Tragic Cannery And Construction Site Deaths Highlight Need For Safety Enforcement

I was horrified when I recently read about a worker for a tuna company who was killed when he was cooked to death at the company’s California canning factory. According to the New York Daily News, the worker, Jose Melena, was performing maintenance in the 35-foot oven when a co-worker failed to notice he was still in the oven and turned it on to begin the steaming process of the tuna. The co-worker assumed Melena had gone to the bathroom. 

While there apparently was an effort to locate the worker, his body was not found until two hours later when the steamer was opened after it completed its cooking cycle. As an attorney, my clinical instinct shifts my focus to the mechanics of the accident and to fault. There are so many unanswered questions.  Why didn’t anyone check the machine before it was turned on? Why wasn’t the machine immediately shut down when they realized the worker was missing? As a person with feelings and emotions, I think of the horror and pain he must have gone through and the loss experienced by his family and friends as a result of his death. It is almost too awful to imagine. 

While this terrible tragedy occurred in 2012, it appears the reason that the story is currently newsworthy is that the managers were only recently charged by prosecutors in the worker’s death for violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) rules. Closer to home, more recent and just as unfortunate were the cases of the construction worker in Brooklyn who fell six stories from a scaffold while doing concrete work and a restaurant worker who was killed in Manhattan when a gas explosion destroyed the building he was working in. 

These stories highlight why safety procedures are so important. In some cases, there are no proper safety precautions in place. In others, there are safety measures in place but they may not have been followed. In rarer cases, crimes are committed that result in workplace fatalities. The failure to follow or implement proper safety procedures was a calculated risk, a terrible misstep, or a downright criminal act. In the case of the worker who died when he fell from a scaffold, there has been speculation that he may not have been attached properly to his safety harness. In the tuna factory death, the managers were charged with violating safety regulations; they face fines as well as jail time for their acts. In the gas explosion, there are allegations that the explosion was caused by workers’ illegally tapping into the restaurant gas line to provide heat for upstairs tenants. Prosecutors were trying to determine criminality; whatever the final outcomes, it appears that in these three instances the deaths were preventable. 

According to OSHA rules, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. They must provide their employees with a workplace free of serious hazards and follow all safety and health standards. They must provide training, keep accurate records, and as of January 1, 2015, notify OSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related impatient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.  

While this may seem like a small step, anything that results in creating higher standards for employers or encouraging them to keep safety a priority is always a good thing. These three examples are only a small percentage of the workplace deaths that occur each year. While not every death is preventable, everyone is entitled to go to work and expect to leave safely at the end of their shifts.  

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

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Union, Environmental Group Say Dozens of Nuclear Workers Suffering from Toxic Materials Exposure

Today’s post is from In These Times via our colleague Jon Gelman.

Evidence “strongly suggests a causal link between chemical vapor releases and subsequent health effects" at a Washington facility, according to a recent report. (Ellery / Wikimedia Commons)  

Since March 2014, nearly 60 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state have sought medical attention for on-the-job exposure to chemical vapors released by highly toxic waste stored at the site, some as recently as August. At a public meeting held Wednesday in Pasco, Washington, Hanford workers described symptoms that include chronic headaches, respiratory problems, nerve damage and bloody urine.

The meeting, hosted by the United Association (U.A.) of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 598 and Hanford Challenge, a Seattle-based environmental watchdog group, was convened following the February 10 release by Department of Energy contractor Washington River Protection Services (WRPS) of a “corrective action implementation plan.” This plan was developed in response to recommendations in a report from the Savannah River National Laboratory released in October 2014.

Commissioned in response to worker exposures at Hanford’s tank farms, the Savannah River report found ongoing emissions of toxic chemical vapors from waste tanks, inadequate worker health and safety procedures and evidence that “strongly suggests a causal link between chemical vapor releases and subsequent health effects.”

The underground storage tanks—known as…

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Higher Wages is Smart for Business

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

As President Obama and Secretary Perez have said, raising the minimum wage isn’t just the right thing to do for working families it’s the smart thing to do to grow our economy.

And business leaders of all kinds agree, saying that they see higher wages as a sound business investment. They know that higher wages boosts productivity and reduces the high costs associated with turnover. They also know that consumer spending drives our economy; more money in people’s pockets means more customers for them. Add it up, and reduced training costs and more customers can grow a business, and create jobs.

That’s why these businesses, large and small, have all taken steps to raise their starting wages.

