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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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January 3, 2013

Avoiding Workplace Needlestick Injuries During Flu Vaccination Season

In pharmacies throughout the United States, flu vaccines are being offered as we move into flu season. While these flu vaccines are intended to protect patients from catching a potentially dangerous strain of influenza, they are also increasing the risk of workplace injury in pharmacies across the Carolinas and the rest of the United States.

Our Greenville workers' compensation attorneys urge those working in the healthcare profession to exercise care to avoid needle sticks this upcoming flu season. We also remind those in the healthcare industry that many needle stick injuries are preventable if the proper precautions are taken. 1285558_injection_needle_macro_2.jpg

The Dangers of Needlestick Workplace Injuries During Flu Vaccine Season
Employees working at pharmacy chains are at risk of suffering needle stick injuries during flu season. Environmental Expert published a December 18, 2012 article in which they summarized data from NIOSH as well as other information about needlestick workplace injuries. According to the article:

  • From 2000 to 2011, 31 different pharmacy locations reported 33 different needlestick injuries. While this may not seem like a lot of injuries, Environmental Expert also indicated that many such injuries go underreported.

  • 24 of the needlestick workplace injuries that were reported occurred between September and January. This is the period during which flu vaccines are administered. A full 73 percent of the needlestick injuries, therefore, occurred during flu vaccine season.

  • The rate of needlestick injuries at major pharmacies generally ranges from 0 to 3.62 for each 100,000 vaccines given.

  • Injuries due to needlesticks were most likely to occur after the needle had been used to administer the vaccine to patients but before the needle had been disposed of.

When a worker is struck by a needle, this puts the worker at risk of developing serious medical problems as a result of the workplace injury. For example, a person who is injured at work by a needlestick could develop HIV, tuberculosis or herpes. The Centers for Disease Control also reports that around 20 other pathogens could also be transmitted to a worker as a result of exposure from a needlestick.

Staying Safe from Needlestick Injuries
While Environmental Expert focuses on pharmacies since they administer many flu vaccines during mobile clinics and other events during flu season, pharmacists are not the only ones at risk of potentially being harmed at work by being stuck by a needle. In fact, CDC estimates indicate that as many as 385,000 needlestick injuries occur each year among hospital healthcare workers.

This means that pharmacy workers as well as other healthcare providers all need to exercise caution when using needles to administer vaccines or other medications to patients. Taking your time when using a needle to administer a vaccine, as well as using heavy-duty utility gloves to handle used needles, can both help you to stay safe and avoid this dangerous type of workplace injury.

The North Carolina Nurses Association also has a position statement on safety in the workplace that addresses the issue of needlestick injuries and that provides important information on how to make healthcare workplaces safer for nurses and other care providers. This position statement can give workers some additional advice on how to avoid needlestick injuries and other risks in the healthcare field.

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January 1, 2013

North Carolina Poultry Plant Workers Could Face Increased Risk of Work Injury

On December 18, 2012, the Charlotte Observer reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had put forth a proposal to increase line speeds at poultry plants. Under the terms of the new proposal, line workers would jump from inspecting 140 birds to inspecting 175 birds per minute. In other words, line workers would be expected to work much faster to get more done in the same amount of time.

Our Greensboro workers' compensation attorneys are concerned that the increase in line speeds could put workers at greater risk of workplace injury. Workers on assembly lines at poultry factories are already at risk of nerve and muscle damage due to the nature of their work. Expecting more of these workers and requiring them to do even more repetitive motions even faster could significantly increase the damage to their bodies and cause them to suffer more repetitive stress work injuries.1351907_hairy_skin_2.jpg

The Dangers of Increased Speed in Line Work in Poultry Plants
Advocates in favor of the USDA proposal to speed up the line work done by poultry workers argue that there is no evidence that workers will be at greater danger of injury when asked to work faster. According to the Charlotte Observer, for example, USDA indicates that no data exists to substantiate the idea that workers will be at greater risk and, further, that USDA has no authority to regulate worker safety in the poultry industry.

The Observer also quotes advocates who indicate that the Bureau of Labor Statistics data has shown a decline in injuries in the poultry industry of as much as 74 percent since 1994. However, those who advocate for the rights of workers indicate that these and other figures may be misleading because poultry companies are responsible for self-reporting injuries. This means many injuries may not be reported or recorded and so the full extent of the dangers to workers remains unknown.

