December 2010 Archives

December 31, 2010

Roofing falls a common cause of North Carolina residential construction accidents

North Carolina roofing accidents pose a significant risk of serious or fatal work injury. Recently, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration announced new directives aimed at reducing the risk of fall injuries in North Carolina and elsewhere.

"Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of workplace deaths in construction. We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Almost every week, we see a worker killed from falling off a residential roof. We can stop these fatalities, and we must."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports about 40 workers are killed each year in falls from residential roofs. One-third of those killed are Latino. These workers in particular often lack access to work-safety information and protection.

In particular, the new rules permit employers to provide alternative means of fall protection in residential building environments where traditional fall protection is determined to be unfeasible.

OSHA has also developed training and compliance and assistance materials to employers and will hold a webinar for parties interested in learning more about the new standards.

Additional information about residential fall protection is available here.

Continue reading "Roofing falls a common cause of North Carolina residential construction accidents" »

December 29, 2010

Green Jobs bring promise, risk of new work injuries in North Carolina

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is focusing on safety in the budding new industries that comprise what many think of as "Green Jobs."

Like tech jobs and medical jobs, North and South Carolina are battling alongside virtually every state in the nation to lure the so-called "Green Jobs." These include industries involved in wind energy, solar, geo-thermal energy, biofuels, recycling, green roofs, hydrogen fuel cells, weather insulating and other related industries. Industries involving new technologies can be risky for employees, who are often exposed to manufacturing processes with no history of the possible health or safety risks. For instance, employees in the solar energy industry may be exposed to Cadmium Telluride, a known cancer causing agent. In such cases, it is critical that the manufacturing process provide adequate safeguards.
"We're all aware of the job opportunities that green jobs offer, and in the present economy, new technologies with the potential of new jobs are especially welcome," said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor. "We must use our knowledge and skills to identify potential hazards as they emerge. It is vital, now, that we integrate worker safety and health concerns into green manufacturing."

Many of these jobs are essentially energy jobs, which have a long history involving the risk of serious work injury in North Carolina. Utility workers, natural gas employees, electric workers, and workers at nuclear power plants often suffer injuries at greater rates than those in many other professions.

OSHA defines green jobs as jobs that help improve the environment. Such jobs also have the ability to help rejuvenate the economy and get people back to work. Employees in these positions may also face hazards common to many industries -- including workplace falls, electrical or fire injuries, chemical exposure and other hazards.

The government is urging companies to engage in "Prevention through Design," which simply means to design equipment and the manufacturing process with the safety of employees in mind.

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December 28, 2010

North Carolina issues bleak jobs picture - work accidents a danger as economy improves

North Carolina payroll employment decreased by 12,500 non-farm jobs in November, the worst report of any state in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers in Statesville, Salisbury, Concord, and elsewhere, continue to monitor the jobs' picture in North and South Carolina. As the economy rebounds, many companies are operating with skeleton crews. While this maximizes profits, it can also increase the risk of a serious or fatal North Carolina work accident.
North Carolina joined 27 other states that reported a decrease in payroll employment in November, compared to the same period a year ago. North Carolina reported 12,500 fewer jobs, followed by Massachusetts' 8,600 fewer jobs and the 7,800 fewer jobs that were reported in Ohio. Those figures can be a more reliable indicator of the employment picture than the unemployment rate because when someone stops looking for work they are no longer counted as "unemployed."

In this case, North Carolina also reported a corresponding 12,500 jobs lost in the October-November period, a figure that was also worst in the nation.

The North Carolina unemployment rate actually dropped to 9.7 percent in November, compared to 10.8 percent last year. The unemployment rate in South Carolina fell to 10.6 percent, from the rate of 12.3 percent reported one year ago.

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December 26, 2010

Knowledge of work-injury rights important as Statesville program seeks to retrain workers

The Statesville Record & Landmark reports the JobsNOW program continues to train potential employees about interpersonal and other skills needed in the workplace.

From the Wal-Mart Supercenter, to factory jobs, including Burlington and Canac, students are learning to dress for success, to think before they speak, and handle other job stresses in a professional manner. As many residents prepare for what they hope will be an economic rebound in 2011, and a return to better times, it is equally important to understand how to handle a Statesville work accident or injury.
Too often new employees are hesitant to report an on-the-job injury. Laws are in place to prevent an employer from retaliating against an injured worker. However, speaking with a Statesville workers' compensation lawyer can be the best course of action for protecting your rights and the financial well-being of you and your family.

The JobsNOW program was developed at the request of Gov. Beverly Perdue and aims to retrain workers to enter the job market. It has been developed by North Carolina Community Colleges. Funding comes from federal stimulus dollars through the Division of Workforce Development.

