Archive for the ‘workers’ compensation’ Category

Returning to Work After a Back Injury

Rhode Island workers' compensationOne of the most important periods when recovering from a back injury occurs when someone first returns to work. Going back too soon, or doing something incorrectly, can result in a recurring injury.

That’s why it’s vital that workers understand when they can safely return to work and when they can resume normal duties.

Learning from EMTs

This topic was a recent point of focus on EMS1, a website devoted to the work of emergency medical technicians. While their advice is specifically worded for EMTs returning to work after a back injury, the article contains principles that can be applied to any physically demanding job. In fact, while these principles are geared toward those recovering from an injury, they can be helpful in preventing injuries in the first place.

Mobility is a crucial issue. The article warns EMTs that “before you can move patients, you must be able to move well yourself.” This is a good guide for any job that includes lifting and moving heavy objects. The first priority of a worker recovering from a back issue is preventing further damage. A worker that is not yet moving normally is not ready to handle the strain associated with his or her job. However, once lifting and carrying are viable options, workers need to keep some practices in mind.

Best Practices

  • Limit Lift Height: The farther an object must be lifted, the greater strain it will put on the body. Workers should avoid ever lifting an object directly from the floor to standing. This may require the use of available tools, or the worker may need to set the object in a new position and reset. Either way, “if your hands are on the floor for a lift, you’ve already lost.”
  • Avoid Bending: The practice of bending forward to grab a heavy object puts strain on the back. And the further forward one bends, the more shearing weight is placed on the spine. The worker’s head and chest should always be up with the back straight when lifting.
  • Stay Strong: The muscles used in lifting also help keep the spine, knees, and other body parts safe and properly aligned. Strengthening these muscles reduces the amount of strain a given lift places on them. This, in turn, reduces the possibility of injury. Exercise key muscles to ensure safe lifting practices.
  • Have Allies: It may be difficult to get the justice a worker needs, especially when that means collecting enough from workers’ compensation to stay out of the workplace until recovery is safely complete. Help and support are invaluable for a worker with an injury.

In the event that you are injured at work, you need an experienced attorney at The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl on your side. Contact us today.

Addressing Violence in the Workplace

Rhode Island workers' compensationWhen workplace violence explodes, it leaves a trail of shattered lives. It also raises questions. Were warning signs missed? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy? In a touching essay, “The Day My Husband Didn’t Come Home From Work,” Jody LaVoie offers valuable insights as someone who has suffered the painful loss of a loved one to workplace violence.

LaVoie’s husband, Steve, was shot by a bitter employee who knew he was being demoted. Months later, Steve succumbed to his injuries. Besides Jody, he left behind three daughters.

Jody LaVoie writes that workplace homicides are rising – jumping an alarming 19.9 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total number of deaths was 500. Every year, 2 million American workers report they have been victims of workplace violence.

To minimize the risks of workplace violence, Jody LaVoie says employers should:

  1. Have a workplace violence policy that is shared with employees.
  2. Have and promote an employee assistance program.
  3. Host and support emotional wellness activities.
  4. Have a way to limit entrances and exits to the workplace, such as an electronic badge system.
  5. Have managers who take an active role in employee awareness, are alert to warning signs and know how to respond.
  6. Have a formal process for employee demotions and terminations.
  7. Have a system in place for employees to report threats, violence or imminent danger.
  8. Consider whether predictive behavior modeling – technology that analyzes data to generate a model that helps predict future outcomes – might be useful.
  9. Host emergency preparedness training, including active shooter training.

Unfortunately, despite workplace tragedies that make headlines on a regular basis, some employers lack the foresight to take steps that will protect their workers. Furthermore, they may continue risky work practices, such as maintaining low staffing levels that increase employee stress, or ignore warning signs, such as angry outbursts, that indicate some workers pose a threat.

