Back to Downton Abbey – Why You Should Care About a Seemingly Ho-hum Supreme Court Case

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downtown abbeySo what does Downton Abbey have to do with a seemingly ho-hum recent Supreme Court case about pension benefits for union retirees? Lots.

The decision in question is the recent Supreme Court decision of M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that interpreted the Labor Management Relations Act ruling that health care benefits for union retirees continue permanently, even if the collective bargaining agreement expires. In other words, even if a collective bargaining agreement ends, the company is still on the hook for health care benefits for retirees.

The Supreme Court ruled that since that understanding wasn’t explicitly spelled out in the contract, then the union retirees were out of luck. The Supreme Court relied on supposed “common law” principles to arrive at this result. Common law was developed by courts in England and transported across the Atlantic to the United States in the 17th century. It was a system that largely favored the Lord Granthams of the world. For example, there was no such thing as “workers’ compensation” or “employment law.” There was the “law of master and servant.”

If you watch Downton Abbey or know much about the history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the “servants” weren’t pleased with this arrangement. So starting in the 1910s, state legislatures started passing workers’ compensation statutes. In the 1930s and 1940s as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Congress started passing laws like the Labor Management Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which gave employees protections in addition to what they had under the common law. This expansion of employee rights continued with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990 and amended in 2008, and the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993.

No law passed in the last 100 years that protects the rights of employees really has any basis in the common law, so when the Supreme Court starts using 18th century English law to interpret those laws, then employees should be concerned.

Lay people who follow politics may get confused by a 5-4 split. What happened there was that the four Democratic-appointed justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, agreed with the outcome of the case but not the reasoning used by five Republican-appointed justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Of note, none of the supposed “liberal bloc” supported the decision made by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the highest federal court for the states of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The judges of the 6th Circuit are appointed by the president and subject to approval of the Senate, just like Supreme Court justices. It’s hard to argue that the judges of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals are somehow out of the mainstream of legal opinion or radical bomb throwers.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers and union leaders who read this blog will sometimes lament how the blue-collar people we represent largely vote Republican, based on social issues and national security issues, even though their economic interests are aligned with the Democratic Party. But after reading M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, can blue-collar conservatives be entirely blamed for not thinking the Democratic Party supports their economic interests? Maybe plaintiffs’ lawyers and union leaders are the real chumps for blindly supporting a national Democratic Party that seems to be indifferent to their interests and the interests of those they represent.

2014 Top Ten Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

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Guest author and respected colleague Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina, wrote today’s post. His analysis is a tradition at this time of the year that highlights one of the many misconceptions in workers’ compensation. As you can see by both the quantity and dollar value, of his top 10 fraud cases, non-employee cases are dominant over worker fraud, and the dollar cost is quite large for the nine non-employee cases.

This is the third time that this blog has featured his compiled yearly list, and the information continues to be fascinating, informative and often disturbing. Each of the examples affected real people and their loved ones. Especially tragic was the situation where a workers’ compensation scam was linked to the death of a 5-month-old baby boy.

Fraud against workers tends to be on a much grander scale, and though it has been mentioned in previous blog posts, it is worth saying again that it’s the workers and taxpayers who are on the hook when it comes to situations that include overbilling, workers’ compensation scams, and not carrying workers’ compensation insurance. It can be tragic to workers and their loved ones if an employee gets hurt and the employer was cutting costs by not carrying workers’ compensation insurance. Without this safety net, when injured, workers often default to their personal health insurance (if they have any) or rely on the taxpayer-funded safety net, which shifts the cost burden from the businesses involved to the greater society of responsible taxpayers.

It is my hope that you have a safe and productive 2015.

