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Jerome, Gibson, Stewart, Stevenson, Engle & Runbeck, P.C.
Helping Injured Workers In Arizona Since 1973

Phoenix Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Strict rules exist for respirator use to prevent work injury

Workers in Arizona whose jobs expose them dangerous airborne contaminants must be protected. Employers must establish engineering controls such as scrubbing to remove contaminants and providing adequate ventilation to limit exposure, but if such controls are not sufficient, respirators must be provided to prevent work injury. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a respiratory protection standard that mandates medical evaluation of employees before they wear respirators.

Respirators are designed in two types. The first type is used to prevent inhalation of hazardous materials. They could be either particulate respirators to prevent particulate matter from entering the workers' lungs or gas masks that filter out gases and chemicals. The second respirator type provides the worker with respirable air that could be compressed clean air supplied from a remote source such as those used by airlines. Alternatively, respirators could have built-in air supplies, known as self-contained breathing apparatus.

Work injury: The threats of infectious disease outbreaks

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported concern over the lack of studies focused on infectious diseases and potential outbreaks in workplaces nationwide, including Arizona. While strict standards and guidelines are in place to prevent incidents of work injury, authorities want to create more awareness of this threat. The studies were focused on particular industries such as public services, health care, laboratories and those that involve people working with animals, and they used data from articles in medical journals that were published from 2006 through 2015.

Authorities say those studies did not include predictions of potential future outbreaks. Reportedly, NIOSH reviewed all available data and published the conclusions about diseases that are emerging and re-emerging in several identified workplace clusters. The first sector includes those who work with people who could be ill, such as EMTs, teachers, correctional officers and police, all of whom are vulnerable to contracting influenza, measles and other viral respiratory infections. Airborne infections that include tuberculosis and HIV infections that could be transmitted through needlesticks or other puncture wounds also threaten health care workers.

Unsafe environments can lead to construction accidents

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires all employers in Arizona to protect the health and safety of employees. They must provide work environments that are free of known hazards. Unfortunately, many construction accidents result from noncompliance with safety standards -- often with devastating consequences.

Some of the most hazardous areas on construction sites are in or around trenches. A recent accident on a construction site near Sky Harbor Airport underscores that shortcuts are dangerous, even if some of the safety measures are in place. Phoenix firefighters recently rushed to the construction site after receiving a call about an on-the-job accident.

Concern over fatality rate in truck driving accidents

One of the most dangerous occupations is driving big rigs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the average fatality rate across all professions nationwide, including Arizona, is 3.5 deaths for every 10,000 workers. However, when trucker fatalities are separated from the rest, an analysis shows that 26.8 of every 10,000 commercial vehicle operators die in truck driving accidents.

Authorities identified several safety issues that feature in many big rig crashes, and those that top the list are the lack of adequate training, fatigue and impairment by drugs and alcohol. A spokesperson for the National Transportation Institute says a significant percentage of truckers who apply for jobs fail their drug tests. While many impaired drivers die in wrecks, large numbers of overdose deaths happen among commercial truck drivers.

Arizona construction worker suffers fatal work injuries

Safety authorities say falls are some the most common causes of fatalities and severe injuries in the construction industry nationwide, including Arizona. Employers must protect the health and safety of employees, and address known safety hazards that could cause work injuries. This responsibility includes providing adequate safety training and personal protective equipment, along with instructions on the proper use of fall harnesses and their anchors.

Sadly, despite enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, many workers are tasked with jobs at elevated levels without proper fall protection or the knowledge of the appropriate use of PPE. A recent incident caused the death of a construction worker in San Tan Valley. Reportedly, the worker was employed at a new construction project.

Lack of forklift safety awareness can cause a workplace accident

Forklifts are valuable pieces of equipment used to handle materials and products in various Arizona industries. Unfortunately, employers and workers often disregard the risks these machines pose. An uncertified forklift operator can cause a workplace accident in the blink of an eye -- often with devastating consequences. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration prescribes safety standards to be enforced in facilities where lift trucks are used.

OSHA also provides safety guidelines that could prevent forklift-related injuries. These include the operator taking care when mounting or dismounting the machine, wearing non-slip shoes and making sure his or her hands are clean, dry and free of oil or other slippery substances. Operational and visual inspections before using a forklift are crucial, and ensuring that travel paths are clear of obstacles is vital. The operator must park the forklift in a spot that does not block a doorway or aisle, and engage the parking brake.

Nurses face daily risks of being hurt at work

Nurses in Arizona and across the country are frequently treated with disdain by the patients for whom they risk their health and safety every day. One of the issues that makes nursing a dangerous job is the unpredictability of every shift. Nurses who report for duty have no idea what they will have to deal with during the next eight to 10 hours. Judging by the number of reported cases of nurses who were hurt at work by violent and abusive patients, it is clear that the patients or their visitors pose many of the dangers.

Nurses endure high levels of physical exertion that include being on their feet for long hours as well as lifting, turning and moving patients of all sizes throughout their shifts. Many nurses end up with chronic back pain that leads to missed work. Furthermore, they face exposure to contagious diseases, radiation, dangerous or faulty medical devices and equipment, hazardous surgical smoke, needlestick injuries and more.

Full and final settlement

Within the past couple of years, Arizona passed laws allowing injured workers to settle out their claims on a full and final basis. This means that the carrier pays a certain amount of money and the injured worker completely releases them from any future liability for compensation or medical benefits for conditions related to that injury.

A lack of machinery safety could have devastating consequences

Employers in the industrial sector in Arizona must provide adequate safety training to protect workers from equipment-related hazards. A lack of machinery safety can lead to amputations, electrocutions and even death. Employees must learn that, no matter how small a repair job is or how quickly a blockage can be removed, all the power sources to the machine must be turned off. Lockout/tagout procedures could include electricity, pneumatic, gravity, steam, water and hydraulics.

Typical equipment-related injuries happen because not all the power sources were deactivated before doing repairs or cleaning. If the machine was locked out but not tagged, another worker who is not aware of the maintenance taking place could turn the power back on. Also, if a malfunctioning piece of equipment is not locked out and tagged, it might be used by an employee who did not know about the defect.

Will workers' compensation cover injuries of an at-fault worker?

Workplace accidents can happen to anyone in Arizona at any time, even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says all on-the-job injuries are preventable. When they do occur, injured workers might be unable to return to work for several days, and the lost wages along with the medical expenses could become overwhelming. Sometimes, workers fail to file workers' compensation benefits claims because their injuries followed their own negligence or errors.

However, the workers' compensation program is a no-fault system that pays benefits regardless of who was at fault -- with some exceptions. The system is based on a mutual agreement that workers will not sue their employers if they carry the costs of the injuries and lost work time, even if the workers caused the incidents that led to the injuries. Under most circumstances, fault is not considered when eligibility for workers' compensation benefits is determined.

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