June 2010 Archives

June 30, 2010

Mass layoffs can violate rights of injured workers and increase risks of North Carolina work accidents

Employers took 1,412 mass layoff actions during the month of May, resulting in the dismissal of 135,789 workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

As our North Carolina work injury lawyers continue to report on our Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog, the tough economy presents a number of challenges to the safety of employees in the workplace. Employers continue to seek ways to reduce costs through layoffs, increased productivity, the use of temporary or contract laborers, and other means designed to improve profitability even if it comes at an employee's expense.

Employees who have filed a work injury claim may be improperly terminated under the guise of a reduction in staff. In other cases, a reduction in workforce and an increased emphasis on employee productivity may lead to unsafe working conditions, unreasonable expectations or other environments that can increase the risk of a North Carolina work accident.

Mass layoffs are notorious for both hiding the illegal termination of a worker and increasing the dangers faced by the remaining employees in the workplace. Each of the mass layoffs last month involved at least 50 employees.

During the 30 months that span the economic downturn -- from December 2007 through May 2010 -- more than 60,205 mass layoffs occurred, resulting in the dismissal of more than 6 million workers.

In such an environment, an employee may also be discouraged from reporting a work injury or bringing safety violations to the attention of management. Reporting a work accident is critical in the wake of an injury on the job. Consulting a North Carolina work injury attorney can help protect your rights and the financial well-being of you and your family. Frequently, the full extent of a work injury is not known until months or even years after the accident and failure to properly document a work accident can leave you without the means to recover damages for medical expenses and lost wages.

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June 28, 2010

New safety regulations considered after North Carolina plant explosion

A North Carolina work accident that killed four workers and injured 70 in a natural gas explosion could result in banning the use of natural gas to clean industrial piping, WRAL reported.

A federal safety board is expected to vote on the ban this week in the wake of the deadly North Carolina incident and another in Connecticut, which killed six workers and injured 20 other employees. The Connecticut incident happened in February at the Kleen Energy Systems power plant. The North Carolina accident happened at the ConAgra Slim Jim Factory in Garner in June 2009. Officials pin the blame for both explosions on the use of natural gas as workers installed and commissioned new piping.

The Chemical Safety Board is set to urge the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to pass new regulations that would prohibit the use of natural gas under high pressure for pipe cleaning. It would also ban the venting or purging of natural gas indoors, which was determined to be responsible for causing the North Carolina blast.

In the Connecticut accident, nearly 2 million cubic feet of natural gas -- enough to provide 25 years of heating and cooking gas to an average home -- were released into the atmosphere. The gas met an ignition source at the plant and exploded. In the North Carolina incident, significant amounts of gas had been purged indoors during the startup of a new water heater at the plant, which led to the explosion.

The safety board is also considering mandates that would require companies to involve workers and contractors in developing safe procedures and training for employees handling natural gas.

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June 23, 2010

Private contractors involved in fatal North Carolina work accident at Fort Bragg

A contractor was killed and two other were injured in a live-fire training accident at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the Associated Press reported.

Contractors who are involved in a North Carolina work accident may be able to collect damages from a number of sources. While this case will undoubtedly be complicated by the fact that the accident occurred on a military base owned by the federal government, the employees actually worked for Echota Technologies, a defense contractor based in Alcoa, Tennessee. Anyone injured on the job is entitled to benefits by filing a North Carolina workers' compensation claim.

The Greensboro Daily Reflector reported that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched an investigation. The contractor died at Womack Army Medical Center as a result of a gunshot wound.

A second contract employee was shot and wounded and was flown to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. A soldier was also wounded.

While the Army is conducting its own investigation, the regional OSHA office began an independent investigation on Wednesday. The agency is looking into the accident because the victims included employees who worked for a company in the private sector.

A representative of the company said the employees do not carry weapons and only provide range and maintenance support.

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June 19, 2010

North Carolina employees to hear more about workers' rights in OSHA classes

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is launching a new program aimed at emphasizing the rights of employees in the workplace. The outreach is part of the U.S. Department of Labor's goal to help ensure workers understand their rights while on the job.

North Carolina work accidents frequently result when employers allow dangerous conditions or when employees either do not understand their rights to proper training and equipment, or are afraid to ask. Particularly in today's tough job market, employees may choose to remain quiet and hope an accident does not occur. And employers, who continue to increase output and productivity, may allow an unsafe condition to go unaddressed.

OSHA reports the new information will be incorporated into the Outreach Training Program taken by hundreds of thousands of workers each year. The new information will advise workers of their right to:

-Safe and healthy workplaces.

