Category Archives: Workplace Injury

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Finding A Way Forward: How I Am Greeting The New Year With Optimism

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

I recently saw a quote that said “we are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are for forever”.   

During this holiday season, many of us will get together with our families and friends to celebrate our blessings but never expect that in the blink of an eye our lives can change dramatically. A very good friend of mine was celebrating Thanksgiving with her family when a pot of boiling water fell onto her and she suffered severe burns. After spending nine days in the Burn Center and in weeks of excruciating pain, she is living proof that there are no guarantees in life.  

A recent report by Fox News USA shows that unintentional shootings spike during the holidays and are more likely to occur than at any other time of the year due to a number of factors, including increased use of alcohol, holiday gifts of firearms, and children and teens being home from school with more free time. Many of us now rely on online shopping for our holiday gifts, which increases the amount of delivery vehicles on the road. Car crashes spike, as the December holiday season is one of the busiest travel times of the years. Factor in weather that does not always cooperate, and impaired drivers on the road as a result of holiday gatherings, and it is a recipe for disaster. Those who drive for a living are at an increased risk of injury or even death. 

Those who work in the retail industry are not immune from increased risk of injury either. Many of us won’t forget the Black Friday stampede in 2008 when a worker was trampled to death in a Long Island Walmart. In response to that tragedy, the company was fined, they agreed to adopt new crowd management techniques, and  the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for retailers. The stress of the holidays can cause depression, less sleep, and financial woes that can translate into violence. OSHA notes that workplace violence has remained among the top four causes of occupational death. 

But the promise of tomorrow brings optimism. As we embark on a brand new year, many of us will feel a sense of relief as 2016 was a year filled with turmoil. The presidential election was polarizing for many Americans. Friends became enemies and family members would not speak to one other. Many of us will look to the new year with a sense of a new beginning – a chance to have a fresh start, a renewal of sorts. Many of us will make resolutions to lose weight, to end a bad habit, to become a better parent, spouse or friend. Many will donate to charities. Despite our differences and shortcomings, Americans are among the most charitable nation in the world. According to Giving USA’s annual report in 2015, Americans gave an estimated $358 billion to charity the prior year. There are so many things we can do to improve our lives and the lives of those in our community and our nation. The list of possibilities is endless. For those of us who represent injured workers, we resolve to make workplaces safer and ensure that medical and indemnity benefits are available in the future. Wishing you all Peace, Love, and Good Health in the upcoming year.

 

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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Chemical Exposure in Chicken Plants

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

Several members of Congress have written to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell regarding the danger of the chemical PAA, which is used to sanitize chickens in poultry plants.

According to The Pump Handle blog written by occupational health expert Celeste Monforton, the increase in the use of PAA is linked to the Department of Agriculture’s “modernized inspection” system. Though meatpacking is well known for the prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries, chemical exposure is a less well-known, but similarly serious hazard, to meatpacking workers, which has been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The hazards of chemical exposure are not limited to meat-processing workers. Chemical exposure fatalities are too common in rural America. Recently, a worker on an industrial cleaning crew in Beatrice, Nebraska, was killed from inhaling industrial cleaning chemicals. In October, a resident of northeast Nebraska was killed after inhaling chemicals from a leak in anhydrous ammonia pipeline. That same month, 125 residents of Atchison, Kansas, sought treatment for inhalation of chlorine gas from an explosion at a distiller.

While chemical exposure can often result in sudden death, ongoing exposure to chemicals can also create injuries that may not be apparent for years after the exposure. Unfortunately, Nebraska limits the ability of workers to recover for such injuries.

The letter about the hazards of PAA was written to outgoing cabinet members. The new Trump administration is expected to have a less-aggressive approach toward regulating the workplace. Hopefully the new administration will take the threat posed by hazardous chemicals in the workplace seriously.

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The High Cost of Fat

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

We have reported regularly on the impact of obesity on workers’ compensation (see WFW October 2005 “Diabetes and Work Injuries” Alan B. King, M.D. and WFW Winter 2009 “The Rising Impact of Obesity on Workers’ Compensation” book review).

A recent study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, in September 2016 reported that obese and overweight workers are more likely to result in higher costs related to workers’ compensation claims, especially for major injuries.

In a study analyzing 2,300 workers in Louisiana, Dr. Edward Bernacki of the University of Texas—Austin found that workers’ compensation costs and outcomes for obese workers (defined as a Body Mass Index of 30 or higher) incurred higher costs related to their workers’ compensation claim. This study noted that after three years about 10% of claims for significant injuries were still open, meaning the worker had not yet returned to work. Obesity and overweight did not play a role in the delayed return to work. However, for workers with major injuries, overweight was associated with higher workers’ compensation costs. In the group with the higher Body Mass Index, costs averaged about $470,000 for obese workers, $270,000 for overweight workers compared to $180,000 for normal weight workers (with a Body Mass Index between 25 and 30). The study made adjustments for other factors including the high cost of spinal surgeries and injections and, after making the adjustment for these factors, obese or overweight workers with major injuries were twice as likely to incur costs of $100,000 or more. Significantly, Body Mass Index had no effect at all on costs for closed claims or less severe injuries.

