April 20, 2013

More Teens with Jobs This Summer Means More Risk of Injury

Our Atlanta work accident lawyers know that teens have had a difficult time finding jobs in recent years due to a tough economy and a weak employment market. According to a recent article on NBC News, however, things may be different this year. 276813_newspaper_job_section.jpg

The NBC News article indicates that the economic momentum over the last several months has been positive and that managers who hire summer hourly workers are reporting that they plan to add an average of 30 hourly workers this summer instead of the 27 workers added last year. When surveying seasonal hiring managers, 68 percent also reported an intent to hire workers this summer. This is great news for teens who have been hit the hardest in recent years by the economic downturn.

The bad news, however, is that when there are more teenagers going to work, there is a greater chance of young people being injured on the job. Employers need to manage the risks associated with bringing on new employees, especially teen employees, and young workers need to be aware of the dangers they face, which could derail a career and future before it even has a chance to really begin.

Young Workers at Risk of Injury
Young workers are at great risk of injury while performing their summer jobs for several reasons. One issue is that these workers tend to take on lower paying and physical jobs in industries such as landscaping and fast food. Both of these industries have a high rate of injury. In fast food, many things can go wrong from slipping and falling in a restaurant to being robbed to getting hurt when cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen. In landscaping, problems can include injury due to machines as well as due to repetitive stress, lifting injuries and falls.

Aside from the fact that teens tend to work in dangerous industries, they also tend to be in low paying jobs where employers may not always have the best track record of following safety rules. Data has shown that low-wage workers in general are at greater risk of getting hurt on the job than workers in higher paying positions, especially higher paying white-collar jobs.

Finally, teens and young workers tend to have limited work experience. If not properly trained and supervised, teens could make a mistake that causes injury. For example, a teen needs to be trained on using commercial dishwashers and/or supervised when using any type of cooking or dishwashing equipment in a restaurant setting.

Employers who chose to hire young workers ultimately have the responsibility of mitigating these and other risks that teenagers face. Employers need to be aware of restrictions on young workers related to the types of jobs they can do and the hours worked. They need to provide proper training and supervision and create a safe work environment. If an employer fails in these obligations, the chances of a worker becoming hurt significantly increases.

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April 12, 2013

Atlanta Construction Accidents a Risk with Spring Weather

Construction projects often go into full swing during the spring and summer months, which is great news for workers looking to jump on projects and get some work done. However, with more work being performed, the risk of accidents increases. Construction sites can be dangerous places and workers are in danger of getting hurt in a number of different ways. 1368615_ladder.jpg

Our Atlanta work accident lawyers know that some of the top causes of workplace accidents on construction sites are fall accidents. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recently issued a Trade News Release about its efforts to prevent fatal falls in construction. The new efforts focus on raising awareness of the fall risk. OSHA also has a three part Fall Prevention Campaign of which every worker and employer should take notice.

The Steps to Fall Prevention
OSHA's national outreach campaign to raise awareness of falls on construction sites is directed towards both workers and employers. Workers can make a point to follow OSHA's tips for acting in a safe and responsible way when working at height.

However, ultimately the safety of a worksite is determined by an employer. An employer who provides top-quality equipment and who has adequate safety policies in place is going to have a major impact on reducing the risks of a fall. On the other hand, when an employer creates an unsafe workplace or allows safety violations, a worker could be in danger of falling no matter how careful he is when performing his job.

Employers, therefore, should be especially careful to pay attention to OSHA's tips for fall prevention. OSHA's three part plan for preventing falls on construction sites includes the following steps:

  • Planning: Employers need to evaluate what safety equipment will be required to perform a job and should build the costs of the equipment into their bids. Employers must make all tools including the right equipment (and safe equipment) available on site. Workers should also plan ahead by making sure they have everything they need before getting started on doing any job.
  • Providing. Employers must provide the right equipment to workers. This includes fall protection equipment, as well as the right types of safety gear, ladders and scaffolds.
  • Training: Everyone on the job site should be trained in how to perform work safely. Workers need to be trained on how to use all of the equipment they need to use in order to do their jobs. There should also be training on the proper set-up of equipment and on hazard recognition.

OSHA has many materials that can be used by employers to offer training. Employers simply need to take the initiative to understand and comply with OSHA guidelines and to use the resources available to them. OSHA's new campaign to publicize fall dangers may encourage employers to be proactive about preventing workplace injuries, thus potentially saving workers' lives.

