A new study published by the U.S Department of Labor indicates that the number of workplace complaints has increased, but the number of onsite inspections has dropped substantially. This leaves workers at risk and raises the probability that hazards are being ignored. In the thirty-two-page study, the U.S Department of Labor explains their research and subsequent numbers that led them to this conclusion. The purpose of this article is to help others easily understand the subject matter within the new study. This way, many people can be informed about the situation without having to take the time to read through a lengthy paper.
Why the Office of Inspector General Conducted the AuditThe Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation because the COVID-19 pandemic has created a dangerous environment for current workers, and they wanted to see how OSHA was responding to new hazards. The health and safety of workers are extremely important, and it was vital to view the measures implemented by OSHA that would keep workers safe. OSHA has recently caught the attention of the media and congress due to their recent surge of complaints and have been pressured to implement stronger regulations to protect the one hundred and thirty million workers under their wing. The audit was performed in hopes to answer the following questions: What plans has OSHA developed to address new challenges presented by COVID-19? Do these plans affect OSHA's ability to protect the safety of workers?
The Results of the AuditOSHA received 15% more complaints between February 1st and October 26th in 2020. Despite the increase in complaints, the number of inspections performed had decreased by 50%. With the pandemic, fewer investigations were being conducted and the majority of the ones that were conducted were not completed on site. This indicates that, though they were trying to reduce the infection rates, they were not providing the same level of protection as they were before. With the investigations being conducted remotely, it was likely that any hazards or dangers within the workforce were not noticed or not given a proper response. Those hazards could then go on to cause serious harm to workers.
Furthermore, OSHA did not implement an emergency temporary standard that would require employers to follow new rules put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They distributed guidance on what employers SHOULD do, but did not require them to do so. Two hundred and ninety-five violations were given out while conducting one hundred and seventeen COVID-19 related inspections. Despite the violations, they did not require businesses to take extra measures to protect the workers.
Many labor organizations were concerned that OSHA was not providing their usual standard of care. Those in higher-risk industries such as healthcare, transportation, and other essential businesses noticed the lack of safety more than others. Reducing the amount of in-person inspections can lead to increased worker injuries, sicknesses, and deaths.
By October 26th, 2020, OSHA had performed 1,133 inspections related to COVID-19. Six hundred and eighty-two of the inspections were performed due to fatalities, and four hundred and fifty-one were due to COVID-19 complaints. Between August 21st and October 26th of 2020, two hundred and eighty-five violations were given during one hundred and seventy-two inspections. The violations were distributed into multiple different industries such as nursing facilities, general medical and surgical hospitals, specialty hospitals, disability facilities, and physician offices.
All of the violations were for non-compliance with standards from OSHA. Some examples are the bloodborne pathogens standard, the respiratory protection standard, and the general requirements of personal protective equipment. It also included hazard communication and waste operations.
What was Recommended to OSHABy October 26tth, 2020, OSHA had released 33 guidance papers for employers and 11 COVID-19 related guidance documents to enhance the safety of workplaces. Even though they are responsible for the safety of 130 million workers, their measures issued in the early months of the pandemic did not emphasize the importance of inspections. Instead of reducing the number of inspections, OSHA should have increased the number of inspections. They also should have performed more inspections within higher-risk industries such as healthcare workers and other employees.
The Office of Inspector General recommended that OSHA should track remote inspections moving forward and reassess the current situation to determine if it is necessary to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to slow the spread of COVID-19. It was also recommended that they prioritize high-risk industries for onsite inspections and document the time it takes an inspector to identify a hazard and fix it.
OSHA's ResponseOSHA agreed with the recommendations and has begun to work on a national program to focus enforcement efforts onto COVID-19 related violations that put the greatest amount of workers at risk. They were inspired to do so by the Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety issued by Joe Biden. The executive order places emphasis on quickly reducing the amount of COVID-19 risks present in various industries. Workers in high-risk industries have risked their lives to continue working throughout the pandemic, and deserve the protection that OSHA offers to its workers.
