provider to treat an employee who is injured at work. This can affect reimbursement for services, so it is especially important if you are already dealing with the financial ramifications of an injury that occurred on the job.

Once your employer knows you have sustained an injury, it has five days to direct you to the preferred medical provider. After five days without treatment, you are able to see the doctor of your choice at your employer’s expense. The new ruling makes it clear that this five-day period for employers is not triggered by a singular diagnosis.

Workers' compensation death benefits

If you work in a dangerous field or industry in Oklahoma, you may well be particularly interested to understand what type of benefits your spouse or children might receive in the event that you die after an accident or an illness related to your job. The state workers' compensation program outlines the parameters for benefits to injured or ill workers based upon the nature of their conditions and also manages death benefits to surviving beneficiaries.

According to the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission, the exact amount of money that a widow, widower or child of a deceased worker may receive is subject change based upon the latest schedule for these benefits. Based upon the schedule for incidents happenening between November 1, 2015 and October 31, 2016, a surviving spouse may expect to receive the same amount of money in average weekly wage payments whether or not the deceased had any children.

Changes in workers’ compensation laws affect employee benefits

The nation has kept an eye on the 2013 Oklahoma workers’ compensation reform law as it wound its way through the justice system. In September 2016 the Tulsa World notes that the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down parts of the law that allowed companies to provide benefit plans on their own while choosing to “opt out” of the typical workers’ compensation plans most other states have in place currently. While there are political implications, many workers’ day-to-day lives are potentially affected by these changes as well, and not everyone likes the changes.

This controversial law still remains largely in place, although News 9 reports that “38 provisions of the law have been found either unconstitutional, inoperable, or invalid,” and while businesses are happy with many of the reforms, Oklahoma workers havelost a significant amount of compensation in the new system. Previously, injured employees would go to court to determine their compensation. The new system is administrative, and there are caps on the amount of temporary and permanent disability one is able to receive per week. Both systems depend on correctly filing documentation. 

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