OSHA Chief: Inequality in America Is About Workplace Hazards, Too

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Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.nbcnews.com

W hy should I care? Why should anyone care? And where do we go from here – what is needed most for safe workplaces?

The article linked to below is an incredibly insightful interview from the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known far and wide as OSHA. Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels answers quite a few of these questions with frank messages that all should consider, whether you’re a worker or love someone who works. Because, to review, OSHA is limited only to holding businesses accountable for safety violations, and once those violations are fixed, proposed fines are almost always adjusted down.

As is often seen at law firms like ours, what happens once a worker is injured greatly affects that worker and their loved ones financially and emotionally, in both the short-term and long-term. That’s one of the many reasons this blog features so many posts advocating for worker safety, and the firm’s efforts include articles on other social media outlets that highlight when OSHA is holding businesses accountable for safety lapses. Though workers are affected badly by unsafe conditions throughout the spectrum of wages, this issue affects low-wage workers more, and almost always, there’s less of a financial cushion for workers who make less money in the first place.

“There’s a clear correlation between low wage jobs and unsafe jobs….Workers in low wage jobs are at much greater risk of conditions that will make it impossible for them to live in a healthy way, to earn money for their family, to build middle class lives,” Michaels said.

I would continue to argue that when businesses and insurance doesn’t step up to do the right thing after someone is hurt, regardless of regulatory requirements lagging behind, then society as a whole is also affected by the cost of supporting injured workers and, often, their loved ones. As Michaels mentioned, employers should make workplaces even safer than OSHA’s minimum requirements and focus on prevention, which can also result in cost savings. But if a worker does happen to get hurt, the employer should make the choice to help the worker recover, and ultimately, if at all possible, get back to meaningful work. In the long run, this benefits the worker, their loved ones, employers and society the most. And as Michaels said about injury prevention, “There’s a lot of evidence that companies that manage safety well are more productive and outperform their competitors.”

So workers, and especially businesses, should care enough to take care.

Image: Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration attends a full committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 23 in Washington, DC.
Image: Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration attends a full committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 23 in Washington, DC.

Inequality and poverty have taken center stage in American politics in the years since the recession. Fast food workers have raised the profile of low-wage work, cities and states around the country are raising the minimum wage, and elected officials in both parties have made the struggles of poor Americans core political issues.

But David Michaels, Ph.D., M.P.H., who leads the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Obama administration, says that workplace inequality is more than just wages. In an interview, Michaels, who is responsible for enforcing federal laws to project workers from illness and injury, says the regulatory structures he oversees aren’t sufficient to protect vulnerable workers from harm.

NBC: The political conversation about inequality in recent years has focused on wages. You’ve made the point that when addressing inequality, we should focus more on workplace health and safety issues. Why?

Michaels: Wages are clearly a core component of the discussion of inequality and the ability to get into and stay in middle class. But workplace health and safety issues also have an enormous impact. Workplace injury and illness can push workers out of middle-class jobs and make it hard to enter into the middle class in the first place.

Studies show that workplace injury…

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Workers’ Compensation with Rod Rehm of Truckerlawyers.com: Review America’s Truckin’ Network Podcasts

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“A person’s only got one body to live with and get through life on,” said Rod Rehm of www.truckerlawyers.com. He is a workers’ compensation attorney who has worked extensively with injured truckers.

Mr. Rehm recently appeared on the America’s Truckin’ Network show with host Steve Sommers. Discussion between the two touched on many points of the workers’ compensation systems in the nation, which vary by state. They also took both calls and emails from drivers who had specific questions and challenges about work injuries and workers’ compensation, because trucking is a dangerous industry with many hazards.

Please listen to the podcasts below for more complete information, but here are some details from the two podcasts.

“Workers’ compensation is a longstanding program in all the states to protect and help truck drivers when they get hurt, and they get hurt a lot,” Rehm said. Although whether it’s the worker’s fault or not doesn’t really come into play in workers’ compensation, if you get hurt on the job.

