22
Aug 2016
By

Toxic Exposure at Rhode Island Worksites

Employees deserve to have a safe work environment. This means they should be able to go to work and feel confident they will not be exposed to anything that could make them sick. Unfortunately, many employees find themselves forced to work in environments where they are breathing in dangerous levels of chemicals, risking chemical burns or vision problems due to chemical exposure, or where they are exposed to chemicals that will absorb through the skin. poison-1314907

Toxic exposure at work can cause a wide range of serious health problems, including respiratory issues like lung cancer, COPD, asbestosis, mesothelioma or black lung disease. Toxic exposure could also cause various types of cancer, blindness, burns and rashes, and a host of other conditions. In some cases, the chemical exposure is fatal.

Because of the serious consequences associated with exposure to toxins in the workplace, employers need to do everything possible to prevent workers from coming into contact with dangerous materials. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules provide insufficient protection for workers and many employers do not make an effort to go beyond minimum compliance rules. This means workers get sick. If an illness is work-related, affected employees should be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Toxic Exposure a Significant Workplace Risk

One reason toxic exposure is a significant risk in workplaces is because OSHA rules on chemicals are very outdated. OSHA sets permissible exposure limits (PELs) for a very limited number of chemicals, but its PEL rules were set all the way back in 1971. In 1989, OSHA tried to make modifications and update the rules, regulating new chemicals and changing the permitted exposure amounts. Unfortunately, in a 1992 case called AFL-CIO vs. OSHA, the 1989 changes were struck down by the court.

The court determined OSHA couldn’t just pass a rule updating all of its PELs and adding new chemicals. Instead, the agency would have to assess the permissible exposure level for each substance individually to make a rule appropriate to that substance. Obviously, this was a significantly greater burden on the agency. The rules reverted back to the 1971 PELs. While OSHA has made some rules since that time, including introducing new silica regulations, OSHA has not been able to make substantial changes to protect workers.

Although OSHA rules do not establish maximum exposure requirements for many of the chemicals that people are exposed to on their jobs, this does not mean that employers shouldn’t try to protect their employees. OSHA has resources available providing information on dangerous chemicals to help employers create a safe environment to prevent illnesses. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

If an employee is exposed to dangerous chemicals at work and gets sick, it can be difficult to make a workers’ compensation claim because sometimes it is hard to trace the source of the illness back to the job-site. Still, workers should make a claim to get the benefits that they deserve.

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29
Jul 2016
By

Rhode Island Workers Know That Employers Don’t Value Their Safety

Every worker deserves to be safe while on-the-job. Employers need to prioritize the creation of a safe work environment and must comply with all laws designed to protect their staff. From purchasing workers’ compensation insurance coverage in case of an injury to investing in safety equipment, employers have an obligation to ensure a basic minimum standard of safety is met when it comes to providing protection for workers.man-working-1238685

Most workers don’t believe their employers are doing enough to make job sites safe and to help prevent harm. Employers obviously need to do better, both to prevent against the risk of injury or death and to show workers that their safety matters.

Workers Don’t Believe Employers Care About Safety

Safety News Alert reported on a troubling survey showing that a significant percentage of workers do not think that their employer cares as much about safety as they do about productivity. The survey was conducted by National Safety Council who interviewed 2,000 workers across the United States. Of the employees who were surveyed, a total of 33 percent of workers overall said they thought their companies put a higher priority on maximizing productivity than on creating a safe work site.

The employees who work in some of the most dangerous professions were most likely to say that their employer cared more about production than about keeping workers safe. In particular, 60 percent of construction workers said production trumps safety and 52 percent of people who work in fishing, hunting, forestry, and agriculture said the same thing.

Construction and the fishing, hunting, and forestry industry are always near the top of the list of sectors with the highest rate of workplace deaths. Forestry, fishing and agriculture had the highest death rate this year.