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April 5, 2013

Stone Cutter Injuries and Landscaping Accidents a Spring Risk in Atlanta

With summer approaching, many people will be hiring landscapers to do stonework. Stone cutters and splitters who do this type of work may find themselves busier during the summer rush as a result. OSHA has an important Safety and Health Information Bulletin for those who work in the stone cutting and splitting industry and as the busy season approaches, every worker and employer should pay attention to OSHA's advice. 1411463_stones_texture.jpg

Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that stone cutters use many dangerous machines in the course of performing their jobs. Unfortunately, the physical nature of the work, coupled with the tools utilized, creates a situation where many stone cutters are hurt. By following the OSHA guidelines on safety, however, hopefully injuries can be prevented during the summer landscaping season.

The Work Injury Dangers for Stone Cutters
Stone cutters, stone masons, stone slippers and rock cutters all use certain types of tools and machinery when performing their jobs. For example, portable or fixed hydraulic rams are typically used to split stones. When using hydraulic rams, amputation or other injuries are a real possibility. Stone cutting machines that have unguarded cutting blades are also likely to cause serious harm when not used properly or when safety measures are lacking.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that more that 180 injuries resulted from using shears in 2010. Shears are a very similar tool to those used by stone cutters. Of those injured with shears, 100 amputated a body part. The injuries, therefore, are serious and can have a lasting impact on your life in many cases.

Staying Safe
While the work done by stone cutters carries some inherent risk, this doesn't mean that workplaces cannot be made safer by taking the right precautionary steps. OSHA's Safety and Health Bulletin suggests:

  • Ensuring that there is a good machine guarding system in place. A machine guarding system might involve making use of two-handed starting devices; installing barrier guards on the machine, and incorporating electronic safety devices.
  • Keeping the unit cleaned and maintained. A regular inspection should be performed to ensure that the machine is in good working order. Problems should be fixed when they arise so workers do not have to use a dangerous or broken machine.
  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. Employers should provide workers with PPE that protects them from known-hazards. The use of safety shields or face shields, for example, is recommended.
  • Doing a risk-check before starting work. Essentially, this means making sure that the machine and safety procedures are in place. Checking the machine guarding, reading/reviewing the manufacturers' warnings and instructions; inspecting the machine and making sure workers are where they need to be are all important things to double check.

Employers also need to provide adequate training and supervision to their employees who are performing stone cutting work. Although individual workers can and should try to protect themselves and make sure their job is performed as safely as possible, ultimately it is the employers who establish working conditions and who are responsible for helping workers to avoid injury.

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March 25, 2013

Illnesses & Injuries Cause Days Away From Work

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 117 out of every 10,000 full time workers in 2011 suffered an injury or an illness that caused them to miss at least some time from work. These types of injuries and illnesses are referred to as those requiring "days away from work." 971651_medical_cross_1.jpg

Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that any time an employee misses work, productivity is lost. When workers have missed several days of work, then the employee will also be provided with lost wages benefits through workers' compensation. Unfortunately, the money paid out for a days-away-from work claim does not generally provide a worker with 100 percent of his salary for time off. Thus, both employers and workers suffer when a worker is injured and has to miss work as a result, especially if the injury that the worker endured caused serious or permanent damage.

Who Is Most Likely to Miss Work?
In their report on injuries and illnesses requiring missed work in 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that workers in just five occupations accounted for almost 20 percent of all illnesses that necessitated time off of work. These five occupations included:

  • Laborers

  • Attendants

  • Janitors and cleaners

  • Drivers of heavy trucks and tractor trailers

  • Police officers and sheriff's patrol police officers

Those working in these occupations had an incident rate of injuries that was around five times greater than the 117/10,000 rate applicable to all workers.

Those most likely to be injured and to miss work also included older workers. For example, workers between the ages of 45 and 54 had the highest proportion of illnesses and injuries leading to time off.

Keeping Workers Safe is Better for Everyone
When looking at the list of jobs that cause the most injuries leading to missed work, it is easy to see what they have in common. All of the jobs required physical work, and all involve potentially dangerous work where the employee could put a strain on his or her body or go into a situation where violence or accidents is likely.

While some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others, employers within these industries should be aware of the fact that the injury rate is significantly higher within the field. Awareness of the problem is the first step to finding solutions that could hopefully help make these professions safer for the workers.

For example, having clear safety policies and procedures in place; providing proper training; offering sufficient breaks; and rotating workers to avoid repetitive stress on the body could potentially help to reduce the number of serious illnesses or injuries that cause missed work days.

While these professions are singled out as among the worst, it is also important to remember that injuries can happen in any industry. All employers need to put safety first so their own workers don't end up suffering injuries that require a long (and expensive) recovery period.

