Frostbite and Hypothermia: Dangers Of Working In Extreme Cold

Now that winter is officially upon us, let’s think about those workers who must brave the cold, wind, snow, and freezing rain as part of their daily work routine. They include postal workers, delivery personnel, construction workers, utility company employees, as well as firefighters, police officers, and sanitation workers.  I shiver when the news shows video of firefighters putting out a fire in the frigid temperatures as the wind blows back the water on them that immediately freezes. I cringe during record cold spells when I see police officers out in the elements protecting the public. 

These are just a few examples of what many men and women deal with as part of their workday. While most of us living in the northeast have experienced freezing temperatures while commuting or engaging in recreational outdoor activities or doing outdoor chores in our daily lives, it is generally for a finite period of time and while it certainly is uncomfortable, it is not usually life threatening.

Working in the cold can not only cause a reduction in job performance but can aggravate the risk of common hazards and increase the risk of injury. It is not just the outside temperature that must be taken into consideration, but the wind chill, which is what the temperature actually feels like when the wind is factored in. According to the Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) Administration, while there are no specific guidelines for working in cold environments, employers have a duty to protect workers from any hazards that could cause injury or death in the workplace. While it is left to the particular industry/employer to establish protocol, OSHA does recommend that employers train their employees to recognize the symptoms of cold stress, including hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is dangerously low body temperature. Initial symptoms include shivering, followed by dizziness and disorientation. There may be loss of coordination that can be dangerous as it can lead to accidents and injuries. Eventually circulation starts to slow down and the heart stops, leading to death.    

Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the skin and tissue that can damage blood vessels, resulting in a lack of oxygen. Severe frostbite can result in gangrene that requires amputation, and can even lead to death. In both cases, it is recommended to get the person to a warm place and provide immediate medical attention.

Preventing hypothermia and frostbite before they happen should be a priority. According to the National Safety Council, it is important to dress in layers and wear proper footwear to keep body heat trapped inside your clothes. Your outerwear should be wind- and water-proof to keep you dry. As the head and neck lose heat faster than any other part of the body, and your cheeks, ears, and nose are the most prone to frostbite, you should wear a hat, scarf, and turtleneck to protect these areas. Drink plenty of fluids to fuel your body and keep you warm, and eat foods with carbohydrates to give you quick energy. 

While there is very little we can do about the weather, there is plenty we can do to protect ourselves from the negative effects on our bodies. Knowing the warning signs and what to if you or a coworker starts showing symptoms can help save a life.

 

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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What To Do When You Get Hurt At Work

As an attorney who has practiced in the field of Workers’ Compensation for more than 28 years, I have seen many changes in how the system treats injured workers.  During this age of progressiveness in New York, when the minimum wage has increased and the requirement for paid sick leave has been implemented, it only stands to reason that injured workers would be treated with dignity during their quest to obtain monetary benefits for their lost time and obtain the medical treatment necessary during their recovery. 

Unfortunately, however, there has been a nationwide focus on Workers’ Compensation reform with the emphasis on cost savings, often at the expense of the injured worker.  New York State has followed along in this national trend; therefore, it is even more imperative to know what to do in the event of a work-related injury or illness.  Injured workers must notify their employer immediately – preferably in writing if possible – within 30 days and file their claim with the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board within two years of the date of an accident or onset of an illness.     

Additionally, finding the right doctor is one of the most important decisions you can make during this particularly rough time. After you are injured, you obviously must seek immediate medical attention before you do anything else. Don’t wait or assume your injury is going to heal, because if you are unable to work, benefits will not be payable until the date of the first medical treatment. You might need to go to the hospital if your injury is an emergency or life threatening, but in most cases you should be able to visit your physician. Either way, be sure you notify the medical professional that you are being treated for a work-related injury as any treatment should be billed through Workers’ Compensation.  It is important that your treating physician be coded to practice before the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board because of the medical evidence necessary to proceed with a claim, the myriad of forms they are required to file, and the possibility of their testimony in the future.  

The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board has implemented medical treatment guidelines for injuries to the back, neck, shoulder, knees, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. Medical providers must comply with these guidelines in their treatment of injured workers, which have a number of treatments or tests that are preauthorized based upon certain findings. If the modality of treatment is not included in the guidelines, a variance may be requested. There are different forms for different requests and different timelines in which to file. A doctor not coded in Workers’ Compensation or inexperienced in this procedure could prevent you from receiving proper or timely treatment. 

