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Articles Posted in Workplace Disease/Illness

Mesothelioma is a particularly-deadly type of cancer that affects the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue surrounding multiple organs in the human body. As the most commonly-affected area is the lining around the lungs and chest wall, shortness of breath is often one of the first symptoms. That being said, Mesothelioma is a slow-growing form of cancer, and initial symptoms can take decades to appear. For this reason, the disease is often quite advanced when diagnosed.

More than 80 percent of Mesothelioma cases are a result of asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was used in insulation before the risks were known. Well, at least before the public knew about the risks. There is evidence that asbestos manufacturers knew about the dangers long before the federal government began regulating its use. In addition to asbestos-based products, the carcinogenic mineral occurs naturally underground. As such, construction workers, those who mine asbestos, and people who work with asbestos-based products are most at risk of developing this deadly disease.

Asbestos is Not a Thing of the Past

It is a common misconception that asbestos is no longer an issue in the workplace. For starters, any building built before 1980 may contain asbestos in the roof, walls, or insulation. And even buildings built after 1980 may have asbestos. For these reasons, construction workers still have an increased risk of asbestos exposure, and thus, of developing Mesothelioma or lung cancer. A MA work injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you are suffering from a work-related illness or injury.

Auto mechanics also have a higher risk of asbestos exposure. In 1989, the US Environmental Protection Agency began the process of phasing out asbestos-based brakes. But a federal court rescinded the ban in 1991. Recent analysis shows that dust samples taken from brake repair shops contain significant levels of asbestos. Unfortunately, the majority of auto-repair shops are ill-equipped to deal with this problem. In fact, compressed air used to blow dust from brakes can exacerbate the problem, filling the air with millions of asbestos-containing dust particles. All auto-repair shops should consider purchasing respirators and vacuums for mechanics who work on brakes.

Who is Most at Risk?

Although your risk of asbestos exposure is significantly lower today than 30 years ago, workers in many occupations are still at risk. Asbestos exposure remains a hazard for those who work in:

  • Auto-repair shops
  • Construction sites
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Paper mills
  • Refineries
  • Power plants
  • Ship yards

And in the following industries:

  • Auto-repair mechanics
  • Boilermakers
  • Bricklayers
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Insulators
  • Plasterers
  • Plumbers
  • Pipe fitters
  • Refinery workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Steelworkers

A Boston work injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve developed a work-related injury or illness. Continue reading

Mesothelioma is a slow-growing cancer that forms in a thin layer of tissue surrounding certain internal organs, including the lungs, chest wall, and abdomen. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is often so advanced when discovered that long-term prognoses are rarely good. In fact, of the 50,000 people diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2013, approximately 34,000 succumbed to the disease. A skilled MA personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Causes of Mesothelioma

Prolonged exposure to asbestos is the number one cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos is a carcinogenic substance that was used as a type of insulation for years until a link to cancer and other respiratory illnesses was discovered in the late 1970s. That does not mean, however, that asbestos is no longer a concern. For starters, people who haven’t worked with asbestos in decades are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma annually. And asbestos remains a hazard of many occupations. The most common causes of mesothelioma include:

  • Occupational: Coal miners and construction workers have a significantly-higher risk of developing mesothelioma than other workers.
  • Environmental: Asbestos is a naturally-occurring substance. If you happen to live near a high concentration of asbestos, you have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma.
  • Exposure to asbestos in buildings: If you live, work, or attend school in a building that was built before 1980, asbestos may be present.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

This particularly virulent form of cancer can grow for decades before being discovered. According to the Mesothelioma Center, there are four recognized stages of the disease.

  • Stage 1: Tiny tumors may develop within the lining of a lung. The disease hasn’t yet spread, so symptoms are generally non-existent at this stage.
  • Stage 2: As the tumors continue to grow, they may begin to spread to other parts of the chest cavity. Although symptoms may still be minor, or even non-existent, some symptoms may include chest pain, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
  • Stage 3: At this point, tumors may have reached the chest wall, diaphragm and heart lining. Cancer cells may have also spread to some, but not all, lymph nodes. Symptoms may still not be apparent. However, minor symptoms are likely to begin at this stage, and may include fever, difficulty breathing, coughing, weight loss, and chest pain.
  • Stage 4: By this stage, cancer cells have spread throughout the body. This is the most advanced stage of the disease and symptoms may include fever and night sweats, severe chest pain, difficulty breathing, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, and a buildup of fluid in the abdomen or chest.

