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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency under the federal Department of Labor charged with assuring worker safety. The Administration’s mission is to assure “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Most private employers, as well as some government employers, are covered under OSHA.

Construction WorkerSimply put, OSHA establishes a set of rights and responsibilities for both employers and employees regarding workplace safety. Part of this duty includes establishing a series of workplace standards that all OSHA-covered employers are supposed to follow. These standards, generally based on relevant industry standards, are designed to ensure that all covered workplaces are safe for employees. OSHA periodically inspects workplaces and cites employers for violations of the standards.

According to a recent industry news report, OSHA proposed a series of 18 changes to the current standards that may go into effect later this year. The last change to OSHA standards was in 2011. Most of the changes are designed to bring current standards more in line with industry standards that may have fallen out of date as the industry evolved. Some of the changes also codify, or standardize, various standards across an industry that may be different in certain geographical areas.

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Earlier this year, a federal appellate court issued an opinion dismissing a personal injury case filed by an injured worker after he had already received Workers’ Compensation benefits from his employer. In the case, Black v. Dixie Consumer Products, the court held that since the at-fault party was an employee of a company that had a contractor relationship with the plaintiff’s employer, the at-fault party’s employer was protected under the employer’s Workers’ Compensation plan.

Forklift in WarehouseA Truck Driver Is Hurt While Unloading Cargo

The plaintiff, Black, was a truck driver employed by a freight company that delivered raw paper pulp to Dixie, a company that then turned the pulp into paper products. One day, Black arrived at the Dixie plant and began helping a Dixie employee unload the cargo. As the two were unloading, the Dixie employee ran over Black’s foot with a forklift.

Black obtained Workers’ Compensation benefits through his own employer, and he later filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dixie, claiming that the negligence of a Dixie employee caused his injuries. Dixie filed a motion for summary judgement, claiming that since Black had already obtained benefits for the injury, the company was immune under the “contractor immunity” theory.

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Lawmakers in Oklahoma passed legislation three years ago that gave companies the ability to “opt out” of the state’s workers’ compensation system and write their own plans. It was yet another example of the gradual whittling away of injured workers’ rights across the country. Large companies were emboldened by this success and began lobbying heavily for similar measures in other states, including Georgia. courthouse

Then came the stories about how unfair this opt-out system was for workers. Suddenly, employers were responsible for setting the terms of which injuries they would cover and which they would not. Workers were held to varying standards about when they had to report their workplace injuries. Some were given a month, others just a day. A worker at one company might be paid a certain amount for a finger amputation, while another might receive far less. Many workers were having to rely on taxpayer-funded programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, to cover the cost of their work-related injuries.

Now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ended the opt-out program in that state. In Vasquez v. Dillard’s, the court declared Oklahoma’s version of opt-out unconstitutional. The court reasoned these opt-out plans treated one group of workers differently from all others in the state. The primary example given was the amount of time workers had to report claims at this retail store:  just one day. Normally, workers in the state have 30 days.

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It’s not uncommon in Georgia workers’ compensation claims for employers or insurers to dispute causation in order to avoid having to pay the claim. This is especially true in cases where the worker was seriously injured and may require temporary total disability payments or some type of permanent disability payments, partial or total.forklift

Proving causation does not mean you have to show that you never before suffered injury to the body part in question. Rather, it means that those prior injuries or conditions are not the primary cause of the ailments of your claim. If a work-related accident or incident exacerbates a previous injury, it can be considered causative, particularly if the worker was able to do his or her job just fine prior to that.

In the recent case of Nichols v. Fairway Bldg. Prods., the question of causation was a main focus. The claimant sought workers’ compensation for an on-the-job back injury that required several surgeries. He asserted that he was totally and permanently disabled and his doctor claimed, with a reasonable amount of medical certainty, that the cause was his work injury, a forklift accident. Continue reading →

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The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is fighting against a federal magistrate’s ruling denying the agency a warrant that would allow it to inspect a poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia for alleged worker safety violations. The U.S. Magistrate stated that federal regulators first must set forth clear probable cause, or else inspections end up becoming “tools of harassment.” In this case, the judge held, this standard had not been met.meatpacking

OSHA is appealing.