The study had some additional troubling information, which should be cause for concern among all different sectors. For example:

  • A total of 49 percent of temporary workers or contract workers said they were worried about reporting safety issues.
  • 62 percent of employees in the construction sector believe that management does no more than the minimum mandated by law to try to maintain a safe environment.
  • 61 percent of the workers surveyed who had jobs in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, or hunting professions said that employees were actually expressing resistance to safety measures.

While all of this is bad news when it comes to an employee assessment of how safety issues are treated on their work site, 70 percent of all employees say that safety training is a part of orientation at the place where they work. The same percentage say safety matters when it comes to trying to get a promotion or when it comes to employee health and well-being programs.

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28
Jun 2016
By

Rhode Island Workers Must Know Top Causes of Workplace Injuries

Safety BLR recently covered a report on top causes of workplace injuries and occupational hazards. The report came from The Travelers Companies, Inc., which is the largest workers’ compensation insurer in the United States. Travelers Inc. released an Injury Impact Report identifying common work injury causes after analyzing more than 1.5 million workers’ compensation claims filed over a four year period of time. workers-1241079

Both employers and employees must be aware of work injury causes so extra efforts can be made to try to avoid these specific incidents.

Whenever an injury does occur, whether the cause is a common one or not, victims also need to explore options for making a workers’ compensation claim.

What are the Leading Causes of Workplace Injuries? 

According to the data from the Travelers Companies, Inc., the most frequent reasons why employees got hurt at work and made workers’ compensation claims included:

  • Injuries while handling materials. 32 percent of workers’ comp claims were made by employees harmed while handling materials.
  • Falls, slips, and trips. Workers who had fallen made 16 percent of total work injury claims for benefits.
  • Getting hit by objects or colliding with objects. In total, 10 percent of workers who made workers’ compensation claims had been hit by an object or collided with some object at work.
  • Accidents while using tools. This type of accident accounted for seven percent of total claims which occurred.
  • Trauma which occurs over time. In total, four percent of claims made to Travelers came from workers who had hurt their bodies over time as a result of strain or over-use.

The most common injuries suffered due to these harmful incidents included cuts, sprains, strains, contusions, punctures, fractures, inflammation, and chronic illnesses. However, it was workers who had suffered inflammation and fractures who missed the highest number of total workdays. These employees missed 91 days  on average due to inflammation and 78 days on average due to fractures.

Employees with strains and sprains also missed lots of work, losing 57 work days on average, compared with 24 days of work missed on average among workers who suffered cuts or punctures.

Within certain sectors, there were some specific injury causes which were far more common.  For those in retail and construction, for example, falling from heights was a leading cause of injury. In manufacturing and construction, eye injuries were especially common. The most expensive injuries, however, included amputations, electric shock, dislocations, and multiple trauma injuries.

All workers, regardless of their causes of injury or the type of injury, should be able to get their medical costs covered and should be compensated for time away from work that their injuries cause them to experience.  An injured employee will need to show his or her harm was job-related in order to be able to get benefits for the work-related injury.

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25
May 2016
By

Which Massachusetts Workers Face the Highest Injury Risks?

Any worker could get injured on-the-job. The accident may require hospitalization. A worker may lose a limb or an eye. Certain professions, however, are more dangerous than others and are more likely to result in a worker experiencing a severe, permanent injury. Hard Work 3

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently imposed new reporting requirements on employers specifically in situations where a worker experienced an amputation, lost an eye, or had to be given inpatient care in a hospital. New OSHA reporting requirements went into effect starting the first of January in 2015.

With the data collected from states in which OSHA rules apply (not those administering their own safety and health programs), OSHA has now prepared a report showing how many workers suffer serious injuries on-the-job. OSHA also has broken down the data to reveal which industries had the highest numbers of serious injuries and thus presented the most significant risk to workers.

Which Workers Face the Greatest Risks of Serious Injury?

According to OSHA data on hospitalizations, amputations, and incidents in which workers lost an eye, there were 10,388 incidents reported over the course of 2015 in states where reports were required.   This included 2,644 amputations and 7,636 incidents in which workers were hurt badly enough that they needed to be hospitalized for treatment.  Based on this data, around 30 workers across all sectors experience a serious workplace injury every day.

