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.

LTL freight company, Central Transport, has committed to work on improving their company-wide safety protocols, and to specifically address safety concerns regarding outdated and unsafe forklifts and industrial trucks at over 100 of their terminals in 26 states across the nation.  The commitment to safety changes came after extensive investigations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed many citations and violations of safety standards, totaling $165,400 in total penalties, which Central Transport must pay as part of the agreement. These violations could have caused, and may still cause, crushing or struck-by injuries at these locations.

Central Transport must remove damaged, defective and unsafe forklifts from all of their locations and implement a comprehensive and detailed timetable and a step-by-step list on how they will address safety concerns moving forward.  These steps must be verified by an internal monitor to ensure that the implementation is going according to the agreement. This monitor will make at least 20 checks on terminals across their service area. In addition to an internal monitor, a third party monitor will also made unannounced checks on their terminals and conduct interviews with employees to see if the changes are being implemented.

The violations were noted at Central Transport terminals in 26 states, including the Billerica terminal in Massachusetts. It is now up to each of these states to honor and enforce this settlement agreement to help ensure the safety of its workers.

Proper safety regulations are non-negotiable

Industrial jobs, such as working in a loading dock for a freight company like Central Transport, carry inherent risks for the employees. Any profession that involves heavy machinery, large trucks and massive payloads may pose obvious dangers that could lead to permanent injuries or death.  It is for this reason that all companies that employ workers in potentially-dangerous fields should take the utmost care to ensure that they are doing everything possible to prevent avoidable accidents that can lead to the irreversible harm or death of their employees. OSHA exists to hold companies accountable for this responsibility, and this recent agreement shows why OSHA is important.

Were it not for OSHA investigating and revealing unsafe working conditions, how long would Central Transport have pushed their luck using outdated and hazardous forklifts? Would change only have happened after somebody was hurt, or worse? Now that they have been cited and given the order to update their safety protocols, it will hopefully result in an overall safer work environment for their employees. Continue reading

As of December 15, marijuana will be legal in Massachusetts. Although it will no longer be a crime to smoke pot on your own time, employers aren’t necessarily going to be fond of your perfectly-legal hobby. In fact, employers can still fire, or refuse to hire you, if you smoke marijuana. This is even true if you only partake outside of normal work hours. Here’s the thing – marijuana is still against federal law. For this reason, employers can retain personal conduct policies that prohibit marijuana use and can fire you if a drug test returns positive results.

Each of the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana have workplace drug policy exemptions. In MA, the law states that “the authority of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees” is not changed. Considering that THC may remain in a user’s system for weeks, it stands to reason that if your employer drug tests – and you wish to keep your job – you may want to abstain from using marijuana, at least for the time being. If you have questions about how the change in marijuana laws will impact you, contact a Boston defense lawyer today.

No Way to Measure “Actual” Marijuana Use

Critics of employers who continue to drug test for marijuana say it’s an unfair practice. “It’s the equivalent of firing somebody who drank a glass of wine on Friday evening and then came to work on Monday,” said Tamar Todd, the Drug Policy Alliance’s legal director. He believes zero-tolerance policies should adapt to changing laws. In an effort to develop more accurate testing methods which measure actual marijuana impairment rather than just the drug’s presence, experts are working on Breathalyzer-esque devices. Such a device could be used by employers and, possibly more importantly, by law enforcement to determine if an individual is “too stoned” to drive safely.

Zero-tolerance drug testing can also be a challenge for businesses that rely on young professionals who often have liberal attitudes about marijuana. This is especially true in the mostly-liberal states that have recently legalized marijuana. Consider Colorado. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize pot. At the beginning, there was an increase in drug testing, but that has since changed.

“We have ski industries out here, and if they really took a hard line on marijuana use, they would have to shut down,” said Curtis Graves, the Colorado-based Mountain States Employers Council information resource manager. Continue reading

Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, is calling for more stringent regulations regarding construction companies getting bids to perform work in the Massachusetts metropolitan center in the wake of two construction workers being killed while conducting routine work in a trench in October.  The two workers were killed after a water main break flooded the trench with water and debris and were unable to escape. An initial investigation revealed that the trench was not safeguarded against potentially catastrophic cave-ins or collapses because the contractor did not implement the use of a “trench wall,” which braces against both sides of the trench during work.

Subsequent investigations by WGBH showed that the construction contractor, Atlantic Drain Services (based out of Roslindale, MA), had been cited 13 times by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the past five years, including a citation for placing its workers underground without the proper safety and rescue precautions in place.

The tragic incident has led to outrage over the fact that Atlantic Drain Services was given the bid for construction despite their checkered past with safety violations, which are a part of the public record and available to anybody who requests the data. It is indeed alarming that city officials would not check out such a history before awarding a construction bid for potentially dangerous work.  The incident is still being investigated by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and OSHA itself, and it is likely that serious fines will be levies onto Atlantic Drain Services for their negligent and ultimately deadly failings to provide a safe work environment for their employees.

Construction work requires exceedingly careful precautions

Construction work is consistently amongst the most dangerous work for American employees, causing 899 deaths in 2014. About 70 of those deaths happened as a direct result of trench work, which often puts workers in toxic, cramped, and potentially deadly environments where cave-ins, electrocution, and respiratory arrest is a common threat to safety.  OSHA has a lengthy list of regulations regarding trench work. Regulations include ensuring that the trench is properly protected against cave-ins by using various methods, that a competent supervisor watches all activity to ensure proper protocols are being used, and that there are rescue measures at the ready to save any workers who are suddenly put in danger.

In the case of the two Boston workers who perished, their deaths are on the hands of multiple parties, including the Boston officials who allowed Atlantic Drain Services to obtain the construction bid and the decision-making entities of the construction company who allowed the work to move forward despite proper safety precautions to not be in place.

Hold negligent construction firms accountable

New and serious regulations are absolutely an essential part to prevent future tragedies such as the one that occurred in October. The other part is to hold any firms who don’t take safety measures seriously enough accountable for their negligence.  The construction contractor is completely liable for any legal suits that come their way as the result of the deaths of two of their workers. A worker death does not just affect the deceased, but also any and all members of their families who depend on their income. The emotional trauma is bad enough without having to worry about how the money that they used to make will be replaced, if it can be at all. Continue reading

Another Massachusetts construction worker has passed away following an accident during routine trench work in Duxbury, MA when a power saw kicked back and made lethal contact with his throat.  The Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office does not suspect foul play, and the incident is under investigation now by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to determine what caused the saw to become “bound” and subsequently injure the worker.

The tragic accident occurred during routine trench work on Saturday, Nov. 19 in Duxbury when workers were excavating an underground water line. At least one other worker was involved in the activity but was not harmed.

Trench work is dangerous work

This event, and an incident in October that claimed the lives of two workers in Boston, puts an unfortunate emphasis on how dangerous construction work – and work in trenches, specifically – truly is. In 2014, 899 construction workers died while working on the job, and about 70 construction workers die each year from accidents involving trenches.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a trench as “a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet.” This means that some trenches can be much deeper than 15 feet, which poses a serious risk of fatal falls in, addition to the most common form of trench work deaths – cave-ins.

There are many health regulations put in place by OSHA and state agencies that regulate trench work, including always securing each side of the wall, providing fall protection, designing protective measures such as properly sloping at least one wall of the trench in the event workers have to get out quickly.  Additionally, foremen and workers on site must always be aware of changing conditions in the trench and in the surrounding soil. They must also be aware of any seismic activity, even from something as simple as traffic passing nearby.

Of course, in accidents such as this most recent and unfortunate one in Duxbury, no amount of cave-in prevention can prevent a tragic death involving a power saw. It is cases like these that must prompt construction companies to learn how to better protect their workers from each of the unique dangers that exist on a job site. Trenches are tight quarters to work in, so there should always be additional precautions when working with dangerous power tools. Continue reading

If you suffered an on-the-job injury or illness, you may be eligible for Massachusetts workers’ compensation, a program that pays medical expenses and some wage replacement if you are unable to work for a period of time. Most work-related injuries are covered, but you must file for benefits in order to receive them. The application process can be complicated, but with the help of a skilled workers’ compensation lawyer, you can receive your full benefits in a timely manner. The information below provides instructions and a general timeline for filing a workers’ comp claim.

If your injury requires medical care, seek medical attention immediately. The next step is to notify your employer of the injury or illness. To be eligible for benefits, you must notify your employer within a limited period of time, so don’t delay. At this point, your employer will provide you with the necessary paperwork to proceed with filing a claim. If your employer refuses to provide you with this paperwork, for any reason, contact a Boston workers’ comp attorney right away.

What if My Employer Doesn’t Have WC Coverage?

Once you have returned the paperwork to your employer, it is your employer’s responsibility to report the injury to the insurance company, and to provide you with a copy of the report. The insurance carrier has 14 days from receipt of the initial report to determine if it will accept your claim. If your employer does not have workers’ comp coverage, you may be able to apply for benefits through the Massachusetts State Special Trust Fund. Alternatively, you may be able to sue your employer in a civil action if they are not insured. Both scenarios are highly dependent on the unique circumstances of your case.

