Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Lawyer Blog
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From heavy machinery hazards to poor ergonomics, workplace injuries affect an estimated three million Americans annually. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1970 to regulate workplace standards and advocate for safe and healthy environments for workers of all fields. Part of their mission is to provide “training, outreach, education and assistance” to both employers and employees alike. With an average of 4,500 workplace fatalities occurring every year, it is vital for all employees to be aware of steps they can take to reduce workplace injury risk. This may involve the design of a more ergonomically efficient desk area, or bringing worn or broken equipment to an employer’s attention. Ultimately, employers are responsible for creating a safe, hazard-free work culture. However, education and awareness on everyone’s part can dramatically reduce risk.

Overexertion Injuries

As the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims, overexertion injuries result in approximately $3 million in annual benefit payments. Consistently lifting, pulling, or carrying heavy objects, and typing or working in an awkward position, can trigger muscle strain or soft tissue damage. These injuries are often acute, but usually heal with treatment. They may, however, become chronic if not treated properly or in a timely manner. Prevention measures include the following:

  • Lift lighter loads.
  • When lifting heavy objects to or from a shelf above you, use a step ladder or other secure object to decrease the distance.
  • Be aware of your posture.
  • Take frequent breaks and stretch continually.
  • Engage in strength training.
  • Know your limits.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is calling for a reform that would provide temporary employees with the same benefits and training that permanent employees hold within a company. An agency that provides temporary workers to various businesses committed a serious violation in 2014 and has since been called upon to improve their conditions for all employees. Marathon Staffing Services Inc. was called into question when it became evident that they did not administer hearing tests for their employees who were consistently exposed to elevated noise levels while working for Concrete Systems Inc. based out of Hudson, New Hampshire.

According to reports detailing the new agreement that has since been put into place, Marathon Staffing Services is required to have a qualified health and safety professional review a checklist that details possible safety and health concerns present in the work environment. Once the health and safety professional has acquired a direct list of concerns, they will then be able to move forward in the process in terms of conducting an initial inspection. From there, they will also hold periodic inspections and audits to ensure that the conditions displayed at these workplaces are meeting each of the standards OSHA has in place.

In addition to the mandated inspections, Marathon will also be required to provide necessary training to account executives and sales representatives to ensure that their health and safety knowledge is comprehensive. Marathon is also asked to develop written contracts that are specific to each individual client that works with them—an initiative that will detail what the respective requirements will be for each workplace that will be supplied with temporary employees via Marathon Staffing Services Inc. These contracts will ensure that each client is fully complying with the health and safety standards being put into place by OSHA in hopes of protecting all employees in the future. Kim Stille, the New England regional administrator for OSHA, has said that “Both host employers and staffing agencies have critical roles in complying with workplace health and safety requirements.” Continue reading

Water, rest, shade; three simple words that hold a lot of meaning if you are out working in the hot sun all day. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (otherwise known as OSHA) as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) are offering easy to follow guidelines in order to prevent heat related illness in workers across the country.

That water, rest, shade motto is the first step toward enlightening workers on what they need to do to make sure they are working in safe conditions. OSHA recommends that all workers who are outside in warm conditions drink water every 15 minutes, even if they don’t feel as though they are thirsty at the time. They also suggest that workers rest in the shade, or an air-conditioned area if available, to cool down periodically throughout the day. Wearing a hat and light colored clothing can also contribute to a person’s ability to cool down efficiently during the workday. OSHA believes that employers should train all of their workers on the signs and symptoms of heat illness so that they are effectively able to recognize it within themselves and others. Knowing the symptoms and keeping an eye on your fellow workers could lead to the prevention of serious issues arising.

Workers are not the only ones responsible for preventing heat related illness from striking in the workplace. Employers are instructed to make cooling down an easily accessible option for all of the employees under their care. Providing water stations, shaded areas, and frequent breaks are all necessities that should be provided to those who work outside in the summer heat. OSHA suggests that those who are new to working outside, or for those who usually work outside but have not done so for a period of a week or longer, to have adjusted work schedules to ensure that these individuals are becoming acclimatized to their workload for the day. Acclimatization is heavily stressed by representatives for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration purely because heat tolerance is built up over time. Gradually easing new or returning workers back into their schedule for the day is the best and safest way to be sure that these individuals are not leaving themselves at a higher risk for heat illness.

