March 26, 2013

Record-Keeping and Reporting of Work Injuries Required by OSHA

Employers have many obligations when it comes to workplace safety. In addition to maintaining a safe workplace and purchasing workers' compensation insurance for their employees, employers must also follow OSHA rules when it comes to reporting injuries. 1370555_lots_of_files_2.jpg

Our Greenville work injury lawyers urge all employers to ensure that they understand and follow the OSHA injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting requirements. OSHA mandates that serious work injuries and occupational illnesses must be reported and that employers must keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. The recorded information helps OSHA to track work injuries and identify dangerous worksites.

OSHA Reporting Requirements
OSHA provides information on reporting and record keeping in 29 CFR 1904. According to this regulation, covered employees must use the OSHA 300 log in order to prepare and maintain records of any serious injuries.

Employers who have ten or more employees who are not exempted under OSHA regulations must not only use the OSHA 300 log but must also detail injuries and illnesses using Forms 300A and 201. Illnesses and injuries that must be recorded include:

  • All work-related fatalities. Workplace deaths must also be orally reported to OSHA within eight hours of the death occurring, provided the employer is covered by the OSH Act.

  • All work-related injuries and illnesses that cause a worker to miss work or that necessitate a worker being transferred to a different job or restricted in the work performed.

  • All significant work-related injuries and illnesses that are diagnosed by a physician or a licensed health professional. Any illnesses or injuries that require treatment beyond basic first aid should be reported.

  • Chronic and acute illnesses including skin diseases; respiratory problems and poisoning that result from exposure to toxins in the workplace.

OSHA mandates that records of these and other workplace injuries be kept any time the workers' health problems are "work-related." OSHA defines work-related injuries, illnesses or fatalities as any condition that was caused by doing work, or that the work environment contributed to in any way.

Reporting and record-keeping requirements also mandate that employers take note of when a pre-existing injury or illness has been made worse as a result of work duties. For example, if someone who was already suffering back problems hurt his or her back more severely at work, then the worsening of the original back injury could be considered a work-related problem and the injury would need to be recorded.

OSHA uses the records and reports produced in order to analyze hazards within an industry; in order to draft and implement worker protection regulations to reduce or eliminate hazards; and in order to evaluate workplace safety.

Employers who are required to complete Form 300 must also complete and post Form 300A in the workplace each year from February 1- April 30. Form 300A is a summary of work-related illnesses and injuries that occurred. Employees and/or their representatives have a right to see this annual posted summary so they can better understand the hazards and safety conditions in the workplace.

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March 24, 2013

How Sequester May Increase South Carolina Workplace Injuries

Our Anderson workers' compensation attorneys know that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plays an important role in keeping workers safe. Unfortunately, cuts to OSHA are just one way in which workers may be endangered by something called the "sequester."990868_graphic_down.jpg

The sequester went into effect on March 1, 2013, cutting the budget of the United States federal government by $85 billion this year. The cuts will occur across-the-board and the Post and Courier indicates that South Carolina is going to be hit hard. One of the potential consequences of the sequester and resulting cuts is that workers in the state may be at greater risk of injury and may have a harder time getting their workers' compensation benefits.

Workplace Injuries May Increase Due to The Sequester
The sequester was established as part of a standoff between Democrats and Republicans in 2011. The leaders of the political parties were not able to come to an agreement on how to cut spending to address the growing deficit in the United States. As a result, the sequester was proposed.

The arrangement was that $85 billion would be automatically cut from defense spending and discretionary spending, if the parties could not agree on an alternative solution. The cuts were intended to be painful so that neither political party would want them to go into effect but the parties could not agree and the cuts took effect on the first of March.

As the Post and Courier indicates, this means that some federal workers in South Carolina will be furloughed. The sequester is expected to slow growth and shrink the GDP, so other employers may also be forced to make personnel cuts as well.

Unfortunately, whenever employers lay off workers or cut back their hours, this increases the chance of an accident happening. After all, fewer workers will be trying to do the same amount of work, which can lead to rushing and careless accidents. Workers may also be asked to complete tasks they don't normally do, which could put them in jeopardy of being hurt.

Employers, strapped for cash by the sequester, might also cut corners when it comes to ensuring a safe workplace or taking steps to protect workers from injury.

Unfortunately, these employers may not be caught if this does occur because OSHA inspectors are also being furloughed. The National Safety Council reports that as many as 1,200 potentially-dangerous worksites will go uninspected as a result of the sequester.

All of these factors come together to mean that more workers may be in danger due to the budget cuts. Tragically, even as the risk of workplace injuries increases, it may become harder for workers to make a claim for workers' compensation benefits. This is because employers and insurance companies may be more suspicious of claims during bad economic times.