Payments made for lost time are based upon the earnings of the injured worker, as well as the overall degree of disability. The degree of disability is based upon the medical evidence submitted by the injured worker’s treating doctor, as well as the opinion of the insurance company’s consultant. Many times these opinions are at odds and medical testimony is necessary so the law judge can make an informed decision. Doctors who are coded understand the procedure and the necessity of being available to testify on your behalf at these medical depositions. The insurance carrier will question the doctor on whether he or she is coded, which may impact the judge’s perception as to a doctor’s credibility regarding treatment guidelines, degree of disability, or earning capacity. Ultimately, the length of time and the amount of weekly benefits an injured worker is entitled to receive benefits once permanency is determined by a law judge is based on a finding of loss of earning capacity. In many cases, there can be a difference in years. 

Nothing is better than finding a doctor who is competent, empathetic, and an expert in his area of specialty, but finding one with all of these qualities who is also knowledgeable in Workers’ Compensation is invaluable. 

 

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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MTA Workers Face Dangerous Conditions

For many of us who live in and work around New York City, taking public transportation is part the routine of our daily lives. According to the MTA’s official website, they are the largest public transportation network in the country, serving more than 15 million riders on the subways, buses, and Long Island Railroad, and they employ more than 73,000* people.   

Most of the time, our commutes are uneventful. However, we all have our own transportation horror stories to tell — trains arriving hours late or breaking down, rail lines closed for repairs or emergencies, air conditioning not working, or being in the company of an unruly, drunk, or perhaps mentally unstable individual. As commuters we expect to arrive at our destinations on time and safely. As employees, you expect to perform your duties safely and without threat of harm.

Unfortunately for many MTA employees, this is not the case. My office has handled hundreds of cases regarding injuries that occurred within the transportation system. Subway conductors and bus operators, mechanics, token booth clerks, cleaners, and track equipment maintainers are all MTA jobs that are necessary to move millions of riders each year. These MTA workers are typically represented by the Transit Workers Union Local 100, which regularly gets reports of their injured employees. Yet, while the union knows that workplace injuries are the unfortunate part of the job, the general public often does not realize the extent of just how dangerous an MTA job can actually be.

There are so many instances of workers being injured or even killed that have made the news. In March, a track worker who was making repairs died when he fell 9 feet onto the tracks. Some accidents are caused by slipping and falling on the tracks, others by lifting heavy equipment or as a result of sitting long hours in a fixed position. Some work-related injuries occur because of unsafe work conditions. Some occur in the absence of fault. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rising trend of injuries occurring when workers find themselves in the line of fire from riders.

Recently there were a string of pepper spray attacks on bus drivers. Two occurred in Brooklyn on the same day, with more following just a few days later. Thankfully the drivers suffered only minor injuries. In June, a conductor in Brooklyn was attacked, and a month later another was attacked in Queens. In August, video was released of a subway conductor being punched by an angry couple upset that their train schedule was changed.

And if all of these incidents were not bad enough, sadly, three Transit workers died this year from illnesses contracted working at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks in 2001.  

The increase in attacks on transit workers is outrageous and in a rare display of solidarity, both the Transit Workers Union and the MTA have united in their efforts to put an end to the attacks on workers.   While riding public transportation is getting more and more frustrating, the answer is not to attack the working men and women who work for the transit system. The majority of time something has gone wrong, it’s not their fault. Everyone, no matter what industry they work in, expects and deserves to have a safe work space free from assaults and injuries.

*2017 statistics from the official MTA website.

 

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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Benefits Alert – Workers’ Compensation Rates Increased on July 1, 2018

Senior Partner Jordan A. Ziegler

Last year’s solar eclipse brought about fun and excitement for Americans of all ages, but did you know it also brought about several Workers’ Compensation claims?

The rare total solar eclipse was the first time it occurred in the United States since 1979. The August 21 eclipse was the most watched and photographed eclipse in history. With all the excitement surrounding the day, many employers planned solar eclipse office viewing parties. What they might not have known, however, was that in the case of a mandatory employer-sponsored event, safety precautions must be taken. In this case, employers were responsible for providing safety glasses. Employees who were injured while eclipse-viewing on the job were able to file Workers’ Compensation claims if their boss did not provide adequate eye protection.

In fact, an article about workplace safety concerns related to the eclipse was the third most read Workers’ Compensation story on Business Insurance’s website in 2017. This substantiates the proof that Workers’ Comp is a complicated matter and one that workers should not play guessing games with.

Jordan Ziegler, Esq. Senior Partner in the law firm Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP, said the New York State Workers’ Compensation system is a no-fault system that was created to aid injured workers with wage replacement and medical benefits. However, navigating through the Workers’ Comp maze requires much more than chasing a dangling carrot. You need to know and understand the rules in order to follow the rules. And that’s no easy task.

The effects of even a small injury can last a lifetime, so make the most of each step toward healing and the compensation to which you are entitled. Effective July 1, 2018, the new maximum weekly benefit for Workers’ Compensation claims increased to $904.74 from the previous year’s $870.61.