If your application for workers’ comp benefits is accepted, you will receive payment for the first 180 days following your injury. This is known as the Pay-Without-Prejudice period, which occurs while the insurance carrier is making the final decision on your claim. If the insurer does not accept liability of your claim, your payments will likely stop after the 180-day period has expired.

Workers’ Comp Payment Schemes

If your application is approved, you will begin receiving payment based on the extent of your injury and several other factors. Various payment schemes exist, including:

  • Temporary Total Incapacity
  • Partial Incapacity
  • Permanent and Total Incapacity
  • Permanent Loss of Function and Disfigurement

How Long Do I Have to File a Claim?

Following your injury or illness you have four years to file a claim for workers’ comp benefits. Similarly, if your application for benefits is denied, you have four years to appeal. If your application is approved, you will be contacted by an adjuster for the insurance company who will instruct you on how to submit medical bills for reimbursement.  Remember, it is not in the employer’s best interest that your application is accepted; it can result in a significant increase in their workers’ comp rates. Don’t assume your employer is on your side. The best way to ensure your claim is approved is to collect and document as much information as possible. Detailed medical records are immensely helpful. Continue reading

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a robust whistleblowing program which encourages and protects individuals who wish to report a safety concern from retaliatory penalties placed on them by their employers.

You may submit a whistleblower report multiple ways, including an online form, a document which you may print, fill out and mail in, or by telephoning or writing a letter to your local OSHA office. OSHA will then conduct an interview with the whistleblower to assess whether or not an investigation is necessary.

OSHA has official protections legislation in place for a large variety of different hazardous situations to employees. They prevent retaliation against employees who report hazardous safety conditions or safety violations. Some of them include:

  • The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
    • Protects employees that report incidents of asbestos
  • The Clean Air Act
    • Prohibits retaliation against employees that report issues regarding air quality
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act
    • Prohibits retaliation against employees that report incidents of polluting water sources
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act
    • Protects employees that report violations relating to the disposal of solid and hazardous waste
  • Federal Railroad Safety Act/ National Transit Systems Security Act
    • Protects employees of railroad carriers and contractors and transit employees who report hazardous safety or security conditions
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act
    • Protects employees who report violations regarding pipeline safety and security
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act
    • Protects truck drivers and transit employees that refuse to violate safety regulations
  • Affordable Care Act
    • Protects employees who report violations regarding discrimination, denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions or insurance company violations
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act
    • Provides protections for employees that violate financial policies placed by the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, such as Wall Street infractions or fraudulent activity
  • Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
    • Protects employees that report violations of consumer product safety, including manufacturers, importers, distributors, private labelers, and retailers
  • FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
    • Protects employees of food manufacturers, distributors, packers, and transporters that report any violation regarding the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Continue reading

Asbestos has been linked to deadly forms of cancer for decades – this isn’t news. Here’s what’s shocking – about 1.3 million Americans are still working in an environment with significant asbestos exposure every day.  It’s happening here in Massachusetts and all over the country.  What is going on? Why are so many workers still involuntarily exposed to such a deadly substance?  Asbestos has been used in building for decades, due to its durability and flame-resistant properties. As a naturally-occurring material, asbestos particles are inhaled in trace quantities by all of us, every day. It’s when we breathe in significant levels of this harmful substance that serious health conditions can develop. Short-term problems include coughing and shortness of breath. However, long-term exposure can lead to more serious complications, including a highly-deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma. Classified as a carcinogen, asbestos has been linked to everything from colorectal cancer to lung cancer.

1.3 Million U.S. Workers Exposed to Asbestos Daily

In addition to the 1.3 million who are currently exposed to significant levels of asbestos every day, there are millions of older people who spent decades working with and around asbestos before we fully understood the associated dangers. Because conditions such as mesothelioma can take up to 30 years to become apparent, workers are being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases and conditions today that they first acquired decades ago. This is of special concern for older workers. Who do they sue for damages if the employer responsible for their asbestos exposure has been out of business for decades? Fortunately, there is some good news – asbestos trusts exist to compensate these victims.

Occupations with Highest Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Despite the known dangers, asbestos exposure is still quite common in many occupations. Which occupations pose the greatest risk? Although many companies take proper safety measures to mitigate the risk of asbestos exposure, the occupations below traditionally have the highest risk of exposure, even today.

  • Construction
  • Mining
  • Paper mills
  • Shipbuilding
  • HVAC jobs
  • Auto repair
  • Roofing
  • Manufacturing of products that contain asbestos
  • Janitorial jobs

Continue reading

The workplace is the backbone of American society and where millions of Americans earn their livings. Unfortunately, many careers and employers subject their workers to dangerous environments, tools of trade and procedures in order to get work done.  It can be as simple as a fall from a platform during construction, or something more complex like developing tinnitus after frequenting a loud work environment with inadequate or deficient ear protection. Regardless of the type of injury or severity, as a worker, you have rights.