As Property Casualty 360 reported in their article, insurers are being cautioned to be alert to claims filed by furloughed workers or by workers fearing a layoff who may exaggerate or invent injuries so they can secure workers' compensation benefits.

Property Casualty 360 specifically singles out soft tissue injury claims. Insurers have always been more suspicious of these kinds of claims since they cannot be conclusively proved or disproved using medical evidence. With this heightened suspicion, workers who have a greater chance of being hurt will also have a harder time getting helped.

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March 23, 2013

Temporary Workers May Be At Greater Risk of Workplace Accidents

On February 26, 2013, My Fox 8 published an article about a North Carolina business saving approximately $270,000 by not having full time employees. According to the article, the situation is part of the "boom in temporary work" which many employers use as a cost-saving measure. 1237611_teamwork_2.jpg

Our Greensboro workers' compensation attorneys know that temporary workers may be covered by workers' compensation through the temp agency that they are technically employed by. However, when an employer hires temporary workers, that employer can also become liable for workplace injuries under certain circumstances. Further, when a company hires temporary workers, the chances of a workplace injury may be higher as a result of lack of experience and other related issues.

Temporary Workers at Risk for Work Injuries
There is a great deal of concern among some experts about the rights of temporary workers and about whether they are in greater danger of being harmed at work. On March 27, 2013, for example, an article on Salon addressed the serious injuries suffered by a temp worker who had been scalded with a 185-degree solution of water and citric acid.

The temp worker was severely burned by the solution when he was cleaning a 500-gallon chemical tank. The hatch on the tank was opened and the solution erupted, covering the worker. According to federal investigators, the bosses in the factory refused to contact an ambulance and instead a co-worker drove him to a medical care clinic. Only after he visited the clinic was he taken to a hospital.

The man died three weeks later due to scalding and chemical burns. Federal investigators reviewed the death and conditions inside of the factory and discovered that the conditions and safety breakdowns were so bad that a criminal investigation was warranted.

Salon indicates that the plight of this worker and his resulting death is not unusual and that there are 2.5 million temp workers in the U.S. who often work in the least desirable conditions, who are often injured at work and whose injuries are often unreported.

This became a higher profile case because of the death and because of the egregious behavior of all involved. However, any temporary worker may be at risk because he is less sure of his rights; because the safety rules and the conditions where he works might be lax; and because employers and co-workers might feel less responsibility to prevent injury than they would if there was a permanent employment relationship. Many of these injuries happen all the time and no one ever hears of them.

In this case, the family of the man who was burned and killed has filed a workers' compensation claim against the temporary agency that employed the man and a wrongful death claim against the employer.

The dual claims illustrate the potential risks to employers in hiring temporary workers. While workers' compensation normally shields an employer from civil liability and limits a worker to a workers' compensation claim, determining the rights of the worker and the obligations of the employer are more complex outside of the traditional employment relationship.

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March 20, 2013

NSC Offers Advise to Reduce Workplace Car Accident Injuries

Our Lexington County work injury lawyers know that employers can be held responsible for work injuries that their workers suffer as a result of doing their jobs, even in cases where those work injuries happen off-site. One common cause of workplace injuries that can give rise to workers' compensation claims is workplace car accidents. Workplace traffic collisions can not only create a workers' comp case but can also give rise to a company being sued by other car accident victims as well. 1417191_hand_holding_mobile_smart_phone.jpg

Since employers can find themselves (and their insurance companies) on the hook for workplace injuries that happen on the road, it is important for employers to have policies in place that reduce the chances of auto accidents occurring. The National Safety Council (NSC) provides important tips and advice for employers and NSC is now conducting an upcoming course on how to curb distracted behavior and avoid liability for distracted driving accidents.

Protecting Workers from Workplace Distracted Driving Crashes
Workers in the transportation industry can get into a car wreck and get hurt on the job, as can any worker who has to drive as part of his required work duties. A worker running an errand for a boss, picking up supplies or transporting a client would be considered on-the-job if he got into an accident and would thus be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. If these drivers are on their phones, they are far more likely to get into a crash.

The NSC has organized a day-long seminar in Long Beach on April 25th, 2013 in order to tackle the problem of distracted driving among employees who drive as part of their work duties.

The seminar is part of NSC's Employer Cell Phone Policy Seminars and attendees can register online to attend. For those who cannot attend, the lessons that NSC will be imparting are still important and you can get the basic underlying message simply by taking a look at the information that will be presented.

NSC is going to be discussing:

  • Why distracted driving is dangerous

  • Employer liability for crashes in which employees were distracted by a cell phone or wireless device.

  • What employers should include in policies addressing employee cell-phone use.

  • How to build support from management about putting a cell phone policy into place.

