July 2011 Archives

July 30, 2011

Heat Stress at Work Can Lead to Long-Term Disabilities for North Carolina Workers

Heat-related illnesses in North Carolina jobsites are pretty common when temperatures register as high as they have been the last few weeks.

Not only are heat exhaustion and heat stroke a major concern but so are accidents involving your vision, slips and falls, or losing a grip on a tool because your palms are sweaty. Gastonia workers' compensation lawyers know that agencies are often making suggestions to employers on how to cut corners to save money on workers' compensation expenses but we are here to make sure your health is not compromised in the process. Employees have rights and anything short of working in a safe environment puts accountability back on the employer for injuries or illnesses suffered at work.
Insurancenewsnet.com reports that not only are outdoor job sites a concern when it comes to extreme temperatures, but so are workers who work in confined spaces or on large machines indoors. Heat-related exposure doesn't necessarily occur from being in direct sunlight but can also occur from working in extremely hot temperatures for prolonged periods of time.

Dehydration is a common cause of heat-related illness or injury. In fact, when a person becomes dehydrated by 2 percent of their body weight it can cause problems with vision, short-term memory loss, calculating efficiency, and a reduction in attention span or focus. Reaction time can be minimized by 23 percent when your body reaches a dehydration level of 4 percent of your body weight. A worker can become much more susceptible to work accidents when cognitive performance declines from too much dehydration.

It is paramount that employees and supervisors be trained on what signs or symptoms to look for when it comes to heat stress. Some early signs to look for are crankiness, headache, thirst, or a good amount of sweating. It is important to know that each individual has their own threshold of heat tolerance which is typically based on body stature, weight, level of fitness and lifestyle. Most individuals wake up in the morning not fully hydrated. It can take as long as 24 hours in certain circumstances for the body to accumulate enough fluid in the body to become fully hydrated.

What most workers may not realize is that heat-related illnesses can sometimes turn into long-term disabilities. Earlier this year the North Carolina Court of Appeals warranted that a heavy machine operator could receive temporary total disability benefits after suffering a seizure while working at the bottom of a landfill pit. The employee continued to have seizures following his release from the hospital so the court determined his seizures were related to heat exposure suffered on the job.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration offers several helpful online tools to help with heat exposure and stress. OSHA has teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide weather service alerts in your area 24/7. OSHA has also provided a link to NOAA Heat Wave which explains the difference between a heat watch, heat warning or heat advisory and what to look for when temperatures rise into dangerous levels.

No worker can be faulted for sitting on the job when they are suffering from heat stress. Employees need to take care of their bodies by drinking plenty of water and finding a cooler spot to rest in during breaks. Using common sense and taking precautions can save you from a lifetime disability caused by heat stress suffered on the job.

Continue reading "Heat Stress at Work Can Lead to Long-Term Disabilities for North Carolina Workers" »

July 27, 2011

Three-part series on Job Hazards Ends With Workplace Injury Scenario

To complete our three-part series on conducting a job hazard analysis we walk you through an actual workplace scenario. Our workers' compensation lawyers of Greensboro want employers to be proactive in protecting their employees, so the goal of our series is to offer useful information to guide employers on how to provide a safe work environment.
How you can identify workplace hazards

Your goal is to ask the following questions when doing a job hazard analysis:

-What could go wrong?
-What could be the outcome?
-How could it happen?
-Are there other contributing factors?
-What is the likelihood of the hazard occurring?

Answering these questions is the key to a properly performed job hazard analysis. Consistently describing hazards in this manner will help your endeavor to eliminate the hazard and apply hazard controls. Good hazard situations describe:

-Where it is occurring (environment)?
-What or who is being exposed?
-What triggers the hazard?
-What is the outcome should it happen?
-Are there other contributing factors?

It is a rare occurrence that a hazard has a singular cause resulting in a singular effect. It is more likely that several factors add up to create the hazard.

Here is an example from the updated Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Job Hazard Analysis manual regarding a hazard scenario:

In the wood shop (environment), while clearing a stuck piece of wood (trigger), an employee's hand (exposure) comes into contact with a saw blade. The machine grabs his hand and severs several of his fingers (consequences) quickly.

