February 12, 2013

NC Workplace Carbon Monoxide Concerns Heightened in Winter

Recently, a warehouse worker up north was discovered by co-workers, seizing and unconscious. Soon, several others were also sick. smokealarm.jpg

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers understand the problem was silent, invisible and odorless - carbon monoxide.

Thankfully in this case, all workers were pulled to safety and survived. But such incidents occur every year in workplaces throughout the country - particularly in winter months - and they can be fatal.

The reason we see this more during the colder season has to do with the fact that ventilation systems tend to be hampered by windows and doors that are closed tightly to conserve heat. The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is warning all employers and employees to take heed of how incredibly dangerous this compound is, and take decisive action to prevent it.

Carbon monoxide can be generated from numerous sources - really anything that runs on combustion. So things like gas generators, compressors, welding equipment, furnaces, space heaters, motor vehicles, gas lanterns, pumps or power tools would be examples of some of the more common sources.

Just a few years ago, in February, two concrete contractors died inside Kiddie Aerospace and Defense after collapsing from carbon monoxide poisoning. Investigators later learned the two men had sealed off the room they were working in to cut concrete - with a gas-powered saw. The levels of carbon monoxide in that room were later found to be more than 50 times what officials consider to be safe.

Despite the devastating possible consequences, most workplaces in North Carolina aren't required to install carbon monoxide detectors - probably one of the most effective and cost efficient ways of reducing the risk. Schools don't even require the devices, though the North Carolina State Building Code Council two years ago adopted a requirement to have them installed in all new residences, as well as existing homes with fuel-fired appliances, or in those with permit-required renovation work and rental properties with fossil fuel burning heaters, appliances or fireplaces or that have an attached garage.

But even when installation of these devices isn't required, they can be an incredibly worthwhile investment. You don't want to wait until your workers are suffering from severe nausea, chest pain, vomiting, confusion, loss of consciousness - or worse - to discover you have a carbon monoxide problem.

In addition to detectors, companies also need to make sure they have an effective ventilation system in place - particularly in winter. Avoid using fuel-burning equipment in closed-in or partially-enclosed spaces.

Also, inform workers of what to do if they suspect they or their coworkers may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. This includes an action plan to get themselves and others (if it can be done safely) out immediately into fresh air, call 911 right away and administer CPR if an individual is not breathing.

While carbon monoxide poisoning can potentially happen to those in any occupation, OSHA considers the risk heightened for those in the following fields:

  • Forklift operators;

  • Toll booth attendants;

  • Firefighters;

  • Police Officers;

  • Longshore workers;

  • Taxi drivers;

  • Welders;

  • Garage mechanics;

  • Diesel engine operators;

  • Marine terminal workers;

  • Customs inspectors.

Continue reading "NC Workplace Carbon Monoxide Concerns Heightened in Winter" »

February 9, 2013

North Carolina Workplaces Do Well to Prepare for Flu Season

Flu season in North Carolina and throughout the country is in full swing, with the state Department of Health reporting an earlier-than-usual start. sorrowgirl.jpg

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers know that while the illness itself may not necessarily be considered solely a job-related concern, workers may encounter strained conditions and lapses in oversight when others are forced to stay home due to their own illness or that of a child.

Smart business owners hoping to curb productivity loss and ensure safety guidelines are maintained amid widespread absenteeism need to have an established contingency plan. It also doesn't hurt to take the time to implement procedures that could limit the spread of infection. These efforts are especially important in health care settings, where germs and viruses are already plentiful, though such action is applicable just about everywhere during flu season.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, roughly 111 million workdays are lost every single year during flu season. It's estimated that accounts for $7 billion in both lost productivity and sick days.

Workplaces generally have variant levels of risk, with healthcare employees and lab personnel being the most at risk, followed by health care transport workers and then by those who work in frequent contact with the general public, such as teachers or retail professionals. Those at lowest risk would be workplaces where general public contact is limited. Yet even in this low-risk settings, the flu can spread rapidly, as it only takes one sick person.

Officials with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration recommend businesses follow a checklist to help them prepare and limit the spread:

  • Prepare a plan for potentially reduced workforces, one that will ensure safety guidelines will continue to be followed for those workers who remain; cross-training is one example;

  • Hammer out a sick leave policy that won't penalize sick workers for staying home. If possible, this may include expanding your firm's work-from-home options or shift-staggering;

  • Stock up on things like soap, hand sanitizers, tissues, cleaning supplies and any other recommended protective gear, and encourage employees to frequently wash their hands after using the restroom or following any physical contact with others;

  • Whenever possible and particularly in the midst of flu season, try to promote practices that will keep employees at a distance from one another and the public, such as e-mail threads or teleconferences in place of traditional in-person meetings.

Company administrators may also want to strongly consider promoting flu vaccination for workers and their families.

Employees should be mindful of all this as well, and strive to keep work surfaces and equipment clean and disinfected. Discourage others from using equipment that frequently comes in contact with your face or hands, such as your computer or phone.

Lastly, workers can minimize the impact that an illness such as the flu might have on them - and reduce their amount of leave time - by keeping themselves healthy. This includes quitting smoking, eating right, drinking enough fluids and making time for regular exercise. Employers should, whenever possible, promote these habits as well.

Continue reading "North Carolina Workplaces Do Well to Prepare for Flu Season" »

February 7, 2013

Pregnant Workers Risk Injury If Not Given Light Duty

Certain pregnancy-related ailments are now classified for employment purposes as disabilities under an amendment to the Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act, meaning employers may now have a legal responsibility responsibility to extend light-duty options to pregnant employees - an opportunity not always traditionally afforded. pregnancyclose.jpg

Our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers know this has long been a contentious issues in workplaces and in the courts. It's often been referred to as the "light duty loophole." That is, while employers will often extend light duty assignments (meaning those that don't require strenuous physical activity, such as heavy lifting) to those workers who have been temporarily disabled as a result of job-related injuries, these same types of accommodations are not typically offered to pregnant women because pregnancy is not the result of an on-the-job injury.

This was true even when the women could provide a doctor's note, explaining why they were temporarily unable to carry out such tasks. As a result, many pregnant women are fired or forced to resign.

Of course, at its core, this is a discrimination issue for employment attorneys to sort out. But it's also a potential matter of workers' compensation. That's because pregnant women who are not afforded the opportunity to perform light duty tasks and avoid difficult physical labor have a higher risk of becoming injured as a result - particularly when that work is contrary to the recommendations of their physician.

Some of the workplace injuries to which pregnant women may be more susceptible include:

  • Muscular stress;

  • Slips and falls;

  • Sprains and strains;

  • Abdominal trauma;

  • Repetitive stress injuries;

  • Chemical exposure.

But the recently-expanded rules of the ADAAA could provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission better legal standing upon which to litigate the issue further and expand rights for pregnant workers.

As it stands now, the expanded ADAAA guidelines would now include certain common pregnancy-related conditions that would not have previously been covered under the light duty accommodation requirements. These would include things like gestational diabetes, sciatica, anemia and carpal tunnel syndrome.

What the EEOC wants to fight for is expanding that even further to include pregnancy in general. In the past, such arguments have not been successful.

Most recently, in Reeves v. Swift Transportation, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that an employer could provide light duty accommodations for workers who had sustained job-related injuries, but were not required to do so for pregnant workers - even when their doctors had ordered restrictions on their physical activities - so long as the policy applied to all workers with on-the-job injuries.

However, the EEOC, amid the new changes to the ADAAA, have already brought at least five pregnancy-related discrimination lawsuits in the last several months, in an apparent attempt to not only protect the rights of pregnant workers, but also to bolster their safety and reduce the risk of work-related injuries.

Continue reading "Pregnant Workers Risk Injury If Not Given Light Duty" »

February 5, 2013

NC Workers' Compensation Legislation Still Brewing

State legislators in Raleigh are continuing to draft a reformed workers' compensation program that they say should cut down on fraud, waste and make it tougher for employers to skip out on paying for it when they should. safetyhelmetlogo.jpg

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers know that this could be a mixed bag, and it's tough to tell at this point whether the reforms will indeed be fair or skewed in favor of the employer, which is most often the case when politicians stark talking about fraud.

As we recently reported in our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Blog, state workers have already voiced concern that the measures proposed by the nine-member, Republican North Carolina Legislative Services Commission would ultimately reduce their benefits.

But lawmakers say that while fraud is a major concern, it's equally important to ensure that employers who are supposed to carry insurance for workers' compensation actually do so. An April 2012 expose by the News & Observer showed some 30,000 companies across the state did not pay for workers' compensation insurance when they should have - meaning their employees were unprotected in the event of a job injury. (These same businesses were also unsurprisingly found to be cutting corners on other types of insurance and their taxes, while state officials lacked the technology and resources to uncover these problems).

