Category Archives: Uncategorized

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The Dangers of Working with Vibrating Tools

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Vibration White Finger (VWF) or “Dead Finger,” now known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), is a chronic, progressive disorder caused by regular and prolonged use of vibrating hand tools that can progress to loss of effective hand function and necrosis of the fingers. In its advanced stages, the obvious symptom is finger blanching (losing color). Other symptoms include numbness, pain, and tingling in the fingers, as well as a weakened grip.

It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of the estimated 2 million U.S. workers exposed to hand-arm vibration will develop HAVS. Some common industries and the tools associated with HAVS are listed below:

  • Agriculture & Forestry – Chainsaws
  • Automotive – Impact Wrenches, Riveting Guns
  • Construction – Jackhammers
  • Foundries – Chippers, Grinders
  • Metal Working – Buffers, Sanders
  • Mining – Jack-Leg Drills, Stoper Drills

The time between a worker’s first exposure to hand-arm vibration to the development of HAVS symptoms can range from a few months to several years. Prevention is critical because while the early stages of HAVS are usually reversible if vibration exposure is reduced or eliminated, treatment is usually ineffective after the fingers blanch. 

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Countertop Workers Face Silicosis Risk from Engineered Stone Countertops

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

Engineered stone countertops, a popular fixture in today’s homes, pose a health risk to workers who cut and finish them. The danger stems from the material the countertops are made from, processed quartz, which contains silica levels up to 90 percent. Silica is linked to a debilitating and potentially deadly lung disease known as silicosis, as well as lung cancer and kidney disease.

While the countertops do not pose a risk to consumers in their homes, they do pose a risk to the workers who cut and finish them before they are installed. When the countertops are cut, silica particles are released into the air, which when breathed in by the workers can start processes leading to silicosis. Manufacturers of the engineered stone countertops assert that worker hazards can be reduced through the use of protective respirators and equipment designed to trap silica dust. Despite this assertion, many safety precautions taken by employers are often inadequate.

The first documented case of silicosis among countertop workers in the United States was reported two years ago. In countries such as Israel and Spain, where engineered stone products gained their popularity, many more countertop workers have been diagnosed with silicosis and have had to undergo lung transplants. The danger of silicosis in the construction industry led OSHA to recently issue new rules requiring construction workers’ silica exposure to be reduced by 80 percent beginning on June 23, 2017.

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What I Wish I Had Known Earlier in My Workers’ Compensation Claim – Thoughts from a Former Client

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

What I Wish I Had Known Earlier in My Workers’ Compensation Claim – Thoughts from a Former Client

We frequently reach out to our clients for feedback on how to improve our services. Earlier this year, we received a very thoughtful email from one of our former clients and wanted to share his thoughts.

What I Wish I had Known Earlier

1.  Filing the workers’ compensation claim:  Employees need to know how to properly file a workers’ compensation claim. Also, there needs to be a list prepared for all employers and employees that sets out the steps both of them need to take. 

2.  Nurse Case Manager:  I wish I had better understood the nurse case manager’s role at the outset of the case. I wish I had known everything she was capable of doing, aside from just reporting to the adjuster.

3.  Emotional Toll:  The magnitude of emotional stress involved in going through a workers’ compensation claim was a surprise; was there an option for counseling? This is truly a life changing event. Counseling would have been beneficial to alleviate the stressfulness of the process and the overwhelming feelings of abandonment.  For example, the feelings of “I know I’m hurt but why can’t they see that” or “why don’t they care?”

4.  Communication:  The importance of discussing issues with an attorney as early as possible.

If you have been through a workers’ compensation claim, let us know if you have other items to add. 

Pregnant Workers Should Get Workers’ Compensation If They Have a Claim

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

A new law went into effect during 2015 in Nebraska that requires employers of 15 or more employees to accommodate pregnant workers on the job. This is a significant change that affects working women by expanding workplace protections for those who become pregnant.

Nebraska’s protections for pregnant employees go beyond even the standards for pregnancy discrimination under federal law. The new law also protects women with post-childbirth medical conditions and women who choose to breastfeed or pump.

This law means that pregnant women in Nebraska will be able stay on the job longer and will have an easier time returning to work.

This accommodation includes obtaining “equipment for sitting, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light-duty assignments, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off to recover from childbirth, or break time and appropriate facilities for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk.” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-1102 (11)

These changes outlaw discrimination against a pregnant woman with respect to hiring, advancement, discharge, training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. These protections extend to a pregnant employee before, during and after a pregnancy.

