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Kettle Falls, WA Cedar Mill Fined More Than $150,000 for Safety Violations

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Kettle Falls cedar mill fined more than $150,000 for safety violations in connection with worker injury

The Columbia Cedar mill in Kettle Falls has been fined $151,800 for safety violations after a worker was seriously hurt while trying to clear bark from a hopper.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for one willful violation and 28 serious violations of workplace safety regulations.

The willful violation involved multiple instances of employees working in close proximity to exposed and unguarded chain sprockets on chain conveyors, a hazard that can cause permanent disabling injuries. The one willful violation carries a penalty of $52,000.

L&I initiated the inspection after learning that in June 2014 an employee had suffered a serious injury and was hospitalized after becoming entangled in a rotating shaft meant to move bark in the back of a hopper. The investigation found the equipment had no guarding installed to protect employees.

Along with the willful citation, the employer was cited for several serious violations related to machine/equipment guarding, and for not ensuring “lock-out/tag-out” procedures were used to prevent machinery from starting up or moving during service or maintenance by workers.

There were several additional serious violations involving fall/overhead hazards, hand-held tools, personal protective equipment and forklift training.

The employer was also cited for failing to report the hospitalization of an injured worker. By law, all employers are required to report to L&I within eight hours any time a worker is hospitalized or dies due to work-related causes.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal the citation, and has notified L&I that it plans on doing so. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

 

Flotation tanks help relieve stress, pain and tension

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

 

In 1954 while working at the National Institute of Mental Health, Neuroscientist John C. Lilly developed a sensory-deprivation flotation tank in order to discover what would happen to the brain if it was deprived of as much stimulation as possible. According to Susan Jacobson, writer for the Orlando Sentinel, “The process works like this: A client enters a soundproof private room, disrobes, showers and lies supine in 150 gallons of skin-temperature water.” The tank water is mixed with 1,000 pounds of Epson salts, which keep the patient afloat.

Lilly’s main concern with the flotation tanks was that the brain might shut down. What he found was that rather than shutting off, the brain enters a dream-like state of mind, which relieves anxiety, improves creativity, and helps ease symptoms from many medical conditions.

Some patients struggling with stress, insomnia, and physical pain have been able to find relief from their symptoms through flotation exercises. The freedom and focus patients get inside the tank creates a deep relaxation that has attracted clients ranging from athletes to business professionals. These tanks are no miracle cure, but to those who do get relief it may seem that way.

 

Original article about flotation by Susan Jacobson in the Orlando Sentinel

Reposted in News & Observer 1/26/15 – see the full article here:

http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/01/26/4505676/using-flotation-tanks-to-wash.html

Refusing Medicaid Expansion Could Hurt Wisconsin Financially

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Check out this brief article about the financial impact for states that are refusing Medicaid expansion.  The summary:

“In other words, the non-expansion states really are shooting themselves in the foot. They’re enrolling fewer people, but paying more to do it. They actually prefer spending more money if the alternative is spending less but helping their own poor with medical coverage.”

Wisconsin is a non-expansion state.  Ouch.  That hurts.

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ABLE Act Set to Help Save for Child’s Disability-related Expenses

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

This legislation matters to us because some clients may have a child or children who qualify for an ABLE account.

“The ABLE Act aims to provide families of a severely disabled child with some peace of mind by allowing them to save for their child’s long-term disability expenses in the same way that families of able bodied children can currently save for college through popular 529 investment plans,” according to information on North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr’s website (link is below).

There are a lot of details available on the internet about the act, and some of it is conflicting, as “passage of legislation is a result of a series of compromises,” as noted in the National Down Syndrome Society’s (NDSS) excellent resource article that is linked to below.

One of those limitations is that a person must have a qualified disability diagnosed before turning 26 to have an ABLE account, according to Sen. Burr’s website.

Here are some more links with information that I thought would be most helpful to those who are looking for more details to see if the act’s passage can help a loved one.

This link has detailed information about the act, including its text and history, from Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/647 H.R.647 – 113th Congress (2013-2014): ABLE Act of 2014 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress

Sen. Burr was a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Burr’s link has information that includes details on who is eligible for an ABLE account and what are considered “qualified disability expenses.” http://www.burr.senate.gov/public/_files/ABLE%20Act%20Summary%20–%20NH%2011-19.pdf

“ABLE accounts would be a savings vehicle for disability-related expenses that will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurances, the Medicaid program, the supplemental security income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources,” according to the site above.

Via the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS): Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act http://www.ndss.org/Advocacy/Legislative-Agenda/Creating-an-Economic-Future-for-Individuals-with-Down-Syndrome/Achieving-a-Better-of-Life-Experience-ABLE-Act/

I thought the section of “10 Things You Must Know” was most helpful, with more details about the who, what, when, where and why of the accounts.

Via the National Association of Injured and Disabled Workers (NAIDW):  Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act https://www.naidw.org/groups/viewdiscussion/1770-achieving-a-better-life-experience-able-act?groupid=144

Via disabilityscoop: The Premier Source for Developmental Disability News: Obama Signs ABLE Act http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2014/12/22/obama-signs-able-act/19935/

“People with disabilities may be able to start opening ABLE accounts as soon as 2015. However, some hurdles remain. While the new law alters federal rules to allow for ABLE accounts, each state must now put regulations in place — much as they have done for other types of 529 plans — so that financial institutions can make the new offering available,” according to the site above.

As is evident from the links above, more groundwork needs to be done to implement the law, so I would encourage those with questions to learn more about the accounts by contacting an accountant or a lawyer who is an expert in life care and special needs.

So if you, a loved one, and/or a friend, are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, but are worried about losing necessary current benefits for your disabled child because of limitations in what you can save or spend, an ABLE account may be just the thing for your situation.

