Preventing Trench Collapse Accidents

Digging machine in a trench

Digging machine in a trench

After a sudden surge of trench collapse fatalities, the Occupational Safety & Health Association (OSHA) launched a new program dedicated to preventing trench accidents. By taking the proper steps to create a safer work environment, OSHA and others hope to reduce the number of trench accidents and subsequent deaths.

An Unexpected Rise in Trench Accident Deaths

Experts at OSHA noted a sudden increase in trench accident fatalities, which had nearly doubled within a short period of time. They believe that the reason for this peak was the increase in work by inexperienced workers following the 2008 recession. This inadequate work made trenches more prone to causing construction accidents, creating an unsafe environment for construction workers on job sites across the country.

When trenches are formed, atmospheric pressure is applied to the sides of the trench, working toward filling the empty hole. The fact is that one cubic yard of solid dirt can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, which is the weight of a single car. In the event of a trench collapse of as little as four or five feet in depth, this could involve up to 20,000 lbs of pressure, which is enough pressure to prevent a worker from breathing if trapped underneath.

Making Trenches Safer for Workers

OSHA developed its program to help improve safety for construction workers by reducing the risk of trench collapse accidents. The program helps ensure that workers receive proper training and adhere to the rules in place while avoiding entering any unprotected trench.

In addition to workers, supervisors, safety officers, and foremen are also responsible for maintaining a consistently safe work environment involving trenches and other potential hazards. A failure to maintain a safe environment when avoidable could result in serious injuries and workers’ compensation claims against liable parties.

While it’s been an industry standard to protect trenches with shoring, shielding, and sloping if they are deeper than five feet, OSHA requires qualified personnel to decide when these measures are required. This means that some may find that these measures are required at depths of less than five feet, which would further improve safety and prevent trench collapses.

In addition to collapses, workers may also be injured when falling into trenches, and underground gases may leak into trenches and remove oxygen. These risks make it necessary for employers to implement additional safety measures wherever needed.

Addressing Ergonomics in the Workplace

Man has shoulder contussion and pain

Man has shoulder contussion and pain

Addressing ergonomics in the workplace can reduce the rate of employee injuries. Many companies that have high rates of musculoskeletal injuries and other disorders have poor track records of supplying proper equipment and training employees on how to avoid injuries. Proactively addressing ergonomic issues protects workers from injury and boosts productivity and efficiency.

Flowing with the Changes

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many industries operate. In particular, it has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of work-from-home employees. However, the speed at which lockdowns occurred also meant that many workers were required to work-from-home without proper chairs, desks, etc. to perform job-related duties.

With nearly 85 million Americans working at home, this meant many workers were suddenly cast adrift into unfamiliar work environments. Prior to the pandemic, only about 7.5 million people worked from home. The sudden shift resulted in dramatic declines in productivity, increased complaints of physical ailments, and drastic reductions in morale.

Companies that addressed these issues and engaged their employees to find solutions are reaping the rewards. Gradually, productivity is increasing, morale is improving, and physical ailments, including work-related musculoskeletal injuries, are becoming less frequent.

Investing in Ergonomics Is a Wise Expenditure

It is well-documented that investing in proper equipment and thorough training goes a long way towards reducing workplace injury rates. When everyone, from customer service personnel to line workers and office personnel, has the proper equipment to perform their job, they are much less likely to suffer a work-related injury.

Time and time again, OSHA data and other metrics show that employers who invest in training have employees that consciously take steps to protect themselves and others from injury. Similarly, when employees have the proper tools, they are less likely to suffer an injury by attempting to use a poorly designed tool or a tool that is not properly adapted to the completion of the required tasks.

Focusing attention on ergonomics promotes workplace safety and a positive work environment. The more support and information workers have access to, the more engaged they are in their work and their role in protecting themselves and others from work-related injuries. Over time, this results in fewer workers’ compensation claims, fewer days away from work due to injuries, fewer fatalities, and a healthier, stronger business model that benefits both the employee and the employer.

