Archive for August, 2014

Seven Tips for Navigating a Workers’ Comp Audit

No business ever wants to be audited, but in the world of workers’ compensation insurance it’s a regular occurrence that does not need to be a stressful event.

A workers’ comp audit by your insurer is common for most mid-sized or larger employers, and the audit threshold in California is about to be raised to include employers with $16,000 or more in annual premium.

While many employers are used to audits and have their procedures and policies in place to ensure a smooth experience, some of you may be growing concerns that now are large enough to be subject to audits.

The key to a workers’ comp audit is preparation and having your paperwork (and electronic files) in order, so you can produce the required documents swiftly. We’ve prepared the following seven ways to prepare for an audit, and if you follow this advice it can save you stress and perhaps money.

1. Understand why you are being audited. Workers’ comp carriers base your premiums on your number and cost of any previous claims, your industry and your payroll. At the end of the policy, the insurer needs to audit your payroll to make sure that the payroll and class codes that you reported at the inception of the policy were correct and if they’ve changed during the last year. Remember that an audit can go both ways. The insurer’s auditor will be looking to see if you either owe or are owed money. You may have underestimated your payroll or incorrectly classified employees, or you may have overpaid due to similar classification errors.

2. Gather all records and paperwork requested by the auditor, and ensure that your documentation is in order. You’ll most likely be asked for the following:

  • Employee records
  • Payroll records
  • Cash disbursements
  • Certificates of insurance
  • A detailed description of your business operations

 

3. Review prior audits. When you are preparing for an audit, go back further than your current policy year’s documents. Categorizing your employees correctly is what’s most important to ensure a smooth audit and not be hit by surprises. Knowing how your employees have been categorized in the past can help you make sure they’re categorized correctly in future audits.

4. Double-check the categorization for employees of subcontractors. This is one of those situations in which many small businesses have been overcharged by thousands of dollars in a single year because of an error. If your subcontractors carry their own workers’ compensation insurance, you aren’t responsible for paying premiums for them. If they don’t, you could be responsible for the exposure under your policy.

5. Don’t forget to keep track of overtime for your employees. Premiums are not calculated against the full overtime pay rate. Your workers’ compensation premiums aren’t calculated at a full overtime pay rate. Typically, the auditor will break out overtime pay and discount it to straight time. This is another situation that can cost you unnecessarily if your records aren’t accurate.

6. Don’t volunteer more information or records than the auditor asks for. This will help keep the audit focused and moving along, and avoid adding confusion and more questions that aren’t relevant to the audit.

7. Ask the auditor for the worksheet when the audit session is done, and then have us review it for accuracy. If you suspect there are mistakes in the worksheet, it’s your right to ask for a corrected audit.

Spending some time preparing for your next workers’ compensation audit is a worthwhile investment. With workers’ comp being one of your biggest expenses, you should not be paying any more than you need too, especially due to a small mistake.

 

Demanding Health Information from Absent Employees Can Lead to Legal Troubles

A new lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission illustrates the dangers employers face if they ask workers who took sick days to provide medical details.

The company that was sued is accused of improperly demanding disability-related information from its employees and enforcing progressive disciplinary measures when they refused to comply.

The case should serve as a warning that asking employees for details about their health after calling in sick can land them in hot water. And if the policy is too intrusive, it could lead to legal action and the potential of high legal and settlement costs.

In the case, the EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court in Erie, PA against Erie Strayer Co., which had a long-running policy that required all of its employees who were absent from their jobs “for any period of time” to fill out an “authorization for disclosure of health information” form.

The form authorized the company to obtain from the employee’s health care provider a certification stating the “nature of the illness or injury” and the “physical limitations, if any.”

The employer’s policy included increasingly tough disciplinary measures (which could eventually lead to firing) against employees who were absent and failed to fill out the form, or if after filling out the form their medical provider failed to provide the required medical information, according to the EEOC.

The ultimate goal of this policy, according to the agency, was “for the express purpose of identifying whether these employees are disabled within the meaning of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).”

The EEOC said the disciplinary measures the company subjected its employees to include “coercion, intimidation, threats and interference with the exercise and enjoyment of their protected rights for refusing to comply with its policy and practice of unlawful medical inquiries.”

 

<B>EEOC cites ADA violation</b>
The EEOC accused the company of violating the ADA, which protects employees from discrimination based on their actual or perceived disabilities. It filed suit after it had failed to reach a settlement with the company through its conciliation process.