In ConclusionThe increase of complaints from workplaces and the decrease of onsite inspections being performed indicated that OSHA was not doing their best with providing the same level of protection they provided before the COVID-19 pandemic. The decrease in onsite inspections made it very easy for COVID-19 related hazards and non-related hazards to go unnoticed for longer than usual. Those hazards put workers in high-risk industries at a higher risk of infection or injury. After the audit was completed, the Office of Inspector General recommended that OSHA begin to increase and track on-site and remote inspections. It was also recommended that they take action on enforcing violations that put the most amount of workers at risk. Finally, they were asked to reevaluate the situation and determine if it's necessary to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to regulate new safety regulations within the workforce. By taking these steps, OSHA can begin to protect employers and workers under their care from COVID-19.
When Houston, Texas, received over five feet of rain from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, authorities at the nearby Lake Conroe dam decided to open the spillways and release a massive amount of water. The release rate was extremely powerful and similar to that of Niagara Falls.
This action resulted in the water moving counterclockwise, much like a drain in a sink or bathtub, which loosened and pushed boats, uprooted trees and various other debris into the Playa Vista Conroe Condominiums boat dock slips. Twenty-two slips were damaged overall, leading the condominium association to make a $208,177.44 claim against its insurance company. The claim was denied by Insurance Company of the West, which stated that damage from a hurricane was not included in the policy.
On March 5, 2021, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Insurance Company of the West must pay the Playa Vista Conroe condominium association $190,827.50 for the boat dock damage caused by the hurricane. In addition, the insurer was ordered to pay the $50,000 in legal fees incurred by the condo association. Judge Andrew Oldham openly criticized the insurance company's legal team, stating its argument was "absurd" and created simply to deflect mistakes it had made during the litigation process.
The court statement revealed that Insurance Company of the West wrote its insurance contracts in such a way to avoid any burden of proof. Under Texas law, there exists a framework of "burden shifting" where the insured party is obligated to establish coverage, but the insurance company itself is obligated to prove there is any applicable exception.
The court also established that the insurance company sold a policy that excluded damage from flooding due to tropical storms and hurricanes to Playa Vista Condominiums. In the policy, "flood" was defined as "inundation of water on typically dry land." While the insurer paid an extra endorsement fee for damage from flooding, it also had an exclusion for flood damage to the docks and boat slips.
It was not clear why Insurance Company of the West had created the policy in such a way to exclude damage claims to property that is situated on water and not on land. The court determined that since the insurer was responsible for the way the policy was written, it would have to suffer the consequences of the language it chose.
When the Playa Vista condominium association filed its lawsuit, Insurance Company of the West had the case moved to the US District Court for Southern Texas, located in Houston. In an affidavit, Robert Copes, the president of the condo association, said the boats weathered the direct rainfall from Hurricane Harvey but were later damaged by the suction effect created when the San Jacinto Water Authority ordered the water release from Lake Conroe. The suction resulted in mass amounts of debris being pulled in from every part of the lake, which caused the boat slips to be destroyed.
The insurance company decided not to challenge the testimony from Robert Copes but instead enter into a stipulation with Playa Vista Condominiums that stated the damage was directly caused by the water release instead of the hurricane.
After the condominium association received a summary judgment in its favor, the insurance company filed its own motion for a summary judgment. It presented an argument for dismissal of the case because Playa Vista admitted that the boat slip destruction was caused by a body of government, which was not covered by the insurance policy.
Despite this argument, the 5th Circuit Court did not accept that Insurance Company of the West had established a victory by way of a legal loophole. The court said the effort was "too little, too late," and if the insurer wanted to win the case through "exclusion of a governmental body," it had the obligation to raise the issue during the summary judgment phase of the trial.
Hurricane Harvey caused more than $125 billion in damage during its life cycle, the majority of which was caused by torrential rains in the greater Houston area and along the southeast coast of Texas. A total of 106 people lost their lives, and the name "Harvey" was retired from the list of storm names in 2018.
U.S. firms continue to mask up in Texas despite the rollback of its statewide mask mandate. Target Corp, Macy's, General Motors, and Toyota Motor plan to keep Covid-19 safety protocols in place regardless of Governor Greg Abbott's move to lift the mask requirement and fully reopen the state for business.
