OSHA Forms Alliance to Control, Prevent Chemical Hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has entered into an alliance with the Fertilizer Safety and Health Partners and the Environmental Protection Agency to provide safety and health information and training resources to workers, emergency responders and communities surrounding establishments in the agricultural retail and supply industry. The alliance will focus on the safe storage and handling of fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia.

“Incidents such as the horrific explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, that killed 15 people including emergency response personnel, highlight the hazards in storing and handling ammonium nitrate,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “These tragedies are preventable and this alliance shows that we are working together to address hazards, prevent injuries and save lives.”

The alliance emphasizes sharing emergency response information among agricultural business establishments, first responders and surrounding communities; as well as improving the safety and security of chemical facilities, reducing the risks of hazardous chemicals to workers and communities, educating workers on their rights and ensuring that employers understand their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

During the two-year agreement, the alliance will develop outreach materials and case studies on safe storage and handling of fertilizers and best practices for emergency response procedures in the event of releases of ammonia or fires in facilities that store ammonium nitrate. The alliance will also support other OSHA national outreach initiatives, including the prevention of heat illness among outdoor workers, the revised Hazard Communication Standard and the benefits of establishing a safety and health management system.

The Fertilizer Safety and Health Partners comprise the Agricultural Retailers Association, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Volunteer Fire Council, Fertilizer Institute, and Ammonia Safety Training Institute.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Medicaid and CHIP Enrollments Rise by 10.1 Million

With all the focus on Obamcare enrollment numbers, Medicaid and the Children’s Health insurance Program (CHIP) tend to take a back seat, but data just released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show that both programs have risen by 10.1 million enrollees in the year since the launch of the marketplaces.

This represents a 17.5 percent increase over the average monthly enrollment for July through September 2013, the pre-marketplace enrollment time frame. As of November 2014, enrollment in the two programs stood at 68.9 million.

Personal health insurance policies sold through the state and federal Obamacare marketplaces total 9.5 million for the just-concluded 2015 open enrollment period.

The HHS report released today notes that CHIP and Medicaid enrollments in the latest open period are still being calculated.


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Admitting Complexity of Obamacare Tax Law, HHS Offers Help

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell has announced that HHS is collaborating with a wide range of non-profit organizations and some of the nation’s largest tax preparers to ensure that the public understands how health care and their taxes intersect.

These groups provide resources, advice, and assistance to tax filers across the country. Some are offering on-the-ground, in person support, while others are providing online tools and software to help guide people through the tax filing process, according to HHS.

Last year, 91 percent of taxpayers relied on software to do their taxes. This year many tax preparers and organizations updated their online tools to reflect the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements with the goal of helping consumers easily complete a timely and accurate tax return. Consumers can learn more about free tax assistance and filing options – including assistance in their community – by visiting www.IRS.gov/freefile or www.IRS.gov/VITA.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Proposes Rule on Federal Contractor Sex Discrimination Guidelines

The Department of Labor (DOL) today announced a proposal to clarify federal contractors’ requirements to prohibit sex discrimination. The recommended changes would revise the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) guidelines to align with laws, court decisions and societal changes since they were originally issued in 1970.

“Our sex discrimination guidelines are woefully out of date and don’t reflect established law or the reality of modern workplaces,” said OFCCP Director Patricia A. Shiu. “We owe it to the working women of America — and their families — to fix this regulatory anachronism so there is no confusion about how federal contractors must comply with their equal opportunity obligations.”

OFCCP’s sex discrimination guidelines implement Executive Order 11246, which prohibits companies with federal contracts and subcontracts from sex discrimination in employment. The proposed rule would update these guidelines to reflect demographic developments such as the increased presence of women in the workplace, as well as legal developments — including a Supreme Court ruling recognizing that a sexually hostile work environment is a form of sex discrimination and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which strengthened workplace protections for pregnant women.

The agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking addresses a variety of barriers to equal opportunity that too many women face in the workplace today, including pay discrimination, sexual harassment, failure to provide workplace accommodations for pregnancy and gender identity and family caregiving discrimination, according to the DOL press release.

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 30, and the public will have until March 31 (60 days) to provide comments.

In addition to Executive Order 11246, OFCCP enforces Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. Collectively, these three laws require contractors and subcontractors that do business with the federal government to prohibit discrimination and ensure equal opportunity in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and status as a protected veteran.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS Says 9.5 Million Obtained Obamacare Insurance on the Marketplaces

Nationwide, 9.5 million consumers selected or were automatically reenrolled in quality, affordable health insurance coverage from the Health Insurance Marketplace through the second month of 2015 Open Enrollment, according to a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Of those, more than 7.1 million were in states using the HealthCare.gov platform, and 2.4 million were in the 14 states (including Washington, D.C.) using their own Marketplace platforms. As the Feb. 15 deadline approaches, HHS encourages all eligible consumers to sign up for Marketplace coverage. Most will be eligible for financial assistance to lower the cost of monthly premiums.

