Author Archives: Rod Rehm

Attorney Brody Ockander Presents at Translators’ Conference

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Attorney Brody Ockander

Firm associate Brody Ockander recently served as a presenter at the Nebraska Association for Translators and Interpreters (NATI) 2014 Annual Regional Conference in Omaha.

His presentation included information on both civil litigation and workers’ compensation.

“Many of the interpreters I spoke with are interpreters for various Nebraska courts,” Ockander said. “Therefore, it is helpful for these interpreters to have at least some background knowledge about how the civil court and workers’ compensation systems work in order to ensure the best possible interpretation for all parties. For non-English speaking persons, equal access to justice hinges on whether the interpreter does a good job.”

As part of its conference, the NATI also served as host to the American Translators Association (ATA) certification exam.

The firm’s attorneys need access to translators for the many languages that our clients speak, so it is helpful that Ockander was able to interact with this group and serve as a resource for their conference. I encourage the firm’s attorneys and staff to participate in continuing education and networking opportunities through professional associations and other occasions, taking the occasion to serve as both presenters and lifelong learners.

Thank you to Ockander for representing the firm as a presenter at this conference.

Why Your Vote Matters to Workers

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I frequently write about the intersection of workers’ compensation benefits for workers and politics. The bottom line on my comments is that workers, and citizens who care about workers, need to vote for candidates who will protect workers’ rights. These comments arise from a now quarter-century attack on workers’ compensation benefits by big business and insurance interests. Their power is almost incomprehensible in terms of the money they will spend to take away or limit benefits.

Recently, a Florida court found that the limiting of workers’ benefits in Florida has destroyed the “social bargain” that led to the creation of workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation laws are slightly more than 100 years old. The notion of a bargain is workers got fast and fair benefits in exchange for giving up their right to full compensation. There have been a lot of discussions since the big business/insurance attack on worker benefits that the bargain is no longer fair.

The Florida court also found the exclusive-remedy rule unconstitutional. The exclusive-remedy rule deprives injured workers and their families of benefits for pain, suffering and non-occupational disability. I have also represented a client in Nebraska where the exclusive-remedy rule was limited by a court.

Big business and big insurance will not back down. They won’t let up. As I write this blog, billions of dollars are being poured into political campaigns by the Koch Industries, TD Ameritrade and scores of others to support candidates who want to reduce and eliminate workers’ benefits.

Workers, their families, and everyone else who cares about ordinary human beings must not let these wealthy interests buy elections. We must stand up and vote. We must inform ordinary human citizens that the corporate citizens are taking away our rights as fast as they can. This is a crucial election, and every election will be crucial until people stand up and convince the mega wealthy that they can’t buy elections any longer.

“Just Get Off Your @ss!”

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Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey, from Causey Law Firm in Seattle.

He addresses a topic that is a struggle for folks in many occupations, whether they think about it or not: sitting. This blog post struck me because in addition to the workers Mr. Causey writes about below, there is another group of people who don’t have a whole lot of choice when it comes to taking breaks: truck drivers who sit just as long, if not longer, as many office workers in a day. Although Mr. Causey takes a slightly lighter approach to the topic, it should be of serious long-term concern and consideration. Because many just don’t have the luxury of taking many or frequent breaks.

So how can business owners and employees work together to make sure workers are as healthy as possible at their jobs (and also can help keep insurance costs down)? Now that’s a good question that demands not only thought but also action.

Here’s another “helpful hint” about your own health, for attorneys and clients who may be tuning in to our blog. Nothing here directly related to workers’ compensation, except to the extent that overall good health can ward off injury and illness.

A Kansas State University study in 2013 concluded the people who sit for four hours or more each day are at a substantially greater risk for developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease. And the risk for degenerative disease continues to increase at a consistent rate for six hours, eight hours, and more, of daily sitting.

The further finding of the study was that the increased risk of disease was not correlated with high or low body mass index, meaning that outside factors, such as poor eating and other negative lifestyle habits are not nearly as significant as the risk factor of just sitting.

A report from Northwestern University earlier this year found that, over age 60, every additional hour spent sitting doubles the risk of becoming disabled.  And, somewhat disappointingly, additional exercise has no impact on the disability risk. Australian researchers recently found that people whose job or other circumstances require prolonged sitting, but who just regularly stood up and moved around frequently, were better off than sitters who did 30 minutes of exercise each day.

None of the foregoing is intended to diminish the importance of regular exercise in our daily lives, but the lesson is: don’t stay chained to your desk and computer. Stand up and walk around when you’re on the phone, do laps around the office, walk to a coworker’s office instead of emailing – – do whatever it takes to get out of the sitting position as often as possible.

