Environmental & Safety Law Update

OSHA Responds to Manufacturers’ Lawsuit on New Workplace Injury and Illness Reporting Rule

Posted in OSHA Compliance, OSHA Litigation

By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

worksafetySeyfarth Synopsis: OSHA asserts that its new injury illness reporting rule is fully within OSHA’s mandate.

This is in follow-up to our earlier blog on OSHA’s new rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses (Rule), 81 Fed. Reg. 29624 (May 12, 2016). The new rule concerned drug-testing, retaliation claims, and accident reporting.

The National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the new rule. TEXO ABC/AGC, et al. v. Thomas, et al., No. 3:16-CV-1998 (N.D. TX July 8, 2016). Thereafter OSHA announced that it was delaying the effective date for enforcement of the rule until November 1, 2016.

In TEXO ABC/AGC the Plaintiffs alleged that OSHA is “putting a target on nearly every manufacturer in this country by moving this regulation forward. Not only does OSHA lack statutory authority to enforce this rule, but the agency has also failed to recognize the infeasibility, costs and real-world impacts of what it preposterously suggests is just a mere tweak to a major regulation.” The lawsuit sought a declaratory judgment finding that the rule was unlawful to the extent that it prohibited or otherwise limited incident-based employer safety incentive programs and routine mandatory post-accident drug testing programs.

On August 19, 2016 OSHA responded to the request for a preliminary injunction, filing its opposition. OSHA argues that as the “Plaintiffs have not established a likelihood of success or irreparable harm, the Court need not consider the balance of equities or public interest. Even if it did, though, they tip sharply against injunctive relief in this case. Plaintiffs have established no harm at all, much less irreparable harm. OSHA, by contrast, has determined that the anti-retaliation provision is necessary for the viability of its broader recordkeeping Rule, which takes effect January 1, 2017.”

We anticipate that the Plaintiffs will file a reply brief shortly, followed by oral arguments before the Court. We will keep you updated as this fast moving issue develops.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

OSHA Pilots New Expedited Whistleblower Process – Will Allow Complainants to Request Judicial Review

Posted in Whistleblower

By James L. Curtis, Benjamin D. Briggs, and Craig B. Simonsen

shutterstock_150166427Seyfarth Synopsis: The DOL announced this week its new Whistleblower expedited Case review pilot process, to be conducted in its Region 9. Employers in this region may now anticipate even more cases going to the ALJ’s, and should watch these cases closely.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is launching a new “Expedited Case Processing Pilot” process in its Region 9. The process will allow complainants covered by certain statutes to ask the  Occupational Safety and Health Administration to cease its investigation and issue findings for the DOL’s Office of Administrative Law Judges to consider.

In piloting this process, the DOL stated that “OSHA’s investigation process can take time, and complainants may be able to receive a determination more quickly without losing their rights to a hearing by electing to expedite OSHA’s processing of their claims.” Barbara Goto, OSHA’s Regional Administrator in San Francisco, noted that “the ultimate goal is to bring about quicker resolution for whistleblowers and their employers regarding claims of retaliation for reporting safety and other concerns on the job.”

Under the pilot, in Region 9, once a complainant requests expedited processing, the case may be assessed for these criteria:

  • The claim is filed under a statute that allows for de novo review by an administrative law judge.
  • Depending on the statute, 30 or 60 days have passed from the date the complainant first filed with the claim with OSHA.
  • OSHA has interviewed the complainant.
  • Federal investigators have evaluated the complaint and the complainant’s interview to determine whether the basic elements of a retaliation claim exist.
  • Both the complainant and the respondent have had the opportunity to submit written responses, meet with an OSHA investigator and present statements from witnesses.
  • The complainant has received a copy of the respondent’s submissions and had an opportunity to respond.

