Category Archives: Workplace Injury

The Right to a Safe Workplace

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Under federal law, every employee has the right to a safe workplace. If you believe your workplace is dangerous and changes in safety policy are ignored, you can request an inspection from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Workers’ compensation, which is regulated on a state-by-state level, covers medical bills, lost wages, disability and vocational rehabilitation services for employees injured on the job. If you have any questions regarding these benefits, please contact an experienced lawyer in your area.

 If you believe you work in an unsafe work area, here are some tips to be aware of to make sure your workplace is as safe as possible, and you protect yourself from significant injury:

  1.  Know the hazards in your workplace.
  2. While in a seated position, keep your shoulders in line with your hips. Use good form when lifting.
  3. Injuries occur when workers get tired. Take breaks when you’re tired.
  4. Do not skip safety procedures just because it makes the job easier or quicker. Using dangerous machinery is the one of the leading causes of work injuries.
  5. Be aware of where emergency shutoff switches are located.
  6. Report unsafe work areas.
  7. Wear proper safety equipment.

If you are injured due to an unsafe workplace, and you are unsure of the benefits that you are entitled to, contact an experienced attorney in your area.

Nanotechnology in the Workplace

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

During cancer research in 1986 an accident created the first man-made nanoparticle, an incredibly small particle which can absorb radiant energy and theoretically destroy a tumor. One type of nanoparticle is 20 times stronger than steel and is found in over 1,300 consumer products, including laptops, cell phones, plastic bottles, shampoos, sunscreens, acne treatment lotions and automobile tires. It is the forerunner of the next industrial revolution.

What is the problem? Unfortunately, nanoparticles are somewhat unpredictable and no one really knows how they react to humans. A report out of China claims that two nano-workers died as a result of overexposure, and in Belgium five males inhaled radioactive nanoparticles in an experiment and within 60 seconds the nanoparticles shot straight into the bloodstream, which is a potential setup for disaster. In a survey of scientists 30% listed “new health problems” associated with nanotechnology as a major concern.

Lewis L. Laska, a business law professor, wrote an article in Trial Magazine (September, 2012) in which he advised lawyers to become knowledgeable about nanoscience and be aware of the potential harm to workers and others who come in contact with this new technology, particularly because the EPA, FDA and OSHA have neither approved nor disapproved the use of nanostructures in products. It has been said that workers are like canaries in the cage (in mining operations), and if nanoscience is a danger then workers’ compensation lawyers will be the first to see it and appreciate it.

“Opting Out” of Worker’s Compensation Hurts Workers and Employers (Part 2)

Last week we explained Wisconsin’s rich history of protecting injured workers through its mandatory workers’ compensation system. This week we’ll look at what is happening in Texas and Oklahoma, where it is not mandatory for employers.

Alternative worker’s compensation programs( like that of Texas’—and now Oklahoma— non-subscriber / “Opt Out” scheme) have the potential to significantly reduce workplace safety. Since experience rating is a fundamental component of worker’s compensation insurance systems, the comp system provides economic incentives to employers through reduced insurance costs to companies with reduced injury rates and safe workplaces.  Texas’ “opt out” option  means that an employer can choose to be self insured or become a non-subscriber and opt out of worker’s compensation insurance entirely. Those employers opting out of worker’s compensation systems are not experience rated and there is no economic incentive to reduce workplace injuries and ensure safe work environments for their employees.

Most recently on April 17, 2013 a fertilizer plant exploded in Texas, killing 15 and injuring approximately 200 people. EMS workers, firefighters, and other first responders were among the casualties.  The West Fertilizer Company was approved to have no more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate in the plant, but instead, 270 tons were reported to be on site. West Fertilizer failed to inform the Department of Homeland Security of the amount of fertilizer it had. Texas had as well the worst recorded industrial accident in America in 1947 when 3,200 tons of ammonium nitrate resulted in almost 600 deaths and 3,500 injuries.

Texas has the worst work-related fatality rate in the nation.

Texas has the worst work-related fatality rate in the nation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 433 reported fatalities occurred in 2011 alone in Texas with the highest (4.79 per 100,000 workers) for the last ten years. (Oklahoma is in line to follow). 

Oklahoma’s worker’s compensation measure was signed into law May 5 and it drastically changes how Oklahomans are compensated for on the job injuries. Republican Governor Mary Fallin has tried to change the worker’s compensation system for over 20 years in State politics.  She indicated the bill would reduce costs for businesses. The law changes worker’s compensation system from a judicial to an administrative one, allowing businesses to opt out of the worker’s compensation systems as long as they provide “equivalent” benefits to injured workers. Opponents of the law indicate that it is unfair to injured workers because it will reduce their benefits. The implementation of “equivalent” benefits, and what kind of injuries are covered or uncovered by those who “opt out” of the system is yet to be determined.

