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Workplace injury: Guidelines set to protect tractor operators

Farmworkers nationwide, including in Oklahoma, face an endless list of hazards every day. Safety authorities are particularly concerned about the number of fatalities on farms nationwide that are caused by tractor rollovers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, such accidents claimed 130 lives last year and caused many a preventable workplace injury.

In January, OSHA released a guide containing safety measures related to tractor safety to protect the operators of these dangerous machines. The guide focuses on the fact that a cage frame or roll bars are ideal mitigating measures to protect tractor operators, and employers must replace damaged devices after rollover incidents. Authorities also urge employers to provide farmworkers with the necessary safety training related to tractor operating and to ensure such training is repeated at least annually.

Some Oklahoma workers face less-common workplace injuries

Oklahoma workers in all industries face safety risks, regardless of whether they work on construction sites, behind office desks, doing landscaping or other work environments. Some injury types are typical to specific industries, such as scaffold-related accidents in construction, and equipment-related workplace injuries in manufacturing. However, some workers have to deal with uncommon occupational hazards.

One such a risk is that posed by dogs. Employees who provide services at the homes of clients or delivery workers frequently have to deal with dogs, many of which are unpredictable. Dog bites can have severe consequences that could involve expensive medical treatment and lost workdays, not to mention the psychological impact of a dog attack.

Workplace injuries and illnesses can result from fatigue

According to the American Safety Council, the effect of fatigue on people is similar to that of alcohol. It underscores the dangers that could be created by sleep-deprived workers nationwide, including in Oklahoma. Major industrial catastrophes have been linked to mistakes made by fatigued workers. Thousands of fatal workplace injuries have resulted from scheduling workers for weeks of extended shifts with no time to catch up on lost sleep.

Research shows that fatigue impairs workers' motor skills, limiting their responses in emergencies. Further results from studies show that sleep deprivation could lead to risky behavior and impulsive decision-making, while it causes cognitive impairment. Retaining new information, and processing it in situations that require workers to solve intricate problems becomes almost impossible when those workers are fatigued.

30-foot fall causes workplace injuries to 5 unlicensed workers

When employers task employees with jobs for which they do not have the necessary qualification or certification, the consequences could be severe. This appears to have been the case in a scaffold collapse that caused workplace injuries to five workers in Oklahoma. Authorities say neither the workers nor their employer were licensed to do the work that was done.

The Oklahoma State Labor Department reports that the five workers were dismantling elevator scaffolding when the structure collapsed. The workers fell from a height of approximately 30 feet. According to the authorities, the contractor did not have the necessary elevator contractor license, and the workers also lacked elevator technician licenses. This means that they were not skilled to do the work with which they were tasked.

Workplace injuries: Farm workers face life-threatening hazards

Farm workers in Oklahoma are not always fully informed about the many hazards they face. Many workplace injuries could have long-term consequences, and many are life-threatening. Some employers in the agriculture industry neglect to ensure that employees understand the risks posed by grain bins and silos.

Along with engulfment and suffocation hazards, bins and silos used for grain storage also pose risks of grain dust explosions and lung damage due to dust inhalation. Safety authorities say engulfment is the primary hazard for workers who enter grain bins. Every year engulfment accidents are reported, and some victims do not survive.

Workplace injuries are par for the course for turkey processors

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the pressure and demands on workers in turkey processing plants in Oklahoma and other states might ease slightly. However, the worldwide market for these birds is snowballing, and economic researchers estimate global production in 2019 to be about 30 million pounds. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says poultry processing shows a rate of workplace injuries and illnesses that is 60 percent higher than in other industries.

Safety authorities say the pressure placed on workers to speed up processing and increase production while conditions are rough and hazardous give rise to the majority of injuries in turkey processing plants. They say amputations are the most significant risks during manual slaughtering and cutting up of birds that weigh around 16 pounds each in cold and wet environments. If employers fail to provide adequate safety training and workspaces that comply with safety regulations, poultry plant workers will continue to lose limbs in amputation accidents.

Workplace injuries can happen despite zero-incident goals

Regardless of how effective the safety protocols of any Oklahoma business are, accidents will happen. Some types of workplace injuries are more common than others, and compliance with the guidelines and regulations set out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration might limit occurrences. An effective near-miss report system might also keep workers out of the hospital.

Overexertion and repetitive stress injuries cause some of the most frequently reported work-related injuries. Pushing, pulling, carrying, lifting, throwing and holding objects of varying weights, shapes and sizes often lead to overexertion, especially when workers do not take frequent breaks. The lack of rest periods can also cause repetitive stress when workers repeat similar motions for hours on end. These injuries can cause long-term health consequences.

Workplace injuries suffered in confined spaces can be fatal

Oklahoma workers in all industries face work-related hazards, some of which involve confined spaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration prescribes strict regulations that could prevent workplace injuries to workers who have to work in these dangerous areas. A confined space is an area with limited exit and entry means -- often a single way in or out, and workers must spend limited periods inside. When specific hazards exist, it becomes a permit-required area that is clearly signposted with warnings and entry requirements.

Safety and health threats that define a confined space as a permit-required area include atmospheres that are oxygen deficient, flammable or toxic. Furthermore, permits are required for spaces in which physical or mechanical hazards exist, or where loose flowing materials such as grain could cause engulfment or suffocation. Special care is necessary for areas where oxygen might be sufficient until a worker does welding or other tasks that use oxygen.

Concern over number of trench cave-ins causing workplace injury

Construction workers in Oklahoma will likely all be exposed to the hazards associated with excavations, but not all of them realize that they are entitled to refuse to enter unprotected trenches. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, every excavation has the potential to collapse or cave-in. Safety authorities are putting additional emphasis on trenching hazards and steps required to prevent incidents of workplace injury.

Due to the number of trench-related injuries and deaths nationwide, Compliance and Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) have been instructed to inspect any open trenches they come across in their day-to-day travels or during inspections. This is regardless of whether any safety violations were readily evident. According to OSHA standards, before the start of work every day, the protective systems in every trench must be inspected by a competent person because changing conditions could compromise the stability of trench walls overnight.

Workplace injuries caused by heavy machines could be catastrophic

Heavy equipment, such as bulldozers, dump trucks, front loaders, excavators and cranes, are present on almost all construction sites in Oklahoma. Safety authorities say a significant number of workplace injuries and fatalities involve mobile equipment. They say that construction workers who work on and around these big machines every day often become complacent, and that is when they are most vulnerable.

While heavy equipment poses an endless list of hazards, the two most common ones are struck-by and caught-in or caught-between accidents. An example of a struck-by accident is a swinging excavator bucket that strikes a worker on the ground or a dump truck that knocks down a pedestrian worker. A caught-in or between accident could be one in which a piece of heavy equipment pushes a worker and crushes him or her against another stationary, solid object.

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