Category Archives: Workplace Injury

Improving Construction Safety – A Path Reducing Unnecessary Injuries And Deaths

Partner Chris Latham Supports Construction Site Safety At City Hall Rally

As an attorney who has represented thousands of injured workers in my career, I have seen first hand some of the serious and deadly injuries that occur in the construction trade. Last year I wrote a blog on the construction trades and discussed a report issued by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) claiming that while the construction industry employs less than 4 percent of New York’s workers, it claims nearly one-fifth of work-related deaths – making it the deadliest industry in the state. The report went on to mention that half of the fatalities were immigrant workers who did not have the protection of unions. Unfortunately, the past year has not seen any major improvements.    Injuries at construction sites are up 78 percent this year alone and there have been 16 deaths, mostly immigrant, non-union workers.  

The New York Times published an investigation on construction fatalities and noted that an increase in construction and the urgency to finish projects quickly has resulted in shortcuts and inadequate training for workers. Many of these workers have not been properly instructed or lack adequate supervision and are more likely to be injured or killed. The unions maintain that if these job sites were staffed with union trades, there would be a noticeable decrease in injuries and death. Those who are new to the union, called apprentices, work under the supervision of those who are senior and more experienced. While union projects may cost more than non-union jobs, unions point to the increase in accidents and deaths as a direct result of non-union contractors putting profits ahead of safety. 

If you work in downtown Manhattan you probably saw or heard about the Rally for Workplace Safety held on December 10. Thousands of construction workers united in a massive protest outside City Hall calling for safer work sites, better working conditions for construction workers, and union protection.  So many different trades were on site, all with the purpose of calling attention to unsafe workplace issues. My brother in law, a steam fitter who was present during the rally, noted that there was a procession with 17 coffins that represented the 16 who have already died, and one for the next unlucky worker. Before the protest, a hard hat was placed at the site of where each one of these workers perished.

Fortunately, there are some positive steps being taken. Councilman Rory I. Lancman of Queens has introduced a bill to compel the Buildings Department to report safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Additionally, Councilman Corey Johnson of Manhattan, on his website noted that he is supporting legislation that would require workers at buildings taller than 10 stories to pass mandatory apprentice training overseen by unions.  

While construction trades will never be 100 percent safe, they most definitely can be safer.  These protests and legislation are a small but positive step in trying to decrease the likelihood of unnecessary injuries and 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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Partner Chris Latham Supports Construction Site Safety At City Hall Rally

Partner Chris Latham recently joined thousands of building trades workers, Councilman Corey Johnson, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer outside City Hall to protest the deaths of workers on construction sites in 2015. 14 of the 16 workers who died on construction sites in 2015 were non-union workers.
 
The rally coincided with the announcement of a new bill, sponsored by Brewer and Johnson, that would obligate all workers on buildings taller than 10 stories to go through state-approved apprenticeships.
 
In her remarks, Brewer said “We have to raise safety standards and put in place measures that will ensure every worker on any sized building has safety equipment, proper training and proper quality supervision,” she said. “We have to set the bar higher.”
 
For more information about how you can help ensure that both union and non-union construction workers earn middle class wages, receive fair benefits, are properly trained and work on safe worksites go to http://www.middleclassstrong.com/.

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Action Needed To Ensure Sick 9/11 First Responders Receive Benefits

Animal Control Officer Diane DiGiacomo

A couple weeks ago, the Workers’ Compensation community was stunned over the outcome of the case of Animal Control Officer Diane DiGiacomo who developed cancer from exposure to toxins in the air after 9/11. Diane’s job was to search for and rescue pets near Ground Zero when many of the buildings surrounding the area were either evacuated or abandoned for weeks after the terrorist attack. 

Diane had filed a Workers’ Compensation claim after being diagnosed with breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. The judge ruled that she was not entitled to New York State Workers’ Compensation benefits because she had not filed a timely claim. At the time of the ruling, Diane was bedridden and weighed a mere 60 pounds. Tragically, four days after the decision, she died as a result of her cancer. While my firm did not represent her, Diane’s tragic story touched many of us in the industry, whether as advocates for the injured worker or as defense counsel. What makes this case particularly sad is that the judge noted it was clear from the medical evidence that the cancer developed at least in part due to her exposure to the toxins in the air. Unfortunately, Diane was not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits because the deadline to register had passed.   

In order to be able to obtain Workers’ Compensation benefits for exposure after the 9/11 attacks, those who participated in the rescue, recovery, and clean up operations had to file a TWC-12 registration form prior to the current deadline of September 11, 2014. You did not have to actually be sick to file this form, but it preserved your rights if you worked in the area to file a claim later if you were found to be sick. It should be noted that the deadline has been extended twice because many of the illnesses such as cancer are slow starting and do not manifest themselves until many years after final exposure to toxins. The New York State Legislature has not extended this deadline again, at least as of this date.  