Ask and answer the following question to perform the job hazard analysis:

-What could go wrong? The employee's hand could come in contact with a saw blade that grabs it.
-What is the result? The employee could sustain a severe injury to their fingers and hand and possible loss of an extremity.
-How could it occur? An employee tries to clear a piece of wood during the saws operation. If the saw is not running the hazard doesn't exist.
-Any other contributing factors? This is a quickly occurring hazard and is an important fact when figuring out how likely this scenario could happen.
-How likely could the hazard occur? Actual cases and "near-misses" could determine that the likelihood is high for this to happen and lead to the following questions being asked: Could adding a guard to the blade make the hazard less likely? Could a cut off switch shut the saw down when wood gets stuck prevent the hazard?

Review previous job hazard analysis.

Keeping job hazard analysis current continues to ensure the reduction of workplace accidents and injuries. The job doesn't have to change in order to review its process because you never know if something was missed during the initial analysis.

It is crucial to review a job's hazard analysis if there was a "near miss", an injury or illness. You should ask yourself what caused the hazard and what steps are needed to reduce the chance of it happening again. Any changes to an analysis must be discussed with your workers to ensure compliance.

Continue reading "Three-part series on Job Hazards Ends With Workplace Injury Scenario" »

July 25, 2011

Part Two of Blog Series Focuses on Job Hazard Analysis for Employers

In part two in our series of three reviewing the job hazard analysis process we look at how an employer starts a hazards review at the workplace.

Our workers' compensation lawyers of Hickory applaud employers that put the health and safety of their employees first. But we represent many clients whose employers cut corners and put them at risk of suffering a workplace accident.
How does an employer begin a job hazard analysis?

Get your workers involved in the hazard analysis process. After all, they are the ones performing the job everyday. They are the ones with a unique understanding of the job and the hazards that come with it. Also, including workers in the process will help limit oversights, guarantees a quality analysis, and makes them feel like they contributed to the workplace safety and health program.

Analyze your workplace accident and illness history. Have there been any "near misses"? Have any accidents or occupational illnesses required treatment? Have there been any reoccurring mechanical repairs or replacements? Any of these are clues that the current hazard controls (if any) might not be acceptable and require revisions.

Perform a preliminary job review by discussing with your workers the hazards they know currently exist. Get their input on how to eliminate or control those hazards. It goes without saying that immediate action should be taken if any hazards create risks of imminent danger to a worker's life or health.

Easily correctable problems should be dealt with as soon as possible giving you more time to evaluate complex jobs. Waiting too long to finish your job hazard analysis may express a lack of commitment to safety and health on your part to your workers. Hazards that have been verified to present unacceptable dangers need to be corrected by the use of hazard controls.

There are three types of hazard controls: engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment. An example of an engineering control could include redirecting exhaust ventilation or enclosing noisy equipment. Administrative examples would include written operating protocols, a buddy system or exposure time limits. Using personal protective equipment (respirators, safety glasses, hardhats, hearing protection and protective clothing) is needed when engineering controls are not feasible or are in development.

Your analysis should start with a list of hazardous jobs that present unsuitable risks. Start with jobs that if an accident happened would result in the most severe outcome.

Break down every job into steps or tasks. The best way to do this is to observe a worker performing the job and list each task or step. It might be a good idea to tell your worker what you are doing. Emphasize you are watching the job they are doing not how they are performing. It might be necessary to video the job being done.

It is important to not go into too much detail or be too general in your step/task descriptions. Consulting with the worker should enable you to get enough information. Once you have documented each step, review each one and determine uncontrolled hazards and identify solutions.

Continue reading "Part Two of Blog Series Focuses on Job Hazard Analysis for Employers" »

July 23, 2011

North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Start Series on Job Hazards

Recently the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its Job Hazard Analysis manual.

Our workers' compensation lawyers of Charlotte know it is vital to identify hazards in the workplace to avoid on the job accidents and illnesses. As part of a three part series we will be reviewing the job hazard analysis process.
Who could benefit from reading this manual?

