Not only was the death of the 28-year-old Puerto Rican father entirely preventable, but according to a report from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration it was forewarned a year earlier. The company that contracted with a temporary worker agency knew the risk its practices posed, and yet choose to do nothing to make the job safer.
That’s according to a joint report from ProPublica and The Boston Globe. ProPublica has been hyper-focused on the issue of temporary worker safety throughout the U.S. in recent months. This incident occurred in Massachusetts in 2011.
Our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers know this case presents lessons that employers can and should take to heart, or else risk a potential liability.
While workers’ compensation coverage will typically cover expenses for the survivors of those who are killed while working, the rules for temporary employees are often different. They may pursue benefits directly from the temp agencies, they cannot collect from the actual company where they worked unless they file a third-party lawsuit.
Employers in Georgia may be responsible for up to $7,500 in burial expenses. From there, the maximum amount of total benefits that can be paid to a surviving spouse is $125,000 over the course of 400 weeks, until the spouse either remarries, begins cohabitating with another or reaches the age of 65. Dependent children are also eligible for benefits until the age of 18.
Third-party liability lawsuits following a workers’ death in Georgia can result in damage awards that far exceed the $125,000 – so long as the survivors can show negligence, knowledge of negligence, failure to address the issue and proximate cause.
In this case, two years before the worker died, the hummus manufacturer was notified by both OSHA and its own internal consultant that it was not properly training the cleaning crews on important safety protocol. Specifically, there is a step called lock-out/tag-out, which essentially ensures the machine is turned off before the cleaning commences.
Not only was the company warned that a fatality within one year was “probable” unless this issue was addressed, the company was ordered by OSHA to pay a $9,500 fine.
The fine was ultimately reduced and paid, but the problem was never fixed. Firm administrators would later say they had neither the time nor the money to do so.
On the date of the accident, the worker did not use this lock-out/tag out procedure. He’d never been trained to do so. While investigators still aren’t sure exactly what the worker was doing at the time his arm became caught, they know that soon after, the slow-moving blade ensnared him, slicing not only his arms but his head. He died on the way to the hospital.
Following the OSHA investigation, the company was slapped with a $540,000 fine, which is one of the largest in the country in the last 10 years. The company says it has since updated its policy and now trains work clean crews differently. But it shouldn’t take the death of a worker – temporary or otherwise – to force a company’s hand.
It’s been well-documented that temporary workers face a greater risk each day on the job, in some instances facing double and sometimes even triple rates of injury and death, as compared to regular, full-time workers. Many of these incidents occur in manufacturing and construction sectors, where workers are conducting dangerous jobs without the right training.
It happens in Georgia the same as it happens in Massachusetts and everywhere else. As the demand for temporary workers has ballooned in recent years, the protections afforded them have not.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.
Hummus Maker Warned of ‘Extreme Safety Risk’ Before Temp Worker’s Death, May 21, 2014, By Megan Woolhouse, The Boston Globe, and Michael Grabell, ProPublica
More Blog Entries:
Georgia Work Injuries Incurred While Leaving May be Compensable if Still on Site, May 13, 2014, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog