May 25, 2013

New Legislation Aims to Bolster OSHA Role in Worker Safety


Many workers face dangerous conditions every day on the job. OSHA is the federal organization responsible for overseeing conditions in the workplace, for making sure workers are properly trained, equipment is maintained, and that companies are held liable in the event of an accident or injury. Companies who fail to meet guidelines and follow OSHA regulations can also be fined even if no accident or injury has occurred.

Our workplace accident attorneys have extensive experience in the investigation of workplace accidents and injuries. We know that OSHA plays an integral part in workplace safety and that any violation can be used as evidence of negligence in the event of a work-related injury.
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Some critics of OSHA have argued that the standards and requirements make hiring difficult and can kill job prospects. In the current economy, this kind of rhetoric can put workers at odds with an organization that has saved the lives of millions of workers. According to recent studies, OSHA inspections can actually save companies billions of dollars in workers' compensation costs, lost hours, and lost productivity that can occur after an accident or injury.

Conversely, unexamined work sites can create serious hazards and result in injury or death. Though occupational fatality rates have decreased since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, there is some evidence that workplace safety conditions have been on the decline. Recent reports indicate that job fatality rates have been essentially unchanged over the past three years.

Workers in certain industries face more dangerous conditions than in others. The fishing and logging industries have some of the highest fatality rates. Non-fatal injuries threaten workers in the fire safety and nursing fields. In any industry, companies must be scrutinized to ensure that workers are safe and to take every measure to avoid preventable injury or death. Data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration indicates that there are approximately 13 deaths per day, non-including work-related illness.

After the recent fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas which killed 14 workers, OSHA as well as state and federal officials should be considering potential inspection failures that left workers vulnerable to such an accident. Initial investigations indicate that failure to enforce and regulate the plant created unsafe and dangerous working conditions. Worker advocates are urging members of Congress to pass the Protecting America's Workers Act to strengthen OSHA's role in worker safety.

With the high rates of accidents and injuries, it is important for companies and employees to make safety as a priority. Though OSHA inspections and regulations can make companies more accountable, workers continue to suffer serious and fatal injuries on the job. Work-related illness is also a serious threat to many workers that can cause health issues even into old age.

In the event of an accident or injury or work-related illness, it is important to consult with an experienced advocate who can successfully protect your rights and interests. An immediate investigation will identify the cause of the accident or injury and give you the documentation necessary to make workers' compensation claims and any additional third-party claims you are entitled to.

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May 20, 2013

Independent Contractor Workers' Comp and Third-Party Claims


The workers' compensation program is intended to help workers and their families quickly and effectively recover financial support after an accident or injury. While workers are not required to prove negligence or fault, recovery under the workers' comp program is limited to medical expenses and lost wages. Many workers are not aware that they may also be entitled to third-party injury claim. In addition, many independent contractors are not aware of their rights to recover under the workers' comp program or for third-party negligence.

Our North Carolina workers' compensation attorneys are experienced in handling a range of claims involving workers. Contractors and their loved ones should be aware of the full scope of opportunities they have to recover for all losses, including wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, long-term care needs, as well as wrongful death benefits. Our legal team will explore every opportunity to recover the full compensation you and your family deserve.
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Many companies are using contractors to avoid certain liabilities. In many ways, independent contractors do not have the same rights as workers. A contract is a worker employed by an agency or who is self-employed but working for another firm that exercises responsibility for the operations of the site. When a worker suffers a serious injury or is killed on-site, contractors and their family members may be entitled to recover workers' compensation. They may also be able to pursue additional benefits through third-party negligence claims.

Contractor fatal accidents may include falls, vehicle accidents, equipment failures, explosions, or fires. Any work-related accident, injury or death requires an immediate investigation to determine the cause of the accident and to identify responsible parties. Some cases may become more difficult if the injury involved a contractor at a private residence or a worker injured or killed at sites where a firm does not have overall responsibilities.

Immediately after an accident, an injured worker or their family should file appropriate claims. An experienced attorney can ensure that documentation is properly filed and that medical records are used to support that claim. An injured worker should continue to seek medical treatment and therapies, when available. In addition to filing workers' compensation claim, an attorney should investigate whether third-party claims are possible.

Third-party claims for contractors may involve a negligent contractor or sub-contract, equipment malfunction and product liability, auto accidents and defective parts or negligent drivers, and premises liability claims against property owners or maintenance companies. These cases can be complicated, but an experienced advocate can review your case and pursue the full compensation you and your family are entitled to.

Contractors are often victims of serious and permanent injury, including head and back injuries. In these cases, it may be necessary to recover additional compensation for long-term care and treatment. While these costs are not covered by the workers' compensation program, victims and their family may be entitled to pain and suffering as well as additional medical care costs. Our attorneys have extensive experience in handling complex workers' comp claims as well as personal injury claims.

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May 17, 2013

Carolina Fall Accidents, A Workplace Danger Commonly Overlooked


The total dollar cost to victims and families affected by work-related deaths and injuries, to employers, and to the country as a whole is much greater than the cost of workers' compensation insurance alone.

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that the total cost of occupational deaths and injuries in 2005 was $625.5 billion. That figure includes wage and productivity losses, medical costs, administrative expenses, cost estimates for workers to make up lost work time due to another worker's injury, and the time to investigate and report injuries.
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According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, healthy and safe work conditions are everyone's responsibility. Companies and employers must be aware of any workplace hazards, and they're got to take the proper precautionary steps to eliminate these risks. Workers are required to follow the safety and health standards set forth by their employer. One of the most common of these hazards, on work sites nationwide, are fall hazards.

Our Asheville workers' compensation attorneys understand that there were close to 5,000 workers killed on the job in the U.S. in 2011. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), close to 20 percent of these fatal accidents occurred in the construction industry. The number one cause of these fatalities was fall accidents. Following these accidents were electrocution, struck by and caught in between accidents.

Fall accidents accounted for close to 40 percent of the fatal accidents in the construction industry in 2011. More than 250 of the 721 employees were killed in these kinds of accidents in 2011.

When talking about fall accidents, we're not always talking about falling from extreme heights. There are shorter falls that can seriously injure a worker, too. Some of these trip and stumble hazards include:

-Objects places in walkways.

-Objects that are not kept in their proper place.

-Tools left on the floor.

-Extension cords and other cords and hoses on the ground.

-Holed in the floor.

-Sudden changed in pitch or elevation.

-Wet floors.

People have fallen from considerable heights and received only a few broken bones, while others fall to the floor from a standing or sitting position and die from their injuries. Nearly all falls result from conditions or practices that seem obvious; however, preventing such accidents requires maintaining safe conditions in the workplace and training to ensure safe actions by employees.

These hazards and risks can be eliminated with a simple safety checklist. Before starting your work day, and periodically in between, make sure you're checking the floors, stairs and walkways. Make sure they're clear from free tools, materials, water, chemicals or anything else that can be tripped on.

You should also make sure that everyone has the proper training to use the equipment required -- even the smaller, simpler equipment. Are ladders in good condition, free from cracks, burrs and splinters?

Lastly, make sure that all walkways are well lit. Lighting is one of the most important thing when ensure that your workplace is safe for everyone.

Continue reading "Carolina Fall Accidents, A Workplace Danger Commonly Overlooked" »

May 15, 2013

Keeping Teens Safe Through Summer Job Season


With summer break quickly approaching, our teens will be heading back into the workforce. To prepare youth for the 21st century workforce, the Employment and Training Administration, Office of Workforce Investment, Division of Youth Services coordinates youth workforce development investments.
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Amid getting our young ones ready for summer jobs, officials with the White House push Summer Jobs+. This is a program that helps to get assistance from companies, non-profit organizations and government officials to work together to get more jobs to low-income and disconnected youth. These young employees are between the ages of 16 and 24, have had close to 200,000 jobs created for them through the effort.

"America's young people face record unemployment, and we need to do everything we can to make sure they've got the opportunity to earn the skills and a work ethic that come with a job," said President Barack Obama.

Our Rock Hill workers' compensation lawyers understand that it's an excellent opportunity for these young adults. Working teaches them independence and responsibility, but we have to make sure that they're protected on the job and that they understand their rights as an American worker.

Workplace hazards associated with specific jobs are another major cause of injuries and illnesses. Employers must work to reduce or minimize hazards while training employees to work safely on the job.

Safe work is rewarding work. Your employer has the responsibility to provide a safe workplace for you. Companies and employers are required to follow all OSHA safety and health standards to help to prevent you from being injured, becoming ill on the job or getting killed on the job. If you are under age 18, there may be limits on the hours you work, the jobs you do and the equipment you use.

Your Rights as a Youth Worker:

-You have the right to work in a safe environment.

-You have the right to get the proper health and safety training. It's required to be presented in a language that you best understand to keep you safe on the job.

-You have the right to ask questions if you don't understand anything at work.

-You have the right to be provided with the proper safety gear and with the training and knowledge to use it correctly.

-You have the right to speak up and to voice concerns about your safety on the job without fear of discrimination or retaliation.

-You have the right to file a complaint with OSHA if you feel like your employer isn't keeping you safe on the job or if they aren't following any of the federal safety standards.

So you know your rights and you're ready to get out there and make some money, now it's time to get proactive and to make sure you're safe on the job. If you spot unsafe conditions, make sure you report them. If you're provided with safety gear, make sure you wear it. Always follow the rules of the workplace, make sure you're asking questions and get some help if you need it. Don't be afraid to speak up. Your safety relies on it.

Continue reading "Keeping Teens Safe Through Summer Job Season" »

May 13, 2013

Fatal Work Injuries in Carolinas - True Toll Hard to Determine


Each and every day, more than 100 workers in the U.S. are killed on the job from injury or work-related illness, according to a recent study from the AFL-CIO.
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But the true number might actually be much higher. According to the Huffington Post, the state of North Carolina only releases an annual report with the number of people who were killed on the job -- in accidents in which the state has the authority to investigate. That means that there are some that never make it to the books, and thus make our workplaces seem safer than may be the reality.

Our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers understand that there were close to 5,000 people killed on the job in 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were another 50,000 people who were killed as a result of work-related injury, illnesses or disease. When you combine all causes of death, you get about 150 on-the-job fatalities each day in the U.S. When you think about it, American workers are more than 270 times more likely to die on the job that from a terrorist attack.

With recent high-profile industrial disasters, workplace safety has become a top focus. The fertilizer plant explosion in Texas took the lives of close to 20 and injured hundreds, and the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh last month claimed the lives of more than 700 people.

Unfortunately, according to AFL-CIO, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is understaffed, and that may be one good reason into why our country's workplaces are as safe as they should be. There isn't a tough enough monitoring system looking over them. If you calculate in all workers with OSHA, officials could check on the nation's 8 million workplaces only once every 115 years.

We're not done spilling the bad news. According to recent statistics, there are close to 4 million Americans who suffer a work-related injury or disease each year. AFL-CIO thinks that number is closer to 11 million because not all of these incidents are reported.

The way these incidents are reported in the state of North Carolina is through the Occupational Fatality Investigation Review (OFIR). The OFIR Report is compiled based on the event date by federal fiscal year (October 1 - September 30). The report lists only those workplace fatalities that have been or are being investigated by OSH. Workplace fatalities that have not been investigated by OSH (such as some heart attacks and vehicular fatalities) are not included in this report, according to the North Carolina Department of Labor.

The N.C. Department of Labor is charged with promoting the "health, safety and general well-being" of more than 4 million workers in the state.

But how can we help to ensure the safety of our N.C. family if we're not even sure how many are injured or killed on the job? It's time to bring these incidents to light and to work on improving the safety of our workforce.

Continue reading "Fatal Work Injuries in Carolinas - True Toll Hard to Determine" »

May 9, 2013

Workplace Deaths Increase Slightly, Federal Authorities Say


The number of workplace deaths in America is on the rise, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Our Rock Hill workers' compensation attorneys understand that there were 4,693 workers killed on the job in 2011, the latest year for which complete figures are available. That's three more than lost their lives in 2010.

While it's not an astronomical climb, it's not moving in the direction we'd like; on-the-job accident risks certainly are improving. The rate of worker injury in 2011 was 3.5 per 100,000 full-time workers.

This report comes on the heels of the Texas fertilizer plant explosion that claimed the lives of 15 people, many of those emergency first responders.

Incidents like this and the blast on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig tend to garner a great deal of media attention. However, the reality is that the vast majority of worker injuries and deaths occur quietly and without media attention. However, a victim's family is no less devastated.

The non-profit National Council for Occupational Safety & Health reported that while there are approximately 13 workers killed daily in the U.S., most cause little stir. They may involve temporary or contract workers, some of them immigrants. The media simply doesn't pay attention to those every day slip-and-falls that have proven so deadly.

As we've seen in years' past, certain kinds of occupations prove far more dangerous than others. For the first time ever, the BLS has included a separate category just for contract workers, who accounted for about 12 percent of all workplace fatalities in 2011 -- or 542 total.

Those in the transportation and material moving occupations had by far the highest number of workplace fatalities, with 1,233.

That was followed by construction and extraction workers, who suffered 798 fatalities.

Management occupations were next with 467, followed by insulation, maintenance and repair workers with 354; protective service occupations with 282; farming, fishing and forestry with 261; and sales workers with 240.

The vast majority of these incidents - 1,103 - were due to roadway incidents that involved at least one motorized land vehicle.

That was followed by violence or other injuries by persons or animal with 791 and contact with equipment and objects with 710. Falls, slips and trips were another major problem, accounting for 681 worker deaths in 2011, while workplace homicides accounted for 468 deaths.

Another 419 people died from exposure to harmful substances or environments. A total of 156 worker deaths were marked as "other."

