Category Archives: Workplace Safety

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Exoskeletons and the Workplace

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

Due to Japan’s rapidly aging demographics, they are using exoskeletons to make older workers more productive in heavy-labor jobs.

“’We expect that exoskeletons, or power-assist suits, will be widely used in people’s lives in 15 years,’ said Panasonic spokesperson Mio Yamanaka, who is based in Osaka, Japan, as quoted by Tech Review.”

“The suit, which weighs just over 13 pounds and attaches to the back, thighs, and feet, allows its wearer to carry an additional 33 pounds,” according to the Business Insider article. Industries that have tested the suit in Japan include warehouse handlers and forestry workers. Another suit in testing that’s larger “could help workers carry up to 220 pounds.”

I see some upsides and downsides to this trend:

Positives:

  1. This preserves manual-labor jobs. The human brain is still more sophisticated than a computer when it comes to having the skills to perform many tasks. Robotically enhanced humans might preserve human labor.
  2. It’s potentially easier to accommodate injured and disabled employees. There might be fewer workers’ compensation payments, but employers may find it harder to fire injured workers.  Not having an exoskeleton available for injured or disabled employees could be considered discrimination.
  3. Less discrimination against older workers would occur when physical limitations are decreased.

Negatives:

  1. Using an exoskeleton opens the potential of abuse by employers. The machines may push production workers to perform their duties even faster. Employees may still have injuries or maybe even develop new work-related injuries from using exoskeletons.
  2. Are exoskeletons really safe? Who is responsible if they cause injury?

In summary, if you or a loved one have questions about current workplace trends as they apply to injured workers, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

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Tile and Granite Company Fined – Silica Dust Exposure

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

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone of Vancouver, Wash. has been fined $261,000 for failing to protect workers from exposure to silica dust and other health hazards associated with stone slab grinding. 

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for multiple instances of “failure to abate” serious violations after a follow-up inspection found that the employer had not corrected violations that it was cited for in November 2014.

An L&I inspection found that employees were exposed to silica quartz dust at more than three (3.4) times the permissible limit during stone slab grinding operations. Over time, breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis (a disabling lung disease), as well as lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis and airway diseases.

The employer was cited for seven “failure to abate” serious violations. These are violations that the company had been previously cited for but had not corrected, including:

  • Failing to use feasible controls to reduce employee exposure to silica dust — $40,500.

  • Not developing a written respiratory protection program to protect employees from inhaling silica dust — $40,500.

  • Failing to provide fit testing for workers required to wear full-face respirators — $40,500.

  • Not providing effective training for employees who wear full-face respirators —$40,500.

  • Not providing noise and hearing protection training to affected employees — $22,500.

  • Not providing annual hearing tests for workers exposed to excess noise — $22,500.

  • Failing to develop, implement and maintain a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program for employees using a variety of chemicals — $40,500.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone was also cited for two “failure to abate” general violations, each with a penalty of $2,700. These violations were for not providing medical evaluations for employees who wear full-face respirators, and for not creating a list of chemicals used in the workplace.

In addition, L&I cited the company for two serious violations that were not associated with the 2014 inspection. One of the citations was for not ensuring that employees who wear full-face respirators don’t have facial hair. Respirators may not seal properly on workers with beards or other facial hair. The company was also cited for not providing appropriate respirators for employees grinding stone slabs. Each violation has a penalty of $4,050.

Serious violations are cited for hazards where there’s a possibility of serious injury or death. General violations are the lowest-level citation, involving safety issues where there is no possibility of serious injury or death.

The employer has 15 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.

Photo credit: The Worlds of David Darling

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Improving Construction Safety – A Path Reducing Unnecessary Injuries And Deaths

Partner Chris Latham Supports Construction Site Safety At City Hall Rally

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

As an attorney who has represented thousands of injured workers in my career, I have seen first hand some of the serious and deadly injuries that occur in the construction trade. Last year I wrote a blog on the construction trades and discussed a report issued by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) claiming that while the construction industry employs less than 4 percent of New York’s workers, it claims nearly one-fifth of work-related deaths – making it the deadliest industry in the state. The report went on to mention that half of the fatalities were immigrant workers who did not have the protection of unions. Unfortunately, the past year has not seen any major improvements.    Injuries at construction sites are up 78 percent this year alone and there have been 16 deaths, mostly immigrant, non-union workers.  