If these criteria are met, a determination will be made on the complainant’s request for expedited processing – including “whether reasonable cause exists to believe that a violation of the statute occurred.” Under the pilot, OSHA officials may then take one of three actions: dismiss the claim and inform the complainant of the right to proceed before an administrative law judge; issue merit findings as expeditiously as possible; or deny the request.

The pilot became effective on August 1, 2016, in Region 9, including California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and the islands of American Samoa, CNMI and Guam.

Employers in this region may anticipate now even more cases going to the DOL’s ALJ’s, and should watch these cases closely.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of twenty-two statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety, and consumer financial reform regulations.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Whistleblower Team or the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

Tenth Circuit Orders Truck Driver Who Abandoned Trailer on Interstate Highway to be Reinstated with Backpay

Posted in Administrative Procedure Act, OSHA Litigation, Transportation, Whistleblower

By Benjamin D. Briggs, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

shutterstock_150166427Seyfarth Synopsis: The Tenth Circuit held that a trucking company unlawfully retaliated against a truck driver after he abandoned a trailer on a public highway, finding that his actions constituted a protected refusal to operate a vehicle in unsafe conditions.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition for review of a retaliation finding by the Administrative Review Board (ARB), finding that the employee had been retaliated against in violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). TransAm Trucking, Inc. v. Department of Labor, No. 15-9504 (Tenth Circuit August 8, 2016),

The Court explained that the driver parked a tractor-trailer on the shoulder of an interstate highway. After sitting in sub-freezing temperatures, the brake lines on the trailer froze and rendered the trailer immobile. When a service vehicle failed to arrive and the driver’s heating unit stopped functioning, the driver detached the trailer and drove away in the tractor.

After his termination, the employee filed a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency within the Department of Labor (DOL) that administers STAA claims, asserting that the employer violated the whistleblower provisions of the STAA when it discharged him. After OSHA dismissed the driver’s complaint, the employee requested a hearing before a DOL administrative law judge (ALJ).

The employer argued that the driver’s actions were not protected under the STAA, which only creates a whistleblower claim for an employee who “refuses to operate a vehicle because … the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety or security condition,” 49 U.S.C. § 31105(a)(1)(B)(ii). Because the trailer was inoperable and the driver drove off without it, the employer argued that the driver could not have refused to “operate” in unsafe conditions; but, rather, he abandoned company property.

The ALJ concluded that the driver had engaged in protected activity when he reported the frozen brake issue to the employer, and again when he refused to obey the instruction to drive the truck while pulling the trailer. The ALJ further concluded that the protected activity was a contributing factor in the employer’s decision to terminate his employment because his refusal to operate the truck while pulling the trailer was “inextricably intertwined” with the employer’s decision to terminate him for abandoning the trailer at the side of the highway. The employer appealed to the DOL Administrative Review Board (ARB) (which affirmed the ALJ’s decision) and then to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In denying the employer’s appeal, the Tenth Circuit noted that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) “standard of review is narrow and highly deferential to the agency.” Compass Envtl., Inc., v. Occupational Safety & Health Review Comm’n, 663 F.3d 1164, 1167 (10th Cir. 2011).  The Court concluded that the driver had refused to operate the vehicle when he left the trailer behind.  Consequently, the Court upheld the ARB decision and ordered the driver to be reinstated with backpay.

This case should remind employers that the DOL takes an expansive view of the whistleblower statutes enforced by OSHA, and the kind of actions that constitute protected activity under those statutes. In this case, the employer advanced a seemingly non-retaliatory reason for the termination — abandonment of company property — as the reason for the challenged decision.  However, the close connection between the trailer abandonment and the report that the brakes had frozen/refusal to pull the trailer was enough to tip the scales in the employee’s favor.  Employers should exercise extreme caution when making employment decisions under circumstances in which a legitimate reason for discipline bears a close relationship to conduct that may constitute protected activity under a whistleblower statute.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of twenty-two statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety, and consumer financial reform regulations. For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Whistleblower Team or the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Provides Recommendations to Upgrade Employers’ Emergency Planning and Response Programs

