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Workplace Injuries and Illnesses on the Decline

Rhode Island workers' compensationThe Bureau of Labor Statistics has released data on workplace injuries and illnesses for 2016. These results continued a downward trend in overall reports that began in 2004, only interrupted in 2012 when the overall numbers did not change. While this information is highly encouraging on the surface, a deeper study shows that there is actually very little, if any, change in significant sets of available data.

Workplace Injury and Illness Rates

The Bureau of Labor Statistics report tracks five types of workplace injuries and illnesses among private employers. Two of those five showed a decrease, including the overall number, leaving the other three unchanged. Those other three, however, included cases with job transfer or restriction, which have remained the same for six years in a row. Cases with at least one day of work lost, however, have only held a value of 0.9 per 100 full-time worker equivalents for two years in a row. The combined dataset of just those two values also remained unchanged this year. In fact, all the change seen on the graph is directly the result of a slight decrease in other recordable cases. On the positive side, these numbers, taken together and compared to changes in public employment numbers, resulted in a reduction of total actual injuries and illnesses. In 2015, there were 3.66 million workplace injuries and illnesses reported, while 2016 saw 3.53 million.

The administrator of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration from December 2010 through January 2017, David Michaels, expressed concern to Bloomberg Environment. He stated that, “Whether it is 3 million, 4 million, or 5 million, it is unacceptable.” He also noted that BLS has done research into the actual accuracy of their numbers, and found a problem. Namely, when compared to workers’ compensation claims and emergency room reports, employers appear to be downplaying the number of workplace injuries and illnesses they actually encounter per year.

While there is a lot of room for improvement still, we can celebrate declining numbers of workplace injuries and illnesses overall. As long as there are still workplace accidents, the victims of those accidents need the help of professionals who understand the responsibility of employers to maintain safe working conditions and care about getting you the results you deserve.

In the event of a workplace injury or illness, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl and find out what we can do for you.

Winter Poses Hazards of Work Injury in Rhode Island

The new year has brought some brutal winter weather to New England.

However, for many workers, getting to work in inclement weather means the risks are just beginning. Snow and ice increase the risk of work injury in Rhode Island for a host of professions and can impact nearly everyone leaving the house to earn a living. Likewise, pursuing justice for injured workers may involve any number of areas of law, including traffic laws, premises liability, third-party liability, workers’ compensation and disability law.

IMPO Magazine, which focuses on Industrial Maintenance and Plant Operation, advises companies to review mandatory evacuation plans, perform a thorough job-hazards analysis focused on winter-weather conditions, provide training on identifying cold-related illnesses and injury risks (including risks associated with frostbite and hypothermia) and use signage and other visuals to highlight the risks.

Hypothermia and frostbite most often impact employees who work outdoors, although those working on docks or in warehouses, factories and storage facilities may also be at risk. Both absolute temperature and wind chill contribute to the risks. Employers must take steps to protect employees, including increased rest breaks and hydration. Hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Frostbite results from frozen skin and most often impacts extremities, including fingers and toes, as well as exposed areas of skin like nose, ears, cheeks and chin.

Tens of thousands of injuries result from winter conditions

IMPO Magazine reports 42,000 employees a year miss at least one day of work due to injuries involving ice, sleet and snow. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports employees at particularly high risk of injury include delivery drivers, public safety personnel, roadwork crews and outdoor construction workers. Traffic accidents and slip-and-fall incidences are among the most common causes. Downed power lines, cave-ins from snow or ice accumulation on roofs and being struck by falling ice or debris are other potential causes of employee injury during winter months.

Risks associated with ice and snow removal include falls, heart attacks and back injuries, as well as risks associated with using snow-removal equipment like snowblowers and plows. While often overlooked, such risks often involve personnel inexperienced with using such equipment, which means workers are at increased risk of accident and injury.

For those driving for work or just to get back and forth to their job, the Rhode Island State Police offer a number of safety tips, including:

  • Never leave your car unattended while warming up.
  • Be especially careful on infrequently traveled roads and on bridges and overpasses, where ice will accumulate first.
  • Travel with a charged cell phone and at least half a tank of gas.
  • Do not follow too closely and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.
  • Learn how to brake and steer to counter a slide.
  • Don’t pass snow plows and sand trucks.

While most of these risks are specific to winter, safety advocates remind motorists that driving in snow or ice also exacerbates the risks associated with common bad habits behind the wheel, like using a cell phone or driving distracted, speeding, following too closely and failing to use special care in high-risks areas like intersections and parking lots. If you have been hurt on the job due to winter weather conditions, speak to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can help weigh your options.

Workers’ Compensation Coverage For Rhode Island Retail Workers Injured During the Holiday Shopping Season

worker's compensation attorneysThe busy and hectic holiday shopping season holds the potential for many types of injuries at retail locations. Slips, trips and falls, parking lot car accidents, and even violence can occur as a result of chaotic circumstances at shopping centers. These risks do not just affect shoppers. Retail workers, too, can be injured in these types of accidents. A Rhode Island workers’ compensation attorney can help protect the legal rights of retail employees who are injured at work during the busy holiday shopping season.

The Many Types of Accidents That Can Occur at Retail Locations

Some retail property accidents are common. Others are less foreseeable. Such was the case when the roof of a Bristol shopping center collapsed during a snowstorm in March 2017. According to U.S. News and World Report, the affected unit of the Belltower Plaza was empty at the time of the collapse, and no one was injured in the incident. The rest of the plaza was shut down by the fire department and building inspector.

Violence can erupt at shopping centers as well. This was the cause of the tragic death of a Westerly man reported by U.S. News and World Report. After a brief, early-morning confrontation in the parking lot of a Westerly shopping center, the man was killed. The Rhode Island Department of Health gave the cause of death as “multiple trauma to the head.” The other man involved in the confrontation has been charged with manslaughter. The Westerly Sun reports that the two men did not know each other prior to the confrontation, and that no weapons were used in the assault. Surveillance video showed the two men involved in a brief physical exchange that lasted fifteen seconds.

Some holiday shopping days are especially prone to violence and injuries. According to the Daily Mail, ten people have died in the United States as a result of Black Friday shopping since 2007. The Daily Mail also identifies common Black Friday injuries, including parking lot car accidents and fights for parking spaces; stampede injuries such as crushed organs and broken bones; in-store injuries from falling merchandise or speeding shopping carts; and violent altercations over limited merchandise or restricted deals.

Retail Workers Injured on the Job Have Legal Rights

These same incidents can injure retail workers as well as shoppers. Any employee who is injured on the job may have access to different sources of compensation for their injuries. Employers carry workers’ compensation coverage to compensate retail workers who are injured on the job. More severe or permanent injuries may also entitle a worker to disability benefits. Finally, if a negligent third party is responsible for the injury, the injured worker may be able to pursue a personal injury claim.

Consult with a Rhode Island workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible after any workplace accident. The hectic holiday shopping season can cause retail workers to sustain injuries on the job, and these injuries may be subject to many different types of compensation. We will help injured workers investigate all potential sources of compensation in order to protect their legal rights.  

Rhode Island Firefighters May Soon Have New Legal Protections for Workers’ Compensation and Disability Pensions

Firefighting is a dangerous profession. Many firefighters get injured on the job, which may entitle them to workers’ compensation and disability pensions. In some cases, these are the only financial resources the firefighters, and their families, have. Unfortunately, many injured firefighters have found it difficult to access the resources they need.

The Rhode Island General Assembly recently passed a new bill to ensure that these benefits are protected for these public servants. When a public employee is injured on the job, Rhode Island law protects their right to both workers’ compensation and public disability benefits. It is important to seek legal advice to ensure that all your legal rights are protected. worker's compensation attorney

The New Bill

According to Rhode Island Public Radio, the new bill creates a legal presumption for firefighters who suffer from heart disease. Heart disease is now presumed to be job related if the firefighter has been on the job for at least three years. This removes a significant legal hurdle for firefighters looking to access workers’ compensation and disability benefits. Without this bill, firefighters suffering from heart disease have to present medical records and other evidence to prove that their heart disease was a job related illness. This can be a real challenge, with so many contributing factors to heart disease, it can be difficult to prove that the illness was caused by one’s work.

Now, firefighters seeking workers’ compensation and disability benefits need to only establish that they have heart disease, and that they have been on the job for at least three years.