The New York Times published an investigation on construction fatalities and noted that an increase in construction and the urgency to finish projects quickly has resulted in shortcuts and inadequate training for workers. Many of these workers have not been properly instructed or lack adequate supervision and are more likely to be injured or killed. The unions maintain that if these job sites were staffed with union trades, there would be a noticeable decrease in injuries and death. Those who are new to the union, called apprentices, work under the supervision of those who are senior and more experienced. While union projects may cost more than non-union jobs, unions point to the increase in accidents and deaths as a direct result of non-union contractors putting profits ahead of safety. 

If you work in downtown Manhattan you probably saw or heard about the Rally for Workplace Safety held on December 10. Thousands of construction workers united in a massive protest outside City Hall calling for safer work sites, better working conditions for construction workers, and union protection.  So many different trades were on site, all with the purpose of calling attention to unsafe workplace issues. My brother in law, a steam fitter who was present during the rally, noted that there was a procession with 17 coffins that represented the 16 who have already died, and one for the next unlucky worker. Before the protest, a hard hat was placed at the site of where each one of these workers perished.

Fortunately, there are some positive steps being taken. Councilman Rory I. Lancman of Queens has introduced a bill to compel the Buildings Department to report safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Additionally, Councilman Corey Johnson of Manhattan, on his website noted that he is supporting legislation that would require workers at buildings taller than 10 stories to pass mandatory apprentice training overseen by unions.  

While construction trades will never be 100 percent safe, they most definitely can be safer.  These protests and legislation are a small but positive step in trying to decrease the likelihood of unnecessary injuries and death.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

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Partner Chris Latham Supports Construction Site Safety At City Hall Rally

Today’s post comes from guest author Victor Pasternack, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Partner Chris Latham recently joined thousands of building trades workers, Councilman Corey Johnson, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer outside City Hall to protest the deaths of workers on construction sites in 2015. 14 of the 16 workers who died on construction sites in 2015 were non-union workers.
 
The rally coincided with the announcement of a new bill, sponsored by Brewer and Johnson, that would obligate all workers on buildings taller than 10 stories to go through state-approved apprenticeships.
 
In her remarks, Brewer said “We have to raise safety standards and put in place measures that will ensure every worker on any sized building has safety equipment, proper training and proper quality supervision,” she said. “We have to set the bar higher.”
 
For more information about how you can help ensure that both union and non-union construction workers earn middle class wages, receive fair benefits, are properly trained and work on safe worksites go to http://www.middleclassstrong.com/.

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We’re Having A Worldwide Heat Wave: How You Can Stay Safe

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

A few weeks ago, I read about a crisis occurring in Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, a week-long heatwave killed more than 1,200 people and in India, the heat killed close to 2,200. Tens of thousands more were treated at area hospitals for heatstroke. It appears that the combination of prolonged temperatures above 100 degrees combined with power outages had a devastating impact on people.

As I read the news while sitting in the comfort of my air conditioned home, I thought briefly about the fact that we are all so lucky that events such as this rarely happen in this country. We have the resources and the alternatives available if we lose power or if we don’t have air conditioning during a heat wave. The City regularly opens up cooling centers or keeps City pools open longer so that residents are able to combat some of the more severe heat of the day.  However, not all of us are lucky enough to work inside where it is cool or engage in work activity that is not strenuous. What about those who work outside, or do heavy labor without the benefit of air conditioning? How do they protect themselves from the extreme heat that may be a part of their everyday work?

I was surprised to find out that each year, hundreds of people die due to heat-related illnesses and thousands more become ill. Outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to heat stress.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor Blog, thousands of employees become sick each year and many die from working in the heat. In 2012, there were 31 heat-related worker deaths and 4,120 heat-related worker illnesses. Labor-intensive activities in hot weather can raise body temperatures beyond the level that normally can be cooled by sweating. Heat illness initially may manifest as heat rash or heat cramps, but can quickly escalate to heat stroke if precautions aren’t taken.

I am always surprised when I see firefighters on days with extreme heat fighting fires or see construction workers, road workers, or landscapers outside in the day-time heat engaged in strenuous physical. I often wonder how they are able to work without collapsing. The answer is that many of these workers become used to the extreme heat and are acclimated to it. Heat illness disproportionately affects those who have are not used to working in such extreme temperatures, such as new or temporary workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers. It recommends providing workers with water, rest, and shade, and for them to wear light colored clothing and a hat if possible. OSHA advises that new workers or workers returning from vacation should be exposed to the heat gradually so their bodies have a chance to adapt. However, even the best precautions sometimes cannot prevent heat-related illness.   According to WebMD, signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, headaches, excessive sweating, extreme thirst, and hot skin. If you have signs of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat, rest, and drink plenty of water. Severe heat illness can result in heat stroke. Symptoms of heat stroke include convulsions, confusion, shortness of breath, decreased sweating, and rapid heart rate, and can be fatal, so please be aware and seek immediate medical attention if you have any of these symptoms.      

