August 2011 Archives

August 30, 2011

Despite Big Business Contentions - Injured Workers Deserve Fair Compensation in North Carolina

Recently an article was written about the state of Montana's workers' compensation system. Big business is outraged that their state ranked first in workers' compensation premium rates, which in 2010, were 163 percent greater than the national average.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers in Hickory know in that same study North Carolina ranked 23rd -- or right down the middle of the road. And in 2008 we were ranked 22nd.
Montana lawmakers backed by big business were crying that the state was losing businesses due to high workers' compensation premiums. This should sound familiar as we have posted repeatedly on our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog about changes to North Carolina's workers' compensation system pushed by big business looking to maximize profits at the expense of its workforce.

The article highlights a recent Montana workers' compensation case where an employee at a tourist attraction smoked marijuana just prior to feeding a grizzly bear. He was mauled by the bear and was awarded compensation for his medical bills totaling roughly $35,000.

The truth of the matter is workers' compensation is a system put in place to protect employers as well as employees. By virtue of workers' compensation, employees give up their rights in most instances to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. In return, they do get to collect regardless of whether they are at fault. Yes, even if they smoke a joint and are attacked while feeding a grizzly bear.

Nothing says the company can't drug test. And they are free to hire and fire employees based on their ability to exercise reasonable judgment in the workplace. We can certainly find many, many cases of horrific abuses on the part of employers. It's just that there is no lobby paying millions of dollars to publicize them.

Recent changes to Montana's workers' compensation system included a five year cap on medical benefits, taking away a worker's choice of doctor, permanent partial benefits were eliminated for certain injuries, hospital and doctors' fee schedules were frozen and limits were placed on employer's liability for injuries occurring not at the workplace during breaks or when engaging in personal business. Do some of these ring a bell? They should because North Carolina lawmakers wanted similar changes.

Each state has its own workers ' compensation system that varies greatly with basically no federal standards or involvement. Dating back to the 1970's, it was thought that there should be federal standards. Fearing federal involvement, a number of states raised benefits to injured workers to keep that from happening. Since the 1990's, states have been moving backwards favoring big business over injured workers -- and that includes North Carolina.

Texas is the only state that doesn't require employers to have some kind of workers' compensation insurance for their workers. Oklahoma completely overhauled their workers' compensation law this year that partially benefited injured workers. It hopes the injured worker will have less aggravation getting approval for medical claims and medical treatment. By establishing treatment guidelines employers and insurance companies won't be able to delay care to injured workers.

Continue reading "Despite Big Business Contentions - Injured Workers Deserve Fair Compensation in North Carolina" »

August 29, 2011

Safety Violations at Fort Bragg puts North Carolina Military Workers in Danger

The United States Army's Fort Bragg base issued 37 health and safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after an inspection that was performed under OSHA's Federal Agency Targeting Inspection Program (FEDTARG), according to a recent press release.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers in Asheville know that FEDTARG is a program designed to inspect federal agency job sites that have a large number of cases involving time lost as a result of accidents. Federal agencies must adhere to the same safety standards as everyone else and must ensure a safe work environment for employees.
The base was cited for two repeat violations involving abrasive wheel equipment hazards. Work rests and tongue guards were either missing or not adjusted properly, which could lead to workers being exposed to shrapnel if the abrasive wheel shattered. Because the Frankfort, Kentucky base had been cited previously for these same issues less than five years ago, a repeat violation was issued.

A total of fourteen serious violations were found including:

-Missing guard rails causing a potential fall hazard to workers.

-Kickback protection missing from a ripsaw.

-Machine guards were missing from a crosscut table saw and a lower section blade.

-There were no lockout/tagout protocols.

-Employees working on electrical pop-up targets weren't given proper training on dangerous energy sources.

-Dangerous energy source training was lacking for workers engaged in fixing mechanical targets.

Electrical dangers included:

-A multi-outlet power strip was fastened on a wall and was in use.

-Electrical panels had missing markings.

-Extension cords had missing ground plugs.

-Covers were missing from junction boxes.

-Flexible cords were used instead of fixed wiring.

-Workers didn't have personal protective equipment while working on electrical panels.

-Training was lacking for workers regarding electric arc flash protection.

-A qualified worker didn't test equipment ensuring that the electrical paths were without energy prior to an unqualified worker being exposed to them.

OSHA discovered three serious health violations that included poorly lit exit routes, combustible and flammable material were in areas where workers were permitted to smoke and there was no documented hazard communication plan.

During the inspection OSHA also found one other-than-serious safety violation issued because an electrical panel was obstructed by a pallet and 17 other-than-serious health violations. The health violations consisted of five occurrences of not correctly logging illnesses and injuries on OSHA's 300 log during 2006 to 2010 and five cases of not certifying OSHA's 300 log from 2006 to 2010.

The rest of the violations included restrooms that did not have soap and hot water; fire extinguishers that did not have yearly maintenance checks nor were they installed correctly; workers who were not certified to operate powered industrial vehicles. Additionally, workers did not get information about the hazards of working with lead.

OSHA is in charge of the inspection of federal agency locations but private sector inspections are the responsibility of North Carolina. Executive Order 12196 states that federal agencies are required to obey the identical health and safety standards as the private sector. Federal agencies are given notices and can not be fined, where as the private sector are given citations and receive proposed monetary penalties for unsafe working conditions.

Continue reading "Safety Violations at Fort Bragg puts North Carolina Military Workers in Danger" »

August 26, 2011

Grain Bins a Suffocation Hazard for Farm Workers in North Carolina

August brings the start of harvest season in North Carolina so the Occupational Safety & Health Administration recently issued an alert to farmers to protect employees from grain bin engulfment. Suffocation is a common hazard that can lead to grain bin injuries or deaths in North Carolina.

Statesville farm accident attorneys know farming is among the state's most dangerous occupations. The number of farm accidents spike each spring and fall during planting and harvesting season.
"Suffocation from engulfment is the leading cause of death in grain bins and the number of tragedies continues to climb," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "They can be avoided if owners and operators use well-known safety measures that are proven to prevent workers from being killed or seriously injured."

Last year, Purdue University reported 26 fatalities from grain bin engulfments. There were a total of 51 workers engulfed in grain bins in 2010, which is the highest of any year that has been recorded.

Several life threatening injuries can be sustained in grain bins which include: falls; explosions or fires caused by an accumulation of grain dust; suffocation; amputations from operating grain machinery; or crushing injuries either from entrapment or from being pinned against equipment. Grain bins are dangerous because harvesting often means an employee needs to climb inside to store commodities like wheat, corn or oats. Grain storage can feel like quicksand and have a downward gravitational pull which causes workers to be pulled under the surface.

Three recent fatalities in June have prompted OSHA to issue a hazard advisory to grain bin workers and their employers during the height of crop season. According to the OSHA Hazard Alert, grain bin workers can become engulfed and suffocate from the following situations:

-The weight of a worker that stands on flowing or moving grain is too great to substantiate the support which causes them to sink into the grain due to the flow to the outlet that the grain takes under pressure. A worker that is approximately 6 feet tall takes roughly 11 seconds to become engulfed and only 5 seconds to become in danger of entrapment.

-When grain clumps together it is called bridging which is often created by mold or moisture getting into the grain. Bridged grain is not sturdy enough to hold the weight of the worker but also does not flow to open space like grain normally does which can lead to a caving in effect when a worker steps on a bridged grain area. Caving causes an avalanche effect which can bury and suffocate an employee rather quickly.

-Walls of grain are unsafe, despite how sturdy they look. Grain from the wall can often be loosened from the outside causing a caving effect onto a worker standing in the grain bin.

-Oxygen levels can become unsafe inside a grain bin. Lack of oxygen or other hazardous gases inside a grain bin can cause an employee to suffocate.

OSHA wallet card for grain safety offers some simple tips to save lives. Before workers enter a grain storage bin they should check with the employer to make sure all safety precautions have been taken. Employers should provide workers with a harness or boatswain chair and always have rescue equipment on hand, as well as a trained observer in constant contact with the employee working inside the grain bin. Air should be tested for flammable gas or toxins inside the bin before entering. Always disconnect or turn off powered equipment like an auger before climbing inside the grain bin. Lastly, don't walk on bridged grain or knock it down to make it flow.

For more information about Grain Handling Facility standards visit OSHA's website.

Continue reading "Grain Bins a Suffocation Hazard for Farm Workers in North Carolina" »

August 22, 2011

New Phone App Can Help Prevent Work-Related Heat Illness at Asheville Job Sites and Elsewhere

It has been a long, hot summer so our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog has been trying to keep you posted on the dangers of heat stress at Asheville jobsites or heat illnesses related to outdoor and indoor jobs throughout the state.

Winston-Salem workers' compensation attorneys know that thousands of workers risk their lives every day while working in prolonged heat exposure, which can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
We remind you of a fatal incident involving a tobacco farmer in North Carolina, who had been working out in the fields in temperatures between 100 and 110 degrees. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the worker complained to the crew chief of feeling ill and within an hour he was found unconscious.

After being transported to the hospital, medical professionals found his core body temperature registered at 108 degrees before later pronouncing the farm employee dead.

This incident and thousands of others have raised awareness about what can happen if a worker stays out in the heat for too long or fails to get enough hydration. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports that there were over 30 deaths attributed to work related heat stroke in 2009. High heat illness rates are reported in many industries, including airline and baggage workers, workers on the farm, landscapers, roofers and construction workers to name a few.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis released information recently about a new mobile device application offered free to workers and managers that can bring work site heat index information right to your phone. It is currently available to Android users and will soon be available to Blackberry and iPhone subscribers.

"Summer heat presents a serious issue that affects some of the most vulnerable workers in our country, and education is crucial to keeping them safe," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Heat-related illnesses are preventable."

The phone application will combine heat index (heat temperatures and humidity) information with the phone subscriber's location and determine if preventative measures should be taken. The application will offer the necessary precautions to be taken which may include rest breaks, drinking more water or changing a planned work activity. Other information included on the app are signs or symptoms to look for related to heat stroke and heat exhaustion and what first aid can be conducted to help save a life or prevent further illness.

Supervisors and workers can contact OSHA directly right through the phone application.

To download the free Heat Safety Tool application to your phone, click here.

Not only are employers responsible for providing their workers with plenty of rest breaks, cold water and shaded areas to escape the heat, they are required to have an emergency plan in place if heat illness sets in during work hours. Providing training to employees on what symptoms to look for is key in reducing the number of heat illness cases on the job.

Other recommendations include:
-Develop a hydration plan which can encourage workers to stop at recommended intervals to get a drink of water. Providing water at their fingertips will also increase the likelihood that they will stop for a drink.

-Check weather conditions routinely and adjust job duties to avoid the hottest part of the day.

-Workers just joining the crew need to be acclimated slowly so have a plan in place that gradually exposes new workers to difficult tasks in high temperatures.

-Promote health and safety at work by rewarding employees who use common sense and protect themselves from work dangers.

The workers' compensation attorneys at the Lee Law Offices, P.A are dedicated to protecting workers and their families injured at work in North Carolina. If you need to file a claim, or need advice about an injury sustained on the job, contact the firm at 1-800-887-1965 for a free appointment to discuss your case.

More Blog Entries:
Outdoor Jobs Create High Risk of Heat Illness for Winston-Salem Workers, North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog, June 20, 2011.

Safe Work Environments can Reduce Risk of North Carolina Work Injuries, North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog, June 17, 2011.

Failure to Train Employees Can Lead to a High Risk of Injury in North Carolina Work Accidents, North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog, July 1, 2011.

August 20, 2011

Blakeney v. Blythe Construction Inc. North Carolina Workers' Compensation Case Illustrates Need for Experienced Law Firm

Our workers' compensation lawyers in Gastonia and elsewhere want you to know how complex a workers' compensation case can be and how important it is to hire an experienced attorney for your North Carolina work-related accident or illness.

Here is a summary of Blakeney v. Blythe Construction Inc., a recent case from the North Carolina Court of Appeals. We will illustrate the complexities and the length of a typical workers' compensation case.
Let's review how this case started:
The Plaintiff started working for a construction company at the end of September of 2007. His job duties included removing stumps and operating a large roller machine that is used to compact asphalt and dirt. About two months into the job the Plaintiff's roller machine crashed into a fuel truck. It was a slow speed crash that caused no damage to either vehicle. The Plaintiff notified his supervisor right after the crash that he was not injured. The Plaintiff was fired and ordered home after this accident because he had been warned after a previous accident with the roller machine. Later in the day the Plaintiff went to Carolinas Medical Center-Union (CMC-Union) emergency room with a complaint of back and neck pain. The Plaintiff had x-rays taken and was given a diagnosis of cervical and back sprain/strain. He was given medications of Vicodin and Flexeril and was discharged without restrictions. The Plaintiff went to the emergency room 3 times between December 2007 and February 2008. At the December visit he was again given the diagnosis of a back sprain/strain and no additional medications were given. He was sent home with no restrictions. At the January visit he was given medications of Flexeril and Toradol for a lower back pain/injury. Kidney stones were the diagnosis at the February visit which was found unrelated to the November 2007 incident.

Further medical exams:
On the advice of his attorney the Plaintiff went to another doctor in April 2008 who performed a thorough exam that concluded with a diagnosis of back and neck strains. Anti-inflammatory medication was prescribed to relieve the swelling and pain and the doctor ordered an MRI. The Plaintiff did not show up to his follow-up appointment in May and it was later determined it was due to him being incarcerated. The Plaintiff continues to have lower back discomfort but the doctor does not give a disability rating to the Plaintiff's back. A few months short of the 1 year anniversary of the accident the Plaintiff gets a second opinion. After a complete medical exam the doctor assigns a 4 percent permanent partial disability rating.

Filing for compensation and appeals:
A Form 18 was filed by the Plaintiff in January 2008 letting the Defendant know he was injured from the accident that happened at work in November 2007. The Defendant in late October of 2008 denied the workers' compensation claim. A hearing was requested by the Plaintiff with the Industrial Commission because he felt he should be getting compensated for the permanent partial disability, medical expenses and missed days from work. The Deputy Commissioner in early December of 2009 gave an Opinion and Award that denied the Plaintiff compensation because he did not prove with medical evidence that the injuries he has were the result of the November 2007 incident. The Deputy Commissioner's Opinion and Award was appealed by the Plaintiff. But the Full Commission sided with the Commissioner and the Plaintiff was denied compensation.

The Full Commission Opinion and Award was appealed by the Plaintiff for the following:

-the Commission wrongly applied the inaccurate legal standard when deciding that he wasn't allowed compensation for medical care after January 2008;

-the Commission's findings of conclusions and facts of law aren't maintained by competent proof in the record;

-the Commission was wrong by failing to decide that the Plaintiff had a right to payment pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-31 (2009);

-the Commission wrongly failed to disclose facts regarding the Plaintiff's complaints of discomfort in deciding the existence of a disability;

-the Commission was wrong by not finding that the Defendant didn't have reasonable grounds to defend their action;

-the Commission erred by not assessing attorneys' charges against the Defendant pursuant to North Carolina General Statute § 97-88.1 (2009).

After review the court sides with the Full Commission and the Plaintiff is denied compensation for his injuries. Whether the Plaintiff in this case had a strong case is irrelevant. What's important to take away is that these accident cases can be complex and may last for years. Consulting an attorney as early as possible in such cases can help prevent you from being denied benefits.

Continue reading "Blakeney v. Blythe Construction Inc. North Carolina Workers' Compensation Case Illustrates Need for Experienced Law Firm " »

August 18, 2011

Worker from Greensboro Awarded $122,199 for Injury Claim Against Railroad Company

A past employee from the Norfolk Southern Railway Company will be paid $122,199 in punitive and compensatory damages plus reasonable lawyer's fees, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced. The company infringed on the worker's rights in a whistleblower case. The government contends the company violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act by firing the worker for disclosing an injury that occurred while at work in 2009.

Our North Carolina Federal Railroad Safety Act attorneys recently posted to our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog about recent changes to OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program.
The worker was originally hurt in Jamestown, North Carolina in May of 2009. His injury occurred when he was trying to take out a spike on the rail line. Afraid of losing his job, the employee didn't report his injury. Then in October he was re-injured and management suggested he see a doctor. Following the worker's return to work, he received a suspension and was later fired because he allegedly falsified the injury. After his termination the worker sent a grievance to OSHA. An investigation by the agency concluded that the worker's rights were violated under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and the company was successful in intimidating other workers from disclosing at work injuries. These practices enabled Norfolk Southern Railway Company to continue the look of having an excellent safety record. This continued their 22 years in a row streak of receiving the E.H.Harriman Gold Medal Rail Safety Award.

The decision by OSHA gave the previous worker, who currently lives in Greensboro, damages for suffering and pain and lawyer's fees that were deemed reasonable. Due to the company's disregard to the worker's rights under FRSA, $75,000 was awarded to the victim in this case. An appeal can be filed by either party to the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. The company was also told to delete the disciplinary documentation of the worker. Also, notices will be posted for all to see about the whistleblower protection rights under the FRSA.

Located in Norfolk Virginia, the Norfolk Southern Railway Company is a significant transporter of coal and merchandise traveling to container ports in eastern states. The company has 30,000+ union workers.

The Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. Section 20109 defends railroad workers who work in certain "protected activities" related to foreign or interstate commerce, subcontractors or contractors of railroad carriers, and officers and/or workers of railroad carriers. The FRSA forbids firing, demoting, suspending, disciplining, reprimanding, intimidating, denying promotion and/or benefits or any form of discrimination or retaliation against any worker working in certain "protected activity." It also bans delaying or obstructing an injured railroad worker's medical care.

Examples of a worker performing a "protected activity" include:
-Reports a work related illness or injury pertaining to them or a co-worker.
-Gives information about any railroad accident or injury.
-Reports a violation of a federal rule, law or regulation associated with railroad security or safety.
-Reports a gross waste, fraud or abuse of public funds meant for use in transportation security or safety.
-Declines to violate or help to violate a federal regulation, law or rule pertaining to railroad security or safety.
-Won't work where hazardous security or safety conditions exist.
-Refuses to allow the using of unsafe railroad track, equipment or structures.
-Cooperates with Homeland Security, NTSB or FRA by testifying about a security or safety investigation.

To find out more about whistleblower rights visit OSHA's website.

Continue reading "Worker from Greensboro Awarded $122,199 for Injury Claim Against Railroad Company" »

August 18, 2011

North Carolina Work Injuries Often From Job-Related Car Accidents

North Carolina work injuries are common in many industries, but most of us probably don't consider a transportation-related injury at work in Greensboro, Gastonia or elsewhere a legitimate workers' compensation claim because car accidents are so common for many Americans on a daily basis.

On the contrary, workers can be injured in a car accident in various ways while performing their duties for an employer. Your job may require the use of a vehicle to perform your job, visit a client, transport merchandise, or run an errand on company time. Not only are police officers, rescue workers or firemen at risk of a collision with another vehicle while performing their duties, but construction zone workers, postal workers, landscapers that work near the road are also at risk of being injured by a vehicle at work, and the list goes on.
Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys know how devastating it is for a family to lose a loved one that has been killed while performing their job duties. A Sheriff's Deputy in Greene County was recently killed in a high speed chase because the Greene County Police Department has no formal policy in place with regard to limiting an employee's speed in high speed chases.

The Beaufort Observer Online reports it's the second officer killed in recent months (the first incident occurred in Beaufort County) after being involved in a high speed chase. Some departments in North Carolina have a policy that requires a supervisor's approval to go over the posted speed limit by so many miles per hour but neither Greene nor Beaufort County have speed-related policies in place.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that almost two-fifths of the estimated 4,340 fatal work injuries in 2009 were caused by transportation accidents. Highway accidents are the leading cause of work-related fatalities, ahead of falls, homicides, and being struck by an object. North Carolina reported 51 fatal transportation work-related incidents in 2009. Highway incidents were the leading cause of fatality at 34, which included 13 fatalities caused by collisions between vehicles and 5 fatalities caused by a non-collision highway incident.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports that a car crash occurs nationwide every 5 seconds and someone dies every 12 minutes as a result of a horrendous crash.

On average, employers dish out about $60 billion per year for legal expenses, medical care, lost work, and property damage as a result of transportation incidents. Employers who employ commuters, oversee a fleet of vehicles, manage a sales industry or require transportation to perform duties on the job are recommended to devise a driver safety program within their company to reduce the cost associated with work injuries from transportation-related accidents.

A driver safety program should attempt to change employees' attitudes and behaviors about being a safe driver and reward them for safety-conscious behavior like not using their cell phone while they are behind the wheel.

Employees who work in a transportation-related industry should remember to practice safe driving behaviors in order to avoid a tragedy but if your employer doesn't take driving safety seriously and you are injured in an accident, consult with a workers' compensation lawyer immediately to discuss your case.

Continue reading "North Carolina Work Injuries Often From Job-Related Car Accidents" »

August 12, 2011

Job Loss Feared Despite Whistleblower Protection Program in North Carolina

The Whistleblower Protection Program is getting an overhaul, according to a recent press release from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Our workers' compensation lawyers of Charlotte know that employees who report poor working conditions should do so without fear of retribution from their employer and have a right to be protected. More training is needed to ensure that workers are able to come forward with complaints without fearing their job is at risk. This new effort is a good first step.
"The ability of workers to speak out and exercise their legal rights without fear of retaliation is crucial to many of the legal protections and safeguards that all Americans value," said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA's enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering."

OSHA recently performed a head-to-toe internal review focusing on operational procedures, investigative processes, analyzed national and regional program structures and reviewed the budget, equipment and personnel issues. The internal report can be seen on OSHA's website.

Concerns in OSHA's whistleblower program regarding the audit program, internal communications, training for managers and investigators and issues with transparency and accountability were cited in audits by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) performed in 2009 and 2010.

"OSHA is committed to correcting the issues brought to light by the GAO report and our own review," said Dr. Michaels.

Modifications to the Whistleblower Protection Program are outlined below:

Internal Systems
In order to handle complaints in an appropriate time frame changes were made to the audit program and the data collection system.

Investigator training sessions will be held year-round by OSHA to make sure supervisors and investigators get the mandatory training they need on a yearly basis. Federal and state whistleblower investigators will attend a national whistleblower training conference held in September hosted by OSHA.

Beginning in 2012, the whistleblower program will have a separate line item to keep track of their accomplishments and events. Currently OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program is housed in the Directorate of Enforcement. It will now report to the assistant secretary directly. Field structure changes are in the process of being tested and 25 new investigators have been added.

Program Policy
A new edition of the Whistleblower Investigations Manual will soon be released. The manual was in desperate need of updating since it hadn't been done since 2003. The new version will now include modifications to current practices and any laws that have been enacted since 2003.

Congress enacted the whistleblower provision laws to prevent employers from retaliating against workers who express concerns or provide workplace safety deficiencies to the government or to the company. A worker who thinks they have been targeted by their company for providing information should file a complaint with the secretary of labor to open up an investigation by the Whistleblower Protection Program.

Continue reading "Job Loss Feared Despite Whistleblower Protection Program in North Carolina " »

August 10, 2011

New Bill Brings Complex Changes to North Carolina Workers' Compensation Law

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced into the North Carolina General Assembly that would have negatively affected injured workers' rights. The bill had to undergo some radical changes before becoming law. The change to the bill made it more complex and still doesn't side with the injured North Carolina worker.

Our workers' compensation lawyers in Greensboro frequently posted on our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog about the bill's issues and progress.
The newly passed workers' compensation law went into effect on July 1, 2011. Luckily, many of the less-than-desirable requirements only apply to cases with injuries happening after July 1. Unfortunately, some parts pertaining to medical care and talking with physicians will apply to current cases.

That is why it is vital to have a knowledgeable North Carolina workers' compensation attorney who understands the new law. Of all the differences in the new law, the length of workers' compensation benefits was the most noticeable change.

Previously, an injured worker would be paid for as long as they were unable to work. Now there is a 500-week maximum. But, if the worker is still unable to work at week 425 they can ask for additional weeks past 500.

It will be quite some time before the 500-week extension can be tested since it applies to injuries happening after July 1. Under the new law, affecting cases happening after July 1, "suitable employment" was redefined.

When establishing the degree of disability of an injured worker, the old law included concerns regarding experience, education, age and if the pay of an available job was close to the injured workers previous position. The new law omits the wage factor portion.

It will be interesting to see how this will work out. Currently, if an injured worker comes back to work and takes a lower paying position they can decide to be paid 2/3 of the difference in their pay. They can do this for approximately 6 years at which time they will then just be paid the amount of the lower paying job.

Under the new law the difference in pay will last for 500 weeks which is about 10 years. For this reason, oftentimes injured workers are advised not to take the lower-paying position. An additional requirement under the new law states that if the lower-paying job pays less than 75 percent of the previous job prior to the injury, it is likely that paying for vocational rehabilitation will fall under the responsibility of an insurance company so injured workers could be trained for higher paying jobs.

Compensation for surviving family members of those workers killed on the job will be paid for 500 weeks instead of 400. Though it is an improvement, it doesn't seem nearly enough.

Continue reading "New Bill Brings Complex Changes to North Carolina Workers' Compensation Law" »

August 6, 2011

Employee Layoffs Can Often Lead to Employers Skimping on Safety, Increase in Work Injuries at North Carolina Job Sites

In June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers took 1,532 mass layoff actions that affected 143,444 workers (seasonally adjusted). This figure was obtained by the number of new filings for unemployment insurance benefits. The criteria for a mass layoff means at least 50 workers from a single employer were involved.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers in Asheville and elsewhere know that often times when companies start laying off workers, cost cutting on safety isn't far behind. Your employer has the obligation of providing you with a safe work environment in order to prevent Charlotte work accidents. Profits, or savings for that matter, should never get in the way of a worker's safety.
June saw a decline in mass layoffs of 4 percent from May and the number of unemployment insurance claims decreased by 96. The manufacturing sector had 341 mass layoff events causing 35,693 unemployment insurance claims.

Despite that, the unemployment rate was relatively unchanged in June and is at 9.2 percent nationally. This is slightly better than the 9.5 percent it was a year ago. An increase of 18,000 was seen in June for non-farm payroll employment, which brings the total for the year to 1,036,000.

In June, the number of not seasonally adjusted mass layoff events was 1,661, creating 159,930 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits. This was a decrease from June 2010, when there were 200 mass layoff events and claim filings were down by 11,260, or 7 percent.

Of the 19 major industry sectors, nine saw a decrease in unemployment insurance claims. The largest decline was in the accommodation and food services, construction and retail trade. In June the industry with the most amount of initial claims was elementary and secondary schools and roughly 14 percent of all mass layoff events and filed claims were in the manufacturing sector. This was a 3 percent decrease in layoffs and a 2 percent decline in claims from a year ago. The food and transportation equipment subsectors of manufacturing saw the largest number of claimants in June 2011. Of the 21 manufacturing subsectors, 12 had increasing in initial claim filings.

Regarding geographic distribution (Not Seasonally Adjusted) in June, 7 of the 9 geographical areas determined by the Bureau of Labor & Statistics and 3 of the 4 regions had declines in initial claim filings for unemployment insurance benefits as a result of mass layoffs. The Western region had the greatest over-the-year decline in initial claim filings. The Pacific division had the largest year long decrease in initial claims. The state with the largest number of mass layoffs claim filings was California, with Pennsylvania being next, followed by Texas and Florida.

In June, North Carolina saw 45 mass layoff events compared to 21 a year ago. There were 4,871 claims filed for unemployment insurance benefits compared to 2,378 from June 2010.

Most would agree that most of these layoffs were a result of financial decisions made by companies, states and cities. But what employees must consider is that financial restraints aren't an excuse to cut back on safety measures. Every worker has the right to work in a safe environment, regardless of the economic situation of the employer.

Continue reading "Employee Layoffs Can Often Lead to Employers Skimping on Safety, Increase in Work Injuries at North Carolina Job Sites" »

August 4, 2011

Fear of Losing a Job Can Silence North Carolina Workers Injured at Work

The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics recently stated that the employment situation remains bleak with job markets changing very little for July. Employers are continuing to make cuts wherever they can which could result in putting workers in danger at work and at high risk for a work injury in Statesville, Hickory, Greensboro or elsewhere in the state.

Asheville workers' compensation lawyers want to remind employees to pay special attention to cuts being made around you because if you feel your safety is in jeopardy you have a legitimate gripe and should pursue legal action immediately if anything happens to you.
According to BLS, the national unemployment rate held steady at 9.1. North Carolina's unemployment rate is currently at 9.9 but the downside is that only 10 other states and the District of Columbia either match or have higher unemployment rates than our state, which means we live in one of the toughest states to find a job. Industries that saw job opportunity gains in July, however, were mining (grew by 9,000), manufacturing (grew by 24,000), retail trade (added 26,000 jobs), and health care (grew by 31,000 jobs).

Sadly, BLS reports that 44.4 percent of the jobless nation has been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. This equates to about 6.2 million people nationally. Budgets are being cut at the federal, state and local government levels which mean employment gains rely mostly on the private sector to create jobs. The services sector was the only private sector that showed promise throughout the country.

With grim numbers like these reported throughout the United States, most North Carolinians feel lucky to have a job. So much so, that if something at work puts a worker in danger or at risk of injury they may turn the other cheek because they fear losing their job if they become the squeaky wheel. Workers' compensation attorneys protect workers every day from injuries that occurred from unsafe work environments. Workers have rights and deserve to be protected.

The National Safety Council offers these suggestions in hopes of maintaining a safer work environment:

  • Employees should fill out perception surveys which help employers to understand where the safety risks are within an organization and work to improve so no injuries occur on the job.

  • Safety management systems should be developed and explained thoroughly to all employees, especially new hires. These systems help establish a framework of processes and procedures and what is expected to reduce the risk of injury on the job.

  • Consider the risks of slips, trips, falls or overexertion at your workplace and minimize by communicating to a supervisor or boss so that direct attention can be given to that area.

  • Keep records of injuries and adjustments made to fix the problem so that progress can be measured and gaps can be filled over time.

Continue reading "Fear of Losing a Job Can Silence North Carolina Workers Injured at Work" »

August 2, 2011

Parental Communication about Work Dangers Can Reduce Teen Injuries at Work in Charlotte

A recent article in the Atlantic reported on a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health on how unprepared parents are to help their kids stay safe in the work place. As many as 80 percent of teens have jobs while they are in high school but are grossly unaware of the potential on-the-job dangers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that annually nearly 146,000 teens are injured while on the job and around 70 others are killed in the workplace.
Our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers know there are few more terrifying feelings than finding out your teen has been seriously injured or killed on the job in North Carolina.

The co-author of the journal article, Michael Schulman, an occupational-injury expert from North Carolina State University says, "There's just a huge information gap in terms of parents knowing what's going on in the workplace right now. Parents are very active in helping kids find a job, but there's a big drop off in involvement after."

Schulman collaborated with several others on the study which entailed interviewing a representative sample of 922 pairs of parents and working teens (14 to 18 years of age). They discovered that more than 70 percent of the parents assisted their teens in finding and landing a job. But fewer than half of the parents discussed with their teens about hazards in the workplace and child-labor laws.

Schulman adds, "Health and safety on the job is the responsibility of the employer. But what we're arguing is that parents need to become better mentors and advocates to assist teens during this transition from the home to the workplace."

The study suggests that parents need to talk to their teens about a job's working conditions and training. And it would be a good idea to check on a company's observance of child-labor laws. Parents should make sure if their teens work in retail or service-oriented jobs that they are trained to handle risks such as disgruntled customers, what to do in the event of a robbery and using dangerous equipment.

The study revealed that less than 10 percent of teens told their parents about potential workplace hazards. Teens are often fearful to protest workplace conditions because they want to act like an adult and not be a complainer. It is vital that working teens have an open dialogue with their parents about workplace safety.

Parents, though, need to offer advice when their teen has a concern about their workplace but should resist the desire to get involved. Parents need to find the balance between being responsible versus overprotective. They need to encourage their teen to voice safety concerns at work to their boss.

Continue reading "Parental Communication about Work Dangers Can Reduce Teen Injuries at Work in Charlotte" »