Unfortunately, pregnancy doesn’t mean that women can avoid work injuries, especially in female-dominated fields like nursing and human-services support. Sometimes employers and/or insurers will attempt to use the excuse that since an employee is going to be out because of pregnancy that they do not have to pay temporary disability benefits to an injured worker who is suffering from a work injury.

But when an occupational or work injury and a non-occupational injury, combine to cause disability, employers still have to pay those disability benefits. Nebraska’s new law on pregnancy doesn’t change that fact. If anything, smart and ethical employers will attempt to accommodate injured pregnant employees in legitimate light-duty jobs so they do not have to pay disability benefits.

In addition, when a pregnant employee is injured on the job and is receiving workers’ compensation benefits and later is ordered by her physician not to perform certain work activities or is in need of bed rest due to the pregnancy, an injured and pregnant employee’s workers’ compensation benefits cannot be reduced or suspended on account of the pregnancy in both Nebraska and Iowa.

However, not all employers and workers’ compensation insurance carriers understand or follow the law. If you are injured and not receiving workers’ compensation benefits because your employer says that they could accommodate your job but for you being pregnant, you need to call a firm that handles both discrimination and workers’ compensation law. You should also call an employment lawyer if you are pregnant and being forced to take unpaid leave rather than having your job duties modified or changed. 

Tyson Foods’ Injury Incidents Examined Through OSHA Reports

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

As I wrote in a previous blog post, OSHA has decided to make a 90-day regional emphasis on “high-hazard manufacturing industries” in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, which are three of the four states in what the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations calls Region 7.*

“The emphasis program focuses on manufacturing industries where injury and illness rates exceed the average for the private sector. Included are manufacturers of the following products: food, furniture, fabricated metal, nonmetallic mineral, machinery, and computer products as well as printing and related support activities,” according to the OSHA news release.

Sadly, this increased inspection effort may have been inspired by some injury incidents recently written about by in an article from the ScienceBlogs website “The Pump Handle: A Water Cooler for the Public Health Crowd” titled “Amputations about at Tyson Foods, OSHA records shed more light on industrial food production.”

Writer Celeste Monforton, who has master’s and doctorate degrees in public health, made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the federal OSHA regulation that “requires employers to report within 24 hours any work-related incident that results in an amputation or hospitalization,” according to her article. The request asked for data from Tyson Foods, which “has more than 400 facilities in 30 U.S. states, and it processes 35 million chickens, 400,000 hogs, and 128,000 cattle per week.”#

In a nine-month period, from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2015, Monforton discovered 34 reports by Tyson of amputations or hospitalizations.

“The hospitalizations included a worker at the company’s facility in Rogers, AR (Arkansas) who fell 32 feet off of a roof, and a worker in Holcomb, KS (Kansas) who broke his leg while learning to operate a forklift.”

She goes on to write that 17 of 34 incidents were amputations – in a 9-month period – not even over a whole year. The article has a tragic and sobering table that summarizes the amputations, and it is worth clicking to the article to take a look at the table because it includes the month, body part, equipment or tool in use, product (type of plant), city and state involved in each incident.

Here’s a summary of her list that focuses specifically on Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, where eight of the 17 amputations occurred.

There were four amputations in the Nebraska plants of Lexington (fingertip; and tips of middle and index fingers using band saws in the beef plant), Omaha (ring, index and pinky fingers using the skinner in the poultry plant) and Dakota City (thumb using the sprocket in the pork plant). There were three amputations in the Missouri plants of St. Joseph (both hands using the auger), Monnet (distal portion third finger using the impeller in the poultry plant), and Sedalia (middle finger to first knuckle on the cone line in the poultry plant). The Kansas amputation was in the Emporia beef plant, when the skinner was being used and the end and outside part of a thumb were amputated.

These incidents (and the Kansas forklift-training one mentioned above) may explain OSHA’s new regional emphasis, as Tyson’s meatpacking plants should definitely count as “high-hazard manufacturing industries,” in my opinion.

Though the reports are brutal and tragic, I hope that Monforton completes more FOIA requests to OSHA to track trends, because each of these injury incidents greatly affected someone and their loved ones, whether their lives were changed temporarily or permanently, such as the worker whose hands were amputated in Missouri.

Meanwhile, though I realize it doesn’t cover the same dates as Monforton’s article, Tyson recently released earnings of “record results” for the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, which ended on Jan. 2 of this year, according to the link above.

