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Employee safety: preventing the high cost of fall injuries

Hydrocarbon Engineering,


For many employers, worker injuries such as falls can be a major financial burden. Whether the expense is increasing workers’ compensation insurance premiums, employee disability payouts, lost work time, OSHA fines or required safety upgrades, the best solution is accident prevention, which is greatly enhanced by assuring that worker fall protection goes beyond basic requirements before accidents happen.


Employee injuries from falls are incidents that can be greatly minimized through properly designed facilities and equipment. Ideally, fall prevention components and features should be integrally incorporated during initial facility planning states to provide the best protection and cost efficiencies.

The liquid terminal industry is no exception. Experience has proven that a well-designed loading terminal where the best fall prevention and safety practices and equipment are integrally incorporated, starting at the initial planning stage, is the best way to protect workers from debilitating fall injuries. This is best facilitated by partnering with an experienced fall protection expert that can offer advice that could pay huge dividends over the years in lower insurance costs, fewer injury payouts and fines, and avoiding the need for costly facility upgrades…after an incident.

Government regulations set the safety standards

Employee safety, including fall protection, is mandated by government regulations at both the federal and state levels. All companies doing business in the US must be in compliance with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) General Clause [29 USC 654 § 5(a)(1)]. This very general regulation requires every employer to protect employees from recognised hazards that could result in serious physical harm or death.

OSHA also addresses specific safety issues as they apply to individual industries, which includes fall prevention at terminal facilities according to R. Peter Weaver, Vice President of government affairs at the International Liquid Terminals Association (ILTA). “Terminal operators must comply with OSHA’s Program Directive 100-76, October 1978, which specifically addresses worker fall safety issues and requirements for the terminal industry,” said Weaver. “This has been the standard for the industry since its implementation.”

Weaver also emphasised that employers must abide by any state regulations. “In addition to the federal regulations, most states have OSHA departments that may further regulate workplace safety including requirements for liquid terminals. However, these regulations can vary greatly state to state. Every employer must meet all state and federal regulations at each workplace site.”


Falls are the second leading cause of injuries in the railroad sector, according to James Lynch, chief actuary and director of information services at the Insurance Information Institute (III).

In addition to safety regulations, nearly every employer is required by law to either purchase insurance or self insure to financially compensate employees for injuries that occur on the job. The laws governing this insurance are proscribed at the state level for trucking companies and at the federal level for railroad companies.

Trucking sector workers’ compensation insurance

Like nearly every employer, trucking companies must purchase workers’ compensation insurance to insure them in the event of an employee injury such as a fall. Depending on the state, employers purchase the insurance from private carriers or from a state-operated carrier. Another potential option in some states is to self-insure, which requires a company to set aside adequate financial reserves to cover potential claims, which are determined by state regulations.

Workers’ compensation insurance at trucking companies is a no-fault type of insurance that presumes the employer is negligent in the cause of any accident, explained Joseph Ortiz, Partner in the Labor and Employment Practice Group at the law firm Best Best & Krieger LLP in Riverside, CA. “As a result of the no-fault structure of the insurance, a workers’ compensation carrier automatically pays the injury claim to the employee according to a published schedule of benefits regardless of whether or not the employer was at fault,” said Ortiz.

“The purpose of workers’ compensation insurance is to automatically ‘make whole’ the employee, leaving them no reason to pursue damages against their employer,” Ortiz explained. “When an injured employee accepts workers’ compensation payment, the injured worker cannot sue their employer because the employer is then indemnified by workers’ compensation laws against any further claim or lawsuit by the employee.” Workers’ compensation insurance covers an employee who is injured at any location while they are working, not only at their employer’s sites.

However, Ortiz noted, “If the employee is injured at another company’s site, the other company is not indemnified by workers’ compensation laws; only the employer of the injured employee is indemnified. As a result, the injured employee may be able to sue the other company under tort law for pain and suffering and possibly other claims depending on the laws of the state where it occurred.”

Any amount the employee can recover from a suit is typically subject to contributory negligence that determines the percentage of fault for the incident between the injured employee and the other company. This means the injured employee could receive proportionately less compensation in a lawsuit if it is determined that the employee’s actions or inactions contributed to the injury. Again, this is determined by state law and varies greatly.


Installing the proper fall-protection equipment, such as this GREENLINE Elite Series Gangway from GREEN Access & Fall Protection (part of Benko Products, Inc.) can help operators avoid costly potential worker injuries.

Additionally, a workers’ compensation insurance carrier that pays a claim may sue the other company where the injury occurred to recover the workers’ compensation payout if the carrier can prove negligence on the part of the other company. As with an injured worker’s suit, contributory negligence would also likely apply.