If you’ve been the victim of workplace violence in Rhode Island or Southeastern Massachusetts, you are likely overwhelmed by your situation. You probably have questions about how workers’ compensation may apply to your case. Barely able to care for yourself, you may be under additional pressure from your employer or their insurance company to settle any claim for far less than you need or legally deserve.

The workers compensation lawyers at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl have experience handling cases just like yours. They will aggressively protect your rights with professionalism and compassion. They offer free case consultations while working on a contingency basis, meaning you pay nothing unless they win your case.

Boston Sees Spike in Workplace Deaths

Massachusetts workers' compensation The United States Department of Labor has released its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries data on 2016 workplace fatalities, and the greater Boston area is notable for a significant increase from the year before. In fact, Boston’s workplace fatalities in 2016 reached levels not seen since 2000.

This stood out in comparison to a much smaller increase that happened in workplace deaths across the nation, which resulted in a national workplace fatality count that reached over 5,000 for the first time since 2008.

A Local Spike

Wicked Local Westborough reports that Boston area workplace deaths have stayed under 50 per year for the last decade, reaching a low of just over 20 in 2012. 2015 came close, at nearly 50 workplace fatalities, but 2016 skyrocketed up to 75. Where the national average saw a 7 percent increase in workplace fatalities, Greater Boston saw a 56 percent increase.

Construction and extraction occupations claimed the most lives of any industry in Greater Boston, at 24 workplace fatalities. While transportation incidents were responsible for the largest number of workplace fatalities nationwide at 40 percent, other factors were of particular note in the Boston area. These included exposure to harmful substances or environments at 19 deaths, and violence and other injuries by persons or animals with 17 deaths.

The harmful substances category includes deaths related to unintentional overdose and the non-medical use of drugs and alcohol. Federal reports indicated a spike in these numbers due in part to opioid-related incidents. Within the category, the subcategory exposure to other harmful substances jumped from 5 to 16 fatalities.

Responses

Massachusetts has made strides to see these numbers change. With Gov. Baker extending OSHA protections to public-sector workers and recent laws raising the maximum fine for corporate manslaughter from $1,000 to $250,000, it is expected that we will begin to see more care taken to protect a larger range of employees. However, with a very small force of OSHA inspectors in the commonwealth, it may be difficult for the government to hold each employer directly responsible.

In this environment, it is deeply important that workers who are injured on the job hold their employers responsible quickly and effectively. You may be eligible for workers’ compensation. That’s why it’s best to speak to an attorney at The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl to discuss your options.

Older Construction Workers at Risk of Hearing Loss

Rhode Island workers' compensationNot all job-related injuries are the same. Most are short-term: if you break your arm, for example, it’s put in a cast and you’re back at work in a matter of days or weeks. But other injuries are long-term and permanent, as pointed out in a recent study by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR).

As reported by Safety and Health Magazine, the center found 58 percent of former construction workers suffer from hearing loss. The study of 19,000 workers previously employed at Department of Energy nuclear power sites, based on data from the Building Trades Medical Screening Program, also uncovered factors that worsen the condition.

Report finds high risk of hearing loss among certain construction workers

Overall, the report said, the workers had “significantly increased risk of hearing loss compared to reference populations.” The study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, also found that:

  • Workers with more than 30 years of experience are nearly four times more likely to suffer from hearing loss than workers with fewer than 10 years on the job.
  • Workers who smoke are 18 percent more likely than nonsmokers to have hearing loss.
  • Workers who have the most exposure to solvent are 15 percent more likely to experience hearing loss than workers with the lowest exposure rates.

The fact is, hearing loss is a workplace injury. Some workers lose their hearing quickly when they are subjected to deafening noise at their work sites. Workers also can suffer hearing loss slowly over time, the result of years of exposure to machinery on the job. In many cases, employers fail to provide hearing safety training or protection, such as ear plugs or headphones, despite regulations and conditions that call for them.