North Carolina experienced the largest month-over-month employment decrease in November, with 12,500 fewer positions being available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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December 23, 2010

Snow and ice a danger for North Carolina workers

As our Carolina workers compensation attorneys noted in an earlier post to our North Carolina Workers Compensation Lawyers blog, more than 270,000 incidences of slip-and-fall workplace accidents were reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009. On average, workers injured in a slip-and/or-fall accident spent a week to two weeks laid-up and off the job - adding the stress of lost wages to suffering physical injury.

Because of the frequency and the degree of injury sustained from a slip-and-fall workplace accident, the lawyers at Lee & Smith have been closely monitoring a Wake County slip-and-fall workers compensation case as it worked its way up to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. We are pleased to report that in the case of Hedges v. Wake County Public Schools, the appellate court has found for the plaintiff.
The injured worker - who tripped and fell as she entered a workroom with an armload of payroll materials meant to be copied - testified that nothing caused her to fall. But with her arms full, she was unable to correct for the misstep and landed badly, causing a rotator cuff tear in the process, Risk & Insurance reports.

Because there was no impediment to her path to cause her to fall, the school argued that her injury did not meet the standard for a worker's compensation claim. Nor then did they feel the worker was entitled to attorney's fees.

The Court found that despite there being no clear reason for the fall, the worker was on school property, on the clock and performing a work-related task when the North Carolina slip-and-fall accident occurred. They Court further decided the worker was also entitled to attorney's fees because the school's argument - that since the worker didn't know why she fell, her injury must not be work related - was without merit.

SFM Mutual Insurance Company offers a few words worth sharing for employers aiming to create a safer environment for North Carolina workers now that winter weather has arrived.

~ High heels and snow-laden or icy parking lots are a potentially hazardous combination. Boots with slip-resistant soles, (or at least a pair of flat shoes worn when traversing the parking lot), are a much safer way to get from the car to the office.

~ When walking on snow or ice and when you first enter a building - walk like a duck. Walk slowly and thoughtfully. Take short, flat, steps and be cautious when changing direction.

~ Once you enter a building, clear your shoes of puddle-causing debris. Employers should provide mats or a carpet remnant at or near entryways for this purpose.

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December 20, 2010

Seasonal employment comes with opportunities and pitfalls for North Carolina workers

Our Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys know that with a state jobless rate of 9.6 percent, North Carolina workers are among the hardest hit in the country when it comes to dealing with sustained unemployment and stalled job creation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2009, the nine largest counties in North Carolina - responsible for more than half the total employment in the State - each saw employment drop throughout the year.

With that said, WECT-6 News in Wilmington reported that holiday retail revenue figures have topped 2010 expectations. Thanks to throngs of holiday shoppers, many business owners and shop managers are hopeful that a strong holiday shopping season will help the economy recover.
To address the boost in consumer spending, many big-box shops are hiring on seasonal workers to stock shelves, work the floors and man registers. For many unemployed North Carolina workers, the chance for work, even short-term employment, is like a gift that came early. Conversely, given the lean North Carolina job market, some seasonal employers are doing more than just taking advantage of an eager workforce.

While short-term retail jobs are plentiful, so are short-term workforce training and management issues. For many seasonal employees there is little training beyond how to work the register and scripted selling techniques. And regardless of whether the staffer is a full-time worker or a seasonal hire, safety protocols - from how to deal with crowds to restocking shelves - often receive only cursory attention.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently nailed one San Antonio Home Depot for a host of institutionalized safety violations, garnering the shop $70,500 in penalty fees. The store was cited for shortsighted injury record-keeping and failing to provide workers with personal protective equipment after an employee sustained chemical burns earlier this year. A months-long OSHA investigation revealed that store employees lacked training on protective gear and were not properly instructed on how to clean up spills or evaluate respiratory hazards.

That it was a repeat offense for Home Depot did little to impress OSHA inspectors. "As a large, national employer with a history of OSHA inspections and citations at other facilities, we are disappointed to find so many of the same or similar hazards at this facility," said Jeff Funke, OSHA's area director in San Antonio. "It's imperative that this company and all employers adhere to safety and health standards to prevent worker injuries."

Along those same lines, in early November, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels sent a warning letter to 14 big box retailers that encouraged shop owners to "take precautions to prevent worker injuries during the holiday..." In short, OSHA directs retailers to watch after their employees with the same care they give their bottom line.

According to the BLS, while most retail salespeople enjoy a warm, safe, well-lit, environment, the hours can be long, non-traditional (nights and weekends) and may require a lot of standing, walking and lifting. As of 2008, there were about 4.5 million people working in retail sales and another 156,500 self-employed retailers. Opportunity for part-time work is highest from Thanksgiving through the beginning of January, and more so than other types of work, the number of available retail sales jobs is directly tied to the health of the overall economy.

