Articles Posted in Work Injury

Another Massachusetts construction worker has passed away following an accident during routine trench work in Duxbury, MA when a power saw kicked back and made lethal contact with his throat.  The Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office does not suspect foul play, and the incident is under investigation now by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to determine what caused the saw to become “bound” and subsequently injure the worker.

The tragic accident occurred during routine trench work on Saturday, Nov. 19 in Duxbury when workers were excavating an underground water line. At least one other worker was involved in the activity but was not harmed.

Trench work is dangerous work

This event, and an incident in October that claimed the lives of two workers in Boston, puts an unfortunate emphasis on how dangerous construction work – and work in trenches, specifically – truly is. In 2014, 899 construction workers died while working on the job, and about 70 construction workers die each year from accidents involving trenches.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a trench as “a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet.” This means that some trenches can be much deeper than 15 feet, which poses a serious risk of fatal falls in, addition to the most common form of trench work deaths – cave-ins.

There are many health regulations put in place by OSHA and state agencies that regulate trench work, including always securing each side of the wall, providing fall protection, designing protective measures such as properly sloping at least one wall of the trench in the event workers have to get out quickly.  Additionally, foremen and workers on site must always be aware of changing conditions in the trench and in the surrounding soil. They must also be aware of any seismic activity, even from something as simple as traffic passing nearby.

Of course, in accidents such as this most recent and unfortunate one in Duxbury, no amount of cave-in prevention can prevent a tragic death involving a power saw. It is cases like these that must prompt construction companies to learn how to better protect their workers from each of the unique dangers that exist on a job site. Trenches are tight quarters to work in, so there should always be additional precautions when working with dangerous power tools. Continue reading

The workplace is the backbone of American society and where millions of Americans earn their livings. Unfortunately, many careers and employers subject their workers to dangerous environments, tools of trade and procedures in order to get work done.  It can be as simple as a fall from a platform during construction, or something more complex like developing tinnitus after frequenting a loud work environment with inadequate or deficient ear protection. Regardless of the type of injury or severity, as a worker, you have rights.

Workers’ compensation is 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.

Expectation of safety

In addition to providing proper compensation for workers injured while on the job, employers – big or small – are required to upkeep a safe working environment and to implement 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, and do everything possible to prevent avoidable deaths on the job site.

A recent example of negligence leading to a serious work injury happened on Oct. 31 in Wareham. An employee for HiWay Safety Systems was trapped between a docking bay and the bumper of a tractor trailer truck, causing severe head trauma and his eventual death. The incident has since been labeled as a tragic, avoidable death by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH).  The victim left behind a wife and two sons, who will have to deal with the emotional turmoil and financial distress of losing a husband, a father, and a breadwinner. The tragic event is now under investigation by OSHA, state, and local authorities.

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. Continue reading

Considering the possibility of perishing inside the subzero conditions of a walk-in freezer may be the last thing anybody ever considers, until they’re inside one, alone, and the safety latch that has always worked in the past is not working.  While certainly not a common occurrence, people do die from walk-in freezer accidents. Usually, they are alone and unable to summon help when a safety mechanism fails, trapping them inside the unforgiving cold with no way of getting anybody’s attention and nobody coming to help them until the place of business opens the following morning.

The conditions inside a walk-in freezer are obviously dangerous, but for more reasons than just the cold. Some freezer units utilize dry ice, which gives off carbon dioxide. If the exposure lasts long enough, breathing in too much carbon dioxide can be fatal. It is always possible, though, for a slow and torturous freezing death to occur.

How can this happen in today’s safety-conscious society?

The most recent walk-in freezer incident occurred in March of 2016, when a 61-year-old employee of a hotel in Atlanta found herself trapped and unable to get anyone’s attention. She was found frozen solid the next morning.  Since this tragedy is such an inconsistent and rare occurrence, there is no serious dialogue about how to better prevent these events. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does mention two standards on the subject:

  • Provide a panic bar or other means of exit inside the freezer in the event that an employee is inadvertently trapped.
  • Always have an accessible exit from a walk-in freezer besides the main door.

Despite these common sense measures, accidents and malfunctions happen. Safety latches can fail and notification systems such as bells, electronic alarms and closed-circuit telephones can go unheard. More comprehensive safety systems might cost a lot of money, so smaller businesses won’t shell out the money to protect against such an unlikely event.

The best way to protect yourself, if you are an employee that must spend time in a walk-in freezer, is to always let somebody know when you’re going to be inside of one, and have them check up on you with a text message or phone call when you’re supposed to be clocked out of work. Alternatively, if cell service isn’t an issue, always keep your phone on you when going into a freezer, so you may call somebody for help. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

A recent study of U.S. nursing home workers found that injured workers are more likely to lose their jobs within six months of an injury. In fact, when compared to workers without on-the-job injuries, the injured workers had more than double the risk of being fired. Workers with multiple injuries were also more than twice as likely to quit as their uninjured counterparts, making the job-loss figures for injured workers even higher. Contact a Massachusetts Work Injury Lawyer Today.

Most work injuries occur during the first months of a new job. If an injured worker quits or is fired, the risk of being injured again, in the first few months of the replacement job, is also high. This type of job turnover increases the chances of multiple injuries. There is a higher risk that the injured worker will find himself or herself in a similar situation again, within the first few months of the “new” job. Of course, worker protections are supposed to prevent job loss following a work-related injury, but federal and state regulations are not always followed.

Researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston conducted a study of nursing home workers. The study analyzed data from over 1,300 workers who were interviewed at four intervals – at the commencement of the study, and again at six months, one year, and 18 months following the commencement of the study. The participants were asked if they had suffered on-the-job injuries within the past six months. Using administrative data from the nursing homes, the team was able to determine the number of workers who had lost their jobs and whether the job loss was voluntary or involuntary.

25 Percent of Workers Lost Job Within Six Months of Work-Related Injury

The study revealed that 30 percent of workers had suffered work-related injuries within the first year of employment, and that approximately 25 percent of those workers were no longer at that place of employment by 18 months. According to Peter Smith, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Work and Health, the job loss may be due to several factors. Employers may fire workers because they think they will no longer be able to perform necessary job duties. Employers may also be concerned that the worker will get injured again. “In some situations an employer might not have put in place protections to reduce an injury occurring again, such as removing the hazards that lead to the injury,” said Smith. “While these situations should not be happening within the current workers’ compensation legislation, we do know that they sometimes do occur, in spite of the legislation in place,” Smith said. Continue reading

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

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