  • How employees should be informed and educated about cell phone policies.

The seminar lessons are important because around one in four auto accidents occurs at least in part because the driver is distracted by his cell phone and paying insufficient attention to the road.

NSC indicates that when an employer fails to prohibit cell phone use or protect itself, the employer can not only become liable for workers' compensation claims made by employees but could also potentially be held liable by injured accident victims for the actions of the employee. This is because employees are seen as agents of their employers.

A business can potentially be liable for all of the resulting damages that were done to the other drivers in the crash caused by an employee. This would be an entirely separate legal proceeding from the workers' compensation claim, which an employee would also be able to make if injured in the crash.

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March 17, 2013

BBQ Held to Help Carolina Man Get Back to Work

On Ronald Patterson's 51st birthday, he's just happy to be around.

Patterson was involved in a construction accident over 30 years ago. It nearly killed him and rendered his legs nearly useless.
"I was working down in South Carolina, and I had a piece of equipment that exploded," said Patterson.

Immediately following the work accident, Patterson was taken to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He spent about a month there. He's spent a number of years in a wheelchair and then in a walker. Now, he's thinking about heading back to work.

Our Chapel Hill workers' compensation attorneys understand that work may be unavoidable after a catastrophic accident. Unfortunately, on-the-job accidents and injuries come at serious cost. Workers' compensation might not always cover these costs -- making working again a fact of life for those have been seriously and irreversibly injured.

To help with the costs of physical therapy and occupational therapy, the White Hill Presbyterian Church hosted a BBQ dinner. It was help on the 16th of March, and with just $8.00 a plate, offered a helping hand. He's scheduled to complete therapy in Fayetteville and hopes to return to the job soon.

Not only does Patterson want to go back to construction, but he wants to resume his employment with the same company he was with when the accident happened. He says that he's not mad at the company for the accident. He adds that they have been extremely helpful in the years since the accident. He even said they saved a spot for him for when he was ready to return.

Unfortunately, he'll be walking into some of the same accident risks that injured him on the job 30 years ago. The truth of the matter is that the construction industry is the most dangerous industry in which to work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were close to 800 construction workers who were killed on the job in 2011.

The four most common causes of death of those in the construction industry are electrocution, calls, caught-in/between and struck by object accidents. These incidents are oftentimes referred to as the "Fatal Four" and were the cause of three out of every 5 fatalities in the construction industry in 2011.

"Every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly 4 million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy." said the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis.

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March 16, 2013

Cranes: A Deadly Hazard on NC Worksites

Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) scheduled two informal stakeholder meetings to talk about certifications among crane operators. They're focusing on the Cranes and Derricks in Construction standard.
Officials want to help ensure that these operators get properly trained in order to help to reduce the risks of on-the-job accidents. But they need to know how far to take this certification. Officials with OSHA are working on making sure that each type of crane is used properly and the risks are kept at a minimum. Certification and inspection can save lives on construction sites.

Our Greensboro workers' compensation attorneys understand that the current requirements are part of the Cranes and Derricks in Construction set back in August of 2009. Officials are checking to make sure that these standards are adequate. They're expecting the new certification requirements to be set in stone by November of 2014. Secondly, the new standard is going to require that certifications be issued by an accredited testing organization and that they specify the "capacity and type" of cranes the operator is certified to operate.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, companies and employers are required to provide a healthful and safe environment for their workers. OSHA works to enforce these standards and these safe conditions.

For more information on these stakeholder meetings, visit the OSHA website.

Unfortunately, crane-related injuries continue to be among some of the most common injuries suffer on job sites across America. These accidents can cause a significant number of damage in a widespread area alongside serious, and even fatal, injuries. According to officials with OSHA, there are about 200,000 cranes operating in the U.S. today. Many of these cranes are operated by skillful and properly trained worker, but there are those exceptions. With so many in operation today, the risks for accidents have skyrocketed. That's why it's so critical for workers to be trained and safe to reduce the likelihood of on-the-job injury as a result of crane accidents.

OSHA officials report that the most common kinds of injury and death from crane accidents is electrocution. Only a portion of the crane has to touch a power line for it to turn in to a ginormous electric char. Falls are also a common cause of these accidents. A good number of these falls are the result of poorly fastened floor access panels and safety harness malfunctions. And don't forget tipping, which accounts for about 75 percent of crane accidents.

By properly inspecting cranes and making sure that they're in good operation, we can work do reduce a good number of these kinds of accidents. The most recent statistics show that close to 90 percent of the cranes in the country are not certified. It's time we change this and it's time we work to protect our construction workers.