While progress is happening with more and more businesses raising their starting wages, and states and localities are taking action, the national minimum wage still needs to be raised. For too many workers in too many states the harsh reality is that the minimum wage has languished and lost ground for more than 5 years. It’s important that Congress take action so that we don’t leave them behind.

Share these graphics if you agree it’s time to #RaiseTheWage.

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Yes, Monetary Benefits Are Available For Injured Volunteer Firefighters

I recently read the news about a benefit fundraiser being held for the widow of a Long Island volunteer firefighter who died in the line of duty when the floor he was on during a fire collapsed. The volunteer, only 43 year old, left behind a widow and a 19-year-old daughter.  He had served his community for 17 years as a volunteer and in addition, worked for the Nassau County Public Workers Department. This tragedy once again reminds us of the dangers of the firefighting profession.

Most New York City residents are protected by a paid force of brave men and women who are employed by the City. The Fire Department of New York is the largest municipal fire department in the United States, employing more than 10,000 uniformed firefighters. I am proud to say that my brother Danny serves as a Lieutenant in the FDNY, and my brother Bob and my dad are both retired from the force.   

There are still nine volunteer fire companies left in New York City that respond to calls in their neighborhoods; more than half of them are located in Queens – West Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways. As these men and women are not compensated for their service to their communities, most of them have paying jobs elsewhere. However, they are still entitled to benefits if they are ever injured on the job. The New York State Workers’ Compensation Law provides benefits for those volunteers injured in the “line of duty” or engaged in activities pursuant to orders or authorization. These duties include, but are not limited to, participation in fire drills; travel to and from fire calls or authorized activities; firehouse duties; property inspections; attendance at fire instruction and training; and authorized drills, parades, funerals, reviews or tournaments. An “injury” includes any disablement of a volunteer firefighter that results from services performed in the line of duty and any disease that may arise from an injury.    

Monetary benefits include payments for loss of earning capacity up to $400 per week, death benefits to surviving spouse and/or minor children up to $800 per week, and schedule loss-of-use awards based upon loss of function to a limb, loss of vision, loss of hearing, and facial disfigurements. Additional monetary awards are given to cover funeral expenses. Furthermore, volunteer members are entitled to receive necessary medical care for treatment and recovery from their disabilities. Notice must be given to the proper party within 90 days of the incident, and claims must be filed within two years of the accident or death. 

In many instances the monetary awards are inadequate to properly compensate an injured volunteer or a surviving spouse or child of a hero. The fact that a fundraiser is even necessary for the family of the firefighter who was killed in Long Island is inconceivable. While it is clear that Volunteer Firefighter benefits will never truly compensate for those who are injured or killed on the job, the knowledge that there are benefits available will hopefully ease some of the financial strains for those in our community who serve. I saw a wonderful quote recently that said “volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” So to those who serve, I am truly grateful, and to the family of fallen hero Joseph Sanford, Jr.  – his sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.   

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SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY: THE TRUTH BEHIND MISCHARACTERIZATIONS BY POLITICIANS AND THE MEDIA

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey, from Causey Law Firm.

A thought-provoking article about the Social Security Disability (SSD) program appeared in the August 25, 2014 edition of The Hill, a newspaper published for and about the U.S. Congress. The article was authored by Barbara Silverstone, Executive Director of NOSSCR, the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives. Ms. Silverstone’s complete article can be accessed on the The Hill’s website.

Ms. Silverstone dispels with factual data some of the myths currently being peddled by certain members of Congress and media outlets. Ms. Silverstone points out the eligibility criteria for SSD are extremely strict, and the burden is on the person applying for benefits to prove, with medical records – not mere assertions, the severity of his or her disabling condition(s). Only about 40% of applications are approved, a fact that belies the claim there is a systematic bias toward approving applicants who are not actually disabled. The current approval rate is the lowest it has been in 40 years.

Ms. Silverstone notes that recent Congressional investigations into allegations of fraud have not identified any cases of fraud beyond those that the Social Security Administration itself has uncovered. She discusses, in particular, the 2012 investigation of Senator Coburn. His staff reviewed about 300 appeals decisions, but failed to identify a single individual who was approved for benefits that should have been denied. Congress complains that the Social Security Administration does not do enough to identify potential fraud in the program, but at the same time Congress has cut Social Security’s budget, providing about $1 billion less than requested over the past three years! As a result, Social Security has lost more than 11,000 employees since 2011. This inevitably has impacted the agency’s ability to serve the American people in many aspects of its operation.

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Congratulations To Our 2015 Super Lawyers!