Previous studies (including a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2015 linked obesity to a higher rate of workplace injuries and a longer time off. However, the cost effects were not studied until this recent assessment. The new results indicate obesity is a significant risk factor for higher costs in major workers’ compensation injuries.

One significant finding in the study was that more than three-fourths of the workers’ compensation claimants were overweight or obese. Further studies are planned. Previous studies include those from the National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) “How Obesity Increases the Risk of Disabling Workplace InjuriesEditor’s Note:  According to most studies, there is a strong correlation between Body Mass Index and injuries such as ankle fracture severity and increase risk of osteoarthritis. For workers’ compensation practitioners, one wonders whether these studies are a prelude to an assault on the “as is” doctrine. Each of us in our own practice can recognize some of the wide-ranging effects in costs of obesity, from special procedures for hospital treatment of obese patients such as open MRIs and more extensive surgical procedures to a reduced fuel economy in commercial vehicles due to fat drivers. Additionally, the cost of treatment for obese patients with work-related injuries increases the work-related injury potential to medical staff (lifting, transferring, etc.). Increasing admissions of severely obese patients leads to a corresponding increase in medical workplace injuries related to lifting and maneuvering obese patients. Workers’ compensation practitioners may see obesity as yet another “pre-existing condition” to surmount in future causation and extent of disability battles.

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Workers Risk Injury During Holiday Shopping Season

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

The day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday as it is known, is anticipated by millions of Americans as a fun holiday shopping tradition that marks the beginning of the Christmas season. But crowded stores and the hunt for bargains can create hazards for shoppers and retail workers. For example, in 2008, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death outside a store in New York City.

But leaving aside the extreme examples of hazards, the holiday shopping season poses many less-publicized risks to retail workers.

The first risk posed to holiday workers, especially on a day like Black Friday, is the additional risk of injuries on overnight shifts. The National Institutes of Health reported that the risk of injury on an overnight shift is 30 percent higher than during a day shift. That same report also quoted a British report that showed that work injuries increased exponentially for every hour worked in a shift after eight hours. This is a risk when employees work long hours over the Black Friday weekend and when employees, many who are working another job, come to their holiday jobs after they have already worked a full day. Finally, new and temporary employees, including many holiday workers, face a higher risk for injury.

Today marks the so-called Cyber Monday, when shoppers traditionally place online orders. Online shopping has increased the need for delivery drivers. Delivery driving can be a hazardous job, due to lifting and the risk of motor-vehicle accidents. The risk of delivery driving is compounded by the fact that many delivery drivers are misclassified as independent contractors, so they lack protections like workers’ compensation. One recent story from The Indpendent out of the U.K. revealed that contract delivery drivers for Amazon.com were paid less than the minimum wage and were forced to urinate and defecate in their vehicles to make their deliveries in a timely manner.

Holiday workers face all of these risks for pay that is generally low. Plus, if an injury from a temporary holiday job prevents a person from working their regular, full-time job, that employee faces difficult issues maintaining both employment and benefits with the main, full-time employer.

If there is anything positive about the coverage of Black Friday, it’s helpful that workplace violence among low-wage workers gets covered. Among the most vulnerable to violence are convenience store clerks working overnight shifts. The Indiana Department of Labor did a study that showed 32 convenience store clerks were killed on the job in 2010. Last summer, a clerk was shot at a northwest Lincoln Kwik Shop, here in Nebraska. That murder was covered as a crime story here in Lincoln. However, that murder and the murders like it all across the country should also be covered as workplace-safety stories.

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It’s Complicated: Volunteer First Responders Generally Covered for Workers’ Compensation, with Exceptions

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

On a recent Monday, an anhydrous ammonia pipeline leaked near Tekamah in rural northeast Nebraska, leading to one fatality. When such accidents in happen in rural Nebraska, the first responders are usually volunteers.

Nebraska has extended workers’ compensation protections to volunteer firefighters and EMTs by statute. Volunteer first responders also have the same coverage for mental-mental injuries that other first responders have. Even though volunteer firefighters are not usually paid a wage, they can collect disability benefits based on the higher amount of two-thirds their regular wage or the state maximum benefit rate. In 2016, the maximum workers’ compensation rate was $785 per week.