If you are injured on the job, or think you might have a work-related injury, here are some important steps to follow:

  • Let your employer know the circumstances that resulted in your injury. You only have 30 days to report the incident. Next, inform the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) so everyone is on the same page. It may be difficult to contact them but don’t worry, you’ve got two years to let them know.
  • Even if you don’t lose time from work, you should still file a claim. Someone has to pay the medical bills and it’s typically the WCB’s insurance company’s responsibility.
  • Remember to document any phone records and emails that follow. Written communication is the best way to later prove your side of the story. In fact, the law requires you to give written notice of your injury to your employer. Make sure you note the supervisors and staff you communicate with and the date your notification took place. Make copies of everything! And save all emails.
  • When seeking medical attention, either in the nearest emergency room or a doctor’s office, ask for detailed records of your injury and prescribed treatment.

Ziegler said the path to benefits is highly detailed. You may not even realize that beside medical benefits, you might also qualify for indemnity benefits — money you receive each week that you’re unable to work. With a permanent injury, you might be eligible for such benefits even if you return to your job.

Just as employers have attorneys to represent the interests of their companies, YOU must gather the right team to navigate the detailed — and often confusing — laws of Workers’ Compensation.

“Workers’ Comp goes a long way toward helping ease the financial burden that comes with not being able to fully return to work,” Ziegler said. “There are so many complicated ins and outs of filing, however, that all too often injured workers will give up rather than fight for what they are entitled do. That’s where we are able to step in and help but we can’t do that if we don’t know about the injury.”

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Q&A With Senior Partner Matt Funk: Mandatory Arbitration, Sexual Harassment Legislation, Scaffolding & More

Senior Partner Matt Funk

Matt Funk is the president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and is a senior partner at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano. The New York Law Journal recently asked Funk to share his opinions on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on employment contracts and new laws on sexual harassment and scaffold protection.

Q: Do you think the Supreme Court’s recent decision that employment agreements that ban class actions do not violate federal labor laws will have an impact on workers?

A: The Supreme Court decision is a blatant misinterpretation of labor rights that will ultimately harm workers across the country. Individual workers typically lack the resources to take on major corporations by themselves. Through class-action lawsuits, workers can join together to hold negligent employers and bad actors accountable.

By allowing employers to strip this fundamental right away from workers, the Supreme Court is forcing victims to take reported violations to paid third-party arbitrators, usually from an arbitration firm chosen by the employer, which creates a strong potential for bias. It removes the dispute-resolution mechanism from an independent court, and places it into the hands of decision-makers in the pockets of the accused party, making it difficult to hold employers responsible for misconduct and labor violations.

Q: When did mandatory arbitration clauses really become so entrenched in the agreements and contracts that consumers regularly encounter?

A: Mandatory arbitration clauses have their roots in the Federal Arbitration Act, a law passed in 1925 that granted businesses the ability to resolve disputes outside of the courtroom through third-party arbitrators. The law was designed for business-to-business transactions but over the past 30 to 40 years, the courts have made it easier for corporations to include these clauses in contracts where the individual consumer or employee has no real power to change the contract terms. Eventually, these clauses became par for the course, often cloaked in legalese unrecognizable to the untrained eye.

Consumers often overlook these clauses, unaware of how their rights are being limited until it’s too late to avoid them or take action. The only way to level the playing field, and make sure corporations take consumer safety seriously, is to ban mandatory arbitration clauses in employment and consumer contracts.

Q: What is the association’s reaction to recent sexual harassment legislation passed and signed into law in New York City?

A: The legislation is a major step in the right direction, at a critical moment in the fight for gender equality. Over the past year, women across the country have shared their experiences in the workplace, demonstrating how institutions have reinforced sexism to physically harm and intimidate women, discourage their ambitions, prevent career advancement, and create hostile workplaces.

The City Council recognized that it was imperative to do more than just listen—they needed to act and do something to change the status quo. The legislation will help ensure that all managers and employees are properly trained and educated, creating a foundation for institutional reform that reverberates across businesses and organizations of all stripes in New York City.

Q: I know the association has taken a position on the Scaffold Safety Law in New York. What are the concerns?

A: It’s no secret that construction work is one of the most dangerous jobs in New York. In 2016 alone, 71 construction workers in New York State died in on-the-job incidents, the highest total we’ve seen since 2002. The Scaffold Safety Law is a much-needed source of justice and accountability that is essential to protecting workers and making safety paramount.

Given the risks involved, it’s up to owners and general contractors who have ultimate control over the work site to create a secure working environment, by following safety guidelines and providing proper equipment. When owners and general contractors ignore basic rules and fail to provide adequate gear, they put workers at risk and create tragedies out of sheer negligence and disregard for their employees’ lives.