Officer DiGiacomo did not file her claim until sometime after September 11, 2014, because she was not actually diagnosed with cancer until after this date. According to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board website, as of September 11, 2011, there were close to 49,000 WTC- 12 forms filed; however, hundreds or even thousands more may have been at the site doing rescue, recovery, and clean up and have not registered precisely because they were not sick as of the deadline or they didn’t know they had 9/11-related medical conditions. Perhaps it was based on their lack of understanding of the law or the opinion of some that they did not want to register because they somehow felt they would be taking benefits away from those who were already ill. Whatever the reason, it is imperative that the deadline once again be extended so that those who are currently ill, or become ill, have the full protection of the law.  

A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly by Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate, Jr., and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder to extend the deadline to September 11, 2017, is still sitting in Committee. While Officer DiGiacomo did not live long enough to see the deadline extended, it is not too late to compensate her son and the rest of her family. Let’s make sure that those who helped get our city back on its feet are not 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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Are Concussions Worth the Risk for Hockey Players?

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

Professional hockey, much like football, is considered to be a dangerous, high contact sport. With recent news of San Francisco 49er’s linebacker Chris Borland’s decision to retire at age 24 due to concussions, a lot of NHL players are feeling pressure to step-back and reevaluate if game-related concussions are worth the risk to their long-term health.

Carolina Hurricane’s 22 year-old forward Jeff Skinner has been side-lined three times for concussions since his first season in 2010-2011. Skinner’s teammate Brad Malone, a 25 year-old forward, considers his multiple concussions to be just “situations” and has made the decision to keep playing despite the risk of acquiring a long-term brain injury. According to the News & Observer, Malone stated, “If that situation was affecting my life at home and the people around me, then I think that’s when I sit down and sort of reevaluate.”

The danger of having too many concussions is that they can cause players to develop Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that is caused by repetitive brain injuries, and according to Sportsmd.com CTE can cause symptoms and behaviors similar to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. CTE is considered to be the only preventable form of dementia. Hockey players are faced with a serious issue: continue to play professionally or quit the sport for the sake of future quality of life.

Original post in the News and Observer by Chip Alexander 3/31/15

Read more about CTE here: http://www.sportsmd.com/concussions-head-injuries/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-cte-2/

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Understanding The Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

Most of us have heard the frightening statistics regarding the recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx.  As of this date, 12 people have died and more than 120 additional cases have been reported.   But what exactly is this mysterious malady affecting so many at one time and what are its causes?  

Legionnaires’ disease is a common name for a type of pneumonia caused by breathing in water mist containing the bacteria. It was named after a 1976 outbreak in Philadelphia during an American Legion convention that killed more than 30 people and sickened almost 200 more. Most of us rarely hear about this disease unless it is part of a large outbreak, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, anywhere from 8,000-18,000 people are hospitalized each year in the U.S. as a result of Legionnaires’.  The current outbreak in the Bronx seems to point to the building’s cooling towers that are used as part of their air conditioning, ventilation, and heating systems, but the bacteria can be found in almost any warm water system or device that disperses water including humidifiers, spas and whirlpools, and dental water lines. The disease is not contagious and can only be caused by breathing in the bacteria- laden vapor. 

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) has put out a fact sheet for workers and unions. Workers performing routine maintenance on or in cooling towers and other water systems may need to wear respiratory protection. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the employer to determine hazards and provide training programs if the use of a protective device is required. Additionally, there are recommendations regarding assessment of work sites for potential Legionnaires’ disease. Cooling towers should be regularly maintained and cleaned with the use of chlorine and unused water lines should be frequently flushed.

In this recent Bronx outbreak, the New York City Health Commissioner issued an order to all owners of buildings with cooling towers to disinfect all of them within 14 days of receiving the order and keep records of the inspection and disinfection. Those workers with the task of cleaning and decontaminating the towers are advised to wear protective respirators as well as rubber gloves, goggles, and protective clothing. 

Every worker is entitled to a safe work place. According to NYCOSH, certain groups of workers are at increased risk of exposure to Legionnaires’ disease, including those who maintain, clean, decontaminate, or work in close proximity to water systems and system components such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers, humidifiers, potable water heaters and holding tanks and pipes that may contain stagnant warm water.

Workers should be aware of Legionnaires’ disease symptoms, which include fever, headache, joint aches, and fatigue, that can deteriorate into difficulty breathing, chills, chest pain, and gastrointestinal symptoms. As Legionnaires’ is a type of pneumonia, it can be diagnosed with a chest x-ray and lab tests to confirm the bacteria. While most in the Bronx outbreak who died had a compromised immune system, early treatment with antibiotics can lessen the symptoms and improve the changes of recovery. 

