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Articles Posted in Workplace Hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a robust whistleblowing program which encourages and protects individuals who wish to report a safety concern from retaliatory penalties placed on them by their employers.

You may submit a whistleblower report multiple ways, including an online form, a document which you may print, fill out and mail in, or by telephoning or writing a letter to your local OSHA office. OSHA will then conduct an interview with the whistleblower to assess whether or not an investigation is necessary.

OSHA has official protections legislation in place for a large variety of different hazardous situations to employees. They prevent retaliation against employees who report hazardous safety conditions or safety violations. Some of them include:

  • The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
    • Protects employees that report incidents of asbestos
  • The Clean Air Act
    • Prohibits retaliation against employees that report issues regarding air quality
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act
    • Prohibits retaliation against employees that report incidents of polluting water sources
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act
    • Protects employees that report violations relating to the disposal of solid and hazardous waste
  • Federal Railroad Safety Act/ National Transit Systems Security Act
    • Protects employees of railroad carriers and contractors and transit employees who report hazardous safety or security conditions
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act
    • Protects employees who report violations regarding pipeline safety and security
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act
    • Protects truck drivers and transit employees that refuse to violate safety regulations
  • Affordable Care Act
    • Protects employees who report violations regarding discrimination, denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions or insurance company violations
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act
    • Provides protections for employees that violate financial policies placed by the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, such as Wall Street infractions or fraudulent activity
  • Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
    • Protects employees that report violations of consumer product safety, including manufacturers, importers, distributors, private labelers, and retailers
  • FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
    • Protects employees of food manufacturers, distributors, packers, and transporters that report any violation regarding the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

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Asbestos has been linked to deadly forms of cancer for decades – this isn’t news. Here’s what’s shocking – about 1.3 million Americans are still working in an environment with significant asbestos exposure every day.  It’s happening here in Massachusetts and all over the country.  What is going on? Why are so many workers still involuntarily exposed to such a deadly substance?  Asbestos has been used in building for decades, due to its durability and flame-resistant properties. As a naturally-occurring material, asbestos particles are inhaled in trace quantities by all of us, every day. It’s when we breathe in significant levels of this harmful substance that serious health conditions can develop. Short-term problems include coughing and shortness of breath. However, long-term exposure can lead to more serious complications, including a highly-deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma. Classified as a carcinogen, asbestos has been linked to everything from colorectal cancer to lung cancer.

1.3 Million U.S. Workers Exposed to Asbestos Daily

In addition to the 1.3 million who are currently exposed to significant levels of asbestos every day, there are millions of older people who spent decades working with and around asbestos before we fully understood the associated dangers. Because conditions such as mesothelioma can take up to 30 years to become apparent, workers are being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases and conditions today that they first acquired decades ago. This is of special concern for older workers. Who do they sue for damages if the employer responsible for their asbestos exposure has been out of business for decades? Fortunately, there is some good news – asbestos trusts exist to compensate these victims.

Occupations with Highest Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Despite the known dangers, asbestos exposure is still quite common in many occupations. Which occupations pose the greatest risk? Although many companies take proper safety measures to mitigate the risk of asbestos exposure, the occupations below traditionally have the highest risk of exposure, even today.

  • Construction
  • Mining
  • Paper mills
  • Shipbuilding
  • HVAC jobs
  • Auto repair
  • Roofing
  • Manufacturing of products that contain asbestos
  • Janitorial jobs

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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

A worker was injured in an Amherst construction accident when a granite slab weighing about 700 pounds fell on him while he was on the job at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. Carlos Velasquez injured his hip, shoulder, and leg. He was transported to a Springfield hospital.

The Massachusetts work accident took place while the 55-year-old worker was underpinning supports for a renovation and expansion project. Velazquez is employed by Schnabel Foundation Co. The Springfield company is the subcontractor for this job.

The impact of the granite slab falling onto Velasquez pushed him into an excavated area. Workers removed the slab from his body.

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As part of commemorating Workers’ Memorial Day on Friday, labor leaders in Springfield read the names of the 62 people killed in Massachusetts work accidents in the last 16 months—that’s a little over one death a week. National Council for Occupational Safety and Heath director Mary Vogel said that most of the worker injury deaths could have been prevented if only there had been the necessary safety-minded precautions and procedures in place.

Workers’ Memorial Day—April 28—marks the annual anniversary of when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970. Last year, there were 4,500 workplace fatalities in the U.S.—a figure that has stayed pretty consistent in the last few years. Many more workers sustained injuries or work-related diseases because of their jobs.

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In a recent Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog post, we wrote about an NPR and ProPublica probe that found that recent workers’ compensation reforms are hurting more than helping injured workers. Now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued its report that reflects similar findings.

According to OSHA’s report, statistics show that over three million workers are hurt every year, with thousands killed while doing their job. These figures do not include incidents that go unreported and chronic illnesses that continue even after exposure on the job to hazardous substances has stopped.

Many workers who were seriously hurt find it hard to keep working—especially as modifications to workers comp. insurance programs have made it harder for someone who was hurt on the job to get full benefits. Employers are now taking care of just a small portion of overall workplace injury and illness costs through their work injury compensation programs.

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In the last few weeks, over 100 inches of snow have fallen on parts of Massachusetts. This has led to massive efforts to clear snow and ice off roofs and roads. The snow clearings have placed numerous workers and homeowners in high-risk situations.

There have been at least two workers that were involved in Canton, MA work accidents. One man fell some 40 feet through a skylight while evaluating snow removal operations. The skylight had been covered in snow when he stepped on it. The worker was later pronounced dead at a Brockton hospital.

Also injured in a Canton, MA roof fall was another worker, who was also clearing snow. In an Avon, MA roof collapse, another worker was hurt in roof fall from a skylight.

NPR reports that according to statistics from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor, nursing employees sustain over 35,000 back and other injuries each year. These injuries are serious enough that they warrant taking time off from work.

Nursing employees are also three times more likely than construction laborers to suffer musculoskeletal injuries. Registered nurses aren’t far behind after warehouse workers, truck drivers, and store clerks.

The main causes of these injuries are the duties of lifting and moving patients, which nursing employees do every day. During a typical day, a worker might lift a patient weighing much more than the employee at least a dozen times a day. This may lead to back pain, sprains, strains, and shoulder injuries.

Ashley Furniture Industry Inc. has been fined $1.76M because its workers have gotten hurt in over 1,000 work-related injuries in the last three-and-a-half years. Following an incident last summer when one worker lost three fingers while operating a woodworking machine, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted a probe of the facility and found numerous willful, repeated, and serious safety violations.

The furniture company has also been put on the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for not addressing certain safety hazards. OSHA contends that Ashley Furniture purposely ignored the agency’s standards, as well as the company’s own safety manuals, to increase worker productivity levels. The company is accused of blaming workers for their injuries, which were actually caused by the unsafe working conditions created at Ashley Furniture.

OSHA said that the furniture maker did not act to protect workers from getting hurt by moving machine parts or prevent machines from unintentionally activating when machineries were being serviced. These kinds of violations can lead to permanent disability and death.

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rules, private-sector employers must fulfill tougher reporting requirements for injuries on the job. Now, employers have to report all work-related deaths within eight hours and give notification of any eye losses, amputations, and inpatient hospitalizations within 24 hours of discovery.

The new requirements went into effect on January 1. Employers can report an incident either by calling the closest OSHA area office, contacting the OSHA hotline, or submitting a report online.

Previous to that, employees had to notify the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration of all workplace deaths or when at least three workers injured in the same incident were hospitalized.

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