Category Archives: Workplace Safety

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.

 

Photo credit: RVWithTito via Foter.com / CC BY

What Happens If I Get Hurt at My Second Job?

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

An estimated 7 million Americans work at least two jobs. As the holidays approach, many people will take on holiday jobs as well. Getting hurt at a second job or a holiday job can also create problems at your full-time or regular job. This post will help you navigate some of those issues:

  1. What benefits are you entitled to when you are hurt at a second or holiday job?Your benefits are limited by the wages you are receiving at your second job. You might be able to increase this amount with tips or other perks, but you cannot be paid for wage loss from your first job. If you do have permanent disability, that will be paid based off of a 40-hour week even if you worked part time.

    Receipt of workers’ compensation benefits assumes that you are an actual employee and not an independent contractor. For most relatively low-wage part-time work, this is a fair assumption. But since I wrote my holiday job post back in 2013, there has been the emergence of ride-hailing companies like Uber and other sharing-economy companies that have blurred the lines between employee and independent contractor. If you get hurt working for one of these companies, you should contact an attorney, as the distinction between an employee and independent contractor is very fact specific.

  2. How does a work injury at a second job affect your benefits at your regular job?

     

    Health insurance

    Assuming your other job’s workers’ compensation insurance company picks up your medical benefits, your health insurance from your regular job would not be affected. But in a disputed case, you may have to use health insurance from your regular job to pay for your workers’ compensation injury at your second job. In that case, you should list workers’ compensation from the company where you were hurt as the primary insurance and your private health insurance as your secondary insurance. Also be aware that if you settle your workers’ compensation claim, you may have to pay back your private health insurance. If you go to trial and win an award of medical benefits, your medical providers should refund the private health insurance and reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses. In a disputed case, you should contact an attorney not only to get benefits but also to health navigate reimbursement.

    Short-term and long-term disability

    Larger employers will often have short-term and long-term disability policies to help employees make up for lost income. These are a mixed bag. Some won’t let you collect benefits for work injuries, some may allow you to double collect workers’ compensation and disability, while others may require you reduce benefits. These policies often have repayment policies if a workers’ compensation case is settled as well. It is helpful to have a lawyer to help you with this process as well.

  3. How does a work injury at a second job affect your employment at your regular job? 
    Assuming your injury requires you to miss time from work, you can claim the Family and Medical Leave Act, assuming your employer has 50 employees, you have worked there for a year, and you have worked there for at least 1,250 hours over the last year. Assuming your employer has 15 employees, your employer would be required to make some reasonable accommodations for your injury under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You should reach out to a lawyer if either employer requires you to return to work without restrictions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated in final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 that policies that force employee to return to work without restrictions are unlawful. Ironically, if you are hurt at your second job, that employer is probably more likely to return you to work at light duty so that they can avoid or reduce what you are owed in temporary benefits. The new ADA regulations were intended in part to end how work-caused and non-work-caused disabilities are treated.

Union-Backed Group Pushes for Better Security at Wal-Mart

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

Recently, a Wal-Mart employee in Norfolk, Nebraska, was cut on the wrist by an intoxicated customer at 2:45 a.m. Unfortunately, these types of incidents are all too common at Wal-Marts, which is why one group is taking action.

The UFCW-backed group, Making Change at Wal-Mart, is pushing for increased security at Wal-Mart in the wake of an investigation by Businessweek that on average, one Wal-Mart a day is hit by a violent crime. The issue of crime at Wal-Mart is a safety issue for employees as well as shoppers.

Wal-Mart’s crime rate is six times higher than its nearest competitor, Target. Security experts attribute this in part to the fact that Wal-Mart stores have less staffing than Target stores, and that Target spends more on security. Experts also attribute Wal-Mart’s higher crime rate to the fact that it stays open 24 hours a day. The recent injury to the Wal-Mart employee in Norfolk, Nebraska, highlights the risk of overnight retail work.