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According to a recent National Safety Council survey, more than 70 percent of employers nationwide report being directly affected by the misuse of prescription drugs in their workplaces. Despite this, only 39 percent of employers surveyed view prescription drug abuse as a safety threat, and even less – 24 percent – consider it to be a measurable problem. And although 71 percent of U.S. employers agree that abuse of prescription drugs is a disease that requires treatment, 65 percent consider it a justifiable reason for employee termination. A Boston injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you have been terminated due to a substance abuse disorder.

The results above show the significant gap between the actual cost of prescription drug abuse for U.S. workplaces, and employer perception. The reality is that substance abuse costs American taxpayers more than $440 billion each year. Businesses suffer significant losses due to healthcare costs, low productivity, and absenteeism of workers with addictions. However, research has shown that it benefits both employer and employee when the employer helps get the employee into treatment. In fact, doing so can save the employer up to $2,607 per year. But a change in employer perception is crucial to a positive outcome. As long as 65 percent of employers feel that employee termination is the answer to addiction issues, the possibility of employer-initiated treatment programs is slim. But firing and re-hiring may actually cost much more in the long run.

Statistics From the National Safety Council Report

The following statistics about substance abuse in the workplace were revealed during the survey:

  • Employees with substance abuse disorders are absent nearly 50 percent more often than their peers.
  • Workers with substance abuse disorders miss up to six weeks of work each year.
  • The industries that suffer the most from substance abuse disorders include entertainment, construction, and food service businesses; these industries have twice the national average of employees with these disorders.
  • Female-dominated industries have a two-thirds lower rate of these disorders.
  • Untreated substance use disorders cost employers between $2,600 and $13,000 per worker, annually.
  • Workers in recovery are less likely to miss work, and have significantly lower turnover rates.
  • By providing assistance, employers in some industries could save more than $8,400 per worker.
  • The cost of healthcare for a worker with a substance abuse disorder is three times that of the cost for an average worker.

“This is a wakeup call for businesses. When it comes to addiction’s cost in the workplace, the numbers are staggering,” said Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of Shatterproof, one of the companies that contributed to the National Safety Council report. To show employers the importance of having a workplace prescription drug abuse program, Shatterproof and the National Safety Council have developed the Substance Use Cost Calculator, which allows employers to calculate how this crisis is impacting their workplace. A MA injury lawyer can help if you have been fired because of a substance abuse disorder.

“Businesses that do not address the prescription drug crisis are like ostriches sticking their head in the sand,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, the National Safety Council’s president and CEO. “The problem exists and doing nothing will harm your employees and your business. As the tool shows, the cost of inaction is far too great.” Continue reading

Men suffer more workplace injuries than women, but millions of women are joining the workforce in traditionally male-dominated jobs every year. And according to data from the Department of Labor, 57.2 percent of the 128 million working age women in the US have at least a part time job. In the 1950s, the same could be said for only 34 percent of working age women. Although women employed in high-risk industries, such as construction, see the greatest number of workplace injuries, all jobs have the potential to cause injury.

Common Fatal Workplace Injuries Suffered by Women

In 2014, workplace deaths among women increased by 13 percent from the previous year. Some work-related accidents are disproportionately common among women. In 2014, the most common causes of fatal workplace accidents included:

  • Homicides: Accounting for 19 percent of work-related deaths among women, workplace homicides are a leading cause of work-related death among US women. In 2010, there were 506 homicides reported in US workplaces, which is the lowest recorded total of all time. However, despite the decline in overall workplace homicides, they increased by 13% for women.
  • Motor vehicle accidents: Also one of the leading causes of fatal work injuries for male workers, about 19 percent of work-related deaths among women are due to roadway accidents. To reduce serious injury and death, it is crucial that all workers who drive on the job receive consistent and adequate safety training. A MA injury lawyer can help if you’ve lost a loved one in a work-related accident.
  • Slip and fall accidents: Falls, slips, and trips often occur indoors, where most women tend to work. To dramatically reduce fatal injuries from this type of accident, it is essential to keep work spaces clean and clutter free, immediately wipe up spills, make sure walkways are well lit, and improve workers’ safety behaviors through regular training.
  • Struck by object: When women work in industries such as manufacturing and construction, their risk of fatal accidents can be reduced through proper training, the use of safety equipment, and adherence to safety rules and regulations.