Unfortunately, Nebraska’s volunteer first responders also share the same exclusions from workers’ compensation as professional first responders. Foremost among these exclusions is the exclusion for occupational diseases that Brody Ockander wrote about here last month. In short, if an occupational disease manifests itself after a volunteer first responder retires for reasons not related to the occupational disease, the worker or the worker’s survivors could be excluded from receiving workers’ compensation indemnity benefits.

This exclusion is troublesome because of the regularity that volunteer first responders have to respond to chemical explosions and leaks. These chemicals cause symptoms that might not manifest for years. Last week, in addition to the chemical leak in Tekamah, Nebraska, there was a chemical spill at a grain processing plant in rural Atchison, Kansas, that led to 125 people being treated for chemical inhalation. Nebraska has had fertilizer plant explosions in 2012 and in 2014.

Fertilizer plant explosions are not uncommon in rural America. In 2013, a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, killed 12 first responders and wounded 200 in a town of 2,800. In addition to physical injuries, such devastation can also lead to mental injuries, which is in part why Nebraska expanded so-called “mental-mental” benefits to first responders. However, mental injuries like chemical exposure injuries may have delayed symptoms. I would encourage the Nebraska Legislature to amend court decisions on occupational diseases that would exclude the injuries of volunteer first responders.

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Keep Ag Worker Safety in Mind this Harvest Season

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

As harvest kicks off on the Great Plains, please take the time to be safe and make sure you understand the safety policies of your business, whether you’re a worker, a supervisor, or the employer.

The information and resources below are a sometimes-stark reminder of the need for safety all year when it comes to agricultural jobs, especially at harvest, when long hours and the urgency of the time available all affect a person’s decision-making abilities.

First, here’s a summary of a news release from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation that was the result of an elevator supervisor’s death in a soybean bin in March of this year. Sympathies go to the “41-year-old elevator superintendent’s” loved ones. This person’s death is especially tragic because Cooperative Producers Inc. has been cited seven times since 2011 for grain handling safety violations. This most recent violation resulted in a proposed fine of $411,540 and also earned the Hastings, Nebraska-based company a spot in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

In this most recent incident, the worker was with two others in a soybean bin, and he “suffocated when his lifeline tangled in an unguarded and rotating auger,” according to the news release.

“OSHA investigators determined three workers, including the elevator superintendent, had been standing over the unguarded auger using a pole in an attempt to dislodge soybean debris in a grain bin that contained more than 50,000 bushels of soybeans sloped 12 to 20 feet up its walls.

“During its investigation, the agency found CPI failed to:

  • Disconnect a subfloor auger before allowing workers to enter.
  • Test atmospheric conditions in grain bins before allowing workers to enter.
  • Implement procedures to prevent sudden machine start-up or unintentional operation, a process known as lockout/tagout.
  • Install adequate machine guarding to avoid contact with moving parts.”

The Nebraska State Patrol on Twitter at @NEStatePatrol recently shared a news release that focused on being even more careful and aware of other vehicles than usual, which was the other motivation for today’s blog post.

Harvest is really ramping up just in time for the days to get shorter and machinery operators to be traveling to and from the fields at hard-to-see hours, especially dawn, dusk and at night. In addition, with the school year starting recently, more inexperienced drivers are driving with school permits on rural roads and might not be able to react as quickly as other drivers would anticipate.

“Combines, grain carts, tractors, and other agricultural implements typically travel at slower speeds,” according to the patrol’s news release. “Due to their dimensions and loads, operator visibility is often reduced. Motorists are reminded to be aware and utilize caution when approaching, following or passing farm vehicles.

“‘Harvest time means tall crops and often limited visibility at rural intersections,’” said Colonel Brad Rice, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol in the news release. “‘Motorists should also be aware of the possibility of wildlife moving around due to the increased activity in the fields.’”

Here are some of the firm’s previous blog posts with additional resources about agricultural jobs and workers’ compensation, grain-handling safety, and harvest.

Please take the time during harvest, and all of the time, to know and follow safety policies and procedures in agricultural jobs. If you’re an employer or manager, it is essential that workers are trained in and implement safety efforts, regardless of the hustle and bustle of the season, harvest or otherwise.

Make sure to contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer if you or a loved one has questions about a work-related incident or injury.

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In Complicated Times, Police Who Risk Their Lives Still Need Support

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

Last week was a very bad one for police officers across the country, starting with the separate police shooting of two unarmed men. These shootings – days apart in different parts of the country – sparked widespread outrage and protests throughout the country. 

While the investigation continues into the circumstances surrounding these civilian shootings, video evidence suggests the outrage over these shootings appears to be justified. The week ended with the assassination of five police officers in Dallas who were providing protection to citizens engaged in a peaceful protest over the shootings of the unarmed men. The gunman indicated he had killed the police officers in retaliation for the shooting deaths. This was the worst loss of life for the police department since September 11, 2001.  Additionally, seven police officers were injured in the attack.

