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Safety And The Workplace

Every day, an average of 17 people die at work - and 16,000 people are injured.

After Ron Hayes' son, Patrick, was killed on the job, Hayes' founded FIGHT (Families in Grief Hold Together). Hayes visited The Early Show to talk about his organization, which assists families of injured workers, and lobbies government and industry to improve workplace safety.

Hayes says a lot of people like to call workplace deaths "accidents", but he calls them "incidents" because 90 percent of these deaths could be prevented.

Hayes' son was asked to go into a huge grain bin and knock grain off the walls. On that one day, there was a 35-foot flume of corn up on the wall. When he hit it with a pickaxe, it caved in and smothered him.

This procedure was called "walking down the corn", and was poorly regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As a result of Hayes' intense lobbying, he got Congress to re-write the grain handling standard. Now, in honor of his son, it carries the provision: "No one shall walk or stand on grain products, and no one will walk down the corn."

The good news is that there is a downward trend in workplace fatalities. In the year 2000, a total of 138 fewer workers died on the job than in 1999. Work-related highway deaths dropped to the lowest point since 1992, and construction-industry deaths declined for the first time since 1996.

Historically, workers' compensation was considered the "exclusive remedy" in cases of workplace injury. That means that an injured worker cannot sue an employer, because the workers' compensation settlement is deemed the only legal remedy. However, workers not covered under workers' comp can sue.

The dollar penalty for every fatality on the job is between $1,500 and $5,000. It goes to the general fund of our government -- not the families. It's the penalty for an OSHA violation, not for the fatality itself

Hayes believes that, while the Clinton administration placed a stronger budgetary emphasis on the enforcement function than the training function, they also instructed OSHA to "back off" and conduct fewer inspections to keep criticism of OSHA at a minimum. Hayes says the Bush administration is shifting the balance so that about 50 percent of the OSHA budget is geared toward enforcement and about 50 percent is geared toward training, education and consultation. Therefore, Hayes expects OSHA will be taking a more proactive approach in partnering with businesses for training and education in workplace safety.

OSHA regulations do not differ from one industry to another. Rather, the regulations apply to types of hazards (e.g. scaffolding standards, protective equipment standards). These standards apply across all industries, including white-collar industries where applicable.

The following are the most dangerous jobs in America:

  • Sailors and Deckhands or Fishermen
  • Drivers: Taxi, Truck, Delivery, Limo
  • Iro& Steel Foundry and Metal Workers
  • Meatpacking & Slaughterhouse Workers
  • Construction Laborers and Workers
  • Timber Cutters
  • Airplane Pilots
  • Structural Metal Workers
  • Water Transportation Operations
  • Electrical Power Installers and Repairers
The following are a few safety tips. While many of these seem obvious, it is the lack of adherence to these tips that results in most injuries:
  1. Use proper safety equipment (e.g. hard hats, goggles, protective gloves and belts). Maintain tools and equipment properly.
  2. Obey posted warning signs pertaining to hazards in the workplace.
  3. Utilize all training offered by your employer or union. Know emergency exits and evacuation plans and pertinent safety rules
  4. In general: Stop, look and listen. Be aware of what other employees are doing around you that may put you in danger. Also, be aware of others around you that may potentially be put in danger as a result of your actions.
What To Do

If you see an unsafe situation or a safety infraction on the job, first report it to a supervisor. If this does not work, go to his/her supervisor. If this does not correct the problem, keep moving up the ladder. At the same time, report it to the safety committee (if there is one). If the problem still exists, report it to OSHA.

If injured on the job, you must have the incident documented. Obviously, you should seek medical attention. You must also inform your supervisor and Human Resources. They will process the workers' compensation claim. Currently, this is the only remedy an injured employee has. Then you can contact other organizations such as FIGHT to get more information and assistance.

All companies with more than three employees are required by law to pay for workers' compensation insurance for their employees. However, subcontractors, freelance workers and temporary employees are not covered (unless they are covered by a temporary agency or if the company chooses to cover them, which is very rare).

Workers who fall into these categories should still report a workplace accident to a supervisor. However, you must have your own insurance to cover the claim. You can also report the company to OSHA if you feel there is a violation. Since there is no workers' compensation insurance coverage for these types of workers, the door is open to sue the company if necessary.

Federal employees are not covered by any OSHA regulations. Neither are state, county or municipal workers. Public employees (such as police and fire fighters) are also not covered. Neither are family farms.

Due to this lack of oversight, government employees are three times more likely to suffer an accident, injury or death than private sector employees are.

©MMI CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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