Category Archives: Workplace Safety

Hazards exist in the surface refinishing business

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

University of Iowa, College of Public health, recently reported the death of a bathtub refinishing technician who died from the inhalation of paint stripper vapors.

The apartment manager and first responders reported a strong chemical odor in the second story apartment.

In 2012, a 37-year-old female technician employed by a surface-refinishing business died from inhalation exposure to methylene chloride and methanol vapors while she used a chemical stripper to prep the surface of a bathtub for refinishing. The technician was working alone without respiratory protection or ventilation controls in a small bathroom of a rental apartment. When the technician did not pick up her children at the end of the day, her parents contacted her employer, who then called the apartment complex manager after determining the victim’s personal vehicle was still at the refinishing company’s parking lot. The apartment complex manager went to the apartment unit where the employee had been working and called 911 upon finding the employee unresponsive, slumped over the bathtub. City Fire Department responders arrived within 4 minutes of the 911 call. The apartment manager and first responders reported a strong chemical odor in the second story apartment. There was an uncapped gallon can of Continue reading

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

NY Company Fined for Noise Violations in the Workplace

Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that a Queens metal products manufacturer was cited and fined more than $108,900. The manufacturer had committed a number of repeat workplace safety violations, including failure to protect workers from exposure to high noise levels.

Our New York City work injury attorneys know that exposure to loud noises at work can have serious consequences for a worker’s hearing. Employers must use caution to ensure that employees are protected in loud workplaces in order to avoid permanent damage. If an employer fails and a worker’s hearing is impacted, a workers compensation claim could be filed.

Too often, we don’t associate hearing loss with trauma. Yet, workplace noise is a leading cause of hearing impairment.

OSHA on Loud Workplaces

The Queens business cited for noise violations is not the only one that has failed to comply with OSHA noise regulations. There are many businesses, including those in the fields of manufacturing, hospitality, mining and construction, that do not comply with the guidelines designed to protect the hearing of workers. 

This lack of compliance is tragic since the guidelines are simple and effective. The OSHA guidelines related to noise hazards focus on prevention, mitigation, training and correction of problems. For example, OSHA requires that:

  • Employers institute a hearing conservation program if workers are exposed to 85 decibels or more over the course of their day. This program can include audiometric testing (a hearing test) annually.
  • Employers provide hearing protection devices, such as earplugs, in order to minimize the potential damage to hearing caused by loud noises.
  • Employers use either administrative or engineering noise control methods if the noise level would result in exposure exceeding 90 decibels.

Engineering controls center around making the worksite less noisy. This might include redesigning the workplace so machinery noise is reduced; enclosing the source of the noise; enclosing the worker away from the loudest noise; or purchasing quieter equipment in order to replace the older, louder equipment that is causing the hazard.

In the case of the Queens metal products manufacturer recently cited by OSHA, the company failed to create a hearing conservation program for those workers who were routinely exposed to loud noise levels. Since such a program is required, the company could be held responsible for the failure. This was considered a serious violation, and resulted in a fine of $34,650.

The fines that an employer may be required to pay to OSHA for a failure to comply with noise requirements may serve as a deterrent to encourage change, safer behavior and better safety practices in the future. However, for workers who have already been harmed due to noisy workplaces, the fines that an employer must pay to OSHA as a result of violations of workplace safety laws don’t help to cover their costs or meet their bills.

Those who were injured due to excessive loudness at work, however, can file a workers compensation claim. Such claims are available for any work injury and can cover the costs of medical treatment, as well as the costs of any time that the worker must take away from employment due to health problems incurred on the job. 

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

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

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.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

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.

 

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

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.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

All This Tragedy Should Be A Catalyst For Change

This has been a tragic week in our country. Monday’s Boston Marathon attack was followed by Wednesday’s massive blast at the West Fertilizer Company in Texas. As I write, the final death toll from the West Fertilizer Co. fire has yet to be determined. It is currently unknown what caused the blast and it is unknown whether the casualties included employees, first responders or citizens. However as we look at this tragedy we should be reminded that this spring marks the 102nd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. That terrible event which took place on March 26, 1911 was followed by a swift and aggressive response by workers and labor activists. Their response led to the establishment of many of the protective organizations American workers now rely on, including the workers’ compensation system, the American Society of Safety Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

As with the Triangle fire, this should be a time for action as well as reflection. April 28th is Workers’ Memorial Day, a great opportunity to talk about how to establish better workplace safety so that no tragedies like the Triangle factory or West Fertilizer explosion – if caused by unsafe work conditions – occur again. Whatever the cause, let this tragic week be a wake up call to us to prevent more people from dying needlessly in the future,

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

Bullying Not Limited to Workplace or Playground

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

I recently received an inquiry from a student about working through the challenges caused and exacerbated by her bullying professor, because unfortunately, bullying has never been limited to work or a school filled with children. This is my response.

Sorry to hear about your professor making your life miserable. I have two pieces of advice for dealing with him. Here is how you can proceed to protect your rights:

  1. Under Title IX, you likely have the right to take medical leave from school to deal with your psychiatric condition. This should allow you to stay in the program and preserve your ability to get your degree. This will at least give you time to treat your mental health condition so you can deal with your bullying professor. Here’s a blog post that touches on that portion of your concern. 
  2. Once you get your mental health together, I would attempt to band together with other students who have been bullied by the professor and bring it up with the administration. I find there is more power for people when they band together rather when the face their employer, or in your case school administration, as individuals. This blog post shows some information about what to do when you’re dealing with a bully. 

I sent you these blog posts so you can understand the underlying legal principles here. As a student you are protected against discrimination by Title IX. This includes protection from harassment that is motivated by sex, race, religion, etc. However this professor seems to be an equal-opportunity jerk, which means his conduct is not against the law. However, you likely have some protections based on disability as well under Title IX. Your mental-health condition is a disability, so at the very least the school will probably have to grant you some leave to take care of your mental-health condition.

The weakness with asking for accommodations from a bullying boss based on a mental-health condition is that administrators and courts tend to view people with mental-health conditions as overly sensitive and unreasonable.

If you can get a few people to join with you in standing up to a bully, you are in a stronger position. It sounds like you would have some people who would be willing to join with you. You are in a stronger position than you think. Your major is an industry that is competitive where the pay is fairly low. There is no shortage of people who are qualified to be teachers within you major. I’m sure they could hire someone with a basic sense of decency.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

Factory Fires in Pakistan Are A Painful Reminder Of Safety Oversights

A recent fire at a Pakistani garment factory is reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire

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

The fires in two clothing factories in Pakistan on August 12, 2012, where locked exit doors and lack of safety inspections helped fuel the flames of death for over 300 people, has similarity with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York (147 deaths) in March of 1911, and the chicken factory fire in Hamlet, N.C.  (54 deaths) in 1991. Both sites had locked exit doors that trapped workers. Two brothers owned the Triangle factory and two brothers owned the factories in Pakistan. Garment workers jumped to their deaths in New York and workers in Pakistan were forced to jump out of upper-floor windows to try to escape the flames.  It was reported that Punjab province safety inspections were abolished in 2003 to develop a more “business friendly environment,” and the Hamlet factory had never been inspected in 11 years of operation.

The latest news is that the factories that burned in Pakistan were allegedly inspected just weeks before the fires by Social Accountability International (SAI), a nonprofit monitoring group that gets much of its financing from corporations. Western companies (like Gap and Gucci), who make clothes in Pakistan and other countries where the labor is cheap, relied on SAI to give them some peace of mind about working conditions, but the total failure of SAI to do it the job is evident. Either it was sleep walking while doing inspections and just going through the motions, or it was just a front for major corporations.

In the United Sates, as we strive to downsize government in the years ahead, we need to keep in mind that government regulations concerning safety must be enforced. If not, safety everywhere will become an issue  - on the highway, in the products we use and the food we eat – and we may similarly find ourselves, or a family member, trapped in a deadly situation, with no way out.

 

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.