Tag Archives: OSHA

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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Are Forklifts Dangerous?

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

 The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) covers forklifts under the section called Powered Industrial Trucks, and you have to be certified to operate these lifts. The smaller ones you see weigh up to 7,000 pounds and they are so dangerous some experts consider them “inherently dangerous.”

It is in violation of federal law to operate a forklift if under the age of 18, and OSHA requires that you be specifically trained. See 29 CFR 1910.178. If operated properly, a forklift is no more dangerous than any other piece of heavy machinery. However, if the operator is not properly trained and certified bad things can happen. We now represent a young man who was allowed to operate a forklift without any certification and the forklift turned over on him and crushed him, damaging several internal organs and his spine. He survived, but he is partially paralyzed from the waist down. He will have a lifetime of pain. He has lost the use of both feet.

Other examples are workers being crushed when a forklift accidentally runs into them. The human body cannot withstand a crush impact from a 7,000 pound machine. If the lifts on the forklift are elevated with a heavy load, the potential for a tip-over is greatly increased, even if the operator is moving slowly. Never underestimate the power of a forklift.

For more information go to osha.gov and review Powered Industrial Trucks.

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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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What Football Can Teach White-collar Employees About Layoffs, Severance

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

With football season upon us, I would like to use football to explain some common situations that employees face.

I get a lot of calls from white-collar professionals who have long careers with a company but then are laid off a few months after a new boss is hired. This happens a lot in football when a general manager/athletic director replaces a head coach and the head coach fires the previous coach’s assistant coaches. White-collar employees in middle-management positions are essentially the equivalents of assistant coaches in football. In the world of football, it is assumed that a new head coach can bring in his new assistants. The same assumption holds true in the business world.

Assistant coaches are oftentimes “bought out” of their employment contracts. Sometimes white-collar professionals have employment contracts, but more often than not they do not. Sometimes professionals are offered severance agreements, but unless there is an employment contract, that severance is not a buyout. Employers are also under no obligation to offer severance. If severance is offered, that doesn’t necessarily mean that an employer wrongfully terminated the employee.

Of course, no employee can be terminated because of age, disability, sex, race, nationality, or in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity like filing for workers’ compensation or filing with OSHA. But even if there is some appearance of wrongful motivation on behalf of the employer, the employer can still defeat a potential lawsuit if they have a legitimate business reason for terminating the employee. Going back to a football analogy, if the new head coach wants to switch an offensive or defensive scheme, they have the right to hire the person they choose. The fact the new hire might be less effective than the old hire is not a decision that a court will second guess in a wrongful termination. Sure, if there is something else wrongful going on, it is something a court or a jury could consider, but in a case where there is a recent change in management, employees will have difficult time overcoming the assumption that the new boss just wants to “put in their team.”

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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

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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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Let OSHA Do Its Job

OSHA is being prevented from fulfilling its mission.

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

In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety & Health Act (the Act), which created the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Among other things, the Act requires every employer to provide a safe workplace. To help employers reach this goal, OSHA promulgated hundreds of rules in the decade after it was created. OSHA’s rulemaking process has, however, slowed to a trickle since then.  

While the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health recently identified over 600 toxic chemicals to which workers are exposed, in the last 16 years OSHA has added only two toxic chemicals to its list of regulated chemicals. This is because Congress, Presidents and the courts have hamstrung OSHA. For example, in March 2001 the Bush Administration and a Republican Congress effectively abolished OSHA’s ergonomics rule, a rule the agency had worked on for many years. 

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses.

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses. Workers are being injured and killed by known hazardous circumstances and OSHA can’t act.

Congress and the President need to break this logjam – we need to free OSHA to do its job of safeguarding workers.

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OSHA Reaches Employer Agreement to Stop Discouraging Employee Accident Reports

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

Statistics regarding the reporting of accidents have historically been challenged for accuracy as employees have been fearful about reporting events, and employers have been reluctant for numerous reasons, including the potential of increased insurance costs. Now OSHA has taken a significant step to legitimize the process by seeking an employer accord not to take adverse actions against employees for reporting injuries in the workplace.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co., headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. FRSA’s Section 20109 protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA’s mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.”

The major terms of the accord include:

  • Changing BNSF’s disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation. As of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF has reduced the probations of 136 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.
  • Eliminating a policy that Continue reading

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