Everyone. Supervisors, foremen, employers and especially employees can all contribute to making their work environment safer.

Define a hazard

A hazard is any activity or condition that could produce harm if left uncorrected.

Common types of workplace hazards include:

  • Chemicals: how much of it if absorbed or inhaled can cause an illness or death? What are their flash points and boiling points?

  • Electrical: are all devices properly grounded to prevent shocks? Are any devices overheating or producing static electricity that could cause a fire?

  • Ergonomics: are any tasks done repetitively or causing overexertion resulting in strains and sprains?

  • Excavation: is proper shoring being used to prevent collapses?

  • Falls: are safety measures being used to prevent falls from heights? Are walking surfaces free from tripping and slipping hazards?

  • Noise: is the noise level above 85 decibels?

  • Radiation: is there a risk of tissue damage from Alpha, Beta, Gamma, neutral particles, X-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, and microwaves?

  • Struck By: are employees at risk to be hit by falling objects and projectiles?

  • Temperature Extreme: are workers exposed to extreme cold or heat that could result in heat stroke or hypothermia?

  • Visibility: are work areas well lit?

Define a job hazard analysis?

A technique that centers on job tasks that recognizes hazards prior to them occurring is a job hazard analysis. It identifies the connection between the employee, the tools, the job, and the work setting. Once uncontrolled hazards are identified, you can come up with solutions to eliminate or decrease them to a suitable risk level.

How important is job hazard analysis?

We all know that countless workers are killed and injured at work every day. A job hazard analysis will review workplace operations, create proper job protocols and make sure all workers are properly trained thus reducing hazards in the workplace and adding value to the business/company. Think of a job hazard analysis as one piece of the pie with regard to the business/company safety and health management system..

How valuable is a job hazard analysis?

By identifying job hazards through this process, workplace dangers can be greatly reduced. Less hazards in the workplace means fewer employee injuries and illnesses, safer and more efficient work techniques, decreased workers' compensation costs and a rise in employee productivity. The analysis is a vital tool for training new hires on the correct way to perform their jobs in a safe manner.

What jobs should get a job hazard analysis?

A job hazard analysis can be done on any job but ones with the following criteria should be done first:

-Jobs with the most injury or illness rate.
-Jobs with the possibility of causing severe or disabling injuries or illness.
-Jobs in which one small error could result in a severe accident or injury.
-Jobs that are brand new to your process or have had changes in procedures.
-Jobs that require written instructions.

Continue reading "North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Start Series on Job Hazards" »

July 20, 2011

OSHA directive changed to reduce hazards in commercial diving operations in North Carolina and elsewhere

Recent revisions to a directive by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will offer assistance on protocols intended to limit hazards and decrease worker illnesses, injuries and deaths engaged in commercial diving operations, according to an OSHA press release.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers in Asheville realize the dangers that commercial divers face on the job and the number of possibilities that can go wrong while under the water.
"Commercial divers who spend extended periods of time underwater are exposed to hazards such as drowning, circulatory and respiratory problems, and hypothermia," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "The guidance provided in this directive will help ensure consistent enforcement and compliance with OSHA's commercial diving operations standards."

OSHA first issued commercial diving standard (29 CFR 1910 Subpart T) in 1977 that applied to diving and support operations in the maritime and construction industries. If scientific diving met certain conditions it was excused from commercial diving standard.

This exemption occurred in 1985. In 2004, OSHA changed the standard to let recreational diving guides and instructors comply with a different set of requirements relating to the decompression chamber that existed in the previous standard. The newest revision to the 2006 OSHA directive modifies the Subpart T section - Commercial Diving

  • Operations. Revisions include:

  • Gives information to OSHA consultants, compliance officers, industry and government groups in support of involvement to assist in minimizing worker exposure to commercial diving dangers.

  • Commonly asked questions are listed relating to commercial diving operations.

  • Explain more clearly the obligations and duties of employees who help divers with their diving suits and equipment, communications gear and other tasks.

