Category Archives: Workplace Injury

Measuring Our Progress Since The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

As an attorney who practices in the field of Workers’ Compensation, there are some events that are seminal in the history of workplace safety. One of those events was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which occurred on March 25, 2011. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was one of the largest factories in New York and employed 500 mostly Italian and Jewish immigrant women between the ages of 13 and 23.

These women worked long hours for low wages in this cramped sweatshop at sewing machines to produce women’s blouses, known in those days as shirtwaists. In order to protect themselves from their claim of thefts by the workers, the factory owners would lock the doors to one of the stairways leading to the street. While the union movement in New York was very strong and some of the workers had joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, the factory itself was a non-union shop; many believed the owners would lock their doors to keep organizers out. Whatever the reason, locking those doors had devastating effects. 

On that fateful day in March, a fire broke out that was fueled by thousands of pounds of fabric. Many were able to escape to the roof and then to adjoining buildings. Unfortunately for those on the ninth floor, there was very little means of escape. The elevator proved inadequate as it was only able to accommodate 12 people at a time, and the operator was only able to make four trips before it broke down totally. Bodies of many of the workers were found at the bottom of locked stairwells or in the elevator shaft when they tried to escape. The fire escape was flimsy and when it became overloaded with panicked women, it broke and sent dozens to their death. Those trapped in the factory by the fire were left with the agonizing choice of jumping to their deaths or being burned alive. Many chose to jump. Bystanders recounted stories of seeing victims kiss each other or hold hands as they jumped two and three at a time; they described the horrific thud as bodies landed on the stone streets below. When the final tally was taken, 146 people had perished. The catastrophe sent shockwaves throughout New York City and the immigrant communities of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where families struggled to recognize the charred remains of their loved ones in makeshift morgues. 

On March 24, 1911, the New York Court of Appeals declared the state’s compulsory Workers’ Compensation law unconstitutional. The next day, 146 people were dead from that Triangle Shirtwaist fire. With no Workers’ Compensation system in place, family members and dependents had to turn to the courts in an attempt to force Triangle to compensate the injured and the families of the deceased. A civil suit brought by 23 victims’ families against the owners netted a whopping $75 in damages per victim! New Yorkers were appalled and angry at the greed and negligence of the owners and managers. 

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was a preventable tragedy caused by unsafe work conditions and was a catalyst for change. New York finally adopted a Workers’ Compensation law in 1913. This law was intended to protect workers from unsafe working conditions and afford them with wage replacement benefits and medical treatment in exchange for giving up their right to sue. Unfortunately, we see an erosion of many of these benefits under the guise of reform, while insurance companies have made record profits. This month, while we acknowledge this grim anniversary, we need to make sure that these women’s deaths were not in vain. Let us never forget the reason Workers’ Compensation laws were enacted, and let’s be sure the system is not watered down to the point that injured workers and their families go back to getting $75 for a preventable death.

  

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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Applicants Whose WTC Claim Was Dismissed As Untimely May Be Entitled To Reopen Claims

Previously, any claims for which the associated Form WTC-12 was received after September 13, 2010 were time-barred. Those workers were not entitled to benefits. These claims will now be reopened and considered timely.

On November 13, 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed significant protections for World Trade Center workers into the Workers’ Compensation Law under Article 8-A. The legislation extends and enhances workers’ compensation eligibility and benefits for World Trade Center workers. Most notably, the legislation reopens the World Trade Center Registry; extends the deadline period for filing Form WTC-12, Registration of Participation in World Trade Center Rescue, Recovery and/or Clean-up Operations, with a deadline to September 11, 2014; reopens previously time-barred World Trade Center claims and considers them timely; and adds qualifying conditions to the law.

If your claim was previously dismissed as untimely, contact us immediately to review for a reopening since you may be entitled to benefits.

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WTC Workers & Volunteers MUST File By Sept. 11, 2014 To Open A New Claim

The World Trade Center Registry, which preserves workers’ compensation rights for those who performed rescue, recovery, and clean-up operations after the World Trade Center attacks will remain open until September 11, 2014.

On November 13, 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed significant protections for World Trade Center workers into the Workers’ Compensation Law under Article 8-A. The legislation extends and enhances workers’ compensation eligibility and benefits for World Trade Center workers. Most notably, the legislation reopens the World Trade Center Registry; extends the deadline period for filing Form WTC-12, Registration of Participation in World Trade Center Rescue, Recovery and/or Clean-up Operations, with a deadline to September 11, 2014; reopens previously time-barred World Trade Center claims and considers them timely; and adds qualifying conditions to the law.