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March 21, 2013

Work Safety Must Remain a Top Priority as Hiring Picks Up

On March 12, 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that hiring in certain sectors started to pick up in January, although the overall hiring rate remained fairly stagnant. The BLS also reported that number of job openings in January was up in many sectors, indicating that more qualified workers may soon be finding positions if they haven't already. 1046511_graph_bar_3d_srb.jpg

Our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys know that new workers coming onto a worksite may be at risk of being injured because they are unfamiliar with procedures and customs at their new workplace. This is especially true of the long-term unemployed who may have been out of the workforce for a lengthy period of time, with skills getting rusty, as they awaited improvement in the economy and a new job. As employers begin to bring in new hires, it is thus essential for worker safety to remain a top priority.

Work Safety Needs to Remain a Top Focus
According to the March 12, 2013 press release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • There were 3.7 million available job openings on the last business day of the month of January. This reflects little change from the end of December.
  • The hires rate of 3.1 percent and the separations rate of 3 percent also did not show any significant changes from the end of December to the end of January.
  • The number of job openings available in January rose in certain sectors including the professional and business services sector.
  • The number of job openings in January decreased in the areas of health care and social assistance.
  • The number of job openings, not seasonally adjusted, in January increased over the course of the year in non-farm jobs, in private jobs and in government jobs.
  • There were increases in available work opportunities and jobs in the retail sector; in other services and in the federal government. There was a decrease in jobs in the fields of mining and logging.

As this data shows, some workplaces are not expanding while others are increasing their hiring and creating a situation where new employees assume duties.

Workplace Safety Should be a Top Focus
In workplaces where the number of jobs are declining, workplace safety must be maintained even in the face of a smaller workforce. This means making sure that workers aren't overworked and that people aren't assigned to do tasks that they don't have proper training for.

As hiring grows, workplaces bringing on new workers also face their own challenges in staying focused on safety. Even with the administrative costs associated with growth, employers still must be sure that safety programs remain in place and that the work environment complies with all OSHA guidelines. All new hires also need to be properly trained and adequately supervised when first hired to make sure that they are not at risk of getting hurt or causing harm to others as a result of their inexperience.

By making sure to stay focused on safety, companies will be poised to deal with any economic news that comes their way, including an increase in business growth that boosts their employee numbers. Keeping workers safe should always be he top priority under any situation.

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March 13, 2013

Atlanta Work Zone Crashes Can Prove Fatal; Slow Down, Pay Attention

With spring around the corner, and multiple major construction projects already underway on Georgia highways, it's an opportune time to remind motorists to slow down in work zones. constructionworkers.jpg

Our Atlanta work accident lawyers know that 85 percent of all work zone deaths across the country are caused by the general public. Since Georgia began to tally the number of Department of Transportation fatalities back in 1973, there have been 57 workers killed in work zones. There have been countless injuries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 2003 through 2007, some 640 road construction workers across the country lost their lives, with nearly half of those occurring when a worker was hit by a motor vehicle. Another 40,000 people are believed to have suffered serious injuries as a result of work zone crashes (that includes both workers and drivers).

When you factor in both the public and workers, Georgia loses an average of 60 people each year in work zone crashes. Making the public aware of these sobering statistics - and what more they can be doing to keep these workers safe - is going to be key as we move ahead into the busier summer season.

Right now, the state DOT has six major road construction projects in the Metro Atlanta area, and two more going on statewide.

There is the road resurfacing project on I-25 that stretches from Cobb to DeKalb Counties. There is also the Johnson Ferry/Abernathy Road Widening Project in Atlanta, the Northside Drive project in Cobb/Fulton, the Old Alabama Road Project in Fulton, a number of State Route 20 improvements in both Fulton and Cherokee and updates to the State Route 316 Interchange.

Drivers should avail themselves of information on possible delays or detours by visiting the DOT's active projects page. This way, if you know you are going to be pressing your luck with time, you won't be tempted to speed through a work zone, as you'll already have an alternate route planned. (Speeding in a Georgia work zone, by the way, may result in fines of up to $2,000 or a maximum of one year in jail or both.)

Also note that Georgia is one of many states with a "Move Over Law." This law requires any driver approaching a working emergency vehicle on the side of the road to move over one lane if possible, or otherwise slow to below the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop if necessary. While it's not necessary to move over a lane when you see construction workers on the job, if traffic conditions would allow you to do so safely, it wouldn't hurt.

Other tips the Georgia DOT asks that you keep in mind as you approach a highway work zone:

  • Slow down. Excessive speed is the No. 1 most common cause of work zone crashes.

  • Make sure you have read all the signs. They are in place for your safety. If you are traveling too fast to read them, you probably need to slow down.

  • Pace yourself. If you are tailgating other drivers or construction vehicles, you're putting all involved at higher risk for a crash.

  • Road crew flaggers should be treated as if they are traffic signals. Their signs are not suggestions - the law requires you obey them.

  • Pay attention. Put your phone done. Especially when you are traveling through a highway work zone, you can't afford to miss a moment.