Beech Grove, Indiana, Mayor Dennis Buckley became so fed up with police calls to the Wal-Mart in his town that he had Wal-Mart declared a public nuisance and fined Wal-Mart $2,500 for every police call. Mayor Buckley’s actions underscore the role that local government can play in ensuring the safety and security of retail employees. Convenience-store clerks are also vulnerable to violent crime on the job. Cities like Irving, Texas, and Milwaukee have passed city ordinances mandating security for convenience-store clerks. Both Omaha and Lincoln have city elections coming in a few months, so voters and groups supporting workers should press the candidates on the issue of retail-worker safety.

States, who traditionally oversee workers’ compensation, should consider using their 10th -amendment police powers to protect retail workers. For example, the Indiana Department of Labor did a study documenting violence against convenience-store clerks. Finally, injuries to retail workers through violent crime are covered by workers’ compensation. State workers’ compensation systems need to remain viable so unscrupulous retailers are not able to shift the costs of violent crime against their employees onto taxpayers.

Injured As A Result of 9/11? The World Trade Center Accidental Disability Deadline Is Approaching

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

I recently traveled to Virginia with most of my immediate family to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. While he is not in the best physical shape, he was clearly touched that we all came to wish him well as he celebrated this milestone birthday. As an added bonus, we also got to visit with my grandmother, Mary Walsh, who will celebrate her 109th birthday in August. 

My dad was a New York City firefighter for many years. Unfortunately, quite a few of his current health issues were caused by his exposure to smoke while battling fires during the worst years – the 1970s and 1980s – the City of New York has seen in terms of firefighting calls. Along with the smoke inhalation, years of carrying heavy packs, rescuing people and sustaining burns, broken bones, and other injuries have wreaked havoc on his body. While he saw more than his share of death and destruction, it pales in comparison to the losses the City sustained on September 11, 2001, when 411 emergency responders, including 343 firefighters, lost their lives. Even more distressing is that according to statistics, more than 850 additional first responders have died as a result of 9/11 related illness since that day. Just two weeks ago in fact, retired firefighter Robert Newman from Patchogue, Long Island, died from cancer as a result of breathing in toxins at the World Trade Center.

Many of these first responders initially retired without realizing the extent of their illnesses, and that they were entitled to compensation for their injuries. While Workers’ Compensation benefits are not available to uniformed employees of the FDNY or NYPD who participated in the rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations, they are still eligible for certain benefits.

In 2005, the World Trade Center (WTC) Disability Law took effect in New York State. This law establishes a presumption that certain disabilities for those who participated in the rescue, recovery, and cleanup at the World Trade Center and other specified sites would entitle them to accidental disability retirement benefits subject to certain criteria including when, where, and for how long they worked at a WTC site. Subsequent amendments expanded the list of individuals eligible, extended the filing deadline, and added qualifying conditions.

The bill allows many police officers and firefighters who retired with non-WTC accidental disabilities to have their retirement reclassified as an accidental disability related to the WTC disaster. Death benefit legislation enacted in 2006 provides an accidental death benefit to certain city and state employees within this same eligibility group. If approved, World Trade Center accidental disability retirement will become effective as of the date of reclassification and not retroactive to the date of retirement.  

If you are disabled, you should file an Application for World Trade Center Accidental Disability

Presumption. If you have not already done so, you must file this Notice on or before September 11, 2018. In order to preserve your right to file at some time in the future if you are presently not disabled, you will also need to file an Application for World Trade Center Notice on or before September 11, 2018.  While you do not need an attorney to represent you, it may be in your best interest to seek the advice of a professional as there are certain restrictions, deadlines, various forms, and qualifying conditions that could make filing the application difficult. 

The after effects of 9/11 continue to take their toll even after all these years, with no immediate end in sight.  We are grateful that there is at least some small consolation for our first responders who should at least not have to be worried about financial issues for themselves and their families. 

 

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.