You should file a WTC-12 form whether you were injured or not, and whether you were employed or volunteered. This includes duty at Ground Zero, Fresh Kills Landfill, the barges, the piers, and the morgues.  The legislation also expanded the conditions covered to include:

  • Diseases of the upper respiratory tract and mucosae, including conditions such as conjunctivitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, vocal cord disease, upper airway hyper-reactivity, and tracheo-bronchitis, or a combination;
  • Diseases of the lower respiratory tract, including but not limited to, bronchitis, asthma, reactive airway dysfunction syndrome, and different types of pneumonitis, such as hypersensitivity, granulomatous, or eosinophilic;
  • Diseases of the gastroesophageal tract, including esophagitis and reflux disease, either acute or chronic, caused by exposure or aggravated by exposure;
  • any combination of such conditions; and
  • New onset diseases that develop in the future or result from exposure in the future, including cancer, COPD, asbestos-related diseases, heavy metal poisoning, musculoskeletal disease and chronic psychological disease.

The link to the form is: http://www.wcb.ny.gov/content/main/forms/wtc-12.pdf

Any worker or volunteer with a WTC claim should contact us immediately to review the case and file appropriate paperwork BEFORE September 11, 2014 or you claim may be dismissed as untimely. 

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The Right to a Safe Workplace

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Under federal law, every employee has the right to a safe workplace. If you believe your workplace is dangerous and changes in safety policy are ignored, you can request an inspection from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Workers’ compensation, which is regulated on a state-by-state level, covers medical bills, lost wages, disability and vocational rehabilitation services for employees injured on the job. If you have any questions regarding these benefits, please contact an experienced lawyer in your area.

 If you believe you work in an unsafe work area, here are some tips to be aware of to make sure your workplace is as safe as possible, and you protect yourself from significant injury:

  1.  Know the hazards in your workplace.
  2. While in a seated position, keep your shoulders in line with your hips. Use good form when lifting.
  3. Injuries occur when workers get tired. Take breaks when you’re tired.
  4. Do not skip safety procedures just because it makes the job easier or quicker. Using dangerous machinery is the one of the leading causes of work injuries.
  5. Be aware of where emergency shutoff switches are located.
  6. Report unsafe work areas.
  7. Wear proper safety equipment.

If you are injured due to an unsafe workplace, and you are unsure of the benefits that you are entitled to, contact an experienced attorney in your area.

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Nanotechnology in the Workplace

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan from The Jernigan Law Firm.

During cancer research in 1986 an accident created the first man-made nanoparticle, an incredibly small particle which can absorb radiant energy and theoretically destroy a tumor. One type of nanoparticle is 20 times stronger than steel and is found in over 1,300 consumer products, including laptops, cell phones, plastic bottles, shampoos, sunscreens, acne treatment lotions and automobile tires. It is the forerunner of the next industrial revolution.

What is the problem? Unfortunately, nanoparticles are somewhat unpredictable and no one really knows how they react to humans. A report out of China claims that two nano-workers died as a result of overexposure, and in Belgium five males inhaled radioactive nanoparticles in an experiment and within 60 seconds the nanoparticles shot straight into the bloodstream, which is a potential setup for disaster. In a survey of scientists 30% listed “new health problems” associated with nanotechnology as a major concern.

Lewis L. Laska, a business law professor, wrote an article in Trial Magazine (September, 2012) in which he advised lawyers to become knowledgeable about nanoscience and be aware of the potential harm to workers and others who come in contact with this new technology, particularly because the EPA, FDA and OSHA have neither approved nor disapproved the use of nanostructures in products. It has been said that workers are like canaries in the cage (in mining operations), and if nanoscience is a danger then workers’ compensation lawyers will be the first to see it and appreciate it.

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NY Roofing Contractor Fined for Falling Short on Fall Protection

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works to save workers’ lives throughout New York by fining employers who fail to comply with workplace safety standards. OSHA cites any employer who fails to comply with safety requirements, but one of the top problems that lead to OSHA citations is a failure to provide adequate fall protection.

OSHA reports that one company in New York was fined a total of $159,250 recently for failures to protect workers from falling as they performed work on roofing projects. Our Manhattan work injury attorneys know this employer was just one of many in New York who fail to embrace solutions that would limit or prevent falls in the workplace.

