Category Archives: Workplace Safety

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

Posted on by

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

Posted on by

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.”

Sick Leave Should Be Accessible to All

Posted on by

Amid the debate about flu and immunizations and preventable diseases lurks a societal problem that’s getting more attention lately and directly affects the spread of those medical crises: paid sick leave for employees.

Although discussing the consequences of Ebola may be interesting, many people in the United States, including Nebraska and Iowa, are living with the consequences of pertussis (whooping cough), a rampant flu season, and measles outbreaks.

This blog has featured this subject in the past, almost exactly two years ago, when there was a flu epidemic. It was argued then, in one of the firm’s more popular blog posts, that sick people should not be forced to work and spread their germs to their co-workers and customers, in addition that working while sick tends to make people even more ill. Not having sick leave available to take becomes a public health and societal risk. In addition, not being able to provide care for sick children or loved ones results in family struggles and workers worrying, rightfully so, while they should be focused on work at work.

The issue is also affecting children, especially those who are low-income, according to the 2014 Kids Count Report in Nebraska.

A recent Marketplace Morning Report article highlighted the need for policy change through the Healthy Families Act “that would guarantee workers could earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.” For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is quoted in the story that “24 percent” of those in the restaurant industry and “47 percent of retail workers get paid sick leave.” It also shares the economic burden of the results of people who don’t get paid sick leave coming to work sick. “Underperforming at work, or even damaging equipment or products because of diminished capacity or the effects of medication is known as ‘presenteeism.’” Sickness and presenteeism costs more than $375 billion a year, according to the article.

Esther Cepeda also recently addressed both paid sick leave and presenteeism in a column: “Working while sick even when you can have the time off is a thing. Many workers take great pride in coming to work ill, and there are a fair number of their colleagues who wish they’d stop.”

Although it may be a pretty big challenge in some industries to provide paid sick time, Ms. Cepeda argues that those are the most important industries to have it, as was also argued in the firm’s flu blog post from 2013.

“Food service aside, there are any number of jobs – most of them low-wage, part-time service jobs – where you don’t want the worker to be miserably sick or mentally checked out, worried about their sick loved one, because they can’t afford to call off work and lose the pay or possibly the job.”

Also important to note, being “checked out” can lead to safety incidents and workers’ compensation claims, and having employees mired in presenteeism just isn’t good for anyone.

So as the article in this link mentions, I think it’s very important for both workers and employers to consider the importance of quality of life considerations: keeping healthy people from being exposed to sickness and supporting sick people (or people with sick loved ones) by giving them the chance to stay home and still get paid so they can focus on becoming healthy people again.

Because as Ms. Cepeda argues, it benefits all for people to be as healthy as possible.

“Those of us who have the choice or flexibility to take an available sick day must speak up for those who are penalized for life’s inevitable speed bumps. It’s ultimately in our own best interest.”

Study: Risk at Work Higher for Women

Posted on by

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

Posted on by

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

Posted on by

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.

Thanksgiving Celebration Offers Time to Reflect

Posted on by

Thanksgiving mealHappy Thanksgiving from all of us at the offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore and www.truckerlawyers.com. Below is a reflection that I wrote a while back but that I think still applies to the holiday, season, and busy, but fulfilling, lives.

Please note that the offices will close at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 26. The firm will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 27, and Friday, Nov. 28, for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will be open on Monday, Dec. 1, at 8:30 a.m.

At this time of reflection, there is much for which to be thankful. We are especially thankful for family, friends, and the opportunity to advocate for clients who make our work worthwhile. Happy Thanksgiving!

Do you have, take, or make the time to think about what is going well and what could be better in your life? As they say, ’tis the season. But it’s not the Christmas season … yet … no matter what the retailers want! To me, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day and beyond is a chance to think about the big picture; be thankful for blessings; and be in the moment to participate in relationships (the buzzword for this idea is “being present”). Is it during a certain time of the year that you have the luxury of stopping and thinking about life, or can you do it weekly or even daily?

I know I get very caught up in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour concerns and forget to think about and be thankful for the most-important things that are too-often called the little things: looking at the stars with my family when we’re out in the country and can really see the sky; hearing my 4-year-old son tell his great-grandma he loves her without us reminding him to; remembering to thank my spouse for unloading the dishwasher, even though he does it all the time (let’s face it – his tolerance of clean dishes not being put away quickly is lower than mine); having good health; enjoying a roof over our heads; and being productive at work. And I am glad for relationships that are good in my family; among the friends I choose to call family (my son thinks many of our friends’ children are his cousins because he sees them so often and we don’t correct him because he’s growing up with them); and at work with colleagues, whether in person or via social media.