Lawmakers had previously instructed the North Carolina Industrial Commission, the entity responsible for handling workers' compensation claims, to tighten the purse-strings on payouts for work-related injuries. Those changes are slated to go into effect this year in April. At that point, inpatient services reimbursements are going to be slashed by 10 percent, surgery services will be cut by 15 percent and implant services reimbursements will be capped at a little less than 30 percent.

The industrial commission has also recently noted that it is working to help identify each of the businesses that are illegally skirting laws mandating workers' compensation insurance coverage. It is working on creating an automated database, but that could be a ways off. Ultimately, the commission has said it wants to catch businesses that may be misrepresenting the scope of their work in order to sidestep requirements to buy injury insurance for their workers, as well as paying certain taxes.

In order to help reach this goal, some of the measures that the legislative services commission plans to introduce includes:

  • A law that would make employers' workers' compensation coverage information public once again;

  • A law that would compel certain state agencies that maintain business records to turn those records over to the state controller in order for them to be reviewed for potential fraud;

  • A law that would provide instruction for a study that would determine ways to cut both the number of individual workers' compensation claims, as well as the dollar amounts paid on each individual claim.

That last measure in particular is concerning to us, and illustrates to you why it's critical to hire an experienced workers' compensation lawyer to handle your claim and ensure you receive the reimbursement you deserve.

Continue reading "NC Workers' Compensation Legislation Still Brewing" »

February 2, 2013

Fatal South Carolina Work Accident Raises Questions About Adequate Training, Emergency Response

The widow and cousin of a man killed in a South Carolina work accident at a York County paper plant have alleged that the training new employees received was inadequate and the emergency response was lacking. oldpaperroll.jpg

Our Rock Hill workers' compensation attorneys understand that this particular manufacturer has a history of serious and fatal work-related accidents over the last several years.

The 39-year-old North Carolina father's family has yet to file a lawsuit, but it's believed they intend to do so.

In this case, according to numerous news agencies, the worker, along with his cousin, were hired as contractors to do maintenance and cleaning on an aging, decommissioned, 40-foot fume tank that was located outside the primary production area. They were working third shift at the time of the incident. Investigators are still trying to piece together exactly how events unfolded, but preliminary evidence suggests that at some point, a chemical leaked into the tank while the men were inside, shortly after 1 a.m.

It's unclear at this point what that chemical was or what may have malfunctioned, but the worker's cousin and another man working inside scrambled to make an escape. The other employee was able to make it out, as was the cousin. However, the victim was dangling inside by a harness, and the other two were unable to pull him out. He was trapped.

The cousin later told reporters that when he rushed to the onsite safety supervisor to inform him of the situation, no one had a sense of real urgency in responding.

Perhaps even more troubling, the cousin called his wife to the scene. When she arrived, she said she could see her husband suspended inside the tank - yet emergency crews were parked outside, not in the factory trying to help him. County safety officials say protocol was properly followed, as workers could not get in to help the worker until the situation was safe for emergency personnel.

All three workers were reportedly wearing the proper protective equipment, but the cousin is also alleging that the contractors were not given proper training prior to being assigned to do the work. He said there was a perfunctory, 15-minute training video they were asked to watch, followed by a short quiz - to which the instructors provided the answers. The workers were on the job less than 12 hours later. He is likely right in his assertion that this was not enough to prepare them for what unfolded.

The company has called the situation an "unfortunate accident." The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched an investigation, and toxicology reports are pending from the autopsy.

Last spring at this same site, one man was critically burned and three others seriously hurt when a chemical leak erupted in pulping area of the factory. And in 2000, another two workers died during an explosion at the plant.

While one safety shortfall doesn't necessarily prove another, it does often seem to highlight a trend. Companies or supervisors that have proven lax in some areas may well be seen not applying proper procedure in others. This is ultimately the company's job to correct, but it's also important for workers who see potential hazards to speak up as well.

Continue reading "Fatal South Carolina Work Accident Raises Questions About Adequate Training, Emergency Response" »

January 29, 2013

North Carolina Workers' Compensation Study May End in Fewer Benefits

Last month, the North Carolina's Legislative Services Commission's nine Republican members launched a study into the state's workers' compensation program, and the results are due to be released late next month. darkdollar.jpg

Our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers know that what makes this of particular concern is that the members, set on reducing government spending, could ultimately use those findings as a way to cut state worker wages and slash critical benefits to those who have suffered on-the-job injuries.