Although the agency already conducted a cursory search of the facility, it had requested an expanded inspection. The magistrate, however, held that the probable cause standard wasn’t met and, interestingly, could not be met solely on the basis of a worker’s complaint or a reported work injury. OSHA had asserted that those should be reason enough, but even so, this was a situation where there were high numbers of work-related injuries. The agency believes the company to be not only in violation of serious safety rules but also poor record-keeping practices. Continue reading →

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Injured workers who seek remedy through the appellate process often find themselves at odds with “independent medical examiners,” explains a recent report by NBCdoctor5

Although the report focuses mainly on cases from the Bay Area of California, this issue is applicable nationally, including here in Georgia. As our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys often need to explain, “independent” medical examiners aren’t exactly “independent.” These health care professionals are often on contract with the employer (or the insurance company) and have a vested interest in keeping the employer/insurer happy in order to retain these lucrative contracts. Claimants are sometimes required to undergo an independent medical exam as part of their case.

In the NBC analysis, reporters noted that updated procedures in California require injured workers who’ve been denied benefits to have their case reviewed by a state-contracted, for-profit company. These “Independent Medical Reviews” involve payment to anonymous doctors who never actually examine the patient one-on-one and who determine eligibility based on specific standard guidelines. The news report indicated that between 2013 and 2015, injured workers contested some 600,000 denials of medical treatment following work-related injuries. 90 percent of those denials were upheld following an appeal to the independent medical review.  Continue reading →

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Survivors of those who are killed on-the-job may be entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits. Most of the time, these benefits will preclude any further claim against an employer under the workers’ compensation exclusivity provision. That is, workers’ compensation is the only remedy one can have against an employer for a work-related accident or illness. sad1

In the recent case of Velecela v. All Habitat Servs., the plaintiff argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court that she should be allowed to pursue damages against her husband’s former employer for bystander emotional distress after finding her husband deceased under a vehicle one day when she came to bring him lunch at work. Employer argued that because she had already collected workers’ compensation death benefits, her claim was precluded.

Ultimately, the state high court sided with the employer, finding that because her claim for emotional distress was a derivative claim of the worker’s injury, her claim was barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity provisions.  Continue reading →

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Federal government safety investigators have blasted the administrators and managers of a Rockmart, Georgia feed mill operation that was the site of a fatal workplace explosion in February. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) asserted that the plant was in violation of a number of simple safety standards that, if followed, would have likely prevented the explosion that killed one worker and seriously injured five others. dust1

According local news reports, federal inspectors investigating the work accident site, some 50 miles west of Atlanta, ascertained that it was an excessive accumulation of grain dust located in the hammer mill area of the mill that ignited and soon thereafter exploded. So significant was the damage to the feed mill’s interior and exterior, the building had to be shuttered. A 25-year-old male worker was killed.

OSHA launched its own investigation soon after the incident and issued dozens of citations – 23 in all – to the owner, JCG Farms, and its parent company, Koch Foods Inc. There was also a citation issued to the electrical services company that worked with the feed mill.

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Stephen Halton Jr. was on his way to save a life, while working toward a better life for his family. A medical worker at a large hospital in Northeast Ohio, Halton was on-call for the early-morning shift. He got word around midnight: Be here by 6 a.m. A patient needs a liver transplant. We need your help. hospitalhall

The hospital technician had been working the overtime so he could help afford a better education for his two children. To make sure he could make it to work on time, he got to the inner-city bus stop by 4 a.m. That’s where, police say, he was fatally shot by a third party.

Now, his family is fighting for the workers’ compensation benefits they insist he is owed. The hospital says it isn’t responsible for a random act of violence that occurred while Halton was on his way to work. But his family argues he would not have been at that bus stop had he not specifically been called in for a job assignment. The hospital argues his on-call shift didn’t start until 6 a.m. His family counters that because his on-call contract clearly states he was to be paid for the time he spent returning to the hospital that he was acting in the course and scope of employment 1.5 hours before he actually started working.  Continue reading →

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The new workplace injury anti-retaliation rules were supposed to be in place this month. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it will delay enforcement of some portions of it until November. workeronstaging

News of the delay comes as corporations from across the country raised a host of questions – and voiced considerable opposition – regarding the measure.

Although the new rule is largely favorable to injured workers, it has not been received well by employers. Now, those companies will have more time to make sure they are in compliance. Continue reading →