  • Modify the instruction to make sure that the most recent edition of other OSHA instructions, industry standards and manuals, are used.

  • Modify the instruction regarding the no-decompression air dives (Appendix D) to match a recent revision of the U.S. Navy Diving Manual.

  • Electronic links were added to make the directive's Web site more user-friendly.

The directive includes inspection protocols for before, during and after dives, along with equipment maintenance and record keeping standards. To view the directive in full go to OSHA's Safety and Health Topics page on Commercial Diving.

Employers have an obligation to keep commercial diving equipment in proper working order. Equipment that is poorly maintained can lead to serious injuries or death to the diver. Commercial diving gear can malfunction due to: its age, being made from poor quality material or poor maintenance including:

  • A buoyancy compensators leak has a defective power inflator or has the wrong size inflator mechanism hose.

  • Using dive computers that aren't meant for commercial divers.

  • Regulator knobs frozen or difficult to turn.

  • Stripped port retainer screws or worn hose connections

  • Deteriorated helmets, usually caused when helmets are not made to standard, that don't provide the adequate amount of breathing gas.

  • Cracked fittings on compressors.

  • Dry suits with zipper failures, damaged seals on wrist and neck, leaky neck dams.

  • Damaged face mask or worn face mask straps.

  • Failure of hot-water system which can burn the diver with too hot of water using hot water suits.

  • Poorly performing regulators.

Continue reading "OSHA directive changed to reduce hazards in commercial diving operations in North Carolina and elsewhere" »

July 16, 2011

Scaffolds a Common Cause of Fall Accidents for North Carolina Workers Injured on the Job

Recently, the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) renewed its association with the Scaffold Industry Association Incorporated (SIA). The goal is to protect the health and safety of workers from falls and other hazards related to working on scaffolds.

Our workers' compensation lawyers of Charlotte know that falls are the leading cause of injuries and death among construction workers and is a frequent topic we post about on our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog.
"The materials developed through our Alliance are valuable resources for training and educating workers on the hazards they can face in their jobs and how they can be prevented," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Four of the ten most frequently cited OSHA construction standards involve scaffolding, so renewing this Alliance is a great opportunity to build on our work to better protect the men and women who work on scaffolds."

The nationwide Alliance between SIA and OSHA was first signed in 2008. Since that time, jointly they have developed safety material regarding Mast Climbing Work Platforms and Transport Platforms relating to scaffold and fall hazards. Most of the safety material has been translated into Portuguese and Spanish for workers whose primary language isn't English.

Goals for this joint venture include:

-raising awareness of OSHA's enforcement and rulemaking plans
-creating new and innovative education and training programs
-performing outreach and communication activities on employee's rights and worker's responsibilities.

Both organizations will not stop emphasizing the importance of scaffold safety, including matters related to suspended scaffolding, aerial lift equipment and mast climbing scaffolding. SIA was founded in 1972 and is a national trade organization that represents the aerial lift, scaffold and access industry. Promoting safety is the goal of SIA by creating audiovisual programs, training and educational classes and codes of safe practices.

The organization has at least 1,000 member companies that include aerial platform dealers; scaffold and shoring erectors and renters; plank and platform distributors; safety and engineering consultants; government officials; aerial platform distributors and plank and platform manufacturers.

OSHA's Alliance Program assists groups who are committed to making their workplaces safer and healthier by preventing illnesses, injuries and fatalities. These groups can be trade or professional organizations, educational institutions, unions, consulates, faith- and community-based organizations and businesses. OSHA and these groups work in unison to share information with employees and employers, create compliance helping tools and resources, and teach employees and employers about their responsibilities and rights.

Even though a company is part of OSHA's Alliance Program they are not exempt from an OSHA inspection. Anyone using scaffolding needs to be trained on:

-How to access and use the scaffold components.
-How to prevent electrical hazards while on a scaffold.
-How to protect those working below the scaffold from a falling object hazard.
-Know the scaffold's load capacity.
-Know when and how to use fall protection equipment.