Let's be clear here: We're not talking about milking the system, though that's the kind of language some conservative leaders use when talking about reductions. What we're talking about is workers who were gainfully employed, earning an honest wage to provide for their families and who have suffered an injury during the course of that work. In many cases, the factors that contributed to those injuries were beyond the control of the employee, having more to do with a lack of manager oversight or even employer negligence.

State workers are expressing significant concern given the fact that North Carolina is considered to be among the least union-friendly states in the country. The UE Local 150 has about 3,000 members (accounting for about 3 percent of state workers) and the State Employees Association of North Carolina has about 55,000 workers. Still, we are one of only two states in the entire country to prohibit collective bargaining for public workers. What this means is that workers are unlikely to get much say at all in the final decision.

Even so, some union leaders are expressing an even greater concern about the possible elimination of longevity pay in favor of a merit-based system. In theory, it sounds like a good idea: workers are paid based on their performance rather than the amount of time they've been employed. The problem historically is that such a system has led to well-documented instances of racism and favoritism.

Such measures could ultimately lead to a so-called "brain drain" in which the best young qualified workers seek state government work outside of North Carolina or in the private sector. Already, a report released in the spring of last year showed that state employees hadn't had cost-of-living adjustments for the last five years. They did receive a 6.75 percent wage during that time frame, but that failed to keep the pace with the 11 percent spike in the cost of living.

This only makes it harder when workers do suffer a work-related injury. Living paycheck-to-paycheck, they haven't had as much of an opportunity to set aside an adequate savings to prepare for emergencies. That means when an injury occurs, workers' compensation is even more important.

Particularly in fields where occupational hazards are already an issue, this is inviting tragedy.

Continue reading "North Carolina Workers' Compensation Study May End in Fewer Benefits" »

January 25, 2013

Railway Company Signs OSHA Agreement to Improve Worker Protections

The kinds of work-related injuries suffered by railroad workers in North Carolina and South Carolina are often very serious, debilitating injuries. railroadcrossing.jpg

And they continue to occur all too frequently. Our Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys understand that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has since 1993 listed railroad worker injuries as being double and even triple the rate of those in the general population. Most commonly, these involve transportation accidents and collisions, falls and electrocutions.

The deadly nature of the job in both North and South Carolina is part of the reason why our lawyers are taking note of the agreement signed by Texas-based railroad giant, BNSF Railway Co., as a result of a push by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The federal agency pressed for the agreement after taking on more than 1,200 Federal Railroad Safety Act complaints between Aug. 2007 and September 2012. This number of whistelblower complaints was unprecedented, and more than 60 percent of those involved allegations that retaliatory action had been taken against a railroad worker who reported a job-related injury.

That doesn't just involve BNSF, of course, but this company was reportedly one of the most egregious violators.

The FRSA, as defined under 49 U.S.C. 20109, protects a railroad worker from negative consequences, such as reprimand, suspension, demotion or termination, for providing information about what he or she reasonably believes may be a violation of federal law or a threat to public or worker safety. The law also prohibits companies from denying or delaying medical attention to a worker in the event of an on-the-job injury.

At BSNF, it was reportedly routine for the company to extend an employee's probationary period at least partially on the basis of any injuries he or she suffered during their initial hiring. Additionally, the company had established a point system for workers who had been injured, and dozens of workers were retaliated against for reporting injuries and/or safety concerns.

The agreement signed by company leaders has several outcomes, including:

  • The implementation of a legal review process when a worker who has suffered an injury or reports a safety hazard is subsequently disciplined;

  • The adoption of increased training measures for managers, labor relations officials and human resources administrators regarding FRSA, with the requirement that supervisors acquire annual certification on that training.

  • Eliminates the policy that tied probationary lengths to injuries sustained during that time, a move that effectively resulted in nearly 140 workers being immediately removed from probation;

  • Offered a settlement to nearly 40 workers who had filed OSHA whistleblower complaints as a result of the company's injury-related policies.

Under federal guidelines, there are 22 statutes that are enforced by OSHA and designed to protect workers. FRSA is one, and others include vehicle, airlines, pipeline, environmental, nuclear, public transportation, maritime, securities, food safety, consumer finances, consumer products and health care. It's worth noting that of these, FRSA complaints regarding railroad injury and retaliation rank #2.

Continue reading "Railway Company Signs OSHA Agreement to Improve Worker Protections" »

January 21, 2013

North Carolina Workers' Compensation For Phone-Related Crashes

The National Safety Council is urging employers to enact policies to reduce their liability with regard to workers who use cell phones while driving. smoothandgrainy.jpg

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers know that the state already has a ban on texting while driving.