Continue reading "Atlanta Work Zone Crashes Can Prove Fatal; Slow Down, Pay Attention" »

March 5, 2013

Norfolk Southern Railway to Pay $1.1M For Violations of FRSA

The Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has been ordered to fork over more than $1 million to three former employees who were fired after they reported workplace injuries. rails.jpg

Our Atlanta work injury lawyers know that the railway firm is one of the largest in in the country, covering a large swath of the East Coast and stretching into the Midwest. Headquartered in Virginia, it employes some 30,000 union workers.

Workers employed by rail companies are protected from retaliation for reporting workplace injuries or safety violations under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109. Part of the law has to do with reporting fraud, abuse and waste. Under Section (b) 1-3, rail companies are not allowed to fire, demote, reprimand, suspend or in any other way discriminate against a worker who:

  • In good faith reports a dangerous safety or security issue;

  • Refuses to work in hazardous safety conditions or when there is an unaddressed security issue;

  • Refuses to authorize the use of any safety-related equipment, structures or track if those materials are deemed unsafe.

In this case, the rail company reportedly violated this law not once - but three times to three different workers in two different states.

In fact, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports that this firm has had an extensive history of doing this, and that the result has been "a chilling effect in the railroad industry."

And yet, these brave workers still stood for what was right and chose to come forward.

The first of these was a crane operator in Indiana. He was reportedly operating a crane while helping to build a bridge when flecks of metal and rust entered his eye. He reportedly had to undergo a procedure to have the material removed. When he reported this to his employer, he was taken out of service for a short time before he was fired, with the company reportedly finding that the worker had "made false statements" about his injuries. But when OSHA conducted its investigation, inspectors determined that if the worker had not reported his injury, he would never have been fired.

As such, OSHA determined he was owed roughly $440,000 in damages, including $100,000 for compensatory damages, $175,000 in punitive damages, about $156,000 in benefits and back wages and $6,000 in penalties that he incurred when he had to cash in savings bond prior to their maturity date after he'd been fired. The company has also been ordered to give him his job back, along with the sick and vacation days he would have earned up to this point.

The second and third cases stemmed from the same incident. One was a welder and a welder's helper, based out of Pennsylvania. Both had been nearly four decades with the company without any problems. Then one day while they were riding in a company truck, another vehicle ran a red light, slamming into another vehicle which then slammed into the company truck. At first, the workers reported only minor pain and stiffness and soreness. They initially declined to receive any medical treatment. But then pain for both intensified and they both ended up getting treatment in a local hospital. When this was reported to superiors, they were placed on leave. An internal investigation found them guilty of giving false reports about their injuries, which the firm indicated was akin to misconduct. They were subsequently fired.

OSHA, however, found that the pair were fired for reporting their injuries. The agency was ordered to pay the two approximately $685,000 in damages, with $300,000 of that in punitive damages.

The company has also been ordered to post employee whistleblower protection rights at each work site and train workers on their rights under FRSA.

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February 25, 2013

Court: New Work Injury Means New Workers' Compensation Filing

In the case of Evergreen Packaging Inc. v. Prather, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld an employee's right to workers' compensation benefits, even when the root of the injury was a pre-existing condition. back.jpg

Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that the key in this case was that the work performed had changed from the norm and thus aggravated an old injury. So even though the original injury was old (and in fact, a separate claim had been paid out on it several years earlier), the fact that the worker was re-injured on the job was enough to secure additional benefits.

Court documents in this case reveal that the employee first started working at the milk and juice carton manufacturer back in the mid-1970s. Then in 2002, while working in the warehouse loading trucks, he hurt his back while operating a forklift. This prevented him from working for sometime. He was granted temporary total disability benefits for a little over a month, and his employer also covered his medical expenses.

(Injuries from forklifts, by the way, account for an estimated 85 fatalities annually, as well as nearly 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.)

So after this incident, the employee continued his work, though he soon applied for and received a new position as a plate maker. This position required the worker to bend all the way to floor and then lift boxes weighing between 30 to 50 pounds up over his head and into certain bins.

The two positions were quite different, both in responsibilities and in physical demand. While he said his back continued to bother him from the initial injury, it got progressively worse as he continued in his new role.

Still, he only missed a total of a week's worth of work during that time.

But in his final two years with the company, the firm purchased a new piece of equipment that reportedly required him to bend down farther than he had before. This aggravated his back condition greatly. At times, he said, his entire backside all the way down to his feet was going numb.

In 2010, he sought medical help from a chiropractor. After four treatments, the doctor recommended he stop working and diagnosed him with degenerative disc disease that was due to an old injury that had been exacerbated by additional injuries. A second doctor recommended the same. A subsequent MRI, when compared to a similar image five years earlier, showed a significant increase in stenosis and disc extrusion. There was also an additional tear in the tissue that wasn't there previously.

