Category Archives: Workplace Safety

Non-combat veterans could be at risk for traumatic brain injuries

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

The link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and blasts from improvised explosive devices (IED) in veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been well-documented.  However new research has has shown that even veterans and active service members who have not faced combat may be at increased risk for TBI.

A study by the Center for New American Security showed increased risks of TBI for soldiers who trained using heavy weapons including shoulder mounted anti-tank weapons. The study recommended improved developing new helmets to improve protections against blasts.

TBI can impact hearing as well as speech, mental processing and mood. Our firm does not handle veteran’s benefits claims, but we recommend veterans who trained with heavy weapons to contact such a firm. Our firm would be happy to recommend firms to any veterans who suspect they have a TBI or any other service connected disability.

But TBI is not solely a military issue. Workers in construction and manufacturing can also be exposed to noise and other factors causing TBI. I would hope that improvements in safety equipment protecting soldiers from TBI could be adapted for civilian use.

Study: Work Injuries Could Increase Risk of Losing Job

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

“Compared to colleagues reporting no injuries, workers who were hurt were more than twice as likely to be fired in the next six months. … After one year, 30 percent of workers had been injured at work and about a quarter were no longer employed at that job after 18 months.”

Can you guess specifics about the quote above, or at least start with figuring out which industry the quote is talking about?

The answer may surprise you (or maybe not, if you or a loved one have worked in this industry): it’s results that “used data from a study done by the Work, Family and Health Network involving direct care workers from 30 nursing homes across New England,” according to the study’s lead author. Cassandra Okechukwu, the lead author, offered that the study’s “original goal was to examine workplace policies meant to improve workers’ health, safety, and wellbeing.”

I am glad that Okechukwu and her team followed the data where it led, even though that wasn’t the original intent of the study. I am also glad that Madeline Kennedy wrote about the study’s results at this link via Reuters Health.

“The results also indicate that federal and state-level regulations, which are supposed to protect workers from being fired after injuries and to give workers compensation and sufficient time to recover from an injury, may not always be followed,” Kennedy wrote.

The study included 1,331 nursing home workers who completed interviews at six-month intervals and reported injuries and job changes for the previous six months in each interview, according to Kennedy. “Nine in 10 of the participants were women, and more than two thirds were certified nursing assistants.”

“Workers who had been injured multiple times were also twice as likely to quit their jobs in the next six months as colleagues with no injuries, the study found. … Compared with people who were not injured, injured workers were 30 percent more likely to no longer be in their jobs within six months of the injury, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

“People who were injured more than once were more likely to choose to leave their jobs than people with no injuries, while people injured only once were more likely to be fired.”

Why workers are being fired is a question that needs to be examined in another study, according to Okechukwu. I would add that additional research always needs to be done, and I hope someone addresses this issue, as I think it is very important to know about for injured workers and those of us who work with and care for them.

Another researcher Kennedy quoted in the Reuters article who wasn’t involved in the study was Peter Smith, from the Institute for Work and Health at the University of Toronto.

Smith suggested that “workers may be fired because their employers feel they can no longer perform the job duties, or due to worries that they will be injured again,” or that workers elect to leave their jobs because they’re scared of being hurt.

“‘Work is not supposed to lead to injury,’ Smith said, and employers should give workers resources to protect their health and earnings. ‘Measures must be put in place to ensure that employers do not fire or discipline workers because they have had a work-related injury,’ he said.” 

If you or a loved one have questions about a work-related injury or suspect you’ve been fired because of an injury at work, please speak with an experienced lawyer.

As Construction Jobs Increase, So Do Work Deaths

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

More work-related falls and fatalities have gone hand-in-hand with the rebounding construction jobs in the economy. The data in a recent journal showed a positive correlation with fall injuries and population density and construction activity. The full article, from a data report by the Center for Construction Research and Training, can be found here (PDF link).

While the article indicates the amount of construction industry jobs still have not reached pre-recession levels, the industry as a whole is rebounding. With that increase in construction activity is a coinciding increase in falls—and even deaths. As the article points out, “fall deaths in construction are more prevalent than in other major industries.”

Interestingly, according to the data, roofers, older workers, Hispanic workers, foreign-born workers, and self-employed workers had a higher risk of fatal falls than the average among all construction workers. 

Further safety efforts (and reinforcement) are necessary in the construction industry.  The base level nature of the job, however, means that some work injuries will occur. Workers’ compensation law helps protect those workers are their families.

A More Dangerous And Demanding Future For Retail Employees?

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

Walmart announced last week that it started a pilot program where store employees will deliver packages from stores on their way home from work. If this practice is adopted company wide and adopted by the retail industry as a whole, it will change the nature of retail employment.

As written about on this blog before, delivery and warehousing jobs tend to have more physical injures than traditional retail clerk jobs. If employee delivery becomes a regular part of retail employment, then retail jobs should become more hazardous. One positive part about Walmart using employees to make deliveries would be the fact that those employees should be covered by workers’ compensation if they are injured while delivering packages. Fed Ex has faced legal challenges for misclassifying their delivery drivers as independent contractors. Uber, who has also faced challenges on how they classify their drivers, also has a package delivery service.