Workers’ compensation is 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.

Expectation of safety

In addition to providing proper compensation for workers injured while on the job, employers – big or small – are required to upkeep a safe working environment and to implement 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, and do everything possible to prevent avoidable deaths on the job site.

A recent example of negligence leading to a serious work injury happened on Oct. 31 in Wareham. An employee for HiWay Safety Systems was trapped between a docking bay and the bumper of a tractor trailer truck, causing severe head trauma and his eventual death. The incident has since been labeled as a tragic, avoidable death by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH).  The victim left behind a wife and two sons, who will have to deal with the emotional turmoil and financial distress of losing a husband, a father, and a breadwinner. The tragic event is now under investigation by OSHA, state, and local authorities.

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. Continue reading

Prematurely losing a loved one to an accident at work is a tragedy simply unparalleled. If that person also happened to be the primary breadwinner in a family, the shockwaves extend well beyond the personal turmoil that will follow. In addition to the pain of loss, you must now figure out how to continue to support yourself and the remaining members of your family that depend on you. Although nothing will replace the loss of a loved one, there are certain safety nets set up through the government that are specifically meant to address this horrific ordeal. Through the Social Security system, widowers and children of deceased family members are entitled to certain rights, including monetary compensation to account for lost income. Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan for more information.

Here are some of the summarized benefits available through Social Security:

General benefits

  • As you work and pay into Social Security, you earn credits towards post-death benefits. The younger you are when you die, the fewer years you need to have paid into the system. Nobody needs to work for more than 10 years to be eligible for these benefits.
  • If you have only worked for one and a half years, and you die within three years of starting that job, benefits will be available to your spouse and your children.
  • A one-time payment of $255 may be available to the surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, a surviving child may be eligible for this payment.

Widows and widowers

  • Any widow or widower may be eligible for full monthly benefits once they reach retirement age. The retirement age for people born in 1945-1956 is 66. People born after 1962 reach retirement age at 67.
  • A widow or widower can get reduced benefits as early as age 60
  • If your surviving spouse is disabled, they may receive benefits as early as age 50.
  • If a widow or widower is caring for a child of the deceased under the age of 16, or if the child is of any age and disabled, they may be eligible for monthly benefits.
  • In certain circumstances, a surviving divorced spouse may be eligible for benefits as well.

Children of the deceased

  • An unmarried child of the deceased may be eligible for benefits is they are younger than 18 (and up to age 19 if they attend school full-time)
  • A child of the deceased may receive monthly benefits if they are age 18 or older and have a disability that was diagnosed before they turn 22.
  • In certain cases, a stepchild, grandchild, stepgrandchild or adopted child may be eligible for benefits.

Continue reading

Considering the possibility of perishing inside the subzero conditions of a walk-in freezer may be the last thing anybody ever considers, until they’re inside one, alone, and the safety latch that has always worked in the past is not working.  While certainly not a common occurrence, people do die from walk-in freezer accidents. Usually, they are alone and unable to summon help when a safety mechanism fails, trapping them inside the unforgiving cold with no way of getting anybody’s attention and nobody coming to help them until the place of business opens the following morning.

The conditions inside a walk-in freezer are obviously dangerous, but for more reasons than just the cold. Some freezer units utilize dry ice, which gives off carbon dioxide. If the exposure lasts long enough, breathing in too much carbon dioxide can be fatal. It is always possible, though, for a slow and torturous freezing death to occur.

How can this happen in today’s safety-conscious society?

The most recent walk-in freezer incident occurred in March of 2016, when a 61-year-old employee of a hotel in Atlanta found herself trapped and unable to get anyone’s attention. She was found frozen solid the next morning.  Since this tragedy is such an inconsistent and rare occurrence, there is no serious dialogue about how to better prevent these events. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does mention two standards on the subject:

  • Provide a panic bar or other means of exit inside the freezer in the event that an employee is inadvertently trapped.
  • Always have an accessible exit from a walk-in freezer besides the main door.

Despite these common sense measures, accidents and malfunctions happen. Safety latches can fail and notification systems such as bells, electronic alarms and closed-circuit telephones can go unheard. More comprehensive safety systems might cost a lot of money, so smaller businesses won’t shell out the money to protect against such an unlikely event.

The best way to protect yourself, if you are an employee that must spend time in a walk-in freezer, is to always let somebody know when you’re going to be inside of one, and have them check up on you with a text message or phone call when you’re supposed to be clocked out of work. Alternatively, if cell service isn’t an issue, always keep your phone on you when going into a freezer, so you may call somebody for help. Continue reading

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