The worker was awarded disability benefits right away, but the company appealed, saying that he shouldn't be compensated twice for the same injury. A change in condition, they argued, wouldn't entitle the worker to a new "date of injury," which would mean his statute of limitations to collect benefits would have already run out.

However, both the State Board of Workers' Compensation as well as the Georgia Appellate Court sided with the worker. While a change in condition relative to the initial injury would have likely resulted in denial of benefits to the worker, the fact that he had incurred aggravation to an old injury as a result of his work meant that he was again eligible for benefits.

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February 17, 2013

Georgia Work Accident Tallies Must Be Posted By Employers

Georgia work accidents happen every day in a variety of industries, and employees have a right to know about the potential risks. highvoltage.jpg

That's why the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration requires most employers to post a log of work-related injuries and illnesses each year. Our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys understand that the posting of Form 300A for 2012 incidents must be done at some point between Feb. 1, 2013 and April 30, 2013.

The form, which has to be put up in a common area where informational notices to employees are normally located, will also include general information about the yearly average number of employees and total hours worked throughout the previous calendar year. If a company has had no illnesses or injuries over the last year, the firm still has to post the notice, with the indication that the total for the year was zero.

Generally, companies that have 10 or fewer employees are exempt from reporting, but in some cases the Bureau of Labor Statistics will select a few of these to participate in annual safety surveys. (Partially-exempt industries would include those in certain low-hazard fields like insurance, finance, retail or real estate.)

But even the exemption from posting this form doesn't exempt employers from having to follow OSHA's safety guidelines. Any incident that results in a fatality or hospitalization has to be reported to OSHA within eight hours.

In Georgia in 2011 (the latest year for which information is available) the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates there were a total of 107 workplace fatalities throughout the year. (There were more than 4,600 nationwide.) Of those, 17 were attributable to violence, 45 to transportation incidents, 5 to fires and explosions, 16 to falls, 9 to exposure to harmful chemicals or substances and 15 from falling or hazardous objects or equipment.

The vast majority of these incidents involved wage and salary employers (16 involved self-employed individuals). Most (103) were men, and most were in private industries such as construction, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and warehousing.

As might be expected, jobs where physical labor was a fundamental requirement had a higher rate of injury and fatalities in Georgia.

The top 10 most frequently-cited OSHA standards violations in 2011 involved:

  • Scaffolding;

  • Fall protections;

  • Hazard communication standards;

  • Lack of respiratory protections;

  • Faulty electrical wiring;

  • Hazardous energy control;

  • Powered industrial trucks;

  • Construction ladders;

  • Deficient electrical system designs;

  • Faulty machine guards.

The good news is that overall, workplace fatalities are down, from nearly 40 a day in 1970 to about 13 in 2011.

Still, annual workplace injuries in the U.S. top 4 million, with many of those accidents causing debilitating and life-long conditions and ailments.

Workers should avail themselves of the accident/illness information posted by employers because staying informed of the dangers that have already occurred could prompt additional awareness and potentially result in prevention.

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February 14, 2013

Atlanta Workplaces & Carbon Monoxide Dangers

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has issued a reminder to all employers regarding their responsibility to protect workers from potential carbon monoxide poisoning. gas.jpg

Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that this notice is especially raw for those in this city, less than two months after 43 elementary school children and six staff members were hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Poisoning from carbon monoxide, which is a clear, odorless gas, can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, confusion and chest pain. In many cases where the poison was not detected in time, people have fallen into a coma and suffered brain damage and even died.

Thankfully, no one was left seriously ill, but it highlights the importance of installing carbon monoxide detectors - even when it's not necessarily required by law, as was the case for the school.

This is especially critical given the fact that large swaths of our state are beginning to experience colder conditions - meaning doors, windows and other potential ventilation sources will be more typically closed.

OSHA referenced a recent case out of New England, in which a warehouse employee was discovered seizing and unconscious on the floor of the facility. It was later revealed the cause was carbon monoxide.

Federal officials say workers die every year in this country as a result of similar circumstances - especially when employees are using some type of fuel-burning equipment and/or tools in structures or spaces where there isn't enough ventilation. It's not isolated to these instances, of course. The gas can emanate from sources such as compressors, power tools, gas generators, space heaters, welding equipment and furnaces - really anything that requires combustion to operate.

Some of the employees deemed most at-risk include:

  • Welders;

  • Firefighters;

  • Longshore workers;

  • Diesel engine operators;

  • Marine terminal workers;

  • Forklift operators;

  • Toll booth attendants;

  • Customs inspectors;

  • Taxi drivers;

  • Police officers.

