Disclaimer - By publishing this information on this Web site, the Boston, Massachusetts law firm of Altman & Altman LLP is not claiming to represent any clients or cases mentioned here. The content provided is designed to inform readers and is not intended as legal advice.

Construction sites are dangerous places, there’s no doubt about that. And crane accidents are among the deadliest types of construction-related accidents. In fact, earlier this month, a worker died in a crane accident in Longwood Medical area of Boston.  Improved technology has positively impacted productivity, but safety issues remain for workers on and around cranes. The information below will help you identify the leading causes of crane accidents and how to avoid them.

How Do Crane Accidents Occur?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified the leading causes of crane accidents. They include:

  • Coming into contact with power lines
  • Cranes overturning
  • Falls from high places
  • Mechanical failures

In addition to deadly crane accidents, there are countless minor crane accidents that result in lost wages and productivity, an increase in insurance costs, OSHA fines, and more. In fact, a 1997 OSHA study concluded that most crane accidents are non-fatal. It is likely that most of these minor accidents are never even reported. Contact a Massachusetts Work Injury Lawyer if you’ve suffered an on-the-job injury.

Tips for Preventing Crane Accidents

If you work on or around cranes in Massachusetts, the following tips will dramatically reduce your risk of being seriously harmed or killed in a crane accident.

  • Assess: Assess for the potential of a crane accident and ensure that hazards are identified and remedied. This includes making sure the soil is properly prepared and that the crane is not in close proximity to power lines or underground pipelines.
  • Establish: Each crane should have its own safety plan and a person should be assigned to ensure the safety plan is adhered to. In doing so, he or she must ensure that equipment is well-maintained and routinely inspected.
  • Assign: A competent person should be assigned to oversee all crane operations.
  • Train: It’s not enough to only train workers who spend significant time on or around cranes. Any personnel working near a crane for any amount of time, even if only repairing or assembling the crane, should be properly trained in lifting operations.

Following the above advice doesn’t eliminate the risk of working on or near cranes, but it significantly reduces that risk. In Boston and the surrounding areas, it’s hard to turn the corner without seeing a construction site. Employers should ensure the safety of their crew by providing proper safety gear and adequate training, and by keeping equipment in good working order. Continue reading

Numbers from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) showed that in 2014, more American workers died on the job than any year since 2008. The census showed 4,821 workers died in 2014, which equates to 13 worker deaths every day in America at a rate of about 3.4 per every 100,000 workers.  The most deadly job is construction, which resulted in 899 deaths in 2014, a nine percent increase over its 2013 totals. Oil and gas extraction jobs were also particularly deadly, with 144 deaths. Private mining and quarrying resulted in 39 more. One of the most common causes of workplace death were falls, slips and trips, which caused 818 deaths.

In general, the most common cause of death for workers in 2014 was vehicular accidents, which accounted for 1,157 deaths, marking a five percent increase over last year. Other leading factors were workplace violence incidents, which encompasses person-on-person violence, animal attacks and homicides. These incidents combined accounted for 765 deaths.  Deaths affected workers aged 55 and older disproportionately higher than any other group of people at 1,691 deaths (35% of all deaths). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33 million Americans aged 55 and older were employed in 2015 and 1.3 million more were seeking employment. It is estimated that by 2019, 25% of the U.S. labor force will be 55 or older.

Work-related illnesses and injuries to are estimated at anywhere between 3.8 and 11.4 million each year, a stat that is hard to confirm due to underreporting. The AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 workers unions, estimated that 50,000 people died in 2014 from occupational diseases. The AFL-CIO also estimated that between $250 to $370 billion is lost every year due to workplace illnesses and injury.

Pros and cons of OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a federal agency given authority under the United States Department of Labor to ensure safe working environment and best practices. They were established as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, signed into law by Richard Nixon.  Although the regulatory oversight of OSHA has undoubtedly raised the bar in terms of what employers must do to guarantee the health of their employees, limitations always exist when dealing with a scope as large as the entire United States.