Violence Against Nurses: A Rising Epidemic

Doctor and nurse, medical professionals

Doctor and nurse, medical professionals

Nurses and health care professionals are encountering violence in the workplace more frequently. While workplace violence in healthcare settings is far from a new development, it’s becoming an epidemic among nurses who aren’t always willing to report these incidents.

How Prevalent Is Violence Against Nurses?

According to a recent study from The Joint Commission, around 75% of approximately 25,000 workplace assaults take place every year in healthcare settings, but a mere 30% of nurses and 26% of physicians in emergency departments actually report these incidents. One of the reasons for the lack of reporting is that many nurses and others are desensitized to workplace violence, seeing it as “part of the job.”

Although workplace violence is already commonplace in many healthcare settings, some experts believe that it’s increasing. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) found that around 7 out of every 10 emergency department physicians believe that workplace violence is becoming more prevalent in these environments. This includes violence affecting patients, as 80% of physicians stated that violence impacted patients in some way, with 50% stating that patients had actually sustained physical harm. Another 47% of physicians stated that they were physically assaulted in the workplace.

The most common type of workplace violence committed against healthcare workers involves patients or their friends or family. Violence also takes place between staff members, including incidents involving physicians assaulting nurses and other employees.

Steps Taken to Combat Workplace Violence Against Nurses

Although the government has implemented legislature to help mitigate workplace violence in healthcare settings, advocacy groups are asking for more intervention. In 2019, the Nevada Assembly’s Committee on Commerce and Labor passed a bill with the goal of ensuring employer accountability in providing a safe workplace for employees. Meanwhile, the ACEP requested Congress to work to make sure that the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act is enforced through proper staffing.

Reasons for the Increase

Hospitals and other healthcare environments can be stressful for everyone involved, including patients, patients’ friends and family, and healthcare workers. Oftentimes, this stress along with other factors can culminate in violent outbursts. Illnesses, injuries, and the fear and emotional vulnerability associated with those issues could lead patients and their loved ones to lash out, with healthcare workers often on the receiving end.

Some experts are blaming the healthcare system for contributing to the stress that leads to violence from patients and their families, as not enough is being done to help reduce the stress inherent in the system. The costs of healthcare for patients can place significant financial stress on everyone involved, and a lack of resources further leaves many feeling helpless and angry. At the same time, employees are unhappy with the way employers are neglecting to handle and address violence.

Employees in the healthcare industry are assaulted every day across the country. This includes both physical and verbal attacks, mostly from patients and their friends or family who are emotionally volatile at the time.

How Facilities Can Reduce Violence

There are a couple of ways healthcare employees and employers may be able to prevent incidents of workplace violence, particularly those involving patients.

First, it’s important for staff to identify patients as “high-risk” if they show any signs of aggression or agitation. This includes patients who are given drugs that may impair them, like anesthesia. In some cases, high-risk patients may include those who are intoxicated on illegal drugs.

In addition to identifying and notifying staff of high-risk patients, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended implementing an integrated approach to intervening in violent incidents, effectively holding employers accountable for making sure that employees are both safe and, in the event of violence, properly treated.

One implementation with mixed results has been the use of mobile applications that include an alarm system to alert staff if violence takes place. However, many employees in healthcare settings aren’t permitted to have their phones with them on the job. In some cases, employees may even be unable to access the app when engaging a violent patient or employee.

Working Toward Creating a Safer Workspace for Nurses

While certain solutions in place aren’t always the most effective in reducing workplace violence in healthcare settings, employers can help keep the workplace safer by developing and implementing a workplace violence prevention plan. This should cover everything from screening new employees before hiring to conducting regular evaluations of existing plans to determine their effectiveness, holding both employees and employers accountable based on their roles.

Taking the right steps to mitigate violence can help keep nurses and other healthcare staff safer. At the same time, patients could benefit from an environment that works to reduce stress and makes them less prone to commit violent acts.

Are You a Veteran Who Suffered Illness After Exposure to Burn Pits?

Burn pits

Burn pits

United States service members stationed at military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits that are linked to cancers and lung and heart conditions.