Truck drivers and others who travel for a living come under a “special scenario.”

“Pretty much anything that happens when you’re away from home earning money for a company is going to be the responsibility of the company,” he told Sommers.

As an example, think about the following scenario.

“If it’s a single traumatic event, let’s say you trip getting out of the truck or slipped, didn’t jump down, and you broke an ankle. On that accident event … you should report right away as a work injury, and the vast majority of people do. You would become entitled to medical care for that almost immediately, and if you had to miss work, you’d be entitled to some sort of compensation while you’re missing work to heal up from that broken ankle,” Rehm said.

Other issues they discussed during the show included repetitive motion problems, vibration injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, pre-existing conditions aggravated by driving truck, and work restrictions for injured workers. Included were pointers on when you need help from an attorney, for example, when a trucking company uses a transitional duty station away from the driver’s home base to control a hurt worker’s medical care.

They also discussed specific issues involved with workers’ compensation and truckers, as workers’ compensation does differ from health insurance. Misperceptions about workers’ compensation were addressed, too.

America’s Truckin’ Network runs from 11 p.m. through 4 a.m. (midnight to 5 a.m. Eastern Time) on 700 WLW-AM out of Cincinnati, and the chance to help educate truckers about workers’ compensation is greatly appreciated.

Rules can vary from state to state, and jurisdictional issues can be complicated for truckers, so be sure to check with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney or contact the firm through www.truckerlawyers.com with details for specific situations. Mr. Rehm has represented truckers for over 30 years, 15 of which have been through the website www.truckerlawyers.com.

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Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device 13 Days before Temp Worker’s Death

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Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.propublica.org

ProPublica is running an extremely informative investigative series on the trials and safety risks of being a temporary worker. This post is another story in that series. It is both brutal and thought-provoking. Sympathies go out to all the families whose lives are changed as their loved ones who are just trying to work for a living die in unsafe work environments.

There are a whole lot of people without any job security at all. “The temporary staffing business has been one of the fastest growing industries since the end of the 2007-09 recession. It now employs a record 2.9 million people in the United States,” according to the ProPublica article.

In this particular warehouse in Pennsylvania, every employee, including the warehouse manager, was a temp worker! The warehouse manager told OSHA that he had “complained repeatedly to upper management about the dangers of becoming engulfed while unclogging the sugar hopper,” according to the article, including requesting “a safety device to prevent clogging.”

But after that screen was installed, it was removed by the plant manager, as it was “slowing down production.” Less than two weeks after that, temp worker Janio Salinas, 50, was “buried alive in sugar.”

Even though CSC Sugar had been inspected and fined before, the original fine for this incident of $25,855 was reduced to $18,098 after the plant made safety adjustments, according to the article.

Although Mr. Salinas’ family thought OSHA should have done more, “Jean Kulp, director of OSHA’s Allentown, Pa., office, told Univision that her agency doesn’t have the ability to shut down businesses and has limited criminal enforcement provisions.”

If you or a loved one are hurt at work, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your options. As was written in previous blog posts, in Nebraska and Iowa, most but not all, temporary employees are covered by workers’ compensation. A better solution continues to be a safer job environment and stronger training programs for all workers.

This story was done in collaboration with Univision.

Inside the sugar plant in Fairless Hills, Pa., nobody could find Janio Salinas, a 50-year-old temp worker from just over the New Jersey border.

Throughout the morning, Salinas and a handful of other workers had been bagging mounds of sugar for a company that supplies the makers of Snapple drinks and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But sugar clumps kept clogging the massive hopper, forcing the workers to climb inside with shovels to help the granules flow out the funnel-like hole at the bottom.

Coming back from lunch that day in February 2013, one employee said he had seen Salinas digging in the sugar. But when he looked back, Salinas was gone. All that remained was a shovel buried up to its handle. Then, peering through a small gap in the bottom of the hopper, someone noticed what appeared to blue jeans.

It was Salinas. He had been buried alive in sugar.

