Category Archives: Safety Rules

The Right to a Safe Workplace

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Workplace SafetyUnder federal law, every employee has the right to a safe workplace. If you believe your workplace is dangerous and changes in safety policy are ignored, you can request an inspection from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Workers’ compensation, which is regulated on a state-by-state level, covers medical bills, lost wages, disability and vocational rehabilitation services for employees injured on the job. If you have any questions regarding these benefits, please contact an experienced lawyer in your area.

If you believe you work in an unsafe work area, here are some tips to be aware of to make sure your workplace is as safe as possible, and you protect yourself from significant injury:

  1.  Know the hazards in your workplace.
  2. While in a seated position, keep your shoulders in line with your hips. Use good form when lifting.
  3. Injuries occur when workers get tired. Take breaks when you’re tired.
  4. Do not skip safety procedures just because it makes the job easier or quicker. Using dangerous machinery is the one of the leading causes of work injuries.
  5. Be aware of where emergency shutoff switches are located.
  6. Report unsafe work areas.
  7. Wear proper safety equipment.

If you are injured due to an unsafe workplace, and you are unsure of the benefits that you are entitled to, contact an experienced attorney in your area.

3 Keys To A Safe Holiday – A Last Minute Decorating Checklist

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Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina. Like our colleague, Mr. Jernigan, Rehm, the staff of Bennett & Moore wishes you a happy and safe holiday season. This means being safe with decorating, regardless of culture, and being smart when traveling to see family and friends who have become family. Take care!

We normally focus on workplace safety, but during the holidays, many of our readers will spend time at home with their families. Holiday decorations are an important tradition, but these decorations, both new and old, can turn a festive holiday into a dangerous one. These important tips will show you how to make your holiday a safe holiday.

1. Trees

If you decide to buy an artificial Christmas tree, it should be fire resistant. Check the tags or labels for this. While “fire resistant” doesn’t mean “fire proof,” it is a step in the right direction.If you buy a natural Christmas tree, check to make sure it is fresh. You can tell a tree is fresh if its needles are green and don’t bend of break between your fingers. Also, the bottom of a fresh tree will have sticky resin and, if you tap the tree on the ground, won’t shed too many needles. Keep your natural tree watered. This means checking the stand every day, especially in a heated room.

No matter what kind of tree you have, do not place it near fireplaces, vents and radiators. Continue reading

My Injury Was My Fault. Does This Mean I Can’t Collect Workers’ Comp?

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If you were not following your employer’s safety rules, you can still collect workers’ comp’, but staying safe is always your best bet.

Our respected colleague from Wisconsin Tom Domer points out in today’s guest post that employee fault can reduce compensation in that state. Nebraska does not reduce recovery for partial fault but does bar recovery if the employee is willfully negligent. The defense is rarely successful.

Workers’ Comp is “No Fault” (even if it is the worker’s fault).

Workers may be reluctant to file a workers’ compensation claim if they feel the injury is due to their own fault. Sometimes they feel that the injury was due to their own violation of a safety rule. In some states, this could bar a workers’ comp, recovery—but not in Wisconsin. An injury caused by the employee’s failure to use a safety device or adhere to a safety rule results in a 15% decrease in workers’ comp benefits, to a cap of $15,000, but the worker can still claim benefits. A worker earning $600/week, with a $400/week disability rate would only lose $60/week.

A worker’s failure to use a safety device causing injury will not reduce benefits if the device isn’t adequately maintained or easily accessible, nor will a worker’s rule violation reduce benefits if the safety rule is unreasonable or not reasonably enforced.

Employers and insurers sometimes deny claims that involve a worker’s intoxication or use of non-prescription drugs. This is inappropriate. However, the benefits can be reduced by 15% if the injury is due to intoxication or drug use.

Ladder Safety Could Save You From A Painful Injury

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Thanks to colleague Leonard Jernigan from North Carolina for this extremely informative blog post. It is essential that we remember basic safety tips like dealing with ladders both at work and at home. Too often people get in a hurry and use faulty equipment or take shortcuts. When it comes to ladder safety, gravity is always in effect, regardless of your profession. There are graphic, but effective and thought-provoking, picture and video pieces in this blog post.

Unsafe LadderThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that “falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries.” A few weeks ago a gentleman came to see me who had orthopeadic surgical wires and metal bars sticking out of his arm (for those who are not too sensitive, click here to see the photo)

He had fallen from a ladder about 15 feet and landed squarely on his hands and broke both arms.  No one was holding the base of the ladder and the ladder was more than 15 years old. Wires and metal bars were now holding his bones in place, and workers’ compensation benefits were holding him financially in place. However, since he was only making $11 dollars an hour his weekly compensation benefits were small. As you probably know, the Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide money for pain and suffering, or lost income from other jobs (think about the man who takes on two jobs to maintain a higher standard of living for his family; if he is hurt while working at one job, he is only paid for the income loss at that job, not both).

