News roundup: Iraq contractors, OSHA safety violations, night shifts, and more

December 3rd, 2007 by Julie Ferguson

Iraq civilian contractors – It can be difficult to come by news about this shadowy work force, despite the fact that at 180,000 thousand strong, civilian workers trump the presence of our armed forces by about 12,000. To date, at least 1,000 contractors have been killed in Iraq and last year, 5,749 were wounded, up from 804 the preceding year. Often, the injured contractors are caught in a legal wrangle for disability compensation. As this article notes, and as we’ve discussed previously (1, 2, 3, and 4), all contractors – citizens and foreign nationals alike – are covered by the Defense Based Act in the event of injuries or death. However, that doesn’t mean that claims aren’t contested – particularly PTSD. In most workers comp cases, the employer has a stake in the outcome and works to bring an injured employee back to the job. But in these cases, the employer has no skin in the game in terms of losses so the employee (or often, the ex-employee) deals directly with the insurer and the Office of Worker’s Compensation Program, the federal agency that oversees the law. The contractors don’t have a support structure the way that veterans do to see them through the officious and complex labyrinth for securing medical care and benefits. Matters are likely to get worse before they get better. Officials predict more than 14,000 contractor claims will be filed this year.
Top 10 Safety Violations – OSHA has recently released its list of the 10 most frequently cited safety violations of 2007, with scaffolding earning the dubious spot as the clear “winner.” The list includes links to a page of related compliance resources for each topic, or see NSC for a concise summary chart. OSHA also offers a resource for generating reports about frequent citations for specific industries.
Safety communications – Last week, we blogged about controversial, graphic safety videos from Ontario. This week, George Lenard of George’s Employment Blawg has a lengthy post on humor and gore in safety training videos and he asks whether these approaches are effective. We’ve never been big fans of humor in safety posters or training. Remember the bad safety clip-art cartoons of yesteryear? Call us humorless, but there isn’t anything too comical about industrial accidents. Thank goodness safety communications have generally moved on to a more sophisticated level.
Medicaid & workers comp – Joe Paduda talks about Medicaid and workers comp. If you think those two systems are apples to oranges, Joe agrees with you. He explains why he thinks California and New York are misguided in basing their workers comp fee schedule on Medicaid rates.
Graveyard shift aptly named? – Next month, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer is expected to add overnight shift work as a probable carcinogen. “Scientists suspect that overnight work is dangerous because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock. The hormone melatonin, which can suppress tumor development, is normally produced at night.” That’s rather bad news for about 20% of the work population.