As of Wednesday, Texans will no longer be subject to a statewide mandate to wear masks in public. All businesses have the go-ahead to resume operations at full capacity with protections in place to prevent residents from being penalized for not wearing a mask.
Despite Abbott's executive order, most major U.S. firms operating in the Lone Star State have no plans to enact any changes to their current safety precautions. Many companies voiced their intent to continue requiring both employees and customers to wear a face-covering or mask while on the premises.
Pushback from city and county leaders across the state is widespread. Major companies, retailers, health care providers, and other customer-facing organizations intend to disregard the Governor's mandate and keep COVID-19 safety measures in place. Most plan on sticking with their current procedures to combat COVID-19 transmission, which is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Retail Industry Leaders Association's vice president of communications and state affairs, Jason Brewer, voiced his frustration with lifting the mask requirement. "Relaxing common-sense, non-intrusive safety protocols like wearing masks is a mistake," Brewer said. He insisted that removing the mask ban "will unfairly put retail employees back in the role of enforcing guidelines still recommended by the CDC and other public health advocates."
Even if vaccinated, individuals are still capable of transmitting COVID-19 asymptomatically. Public health officials continue to recommend masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing as the best way to minimize transmission. Such guidance influences corporate entities' response in dealing with inconsistent mask mandates between state and federal governments. In lieu of consistent messaging across the state lines, industry groups are choosing to follow federal guidelines, even if doing so marks a return to mask wars that were prevalent at the start of the pandemic.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) responded to Governor Abbott's lifting of the mask mandate with a statement reiterating businesses' rights to create their own policies regarding COVID-19. "Retail stores are private entities," said Bill Thorne of the NRF, "if they require you to wear a mask in their stores, and you choose not to, that store can refuse admission or service."
Big-box retailer Target said it would enforce the use of masks and face coverings throughout all of its stores and premises, for employees as well as guests. Texas is no exception. Target plans to continue providing its store teams with reusable and disposable masks in order to maintain the current status quo, even as vaccinations increase. "Those who have been vaccinated for coronavirus are still required to wear a mask and follow all social distancing guidelines," a Target spokesperson said, which would keep the corporation's safety protocols "in line with current CDC guidance."
Macy's department stores are operating on the presumption that all workers and customers will need to mask up in office and retail space for the near future. No changes are expected in regards to the mask ban being lifted.
GM spokesperson Patrick Morrissey echoed the sentiment and reiterated, "We'll keep our COVID-19 safety protocols in place to ensure we continue to protect our employees." GM employees number about 13,500 in the state of Texas. All staff and workers will be asked to mask up at work, despite the Governor's mandate.
Toyota's 7000 Texas employees are also expected to follow suit at its San Antonio plant and Toyota headquarters in Plano. "The early read is - no change for us," according to Toyota's spokesperson, Scott Vazin. Senior leadership at Toyota is currently reviewing the mandate with no word on any expected change to its policies.
The use of masks or facial coverings will continue to be enforced on all federal properties in Texas. A majority of U.S. states, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are currently under state-imposed public mask mandates. As of last year, Mississippi, Montana, Iowa, and North Dakota do not require residents and visitors to mask up within their state borders.
Steps that owners of trucking fleets can take to help avoid big-rig accidents. As an employer, taking steps to maintain a safe truck fleet is top priority. It ensures that your employees are healthy, other motorists on the road aren't at risk, and that your bottom line wont be impacted by a tragic accident. Below are tips to minimize risk and keep your truck drivers safe on the roads.
In some instances, when a driver is in a truck accident, the employer may be held responsible, especially if they failed to keep their trucks up to safety and maintenance standards. A trucker has a duty to drive in accordance with safety standards and report any deviations in unsafe driving. If an employer allows drivers to drive beyond their safety standard and neglects to remove the problem, the drivers injuries are almost always their own fault.
It should go without saying, but every driver on the road must follow safety standards. Truck drivers have a vital role to play in keeping truck accidents to a minimum.
The following are 6 tips for employers which first appeared at the law blog at dolmanlaw.com: