Workers’ Compensation Issues in Machinery Accidents

Workers’ Compensation Issues in Machinery Accidents

Machine accidents are a common cause of workplace injuries in California. Employers are required to put adequate safety measures in place to minimize the risk of machine shop accidents and machine guarding disasters of all types. Wherever possible, the employer should have safety measures and training systems in place for worker protection to mitigate the chances of any machine accident from occurring.

California is one of the states known for strict worker protection laws. Employers in the private sector are required to comply with the state’s regulations regarding occupational safety and health, which are administered and enforced by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) – more commonly referred to as Cal/OSHA. Employers who do not comply with the state’s safety and health standards could face severe penalties.

Cal/OSHA

The California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Cal/OSHA) was passed in 1973 to ensure safer working conditions for all the employees in the state.

While the state has adopted the standards set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) for most parts, it has also included some additional provisions that are much more stringent than federal rules. Cal/OSHA also has harsher penalties for noncompliance compared to its federal counterpart.

California is one of the 26 states in the country that have health and safety plans, which meet the federal requirements. Cal/OSHA has jurisdiction over almost all the workplaces and businesses in the state – except for federal installations, maritime operations, and a handful of employers who operate on federal lands, who come under the jurisdiction of federal OSHA.

Cal/Osha protects almost all the employees in California, including those who work for state and local government agencies as well as undocumented immigrant workers. The only exceptions are federal employees, self-employed individuals, and people who work on their family farm.

Legal Issues

California has a large number of state and local laws, which constitute what is widely believed to be the most comprehensive and rigorous workplace safety and health program in the entire country. The state’s health and safety standards cover a wide range of issues related to occupational safety and employee wellbeing more meticulously than federal OSHA regulations. They also include areas that do not come under federal laws.

Employers in California need to be aware of the state’s health and safety standards to make sure they comply with all the regulations. They also need to know how Cal/OSHA handle and investigate complaints against employers, what happens during an inspection, and what kind of penalties can be levied for noncompliance and willful violations.

Employee Responsibilities

Cal/OSHA does not have provisions that require employees in non-managerial positions to be cited for violation of their responsibilities. All the employees, however, are expected to follow the health and safety regulations and use safety gear and protective equipment when required.

They are also required to notify the employer of unsafe working conditions as well as any job-related illness or injury.

Proper machine upkeep, training systems and adherence to safety guidelines can substantially reduce the incidence of a diverse range of machine tool accidents, including lathe machine accidents, vending machine accidents, liveleak machine accidents, serigraph machine accidents, and MRI machine accidents.

IIPP – Injury & Illness Prevention Program

Cal/OSHA mandates employers to institute an Injury & Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). The responsibilities of an IIPP include:

  • Ensuring employee compliance with health and safety regulations.
  • Communicating with employees regarding occupational health and safety issues.
  • Inspecting the workplace from time to time to identify potential workplace hazards.
  • Conducting training programs for employees on safe and healthy work practices as well as creating awareness on job-specific and industry-specific dangers.
  • Investigating job-related illnesses, injuries, accidents, and exposures to hazardous materials promptly.
  • Inspecting, evaluating, and correcting unsafe work practices and improving working conditions if they are deemed dangerous.
  • Documenting all the activities of the IIPP – right from its institution to the inspections conducted, training programs completed, and the actions are taken to improve working conditions and work practices from time to time.

Ergonomics Standard in California

The Cal/OSHA Ergonomics Standard, the first of its kind of regulation in the country, was created to prevent or minimize repetitive motion injuries (RMI) at workplaces to the extent possible. The law requires employers to take action under the following circumstances:

  • At least two workers, assigned to the same kind of task, have sustained injuries due to the repetitive nature of their work within 12 months.
  • The injuries suffered by the workers are diagnosed with musculoskeletal injuries by a licensed physician.

In such a scenario, employers are required to evaluate the worksite to determine the possible causes of RMIs among workers. Once they do, they must try to eliminate or reduce the risk of RMI by taking the following actions:

  • Ergonomically redesigning the tools, machines, and workstations of the employees.
  • Implementing job rotation policies to prevent employees from performing the same task over and over again.
  • Devising mechanical support to reduce the amount of physical exertion required to complete tasks.
  • Conducting training programs to create awareness among employees about RMIs – what causes them, how one can diagnose them early, the importance of reporting the injury to the employer as soon as possible, and how to prevent RMIs by maintaining proper posture.