The report includes data for individuals who selected or were automatically reenrolled in coverage through Jan. 16 for the 37 states using the HealthCare.gov platform, and through Jan. 17 for the 12 states and Washington, D.C., using their own Marketplace platforms. Data for California is through Jan. 18. To have their coverage effectuated, consumers need to pay their first month’s health plan premium (the report does not include effectuated enrollment).


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS to Shift Medicare Payment Basis

In a meeting with nearly two dozen leaders representing consumers, insurers, providers, and business leaders, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell yesterday announced measurable goals and a timeline to move the Medicare program, and the health care system at large, toward paying providers based on the quality, rather than the quantity of care they give patients.

HHS has set a goal of tying 30 percent of traditional, or fee-for-service, Medicare payments to quality or value through alternative payment models, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) or bundled payment arrangements by the end of 2016, and tying 50 percent of payments to these models by the end of 2018.  HHS also set a goal of tying 85 percent of all traditional Medicare payments to quality or value by 2016 and 90 percent by 2018 through programs such as the Hospital Value Based Purchasing and the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Programs.  This is the first time in the history of the Medicare program that HHS has set explicit goals for alternative payment models and value-based payments.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS Beefs Up Privacy on HealthCare.Gov after AP Disclosure

After the Associated Press (AP) reported that HealthCare.gov was unwittingly providing customer privacy information to third-party companies and individuals, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it was adding new layers of security to the site.

The privacy data could be viewed by third parties after health insurance consumers visited the Obamacare site and used the online calculator to get estimates for a policy. The “Window Shopping tool,” as HHS calls it, would collect information on zip code, income, age, and parental, pregnancy and smoking status and then create a page with that information on it. That page could be found and viewed by savvy outsiders.

“This URL is now encrypted and helps prevent third parties from viewing the data the consumer entered,” according to a post on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) blog over the weekend. The post added that “building and maintaining a website is an evolving process,” so CMS said it would continue to review and improve HealthCare.gov.

The blog entry was signed by Kevin Counihan, director and marketplace chief executive officer (CEO)


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Fired Workers Sue Both the Franchisee and McDonald’s Corp. for Discrimination

A group of 10 terminated McDonald’s employees in Virginia — one Hispanic and nine African-American — are suing both the local franchisee and the behemoth mother corporation for discrimination, claiming they were let go because they “didn’t fit the profile” for employees at their restaurants.

The legal action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virgina yesterday traces the “profile” standard to Michael Simon, owner of Soweva, a company that franchises the three Virginia McDonald’s where the firings took place.

In addition, the lawsuit claims that a supervisor called one of the fast-food outlets the “ghetto store” and that another supervisor claimed there were “too many black people” working in the stores.

The lawsuit, undertaken on behalf of the workers by the NAACP and a fast-foot-workers’ advocacy group called Fight, alleges that “to maximize its profit, McDonald’s Corporate has control over nearly every aspect of its restaurants’ operations,” making it just as culpable.

In his defense, franchise operator Simon said his company “has a strict policy of prohibiting any form of discrimination or harassment in hiring, termination or any other aspect of employment.”


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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CMS Failed to ‘Perform All Required Oversight Activities’ on HealthCare.Gov, OIG Finds

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday released results of its review of the 60 “Federal Marketplace contracts” for HealthCare.gov awarded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which it said “raised a number of concerns.”

The study questioned “the adequacy of CMS’s planning and procurement efforts” and charged CMS with making “contract decisions that may have limited the number of acceptable proposals.” Thus, the OIG concluded, “CMS selected contract types that placed the risk of cost increases for this work solely on the Government.”

The report noted:

When awarding the Federal Marketplace contracts, CMS did not always meet contracting requirements. For example, CMS did not develop an overarching acquisition strategy for the Federal Marketplace or perform all required oversight activities. Moreover, for a project of this size and importance, CMS missed opportunities to leverage all available acquisition planning tools and contracting approaches to identify and mitigate risks.

The Inspector General made five specific recommendations to HHS and CMS, one of which was to “limit or eliminate regulatory exceptions to acquisition planning requirements.” The OIG press release noted that “HHS and CMS concur with all of our recommendations.”


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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MSHA Final Rule to Help Prevent Miners from Being Crushed to Death

promixity-detection-system-for-mining

A continuous mining machine and miner.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has announced a final rule that will strengthen protections for miners on the working section of underground coal mines by reducing the potential for pinning, crushing or striking accidents.

Since 1984, there have been 35 deaths where miners have been pinned, crushed, or struck by continuous mining machines in underground coal mines. MSHA projects that the rule will prevent 49 injuries and 9 deaths over the next ten years.

The rule requires operators of underground coal mines to equip place-changing continuous mining machines with proximity detection systems, which use electronic sensors on both mining machines and miners to detect motion or the location of one object relative to another. Certain operational standards must be met. For example, the system must include audible and visual warnings and cause machines to stop before contacting a miner.

The rule takes effect March 16, 2015, and will be phased in over 8 to 36 months. Based on manufacturer information, nearly half of the continuous mining machines in operation — 425 of approximately 863 — are equipped with proximity detection systems. Most will meet the provisions of the final rule with only minor system changes, such as adding warning signals.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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