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March 13, 2013

North Carolina Worker Killed - Multiple Safety Violations Noted

Officials with the North Carolina Department of Labor are scrutinizing a manufacturing plant in Lincolnton after an employee was killed after an on-the-job accident. Officials with the Occupational Safety and health Administration (OSHA) say that the plant violated a number of safety standard on multiple occasions over the last 4 years.
According to the Lincoln Times-News, there have been six non-serious violations and a serious violation handed over to the plant since 2008. RSI Home Products' plant #2, where these violations were noted, is the same place where the recent fatal accident happened. Accident reports say that the man caught himself while he was working on one of the angular saws. He suffered serious injuries on site and later died in the hospital. The plant produces cabinets.

Our Charlotte workers' compensation attorneys understand that officials and inspectors are again investigating the site. They're talking with workers, those who may have witnessed the accident as well as management personnel. We know that RSI was not forced to pay any of the fines or penalties from any of the 2008 violations. The only thing RSI had to dish out was a $600 fee for neglecting to mark permanent passages and aisles inside of the facility.

In addition to these violations, the company may have never even known the employee who was killed. Detectives discovered that the man was working at the plant under a fake name for the four years he was employed there.

OSHA officials are once again investigating this plant. This could take up to six months. Officials are going to try to figure out what exactly happened to cause this accident and to see if that cause relates to one of its previous violations. Officials will also work with the company to make sure that the proper changes are made to help ensure that this will never happen again. Unfortunately, these conditions already took a human life.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were close to 150 workers killed in the state of North Carolina in 2011. That's far too many! Unfortunately, that's a number that jumped by nearly 10 percent from the year before. What's even worse is that the number of on-the-job fatalities nationwide decreased during this same time.

In the state of North Carolina, more than 50 work fatalities resulted from transportation
accidents, close to 30 from violence and other injuries by persons or animals and another 30 were the result of falls, slips and trips. Together these three major categories accounted for close to 75 percent of all fatal work accidents.

Within the construction industry, workplace fatalities ranked the sector as the second most dangerous of all workplaces. There were more than 30 people killed in the construction industry sector, up 5 from the previous year. Falls, slips, and trips accounted for close to 15 of the employee fatalities, while close to 10 of them were the result of exposure to harmful environments or substances.

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March 10, 2013

Restaurant Injuries and Young-Worker Safety in the Carolinas

For a young person looking for employment, there are a limited array of available options. One industry that reliably hires and employs young workers, however, is the restaurant industry. Young workers routinely take jobs in fast food, as bus boys or dishwashers, as waitresses and waiters or at other roles within all types of restaurants. 1341160_hotel_fasade_1.jpg

Unfortunately, OSHA indicates that young workers employed in restaurants are in a risky environment. Hazards exist in all aspects of the food service industry, including drive-thru work, clean-up, serving customers, cooking, delivery and food preparation. These hazards can become worse and much more dangerous if employers do not train their employees or do not follow proper safety precautions. Our Spartanburg workers' compensation attorneys urge everyone to pay careful attention to what restaurants are doing. Young workers who work in these facilities, often for minimum wage, also need to understand some of the key risks that they face.

Restaurant Injuries and Young Workers
According to OSHA, potential hazards on the job site at restaurants may include:

  • Strains and sprains as a result of lifting heavy trays, twisting out of place to reach items on high shelves or bending.

  • Slips and falls as a result of wet floors or debris in walkways.

  • Burn injuries and scalding injuries from serving or preparing hot foods.

  • Respiratory or other health problems from breathing in car exhaust when working a drive-thru window.

  • Cuts from using knives to prepare food.

  • Electrical injuries such as from using dishwashers or other kitchen appliances in the preparation of food.

  • Heat exhaustion from serving or delivering food outdoors.

  • Frostbite or hypothermia from working in freezers, stocking or cold-storage areas.

  • Repetitive stress injury from serving, standing for long periods of time or other movements that put stress on the joints and muscles.

  • Workplace violence due to robberies.

These are just some of the many different types of workplace injuries that young workers in the restaurant industry are susceptible to experiencing. Restaurants are busy places with lots of customers and lots of potential hazards. It is essential that employees exercise care for their own safety when in the workplace, but it is even more important for employers to create a safe working environment and healthy conditions for all of their workers.

Keeping Kids Safe from Restaurant Workplace Injuries
It is imperative that employers follow all OSHA guidelines regarding work conditions and child labor to protect young workers. For example, workers under age 16 are generally limited from performing late-night work, especially during the school year. Workers under the age of 18 may also be prohibited from using certain type of restaurant and food-service equipment such as electronic meat slicers.

If a young worker does fall victim to a workplace accident, he or she should be sure to understand the legal rights available. Young workers, even those who are working part time, may be covered under state workers' compensation laws and entitled to make a claim to have medical bills and disability costs covered.