The bill has been passed by both houses of the Rhode Island General Assembly, and must be signed by the governor before it will become effective law. A spokesman for the governor stated that she would consider the final version of the bill when it is presented to her, but that she has concerns about granting lifetime, tax-free disability pensions, especially in cases where a physician’s opinion might overcome the presumption that the heart disease is related to the firefighter’s job. Other opponents, such as the state General Treasurer, point to the enormous cost of the bill. Taxpayers will bear millions of dollars in costs if the bill is signed into law.

What Firefighters Should Do After Sustaining a Workplace Injury or Illness

The first, and most important, step after any workplace injury is to seek medical attention. Injuries that are not treated tend to get worse. This leads to unnecessary time off work and accumulating medical expenses. Ensure that your injuries are properly tended to, and that you schedule follow-up appointments or consultations with specialists as needed. The same is true for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease. Illnesses that are not treated also tend to get worse. Access appropriate medical treatment for any chronic medical condition.

Once you have seen to your medical needs, consult with an experienced Rhode Island workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. There are many different types of insurance coverage and disability benefits available for workplace injuries or illnesses.

An attorney will help you determine which options are most appropriate for your situation. A lawyer will also be able to help determine whether you can prove that your injuries have, in fact, been caused by your job. It is important to begin this process as soon as possible so that you do not miss important deadlines for filing claims. It is also important to preserve important medical evidence, such as photos of injuries, before the evidence is lost.

Fatal Rhode Island Workplace Injuries More Likely for Older Workers

According to the Associated Press, workplace fatality rates are higher for older workers than their younger counterparts. There are numerous contributing factors to this trend, but one thing that remains constant is the need for protection of the legal rights of injured workers. The families of Rhode Island workers whose lives are lost on the job also have legal rights that must be protected.

As the “baby boomer” generation devotes more of their lives to their work than previous generations, the average age of the American worker has increased. Federal estimates conclude that 25 percent of the labor market will be comprised of older workers by 2024.older workers and workplace fatalities

There are many physical and mental complications that come with age, and they can make older workers more prone to workplace injuries. Such complications include:

  • Hearing and vision impairment;
  • Decreased response times;
  • Balance problems;
  • Medication side effect or cross-effects;
  • Chronic muscle problems;
  • Chronic bone conditions such as arthritis.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that that in 2003, more than 1.5 million of the most serious job-related injuries involved workers over the age of 55. BLS also reports the fatality rates for older workers that year were three times greater than the fatality rate for younger workers. The most common fatal events for workers aged 65 and older were transportation incidents and falls.

Protecting Older Workers From Workplace Injuries

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has studied the issue of older worker safety extensively, and issued recommendations for best preventative safety practices in the workplace.

First, the CDC notes that while younger workers have physical advantages, their elders have years of experience and accompanying knowledge of their positions. They therefore recommend that employers shift older workers into positions of mentoring and training younger workers, to best utilize the assets of both groups.

Next, the CDC emphasizes the importance of disease prevention and detection programs in employee health programs. This is particularly important for the prevention of musculoskeletal injuries, and other diseases which are common to older populations. Logistical considerations may include:

  • Slower and more self-paced work;
  • More rest breaks;
  • Fewer repetitive tasks;
  • Avoiding static postures;
  • Better lighting;
  • Less glare;
  • More adjustable seating.

Flexible work schedules can also accommodate medical care and periods of decreased work ability, to sustain better long-term productivity for the worker.

While employer programs can be an asset to employee health, it is important for older workers to take the initiative in ensuring their own safety in the workplace. Proactive measures, such as medical screening and annual vision tests, can help address medical issues before they cause workplace injuries.

Employees must examine their own work station to identify the ergonomic environment that is best suited to their physical needs. Better chair support, rest breaks, increased lighting, safety equipment, and other measures all help prevent injuries and can be put in place by employers. Sadly, employee intervention is often needed to initiate these steps that would better ensure workplace safety.

 Fair Compensation For Victims

 When injuries do occur, a Rhode Island workers’ compensation attorney will ensure that workplace injury victims and their families have access to the fair compensation to which they are legally entitled. Rhode Island General Law, Title 28, Section 28-29-1 through 28-29-30 details the general provisions of Rhode Island workers’ compensation law. Benefits, meanwhile, are outlined in Chapter 28-33. These laws are not easy to understand, and it may feel like you are at odds when trying to take a stand against the negligence responsible for fatal injury.