Statistics show that if you work in the sun for the majority of the day, your body heat index can increase by as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  Any and all workers exposed to heat, sunshine, and humidity can become affected by the various forms of heat illness. These issues can span from heat rashes, to heat cramps, exhaustion, dehydration, and even heat stroke. If a worker were to suffer from a heat stroke they would need immediate medical attention in order to treat their ailment. All of these illnesses are serious and an effective plan to prevent them from happening is in the best interest of everyone involved in these companies.

Some of the main symptoms of heat illness have been bulleted by the CDC so that workers may be able to identify them correctly. The symptoms for heat stroke may include:

  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • Slurred speech

As heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness, these symptoms are important to recognize. General signs of other heat related issues are dizziness, fatigue, nausea, cramps, flushed complexion, fast/shallow breathing, fainting and light-headedness just to name a few. If you are or one of your fellow workers is experiencing or displaying any of these symptoms, it’s important to take time to cool down and seek medical attention if necessary. As practicing Massachusetts workers compensation lawyers we have represented a number of workers that have suffered heat stroke and other heat related injuries.

The CDC website has also produced a list of immediate procedures that workers can use if they have correctly identified heat illness within themselves or a coworker. This knowledge could help prevent serious issues from striking and can provide a safer work environment for all.

Raising awareness of these issues and how to prevent and treat these illnesses is the main goal for organizations like OSHA and the CDC. Both companies are working closely with federal and state agencies to ensure that these guidelines are recognized and followed by all companies who hire outdoor workers.

 

Further information, guidelines, training and toolkits, as well as the list of procedures mentioned above can be found at the following links: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/

 

 

Work-related burns are responsible for up to 25% of all burns requiring medical attention in the United States. Burns can occur in any type of job, but the most commonly reported occupations are kitchen workers, welders, laboratory employees, and construction workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that approximately 200 fatalities and over 5,000 injuries occur annually as a result of workplace fires and explosions. The majority of these injuries involve thermal burns, however, chemical and electrical burns can be equally dangerous. The effects to the integumentary system (skin) and respiratory system (lungs) can cause permanent and debilitating damage.

Thermal Burns

Thermal burns are the most common type of burn injury. Heat sources including fire, steam, hot liquids, hot objects, and hot metals can cause injuries ranging from superficial skin damage to fourth degree burns that expose muscle and bone.

 

  • It is a common misconception that burns cause most fire-related fatalities. In fact, 50% to 80% of fatalities are caused by smoke inhalation. When a victim inhales the components of combustion, oxygen is depleted, potentially resulting in asphyxiation. Essentially, the victim is choking while the elements of combustion burn the trachea and lungs. Smoke inhalation symptoms may be delayed, so victims should be monitored carefully.
  • Wet heat (such as steam), hot food, and hot liquids can burn through skin and connective tissue faster than dry heat. This may result in scalding.

Hot water heaters, defective machinery, grease burns, exposed pipes, and industrial ovens and stoves are examples of workplace heat sources that can cause thermal burns. Continue reading

Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) can affect workers in almost any occupation. These injuries typically occur when a repetitive motion damages soft tissue in a specific part of the body. There are various types of RSI, but the most common is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This condition is most commonly found in office workers that spend significant time using a computer keyboard. It affects the ligaments and tendons within the tissue that makes up the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Neck strain, different types of back problems, and rotator cuff damage are common among carpenters, mechanics, and construction workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that RSIs account for approximately 60% of work-related injuries, and are diagnosed in one out of every eight workers in the United States. As a Massachusetts workers compensation lawyer, I’m consistently seeing varying degrees of RSI’s.

