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.

Some of the most important jobs that bolster our economy and continue our growth here in Massachusetts and across the country also happen to be the most dangerous. Construction workers, line workers, industrial engineers, miners, farmers, and a thousand different variants of manual laborers all put their bodies into harm’s way in order to perform their important duties and make money for them and their loved ones.  Getting injured while on the job is an unavoidable part of working in a dangerous field. Despite being careful, and despite long lists of safety regulations that are required for employers to follow, accidents will happen. When they do, having mandatory workers’ compensation programs is what separates the United States from less-developed nations, where injured workers may simply be on their own financially.

Employers are required to offer workers’ compensation, and for good reason. If someone is unable to work and collect a paycheck due to an injury sustained at work, that place of employment should take responsibility and step up to help their employee. It’s not just a sign of good faith and morals, it’s the law.

Mucking the gears of workers’ compensation is wrong

Anybody who has experienced a mild to severe burn can attest to the fact that the pain from a burn is unlike any other kind of pain. You can run it under a cold tap or press an ice pack to it, but you know this is only a tiny and temporary relief. For the most serious of burns, pain may not be an issue due to the nerves being permanently destroyed, but amputation of the burned area is almost certain.  In the United States, unlike some developing parts of the world, burns are easily preventable and survivable. According to the American Burn Association, over 96 percent of burn victims admitted to burn trauma units in 2015 survived their injuries. Of these burns, the vast majority (73 percent) occurred at home. The next leading place of occurrence was at their workplace (8 percent).

Workplace burns can happen from multiple causes, from something as simple as a boiling liquid splashing or spilling to something less expected like maintaining contact with something severely cold or doing work outside – even on a cloudy day – without any protective clothing or sunscreen. Burns can range in severity, from non-serious superficial burns to life-threatening, full-thickness burns that cause permanent bodily damage.

Types of workplace burns

Thermal burns

 Thermal burns are what most people think of when they imagine a typical burn. They can happen from hot or boiling liquids (known as being scalded), open flames or areas of severely high temperature (such as heat escaping from an oven), hot surfaces and explosions. Thermal burns are normally entirely controllable, and can be prevented by wearing protective clothing when near the potentially-dangerous area.

Chemical burns

A chemical burn occurs when a human makes contact with a strong acid, alkaloid, corrosive or caustic material. Chemical burns are notoriously nasty since they can cause permanent and severe damage to soft tissue, especially if the material makes contact with a human eye. Workers most at risk for chemical burns are those that work in industrial fields, especially ones that work with high-strength cleaners or chemicals.  All potentially-dangerous materials should always be properly identified and workers should always wear proper protection when dealing with these types of materials.

Electrical burns

Electrocution from high-voltage sources causes electricity to travel through the body. As the electricity experiences resistant from the tissue, it causes heat and results in electrical burns. Areas of high electricity should always be properly-identified.

Sun exposure burns

Though workers who often work outside may scoff at the notion, repeated and prolonged sun exposure can result in serious burns. Employees working outside should always wear clothing, sunglasses, and headwear that cuts down on direct contact with the sun. Continue reading

Welding is an occupation with a higher-than-average risk of serious injury. Welding accidents in Massachusetts can result in burns, loss of vision, respiratory problems, and even death. According to the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA), four out of every one-thousand welders will die from a welding-related injury. Most welding accidents occur at automotive, marine, and construction job sites. These industries are much more likely to use welding than others. If you’ve suffered a welding-related injury, the skilled workers’ compensation team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help.

Common Welding-Related Injuries

Welding injuries can range from minor burns to death. Below are some of the most common injuries reported by Massachusetts welders.

  • Burns: Welding involves the melting of metals and, therefore, requires the use of extremely high temperatures. For this reason, burns are common injuries suffered by welders. Minor burns are quite common, but severe burns can result in disfigurement, debilitating pain, time off work, and even death. In addition to direct burns to the skin, welding can also lead to widespread fires when sparks created during the welding process cause workshop fires. This is especially dangerous when flammable materials, such as oil soaked rags, are present. There are two types of welding: arc welding and traditional welding. Both have a high risk of fire and burn injuries.
  • Injuries from toxic fumes: When metal is exposed to extreme heat, it begins to melt. During the conversion process from solid to liquid, gasses are released into the air. These gasses can be damaging if inhaled; injuries can be suffered immediately or over a prolonged period of time. In addition to causing respiratory problems, the gasses can also cause severe damage to the eyes. Eye injuries can still occur when protective eyewear is worn.
  • Injuries to the eyes: Many welders who have been in the industry for a long period of time begin to develop vision problems. Maintaining a steady focus on the bright lights and sparks emitted during the welding process can cause severe damage to the eyes.
  • Respiratory complications: Gasses emitted during the welding process can be toxic, and many of these gasses have the potential to cause short term and long term damage.
  • In addition to the above injuries, welding also comes with the risk of electric shock and hearing loss. Protective gear and adequate training can dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury and death from welding-related accidents. However, this occupation comes with inherent risks. If you have developed any of these injuries or health complications as a result of welding, contact a Boston work injury lawyer today.

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Constructing a rapidly-expanding modern world requires millions of construction workers performing potentially dangerous work. According to OSHA, around 2.3 million construction workers (65 percent of the entire industry) work on scaffolding in limited or high-frequency capacities.  Scaffolding is required to temporarily reach high places while construction is ongoing. Workers must be able to safely construct and navigate scaffolding in order to complete their work duties. As always, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a long list of requirements and regulations regarding the implementation, use and safety of construction scaffolding.