  Number Value
Non-Employee Fraud Cases 9 $ 74,876,000.00
Employee Fraud Cases 1 $ 450,000.00
Total $ 75,326,000.00

Five of the top ten fraud cases in 2014 are from California. The other five cases are from Florida, Texas, Arizona, Washington and Georgia. As usual, non-employee fraud cases dominated the list and the dollar amounts are staggering, led by the $36 million over-billing case out of southern California. An emerging issue is the misclassification of workers, and we will likely see more of these cases in 2015 as enforcement steps up in this area.

1. (California) Medical Equipment Company Overbills $36 Million (3/17/14)

The owners of Aspen Medical Resources were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraud.
The owners of Aspen Medical Resources were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraud.

The owners of Aspen Medical Resources had all their assets seized and put into receivership by the Orange County District Attorney. They were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraudulent overbilling of $36 million for hot-cold physical therapy machines. Although these machines retail between $250 and $500 Aspen often billed Southern California workers’ compensation claims departments thousands of dollars each time a machine was rented.  

2. (California) 15 Medical Professionals Indicted in $25 Million Scheme – Small Child Dies (6/24/14)

Ahmed Kareem, one of 15 doctors accused of participating in a workers’ compensation scam.
Dr. Ahmed Kareem   is accused of participating in a workers’ comp scam.

Fifteen doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals in Southern California were charged in a $25 million workers’ compensation scam which was linked to the death of a baby. Prosecutors alleged insurance fraud and conspiracy in the 44 count indictment which detailed that the head of a workers’ compensation claims management firm hired pharmacists to produce a pain-relief cream and then gave kickbacks to the doctors that prescribed it and conspired to submit phony claims. A 5-month old boy ate the cream and died when his mother, who was using the prescribed cream for back and knee pain, allowed her son to suck her fingers to sooth him. The next morning he was found dead and tests showed he had ingested lethal amounts of drugs in this cream.

3. (California) Lowe’s Settled Independent Contractor Misclassification Case for $6.5 Million (7/3/14)

Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees.
Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Over 4,000 “Lowe’s professionals” in California are members of a class action alleging that Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees, thus depriving them of a variety of employee benefits, from workers’ compensation insurance coverage to 401(k) plan participation. Lowe’s, without admitting liability, recently settled the case after mediation for a sum that could be as much as $6.5 million. The plaintiffs claimed that Lowe’s retained and exercised control over their work by requiring them to identify themselves as working for Lowe’s, wear Lowe’s hats and shirts, and attend training by Lowe’s.

4. (California) Paving Company Cheats System of $4 Million (6/19/14)

Sabas & Lucia Trujillo
Sabas & Lucia Trujillo face criminal charges for workers’ comp’ fraud.

Five owners (Sabas Trujilo, Lucia Trujilo, Rick Trujilo, Laura Fitzpatrick and Alex Trujilo), operators and employees of a Corona, California based paving company are facing criminal charges for alleged wage theft, premium fraud, workers’ compensation and payroll fraud. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office alleges that the individuals’ criminal actions enabled them to illegally obtain about $4 million. After launching an investigation, the state obtained search warrants for both companies, seizing computers and bank, payroll and other documents. The state conducted several wage audits on several hundred projects, which ultimately led to the filing of criminal charges.

5. (Florida) False Insurance Certificates Check Cashing Scheme Defrauds Insurance Company of $1 Million (11/18/14)

Arturo Santos Zuniga paid laborers cash to avoid paying workers' comp'.
Arturo Santos Zuniga paid laborers cash to avoid paying workers’ comp.

Arturo Santos Zuniga, who also went by the name David Hernandez, was busted for paying laborers in cash to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Zuniga paid a North Lauderdale man to create and insure a fake or “shell” company, Behar Services Incorporated, and “rented” out insurance certificates to uninsured subcontractors in South Florida. Payments to the uninsured subcontractors were made through checks to the fake company, which were then cashed at check cashing stores. Behar Services Incorporated got its insurance policy by saying it had 10 employees doing carpentry and office work with an annual payroll of $210,000. The annual premium was about $26,500. Law enforcement financial reports show that just in the months from July to October, more than $7.3 million had been cashed out at check cashing stores to Behar Services Incorporated and/or the North Lauderdale man who started the company. A $7.3 million payroll would have cost more than $1 million more than the existing policy. No estimate of lost tax revenue was given.