Continue reading "Restaurant Injuries and Young-Worker Safety in the Carolinas" »

March 8, 2013

Study Reveals Federal Data Underreports Amputation Work Injuries

On March 7, MedicalXpress provided information on a disturbing study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. According to the study, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is significantly underreporting the number of amputations following jobsite accidents. The study was conducted by Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Community Health, but it raises concerns on a national level. 1338212_business_man.jpg

Our Carolina workers' compensation attorneys understand amputation injuries can be particularly devastating and are a common risk in many occupations. Amputation injuries are life-changing and a worker who loses a limb, fingers, toes or other body parts may need expensive and ongoing medical treatment as a result. Permanent impairment may also result, even with the use of prosthetic limbs.

It is essential for the full number of amputation injuries to be recorded and it is disturbing that some workers who have suffered such serious injury are not being counted.

The Study on Amputation Injury Underreporting
The Bureau of Labor statistics assembles information from all of the states throughout the U.S. on the number of work injuries and types of work injuries that occur over the course of the year.

Health care providers must also report to the state certain types of injuries that occur, regardless of whether those injuries were work-related or not. Detailed data is collected in Michigan by MSU.

Researchers conducting the study on amputations after workplace accidents reviewed available data on both reported health issues/injuries and on the number of work injuries the BLS was told about. Based on the information, researchers found that 616 work-related amputations occurred within the state of Michigan in 2008. Unfortunately, the federal estimate published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was that there were only 250 amputations in the state. The actual number of amputations from jobsite accidents, therefore, was around two-and-a-half times the number of amputations the BLS indicated occurred.

While this research focused on Michigan, the problem may be far more widespread and the BLS may simply not be reporting on the number of amputations correctly. Errors are likely being made because the BLS reportedly bases it estimates on a review of surveys from only a sample of local employers who are required to complete the questionnaire.

These sample sizes, clearly, may not be fully representative of how many amputations and injuries are occurring. Without accurate knowledge of exactly how many amputations are happening due to work accidents throughout the United States, lawmakers and regulators are less able to effectively do their jobs. As a co-author of the study stated: "How do you know where to deploy your resources?" if you have incorrect numbers and don't know how many people are getting into accidents that cause amputations.

The co-author of the study also expressed concern that it would be difficult to measure whether programs were successful in reducing the number of amputations after work injuries if there was no clear way to measure how many occurred.

It is very important that this measure of human loss be accurate, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics can and should consider a change. According to the MedicalXpress article, BLS altered their use of a survey-based system for tracking fatalities at work because they realized the system was missing around ½ of workplace deaths. A switch was made to including data from police reports, death certificates and other sources and BLS is now more accurate in measuring worker death. Yet, the same outdated survey system remains for calculating the number of amputations, and should be changed to provide a more accurate picture of the state of workplace accidents and injuries.

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March 3, 2013

South Carolina Lawmakers Aiming to Change Workers' Comp Laws for First Responders

Workers' compensation laws in South Carolina are supposed to cover all employees. Unfortunately, the laws do not take into account the special nature of the jobs that police officers and firefighters perform within the community. As a result, those working in these demanding and heroic jobs may not have the workers' compensation coverage they need.

According to The State, Lawmakers in South Carolina are now aiming to expand workers' compensation to provide additional coverage for mental injuries that law enforcement may face. Our South Carolina workers' compensation lawyers are firmly in support of efforts to broaden the coverage for those workers in the most emotionally demanding jobs in the state. 1136132_firefighter_and_landowner.jpg

Workers' Comp Claims for Mental Injuries
While workers' compensation is supposed to cover all injuries that arise as a direct result of work duties, there are limits on when mental injuries are covered. If you are facing only mental damage and not physical damage, the standard is that you can obtain workers' compensation benefits only if your mental stress is caused by extraordinary or unusual job conditions.

In October of 2009, a Spartanburg County sheriff's deputy shot a man who was threatening to kill him. Unfortunately, the sheriff's deputy is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident. The deputy has tried to kill himself twice since the shooting, and he has not been able to work since it occurred.

The deputy is currently collecting police disability retirement pay. However, he attempted to make a workers' compensation claim and was denied benefits. The Supreme Court in the state ruled that law enforcement can expect they may need to use lethal force over the course of their work and that the event that caused the deputy's post-traumatic stress disorder was thus not "extraordinary and unusual."

This raises many concerns. First, the goal is never for law enforcement to kill someone, so it is questionable to argue whether the shooting truly was not "extraordinary and unusual." The more pressing issue, however, is that this definition and standard for workers' compensation benefits may be hard to meet and may prevent a first responder from getting benefits to which he truly should be entitled.

Police, firefighters and other first responders are exposed to many upsetting or traumatic things over the course of their job that could be considered an "ordinary" part of performing their work. Even "ordinary" exposure to violence, murder or death could, however, cause an officer or first responder to experience PTSD or other mental issues. If and when these issues can be directly tied to their job, denying them workers' compensation undermines the purpose of workers' compensation claims.

Lawmakers recognize this and are now trying to change the rules. The House Judiciary Committee offered a bill towards the end of February 2013 that would exempt public safety workers including firefighters, EMS workers, police and corrections officers from the "extraordinary and unusual" standard. If the bill becomes law, workers' will have a broader ability to obtain compensation for their work injuries that occur on the job.

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February 28, 2013

North Carolina Workplace Injuries Must Be Tracked By Employer

Employers have until April 30 to report back to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration concerning any work-related injuries and/or illnesses staffers may have incurred during 2012. cautionwetfloor.jpg

While our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers know that this may seem of little consequence to most employees, especially considering you may only be learning about some of these incidents many months after the fact.

However, we believe it's important to avail yourself of information regarding real situations that caused your co-workers harm, as this may help you prevent some of those same situations from causing injury again in the future.

OSHA requires that all employers with 10 or more workers and who have not been previously classified as partially exempt have to report work-related illnesses and injuries by filling out several OSHA forms. Submissions were accepted beginning Feb. 1, 2013 and are being collected through April 30, 2013.

Some examples of the exempt companies include those in historically low-hazard fields, such as insurance, real estate, finance, retail or service. A full list can be found by clicking here.

Those employers who are required to fill out accident and injury reports have to post this information or make it available to all employees. OSHA notes that all employees - past and present - are entitled to copies of that paperwork. If you request a copy of these forms, you have to be provided a copy of these records by the end of the following business day.

The types of things that are covered include:

  • All work-related fatalities;

  • All work-related illness or injuries that result in time away from work, restriction of duties, assignment to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid or loss of consciousness;

  • Any major work-related illness or injury - even if it doesn't meet the above criteria - has to be recorded;

  • These include, but aren't limited to: sprains, fractures, cuts, skin diseases, respiratory disorders or poisoning.

Treatments for illness or injury that would fall under the first-aid category of ailments (and therefore would not be reportable) include:

  • Immunizations;

  • Cleaning, soaking or flushing wounds;

  • Hot or cold therapy;

  • Bandages;

  • Eye patches;

  • Removing foreign contaminants with a cotton swab;

  • Finger guards;

  • Massage therapy;

  • Consumption of fluids for heat stress;

  • Removal of splinters;

  • Use of non-prescription strength painkillers.

That's not to say ailments treated with these methods COULDN'T be reported, but if that treatment was truly the full extent of it, it's possible you may not find out about that injury or illness.

At the end of the day, employers have a legal and ethical responsibility to provide a workplace that is free from major hazards and to adhere to local, state and federal laws and regulations applying to safety. That means giving employees the proper tools to do the work, as well as making sure employees are well-trained and aware of potential hazards. Informing workers of any failures in this regard shows good faith on the part of employers, and encourages constant evaluation and improvement.

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February 26, 2013

Overexertion Leads to Work Injuries in Winston-Salem

We hear a lot about "overexertion" as it relates to sports or outdoor activities carried out in high temperatures.hothothot.jpg

To be sure, those things are a risk - but they aren't the only risk. Our Winston-Salem workers' compensation attorneys know that job-related overexertion is the No. 3 cause of work injuries in the U.S., accounting for some 3.3 million hospital trips each year, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

In an effort to combat this, the National Safety Council has launched an awareness campaign to reduce some of the more common overexertion risk factors.

We know that overexertion affects every individual differently because even those carrying out the same tasks might have a different tolerance threshold. We must also understand that over time, even an individual's threshold is going to shift. Carrying out certain kinds of physical labor can be a lot tougher at 55 than 25.

That said, the most common overexertion injuries involve some type of sprain, particularly to the lower back. In most cases, these injuries are the result of excessive physical efforts in the form of lifting, lowering, carrying, holding, pushing, pulling and turning.

While it is up to your employer to ensure you are safe and not taking on more work than you can physically handle, it's also up to you to voice concerns when you are concerned you may be taking on too much.

OSHA has created a lift operations calculator to help workers determine how much lifting is too much lifting. Let's say you are lifting from a beginning position of knee to waist from 12 inches away. If you do six to seven of these lifts for two hours or more per day, your lifts shouldn't be more than 10 pounds if you are twisting less than 45 degrees with each lift and should be a maximum of 8.5 pounds if you are twisting more than 45 degrees at a time.