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December 17, 2010

Obey Move Over law this holiday season to prevent accidents in North Carolina

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers wish each of you a safe and enjoyable holiday travel season and encourage you to obey the law and move over or slow down for stopped emergency vehicles.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 4 in 10 fatal work accidents last year resulted from traffic accidents and claimed 2,130 lives. Traffic accidents are among the leading cause of death for firefighters, police officers, road construction crews and others whose job it is to keep the roads safe and passable through the long holiday travel season.
Transportation accidents were responsible for 47 of the 125 fatal North Carolina work accidents reported last year.

On December 1, North Carolina expanded its Move Over law to include service trucks driven by utility companies. The current law was enacted in 2002 and requires that motorists move over or slow down for emergency vehicles with flashing lights.

Violations carry a fine of $250 and the fine is doubled if an accident occurs.

"Our crews often work in hazardous conditions along roads to repair power poles and lines and restore service to the people who depend on us," Lloyd Yates, president and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas, told ENCToday. "Expanding the Move Over law to include them and their important work is a welcome change and will provide increased safety."

The North Carolina Highway Patrol said most vehicles with flashing lights are covered under the new law.

"If a driver had to call a wrecker, that would be covered," said Sgt. G.S. Hemby said. "Any vehicle called to the scene by a motorist or emergency personnel would be covered under the law if they have flashing auburn-colored lights."

December 15, 2010

Whether hiring or firing, companies have an obligation to prevent North Carolina work accidents

The job market continues to give out mixed signals. Job openings are at their highest level in 2 years and the majority of the nation's 372 metro areas reported year-over year increases in employment. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month that the nationwide unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent, even as worker productivity increased by more than 2 percent.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers understand the challenges many employees face in the current job market. Too often, they are being asked to do more with less than ever before. They are doing multiple jobs due to layoffs and downsizing. Often they have had their pay cut or have not received raises in recent years. In many cases, work-safety personnel have been downsized and employee wellness programs have dried up and blown away.

In such environments, employees can be hesitant to report a North Carolina work accident for fear of job loss or retaliation. However, reporting an injury while on the job is critical to protecting your rights and the financial well-being of you and your family. Rules are in place to prevent employers from retaliating against injured workers. Of course, you will need to assert your rights. The best bet if you or a loved one is seriously injured on the job is to contact a work injury lawyer in North Carolina to discuss your rights.

The employment picture is a little brighter in North Carolina, where the unemployment rate has dropped in 66 of North Carolina's 100 counties, the North Carolina News Network reported.

"Over the year, we have seen unemployment rates decline in 90 counties," said state Employment Security Commission Chairman Lynn R. Holmes. "We continue to face economic challenges with respect to job growth, but we at ESC continue to assist those looking for work and those who qualify for unemployment benefits."

Thirty-seven counties still have a jobless rate greater than 10 percent. Forty-five counties had a rate at or below the statewide rate of 9.1 percent. Scotland and Edgecombe counties had an unemployment rate of more than 14 percent.

When companies return to hiring mode, they are also responsible for making sure that new employees receive all of the proper training and safety equipment necessary to help reduce their risk of a work accident.

Continue reading "Whether hiring or firing, companies have an obligation to prevent North Carolina work accidents" »

December 9, 2010

Hearing loss a subtle work injury risk in North Carolina

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is working to clarify enforcement standards for noise in the workplace.

North Carolina work injuries
involving profound hearing loss can greatly impact the quality of life of employees. Most often, such accidents are the result of being exposed to years or decades of noise levels on the job that are known to result in hearing loss. In some cases, loss of hearing can result in job loss or disability. Those who believe they have suffered injury from excessive noise while on the job should consult a North Carolina workers' compensation lawyer to discuss their rights.
"Thousands of workers every year continue to suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels," OSHA reports. "Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that more than 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss. In 2008 alone, BLS reported 22,000 hearing loss cases."

OSHA current enforcement of noise exposure of less than 100 decibels relies on hearing conservation programs, including the use of ear plugs. The proposed changes would require noise reduction through available engineering technology or administrative changes.

"There is sufficient evidence that hearing protection alone cannot prevent workers from suffering preventable hearing loss," said Michaels. "Easily applied administrative or engineering controls can and must be used to protect workers. There are plenty of employers out there who play by the rules and want to do the right thing, and we're hopeful we can work with them to craft a policy that's good for all."

However, the government has extended the comment period on the proposals until March 21. This often happens when a large number of complaints are received by businesses, which would have to invest in the work-safety technologies.

"We're very eager to get input from those parties who would be affected by this proposed interpretation," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "We have by no means completed our review of the issue and seek to make an informed decision that is in the best interest of protecting workers, yet sensitive to the operating changes businesses would need to make."

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December 7, 2010

Postal employees at high risk of North Carlolina work accidents

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed nearly $50,000 in fines against the U.S. Postal Service for issues at a Processing and Distribution Center.

