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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, GA for alleged worker safety violations. The U.S. Magistrate opined federal regulators first must set forth clear probable cause, or else inspections end up becoming “tools of harassment.” In this case, he judge held, this standard was not 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 those should be reason enough, but even so, this was a situation where there were high numbers of work-related injuries. The agency suspects the company not only of serious safety violations 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 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 a work-related injury. Of those, 90 percent of 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., 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 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, GA feed mill operation that was the site of a fatal workplace explosion in February. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) asserted 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 →

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The goal for most injured employees collecting workers’ compensation is to eventually return to work. However, doing so can have consequences for your benefits. That’s why it’s important to consult with your lawyer before returning to work. workboots

In addition to the coverage of medical bills, workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia are supposed to cover a portion of wage losses if a person is unable to work for a time. Even if that person returns to work, they may still collect some of those benefits – but only if they are earning less than they did before as a result of their disability.

A worker who earns more than they did before while still collecting benefits may find themselves running afoul of the system. Take for example the recent case of State ex rel. Perez v. Indus. Comm’n, a case recently weighed by the Ohio Supreme Court.  Continue reading →

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Most people associate warm summer temperatures with pleasant beach vacations and cookouts. For Georgia workers, that outdoor heat can be dangerous. landscaper

Extreme heat must be taken seriously by both employers and employees.

What qualifies as “extreme heat” may vary by region, but it usually means temperatures that are about 10 degrees above normal, according to The Weather Channel. However, any temperature that is over 90 degrees is generally considered “extreme,” particularly when it is also accompanied by high levels of humidity.  Continue reading →

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The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has fined a Georgia company for failing to protect workers on at least seven different occasions from fall hazards. Workers were reportedly exposed to hazards of up to 13 feet on an Alabama project site. scaffolding2

The company, a masonry firm, was fined $130,000. OSHA inspectors reportedly observed employees toiling on second-story scaffolding with no personal fall arrest system or guardrails. There was also allegedly no safe access or egress from the scaffolding via a sturdy ladder.

OSHA reportedly had investigators who came out to inspect this particular project on six different occasions over the course of five years and it has cited the company for fall hazards on each and every one of those visits.  Continue reading →

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Georgia used to be one of 16 states that had enacted some sort of exemption to workers’ compensation coverage for farm or agricultural laborers. Now, it’s one of just 15 states, after the New Mexico Supreme Court handed down a ruling striking workers’ compensation exemptions for farms and ranches as unconstitutional. farming

The case is Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy, and the decision casts uncertainty as to the future of the law in Georgia and other states. To be clear: This decision won’t immediately impact Georgia workers. Because each state is in charge of handling its own workers’ compensation system, a conflict between states on an issue like this isn’t likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, a ruling of this nature by a sister court is one that could open the door for a similar challenge here in Georgia.

According to court records, the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act, since its inception in 1917 through its most recent update in 2015, has never required employers to provide workers’ compensation to farm and ranch laborers. Three farm and ranch laborer workers appealed denial of their workers’ compensation injury claims on grounds state statute is illegal under the state’s equal protection clause. The statute specifies that in order to be legal, any discriminatory classifications in economic or social legislation have to be founded on some real difference of situation or condition that reasonably justifies a different rule for the class that suffers the discrimination.  Continue reading →