Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Lawyer Blog
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.

As minimum wage debates ripple across the country, American workers have begun to reevaluate their employment rights. Employers are responsible for adhering to federal and state labor laws that govern minimum wage, overtime pay, holiday pay, family medical leave, discrimination, and harassment. Employees often forego a deeper understanding of these legal guidelines because they trust their employers to follow industry standards and regulations. However, awareness of these laws and what constitutes a violation can empower workers to ensure that their rights are protected. The following is an overview of labor laws specific to Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Minimum Fair Wage Law

This law regulates minimum wage, minimum hours worked on a daily basis, and standards for overtime work. Massachusetts’ minimum wage became $8.00 per hour on January 1, 2008. Certain positions, such as tipped employees, present special circumstances that require a different minimum wage. Additionally, if an employer fails to pay an employee at least one and one-half times the regular pay rate for overtime (which is over 40 hours per week), that employer is in violation of the Minimum Fair Wage Law.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), a federal law, is very similar to the Massachusetts Minimum Fair Wage Law. FLSA also regulates federal minimum wage requirements and time and a half overtime pay. In work situations where both state and federal laws apply, employers must follow the law with the higher standards. Certain employees in administrative, executive, or professional positions are exempt from overtime pay. To qualify, both a salaries test and duties test must be met. Continue reading

A man who was killed in a construction accident in Taunton on Monday has officially been identified by the district attorney’s office. 48 year old Kevin Miranda was killed when the construction lift he had been working on flipped over at the St. Mary’s School where the labor was taking place.

Miranda was from Somerset and Portsmouth, Rhode Island and had been working for the Taunton based company Skyline Contracting and Roofing at the time of the accident. The company was in the middle of an inspection for the Fall River Diocese for a smokestack located behind a Catholic elementary school in that area. At the time the accident occurred, Kevin Miranda had been operating a construction lift that had been provided to the worksite via NES Rentals. The lift had been positioned on a slope located on the land boundary between the elementary school and the neighboring Morton Hospital. The lift that Kevin Miranda was working on tipped over, causing his death. The extent and nature of his injuries was not made immediately available. Initial reports also did not provide any details on how exactly the lift had tipped over.

Following reports of the accident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA) arrived on scene to begin an investigation into the accident. A spokesman for the company, Ted Fitzgerald, indicated that OSHA would be looking into possible evidence that would help them determine the cause of the accident. They are looking to determine if there were any workplace safety violations being committed that could have possibly led to the lift tipping over with Kevin Miranda inside of it. The company employing Miranda, Skyline Contracting and Roofing, has not provided comments on the matter at this time. Continue reading

A worker was killed yesterday after a falling from a construction lift at at a Taunton job-site.

According to OSHA officials and police at the scene, the construction lift was operating on a slope just behind St. Mary’s school, near the property boundary with Morton Hospital. The fatal accident occurred when the lift tipped over, but it is unclear how or why the accident happened. OSHA officials are currently trying to piece together whether safety standards were violated. Ted Fitzgerald, a regional representative for OSHA said that, according to the information he received, the worker was employed by Skyline Contracting and Roofing Corp.

CONSTRUCTION SITE INCIDENTS

According to OSHA, falls remain at the top of the list of most common cause of injury and death to workers in the construction industry. Nearly 20% of all occupational injuries occur in this type of workplace, with. falls accounting 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.

In addition these ten standards were the 10 most frequently violated and cited by OSHA:

  1. Fall protection
  2. Hazard communication
  3. Scaffolding
  4. Respiratory protection
  5. Control of hazardous energy
  6. Powered industrial trucks
  7. Electrical, wiring methods, and equipment component malfunction
  8. Ladders
  9. Machines
  10. Electrical systems design

Falls are especially prevalent in the construction industry; last year, OSHA launched a program to raise awareness of fall hazards and safeguards, called a National Safety Stand-Down. The goal of the program to prevent falls in construction was conducted May 4 – 15, as a voluntary event in which employers talk directly to their employees about fall hazards and reinforce the importance of fall prevention. Participating employers stopped their work and provided a focused toolbox talk on a safety topic, such as ladder safety, fall protection equipment or scaffold safety. Detailed information on the Stand-Down is available here.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

By OSHA standards, employers are responsible for ensuring their employees work in a safe and hazard-free environment, and have the proper training and tools to do their job safely as well as identify any dangerous threats to themselves and their co-workers.