“‘Fiscal 2016 is off to a very strong start in what we expect to be another record year,’ said Donnie Smith, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods. ‘Solid execution across the entire team resulted in record earnings, record operating income, record margins and record cash flows. We captured $121 million in total synergies for the quarter, with $61 million incremental to fiscal first quarter 2015.

“‘Our on-going efforts to invest in and grow our Core 9 product lines are paying off as sales volume for the most recent four week period was up 4%. The Core 9 product lines represent our strongest brands, greatest pricing power and best category growth opportunities and are major contributors to volume and profitability in the retail channel,’ Smith said. The Core 9 is composed of nine retail product lines in the Tyson®, Jimmy Dean®, Hillshire Farm®, Ball Park®, State Fair® and Aidells® brands.”

Though unfortunately, the number of work-related injury incidents isn’t available for the first quarter above, it’s suspected that they’re not much different than any other three-month snapshot of all the Tyson plants. It is a certainty that you can draw your own conclusions about how Tyson values its workers, based on Monforton’s article. It’s worth noting that in a quarter where record profits were had for shareholders, it’s highly doubtful that it was an amputation-free quarter for all workers, based on past performance in Monforton’s article.

In conclusion, I wish the best for OSHA in its quest to focus on “high-hazard manufacturing industries.”

Here’s hoping that the resulting education efforts and inspections mean greater safety knowledge for workers and fewer life-changing incidents, like amputations, that adversely affect workers, their loved ones, and society as a whole.

*Note that Iowa is also in Region 7, but according to OSHA’s website, it’s one of the states that “operate their own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government workers.” Because Iowa has a state program, I believe that’s why it’s not targeted in this regional emphasis.

#Note that Monforton’s FOIA “does not include information from the states that run their own OSHA program, 10 of which have Tyson operations,” according to the article she wrote that is linked to above.

Daylight Savings: Suggestions to help workers adapt to the time change

Today’s post was shared by Work Org and Stress and comes from blogs.cdc.gov

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Spring forward Fall back.

We all know the saying to help us remember to adjust our clocks for the daylight savings time changes (this Sunday in case you are wondering). But, what can we do to help workers adjust to the effects of the time change? A few studies have examined these issues but many questions remain on this topic including the best strategies to cope with the time changes.

By moving the clocks ahead one hour in the Spring, we lose one hour which shifts work times and other scheduled events one hour earlier. This pushes most people to have a one hour earlier bedtime and wake up time. In the Fall, time moves back one hour. We gain one hour which shifts work times and other scheduled events one hour later thereby pushing most people to have a one hour later bedtime and wake up time.

It can take about one week for the body to adjust the new times for sleeping, eating, and activity (Harrision, 2013). Until they have adjusted, people can have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up at the right time. This can lead to sleep deprivation and reduction in performance, increasing the risk for mistakes including vehicle crashes. Workers can experience somewhat higher risks to both their health and safety after the time changes (Harrison, 2013). A study by Kirchberger and colleagues (2015) reported men and persons with heart disease may be at higher risk for a heart attack during the week after the time changes in the Spring and Fall.

The reason for these…

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New Testing Reveals Hidden Dangerous Chemicals in Popular Halloween Costumes and “Trick or Treat” Bags

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from workers-compensation.blogspot.com

Study Finds Costumes and Party Supplies Sold by Top Retailers Contain Hazardous Additives

(Ann Arbor, MI) — A study released today by the Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org project has found elevated levels of toxic chemicals in popular Halloween costumes, accessories and party supplies. The nonprofit Ecology Center tested 106 Halloween products for substances linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The products were purchased from top national retailers including CVS, Kroger, Party City, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens.

Media Resources:

“We found that seasonal products, like thousands of other products we have tested, are full of dangerous chemicals,” said Jeff Gearhart, HealthyStuff.org research director. “Poorly regulated toxic chemicals consistently show up in seasonal products. Hazardous chemicals in consumer products pose unnecessary and avoidable health hazards to children, consumers, communities, workers and our environment.”

HealthyStuff.org tested Halloween products for chemicals based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (vinyl/PVC plastic), phthalates, arsenic, and tin (organotins).

Some products contained multiple chemical hazards, including a Toddler Batman Muscle Costume whose belt contained 29% regulated phthalates, 340 ppm tin, and lead in the lining of the mask at 120…

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How It’s Going: Workers’ Compensation, Perspective and Resilience

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

We humans are made of strong stuff. We can adapt, change, address a new situation, do the right thing, and sometimes even admit we’re wrong.

Though it’s hard to admit it, some of the challenges and stresses of the workers’ compensation system are that the system is made up of humans who lack perspective, lose perspective or refuse to see others’ perspectives.

One of the important and impressive things about humans is that we continue to adapt and gain perspective in situations that make us uncomfortable, doing the right thing even when facing big problems and challenges.

In Adjuster Does Right from David DePaolo, this amazing blog post helped me to step back and gain perspective.

Do you do the right thing when it might not be popular or profitable?

In his blog post, DePaolo writes the following, encouraging people to realize that those humans involved in the system might not have all the information but will be making a decision anyway, and stubbornly dig in because their way is the right one for their “side.”

“It’s easy to denigrate and criticize ‘the insurance company’ because of the monolithic facade of the establishment, and the cold, dehumanizing character of the process.

“But behind that steel and glass are real human beings entrenched in conflict as soon as they walk through the doors to do their jobs. Every day the professional at the claims desk has decisions to make that affect, deeply, others,” DePaolo writes.

In this case, DePaolo celebrates the result as a success story, because “Adjuster X did the right thing. Not without considerable anxiety, stress and internal conflict …”

The “sides” are not necessarily evil, and the people taking the sides are generally good people who have friends and loved ones.

James Fallows wrote an article that is linked to at the end of the DePaolo story, How America Is Putting Itself Back Together. It has so many good thoughts and ideas in it, and I strongly encourage you to read it and think about how you are involved in whatever community, tribe, or cause outside of yourself in which you believe.

“What is true for this very hard-luck city prevails more generally: Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see,” Fallows writes.

For different people, “home” can mean different things. What is your community? Who are your people? Where do you belong, contribute, and make someone think and be challenged and/or feel good and be appreciated?

It doesn’t have to look the way your parents’ community looked – it can be online – uniting people in different states, or it can be via CB radios, to use a couple of examples that occur today.

Thinking about workers’ compensation makes me realize that the system can definitely be improved, but it does, generally speaking, work, as do a lot of other activities in American life, which Fallows demonstrates in his article in The Atlantic.

Sometimes people in workers’ compensation get so focused on their way or the highway – what Fallows likens to people on an Interstate who can only see the road ahead, because they’re driving on the ground.

But Fallows encourages people to get a different perspective – like he does – by flying low across the nation in a small plane. I think that idea can be applied to an individual’s situation, the workers’ compensation system, or a community, which was Fallows’ focus.

“I would love for more people to know how this country looks from above. I would love for America’s sense of itself to include more of what we’ve seen on the ground,” he writes.

There are smart, thoughtful people in every community. The workers’ compensation system is no exception. The quote below, though Fallon was referencing creativity in tech start-ups, applies to people who choose to be nice, make the best of hard and challenging situations, and strive to be kind.

“… Nearly everywhere we went we were surprised by evidence of a different flow: of people with first-rate talents and ambitions who decided that someplace other than the biggest cities offered the best overall opportunities. We saw and documented examples in South Carolina, and South Dakota, and Vermont, and the central valley of California, and central Oregon.” …

 “Where you wouldn’t expect, that is, except we have seen so much of this nearly every place we’ve gone,” Fallows writes.

What Fallows is describing but doesn’t specifically name is resilience – recovering, adapting, developing coping tools, and figuring out the new normal. It is not an easy thing, but it is an important thing.

It is possible to be content – and even happy, or at least satisfied – with your personal situation, while still taking part in fighting injustice and inequity.

One way of doing that is by helping others – even working with people with whom you don’t agree philosophically – but who you can work with to improve a system or achieve a goal, anyway.

That’s one of the motivations of the Kids’ Chance of Nebraska organization. It offers scholarships to college students whose parents have been affected by workplace injury or even death. It is a wonderful, powerful cause, and I look forward to many more scholarships helping children of injured workers continue and ultimately reach their educational goals.

Though there is a lot of divisiveness and taking sides in the nation right now, after reading DePaolo and Fallows, it is reassuring to think that just like a bunch of small fragmented communities showing economic resilience, maybe our small gestures like a bunch of people within a workers’ compensation system giving Kids’ Chance scholarships, can and do make a difference to the greater whole.

Yes, there is always room for improvement. But I would like to think that just like that adjuster who did the right thing and those who give back to their communities are helping, that maybe we, as a nation, are doing OK after all.