Common Types of RSIs

RSIs are directly related to a specific kind of repetitive motion. There are many different occupations with a high incidence of RSIs. The most commonly reported injuries include the following:

 

  • Tendonitis – Tendons are tissues that connect muscles to bone. Because they are largely responsible for movement, tendons consist of extremely strong, flexible, fibrous, cable-like connective tissues. When tendons are overused, they may become inflamed, causing pain, stiffness, and tenderness in areas around the joint. This can occur at any joint in the body. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, ultrasound and massage therapies, stretching and strengthening exercises, and orthotics or splinting. However, the most important element in treatment is rest, which can be difficult when lost wages are involved.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – The carpal tunnel is a passageway on the palmar side of the wrist that consists of bone and connective tissue. It creates a canal for the median nerve, which runs down the forearm and into the hands and fingers (carpals). The tendons running from the forearm to the fingers also pass through this tunnel. As with tendonitis, when the carpal tunnel becomes inflamed from overuse, it presses against the median nerve, causing pain, weakness, and numbness that may radiate up the forearm. Management includes splinting and anti-inflammatory medications. Surgery is becoming an increasingly recommended treatment.
  • Bursitis – A fluid filled sac found in joints, a bursa is responsible for cushioning spaces between bone and other tissues, including muscle, tendon, cartilage, and skin. With approximately 160 bursae scattered throughout the body, repetitive motion can cause inflammation. Pain and tenderness are common symptoms. The fluid within the bursa may swell, causing decreased mobility in the affected joint. As with tendonitis, treatment includes anti-inflammatory drugs, ultrasound and massage therapies, stretching and strengthening, elevation, and rest. If these fail, the next level of treatment is corticosteroid injections.

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Workers’ Compensation exists to protect both employee and employer in the event a worker is injured, becomes ill, or dies on the job. Workers’ comp protects injured employees by covering eligible medical bills and providing disability payments while the employee is unable to work. Employers, on the other hand, are protected from being sued by injured employees for damages such as pain and suffering, medical bills, and emotional trauma.

Covered injuries don’t necessarily need to be sudden and catastrophic, such as falls from high places and severe chemical burns. Even relatively minor injuries that occur over long periods of time, and pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated by the working environment can be eligible.

Almost all work-related injuries and illnesses are covered by workers’ compensation, but exceptions do exist. As long as the injury occurs “during the course of employment,” it is typically covered. “During the course of employment” doesn’t necessarily mean during normal office hours and at the normal place of business. For example, an insurance agent would be covered by workers’ comp while on an after-hours sales appointment at a client’s house. Additionally, injuries suffered while participating in work-related activities, such as at a company softball game, may also be covered. If you think you may have a case but aren’t sure it’s always a good idea to call a Massachusetts workers compensation lawyer to fully understand what benefits are available to you.

What If the Worker is At-Fault For the Injury?

Workers’ compensation is basically a no-fault system. Even if the employee’s injury was a result of his or her own carelessness, coverage still applies. However, it’s a different story when alcohol is involved. Simply being intoxicated isn’t always enough to refuse a claim. In some states, coverage will only be denied if the injury was a direct result of the worker’s intoxication. Other commonly excluded injuries are those suffered by a worker who engages in violent behavior, starts a fight, self-inflicted injuries, and those caused by the use of illegal, non-prescription drugs. Many states, however, still cover injuries caused by these actions, as long as the employee’s behavior wasn’t the sole cause of the injury. Continue reading

The construction industry remains the most dangerous line of work in all of United States, with construction-related deaths accounting for more than 20% of all occupational injuries. According to a recent post by the National Trial Lawyers and the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA), 4,585 workers were fatally injured while on the job in 2013; an average of 88 deaths per week or 12 deaths per day, according to OSHA’s most recent figures. As Massachusetts workers compensation lawyers we are acutely aware of these statistics and for decades we have been helping families of those injured on the job.

Falls accounted for 35% of deaths, followed by struck by an object (10%), electrocutions (9%), and caught in-between injuries (2%). Considering the statistics, these “fatal four” accounted for more than 55% of all construction worker deaths in 2011. Additionally, these ten standards were the 10 most frequently violated and cited by OSHA:

  • Fall protection
  • Hazard communication
  • Scaffolding
  • Respiratory protection
  • Control of hazardous energy
  • Powered industrial trucks
  • Electrical, wiring methods, and equipment component malfunction
  • Ladders
  • Machines
  • Electrical systems design

Below, are 5 top construction accident verdicts (compiled by National Trial Lawyers.)

