The issue of worker safety and opiod use is one that is garnering increased attention, most recently by South Carolina Public Radio. The station details how not only are injured workers taking the prescribed medication at risk for addiction and overdose (as we mentioned in an earlier work injury blog post on a recent National Safety Council report), but also for new injuries when they show up to work impaired by these substances. pills4

A medical adviser for the National Safety Council reported that he altered his career course – form a family doctor in Clyde, N.C. to an addiction specialist after he saw a scourge of prescription opiods and heroin tear down his small town. He stated three-quarters of his patients had lost their jobs. In some cases, they managed to hide the drug abuse for years, but it had an impact on their productivity and brain function.

The biggest concern as far as that goes, he said, was not only the effect on their work and personal relationships, but on their day-to-day safety – and that of their co-workers – for those who worked in safety-sensitive positions.  Continue reading

Some good news coming from the North Carolina Labor Department: Workplace deaths were down in 2015, according to official data.constructionworker

Still, it’s not necessarily enough to rejoice in a dramatic trend.

The Department of Labor reports there were 41 people killed in workplace accidents throughout the state last year, versus 45 killed in 2014.

First, let’s keep in mind: These are preliminary figures. The 2015 figure could increase slightly as pending investigations are completed or if a worker injured in an accident last year dies of those injuries this year.  Continue reading

The South Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a Greenville workers’ compensation plaintiff who was injured on the job while pregnant.store1

In Russell v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., plaintiff was an assistant store manager who had worked at the site for more than a decade. In the fall of 2009, she was lifting something at work when she suffered injury to her pelvis and back. Because of her pregnancy, there was no diagnostic testing done and her treatment was very conservative. After she gave birth, she underwent an MRI scan and was treated with medication, exercises and injection. Her doctor at the time did not feel surgery was necessary.

She continued to work at the store, with a restriction indicated she could not do heavy lifting (more than 30 pounds). Around this time, she was diagnosed with back strain and degenerative disc disease. By 2011, she was ruled to have reached maximum medical improvement and was granted 7 percent permanent partial disability. The reward also gave her compensation for ongoing anti-inflammatory medications as necessary for treatment of her work-related injuries. Continue reading

A recent report from The National Safety Council details how an increasing number of injured workers are being prescribed powerful opioid  pain medications with adverse and sometimes fatal outcomes. pills4

The report indicates that in 2011, one quarter of workers’ compensation drug claim costs were for opioid pain medications for workers who had been injured on-the-job, yet studies show this hasn’t improved treatment outcomes.

In fact, there is evidence to suggest that dosing a worker with more than one week’s worth of opioid medications is associated with a worker being twice as likely to still be disabled one year later. Plus, these drugs often lead to serious harm, including addiction, overdose and death.  Continue reading

The way a company classifies its workers – whether as employees or independent contractors – has a significant bearing on whether they will be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits for an on-the-job injury. worker6

You see, employees are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Independent contractors aren’t. The problem is too many companies say their workers are independent contractors, when the collective evidence shows they are in fact employees. For these individuals, workers’ compensation benefits are not totally out-of-reach, but they are tougher to get because workers first have to prove in court that they are actually employees.

Now, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has signed an executive order designed to crack down on those companies who purposely misclassify workers in order to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance.  Continue reading

Far too many North Carolina companies are putting employees at risk by failing to secure the appropriate workers’ compensation insurance to ensure benefits in case they are hurt on the job. workers

The North Carolina Industrial Commission, the agency responsible for enforcing workers’ compensation law and overseeing claims, reports it has been cracking down on companies that try to evade their duty to workers and taxpayers. In the last year, the commission reports it has collected $1 million in civil fines from companies that were not properly insured. Further, some 100 employers were charged with criminal misdemeanors for willfully violating the law.

State law mandates that any company that has more than two employees has to provide workers’ compensation coverage – at no cost to the workers. It’s part of the “grand bargain” workers made with corporate America years ago when they forfeited the right to sue their employers for work injuries. In exchange, companies are supposed to keep this insurance and promptly pay out claims for medical expenses and lost wages due caused by work injuries or illnesses.  Continue reading

A group of bipartisan legislators in the South Carolina senate have introduced a bill that would allow some emergency responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.policeline

The condition is a psychiatric disorder that is often associated with military combat, and it typically occurs following experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events. It’s marked by biological changes in the brain, as well as psychological symptoms that can impair a person’s ability to function.

S. 429 introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly would allow first responders to receive compensation for mental injury or mental illness medically diagnosed as PTSD, assuming it arises from that worker’s direct involvement in a traumatic experience or situation at work. The bill specifically says benefits could be granted without regard for whether the experience or situation was “extraordinary or unusual” in comparison to what is deemed the “normal working conditions” of a first responder. Continue reading

Families of three workers killed in a North Carolina scaffolding accident have filed a lawsuit against four companies that were either central to work on the project or supplied the scaffolding necessary to complete it. scaffolding1

The March 2015 accident killed three men, two of them 33-years-old and a third was 41. All lived in this state. A fourth worker, 53, was treated for serious injuries but survived. The men worked for a subcontractor that was helping to erect a $54 million office building on Fayetteville and Lenoir Streets, adjacent to the Raleigh Convention Center and the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center.

News reports indicate the problem was the scaffolding mast climber. This is a type of equipment that goes up and down the side of a building to take workers to different floors. These men were working to take the scaffolding down when one of the tracks snapped off and came crashing to the ground in a huge mass of metal.  Continue reading

In order for a disability to be compensable under North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act, it has to be either due to an accident that arose out of and in the course of one’s employment or else an occupational disease. chiropractor

As defined by N.C. Gen. Stat.97-53, an occupational disease is a sickness or some morbid condition that develops gradually over a period of time and is the cumulative effect of the series of events that cause the disease.

The statute lists a number of conditions that automatically are occupational diseases. One of those, as pertinent to the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Breath v. Orthocarolina, is bursitis. This is a condition involving inflammation at the joints caused by intermittent pressure in employment.  Continue reading

Construction workers are often at serious risk of injury and even death, particularly when industry safety practices are not followed. steeltube

Claims for compensation in these matters – whether through the workers’ compensation system or by third party liability lawsuit – are often complicated by the fact that many construction sites have a number of entities and employers and contractors involved.

In the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Bullard v. Peak Steel, plaintiff sought compensation via a third-party liability lawsuit against the construction company on whose site her husband was fatally injured. Trial court had dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because it concluded the worker was in fact an employee of the defendant, meaning the Industrial Commission had jurisdiction over the claim. The appellate court ultimately affirmed this conclusion, meaning workers’ compensation death benefits would be her only recourse at this point.  Continue reading

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