If that same amount of lifting is occurring at an above-the-shoulder angle, the weight should be no more than 7.5 pounds if you are twisting less than 45 degrees with each lift or a maximum of 6.4 pounds if you are twisting more than 45 degrees at a time.

Many workers, particularly those in construction and perhaps in certain stock retail positions, would likely find themselves over this threshold.

Lifting isn't the only problem. The NCS reports that sitting in an awkward position can put a great deal of stress on the wrong part of your body. We don't think of sitting as being a source of overexertion, but it absolutely can be if you aren't seated properly. Same goes for any type of repetitive motion.

Recognizing when you may have reached your limit is important. Insist on taking a break if you experience any of the following:

  • Painful or sore muscles;

  • Dizziness;

  • High blood pressure;

  • Sweating profusely or feeling overall very hot;

  • Nausea;

  • A heartbeat that flutters;

  • Low abdominal pain.

Alternatively, if you start to experience (or see a co-worker experiencing) shortness of breath, severe headaches, blue lips or fingers and a marked lack of coordination, stop working immediately and call 911.

Continue reading "Overexertion Leads to Work Injuries in Winston-Salem" »

February 23, 2013

North Carolina Workplace Violence a Serious Concern for All

A North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper recently survived being shot by a suspect who fired at close range into the officer's hands, shoulder and face. The suspect, a Vermont native with a long criminal history, had been initially stopped for not wearing a seat belt. shatteredglass.jpg

Our North Carolina workers' compensation attorneys understand that the trooper is expected to make a full recovery after undergoing at least two surgeries.

While we are happy that this trooper narrowly avoided a tragic death, sadly too many people leave for work and never come home, victims of workplace violence. It's not just police or corrections officers, either. The fact is, no one is immune. Everyone from store clerks to school teachers have faced this reality.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, some 2 million Americans report being victims of workplace violence every year. That's considered a low estimate, as many instances are never reported.

Some of the occupational duties that may heighten the risk include:

  • Exchanging money with the public;

  • Working with unstable or volatile people;

  • Working in isolated areas or alone;

  • Providing care and services;

  • Working in establishments were alcohol is served;

  • Working at night;

  • Working in high-crime areas.

In addition to police, some of the more at-risk professions include delivery drivers, convenience store clerks, healthcare workers, public servants, customer service personnel and anyone who works in small groups or alone.

Still employer in this country should assume this is a real possibility and take appropriate measures to protect their workers.

Unfortunately, not every company takes this responsibility seriously. Recently, OSHA's Region 4 office (which also covers North Carolina) filed a lawsuit against a Florida construction company after supervisors allegedly firing a worker for reporting workplace violence. For two years, the employee reported, a supervisor had made inappropriate sexual comments and advances, behaved abusively, screamed and yelled, made physically threatening gestures and threatened to withhold the worker's paycheck. The employee implored the supervisor to stop and informed him he was creating a hostile work environment. It did not end, however, and the worker was fired.

Companies need to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to violence. That includes not only with supervisors and among fellow workers, put also with visitors, clients, contractors, patients and anyone else with whom employees may come in contact.

Zero tolerance should include swift disciplinary action against any offenders. When those individuals are also employers, actions may include reprimands, suspension and termination.

A recent study by the FBI Academy outlined approaches to workplace violence that do NOT work. Those include:

  • Denying a problem;

  • Not communication with those involved;

  • Lack of careful vetting of job applicants;

  • Not having a clear, written policy against violence;

  • Not documenting reported incidents of previous violence;

  • Lack of a company-wide commitment to safety.

Every worker who leaves for his or her job in the morning should be able to return safely, without assault and without having suffered any form of abuse.

Here's what employers SHOULD do:

  • Have a zero-tolerance violence policy and communicate that to all employees at every level;

  • Occasionally survey workers to gauge whether there are problems or room for improvement;

  • Offer basic violence prevention training for supervisors and workers;

  • Provide a physically secure work space;

  • Periodically evaluate workplace violence prevention plans.

Continue reading "North Carolina Workplace Violence a Serious Concern for All " »

February 21, 2013

North Carolina Braces for Winter Work Hazards

A cold front has been hovering over North Carolina in recent days, causing plummeting temperatures, accumulation of ice and snow and major headaches for companies trying to ensure their workers are safe on the job. signinthesnow.jpg

Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers know that most workers don't get "snow days" the way we used to as kids, so the importance of ensuring your workplace is safe in the midst of these snowstorms can't be overstated.

This is especially true in North Carolina because unlike many of our Northern neighbors, snow and ice aren't every day occurrences here, so many employers aren't as prepared for it as those who expect to deal with it on a regular basis each year.