Railroad sector employee injury compensation

Passed by Congress in 1908, the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA) governs compensation for railroad workers injured on the job, including fall injuries at rail loading terminals. James Lynch, chief actuary and director of information services at the Insurance Information Institute (III), explained that FELA was created because railroads are almost universally of an interstate nature, which, if not regulated federally, would subject them to a myriad of differing state workers’ compensation laws. Railroad companies must purchase special insurance meeting FELA requirements through private carriers to insure against claims made by workers injured on the job.

In contrast to the no-fault nature of trucking company workers’ compensation insurance, injured railroad workers covered under FELA must threaten to sue their employer for their injuries and prove negligence on the part of their employer to recover injury payments, said Lynch.

He also noted that FELA payouts on average tend to be higher than the trucking industry because of the general nature railroad work.

Additional costs from injuries

Ortiz pointed out that workers’ compensation insurance doesn’t shield an employer from ancillary costs resulting from an accident. “While workers’ compensation insurance will pay the injured employee,” said Ortiz, “the employer could face OSHA inspections, citations, fines and required facility improvements triggered by the incident. The resulting monetary costs could be substantial, especially if OSHA finds ‘serious and willful’ regulation or labor code violations by the employer. Employers also need to be aware that OHSA inspectors will be looking for any possible factor that could impact employee safety.”

An employer’s yearly cost of worker’s compensation insurance is determined by several factors that can change year to year. Each employer is rated annually according to a number of factors including their business classification, number of employees and claim history. Lynch noted that the first two components are not easily controllable; however, the claim history is a factor that each business can positively influence by assuring maximum worker safety.

Injury trends

In the railroad sector, falls are the second leading cause of injuries according to Lynch. For the trucking industry, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a study found the majority of non-fatal injuries come from falls, overexertion and contact with objects.1

Weaver observed that the overall loss trends for worker injuries have improved over time but have leveled off in recent years. “The moderating of the improvement trend is because the ‘low hanging fruit’ safety issues have generally been addressed,” Weaver explained. “Further improvements will come from a more diligent approach in designing and building facilities with the safety elements as primary factors integrated from the beginning.”

Fall protection: a key factor

“Fall prevention will remain an important safety issue for the terminal industry overall, both rail and trucking,” predicted Weaver. “With this in mind, the goal should be to build fall protection into the loading docks at the beginning. Retrofitting after an accident is very expensive and usually not as good.”

Assuring best practices and equipment are integrated into the design is key. “There’s not a lot to be gained by cutting corners,” warned Weaver. “Invariably, companies that skimp on fall protection risk costly lessons in insurance costs, lost work time, fines and expensive facility retrofitting to enhance worker safety and prevent future injuries. Doing it from the start can prevent a lot of grief later on.”

Partnering with fall protection experts

The best resource of fall protection information, guidance and equipment in planning a facility or upgrading existing infrastructure is an experienced fall protection expert. Their invaluable insight can assist in avoiding pitfalls, keeping costs in check and assuring implementation of the ideal system for each unique application.

One such company is Benko Products, a leading manufacturer of GREEN Access & Fall Protection gangways and loading systems, located in Sheffield Village, OH. Its approach is to work with companies to integrate fall protection from the beginning of the project.

“We have found that employers reacting to a fall incident by retrofitting an existing facility incur much higher costs than if they had integrated those features during its design. Those expenses were in addition to higher workers’ compensation insurance premiums and any fines they incurred from OSHA,” said Doug Ingram, General Manager of GREEN Access & Fall Protection (a product line from Benko Products).

“Bringing experts in at the beginning can be a major cost savings. Facility planners often overestimate the cost of providing optimum fall protection and then needlessly opt for the minimum required. It’s a myth that the best fall protection is always extremely complicated with high costs. Some of the most effective protection is very straightforward and cost effective. One size never fits all and the professional can provide insight and recommendations on proven designs that have been tested repeatedly in the real world,” Ingram continued.

Conclusion

Employee injuries from falls can have a severe financial impact on companies through increased insurance premiums, worker payouts, lost work time, government fines and costly facility retrofits.

In the liquid loading terminal industry, employee injuries from falls are incidents that can be greatly minimised through properly designed facilities and equipment. Ideally, fall prevention components and features should be integrally incorporated during initial facility planning stages to provide the best protection and cost efficiencies.

Contrary to popular belief, the most effective fall protection measures are often neither complicated nor expensive. To assure the optimum protection design and features are integrated into each unique application, facility planners and managers should partner with fall protection experts who can help to maximise safety while keeping costs under control. When retrofits or facility modifications are necessary, these experts can also provide insight into the best ways to minimise retrofit costs while still providing exceptional employee fall protection and meeting safety goals and/or regulatory requirements.


Written by Russ Monchein, GREEN Access & Fall Protection, part of Benko Products, Inc.

References

  1. http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/workplace-hazards-of-truck-drivers-1.htm

Read the article online at: https://www.hydrocarbonengineering.com/tanks-terminals/29022016/employee-safety-preventing-the-high-cost-of-fall-injuries-2611/


 

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