-Know about the presence and effects of hazardous chemicals.

-Review information about injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

-Receive training.

-Request/file for an OSHA inspection and to participate in the inspection.

-Be free from retaliation for exercising their safety and health rights.

"For too long workers have avoided making claims of unsafe work conditions out of fear of losing their jobs," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. "We are confident that this new training will embolden workers to speak up when they find work practices that endanger their lives and the lives of their co-workers."

The 10-hour and 30-hour outreach training sessions will also cover topics regarding whistleblower rights and filing complaints.

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June 17, 2010

Multiple injuries can complicate North Carolina work accident claims

A Court of Appeals decision issued this week illustrates the importance of hiring a qualified attorney for a North Carolina work injury. In this case, the employee may be barred from obtaining a disability of more than 9 percent, despite suffering a subsequent heart attack on the job. The issue resulted from the settlement agreement for a prior back condition and the commission must now determine which medical records were used in reaching the agreement.

The employee was working for Lamar Outdoor Advertising, a billboard company, when he suffered a spinal injury after scaffolding collapsed beneath him. Lamar and its insurance company acknowledged the employee's right to be compensated for the work injury under North Carolina workers' compensation law.

After a year of treatment, an orthopaedic surgeon determined the employee had reached maximum improvement and assigned a 2 percent permanent partial impairment to his neck. The insurance carrier prepared an agreement that was never signed because the employee's condition worsened. A year later, the man underwent neck surgery, before being released to return to work. The doctor then assigned a 5 percent whole body disability rating, equivalent to a 9 percent permanent partial disability of the employee's back. Again, an agreement was prepared by the insurer but never signed.

Later that year, the employee experienced symptoms of a heart attack while on the job but did not report any symptoms to his supervisor. The next day, he underwent heart surgery. Several months later the employee told his physician he had experienced pain from wearing a harness and hard hat and requested work restrictions, which the doctor issued. However, the employee never returned to work.

Later that year, the employee signed an agreement in which the employer and insurance carrier agreed to pay a disability claim based on the 5 percent whole body/9 percent back disability. However, by that time, the employee was in the process of filing claims in connection with the heart attack and the permanent work restrictions. The commission denied the claim.

For the last five years the claim has been making its way through the appeal process. Most recently, the court returned it to the commission for a determination of which medical records were submitted with the 9 percent disability agreement -- the old records indicating the back and neck injury, or the more recent records which included information about the heart attack.

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June 15, 2010

Greensboro construction accident injures three workers

A Greensboro, North Carolina work accident injured three men at the University of North Carolina after they were struck by stucco falling from a ceiling, Channel 12 reported. The three employees were renovating a dorm room at the time of the accident.

Workers who are renovating older buildings, particularly in schools or apartments, face a number of hazards. Asbestos is a common material used in older buildings, which has been linked to lung disease and cancer, including mesothelioma. Workplace falls and being struck by falling debris or equipment are also common work injuries during building renovations. Employees who are injured on the job should contact a North Carolina workers' compensation attorney to ensure a claim is properly filed. Frequently, complications can arise from a work accident, or the extent of an injury is not immediately known. Failing to file a claim, or not properly filing a claim, can seriously impact the financial well-being of you and your family in the event you become disabled or are not able to continue to work as a result of an injury suffered while on the job.

In this case, all three employees were taken to the hospital and one may have suffered a broken leg.

The News-Record reported that only two of the employees were transported to the hospital.

According to the school, the renovations to the Guilford and Mary Foust residence halls have been ongoing since early spring. The buildings were constructed in 1927. Improvements include remodeling bathrooms, replacing all windows, installation of a new sprinkler system and upgrading fire alarms.

The Occupations Health & Safety Administration has been called in to investigate the accident.

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June 14, 2010

Fatal Greensboro work accident caused by fatal fall

A fatal Greensboro, North Carolina work accident has claimed the life of an employee of TIMCO Aviation Services after the man died in a fall, according to Aviation Online Magazine.

North Carolina workers' compensation attorneys are frequently called to represent employees who have been injured in fall accidents on the job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 658 workers were fatally injured in falls in 2008. More than 234,000 workplace fall accidents were reported.

The Guilford County Sheriff's Department reported that the 41-year-old longtime employee of the company was working on a plane when he fell from a height of two stories. The employee was found dead at the scene; the sheriff's office would not say whether he was wearing safety equipment.

An investigation is currently underway to determine the cause of the accident.

