Category Archives: Health & Safety

Future Work

Source: Jeffrey M. Hirsch – University of North Carolina School of Law, February 14, 2019

From the abstract:
The Industrial Revolution. The Digital Age. These revolutions radically altered the workplace and society. We may be on the cusp of a new era—one that will rival or even surpass these historic disruptions. Technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and cutting-edge monitoring devices are developing at a rapid pace. These technologies have already begun to infiltrate the workplace and will continue to do so at ever increasing speed and breadth.

This Article addresses the impact of these emerging technologies on the workplace of the present and the future. Drawing upon interviews with leading technologists, the Article explains the basics of these technologies, describes their current applications in the workplace, and predicts how they are likely to develop in the future. It then examines the legal and policy issues implicated by the adoption of technology in the workplace—most notably job losses, employee classification, privacy intrusions, discrimination, safety and health, and impacts on disabled workers. These changes will surely strain a workplace regulatory system that is ill-equipped to handle them. What is unclear is whether the strain will be so great that the system breaks, resulting in a new paradigm of work.

Whether or not we are on the brink of a workplace revolution or a more modest evolution, emerging technology will exacerbate the inadequacies of our current workplace laws. This Article discusses possible legislative and judicial reforms designed to ameliorate these problems and stave off the possibility of a collapse that would leave a critical mass of workers without any meaningful protection, power, or voice. The most far-reaching of these options is a proposed “Law of Work” that would address the wide-ranging and interrelated issues posed by these new technologies via a centralized regulatory scheme. This proposal, as well as other more narrowly focused reforms, highlight the major impacts of technology on our workplace laws, underscore both the current and future shortcomings of those laws, and serve as a foundation for further research and discussion on the future of work.

Hybrid Federalism and the Right to Disconnect

Source: Paul M. Secunda, Pepperdine Law Review, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2019

From the abstract:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) administers the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). OSHA specific workplace and health standards do expressly preempt the entire field of workplace safety and health law, but where such standards do not exist or states developed their own OSHA plans, nor does it merely set a floor either. A type of “hybrid federalism” has been established. Here, by “modified” or “hybrid” federalism, this article refers to a strong federal-based field preemption approach to labor and employment law issues, but tied to a conflict preemption approach. Applying this hybrid preemption approach to the employee right to disconnect problem provides the best opportunity to address the growing epidemic of overwork through electronic communications in the United States.

This hybrid approach has two essential characteristics under OSHA. First, as a default standard, a federal general duty clause that requires all covered employers to maintain a workplace free of hazards that may cause serious injury or death and cannot be feasibly abated. Second, OSHA also has promulgated specific workplace safety and health standard over the last five decades that set more detailed and specific requirements for numerous health or safety dangers in the workplace. The specific standards occupy the field and all contrary state or local safety and health regulations are preempted. Yet, employers can still seek a permanent variance from any OSHA standard if they can establish that they have another method to achieve the same goal as the permanent standard. Second, the OSHAct also permits states to develop their own plans and submit them for approval to OSHA. Twenty-seven states have taken advantage of this option to one degree or another and have plans approved by OSHA. While these state-approved plans must be “at least as effective” as the federal OSHAct, some states, like California and Virginia, have been more aggressive in regulation and have regulated areas that the federal OSHAct has not. This Article maintains that a combination of general duty clause federal enforcement and individual state enforcement is the most effective way of providing a broad-based right to disconnect standard until a federal permanent standard can be promulgated.

Consequences of Routine Work-Schedule Instability for Worker Health and Well-Being

Source: Daniel Schneider, Kristen Harknett, American Sociological Review, OnlineFirst, Published February 1, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Research on precarious work and its consequences overwhelmingly focuses on the economic dimension of precarity, epitomized by low wages. But the rise in precarious work also involves a major shift in its temporal dimension, such that many workers now experience routine instability in their work schedules. This temporal instability represents a fundamental and under-appreciated manifestation of the risk shift from firms to workers. A lack of suitable existing data, however, has precluded investigation of how precarious scheduling practices affect workers’ health and well-being. We use an innovative approach to collect survey data from a large and strategically selected segment of the U.S. workforce: hourly workers in the service sector. These data reveal that exposure to routine instability in work schedules is associated with psychological distress, poor sleep quality, and unhappiness. Low wages are also associated with these outcomes, but unstable and unpredictable schedules are much more strongly associated. Precarious schedules affect worker well-being in part through the mediating influence of household economic insecurity, yet a much larger proportion of the association is driven by work-life conflict. The temporal dimension of work is central to the experience of precarity and an important social determinant of well-being.

Occupational medicine clinical practice data reveal increased injury rates among Hispanic workers

Source: Scott M. Riester, Karyn L. Leniek, Ashley D. Niece, Andre Montoya‐Barthelemy, William Wilson, Jonathan Sellman, Paul J. Anderson, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, First published: January 30, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Minnesota has an ethnically diverse labor force, with the largest number of refugees per capita in the United States. In recent years, Minnesota has been and continues to be a major site for immigrant and refugee resettlement in the United States, with a large population of both immigrant and native born Hmong, Hispanic, and East Africans. This study seeks to evaluate the injury risk among the evolving minority workforce in the Minnesota Twin Cities region.

