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South Carolina Personal Injury & Workers' Compensation Law Blog

NHTSA releases sobering traffic accident fataliies report

The number of people killed in traffic accidents across the country increased alarmingly for the second year in a row according to data contained in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report released on Oct. 6. Motor vehicle accidents in the United States resulted in more than 37,000 deaths in 2016, many of whom were South Carolina residents, and the rise in fatalities was especially pronounced among the nation's most vulnerable road users.

The NHTSA figures reveal that the number of pedestrians and motorcyclists killed in traffic accidents increased by 9 percent and 5.1 percent respectively in 2016, and most of these fatalities occurred in crashes involving human error. Negligence of some sort is associated with 94 percent of serious traffic accidents, and even autonomous safety systems that are designed to anticipate and prevent accidents with no driver input have done little to stem the increase in highway deaths.

Distracting dashboards are unsafe

Drivers in South Carolina are often aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Typically, drivers associate driving distractions with using a cellphone, texting or even talking to a passenger. Unfortunately, it is easy to overlook some of the more pernicious distractions because they've actually been built into the car's dashboard.

Automobile manufacturers take pride in offering state-of-the-art amenities in their vehicles. These include dashboards that contain touchscreens, text capabilities and navigation. While these technologies can be handy, they can also interfere with safe driving.

Distracted driving in South Carolina

Accident data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that distracted driving accidents around the country claim thousands of lives and leave hundreds of thousands of road users injured every year. Road safety advocacy groups say that the situation has been getting progressively worse due to a near epidemic growth in the use of cellphones by drivers, and they point out that this kind of behavior is particularly dangerous as it causes distraction in three different ways.

Cellphones cause manual distractions when drivers take their hands off their steering wheels to access data or type out text messages, and motorists are visually distracted when they look away from the road ahead to read a message or view the source of an incoming call. However, cognitive distraction may be the most dangerous distraction of all, and cellphones cause it by encouraging drivers to allow their minds to wander as they listen to what others are saying or read what they have typed.

The size and safety of a vehicle

People in South Carolina who are considering purchasing a new vehicle may want to factor in that its size will have a role in their safety during an accident. Generally, bigger vehicles, like trucks and SUVs, are able to endure accidents better than smaller cars.

When the safety of a vehicle is being assessed, the testers will include in their criteria the vehicle's size, weight and structural material and durability. All of these factors contribute to the crashworthiness of a vehicle.

OSHA requires employers to provide safe working environment

South Carolina workers have the right to a safe workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. they also have the right to file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration if they believe there are serious hazards in the workplace or if they suspect OSHA standards are not being met.

Falls from heights are among the most common workplace injuries that occur in warehouses. In one incident reviewed by OSHA, a worker was killed after falling from a wooden pallet held by a forklift 7 feet above the ground. It was common practice at the company for workers to use the forklift to lift them to the top shelves in order to move inventory. In this instance, the worker slipped while rearranging inventory and fell to the ground. He was transported to a hospital and died a few days later as a result of his injuries.

Avoiding accidents involving slow drivers

While most South Carolina drivers likely know the dangers of driving too fast, they may not be aware that it can also be dangerous to drive too slow. This is because driving too slowly for the general flow of traffic can cause confusion, prevent other drivers from being able to make safe predictions and ultimately lead to a car accident.

While any driver can drive too slowly, there are four general groups of drivers that other motorists should be on the lookout for. For example, distracted drivers, including those who are texting and driving, often unknowingly slow down when they are not paying attention to the road. Tourists may also drive slowly if they are not familiar with the surrounding area or if something catches their eye. Newly licensed drivers may also drive too slowly, especially if they are not yet confident in their driving skills. Finally, seniors and older individuals may drive more slowly due to biological changes and aging.

Area, time, distance all impact drive safety

All drives are not created equal when it comes to the statistical likelihood of a car accident. Fatal motor vehicle crashes are most likely near the home of the driver, with many South Carolina crashes happening within 25 miles of home. Part of the reason is that most driving happens within a short distance of home, but there are other factors at play as well.

Drivers are less likely to wear seat belts, for example, if they are driving just a short distance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports driving just a short distance as one of the main reasons drivers give for not buckling up. Driving on familiar roads can also lead to a lack of alertness on the part of the driver. It's important not to fall into the comfort zone trap while behind the whee. Accidents on familiar roads are often caused by new elements like other drivers, vehicle equipment failure or crossing animals.

Potential financial ramifications of chemical exposure

South Carolina residents who work in plastic manufacturing plants might be exposed to dyes, lubricants and flame retardants among other liquids. They may also be exposed to acetone or other chemicals that are used in machining or to add gloss to 3D printed parts. There are many dangers that workers may face such as explosions, exposure to vapors and skin issues if they make contact with these materials.

Ideally, companies will take the approach that anything that could go wrong will and create a safety plan based on that theory. As a best practice, companies should opt for sealed and contained systems for transferring chemicals as opposed to using manual transfer methods. If chemicals and their fumes cannot be contained, it could cost a lot of money to both treat workers and clean the resulting damage. It may also cost time or money to shut down a facility after an accident or to submit to government inspections.

Mitigating risk posed by hot work

Defined as an activity that produces sparks, flames or heat, hot work carries inherent risks that could lead to injury or death in some situations. South Carolina employees who are required to perform hot work may want to be aware of some of the most significant hazards and take steps to mitigate the possibility of adverse results.

A broad category, hot work includes any task that creates heat through friction, and one of the biggest risks associated with hot work is the potential for fire. Failure to take the appropriate precautions when engaged in jobs that involve cutting, grinding, welding, drilling, soldering and brazing could have potentially catastrophic results. Even the seemingly innocuous task of thawing pipes could ultimately result in a fatality.

Focusing on hazard reduction in the workplace

Some workplaces in South Carolina and throughout the country may shift to a greater focus on preventing serious injuries and fatalities, also known as SIF programs. These programs move the focus away from the traditional approach of waiting for an accident to occur and then addressing the problem. They recognize that near-miss accidents can be warnings of more serious injuries or fatalities to come, and addressing the conditions that led to those near-misses can help prevent the accidents. A near-miss incident such as a worker nearly falling from heights might not be the type of event that must be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but it can provide critical information about workplace safety.

One key in identifying potential hazards is to get workers involved. Trust is critical because workers need to be able to talk about what kind of protection and support they need and know that they will not be penalized for pointing out problems.

Smith & Griffith, LLP
1102 North Main Street
Anderson, SC 29621

Phone: 864-261-1571 (Personal injury)
Phone: 864-261-1912 (Workers' compensation)
Fax: 864-222-2257
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