November 2010 Archives

November 26, 2010

Necessary steps after North Carolina work accident best discussed with your attorney

Our North Carolina workers' compensation attorneys do not suggest injured workers attempt to file claims on their own. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the nature of the complex, confusing and bureaucratic process upon which the future financial well-being of you and your family must rely.

Too often, a claim will be denied, or an injured employee will realize too late how difficult the process can be. Those who would not think of filing their own income tax without the help of an accountant, suddenly find themselves in way over their head, with passing deadlines and other mandates serving only to increase the stress during what is already a difficult time.

Our North Carolina work accident attorneys are dedicated to fighting for the rights of employees who have been injured, disabled, or killed on the job. We believe you deserve immediate access to quality legal representation. That's why we offer a free consultation to discuss your rights.

There are certain things that must occur immediately. Advice from the North Carolina Industrial Commission includes:

-Seek medical care. In some cases you may be directed to an employer's health care provider. (You should discuss compliance issues with your attorney but may also want to undergo an independent examination).

-Report the nature of the work injury to your employer and your health care provider (again, issues involving the notification of your health care provider and employer may be best left to an attorney).

-Personally report your work injury to the owner or manager of your company whenever possible.

-Provide written notice to your employer as soon as possible after the accident -- but within 30 days. The written statement should include the date and a brief description of the accident and injuries (again, the contents of this statement may be best discussed with your attorney.)

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November 23, 2010

Carolina company found in violation of work-safety rules involving asbestos exposure

A Columbia, South Carolina real estate company has been ordered to pay more than $50,000 and reinstate and employee who was wrongfully fired for raising concerns about asbestos exposure at one of the company's condominium projects.

Our Carolina work injury lawyers understand the inherent danger present when workers are exposed to asbestos in North Carolina or South Carolina. The deadly material once used in construction has been linked to cancer and other health problems, including mesothelioma. As we reported recently on our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog, one of the challenges of proving cases involving exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace is the years or decades that often pass between an exposure event and a serious or fatal injury.

In this case, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports the worker understood the dangers and expressed concerns to management and to two state agencies.

"OSHA is very serious about protecting America's workforce," said Cindy A. Coe, OSHA's regional administrator. "Employers found in violation of the whistleblower protection provisions of the Clean Air Act or any of the 20 whistleblower laws we enforce will be held fully accountable."

Based on the employee's complaint, the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control investigated and found CMM Realty in violation of asbestos control standards.

The company was ordered to pay back wages of more than $50,000, plus interest and $16,222 in compensatory damages. It must also reinstate the worker.

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November 22, 2010

Government continues focus on distracted driving as cause of North Carolina work accidents

The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched "Faces of Distracted Driving," a program aimed at reducing distracted driving accidents and work accidents in North Carolina and nationwide.

The series includes the death of Margay Schee, 13, who was killed when a semi truck slammed into the back of her school bus in September 2008. Both of the other victims featured in the initial series were also teenagers.
But the government is equally concerned about the dangers that distracted driving poses to employees who drive as part of their job. As our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers reported earlier this fall, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched a program to reduce text messaging and other distractions for working drivers.

"Year after year, the leading cause of worker fatalities is motor vehicle crashes," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "There's no question that new communications technologies are helping businesses work smarter and faster. But getting work done faster does not justify the dramatically increased risk of injury and death that comes with texting while driving."

The government's workplace safety watchdogs are frankly warning employers about their responsibilities.

"OSHA's message to all companies whose employees drive on the job is straightforward: It is your responsibility and legal obligation to have a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against texting while driving," said Michaels. "Companies are in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, or create incentives that encourage or condone it, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their jobs. OSHA will investigate worker complaints, and employers who violate the law will be subject to citations and penalties."

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November 19, 2010

Incidents of North Carolina fatal work accidents down, as are national numbers for work-related injuries

North Carolina fatal work-related accidents claimed the lives of 158 workers in 2007 and represented a decrease of 10 deaths from 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. In fact, North Carolina has seen a steady decline in work-related fatal accidents since reaching a peak of 228 in 1998, hitting a 15-year low in 2007.

Highway incidents (collision and non-collision) were the leading cause of both North Carolina and national work-related deaths, with North Carolina holding a slightly higher percentage than the national average. Following highway incidents for leading causes of North Carolina workplace deaths were homicides, falls and being struck by an object.