Posted in Catastrophe Response, Chemical Safety, OSHA Compliance

By James L. Curtis, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000011623330_MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: U.S. Chemical Safety Board offers recommendations and best practices for chemical facilities regarding emergency planning and response programs.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (the “Board”) is an independent federal agency charged with investigating significant chemical accidents. According to the Board, inadequate or poor emergency planning or response is a recurring finding in the Board’s investigations of chemical accidents.  To date, 14 Board investigations have found deficiencies in a community’s, facility’s or emergency responder’s response to an incident at a chemical facility

The Board recently announced that emergency planning and response will be added to the Board’s existing “Most Wanted Safety Improvement” Program.  The Board’s also provided 46 recommendations aimed to address the deficiencies the Board found during its investigations.  The Board’s recommendations concentrate on the following areas:

  • Training for emergency responders, including hazardous materials training;
  • Local emergency planning, and community response plans and teams;
  • Use of community notification systems;
  • Use of an incident command system and the National Incident Management System;
  • Conducting emergency response exercises; and
  • Information sharing between facilities, emergency responders and the community.

Employers who operate chemical plants may wish to review and evaluate company emergency planning and response programs, policies, and training initiatives to assess for compliance with the Board’s recommendations. OSHA frequently looks to the Chemical Safety Board for guidance on appropriate areas for enforcement efforts.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team or Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

Despite Pollution Exclusion, Insurer On Hook for Contamination in Indiana

Posted in CERCLA, Environmental Insurance, Environmental Litigation, Indiana

By Andrew H. Perellis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

shutterstock_132968252Seyfarth Synopsis: The Northern District of Indiana rejected the insurer’s assertion that its pollution exclusion clauses unambiguously included all contaminants.

Indiana, unlike other jurisdictions, is pro-insured when it comes to providing coverage for damages arising from pollution events. This is so even where the insurance policy attempts to exclude coverage.

Old Republic Ins. Co. v. Gary-Chicago Int’l Airport Auth., No. 15-cv-00281 (N.D. Ind., July 25, 2016), is the latest in a line of cases to hold that, in Indiana, if an insurer wants to exclude coverage for pollution, the policy must state with specificity the contaminants and pollutants for which coverage is excluded.

In Old Republic, the Northern District of Indiana denied Old Republic Insurance Company’s (Old Republic) motion for summary judgment, finding that Old Republic must pay defense costs arising from contamination at the Gary-Chicago International Airport (Airport) because of ambiguities in the insurance policies issued by Old Republic.

This case involved an environmental pollution insurance coverage dispute between Old Republic and the Gary-Chicago International Airport Authority (Airport Authority). Old Republic filed a complaint for declaratory relief and reimbursement of defense costs against the Airport Authority after the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) initiated an action against the Airport Authority in connection with pollution at the Airport. Old Republic asked the Court to declare that, based on the “absolute pollution exclusion” clauses in the applicable insurance policies Old Republic issued to the Airport Authority, it did not have a duty to defend or indemnify the Airport Authority with respect to this IDEM action.

All insurance policies at issue contained the following exclusion:

This policy does not cover claims directly or indirectly occasioned by, happening through or in consequence of: . . . (b) pollution and contamination of any kind whatsoever….

This is known as an “absolute pollution exclusion.” There parties to this action agreed that there was an oily sheen and that environmental testing had detected concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, and PCBs at the Airport site. Even so, the parties disagreed over whether the “absolute pollution exclusion” remained ambiguous, as ambiguities must be resolved in favor of the insured.

The Seventh Circuit previously held, following the approach recognized by the Indiana Supreme Court, that an absolute pollution exclusion will be enforced where an insurer specifically indicates what falls within the exclusion. Visteon Corp. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., 777 F.3d 415 (7th Cir. 2015). Following that approach, the Court concluded that Old Republic’s policies were ambiguous: “Old Republic’s pollution exclusion does not explicitly indicate what constitutes ‘pollution’ or ‘contamination’ so that an ordinary policyholder of average intelligence would know to a certainty that Old Republic would not be responsible for damages arising out of the oily sheen, benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, and PCBs discovered at the Airport.”