As harrowing as the accident was, federal safety investigators recently discovered something perhaps even more disturbing: A safety device that would have prevented Salinas’ death had been removed just 13 days before the accident because a manager believed it was slowing down production.

After a series of gruesome accidents involving untrained temp workers, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stepped up its enforcement of rules affecting temp workers. In recent cases, OSHA has held companies and temp agencies jointly responsible for training, and it…

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Workers’ Comp Covers Work-Related Motor Vehicle Accidents

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car accidentDo you drive a company vehicle as part of your job?

Many find themselves in the situation where they travel regularly, or on a special errand from time to time, as part of their job.

In the unfortunate scheme of things, if you are involved in an accident while driving, whether it is your fault or not, you are covered by and entitled to workers’ compensation benefits just as any other employee who suffers an accident on the premise of an employer.

More importantly, if the cause of the accident was not due to negligence of your own, but that of a third party, you have a right to bring a third-party negligence action against the party responsible for causing the vehicle accident. This right is separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits that you are entitled to. Further, you also potentially have the right to bring an underinsured motorist coverage claim under your employer’s motor vehicle coverage as well as your own underinsured motorist vehicle coverage. These, too, are separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to.

It is important to note that the employer would have a subrogation right to be reimbursed for workers’ compensation benefits paid on your behalf against that of any third-party negligence claim where you obtained a recovery. However, as underinsured motorist coverage is typically viewed as contractual benefits in nature, there is no subrogation right from your employer if underinsured benefits are obtained in Nebraska.

If you or someone you know was injured in a motor vehicle accident that arose out of and in the course of one’s employment, there are significant issues to be aware of in order to obtain a recovery that meets your needs. If you have any questions or uncertainty when dealing with this point of law, please seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help steer you in the best course of action.

America’s Truckin’ Network to Feature Rod Rehm as Guest Wednesday Night

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Questions about workers’ compensation for truckers? Is your family member a trucker who is injured? Get help figuring out the answers by calling and listening in to the America’s Truckin Network show on Wednesday night with firm owner Rod Rehm.

He is scheduled to be featured as the guest on this Wednesday night’s edition of the America’s Truckin’ Network show. It runs from 11 p.m. Wednesday through 4 a.m. Thursday (midnight to 5 a.m. Eastern Time) on 700 WLW-AM out of Cincinnati. Plan to listen or call in during the first hour or two to get details on workers’ compensation and truckers from Mr. Rehm.

He is scheduled as Wednesday night’s guest because of his work representing truckers for over 30 years, 15 of which have been through the website www.truckerlawyers.com.

Mr. Rehm will join the show’s host, Steve Sommers, to discuss essentials of workers’ compensation for truck drivers. “We will cover things that professional truck drivers absolutely must know about how workers’ compensation affects truckers,” Mr. Rehm said. The law firm also often helps truckers nationwide through referrals to attorneys in their own state, due to differences in state laws and workers’ compensation coverage.

According to the radio station, “Steve Sommers joined the Truckin’ Bozo Radio Network in 1996, hosting the show on weekends and filling in for his father, Dale Sommers (Truckin’ Bozo). In 2004, Dale handed over the main hosting duties to his son, Steve, keeping this popular program in the family with a new name: America’s Truckin’ Network!

Mr. Sommers is dedicated to continuing the high standards and traditions of America’s Truckin’ Network, ensuring long-haul truckers have news, weather, music and conversation to keep them company over the long and sometimes lonely miles of the American roads.”

There are a number of ways for folks to participate in the America’s Truckin’ Network show, both through listening and by asking questions. Stream through a computer at www.700wlw.com or listen to 700WLW-AM.

We invite you to listen in and also call with your questions to (513) 749-7000 or (888) 860-8785. And we thank Mr. Sommers for the opportunity to be Wednesday night’s featured guest!