6. (Texas) Man to Pay $806,000 for Underreporting Payroll to Workers’ Comp Carrier (3/11/14)

Howard Douglas Whiddon of Travis County was ordered to pay $806,000 in restitution.
Howard Douglas Whiddon was ordered to pay $806,000.

Howard Douglas Whiddon was ordered to pay $806,000 in restitution to workers’ compensation insurer Texas Mutual Insurance Co. after pleading guilty to workers’ comp fraud-related charges. He intentionally misrepresented the payroll of a related company, thus lowering his premiums. Mr. Whiddon was sentenced by a Travis County, Texas court to 10 years of deferred adjudication and 160 hours of community service.

7. (Arizona) Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. Agreed to Pay $600,000 in Back Wages, Damages and Penalties to 445 Employees (5/19/14)

Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees.
Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees.

Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees, which stripped them of workers’ compensation and other protections afforded to employees. The owner, Robert Cole Johnson agreed to take concrete steps to ensure that misclassification of its workforce does not occur again and to pay $556,000.00 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to at least 445 current and former employees. The employer also agreed to pay $44,000.00 in civil monetary penalties. Investigators found that the drywall contractor violated the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime and record-keeping provisions.

8. (Washington) Summit Drywall, Inc. Ordered to Pay $550,000 in Unpaid Wages and Damages to 384 Workers (2/20/14)

The owner of Summit Drywall, Inc. was ordered to pay damages to 384 employees.
Summit Drywall’s owner was ordered to pay damages to employees.

Thomas Kauzlarich, the owner of Summit Drywall, Inc. was ordered to pay $550,000 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to 384 current and former employees. An investigation showed that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime and record-keeping provisions from October 15, 2009 to April 15, 2013. The article did not report the amount of reduced workers’ compensation premiums paid.

9. (Georgia) Nurse Gets 5 Years in Prison for $450,000 Bogus Workers’ Comp Claims (8/26/14)

A VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison for mail fraud and fraudulent claims.
A VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison for mail fraud and mailing fraudulent claims.[/caption] Loretta Smith, a VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison and must repay $450,000.00 in federal funds by filing bogus workers’ compensation claims, pleading guilty to two counts of mail fraud in the mailing of fraudulent claims, in which she received more than $450,000.00. She agreed to forfeit the equivalent of $454,740.06 in cash, real estate and other property. She was also sentenced to three years probation after her release.
10. (California) Drywall Company Owners Arraigned on $420,000 in Fraud Charges (12/11/14) The owners of a defunct drywall company, National Drywall in San Bernardino, CA, were arraigned on charges that they defrauded their workers’ compensation insurance carrier of $260,000.00 and stole $160,000.00 from their workers.
 
Honorable Mention 

(Oregon) Uncooperative Hillsboro Businessman Convicted of $481,519 Tax Evasion – Only Gets 30 Days In Jail (9/30/14)

Stephen Nagy engaged in fraudulent schemes to evade payment of payroll taxes.
Stephen Nagy engaged in fraudulent schemes to evade payment of payroll taxes.

Stephen Nagy was the former president of Hillsboro-based S&S Drywall Assemblies. The IRS assessed the company $481,519 in federal employment taxes, penalties and interest between June 2009 and September 2010. Nagy met with the IRS and chose not to comply with the payment plan and engaged in a variety of interrelated fraudulent schemes to evade the payment of the delinquent payroll taxes. Nagy intimidated, manipulated, and threatened the loss of much needed jobs to gain the cooperation of his employees. Special agents of the IRS learned that Nagy had transferred all of S&S Drywall Assemblies income, contracts, receivables and assets to ASM Drywall, Inc. a shell company he created and placed in his sister’s name. The Oregon attorney general prosecuted Nagy in 2011 on allegations of criminal anti-trust and racketeering. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and five years of supervised probation.