Indiana insureds should be mindful that even broadly worded pollution exclusions may not be enforced if the policy fails to specify exactly what pollutants or contaminants fall within the policy’s exclusions.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Environmental Litigation and Toxic Torts Team.

EPA Determines that Aircraft Emissions Contribute to Air Pollution and Climate Change

Posted in CAA, FAA, Greenhouse Gas

By Kay R. Bonza and Craig B. Simonsen

Private jet plane in the blue skySynopsis: EPA’s recent finding paves the way for the Agency to develop standards regulating greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft. Businesses in the commercial jet manufacturing and aviation transportation industry should watch this rulemaking closely, as it will affect environmental compliance costs and may have an impact on the cost of capital purchases and daily operations.

On July 25, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final determination under the Clean Air Act, finding that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from certain types of aircraft engines contribute to air pollution that causes climate change and endangers public health and the environment.

The EPA determination applies specifically to the six well-mixed GHGs in the atmosphere: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Two of these six gases, CO2 and nitrous oxide, are emitted by aircraft engines.  The EPA’s determination triggers its duty under Section 231 of the Clean Air Act to promulgate aircraft engine emission standards.

Approximately 89% of U.S. aircraft GHG emissions are included in the determination, from smaller jet aircraft, to the largest commercial jet aircraft on the market. The determination does not cover some small jet aircraft, including piston-engine aircraft, helicopters, and military aircraft.  According to Janet McCabe, EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, “aircraft are the third largest contributor to GHG emissions in the U.S. transportation sector, and these emissions are expected to increase in the future.”

The EPA is not yet issuing proposed emission standards, nor are they commenting on what those standards will be. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which works with member states and industry groups to develop international civil aviation standards and policies, anticipates releasing its international aircraft CO2 standards in March 2017.  The EPA will look to the ICAO standards as a starting point in drafting domestic aircraft engine standards.  ICAO member states, including the U.S., will be required to adopt standards that are at least as stringent as the ICAO standards.

According to the EPA, its determination supports the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution from large sources.  Approximately 12% of the U.S. transportation sector’s GHG emissions come from U.S. aircraft, and U.S. aircraft account for 29% of global aircraft emissions.  Once the EPA promulgates aircraft emission standards, Section 232 of the Clean Air Act requires the Federal Aviation Administration to prescribe regulations that ensure compliance with these standards.  Any standards that EPA sets “must not cause a significant increase in noise or adversely affect safety.”

Future GHG standards for aircraft could significantly increase the costs of environmental compliance, capital purchases, and daily operations for the aircraft engine manufacturing industry. Businesses in this industrial sector may wish to keep an eye on the EPA rulemaking, participate in public meetings, and provide comments to EPA as appropriate.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

New Eye-Popping Statistics: Multinationals Operating in China Should be Aware of Increased Enforcement of Chinese Environmental Laws as Well as the Potential for Blacklisting

Posted in China, Environmental Compliance, Investigations/Inspections, White Collar

By Wan Li, Andrew S. Boutros, Kay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

China map icon with a recycle iconSeyfarth Synopsis: The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection has just announced criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement statistics, and put companies on notice that those who violate environmental laws and rules may face blacklisting, including restrictions to their future business endeavors.

We have previously written about the need for multinational companies operating in China to comply with Chinese environmental and workplace safety laws and regulations. See for instance Multinationals in China Should be Aware of Increased Enforcement of Environmental Law, Monitoring Requirements – and Fraud, and International Employers Watch Out: China Will Assign Hefty Fines for Worker Safety Violations.

Now more recently, in the last thirty days, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been publishing notices and warnings to “polluters” and industries about their potentially non-compliant business activities.