Of course, as the situation at Finch Elementary School shows, it can happen anywhere at any time.

One important thing employers can do is to increase education to help workers understand the signs of carbon monoxide and know what to do in the immediate aftermath. Employees should know that they need to immediately get the victim outside into fresh air. They should also immediately call 911 and attempt CPR if the person has stopped breathing.

Another that business leaders should make is to ensure effective ventilation in all work areas.

Appliances and equipment with the potential to produce carbon monoxide should be regularly maintained and in good working order.

If the business uses gas-powered equipment, employers might consider switching to battery or electric-powered tools instead. Gas-powered tools and engines should be off-limits in areas of the site that aren't well-ventilated.

Firms should also not overlook the value of carbon monoxide detectors with loud alarms. Even though most companies aren't required to do this, it's one of the best and most cost effective ways to immediately alert workers of danger.

Workers who have concerns about a lack of safety in this regard should discuss possible solutions with their employer. Workers also need to be mindful of situations where there is poor ventilation, especially where you have burning fuels. Anytime a worker begins to feel dizziness, fatigue or nausea, it should be immediately reported and treated seriously.

Continue reading "Atlanta Workplaces & Carbon Monoxide Dangers" »

February 6, 2013

Atlanta Workplaces Do Well to Prepare for the Flu

Flu season this year has hit Georgia hard, though the Centers for Disease Control has reported the rate of infection was recently downgraded from widespread to regional. tissuebox.jpg

Still, the season started earlier this year, meaning the overall continued impact is expected to be severe. The effects will be more pronounced for those in the health care professions.

Our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys know that while workers almost assuredly won't be covered for a claim on contracting the virus itself, the sheer number of simultaneously affected workers can leave many firms understaffed - and many employees at higher risk for on-the-job accidents and injuries.

Every year, we can expect anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of Americans to come down with the flu. Some 200,000 people are hospitalized annually for complications related to the flu, and there are always a number of deaths, particularly in children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

While employers may be powerless to completely eliminate the spread, they can do a lot to minimize it. It's worth noting that in 2009, when the flu outbreak was considered mild, it still presented numerous challenges to employers who weren't prepared.

It's not just workers staying home after personally contracting the virus. It's also workers who need to stay home to care for an ill child or other loved one. Employers need to have a strategy in place for how to cope with the potential closure of schools and daycare facilities stemming from an outbreak.

First and foremost, companies should encourage workers who aren't feeling well to stay home. Even if this causes productivity to take a hit in the short-term, employers will be in a lot worse shape if even more people get sick. Workers need to know that showing up to work when they are sick is not a sign of courage - it's selfish. Not only will your performance likely be less than stellar, you risk infecting everyone else. A good measure of if you are too ill to work is if you have a fever higher than 100 degrees (without medication) and/or if you have a combination of body aches, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, runny nose or fatigue.

Secondly, workers should be encouraged to get vaccinated. This is especially important for those who work in the health care field. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year-to-year, but there is no doubt it can significantly reduce the risk.

Workers need to be encouraged to wash their hands frequently, especially after sneezing, coughing or blowing their noses. They should further be encouraged to avoid frequent touching of their eyes, mouth and nose. Sometimes people don't even realize when they are doing this, and simply offering a reminder will keep them more aware.

Employees shouldn't be sharing each others' computer, desk, phone or other work tools, if at all possible. If it is necessary, the surfaces should be thoroughly disinfected beforehand.

Those who are employed in the health care fields should follow the same advice, but need to be even more rigorous in their frequent washing, as well as making sure to always use the proper protective masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment.

Health care facilities can also help to cut down on the spread by limiting patient transport and strictly limiting visitation for patients who are in isolation.

Nurses, aides and doctors should also be encouraging patients and visitors to frequently wash their hands.

Continue reading "Atlanta Workplaces Do Well to Prepare for the Flu" »

January 31, 2013

Georgia Workers at Risk When Fall-Protection Measures Lacking

Construction workers in Georgia face all kinds of potential hazards, and their employers have an important responsibility to ensure those risks are averted through safe operational practices. yellowscaffold.jpg

Our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys know that one of the most common - and dangerous - risks is that of a fall. All too often, though, companies fail miserably in this regard, putting their workers at senseless risk.

This happens even when construction firms are well aware of the risks - either because of efforts to cut costs or simple oversight. The outcome may be the same regardless.

Guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration require that any construction worker who has the potential to fall six feet or more has to be protected by some type of equipment - be it a safety net system or a guardrail or a personal fall arrest system.

Construction firms know this. But risks happen anyway.