  1. Construction Company Pays $5 Million to Undocumented Worker Crushed on Site

Pennsylvania construction worker Fidel Arana was tragically killed in 2009 when an excavated trench where a house foundation was being built, collapsed suddenly and trapped him against a concrete wall. Arana was crushed under the weight of the 8-foot wall of dirt.

Grande Construction of West Lawn, settled with Arana’s family for $5 million in 2013, following a lawsuit the family filed claiming that the business “was negligent in its excavation of a large residential housing foundation for failing to slope or ‘bench’ the walls of the ditch in order to prevent cave-ins.”

The family’s attorneys argued the company violated multiple OSHA safety standards, including failing to conduct mandatory inspections under federal laws to prevent such cave-ins. According to the National Trial Lawyers, the construction company reached out for settlement as soon as the court authorized a claim for punitive damages. Arana’s attorneys’ decision to settle was due to the “great challenge” they believed would be presented in presenting a damages case for an undocumented worker to a jury. The case was settled by Kline & Specter, a Philadelphia law firm.

  1. Mother Awarded $15.8 Million After She Is Injured 1 Day Before Daughter’s Wedding

Brenda Gump-Schragl, of Finleyville, PA, was seriously injured in a crash in a work zone, just one day before her daughter’s wedding. Gump-Schragl was in a coma for five weeks before she died from her injuries.

According to the National Trial Lawyers and court documents, a Common Pleas Court from Allegheny County, PA, found Lane Construction Corp. of CT liable for $15.8 million in damages to Gump-Schragl’s family. The lawsuit alleged that the construction zone was dangerous and that no improvements had been made despite several earlier collisions. The jury found another driver involved in the accident, Adam Mains, was 42% negligent, and PennDot 42% at fault. Lane Construction was only found to be 18% at fault, but had to pay the full $15.8 million because the case was filed before the 2011 Fair Share Act. Under the Act, defendants are required to pay only their fair share of the judgment, with some exceptions.

  1. Paralyzed Construction Worker Awarded $21.7 Million After Spinal Snap At Site

Hugo Hernandez Palomino, was awarded $21.7 million by Pepco under negligence law in 2013 after he was paralyzed on the job by a very dangerous piece of equipment.

Palomino, according to the National Trial Lawyers, was struck by an electrical transformer while working on a jobsite. The force of the electrical shock sent Palomino eight feet into the air, and he landed forcefully on the concrete and snapped his spine. Palomino was instantly paralyzed from the neck down and received third-degree burns on 10% of his body from the contact with the transformer, which had not been properly de-energized (turned off) according to his co-workers. Pepco admitted responsibility for the accident despite Palomino being a contracted, independent employee.

  1. $13 Million Awarded to Family of Boy Killed in Parking Garage Accident.

A 15-year-old boy, along with an injured mother and daughter, and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, were awarded $39 million in damages by a jury when a 13-ton panel made by Advance Cast Stone fell because it was improperly affixed to the ceiling. The estate of the deceased, Jared Keller, received $6.3 million. The jury also awarded $15 million in punitive damages, with the other plaintiffs receiving no more than $250,000 total due to a limit in state law. According to the National trial Lawyers, Advance Cast Stone was repairing a parking structure owned by Milwaukee County, which received $6 million for the damage. 88% of the blame fell on Advance Cast Stone. The project manager, J. H. Findorff & Son, was found to be 10% at fault and the county 2%. Findorff settled out of court with the plaintiffs.

  1. Man Crushed by Building Receives $64.5 Million Verdict Plus Confidential Settlement

Robert Matthews was awarded $64.5 million after an 11,000-pound prefab building he was working on for Mosaic Co. suddenly collapsed and crushed him. The incident, which occurred in 2009, left Matthews seriously injured and with a crushed pelvis, legs, and internal organs.

A Hillsborough County, Florida, jury ultimately found three companies responsible for the accident, but assigned the majority of the blame to Mosaic, a large fertilizer maker that operates throughout Central Florida. Despite the astronomical sum of money Matthews was awarded, he only obtained approximately $10 million of that jury award because he and his attorneys agreed to a confidential sum to settle the case with Mosaic in 2014. The other companies implicated were only found to be 15% liable.