Homicides in the workplace claimed the lives 16 percent of North Carolina workers, a slightly elevated number from the national average of 11 percent. Falls and being struck both saw a dip from 2006 state statistics, with falling deaths lower than the national average and being struck on par with the national rate. These four categories are responsible for about 60 percent of all North Carolina workplace deaths.

In 9 out of 10 incidents of a North Carolina workplace fatality, the victim is male, more than likely white, and between the ages of 25 and 54. In 2007, 144 of the 158 work-related deaths in the state were men. The other 14 were women, and nearly 60 percent of them died due to a violent encounter. Construction and trade, transportation and utilities are the two industry sectors responsible for more than 56 percent of all workplace fatalities.

Meanwhile, the BLS is also reporting that across the nation non-fatal illnesses and injury cases that require workers to take days away from work to recuperate have dropped by 9 percent in 2009. Some of the decrease can be attributed to better enforcement and implementation of worker safety protocols and training. Still, labor experts attribute at least some of the decline to the depressed economy and high unemployment rate, particularly in industries that have taken a significant hit like construction and manufacturing.

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November 17, 2010

Slip-and-fall workplace accidents among the most common and most dangerous injuries facing North Carolina workers

Our Asheville workers compensation attorneys have been following a Greeley, Colo. workers compensation case involving Wal-Mart and a self-employed trucker who slipped and fell in a grease slick in the parking lot caused by an overflow from the retail store's deli department. Late last week she was awarded $15 million for her injuries, which is believed to be one of the largest awards in U.S. history for this type of claim, the Greeley Tribune reports.

The 41-year-old Cheyenne, Wyo. woman slipped on ice and grease during a 2007 delivery and seriously injured her back, which ultimately required three spine surgeries. She racked up more than $500,000 in medical bills and the truck she lived in was repossessed because she was unable to return to work. Wal-Mart is considering an appeal. Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of the case happened shortly after the workplace accident occurred. When the victim attempted to report the incident to a Wal-Mart employee, the employee refused to take her report.

In 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, of more than 1.2 million workplace injuries or illness reported and requiring time away from work across private, state and local government environments, more than 270,000 workers nationwide were injured in slip-and-fall and slipping-without-falling accidents while on the job. Recuperation time from injuries averaged 8 to 13 days away from work.

In fact, the National Institute of Health reports that in 2002, work-related slip-and-fall accidents were considered a "major threat" that compromised both worker safety and personal health. And, that despite there often being some degree of contributory negligence on the part of the injured worker, "there is often an action the property owner/management could have executed to reduce/prevent the severity of the fall".

The NIH report also noted that falling on a level plane and falling to a lower level were cited as two of the top five causes for a worker missing five or more days of work. And that such injuries had a direct cost of $4.6 billion in medical bills and compensation to injured workers.

The National Safety Council recommends workers and employers follow four basic steps to address slip-and-fall prevention:

~ Wear appropriate footwear for the workplace terrain. Consider wearing non-skid "safety" soled shoes. Walk - don't run - and firmly plant your foot at each step.

~ Look for surface area hazards - ice, liquid, grease, clutter. While spilled or leaked substances poses their own unique hazard, more than 30 percent of falls are due to a poorly-maintained walkway.

~ If you see a hazard, avoid it. Walking around a spill will also help prevent it from spreading.

~ If you happen upon an unsafe spot, let people know and get the area cleaned up or cordoned off as soon as possible.

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November 15, 2010

New Labor Department report finds North Carolina among safest work environments in U.S.

Our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers noted in an earlier post to our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers blog some disturbing findings regarding state-run workplace safety oversight programs. We reported that a recent audit by the U.S. Department of Labor of state-run initiatives (in lieu of federal oversight via the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) found both South and North Carolina programs to be weak-handed and largely ineffective. That fines were low, often discounted and even waived and violations were consistently understated and misclassified.

Now, a new federal study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding the rate of workplace injuries has found that both South and North Carolina are among the safest places in the nation for workers. The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that the rate of private industry injury and illness rates in North Carolina have hit a five-year low - dropping from 4.0 per 100 full-time workers in 2005 and 2006, to 3.7 in 2007, to 3.4 in 2008, to 3.1 per 100 full-time North Carolina workers in 2009.