For those who work outside in the boiling heat, heat illness can be prevented. However it can also kill so please be careful and remember – water, rest, and shade. 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.   

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1,00 Walmart, J.C. Penney, And The Children’s Place Employees Dead After Building Collapse

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

On April 24, 2013, an eight-story factory, known as The Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh came tumbling down killing 1,100 workers and leaving 2,500 injured. This number includes workers and their children that were in the onsite nursery at the time the building collapsed. The most disturbing part is that the employers knew that the building was unsafe before it collapsed. In fact, the day before the accident, the building was evacuated due to structural cracks that could be seen throughout the building. The next day workers were ordered to return to work as usual.

In a complaint filed July 21, 2015 family members of some of the employees who were killed claim that the building’s owner failed to comply with the building codes that could have prevented the deaths of so many innocent workers. The plaintiffs in the suit are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for negligence and wrongful death.

The plaintiffs claim that the reason that the retailers could supply “garments at such a low cost was because the subcontractors often operated substandard and unsafe factories which put garment workers at significant risk of severe personal injury or death.” A few of the U.S. based employers that were located in this building are Wal-mart, The Children’s Place and J.C. Penney.

Read more here: http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/07/24/retailers-sued-over-2013-building-collapse.htm

Original Article posted on WorkersCompensation.com.

 

 

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Texas Trench Collapse Results in $400k OSHA Fine and 16 Safety Violations

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

On July 22, 2015, Hassell Construction Co. was cited by OSHA for 16 safety violations (including 6 egregious willful violations) and given a whopping $423,900 fine. Hassell Construction Co. is a construction company based in Richmond, Texas with about 150 employees that construct water and sewer lines around Houston, Texas. The employer was given 15 business days to comply with each citation, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Houston South area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the OSHA Health Review Commission.

These citations were given after a trench that was 8 feet below the ground collapsed in February crushing an unsuspecting employee. Luckily, the worker was dug out by his co-workers using their bare hands. The minute the worker was freed from the trench, the trench collapsed a second time.

According to OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas, John Hermanson, “Hassell Construction knew its trenches weren’t safe, but still put its workers in harm’s way.” Due to the fact that trench cave-ins such as the one in February are completely preventable OSHA has also placed the construction company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program which often inspects employers and mandates follow-up inspections to ensure that they are complying with the law. In North Carolina, a similar incident allowed the employee to sue the employer directly and overcome the exclusivity provision of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. Woodson v. Rowland. 373 S.E.2d 674 (1988).

Read about the citations here: https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/HassellConstruction_1031127_0722_15.pdf

Original Article 7/22/15 posted on WorkersCompensation.com.

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Workers’ Compensation Basics: What is a Workers’ Compensation Accident?

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

This blog post is the third in a series that examines the basics of workers’ compensation.

To be a covered workers’ compensation claim, an employee’s personal injury must be caused by an accident or occupational disease, but what does that mean?

The Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act defines accident as: “an unexpected or unforeseen injury happening suddenly and violently, with or without human fault, and producing at the time objective symptoms of an injury. The claimant shall have a burden of proof to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that such unexpected or unforeseen injury was in fact caused by the employment. There shall be no presumption from the mere occurrence of such unexpected or unforeseen injury that the injury was in fact caused by the employment. …” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-151 (2)

Of course, many workers’ compensation injuries are not as simple or as clear as a broken arm that was the result of a fall. Some injuries are caused by repetitive motion or cumulative trauma on the job. In those cases, the injuries are still considered workers’ compensation “accidents” under the definition above, even though the injuries did not truly occur “suddenly and violently” as required by the statute. 

As for an occupational disease, the Workers’ Compensation Act defines it as “a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment and shall exclude all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed.” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-151 (3) Examples to think about would be mesothelioma for asbestos workers or black lung for coal miners.

In sum, pretty much any injury or illness that an employee receives from work can fit into the definition of “accident” under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act. However, proving the injury is much more difficult and may require the help of a lawyer.

Read the previous blog posts in the series by clicking on these links: Workers’ Compensation Basics: Are You an Employee? and What is Workers’ Compensation?