Your author manages his law firm mostly on his feet. After reading about the issue with sitting, he stood and walked, without sitting, for four hours at a firm event last week. (He’s now training himself to stand — and rock back and forth on his feet– for long periods when watching TV at home.  Houseguests will be fully advised.)

Ladder Accidents on the Rise

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Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina.

What kinds of tools do you have at home that you could use some training for or may not actually know how to use but use anyway?

The United States definitely has a do-it-yourself culture. There’s even an acronym for it: DIY. However, just because a person can do it themselves doesn’t mean it’s a good or safe idea. Sometimes it’s easier and safer to hire someone who’s trained for a home-improvement or maintenance project. After all, it’s their job to complete a project safely.

If you do choose to do-it-yourself, take your safety focus and training home with you. As is mentioned in the article below, make sure you have the equipment, skills and training to do the job safely and correctly.

When my husband and I purchased our home, we immediately bought a forty-foot ladder because obviously we would be cleaning our own gutters and needed the biggest ladder possible to reach the roof. Our first attempt to use the ladder was miserable. We could barely lift the ladder. After a few pathetic attempts to use the ladder, we realized this was a stupid idea and outsourced the job to professionals. Looking back now, it was crazy to even consider using the ladder given the sloped terrain of our yard and given the height of the home. 

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, ladder accidents are on the rise in the United States. From 1990 to 2005, reported ladder accidents increased fifty percent (50%). That’s over two million people, or 136,000 people a year, treated for injuries sustained while on a ladder. Despite the risk of using a ladder, it seems that many still do not follow common safety precautions. The four main problems are: (1) selecting the wrong type of ladder, (2) using old or damaged ladders, (3) incorrect use of ladders, and (4) incorrect placement of ladders.

In my situation, we were likely using the wrong ladder, incorrectly, and certainly did not have it correctly placed. We’re lucky we didn’t end up in the ER. Ladders need to be treated like any dangerous tool. OSHA recommends significant training before allowing employees to use ladders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fifty percent (50%) of all ladder-related accidents were due to individuals carrying items as they climbed.  To avoid a potentially life-changing injury, encourage your friends and family to practice ladder safety. Avoid using a ladder alone, and always make sure you are using the correct ladder and have it set up properly.

 

Mapping the lives and deaths of workers: An emerging way to tell the story of occupational health and safety

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

You can’t get more of a big-picture perspective on a problem than by using a map of the globe. I also think being able to quantify a tragic problem like “occupational death, illness or disaster” makes it more real to more people, in addition to those who experience it, or work with it every day, like employees of the firm do.

The Global Worker Watch project and the Center for Construction Research and Training’s Fatality Map leads to more attention to these tragedies, according to a research analyst at the Center for Construction Research and Training.

“‘(The maps) help bring life to the data instead of just looking at the numbers,’ West told me. ‘The visual aspect and the ability to interact help draw some attention to the problem,’” said Gavin West, the research analyst.

I know the map has motivated me to consider some future blog posts using some of the raw data, and I encourage you to read and explore the information yourself to both honor those who were killed or hurt at work and also obtain information about workplace conditions both close to home and at various spots on the globe.

When Bethany Boggess first debuted her online mapping project, she didn’t expect it to attract so much attention. But within just six months of its launch, people from all over the world are sending in reports and helping her build a dynamic picture of the lives and deaths of workers.

The project is called the Global Worker Watch and it’s quite literally a living map of worker fatalities and catastrophes from around the globe. When you go to the site, you’ll see a world map speckled with blue dots, each representing a reported occupational death, illness or disaster. Here are just a few I randomly clicked on: In March in Pakistan, four workers died and 18 were injured when a gas cylinder exploded at a gas company. Also in March in Gujarat, India, two workers died of silicosis, an occupational disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust. Three workers have died in the mines of Coahuila, Mexico, since January. In February, a worker at an Iron County mine site in Utah died after getting trapped on a conveyer belt. Just a few days ago, a worker in the United Kingdom died after falling from an electricity tower. And in May, police in Cambodia opened fire during a labor protest, killing four people.

“Obviously, I’m only capturing the tip of the iceberg,” said Boggess, a 26-year-old epidemiology student at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Austin. “But if I’m just one person and I can do this in six…

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Truckers Fired Over Workers’ Comp Claim: What to Do Next

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Truck drivers have a remedy if fired for making a workers’ compensation claim.