The conversation continues on social media @truckerlawyers on Twitter; at www.facebook.com/truckerlawyers on Facebook; and https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/100951774100816925176/+Truckerlawyers/posts on Google+. America’s Truckin’ Network is on Twitter @AmericasTrknNet and on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/700wlw. In addition, some previous shows, including previous appearances by Mr. Rehm, are archived as podcasts at this website.

Be Safe, and Happy Independence Day!

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Please be safe, and have a Happy Independence Day tomorrow. 

The firm’s offices will close today at 2:30 p.m. and be closed on Friday, July 4, for the Independence Day holiday. We will be open on Monday, July 7, at 8:30 a.m.

The Fourth of July means different things to different folks. Here’s a list of web resources and other commentary to help you have both a safe and fun holiday, with an emphasis on safe. Because it’s possible to still have fun while being safe.

  • This link includes tips on fireworks, grilling, beaches, rip currents and sun protection. I would add that the beach safety tips easily translate to lake or river safety for those of us in the land-locked states of Iowa and Nebraska.  
  • This link from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) encourages “safety of workers who handle pyrotechnics.” I think this safety focus also applies to volunteers who sell fireworks at non-profit stands.    
  • This link explains how the holiday can be challenging “for people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” because “of high levels of smoke from fireworks.”   
  • This link from the @NICoEPage Twitter feed explains that for those who have served in the military or have traumatic brain injuries, holiday events can cause both stress and anxiety.   The Twitter account describes the focus of this effort as follows: “Advancing understanding of complex TBI and psychological health conditions for service members, their families, and the MHS.” … “Healing the Invisible Wounds of War.”  

Please also be aware, when working with fireworks, of any local laws that affect when a person can use fireworks and the fireworks that can be used. Do you know what the laws (and penalties) are where you’ll be celebrating the holiday? And who is responsible for the cleanup afterwards?

For example, read this extensive quote, found via the Omaha Police Department Facebook page:

“So, we’ve mentioned that you can use fireworks between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. until July 4th. Some other fireworks related rules to remember are that fireworks are not allowed in city parks, and you cannot discharge fireworks on a public street. Also, if you are throwing fireworks, take the following information into account.

28-1242. Unlawful throwing of fireworks; penalty.

(1) A person commits the offense of unlawful throwing of fireworks if he or she throws any firework, or any object which explodes upon contact with another object: (a) From or into a motor vehicle; (b) onto any street, highway, or sidewalk; (c) at or near any person; (d) into any building; or (e) into or at any group of persons.

(2) Unlawful throwing of fireworks is a Class III misdemeanor.”

Finally, here’s a reminder to take care when driving on the weekend of the Fourth. From today through Saturday, Nebraska State Patrol will be out in full force thanks to a grant. “Special enforcement efforts will focus on safe driving practices with an emphasis on crash causing behaviors such as speeding, following too closely, impaired and distracted driving,” according to a news release found at this link under Nebraska State Patrol News.  

Again, please have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Not Expanding Medicaid: Deadly Consequences

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Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer from The Domer Law Firm in Milwaukee.

As previously discussed in my blog post from last year, Nebraska’s Gov. Heineman has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Although the Legislature attempted in 2013 and 2014 to expand Medicaid, it has not passed with a filibuster-proof majority.

Whether it is for politics or short-sightedness, Heineman misses the positive impact an expansion of Medicaid would mean to all of Nebraska, including its working families. The benefits of expanding Medicaid to Nebraska’s workers are outlined here.

As I wrote almost a year ago, and as Mr. Domer’s blog post below suggests, the governor’s response in this 2013 Omaha World-Herald article of essentially “eat an apple a day” and go ask your church for some help just doesn’t cut it anymore. I don’t know of too many churches handing out health coverage for an emergency appendectomy or for melanoma screenings. The coverage gap of when a person isn’t eligible for subsidies but would have been eligible for expanded Medicaid looms large for many families and workers: many of them will go without health insurance altogether.

Because there are definitely Nebraskans who are “too poor for Obamacare and … too rich for Medicaid,”even though they’re working, they can look forward to potential “dire health consequences,” as Mr. Domer writes, without insurance. I hope the 2015 Nebraska legislative session will be the year for more working Nebraskans to improve their health through the Unicameral passing expanded Medicaid coverage.

Please take a moment to ready this story out of Pennsylvania: Study: Many Will Die if Medicaid is Not Expanded.   As part of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), an expansion of Medicaid was intended.  Medicaid essentially is the joint federal-state program to provide health insurance to low income individuals and families.   The federal government strongly encouraged this expansion by the states, by offering to pay for that expansion for many years.   Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court–in upholding the constitutionality of the bulk of Obamacare–did strike down this Medicaid expansion.  The Supreme Court decision left it up to the state’s themselves to decide whether to expand Medicaid for their residents or not.

In many Republican-led states, the decision was made to not expand Medicaid.  As seen in this article, Pennsylvania was a state that declined to expand.  Wisconsin, with Republican Governor Scott Walker, also decided not to provide this expanded Medicaid coverage to the the state’s low income individiduals.  (Check out the story here and here.) 

Now comes news that failure to expand Medicaid may actually result in increased deaths among the affected population.  The failure to have this expanded coverage, according to the study examining Pennsylvanis, will result in thousands of deaths due to individuals foregoing necessary medication, medical treatment, and preventative screening. Additionally, the expansion failure will result in “catastrophic medical expenses and tens of thousands of cases of untreated depression, diabetes and missed screening tests.”   This is a truly scary scenario–and an avoidable one.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Walker is suggesting that these individuals can now obtain health insurance throught the federal-run exchanges.  The real issue is whether these low-income individuals can truly afford the premiums and whether they actually qualify for the federal subsidies.  These lower-income individuals were the one supposed to be covered by Medicaid expansion–not by the exchanges.    Based on the Pennsylvania study, if these individuals are ineligible for Medicaid and cannot secure health insurance elsewhere, dire health consequences (or even death) loom as possibilities.

OSHA Enforcement Cases Involving Temps On the Rise

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Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from ohsonline.com

I am so glad to see that temporary workers are being included more in OSHA enforcement. It is just frustrating that it took an injury to a worker in New Jersey for one of the companies in the article below to be inspected through “a referral from the Maplewood Fire Department,” according to the article.

Our firm’s blog has included articles focused on temporary workers and their special challenges when it comes to workers’ compensation in 2012 and earlier this year.

The short article below that is today’s focus came from a business and industry publication, so I think it serves to put its readers on notice for OSHA’s renewed focus “on the safety of temporary workers.”

Generally speaking (with exceptions for some agricultural jobs), temporary workers qualify for workers’ compensation, though that coverage does not replace wages from your main job if the temporary job is a second job. Workers’ compensation laws and systems vary by state, so if you or a loved one is injured on the job, please speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney about your specific situation.

Today’s post shared from OshOnLine.com illustrates a new enforcement effort by OSHA that will improve the work environment for all Americans.OSHA’s emphasis on the safety of temporary workers is being driven home by a series of enforcement actions. The latest case announcement on June 19 involved the Macon, Ga., facility of a company named California Cereal Products Inc., which OSHA has cited for exposing full-time and temporary workers to electrical, fall, and noise hazards, with proposed penalties totaling $40,600. OSHA opened an inspection last December based on a complaint.

“The employer has failed to protect full-time and temporary workers from easily identified workplace hazards that can result in death or permanent disability,” said Bill Fulcher, director of OSHA’s Atlanta-East Area Office.

The case against beverage bottling company Maplewood Beverage Packers LLC and temporary employment agency Corporate Resource Services Corp. in Elizabeth, N.J., also began with a December 2013 investigation, but it started with a referral from the Maplewood Fire Department after a temporary worker was injured falling from a ladder. OSHA has proposed $182,270 in penalties. “Host employers and staffing agencies are jointly responsible for ensuring worker safety and health,” said Kris Hoffman, director of OSHA’s Parsippany Area Office. “Employers must protect all workers from job hazards-both permanent and temporary workers.”

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