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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a Hernia?

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

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

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

How Do I Prove a Hernia is Work Related?

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

Presumption Rules for Certain Occupations

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

Any type of workplace can be a stressful environment, there’s no doubt about that. But what if the level of stress is abnormally high? What if a life-threatening injury is suffered on-the-job, or a worker gets assaulted by a supervisor or co-worker? Traumatic experiences can result in more than just “ordinary” stress.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes an individual to relive the events of a traumatic incident again and again. If you are afraid to go to work, or are overcome by an intense response to traumatic memories from a work-related incident, you may have PTSD. And you may be eligible for workers’ compensation in Massachusetts?

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, the next step toward collecting workers’ comp is to provide evidence showing the PTSD was caused by a workplace incident. In Massachusetts, mental and emotional disabilities are eligible for workers’ comp. Certain occupations are more commonly associated with high stress and mental health issues, such as PTSD. Examples of these occupations include law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, and military personnel. Workers in these jobs are more commonly exposed to violent, dangerous, or traumatic situations. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a police officer to be eligible for PTSD-related workers’ comp benefits.

Common Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD is an emotional disorder characterized by a variety of symptoms. The symptoms below are associated with PTSD and can range in duration and severity.

  • Flashbacks of a traumatic event
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Violent behavior
  • Self-destructive actions
  • Obsessive compulsive behavior
  • Problems with memory and focus
  • Nightmares

PTSD can also result in physical symptoms and sickness. The following medical conditions are associated with PTSD:

  • Severe headaches
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy and fatigue

PTSD may make an employee unable to work for an extended period of time. For this reason, workers’ compensation benefits may be available. Although MA workers have a right to get workers’ comp for work-related PTSD, the claims process can be highly complex. In addition, obtaining benefits for psychiatric injuries can be especially challenging. Insurance companies are notorious for challenging whether emotional disorders, including PTSD, are actually work-related. Continue reading

Some job risks are obvious. Construction workers in Massachusetts are at an increased risk for falls, and law enforcement professionals risk their lives every day. But desk jobs? Physical injuries aren’t the only risk associated with the following occupations. High stress and emotional trauma can be equally debilitating.

The Worst Jobs for Your Health

Construction: As one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, even well-trained construction workers are at risk. Among the most serious construction-related risks are falls, electrocutions, chemical burns or inhalation of toxic fumes, and getting caught between objects or surfaces. To dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury or death, protective gear should be work at all times. Thorough and continued training is also essential. Despite their best efforts, construction workers are still at an increased risk for medical conditions such as lung cancer and asbestosis. And roofers and general laborers made the 2013 top ten list for occupations with the highest fatalities.

Service: Firefighters and police officers put their lives on the line to protect the public every day. However, burning buildings and violence aren’t the only risks these service workers face. The emotional toll from working long hours, caring for injured or dying people, and facing dangerous or violent situations on a regular basis, can be too much for one person to take. In addition to being physically dangerous, service jobs are also considered to be among the most stressful and emotionally challenging.

Farming, Fishing and Forestry: Those who love the outdoors may dream of being a professional fisherman (or woman), tilling the fields, or working in the Alaskan wilderness. But these jobs also come with an increased risk of serious injury and death. In fact, farmers, ranchers, loggers, and fishers were included in 2013’s top 10 list of occupations with most fatalities.

Armed Services: This category covers a wide variety of occupations, from fighter pilots to military lawyers. However, all military-related jobs have the potential to involve extended time away from home, long shifts, and the responsibility of protecting the lives of others. In addition to the risk of physical harm, military jobs are among the most stressful jobs in the United States.

Trucking: Truck drivers are at risk for multiple safety and health hazards. Many are exposed to dangerous fumes and chemicals on a regular basis, whether based on the types of loads they are hauling or from exposure while loading / unloading materials at loading docks. There’s also the inherent risk of being on the road, for long hours, in the middle of the night. Fatigue can be a very real problem for truck drivers, as can the risk of being involved in a collision with another fatigued, or drunk, driver. Hearing loss is also a common injury suffered by long-time truck drivers.

Desk Jobs: This deceptively-safe occupation can actually be quite dangerous, especially over the long term. For starters, excessive sitting can shorten our lifespan by years, while simultaneously increasing our risk for diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Add to that the risk of back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and emotional stress, and desk jobs join the ranks of most unhealthy occupations. Deadline-driven jobs, such as held by event coordinators and newspaper reporters, are the biggest offenders, adding an extra level of emotional stress and anxiety. Continue reading

The World Health Organization estimates that 265,000 deaths are caused by burns annually, mainly occurring in the home and workplace.  According to the American Burn Association, there were 486,000 burn injuries that required medical treatment in 2016.  Annually, the American Burn Association estimates 3,400 U.S. burn injury deaths in the United States.  Of these, 2,550 result from residential/workplace fires, 300 result from vehicle crash fires, and the remaining 550 result from various causes, such as flames, smoke inhalation, scalding, and electricity.  In terms of the cost for burn injuries and deaths, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that males account for $4.8 billion, or 64 percent, of total fire and burn-related costs annually, while females account for the remaining $2.7 billion, or 36 percent.  Injuries sustained from burns, whether heat, electrical, radiation, friction, or chemical burns, happen far too often and cost far too much money for accidents that are avoidable most of the time.

