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July 7, 2014

Fatal Hazmat Incident Reported at MA Elementary School

Officials in Plymouth are scrambling to figure out what caused a scary hazardous materials incident that claimed the life of a senior custodian at Manomet Elementary School this morning. Police responded to a report of a body inside the building, but it was not immediately known if it was related the ongoing hazmat incident or if it was an unrelated occurrence. Upon investigating the death of the school employee, two police officers and another unidentified person became ill and needed to be transported to the hospital. reports that a total of ten people, including nine school employees were taken the hospital with minor symptoms. Most had been treated and released.

It is unclear what caused the illness, and officials are investigating whether the incident is related work being done on the building, or if it was caused by another unknown source. The state fire marshal is conducting an investigation and said more information would be available later in the afternoon, but did say that chemical levels in the building appeared to be “very low.”

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June 30, 2014

Boston Bridge & Steel Inc. Cited by OSHA After Worker’s Death

Steel fabrication plant Boston Bridge & Steel Inc., was cited by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety Health Organization following a worker’s death late last year.

The 46-year-old man who worked at the steel fabrication plant died when a 6-ton steel bridge arch beam that he was spray painting fell and crushed him. An investigation by OSHA found that Boston Bridge & Steel Inc. exposed its workers to hazardous situations including failing to ensure that the fallen beam and three other similar beams were adequately braced or supported to prevent them from falling while being painted.

"This death should not have happened-and would not have happened-if these beams had been properly secured," said Brenda Gordon, OSHA's area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts. "An incident such as this, and the incalculable loss of life that results, can be prevented only if employers provide and maintain effective safeguards for their workers."

The employees, who were cleaning and spray-painting the beams, were also not equipped with adequate respiratory protection against vapors generated during the spray painting, according to a press release by OSHA. In addition, workers who wore half-face respirators had not been evaluated to determine their medical fitness to use respirators and had not been supplied with the correct respirator filters. Investigators also determined that employees had not been informed or trained about the hazards associated with chemicals used during spray painting.

Additional hazards found by OSHA officials included flying debris from an unguarded grinder and the use of a cleaning hose with excess air pressure; flash burns due to missing screens where welding was performed; electric shock and fire hazards from misused electrical cords and missing electrical knockouts; falls from a damaged access ladder; and slips and trips from accumulated ice and snow on an emergency exit route, according to OSHA.

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June 25, 2014

New Study Shows Long-Lasting Effects of Workplace Chemicals

It has been a well-known fact for years that some chemicals found in certain work environments can be dangerous to an employee’s health. We know that Asbestos, for example, provided excellent fire protection for homes built in the mid-20th century, but was found to be definitively linked to Mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer. We know that the chemicals found in many industrial strength solvents cannot possible be healthy to breathe in, but a recent study shows these effects may be much more significant than originally thought.

The scientific definition for a solvent is a substance, such as water, that is used to dissolve another compound—say, salt. When salt is dissolved in water, the salt is the solute in this situation, the water is the solvent, and the salt water is the end result—the solution. Chemical solvents use potent materials to break down stronger compounds. In the study authored by Erika Sabbath, a research fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, researchers focused on three different types of chemical solvents:
• Benzene, which is found in detergents and many types of plastics
• Chlorinated solvents, which are common ingredients in industrial products such as paint strippers and dry cleaning solutions
• Petroleum solvents, commonly found in varnish.

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June 23, 2014

Massachusetts House Approves Domestic Workers Bill That Establishes Protections

The Massachusetts House has just approved legislation that establishes a “bill of rights” for domestic workers. Under the bill, domestic workers are defined as individuals who provide services in the home, such as laundering, housekeeping, caregiving, home companion services, cooking, and childcare. (Babysitting is not included). The bill was approved by the state’s senate last month. Now, Governor Deval Patrick must sign the bill into law.

There are about 67,000 domestic workers in Massachusetts. Many of them are women, which can make them easy targets of sexual harassment and other abuses. Many domestic employees have complained that they lack the legal protections provided to other workers in the state.

Under the new legislation, domestic workers employed in a household for over 16 hours a week would have to receive written contracts. They would be entitled to a description of their duties, their pay rate (including overtime and compensation for specialized skills and other responsibilities), information about yearly raises, health insurance, and reimbursement for additional expenses.

