Articles Posted in Workplace Safety

LTL freight company, Central Transport, has committed to work on improving their company-wide safety protocols, and to specifically address safety concerns regarding outdated and unsafe forklifts and industrial trucks at over 100 of their terminals in 26 states across the nation.  The commitment to safety changes came after extensive investigations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed many citations and violations of safety standards, totaling $165,400 in total penalties, which Central Transport must pay as part of the agreement. These violations could have caused, and may still cause, crushing or struck-by injuries at these locations.

Central Transport must remove damaged, defective and unsafe forklifts from all of their locations and implement a comprehensive and detailed timetable and a step-by-step list on how they will address safety concerns moving forward.  These steps must be verified by an internal monitor to ensure that the implementation is going according to the agreement. This monitor will make at least 20 checks on terminals across their service area. In addition to an internal monitor, a third party monitor will also made unannounced checks on their terminals and conduct interviews with employees to see if the changes are being implemented.

The violations were noted at Central Transport terminals in 26 states, including the Billerica terminal in Massachusetts. It is now up to each of these states to honor and enforce this settlement agreement to help ensure the safety of its workers.

Proper safety regulations are non-negotiable

Industrial jobs, such as working in a loading dock for a freight company like Central Transport, carry inherent risks for the employees. Any profession that involves heavy machinery, large trucks and massive payloads may pose obvious dangers that could lead to permanent injuries or death.  It is for this reason that all companies that employ workers in potentially-dangerous fields should take the utmost care to ensure that they are doing everything possible to prevent avoidable accidents that can lead to the irreversible harm or death of their employees. OSHA exists to hold companies accountable for this responsibility, and this recent agreement shows why OSHA is important.

Were it not for OSHA investigating and revealing unsafe working conditions, how long would Central Transport have pushed their luck using outdated and hazardous forklifts? Would change only have happened after somebody was hurt, or worse? Now that they have been cited and given the order to update their safety protocols, it will hopefully result in an overall safer work environment for their employees. Continue reading

As of December 15, marijuana will be legal in Massachusetts. Although it will no longer be a crime to smoke pot on your own time, employers aren’t necessarily going to be fond of your perfectly-legal hobby. In fact, employers can still fire, or refuse to hire you, if you smoke marijuana. This is even true if you only partake outside of normal work hours. Here’s the thing – marijuana is still against federal law. For this reason, employers can retain personal conduct policies that prohibit marijuana use and can fire you if a drug test returns positive results.

Each of the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana have workplace drug policy exemptions. In MA, the law states that “the authority of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees” is not changed. Considering that THC may remain in a user’s system for weeks, it stands to reason that if your employer drug tests – and you wish to keep your job – you may want to abstain from using marijuana, at least for the time being. If you have questions about how the change in marijuana laws will impact you, contact a Boston defense lawyer today.

No Way to Measure “Actual” Marijuana Use

Critics of employers who continue to drug test for marijuana say it’s an unfair practice. “It’s the equivalent of firing somebody who drank a glass of wine on Friday evening and then came to work on Monday,” said Tamar Todd, the Drug Policy Alliance’s legal director. He believes zero-tolerance policies should adapt to changing laws. In an effort to develop more accurate testing methods which measure actual marijuana impairment rather than just the drug’s presence, experts are working on Breathalyzer-esque devices. Such a device could be used by employers and, possibly more importantly, by law enforcement to determine if an individual is “too stoned” to drive safely.

Zero-tolerance drug testing can also be a challenge for businesses that rely on young professionals who often have liberal attitudes about marijuana. This is especially true in the mostly-liberal states that have recently legalized marijuana. Consider Colorado. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize pot. At the beginning, there was an increase in drug testing, but that has since changed.

“We have ski industries out here, and if they really took a hard line on marijuana use, they would have to shut down,” said Curtis Graves, the Colorado-based Mountain States Employers Council information resource manager. Continue reading

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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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

Last week, an accidental chemical spill released toxic gases at a food and beverage manufacturer based in Kansas. The mixture of sulfuric acid and sodium hypochlorite sent more than 100 people to the hospital. Fortunately, none of the injuries were life-threatening. However, two workers were hospitalized due to their injuries.

MGP Ingredients, the manufacturing company responsible for the spill, immediately reported the accident to the EPA. So far, the manufacturer has been cooperating with the investigation and is taking additional precautions by hiring experts to assess their current situation.  MGP’s cooperation does not, however, absolve them from any wrongdoing. In this particular case, many workers were harmed. Those workers may have potential claims and lawsuits against MGP. The extent of those claims will vary widely, based on severity of injuries, time off work, and emotional distress.