“Requiring employees to reveal the specific nature of their medical illness in order to have necessary sick leave count as an excused absence is an unlawful disability-related inquiry under the ADA and not justified by business necessity,” regional attorney Debra Lawrence of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office said in a statement.

“Employees should not have to worry that this very sensitive, private and potentially harmful information will be used by the employer against them to unfairly exclude them from jobs that they could otherwise perform,” she added.

The EEOC is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief from the company.

The takeaway here is that to avoid breaching your employees’ rights to medical privacy, you should refrain from requiring details of their illnesses if they miss work. But you can ask for a doctor’s note, as explained in the sidebar below.

You may want to consider an added level of protection for your firm by purchasing an employment practices liability policy, which will cover costs associated with legal issues arising from how you manage your employees.

For more information, contact us and we can walk you through this important coverage.

Can You Require a Doctor’s Note for Absences?

You can generally require employees to supply a doctor’s note if they are absent for a period of time, but make sure that your policy says nothing about the nature of the illness.

The required note should not ask the medical provider to reveal the diagnosis or medical condition. Instead, require that the note include only that the employee was seen at a specific time and date.

If the doctor recommends the employee stay home, it should stipulate any period of partial or total incapacity to perform a job. Requesting more information could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Just make sure that you don’t make the same mistake that Dillard’s Department Store made in California. A California appeals court held that the retailer’s attendance policy violated the ADA because it required any health-related absence to be supported by a doctor’s note stating “the nature of the absence (such as migraine, high blood pressure, etc…).”

Protecting Your Workers against Tick Bites

Not often at the top of the list for workplace safety measures for outdoor workers, is taking precautions against ticks.

These small, spider-like bugs feed on the blood of animals, attaching themselves to rodents, deer, livestock, birds, and even reptiles and amphibians. Of the 47 tick species in California, eight also feed off of unsuspecting humans and they can spread diseases that can be fatal if left untreated.

Certain categories of outdoor workers are obviously the most susceptible laborers to tick bites, including those in agriculture, construction, landscaping, forestry, brush clearing, surveying, utility line work, and park or wildlife management. If you have employees in any of these sectors, you should ensure they are aware of the dangers from tick bites and what they can do about it.

Ticks are found in natural areas that have grasses, shrubs, or leaf litter under trees. Some may be found in rodent-infested cabins. Ticks do not fly or jump. Instead, they wait in the vegetation to attach themselves to potential hosts that may pass by. They can also crawl onto victims.

While most tick bites are harmless, some ticks can spread serious illnesses, including:

  • Lyme disease. This is the most common tick-borne disease in California, and there are about 100 reported cases of Lyme disease every year in the state. Early symptoms of Lyme disease include flu-like symptoms and, in most cases, a slowly expanding rash at the site of the bite. Untreated, the infection may spread to other parts of the body within a few days to weeks and produce neurologic, arthritic and cardiac affects.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever. This potentially fatal disease needs to be treated in the first few days of symptoms appearing. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days.
  • Tick-borne relapsing fever. This is characterized by recurring episodes of fever accompanied by other non-specific symptoms, including headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  • Tularemia, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and erlichiosis. All of these illnesses have similar symptoms of headaches, muscle aches, fever and lack of energy, among others.

 

Prevention

Workers in tick-infested areas should:

  • Wear appropriate, light-colored protective clothing, including hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants. The shirt should be tucked into pants, and pants into boots or socks.
  • Don insect repellents containing DEET to skin not covered with clothing. Clothing can be treated with the repellent permethrin.
  • Avoid bushy areas and long grass if possible.
  • Immediately after outdoor work do a total body inspection for ticks. Pay close attention to armpits, in and around ears, behind knees, areas with body hair, navel and groin. They should do this daily for up to three days after working in a tick-infested area.
  • Shower soon after being outdoors.
  • Check any equipment or gear that you may have brought with you from outside for ticks.
  • Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
  • Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
  • Report any finding of ticks to you so that other workers can be made aware of the hazard and recheck themselves for ticks.

 

If a tick bite occurs

If one of your workers finds a tick on their body, they should remove it as soon as possible. The risk of illness is greatly reduced if the tick is removed from the body within 24-36 hours after it fastened to its new host.

Ticks found on the body should be removed promptly. Use tweezers to grab the tick close to the skin. Pull the tick firmly, straight out, away from the skin (do not jerk or twist the tick while pulling).

