Nov 2016

Injured Workers Face Holiday Financial Hardship Due to Workers’ Comp Benefit Restrictions

In Rhode Island, workers are entitled to benefits if they sustain an injury on-the-job. The Social Security Administration explains how the workers’ comp system works in Rhode Island when it comes to the provision of benefits. The workers’ compensation statute which outlines available benefits to Rhode Island workers is found in Title 28. The rules establish workers can receive certain payments for loss of wages caused by temporary or permanent disabilities.  Payments are based on 75 percent of pre-injury spendable wages earned by the worker, up to state maximum limits. money-cube-1512873

While an injured worker receives loss wage benefits if he can get covered, sometimes getting access to workers’ comp benefits is difficult even though the law is supposed to provide broad protection to employees.  A worker who receives benefits also will not get his full salary, which can always be difficult for families but which can be especially burdensome during the holiday season when spending tends to rise.  Injured employees need to know what benefits they will receive from workers’ compensation if they get hurt and may need to adjust their holiday budgets accordingly if they do not have the money coming in that they would receive from their normal salary.

While the holiday season can make it especially hard to get by on limited workers’ comp benefits, especially as you have to buy gifts for loved ones and entertain family, there are challenges year-round if an injury causes missed work and necessitates medical care. Cuts to workers’ compensation benefits systems, which have been occurring nationwide, have made those challenges worse.

Workers’ comp should provide comprehensive benefits for injured employees who need to be covered for medical care and who need disability income if they cannot work.  Unfortunately, ProPublica published a report indicating 33 states had slashed workers comp benefits. Affected employees were faced with major financial hardship as available benefits were reduced and as states made it harder for workers to get the coverage they need for workplace injuries.

In response to the ProPublica report, democratic senators wrote a letter urging action and the Labor Department responded. The Labor Department prepared a report discussing the detrimental impact state workers compensation laws were having. The Department of Labor also made some recommendations to try to fix the issue. Re-starting a 1970’s commission from the Nixon era was one proposal. The commission would have the power to set some basic standards for state workers’ comp systems and would facilitate federal oversight in situations where workers’ comp programs fell short. Another option would be for congress itself to set minimum standards and to require federal oversight when workers’ comp programs fell short of fulfilling those standards.

Unfortunately, the chances of action on the Labor Department’s report seem slim, so workers may continue to suffer hardship- especially during the holiday season when more money is needed to participate in festive events.

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Oct 2016

PTSD Prevention After a Rhode Island Workplace Accident

The impact of a workplace accident can be devastating for the accident victim and for the victim’s family. However, the consequences resulting from a serious workplace accident or fatality are not felt only by the person who was hurt and his or her loved ones. Co-workers who observed the accident and resulting injury can also be affected. The company as a whole can also be impacted by tragedy in detrimental ways. girl-3-1440414

One of the major issues which can occur after an on-the-job accident is the development of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. When a victim who got injured develops PTSD, workers’ compensation should generally cover the costs of treatment as the mental issues are directly related to the on-the-job accident. The victim may need to get legal help in fighting for coverage if the insurer or employer denies counseling and treatment. PTSD treatment is not typically provided for co-workers who observed the accident, although the post traumatic stress experienced by these workers is often very real.

Post-Traumatic Stress Following a Workplace Accident

Safety BLR published a report recently detailing issues with post-injury stress among those who witness or help to respond to a workplace accident which caused a serious injury or fatality. This includes those employees who render aid to an injured worker, or who clean up the scene of an accident.  Employees who observed or dealt with the aftermath are said to suffer from “critical incident stress” if they exhibit mental, behavioral, cognitive, or physical symptoms due to the incident.

The symptoms of critical injury stress can be very damaging and debilitating, as critical injury stress can manifest in frightening ways. An employee who suffers from this type of stress after observing a work injury or fatality could suffer regular headaches and/or chest pains. Fatigue and dizziness are common, as are concentration difficulties, depression, anger, anxiety, mood changes, impaired problem solving abilities, memory problems, and confusion. Antisocial behaviors are possible, and many witnesses of workplace injuries will begin to use alcohol more frequently.

For some witnesses to workplace accidents, the critical incident stress goes away on its own with time. For others, however, full-blown PTSD develops. Safety BLR indicates critical incident stress is considered to have become PTSD if symptoms persist for at least four weeks or longer.

Employers should try to help prevent critical incident stress by offering counseling and other stress relieving tips to those who observe a co-worker’s serious accident. While workers’ comp may not force employers to cover PTSD resulting only from observing an accident, the problems with employees who develop PTSD can undermine a company’s future success. In fact, Safety BLR warns around 60 percent of companies close down within two years of the time a workplace tragedy happens.  Companies may close, in part, because they lose good workers who are traumatized by the accident and who could have been helped.

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Sep 2016

Speeding a Factor in Rhode Island Car Accidents

A fiery fatal crash occurred recently in Rhode Island, and law enforcement officers are reporting speed is likely a factor. According to Turn to 10, the accident came to the attention of law enforcement when they received multiple 911 calls about a collision in the area. The car involved in the collision was a red 2004 GMC Envoy, which had ben traveling north when it went around a curve and left the road. speedometer-1449844

The car hit the pole of a traffic light, and then it struck a cement block wall. The car started on fire upon the impact with the wall, and the fire consumed the car completely. It is believed there was one occupant in the vehicle at the time of the deadly accident, but officers responding to the collision scene were initially unable to approach the car as a result of the flames, small explosions, and extreme temperatures. The fire department had to be called to the scene in order to put out the fire.

The collisions is currently under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies, including by the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal’s Office. However, preliminary investigations suggest the car may have been traveling as fast as 90 MPH at the time before the accident happened. If this turn out to be the case, the collision will end up being one of many in which people lose their lives as a result of speeding.

How Speeding Affects Rhode Island Car Accidents

Speeding is a leading cause of car accidents. As in this recent tragic Rhode Island accident, speeding can cause a crash when a driver loses control of a car and leaves the road. This often happens around curves, as occurred in the fiery accident which caused the death of the driver. Drivers who go around curves too fast could also end up rolling their vehicle over. Rollovers are a very common type of high-speed single vehicle accident.

Speeding not only increases collision risks, but also makes the chances of injury or death greater. Both occupants of the speeding car and other motorists on the road face a higher chance of injuries and fatalities when a car crash happens at high speeds. Automotive Fleet explains this is because the force of a collision increases exponentially if a car accident happens.

When a car accident happens at 75 miles an hour, as opposed to occurring at 25 miles an hour, the force of the crash is nine times greater at the higher speed.  If a crash happens at 50 miles an hour, the crash forces are four times greater in the faster crash.  Drivers need to be aware of this substantial added risk and they should make sure to do everything possible to avoid speeding-related accidents by driving both within the speed limit and at a speed which is safe for current traffic conditions.

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Aug 2016

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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Jul 2016

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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Jun 2016

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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May 2016

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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Apr 2016

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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Apr 2016

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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Mar 2016

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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