P.O. Box 1750, Cockysville, MD, 21030
Print PDF version
410-337-9755 Website

Workers' Compensation for Ranches

Bookmark and Share All states have their own rules when it comes to workers' compensation, but those rules rarely stay the same. New Mexico for example recently ruled that ranch employees are required to have workers' compensation offered to them, whereas before those workers were part of an exempt group under the law. Ranches and farms require a good deal of manual labor, and where there's manual labor, there's injury. Find out more about what you should know about workers' compensation for ranches and farms. 

Agriculture Yesterday and Today 

As evidenced by New Mexico's example, farms and ranches have long been left out of many legal restrictions for businesses. After all, an industrial factory with 1,000 workers couldn't be held to the same standards as a family farm with 4 people tending to the livestock. However, policies are shifting toward offering more coverage for employees who need that protection. Even if your particular ranch does not need insurance due to the laws in your state, it may still be a good idea to get it. 

Exemption for Agricultural Activities

Small farms across the nation typically weren't expected to keep up to the commercialization culture simply because of the size and production scale of the business. The exemptions vary from state to state, with some basing the exemption on total payroll numbers, or the type of labor on the ranch (e.g, seasonal, family business, etc.) The extra rules were made to protect the farm from exorbitant fees, but also to protect Americans from having to shoulder the raised costs of production. However, this has led to workers being hurt who otherwise would have been covered under normal workers' compensation laws. 

Employees may not only be affected by their exact title (e.g., farmer vs. feed mill salesperson), but by the exact activity that they're doing at the time of injury. One worker who was injured after handling a steer was told by the employer that they were engaged in an agricultural activity, which would have been exempt in that state. However, after challenging this in court, he was granted compensation because it was determined he was conducting commercial business rather than agricultural at the time. This type of distinction illustrates just how complicated these affairs can be. 

The Future Is Covered 

If you remember anything about workers' compensation in this sector of the economy, the clear takeaway is that there is more pressure for employers to give more consideration to their employees. Constitutional activists are clear that they find these exemptions exploit the workers who put their bodies at risk everyday. While state law may take more time to catch up, it's likely worth looking into having some type of coverage for ranches regardless.
 

Required OSHA Training

Bookmark and Share This real-life case reinforces the need for every business to provide OSHA-required training.

A West Virginia company assigned a new employee – call him Jim – to drive a forklift, even though he had no experience or training in forklift operation "There's nothing to it," his supervisor told Jim. "It's just like driving a car." However, his first few weeks on the job turned out to be bumpy. Several times on each shift, while driving the forklift, he would knock things over. Although the supervisor warned Jim to be more careful, he continued to bump his way through the workday, leaving a trail of destruction wherever he went.

About three weeks after being hired, Jim's supervisor instructed him to drive down a narrow aisle between two rows of stacked, loaded pallets. After objecting, Jim reluctantly proceeded down the aisle. His left foot, which was dangling outside the forklift where it shouldn't have been, became pinned between the forklift and the wall of pallets. Jim suffered multiple fractures of the foot, together with a badly twisted knee; both injuries required surgery. Instead of going back to work, Jim went to court, filing suit against his employer and his supervisor for negligence.

His argument was clear: The company and his supervisor failed to provide safety training that could have prevented the accident. Jim's attorney told the court that, although OSHA regulations mandated specific training, testing, and certification for forklift operators, the company had not trained, tested, or certified him. This meant that Jim should not have been operating a forklift – and if he hadn't been doing so, the accident would not have taken place.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia agreed, ruling there was sufficient evidence to prove that both the employer and the supervisor were negligent. When they hired the employee; they knew that federal law required proper training or certification of forklift operators. Allowing Jim to drive a forklift without proper training was an act of negligence.

The message: Failure to provide OSHA-required training is a huge mistake. Whenever you hire new employees or assign workers to new jobs with new hazards, make sure that they receive proper training from the get-go. Never allow an employee to operate dangerous equipment or perform any other hazardous job until they have completed the required training and demonstrated competence, as well as understanding the hazards and necessary precautions.
 

Safety Tips for Offshore Liabilities

Bookmark and Share No matter what your workers' compensation policy is, the best way to operate your business is to avoid having to use the policy altogether. Unfortunately, safety can be difficult to enforce in your own facilities, let alone offshore. Employees often have very different motivations than middle management and even upper management which can make them more prone to risky maneuvers. Here's how to ensure quality control and safety even when you're miles away. 

Never Assume 

This is the most important piece of advice you can get. Accidents are rarely ever predictable to company owners, which is a major red flag that someone has been assuming rather than verifying protocol is being followed. It doesn't mean you have to start breathing down management's necks, but it may mean doing more follow up on where the gaps are when it comes to safety measures. Every company can improve in these matters, it's just a question of which areas to focus on.  

Inspect Machines 

Your machinery is likely one of the biggest hazards, and it may be time to increase your maintenance on the equipment — especially if it's several years old. It can be helpful to list out the common and uncommon hazards alongside potential mistakes that could lead to injuries before contacting the inspectors to review the current schedule and major priorities. Tweaking it can increase the safety (and financial stability) of everyone in the company. 

Refreshers

Employees who concentrate on certain projects may forget their safety training for everything except what they work on. Everyone should know about how the different parts of the machines work together, whether they use them everyday or once a month. Safety gear cannot be optional on an offshore site, no matter what the rules of the country are. Mats, boots, helmets, masks: they're all important. There should be full body harnesses for those working at dangerous heights. Even ergonomic chairs and stretching exercises can be implemented for people who are in a more office-type setting.

Emergency Training 

Debris, oil, water cannot be on the floor or in people's ways for very long. Employees are typically using their own wits to keep themselves from injury, and a rough patch or unexpected object blocking their path can easily make for a bad fall. Offshore facilities often have much more lax procedures when it comes to toxic materials, or even basic clean-up procedures. Taking shortcuts may not technically be illegal, but it can open you up to liabilities that are much more expensive than taking the time to clean. In addition to safety training around machines, employees should know basic emergency safety (e.g., fire, earthquake, etc.) and first aid for the unexpected.
 

Electrical Safety Tips

Bookmark and Share A preventable electrical injury occurs in the workplace every 23 minutes.

Jim White, training director for Shermco Industries, Inc., a Dallas-based electrical power systems test and maintenance company, has developed this list of 10 tips for keeping workers safe from shocks, burns, and electrocution on the job:

Develop a zero-tolerance policy toward energized work. Get serious about "no hot work." This includes conducting an electrical hazard analysis for energized work. Fine and discipline violators.

Get out in the field or plant and see what your workers are doing. (aka "management by walking around").

Develop checklists or other ways to track who is qualified to perform which tasks. Some businesses use job-task analyses to provide a blueprint of employees' activities.

Train your employees. To be qualified to perform any task, workers must know the construction, operation, and hazards associated with the equipment they're using. Make supervisors responsible for knowing what employees can – and can't – do safely.

Develop safe work practices and procedures. Practices such as energized electrical work permits, clearance procedures, and switching orders can help prevent accidents and can help document that the right steps were taken. These precautions become especially important in case of an accident.

Perform periodic safety audits. When workers know that they'll be subject to random audits, they'll try to maintain safe work procedures and practices. Remember: what gets measured, gets done.

Conduct job briefings any time the scope of the work changes significantly and when new or different hazards are present.

Be cautious about implementing safety awards programs, especially if they might discourage accident reporting.

Become familiar with industry standards. Examples include with NFPA 70E and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations.

Document everything. If you don't have it in writing, you never did it. Show a good-faith effort; OSHA will notice – and compliance could save you big dollars and legal penalties.