A recent award of over $100,000 to a truck driver who was fired for making a workers’ compensation claim illustrated the protection drivers have under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). New Prime of Springfield, Mo., had to pay the former employee lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages. “The company must also expunge the complainant’s employment and DAC Report records of any reference to his unlawful termination,” according to the article above. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is often criticized for a variety of reasons, enforced anti-retaliation laws that protect truck drivers who are unfairly punished for taking steps to protect their health and financial welfare. These laws can also be enforced through lawsuits as an alternative to the OSHA administrative process. 

Truck drivers need to be aware of this protection. Truck drivers also need to know that OSHA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have just announced an agreement to strengthen protections for transportation workers from coercion and retaliation.   

The industry publication FleetOwner gives more details about how OSHA and the FMCSA interact with the STAA in this article.   

Here is one helpful quote from the FleetOwner article:

“If OSHA finds that a complaint is valid, it can order the employer to reinstate the worker; pay back pay, interest and compensatory damages; pay punitive damages up to $250,000 where warranted; and/or take other remedial actions.”

In addition, “action by one agency didn’t preclude action by another in the same situation” when it comes to the STAA.

“OSHA’s mandate is protecting workers, while FMCSA’s mandate is safety, (an FMCSA document) said. And FMCSA can take action against a carrier or other entity but, unlike OSHA, it can’t compensate a driver. So a driver filing a complaint with FMCSA about coercion might be able to file a whistleblower protection complaint with OSHA and vice versa, FMCSA said.”

The recent award and very recent press release from OSHA are great news for truckers and their families. The laws that protect you work. There is an apparently serious effort to make them work better. It will now be easier to protect your health and welfare if you are injured on the job.

After the International Nutrition Building Collapse: OSHA Releases Report

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The International Nutrition building.

I was going to write about a summary from the official OSHA news release and provide a compilation of web resources regarding the Jan. 20 International Nutrition building collapse in Omaha. This is relevant now because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quite recently found the cause of the collapse after an investigation and levied proposed fines for the tragedy that killed two, injured nine, and doubtlessly affected all the other workers at the plant and all those folks’ loved ones in the greater community.

“OSHA has proposed penalties of $120,560 and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program after its investigation into the collapse,” according to the official news release from OSHA.

The building’s collapse was because of “overloading nine storage bins on the building’s roof level,” the news release said, and the company was also placed on OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Here is one link that was more of what I was expecting from the OSHA news release:

Business Insurance website: OSHA cites Omaha feed company for fatal plant collapse 

However, the business did respond via statement to at least three local media channels, and links to those stories are below. The level of denial by the business was frustrating, and I think the Omaha World-Herald newspaper nailed the tone of the story with its headline: “International Nutrition disputes OSHA’s conclusions that overloaded rooftop bins caused collapse.”

So not only does “the company strongly disagree with OSHA’s report,” it is “saying the citations are only allegations and that company officials didn’t know of any condition that contributed to the collapse,” said the reporter for KETVOmaha7 (this quote is attributed to International Nutrition’s attorney, Pat Barrett in the World-Herald article).

The business’ statement also included this quote from the WOWT.com story: “We look forward to presenting the facts demonstrating our commitment to employee safety – both before and after the accident. … At the same time, we welcome the opportunity to work with OSHA to continue to improve employee safety.”

I thought this was telling about the company’s “commitment to employee safety” from the WOWT.com article:

“In total, OSHA has visited the facility 13 times dating back to 1974. Eight of those visits led to violations; however, it had not landed on the Severe VEP program until now. OSHA officials told WOWT 6 News that usually occurs when companies rack up violations of $100,000 or more.”

To get more in-depth information, here are links to both the company’s statement at http://www.omaha.com/international-nutrition-s-july-statement/article_0997a878-10fc-11e4-8481-0017a43b2370.html and OSHA’s Citation and Notification of Penalty report at https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/International_Nutrition_955579_Jul18_2014.pdf  

Finally, here’s a link to the actual news release again from OSHA: January structural collapse leading to 2 worker fatalities, 9 injuries at International Nutrition in Omaha caused by overloaded storage bins; OSHA cites company for 13 safety and health violations

“The company manufactures a feed supplement using multiple dry ingredients, rice hulls, solulac and limestone – the ingredients that were stored in the nine bins on the roof of the structure,” according to the KETVOmaha7 report.

The reality when it comes to workers’ compensation and lawsuits is nuanced, but the incident is stark in its details, and this information is from multiple news sources.

In 30 seconds, “close to 1 million pounds of steel, concrete, equipment and ingredients crashing through the plant” occurred, according to the World-Herald.

That 30 seconds and its aftermath is an experience that will take months and years for many to recover from. It is an experience that no worker or their loved ones should have to endure.

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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