But even these laws may not eliminate employer liability for cell-phone related crashes involving workers, particularly if employers are expecting their employers to remain in constant contact with supervisors while on the road.

It's estimated that one-quarter of all crashes everywhere in the country involve distracted drivers, with a large number of those instances attributed to cell phone usage. The NSC notes that employers that don't have a specific policy in place that bars employees from using cell phones while operating a motor vehicle have exposed their workers to the potential for injuries and their company to the potential for liability.

Vehicle crashes in general are the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths in the country, accounting for about 25 percent of all fatalities. For employers, employee crashes are expensive, costing on average about $25,000 in property damage and $150,000 for injuries per crash.

That's why the NCS is hosting two different seminars to serve as informational guides on prevention. The agency has also released promotional materials to employers in other parts of the country on reducing liability.

A total ban on cell phones by an employer would ideally cover:

  • All employees;

  • All company vehicles;

  • All company cell phones'

  • Both handheld and hands-free devices;

  • All work-related communications, even on personal phones and in personal vehicles.

There is ample evidence for why this is so important. The NSC cites a case in 2010 in which a young woman and her elderly mother were stopped at an intersection on a rural road when a cable company pickup truck careened toward them at 70 miles per hour. Upon impact, the two women died instantly. The cable truck driver told authorities he had been texting prior to the crash, his vehicle operating on cruise control.

As the NCS notes, even when employee drivers are abiding by state laws, these measures often constitute the minimum actions required. As a result, employers are encouraged by the NCS to exceed those regulations with their own internal policies.

Even in cases where a company doesn't own the car or the cell phone, it may still be held liable for worker injuries or fatalities that occur as a result of work-related, in-vehicle calls. In particular, companies that encourage in-vehicle cell phone use by employees risk increased liability. This is especially true given the fact that there has been an increased awareness of the issue in the public at-large. Employers can no longer claim ignorance on the issue. In fact, failure to have such a policy could be deemed as reckless or even grossly negligent.

Workers employed at such firms should take their safety concerns to supervisors or a human relations administrator, and document those encounters and responses.

Continue reading "North Carolina Workers' Compensation For Phone-Related Crashes" »

January 18, 2013

Flu Season Threatens Carolina Workplaces

It's flu season! And companies across the country need to be ready. It's imperative that we learn how to reduce the spread of the flu in our workplaces.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), workers in the healthcare field should be especially careful! In this field, many workers complete tasks like specimen analysis, aerosol-generating procedures, direct patient care and other dangerous tasks. These tasks are also performed in a number of setting, including both in- and out-patient care, schools, correctional institutions and industrial workplaces.
According to recent research, the 2012-2013 seasonal flu vaccine will protect against the three influenza viruses

Our Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys understand that there are a number of ways that you can prevent fly transmission. Some of these preventative measures include getting vaccinated, following the proper steps for cough and hygiene etiquette, staying home if you're sick, following all infection control practices in your work place and using surgical masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment when needed.

The truth of the matter is that pandemic flu continues to be a concern for employees and employers across the country. One of these pandemics can happen at any time,

The pandemic in 2009 was considered by HHS/CDC to be mild but it still created a number of challenges for employers and showed that many of our country's workplaces weren't prepared.

How to Protect Yourself in the Workplace during a Pandemic:

-If you're feeling sick, stay home. You don't want to spread the condition.

-Make sure that you're washing your hands often. Wash with water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds.

-Try not to touch your eyes, mouth or nose.

-When coughing, be sure to cover your mouth.

-Wash your hands after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.

-Try not to work within close quarters of others. Try to keep a 6-foot space.

-Avoid shaking hands. If you have to, wash your hands afterward.

-If you're wearing gloves on the job, be sure to wash your hands once you take them off.

-Surfaces that are touched often, like the phones, computers or door handles, should be cleaned frequently.

-Try to stay away from other workers' desks and personal items.

-Make sure all meeting and common rooms are properly ventilated.

-Keep unnecessary individuals out of the work place.

-Make sure your living health. Make sure you have a healthy diet, you're getting enough exercise and you're getting plenty of rest.

Continue reading "Flu Season Threatens Carolina Workplaces" »

January 17, 2013

Woman's Harassment Claim Overturned by Court of Appeals

A ruling of close to $500,000 was recently overturned by officials with the North Carolina Court of Appeals, according to the Fayetteville Observer. The suit was against Fayetteville's Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant where an employee claimed harassment and wrongful termination. The employee claimed that she was wrongfully terminated from the plant after stepping forward with racial discrimination and harassment.
The count decided to overturn a Cumberland County decision to award to a 2-year worker of the plant. They overturned the ruling because they "discovered" that she brought her case to the wrong venue.