The U.S. Department of Labor lists falls as one of the leading causes of serious and fatal work accidents. Employers are required to provide fall protection at heights greater than four feet in general industry, five feet in maritime and six feet in construction. Regardless of height, fall protection must also be provided when an employee is working over dangerous equipment or machinery.

Slip, Trip and Stumbling Hazards:

-Objects or materials in the walkway.
-Tools on the floor.
-Projecting machinery or equipment.
-Scrap or waste material.
-Extension cords, cables, or hoses.
-Uneven floors.
-Wet or slippery floors or stairs.

The North Carolina Department of Labor offers a 50-page book on safely working at height, including roofing and ladder work, as well as other workplace safety measures to prevent fall accidents.

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June 11, 2010

North Carolina work accident claim upheld; apportionment disallowed in absence of medical testimony

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has upheld an award of temporary total disability to a tire inspector after ruling that apportionment between workplace and non-workplace injuries would have been too speculative in the absence of a doctor's opinion, Risk & Insurance reported.

In this case, a North Carolina workers' compensation claim was filed after a worker injured his left hand when a tire blew out and slammed his hand against a metal rim. He was placed on temporary, light-duty restrictions and sought medical care. He reported increased problems with his hand after returning to regular duty; his employer told him he must perform the required work or retire. He retired but began working as a teacher's assistant six months later. The appeals court upheld the award of temporary total disability for the six months the employee was out of work.

The employer argued the ruling was unreasonable and that some of the employee's injuries were not the result of the work injury. However, the court found that no doctors testified as to the proportion of injury that resulted from the work accident. In the absence of such testimony, any attempt at making such a determination would have been "speculative and improper." The employer also argued that the employee failed to prove he was disabled, pointing to a doctor's decision to release him from all restrictions prior to retirement. However, another doctor did not remove the light-duty restrictions until two months after the former employee began his job as a teaching assistant.

Employers often go to great lengths to avoid compensating an injured worker. Hiring an attorney can be an important step toward protecting your rights and the financial well-being of you and your family. In this case, the employee could have lost his disability status or faced a reduction in benefits if the employer had successfully argued that some significant portion of his injury was unrelated to the work accident.

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June 9, 2010

Highway construction a dangerous place for North Carolina work accidents

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is asking motorists to give highway workers a break after a construction worker was killed last week in an accident on I-40 in Duplin County.

Highway workers are at high risk for North Carolina work accidents. Nationwide, 720 fatalities occurred in highway construction zones in 2008, according to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse. North Carolina Highway construction accidents killed 21.

The construction worker was setting up a work zone when a distracted driver veered off the road and pinned the 21-year-old man between two vehicles. While DOT reports it is the first worker killed in several years, construction workers on road crews face one of the most dangerous occupations.

"Ten years ago, it wasn't quite as bad, but now, drivers are so aggressive compared to what they were," said Transportation Supervisor Rodney Poe. "So we're constantly having to holler at each other."

Another worker was injured in the accident and treated and released from a local hospital. In 2008, about 200 North Carolina highway construction workers were injured seriously enough to miss work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of those involved North Carolina workers' compensation claims for medical expenses and lost wages.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation offers tips for motorists:

-Stay Alert: Dedicate all of your attention to the roadway.

-Pay Close Attention: Watch for signs and flaggers.

-Turn on your Headlights: Workers and other motorists can better see you.

-Don't Tailgate: Slowing your reaction time can have deadly consequences.

-Don't Speed: Reduced speed limits are posted in construction zones.

-Keep up with flow of traffic.

-Don't change lanes unnecessarily.

-Minimize Distractions: Leave the radio and cell phone alone.

-Expect the unexpected: Watch for workers and equipment.

-Be Patient.

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June 7, 2010

Car accidents a frequent cause of work injuries in North Carolina

ABC 11 reports that North Carolina Highway Patrol troopers are involved in an average of seven traffic accidents each week.

Traffic accidents are a leading cause of North Carolina work injuries and work accidents nationwide. They are the leading cause of death among police and firefighters and were second only to fall injuries in fatal private sector work accidents in 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of the 5,214 employees killed in private sector work accidents, 1,044 died in traffic accidents.


In 2008, nearly 940,000 injury cases were reported involving state and local government employees, primarily in the safety services sector, including law enforcement and firefighters. Of the 144 law enforcement officers who were killed on the job, 38 percent died in traffic accidents, compared to 33 percent who died as a result of violence, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Traffic accidents were also the leading cause of death for firefighters.

The ABC 11 report found the accident rate among North Carolina troopers last year was up 44 percent and involves an average of an accident once per day, every day, all year long. A spokesman for the patrol said 1,700 troopers drove 43 million miles last year.

