September 1, 2013

Georgia Work Accidents - Top 10 Violations Show Injuries Often Forseeable

Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that employers are in the best position to prevent on-the-job accidents and injuries by making sure that workers are properly trained and by ensuring that there is a safe work environment in which people can perform their job duties. ladder-rungs-1326879-m.jpg

Unfortunately, not all employers take their responsibilities seriously and there are many workplaces throughout Georgia and the United States where there are safety violations. When OSHA conducts an inspection of a dangerous workplace either as part of a routine inspection or because OSHA has been alerted to problems, OSHA can issue citations to employers for lapses in fulfilling safety obligations. Each year, OSHA releases information on the top 10 violations that lead to citations, and this year's 2013 list has been released.

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August 31, 2013

Georgia Chemical Plant Injuries Follow Presidential Calls for Change

Three workers suffered serious injuries following a Georgia chemical plant blast at a facility in Valdosta. The facility is responsible for processing and disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
The incident came just two weeks after President Barack Obama called for sweeping chemical plant safety reforms in the form of tighter federal regulation.

Our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys understand the call for change was prompted by the disastrous chemical plant explosion at a Texas fertilizer facility, which resulted in 15 deaths.

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August 28, 2013

Atlanta Construction Accidents Involving Female Workers Target of Safety Campaign

The construction industry is predominantly male-oriented, with women comprising just 9 percent of positions as of 2010.
Still, it's worth noting that this marks a significant rise, with the number of U.S. female construction workers climbing by nearly 82 percent between 1985 and 2007. While the industry has made strides in this regard, our Georgia workers' compensation lawyers know that the one area that has remained woefully lacking for these workers is safety and health considerations.

Due to the often highly physical nature of the work, things like proper-fitting equipment and adequate sanitation facilities are critical to ensuring a safe working environment. However, for female construction workers, these areas specifically are often sorely neglected, leaving them at higher risk for injury and illness.

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August 20, 2013

Georgia Drilling Injury Risk Spikes as Industry Expands

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration recently issued a report highlighting the serious and inherent dangers in the oil and gas extraction industry - timely given the industry's recent eye toward northwest Georgia.
Our Atlanta workers compensation lawyers know this is an extremely dangerous occupation. Between 2003 and 2010, some 823 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job. That is an astonishing rate that is seven times higher than what we see for the rate of all U.S. industries as a whole.

As of 2011, OSHA reports there were more than 450,000 workers nationwide employed in the oil and gas extraction and support industries. These workers' responsibilities are varied, but many are highly specialized. The industry is expected to continue expanding, particularly in Georgia.

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August 15, 2013

Silica Dangers Prompt Proposed Rule From OSHA

We tend to hear a great deal about the hazards of on-the-job asbestos inhalation, which has been known to cause a rare and fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
Now, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is focused on promotion of awareness of a similar airborne work hazard: crystalline silica. The agency has proposed a new rule that is aimed at curbing the incidents of lung cancer, kidney disease, silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that American workers suffer as a result of exposure to silica. The agency estimates hundreds of workers die and thousands more are sickened each year by the substance.

Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that such exposure might not only affect a person's ability to work, but also to breathe. OSHA anticipates that the new proposed rules could potentially result in the prevention of 1,600 silica-related illness diagnoses each year, as well as 700 silica-related deaths.

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July 30, 2013

Georgia Companies Accused of Unsafe Work Practices

Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are cracking down on unsafe workplaces, and they're making their mark here in Georgia. Recently, officials cited both Ardagh Glass in Warner Robins and Supermarket Equipment Sales in Rutledge for various safety and health violations.
Ardagh Glass Inc. was slapped with one wilflul and one serious safety violation in response to an employee suffering a finger amputation and crushed hand when they tried to remove a glass mold from a bottle-shaping machine at the company's facility in Warner Robins. The willful violation comes after investigators discovered that the company didn't use lockout/tagout procedures when its workers were completing various operations. The serious violation comes as a result of the company failing to make sure that its employers who were working on this equipment were provided with the proper safety equipment. The equipment required for this kind of work is used to prevent contact at the point of operation with moving parts and molten glass.

Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers understand that those violations packed a total of more than $75,000 in fines, but that's miniscule when compared to the cost of a human life. In the inspection of Supermarket Equipment Sales, the company was hit with more than 15 health and safety violations. This inspection was launched after a complaint was filed back in February about the company's location in Rutledge. With these fines, a proposed penalty of more than $62,000 was levied.

Supermarket Equipment Sales Serious Violations:

-Exposing the workers to fall, explosion and fire hazards.

-Allowing the amount of flammable/combustible paint stored in the spray booth to go well over a one-day supply.

-The company stored carbon dioxide cylinders in places that were dangerous. They could have been knocked over easily.

-The company did not ensure that two-ton hooks were not overloaded beyond the rated capacity provided by the manufacturer.

-Covers were not in place on all electrical panels.

-The company did not create any kind of specific lockout/tagout procedures for equipment.

-Workers were not trained properly on energy control procedures.

-The company failed to inspect powered industrial trucks for deficiencies before putting them to work.

-Lighting was not properly installed in the spray booths. The lighting was deemed NOT to be explosion-proof.

-Respirators were not properly maintained in sanitary condition.

-The company failed to keep and maintain a written hazard communication program.

They were also slapped with two more other-than-serious violations. Although these violations come with no fine, they're just as dangerous. The company allowed workers to use a powered industrial truck that has not been evaluated or inspected in nearly 10 years. It was also cited for failing to make sure that the fire extinguishers on site were charged and ready to be used.

Each year, there are thousands who are killed on the job in the U.S. It is these types of preventative measures that can help to reduce these risks of fatal accidents. That's why officials with OSHA conduct a series of investigations into the companies in question.

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July 24, 2013

New App in Preventing Atlanta Work Accidents

Falls can be some of the most devastating work accidents in any field. Unfortunately, they continue to be a persistent hazard found in all kinds of occupations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these kinds of accidents can happen when a worker is merely walking or climbing a ladder -- in a department store or high up on a construction site.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2009, there were close to 610 workers killed on the job and another 213,000 seriously injured as a result of fall accidents to the same or lower level.

Our Atlanta work accident attorneys understand that the highest frequency of fall-related deaths was experienced by those working in the construction industry. On the other hand, the highest number of nonfatal injuries resulting from falls come from those in the health services and the wholesale and retail industries. But the risks don't stop there -- as virtually all workers in all industries are at some risk for these kinds of accidents.

Now, there is a new app, available for iPhone and Andriod, that's going to help to eliminate these risks. This new app comes with a multimodal indicator and a graphic-oriented guide for choosing the right ladder for the job while helping to inspect it for hazards, position it for the safest use, and ensuring the proper safety accessories are in place.

One of the best ways to prevent these kinds of accidents is to know and understand the common causes. Make sure to inspect your entire work area to help ensure all hazards are minimized.

Top Causes of Fall Accidents:

-Slippery Floors.

-Cluttered Walkways.

-Unstable Walking/Working Areas.

-Unprotected Edges.

-Holes in the Floor.

-Wall Openings.

-Unsafely Used Ladders.

-Improperly Used Fall Protection.

Thankfully, officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are working hard to prevent these kinds of risks on the job. They've even launched a complete Fall Prevention Campaign.

The campaign aim is to raise awareness among workers and employers about the hazards of falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs. The educational resources page gives workers and employers information about falls and how to prevent them.

And without prevention, the costs are going to continue to skyrocket. Currently, officials estimate that the costs affiliated with these accidents total roughly $70 million annually. Included in these costs are both medical costs and workers' compensation.

Preventative measures are some of the most important to plan for when executing a job. You want to make sure that the plan is to complete a job safely. Make sure you include safety costs when estimating job costs. Never overlook these factors. Once these estimations are submitted and approved, make sure you get the equipment required and make sure that everyone is properly trained in using it. It's a team effort, and everyone needs to be on board. These safe and strategic moves could wind up saving lives.