Continue reading "Scaffolds a Common Cause of Fall Accidents for North Carolina Workers Injured on the Job" »

July 14, 2011

Histoplasmosis, An Outdoor Jobs Illness in North Carolina Can Lead to Workers' Comp Claims

The Sealant, Waterproofing and Restoration Institute (SWR Institute) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have renewed their alliance that strives to decrease exposures to industry hazards by its workers, according to a recent OSHA press release.

Our workers' compensation attorneys in Greensboro and elsewhere know that OSHA's Alliance Program works with groups and organizations with a strong desire to prevent and reduce workplace illnesses and injuries.
The program increases the knowledge of both employer and employee on how to identify and correct potential workplace hazards.

"The compliance assistance materials created through this Alliance are good sources of safety and health information for employers and workers in the sealant, waterproofing and restoration industry," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "I expect the materials generated through the continuation of the Alliance to further assist employers and workers in recognizing and preventing hazardous working conditions."

Through the Alliance program, OSHA and the SWR Institute have created a safety and health field manual. This manual enables employers to recognize and eliminate workplace hazards related to the sealant and waterproofing industry including excavation and trenching, fall protection, aerial and scissor lift and respiratory protection.

The SWR Institute has over 10,000 members from more than 230 commercial manufacturers, contractors and consultants of sealant, waterproofing and restoration products. With a two-year extension, the Alliance program will continue advancement in workplace health and safety for SWR Institute members and anyone associated with the sealant, waterproofing, and restoration industry.

An interesting section in the field manual includes the disease Histoplasmosis, which is a fungus caused by bat and bird droppings. When a concentrated area of droppings is disturbed the fungus produces spores that become airborne and can be inhaled by nearby workers.

Not only can restorers of historic or abandoned buildings be exposed to this danger so can construction workers, bridge inspectors or painters, demolition workers, roofers and heating and air-conditioning system installers. Histoplasmosis causes a treatable lung infection but it can be fatal if the infection spreads.

To avoid getting histoplasmosis: -Protect yourself from the dust of contaminated soil.

-Don't disturb accumulated areas of bat or bird droppings until the contaminated areas have been abated.
-Wear the proper personal protective equipment when working in high-risk areas.

Respirator use would be necessary to protect the health of workers in high-risk areas. Your employer must have an established respiratory protection program with jobsite-specific procedures that include:

  • How to select the proper respirators for use at the jobsite.
  • Any employee that might use a respirator needs a medical exam.
  • How to fit test the respirator and how to use it in an emergency situation.
  • Protocols for cleaning, storing, inspecting and maintaining the respirator.
  • Tell workers the respiratory hazards that exist on the jobsite.
  • Instruct workers on the use and limitations of a respirator.
  • Workers should be instructed on what respirator to use for each hazard that is present.
  • Employers need to evaluate respiratory procedures on a regular basis.

Continue reading "Histoplasmosis, An Outdoor Jobs Illness in North Carolina Can Lead to Workers' Comp Claims" »

July 12, 2011

Website Assists North Carolina Employers With Reporting Work Injuries to OSHA

A new interactive web tool created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was recently unveiled to assist users in finding out what illnesses and injuries are recordable and work-related according to OSHA's Record keeping rules.

Our workers' compensation lawyers in Hickory and elsewhere hope this tool will benefit North Carolina workers who are injured at work or become ill from a work-related task.
The interactive tool, OSHA Recordkeeping Advisor, replicates how an employer would interact with an expert on Recordkeeping rules. The user supplies confidential information via questions that are relevant to the situation. Any information entered by the user is not stored or recorded. Employers assisted by the tool can determine:

  • If an illness or injury is work-related
  • If an exposure or event on travel or at home is work-related.
  • Does an exception apply to the illness or injury?
  • Does a work-related illness or injury need to be recorded.
  • Which conditions of the directives apply when documenting a work-related illness or injury?

"The Recordkeeping Advisor was developed to better help employers understand and comply with their responsibilities to report and record work-related injuries and illnesses," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.

OSHA's Injury and Illness Recordkeeping page has links to the Recordkeeping Advisor, the Recordkeeping Handbook, a tutorial on filling out Recordkeeping forms and other useful information, all in the effort to assist employers in understanding and complying with Federal reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

A session with the Advisor might go something like this:

Advisor: Is the involved person on your organization's or company payroll?
User input: Yes
Advisor: Did an exposure or event occurring in the work environment contribute or cause the resulting illness or injury, or greatly aggravate a pre-existing illness or injury?
User input: Yes, it contributed or caused the resulting condition or it "greatly aggravated" a pre-existing condition.
Advisor: Did the exposure or event that contributed or caused the injury or illness, or "greatly aggravated" a pre-existing condition, occur while the involved person was working on the job site, during travel or at home?
User input: The exposure or event occurred while the involved person was working on a job site, in a company office or other company location.
Advisor: You indicated that: An exposure or event occurring in the work environment caused or contributed to the resulting illness or injury, or "greatly aggravated" a pre-existing illness or injury, and the exposure or event occurred while the involved person was working on a job site, in a company office or other company location. Based on the information provided, in accordance to OSHA regulations, this seems to be a work-related exposure or event. Please continue to find out if the illness or injury is recordable under OSHA regulations.

This tool is designed for companies to determine whether or not they will be liable to pay workers' compensation benefits to an employee, but it may also be useful for those injured on the job. Those injured can use it to find out the same information an employer will find out about their situation.

Continue reading "Website Assists North Carolina Employers With Reporting Work Injuries to OSHA" »

July 9, 2011

Assault Can Lead to Serious Injury for Caregivers Attacked at North Carolina Work Facilities

A worker from the Palmetto Behavioral Health Center filed a report with police after he was beaten by two patients who were being disciplined for bad behavior, according to The Post and Courier.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers in Asheville and elsewhere know that workplaces such as schools, hospitals, nursing home facilities and jails have an obligation to protect workers from assault. Workers' compensation cases in North Carolina require a great deal of research and knowledge and trying to do it alone isn't the best way. Consult with an experienced workers' compensation law firm before trying to handle this type of case alone.
The 25-year-old mental health technician had a broken nose and stitches on his face when he showed up at the Summerville Police Department to file the assault report. He told investigators that two teen patients knocked him to the floor and punched him several times after an administrator had handed down a punishment for bad behavior.

Palmetto Behavioral Health Center is a 60-bed treatment facility that houses young adults and teens dealing with violent behavior, mental illness and other problems. The facility employs 125 workers.

Law enforcement spoke to the director of the facility, Doris Singleton who told police the 18-year-old suspect was sent to a juvenile correctional facility in Washington, D.C., and the 16-year-old suspect remains at the facility. Without a warrant the facility would not give police a copy of the videotape that recorded the incident.

A news release from Palmetto Behavioral Health Center said, "This is an unfortunate incident and we are very concerned about the staff member and his recovery. The patient who was involved in the incident has been discharged from the facility."

The news release did not mention the 16-year-old suspect. When asked why, a spokeswoman responded that there is no evidence "to substantiate the allegation that there was a second patient from South Carolina involved."

Since April, this was the third incident reported to police. The first incident involved the escape of four teens from the facility. One of the escapees had been charged with attempted murder. After a second escape in early June the facility vowed to install additional security cameras and a 12-foot-high fence designed to prevent climbing.

According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace homicides increased 3 percent in 2009 from 2008 and workplace suicides were the highest ever recorded. There were 4,551 workplace fatalities in the U.S. in 2009. Assaults or violent acts totaled 837 including 542 homicides and 263 suicides. North Carolina had 129 fatalities in the workplace in 2009. Assaults or violent acts totaled 25 that included 18 homicides, 16 were with a gun and 7 suicides.

It is very important if you are the victim of a workplace assault to contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney. They know it is most likely not practical to make a civil claim against the person who committed the assault. In many cases they don't have the means to pay damages. But if you think your employer put you at risk and could have done something to prevent the attack, it may be possible to make a claim against your employer.

