July 30, 2012
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled recently that a worker who fell while making coffee in the workplace is not covered under workers’ compensation because she could have incurred the same injury outside of work.
Several states make it difficult for claimants who have suffered certain types of injuries or other health crisis (e.g., heart attack) at work to establish the ‘compensable’ nature of their workers’ compensation claim. But it is not an easy matter to decide conclusively whether or not the worker was more likely to get hurt at one place (work) more than the other (home) and where the negligence lies.
Accidental injuries can happen anywhere, any time and workplaces can definitely not be an exception. When work involves physical exertion as in construction or manufacturing; or jobs involve potentially dangerous tasks like in security services or fire-fighting – an employer is required to consider all possible ways to safe-guard the worker (or face the consequences). As things stand, even an accidental fall in the bathroom or hit-and-run accident could result in injury for a person and attendant issues for the employer. If the injured person were to be a temporary worker, at a client’s location, then the supplier and client share responsibility.
It pays to have a safe workplace to avoid these complex issues. Employers should follow the tenets of the OSH Act to reduce the possibility of any accidents occurring. Many a time, it is found in retrospect that an accident could have been averted through implementing measures like:
- Training people adequately on possible dangers
- Posting easy to understand, illustrated notices of how an accident could occur near the equipment Providing access to safety related documents and safety training to all personnel, whether permanent and temporary
For contract workers, the supplier has the responsibility to provide industry-relevant training while the client must provide training on safety measures specific to the work site. The client must provide training on the use of protective gear unless different terms are negotiated with the supplier. Proper documentation of such training processes could go a long way in establishing an employer’s due diligence in the matter.
It is important to keep track of various hazards at the workplace and employ safety precautions and conduct regular safety inspections. While some accidents happen without warning, workplace incidents involving equipment-related accidents do not happen suddenly. Often, people would have previously averted a mishap by a whisker or even had a minor accident with it before the major one strikes. While the big incidents will never be ignored, the small ones do not usually get aired or followed up on for various reasons. These early warning signals are easily missed when there is no system for reporting and tracking in place. Careless workers must be coached into better awareness and performance as these are weak links in the chain that could cause an incident through sheer negligence or ineptitude.
In some cases, a rewards system for an incident-free workplace is found to have encouraged the practice of pushing issues under the carpet. To avoid that pitfall, many companies today make safety a matter of highest priority and spare no effort to ensure a safe workplace.
In case of an Incident:
In the event of any incident involving a contract worker, the employer with direct supervision over the contract worker’s activities and work location (read client) must report the incident by phone to the OSHA toll free number or in person at the nearest OSHA office. OSHA evaluates the hazard and assigns due responsibility to the company who created or failed to control it. For an incident at the client’s premises, chances are very high that this would be the client. However, the peculiar risk doctrine also pins liability on a supplier when engaging a contract worker for inherently dangerous work – when the supplier neglects to provide the workers with any protection.
As per available data for 2010, fatal injuries at the workplace stand at 4447 (as against 4551 for 2009) of which 44% were due to a combination of preventable incidents like falling from heights, contact with equipment, exposure to harmful substances and fires and explosions. Considering the magnitude and the consequent effects on their families as well as employers – could any effort seem too large to prevent the very possibility?
The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.