As families across America prepare for large feasts this holiday season, central to those meals is a large bird. Stuffed. Trussed. Seasoned. Roasted. Fried. Slow-cooked. People give a great deal of thought to the ways in which the turkey, chicken, or duck is prepared. However, less thought is generally given to the labor and peril of workers who toiled to get it kitchen-ready. turkey

A recent investigative report by The Investigative Fund and Slate Magazine reveals workers in the poultry industry endure grueling conditions, particularly in the lead up to major holidays toward the end of the year. Many of the workers are immigrants, the jobs are low-paying, and the rates of workplace injury and illness are high.

One worker explained the frenetic pace of being required to slice and de-bone the de-feathered turkeys with sharp knives – 47 birds per minute. That works out to 1,410 birds an hour, or 11,000 per shift. That’s in a normal shift. In preparation for the holidays, the pace is even faster.

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When a worker suffers an injury that aggravates a pre-existing condition, this can be grounds for a workers’ compensation claim. However, these types of claims can be more challenging that those that don’t stem from a pre-existing condition. The key is proving that the work injury was causally related to the exacerbation of the existing condition. That’s sometimes a challenging hurdle, as the plaintiff in Parker v. West Pharmaceutical Services recently learned. slippery floor

Here, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by the full industrial commission panel denying benefits – a reversal of the decision reached by the deputy commissioner.

According to court records, the plaintiff filed a Form 18 in August 2013, seeking workers’ compensation benefits as a result of a slip-and-fall injury he suffered at work as a maintenance technician at a drug manufacturing firm.

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The newest report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals there were nearly 3 million work injuries reported nationally last year. The number of injuries varied vastly by industry. emergency

Interestingly, workers employed by state-run nursing homes were more likely to be injured on the job than those who toiled in manufacturing or construction, which underscores the difficulty of caring for the ill and elderly. Agriculture and local police also were at high risk of work-related injuries.

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The latest report on North Carolina workplace injuries and illnesses for those in the private sector indicates historic lows. The North Carolina Department of Labor reports the rate of work injury/illness fell from 2.7 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2014 to 2.6 in 2015. This is below the national rate and also less than half of what it was in 2001 – which was 5.3 per 100 full-time workers. work sign

Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry credited management, workers, and companies with being more vigilant about on-the-job safety, particularly those in the most dangerous professions, which include construction, manufacturing, and transportation.

However, those in the industry say it has equally to do with injured workers obtaining good legal representation. Workplace accidents are in fact very costly when you factor in the legal expenses, insurance fees, lost productivity, and third-party liability lawsuits. Smart employers recognize that investing in workplace safety is something that ultimately pays for itself – even if it affects their bottom line in the short term.

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One of the best arguments one can make for securing uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage is that it will provide coverage even if you aren’t actually driving or in a motor vehicle. For example, if you are a pedestrian or bicyclist struck by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you can seek coverage from your UM/UIM carrier to make up the difference. highway

However, insurance companies are free to write the terms of their coverage, so this isn’t a guaranteed benefit. In the recent case of Spiller v. Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America, the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky ruled that a worker who was not in his employer’s truck when he was struck by a negligent driver was not entitled to collect UIM benefits.

The underlying facts of this work injury lawsuit were that the plaintiff, employed by a contractor, was tasked with making certain repairs along  a four-lane expressway. In the course of doing this work, he was trailed by a large truck equipped with an arrow that flashed. This was supposed to alert rear traffic to move left because there was construction on the right. A few hours into his shift, a motorist slammed into that arrow board attached to the truck, pushing the truck into the plaintiff and causing him to suffer injuries.

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Worker misclassification is by no means a new problem. However, it is one that has been getting more attention lately in North Carolina. Investigative journalism over the last two years has revealed the trouble is rampant in the Tarheel State, with employers labeling workers as independent contractors – rather than employees – in an effort to skirt their responsibilities. In particular, they want to avoid paying for government-required protections, such as workers’ compensation, overtime, and family and medical leave.

worker

Recently, officials at the North Carolina Industrial Commission signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor to coordinate resources in order to dig up and address instances of worker misclassification in this state.