Wash your hands and the bite site with soap and water after the tick is removed, and apply antiseptic to the bite site. Do not use ineffective methods for removing ticks, such as coating the tick’s body with a substance or lighting the tick with a match.

Workers developing a rash or flu-like symptoms one to 30 days after a bite, or working in a tick-infested area, should consult with a physician.

 

 

The Next Big Benefit Change: Reference Pricing

Despite all of its restrictions, employers do have some wiggle room in terms of what their health plans will pay for under the Affordable Care Act, potentially shifting more costs to their workers.

That’s because the Obama Administration has approved a new approach to cost control called “reference pricing.” And if used correctly, health insurance pundits say the cost-control strategy could encourage consumers to choose less expensive treatments, and that would in turn reduce health care spending.

Reference pricing can be complex to set up, so many businesses will likely not be making wholesale changes to their plans immediately. But because the Obama Administration has approved it, you should know how it works and the potential for improved cost control.

Reference pricing has its roots in an experiment that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) ran when it capped what it would pay for hip or knee replacements at $30,000.

It set that price after finding that hospital prices for the same surgery could vary from about $15,000 to more than $100,000, with no discernible difference in quality. Workers that chose to go to hospitals that charged more than $30,000 had to pay the difference.

CalPERS saved an estimated $5.5 million in 2011 and 2012 from the program, with more than 85% of the savings coming from hospitals lowering their prices to meet the cap.

Under the new rules announced by Department of Health and Human Services, insurers or employers can set a cap – the reference price – on the amount they will pay for that service. The idea is that enrollees will shop around and pick a provider that charges the reference price or less.

The HHS essentially gave its blessing to large or self-insured employers to use reference pricing in designing health plan benefits. It also said that employers offering drug coverage can use generic drugs to set reference prices.

If a worker chooses a brand-name drug instead, the worker would pay the difference. One caveat: the generic version of the drug must be medically appropriate, as determined by the individual’s doctor.

This could turn out to be a significant cost-saving tool as long as it is implemented fairly and that it’s reasonable that the an employee can find a procedure for no more than the reference price.

According to a study conducted by Mercer, about 10% of large employers already use reference pricing and another 22% are considering it.

The ACA’s annual cap on health plan enrollee costs does not apply in this case.

The health law caps what consumers can be required to pay annually toward in-network care through deductibles or other cost sharing to $6,350 for an individual, or $12,700 for a family.

However, according to the new guidance from the HHS, costs incurred by workers who choose providers that charge more than the reference price will not count toward that limit. In other words, enrollees who spend more on a procedure than the reference price would be considered as going out of network for their care.

Health insurance experts say that say reference pricing can save money for employers when applied to high-cost services where there are big pricing variations, and when enrollees are given time to shop around.

However, it would not work for other services, like emergency care, or other situations where consumers have no time or ability to compare prices. Because the approach relies on market pressure, it also would not work well in areas with only a few medical providers, or where price and quality information is not made available, either by the providers or the employers using reference pricing.

The HHS has asked for comments on reference pricing from the medical and insurance industries, as well as from employers. You can expect more fine-tuned regulations on this issue later, but for now it could be an option in further reducing costs for both employers and their covered employees.

Health Insurance Rebate Checks on the Way

Employers and individuals will receive a total of $330 million in rebate checks from their health insurers this year, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA requires that insurers spend more than 80% of the premiums they collect on medical care under the ACA’s medical loss ratio rules. Looked at another way, the rules limit spending on administrative costs, salaries and bonuses to 15-20% of premiums.

If insurers fail to meet these rules, they are required to send their insureds rebate checks for the difference.

This year’s rebate is less than in 2013, when insurers paid out $500 million. The decline indicates that more insurers are charging lower premiums than they would have if the law were not passed, according to the White House.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, rebate checks – on average about $80 per family – will be sent to about 6.8 million people. The law requires that they were to be sent by Aug. 1 directly to consumers that purchased plans in the private market, or to employers that sponsored the health plans for their employees.

Employers that receive the checks are required to pass the savings on to their employees in one of two ways:

  • Reducing premium for the upcoming year; or
  • Providing a cash rebate to employees or subscribers that were covered by the health insurance on which the rebate is based.

 

 

 

New Law Allows Small Employers to Keep Non-compliant ACA Plans until End of 2015

Governor Brown has signed legislation that will allow small employers to keep group plans that don’t fully comply with the Affordable Care Act’s coverage provisions.