Texas recorded the highest number of contractor deaths, followed by Florida and then California. Primarily, that's because of the sheer size of these states. But it also has to do with the fact that these areas are in close proximity to a large supply of temporary migrant workers, who often work in physical demanding fields with little training or protections.

It's not that worker protection laws don't exist. The larger issue is the fact that they are so difficult to enforce - and so easy for employers to skirt.

AFL-CIO workers' union report from last year indicated that the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration was so poorly staffed and underfunded that federal regulators would have the ability to inspect each work site about once every 131 years.

Sadly, some employers view worker deaths or injuries as just part of doing business. It's unacceptable.

That's why we are committed to fighting to protect your rights and ensure you are justly compensated.

Continue reading "Workplace Deaths Increase Slightly, Federal Authorities Say" »

May 6, 2013

Temporary Workers Now Have More Federal Protection


There are approximately 2.5 million temporary workers in this country, and amid evidence that they suffer injuries and death at a higher rate than regular employees, federal regulators have formally boosted their protections.
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Our Greenville workers' compensation attorneys understand that the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration recently distributed a memorandum to its regional administrators, directing all field inspectors to determine if employers who hire temp workers are in fact complying with their legal responsibilities.

In doing this, the agency has established a new code for inspectors to use when they find that temporary workers have been subjected to health and safety violations.

Additionally, the agency has created a new standard to determine whether adequate training was provided to temporary workers in both terms and language that they would easily be able to understand.

Too often, employers might take for granted that temporary workers can read and speak English, when the workers actual English language skills may be lacking. The worker is not apt to inform the employer of this because he or she doesn't want to miss out on a much-needed job opportunity. The onus then falls on the employer to ensure the worker receives and understands all necessary safety training and protocol.

But employers tend to assume they can cut corners with temporary workers, as if their lives are somehow less valuable than those that are on full-time staff.

In the months prior to this initiative, the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit journalism institute operated in collaboration with WBEZ/Chicago Public Media, underscored the plight of temporary workers, through the story of one who died after an incident in a Chicago factory in late 2011. He was cleaning a chemical tank when when the solution somehow erupted inside the tank, spraying a scalding mixture of water and citric acid all over his body.

A review conducted by OSHA revealed that the worker's bosses had declined to call for emergency help, despite the fact that the worker was screaming in agony and his skin was peeling off. Nearly two hours had passed before he made it to a nearby hospital.

His protective gear? A t-shirt, rubber boots and latex gloves.

Another incident noted by OSHA in its memo was that of a 21-year-old temporary worker of the Florida-based Bacardi Bottling Corporation, who died last summer on his very first day on the job. He was crushed to death by a palletizer machine. He had been assigned to clean the equipment. Another employee then restarted the machine - a fatal error that cost the temporary worker his life.

Both companies were cited with willful violations.

But they aren't the only ones to take temporary worker safety for granted.

Last year, researchers analyzing temporary worker injury data looked at some 4,000 work-related amputations in Illinois over the course of a number of years. What they found was that five out of 10 - half - of employers with the highest amputation rates were temporary staffing agencies. It's worth noting that temporary workers make up a much smaller percentage of the workforce, meaning they are suffering far greater rates of amputations than most workers - undoubtedly due to lax safety standards.

OSHA was compelled to act by a number of reports of temporary workers suffering fatalities on their very first day on the job. In a large number of those situations, companies did not provide adequate safety training, OSHA said, and this played a large part in the temporary workers' deaths.

Continue reading "Temporary Workers Now Have More Federal Protection" »

May 4, 2013

North Carolina Fertilizer Plants Could Claim Arcane Exemption to Inspections


Several weeks ago, residents in Statesville, home to North Carolina's largest fertilizer plant, expressed deep concern following the explosion in Texas that killed 15 people.

Now, our Winston-Salem workers' compensation lawyers understand that those residents - and all who live and work near fertilizer plants - may have additional reason to worry.
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A recent report by the non-profit journalism group Center for Public Integrity reveals that the operators of the Texas fertilizer plant are now claiming an old exemption allowed it to fly under the radar of federal and state environmental regulators by sidestepping inspections and workplace safety mandates.

The company's owner had filed something known as a retail exemption, as part of a streamlined prevention program. This is a company-claimed exemption that essentially says that because dangerous chemicals are sold chiefly to "end users" - usually farmers - the firm should be allowed to avoid any form of stricter regulation.

It's not certain how many companies claim this 20-year-old exemption, but we do know that the Texas firm is is not the only one that does.

For example, one company that was responsible for storing a type of toxic gas wrote a notice to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration back in 2005, indicating that it fell under this retail exemption.