One main criticisms of OSHA is that they are stretched far too thin to effectively regulate the country’s entire workforce. According to the AFL-CIO, OSHA only has 1,840 inspectors (1,035 working for state branches and 805 federal inspectors) to oversee about 8 million workplaces, equating to a rate of about one inspector for every 74,760 workers.  Another main criticism is that OSHA does not possess the power to hand down meaningful fines to companies that violate the law. The AFL-CIO reports that the median federal fine for killing a worker was just $7,000 and the median state fine for killing a worker was just $3,500. They also report that OSHA has only criminally prosecuted 89 worker death cases since 1970.  Continue reading

The workplace is where millions of Americans earn their livings and is the backbone of American society. Unfortunately, many careers and employers subject their workers to dangerous environments, techniques and tools in order to get the job done.

It can be something as simple yet tragic as a fall from a high platform during the construction of a new office building, or something more complex like tinnitus caused by inadequate or deficient ear protection. Regardless of the injury or severity, as a worker, you have rights.

One of those rights is workers’ compensation, the right to continue earning money despite being unable to perform your work duties. Employees and their loved ones have the right to workman’s compensation for injuries sustained while on the job that cause death, partial or total disability, and disfigurement or loss of function (such as permanent scars). In Massachusetts, workers are entitled to 60% of their weekly wage in disability payments.  In addition to providing proper compensation for workers injured while on the job, employers – big or small – are required to implement a safe working environment and provide adequate safety protocols when performing dangerous work is unavoidable.  Overseen and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, these strictly-enforced regulations help ensure that employers keep the safety of their employees paramount.

A recent example of negligence leading to a serious work injury happened on Jan 6th, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  A temporary worker was hired through Snelling Staffing Services and placed in employment at the Cambridge Brands Inc. candy factory, which is a subsidiary of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. The worker had a piece of his left index finger amputated by a candy-wrapping machine.

An investigation by OSHA revealed that: (1) Neither the staffing agency nor Cambridge Brands properly trained the worker with the machinery; (2) That the moving parts of the machine were not properly equipped with safety precautions; (3) That Cambridge Brands did not perform regular inspections to ensure the machine would not run unintentionally and; (4) That Cambridge Brands did not report the amputation within 24 hours of its occurrence, as is now required by OSHA for all hospitalizations and amputations.

As a result, Cambridge Brands was fined $46,000 and Snelling Staffing Services was fined $9,000. Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. was cited for similar violations in 2010 and 2014 in its Chicago location, according to OSHA.

It should be known that any worker asked to perform a duty that can be reasonably, in good faith, seen as overly hazardous maintains the right to refuse that work. In such a situation, employees should alert their employers of their concern and either ask for different work or ask that the hazards be adequately corrected. If the hazard is not corrected or the employer threatens retaliatory action for not performing the work, the employer should contact OSHA immediately. The worker would also have the right to legal representation.  After all, utilizing OSHA to ensure an employer takes responsibility for their negligence is only one part of the story. For somebody injured while on the job, it is essential that they are able to pay their bills and continue to support their loved ones while being unable to work. Continue reading

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive stress injury (RSI) caused by the compression of nerves and tendons in the “carpal tunnel” of your wrist. These nerves and tendons allow your fingers to flex. Swelling around the carpal tunnel can result in severe pain, numbness and weakness when performing activities that require the flexing of the fingers and wrist. As with other RSIs, these injuries can become progressively worse over time. Occupations that require extensive typing and writing, for example, can exacerbate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Contact a Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Today.

Repetitive Stress Injuries and Workers’ Comp

Massachusetts Workers who spend hours at a desk every day, typing on a keyboard and clicking a mouse, have an especially high risk of RSIs, including carpal tunnel syndrome. Although this type of job is often the cause of an RSI, you most likely won’t sue your employer for these kinds of injuries; they are rarely due to negligence. That’s what workers’ compensation is for. Workers’ comp exists to protect employers from being sued for on-the-job injuries they are not responsible for, and to protect employees from loss of income when injuries prevent them from working.

As with most RSIs, carpal tunnel syndrome is generally covered by workers’ comp. However, the burden of proving the injury is work-related falls on the employee. It’s easier to prove that some injuries were suffered on-the-job. For example, if a worker slips and falls off a roof at a construction site in front of other workers, the workers’ comp claim is likely to be fairly straightforward. This isn’t always the case with carpal tunnel syndrome and other RSIs. What if the worker has two jobs that require repetitive movements, or he or she engages in hobbies such as tennis or blogging? Any of these scenarios could also cause carpal tunnel syndrome. If you are suffering from work-related carpal tunnel syndrome, it is crucial to consult with a personal injury lawyer experienced with RSI cases.

