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Workplace injuries are a common occurrence across Georgia. In fact, with a total of over 103,000 workplace injuries last year alone, Georgia ranks higher than average in workplace accidents across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These injuries occur across a broad range of jobs.

Bridge Under ConstructionWhile some jobs are commonly known to be dangerous, such as construction and factory work, others come as a bit of a surprise. A recent article in the Atlanta Patch outlines a newly released report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, discussing the most dangerous jobs in Georgia.

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Workplace accidents are not limited to just a few industries. While most people think of workplace accidents occurring on construction sites and in other inherently dangerous occupations, the reality is that workplace accidents happen across the board. In fact, according to a recent article by the Associated Press, workplace accidents occurring on TV and movie sets are fairly common and grossly unreported.

Video CameraThe article discusses several accidents that occurred on TV and movie sets across the country in recent years, including a 2014 accident that claimed the life of a young woman working as a camera assistant here in Georgia. Evidently, the woman was working on the set of “Midnight Rider,” a bio-pic about the rock-n-roll legend Gregg Allman, when the set supervisor failed to obtain the necessary permits to film on active train tracks. As a result, the county did not let the railroad company know about the project, and a train came crashing through the set, killing the young woman.

This is hardly the only workplace accident in the TV and movie industry. In fact, OSHA estimates that over the past two decades, 43 people have died on various sets, and another 150 have suffered lifelong injuries, such as amputation. However, the article notes that several well-known accidents – such as the shooting death of Brandon Lee during the filming of the movie “The Crow” – have been left out of the statistics.

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In a recent opinion, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently reviewed a judgment in favor of a workers’ compensation claimant and against an employer.  In this case, the issue was whether the employer’s employment of more than three employees was “regular,” such that he was subject to the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The court looked at whether the employer regularly hired additional employees, rather than whether he hired these additional individuals continuously or constantly.
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The court stated that an award from the State Board of Workers’ Compensation granting compensation is reviewed on appeal with the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.  In this case, Bobby Wills bid on a construction project to renovate a gymnasium in Clay County.  The County requested that Mr. Wills sign a contract with a provision requiring he supply his workers with workers’ compensation insurance. Mr. Wills signed the contract, but the provision was removed from the contract.

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Earlier this year, a 61-year-old hotel worker froze to death after she became trapped in a walk-in freezer while on the job. According to one national news source, the Atlanta woman walked into the freezer toward the end of her shift and never walked out. Her husband called her manager the next day after she didn’t come home, and her body was discovered in the walk-in freezer.

ThermostatAfter the woman’s death, the hotel performed a number of tests on the freezer door and reported that it was functioning properly. However, a follow-up inspection conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicated that the release button inside the freezer malfunctioned. The report explains that on the day of the test, an employee entered the walk-in freezer and was unable to exit without the assistance of another employee. The medical examiner listed the woman’s cause of death as undetermined, with the added notation “found in freezer, malfunctioning exit release button.”

Since this incident, OSHA has issued a $12,500 fine and cited the employer for a “serious violation.” OSHA recommended that the hotel come up with a voluntary plan to prevent similar accidents in the future, with the understanding that there will be subsequent on-site inspections.

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Earlier this October, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended that a roughly $300,000 fine be levied against a Georgia recycling company after it was discovered that the company engaged in several repeated safety errors. According to one industry news source, the OSHA representative who conducted the inspection stated that the company’s failure to comply with OSHA safety standards shows that the company “lacks concern to protect workers at [the] facility.”

FactoryEvidently, the recently announced fines are in relation to an inspection that took place earlier this year in April. The facility recycles textile and plastic waste into small pellets that the automobile industry can then use to create various plastic components through the process of injection molding. The safety violations discovered by the OSHA representative involved the company failing to follow up on the following:

  • Properly storing and handling liquid petroleum;
  • Protecting petroleum gas tanks with crash rails or other guards;
  • Ensuring that nameplates were kept in good condition and legible;
  • Implementing an effective hearing-preservation plan; and
  • Implementing a clear protocol for shutting down and securing machines and other equipment.

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Earlier this month in Miami, Florida, one man died and five others were injured when scaffolding that had been erected adjacent to a Miami high-rise collapsed. According to one local news report covering the tragedy, the man who died actually suffered from a cardiac arrest as he was running from the falling debris. Another woman below was injured when the scaffolding landed on her car. In addition, two construction workers working on the project were seriously injured by the falling scaffolding.

ScaffoldingBystanders told reporters that suddenly and without apparent reason, the scaffolding started to collapse. Wooden planks and metal rods were strewn on the ground below as emergency responders attempted to get medical attention to those in need.

Georgia Workplace Injuries

Employers are responsible to create a safe workplace for their employees. However, despite best efforts, sometimes accidents happen. Thankfully, in Georgia, injured workers may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in relation to their job, regardless of whose fault the injury is. In the above example, it would seem clear to most that the construction workers injured due to the falling scaffolding were injured in the course of their employment and should be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, should they need them. However, the workers’ compensation program is essentially an insurance system, and a claim requires approval before benefits can be paid out. In some cases, even seemingly meritorious claims are rejected, delaying and potentially preventing injured workers from obtaining benefits.

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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 →