The symptoms can go beyond hearing loss. Some people suffer from constant ringing in the ears and debilitating ear aches. In extreme cases, especially when subjected to sudden loud noises, such as explosions and other accidents, workers can suffer a ruptured ear drum and total hearing loss in one or both ears. All hearing injuries are permanent – they do not heal, and they can have a direct impact on the quality of your life for decades.

If you or a loved one has experienced workplace hearing loss, you likely are lost in the maze of local, state and federal regulations. Where do you turn for expert medical attention? Who do you know who understands the bureaucracy of workers’ compensation? Any advice you receive from your employer is self-serving since they are primarily interested in protecting themselves. Where do you turn for professional and compassionate assistance during your time of need? In Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, a workers’ compensation attorney at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl has experience handling cases just like yours. An attorney can offer free case consultations while working on a contingency basis, meaning you pay nothing unless they win your case.

2017 Saw 11-Year High in Massachusetts Worker Deaths

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyOn April 27, a ceremony in honor of Workers’ Memorial Day was held on the steps of the State House in Boston. Each year, Workers’ Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who lose their lives on the job.

This year, however, the day also saw the release of a new study by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) in cooperation with the AFL-CIO, which identified 74 worker deaths in Massachusetts from January 2017 to March 1, 2018, marking an 11-year high in workplace deaths in our commonwealth.

Understanding the Numbers

WorkersCompensation.com explains the history and details of the 32-page report. Some selected details of concern include the fact that 74 deaths in Massachusetts amounts to a fatality rate of 2.1 for every 100,000 workers, the highest rate per year in over a decade. Fatal accidents occurred most often in the construction industry, which claimed 21 deaths – a full third of the total workplace fatalities for the year.

While the construction industry provided the most common setting for worker deaths, transportation was the most common cause. There were 31 workers killed in transportation incidents last year, including nine workers struck by vehicles and two fishermen who died at sea. One major factor in transportation deaths last year was a lack of seatbelt use, which contributed to a significant number of those 31 deaths.

Responses to the problem

It is incredibly difficult to monitor the safety of our workers as well as employees deserve in our current environment. With only 29 OSHA inspectors in the commonwealth, working under a system that is actively turning against workers on the federal level, it is impossible for them to visit every work site quickly and effectively enough to protect every worker. The report, however, outlined plans that could help, which includes the passing of two different bills already in existence which put much more accountability on employers to maintain and report on worker safety.

We will continue to monitor changes to the federal and Massachusetts laws and how they impact your rights as a member of our great workforce. We urge our lawmakers to take these 74 lost lives as a wake-up call and act to protect the people who keep our society and economy running. Already, we have seen the passage of state laws that extend OSHA regulations to the public sector, update corporate manslaughter laws, and protect pregnant and nursing mothers in the workplace.

We are moving in the right direction, but we need to do more. Until every worker is protected from workplace injury, we will continue to fight for the rights of those hurt or killed on the job. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.

The Learning Curve on Opioids: Finding the Truth between Health and Helplessness

Rhode Island workers' compensationJanet Currie, a professor at Princeton University, writes in a research brief, entitled Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: Is There a Role for Physician Education, that “there is a striking relationship between opioid prescribing and medical school rank.”

In the article, Currie discusses her 2006-2014 study, conducted with Molly Schnell, a Ph.D. candidate in Economics, concluding, “If all general practitioners had prescribed like those from the top-ranked school [Harvard], we would have had 56.5% fewer opioid prescriptions and 8.5% fewer overdose deaths.”

Currie’s argument is based not only on “the number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States” which have “doubled,” but the fact that “many of those deaths were caused by drugs legally prescribed by a physician.” Currie’s premise is that not only do physicians need to know what they are prescribing but patients themselves need to be aware what physicians are prescribing to them—and how knowledgeable they may be.

“A distinguishing feature of the opioid epidemic is that many overdoses and deaths can be attributed to legal opioids that were prescribed by a physician,” Currie said. “Training aimed at reducing prescribing rates among the most liberal prescribers, who disproportionately come from the lowest-ranked medical schools, could have large public health benefits.”