Manufacturing and construction proved to be the two industries in which the risk of serious injuries was greatest. In total, 26 percent of hospitalized workers were doing manufacturing jobs when they suffered an injury severe enough to require admission to a hospital. This was the sector from which the most hospitalizations arose.

Construction workers had the second highest number of hospitalizations. In total, 19 percent of workers whose injuries were bad enough to require inpatient care had been working construction at the time of the accident leading to harm.

Amputations were far more likely to happen in the manufacturing sector as compared with any other field. A total of 57 percent of the workers who lost body parts were doing their manufacturing jobs at the time of the incident. Construction work again was the second most dangerous sector for amputations, with 10 percent of all amputations experienced by construction workers.

The data shows these industries remain persistently high-risk for workers, especially when it comes to life changing injuries like losing a limb. Unfortunately, the actual risk may be significantly greater even than this new OSHA report shows. OSHA estimates around 50 percent of the amputations and hospitalizations which should be reported to the agency are not actually reported. That’s because employers don’t always know about reporting requirements or they assess the risk of being found out is not high enough to make it worth their time to report such injuries.

With such significant dangers in construction and manufacturing, employers clearly need to do more to protect their workers from harm.

Contact a Fall River, Massachusetts workplace accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at 508-677-4900 or visit http://www.dgklaw.com to schedule your free consultation. Serving Fall River, surrounding areas in Massachusetts, and clients in Rhode Island. 

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28
Apr 2016
By

What You Need to Know About the Cost of Work Injuries in Mass.

Let’s say you were seriously injured in a workplace accident in Massachusetts. Perhaps you lost an arm in a machinery accident. Your employer has workers’ compensation, as required by law. So that means you will receive money and benefits as part of your settlement.

But you might be surprised to find out that the compensation you are entitled to receive for that loss is, on average, lower in Massachusetts than it is in many other states – much lower.  According to data from Pro Publica, the average amount of compensation for a lost arm in Massachusetts is $52,245. That’s more than three times less than the average cost in the United States for the loss of an arm, $169,878.

In Massachusetts, compensation for many other serious injuries is below the national average. According to Pro Publica, many catastrophic injuries, including the loss of a leg, an ear or an eye, will result in lower compensation than in other states. Here’s a breakdown of numbers from Pro Publica. The first number represents the maximum compensation in Massachusetts while the second number represents the national average.

  • Leg: $47,385; $153,221
  • Hand: $41,310; $144,930
  • Thumb: $16,524; $42,432
  • Index finger: $10,327; $24,474
  • Middle finger: $8,262; $20,996
  • Ring finger: $4,131; $14,660
  • Pinky: $2,065; $11,343
  • Foot: $35,235; $91,779
  • Big toe: $6,342; $23,436
  • Eye: $47,385; $96,700
  • Ear: $35,235; $38,050

How an Attorney Can Make a Difference

Some injured workers in Massachusetts might wonder, why hire an attorney? After all, the cost of the loss is spelled out. But there are many cases where a workers’ comp lawyer is critical. The claims process can be complicated in Massachusetts. The laws are complex. It’s not unusual for employers to dispute a claim by an injured worker. The employer and its insurance company might be unresponsive. The employer and its insurance carrier might make unreasonable demands such as asking you to come in to work even though you’re injured. The insurance company might not be paying your medical bills for legitimate treatment.

These are a few of the reasons why you need an experienced attorney at your side.

Deborah G. Kohl has more than 30 years’ experience representing clients seriously injured while working. She knows how to fight for every penny you deserve after a catastrophic accident.

The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl offers free consultations to every potential client. You won’t have to worry about paying anything up front. Massachusetts law requires that the insurance company for your employer must pay your attorney’s fee if you win the case. You need to call Deborah G. Kohl today if you or a loved one was injured at work. We invite you to contact us and ask us any questions you have about your case.

