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Workplace Safety Concern at Tyson Foods Plant Addresses Continued Viability of Workers’ Compensation

In May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 10 safety citations against Tyson Foods at one of its plants. Nine of the violations cited conditions that posed a "substantial probability" of wrongful death or serious personal injury from a hazard the employer knew, or should have known, about. The third was a repeat violation that the company had been asked to fix once before. So serious were the violations that OSHA fined the food processor $71,500, which was $30,000 more than the original estimate. It is these types of plants that often result in significant workers’ compensation claims.

The hefty price tag that accompanied the violations is understandable in light of the offenses. Says reporter Rick Romellof the Journal Sentinel, among the violations are: an inadequate guardrail; battery cables hanging outside the running lines of two forklifts; failure to ensure that refrigeration mechanics wear tight-fitting, annually tested respirators; and a lack of clear instructions in operating procedures for handling emergencies with equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires that employers provide their employees with work and a workplace that is free from recognized, serious hazards.Some duties under the act include:

  1. Making sure employees are aware of all safety procedures and drills.
  2. Implementing preventive measures to protect employees.
  3. Posting safetywarning signsand labels on areas and equipment that may potentially be dangerous.
  4. Informing employees of their rights, which may include posting posters and information regarding workers’ compensation in employment manuals.

Perhaps OSHA intends this ruling to serve as a warning to similar companies who fail to implement proper safety measures and whose employees are often called upon to work in hazardous conditions. The statistics say quite a bit. In 2009 the U.S. Department of Labor reported over 3,000,000 recordable cases of nonfatal injuries in the workplace and 4,551 fatalities. Of the nonfatal injuries, 212,760 involved falls, 195,150 involved injuries to the back and 379,340 resulted in sprains, strains, and tears. All are injuries that could have occurred at the Tyson’s plant absent correction of the infractions.

In the event that a worker suffers an injury while on the job, he/she must be aware of the options available to them. Workers’ compensation provides an invaluable protection to workers in such situations – in more ways than one. It provides qualifying injured workers with weekly payments to cover loss of earnings and payment of medical expenses. When the injury requires time away from work, workers’ compensation may also provide vocational rehabilitation expenses to assist workers with their transition back into the work environment. Finally, if the injury results in a temporary or permanent impairment, a worker is generally entitled to payment based upon their impairment rating.

If a worker reports a hazard to OSHA, the employer is barred from retaliation. In other words, the employer cannot legally fire, demote or otherwise punish the employee. Unfortunately, workers’ compensation laws provide no protection for employees fired after filing a workers’ compensation claim. However, the worker may have other rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While retaining an attorney is not required to file a workers’ compensation claim, it is best to have the advice of counsel when pursuing a workers’ compensation claim, especially if the injured worker fears retaliation or harassment from his employer. Click here to speak with an attorney who may be able to assist you with your claim.