Welders Exposed To Increased Risk Of Parkinson’s Even If Manganese Within Legal Limits

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

Welders have an increased risk of Parkinson’s even if manganese exposure is within legal limits according to a recent article in the on-line journal Neurology, which is the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Welders who did flux core arc welding in confined spaces were particularly vulnerable to Parkinson’s according to the study. Workers in Nebraska who would attempt to get compensation for manganese exposure would face problems if the onset of symptoms happened after an employee stopped working. A court case in Nebraska held that an employee who didn’t experience symptoms of an occupational disease until after he retired was not entitled to be compensated because he wasn’t earning wages when the injury manifested. Welders and others who are exposed to manganese on a regular basis should recognize the early symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors, difficulty sleeping, constipation and loss of smell and report these symptoms to their doctors and employers as soon as possible so they can be treated under workers compensation and receive workers compensation disability benefits.

The study comes on the heel of a final flurry of OSHA rule making at the Obama administration. In May 2016 OSHA finally adopted a silica exposure rule for workers exposed to sand particles which can cause lung problems. Earlier this month OSHA lowered exposure thresholds for berrylium which is another pulmonary hazard, particularly for construction workers.

The example of beryiluim could explain why exposure to manganese levels at supposedly safe levels can lead to occupational disease. Those supposedly safe levels of exposure may not actually be safe. Another explanation about why supposedly safe levels of manganese lead to Parkinson’s could be found in the practices of the coal industry. Howard Berkes of NPR and Ken Ward Jr., author of the excellent Coal Tattoo blog for the Charleston (WV.) Gazette Mail teamed up to report on how coal companies would fudge coal dust level testing to make it appear that miners were exposed to much lower levels of coal dust than they were actually exposed.

OSHA’s rules could also be reversed by Congress under the Congressional Review Act. In 2001, the OSHA ergonomics rule that would have reduced musculo-skeletal injuries was reversed under this law.

Cutting Corners Costs Lives: Non-Union Work Sites Twice As Dangerous As Union Sites

This large inflatable rat is a common sight at protests of non-union worksites in New York City.

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

As an attorney who practices in the metropolitan area, I often find myself traveling into New York City. I am amazed at the amount of construction that I see; the cityscape is changing and evolving rapidly. This construction boom means more business, a steady paycheck for workers, and more money for the city and state. Unfortunately, with the rise in construction also comes a rise in safety violations, injuries, and fatalities.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) recently issued a report called Deadly Skyline regarding construction fatalities in New York State. A summary of their findings notes that from 2006 through the end of 2015, 464 construction workers died while on the job, with falls as the leading cause of death. When a fatality occurred, safety violations were inherent in more than 90 percent of the sites inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The report pointed out that non-union work sites had twice the safety violations of union sites, and in 2015, 74 percent of the fatalities occurred on non-union projects with the majority of the fatalities involving Latinos.       

It is painfully obvious that shortcuts and cost-saving measures result in injury and death. Many employers use misclassification as a means to save money. Misclassification occurs when an employee is labeled as an “independent contractor” so that a business owner doesn’t need to pay Workers’ Compensation insurance, Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment taxes. Some even resort to paying employees off the books as well in an effort to save money. This may not seem troublesome until you realize that this is a one-sided deal that really only benefits the employer. According to the NYCOSH report, misclassification of workers allows an employer to skirt the safe workplace requirement as OSHA does not cover independent contractors.

Employers must provide Workers’ Compensation insurance for their employees, and typically must notify their Workers’ Comp carrier as to the number of employees they have and the type of work they do. A risk analysis is performed and then employers are assigned a premium to pay in order to cover their workers in case of injuries. If injuries occur, premiums may be increased accordingly. Obviously employers in high-risk businesses must pay more for their premiums than those with employees involved in low-risk jobs. As injuries on misclassified workers do not add to an employer’s bottom line, there is less incentive to provide safety measures if it cuts into profits.