Carpal Tunnel Symptoms

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be excruciatingly painful. Occasionally, treatment of this condition requires surgery. Non-surgical treatments include splinting, steroid injections, and diuretics. Symptoms include:

  • Numbness, weakness, or pain in the hand and wrist
  • “Pins-and-needles” sensation
  • Numbness, weakness, or pain that worsens when using the hand or wrist
  • Aching pain in the forearm
  • Stiffness in the fingers
  • Accidentally dropping objects
  • Loss of ability to pinch objects between the thumb and index finger
  • Other Types of RSIs

Carpal tunnel syndrome is only one type of RSI. Other injuries include tendinitis and bursitis, both of which can also be extremely painful and debilitating. Certain factors can increase the risk of developing any type of RSI, including obesity, alcoholism, diabetes, gout, and lack of exercise. Continue reading

According to recent research by Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering, using Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) will improve construction site safety by observing and evaluating the safety of temporary structures found on construction sites.  Defined by the National Science Foundation, CPS are “engineered systems that are built from, and depend on, the seamless integration of computational algorithms and physical components.”  CPS are predicted to facilitate improvements in capability, adaptability, scalability, resiliency, safety, security and usability in embedded systems, as well as be a spearhead in persistent advancement and competition in the agriculture, energy, transportation, building design, healthcare and manufacturing industries.

CPS has already been implemented in a few of these aforementioned industries, including manufacturing, transportation and healthcare.  The construction industry will be the next area in which CPS will be utilized.  Xiao Yuan, an architectural engineering Ph.D. candidate, performed a study, which examines connecting sensors on structures and virtual models to improve the safety of the majority of construction workers who work on these temporary structures.  Over 75 percent of constructions workers can be found on such structures, which often include sheeting and shoring, temporary bracing or guide rails, soil backfill, formwork systems, scaffolding, the underpinning of foundations, etc.  The inappropriate construction and supervision of such temporary structures is one of the major safety hazards employers and employees, alike, are concerned with today.  According to OSHA’s 2014 report, 899 of the 4,386 worker fatalities in private industry, 20.5 percent, were related to the construction industry.  The most frequent kind of accident was falls on job sites.  OSHA also reported that of its top ten most commonly cited violations in 2015, construction fall protection and scaffolding general construction requirements were placed first and third, respectively.

OSHA has required safety training programs and practices, as well as design, installation, maintenance and dismantling regulations that are designed to decrease the occurrence of such violations.  However, additional steps also need to be taken, ergo CPS.  Specifically, Yuan’s research studies how CPS can foster safer construction and avoid failures of temporary structures by utilizing “virtual prototyping, data acquisition systems and communication networks.”  Yuan compiled her research for use of a mobile application, which provides immediate feedback about construction sites.  “Once there is a problem, our virtual model will know,” Yuan said.  “It’s just like when we feel something if it hurts—the virtual model will feel if there is a problem.”  The app can perform real-time inspections, remote interaction, and forewarn possible structural failures while instantly notifying workers.   Continue reading

On March 6, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began an inspection of Quest Diagnostic Corp.’s Ameripath laboratory in Shelton, CT. The inspection followed numerous complaints from lab employees who claimed to be suffering from headaches, sore throats, and breathing problems.

Following the inspection, OSHA identified multiple violations of its required safety standards. With regard to laboratory safety, OSHA requires employers to implement various safeguards for the protection of their employees, including complete chemical hygiene plans. The OSHA inspection discovered that Quest’s Shelton lab neglected to:

  • Provide an opportunity for employees who displayed symptoms of chemical exposure to receive a medical check-up.
  • Educate lab employees on the signs of exposure to hazardous chemicals, including formaldehyde, alcohols, and acetic acid.
  • Provide proper training on detection of hazardous chemicals.
  • Perform an assessment to determine necessary personal protective gear and equipment for employee use.
  • Train employees on the specifics of the chemical hygiene plan and inform them of its location.
  • Implement the chemical hygiene plan.
  • Ensure that the chemical hygiene plan included directions and procedures for safely separating and removing hazardous chemical waste.

In a recent statement, Robert Kowalski, OSHA’s area director in Bridgeport said, “A laboratory chemical hygiene plan is not a paper exercise. It’s a continuous ongoing process that is key to preventing employees from being sickened by the hazardous chemicals with which they work. Our inspection found several serious deficiencies concerning the Shelton laboratory. For the safety and health of its employees, Quest must ensure that correct and effective safeguards are in place and in use at all its laboratories.”

More Violations

In addition to the above violations, Quest’s Shelton lab also failed to prevent on-site construction workers from coming into contact with hazardous chemicals, post a list of work-related illnesses and injuries, and remove covers from carbon monoxide detectors and sprinkler heads. Continue reading

A recent study of U.S. nursing home workers found that injured workers are more likely to lose their jobs within six months of an injury. In fact, when compared to workers without on-the-job injuries, the injured workers had more than double the risk of being fired. Workers with multiple injuries were also more than twice as likely to quit as their uninjured counterparts, making the job-loss figures for injured workers even higher. Contact a Massachusetts Work Injury Lawyer Today.

Most work injuries occur during the first months of a new job. If an injured worker quits or is fired, the risk of being injured again, in the first few months of the replacement job, is also high. This type of job turnover increases the chances of multiple injuries. There is a higher risk that the injured worker will find himself or herself in a similar situation again, within the first few months of the “new” job. Of course, worker protections are supposed to prevent job loss following a work-related injury, but federal and state regulations are not always followed.

Researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston conducted a study of nursing home workers. The study analyzed data from over 1,300 workers who were interviewed at four intervals – at the commencement of the study, and again at six months, one year, and 18 months following the commencement of the study. The participants were asked if they had suffered on-the-job injuries within the past six months. Using administrative data from the nursing homes, the team was able to determine the number of workers who had lost their jobs and whether the job loss was voluntary or involuntary.

25 Percent of Workers Lost Job Within Six Months of Work-Related Injury

The study revealed that 30 percent of workers had suffered work-related injuries within the first year of employment, and that approximately 25 percent of those workers were no longer at that place of employment by 18 months. According to Peter Smith, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Work and Health, the job loss may be due to several factors. Employers may fire workers because they think they will no longer be able to perform necessary job duties. Employers may also be concerned that the worker will get injured again. “In some situations an employer might not have put in place protections to reduce an injury occurring again, such as removing the hazards that lead to the injury,” said Smith. “While these situations should not be happening within the current workers’ compensation legislation, we do know that they sometimes do occur, in spite of the legislation in place,” Smith said. Continue reading

Although the recent heat wave we have experienced here in Massachusetts may not be a hindrance to individuals who work in air-conditioned office buildings, it has significantly affected those who must work outdoors.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts high temperatures and increased humidity to persist throughout the week, especially in the Southeastern region of the United States.  The Southwest is expected to continue to have hot but dry conditions throughout the week.  Globally, we have experienced record temperatures, with June being the fourteenth consecutive month of record heat, according to the NOAA.  These high temperatures may be the perfect climate for a day at the beach, but they are not without consequence for workers.  In 2014, there were 2,630 workers who experienced some sort of heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke while at work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA explains how hotter temperatures can be hazardous to workers outside.  When the outdoor temperature is higher than the body temperature of workers, it becomes more difficult for them to cool off.  Typically, the body sweats to in response to excessive heat in order to cool down, but this is only effective if the humidity level is low enough to allow the evaporation of the sweat.  Sweating also depletes the body of fluid and salt, which needs to constantly be replenished.  When the body cannot cool itself down, heat is stored in the body, thereby increasing the core temperature.  As a result of this core increase, Massachusetts workers may experience increased heart rate, inability to focus, and irritability.  Fainting and death can occur from heat stroke if the core temperature is not quickly cooled back to a normal degree.  In addition to this risk, individuals who are regularly exposed to extreme heat can suffer other heat-related illnesses, such as heat rash and heat cramps, and incidental injuries due to clammy hands, dizziness and burns from hot surfaces.  It is important to understand that it is not only the direct consequences of heat stroke that can be hazardous to workers, but also the indirect results.  “Heat can kill. And it is especially tragic when someone dies of heat exposure because they’re simply doing their job,” noted Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.  “We see cases like this every year and every one of them is preventable. Last summer these included a tree care worker in Virginia, a landscaper in Kentucky, a temporary worker on his first day collecting garbage in Texas.”  There have already been several deaths this summer that have been attributed to the heat, including a landscaper from Missouri.  Extreme cases of heat exposure cause death; nonetheless, many workers become severely ill from the heat.  Last summer, there were over 200 reports of workers who required hospitalization after exposure to the heat, and with this recent heat wave, a record number of people have contacted OSHA with questions regarding worker rights and how to respond to the effects of heat.  Continue reading