Symptoms of Toxic Gas Exposure

Exposure to toxic gases is a common hazard in manufacturing plants. Although most incidents are not fatal, exposure to certain toxins can be deadly. When the air we breathe is compromised by the release of dangerous chemicals, health problems can be immediately present, or they can develop over long periods of time. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or COPD will likely experience more severe symptoms. Common symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals include:

  • Trouble breathing, shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or faintness
  • Sudden headache, or prolonged headache that won’t go away
  • Nausea and vomiting

Of course, all of the above symptoms can be mild or severe, and they can all be related to something other than exposure to toxic chemicals. If, however, you work in a manufacturing or chemical plant and you develop any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. More serious complications from chemical spills include blindness, burns, corneal scarring, cancer, organ failure, neurological disorders, respiratory disorders, and death. If you’ve been harmed on-the-job, contact a Massachusetts work injury lawyer today.

Common Causes of Chemical Spills

Chemical spills can occur for numerous reasons. Some of the most common include:

  • Improper storage of chemicals
  • Unsafe handling of chemicals
  • Ruptures of chemical storage tanks
  • Improper disposal of chemicals
  • Failure to comply with regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

If you work in a manufacturing or chemical plant and notice any of the above hazards, report the problem to a supervisor immediately. If the supervisor does not respond to your concerns right away, contact a Boston workers’ compensation attorney today. Serious chemical spills can affect the environment as well, polluting air, nearby lakes, fish populations, and local water sources. Continue reading

Welding is an occupation with a higher-than-average risk of serious injury. Welding accidents in Massachusetts can result in burns, loss of vision, respiratory problems, and even death. According to the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA), four out of every one-thousand welders will die from a welding-related injury. Most welding accidents occur at automotive, marine, and construction job sites. These industries are much more likely to use welding than others. If you’ve suffered a welding-related injury, the skilled workers’ compensation team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help.

Common Welding-Related Injuries

Welding injuries can range from minor burns to death. Below are some of the most common injuries reported by Massachusetts welders.

  • Burns: Welding involves the melting of metals and, therefore, requires the use of extremely high temperatures. For this reason, burns are common injuries suffered by welders. Minor burns are quite common, but severe burns can result in disfigurement, debilitating pain, time off work, and even death. In addition to direct burns to the skin, welding can also lead to widespread fires when sparks created during the welding process cause workshop fires. This is especially dangerous when flammable materials, such as oil soaked rags, are present. There are two types of welding: arc welding and traditional welding. Both have a high risk of fire and burn injuries.
  • Injuries from toxic fumes: When metal is exposed to extreme heat, it begins to melt. During the conversion process from solid to liquid, gasses are released into the air. These gasses can be damaging if inhaled; injuries can be suffered immediately or over a prolonged period of time. In addition to causing respiratory problems, the gasses can also cause severe damage to the eyes. Eye injuries can still occur when protective eyewear is worn.
  • Injuries to the eyes: Many welders who have been in the industry for a long period of time begin to develop vision problems. Maintaining a steady focus on the bright lights and sparks emitted during the welding process can cause severe damage to the eyes.
  • Respiratory complications: Gasses emitted during the welding process can be toxic, and many of these gasses have the potential to cause short term and long term damage.
  • In addition to the above injuries, welding also comes with the risk of electric shock and hearing loss. Protective gear and adequate training can dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury and death from welding-related accidents. However, this occupation comes with inherent risks. If you have developed any of these injuries or health complications as a result of welding, contact a Boston work injury lawyer today.

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Stavis Seafood received 20 safety violations Friday, several months after the death of one of its workers. Brian Caron, a Peabody man and father of two, was fatally injured by an ammonia leak at Stavis’ South Boston plant. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the accident was caused by improper design, operation and maintenance of ammonia equipment. Due to these safety violations, Caron and other employees were exposed to a deadly amount of ammonia.

The fatal accident occurred on March 23 when a pipe on the plant’s second floor burst, sending toxic fumes into the work area. According to a statement released by OSHA, the seafood company failed to properly label ammonia piping, properly ventilate the building to prevent the risk of explosion caused by an ammonia leak, routinely inspect pressure canisters, test ammonia sensors, and ensure that ammonia was properly contained at all times. If you are concerned that your work environment is unsafe, contact a Massachusetts work injury lawyer today.

Stavis Seafood Facing $173,168 in Fines

The OSHA investigation has found that the machine room where workers were stationed and the storage room used to store ammonia were not properly separated. In addition to the lack of a door to separate the two rooms, there were also large holes in the plant’s floor. “The company’s failure to follow industry and OSHA standards exposed its employees to the hazards of an ammonia release as well as falls, electric shock, hazardous chemicals and delayed or obstructed exit from the facility during a leak or other emergency,” reported James Mulligan, OSHA’s acting area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts. “It’s clear that Stavis Seafoods must take effective action to correct these hazards and prevent their recurrence so that no other employees are harmed on the job.” And the violations don’t stop there. Stavis was also cited for improper chemical storage and labeling, multiple electrical hazards, and infrastructure issues. As a result, Stavis is facing OSHA-proposed fines of up to $173,168.