Those within the industry called it a fundamental flaw as it pertains to workplace safety, as it allows facilities to simply avoid oversight - and government regulators allow them to do it.

The exemption is listed in OSHA's Process Safety Management Standard. This standard requires firms storing large amounts of substances that are hazardous to not only have in place preventative plans and take precautions to avoid workplace safety but to submit to regular inspections to ensure it.

The plant in Texas, which stored huge amounts of anhydrous ammonia, would unquestionably fall under this standard - but for the exemption. Of course, when this exemption was created, the Fertilizer Institute voiced its firm support of the measure.

And when the rule was finalized, the institute filed a request with OSHA, asking for written confirmation that the standard wouldn't apply to sites that blend and store fertilizer for sale to end users.

OSHA responded in the affirmative, saying that the exemption would apply so long as more than half of the firm's sales were geared toward end users. But what's especially troubling about this exemption is that if a company claims it, OSHA does not check to see if it's even valid.

So workers, emergency crews and nearby residents could be at huge risk for serious injury or death - all based on a self-purported claim that may or may not be true.

Still, the incident in Texas has even the institute wondering if something needs to change.

In a written statement released to the CPI, the the institute stated that while the Texas blast was still under investigation, the institute planned to re-examine whether that exemption is necessary or whether it may expose other facilities to these same kinds of hazards.

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May 3, 2013

Staying Safe on the Job After a Natural Disaster


In light of the recent tornado disasters in Oklahoma, officials with the Occupational Safety & Heath Administration (NHTSA) are taking the time to talk safety about tornado preparedness and response efforts.
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Tornadoes can strike with little to no warning. It's important that we're ready for whatever Mother Nature has to throw our way. It's critical to have an emergency plan in place, to know the warning signs of these storms and to monitor the news channel for up-to-date information.

Our Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys are here to help businesses and their employees prepare for tornadoes, and to provide information about various dangers that workers may face in the aftermath of a tornado. Before you go and do anything, you want to make sure that your company or workplace has an emergency plan in place. You want to know where you can safely take shelter, ways to keep tabs on all employees in the event of a storm and you want to discuss different ways to address dangerous materials that can be found on your work site.

Once a tornado has come and gone, make sure that you've got a plan in place to get back to business. It's getting that done that can be the most dangerous. You want to make sure that you've got a plan to keep workers from getting injured in these recovery efforts. You've got to be on the lookout for an additional storms, watch out for an downed power lines and steer clear of dangerous debris.

Workers should also be cautious of heat stress and they should cautious when working with dangerous equipment for recovery procedures, including generators. Make sure that everyone on the work site is taking the necessary safety precautions to stay safe during this time.

What could be so hazardous?

-Dangerous driving conditions. This includes slippery or blocked roadways.

-Slip, trip and fall accidents resulting from slippery or blocked walkways.

-Falling objects or debris. This can include broken glass and even nails.

-Electrical hazards. This can come from downed power lines and even contact with objects that may be touching a downed power source.

-Falls from heights.

-Exhausting from overworking.

-Dehydration and other heat-related injuries.

-Continue to monitor your local radio or television stations for emergency information and the potential of additional storms. Be aware of possible structural, electrical, or gas-leak hazards.

While you're at it -- plan ahead for everything. The planning process should take an "all hazards" approach. There are many different threats or hazards. The probability that a specific hazard will impact your business is hard to determine. That's why it's important to consider many different threats and hazards and the likelihood they will occur.

Continue reading "Staying Safe on the Job After a Natural Disaster" »

May 2, 2013

Workers' Memorial Day a Reminder of Job Safety


Though changes in regulation over time have increased worker safety, U.S. workers continue to suffer from work-related accidents and injuries. In the most severe cases, these accidents can result in permanent injury or death. Every year, the victims of workplace accidents and injuries are remembered on April 28, Workers' Memorial Day. The event was established in 1971, the same year that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) was established to regulate and monitor safety conditions for workers.

Our Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys are dedicated to helping victims and families recover after an accident or injury. If you have lost a loved one to workplace injury, we are dedicated to fighting for your rights.
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Raising workplace safety awareness is critical to preventing future injury and death. Since the establishment of OSHA, companies and other workers have taken preventative measures to ensure compliance. OSHA has broad powers to make safety regulations and to fine corporations that do not meet safety standards. Equipment maintenance, emergency protocols, training, and ensuring a safe work environment can prevent serious accidents and injuries. OSHA also has the power to fine companies that are not in compliance upon inspection.

This April 28th, companies, workers, and their families will come together to commemorate workers who have lost their lives on the job. Factory workers, construction workers, farmers, roadside assistance crews, fisherman, and others in dangerous industries are at the highest risk of accidental death. April 28th is also a day to bring awareness to the cause of workplace safety and to recommit to the fight for safe and healthy working conditions. This means preventing accidental death, as well as work-related illness or injury.

OSHA's role is to ensure that conditions for America's workers are safe by setting standards, establishing regulations, providing training, education, and support for companies and employees. In the event of a building collapse, fire, explosion, or other workplace accident, OSHA is the agency that will investigate the incident to determine whether the accident was preventable. In the event that a company was in violation of a regulation, that evidence can be used in a negligence case.Negligence, however, is not required for an employee to receive workers' compensation benefits, which are available to injured workers regardless of fault.

Families of employees or contractors who lose their lives while in the course of performing work-related duties may be entitled to workers' compensation death benefits. Immediately after an accident it is important to file a claim and that an independent investigation be performed to determine the cause of the accident and to identify responsible individuals or agencies. Our firm is experienced with handling complex death and work-related accidents and can effectively protect your rights. In addition to helping families collect workers' compensation benefits, we will also explore the possibility of third-party claims against negligent property owners, maintenance companies, equipment manufacturers and all other individuals or entities.

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May 1, 2013

Improved Surveillance Urged to Combat High Rates of Workplace Injuries in Agriculture


In an article in the North Carolina Medical Journal, agriculture is described as "one of the most hazardous industries in North Carolina and in the United States."

The industry earns this dubious distinction because there were 32.6 deaths per 100,000 workers in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry sector. This fatality rate was almost 10 times the average fatality rate of 3.3 deaths for each 100,000 workers in all fields. Our Greensboro work accident lawyers know that the agricultural industry also has a higher rate of injuries when compared to other fields. 1270655_watering_the_fields.jpg

Unfortunately, while the rate of farm injuries and deaths is high everywhere in the U.S., North Carolina is one of the worst states for farm-worker safety. In fact, the rates of farm-related injury and fatality in North Carolina exceed the average rates across the United States. This means that in an industry that is inherently dangerous and that has an inherently high death and injury rate, North Carolina does an especially bad job in protecting its workers.

Taking Steps to Combat High Death and Injury Rates
The article in the North Carolina Medical Journal indicates that the high rate of farm worker deaths in North Carolina is a significant public health problem. To resolve this problem and to cut the rate of death and injury, several recommendations were made. For example, the authors of the article suggest:

  • Effectively documenting and tracking injured individuals in order to find out the injury cause.
  • Stepping up surveillance so that it is easier to obtain information about the who, where, and how of an injury that occurs on the farm. This increased surveillance system would contain data elements to readily identify common injuries that workers suffer. The system would also encompass descriptive details about how the injury happened.
  • Establishing a better system of collecting and analyzing injuries and deaths that occur. When an agricultural employer has less than 10 employees, workers' compensation generally does not apply and many injuries may go unreported.
  • Identifying the populations at risk of a workplace injury in the agricultural field. It is difficult or impossible to have a full understanding of the injury and death rates without understanding who the population of agricultural workers is that are at risk on the job.
  • Creating a dedicated task force made up of experts who can establish a consensus on an appropriate surveillance system and on what standardized measures should be used to define farm injuries.

With so many injuries occurring, it may seem odd at first that the NC Medical Journal article is so focused on improving surveillance and recording of injuries, rather than jumping in and tackling ways to actually stop accidents from occurring.

However, taking steps to improve surveillance is viewed as very important in combating the high death and injury rates in the agricultural industry. Only by understanding the cause of deaths and the problems that exist can regulations be crafted to work towards reducing the number of tragic accidents. An effective surveillance system thus must be established first so that it will be possible to better understand and regulate the dangers agricultural workers face on the job.

Continue reading "Improved Surveillance Urged to Combat High Rates of Workplace Injuries in Agriculture" »

April 29, 2013

Can Agricultural Workers Make Workers' Compensation Claims?


Working in the agricultural field can be very dangerous for many different reasons.

Often, work on a farm tends to be very physically demanding, whether you are feeding animals, farming the land, operating machinery or working in grain bins. Other dangers exist as well, with farm workers often using complicated and dangerous machinery and spending their days outdoors in the sun doing labor-intensive work that creates a high potential for accidental injury. 1401332_glass_houses_and_fields_2.jpg

Our Charlotte work injury attorneys know that farm work is very dangerous for many other reasons as well. For example, many labor laws do not extend to farm workers because of the unique environment of the agricultural industry, including the high number of family farms. Often, the lax nature of the laws can result in young workers getting farm jobs. Many agricultural jobs are also filled by undocumented immigrants searching for any type of work available.