As we reported on our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog this summer, postal employees are at high-risk of suffering work accidents in North Carolina. That blog reported nearly $300,000 in proposed fines after employees were exposed to electrical hazards at a Maryland facility. Postal employees are routinely subjected to the risk of car accidents, slip and fall accidents, premise liability accidents, dog bite accidents and accidents related to inclement weather.

In this case, the government found workers at an Iowa facility had not been properly trained on how to safely operate industrial trucks. The investigation was initiated based on a complaint about lack of adequate training.

"Our inspection revealed that workers were not being properly trained to identify hazards associated with operating powered industrial trucks," said Charles Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator. "It is imperative that employers take the necessary steps to eliminate hazards by training workers and providing a safe working environment."

The Postal Service was issued serious citations for failing to provide refresher training when workers were operating trucks in an unsafe manner, and failing to certify that workers were properly trained. Serious citations are issued when a safety issue has a substantial probability of causing serious injury or death and when the company knew or should have known about the risks.

The Postal Service was also issue a repeat violation for failing to conduct an evaluation of each truck operator at least every three years. The government reports the post office has been cited for the same violation within the past five years.

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December 6, 2010

Home Depot cited for repeat violation of work safety rules involving hazardous chemicals

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has cited Home Depot for work safety violations, including the lack of worker protection equipment and improper recordkeeping.

Employers are required to provide employees with safety equipment, including safety harnesses, hard hats, ear or eye protection and other necessary equipment to help prevent accidents and injuries on the job. When a North Carolina work accident occurs because an employee did not receive the proper training or equipment, a workers' compensation lawyer should always be consulted to help ensure the workers' rights are protected.
The proposed fine against Home Depot is $70,500.

"As a large, national employer with a history of OSHA inspections and citations at other facilities, we are disappointed to find so many of the same or similar hazards at this facility," said Jeff Funke, OSHA's area director, of the most recent inspection in Texas. "It's imperative that this company and all employers adhere to safety and health standards to prevent worker injuries."

OSHA began an inspection on July 30 after an employee sustained chemical burns due to lack of proper protective equipment and training. Home Depot was cited with serious violations for failure to train employees on the proper use of protective equipment, failure to teach employees how to safely clean up spills and not assessing respiratory hazards. Serious citations are issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from the hazards, about which the employer knew or should have known.

Home Depot was also cited for a number of repeat violations, including failure to ensure eye protection was utilized, failure to provide adequate eye wash and quick drenching facilities, failure to properly record and describe injuries on the OSHA injury and illness recordkeeping form, and improper certification of the form. OSHA indicates Home Depot has been cited for each of those violations within the past three years.

The Home Depot operates more than 2,200 stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico and China.

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December 3, 2010

Winter weather a hazard for North Carolina workers

Snowy conditions may have closed schools and the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this week, but with the holidays all but upon us, businesses from retail outfits to fast-food delivery joints have all hands on deck. Whether a seasonal worker or a full-time employee racking up some much-appreciated overtime, "snow days" take on a whole new meaning once you get past junior high school.

Or you have a car, and an obligation to be somewhere.
Western North Carolina has seen a trio of tractor-trailer wrecks since Thanksgiving alone. One trucker was bearing a load of Christmas trees. WSOC-TV reported that the wreck caused a six-mile closure of U.S. Hwy. 221 in Avery County. And just this past weekend, the United Press International (Charlotte) reported that North Carolina law enforcement responded to more than 500 accidents across the state; one fatal.

As our Charlotte workers compensation attorneys recently noted in a post to our North Carolina Workers Compensation Lawyers blog, employers have an obligation to keep seasonal and seasoned employees safe whether they work on the floor, or on the highway.

For the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, keeping employees safe is so important they have put more than a dozen big-box retailers on notice to heed the OSHA holiday-prep best-practices directives.

While the fear being trampled by a mob of shoppers hoping to nab that super deal is a real concern for anyone who works in retail these days, often forgotten about are those who drive for a living. If you're on the road in slick conditions, whether it's your car or a company vehicle, delivering pizza, or dry cleaning, or those office supplies, is no less hazardous. Your boss should make sure both the vehicle and the road conditions are safe for travel before asking you to get behind the wheel.

If you must drive, Truck News offers a few suggestions for keeping your person and your ride, safe.

~ Theft is common during the holiday, so drive with personal safety in mind. Park in well-lit areas. Keep you gas tank full and your cell phone charged. Be prepared for the road and weather conditions. If it feels unsafe, stop.

~ Keep your windshield clean. Make sure your wiper blades are in good condition. Top off wiper fluid.

~ Use snow tires and chains as needed.

Continue reading "Winter weather a hazard for North Carolina workers" »