When an individual is injured or killed on the job, by law, the employer must report the incident to OSHA for a complete investigation. Additionally in Massachusetts, when a worker suffers a workplace injury, he or she is supposed to be covered by Workers’ Compensation Benefits. These benefits were established to guarantee a worker and his or her family compensation for medical bills, disability payments and lost wages, as well as compensation for permanent injuries, disfigurement, scars, as well as death benefits. Acquiring these benefits can sometimes be challenging, and it is most advised that you speak to a licensed Workers’ Compensation Attorney to discuss your options after you have been involved in a workplace incident.

At the law offices of Altman & Altman, our team of experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorneys have nearly five decades of experience handling workers’ compensation and work injury cases. We will thoroughly investigate your work injury case and examine all avenues of recovery for you, including helping you access the finest healthcare available in the Commonwealth. Additionally, we will determine whether other parties are liable for your injury, such as the manufacturer of a defective piece of equipment or a negligent contractor, and we can file claims or lawsuits against all responsible parties so that you receive the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one was injured or killed at work, do not hesitate to call one of the seasoned attorneys at Altman & Altman. Our attorneys are available around the clock to assist you and all initial consultations are free and confidential.

 

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When a chronic medical condition is a result of your work environment, it may be considered an occupational disease.  Any worker in Massachusetts needs to know that any exposures to toxins, poor air quality, and lack of proper ergonomics can all contribute to a vast array of debilitating medical conditions and diseases. Tracing the signs and symptoms back to the work environment can be challenging, as many occupational diseases can also be experienced by the general public. However, approximately 860,000 illnesses and 60,300 fatalities are thought to be a result of workplace environments annually in the United States. Recent studies show that 17% of hospital and primary care patients believe their illness is related to harmful exposure in their place of employment. Of these patients, an estimated 10% are officially diagnosed with a work-related medical condition. Because early diagnosis of many illnesses can reduce chances of disability or death, understanding potential hazards you may be exposed to is important.

Respiratory Diseases

Inhalation of toxins can cause a variety of lung conditions and is a concern in many different industries. Asthma, rhino-sinusitis, and bronchitis are frequently cited as work-related medical issues. Pneumoconiosis is a general, umbrella term referring to various types of reactions to the inhalation of dust. The number of fatalities from pneumoconiosis was 260,000 in 2013.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a type of pneumoconiosis caused by extended or intensive exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral made of long thin fibrous crystals that irritate the tissues in the lungs. Occupational exposure can occur in manufacturing and mining work, as well asbestos removal. Severe shortness of breath and dry coughing are common symptoms. Risks of long-term inhalation can lead to malignant cancers and mesothelioma. In 2013, asbestosis resulted in 24,000 fatalities in the United States. Continue reading

Massachusetts provides benefits for five types of workers’ compensation disability claims. These are 1) temporary total disability, 2) temporary partial disability, 3) permanent partial disability, 4) permanent and total disability, and 5) death. Total disability is paid for up to three years when an injury prohibits any ability to work. Benefits for permanent and total disability typically pay a percentage of an injured worker’s wages, on a permanent basis. Workers’ Compensation death benefits are designed to help families of workers who have died from a work-related injury or illness. However, the majority of workers’ compensation claims in the United States are permanent partial disability (PPD).

What is Permanent Partial Disability?

If an employee’s work-related injury has lessened his or her ability to work to some degree, but not entirely, PPD benefits may be available. This reduced earning capacity may be triggered by a necessity to change jobs, work less hours, or work for decreased wages. The injured worker’s physician uses American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines to determine the level of disability. In addition to injuries from falls, burns, or fallen objects, these AMA guidelines also cover occupational diseases, such as respiratory conditions from allergen exposure, neurological disorders from metals or pesticides, and even carpal tunnel syndrome. PPD standard coverage can last no more than 5 years (260 weeks). However, coverage may be extended to 520 weeks if there is a 75% permanent loss of body function or a diagnosis of a perpetual life-threatening condition such as:

  • Spinal cord damage
  • Loss of organ functioning, such as lungs, kidney, urinary, or bowel function
  • Damaged equilibrium
  • Loss of mental functioning, such as short term memory loss or language comprehension
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune disease

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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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