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July 13, 2013

Summer Employment: Protecting Our Teens from an Atlanta Work Accident

Today, roughly 80 percent of all students work sometime during their high school career. And that's why we have child labor laws -- to help to make sure that our youngest workers have all of the time they need to tackle their education while also being able to work.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, school with be back in session the first week of August.

Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know our nation first passed a child-labor law in 1878. The federal child labor law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), was enacted in 1938. According to the Georgia Department of Labor, when there are differences in the state and federal law, the law that provides the tougher and more stringent standard is the one usually observed.

Under the state's child labor section, the rules, regulations and restrictions employers must follow when they have one of these school-aged workers on site are clearly stated. This accounts for all children 18 and under. Special rules exist for workers under 16 and most under 14 are prohibited from working for hire.

In 2010, there were close to 18 million workers in the force who were under the age of 24. These workers accounted for roughly 15 percent of the nation's workforce. It's important to remember that these young workers have a high occupational injury rate. This high rate can oftentimes be explained by the frequency of injury hazards and dangers in the workplaces that they're likely to occupy. Some of these risks commonly include those in the restaurant settings, like slippery floors and sharp/hot objects.

Officials also credit their inexperience and a lack of safety training for higher injury rates.

And lastly, this high rate of injury on the job has been credited to their psychosocial and biologic factors. This means that they oftentimes don't "fit" the job, aren't strong enough for it or have other lacking cognitive abilities when it comes to operating heavy machinery or devices.

Our young workers are reminded that safe work is rewarding work. It's important to remember that your employer is required, by law, to make sure that your workplace is safe and free of all known hazards and dangers. They're required to follow all OSHA safety and health standards to prevent you from being injured or becoming ill on the job.

To Help To Stay Safe On The Job:

-Make sure you speak up and report any unsafe conditions on the job to a supervisor.

-Make sure you're always wearing the proper safety gear.

-Know and always follow your job site's safety rules.

-Exercise your workplace safety rights without discrimination or retaliation.

-If you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it.

Continue reading "Summer Employment: Protecting Our Teens from an Atlanta Work Accident" »

July 5, 2013

Warm Weather Work Injuries -- There's an App for That!

As we've reported on our Georgia Workers' Compensation Attorney Blog, a 42-year-old worker was killed after he overheated on the job. It didn't even happen outside in the heat or the sun, but rather inside the plant.
But as you know, heat can affect a lot of workers, both inside and outside. And that's why officials with the United States Department of Labor have stepped up with a new Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers understand that workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at risk of heat stress. Each and every year, there are about 30 people who are killed as a result of heat-related illnesses. As a matter of fact, workplace fatalities from heat exposure are the most common reason for a heat-related citation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Outdoor operations conducted in hot weather, such as construction, refining, asbestos removal, and hazardous waste site activities, especially those that require workers to wear semipermeable or impermeable protective clothing, are also likely to cause heat stress among exposed workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 mandated that employers and companies not expose their workers to any environments that are hazardous or dangerous -- and fatalities and illnesses resulting from heat is governed under this clause.

When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

And that's where the new app from OSHA comes in.

It allows employees and even supervisors to look at the dangers of the work site by helping to calculate the heat index. With this calculated index, workers and supervisors will be displayed a risk level on their job site.

Once you've got your rating, it only takes one "click" to get reminders about various steps and preventative measures that you can take to help to stay safe given conditions on the jobsite. Some of these measures can include making sure employees are getting enough rest breaks, drinking enough fluids and learning how to spot and treat a heat-related injury or illness.

Working outdoors in hot weather can result in serious illness or even death. Workers exposed to extreme heat may experience symptoms of heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion and fainting.

We're already reaching temps in the 90s and that serves up some serious risks as we enter the hottest part of the summer.

Remember that, every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat, and some even die. These illnesses and deaths are preventable. It is training and knowledge about the effects of heat, how and when to respond to symptoms and how to prevent them from occurring that's going to keep us all safe out there.

Take a minute, cool down and take a peek at this lifesaving app.