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19
Apr 2016
By

Coal CEO Gets Maximum Sentence – But is it Enough?

Over the years, a coal company called Massey has received numerous citations and has been fined numerous times for safety violations. The citations and fines did not do anything to prompt the behavior to change. Often, fines and penalties imposed by Occupational Safety and Health Administration aren’t effective at forcing companies to follow safety best practices because the consequences of violations aren’t very severe. It can sometimes make more financial sense for companies to just keep violating the rules and deal with the penalties, especially as OSHA is understaffed and inspections are few and far between. handcuffs-1469317

At Massey, the safety violations eventually had extremely tragic consequences. A buildup of coal dust and flammable gases like methane developed within one of the company’s mines at Upper Big Branch.

An explosion and terrible fire broke out, and 29 coal miners were killed in the incident. Federal authorities became involved at this time, prosecuting the CEO of the company as well as several other executives for their role in the deaths of the miners. The CEO has now been sentenced, but his sentence raises serious questions about whether the laws at any level are set up to provide appropriate protection to workers and appropriate consequences for blatant violations of safety rules.

CEO Faces Maximum Sentence

Safety News Alert reported the CEO received the maximum sentence allowed by law after his conviction based on charges brought by federal prosecutors in connection with the mine explosion. The CEO is the most prominent coal executive ever to face charges, and hearing he received the maximum sentence should seem like good news for worker safety advocates as a harsh sentence on a CEO could serve as a strong message not to put profit before people.

The problem is, the maximum sentence is only one year imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. The CEO will also have a year of supervised probation after serving his prison term.  The sentence is for the crime of one misdemeanor for conspiring to violate mine safety rules.  Prosecutors had also tried to convince a jury to find him guilty of charges related to securities fraud and making false statements. Had he been convicted on fraud charges, he could have faced up to 30 years in prison. Instead, for the conviction for the safety violation, the maximum penalty was just a year.

Many are questioning whether this is enough of a deterrent, or a sufficient punishment for the CEO in this case. Prosecutors show the CEO was a micro-manager who required progress reports every half hour. Evidence also indicates he directly provided instructions which led to cutting corners on safety issues to maximize profits.

Despite the relatively lenient sentencing considering his role in the deaths of 29 people, reports indicate he plans to appeal and hopes to get only a fine and probation for his conviction. He said at his sentencing that he felt sorry for the families but did not believe he had committed a crime with his actions. The minor penalties imposed by law seem to suggest if he did commit a crime, it wasn’t a serious one- despite the devastating consequences of a callous disregard for worker safety.

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22
Mar 2016
By

Workers’ Comp Insurer & OSHA Disagree Over Use of Safety Incentive Programs

Reporting workplace injuries is essential for employees to receive workers’ compensation benefits. When an injury is not reported in a timely manner, the failure to alert an employer about the injury could be considered grounds for denying a workers’ compensation claim. Unfortunately, despite the importance of reporting workplace injuries, Safety News Alert reports one study showed only around 70 percent of workplace injuries are properly reported.  Twenties on White

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) believes one reason why some workers do not report workplace injuries is because of safety incentive programs.

These safety incentive programs are ostensibly organized by employers to try to reduce the rates of injury at work. The reality, however, is the programs may only end up discouraging workers from reporting injuries they have sustained and not actually doing anything to create a culture of safety.  OSHA has long discouraged the use of these programs, but one workers’ compensation insurer is now arguing OSHA is wrong to oppose safety incentives which reward all workers for low accident rates.

Do Safety Incentive Programs Discourage Workers’ from Reporting Injuries?

The incentive programs which are a concern for OSHA include those which offer rewards to an entire group of employees for a certain number of days without a missed work day due to injury. The rewards may be things like cash incentives or even something as simple as a pizza party.

OSHA does not believe these rewards actually change the culture in the workplace or make a noticeable impact on the prevention of work injuries. After all, it is a far stronger incentive for workers to try to avoid injuries so they don’t face serious health problems than to try to avoid injuries because of cash bonuses.  It is often not the employees who create the conditions which make worksites unsafe, so offering them small financial incentives is unlikely to improve conditions enough to result in an actual reduction in work injuries.