The employer has a duty to train and teach its employees how to use a ladder. Many employees (particularly young ones) have no idea how dangerous ladders can be: they assume the ladder will hold the load and will be secure when placed in position, and that it is free of defects, no matter how old. OSHA has a list of  safety considerations and these tips can be found at the Department of Labor’s web page (click here for a PDF version).

Click through for a graphic video of a ladder accident published by prevent-it.ca, a website run by the Province of Ontario (Canada)’s Ministry of Labor. Be warned that this mock-up video is a public service announcement intended to teach safety. It is scary and not for the faint of heart. Continue reading

Workers Beware Questionable (Fraudulent) Employer Tactics

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It’s time to start talking about employer fraud.

Today we have a guest post by our colleague Tom Domer of Wisconsin.

Over the course of 35 years representing injured workers, I have heard some whoppers – Employers’ questionable tactics that make even my jaw drop. With all the insurance company generated blather about “employee fraud” incidences of employer fraudulent tactics abound. Workers beware of the following:

  • Recorded statements taken by worker’s compensation carrier adjuster while employee is under medication or in the hospital still suffering from the injury. Questions such as “It’s true you had (low back pain, arm pain, fill in the blank pain, etc.) before your work injury, correct? You’ve had lots more pain from (your motor vehicle accident, sports injury, etc.) than you’re experiencing from your work injury, correct?
  • Employer “channeling” a worker to its “Return to Work Clinic” (doctors on company payroll whose opinion is “like some athletic coaches, ‘rub some dirt on it and get back in the game’”).
  • Telling employees to take sick leave rather than claim worker’s compensation.
  • Telling employees to file medical bills under their group insurance, not worker’s comp.
  • Nurse Case Manager who initially befriends the employee but later makes every attempt with the worker’s doctor to prematurely return the worker to the job before a healing occurs.
  • Employer paying worker in cash with no payroll stub (or gives workers a Form 1099 rather than a W-2). Continue reading

Employer Pleads Guilty For Grain Elevator Death

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grain elevatorYou cannot take for granted that your workplace is safe, or that your employer is even following its own policies. Farmers Union Cooperative Supply of Stanton, Nebraska, a grain elevator, was recently sentenced in the death of an employee, Donald Stodola. Stodola was working in a confined space without proper ventilation. The lack of oxygen in the space caused Stodola’s death. Farmers knew that it was violating both a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation and its own written safety manual. Farmers’ failure to comply with regulations and its own internal policies caused a completely preventable employee death.

Farmers was fined $86,000 by OSHA because it didn’t protect Stodola from an unsafe environment. In addition to the OSHA fine, the company pled guilty to violation of a criminal statute and was fined $100,000 and placed on probation for 2 years. But, according to the Norfolk Daily News, “The criminal statute violated by Farmers provides that a willful violation of an OSHA regulation, which causes the death of an employee, is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment up to six months, a fine of up to $500,000 or a combination of the two.”

We think that every preventable workplace death should be prevented, and a failure to do so is inexcusable.

We do not understand why the total fines issued by OSHA and the court equal ($186,000) less than 40% of the maximum criminal fine of $500,000. Farmers pled guilty to Continue reading

Unsafe Workplaces Mean More Injuries

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Unsafe Working Conditions

Today’s guest post comes from our colleague Tom Domer or Wisconsin.

The connection between unsafe workplaces and the increased frequency of work injuries seems like a no brainer. A study released by NCCI Holdings indicated worker’s compensation claims rose by 3% during 2010 (the first rise in frequency in over a dozen years). The study attributed the increased frequency to several factors

Because of these repeat violations,OSHA cited United Contracting and placed the firm on its “Severe Violator Enforcement Program”

including increases in employment since the onset of the recession in 2008, workers possibly being less fearful of losing their jobs for filing claims, and a lack of light duty jobs to which injured workers could return because of the poor economy.

One factor not referenced is the connection between increasingly unsafe work environments and work injuries. Two recent news stories in Wisconsin underscored this connection. OSHA fined a Wisconsin contractor $150,000

for violations while working on two bridges along highways in Wisconsin. The violation is more alarming because the contractors were working under a State contract to repaint the bridges. OSHA charged that the company did not have proper scaffolding at the bridges exposing workers to falls, and in fact one worker was injured in June after falling from a scaffold at one of the bridges. Because of these repeat violations, Continue reading

If You Get Hurt While Violating A Safety Rule, Can You Still Get Workers’ Comp?

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Safety RulesQuestion: I was injured at work while violating a safety rule. Am I still covered under workers’ compensation?

Answer: Yes, probably

Even you were hurt while violating a safety rule, you are probably still covered by workers’ comp. This is true whether you violated the rule by accident or intentionally.

However, your claim may be denied if your employer can demonstrated that:

  1. You have prior repeated violations of safety rules.
  2. You have been disciplined in the past for a safety rule violation.

Even in this case, you may still be covered, depending on the circumstances. But let’s face it, nobody wants to get hurt, so follow the safety rules at all times to stay as safe as possible on the job!