Our Fatetteville workers' compensation attorneys understand that this isn't hasn't been the only bad news received by workers at the plant. A worker was recently denied further healthcare compensation for a back injury that happened back in 2000. We understand that workers show up on the job each and every day with the expectations of being protected on the job, and provided the proper compensation should something catastrophic happen on the job. Unfortunately, companies and the courts don't always have your best interest in mind -- and that's where an aggressive attorney. If you feel like you've been wronged on the job, it's critical for you to recruit experienced representation to help you to fight for the compensation that you deserve. Those who are fired or otherwise retaliated against for reporting a work injury or dangerous working conditions are protected from such actions by both state and federal law.

According to the recent ruling on the harassment and wrongful termination case, the victim claims that she was repeatedly harassed by her supervisor. She's black and she says that this was the basis of the harassment, in addition to discrimination against her for being a female.

In court, the worker claimed that her supervisor belittled her and screamed at her in front of other workers. She said that she felt intimidated and threatened.

"Plaintiff's supervisor's behavior toward plaintiff was obnoxious and rude; the harassment was verbal and involved some forms of intimidation but did not involve anything of a sexual nature nor did it involve any physical contact with plaintiff," said Donna Stroud, Judge with the Court of Appeals.

The employee claims that there were two additional black females (with Bachelor's degrees) who were overlooked for management positions. She goes on to explain that a Caucasian man who only made it through high school was granted the job. She says that she was informed that management experience and a degree were the only two requirements for the position.

The employee decided to file a complaint back in June with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June of 2009. Reports indicate that she was told to leave the company in August of the same year.

Officials with the Cumberland County Superior Court found that the company was guilty of wrongfully firing her, but was not responsible for discrimination. In addition, also denied her claim for emotional distress.

Continue reading "Woman's Harassment Claim Overturned by Court of Appeals" »

January 16, 2013

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Safety Concerns

Recently, officials with the National Safety Council (NSC) released a picture of work being done on a new office building. But something in the picture ultimately resulted in safety officials being alerted. In the picture, a worker was standing on what appears to be the third story of a building -- he was standing on the ledge of an open hole in the wall where a window was going to be installed. He was standing there with no fall protection, no harness and nothing to catch him if he fell.
According to the report put together by the NSC, the height of the man standing on the ledge of the building exceeded the 4:1 height to base ratio. There were no midrails and no ladder access. To make is even worse, the scaffold used in the picture was not erected and was not properly inspected.

Our Greensboro workers' compensation attorneys understand that the risks don't stop there. According to the NSC, the forklift in the picture was also sitting on top of an embankment -- a dangerous move to gain access to higher parts of the structure. Even worse -- the person on the forklift is not even an employee -- but the superintendent's teenage son.

When looking at this picture, it's like you're playing one of those eyesight games from the newspaper -- "What's wrong with this picture?" The only problem is that this picture is a real-life snapshot of what construction workers are dealing with on a daily basis here in the U.S.

So what were the problems in the picture?

-The employee on the scaffold could have fallen. It had not guard railing.

-The scaffold exceeded the allowable 4:1 height to base ratio to help to reduce risks of tipover accidents.

-The two workers who were on the pallet could also have fallen off or could have been thrown from the forklift.

How do we fix these kinds of problems?

-No scaffolds should be erected, altered or moved unless they're under the proper supervision.

-Scaffolds should be inspected before each shift.

-Workers who are exposed to falls should be provided with the proper fall arrest system, like a safety net system, a guard rail system or any other kind of fall protection.

-Underage workers and all other unauthorized individuals should be kept off of the construction site.

-Workers should never be lifted on forklifts of trucks.

-Supervisors need to be present on the worksite and working to ensure that the site is safe for everyone. They should all have completed some kind of supervisory training or the 10/30 hour training through OSHA.

-Employees should be trained in workplace dangers and in ways to reduce the risks of accidents on these work sites.

The truth of the matter is that construction sites are the most dangerous areas to work in throughout the United States. Of the more than 4,000 workers killed on the job in 2011, close to 18 percent of them were in construction, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites were falls, followed by electrocution, struck by object, and caught-in/between.