We are proud to congratulate each of Victor Pasternack,Barbara Doblin TilkerJordan Ziegler, Kevin WalshCatherine StantonEdgar Romano and Robert Saminsky for being named to the New York Super Lawyers list as one of the top attorneys in New York for 2015. No more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by Super Lawyers.

This is the 10th consecutive year Ziegler has been selected, the 9th consecutive selection for Tilker and Stanton, the 7th for Pasternack and Saminsky, the 6th for Romano and the 1st for Walsh.

We are honored that so many of our attorneys have a multi-year recurring presence on this prestigious list.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a rigorous multi-phased process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates, and peer reviews by practice area.

The first Super Lawyers list was published in 1991.

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Post-traumatic Stress ‘in 1300BC’

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder can be traced back to 1300BC – much earlier than previously thought – say researchers.

The team at Anglia Ruskin University analysed translations from ancient Iraq or Mesopotamia.

Accounts of soldiers being visited by “ghosts they faced in battle” fitted with a modern diagnosis of PTSD.

The condition was likely to be as old as human civilisation, the researchers concluded.

Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, a former consultant clinical psychologist for the Ministry of Defence, said the first description of PTSD was often accredited to the Greek historian Herodotus.

Referring to the warrior Epizelus during the battle of Marathon in 490BC he wrote: “He suddenly lost sight of both eyes, though nothing had touched him.”

His report co-authored with Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid, Queen Mary College London, argues there are references in the Assyrian Dynasty in Mesopotamia between 1300BC and 609BC.

Ghosts

In that era men spent a year being toughened up by building roads, bridges and other projects, before spending a year at war and then returning to their families for a year before starting the cycle again.

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Sick Leave Should Be Accessible to All

Today’s post comes from guest author Emily Wray Stander, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Amid the debate about flu and immunizations and preventable diseases lurks a societal problem that’s getting more attention lately and directly affects the spread of those medical crises: paid sick leave for employees.

Although discussing the consequences of Ebola may be interesting, many people in the United States, including Nebraska and Iowa, are living with the consequences of pertussis (whooping cough), a rampant flu season, and measles outbreaks.

This blog has featured this subject in the past, almost exactly two years ago, when there was a flu epidemic. It was argued then, in one of the firm’s more popular blog posts, that sick people should not be forced to work and spread their germs to their co-workers and customers, in addition that working while sick tends to make people even more ill. Not having sick leave available to take becomes a public health and societal risk. In addition, not being able to provide care for sick children or loved ones results in family struggles and workers worrying, rightfully so, while they should be focused on work at work.

The issue is also affecting children, especially those who are low-income, according to the 2014 Kids Count Report in Nebraska.

A recent Marketplace Morning Report article highlighted the need for policy change through the Healthy Families Act “that would guarantee workers could earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.” For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is quoted in the story that “24 percent” of those in the restaurant industry and “47 percent of retail workers get paid sick leave.” It also shares the economic burden of the results of people who don’t get paid sick leave coming to work sick. “Underperforming at work, or even damaging equipment or products because of diminished capacity or the effects of medication is known as ‘presenteeism.’” Sickness and presenteeism costs more than $375 billion a year, according to the article.

Esther Cepeda also recently addressed both paid sick leave and presenteeism in a column: “Working while sick even when you can have the time off is a thing. Many workers take great pride in coming to work ill, and there are a fair number of their colleagues who wish they’d stop.”

Although it may be a pretty big challenge in some industries to provide paid sick time, Ms. Cepeda argues that those are the most important industries to have it, as was also argued in the firm’s flu blog post from 2013.

“Food service aside, there are any number of jobs – most of them low-wage, part-time service jobs – where you don’t want the worker to be miserably sick or mentally checked out, worried about their sick loved one, because they can’t afford to call off work and lose the pay or possibly the job.”

Also important to note, being “checked out” can lead to safety incidents and workers’ compensation claims, and having employees mired in presenteeism just isn’t good for anyone.

So as the article in this link mentions, I think it’s very important for both workers and employers to consider the importance of quality of life considerations: keeping healthy people from being exposed to sickness and supporting sick people (or people with sick loved ones) by giving them the chance to stay home and still get paid so they can focus on becoming healthy people again.

Because as Ms. Cepeda argues, it benefits all for people to be as healthy as possible.

“Those of us who have the choice or flexibility to take an available sick day must speak up for those who are penalized for life’s inevitable speed bumps. It’s ultimately in our own best interest.”

Issue is also affecting children:  Report: Nebraskans working hard, but falling behind — and kids are paying the price

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