For example, the MEP’s just-released news announcement summarizing enforcement actions makes clear just how serious China is taking compliance failures of environmental laws and rules. Specifically, the August 1, 2016, notice, Supreme People’s Court Releasing White Paper on China’s Environmental Resource Trial, provides a progress report “since the establishment of Environmental Resource Courts.” In this regard, the notice provides the following eye-popping statistics about China’s enforcement activities from January 2014 to June 2016 by its courts nationwide:

  • A total of 37,216 criminal cases of first instance trial involving air, water and soil pollution that brought 47,087 people to justice;
  • A total of 195,141 civil cases of first instance trial involving resource ownership, environmental infringement and contract disputes; and
  • The conclusion of 57,738 administrative cases of first instance trial involving the environment and its resources.

Only a few days earlier, on July 28, 2016, the MEP, together with 30 other government agencies, issued another announcement warning companies that those who seriously violate environmental laws and rules will face restrictions to their future business endeavors. Specifically, companies may be barred from entering certain businesses, blocked from applying for business permits, or disqualified from loans. In the words of the MEP, “[t]hey will not qualify for preferential policies.” The MEP also highlights 14 serious violations, including operating or engaging in construction work without environmental assessments or permits, and illegally discharging pollutants.

The MEP notes that it will manage a blacklist of companies with “bad environment records” and will share it with other government agencies.

In fact, in what can be viewed as a prospective “industry sweep,” on July 28, 2016, the MEP announced a “national-scale environmental inspection” in the iron and steel industry. The notice states that local areas will be required to strengthen enforcement activities and inspections in this industry, as well as “make effort to reveal, solve, and expose a batch of prominent environmental violations in this industry.”

According to Tian Weiyong, Director General of the Ministry’s Bureau of Environmental Supervision and Inspection, under this program, local areas are required to organize inspectors and inspections involving the “main firms in the iron and steel industry” within their administrative regions. The inspections will also assess how well the iron and steel makers have “attained emission standards and installed and run the automatic monitoring equipment.”  The inspections are slated to occur between June and October 2016.

Multinational businesses and industries that have interests and facilities in China–especially now in the iron and steel industries– may wish to examine the extent of any potential liability in their holdings, in particular since companies with “bad environment records” may be subject to business-disrupting (if not ending) blacklisting.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the International Employment Law Team, the Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team, or the White Collar, Internal Investigations, and False Claims Team.

NIOSH Offers Free Training Program to Help Employers Address Safety Risks Faced by Home Healthcare Workers

Posted in OSHA Compliance, Workplace Violence

By Adam R. Young, Kylie Byron, and Craig B. Simonsen

shutterstock_178475264Seyfarth Synopsis: NIOSH releases a comprehensive training curriculum that home healthcare employers can use to minimize safety risks and prevent OSHA citations.

We had blogged previously about OSHA’s “Strategies and Tools” to “Help Prevent” Workplace Violence in the Healthcare Setting. Now the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recently announced the availability of a “free” web-based training curriculum for home healthcare agencies and workers.

NIOSH indicates in its press release that the curriculum is intended to help employers communicate recognized hazards encountered in homecare workplaces, explain safety concerns, as well as provide “practical solutions to manage risks and improve safety.” The curriculum, Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others, is available in both English and Spanish. It comprises seven “flexible modules” that “allow for customization to meet the individual training needs of home healthcare workers.”

Each training module includes a trainer’s guide, customizable PowerPoint slides, and participant handouts. The modules include:

  • Introduction to Homecare Health and Safety;
  • Reducing Strains, Sprains and Falls;
  • Reducing Risk from Environmental Exposure;
  • Reducing Exposure to Bloodborne and Other Infectious Diseases;
  • Staying Safe When Working With Clients With Dementia;
  • Setting Healthy and Safe Boundaries to Reduce Stress; and
  • Safely Handling Threatening Behavior When Providing Homecare.”