The Scaffold Safety Law offers workers and their families a way to hold negligent owners and general contractors accountable. In instances where workers are seriously injured or killed as a result of unsafe working conditions, their families are forced to take on the costs of lost wages, medical bills and other impacts that are not adequately covered by workers’ compensation, not to mention the physical and emotional pain that results. The Scaffold Safety Law can help mitigate the financial stresses and devastation facing victims and their families, while delivering them justice. At the same time, it insists that owners and contractors follow safety guidelines and promote worker safety so workers can return home to their families at the end of a hard day’s work.

Q: You’re nearing the end of your term as NYSTLA president. What achievements are you most proud of?

A: Over the last year, I’m particularly proud of NYSTLA’s leadership in expanding and strengthening the legal rights of everyday New Yorkers. Working with a broad network of affected residents and families, advocates, and legislators, NYSTLA has been able to achieve legislative and regulatory victories that deliver justice and practical, meaningful results.

In January, Lavern’s Law was enacted, establishing legal rights for patients harmed by negligent failure to diagnose cancer or a malignant tumor by changing the statute of limitations to reflect the date of discovery. And in 2017, legislation was passed that expands access to SUM auto insurance, promoting better insurance coverage for drivers. Elsewhere on the road, we successfully fought for the implementation of a regulatory framework for ride-share services that is the best in the nation when it comes to protecting consumers, including proper insurance coverage. Not to be forgotten, we also reinforced victims’ legal rights through a bill that allows lawsuits to proceed in the same county where the violation occurred. And, finally, as a workers’ compensation attorney, I am particularly proud of our success working with the labor movement to beat back harmful changes that were proposed that would have gutted the workers’ compensation system.

At the same time, NYSTLA has continued to help young lawyers develop professionally and gain the knowledge they need to make a significant impact through a continuing legal education program that has repeatedly been voted the best in the state.

We believe in leading by example, and our efforts this year serve as a reminder of how the legal community can make a difference on behalf of the public interest.

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Congratulations to Edgar Romano, New President of Society of New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association

Managing Partner Edgar Romano

On May 17th, Managing Partner Edgar Romano was installed as the new President of the Society of New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association (NY WCBA). Prior to his installation as President, Edgar served as NY WCBA’s 1st Vice President.

The NY WCBA was established in 1945 as a bipartisan organization comprised of attorneys representing all parties to workers’ compensation claims: claimants, self-insured employers, third party administrators, insurance carriers, and others who are affiliated with the New York State Workers’ Compensation system. The purpose of the organization is to identify issues that affect the administration of the Workers’ Compensation Law and attempt to offer suggestions for the remediation of these issues in a fair and impartial manner. In addition, the Association is involved in educating persons unfamiliar with the complexities of the Workers’ Compensation Law.

The Association is also involved in fund raising for charity. This year represents the Association’s 17th annual golf and tennis fund raiser for pediatric cancer research on behalf of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Through the generosity of its members and sponsors, the Association has raised over $500,000 since the inception of its annual outing.

Congratulations from all of us!

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Veterans Can Be Eligible For Full Or Partial Disability Benefits

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)

Veteran’s disability is a monetary benefit that is paid to veterans who have disabilities incurred or aggravated during active service in the military. Benefits may also be awarded for post-service disabilities if the disability is deemed related or secondary to disabilities occurring during active service.

This tax-free benefit is paid monthly if the veteran is deemed to be at least 10% disabled. The amount of compensation is determined by the degree of disability from 10% to 100%.

Other eligibility requirements include the status of your discharge, duration of service, as well as the degree of your disability.

If you believe that yourself or a loved one should be entitled to Veterans Compensation Benefits, or if you believe you are more disabled than Veterans Affairs has previously determined, contact Pasternack, Tilker Ziegler, Walsh, Stanton & Romano, LLP for a free consultation.

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Social Security Disability – Know When To Submit Medical Records Before Your Hearing

The timeline for you or your attorney to submit evidence of your disability to the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently become much shorter.

In May of 2017, the SSA implemented a new rule on submitting evidence. If you want the judge to look at any new medical records, they must be submitted at least 5 business days before your hearing. If you miss the deadline, the judge can now legally ignore the new evidence, no matter how important it is.

Before this new rule, the SSA’s disability judges were required to consider all medical evidence of your disability before they could decide your case, no matter when it was submitted or where it came from. This burden was very high — the SSA was even required to try to take action to find proof on its own. Under the new 2017 rule, if your new evidence is important but wasn’t turned over at least 5 business days before the hearing, you may have to prove that there were some “unusual, unexpected, or unavoidable circumstances beyond your control [that] prevented you from informing [SSA] about or submitting the evidence earlier.”

Know your rights!  This new rule also means that Social Security has to give you at least 75-day notice before your hearing. Unfortunately, we law firm have also seen Social Security sending people forms asking them to waive their right to this notice. If you receive a form asking to waive your rights, consult with an attorney before signing anything. We are provide free consultations.

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