 
For more information, contact:
Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr.
Adjunct Professor of Workers’ Compensation
N.C. Central University School of Law
The Jernigan Law Firm
2626 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 330
Raleigh, North Carolina 27608
(919) 833-0299
neb@jernlaw.com
Website: www.jernlaw.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jerniganlawfirm
Twitter: @jernlaw
Blog: www.ncworkcompjournal.com

Jobs, Injuries Differ for Working Women and Men

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Women and men tend to have different kinds of workplace injuries.

Men and women are different. Not surprisingly, men and women in the workforce are also different. Although women often perform the same jobs with the same hours as men, statistically, men and women tend to perform different kinds of jobs. Given this, as well as the anatomical differences between men and women, women often face different health challenges in the workplace.

When looking at types of work-related injuries, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women generally account for more work-related cases of “carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, respiratory diseases, infections and parasitic diseases, and anxiety and stress disorders.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also points out that social, economic and cultural factors often put women at more risk in the workplace. Many women perform part-time, temporary, or contract work, all with lower incomes and fewer benefits. Notes the CDC, “[l]ike all workers in insecure jobs, women may fear that bringing up a safety issue could result in job loss or more difficult work situations. They may also be less likely to report a work-related injury.” The CDC also found that immigrant women are particularly at risk due to barriers related to immigration status, work-life balance, and types of industries and jobs they work in.

Violence in the workplace is also an issue that is statistically more likely to affect women than men. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2013, 13 percent of occupational injuries or illnesses that resulted in days off work in the health care and social assistance sector – fields dominated by women – were the result of violence. This is compared to 4 percent of cases overall in the private sector. An alarming figure provided by the Bureau shows that, although women’s share of the number of fatal occupational injuries is significantly lower than men’s, violence (homicide) was the second leading cause of occupational fatalities among women. Of the 302 occupational fatalities suffered by women in 2013, 97 (approximately 31 percent) resulted from violence. Violence accounted for only 6 percent of fatalities among men.

The experienced lawyers at Rehm, Bennett & Moore navigate clients through the process of obtaining compensation for all types of work-related injuries, whether you are facing any of the workplace health challenges listed above or something completely different. We will be hosting a booth at the 2015 Lincoln Women’s Expo held at the Lancaster Event Center this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you have questions or concerns about a workers’ compensation or personal-injury issue, please stop by for a consultation.

Study: Risk at Work Higher for Women

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A 2011 California study titled “Working Safer or Just Working Longer? The Impact of an Aging Workforce on Occupational Injury and Illness Costs” CHSWC Report (February 2011), by Frank Neuhauser, et al., was performed under contract with the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation. The primary focus of the study was to address concerns about the impact of an aging workforce on occupational safety and health. The study ultimately made a number of surprising findings concerning not only the impact of age, but the disparity of occupational risk between men and women.

The study found that, unlike with men, whose risk lowers with age, the risk of injury for women stays constant or increases. The study also identified a new and very important issue: “that the risk of occupational injury is 20% to 50% higher for women in the same job working the same hours as men … [and] [t]his difference becomes more severe with age.” (Neuhauser, pg. 1)

The percentage of women in the workforce has increased over the last several decades, and women now represent about half of the workforce. Along with this increase, the percentage of women performing higher-risk jobs, such as construction and manufacturing, has also increased. (Neuhauser, pg. 16) Overall, women account for approximately 40% of occupational injuries and illnesses, which can be attributed to the concentration of women in less risky occupations. However, in the same jobs, working the same hours as men, women are much more likely to be injured. (Neuhauser, pg. 22)

This difference may be attributed to level of experience within the workforce, as men are more likely to be more experienced at any age.  It may also be that “higher-risk occupations traditionally dominated by men are characterized by workplaces, machinery and safety equipment that is designed for men and poorly adapted for the increasing number of female workers.” (Neuhauser, pg. 22) Whatever the reasons, this is an important issue that requires future research. 