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Pacific Topsoils Fined $199,000 for Safety Violations Related to Death of 19-year-old

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited an Everett company for multiple safety violations related to the death of a worker last July. Nineteen-year-old Bradley Hogue was killed by a rotating auger while working inside the hopper of a bark-blower truck at a Duvall home.

Pacific Topsoils has been cited for two willful and 14 serious violations, with penalties totaling $199,000. The employer has also been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.

“The loss of this young man’s life is a tragedy that could have been prevented if the employer had followed basic safety and health rules that protect workers from moving machinery,” said L&I Assistant Director Anne Soiza. “We hope this citation and the penalties serve as a deterrent so that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Following the July incident that killed Hogue, L&I issued a bark and mulch-blower hazard alert to warn others in the landscaping business of the danger of working in hoppers while the equipment is running.

The L&I investigation found that Pacific Topsoils’ workers were regularly assigned to clear jams in the bark-blower truck hoppers while the hoppers were operating. This exposed them to three very hazardous elements: a floor conveyor belt, two rotating-screw conveyors (angled augers) and a rotating stir rod. Exposure to any of these parts of the equipment could potentially result in entanglement, causing severe crushing injuries or death.

Working in and around this type of extremely hazardous equipment requires “lockout/tagout” safety procedures to prevent machinery from starting up or moving during service or maintenance by workers.

The employer was cited for two willful violations. The first was issued for not ensuring lockout/tagout procedures were regularly used; it carries a penalty of $56,000. The second willful violation was issued for not training the employees in the proper use of those critical procedures; it carries a $52,000 penalty.

Additionally, working in the hopper of bark-blower trucks exposed workers to “confined space” hazards. Confined spaces, like hoppers, are areas large enough to accommodate a worker, but aren’t designed for continuous employee occupancy and have limited ways to enter or exit.

When a confined space has one or more hazardous characteristics, such as moving machinery or a potential for engulfment that may harm workers, it’s considered a “permit-required” confined space. That means employers must control access to the area and use a permit system to prevent unauthorized entry. Anyone working in or around a permit-required confined space must be trained and there must be safety measures and rescue procedures in place.

Twelve of the serious violations cited were for failure to implement safe work practices when entering a permit-required confined space. Two other serious violations were cited for not having an effective accident prevention program and for failure to document lockout/tagout procedures. Each of these violations carries a $6,500 penalty.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413. 

How Companies Like Walmart Are Fighting to Keep Workplace Injuries Secret

Today’s post was shared by Mother Jones and comes from www.motherjones.com

Andrew Francis Wallace/ZUMA

Nearly four years ago, while lifting pallets of blankets during an overnight stocking shift at Walmart, Barb Gertz began to notice a dull pain in her arms. She kept on lifting and stocking, but by the time her lunch break rolled around she could no longer raise her arms. Her doctor told her she had tendinitis in her biceps, and that it was most likely caused by her job. Walmart disagreed. The retailer contested Gertz’s workplace-injury claim—and won.

If Gertz had worked in a factory, she could have bolstered her case with evidence from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s national database of manufacturing workplace injuries. But no such database exists for retail workers like Gertz. A new regulation that OSHA is scheduled to finalize this year would change that. OSHA wants to create a public database of workplace injury and illness data from all industries, not just manufacturing. This would help workers, the government, researchers, and journalists identify companies with safety problems. But the trade groups that represent some of America’s biggest chains—including Walmart, Target, and McDonald’s—are fighting back hard.

The National Retail Federation—a group that represents Walmart, McDonald’s, and The Container Store—spent $2.4 million lobbying on this measure and other issues between January and September of last year. In a letter to OSHA last March, the group complained that the rule would require…

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Coach K’s struggle with chronic pain

Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski has struggled with chronic back pain

Today’s post comes from guest author Hayes Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

If you are a fan of college basketball, you probably know the accomplishments of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has led Duke University’s men’s basketball program for 35 years, including 4 national championships. What you might not know is that Coach K struggled with chronic back pain that culminated in a personal crisis twenty years ago, and a recent news article by Barry Jones for the News & Observer tells the story.

Coach K had back surgery for a ruptured disk in October of 1994 and was so eager to return to work that he didn’t take the necessary time to recover and he returned to work too soon. As his wife, Mickie, recounted, “Getting well was worse for him than being sick because he felt he had deserted his men.” She even had to give him an ultimatum: skip practice and see the doctor or don’t come home. In fact, his struggle got so bad that he decided to resign. Luckily, the athletic director convinced Coach K to take a leave of absence instead. “One of the things we’ve learned is the emotional toll that chronic pain takes. It just completely changes everything,” said Mickie.

Chronic pain can be devastating, physically and emotionally, and if it can take down Mike Krzyzewski and his family, imagine what it can do to the average working person. Employers, physicians and the injured employee should follow his eventual lead: listen to your body and get proper rest; don’t return to work sooner than you should; and don’t try to be superman.

CRPS : Systemic Injury?

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

This blog previously discussed the legal issues related to workers suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).  Under Wisconsin law, there is a vast difference (in effect and value) for an injury to a worker’s “body as a whole” (spine, head) versus a limb injury.  CRPS can fall into either category–making it an extremely difficult issue in litigation.

A recent California case provided an interesting case study.  While this case involved the use of AMA guides-which Wisconsin does not use–the medical discussion is interesting.  Most notably, a section of the AMA guides indicated that “the pathology in CRPS is currently believed to occur in the central nervous system.”  A nervous system condition certainly looks like a systemic issue–a “body as a whole” condition.  

If CRPS is viewed in that light in Wisconsin, it would open to the door to loss of earning capacity claims involving a CRPS diagnosis.