Instead, what the programs actually do is result in employees being peer-pressured not to report when they’ve sustained an injury or not to take a day off due to the injury.   Since many employees already do not report injuries for many reasons, including fear of job loss or financial loss, adding peer pressure to the mix is not beneficial.

Because of these concerns, OSHA released a memo in 2012 indicating these safety programs should be discouraged and the agency also released a draft document recently reiterating its objections to the use of group incentive programs.

Now, a workers’ comp insurer is speaking out to dispute OSHA and is arguing the incentives are an important safety tool and are too low to result in peer pressure. Of course, since workers’ compensation insurers directly benefit from having fewer work injuries reported, the fact the insurance company is encouraging the use of these types of programs could actually be seen as further evidence the programs are good for insurers and not so good for workers.

The bottom line is, regardless of any safety incentives in your workplace, you need to report a work injury if it happens. The loss from not reporting could be far greater than any financial incentive you may be offered by an employer for not missing any work days.

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21
Mar 2016
By

What Injured Providence Workers Need to Know About Choosing Doctors

You have rights under Rhode Island law. We can help protect them.

doctor_chalkboardIf you’ve been hurt at work, the first thing on your mind should be getting the medical attention you need to recover. That means you’ll need to choose a healthcare provider as soon as possible. The choice of a doctor is critical because of the risk that an employer-designated doctor may downplay your diagnosis, affecting both your recovery and your workers’ compensation claim.

Under Rhode Island law, your choice of first medical provider is up to you. You can go to see your own doctor, or any other doctor you choose, without getting approval from your employer or their insurance carrier. The first doctor you see can also refer you to a specialist, if necessary, without getting prior approval from the insurer. Just make sure you tell the doctor who sees you that your injury was work-related.

Remember that immediately after an accident, you can (and should) be seen at an emergency room or checked out by a company physician. The doctor who provides this emergency care does not count as your first medical provider for the purposes of choosing your doctor.

Regardless of whom you chose, you are entitled to receive a report from the doctor who treats you within 10 days of each visit.

Employer’s preferred provider network comes into play only if you change physicians

If, after beginning your medical treatment for a workplace injury, you decide to change doctors, your employer or its insurance company can provide you with a pre-approved list of physicians, known as a “preferred provider network.” You’ll either need to choose a doctor from this list or get prior approval for a different doctor from your employer.

Remember, however, that your employer can only require you to choose a pre-approved doctor if they have an approved list. If they do not have an approved list, there are no restrictions on your choice of doctor.

Rhode Island law puts a great deal of power in the hands of the injured worker. However, your employer or its workers’ compensation insurance company may try to pressure you into a decision that benefits them, not you. It’s important to know your legal rights, and if your employer attempts to control your choice of doctor, you need someone on your side to stand up for those rights. An experienced Rhode Island attorney from the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl can advocate for you and help you make the best decisions for your health and your workers compensation claim.

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25
Feb 2016
By

Providence Companies Can’t Focus on Both Work Injury Prevention & Profitability

Big organizations frequently make safety mistakes, sometimes making the same errors multiple times. This is true even when the outcomes are disastrous, such as an employee being killed or injured and a workers’ compensation claim being made for disability or death benefits. Recently, Safety News Alert published information on research providing new insight as to why safety errors repeatedly occur, even when companies should know better. just-a-forklift-1439915

A Focus on Both Safety & Profitability Isn’t Possible

The study into why safety errors keep happening was conducted by the McCombs School of Business, which is the business school of the University of Texas at Austin. Researchers found companies make repeated mistakes because they go through cycles called “organizational oscillation.”

This research contradicted earlier data, which suggests companies either learn from their mistakes or fail to learn from their mistakes. If companies go through periods of organizational oscillation, they neither learn nor fail to learn from past problems. Instead, they go through cycles or learning and then of forgetting.