To make construction sites safe, NYCOSH recommends adequate education and training as well as legislation to punish those whose willful negligence causes a death. They also recommend passage of the NYS Elevator Safety bill that requires the licensing of persons engaged in the design, construction, operation, inspection, maintenance, alteration, and repair of elevators. It would also preserve Section 240 of the New York Labor Law, commonly referred to as the “scaffold law,” which governs the use of scaffolding and other devices for the use of employees. Weakening the Scaffold Law would shift safety responsibility from owners and general contractors who control the site, to workers who do not control the site and are in a subordinate position.

It is a true tragedy when someone is maimed or killed in an accident that could have been prevented. Not every employer engages in these tactics, and most workplaces are generally safe spaces for workers. However, even one death is too many. 

 

 

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.

Reversing OSHA Rules Will Undercut Workplace Safety

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

President Trump recently signed a Congressional resolution revoking an Obama administration OSHA rule that required employers to retain records of work injuries for five and that prohibited retaliation against workers for reporting injuries. The revoked OSHA rule would have also limited drug testing of employees who reported injuries.

Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project and a former OSHA official criticized the action because limiting the amount of time an employer must retain records about injuries because it doesn’t provide enough information to identify recurring safety issues.

At least in Nebraska, employers are required to file First Reports of Injury with the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court. The information contained in those reports serves a similar function to OSHA logs and would allow workers, unions, attorneys and or regulators to identify recurring safety problems. Those reports are also public records. I recently testified against an insurance industry supported bill in the Nebraska legislature that would have made those reports confidential records.

The recently revoked OSHA rule also would have prohibited retaliation against employees who report OSHA violations. Nebraska already has anti-retaliation laws that protect employees who claim workers’ compensation benefits that would cover many cases where an employer would have to record an injury for OSHA. My opinion is that the OSHA General Duty clause which states that employers have a duty to provide a workplace free of recognizable hazards provides additional anti-retaliation protections to Nebraska employees through our state whistleblower statute. But the revocation of the OSHA anti-retaliation rule may weaken those protections.

The OSHA record keeping/anti-retaliation rule was revoked through the Congressional Review Act. You can read more about that law works here. Congress and President Trump have also revoked an executive order that would have prevented employers who violated fair employment laws from obtaining federal contracts. You can read more about that rule here.

The Safety Hazard Right Under Your Wheels

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

The collapse of the Interstate Highway-35W bridge over the Mississippi River killed 13 people and highlighted the safety hazards related to poor infrastructure. But most drivers face a less dramatic, but no less dangerous, hazard:

Potholes.

According to www.pothole.info, nearly 1/3 of the 33,000 annual truck and auto fatalities are related to poor road conditions. At least 27 percent of the major roads in the United States have been rated to be in poor condition. Though potholes are regarded as a problem – with good reason – in cold-weather states like Nebraska and Iowa, the worst road conditions in the country are in the warm-weather areas like the Bay Area, southern California, and Tucson, Arizona.

Bumpy roads combined with poor suspension can even lead to back injuries. This is especially true for over-the-road-truck drivers who also face health problems from lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and poor diet due to the demands of trucking. Drivers for Crete Carrier Corporation, Shaffer Trucking, Werner and K&B Transportation usually must litigate their workers’ compensation claims in Nebraska. Fortunately, Nebraska would deem a back injury from driving over a pothole to be compensable, even if it were combined with a pre-existing condition. Other states have stricter causation standards that could preclude a driver from collecting benefits for such an injury.

Truckers who, according to one poll, supported President Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton 75 percent to 25 percent, may have some relief from rough road conditions coming. President Trump has announced that he plans to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, and he has appointed a task force that includes high-level advisers and his influential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Some observers in the trucking industry have raised concerns that the Trump infrastructure plan could lead to more private and toll roads; however, everyone will get some benefit if road conditions improve within the United States.

Another forgotten piece of infrastructure is trucking parking, which I will address in an upcoming post.