One instance was recently highlighted by the National Safety Council in a single picture. It had been sent to a company president by a client, who was more concerned about the facade of the structure than anything else. But the company president recognized multiple problems immediately, and forwarded the photo to the firm's safety director.

Among the issues:

  • One worker in the photo, who is not restrained, is standing on a 20-foot scaffolding. There was also no ladder access or midrails, indicating the scaffolding was clearly not put up or inspected by a competent worker.

  • Another worker in the center of the photo is peering out a gaping opening in the third floor of the structure - his toes actually over the edge while he leans out of the building. The president of the company noted there were no guard rails or any other fall protections in place.

  • A third person is seen being lifted from a forklift onto a pallet to clean excess material on the wall. That third person was not an employee, but the 16-year-old son of the site superintendent, who was operating the forklift.

All of these are egregious violations of OSHA guidelines, and each relate back to a specific fall prevention mishap.

The teenager on the pallet could have been thrown or fallen from the forklift as it extended or moved (not to mention that even legally-employed underage workers are typically barred from such potentially dangerous work). The worker leaning over the edge on the third floor could easily have fallen (he had already successfully sued the company for personal injury after having broken his arm in a previous fall). And the worker on the scaffolding was also at risk for a fall.

Construction workers do have an obligation to abide by company policies and safe work practices on the job site, but employers have to put those policies in place, provide the proper training and ensure those guidelines are followed to the letter.

You can learn more about federal regulation with regard to fall prevention measures by visiting the CDC's website.
In this particular case, the superintendent hadn't received the proper training, as required by OSHA

Continue reading "Georgia Workers at Risk When Fall-Protection Measures Lacking" »

January 24, 2013

Atlanta Workers' Compensation Claims: Cell Phone & Car Crashes

Since the summer of 2010, texting while driving has been prohibited in Georgia for all motorists and teens have been barred from all cell phone use. headset.jpg

However, Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that companies that don't have comprehensive cell phone policies for on-the-road employees are not only putting those workers at risk, they are opening themselves to potentially expensive claims.

The National Safety Council is hosting a series of free employer cell phone policy seminars, citing that almost a quarter of all crashes today involve cell phone distracted drivers. Unfortunately, none of the one-day courses offered are in Georgia, but the organization still offers a wealth of information online about establishing an employee cell-phone policy in your workplace.

The first thing to understand is that this is not something that should just concern commercial driving firms. The risk is applicable to all workers whose job at some point involves driving. Some examples might be service technicians or salespeople. A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that many motorists who use cell phones while driving (even when its against state law) say they do so because of work-related communications.

So companies that expect workers to be on their phones while driving must understand they are assuming a sizable risk. It's often not something we think of because it isn't something we see outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in industry-related guides. But let's consider if it were anything else: If your employer knew that some operational action of their business was exposing workers to four times a greater risk of injury, why would they encourage it? Yet that's what companies that encourage cell phone use among driving employees are effectively doing.

The fact is, motor vehicle crashes are among the leading two causes of death in this country, with as many as 43,500 people dying each year since 1994. That doesn't even count the millions who suffer life-threatening or life-altering injuries as a result of these collisions. Cell phones have contributed to these measures, and even laws banning handheld devices aren't doing enough, according to the NSC. In fact, in late 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that every state enact zero tolerance bans that encompass all portable electronic devices for those behind the wheel - including hands-free devices.

Right now, there is no state in this country that entirely bans all drivers from any cell phone use. All states - and many employers - allow the use of hands-free communication in vehicles.

Texting while driving has gotten a lot of media attention. And to be sure, it is a serious problem. However, research has shown simply talking on the phone behind the wheel is dangerous. The fact is, people talk on their cell phones more frequently and for longer periods of time than they text. In 2010 alone, this contributed to at least 1.1 million motor vehicle crashes, versus approximately 160,000 attributed to texting while driving.

What's problematic is that many employers and employees believe there is no risk to talking on a cell phone while driving, so long as their hands are free and their vision is unobstructed. (In most cases, drivers are using a headset or wireless ear piece.)

But hands-free devices do not free a motorist from the cognitive distraction, which takes a person's mind away from the direct task at hand - driving. In fact, 30 different studies compiled by the NCS indicate hands-free devices aren't any safer than handheld ones.

The common theme in this research is that the human brain has a limited capacity for attention. It can only process so many things at a time. For workers who are behind the wheel, the only thing they should be focusing on is the road.

Continue reading "Atlanta Workers' Compensation Claims: Cell Phone & Car Crashes" »

January 10, 2013

Your Status as an Employee Can Impact Workers' Compensation Benefits

Under Georgia laws, employees are covered under a benefits system called workers' compensation that entitles them to have their medical bills paid after a work injury. Employees are also provided with temporary or permanent benefits for total or partial disability as well as various other types of compensation.