Exposure to Burn Pits

Burn pits gained notoriety during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The term “burn pit” refers to a designated place devoted to open-air combustion of waste such as garbage, scrap metal, rubber, ammunition, and toxic chemicals. Burn pits were commonly found on U.S. military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan where necessary disposal of trash and unwanted supplies was difficult.

During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, thousands of U.S. service members were exposed to toxic smoke and fumes created by burn pits. As a result, many veterans are now suffering from illnesses and diseases including lung problems, heart conditions, leukemia, and certain cancers linked to exposure from burn pits. Common symptoms from exposure include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis
  • Asthma
  • Persistent coughing
  • Skin lesions
  • Headaches and migraines

Although many injury claims have been filed with accident lawyers across the country, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) has been slow to acknowledge a connection between burn pits and serious health conditions. The VA has established a voluntary Burn Pit Registry where more than 180,000 people have signed up. However, out of the 11,581 injury claims filed related to burn pits, only 2,318 claims have been accepted by the VA. Approximately 44% of burn-pit-related claims were denied because the condition had not been officially diagnosed at the time claims were filed.

In 2019, The U. S. House of Representatives passed a bill that requires military departments and the Department of Defense (DOD) to evaluate military service members for exposure to burn pits, if they were stationed where burn pits were used. Service members must be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry unless they decline enrollment. The House Bill requires burn pit exposure evaluations to be included in physical exams and periodic health assessments conducted prior to deployment and/or separation from active duty. The DOD is required to share all evaluation reports with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

With the slow VA process and denied VA claims, many burn pit injury victims are filing personal injury lawsuits with accident lawyers. The National Defense Center for Energy and Environment is investigating viable systems that can operate with small, intermittent production of waste at short-term military outposts. The Pentagon is investigating incinerators that can convert waste to usable energy.

When OSHA Fails to Respond to Workers’ Safety Complaints

lawsuit scrabble

lawsuit scrabble

Workers have attempted to sue the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for failing to respond to workplace safety complaints. Some of the more recent lawsuits have pertained to failure to provide protection from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Submitting a Complaint to OSHA

One recent lawsuit against OSHA comes from three meatpacking factory workers at Maid-Rite Specialty Foods in Pennsylvania. The workers and their attorneys allege that Maid-Rite failed to provide sufficient personal protective equipment along with social distancing guidelines. The lawsuit, filed in July, also accused Maid-Rite of other safety violations.

The case began in May when OSHA received a complaint regarding conditions at Maid-Rite. The complaint claimed that Maid-Rite failed to provide notification of COVID-19 infections and even offered bonuses and other incentives to workers who didn’t miss any workdays. It also claimed that workers worked within arm’s reach of each other and that the workplace had only supplied them with masks a total of three times.

The day after the organization received the complaint, OSHA’s area director requested that Maid-Rite conduct an internal investigation of the claims. However, the area director made it clear in the request that OSHA didn’t intend to conduct its own investigation based on the complaints.

Suing OSHA for a Lack of Response

As of August, OSHA stated that the complaint was still the subject of an ongoing investigation and that the complaint remained open, but the lack of adequate response led to a lawsuit against the organization.

In the lawsuit, attorneys for the plaintiffs make the argument that the law responsible for creating OSHA in 1970 enables workers to ensure OSHA takes action through the use of litigation against the secretary of the Labor Department.

The attorneys for the three Maid-Rite workers ultimately hope that the case leads OSHA to take action and ensure that workers at Maid-Rite receive the protection they deserve.

Seeking Compliance from OSHA and Others

Since the spread of COVID-19 and the implementation of public health guidelines, OSHA and other organizations and companies have come under fire for a lack of responses and compliance.

Another lawsuit by AFL-CIO that was dismissed in June attempted to get OSHA to enforce stricter safety regulations to protect workers from COVID-19. Walmart, Amazon, and other companies have also faced legal repercussions for failure to provide adequate protection.

These and other cases may help lead to better compliance from OSHA and other organizations.