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OSHA issues letters to 5 area businesses

Press Photo by Lisa Call St. Luke's Home in Dickinson, shown here Thursday afternoon, is one local business that received at letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about high rates of worker injury compared to industry standards.

Five area employers have been identified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as having a higher injury rate than similar businesses nationwide.

After a 2009 survey of about 100,000 worksites nationwide, using employer-provided data from 2008, OSHA identified and sent letters to 15,000 employers with the highest numbers of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work or restricted work activities or job transfers, cumulatively known as the DART rate, according to a March 9 press release from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Tooz Construction Inc., St. Luke's Home and Black Hills Trucking Inc. of Dickinson, along with Western Horizons Living Centers of Hettinger and Knife River Care Center of Beulah, were among those identified.

"Receipt of this letter means that workers in that particular establishment are being injured at a higher rate than in most other businesses of its kind in the country," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels, according to the release. "Employers whose businesses have injury and illness rates this high need to take immediate steps to protect their workers."

A DART rate of 13.5 was calculated for Western Horizons Living Centers, while the industry rate sits at 5, according to an e-mail from Diana Petterson of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Public Affairs.

Christi Miller, human resources manager at WHLC, said about 75 percent of employee injuries are to the back and shoulder.

"I would say the majority of them are (from) lifting and transferring of residents," Miller said.

Scott Wheeler, administrator and chief operating officer for Western Horizons, who has been with the facility since January, said the facility provides ongoing safety training and has purchased additional lifting-assistance equipment.

Wheeler said a staff person has been dedicated to making sure employees complete training and a continuing quality improvement plan is in place to ensure the tasks are being carried out correctly.

However, smaller staff sizes could affect DART rates.

"Being a facility our size, being that we're small, one or two injuries will throw us into that high category," Wheeler said.

A few other care facilities in the area were also on the list.

St. Luke's data revealed a DART rate of 6.5, according to Petterson's e-mail. The average DART rate for nursing homes was 5 in 2008.

The nursing home participates in OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, or SHARP, a program that "recognizes small employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system," said St. Luke's Administrator and Chief Executive Officer Karen Boulden in an e-mail.

"St. Luke's is very cautious and provides restricted duty to ensure total healing of any injury and has a very low injury rate for health care facilities, but because most facilities do not report and are not as transparent, it may appear that our rates are high," Boulden said in an e-mail.

The SHARP program looks at data for a three-year time span, Boulden said.

"St. Luke's three-year rate (SHARP) program is much lower than the national rate," Boulden said.

In 2008, St. Luke's had three reportable injuries, according to Boulden's e-mail.

"Typically, nursing home injuries are back injuries," she said. "Though electric lifts and other mechanical means are used and there is regular training provided to staff, at any time a resident's legs may buckle unexpectedly."

Knife River Care Center's reported data revealed a DART rate of 4.8, with the industry's DART rate sitting at 5.

A call to Keith Gendreau, administrator of Knife River, went unreturned.

Data from Black Hills Trucking revealed a DART rate of 17.3, with the rate for that industry sitting at 3.1, according to Petterson's e-mail.

A call to the safety coordinator at Black Hills corporate headquarters in Casper, Wyo., went unreturned.

Tooz Construction had a DART rate of 7 with the industry rate sitting at 2.2, according to Petterson's e-mail.

A woman answering the phone at Tooz Construction said company Vice President Tracy Tooz had no knowledge of the DART rate or receipt of the letter.

The cut-off DART rate for receiving a letter this year was 4.5.