There are also other factors that contribute to the underreporting of workplace injuries. For instance, workers in poultry plants tend to be low wage workers who are sometimes undocumented immigrants or non-English speakers. These workers may not be aware of their workplace rights or may be afraid to assert those rights. Because of these combined factors, it should come as no surprise that a Wake Forest Study indicated that the BLS data might be underestimating the risk of injuries in poultry plants by as much as 70 percent.

Further, although the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association alleges that pilot plants operating at faster speeds are no less safe than other plants, others disagree and argue that the increased speed requirements put already at-risk workers in greater danger.

Even with the artificially low estimates, 2006 BLS data indicates that 20.8 out of every 10,000 poultry-plant workers had to miss work due to repetitive stress disorders. With increased line speeds, this number is only going to grow much larger as workers put more strain on their bodies and do the same repetitive motions even more often.

When a worker suffers a repetitive stress injury at work, workers' compensation is supposed to cover the injury, which would mean that the increased line speeds could come at significant cost. Unfortunately, the question remains as to whether workers who are asked to speed up their work and who do suffer harm as a result will actually be able to assert their rights.

Continue reading "North Carolina Poultry Plant Workers Could Face Increased Risk of Work Injury" »

December 30, 2012

COPD Awareness Month Draws Attention to Workplace Exposure Issues

During the month of November, the US COPD Coalition sponsored COPD awareness month. COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease, a respiratory condition that develops as a result of breathing in dust, fumes and pollutants. Unfortunately, COPD often develops as a direct result of exposure in the workplace and workers in certain industries are at a greater risk of developing the debilitating condition.

With COPD Awareness Month at an end for the year, our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers want to remind employers and workers that it is important to stay vigilant about avoiding respiratory risks during the entire year. Workers also need to be aware of COPD risks and to always get medical help if they suspect that they might be developing respiratory problems. 1401831_industrial_smokestack.jpg

Minimizing the Risk of COPD
COPD is actually a medical term for several different lung problems and breathing issues that impact individuals. There are two main forms of the condition, according to the National Institute of Health. These include:

  • Chronic bronchitis, which usually manifests with a mucus-filled cough

  • Emphysema, which causes progressive deterioration of the lungs.

For most patients afflicted with COPD, they have a combination of both of these problems as well as other respiratory infections or lung diseases. Unfortunately, because of their respiratory issues, many are also fatigued, have trouble breathing and are limited in their ability to perform everyday tasks. More than 120,000 people die of their COPD health issues each year.

Unfortunately, many of those who suffer this debilitating condition or who die as a result of it developed the condition due to exposure in the workplace. Any worker who is routinely exposed to environmental irritants, such as air pollution, fumes, chemicals or dust, can increase his or her risk of developing COPD. Everyday Health, however, indicates that certain workers are at a greater risk than others. For instance, miners, industrial workers, those who work with coal or cotton fibers, and manufacturers of concrete tend to be at the greatest risk of developing COPD.

Any type of repeated or ongoing exposure to environmental hazards, from coal dust in the air to chemicals or pollutants, can be dangerous and workers and employers need to make sure that air quality standards are met in order to minimize COPD risks.

Staying Safe from COPD and Avoiding Workplace Exposure to Toxins
While some industries simply result in more exposure to dust, pollution and toxins than others, there are things employers can do. For example, it is essential for:

  • Employers to comply with OSHA guidelines on air quality

  • Workplace policies to promote minimal exposure to dust. For example, coal workers can reduce the coal dust they breathe in by letting the coal dust settle prior to handling bags.

  • Industrial vacuums and respiratory masks to be used in high-risk environments.

By following these and other safety tips, employers and workers can minimize the chances of a worker developing COPD. Since COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., it is worth making the extra effort to try to stay safe.

Continue reading "COPD Awareness Month Draws Attention to Workplace Exposure Issues" »

December 28, 2012

Employers Continue to Fall Short on Fall Protection Measures

According to 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls were a top cause of workplace deaths last year. Unfortunately, while the dangers of falls are well-known to employers and employees, employers still aren't doing enough to help keep workers' safe.