Continue reading "A Picture is Worth 1,000 Safety Concerns" »

January 15, 2013

Carolina Construction Workers Risking Lives Daily

The construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries for employees. For this reason, officials with the North Carolina Department of Labor are working to raise awareness about the top four hazards these workers face. They're talking about these risks and ways to help to prevent these kinds of accidents.
Our Asheville workers' compensation attorneys understand that construction workers risk their lives far too often on the job. They're working with some seriously heavy equipment and they're working at some alarming heights. If not careful, serious accidents can result in the blink of an eye. We're here with the North Carolina Department of Labor to talk with you about these incidents and beneficial ways to prevent them.


Falls are the number one risk that construction workers throughout the state face. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these accidents account for about a third of all construction fatalities each year. What's even worse is that these incidents have been increasing annually since 2003.

To help to protect against these accidents, workers should be provided with the proper fall arrest systems. Workers should be provided with safety netting, guardrails and/or safety harnesses. When employees are required to work 10 or more feet above a lower level, they should be provided with guardrails in addition to a fully planked work surface and toe boards.


Electrocution is also one of the leading causes of work fatalities for construction employees. On average, someone is electrocuted and dies as a result every day here in the U.S.

To help to protect against these accidents, workers should be provided with ground fault circuit interrupters. All power tools should be grounded before use and tools should be inspected before each and every use. Lastly, workers should never be required to complete a job near energized power lines.


Construction workers are oftentimes hit by falling, flying or swinging objects on the job. Working below elevated work sites heightens this risk. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than 25 percent of construction employee fatalities are a result of these incidents.

To help eliminate these risks, workers should stay away from suspended boards. Structures should also be barricaded. If employees work near traffic, they should be equipped with reflective vests to help motorists to see them.


These accidents can easily happen when working in trenches, working with heavy machinery and even when working in between large objects. Close to 20 percent of all on-the-job deaths in the construction injury are a result of "caught-in" accidents.

To help to reduce the risks of these accidents, workers in trenches should have ladders, trench walls and the proper supervision. Those working with heavy equipment should stay out of the area in which the machinery is being operated. Never disable or remove equipment guards.

Continue reading "Carolina Construction Workers Risking Lives Daily" »

January 13, 2013

OSHA Targets High-Risk Workplaces

There's a brand new inspection plan and it's targeting dangerous workplaces. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Site-Specific Targeting 2012 program is going to be dropping in on the workplaces with the highest rates of illnesses and injuries.
This program is one of OSHA's top programs and inspection plans for tackling the issues related to non-construction workplaces with high risks for accidents. The companies that will be targeted must employ 20 or more people. Safety officials will be targeting the companies, the employers and the workplaces that have been deemed dangerous from a survey taken of nearly 100,000 establishments in high-hazard industries. Establishments will be randomly selected for inspection from a primary list of 1,260 establishments.

Our Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys understand that it's these high hazard workplaces that need the most attention. By focusing attention on these industries, OSHA officials hope to determine the effectiveness of the current safety and health efforts and work to make them even safer and more efficient. As a U.S. worker, you should know your rights on the job and one of the most important of your rights is the right to a safe work environment!

"Our goal is to prevent worker injuries and illnesses and save lives," said David Michaels, OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor. "The Site Specific Targeting program helps OSHA focus its enforcement resources to high-risk employers who are endangering their workers' health and safety."

Nursing and Personal Care Facilities National Emphasis Program will be inspecting personal care establishments while more than 10 National Emphasis Programs will be inspecting the following industries:





In addition to these efforts, there are also another 150 Regional and Local Emphasis Programs.

The bottom line is that employers are required to provide safe and healthy work conditions for their workers. They're to eliminate all known work hazards and to provide workers with the proper training and safety equipment to help to ensure their safety. Employers who do not follow these rules are subject to federal punishments.

If you feel like your safety is being compromised on the job, you're urged to speak up. Discuss the problem with a manager, a supervisor, the owner of the company or even with OSHA officials. Your rights as a worker allow you to come forward with this kind of information and concern without the risk of being retaliated against or treated unfairly.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were close to 3 million reported injuries and illnesses in 2011 in the Private Industry in the U.S. Close to 1 million of these cases caused workers to lose days on the job. During this same year, there were close to 5,000 people who were killed on the job (in all sectors). Roadway accidents accounted for more than 1,000 of these fatalities, while falls, slips and trips accounted for more than 650. Many of these accidents could have been prevented with safer work practices!

