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Technology might make Tennessee drivers safer

Vehicle manufacturers are moving to include features that make Tennessee roads safer from drivers who might succumb to fatigue. Automakers and other companies have tested a range of devices, including cars that track body activity and driving behavior or trigger alarms to prevent drivers from falling asleep behind the wheel. Some commercial transportation companies are following suit by equipping their operators with such technology, but according to researchers, the dire consequences associated with falling asleep behind the wheel mean it's better to simply avoid driving when tired.

High-profile accidents involving trucks, such as the 2014 incident that injured Tracy Morgan, aren't the only source of concern for modern drivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 25 percent of fatal collisions are related to tiredness, and researchers admit that the problem can affect everyone on the road, especially at night. Factors like sleeping schedules or general drowsiness also contribute by making people less likely to pay attention or react in time to prevent accidents.

OSHA revises its National Emphasis Program on amputations

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a directive updating its National Emphasis Program on amputations. The directive tells employers in Tennessee and across the nation what policies and procedures to enact in order to reduce workplace hazards that commonly cause amputation injuries.

OSHA defines workplace amputations as incidents in which a limb or appendage is permanently amputated, medically amputated due to irreparable damage or medically reattached after amputation. According to data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2,000 U.S. workers suffered amputation injuries in 2013, and OSHA reports that the amputation rate in the manufacturing sector is twice the amputation rate in all other private industry. By combining BLS data with current enforcement statistics, OSHA compiled a list of industries with high incidents or rates of amputations. Employees who work in sawmills, machine shops, retail and commercial bakeries, meat and food processing plants and ammunition manufacturing plants are among those at highest risk for amputations.

Worker deaths prompt response from MSHA

Tennessee employees may be interested in learning more about a series of incidents that compelled the Mine Safety and Health Administration to enhance their enforcement efforts. On Aug. 4, multiple employees were killed by unrelated workplace accidents that occurred in South Dakota, Nevada and Northern Virginia. According to the MSHA's assistant secretary of labor, during the past month, there have been five deaths in the nonmetal and metal industries. There hadn't been three miner deaths in the same day from this sector since 2002.

An 18-year-old employee in Virginia died after a silo in a Front Royal quarry broke open and buried him under mineral filler. His body was discovered the next morning after authorities spent 24 hours removing debris in an attempt to search for and rescue him. MSHA responded by proclaiming that education, outreach and inspection efforts would be intensified going forward.

Reducing risks faced by lone workers

Tennessee employees who work alone may face more risks than those who work with others. A basic safety precaution is to have one worker watch out for danger while the other works, but this is not possible for lone workers. Employers should take extra care when their employees are required to be in this type of a situation due to the nature of their job.

By itself, working alone is not necessarily unsafe, but employers should develop special procedures for workers who are not within calling distance of anyone in case of a serious workplace injury accident. Employers can reduce risks by ensuring regular contact by supervisors during lone work hours, conducting risk assessments, using automatic warning devices that contact supervisors if the employee is not responsive during a fixed period of time and training lone workers on emergency response protocol in the event of an accident. These are just a few recommended safety measures.

Seeking workers' compensation after prescription drug abuse

Workers' compensation insurance programs in Tennessee and other states generally allow employees to receive benefits when an injury or illness happens on the job. This can pay for the medical expenses an employee faces and may include costs for surgeries, necessary tools like crutches or prescription drugs. In the case of prescription drugs, some organizations like the National Safety Council are worried about the potential for abuse and how this relates to employers.

A report recently issued by the NSC focused on workers who were prescribed painkillers after an injury that allowed for workers' compensation benefits. The NSC looked at 15 court cases that took place between 2009 and 2015 where a plaintiff sued because of the opiate painkillers that were prescribed. The prescribed use of opioids puts employees at risk for overdose or addiction, and courts have ruled that death or addiction due to prescribed painkillers after an injury are covered under workers' compensation.

Robotic safety in the workplace

As technology advances, more and more workers in Tennessee perform jobs around robots. This can be hazardous if employers do not take appropriate safety precautions. After the first robot-related fatality occurred in 1984, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published safety guidelines for people who work near robots.

One of the key aspects of robotic safety is designing a safe robotic workstation. A robot will likely require more space to perform a task than a human would need. According to safety guidelines, a robotic workstation should be surrounded by a fence that is equipped with an electrical interlocking gate. When the gate is opened, this should cause the robot to stop working.

Standards for protecting construction workers from falls

Iron workers have some of the most hazardous jobs in the construction industry. Every year, falls are consistently among the top sources for injuries and fatalities on construction sites in Tennessee and nationwide. Meanwhile, fall protection violations lead the list of citations reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration annually. However, by carefully following OSHA's fall protection standard, employers can greatly reduce risks on the construction site.

According to OSHA, employers must protect every employee walking or working more than 15 feet above a lower level. Employees must be protected from falls by guardrails, safety nets, fall restraints, positioning devices or personal fall arrest systems. The easiest way to prevent falls is learning to recognize a fall hazard when it is seen. Employers should carefully observe work sites for clearly dangerous conditions and work to correct them. This can be done by either choosing a different method for completing a task or by taking measures to protect workers who must complete the task. Employers who fail to do this could leave themselves open to lawsuits in the event of a worker's death.

OSHA to help improve worker safety in Tennessee

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a statement on June 25 that it was going to expand enforcement of worker safety rules for health care workers. It will be focusing on five specific hazards unique to hospital, residential care and nursing home workers. These hazards include slips and falls, safe patient handling as well as exposure to bloodborne pathogens. It is the second time in two months that OSHA has announced plans to increase enforcement regarding these issues.

OSHA says that it will inspect for compliance in these areas even if an inspection was being conducted for unrelated reasons. As part of the inspection process, OSHA will ask for employee medical records and interview employees to confirm the information contained in those records. It is expected that hospitals may receive an increased number of citations due to increased inspections and the thorough nature of these inspections.

Technology could prevent truck accidents

Tennessee motorists may find it interesting to learn about a new technology that would allow drivers to "see through" large trucks ahead of them on the roadway and know when it is safe to pass them. The concept was developed by the South Korean electronics conglomerate Samsung.

The Samsung safety truck uses a wireless camera mounted on the front of the truck to stream video to four large screens placed on the back. That means anyone driving behind the truck can essentially see what the truck driver is seeing and choose a safe and appropriate time to pass the vehicle.

Alcohol, speed and youth major factors in motor vehicle accidents

As many Tennessee motorists know, speeding remains a leading factor in motor vehicle accidents. The total number of fatalities dropped by almost 10,000 to 33,561 between 2003 and 2012, yet speeding was still cited as a factor in about 30 percent of the deaths. Rather than viewing speed as a lone causative factor, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts it in context with a common co-factor and looks at the incidence by gender and age.

A blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is considered driving under the influence in every state. NHTSA data showed that in any fatal motor vehicle accident during 2012 that involved a speeding driver, there was a 42 percent chance that the driver was also intoxicated. The total number of fatal accidents where one speeding driver tested for some alcohol in their system was almost as high as the number showing no alcohol.

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