In 1970, the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act on the federal level began the regulation of safety and health standards in American workplaces, both public and private. As a result of the OSH Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was established.
OSHA still sets the national standards regarding workplace safety and health, but it allows some states to establish their own enforcement agencies. Nebraska is not one of these “state plan” states, but Iowa is. State plans allow states to adhere to – and in some cases exceed – OSHA standards and regulations. Nebraska, therefore, is covered entirely by Federal OSHA or Fed OSHA in short. In contrast, Iowa does run its own State Plan and carries out its own enforcement duties.
Under the OSH Act, employees who observe or fall victim to workplace accidents, due to workplace safety or health violations, are free to report those issues to OSHA, which will investigate and establish corrective measures for any violations discovered. Enforcement can include penalties as well as citations to correct the situation.
Employees who report violations are sometimes involved in the investigations to provide first-hand testimony. As such, employers sometimes try to retaliate against the employee, which is illegal and can lead to separate action under federal and state employment laws and regulations.
If you’ve observed and been victim of workplace safety or health violation in or around Omaha, Nebraska, or Council Bluffs, Iowa, and you have questions or concerns, contact our personal injury attorneys at Salerno & Leavitt. Since 1993, our firm has been representing clients in cases of injuries and accidents.
OSHA sets standards for various facets of workplace safety and health. Some are industry-specific, but OSHA also has a General Duty Clause, which states that each employer “shall furnish to each of his employees’ employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees” and “shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.”
As part of its ongoing investigation and enforcement activities, the agency annually publishes its Top 10 List of Most Frequently Cited Violations. The Top Ten for 2021, the latest year on record, are:
FALL PROTECTION: For the 11th year in a row, fall protection, which is covered under 29 CFR 1926.501, remains number one with 5,271 violations. Fall protection refers to residential construction activities being conducted six feet or more above lower surfaces, which should be protected by guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems.
RESPIRATORY PROTECTION (29 CFR 1910.134): Respiratory protection surges to number 2, the spot long occupied by hazard communication, with 2,521 violations. The regulation concerns the availability, use, and training of respirators in the workplace.
LADDERS (29 CFR 1926.1053): Up from number five in 2020, ladder safety saw 2,018 violations in 2021. This requires ladders to extend three feet above the upper landing surface or to be secured to the landing surface.
SCAFFOLDING (29 CFR 1926.451): Scaffolding remains number four on the list with 1,943 total violations. Scaffolding regulations require guardrails as well as protection from falling objects.
HAZARD COMMUNICATION (29 CFR 1910.1200): With 1,939 violations, hazard communication falls from its normal number-two position. Hazard communication refers to having a written hazard communication program in the workplace concerning the use of hazardous chemicals.
LOCKOUT/TAGOUT (29 CFR 1910.147): Lockout/Tagout, with 1,698 violations in 2021, comes in at number six. Lockout/Tagout refers to the process of excluding or limiting access to machinery or equipment that can cause injuries like shocks or burns.
FALL PROTECTION (29 CFR 1926.503): With 1,666 violations, fall protection refers to training programs for employees who may be subject to falls.
EYE AND FACE PROTECTION (29 CFR 1926.102): This refers to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against flying particles or chemicals in the workplace – it’s number eight with 1,451 violations.
POWERED INDUSTRIAL TRUCKS (29 CFR 1910.178): With 1,420 violations, this standard refers to the maintenance, operation, and training for the use of powered industrial trucks.
MACHINERY AND MACHINE GUARDING (29 CFR 1910.212): Guards must be in place to protect workers from hazards such as sparks, flying objects, and more – 1,113 violations.
If you’re injured at work, regardless of the OSHA standard being violated, your first recourse is to file a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system to pay for medical and other expenses arising from workplace injuries or illnesses. Neither employer nor employee can be held liable under the system, so you cannot sue your employer for damages.
However, you can sue a third party who is responsible for your injury. Say a piece of machinery malfunctions because of a design or construction flaw. In that case, you may well have a case against the manufacturer or even the supplier. The same might hold if inadequate safety instructions were provided for operation of the machine, equipment, or powered vehicle. You could in those cases pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
Our personal injury attorneys at Salerno & Leavitt have nearly 30 years’ experience in helping clients recover the just compensation they deserve for their injuries. If you’ve been injured at work – or fallen ill due to toxic substances or other environmental hazards – contact us immediately. We proudly serve clients in and around Omaha, Nebraska, and in the Council Bluffs, Iowa region as well.