Category Archives: Workplace Injury

NPR: Brain Affects Pain

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Brain_powerPain and chronic pain is a topic that many of our clients experience as a reality every day. This fairly recent National Public Radio report gives more details about what some of the research shows in reference to the brain and pain.

Although the headline in the original article is a flop, as people are often wrongly told “it’s all in your head,” the brain is a really important part of how the body feels, understands, and reacts to pain.

There are some potential lessons to be applied to injured workers, clients with personal-injury cases, and others who are associated with our law firm. However, as is the case with all research, be sure to speak with both your lawyer and medical professionals who know about your situation before making changes to a treatment plan.

“Our perception of pain is shaped by brain circuits that are constantly filtering the information coming from our sensory nerves, says David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book ‘Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind,’” according to the NPR article.

But sometimes those filters work differently than expected, such as when Complex Regional Pain Syndrome affects a client, an issue written about on this blog by firm partner Todd Bennett.

“The brain also determines the emotion we attach to each painful experience, Linden says. That’s possible, he explains, because the brain uses two different systems to process pain information coming from our nerve endings.

“One system determines the pain’s location, intensity and characteristics: stabbing, aching, burning, etc.

“‘And then,’ Linden says, ‘there is a completely separate system for the emotional aspect of pain — the part that makes us go, “Ow! This is terrible.” ’

“Linden says positive emotions — like feeling calm and safe and connected to others — can minimize pain. But negative emotions tend to have the opposite effect,” according to the NPR article.

A study that associate Jon Rehm recently referenced showed how the context of being appreciated at work made a difference to certified nursing assistants who were injured at work.

“… Higher-paid CNAs were injured less frequently than lower-paid CNAs. The study indicated that organizational factors really drove injury rates among CNAs. In other words, in settings where CNAs are truly valued, paid fairly and trained, the injury rates are lower. But if CNAs are treated as low-wage, high-turnover cogs in a machine, then injury rates are higher,” according to his blog post.

Finally, according to the NPR article, there is some evidence that because of how the brain interacts within different parts of itself, “that at least some people can teach their brains how to filter out things like chronic pain, perhaps through meditation,” said Stephanie Jones, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Brown University.

If you have questions about how this information can apply to your situation, please contact an experienced lawyer.

Norfolk, Nebraska, Manufacturer Cited by OSHA with 15 Safety Violations

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Today’s blog post is information that comes from a news release at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Here’s a link to the original news release.

I found this release from earlier in the month interesting because it happened in Nebraska, which is one of the states where the firm’s attorneys are licensed. Also, when I did an internet search on the topic, the only two things that appeared were short mentions in a newspaper article and on a radio station’s website, and I think topics such as this one should get more coverage than that. Finally, I noticed this situation in particular because the investigation was the result of “a formal complaint from an employee alleging unsafe working conditions,” according to the news release.

OSHA proposed penalties of $54,000 after the inspection last August netted 11 serious violations, including various amputation hazards, fire hazards, and fall hazards. The amputation hazards included the business failing “to adequately guard operating parts of machinery,” according to the news release. The company also did not “protect workers from fire, deflagration and explosion hazards because equipment was not approved for hazardous locations,” in addition to the failure of establishing a fire brigade, according to the news release. Also, unguarded stairs and platforms exposed “workers to fall hazards of up to 12 feet.” Finally, four other violations were discovered.

If you have questions about a safety concern at your job, it would be a good idea to contact an experienced attorney and also file a complaint with OSHA at this website. Take care, and be safe.

Worker Safety: OSHA Holds Wisconsin Furniture Plant Accountable

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Just wow. The lawyers and employees who write blog posts for rehmlaw.com and truckerlawyers.com focus pretty frequently on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nebraska and Iowa, along with Kansas and Missouri, happen to be in Region 7, so the focus is usually on those news releases from OSHA.

Every workplace safety lapse is one too many, especially when problems come to light because of an incident where a worker is injured or killed. Sometimes a person has to stop and do a double-take as to the specifics, just because the details might seem a little bit more on the extreme or unusual side. Today’s blog post focus of an Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. plant in Wisconsin fits the intense criteria very well, just because of the sheer quantity of injuries and the large fine proposed.

This link from Claims Journal gives more details. The takeaways that just make a person stop are in the numbers listed below.

In less than four years – 42 months:

  • “More than 1,000 work-related injuries”
  • “12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations” from an inspection after a worker lost three fingers in July
  • $1.76 million in fines proposed by OSHA: that’s $1,760,000!
  • The company was “placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failing to address safety hazards,” according to the Claims Journal article.

Although “Ashley Furniture said less than 1-in-4 of the cases required any time away from work … (and) the most common injury was muscle strains and sprains,” that is still a large number of incidents to consider. The article also contained this quote: “‘At Ashley, each employee’s safety and well-being is an absolute priority,’ said Steve Ziegeweid, Ashley Furniture’s director of health and safety.”

But most workers’ compensation lawyers would tend to side with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, as quoted from a news release: “Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price.”

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.  

‘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

Examining the Ethics, Economics of Infections

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What is a person’s responsibility toward keeping fellow humans safe and healthy? How much of that responsibility falls onto an employer when it means sick people working because they don’t have sick leave, exposing coworkers and customers? And how much of that is personal responsibility that means a worker won’t get paid for taking a sick day that they didn’t have or even risk losing that job because they’re sick?

We have lots of questions with not as many answers as we would like, but having a conversation is a start towards figuring out the solutions.

Originally, this blog post was going to include discussion with Ebola as the jumping point, and this article, The Ethics of Infection from The New York Times, offered so many good points and ways to consider where individual rights versus the greater good of society should intersect.