According to the Burn Foundation, the Food Service Industry experiences the highest number of burns among all employment sectors, about 12,000 burns annually.  Many jobs involved in the Food Service Industry, including cooks, food handlers, kitchen works, and waiters, are among the top 50 professions at risk for on-the-job injury.  The majority of people who need to be hospitalized for burns sustained in the workplace work in the food preparation industry.  Teenagers working at fast food restaurants as fry cooks are at a higher risk, often because they are not adequately trained or have little experience.  For those working in the food industry, there are some simple ways that you can protect yourself from severe burns while on the job.  Be sure to wear protective gloves when touching hot pots or cooking with a deep fryer.  Wear shoes that have traction to avoid slipping on wet or greasy floors.  Extinguish hot oil or grease fires by covering the pot or container with a lid.  Don’t reach across hot surfaces.  Be sure to read all directions and understand the proper use of electrical appliances and stoves before use.  These precautions can also be utilized to prevent burns in residential kitchens.  Although some of these are occupationally specific precautions to take, there are additional general safety measures you can implement to avoid possible burn hazards in your own office, the most simple of which being aware of hot or corrosive objects and substances.  Continue reading

For several years, the U.S. property/casualty (P/C) industry’s workers’ compensation line has suffered underwriting losses.  However, 2015 marked a significant turnaround, according to a recently released report published by Fitch Ratings, Inc.  The report showed substantial profits for P/C workers’ compensation line.  Yet, Fitch also projects that due to recent competition, the workers’ compensation (P/C) line will return to an underwriting loss by 2017.  Jim Auden, managing director at Fitch, made a statement on the report saying, “The workers comp insurance market saw a sharp turnaround in the last few years due to past premium rate increases, stable loss cost trends and improved loss reserve experience, however, this performance will likely be unsustainable as price competition intensifies due in part to abundant market capacity.”  Fitch reports the segment underwriting combined ratio plunged from a cyclical peak of 117 percent in 2011 to the recent 95 percent in 2015.  Fitch predicts the workers’ comp line will produce a higher combined ratio of 98 percent this year followed by underwriting losses in 2017.  Steve Goldberg, Dallas-based chief risk and operating officer at AEU Holdings L.L.C. and president of TEE & GEE Group, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the combined ratio went as high as 105 percent in 2016 since “there isn’t enough medical management to offset the rise in medical provider costs.”  The Great Recession negatively impacted the workers’ compensation business, as it did most other businesses, specifically causing weak pricing and substantial drops in segment premium volume.  The underwriting response to the losses inexperienced in 2010 and 2011, in addition to the improving economy, caused a steep spike in written premium volume for the segment.

Further underwriting losses could be detrimental to companies seeking workers’ compensation insurance, notes Mike Vitulli, Boston-based vice president of Risk Strategies Co. Inc.  Vitulli predicts that some insurers will “avoid certain classes of business or states—or both” therefore reducing the insurance options for clients.  One example he provided in an email is that technology firms will probably not have difficulty securing workers compensation insurance for their employees but home health care companies in Massachusetts, where nurses often suffer musculoskeletal injuries on the job, may have more trouble finding coverage.  Continue reading

Yesterday afternoon, a wall collapsed at the former Wollaston Theatre in Quincy, trapping two workers under the debris.  The two workers were employees of Jamie McGuinness & Sons working on a demolition when the wall collapsed.  One worker, 40-years-old, was on a cherry picker and jumped down landing on the rocks below while the other worker, 38-years-old, was already on the ground and was then buried by debris for at least 15 minutes.  Quincy Fire Deputy Chief Jack Cadegan made a statement saying he “found the gentleman under three to four feet of bricks and [he] had a steel beam across his chest. The steel beam may have actually protected him somewhat.”  Both men were transported to Boston Medical Center with serious injuries but they are expected to recover.

Accidents like this occur somewhat commonly at construction sites due to the various hazards present.  The common accidents that occur at these sites include electrocutions, falls, equipment failure, and collapses of unsupported excavations.  Too often, injuries and deaths by such methods are preventable.  Unfortunately, construction workplace accidents tend to be caused by the sheer ignorance or negligence of construction workers or site developers.  One of the more common causes of injuries is structural collapse, most often when buildings or bridges are being erected or demolished.  Structural collapse during construction can be caused by excessive construction loading, improper sequencing, temporary material or system weaknesses, and temporary instabilities.  There are several warning signs that may indicate potential structural collapse that construction workers should be vigilant of.  These signs include: age of the building; cracks or bulges in walls; ability of water or smoke to push through walls that should have solid masonry; and sagging floors and roofs.  Construction workers should be aware of these warning signs as well as take addition safety precautions.  Most frequently, structural collapses occur in trenching, long and narrow ditches in the ground.  These collapses cause dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries annually.  Construction deaths as a result of trench collapses rose considerably in 2003.  OSHA provides some specific safety precautions to consider while working with trenches, including the following: Continue reading