Effects of opioids on injured workers

In Market Watch, Maria Lamagna describes the relationship between opioids and the American worker as being “increasingly” complex. Lamagna notes that while the opioid crisis is “devastating families and costing the country billions of dollars,” when opioids are used prudently, they can allay pain and enable workers to remain in the workplace, instead of being too ill to work.

A recent study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute in Cambridge, Mass., the Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, N.H. and the Department of Economics at the University of California, Irvine, showed “longer-term use of opioids roughly tripled the amount of money employers spend on temporary disability benefits, compared to workers with similar injuries who [did] not get opioid prescriptions. The researchers did not find evidence that opioids prescribed in workers’ compensation cases would be beneficial.”

The conclusion Lamagna draws is that “considering how many risks are associated with opioids, is it even a good idea to prescribe opioids in the first place, with the hope that employees will get back to work sooner? It turns out, long-term use of opioids may actually cost employers more, because employees who use opioids for an extended period have to be out of work for longer.”

Lamagna writes that the study, distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “should not suggest that opioid prescriptions are always unnecessary.” However, she suggests “there is at least some overuse of longer-term opioids, they concluded, considering that workers with similar injuries could return to work sooner without using opioids over a long period.”

The learning curve regarding opioid prescriptions

The takeaway from the Currie and Schnell study and the Lamagna articles is that there is a learning curve regarding the prescription of opioids—both for the physician and the patient. This poses a dilemma: do we work in an amount of daily discomfort, or do we refuse to tolerate pain and leave open the possibility of opioid addiction and an endless cycle of dependence? It is up to patients and doctors to investigate non-addictive remedies for pain.

For more than 30 years, the knowledgeable attorneys at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl have been successfully helping hard-working people like you in New England to obtain the just compensation they deserve. We realize your case is about more than just finances. It’s about justice. It’s about holding all those accountable who are responsible for their actions—and for your injuries.

Safety & Production, Not Safety vs. Production

Rhode Island workers' compensation attorneyCompanies have to hold aspects of their operation in balance all the time. They must deal with opposing forces such as supply and demand or income and costs. Too often, employee safety and productivity are treated as another equation for an employer to balance.

However, this view of workplace safety doesn’t just threaten employees. According to David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009-2017, it is not even accurate.

Merging the Fields

Michaels recently wrote a piece for Harvard Business Review about his experiences at OSHA and the important lessons he learned through them. The main thrust of the article is his claim that workplaces can be profitable and safe at the same time, if these two goals are seen as complementary rather than opposing forces. In fact, he argues that the vast majority of workplace accidents are preventable and serve as evidence that production is not being properly managed.

Some key ways employers can ensure workplace safety include having upper management invested in safety, embracing safety and health management systems, keeping safety as a central aspect of operational plans instead of a separate system, and valuing the input of OSHA and similar inspectors as low-cost safety consultants. These are all key systems that will go far in ensuring that safety is given its proper importance in the workplace, and their applications may differ from one workplace to another. Michaels details them well. There are others he discusses, however, that deserve special, and largely universal, attention.

Humans, Not Data Points

Michaels also talks about the need to focus on identifying workplace dangers before they strike rather than waiting for recordable incidents to occur, and why employees should not bear the blame for workplace accidents. Ultimately, both of these concerns are about trusting employees and viewing them primarily as people who understand their environment and have real needs rather than as data points waiting to be calculated.

Employers need to be proactive about collecting information from employees about potential dangers in the workplace, including near-miss incidents, unsafe conditions, and other suggestions. By having employees notice these issues and then taking action on them, employers show that they value workers, and this in turns helps employees invest in their work and their duties.

Employees are also human, and as such, will occasionally make mistakes due to tiredness, distraction, or simple miscalculation. Safe workplaces have backup systems to prevent minor mistakes from causing major injuries, and understand that injuries are often the result of multiple factors that could have been prevented with operational measures. Michaels advises that “the most effective path to preventing injuries is to consider human errors as the consequences, rather than as causes, of operational failure.”