Cautionary note to employers: since those employers that “opt out” of worker’s compensation are no longer allowed the benefit of the exclusive remedy provision of worker’s compensation, workers who are not covered by worker’s compensation can sue their employers. For example, in a recent Colorado case where an undocumented worker (who by Statute in Colorado was not covered under worker’s compensation) received over a $1 million verdict against the negligent employer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_industrial_disasters

Worker’s compensation systems benefit both employers and workers, and the dangers of opting out of the system means a retreat to harsh industrial conditions, producing  the same kind of inequities  that workers’ comp remedied over a century ago. The situation calls to mind the maxim that those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.

“Opting Out” of Worker’s Compensation Hurts Workers and Employers (Part 1)

More than a century ago, Wisconsin’s initial efforts in worker’s compensation led the nation. In 1911 Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to place a broad constitutionally valid worker’s compensation system into operation. Recent events, specifically Oklahoma’s passing legislation to allow employers to “opt out” of worker’s compensation (following the “lead” of Texas) calls into question the great bargain made between employers and workers over a century ago. Prior to the enactment of worker’s compensation in the early 20th Century, workers who were injured on the job had to overcome three common law obstacles in order to recover from their employer.

Under contributory negligence, a worker could not recover from the employer if the worker had been negligent in any way and that negligence contributed to the accident, regardless of how negligent the employer may have been.

Under assumption of risk, if a worker knew or should have known of the danger inherent in the task at issue before undertaking it, the employer was not liable for an accident arising from the task even if the employee was not negligent.

Under the fellow servant rule, employers could not be held liable for accidents caused by fellow employees. 

The combined effect of these common law defenses served to deny Continue reading

Why Do Roofers Fall From Roofs? Is it just because of gravity?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Today I received an urgent call from attorney representing a client in New Jersey who fell from a roof. Before she told me the job description of the injured worker, now in a coma, I correctly anticipated that it was probably a roofer who had fallen from a roof, yet again.

This scenario has played out in workers’ compensation claims for decades. How the accident happened is usually an argument with the employer. The employer claims that the employee was either intoxicated or not following safety precautions. My instinct always tell me that this is probably incorrect, since roofers tend to lose their balance and fall for many other reasons, including “gravity.”  Some reason a deprivation of oxygen and/or exposure to toxic neurological irritants contained in the roofing materials, and weather related events that make roofs slippery.

Continue reading

Nursing Facilities Have Higher Incidence Of Workplace Injury Than Construction

Today’s post comes from guest author Nathan Reckman from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics “Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – 2010” report, the United States is becoming a safer place to work. In 2010, there were 3.1 million non-fatal work injuries reported. This translates to 3.5 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents, a slight decrease from the 2009 rate of 3.6 injuries per 100 full-time workers. The rate of injuries per 100 workers has been decreasing every year since 2002. In 2010, Iowa reported an above average number of work injuries, averaging 4.4 injuries per 100 full-time equivalent workers.

Of these 3.1 million injuries, nearly 76% (2.2 million) of injuries occurred in the service industry. Service jobs make up 82.4% of the labor market. Nearly 24% (0.7 million injuries) occurred in manufacturing industries, which make up 17.6% of the labor market.

Surprisingly, the state owned nursing and residential care facilities workers reported the most injuries at 14.7 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents. The industry with the most reported injuries in 2009, Local Government supported Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction, improved from 12.5 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents to 8.6 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents in 2010.

The statistics are encouraging, but I look forward to the day where there are no fatal workplace injuries, and where workplace safety is a primary concern for all employers and workers.

Can I Cash This Check?

On a daily basis, I hear a similar question from injured workers: “Can I cash this check?”   This question usually occurs after a worker has been receiving her weekly checks during a healing period after a work injury.  After the treating physician assigns a healing plateau, often an injured worker in Wisconsin receives a relatively large check in the mail from a workers’ compensation insurance company.  Many workers become concerned that cashing that check ends the case or is a complete “settlement.”  

If you did not sign a Full and Final Compromise Agreement–between you and the insurance company–then accepting and cashing a check from the insurance company is acceptable in Wisconsin. 

This is certainly a valid concern, especially for the vast majority of injured workers who are unfamiliar with the workers’ compensation system and laws.  Here is the key: You can cash the check.  If you cash the check, you are not agreeing to stop your claim or stop your medical treatment.  Under the workers’ compensation laws, the only way that an injured worker can agree to end the claim is by Continue reading

2013: New Wisconsin Comp Rates

A new year means new maximum rates under the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Law

Happy New Years!  Welcome to 2013.  As with most calendar changes, a new year means new maximum rates under the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Law.  You can find the new maximum wage rate chart here.

For injuries occurring after January 1, 2013, the new maximum permanent partial disability rate is $322/week (up from 312/week in 2012).

For temporary total disability benefits, the “maximum” average weekly wage is $1,318.50, which equals a max TTD rate of $879/week for injuries in 2013.  This means that any worker earning more than $1318.50 is capped at $879/week while healing from a work injury.  If a worker is earning less than the “max” rate, they continue to receive 2/3 of their wages while healing from a work injury.

Also, the maximum death benefit (4 times a worker’s annual wage) has been raised, but capped at $263,700.00 for a dependent.