With a workforce made up of vulnerable workers, including young workers and/or undocumented workers who need their jobs, agricultural employers often take risks when it comes to worker safety and simply count on employees being too scared or too unaware to report these violations. The relaxed attitude towards worker safety can further increase the chances of a workplace accident occurring, which is a bad thing in an already-dangerous field.

Are Agricultural Workers' Covered Under Workers' Compensation?

When a worker gets hurt on the job, it is important for the employer to be held responsible for paying for the costs associated with the injuries. This is because employers are generally in the best position to prevent injury in the workplace and also in the best position to buy insurance and secure financial protection from the huge loss that can come from a serious workplace injury.

A worker who is injured, therefore, needs to understand how to hold an employer accountable and how to make that employer pay for the costs of the injury. In most situations, the only way for a worker to do this is to file a workers' compensation claim. A workers' compensation claim is an exclusive remedy claim, which means that workers cannot sue if they are covered under workers' comp.

Although workers' comp covers almost every employee in North Carolina, there are special rules when it comes to covering agricultural workers. Under the laws in North Carolina, an agricultural employer is required to cover workers under workers' compensation only if the employer has more than 10 employees. Farm workers classified as H-2a farm workers are also covered by workers' compensation.

For those outside of this definition, it may be possible for an employer to hire workers without purchasing workers' compensation coverage. Workers who are in agricultural jobs and who are not covered by workers' compensation miss out on an important form of protection: a guaranteed social safety net that will pay their bills for on-the-job injuries regardless of who was to blame.

Agricultural workers not covered by workers' compensation will have no choice but to explore other options for obtaining monetary damages from an employer after an injury. These options may include a personal injury lawsuit or a wrongful death lawsuit brought by family members of workers who were killed on the job. It is important to have an experienced lawyer represent you in a personal injury case. However, because these claims are much less straightforward than a traditional workers' compensation claim, you are required to prove negligence to be entitled to compensation in the wake of such litigation.

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April 26, 2013

Carolina Grain Bin Accidents are a Serious Workplace Risk


In March, NPR published an article discussing terrible tragedies that have occurred as a result of entrapment in grain bins.

Several recent deaths have occurred when workers became trapped inside of grain bins and were buried alive. These incidents are drawing attention to some of the dangers faced by workers in the agricultural industry who are responsible for growing and producing the foods that we enjoy on our tables every day. 1163321_weather_grain_bins.jpg

Our Spartanburg, work accident lawyers know that employers routinely hire young workers to work in grain bins, sometimes violating child labor laws in order to do so. Many employers also skirt safety regulations and put workers in serious danger. Unfortunately, this can have devastating consequences for workers and yet there is limited enforcement of safety laws designed to stop this type of bad behavior from occurring.

Grain Bin Accidents and Deaths

NRP began the discussion of grain bin injuries by telling the tragic story of several workers who lost their lives when they became entrapped in a bin. One such worker was a 14-yer-old boy who had told his mother just a day before his death that he couldn't stand the thought of going back into the bins. He and two other young men ages 19 and 20 climbed into a four-story tall grain bin filled with 250,000 bushels of wet, crusty corn. These young workers were required to walk along the grain in order to break up the kernels.

Unfortunately, at approximately 9:45 in the morning, one of the boys began to sink under the corn. He had completely disappeared underneath it within minutes as his two co-workers struggled to try to stay on the surface of the grain. Two of the young workers, including the 14-year-old, died in the grain bin when they were buried alive underneath the grain. The third young man was rescued and carried out six hours later.

In response to the accident, OSHA fined the employer a total of $555,000. Fines are the customary response by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to grain bin deaths, of which there have been more than 179 since 1984.

Like in most cases where workers died in grain bins, however, OSHA subsequently slashed the fine. In this case, the fine was cut by more than half of the original $555,000.

In past cases, OHSA has reduced fines more than 60 percent of the time and a total of more than $9 million in initial fines were cut. Some fines were even cut as much as 97 percent. OSHA justifies cutting these fines because employers have a right to negotiate and to challenge citations issued and because OSHA must do the best they can within the current regulatory system.

Protecting Grain Bin Workers
Grain bin accidents are far too common and OSHA can do little, as the agency has no prosecutorial authority to bring criminal charges against employers. Although family members of employees who are killed may file wrongful death lawsuits to obtain damages after these types of accidents occur, the right to do so may be restricted by workers' compensation laws, by assumption of risk defenses or by a host of other legal complexities.