The Labor Department cites, of course, both North Carolina workers and employers for playing a key role in making the workplace a safer environment. But also points to a slowed economy, the implementation of OSHA online safety and health training programs, and target efforts in specific industries (like construction).

At least one critic of the findings told Bloomberg Businessweek that despite the downturn in the economy and less production on many job sites, he expected that incidents of North Carolina workplace injury or illness would increase because fewer workers are doing more in less time. And when measured against recent criticism by the Labor Department regarding state-run workplace safety programs, one wonders whether all injuries are being reported.

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said regardless of the controversy, workers and employers across the state deserve credit for their efforts to improve safety. Berry supports the state-run programs and says they have shown results because they create an environment of cooperation instead of coercion. That a tailor-made home-grown oversight program better addresses state problems than a federal "one-size-fits-all" effort as would be imposed by OSHA oversight.

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November 15, 2010

Black Friday -- holiday season -- a dangerous time for North Carolina work accidents

Even as crazy Black Friday deals are being announced ($3 appliances at Target) by retailers to lure shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration is warning retailers that they have a duty to protect customers and employees from injury.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers know the seasonal jobs being filled this holiday are a blessing for many families. And retailers count on the next 6 weeks for up to half their profits. But serious accidents are frequently reported when retailers intentionally attempt to create a mob mentality. Employers have an obligation to keep new and veteran employees safe from the undue risk of a North Carolina work accident caused by large crowds.
"Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years," said Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Many of these incidents can be prevented by adopting a crowd management plan, and this fact sheet provides retail employers with guidelines for avoiding injuries during the holiday shopping season."

IN 2008, an employee was trampled to death in a mob of shoppers on Black Friday. The store was not using OSHA's best-practices, which include:

-Make sure all employees know when the doors are about to open.

-Staff entrances with uniform guards or other authority personnel.

-Use a public address system to manage crowds and/or communicate problems.

-Position personnel to the side of entrances, not in a crowd's path.

-Provide crowd control measures at all entrances. Use more than one entrance whenever possible.

-Do not allow more people in the store than permitted by maximum occupancy.

-Provide a safe entrance for people with disabilities.

OSHA has issued a warning to the CEOs of 14 of the nation's largest retailers, reminding them that they are responsible for the safety of employees during the upcoming holiday season.

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November 12, 2010

Pair of North Carolina work accidents mar week in Eastern Carolina

A Edenton, North Carolina work accident has claimed a life for the second time in a week in Eastern Carolina, Channel 7 reported.

Edenton police say they were called to the Peanut Plant shortly before noon Thursday, where they found the 25-year-old employee dead of an apparent work-related accident. Authorities say the preliminary investigation revealed that a safety harness worn by the employee became entangled in machinery. The North Carolina Department of Labor is investigating the fatality.

Seabrook is a peanut processing plant that does dry roasting, peanut extracts and peanut butter.

On Monday, a fatal Beaufort County work accident occurred when a dump truck backed over a worker at a bridge construction site.

WITN News reported the accident happened on Highway 99 where construction crews are building a new bridge over the Pungo Creek. A 57-year-old paving company employee was killed. The preliminary investigation indicates the backup alarms on the truck were working properly.

It was the fourth highway construction accident of the year in Eastern Carolina, which has included a crane accident in Pitt COunty, a fall of the Manns Harbor Bridge in Dare County and the death of a flagger on I-40 in Duplin County.

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November 9, 2010

Hazardous chemicals a common cause of North Carolina work accidents

A recent forum held by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration highlighted the risks exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances play when in comes to a serious or fatal North Carolina work accident.

Our North Carolina workers compensation attorneys understand the many factors involved in representing employees harmed by chemical exposure. Sometimes, there is an immediate health crisis, sparked by a spill or exposure in the workplace. But in many other instances it is the cumulative exposure over years or even decades that can cause serious health problems.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 390 employees were killed last year in work accidents resulting from exposure to harmful substances or environments. Another 113 died in fires or explosions. Nine fatal North Carolina work accidents resulted from harmful exposure and another nine from fire or explosion. South Carolina work accidents involving harmful exposure also resulted in 9 deaths.