Women are also fatally injured in other jobs, including plant work, where workers may be exposed to toxic chemicals and gasses. These industries also have a higher potential for fires and explosions. A Boston workers’ compensation lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured in a workplace accident.

Nonfatal injuries that disproportionately affect female workers include:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries, such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Infectious diseases
  • Respiratory problems
  • Reproductive problems (sometimes caused by exposure to harmful chemicals)
  • Anxiety and other stress disorders
  • Incidents specific to healthcare jobs, such as needlesticks

Hostile Work Environments and Stress

As women tend to experience more family conflict than men, emotional and stress disorders can  be compounded by home demands. When you consider that approximately 75 percent of single mothers work at least part time, it isn’t difficult to understand how stress can take a toll, both mentally and physically. In addition, women frequently have to deal with hostile work environments. They may be unfairly treated, or even sexually harassed by supervisors and other coworkers. This type of environment can make it difficult for women to feel comfortable reporting safety concerns, which can further add to the stress and anxiety that many female workers experience. Not to mention the distractions that come from hostile work environments. In some occupations, such as construction or plant work, a split-second distraction can be deadly. Continue reading

When we are fatigued, even the most routine task can become challenging. But when the task at hand involves heavy machinery, high places, dangerous substances, or getting behind the wheel, fatigue can be deadly. When Massachusetts workers are fatigued they are less productive and prone to making more errors. So it stands to reason that employers wouldn’t want workers to be fatigued. Despite this logic, it’s not uncommon for employers to overwork employees; meeting deadlines and filling orders often take priority. But these short-sighted plans can create dangerous workplace conditions and can be costly for employers.

According to reports, employers lose about $136 billion annually to worker fatigue-related issues. In addition to lost productivity, fatigued workers can quadruple an employer’s workers’ compensation costs due to a higher frequency of accidents and subsequent injuries. Fatigued workers can hurt themselves, but they also put their co-workers at risk. If you’ve been injured in a work-related accident, contact a Boston work injury lawyer today.

Reducing Worker Fatigue

Employers can take steps to reduce worker fatigue, thus improving productivity, and reducing liability and associated costs. To do this they should:

  • Discuss shift schedules with workers and take worker considerations into account.
  • Meet the physiological and sociological criteria of individual workers.
  • Test out different shift rotations for each worker to determine what works best.

Worker fatigue is not a minor concern. It is an issue that puts workers at risk on a daily basis and costs employers millions of dollars annually. If you feel that your workplace conditions are unsafe, report the conditions to a supervisor. If your supervisor does not respond to your concerns, you can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and contact a MA work injury lawyer today.

Signs and Symptoms of Fatigue

Although employers can take steps to prevent worker fatigue, some problems are rooted outside of the workplace. Insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy can all disturb healthy sleep patterns and result in fatigue at work. Excessive alcohol use, some prescription and over the counter medications, and obesity are also contributing factors. The following signs are good indicators that a worker may be fatigued:

  • General tiredness or sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Digestive problems
  • Chronic illness

When are Workers Sleepiest?

According to Alberta Human Resources and Employment, most fatigue-related work accidents occur during third shift hours, between midnight and six a.m. That’s no big surprise. But the one to three p.m. nap time came in at a close second. Fatigue reduces decision making abilities, communication skills, productivity and performance, attention and concentration, memory, reaction time, and a worker’s ability to handle stress. Being excessively tired on the job can also increase a tendency for risk taking, and can result in increased sick time, employee turnover, and overall medical costs. Bottom line – workplace fatigue is expensive. Continue reading

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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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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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.

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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