The bill mandates that private households provide domestic workers with days off, designated breaks for meals and rest periods, unpaid maternity leave, sick time, vacation days, personal days, and severance. Also, domestic workers would have to be given two weeks notice or severance pay before they are let go. If they are evicted from a living quarters they must be given at least 30 days written notice and employers would have to abide by the uniform summary process rules.

Massachusetts Workers' Compensation
Currently domestic workers who are employed over 16 hours a week are entitled to Massachusetts workers’ compensation benefits. This means that regardless of who or what caused their injury that occurred on the job, they are entitled to work injury benefits. Slip and fall accidents, burn injuries from cooking, poison from toxic conditions in the home, illness contracted from caring for a sick person, and back injuries from lifting or moving heavy objects are a few of the injuries and ailments that can result in a domestic work situation.

Unfortunately, not all employers or their insurers are willing to pay an injured employee the workers' compensation benefits that he/she is owed. At Altman & Altman, LLP, we know that this can be very stressful, especially if you are now unable to work, have medical bills to pay, and must still support your family.

Our Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers are here to make sure our clients get all of their benefits and that there are no delays in payments. We also pursue death injury benefits for the families of workers that were killed on the job. Contact our Boston work injury law firm today to request your free case consultation.

Bill S.882, An Act establishing the domestic workers bill of rights, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Domestic Worker Bill Approved by Massachusetts Legislature, The Insurance Journal, June 20, 2014

More Blog Posts:
New Bedford Shellfish Processing Plant Fined after Worker’s Death, Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Lawyer Blog, June 12, 2014

Amtrak Train-SUV Crash in Mansfield, Massachusetts Kills Three, Boston Injury Lawyer Blog, June 23, 2014

MBTA Operators’ Union Objects to New Cell Phone Policy After Newton Bus Crash, Boston Car Accident Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2014

June 12, 2014

New Bedford Shellfish Processing Plant Fined after Worker’s Death

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined New Bedford shellfish processing plant Sea Watch International as well as the temporary employment agency which supplied the plant’s workers, a total of $44,000 in safety violations following the death of an employee earlier this year.

The worker, Victor Gerena, 35, was an 18-year veteran of Sea Watch who had become entangled in a rotary turbine engine while cleaning jammed clams from a shucking machine, the Boston Globe reported. According to OSHA officials, the machine’s power had not been turned off—ultimately causing Gerena to become stuck in the machine. Such preventative measures as the “lock out tag out” should have been taken by Gerena and officials from OSHA alleged that the company had failed to properly train the man of this safety procedure.

In total, the Maryland-based company was issued 11 violations by OSHA, including eight serious violations for workplace safety standards, equaling $35,410 in fines. $9,000 in fines were also issued to Rhode Island temp agency Workforce Unlimited, covering five violations—three of which were deemed serious by OSHA.

This is not the only time Sea Watch International, a major supplier of canned clams for 35 years, has been under scrutiny by OSHA. In 2011, the plant was inspected by officials who had discovered several serious safety violations, including inadequate emergency training for employees dealing with hazardous waste and insufficient respiratory protection for some workers. According to the Boston Globe, OSHA reported no “lock out tag out” violations were made at the time. Because of those violations in 2011, the company paid $4,675 in fines and ultimately mitigated the issues. A follow-up inspection in April 2012 found the company was in full compliance with OSHA standards.

Sadly, this is only another example of how inadequate training and non-compliance with safety standards in the workplace can lead to workers being injured or killed on the job. Recently, we reported that the Tribe hummus plant in Taunton, MA, was cited following the 2011 death of Daniel Collazo who like Gerena, was caught in a machinery for not using the “lock out tag out” safety procedure. Tribe was fined $500,000 by OSHA. According to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, Gerena’s death marks the twenty-second worker death caused by machinery in Massachusetts since 2000. The majority of these deaths were the direct result of inadequate machine guards and lack of other federally mandated safety measures, according to the coalition and the Boston Globe.

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June 2, 2014

Report Finds MA Companies Slacking on Safety

It does not take long to find a group of trade workers dangling from the raw beams of a skyscraper under construction downtown or a crew working in the subterranean depths of a trench in Cambridge. Most citizens of the Commonwealth walk by these sites and remark to themselves how dangerous that looks, and then continue on their way, safely out of the danger facing construction workers every day.

It should come as no surprise that construction trades consistently rank among the most dangerous occupations in the United States, and this year is no exception. Citing the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Forbes ranked construction laborers as the tenth most dangerous profession last year. According to the article, occupational hazards include “heavy machinery, dangerous tools and equipment.” Because of the well-documented risks, building and construction companies have the added responsibility of keeping their workers safe under more hazardous situations than the traditional office environment. A recent investigation by CBS Boston exposed the hard truth that numerous companies are willfully neglecting the safety of their laborers and putting profits ahead of the lives of their workers.

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May 31, 2014

Salisbury, MA Manufacturer Fined $93,200 for Repeat Safety Violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Andover Healthcare Inc., a maker of coated fabrics and adhesives for the healthcare industry, for willfully exposing workers to safety hazards at its Salisbury, MA manufacturing plant.

According to OSHA documents, the company put workers’ lives at risk by exposing them to unsafe machinery. Workers were ultimately at risk for being caught in plant machinery or being crushed in said machinery. The company also faces violations for not properly training employees the lockout/tagout procedure when using dangerous machinery. The company is currently facing more than $93,000 worth of fines for two repeat violations and seven serious violations. In 2010 an OSHA investigation found that the company had intentionally put workers’ at risk—the same violations were made this month and carried fines of more than $65,000.

"It's vital that employers develop and implement adequate lockout/tagout procedures to protect workers from moving machine parts during servicing and maintenance," said Jeffery Erskine, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex counties. "Failure to do so places employees at risk of being caught in or crushed by machinery if it turns on during service or maintenance." 

OSHA found workers had been exposed to struck-by and crushing hazards from damaged or insecurely anchored steel storage racks and an unmarked crane lift. Additional hazards included unguarded machinery, a defective power cord and obstructed exit access. These conditions resulted in citations for seven serious violations, with $26,200 in fines. Finally, the company was cited for two other-than-serious violations, with $2,000 in fines, for failure to record the injuries properly, which resulted in medical treatment or lost workdays.

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May 31, 2014

U.S. Department of Labor Sues MA Employer for Wrongful Termination Stemming from Whistleblower Complaint

The Department of Labor has is in the midst of a legal battle with Donald Pottern, of the company Crown Furniture of West Springfield, for firing a worker who filed a safety complaint with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In a statement made by OSHA official Robert Hooper, Hooper said "Employees have a right to file a complaint with OSHA without fear of discharge or other forms of retaliation from their employer. Such retaliation can coerce workers into silence, preventing them from reporting or raising concerns about conditions that could injure, sicken or kill them."

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, such employer retaliation warrants authority to the organization to file suit against employers that take action against employees.

According to OSHA documents and a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Springfield, the employee had contacted OSHA on May 9, 2011, alleging safety and health hazards in the basement of Crown Furniture, including the presence of asbestos, mold and rodents. On May 11, Pottern apparently fired the employee after he questioned him as to why he filed the complaint. The now former employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, which investigated and found legitimate merit to the complaint.

According to OSHA, the lawsuit seeks a judgment affirming that Pottern discharged the employee in retaliation for filing an OSHA complaint and permanently prohibits him from illegally retaliating against employees in the future. Additionally, the lawsuit seeks payment of more than $20,000 in lost wages (plus interest), as well as payment of compensatory and/or punitive damages and posting of a nondiscrimination notice at the workplace.

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May 31, 2014

OSHA Cites MA Printing Firm For
Exposing Workers To Combustible Metal Powder and Electrical Hazards

Woburn-based 3-D printing company, Powderpart Inc., was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration for one willful and nine serious violations of workplace safety standards. According to OSHA documents, the inspection followed an explosion and fire on Nov. 5, 2013, which inflicted third-degree burns on a company employee.

The Andover Area Office discovered that the company had failed to prevent and protect its employees from the fire and explosion hazards of reactive, combustible* metal powders, such as titanium and aluminum alloys, which are used in the company's three-dimensional printing process.

"The fire and explosion hazards when working with titanium and aluminum are established, particularly when the materials are in powder form," Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex counties said in a statement. "Just as it's easier to start a campfire with kindling than with logs, it's easier for a metal fire to start when you're working with metal powder that is as fine as confectioner's sugar."

According to OSHA’s report, Powderpart had failed to dispose of known sources of potential ignition and follow pertinent instructions from equipment manufacturers, and did not alert the Woburn Fire Department to the workplace presence of hazardous materials. In addition Powderpart had an employee workstation and flammable powders next to an area with explosion potential.