In addition to the modules, the NIOSH curriculum comes with a Homecare Workers’ Handbook that is an “easy-to-read overview of some of the topics covered in this course as well as topics that are not covered” which “should be provided to all participants.” The Handbook includes safety checklists and to-do lists that can be used by home healthcare employers and agencies, their workers, and their clients, in order to help keep these workers injury free.

Employers and agencies in the home healthcare and social service industries can use these NIOSH materials to develop their own employee safety and training programs, or to update their existing programs as appropriate. At a minimum, employers who have a written program in place may wish to make sure that they covered all of the topics highlighted in these NIOSH materials. Coordinating employer written materials with the NIOSH curriculum may improve employee safety and reduce the likelihood of workplace incidents. Moreover, compliance with the NIOSH training recommendations also may reduce the employer’s liability for an OSHA citation, should OSHA conduct an onsite inspection.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team or OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

Pokémon NO: New App Creates Risks For Employers

Posted in OSHA Compliance

By Parnian Vafaeenia and Karla Grossenbacher

KRS IMG_0325-RevSeyfarth Synopsis: Pokémon GO’s popularity is at a fever pitch. However, the game poses several risks for employers including software security, privacy and workplace safety concerns.

Your employees may be on a quest to catch ‘em all. Over 15 million people have downloaded the Pokémon GO game since its release two weeks ago.  In this augmented reality game, players use their mobile devices to catch Pokémon characters in real-life locations captured by the camera in a user’s cellular phone.  Though the game is very popular with Pokémon GO players, employers may not like the game quite so much.

Data And Security Concerns

There are data security concerns that arise from use of the Pokémon GO app.

First, users that want to play Pokémon Go must sign in to the app. There are two ways to do so—through an existing Google account, or through an existing Pokémon Trainer Club Account.  Up until very recently, the Pokémon website did not allow users to sign up for Pokémon Trainer Club Accounts due to overwhelming demand.  Thus, for most people, the only way to play Pokémon GO was by signing in to the app with their Google accounts.  Even though the option to create a Trainer Club Account is now available, doing so requires more time and effort than signing in through an existing Google account.

On Monday July 11, it was discovered that users who signed in through their Google accounts were unwittingly giving Niantic Labs—the developer that created the game—full access to the information in their Google accounts. This included access to email.  The developer insists that it is not actually accessing all of the information in users’ Google accounts and claims that an update that was recently released apparently limited the scope of Niantic’s access.  Nonetheless, for employers who have employees that use Gmail accounts for work purposes, there has been and continues to be risks to information security presented by allowing such employees to play Pokémon GO.

To make matters worse, there is a malicious version of the Pokémon GO program that includes a remote access tool called Droidjack. This tool, which was uploaded to a file sharing service on July 7, can give hackers full control over android users’ phones.  If a Pokémon GO user is playing the game on the phone they use to send work-related communications or on which they store work-related documents, this means that hackers could conceivably access such communications and documents on infected android phones of Pokémon GO users.  This poses risk for employers as well.

Workplace Safety

Employers that have Pokémon GO players in their facilities may also face safety issues. Niantic teamed up with Google Maps to put Pokémon characters in real-life places.  When a Pokémon is nearby, the app informs the player of its location.  Additionally, certain locations such as “gyms” and “poké stops” are hotspots for catching Pokémon.  Certain characters in the game are harder to catch and more highly coveted than others, so finding one of these popular characters nearby often excites players, and they will “hunt” them in a wide variety of physical spaces.

As recent headlines have demonstrated, employees who are focused on the game while walking around work property could be putting themselves in danger of tripping, falling or otherwise injuring themselves while playing. Similarly, employees whose job duties include driving or operating heavy machinery, or whose jobs require them to work in the vicinity of heavy machinery, risk injury to themselves or others if they attempt to play the game during work hours.  Indeed, there may be heightened safety concerns for certain employers in highly regulated environments like healthcare, where patient safety and health could be impacted by a distracted workforce.  Indeed, even employers in the retail industry could suffer if their employees are too distracted to assist customers.