When workplace systems break down, employees suffer. They should not then have to also endure the blame for preventable dangers. If you have suffered a workplace injury, contact us today to discuss your next steps.

Preventing the Unthinkable: Putting the Brakes on Health Care Workplace Violence

Massachusetts and Rhode Island Workers' CompensationMost of us think of needing to go the hospital only in times of an emergency, whether that’s an automobile accident or due to an injury on the playing field. Expectant mothers are both looking towards the birth of a healthy child and readying themselves for the unimaginable pain of labor and childbirth. Elderly people worry about falls and collapses. In each of these cases, we think about the healing we’ll receive at the hospital in the wake of an injury or illness.

Preventing injuries to healthcare workers caused by violence

However, what we rarely think about is injury caused to the EMTs, nurses, and physicians themselves who provide healthcare to us. Yet acts such as this occur with such frequency that the Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 8th. This proposed bill would enable OSHA to create a commonsense standard policy which would require that healthcare facilities would develop and implement facility- and unit-specific workplace violence prevention plans. The legislative bill was introduced by Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) along with the support of 12 other House Democrats in order to bridle workplace violence in healthcare facilities nationwide.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries that 58 workers died due to results of workplace violence from 2011 to 2016. The Government Accountability Office also cites a 2016 study in which healthcare workers employed at inpatient facilities were 5 to 12 times more likely to experience workplace violence than all other workers combined. That element of vulnerability regarding healthcare workplace violence is a cause for concern and for legislative action.

A safe environment for healthcare workers

The state of California enacted regulations in 2014 which acted as a precedent for Rep. Khanna’s Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act. The California bill directed Cal/OSHA to create a workplace violence prevention standard. The law mandates all healthcare facilities in California to have developed and issued plans to prevent workplace violence and to ensure safety of both patients and workers by April 1, 2018.

Khanna’s bill applies the same concept at the national level. Input from physicians, nurses, and custodial workers regarding violence in the workplace would inform the creation and implementation of comprehensive violence prevention plans. The bill also emphasizes the basic elements of prevention, training, and worker participation. The definition of workplace violence is broadened to include both physical acts of violence and threats of violence. The bill emphasizes the importance of staff as a significant element in violence prevention and response to violence itself.

Khanna admonished in a March 8th press release that “health care workers, doctors, and nurses are continuously at risk of workplace violence incidents—strangling, punching, and other physical attacks—that can cause severe injury or death.” Khanna continued, “This is simply unacceptable. The Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act puts a comprehensive plan in place and is a national solution to this widespread problem modeled after the success seen in California.”

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, offered strong support. NNU Co-President Deborah Burger advocated in a press release that “under the proposed federal standard, hospitals would need to assess and correct for environmental risk factors, patient-specific risk factors, staffing and security system sufficiency. There are a number of interventions that can reduce violence in the hospital.”

“For example,” Burger continued, “affixing furniture and lighting so they can’t be used as weapons, maintaining clear lines of sight between workers while they are caring for patients, and providing easy access to panic buttons or phones to call for help. It is imperative that nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers, along with security staff and custodial personnel, are all involved in the development and implementation of these plans.”

Insights from workers lead to improvement of safety standards

What is key to the success of the implementation of The Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act is its origins—the input of physicians, nurses, custodians and other healthcare workers becomes the basis for the act itself, which gives the legislation credibility. We need to improve safety standards based on the insight of  healthcare professionals themselves—not on an arbitrary administrative or political bias.

For more than 30 years, the knowledgeable attorneys at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl have been successfully helping healthcare workers and other hardworking people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to obtain the just compensation they deserve.

If you have been injured in the workplace, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.

 

State’s Top Court Weighs in on Dispute Over “Regular Compensation” for Injured Worker

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyRobert Vernava was injured at work in Massachusetts on June 13, 2010. Like any worker in the state who suffers from an on-the-job injury, he had a right to workers’ compensation benefits.