Continue reading "Assault Can Lead to Serious Injury for Caregivers Attacked at North Carolina Work Facilities" »

July 6, 2011

North Carolina Injured Workers: What to Do, Who to Tell

Our Statesville workers' compensation lawyers thought state employees might want to know what happens if they suffer an accidental injury or contract an occupational disease according to the State Government Workers' Compensation Program.

Cases of workers' compensation in North Carolina can be difficult to navigate, which is why consulting with an experienced law firm is critical. Don't try to handle these types of cases alone.
Who's covered?
Under the State Government Workers' Compensation Program, all full-time, part-time and temporary North Carolina state government employees are covered. This includes all university and agency employees and officers, all state elected officials, all General Assembly members or those appointed by the Governor.

What's covered?
Under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, a covered workers' compensation injury is one that was caused by an accident or incident which happened out of and in the course of your job. The Workers' Compensation Act doesn't give payment for all injuries, but for injuries by accident.

An accident is defined as a prior event causing the injury. If there is no accident and injury occurring while performing a task in the usual manner is not compensable. The "by accident" has two exceptions according to the law.

If a back injury or hernia happens as a result of a specific traumatic incident while at work they are compensable in the absence of an accident previous to the injury. Under the Act, certain occupational diseases are compensable.

A disease that is proven to be due to conditions and causes which are part of a particular employment or occupation and the exposure is more than that of the common public outside of the job. Occupational diseases of this nature are usually caused by a chain of events of similar nature, happening regularly or at frequent periods over a course of time in the employment. All everyday diseases of life to which the common public is equally exposed are not compensable.

What the employee must do
Injured workers have the responsibility for claiming compensation. They must immediately tell their employer about the accident as soon as possible after it happens; notification must be made within 30 days or their employer may refuse compensation.

Regarding occupational disease, an employee must let their employer know when they are first informed by a competent medical professional about the nature and work-related cause of the illness. North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC) must receive a claim filed by either the employee or the employer within two years from the date or knowledge of the accident or illness or the claim is excluded by law.

What the employer must do
The primary responsibility of the employer when a worker is injured is to plan for and provide any necessary treatment for the work-related injury. A Third Party Administrator (TPA) is responsible for monitoring and processing the claims and is accountable for denying or accepting liability for the State. In accordance with the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act the TPA is responsible to pay medical benefits and compensation. The goal for everyone is to get the worker healthy again so they can return to work as soon as possible.

Medical Benefits
If you have a compensable injury, your employer will pay for your medical treatment. Your employer will give you a medical treatment authorization form to give to your doctor. If no form is provided then all bills must be sent to your employer. The State Government Workers' Compensation Program provides for vocational rehabilitation in cases where your disability requires training to help get you a job that matches your performance capabilities.

Closing of Claims
Claims are usually closed when the worker achieves maximum medical improvement and goes back to work without restrictions. Claims that have only medical benefits are closed after the last medical bill is paid and claims that have compensation are closed when the last compensation payment is paid.

Continue reading "North Carolina Injured Workers: What to Do, Who to Tell" »

July 4, 2011

Raised Fork Lifts a Common Cause of Fall Accidents in Greensboro

A Concord company has been fined by the North Carolina Department of Labor after an employee died from a fall in March, reports the Salisbury Post.

Our Greensboro workers' compensation lawyers have posted frequently on our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog about the dangers of fall hazards encountered by workers.
A 47-year-old warehouse supervisor fell to his death from a storage rack at Sysco Guest Supply Inc. which supplies lodging and hospitality products. Immediately after the accident, an investigation was opened by the North Carolina Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Division to determine the cause.

The report indicated that the supervisor was 19 feet in the air trying to stabilize a pallet full of paper napkins when he fell. Four alleged serious violations citations were issued to the company by the labor department with penalties totaling $12,550.

"The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life. By law, the civil money penalties collected by the N.C. Department of Labor are not the receipts of the department, but rather must be remitted to the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, which then distributes the monies to the public school systems," said Dolores Quesenberry, director of communications with the state Department of Labor.

The violations included the following; each fine could have been as high as $7,000:

  • Improperly riding a forklift, $3,500.