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June 26, 2013

Georgia Back-Over Construction Injuries Problematic in Summer

Every year in this country, approximately 800 construction workers die as a result of on-the-job accidents. Many more are severely injured.
Our Atlanta work accident attorneys know that being struck by vehicles, heavy equipment and other objects is the No. 1 cause of injuries and the No. 2 cause of death for construction workers, resulting in approximately 150 deaths in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Back-over incidents are when a vehicle that is backing up strikes a worker who is standing, walking, kneeling or sitting behind the vehicle.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2011, some 70 workers were killed in back-over incidents. Every single one of these deaths were 100 percent preventable, though errors occurred at different points in the incident.

Some of the recent examples include:

  • In June of 2010, a worker was standing in front of a loading dock. The worker was facing the building as a tractor-trailer was backing up into that same dock. The trailer driver backed into the worker and crushed him between the dock and the back of the trailer.

  • Almost exactly one year earlier, a construction worker wearing a reflective safety vest was inside a highway work zone when he was fatally struck by the rear passenger-side wheels of a dump truck that was backing up. The truck was equipped with an audible alarm and operating safety lights.

It's not a coincidence that these incidents happened in the summer. The warmer months are when many construction projects kick into high gear, even in the southern states.

As the economy has picked up the pace, we expect to see more construction projects - and more workers on the job - which can lead to more back-over accidents if job supervisors and drivers aren't cautious.

There are many reasons why a back-over might occur. In some cases, drivers may not be able to see the employee - even with a reflective vest - if he or she is positioned in the driver's blind spot. The exact location of that blind spot can vary depending on the type of vehicle.

Large construction vehicles should be equipped with audio alarms and safety lights, which can alert workers to possible danger. However, too often those safety features aren't functional. In other cases, workers might not be able to hear those alarms because of the high volume of other surrounding noises at the work site.

It's also been known to happen where a worker is riding on the back of the vehicle and falls off, leaving him or her vulnerable to a back-over. Other times, drivers unfortunately make an assumption that no one is behind them and fail to simply take a look in the direction of travel to make sure.

Due to the sheer size of construction-grade vehicles, workers who are struck often suffer severe injuries, if not death.

Because of the potential for grave injuries, job supervisors must have the foresight to take preventative action.

One of the first solutions is to require all drivers on a job site to employ a spotter any time they are backing up a vehicle.

Additionally, vehicles can be affixed with display monitors inside that could help them see what is behind them. Some vehicles also come equipped with sonar detection devices, so that drivers are alerted to objects behind them.

Planning can also help. On certain work sites, employers may have the option of establishing internal traffic control protocol, indicating where drivers can operate and stressing the need for speed reduction when backing up.

Training too is important. Workers on foot may not immediately recognize when they are in a driver's blind spot. Training workers on vehicle blind spots and how to avoid them can help prevent many of these incidents.

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June 18, 2013

Georgia Employers Have Duty to Prepare for Severe Weather

Tropical storms have already begun churning in the Atlantic Ocean and into the Gulf of Mexico, with the most recent, Andrea, drenching the Georgia coast and reminding all employers of the importance of being prepared.
Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that Georgia is no stranger to tropical storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather.

As the curtain opens on the 2013 hurricane season this month, the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration wants workers to know they have a right to a safe workplace free of known hazards and dangers. It's a given that major storms and other severe weather is going to occur. Employers have a duty to be prepared for it.

Generally, this means ensuring that workers are sheltered and/or protected and not sent out into perilous elements without proper training and tools.

The first step in that is having a clear plan. OSHA advises employers to:

  • Establish what kinds of conditions will activate the plan. For example, perhaps a certain wind strength would trigger the plan.

  • List a chain of command, so that there is no confusion about who will play what role in the event of an emergency.

  • Figure out a list of functions that will be necessary in an emergency, and decide exactly who will perform them.

  • Have a specific list of evacuation procedures, which will include certain routes and exits so workers are clear on what to do.

  • Work on a procedure that will help the company account for personnel, customers and visitors in case of an emergency. This way, if someone does go missing, the employer will know sooner, which can be valuable information for rescue personnel.

  • Provide proper equipment for workers to ensure safety in all conditions.

Some employers are legally required to have an Emergency Action Plan, per 29 CFR 1910.39.