The most common cause of death for construction workers in the United States is falls from great heights. Out of 899 construction worker deaths reported in 2014, 359 were caused by falls. A total of 54 deaths were reported specifically as a result of scaffolding accidents in 2009. Protection from falls and scaffolding violations are number 1 and number 3 respectively on OSHA’s list of top 10 most frequently cited violations in 2015.

Scaffolding requirements

Stavis Seafood received 20 safety violations Friday, several months after the death of one of its workers. Brian Caron, a Peabody man and father of two, was fatally injured by an ammonia leak at Stavis’ South Boston plant. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the accident was caused by improper design, operation and maintenance of ammonia equipment. Due to these safety violations, Caron and other employees were exposed to a deadly amount of ammonia.

The fatal accident occurred on March 23 when a pipe on the plant’s second floor burst, sending toxic fumes into the work area. According to a statement released by OSHA, the seafood company failed to properly label ammonia piping, properly ventilate the building to prevent the risk of explosion caused by an ammonia leak, routinely inspect pressure canisters, test ammonia sensors, and ensure that ammonia was properly contained at all times. If you are concerned that your work environment is unsafe, contact a Massachusetts work injury lawyer today.

Stavis Seafood Facing $173,168 in Fines

The OSHA investigation has found that the machine room where workers were stationed and the storage room used to store ammonia were not properly separated. In addition to the lack of a door to separate the two rooms, there were also large holes in the plant’s floor. “The company’s failure to follow industry and OSHA standards exposed its employees to the hazards of an ammonia release as well as falls, electric shock, hazardous chemicals and delayed or obstructed exit from the facility during a leak or other emergency,” reported James Mulligan, OSHA’s acting area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts. “It’s clear that Stavis Seafoods must take effective action to correct these hazards and prevent their recurrence so that no other employees are harmed on the job.” And the violations don’t stop there. Stavis was also cited for improper chemical storage and labeling, multiple electrical hazards, and infrastructure issues. As a result, Stavis is facing OSHA-proposed fines of up to $173,168.

Types of Chemical Exposure and Associated Injuries

Chemical-related work injuries can be extremely harmful, even deadly. Ammonia isn’t the only dangerous workplace chemical. Others include benzene, mercury, pesticides, solvents, lead, acids, and paint. Injuries can be suffered due to contact with the skin, inhalation of toxic fumes, and even accidental ingestion. Injuries due to work-related chemical exposure include burns to the skin, eyes, lung or throat, and rashes. Chemical exposure can also cause neurological damage, including nerve damage and brain injuries. Although excessive inhalation is most often linked to brain damage, even skin exposure can have neurological consequences. If you have been harmed on-the-job due to the inhalation of toxic fumes, contact a MA injury lawyer today. Continue reading

The temperatures might be getting cooler, but it’s still high season for construction work. In fact, with winter weather quickly approaching, many construction projects are kicking into high gear. Construction remains one of the most dangerous industries in the country, but you can dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury and death by utilizing safe practices at all times. It is an employer’s duty to provide a safe work environment. If your employer is failing to do so, discuss your concerns with them. If they refuse to take action, contact a Boston work injury lawyer to discuss your options.

Avoid the most common, and dangerous, construction-related accidents by following the safety tips below.

Construction Safety Tips

  • Hold routine safety meetings. Depending on the nature of your work, routine can mean weekly or daily. Avoid making safety information too general. The information should be practical and job-specific.
  • Ensure that workers on the ground are always wearing highly-visible clothing. The brighter, the better.
  • Hydration is important, even in cooler months. When properly hydrated, we are more alert and have better focus and concentration. Energy drinks and sugary sodas are not a substitute for healthy beverages, such as water, citrus drinks and electrolyte-rich Gatorade.
  • Don’t let the crisp fall weather fool you; direct sunlight can still be dangerous. If you’re outside all day, exposed skin should be protected. Use sunblock, wide brim hats, long-sleeved shirts, nape protectors, and umbrellas when necessary. In addition to being dangerous, too much sun exposure can also cause fatigue.
  • Use extra caution during night work. The graveyard shift can be especially dangerous when heavy machinery is involved. Humans are naturally predisposed to lose alertness when the clock strikes twelve. And night crews on road-construction projects have an even greater risk; drunk and fatigued drivers on the road can be deadly. High-visibility gear and reflective fabric and equipment is essential for night work. Vehicle warning strobes and police presence can dramatically reduce the risk of deadly accidents. Make sure adequate buffer zones and cones are in place, and equip spotters with air horns and whistles. If you’ve been injured while doing night work or any other construction-related activity, contact a Boston work injury lawyer today.
  • Drive and park defensively. All vehicles should be equipped with daytime running lights. When it comes to “following distance”, always adhere to the four-second rule. Before approaching intersections, always slow down. Tell drivers to always look before pulling out, and avoid the need to back out if possible. Remind drivers to never text, talk, or adjust the GPS while driving; distracted driving is deadly. And instruct drivers to set out a warning cone when parking a rig or another large vehicle. The cone lets people know your rig is an attended work vehicle, and they’ll typically park far away to give you extra space.

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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

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