The legislation, which took effect immediately after the governor signed it, allows small group, non-grandfathered health plans which were in effect on Dec. 31, 2013 (and still are today) to be renewed and kept in force until Dec. 31, 2015. Insurance companies are not required to continue offering these plans, but so far most major insurers are likely to continue doing so.

While the law in California provides for providing non-compliant plans through 2015, federal law actually allows states to let insurers offer them through 2016. But the state Legislature opted for a shorter time frame for removing these plans from the small group market (companies with 50 or fewer employees).

SB 1446 in a nutshell offers relief to eligible small group plans from the following ACA requirements:
•    The prohibition on pre-existing conditions limitations for participants of any age (not just up to age 19),
•    The prohibition against discrimination based on health status,
•    The limits on annual out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles,
•    The requirement that carriers set premium rates based only on age, geographic area and family tier (called modified community rating), and
•    The requirement that carriers and HMOs must sell all policies to all employers.

Because of the increased breadth of coverage in ACA-compliant plans, eligible small group plans will likely cost less than those that are ACA-compliant.
Health insurers are allowed to offer such policies for renewal, but are not required to do so. However, those carriers that do offer such policies for renewal must offer it to all employers who had such policies on Dec. 31, 2013.

One issue that is not entirely clear is whether a carrier or HMO must allow an employer to renew if the employer was not truly a small employer on Dec. 31, 2013, but did have a small group policy or contract in effect on that date.

Keep in mind that SB 1446 applies only to small group plans, and not to individual insurance.

As a result of SB 1446 and federal guidance, your business may renew this coverage for one more contract year. After this additional 12-month period, the coverage will be withdrawn from the market and will not be available for renewal, as required by the ACA.

Governor Brown has signed legislation that will allow small employers to keep group plans that don’t fully comply with the Affordable Care Act’s coverage provisions.

The legislation, which took effect immediately after the governor signed it, allows small group, non-grandfathered health plans which were in effect on Dec. 31, 2013 (and still are today) to be renewed and kept in force until Dec. 31, 2015. Insurance companies are not required to continue offering these plans, but so far most major insurers are likely to continue doing so.

While the law in California provides for providing non-compliant plans through 2015, federal law actually allows states to let insurers offer them through 2016. But the state Legislature opted for a shorter time frame for removing these plans from the small group market (companies with 50 or fewer employees).

SB 1446 in a nutshell offers relief to eligible small group plans from the following ACA requirements:

·        The prohibition on pre-existing conditions limitations for participants of any age (not just up to age 19),

·        The prohibition against discrimination based on health status,

·        The limits on annual out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles,

·        The requirement that carriers set premium rates based only on age, geographic area and family tier (called modified community rating), and

·        The requirement that carriers and HMOs must sell all policies to all employers.

 

Because of the increased breadth of coverage in ACA-compliant plans, eligible small group plans will likely cost less than those that are ACA-compliant.

Health insurers are allowed to offer such policies for renewal, but are not required to do so. However, those carriers that do offer such policies for renewal must offer it to all employers who had such policies on Dec. 31, 2013.

One issue that is not entirely clear is whether a carrier or HMO must allow an employer to renew if the employer was not truly a small employer on Dec. 31, 2013, but did have a small group policy or contract in effect on that date.

Keep in mind that SB 1446 applies only to small group plans, and not to individual insurance.

As a result of SB 1446 and federal guidance, your business may renew this coverage for one more contract year. After this additional 12-month period, the coverage will be withdrawn from the market and will not be available for renewal, as required by the ACA.

 

Off-the-clock Work Ban Can Save You from Legal Troubles

Wage and hour lawsuits are on the rise, typically with non-exempt employees claiming they weren’t paid either for overtime or for work they may have performed before or after their shift.

But, if you have ironclad policies in place, you can greatly minimize both the chances of being sued and also losing the case.

A recent California case illustrates how one employer, thanks to its policies on prohibiting work off the clock, was able to avoid a trial and payment of damages after an appeals court threw out a potential class-action suit by employees claiming they hadn’t been paid for overtime work for which their employer lacked knowledge.

The California Appellate Court dismissed the case, Jong vs. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, finding that Kaiser could not be held liable for overtime pay because:

  • The company explicitly prohibited off-the-clock work;
  • The employee worked off-the clock contrary to this policy; and
  • ·       The employer had no actual or constructive notice of the employee’s unapproved off-the-clock work and, thus, could not be liable.