The key word here, however, is that EMPLOYEES are covered. Those who perform work but who are not classified as employees aren't entitled to workers' compensation benefits and after a work injury are either on their own in paying for the costs or are left to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against one or more parties, which requires a showing of negligence that is not required in workers' comp cases. 601967_employee_entrance_1.jpg

Because the employee designation is so important, our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys urge every employee and every employer to understand exactly when someone is classified as an employee.

Understanding Your Classification
In many cases, whether someone is an employee or not is a relatively straightforward question. If someone is hired to work full time, given a salary or a regular hourly wage and has no designated end date in site for the work term, that person is pretty obviously an employee.

However, there are plenty of situations where things become much more complicated. For example:

  • One issue is the holiday season that is slowly drawing to a close. Employers tend to bring in temporary help during the holidays, such as hiring more people for the big shopping season.

  • Seasonal employees also raise more complicated questions. For example, if a business hires snowplow workers in the winter but doesn't need them in the summer, these employees have a designated work period but not an indefinite gig.

The Rules for Independent Contractors
If you are hired and aren't certain whether you are an employee or not, it is helpful to understand some of the basic rules that have been developed. In general:

  • Temporary employees, seasonal employees and part time employees are all covered under workers' compensation.

  • Independent contractors are NOT covered under workers' compensation.

An independent contractor is someone who performs work for a company but who maintains their autonomy. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sets forth some guidelines for when someone is considered an independent contractor, as opposed to an employee. These guidelines look at:

  • Whether the company has the right to control the behavior of the worker or whether the company just issues an assignment and the worker has autonomy to do the assignment when and how he wants.

  • Whether the company has control over how the worker is paid or whether the worker sets his own rates, pays his own expenses, etc.

  • What type of relationship the employer and worker has, including whether there are written contracts and whether the work performed by the worker is a key aspect of the business.

These and other issues can be considered in determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor for workers' compensation purposes. Being incorrectly classified can result in a worker being deprived of workers' compensation benefits and can be detrimental to the rights of the worker. Those who believe they have been incorrectly classified, therefore, need to get legal help to determine if they really are entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

Continue reading "Your Status as an Employee Can Impact Workers' Compensation Benefits" »

January 3, 2013

Does Pressure for Increased Speed in Line Work Increase the Risk of Workplace Injuries?

On January 2nd, 2012, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the USDA had announced plans to reduce the number of inspectors at chicken processing plants and to increase line speeds, requiring inspectors to inspect more birds more quickly.

This new change is part of a widespread trend in multiple industries to require line workers to do more work in the same amount of time. 1248971_chicken.jpg

Our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys are concerned about the impact of the USDA's decision on line workers in chicken plants. We are also concerned that the trend of increasing the speed at which line work is performed could exacerbate the risk of repetitive stress damage and other injuries in jobs that already present significant dangers.

The Potential for Increased Industry under USDA Regulations
The current poultry inspection system has been around since the 1950's but the USDA has been working to modernize it for decades, including studying pilot programs in place in 20 plants since 1999. In their efforts to modernize and update the guidelines, USDA now wants to cut the number of inspectors in chicken plants while raising the number of carcasses inspected from 140 to 175. This is a significant increase in the number of carcasses that a line worker would be expected to inspect.

Line workers are already under tremendous pressure to make sure that the food being produced in chicken plants is safe for the public. With this new change, these workers would be expected to work even harder... and faster.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the president of the Georgia Poultry Foundation indicates that there would be no additional dangers to inspectors and that workplace injuries would not increase. Others, however, disagree.

For instance, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, cautions that workers are not going to be receiving any new training nor will they be required to prove proficiency, which could put the public at risk. Further, the director cautions that the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health study has not yet been completed in order to determine if the increased line speed will have an adverse impact on worker health and safety.

The Atlanta Journal Constitutional also published an article from the National Council of La Raza that indicated that line workers already experience carpal tunnel and other crippling repetitive stress problems. By increasing the speed of the line work, workers would be at even greater risk of injuring themselves.

Workers Facing Risks from Increased Speeds of Line Work
While there are conflicting opinions on whether workers in chicken plants will suffer injury due to the increased line speed or not, it seems clear that when a worker is pressured to do more repetitive work in less time, this can create a potentially bad situation for a worker.

A worker who has to do more with his hands will make the same repetitive motions even more frequently. This wears down on the muscles, ligaments and joints and eventually can cause health problems. Not only that but a worker who is asked to significantly increase his speed, especially without getting additional training or having to prove proficiency, can be at greater risk of making a mistake that injures the worker or others.

Continue reading "Does Pressure for Increased Speed in Line Work Increase the Risk of Workplace Injuries?" »