A retrospective cohort study identifying work‐related injuries following pre‐employment examinations was performed using electronic health records from a large multi‐clinic occupational medicine practice. Preplacement examinations and subsequent work‐related injuries were pulled from the electronic health record using representative ICD‐10 codes for surveillance examinations and injuries. This study included patient records collected over a 2‐year period from January 1, 2015, through December, 2016. The patients in this cohort worked in a wide‐array of occupations including production, assembly, construction, law enforcement, among others.

Hispanic minority workers were twice as likely to be injured at work compared with White workers. Hispanics were 2.89 times more likely to develop back injuries compared with non‐Hispanic workers, and 1.86 times more likely to develop upper extremity injuries involving the hand, wrist, or elbow.

Clinical practice data shows that Hispanic workers are at increased risk for work‐related injuries in Minnesota. They were especially susceptible to back and upper extremity injuries. Lower injury rates in non‐Hispanic minority workers, may be the result of injury underreporting and require further investigation.

Janitor workload and occupational injuries

Source: Deirdre R. Green, Susan G. Gerberich, Hyun Kim, Andrew D. Ryan, Patricia M. McGovern, Timothy R. Church, Adam Schwartz, Rony F. Arauz, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, First published: 24 January 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study was designed to identify potential effects of workload and sleep on injury occurrence.

Questionnaires were disseminated to janitors in the SEIU Local 26 union; 390 responded and provided information on workload, sleep, and injury outcomes. Quantitative measurements of workload and sleep were collected via FitBit devices from a subset of 58 janitors. Regression techniques were implemented to determine risk.

Thirty‐seven percent reported increased workload over the study period Adjusted analyses indicated a significant effect of change in workload (RR: 1.94; 95%CI: 1.40‐2.70) and sleep hours (RR: 2.21; 95%CI: 1.33‐3.66) on occupational injury. Among those with sleep disturbances, injury risk was greater for those with less than five, versus more than five, days of moderate to vigorous physical activity; RR: 2.77; 95%CI: 1.16‐6.59).

Increased workload and sleep disturbances increased the risk of injury, suggesting employers should address these factors to mitigate occupational injuries.

Adult onset asthma in non‐allergic women working in dampness damaged buildings: A retrospective cohort study

Source: Pål Graff, Ing‐Liss Bryngelsson, Mats Fredrikson, Ulf Flodin, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, First published: 24 January 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
There is still no consensus about the association between working in dampness‐damaged buildings and new onset of asthma among adults. The purpose of this study was to assess asthma in the staff of two psychiatric clinics where some premises were suffering from dampness.

Methods: A 20‐year retrospective cohort study was performed using questionnaires.

Results: Incidence rate ratios (IRR) for asthma were non‐significantly elevated (IRR = 2.3) among exposed individuals. The risk was greater among females (IRR = 3.5, 95% CI 1.0‐16). IRR for non‐atopic women was 8.8 (95% CI 1.4‐196). Adjusting for smoking habits weakened the risks marginally (IRR = 7.3, 95% CI 1.1‐167). The number of male participants was too low to draw conclusion regarding the risk for men.

The results suggest that working in dampness‐damaged buildings might be a possible health hazard. This finding is most pronounced in non‐atopic females.

US Survey Reveals Gaps, Opportunities for Health, Safety, and Environment Programs

Source: Frank Milligan, Journal AWWA, Vol. 111 no. 1, January 2019

Overall findings related to health, safety, and environment programs and practices are encouraging, but there are opportunities for significant improvement.

In today’s litigious environment, where the consequences of employer safety decisions have never been greater, there is an ever‐increasing need for comprehensive, effective health and safety programs. These organizational initiatives have three primary goals: reducing potential risks and costs; improving workplace morale and performance; and minimizing work‐related injuries, illnesses, and stress. While the majority of US water utilities now have formal health, safety, and environment (HS&E) programs in place, these programs require continuous evaluation to ensure that their metrics and measures are consistent with current best practices….

Other Duties as Assigned: Front-line librarians on the constant pressure to do more

Source: Anne Ford, American Libraries, January 2, 2019

Maybe it existed only in our collective imagination—the era when librarians focused solely on providing access to written information, and when their greatest on-the-job challenge consisted of keeping the stacks in order. Whether that halcyon time ever actually took place, it’s definitely not here now. Social worker, EMT, therapist, legal consultant, even bodily defender: These are the roles that many (perhaps most?) librarians feel they’re being asked to assume.

American Libraries asked seven librarians—public, academic, and school; urban and rural—their thoughts about the many directions in which their profession finds itself pulled….

Working Children: Federal Injury Data and Compliance Strategies Could Be Strengthened

Source: United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-19-26: Published: November 2, 2018, Publicly Released: December 3, 2018

From the summary:
Many children aged 17 and under work to develop independence or meet financial needs. However, working can sometimes interfere with education, or in some industries, be physically dangerous.

We found that the majority of work-related fatalities occur among children working in agriculture—but data on children’s work-related injuries in general is incomplete.

The Department of Labor is conducting a study to enhance its work-related injury data, but the study doesn’t include children. We recommended including them to improve the data—which could also improve enforcement of child labor standards….