These horrific events highlight the difficult job that police face every day. While not all police officers are perfect (in fact, who amongst us is?), most don’t begin their shifts with the mindset that they are going to kill a civilian. Most see their role as keeping the peace and protecting citizens. They do, however, wonder many times whether they will make it through their shift safely and return home to their loved ones.    Unfortunately, they are not always immune to death and injury.   

As an attorney who has represented many law enforcement officers injured on the job, I know the majority of them receive medical treatment and may have a period of convalescence, but then are able to return to work. However, some sustain serious and career-ending injuries. Most police officers in New York City and Long Island are likely a member of a Civil Service Retirement System. If so, and they become permanently disabled from performing their specific job duties, they may be eligible for a life-long disability pension.

There are many pension systems in the state, all with different applications, rules, procedures, and guidelines. Each disability pension has its own statute of limitations and guidelines for eligibility. There are different pensions available, ranging from one-third to three-quarters. Just because you were injured on the job does not mean you are automatically entitled to the three-quarter pension, which would enable you to receive 75% of your previous year’s earnings. 

Although not always relevant, how police officers are injured on the job can impact whether they are entitled to a three-quarter disability pension. Additionally, just because they were injured while working does not automatically mean they are entitled to a three-quarter disability pension. Factors that get taken into account are issue of causation, medical evidence from the officer’s own doctor, and the retirement system’s medical board. It is not always an easy process for our law enforcement personnel to receive reasonable retirement benefits, but it should be. Day in and day out, they protect the citizens of our cities and our states, putting their own lives at risk simply because they are dressed in blue. 

There is a huge spotlight this week on police, and rightfully so, as there is so much mistrust and anger regarding the recent events. There needs to be an honest, open dialogue where those aggrieved are given the opportunity to be heard without fear of reprisal, just as the police department needs to be given the opportunity to have investigations completed before a rush to judgment. While the majority of police officers are honest and hardworking, those who fail to uphold their oath should be punished.

Police officers are sworn to protect and serve; they run toward trouble when we run away from it. They patrol neighborhoods that are dangerous, riddled with crime, where we are taught to avoid them. They put their lives on the line every day, knowing they might never return to their families. Yes, this has been a very tough week. Let’s hope that future discussions help bridge the gap between our police and the citizens they are sworn to protect.

 

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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Understanding The Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

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

Most of us have heard the frightening statistics regarding the recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx.  As of this date, 12 people have died and more than 120 additional cases have been reported.   But what exactly is this mysterious malady affecting so many at one time and what are its causes?  

Legionnaires’ disease is a common name for a type of pneumonia caused by breathing in water mist containing the bacteria. It was named after a 1976 outbreak in Philadelphia during an American Legion convention that killed more than 30 people and sickened almost 200 more. Most of us rarely hear about this disease unless it is part of a large outbreak, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, anywhere from 8,000-18,000 people are hospitalized each year in the U.S. as a result of Legionnaires’.  The current outbreak in the Bronx seems to point to the building’s cooling towers that are used as part of their air conditioning, ventilation, and heating systems, but the bacteria can be found in almost any warm water system or device that disperses water including humidifiers, spas and whirlpools, and dental water lines. The disease is not contagious and can only be caused by breathing in the bacteria- laden vapor. 

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) has put out a fact sheet for workers and unions. Workers performing routine maintenance on or in cooling towers and other water systems may need to wear respiratory protection. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the employer to determine hazards and provide training programs if the use of a protective device is required. Additionally, there are recommendations regarding assessment of work sites for potential Legionnaires’ disease. Cooling towers should be regularly maintained and cleaned with the use of chlorine and unused water lines should be frequently flushed.

In this recent Bronx outbreak, the New York City Health Commissioner issued an order to all owners of buildings with cooling towers to disinfect all of them within 14 days of receiving the order and keep records of the inspection and disinfection. Those workers with the task of cleaning and decontaminating the towers are advised to wear protective respirators as well as rubber gloves, goggles, and protective clothing. 

Every worker is entitled to a safe work place. According to NYCOSH, certain groups of workers are at increased risk of exposure to Legionnaires’ disease, including those who maintain, clean, decontaminate, or work in close proximity to water systems and system components such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers, humidifiers, potable water heaters and holding tanks and pipes that may contain stagnant warm water.

Workers should be aware of Legionnaires’ disease symptoms, which include fever, headache, joint aches, and fatigue, that can deteriorate into difficulty breathing, chills, chest pain, and gastrointestinal symptoms. As Legionnaires’ is a type of pneumonia, it can be diagnosed with a chest x-ray and lab tests to confirm the bacteria. While most in the Bronx outbreak who died had a compromised immune system, early treatment with antibiotics can lessen the symptoms and improve the changes of recovery. 

  

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.