According to the National Weather Service, approximately 7 out of 10 injuries that happen during winter storms happen on the roadways. Many of us, even if we don't drive full-time for a living, do occasionally have to head out of the office as part of our job. Keeping your vehicle road-worthy and remaining alert, free of distractions and traveling at an appropriate speed can significantly cut down the risk.

In addition to on-the-job motor vehicle accidents, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Association reports there are numerous other ways that workers are injured during winter storms. Those include:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning;

  • Slips and falls on icy or slick walkways;

  • Roof collapse under the weight of snow;

  • Being struck by falling objects such as utility poles, tree limbs and icicles;

  • Hypothermia and/or frostbite attributed to exposure to freezing weather;

  • Falls from heights;

  • Electrocution as a result of coming in contact with downed power lines or objects that are connected to power lines;

  • Burns from fires resulting from either equipment failure or energized line contact;

  • Back injuries or heart attacks prompted by the physical stress of snow removal;

  • Exhaustion from having to work longer shifts to make up for those who were either sick, unable to make it in or simply from the storm prompting a larger work load.

It's up to each employer to carefully assess what precautions should be taken in the workplace to protect workers in the midst of a winter storm.

Employees too can be proactive in this. Keep the following in mind:

  • Wear proper footwear with decent rubber grip or treads that can help you avoid slipping on ice or snow;

  • Slow your pace while walking and take shorter steps;

  • Watch out for cars or vehicles that may have lost traction and may be sliding toward you;

  • Wear bright, reflective colors and appropriately warm clothing;

  • Recognize potential workplace hazards that could lead to cold-induced injuries or illness;

  • Avoid exhaustion by taking a break when needed;

  • When out in potentially treacherous conditions, work in pairs;

  • Stay far away from damaged or downed power lines;

  • Electrical workers should be wearing the proper safety equipment;

  • Outdoor workers use equipment that is designed to be used outdoors and in wet conditions;

  • Keep your vehicle in good working order - check your brakes, cooling system, engine, tires, exhaust oil and visibility systems.

Continue reading "North Carolina Braces for Winter Work Hazards" »

February 18, 2013

Audit: North Carolina Industrial Commission Ineffective

The North Carolina Industrial Commission was the target of scathing criticism in a report following an investigation launched by the state auditor's office recently. workerandtheexcavator.jpg

Our North Carolina workers' compensation attorneys understand that the crux of the problem is the commission's ineffectiveness to make sure businesses obey laws that require them to carry insurance to cover potential workplace injuries. The commission is the entity responsible for deciding how and if tens of thousands of workers each year will be compensated following an on-the-job accident.

The agency's reported failure, according to the audit, essentially leaves workers without any guarantee of payment for the work they have lost, as well as the immense burden of paying hefty medical bills. Most of the time, the auditor indicated, the workers employed by these uninsured firms don't learn that they aren't covered by workers' compensation until after he or she suffers an injury and needs to file a claim.

As it now stands, the commission's current practices don't identify or track non-compliant businesses on any sort of routine basis. Businesses who violate the law in this regard are only pinpointed after someone is hurt or killed.

The report went on to say that from June 2011 through June 2012, in excess of 11,000 North Carolina businesses either cancelled their workers' compensation insurance plans or allowed them to lapse. In all, some 30,000 companies that should carry the insurance per state law actually don't.

That same year, there were approximately 65,000 workers' compensation claims filed in the state and funneled through the commission. It's unclear exactly how many of those claims involve employees whose employers don't actually have coverage.

The law mandates that any company with three or more workers has to have insurance for those workers in case someone gets injured on the job. There are exceptions, however, including domestic servants, federal government employees, farm laborers and some railroad workers.

But businesses skirting the law have little incentive to change. Until last year, the fines and penalties levied against these firms were paltry, and most of the time not collected anyway.

In 2012, the agency started increasing the financial penalties for failure to comply and it did alter a few of its policies. So from 2011 to 2012, the collective amount of the fines for non-compliance went from about $80,000 to $6.5 million. Still, the audit reports only about 2 percent of those penalties have actually been collected.

The commission says the reason for this is that payment of the fines are often put on hold until the company pays the worker what it owes in medical bills and lost wages.

The agency isn't entirely dodging responsibility, which is encouraging. Administrators say they are working to implement new policies that will allow them to spot non-compliant businesses sooner so they may issue warnings. There is also a question on the table of whether the commission should hire an outside firm to act as a bill collector for those companies that don't pay the fines in a timely manner.

Recent legislation should help. Workers' compensation insurance information now has to be shared with the North Carolina Labor Department, as well as the commission. Additionally, new bills have been introduced that would effectively make employers' insurance policies public information. Another measure proposes firing all the current commission members and instead making them governor-appointed posts.

Continue reading "Audit: North Carolina Industrial Commission Ineffective" »