 

This case illustrates the importance of putting your off-the-clock policy in writing and following through with consistent enforcement.

 

The case

Henry Jong was a non-exempt outpatient pharmacy manager (OPM) for Kaiser between 2005 and 2010. In 2009, Kaiser reclassified its OPMs as non-exempt as part of a settlement of an earlier lawsuit in which it had been accused of improperly classifying OPMs as exempt.

Jong said that after the reclassification there was no change in his duties and that the job Kaiser expected him to perform could only be performed in 50 hours per week if he were to properly fulfill his duties.

OPMs were also required to hit budget targets and Kaiser had disciplined Jong for going over budget, partly due to overtime that he reported and was paid for. In the lawsuit, Jong asserted that Kaiser knew or should have known about the off-the-clock hours that he worked and therefore should have paid the unreported overtime.

In dismissing the case, the Appeals Court noted that there had been an earlier class action in which another court concluded that Kaiser had failed to pay overtime to OPMs who had regularly worked 48 hours per week. Kaiser eventually settled the case and, as part of the settlement, reclassified all of its OPMs as non-exempt employees (so that they would be eligible for overtime pay).

After Kaiser had reclassified its OPMs, Jong and two other OPMs filed suit, alleging that Kaiser refused to pay overtime and that it had not adjusted the responsibilities of OPMs so that they could perform their jobs in 40 hours a week.

In dismissing the lawsuit, the court cited Jong’s deposition that he was aware of Kaiser’s overtime rules, including that it would pay for overtime work even if it had not been pre-approved. Jong had also signed an affirmation acknowledging that off-the-clock work was prohibited.

During his deposition, Jong also said that he wasn’t sure if any of his managers knew he was working off the clock. He also had not recorded his off-the-clock work and didn’t know how many hours he’d worked off the clock.

In throwing out Jong’s case, the Court of Appeal cited several cases that concerned the Fair Labor Standards Act. One case it cited was the decision in Forrester vs. Roth’s I.G.A. Foodliner, Inc. in which another court had held: “Where an employer has no knowledge that an employee is engaging in overtime work and that employee fails to notify the employer or deliberately prevents the employer from acquiring knowledge of the overtime work, the employer’s failure to pay for the overtime hours is not a violation of [29 U.S.C.] § 207(a).”

 

The takeaway

This case illustrates the importance of having strong and well-documented policies, including procedures for requesting approval for overtime as well as a prohibition on off-the-clock work.

Kaiser was granted case dismissal thanks to its explicit policies on off-the-clock work and that it had required its employees to sign an acknowledgement that they would not work off the clock.

You may want to consider instituting policies and procedures that are similar to Kaiser’s if you want to avoid any off-the-clock work complaints. Its policies were:

  • All non-exempt employees will be paid overtime for all overtime hours recorded.
  • All non-exempt employees should be clocked in whenever they are working.
  • All non-exempt employees must request approval to work overtime.
  • All non-exempt employees are required to sign an attestation form acknowledging that they will not work off the clock.

 

You should review your wage and hour policies with an employment attorney and implement policies and procedures that can keep your firm from being sued by employees for overtime, meal break and off-the clock violations.

Your last line of defense should be an employment practices liability policy. For more information on such coverage, call us.

 

EEOC Issues Expanded Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has released new enforcement guidance for pregnancy discrimination that all employers should know.

The agency said in a statement that the guide is the first comprehensive update of its guidance on the subject of discrimination against pregnant workers since the 1983 publication of a compliance manual chapter on the subject. It supersedes that document and incorporates significant developments in the law during the past 30 years, the agency said.

The definition of pregnancy discrimination has been expanded under the new guidance, in light of amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 2008 to include individuals who have pregnancy-related disabilities, the EEOC said. It said much of the analysis in the enforcement guidance is an update of longstanding EEOC policy.

According to the EEOC’s new guidance, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) covers not only current pregnancy but also discrimination based on:

  • A past pregnancy.
  • A woman’s potential or intention to become pregnant.
  • Lactation and breastfeeding.
  • Reproductive risk.
  • Infertility treatment.
  • Use of contraception.
  • Abortion.

 

The guidance also outlines the circumstances under which employers may have to provide light duty or leave for pregnant workers.

It provides that employers are required under Title VII of the ADA to treat an employee temporarily unable to perform the functions of her job because of her pregnancy-related condition in the same manner as it treats other employees similar in their ability or inability to work, whether by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, or fringe benefits such as disability leave and leave without pay.