In addition to having clear evacuation plans, it's imperative for companies to have clear plans to be followed by those workers who are preparing to stay and perform critical functions during the storm. Part of this means becoming familiar with the language used to warn about hurricanes and other severe weather, as well as the emergency plans of the local community, which will include nearby shelters.

Workers who are remaining on site should be provided with basic disaster supplies to help them ride out a storm. Those include:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for both drinking and sanitation);

  • Food (a three-day supply of food that is non-perishable);

  • Battery-powered weather radio and batteries;

  • First aid kit;

  • Flashlights and extra batteries;

  • Moist towelettes and garbage bags;

  • Whistle to signal for help;

  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air;

  • Cell phones with chargers, solar charger or inverter;

  • Local maps;

  • Manual can opener.

Keep in mind that these are only guidelines. Other items may be necessary, depending on the kind of work you expect employees to perform during the storm and its aftermath.

Especially keep in mind the heat index. If you expect workers to be outside in post-storm conditions without air conditioning, make sure they are aware of heat-related illnesses, are provided with enough water and take frequent breaks in the shade.

Continue reading "Georgia Employers Have Duty to Prepare for Severe Weather" »

June 14, 2013

Extreme Heat Kills Georgia Auto Plant Worker, Employers Urged to Use Caution

Last month, a 42-year-old auto factory worker in LaGrange died after having collapsed in the sweltering heat inside the plant.
While our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys understand that the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has launched an investigation into the incident, the local newspaper reported that anonymous employees contend the air conditioning in the factory was not properly working. The workers said conditions were so hot that the chocolate in the vending machines of the break room had melted.

Additionally, workers said management had been reluctant to call emergency services.

This is not the first incident at the plant. In 2012, two workers were seriously injured when a crane hit a basket lift they were in while doing maintenance work. In another case three years ago, a worker suffered a fatal fall. Following that last incident, the firm was fined nearly $136,000.

The company is about 70 miles west of the Atlanta border.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the automobile and vehicle manufacturing industry tend to experience higher than average rates of illness and injury than those in other fields. In fact, the industry reported an injury rate that was 40 percent higher than the total private industry injury rate in 2011.

Still, especially during the summer in Georgia, heat-related illnesses should be a concern in every industry.

OSHA recently kicked off an awareness campaign, which features a heat illness fatality map that shows where the majority of these deaths have been. The Atlanta-area was a hot-spot (as were parts of Texas, North Carolina and West Virginia.)

As a state in a sub-tropical climate, are summers are especially hot and humid, with temperatures regularly spiking into the mid-to-high 90s.

While the recent auto worker case is one example, the truth is that any employee who is exposed to hot or humid conditions may be at risk, particularly if they are wearing bulky protective gear and clothing or if they are doing heavy work tasks. Those who may not have built up a tolerance to hot conditions may also be especially at risk.

Normally, a person's body would work to cool itself by sweating. But when conditions are very hot and the humidity is high, sweating isn't enough to cool and body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. This can cause anything from a rash to cramping to exhaustion to stroke. It may even result in death if the person does not receive immediate medical attention.

OSHA reports that more than 30 workers have died annually of heat stroke since 2003. The federal agency recently teamed up with the Associated General Contractors of Georgia Inc. to conduct safety sessions throughout the state, which will involve more than 1,100 job sites and some 50,000 workers. Ninety percent of those are in the construction field.

Georgia doesn't have its own laws relative to heat prevention in the workplace, so those standards are set by the federal General Duty Clause, which is part of the Occupational Safety & Health Act. This measure mandates that employers provide a workplace that is free from any hazards that are causing or that could cause serious harm or death to workers.

Employers can expect a fine of up to $7,000 for not correcting a heat hazard, as they are deemed a serious violation by OSHA.

Among the steps that OSHA recommends for employers:
Provide air conditioned or shaded areas that are close to the work site, and allow for regular rest breaks.

Give workers lots of cold water in a place that is visible and convenient.
Encourage employees to drink before they get thirsty, approximately every 15 minutes.
Regularly keep an eye on weather reports and reschedule high heat exposure jobs to times of the day when it will be cooler.