Types of Chemical Exposure and Associated Injuries

Chemical-related work injuries can be extremely harmful, even deadly. Ammonia isn’t the only dangerous workplace chemical. Others include benzene, mercury, pesticides, solvents, lead, acids, and paint. Injuries can be suffered due to contact with the skin, inhalation of toxic fumes, and even accidental ingestion. Injuries due to work-related chemical exposure include burns to the skin, eyes, lung or throat, and rashes. Chemical exposure can also cause neurological damage, including nerve damage and brain injuries. Although excessive inhalation is most often linked to brain damage, even skin exposure can have neurological consequences. If you have been harmed on-the-job due to the inhalation of toxic fumes, contact a MA injury lawyer today. Continue reading

According to recent research by Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering, using Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) will improve construction site safety by observing and evaluating the safety of temporary structures found on construction sites.  Defined by the National Science Foundation, CPS are “engineered systems that are built from, and depend on, the seamless integration of computational algorithms and physical components.”  CPS are predicted to facilitate improvements in capability, adaptability, scalability, resiliency, safety, security and usability in embedded systems, as well as be a spearhead in persistent advancement and competition in the agriculture, energy, transportation, building design, healthcare and manufacturing industries.

CPS has already been implemented in a few of these aforementioned industries, including manufacturing, transportation and healthcare.  The construction industry will be the next area in which CPS will be utilized.  Xiao Yuan, an architectural engineering Ph.D. candidate, performed a study, which examines connecting sensors on structures and virtual models to improve the safety of the majority of construction workers who work on these temporary structures.  Over 75 percent of constructions workers can be found on such structures, which often include sheeting and shoring, temporary bracing or guide rails, soil backfill, formwork systems, scaffolding, the underpinning of foundations, etc.  The inappropriate construction and supervision of such temporary structures is one of the major safety hazards employers and employees, alike, are concerned with today.  According to OSHA’s 2014 report, 899 of the 4,386 worker fatalities in private industry, 20.5 percent, were related to the construction industry.  The most frequent kind of accident was falls on job sites.  OSHA also reported that of its top ten most commonly cited violations in 2015, construction fall protection and scaffolding general construction requirements were placed first and third, respectively.

OSHA has required safety training programs and practices, as well as design, installation, maintenance and dismantling regulations that are designed to decrease the occurrence of such violations.  However, additional steps also need to be taken, ergo CPS.  Specifically, Yuan’s research studies how CPS can foster safer construction and avoid failures of temporary structures by utilizing “virtual prototyping, data acquisition systems and communication networks.”  Yuan compiled her research for use of a mobile application, which provides immediate feedback about construction sites.  “Once there is a problem, our virtual model will know,” Yuan said.  “It’s just like when we feel something if it hurts—the virtual model will feel if there is a problem.”  The app can perform real-time inspections, remote interaction, and forewarn possible structural failures while instantly notifying workers.   Continue reading

On March 6, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began an inspection of Quest Diagnostic Corp.’s Ameripath laboratory in Shelton, CT. The inspection followed numerous complaints from lab employees who claimed to be suffering from headaches, sore throats, and breathing problems.

Following the inspection, OSHA identified multiple violations of its required safety standards. With regard to laboratory safety, OSHA requires employers to implement various safeguards for the protection of their employees, including complete chemical hygiene plans. The OSHA inspection discovered that Quest’s Shelton lab neglected to:

  • Provide an opportunity for employees who displayed symptoms of chemical exposure to receive a medical check-up.
  • Educate lab employees on the signs of exposure to hazardous chemicals, including formaldehyde, alcohols, and acetic acid.
  • Provide proper training on detection of hazardous chemicals.
  • Perform an assessment to determine necessary personal protective gear and equipment for employee use.
  • Train employees on the specifics of the chemical hygiene plan and inform them of its location.
  • Implement the chemical hygiene plan.
  • Ensure that the chemical hygiene plan included directions and procedures for safely separating and removing hazardous chemical waste.

In a recent statement, Robert Kowalski, OSHA’s area director in Bridgeport said, “A laboratory chemical hygiene plan is not a paper exercise. It’s a continuous ongoing process that is key to preventing employees from being sickened by the hazardous chemicals with which they work. Our inspection found several serious deficiencies concerning the Shelton laboratory. For the safety and health of its employees, Quest must ensure that correct and effective safeguards are in place and in use at all its laboratories.”

More Violations

In addition to the above violations, Quest’s Shelton lab also failed to prevent on-site construction workers from coming into contact with hazardous chemicals, post a list of work-related illnesses and injuries, and remove covers from carbon monoxide detectors and sprinkler heads. Continue reading

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