 

Light-duty Policies – An employer has to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave or unpaid leave to pregnant workers if it does so for other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

Employers may not limit a pregnant worker’s access to light duty based on the source of her impairment (e.g., it may not deny light duty to a pregnant worker based on a policy that limits light duty to employees with on-the-job injuries).

However, if an employer’s light-duty policy restricts the number of light-duty positions or the duration of light-duty assignments, the employer may lawfully apply those restrictions to pregnant workers, as long as it also applies the same restrictions to other workers similar in their ability or inability to work.

 

Leave – An employer may not force an employee to take leave because she is pregnant as long as she is able to perform her job. On the flip side, an employer must allow women with physical limitations resulting from pregnancy to take the same amount of leave as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

In particular, employers:

  • May not single out a pregnant employee to obtain medical clearance to work if the employer does not require the same of employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
  • May not remove a pregnant employee from her job because of pregnancy as long as she is able to perform her job.
  • Must allow her to return to work following recovery from the birth to the same extent that employees on sick and disability leave for other reasons are allowed to return.

 

If the pregnant employee used leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the employer must restore the employee to her original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.

Finally another section of the ADA, Title I, could be interpreted to mean that an employer has to provide leave beyond that which it usually allows its employees to take, as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a pregnancy-related impairment that is a disability.

 

Medical Benefits – The PDA requires employers who offer health insurance to include coverage of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. An employer must provide the same as it provides for benefits relating to other medical conditions.

Cal/OSHA in Major Construction Industry Sweep

California construction firms should be prepared for Cal/OSHA inspections after the agency announced that it has been deploying its investigators to worksites throughout the state.

The goal, according to Cal/OSHA, is to “determine whether adequate measures have been taken to identify safety hazards and prevent injury.” The inspection drive came after four consecutive construction workplace deaths in as many days in May.

The recent incidents in California illustrate the danger of falls in the construction industry:

  • On May 18, a construction worker was killed when a railroad bridge he was dismantling in downtown Riverside collapsed, crushing him.
  • On May 20 in San Diego, a worker near the top of a 22-foot rebar column was killed when the column fell on him.
  • On May 20, a worker on a San Mateo project tumbled 9 feet from a wall, sustaining fatal head injuries.
  • On May 21, a worker at a residential project in San Jose fell to his death from a three-story building.

 

Investigators will be specifically checking safety railings, personal fall protection devices and equipment, and tie-offs. They will also be looking for trench hazards, equipment safety and proximity to power lines.

In announcing the inspections, Cal/OSHA reminded employers that if its investigators find a lack of fall protection or serious hazards, they can issue stop-work orders at the site, which will be in force until the hazard is abated. Additionally, employers deemed to be in violation of safety standards will likely be cited and ordered to correct the violations.

 

Fall Prevention

OSHA recommends a three-step strategy for preventing construction workplace falls. It includes the following:

Planning ahead When working from heights, such as ladders, scaffolds and roofs, you must plan projects to ensure that the job is done safely. Begin by deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task.

When estimating the cost of a job, employers should include safety equipment, and plan to have all the necessary equipment and tools available at the construction site. For example, in a roofing job, think about all of the different fall hazards, such as holes or skylights and leading edges, then plan and select fall protection suitable to that work, such as personal fall arrest systems.

Providing proper equipment – If your employees are working at elevations that are 6 feet or higher, they are at risk of serious injury or death if they take a tumble. Under OSHA regulations you are required to provide fall protection and the right equipment for the job, including the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds and safety gear.

Different ladders and scaffolds are appropriate for different jobs. Always provide workers with the kind they need to get the job done safely.
For roof work, there are many ways to prevent falls. If workers use personal fall arrest systems, for example, provide a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Make sure the system fits. Prior to a shift, inspect your fall protection equipment to ensure it’s in good condition and safe to use.

Training in how to use equipment safely – While equipment can save lives, your employees still need to know how to use it properly. Train your workers in proper set-up and safe use of the specific equipment they will use to complete the job. Train them in recognizing hazards and in the care and safe use of ladders, scaffolds, fall protection systems and other equipment they’ll be using on the job.

If you want more information, federal OSHA has put together a fall-prevention web page with training materials, educational materials and resources, as well as video presentations focusing on fall prevention in various construction environments. You can find more information here: www.osha.gov/stopfalls/index.html