Investigating Workplace Accidents

Cal/OSHA mandates that the IIPP set up by an employer must include procedures to investigate workplace injuries, illnesses, and near-misses, to determine the possible causes, and to take corrective action to prevent or minimize the risk of such incidents in the future.

The safety director, department supervisor, or anyone whose position requires them to be familiar with the state’s safety standards, should conduct the investigation. The law also needs the investigation process to be documented in full detail.

Cal/OSHA officials can investigate a work-related accident under the following circumstances:

  • If one or more workers succumb to fatal injuries.
  • If one or more workers sustain a severe injury or illness.
  • If one or more workers are exposed to hazardous materials that put them in immediate danger of getting injured or killed.
  • If three or more workers are hospitalized as inpatients for any length of time.

Cal/OSHA also has the authority to investigate any work-related accident or illness anywhere in the state.

Once the possible cause of the incident is determined, the employer needs to implement corrective measures to prevent or reduce the risk of job-related accidents. The investigators have to follow up and make sure the corrective actions performed by the employer are practical and are working as intended.

Notice and Posting Requirements

Under Cal/OSHA, employers are required to post no-smoking signs, emergency phone numbers, the annual report from the state government regarding work-related injuries and illnesses, and notices that outline the employees’ rights under state laws. The workplaces and businesses that come under the state’s industry-specific Safety Orders might be required to comply with additional posting and signage requirements as well.

Record Keeping and Reporting

State OSHA plans usually follow the federal OSHA Log 300 provisions about record keeping and reporting. Still, specific requirements in Cal/OSHA are different from their national counterparts in some ways.

  • Cal/OSHA must be notified of any work-related injury, illness, and fatality within eight hours of occurrence.
  • If there is a central location which contains the records of multiple worksites, the employer must make sure that each worksite has the contact information of the primary record-keeping operation.
  • The employer must make sure that the central record-keeping facility is adequately staffed and always open during regular business hours so that the records are readily available to anyone who wishes to see them.
  • If there are workers who do not report at least once a week to the location where the state’s annual report on workplace-related injuries and illnesses is posted, the employer must make sure they receive a copy of the report by mail or in person.

Corporate Criminal Liability Act

California’s Corporate Criminal Liability Act requires employees in managerial positions, limited liability corporations (LLCs), and corporations to notify Cal/OSHA of severe occupational hazards. If the responsible parties fail to comply, they could face prison time for a period of up to three years and levied harsh penalties up to $25,000 for individuals and up to $1 million for employers.

In case of an imminent threat that could lead to severe injuries or fatalities, the manager or employer should issue a warning to the employees in writing, notify Cal/OSHA of the same, and take corrective action to neutralize the threat.

In case of a severe concealed danger, which could not be categorized as an imminent risk, the manager or employer must notify Cal/OSHA within 15 days after the issue is brought to their attention.

Health and Safety Training

Health and safety training is a crucial aspect of Injury and Illness Prevention Programs. It is required not just for full-time employees, but also for part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees as well as contractors who work at the job site.

Managers and supervisors must be trained on the hazards that employees commonly face at a workplace, how to identify and evaluate those hazards, and the procedures to be followed for controlling exposure.

A successful training program is one who trains employees in the following areas:

  • Remind employees of the fact that they are primarily responsible for their safety in the workplace.
  • They should know how and when to use protective equipment and how to take proper care of it.
  • They should know what to do in case of an emergency.
  • They should be aware of the fact that they should not perform a task unless they are authorized to do so and have received the necessary safety instructions.
  • They should know that they must report work-related injuries, illness, and hazardous working conditions to management.

Creating a Safe Workplace

A safe workplace is one which meets the following requirements:

  • It has a supportive, collaborative culture which emphasizes workplace safety.
  • There are positions with clearly defined responsibilities to ensure health and safety compliance.
  • There is a strong focus on educating and training employees on safe work practices.
  • There are controls and systems in place to prevent or minimize workplace hazards.

Safety measures should be devised after taking into account the current workplace accident risks that are constantly changing to ensure the safest and best possible working conditions for employees.

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