This issue is one of many reasons why Rehm, Bennett & Moore will be hosting a booth at the upcoming 2015 Lincoln Women’s Expo held at the Lancaster Event Center on Jan. 24 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regardless of gender, if you have questions or concerns about a workers’ compensation issue, please stop by for a consultation.  

ABLE Act Set to Help Save for Child’s Disability-related Expenses

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081028-N-3173B-027The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

This legislation matters to us because some clients may have a child or children who qualify for an ABLE account.

“The ABLE Act aims to provide families of a severely disabled child with some peace of mind by allowing them to save for their child’s long-term disability expenses in the same way that families of able bodied children can currently save for college through popular 529 investment plans,” according to information on North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr’s website (link is below).

There are a lot of details available on the internet about the act, and some of it is conflicting, as “passage of legislation is a result of a series of compromises,” as noted in the National Down Syndrome Society’s (NDSS) excellent resource article that is linked to below.

One of those limitations is that a person must have a qualified disability diagnosed before turning 26 to have an ABLE account, according to Sen. Burr’s website.

Here are some more links with information that I thought would be most helpful to those who are looking for more details to see if the act’s passage can help a loved one.

This link has detailed information about the act, including its text and history, from Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/647 H.R.647 – 113th Congress (2013-2014): ABLE Act of 2014 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress

Sen. Burr was a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Burr’s link has information that includes details on who is eligible for an ABLE account and what are considered “qualified disability expenses.” http://www.burr.senate.gov/public/_files/ABLE%20Act%20Summary%20–%20NH%2011-19.pdf

“ABLE accounts would be a savings vehicle for disability-related expenses that will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurances, the Medicaid program, the supplemental security income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources,” according to the site above.

Via the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS): Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act http://www.ndss.org/Advocacy/Legislative-Agenda/Creating-an-Economic-Future-for-Individuals-with-Down-Syndrome/Achieving-a-Better-of-Life-Experience-ABLE-Act/

I thought the section of “10 Things You Must Know” was most helpful, with more details about the who, what, when, where and why of the accounts.

Via the National Association of Injured and Disabled Workers (NAIDW):  Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act https://www.naidw.org/groups/viewdiscussion/1770-achieving-a-better-life-experience-able-act?groupid=144

Via disabilityscoop: The Premier Source for Developmental Disability News: Obama Signs ABLE Act http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2014/12/22/obama-signs-able-act/19935/

“People with disabilities may be able to start opening ABLE accounts as soon as 2015. However, some hurdles remain. While the new law alters federal rules to allow for ABLE accounts, each state must now put regulations in place — much as they have done for other types of 529 plans — so that financial institutions can make the new offering available,” according to the site above.

As is evident from the links above, more groundwork needs to be done to implement the law, so I would encourage those with questions to learn more about the accounts by contacting an accountant or a lawyer who is an expert in life care and special needs.

So if you, a loved one, and/or a friend, are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, but are worried about losing necessary current benefits for your disabled child because of limitations in what you can save or spend, an ABLE account may be just the thing for your situation.

2015 Mileage Rates Rise to 57.5 Cents per Mile

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Injured workers should be reimbursed for mileage and travel expenses that are related to the medical process in workers’ compensation claims, as I wrote about last year on the blog. It continues to be essential to keep track of detailed receipts, as it definitely helps with submitting those expenses to get reimbursed in a timely manner.

The 2015 mileage reimbursement rate has risen to 57.5 cents per mile, according to the IRS. This “adjustment takes into account all the costs associated with owning a car, including insurance and repairs,” according to this article in Forbes. That also means the rate has increased, even though gas costs have recently gone down.

Generally speaking, the federal rate changes annually. However, when gas prices went soaring in 2008, a mid-year increase went into effect.