Delivery jobs tend to be more physically demanding than retail clerk jobs and can also subject employees to DOT requirements. If package delivery becomes an expected part of retail employment, retail jobs will have more physical and occupational requirements. This could mean in the future that retail jobs may not be a fallback option for workers from other physically demanding occupations who become unable to do their old jobs because of injuries or health problems.

The rise of online shopping has greatly reduced the number of stores of traditional retailers. This decline in so-called “big box” stores lead to a parallel reduction in retail employment. Jamelle Bouie pointed out in Slate that this collapse in retail employment has harmed women, people of color and urbanites who tend to work in retail. Bouie points out, I think correctly, that retail employees tend to be disrespected in part because of gender and race. Bouie also states the decline in retail employment has received much less attention than declines in employment in other sectors like manufacturing and mining that tend to employ more white males.

In contrast to traditional retail workers, delivery drivers tend to be paid better. UPS delivery drivers seem to enjoy a certain level of prestige, respect and even a mystique within the workforce. (11) Maybe some of that respect will rub-off on retail workers if they become delivery employees.  On the flip slide, competition from largely non-unionized and lower-paid retail workers may cut into pay and benefits that delivery drivers and their unions have fought for over the years.

The Road Ahead: Adjusting To Life After An Injury

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

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 27 years, I see first hand what an injury can do to workers and their families. A number of years ago I represented an injured electrician, who as a result of an overextension injury sustained on the job, ended up having multiple surgeries. Almost immediately, this once athletic, high wage earner with a beautiful family and comfortable lifestyle saw an abrupt end to the life he knew.

My client faced a debilitating injury. He was no longer able to travel, his personal relationships suffered, and his once strong physique withered away. His financial situation was dire and he was unable to afford his home. Beside the extreme physical impairment, he ended up being treated for major depression. Both the insurance carrier’s medical providers, as well as the claimant’s treating doctors in this particular case, agreed that the claimant was totally disabled or incapable of performing any meaningful work activity – a standard not easy to meet.

Many of those injured on the job may not be able to return to their prior employment. Yet, according to the law, that does not mean they are totally disabled from any employment. If they are able to perform any work activity at all then they may be considered partially disabled. The amount of weekly payments an injured person receives and the length of time an injured worker receives these benefits is dependent upon a number of factors including degree of disability and loss of earning capacity. A partial disability can be considered mild, moderate, or marked.  These degrees are further broken down into when an injury is deemed permanent to a percentage loss of earning capacity. In some cases the difference of one percent loss of earning capacity can mean the difference of a full year of additional benefits. As you can imagine, much of my practice is consumed with litigation regarding the degree of disability and the loss of earning capacity.

The road for those who are partially disabled is not an easy one. Despite the Workers’ Compensation Board’s determination that an injured person has an ability to perform some work activity, it does not always translate into being able to obtain employment. In the case of serious injuries resulting in extensive lost time, the employer may have had to fill the position or the employer may not be able to accommodate the physical limitations. This puts injured workers in a position of having to look for alternate employment that they may not be trained for. The Board recommends a number of resources available to those seeking assistance, including one-stop career centers, as well as participating in vocational rehabilitation programs and continuing education such as SUNY Educational Opportunity centers adult career and continuing education. For more information go to www.wcb.ny.gov/labor-market-attachment

Many workers who are unable to obtain employment because of their injuries apply for Social Security Disability benefits. The standard for Social Security disability is different than Workers’ Compensation and relies more on the age and ability of the injured person to be retrained and to obtain relevant future employment. Social Security Disability benefits are payable for any illness or injury and do not have to be work related. All medical conditions are considered by the federal judge when making a determination as to eligibility, including physical or emotional impairments.

While an injury on the job can be life altering, there are resources available. You may never be able to return to your pre-injury status, but knowing your options allows you the ability to have some control over your future.

 

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.

Protecting Yourself At Work: What To Do If There Is An Active Shooter

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

As an attorney who has been practicing before the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board representing injured workers for more than 27 years, I am drawn to organizations that assist workers. That’s why I am a member of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH), whose mission notes that every worker has the human right to a safe and healthy workplace and that workplaces injuries are often preventable. As a member, I receive many emails with various announcements regarding workplace safety, as well as statistics of injuries and deaths that occur on the job, many of which are preventable.

It is a sign of the times that on May 23, 2017, I received an email about educating workers on how to best respond in case of an active shooter. NYCOSH, along with the New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC), was sponsoring the event that was meant to educate participants on what actions to take to prevent and prepare for potential incidents, including what to do when an active shooter enters the workplace. Many of the cases that make front page news are mass shootings or those in the name of terrorism. Few of us can forget the Islamic extremist, who along with his wife fatally shot 14 of his co-workers at a Christmas party. Many of us go about our workday never anticipating a disgruntled employee, a client harboring a grudge, a terrorist, or a coworker intent on robbery, who may come to our workplaces with murder on their minds. When NYCOSH set out to sponsor their recent event trying to deal with a growing problem in this country, there was no way of knowing that workplace shootings would be in the national headlines three times in just two weeks. 