Vernava, who was employed by the Swampscott Department of Public Works, began collecting workers’ compensation on the day he was hurt. He also collected supplemental pay under Massachusetts law, which included two hours per week of sick or vacation pay.

The supplemental pay he received created a legal argument that eventually made its way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court. The justices ultimately determined that injured workers cannot use sick or vacation payments as “regular compensation.”

The case, called Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, involved a question about Vernava’s effective retirement date following his injury.

The following summarizes what happened – and illustrates how a workers’ compensation claim can become complicated.

It began when the Swampscott Retirement Board approved a request by the town to retire Vernava involuntarily for accidental disability, which is allowed by law. Another agency, the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC), found the last day Vernava received “regular compensation” was on July 7, 2012. Therefore, that was determined to be his effective retirement date.

Injured workers’ sick or vacation pay does not count as “regular compensation”

But then the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA) stepped in and reversed the decision made by PERAC. Vernava’s sick or vacation pay did not count as “regular compensation” under the law, DALA concluded. He last received regular compensation on the day he was injured, which was June 13, 2010.

DALA’s decision resulted in a new effective accidental disability retirement date: Aug. 1, 2011. PERAC sought additional review from other ruling bodies, but the DALA decision was affirmed each time.

The case ended up before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which noted that the law defines an employee’s regular compensation as “compensation received exclusively as wages by an employee for services performed in the course of employment for his employer.”

Regular compensation shall not include “unused vacation or sick leave,” the court concluded. Because Vernava was “not merely out sick or taking a vacation,” the supplemental pay should not be considered as regular compensation. He was no longer able to perform services for his employer.

As the Vernava’s case illustrates, workers’ compensation claims can quickly become complicated. A dispute can become costly and time-consuming, and it may result in a delay in payment or a reduction in compensation.

If you or a loved one was injured on the job, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney immediately. A delay could result in unwanted complications. For a free consultation, contact our workers’ compensation attorneys serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Balancing Safety and Productivity in the Workplace

Massachusetts workers' compensationBusinesses often operate in a dualistic system: they feel the need to balance productivity with employee safety and must make sacrifices. David Michaels, who served as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA from 2009 to 2017, has had a great deal of experience with that balancing act and has poured much of what he learned into an article published by the Harvard Business Review.

In the article, he argues that safety should not be viewed as a single system offset by systems such as sales and production but must be an integral part of a company’s DNA in order to truly yield a safe workplace. He then goes on to give safety advice to businesses, not in the form of specific action steps, but with an eye to the core of a company’s operations.

Corporate Safety Systems

One point Michaels focuses on is that accidents and injuries are rarely the fault of a single human error, and discourages blaming employees for accidents that could have been prevented with more organizational planning. There are risks inherent to all workplaces, and these risks will vary by a multitude of factors. A company committed to safety must be vigilant about the dangers posed in their specific operation and establish systems that will prevent a single human error from resulting in an injury or death. This includes taking all injuries seriously, possibly even ensuring that upper management is made aware of them, and that such events are thoroughly investigated.

Michaels notes that many workplace safety systems rely on data that comes after an accident, such as injury reports and OSHA records. Injury rates should not be ignored, they have their place, but that place is not at the center of a company’s safety plan. That spot should be reserved for data that actually comes before an accident. These are called leading indicators, and may include hazard identification, near-miss reports, identification of potentially unsafe conditions, and other factors specific to a company’s operational needs. Encouraging employees and direct management to spot and report conditions that may lead to an accident, and then quickly and effectively correcting those conditions, helps employees invest more in their company and reduce, or eliminate, injuries before they happen.

When an employee suffers a severe or life-threatening injury at work, their employer has failed them. Whether it is a breakdown of good systems or a lack of a good system to begin with, the employer must be held accountable for their part in causing the accident. If you have been the victim of your employer’s insufficient safety planning, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation. Contact us today so we can fight for the justice you deserve.