Takeaways

If an employer’s workforce is using company-issued devices, employers can simply disable access to the app on company-owned devices. In fact, some employers have already taken this step.  Though blocking the app on company-owned devices takes care of part of the problem, many employers have BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs and will have employees using the same device to perform work and play Pokémon GO. Employers in this situation should consider the following steps:

  • Have employees install encryption software provided by the employer to protect sensitive data and agree to not modify the software;
  • Monitor or prohibit employees from accessing and downloading of external programs, apps and files or specific ones that pose security risks, like Pokémon GO;
  • Review your safety policy to ensure it encompasses activities similar to safety risks associated with Pokémon GO (i.e., limited use of handheld devices in hazardous work areas, etc.);
  • Create guidelines that prohibit employees from playing games such as Pokémon GO during work time (even if it is downtime) and restrict when and where such games can be played on work property during non-work hours.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team or OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

Wave of Shootings Puts Workplace Violence Back in the Spotlight

Posted in OSHA Compliance, Workplace Violence

By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000041284206_MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: DHS’s recommendations for active shooter prevention and preparedness is only one piece of an effective workplace violence prevention program. Employers should assess their workplaces and develop comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs and training.

With the wave of violence that has gripped the nation this summer, many clients are again asking how best to protect their employees. We had blogged previously about “Workplace Violence Prevention: DHS Promotes “Active Shooter Preparedness” Programs – Is Your Company Ready?” This blog includes an update on this important topic.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has said in a news release that the number of workplace homicides in 2014 (409) was about the same as the total in 2013. Among the workplace homicides in which women were the victims, the greatest share of assailants were relatives or domestic partners (32 percent of those homicides). In workplace homicides involving men, robbers were the most common type of assailant (33 percent).

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that the magnitude of workplace violence in the U.S. is measured with fatal and nonfatal statistics from several sources. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reported 14,770 workplace homicide victims between 1992 and 2012. From 2003 to 2012 over half of the workplace homicides occurred within three occupation classifications: sales and related occupations (28%), protective service occupations (17%), and transportation and material moving occupations (13%).

In response to workplace violence events the DHS had issued its “Active Shooter Preparedness Program.” The Program was intended to enhance preparedness through a “whole community” approach by providing training, products, and resources to a broad range of stakeholders on issues such as “active shooter awareness, incident response, and workplace violence.” The DHS has found that in many cases, “there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter, and these situations are, by their very nature, unpredictable and evolve quickly.”

In key Active Shooter Preparedness research, it was found that in 160 Active Shooter incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013, the incidents occurred most frequently in areas of commerce (46 %), followed by educational environments (24 %), and government properties (10 %). The materials indicate that an effective active shooter plan will include the following:

  • Proactive steps that can be taken by facility tenants to identify individuals who may be on a trajectory to commit a violent act.
  • A preferred method for reporting active shooter incidents, including informing all those at the facility or who may be entering the facility.
  • How to neutralize the threat and achieve life safety objectives.
  • Evacuation, shelter-in-place, hide, and lockdown policies and procedures for individual offices and buildings.
  • Integration with the facility incident commander and the external incident commander.
  • Information concerning local area emergency response agencies and hospitals (i.e., name, telephone number, and distance from the location), including internal phone numbers and contacts.
  • How operations will be restored.

DHS suggests that after company or facility specific policy and procedures, including an active shooter plan are finalized, training and exercises should occur, with drills and exercises at least annually.

As we noted in our previous blog, employers should review the DHS’s recommendations for active shooter prevention and preparedness and update their policies and practices as appropriate. Of course, active shooter training and policies are only one piece of an effective workplace violence prevention program.  All employers should assess their workplaces and develop comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs and training.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.