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Posted On: August 30, 2011

Massachusetts State Auditor Accuses Non-Profit Organization With Misuse of Taxpayer Money and Workers´ Compensation Fraud

The Massachusetts State Auditor has revealed that a non-profit human services provider in Western Massachusetts that serves mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children has corruptly used over $1 million in state taxpayer money. They are additionally accused of paying an employee´s workers´ compensation insurance claim with state money during a time period in which their workers´ compensation had lapsed.

In a report released by the auditor´s office, the Easthampton-based Northeast Center for Youth and Families Inc. has allegedly misused funds over a five-year period. The organization serves approximately 600 mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children in Massachusetts. The organization also operates in Connecticut.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump said, “We want to ensure that human service providers like the Northeast Center are spending public funds legally, appropriately and wisely to maximize every dollar and help the greatest number of physical and emotionally needy children, adults and families.” She described that this situation was "another side of the coin of waste, fraud and abuse." In response to the audit´s findings, the organization responded, “It is possible that we will continue to disagree with one or more of the Auditor’s findings…In any event, we will cooperate with the Commonwealth in its prescribed process for the resolution of audits.”

Auditor Bump reported that the center sent higher cost information to the Department of Youth Services between 2006 and 2008, which resulted in an unfounded overpayment of more than $650,000 to the organization. They also allowed their workers´ compensation insurance to lapse for 21 days in 2007, during which time an employee was injured on the job and was paid $52,073 to cover medical expenses, lost wages and a settlement. In this case, the state auditors determined that the agency used over $7,000 of state funds to pay the claim. The center also reportedly improperly used $406,360 to cover out-of-state losses in Connecticut and the $1 million amount of bonuses that were given out over a three-year time period is now being reviewed by the Department of Youth Services.

A former bookkeeper for 27 years at the organization, Cecile Guilbault, commented "They've been doing unethical things for years…I'm glad that finally, after all these years, the state has finally caught up with them."

Auditor Bump requested that the organization return all fraudulently used funds to the state.

Sources:

State audit finds that Northeast Center for Youth and Families misspent money, Gazettenet.com, August 26, 2011

Audit: Human services provider misused $1m in taxpayer funds, Boston.com, August 25, 2011

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Posted On: August 18, 2011

MassCOSH Reviews Workplace Safety at Angelica Textile Services in Somerville

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) has recently conducted an assessment of workplace safety at Angelica Textile Services, operating under the name of Royal Institutional Services, in Somerville, Massachusetts. The investigation was prompted by multiple worker complaints in regards to illnesses, injuries, and long-term health problems due to a dangerous and unhealthy working environment. MassCOSH´s findings were recently published in a >report that was compiled from this recent workplace safety assessment. As reported in OSHA Cites Somerville Commercial Laundry Service After Employee Injury, the company was also cited by the hand was compressed in a large iron. The company’s Somerville facility was also cited by OSHA in 2006 for hazardous waste and protective equipment safety hazards.

After OSHA´s findings in June, MassCOSH interviewed and observed 113 Angelica employees in July to document health problems and injuries thought to have been caused by working conditions. The majority of workers interviewed experienced health problems that they believed were due to their work in the laundry factory. Pain in the shoulders, back and wrist injuries were most common. Many other workers complained of neck, foot, leg, and knee pain. One unidentified worker said, “As a leader on my line I have to force my co-workers to perform more than what they can.”

When the workers were asked about working conditions that might have contributed to their health problems, workers repeatedly referred to the employer’s recent increase in work output quotas as a significant factor contributing to these injuries or chronic pain. Another unidentified employee was quoted: “I’ve been working at Angelica for more than 20 years. They gave me a written warning because I do not perform at 100% of [the newly implemented] production [quotas]. I’m in pain, my joints hurt. And, I’m very worried about my health.”

In addition to interviewing the workers, MassCOSH also conducted a review of tasks and protocol of cleaning soiled hospital linens and a chemical hazard review of cleaning products and relevant standards of manufacturers’ safety recommendations for the products and toxicology information.

MassCOSH found the following safety hazards during their investigation:

• Majority of employees are extremely physically fatigued while operating machinery. Workers seem to be experiencing an increase in pain and work-related injuries due to the increased production quota.

• Health and safety training is insufficient and not in the language of all of the workers.

• Poor maintenance and frequent breakdown of machinery exposes workers to chemical fumes and unnecessary chemical spills.

• Inadequate employee clothing to protect workers from soiled or contaminated laundry (such as blood-borne pathogens found in hospital laundry).

• Overcrowded work areas which block emergency exits.

• Increased risk of musculoskeletal injuries due to maneuvering heavy carts of laundry.

• A demeaning and hostile work environment hinders employees from speaking up about unsafe work conditions.

If you or your loved one has been injured in the workplace or suffers from chronic pain due to work, it is advised that you contact an experienced Massachusetts workers' compensation lawyer.

Sources:

Angelica Textile Services Assessment Report, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, August, 2011

US Labor Department's OSHA cites Somerville, Mass., commercial laundry for safety hazards following worker injury, OSHA Regional News Release, June 28, 2011

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Posted On: August 2, 2011

Monro Muffler Brake in Hyannis Cited with $184,000 for Safety Violations After Worker Injured in Fire

A fire in which an employee was badly burned at Monro Muffler Brake Inc. in Hyannis on February 2nd prompted an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA has since charged Monro Muffler Brake Inc., a company from Rochester, N.Y., for 10 alleged violations of workplace safety and $184,000 in proposed fines.

The fire began after a spark from an acetylene torch caught fire to an open container of gasoline. OSHA's inspection revealed that the fire hazards which workers were exposed to included the open container of gasoline, combustibles within the area where the acetylene torch was being used, an unsafe light fixture in a hazardous location and an overall employee lack of training for fire extinguishers. In addition to these fire hazards, employees were found to be smoking inside the perimeter of the automobile service area where fuels were being drained and where auto parts with fuel were being replaced. OSHA also found that there was not enough lighting in the work area, there were exposed electrical wires, they did not have an eye flushing station or protective eye gear, and their employees lacked safety information about the types of chemicals in use at the workplace.

Brenda Gordon, OSHA's area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts, said, "This is exactly the type of incident and injury that results when an employer fails to comply with common-sense and legally required safeguards for workers…To prevent such occurrences and protect the safety and health of its workers, the employer must ensure that safety and health requirements are met and maintained at all times at all of its locations."

The Massachusetts work injuries of Altman and Altman have decades of experience in dealing with injuries caused in the workplace as a result of OSHA violations. These cases can sometimes become quite complex, we have access to the finest experts in the commonwealth, and often times have to use them on cases like this.

Monro Muffler Brake was fined a $70,000 fee and charged with one willful violation for the fire hazard of smoking. OSHA issues a willful violation if the employer has “voluntary disregard” for the law's requirements or for their workers´ safety and health. They were also issued three repeat violations and $80,000 in fines for the lack of fire extinguisher training, the lack of chemical and eye guards. OSHA issues a repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or similar violation within the past five years. In 2009 and 2010 the company was cited for similar safety hazards at their locations in Victor, N.Y., and Norwich, Conn., locations. For the remainder of the safety hazards found during their investigation, OSHA fined the company $34,000 and issued six serious violations. A serious violation is issued if it is likely that an employee could die or experience serious harm from a safety hazard which the employer knew about or should have known about.

If you have been injured in a Massachusetts workplace, it is generally the best advice that you contact an experienced Massachusetts workers' compensation lawyer. Our attorneys have decades in handling workers compensation cases along with any third party component of the case. If you are not sure what to do about your case, give us a call for a free consultation.

Source:

US Labor Department's OSHA cites Monro Muffler Brake after worker injured in fire at Hyannis, Mass., location; proposed fines total $184,000, OSHA Regional News Release, August 1, 2011

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Continue reading " Monro Muffler Brake in Hyannis Cited with $184,000 for Safety Violations After Worker Injured in Fire " »