Our Asheville workers' compensation attorneys urge employers to make a resolution to do better on following fall protection guidelines in the upcoming year. We also want employers and workers to be aware of the grave dangers that falls present in the workplace. 1001441_yellow_scaffold.jpg

The Dangers of Workplace Falls
The dangers of workplace falls are undisputed and statistics clearly show that many workers are seriously injured or killed as a result of either falling on the same level (slipping, tripping, etc.) or falling to a lower level (down a hole, off scaffolding, etc.). In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics :

  • 666 workers died as a result of falling on the jobsite in 2011. In total, falls were responsible for 14 percent of all 2011 workplace deaths

  • 108 fatal workplace falls occurred as a result of slips, trips or other falls on the same level.

  • 60 fatal workplace falls occurred when a worker fell down through an opening.

  • 38 fatal workplace falls involved a worker falling from equipment or falling as a result of the collapse of a structure.

In addition to the hundreds of workers who were killed in falls, many workers were injured as well. In fact, there were 3 million injured workers in 2011 and many of them were hurt as a result of falling.

Yet, despite the fact that so many workers die or are injured due to falls, employers often seem to come up short in taking safety steps to stop these accidents from occurring. In fact, many employers even go so far as to violate safety standards set forth by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

Falls are Top Cause of OSHA Citations
Recently, OSHA released a list of the most frequency cited standards in 2012. The data on citations was collected from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012. According to their information on OSHA violations that employers were cited for, fall protection rules in the construction industry were the number one source of violations.

In addition, violations of scaffolding standards and requirements were the number three most common cause of citations. Of course, when an employer violates rules on safe scaffolding, the risk of falls is also increased.

OSHA also reported that falls were number one and scaffolding number two on the list of standards that OSHA assessed the highest penalties for in 2012. This means employers paid the greatest price for noncompliance with fall protection and scaffolding safety standards.

The high number of deaths caused by falls, coupled with the fact that noncompliance with fall protection guidelines and scaffolding guidelines are the top causes for OSHA citations, all clearly indicate that employers need to do better in securing the safety of their workers.

Continue reading "Employers Continue to Fall Short on Fall Protection Measures" »

December 26, 2012

New Study Indicates Construction Injuries May Be Under Reported

Towards the end of October, the results of a study were published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The study involved an interview of 1,200 carpenter apprentices that were in three different union training programs. The purpose of the study was to get a better understanding of whether safety incentive programs resulted in workers' being discouraged from reporting work injuries. Unfortunately, the results of the study revealed that underreporting of work injuries is a major problem.

Our Raleigh workers' compensation attorneys want to draw attention to the problems raised by this new study and to encourage construction workers to understand their legal rights. Workers' compensation laws protect workers who are injured at work and no worker should ever be afraid to get the benefits that the law guarantees. 1402599_untitled.jpg

Study Shows Construction Injuries Underreported
The results of the study on injuries in the construction industry focused on the impact of programs that either reward supervisors for good safety records or that impose penalties to punish for injuries.

The purpose was to determine whether these programs discourage the reporting of work injuries- and it turned out that they do create a significant disincentive. In fact:

  • 58 percent of the carpenters who responded to the survey reported that there was either a safety incentive at their current job or that there were policies in place to punish or discipline workers as a result of work-related injuries.

  • In situations where workers were disciplined for injuries, workers reported their workplace accidents and injuries 50 percent loss often than when such policies did not exist.

  • Almost 30 percent of those responding to the survey indicated that workplace injuries were either rarely reported or never reported at all.

Based on the responses to the surveys, the researchers indicated that they had discovered considerable evidence that workers feared consequences or some type of retaliation if they reported their work injuries to their employers.

Unfortunately, the results of the survey also indicated that even when workers knew that they had the right to report their injuries, they were still discouraged from doing so in many cases as a result of subtle pressures from employers, union leaders or co-workers. Employees, fearing that they might be fired or disciplined or otherwise subject to negative consequences would thus not report injuries even if they knew they were supposed to have legal rights.

Protecting Your Access to Workers' Compensation Benefits
If you suffer a workplace injury and do not report it, you could jeopardize your right to receive workers compensation benefits. This could become a major problem, especially if your injuries become worse or if you do not get better and you are not able to work. Workers' compensation benefits are supposed to provide a safety net in these situations and to ensure medical bills are paid and disability benefits provided. Unfortunately, your employer could argue that you aren't eligible if you didn't come forward and tell the truth about your injury from the start.

If you have been hurt at work and fear consequences for making a workers' compensation claim, you should speak to an attorney for more information on how to enforce and protect your legal rights.

Continue reading "New Study Indicates Construction Injuries May Be Under Reported" »