MASSACHUSETTS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW

All companies, no matter their size or what industry they are in, are liable for ensuring that they provide a safe and hazard-free work environment for their employees. Additionally, companies like the above-mentioned, must make sure that their premises are safe to patrons and non-workers and that all known hazards are mitigated to prevent harm and injury.

When a person is injured on the job, whether it is because of their actions or the negligence of another, he or she is entitled to collecting benefits for his or her injuries, missed work time, post-injury care, and pain and suffering directly related to the incident and injury.

At the law offices of Altman & Altman, our team of dedicated attorneys has more than 5 decades of experience handling all types personal injury and Workers’ Compensation cases. If you or a loved one were recently injured on the job and are questioning whether you should proceed to filing a workers’ compensation claim or lawsuit, speak to one of our esteemed lawyers today to discuss your options. Our Massachusetts workers compensation lawyers are available around the clock to assist you with any questions you may have regarding your case, and all initial consultations are completely free and confidential.

 

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According to a University of British Columbia, Vancouver study, individuals with sleep apnea have a substantially greater risk of on-the-job injuries than those without the condition. In fact, people with a severe case of the breathing disorder, known as obstructive sleep apnea, have nearly double the risk of being injured in a work-related accident.

The patients in the study, which observed 1,236 individuals over an eight year period, underwent polysomnography to identify obstructive sleep apnea.  A.J. Hirsch Allen, PhD, a research associate at the university, noted that the risk is even more serious when other confounding factors are present. These include obesity, alcohol use, sex, and blue-collar industry occupations. “Screening and treatment of workers with obstructive sleep apnea may reduce rates of injury,” said Hirsch Allen.

Risk of Motor Vehicle Accident 7 to 8 Times Greater For Those With Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Commenting on the study’s findings, past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, M. Safwan Badr, MD, believes the study reinforces what we already know about sleep apnea and everyday injuries. “The large number of patients in the study is one of its strengths. This is a naturalistic experiment. This is what is happening in real life,” said Badr,  “We know that persons with obstructive sleep apnea are 7 to 8 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident either because of sleepiness or loss of vigilance or they distract themselves to stay awake. This study now extends this to occupational injury.” Continue reading

We all currently live in the golden age of technology. Cell phones essentially double as a computer with the added bonus of being able to fit in the palm of our hands. At work, people are able to communicate with other workers and with their bosses almost immediately—exchanging correspondence without ever having to leave their desk. You would think that these massively helpful leaps in technology would assist modern workers in achieving their employment goals at an accelerated rate. But a new article from Boston.com begs to differ. Workers in this day and age are actually working at a much slower pace than those who held the same positions up to 17 years ago.

A study conducted by Wells Fargo has indicated that the influx of communication and information based technology isn’t proving to be as beneficial as one may think. It may actually be actively contributing to the decrease in productivity across multiple job fields. With the exception of the information industry (jobs which include journalism, technical support, and data processing) each of the industries listed on a graph provided by Wells Fargo show decreases in productivity. Some businesses, such as Waste Industries, show only a slight decrease. While others, such as Construction, show a wider berth. The report, which was released on July 6th, compared productivity growth charts from 1998-2003 to ones provided for 2004-2014. And while the reports indicated that, yes, there was still a margin of growth during the past decade or so—it evolved at a much slower rate than in previous years. Continue reading

An ironworker has been critically injured after falling forty feet at a construction site near Logan International Airport in Boston this Friday morning. The circumstances surrounding the accident are still under an ongoing investigation. The preliminary reports have said that the man fell approximately forty feet onto a precast concrete slab that had also become dislodged and fell the same distance. It was not immediately apparent what had caused the concrete slab to give way and tumble the remaining feet to the ground. All work on the construction site has since been halted until authorities can determine the cause of the accident and if there are any remaining unsafe conditions that could pose further threats to other workers. No word has been given on the safety status of the construction site prior to the accident, with all available information supporting the idea that this was just a horrible accident. Continue reading

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