As a reminder from a blog post that firm partner Todd Bennett wrote in 2011, injured workers can be reimbursed for activities such as “travel to seek medical treatment, pick up medications, or while participating in a vocational rehabilitation plan.”

The best way to do this is to work with your attorney and legal assistant to keep track of all mileage. This can include appointments for Independent Medical Exams (IME), too. Then your attorney can help you get reimbursed.

It is often essential to save receipts and keep a record for yourself of your doctor’s visits and other reimbursable trips, including physical therapy and trips to pick up medication. Providing that log to your attorney and saving receipts incurred from specific doctor visits and other reimbursable trips creates a “narrative” that makes it easier to justify those expenses.

Because money is always tight for injured workers, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have questions about a specific situation.

‘Bizarre’ Workers’ Compensation Cases Post Is Good Read

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workers-compensationWorkers’ compensation law covers a very broad spectrum of cases. Each year, one of my favorite blogs publishes its top 10 most bizarre workers’ compensation cases. This year’s list, written by attorney Thomas A. Robinson, is interesting reading.

I appreciated Robinson’s empathetic approach to the cases, which he explains in this quotation.

“One thing we always kept in mind: one must always be respectful of the fact that while a case might be bizarre in an academic sense, it was intensely real. The cases mentioned below aren’t law school hypotheticals; they affected real lives and real families.”

In addition, as is stressed on a regular basis in the firm’s blog and social-media posts, workers’ compensation laws vary between states. The variety of states represented in this list included the two where attorneys from Rehm, Bennett & Moore practice, Iowa and Nebraska, and also North Carolina, New York, Wisconsin, Washington, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Here’s the link to the original blog post: http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/workers-compensation/b/recent-cases-news-trends-developments/archive/2014/12/31/the-top-10-bizarre-workers-compensation-cases-for-2014.aspx

Senator Boxer calls US chemical facility safety “outrageous” and “unacceptable”

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

This general topic: hazardous chemicals, their storage, and how they can affect the general public, is one that has been discussed on the blog before. It is an important topic, and folks should read the entire article below to learn about the lack of progress in keeping the country’s communities safe from hazardous chemicals, including ammonium nitrate.

The section about OSHA was very useful and included both a gut check and a road map of sorts about how workers could be better protected from the huge number of chemical incidents that have occurred since the West, Texas, explosion in April 2013.

“The cap on OSHA’s fine for a serious violation, Michaels (Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) David Michaels) explained, is $7000; for a willful violation, $70,000.” Michaels went on to explain, “To a small company that’s a significant deterrent. But to large employers, especially petrochemical plants, that’s not even the cost of doing business.” It was noted in the article that Congress hasn’t amended OSHA’s penalties “since 1990 and only once since OSHA was established.”

“We would be very grateful,” said Michaels, “if Congress would allow us to issue penalties at a much greater level.”

I would concur that if OSHA’s broken regulatory system were given more teeth, that many more workers in the United States would be safer in the new year.

Today’s post is shared from scienceblogs.com/

As last week’s Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing made abundantly clear, communities throughout the United States are at ongoing risk from potentially disastrous incidents involving hazardous chemicals. A new Congressional Research Service report released concurrently by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), details how thousands of facilities across the country that store and use hazardous chemicals are located in communities, putting millions of Americans at risk. Yet this list of facilities, Senator Markey’s office points out, may not be complete. The report analyzes US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data on locations where at least one of 140 different extremely hazardous materials are stored. But this EPA list does not include the highly explosive substance ammonium nitrate – the chemical involved in the April 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people and injured approximately 200.

What has happened – or more precisely, not happened – since that incident was the focus of the December 11th Senate hearing. The hearing, convened jointly with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was held to review progress made in implementing President Obama’s Executive Order 13650 issued in August 2013 in the wake of the West, Texas disaster.

“In the 602 days since the West, Texas tragedy there have been 355 chemical…

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