This was the culmination of a growing effort. In March 2015, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration released a report, “Adding Inequality to Injury: The Cost of Failing to Protect Workers On the Job,” which explored Government Accountability Office data revealing more than 500,000 construction workers in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas were misclassified as independent contractors in 2009 – when their job duties entitled them to the benefits of employment. It was revealed that misclassification affected more than 35 percent of construction workers in North Carolina, and in that industry alone, it lost state and federal governments some $467 million in taxes. Of course, it’s not just in construction. The practice has become extremely pervasive across many industries, and it can be tough to root out.

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Federal inspectors with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration were recently reviewing safety at a Florida construction site when they looked up to see a familiar sight:  workers installing shingles on a roof with absolutely no fall protection. The sight was a familiar one because, according to OSHA, it was the eighth time in five years this roofing contractor had been cited for this offense. Specifically, the company is accused of failing to protect workers from falls by ensuring those working at six feet or higher have the benefit of some type of fall arrest or protection system. roofing contractors

U.S. safety standards outlined in 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13) require that workers in these conditions must be given at least a personal fall arrest system, a safety net, or a guardrail.

On seven prior occasions since 2011, this company had been cited for repeated, willful, and serious violations for its failure to provide fall protection systems, as well as a lack of eye protection. Several workers were spotted working with powered nail guns with zero eye protection.

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Hospitals and other health care facilities that prioritize the development and implementation of safe patient handling policies will likely see a dip in work-related injuries. nurse

The study, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, looked at 1,832 health care workers at two U.S. hospitals – one that had implemented a safer handling program and one that did not. At the facility that adopted the safer patient handling policy, the risk of shoulder and neck injuries among workers dropped by nearly a third in the 12 months after the policies were put in place. In that same time frame, the chances of exertion and lifting injuries fell by 27 percent. Additionally, the chances of inflammation and pain among workers dropped by 22 percent.

Meanwhile, the facility that did not adopt the patient safe handling policy did not see any marked change in the risk of injury over time.

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Investigators for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration have recommended thousands of dollars in fines against a company whose worker collapsed on the job and later died due to heat stress. When he was rushed to the hospital, the 47-year-old had a core body temperature of 107 degrees. The heat index that day in Jefferson City, MO was 90 degrees. sun

The worker had been installing roofing material at a high school construction project. It was only the laborer’s third day on the job, and allegedly, the company had not allowed enough time for him to become acclimated to toiling in the high temperatures.

That’s the case in a lot of work-related heat stress deaths. Workers are new to a position, and they aren’t physically accustomed to working long stretches outside in the sun and heat. Workers – especially those new to the job – need to be afforded frequent access to water, rest, and shade during hot summer months. While this may seem a low priority for workplaces as we head into the colder months, the fact is we should be talking about worker exposure risk year-round. Cold stress also is a serious problem for outdoor workers, and one for which companies must also plan.

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In North Carolina, people who immigrated illegally to the U.S. can still collect workers’ compensation, per the 1999 case of Rivera v. Trapp. The North Carolina Court of Appeals in that matter decided that immigrants without legal status in the U.S. are treated no differently in determining their right to workers’ compensation benefits. worker

A number of other cases have arisen in recent years that challenge an employer’s responsibility to continue the payment of benefits, particularly in the long term. Generally, courts have held that it is the employer’s burden to produce evidence showing there are suitable jobs the worker is capable of doing, “but for” his or her illegal immigration status (see Gayton v. Gage Carolina Metals, Inc., 149 N.C. App. 346, 349 (2002)).

North Carolina isn’t the only state to grapple with this issue. The Indiana Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments in the case of Escamilla v. Shiel Sexton Co., which asks about the types of relief to which undocumented workers are entitled – and for how long – when they are injured on the job.

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