Category Archives: Workplace Injury

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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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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