  • Workers were observed either standing on an empty pallet or standing on the forks of the forklift and being lifted to access a racking system or retrieve products. According to forklift manufacturer's recommendations, the only proper way to lift anyone with a forklift is to use an approved platform.

  • Working without fall protection, $4,500.

  • Workers were not given personal fall protection equipment. Enforcement of warehouse procedures that prohibits workers from climbing on equipment or in the storage racks were not followed.

  • Forklifts were left unattended with the forks elevated, $1,050.

  • Forklifts were observed lifting workers to the tops of the storage racks (19 feet) and then the operators left the lift with the keys in the ignition and the forks elevated.

  • Failing to re-evaluate forklift operators every three years, $3,500.

  • A forklift operator who was also a forklift instructor had missed their last evaluation.

"Fines are issued to penalize the offending employer, but also to get the attention of other employers with similar work environments," Quesenberry said.

After receiving the findings from the Department of Labor, Sysco requested an informal conference to discuss the citations. The company during the conference can present any problems, questions or concerns, verification and evidence that it has fixed the violations.

The conference can produce three possible outcomes: the Department of Labor can amend the citations, they can issue a "no change" letter, keeping the citation as is or they can draft an informal settlement agreement if deemed beneficial to worker's safety.

This would speed up the process or resolve the case. The settlement agreement could include modification of citations, penalty reduction and mandate the establishment of safety guidelines.

Continue reading "Raised Fork Lifts a Common Cause of Fall Accidents in Greensboro" »

July 1, 2011

Failure to Train Employees can Lead to a High Risk of Injury in North Carolina Work Accidents

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers in Asheville, Greensboro and Charlotte note the Safety Education Section of the North Carolina Industrial Commission may be helpful to employees and employers concerned about workplace safety. Their goal is to offer knowledgeable, practical instruction in workers' compensation and accident prevention in order to reduce North Carolina work accidents.

Programs offered by the Safety Education Section provide instruction in workers' compensation concepts and safety that are intended to raise awareness of workplace safety.

Accident Prevention Certificate Awareness Program (APCAP)

This is a training program focused on decreasing workers' compensation cost and claims. Raising awareness of safety issues as they relate to accident prevention is discussed. The program audience should be plant and facility employees, safety and health managers and employees, individuals new to the field, maintenance staff and experienced safety & health professionals looking to increase their awareness. The 30-hour basic program covers some of the following topics: Walking/Working Surfaces, Fall Protection & Ladder Safety, Electrical Safety & Lockout/Tagout, Personal Protective Equipment, Machine Guarding & Hand Tool Safety, 4-Hour Defensive Driving Class with Operation Lifesaver, Bloodborne Pathogens, Job Safety Analysis, Safety Attitudes, Hearing Conservation, Lifting & Back Safety, Respiratory Protection and Forklift Safety. An advanced program follows the basic one which goes into more depth on the above topics.

Individual courses are also available for job specific situations or hazards:

-Bloodborne Pathogens, Chlorine Safety, Confined Space, Cumulative Trauma Disorders.
-Electrical Safety, Eye Safety, Fall Protection, Fire Safety, Flagger Certification.
-Hand Safety, Hazcom Safety, Job Safety Analysis, Lifting Safety, Lockout/Tagout.
-Respirator Fit Testing, Respiratory Protection Safety, Safety Attitude.
-Slips, Trips and Falls, Welding, Cutting, and Brazing Safety, Work Zone Traffic Control.

To see upcoming course offerings view the Commissions online safety training calendar.

Most industries require some training in order to perform job responsibilities in a safe and productive manner. Employers have a responsibility to keep their workers safe no matter what the industry and should always provide training and protective equipment to their employees.

We applaud any education that will decrease work place injuries and death, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us that 16 workers a day die in the U.S. from work-related injuries and nearly 134 die from work-related diseases. Each day almost 9,000 workers head to the emergency room for treatment of a work place injury and about 200 of these injured workers are admitted to the hospital. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 129 North Carolina workers died on the job in 2009 and 73 workers died in South Carolina.

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