Last week we were shocked and appalled by the images of Republican Senators and their colleagues being shot at by a deranged person not happy with current politics. While many of our elected officials have heavy security when they are at work in the Capital’s office buildings, these members were on a ballfield early in the morning practicing for a charity baseball game taking place the next day. Despite the close proximity of the Capitol Police there to protect Steve Scalise, the current United States House of Representatives Majority Whip, five people were shot. Thankfully the sole fatality was the shooter himself.

In Orlando in early June, a disgruntled ex-employee systematically shot and killed five coworkers and then himself. A week later, a UPS employee in San Francisco walked into a UPS facility and killed three coworkers before killing himself.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2015 there were 354 homicides by shooting at the workplace. There were 307 in 2014, 322 in 2013, 381 in 2012, and 365 in 2011. Based on these statistics, it is clear that this is not an issue going away anytime soon. These are scary times and we all need to prepare for this new normal. 

While I was not able to attend the NYCOSH event, I did go to the website for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which offered these suggestions for responding when an active shooter is in your area.

  • Evacuate if you can.
  • Run as fast as you can and leave everything behind.
  • Just get out if possible.
  • If there is no accessible escape route, then hide somewhere and lock and blockade the door and silence any noise such as a radio or cell phone.
  • Lastly, if your life is in imminent danger, take action and try to incapacitate the shooter.
  • Throw things.
  • Use anything as a weapon.
  • Don’t go down without a fight.

It’s unfortunate that we even have to talk about protecting ourselves from active shooters. But in today’s day and age, we can never be too careful. As a mother, I worry for the safety of my children when they walk out the door as I’m sure many of you do as well. As a lawyer, I worry about the safety of workers every day on the job who are continually dealing with workplace injuries that could have been prevented.

 

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.

Nail Salon Workers: Know Your Rights

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

The nail salon industry in New York State provides thousands of jobs. However, many nail salon employees endure unsafe working conditions. They are exposed to many chemicals; sometimes without proper ventilation. Because of this, New York State has enacted a series of nail salon reforms to protect workers’ from injuries or illnesses.

These new reforms include safety requirements that dictate that the owner of a salon must give employees protective equipment at no cost. Specifically, workers have the right to use a respirator when buffing or filing nails and using chemicals. Furthermore, workers’ have the right to use protective gloves and eye equipment. Employers must also comply with certain ventilation requirements. These changes will ensure that nail salon employees are protected. For more information regarding nail salon requirements you can visit: https://www.ny.gov/programs/nail-salon-safety-what-you-need-know.

If you get sick (in lawyer-speak “develop occupational illness”), because you are exposed to chemicals at work, you may be entitled wage replacement benefits and medical coverage through the New York State workers’ compensation system.

There is a time limit for filing your claims. The limit is the later of:

  1. two (2) years from the date of your disability and
  2. two (2) years from when you knew or should have known the disease was due to your exposure at work.

You do not need to have lost time from work to have a valid claim for workers’ compensation benefits.

Phillips 66 Refinery Fined Nearly $325,000 for Workplace Violations

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

Phillips 66 Refinery has been fined $324,000 for failing to correct serious workplace safety and health violations. A Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) inspection of the Ferndale, WA facility found the violations put refinery workers at great risk in case of a fire or explosion.

L&I cited the refinery for three instances of not correcting violations that it was previously cited for in September and October of 2014. These are considered “failure to abate” serious violations.

The 2014 citations are under appeal to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. State law requires employers to correct hazards even if the violations are under appeal, unless a “stay of abatement” is granted to allow a delay in making the corrections. The company’s stay of abatement request was denied by the board.

Two of the violations, each with a penalty of $108,000, involve the refinery’s firefighting and fire suppression systems. Phillips did not inspect or follow recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices in respect to the firefighting water tank or the buried firefighting water distribution piping. Inspection and maintenance of these systems is required by state regulation and the National Fire Protection Association. The company also failed to address the potential loss of firefighting water, which puts employees and emergency responders at risk of serious injuries, disability or death if the system were to fail during a fire or explosion.

L&I cited Phillips for a third “failure to abate” serious violation for not consulting established, peer-reviewed industry references before writing a policy related to opening chemical piping. This violation also comes with a $108,000 penalty.

The company’s hazard assessment allowed workers to be potentially exposed to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas, and explosive flammable hydrocarbon vapors at much higher concentrations than considered safe. Employers in high-hazard chemical industries are expected to make sure that their internal policies and guidelines reflect current good engineering practices across those industries and that they meet local regulations, which may be stricter than national regulations.

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.

 

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