  

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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We’re Having A Worldwide Heat Wave: How You Can Stay Safe

A few weeks ago, I read about a crisis occurring in Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, a week-long heatwave killed more than 1,200 people and in India, the heat killed close to 2,200. Tens of thousands more were treated at area hospitals for heatstroke. It appears that the combination of prolonged temperatures above 100 degrees combined with power outages had a devastating impact on people.

As I read the news while sitting in the comfort of my air conditioned home, I thought briefly about the fact that we are all so lucky that events such as this rarely happen in this country. We have the resources and the alternatives available if we lose power or if we don’t have air conditioning during a heat wave. The City regularly opens up cooling centers or keeps City pools open longer so that residents are able to combat some of the more severe heat of the day.  However, not all of us are lucky enough to work inside where it is cool or engage in work activity that is not strenuous. What about those who work outside, or do heavy labor without the benefit of air conditioning? How do they protect themselves from the extreme heat that may be a part of their everyday work?

I was surprised to find out that each year, hundreds of people die due to heat-related illnesses and thousands more become ill. Outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to heat stress.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor Blog, thousands of employees become sick each year and many die from working in the heat. In 2012, there were 31 heat-related worker deaths and 4,120 heat-related worker illnesses. Labor-intensive activities in hot weather can raise body temperatures beyond the level that normally can be cooled by sweating. Heat illness initially may manifest as heat rash or heat cramps, but can quickly escalate to heat stroke if precautions aren’t taken.

I am always surprised when I see firefighters on days with extreme heat fighting fires or see construction workers, road workers, or landscapers outside in the day-time heat engaged in strenuous physical. I often wonder how they are able to work without collapsing. The answer is that many of these workers become used to the extreme heat and are acclimated to it. Heat illness disproportionately affects those who have are not used to working in such extreme temperatures, such as new or temporary workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers. It recommends providing workers with water, rest, and shade, and for them to wear light colored clothing and a hat if possible. OSHA advises that new workers or workers returning from vacation should be exposed to the heat gradually so their bodies have a chance to adapt. However, even the best precautions sometimes cannot prevent heat-related illness.   According to WebMD, signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, headaches, excessive sweating, extreme thirst, and hot skin. If you have signs of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat, rest, and drink plenty of water. Severe heat illness can result in heat stroke. Symptoms of heat stroke include convulsions, confusion, shortness of breath, decreased sweating, and rapid heart rate, and can be fatal, so please be aware and seek immediate medical attention if you have any of these symptoms.      

For those who work outside in the boiling heat, heat illness can be prevented. However it can also kill so please be careful and remember – water, rest, and shade. 

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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Workers Can’t Wait to Cash In?

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

It’s not uncommon in the workers’ compensation arena that we hear allegations of malingering or workers being hurt on purpose to reap the monetary rewards of a work injury. Some employers refuse to settle a case as long as the worker is still employed by the company, fearing a large monetary settlement will encourage other workers to get injured.  The limited benefits of a workers’ compensation claim make these assertions ridiculous.  Specifically, no benefits are paid for the pain and suffering.  Additionally, the reality is that many states compensate a permanent injury for only a matter of weeks or years.  The worker and his or her family are left to deal with the ongoing effects of these injuries for the balance of their lifetime. 

The Insurance Journal listed the top 10 leading causes “of serious, nonfatal workplace injuries” from “2012 claims data for injuries lasting six or more days and ranked the injuries by total workers’ compensation costs,” according to a recent article.

Not surprisingly, horseplay or purposefully getting injured was not among them. In fact, the leading cause of workplace injuries is ironically enough – overexertion! Overexertion and other exertion-related injuries made up almost a third of all workplace injuries. So much for the theory of money-hungry workers playing around or purposefully getting injured. Falls comprise two of the top 10 leading causes of workplace injuries, making up a total of just over 24 percent of all injuries.  Being struck by or striking objects combined for around 15 percent. Motor vehicle accidents (5.3 percent) and repetitive movements (3.1 percent) round out the top 10 list. The full list is detailed below. In total, the 10 most common work injuries accounted for almost 84 percent of all injuries.     

  1. Overexertion 25.3 percent
  2. Falls on same level 15.4 percent
  3. Struck by object or equipment 8.9 percent
  4. Falls to lower level 8.6 percent
  5. Other exertions or bodily reactions 7.2 percent
  6. Roadway incidents 5.3 percent
  7. Slip or trip without fall 3.6 percent
  8. Caught in or by equipment or objects 3.5 percent
  9. Repetitive motions 3.1 percent
  10. Struck against object or equipment 2.9 percent

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace deaths have decreased from 38 per day in 1970 to 12 per day in 2012, according to the article. Additionally, OSHA reports occupational injury and illness rates have declined 67 percent since 1970, all while employment has almost doubled.

Despite these accomplishments, insurance companies and large employers continue to lobby state legislatures about the injustice and cost of workers’ compensation benefits. In reality, workers and their families continue to bear the real burdens of workplace injuries.

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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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