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the organization responsible for protecting the health and safety of workers in the United States.  After the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was passed, Congress established OSHA in 1971 to ensure safe working conditions for U.S. workers.  One method by which OSHA ensures businesses adhere to health and safety standards is by fining companies who violate these standards.  OSHA has just announced that it will be increasing its monetary penalties for companies that violate health and safety standards for the first time in 25 years.  Because these penalties have not been adjusted for a quarter of a century, they are expected to increase significantly.  Many experts believe the increase could be as much as 80 percent.  The new increases will be effective August 1, 2016.

Currently, the maximum penalty for any initial violation, whether considered serious or non-serious, is $7,000.  Once the penalties are increased in August, the maximum penalty will rise to $12,471.  If a company violates OSHA laws willfully or repeatedly, it can be responsible for maximum penalties of $124,709, up from $70,000.  These increases are meant to adjust for the 25 years of inflation that has occurred since the last increase in 1990.  In addition to the initial adjustment this year, OSHA now has the ability to regularly increase penalties every year to keep up with the rates of inflation.  Unlike most statue violation penalties, which are adjusted for inflation every four years, OSHA and a handful of other federal agencies were not allowed to adjust fines as a result of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act.  Businesses should now expect annual increases that take effect by January 15 of every year.  The goal of these modifications to the act is to keep penalties as financially relevant as possible.

OSHA penalty increases will not go unnoticed by businesses.  In the past, the relatively small OSHA fines were discounted as any other cost of normal business.  Relative to other, more substantial costs and risks, these penalties have not successfully deterred companies from violating health and safety laws.  The heftier fines are expected to be more successful, especially for smaller companies.  Experts are hoping that the price hikes will force businesses to make employee safety and OSHA policies a priority.  However, some argue that the fines are already high enough so the increase will not offer any more discouragement from violations.  Regardless of the consequences of these penalties, businesses should use this time wisely to review and improve their safety procedures.  A few tips that can make the revision process efficient and effective are as follows.  Note common OSHA citations and determine if your company is at a greater risk for any listed hazards.  Completing OSHA-Authorized Outreach training can also ensure your workers have understanding of basic safety.  Lastly, complete compliance training for specific hazards and risks your employees in particular may be susceptible to.  Continue reading

You’re at work, lifting a heavy box, when you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your side. Upon further inspection, you find a painful bulge in your lower abdomen. It could be a hernia. What do you do? After a visit to your health care provider, you should consider the cause of your injury. This particular example certainly seems like a “work-related accident,” but is it covered by workers’ compensation?  We have been asked this question a number of times over the years.

What is a Hernia?

When tissue or an organ pushes through weakened muscle, it is referred to as a hernia. There are many different types of hernias affecting everything from the groin to the belly button. The most common hernias include:

  • Inguinal (inner groin)
  • Femoral (outer groin)
  • Umbilical (belly button)
  • Hiatal (upper stomach)

Hernias are often the result of heavy lifting, but certain factors can increase your chances of developing a hernia. For example, obesity and smoking both increase the risk substantially. Even a chronic cough or constipation can lead to a hernia. So how do you prove that your hernia is work related?

How Do I Prove a Hernia is Work Related?

To be eligible for workers’ comp, you have to show that your hernia is a direct result of a work injury. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a pre-existing condition. For example, if you had a minor hernia prior to the on-the-job accident, and the accident aggravated it or made it worse, you may still qualify for coverage. If you believe you’ve suffered a hernia, see your doctor immediately and report the injury to your employer as soon as possible. Your chances of a successful claim will increase if you are prepared.

Presumption Rules for Certain Occupations

Certain occupations, such as police officers and firefighters, are handled a bit differently. In these cases, the responsibility to prove how the injury occurred is shifted to the employer. In these types of jobs, a hernia is presumed to be job related. However, if the employer can prove otherwise, the claim can still be denied. In all workers’ comp cases, there are strict statutes of limitations on when you can file your claim. Don’t delay. Continue reading

Contact Information