In the immediate aftermath of a serious mistake or a disaster, the company ends up being pushed forwards a focus on safety. Media, lobbyists groups, and government regulation can also cause companies to become more safety-focused, even if an accident does not occur.  However, a major catalyst like an employee getting badly hurt is usually a driving force leading companies to be dedicated to improving safety.

As money and energy are directed towards making a workplace safe, both innovation and efficiency suffer. Over time, however, complacency grows as the company’s safety measures work. Further, new employees are brought on who don’t know about the tragedy in the past, and the tragedy or major error even begins to fade in the minds of people who were there and saw it firsthand.

The company begins to lose its intense focus on safety as memories of the disaster fade and instead the company once again begins to direct its energy towards innovation or other priorities. Eventually safety errors lead to another serious injury or another major mistake and the cycle starts all over again.

Researchers believe organizational oscillation is a natural and unavoidable occurrence because companies cannot split their focus between safety and non-safety effectively. While companies should theoretically be able to focus on two different goals at once, this virtually never happens in real life and is considered an “unrealistic scenario.”

Companies are urged to recognize the organizational oscillation pattern and to take affirmative steps to ensure a safety focus does not fall by the wayside in response to other priorities. Companies should also treat safety not as something special they do in response to a tragedy, but as a routine part of work. For example, instead of calling “safety goggles” safety goggles, they should just be called goggles and should be assumed to be an essential and normal tool which is just part of doing the job right. If safety is normalized and a regular part of work, not just a focus after a disaster, companies overall will be safer all the time.

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26
Jan 2016
By

OSHA Argues it Can Protect Workers with Enterprise-Wide Abatement Orders

Many businesses have multiple locations, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cannot necessarily inspect every single location because the agency is understaffed and inspections are not as common as they should be. OSHA generally conducts an investigation of a particular business place, identifies workplace hazards at the worksite which was inspected, and requires abatement of problems which are identified during the inspection. Now, however, OSHA is going to trial to argue enterprise-wide abatement is also a power of the agency. forklift-1502186

Workers deserve to be protected in Rhode Island and if an employer is violating particular hazards repeatedly in one location, it is possible similar violations are occurring at all of its locations. Enterprise-wide abatement orders could save time for OSHA and could impose more requirements on employers to ensure all of their work sites are safe. This could help to reduce injuries and resulting workers’ compensation claims which occur when employees get injured on-the-job.

Can OSHA Order Enterprise-Wide Abatement?

The OSHA case on enterprise-wide abatement centers around OSHA’s inspection of Central Transport LLC. Safety News Alert reports OSHA inspected a particular shipping terminal of the company and found 14 violations. OSHA fined the company $380,800. The problems causing the fine dealt with forklifts which should have been removed from service as directed by OSHA standard 1910.178(p)(1), but which were not removed from service.

The forklifts had issues including damaged tires, leaky batteries, non-functional lights, non-functional horns, and a variety of other problems. This was not the first time the company has had problems, with the shipper receiving 11 final order citations for violating the same OSHA standard since 2006. Eight of the past violations were repeat violations.

Central Transport appealed OSHA’s violations and in a complaint made to Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), OSHA requested an order be entered requiring the shipping company to comply with the OSHA forklift standard not just at the location which had been inspected but at all of its locations. This meant OSHA was asking for enterprise-wide abatement. The shipping company filed a motion asking OSHRC to dismiss the order asking for enterprise-wide abatement.

An administrative law judge for OSHRC denied the request and ordered the case to trial for a decision to be made on whether enterprise-wide abatement is appropriate or not. A regional solicitor of labor for New England indicated the decision was precedent setting because it was “the first decision by an OSHA Administrative Law Judge expressly finding that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission may have the authority under the OSH Act to order abatement measures beyond the specific violations identified in the citations.”

If it is determined these orders are appropriate, many more people could be protected because OSHA could require companies to come into compliance with standards at every one of their locations even without the Agency expending the manpower to specifically conduct an investigation and find violations at each location.

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