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Exposing Workers To Combustible Metal Powder and Electrical Hazards" »

May 31, 2014

OSHA Cites MA Contractor After Worker’s Fatal Fall

The Massachusetts Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the Lee-based contracting company Fairview Contractors Inc. after an investigation revealed that it had failed to provide protection for a worker who had fallen to his death in November of 2013.

The report, which was issued only recently this month, stated that the company did not provide any fall protection, which could have prevented the incident. The 51-year-old fell nearly 20 feet while he was performing roofing work on a condominium in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

"This was a needless and avoidable loss of a worker's life. While guardrails and fall arrest systems were present at this work site, they were not used and were thus useless," Mary Hoye, OSHA's area director for central and western Massachusetts said in a statement. "Fatalities such as this will stop only when employers supply and ensure the use of effective and legally required fall protection safeguards on all job sites at all times."

OSHA discovered that the four scaffolds on which the employees were working on lacked any fall-preventive guardrails as well as fall arrest systems. An additional fall hazard was presented from the lack of guardrails from the walkboards that the workers were using to move from one scaffold to the other. The report also found that Fairview had failed to train workers on how to identify hazards as well as how to work safely on scaffolding, roofs and ladders. Fairview was ultimately cited with two violations, including willful lack of fall protection and five serious violations for the remaining hazards. The company now faces fines of $119,350.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this worker’s fall was one of seven fatal falls to have occurred in the Massachusetts construction industry since 2012.

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May 29, 2014

OSHA Cited MA Hummus Factory for “Willfully Ignoring” Safety Standards in Worker’s Death; Questions Raised on Severity of Fines

Following the horrific death of a factory employee at the Taunton hummus factory, Tribe Mediterranean Food, OSHA officials and factory administrators are coming under public scrutiny.

Daniel Collazo, 28, was killed in December 2011 when he became caught in the rotating screws that blend the hummus. Collazo attempted to free himself from the slowly-winding 9-inch blades, but his arms and part of his head became crushed in the process. In a desperate attempt to save the man, Collazo’s co-workers cut the machine’s power and tried to untangle Collazo from the machine. Tragically though, Collazo died in an ambulance en route to an area hospital.

Reflecting on the incident, both OSHA and public officials are saying that had the plant followed a standard set of safety procedures, specifically the safety practice “lock out/tag out,” which requires employees to be trained to cut power to machinery prior to cleaning, the entire incident and Collazo’s death could have been prevented. In fact, two years before Collazo’s death, the company had been fined by OSHA for failing to follow the safety procedure at another of its New England food processing plants. Company records indicated that Tribe’s own consultant had made note warning other administrators that failing to train workers the procedure created “an extreme safety risk” with “the probability that a fatality could occur is likely within a year’s timeframe,” according to the Boston Globe.

Following Collazo’s death, Tribe was issued a $540,000 fine by OSHA—one of the largest fines in New England in nearly a decade according to the Globe. Tribe was also issued 18 violations—imposing the most serious level of penalties because the company had “willfully ignored” three industry safety standards, according to the records. Those standards included “lock out/tag out,” which requires employers to adopt procedures and conduct training to ensure that employees power down major machinery during cleaning and maintenance.

OSHA’s report concluded that Tribe “was aware of deficiencies with its lock out/tag out program for almost two years and made a conscious decision not to abate those deficiencies” because fixing those issues was too expensive. Managers of Tribe’s owner, Tivall, and its Israeli parent, OSEM, toured the Taunton plant several times a year to prioritize projects, including safety measures, according to OSHA reports.

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May 28, 2014

$7.3 Million Awarded to Family of Electrical Worker Fatally Injured on the Job

The family of Alejandro Collazo can now begin the healing process after a painful six years mourning the loss of their loved one. Collazo, a husband and father to three children, ages 20, 19 and 13 was an employee of Chicago’s Commonwealth Edison Company, which handles utilities for the Windy City. He was working as a cable splicer in a privately-owned manhole at the time of the accident.

Alejandro Collazo was working in the manhole around 2:00am when an electrical explosion occurred inside the cramped subterranean space in which he was working. The explosion was so powerful that flames were seen climbing as high as 12 feet in the air. According to the National Trial Lawyers, Collazo was attempting to “remove a de-energized cable line that had faulted three days earlier… [when] a cable splice on an adjacent 12,000 volt line arced and exploded.”

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