But the government estimates that more than 55,000 are injured each year due to chemical exposure and more than 17,000 of such accidents will result in lost time away from work.

Perhaps most alarmingly, most of OSHA's permissible exposure limits (PELs) were established when the government safety agency was founded a half-century ago. More protective regulations have been established for only 29 chemicals.

"Many of our permissible exposure limits are based on 1950s-era science that we now realize is inadequate to protect workers in 21st century workplaces," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. "We must assure the protection of workers currently exposed to well-recognized chemical hazards for which we have an inadequate PEL or no PEL at all. I am hopeful that this forum will assist us in achieving that goal by helping us to identify those chemicals on which we should be focusing our efforts."

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November 5, 2010

Employers in North Carolina are not permitted to conduct mandatory OSHA training in long days of classes

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is revising policy for outreach training programs in an effort to ensure workers are not being inundated with safety information.

Our North Carolina work accident attorneys understand how important mandatory safety training is to the safety and welfare of employees. At the same time, particularly in this tough economy, we know employers are sometimes reluctant to reduce productivity by holding necessary or required safety training sessions. Additionally, determining whether employees received required training can assist in filing a claim.

OSHA's new policy will limit training to a maximum of 7 1/2 hours a day; previously there was no limit and employers were creating 13 hour days, including 10 hours of training. OSHA was concerned that fatigued employees might be missing critical safety information and the condensed schedules were not always meeting 10- and 30-hour program requirements.

To address those concerns, the new requirements will mandate that 10-hour courses be conducted over two days and 30-hour courses will be held over at least four days. A hotline has been set up at 847-725-7810 where complaints can be filed about fraud or abuse in connection with mandatory safety training requirements.

"Limiting daily class hours will help ensure that workers receive and retain quality safety training," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels.

The new rules become effective immediately and OSHA will no longer recognize time spent in training classes in excess of 7.5 hours a day.

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November 3, 2010

Landmark court decisions helps protect rights of workers hurt on the job in South Carolina

A landmark court ruling stemming from an employee's fall accident in a Charleston dress shop is being haled as a major victory for those who suffer a South Carolina work accident.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers join our attorneys in South Carolina in haling the victory. We know that the law does not treat South Carolina workers as favorably in many circumstances and we celebrate any ruling that helps address that divide.

The Myrtle Beach Sun News reports that employees who face career-ending injuries can secure larger Social Security disability payments during the aftermath of a debilitating work accident.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled the Workers' Compensation Commission has the power to choose the method of accounting that determines benefits. Insurance companies had argued that the commission did not have that right. Some insurers were therefore approaching workers with a deal to take larger Social Security payments in exchange for smaller workers' compensation awards.

The case involved an employee who fell down a flight of stairs while working at a King Street dress shop in 2002. The accident put her permanently out of work with a back injury. She was later ruled totally and permanently disabled, giving her access to almost 10 years of weekly unemployment benefits. But, until the ruling, her Social Security payments were in question.

Under one accounting method, she would have received about $350 a month. Under another valuation of her claim, she would have received more than $1,000.

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November 1, 2010

North Carolina workers' compensation rates paid by employers to nudge upward in 2011

Employers are howling about an increase of less than one percent in the cost of North Carolina workers' compensation premiums next year. The Business Insurance journal reported policies will increase 0.6 percent beginning in April.

Our North Carolina work injury attorneys follow the rate debate each year. The increase is miniscule compared to the average increase of 14 percent that most of us face for health insurance. An employer pays the workers' compensation premiums so that employees are covered in the event of an accident. Regardless of whether the accident was your fault, you are entitled to cost of medical care, lost wages and other forms of recovery under the workers' compensation law.
Speaking with a Carolina injury lawyer or wrongful death attorney may also lead to a lawsuit alleging third-party liability in instances where a subcontractor or party other than your employer can be argued to be at least partially responsible for the accident.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Journal reports that North Carolina workers' compensation costs were the highest in a study of 15 states. Several factors led to the higher costs per claim in some states, including higher payments to hospital providers. North Carolina hospital payments were the highest in the study at about $9,500.

Payments to others -- including physicians, chiropractors and physical and occupational therapists -- were lower than other states. In fact, the study found that the physician fee schedule in North Carolina was lower than in 42 other states.

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