Continue reading "Extreme Heat Kills Georgia Auto Plant Worker, Employers Urged to Use Caution" »

June 6, 2013

Atlanta Roadside Construction Injuries Primary Concern in Summer

It's been nearly five years since a Salt Lake City construction worker was nearly killed after being struck by a sport utility vehicle as he worked alongside the road in a designated work zone, managing traffic.
Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers understand the teen behind the wheel was reportedly being shown a photograph by another teen in the passenger seat.

The construction worker doesn't remember any of it, but he suffered 11 broken bones and severe brain injuries. Recovery has been slow, with a pelvis shattered in four places, three broken ribs and a broken heel, among other injuries. He's had to undergo knee surgery and five shoulder operations. And his brain, while making miraculous strides, still can't always grasp the correct words. Simple tasks like tying his shoes and buttoning his shirt have become impossible, as have playing baseball, basketball or riding ATVs with his friends, as he once loved to do.

Some days, he's angry. Other days, he finds himself deeply depressed. But he's dedicated to prevention and speaking to teenagers in high schools about the dangers of distracted driving, particularly in construction zones.

In 2011, there were nearly 75 roadside construction workers fatally injured by vehicles nationwide.

Georgia ranks fourth in the nation for pervasiveness of roadside construction fatalities and injuries. It accounts for 5 percent of all the country's roadside construction fatalities and 4 percent of roadside construction injuries.

Between 2003 and 2007, some 640 workers were killed while working at roadside construction deaths, accounting for about 8 percent of all construction fatalities during that time frame. Almost half of these incidents involved a worker being struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment.

The Centers for Disease Control say that about 60 percent of those cases involve being struck by construction equipment.

You might think these cases would be fairly straightforward in terms of injury law. But in fact, there are many benefits to having an attorney who is familiar with work injuries in particular.

Although the case out of Utah shows how driver negligence is clearly a prime issue that injury lawyers will examine, another potential angle might be investigating whether the construction signs near the work zone were negligently-placed.

For example, sometimes there is construction equipment actually in the roadway. In other cases, the road is uneven, damaged or torn-up, and the construction signs don't accurately reflect that or aren't placed in the proper location.

In cases like these, the responsibility would fall on the company or contractor responsible for managing traffic control. Additionally, the Department of Transportation may also bear some of the liability, as it is the duty of the state DOT to inspect the construction site and sign placement. If the inspection wasn't properly carried out, this could be grounds for liability.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roadside construction incidents were most likely to occur in April through October - accounting for nearly 65 percent of the total. Mostly, this has to do with the fact that this is when the bulk of the construction takes place.

Continue reading "Atlanta Roadside Construction Injuries Primary Concern in Summer" »

May 30, 2013

AFL-CIO Report Raises Serious Concerns about Workplace Safety

The news for workers has been bad lately across the globe. Of course, one of the worst disasters in history recently took place in Bangladesh when a factory collapsed due to failure to follow clearances and shoddy building materials. This collapse led to more than 1,100 deaths of workers. Unfortunately, news of this devastating accident is not the only bad news for workers in recent weeks. 1410993_industrial.jpg

Our Atlanta work injury attorneys know that the dangers that workers face are not exclusive to factories half a world away like those in Bangladesh. Workers right here in the United States are in grave danger, in large part because safety laws designed to protect employees are not being enforced effectively.

Workers at Risk in the United States

Within just a few days of the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh, we were reminded that we also have some very dangerous worksites here in the United States. This tragic reminder occurred when a West Texas Fertilizer plant exploded and caused fourteen deaths and more than 200 injuries. While the explosion happened at night and there were few employees of the plant injured or killed, the explosion still raised questions about what conditions were like at the plant.

It turned out, unfortunately, that federal regulators really had no idea what conditions were like there. This is because the fertilizer plant had not been inspected since 1985. A dangerous plant storing explosive material like the fertilizer plant was storing should have been high on the list of priorities as far as workplace inspections, so this incident could naturally raise questions of where OSHA was and why no one was keeping tabs on what was going on.

Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO's 2013 report "Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect" answers the question of where OSHA was: overworked, understaffed and unable to perform inspections that they need to perform.

According to the AFL-CIO:

  • There are 837 federal OSHA inspectors available to oversee and regulate more than 8 million workplaces. Even with the 837 inspectors working full time, the significantly shortage of OSHA staff means that a workplace would be inspected just about once every 131 years.
  • There are very limited penalties imposed on employers who break OSHA safety rules, even when an employer violation leads to death. Criminal charges are very rare since a criminal case is brought only if a willful violation is the cause of an employee's death. These types of cases have been brought only 84 times since 1970 when many worker protection laws were passed. Without criminal enforcement, fines are supposed to act as a deterrent. Unfortunately, the median amount that is paid after settlement if a worker dies at work is just $5,715. The fine is even lower for simple citations, at an average of $2,156.

The news of this AFL-CIO report raises serious concerns about whether enough is being done to protect workers in the United States. The West Texas fertilizer plant is solid proof that a failure to inspect can have very real consequences, and the tragic collapse in Bangladesh serves as an important warning about what could happen here in the U.S. if regulators don't have the power to make employers play by the rules when it comes to workplace safety.

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May 24, 2013

Georgia Governor Signs Bill Making Changes to Workers' Compensation in Atlanta

The workers' compensation system in Georgia has long been established as a means to protect workers and to ensure that they have medical bills and costs covered if they suffer a disabling injury at work. Unfortunately, some recent changes to the Georgia workers' compensation law limit the rights of workers to be provided with full benefits after experiencing a workplace injury. 1125238_forklift_1.jpg

Our Atlanta work injury lawyers know that the Governor signed House Bill 154 into law on May 6th, 2013. Understanding the implications of this law and how it will affect your workers' compensation claim is very important.

Georgia Workers' Compensation Changes

HB 154 was proposed this year by lawmakers to make some important alterations to existing Georgia workers' compensation laws. After passing the House and the Senate, the law went to the Governor and was signed.

Some of the changes that are made by HB 154 are positive changes that can help workers. For example, the weekly benefits for the disabled were raised to $525 and to $350 for those who have a partial/temporary disability. An increase in the weekly benefits maximums is a very good thing for workers struggling to get by under the prior limitations on weekly income from workers' compensation.

The law also mandates that an employee who is entitled to reimbursement for mileage must receive repayment in a timely manner. According to the rules set by HB 154, reimbursements that are due for mileage need to be paid within 15 days from the date when the employer receives reports.

Unfortunately, while the law did some good things for injured workers, it also did some bad things as well. One of those things was to limit the length of compensation to 400 weeks maximum. Under the new law, therefore, anyone who experiences a non-catastrophic injury after July 1, 2013 will be restricted to being compensated for just 400 weeks from the date that the injury first entitled him to benefits.

The new law also changed the rules as far as employees attempting to return to work. Under the Georgia Workers' Compensation laws, an employee may return to work and do light duty or return on restricted duty even if the employee has not yet fully recovered from his injuries. There is a formal process employers can use to get an employee back to work, which includes making a "240 offer of light duty." Essentially, when employers make this offer, the worker can be compelled to try the light duty job. If the employee is able to do the job, then ongoing workers' comp disability benefits will be reduced or eliminated.

This process has been susceptible to problems especially since employers are required to resume paying benefits if an employee cannot perform the job for 15 days. Some employees were allegedly taking advantage of this, making a token attempt to do the light duty job for around 20 minutes or so and then claiming pain and going home. HB 154 said that if an employee attempts to perform the job for less than eight cumulative hours or for less than one scheduled workday, the employer can suspend benefits. The employer can also suspend benefits if the employee refuses to attempt the job. In any of these cases when benefits are suspended, the employee will now have the burden of proving continued eligibility for benefits.

The problem, of course, is that many injured victims really are in pain and cannot work for even 20 minutes, even at a light duty job. This can cause serious hardship for the sickest and most disabled if their employers try to force them back to work. If your benefits are stopped as a result of this new law, it is important to talk to an attorney since you'll now have the burden of proving your need for ongoing benefits.

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