This means that employers who allow unsafe conditions to occur may be able to escape major financial consequences when workers are killed by being entrapped and buried alive under grain. It is an egregious oversight in worker safety laws that so little can be done and lawmakers should crack down on employers who put their workers at risk. Those who lose loved ones also need to be sure they have top-notch legal representation so they will stand the best chance of a successful claim against the employer.

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April 23, 2013

New Federal Efforts to Keep Shipyard Workers Safe


According to the United States Department of Labor (DOL), Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris will re-establish the charter of the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH).
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This program was launched back in 1995 to help the secretary of labor oversee safety in the maritime industry. Within this plan was the blueprint for keeping workplaces safe and improving health standards while reducing the risks of injury and illness. The plan also requires employers to properly train workers and sets forth the enforcement initiatives to make sure that everyone is doing their job in this dangerous industry.

Our Wilmington workers' compensation lawyers understand that shipyard work is traditionally very dangerous. There are hazards at almost every turn. And for this reason, the injury rate in this industry is about twice that of the construction industry and that of the general industry. Officials with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), have a strategic plan to help to reduce the risks of injuries and illnesses and fatalities for these workers.

Officials with the DOL think that by re-establishing the MACOSH, they will be able to help to protect the safety of those in the maritime industry. This industry was chosen by officials with the DOL because of that high injury, illness and fatality rate. Officials will be creating guidance materials, rulemaking updates and a number of other activities to help to shift the industry's focus back onto safety.

When working in a shipyard, there are a number of dangers you're up against:

-Working with scaffolds.

-Fire/electrical dangers.

-Heavy machinery.

-Pressure vessels, drums and containers.

-Work clutter.

Cluttered work areas can lead to accidents and cause worker injuries, due to slips, trips, and falls, being struck by falling objects, impeded access to exit routes and firefighting equipment, and fires because of improper disposal of flammable/combustible materials (such as rags, paper, cardboard). It's critical to make sure that each work area is properly organized and clean. It's thoughtless hazards like this that can cause some serious injury.

Other risks are associated with lifeboats. These accidents oftentimes result when a worker falls out of a lifeboat or the lifeboat is released from suspension with a worker inside. Confined and enclosed space operations have a greater likelihood of causing fatalities, severe injuries, and illnesses than any other type of shipyard work. Hazards include fires and explosions, falls, and hazardous atmospheres. It's important that there is always a Shipyard Competent Person (SCP) on site to evaluate required spaces to make sure everyone is safe at all times.

A large portion of risks for these shipyard workers are associated when working in small, confined spaces.

It's important to make sure that everyone on the boat and in the shipyard is properly trained, especially in first-aid attention. Injuries to workers may worsen due to inadequate or delayed access to medical treatment.

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April 21, 2013

South Carolina Boeing Worker Killed in Fall Work Accident


A Boeing employee is dead after falling from a rig. According to ABC4, the 38-year-old worker was killed as a result of injuries, which included a traumatic brain injury. It happened just before 11:30 p.m.
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According to the company, the safety of its workers is a top concern. Officials say that they will be following a comprehensive safety plan and internal processes and will be conducting an investigation to figure out the exact cause of the accident, as well as whether any corrective actions might be required.

Our Charleston workers' compensation attorneys understand that falls are a persistent hazard on work sites nationwide. These kinds of accidents can happen when using a step stool or when climbing hundreds of feet off the ground. They can happen anywhere. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were close to 610 workers killed in the U.S. in fall accidents to the same or lower level last year. In addition to these fatalities, were were another 213,000 workers injured in these kinds of accidents.

While many of these accidents happen in the construction industry, they can happen virtually anywhere -- including a Boeing plant.

The company says that it will be providing counselors along with support from its Employee Assistance Program to help employees to cope with the loss of their friend and coworker. Company officials will also be meeting with teammates to talk about the accident and will try to figure out ways to improve the safety of workers in the future.

The worker who died in this unfortunate accident started in the summer of 2012 and has reportedly completed several months of the company's required training.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to fall accidents. These can include, floor holes, unprotected edges, unstable work surfaces, clutter, slippery walk areas, misused fall protection and even unsafely position ladders. As it stands now, there are federal regulations and industry consensus standards that require each workplace to follow the proper fall protection standards. However, the constant use of unsafe work practices and low safety culture across a number on industries define steady fall accident, injury and fatality rates year after year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Not only are these accident risks threatening you and your coworkers, but they're costing us all. Each year, medical costs and workers' compensation associated with fall accidents cost the country roughly $70 billion.

The best way to help to keep your workers out of these kinds of accidents and away from these injuries is to make sure that they're provided with the proper fall protection equipment and that they're properly trained with this equipment and the job duties they're performing. Not only is it in their best interest, but it's in your too considering it's a federal safety standard.

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