The patrol rebuffed an inquiry from the media about whether distracted driving could play a roll in some patrol accidents. However, the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for its Distracted Driving series and reported that the advent of cell-phones, on-board computers and other advanced technologies contributes significantly to accidents involving law enforcement and emergency responders. The growing number of state and federal laws preventing cell phone use and text messaging by drivers typically exclude emergency workers.

While 70 percent of trooper accidents were deemed unavoidable, investigators determined the trooper could have prevented the accident almost one-third of the time.

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June 4, 2010

North Carolina teen work accidents governed by specific labor laws

The current economy is reflected in the summer employment figures for teenagers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ratio of teenagers ages 16 to 19 who are expected to be employed this summer has declined from 57 percent to 32.9 percent. The economy has been particularly difficult for teenagers who need to work -- the unemployment rate has climbed from 21.8 percent to 25.4 percent over the last year.

Specific state and federal rules govern the employment of teenagers. With the economy in slow recovery, employers pretty much have their choice about who to hire and teenagers may feel additional pressure to keep a job to help pay for school, personal expenses and even family expenses. But when a teenager is injured on the job, an experienced North Carolina injury lawyer or workers' compensation attorney should be consulted. The University of North Carolina's Injury Prevention Research Center reports that at least 70 teens are killed each year in work-related accidents nationwide.

Common reasons teens are hurt on the job, include:

-They are asked to do dangerous jobs or use dangerous equipment

-Inadequate training

-Poor Supervision

-Unsafe equipment

-Working too many hours

-Working alone

-Unsafe work environments

Teenagers have a right to:

-Safety in the workplace

-Refuse to work if they feel unsafe

-Work the proper hours and types of jobs allowed by law

-Use safe and properly maintained equipment

-Receive proper training

-Be paid at least the minimum wage

-Receive workers' compensation benefits and payment for medical care if they are injured or get sick on the job

-Work in an environment free of racial and sexual harassment

North Carolina employment law generally prohibits minors from working in the following jobs:

-Operating many power-driven machines
-Operating a motor vehicle
-Working with dangerous material
-Meat packaging
-Manufacturing brick or tile
-Working with power saws
-Machinery work in processing plants
-Working on ladders or scaffolding above 10 feet
-Electrical work
-Work in confined spaces
-Using a respirator
-Preparing or serving alcoholic beverages

Minors ages 14 and 15 can work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year and between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. during the summer. While school is in session, they can work up to 18 hours per week but are limited to three hours per day. During the summer, they cannot exceed 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day. Teens ages 16 and 17 are permitted to work anytime except between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on a school day.

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June 2, 2010

Declaring injuries critical step in filing North Carolina workers' compensation claim

A North Carolina workers' compensation ruling issued Tuesday by the Court of Appeals illustrates the importance of documenting injuries in the wake of a work accident.

The case involved a High Point Central High School assistant principal who injured his left knee while breaking up a fight between several students. The employee indicated it was the only injury and his employer, the Guilford County School District, acknowledged its responsibility to pay for treatment under North Carolina's workers' compensation laws. However, following a total left-knee replacement, the assistant principal reported discomfort in his right knee as a result of a fall. He did not indicate whether the right-knee injury was a result of the work injury or the result of falling due to complications of his left knee.

When the assistant principal finally asserted the right-knee injury was a result of the work accident, nearly a year had passed. His doctor recommended a right knee arthroscopy. Additionally, the employee began experiencing significant back pain nearly three years after the accident and an MRI indicated injuries at L2-3 and L4-5. Back surgery was performed without assertion that the injury was the result of the workplace accident.

After nearly six years of pain, discomfort and surgery, the man sought compensation for medical expenses, permanent partial disability and permanent total disability as a result of his injuries. The school district countered that he was only eligible for permanent partial disability as a result of the left-knee injury he claimed as part of his original workers' compensation case. The plaintiff was awarded permanent partial disability during the year he was dealing with the injury to his left knee and awarded a lift chair after the commission ruled he was eligible for a 10 percent disability as a result of the right knee. But the commission specifically found that he could not receive compensation for his back injuries as a result of the workers' compensation claim.

The employee appealed, and the chair was taken away on appeal after the court ruled he was not entitled to eligible benefits in connection with the injury to his right knee.

Filing a work injury claim is a complex legal process and the outcome can impact your financial well-being for the rest of your life. Hiring an experienced North Carolina workers' compensation lawyer can help ensure your rights are protected and that you are eligible for the compensation you deserve.

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