Unfortunately, for at least 81 people with whooping cough (pertussis) in Lancaster County, where Lincoln, Neb., is located, this discussion is now more than just an academic exercise, with very concrete life ramifications. A recent Lincoln Journal Star article had a lot of interesting details. “Whooping cough cases in Lancaster County are nearing an all-time high, and that number is expected to keep climbing for the foreseeable future, according to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.”

There has also got to be an economic effect, as loved ones must be taking care of many of these sick people and missing work, even if they’re not sick themselves. “According to health records, 65 percent of confirmed cases in Lancaster County have been kids ages 6 to 19.” And whooping cough is “extremely contagious, especially in the first few weeks.” Here’s what the article said about the span of time needed to stop the spread of the infection to others. Dr. Phil Boucher of Lincoln Pediatric Group and Tim Timmons, communicable disease specialist with the health department were quoted:

“People receiving antibiotics should stay home from school, work or day care for the full five-day course of treatment, Boucher said.

Those not receiving antibiotic treatment should stay home for three weeks after the onset of violent coughing, Timmons said.”

So whoever is taking care of those with whooping cough (or is sick themselves with pertussis) is looking at between five and 15 sick days. And if the caregiver then gets sick, random interactions, such as those highlighted in the article in the Times, can mean exposures for people who have no sick days. Then for workers with no sick days, and often no health insurance, the best of many really bad decisions has to be made. A previous blog post addressed the challenge of no sick days, in reference to the flu, but it can easily be adapted to the whooping cough situation above.

When it comes to offering solutions to the very real issues that arise with infections, we continue to urge employers to realize the value of paying sick employees to stay home and not expose others, regardless of the contagion. In addition, though it is a pretty controversial conversation, getting vaccines for infections often lessens the severity of the sickness, when it doesn’t outright prevent the sickness, in a person. Herd immunity also protects those who, for various reasons like allergies to vaccine ingredients, cannot be vaccinated themselves.

Finally, experts quoted in The New York Times article urge people to consider the greater good for society, a theme that shows up in many contexts time and again in the firm’s blog posts. Because citizens of the United States are focused on how tough they are as individuals and how they will just “get over” a sickness, many don’t realize that attitude is a luxury for many people for many reasons – some that are more obvious than others. Because a sick person doesn’t necessarily know, and sometimes doesn’t seem to care, about a worker’s immune-compromised family member and what exposure could mean in the long run.

Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of law at Georgetown University who specializes in public health law and human rights closes the NYT article by talking about how far there is to go.

“America has gotten so focused on rugged individualism and the autonomy of the person that we forget we have wider ethical responsibilities to our families and communities and our country,” said Professor Gostin, who bows rather than shaking hands when he is sick and sends home ill students attending his classes. “This me-first mentality is what I think promotes irresponsibility when it comes to public health.”

Let’s hope all those with whooping cough get better as the infection runs its course and that all humans can have a safer and healthier holiday season and 2015.

Take the Time for Ag Safety This Holiday Season

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I hope you and yours were able to have a nice Thanksgiving break. Many people aren’t afforded that luxury because of work or other circumstances, so thoughts go out to them during the holidays. Due to an incident that recently happened on a local turkey farm near Waverly, the loved ones of Mr. Joaquin Danilo Mina Munoz are grieving his death. Sympathies are definitely extended to his loved ones.

Although original reports of being “sucked into grain while working with a running auger” were incorrect, Mr. Munoz did apparently die “when his clothing got tangled on the auger blade shaft” of a grain truck, according to the tragic story.

That incident got me to thinking about safety in agriculture. Now that the corn and soybean harvests are done, some folks breathe a big sigh of relief, but they shouldn’t be lax when it comes to safety.

Unfortunately, farming is one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. And, as firm partner Todd Bennett wrote in a previous blog post, workers’ compensation is complicated in Nebraska when it comes to ag and farming operations. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) only covers a part of the nation’s grain-handling facilities, according to a recent in-depth story in the Lincoln Journal Star. That is why safety in grain handling and in agriculture in general is so important.

In addition, OSHA recently cited Double Dutch Dairy in Shelby, Neb., for four serious violations and proposed fines of $22,500 for an incident on June 17 where a worker was “fatally injured by a front-end loader,” according to the news release in the link. The Wisconsin-based dairy was cited “after an inspection found that the driver’s view was obstructed,” when the driver struck the worker.

Now that the busy harvest season is done and the busy-in-a-different-way holiday season is upon us, I urge all workers, but especially those in agriculture, to review their safety practices and take care so all can have the luxury of spending a little bit of time with their loved ones over the upcoming holidays.

Struck-by Vehicle Incidents: OSHA’s Regional Emphasis Program for Region 7

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, has announced via news release that it’s continuing its Regional Emphasis Program in Region 7 for struck-by vehicle incidents.

As was mentioned in a recent blog post, Region 7 includes the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Here is some additional information from the news release:

Over fiscal years 2008 through March 2013, “15 percent of all workplace fatalities investigated by the Kansas City Office … have involved vehicle accidents that struck employees in the workplace,” and there were 37 vehicle-related fatal incidents. The operator was the victim 43 percent of the time, while 57 percent of the time, the vehicle struck another worker. In addition, “seventy percent of the fatal incidents occurred at general industry work sites, while 24 percent happened in construction.”

Vehicles involved include “conventional vehicles, forklifts, semi-trucks and other moving industrial equipment” like cranes and yard trucks and cover the “construction, general and maritime industries.”

OSHA does inspections to follow up on complaints and referrals they get about the vehicles, and the news release also included a link that addresses struck-by hazards, which can be found here.