Falls Are a Common & Dangerous Workplace Accident

OSHA assessed the New York roofing contractor a large fine for the lack of fall protection in part because the offense was a repeated violation. The employer knowingly chose not to take steps to protect workers.

Unfortunately, this company is not the only one that fails when it comes to falls. In fact, OSHA reports that falls are the number one killer of construction workers and that many construction sites provide either no fall protection or inadequate fall protection. 

The absence of fall protection contributes to the high number of deaths. In 2011 alone, OSHA reported that there were 251 fall fatalities out of a total of 721 total deaths nationwide on construction sites.  These fatalities were preventable.

OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign

With falls as the leading cause of death on construction sites, OSHA has launched a nationwide outreach campaign called Stop Falls in order to raise awareness of the hazards of falls from roofs, scaffolds and ladders.

The campaign focuses on the three steps necessary to prevent falls:

  • Planning: Deciding in advance how a job performed up high must be done. Employers and workers must estimate what safety equipment is necessary in order to complete each task and employers should be sure to factor in the cost of equipment when bidding for a job.
  • Providing: Providing means that employers have to provide safety gear, as well as the right types of ladders and equipment when a worker is working six feet or more up in the air.
  • Training: Safety equipment is only effective if it is used properly. Employers must train workers on how to recognize hazards and on how to use the equipment they need to do their jobs in a safe and effective manner. This means training workers on fall protection systems as well as the use of scaffolds and ladders.

Employers must take responsibility for preventing falls. If a worker gets hurt the employer will be held responsible regardless of whether the employer was negligent or an employee was at fault.

Workers cannot generally sue employers, but they can make workers compensation claims and negligence doesn’t matter in these cases. A worker can be entitled to workers compensation benefits, including payment of medical bills, under any circumstances where his injury arose from a fall at work.

New York also has special scaffolding laws imposing strict liability on property owners and/or project managers in certain cases when scaffolding injuries occur. It is important for workers to understand their rights in scaffolding accidents and when other fall accidents occur.

If you’ve been hurt at work, contact the Law Offices of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP today for a free evaluation by calling (800) 692-3717.

 

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Temporary Employees Cannot Be Excluded From Workers’ Compensation

Today’s post comes from guest author Paul J. McAndrew, Jr. from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

According to a recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court, a temporary employee cannot be excluded from an employers’ workers’ compensation policy.

In 2005, Rafael Casados was killed on his third day at work at a grain storage facility owned by Port Elevator-Brownsville L.L.C. Because Casados was a temporary employee of Port Elevator at the time of his death, he was initially awarded a liability ruling of $2.7 million directly from Port Elevator. However, according to the latest Supreme Court ruling, Casados’s family should receive remedy under Port Elevator’s workers’ compensation policy instead. Port Elevator’s insurance provider is liable for Casados’s death benefits, despite the fact that Port Elevator never paid workers’ compensation insurance for any of their temporary employees.

According to the decision: “If Port Elevator’s policy had set out certain premiums solely for temporary workers and Port Elevator had not paid those premiums, Casados would still have been covered under the policy and the failure to pay premiums would be an issue between Port Elevator (their insurance provider).”

 

 

Photo Credit:sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What Is Workers’ Memorial Day About?

Today, April 28th is the day that the unions of the AFL-CIO take action to make workplaces safer for both union and non union workers.  It has become known as Workers’ Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for the people who have lost their lives while on the job. These days it is hard to ignore the tragedies that confront workers internationally such as the recent building collapse in Bangladesh which killed hundreds of garment factory workers or those that occur in our own country – the young police officer killed while on duty by the alleged Boston Marathon Bombers or the first responders killed during the West, Texas fertilizer explosion when they ran to the danger. While these deaths were well publicized because of their notoriety, they represent only a small part of the story as there are thousands more killed each year which few of us hear about.  

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4693 workers were killed on the job in 2011 up from the previously reported 4609. It will be months before a final tally is determined for 2012. 

“Every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly 4 million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy. American workers are not looking for a handout or a free lunch. They are looking for a good day’s pay for a hard day’s work. They just want to go to work, provide for their families, and get home in one piece.”

- Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Workers Memorial Day speech April 26, 2011

Let’s pause for a moment and remember those we represent – those who are maimed, injured and killed while performing workplace functions and pray that those injuries and deaths that are preventable will not be included in future statistics.

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