A crane collapsed yesterday along the Medford-Everett line, injuring the operator of the piece of machinery.  The accident occurred next to the Revere Beach Parkway were the Woods Memorial Bridge Project is currently underway.  Workers were cleaning up for the day when the crane become unbalanced and completely flipped over.  At the time, the crane was carrying 200 gallons of diesel fuel at the time, which began leaking.  Environmental groups were called to help clean up the fuel.  The operator suffered minor injuries, a broken arm and wrist, after he was trapped inside the crane when it fell.  Some of his coworkers used a torch to get him out before first responders arrived.  The operator works for Coastal Marine and was taken to Mass General Hospital but is expected to be OK.  Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are back investigating the incident today.  This is a relatively lucky case compared to dozens of other crashes in which many have died.

Worksite crane accidents can occur easily if the proper safety precautions are not taken.  Cranes are vital to the manufacturing and construction industries as they lift and transport heavy materials that could otherwise not be moved.   If the machinery is properly installed and maintained, cranes can move materials quite safely and efficiently.  However, if operation and safety procedures are not followed when using cranes and other large machinery, the lives of workers and bystanders can be put at great risk.

There are three main hazards that construction workers and crane operators need to be vigilant of when working near cranes.  The first are electrical hazards.  OSHA reports that nearly 50 percent of overhead crane accidents result from the machines touching a power source during operation.  Power line contact, when a metal section of a crane inadvertently contacts a high-voltage power line, typically occurs when the crane is moving materials under or nearby a power line.  Every year, almost 200 people die from power line contact with about 600 being seriously injured.  Often, the victims are individuals who are guiding the load, but everyone present at a work site is also vulnerable to such risks.  Planning is the most important preventative measure to take.  It is especially important to appoint someone to be in charge of safety planning at worksites and to follow OSHA and ANSI guidelines about distance restrictions from power lines.  A second major hazard is overloading.  OSHA reports “80 percent of all crane upsets and structural failures can be attributed to exceeding the crane’s operational capacity.”  Overloading most often causes loads to drop or swing inadvertently and oftentimes occurs when under qualified personnel are allowed to operate cranes.  It is essential all workers who operate cranes on sites are properly trained and utilize load-measuring systems rather than relying on instinct and experience to determine if a crane can handle a load.  The third and final major hazard is the case of materials falling.  Aside from materials falling from overloading, loads can also fall if they are improperly secured.  Statistics show that almost 20 people died in 2012 from accidents involving overhead hoists.  These loads are often heavy and cause serious damage and injury if dropped.  To reduce the risk of falling materials, it is crucial to perform regular maintenance checks and to make sure all loads are completely secured.  Generally, all workers who interact with or around cranes and other heavy-duty machinery should be aware of safety procedures and be sure to follow regulations by OSHA and the manufacturers of the machinery.

According to the Boston Herald, almost 900 drivers crashed into work zones on Massachusetts highways and roadways last year. This 35 percent spike has state police concerned. In response, law enforcement is increasing patrol efforts during summer months when deadly work zone wrecks are at their highest.

The Herald report was released following three work zone accidents that occurred over just four days. Each of the three accidents allegedly involved a drunk driver. “I can’t remember a span like this or a bunch like these,” said state police 
Superintendent Col. Richard 
McKeon. “It seems like it’s concentrated. It’s obviously come to our attention,” McKeon continued. “We’re going to be out there with enhanced visibility … and we’re going to be looking for any intoxicated drivers.”

In 2015, state police recorded 860 work zone crashes, up from 639 in 2014. So far in 2016, this number is 325, and that doesn’t factor in the majority of the summer season when accidents are at their peak. In addition, a total of 529 work-zone citations were issued last year for reckless driving, compared to just about 370 the year before.  This is a staggering increase in a very short period.

Texting and Distracted Driving Likely Play a Role in Crash Increase

According to MassDOT officials, the increase in accidents is not due to an increase in construction projects and road work. Approximately 125 work crews are stationed on Massachusetts roads every day, a number which has remained relatively unchanged in the past few years. Thomas P. Lacek, a crash expert from Pennsylvania, says distracted drivers and sudden lane restrictions are major contributors to work zone crashes. “Lane restrictions are a hassle. You are impeding traffic flow,” Lacek remarked. “What you need to do is give drivers plenty of warning. If they’re still not slowing down, you need to jack up enforcement.

“The problem is not just the lanes going down from three to one, but also people texting, fixing their makeup and reading the paper,” he continued.

Work Detail Cops Save Lives

Lack of supervision may also be to blame. In the Bay State’s recent string of work zone crashes, Thomas O’Day, a father of six, was killed at an Interstate 93 job site. In an eerily foreboding Facebook post from earlier that day, O’Day wrote, “No detail cop’s…awesome.” He added that it was “insane out here (on) 93.” Continue reading

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