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January 10, 2013

Backover Accidents -- A Work Site Risk in the Carolinas

Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are meeting to discuss preventative measures regarding vehicle backover accidents. They're going to be discussing the risks associated through various industries and are meeting to talk about new technology and ways that can help to reduce the risks of these accidents.
Officials with OSHA first put a Request for Information on these kinds of accidents in the Federal Register back in March of last year. OSHA has already received a number of responses from people, companies and organizations on how employees are being injured in these kinds of accidents and what measures can be taken to help to prevent them. The stakeholder meeting is going to help to provide companies, employers, employees and various safety professionals with an open opportunity to talk with OSHA about these risks.

Our Greensboro workers' compensation attorneys understand that there were 70 employee deaths reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as a result of backover accidents in 2010. These kinds of accidents most commonly occur when someone is kneeling, standing or walking behind a vehicle on the job.

One of the first things you can do to help to prevent these kinds of accidents is to know how they happen. They can occur because of a number of on-the-job factors. For example, excessive noise, riding on the outside of a vehicle and even lingering in blind spots can cause these accidents.

When backing up a large work vehicle, drivers should always have a spotter. What a spotter does is stand on the outside of the vehicle, near the back of it, and helps to direct the driver on where it is safe to reverse.

Another way that we can help to reduce these incidents is to get more backup cameras into more vehicles. With these kinds of cameras, drivers are presented with a clear view of what's behind them. They can see objects, people and whatever might be behind their vehicle.

Employers are also asked to map out their work sites. Better planned out work sites also reduce the risks for these kinds of accidents. Don't allow vehicles to park where there is high on-foot traffic or where there are materials lying around.

Make sure that all on-foot workers are wearing bright and reflective vests. This is going to help them to stand out more to driving employees.

Lastly, it's important to make sure that all driving employees are properly trained. Make sure that they're aware of their blind spots and of ways to ensure that they're clear before stepping on the gas. If a driver doesn't know where their blind spots are then they're more likely to get into one of these accidents.

These kinds of accidents are common on construction sites. It's important for all employers and employees to make sure everyone is aware of the risks for these kinds of accident. Assure a safe work site today!

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January 5, 2013

Some Injured North Carolina Workers' Are Not Getting the Help They Need

On December 27, 2012, the Charlotte Observer brought a disturbing story to light. The article discussed the plight of North Carolina workers who had been injured but whose employers had failed to have the required workers' compensation insurance in place. Without insurance, employers became responsible for paying damages to injured workers themselves. Unfortunately, the Charlotte Observer reported that many workers simply weren't being paid. 551909_handicapped_parking_spot.jpg

Our Greensboro workers' compensation attorneys believe that every injured worker deserves workers compensation benefits as guaranteed under North Carolina law. We work to help injured workers get the benefits they deserve and we applaud the Charlotte Observer for drawing attention to the problem of workers whose employers failed to follow the rules.

When Employers Don't Have Workers' Compensation Insurance
Almost every employer in North Carolina is required to purchase workers' compensation insurance for their employees. Unfortunately, the Charlotte Observer points out that many employers don't do as they are required. According to the Observer, an April report revealed that as many as 30,000 employers didn't carry the required workers' compensation insurance.

When an employee works at a company that doesn't have proper insurance, that employee can face a major problem if he or she gets injured. The Observer told some stories of workers in exactly this situation. Employers are supposed to pay the bills and costs for these workers, but many employers don't do as they are required. One worker, for example, was owed more than $100,000 in payments by his employer and had received only $75.

The North Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission is attempting to force employers to pay what is required, calling back cases and even threatening employers with jail time if they do not pay what they owe to their injured workers. This has been successful in some cases, as bosses that are threatened with going to jail have reportedly worked out payment arrangements and began paying workers. However, many workers still wait to receive the compensation that they need to pay their medical bills and support themselves while too impaired to work.

One possible solution suggested in the Charlotte Observer is that the state should set up a fund to protect injured workers and make sure they get benefits if they are working for an employer who failed to have the required insurance. Money for the fund could be provided, at least in part, by penalties charged against employers who do not have the workers' compensation insurance they are required to buy. South Carolina set up such a fund 30 years ago and the fund is supported by a fee attached to workers' compensation premiums.

If North Carolina followed suit, the fund could go a long way towards helping injured workers in the state get the help they need. Workers' compensation is supposed to be a social safety net that guarantees that injured workers' don't end up reliant on Medicaid, Social Security disability and food stamps. If workers' compensation fails due to employers not buying the insurance that they are required to purchase, there should be a fallback system to ensure that the full cost of supporting the injured worker doesn't land on the taxpayers.

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