Most of us have time to count our blessings, living in one of the most fortunate nations in the world, whether we choose to make and take the time or not. But the reality is that there are people who are not as fortunate, even in our own nation. And often that is because challenges with health or work mean a person doesn’t have as many choices as others might due to poverty, mental illness, or getting hurt. A smaller, but still emotional, challenge may include having to work on a holiday, for example. And though some folks would rather work than be with family, many people, like truckers on the roads and health-care workers taking care of the elderly, don’t have a choice, but have a great attitude and make others’ holidays really special through their actions and words.

So if you are working on Thanksgiving (or any upcoming holiday), thank you for your work and be safe! And I hope you have, take, and make the time to think about what is going well and what could be better in your life. Blessings to you and yours this Thanksgiving!

Grain Handling Safety Concerns Occur All Year

Posted on by

During the hustle and bustle of harvest beginning, some agricultural producers are in a hurry. Obviously there are a lot of different ways to focus a blog post during harvest time, but today I’d like to feature one that we wrote last year about grain handling safety. It is probably more in the minds of folks now because of harvest starting and the specialized machines being used now, not to mention the ramping up of workers needed to bring in the harvest. In fact, I know of many people who take days off of work to “go home” to help friends or family with the harvest, so there may also be people working who aren’t as familiar with day-to-day farming operations.

Regardless of whether one is a regular worker or a temporary volunteer, grain handling safety should be on workers’ and employers’ minds all year long. Very recently, OSHA held the owners of a grain elevator accountable for an incident that killed a 51-year-old man in South Dakota in March. Sadly, the gentleman was “engulfed in flowing grain in a railcar load-out elevator at Prairie Ag Partners,” according to the news release from OSHA. This resulted in proposed fines of $120,120 and the Lake Preston, S.D., business being put in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Citations were “for one willful, two repeat and eight serious safety violations, many involving OSHA’s grain handling, permit-required confined space and fall protection safety regulations.”

I would note that OSHA sees incidents like this as such a problem that is has developed a National Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities. What’s the most disturbing about this situation is that it was most likely preventable. Eric Brooks, OSHA’s area director in Bismarck, N.D., talked about the dangers of workers getting entangled when machines move grain and the worker is submerged. “If Prairie Ag Partners had followed basic safety standards, this tragic incident could have been prevented,” Brooks said in the news release.

That is a stark reality: following “basic safety standards.” So this harvest time, and whenever working with grain, make sure both businesses and workers know and follow the necessary safety standards. Have a successful and safe harvest season.

The grain harvest is still going strong in many portions of the Great Plains, but farmers and agricultural workers may be at that point where they just want to get it done and take shortcuts. However, taking shortcuts can often lead to bigger safety problems for these ag workers.

Although folks who are in the field and transporting grain to elevators are much more visible right now, safety issues with grain elevators go on throughout the year. So for people who live or work around grain elevators, which would be pretty much everyone in many small Nebraska and Iowa towns, please be aware of the dangers that grain handling can present, including explosions from grain dust, falls, or suffocation, among many of the other hazards out there.

One of the area television stations, 10-11 Central Nebraska, recently featured a special report on “Nebraska Grain Industry Safety” titled “OSHA, Grain Industry, and Families Work to End Injuries and Deaths.”

That effort got us thinking about compiling a list of links and previous blog posts that we have run in regards to both agriculture and also grain handling as resources.

Here are a couple of general links, and then below that are links to past blog posts from the firm that talk about either workers’ compensation for ag workers or grain-handling issues.

OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Grain Handling

Facebook Community: Grain Mill Accidents

OSHA Looks at Challenge of Nebraska Grain Elevators’ Safety

Learn & Live: Grain industry hazards lead to deaths, injuries each year; US Labor Department’s OSHA working with Nebraska grain associations to promote awareness of grain industry hazards

Employer Pleads Guilty for Grain Elevator Death

Temporary Employees Cannot Be Excluded From Workers’ Compensation

The 11 Most Life-Threatening Jobs on the Planet

What Nebraskans In Farming Industries Should Know About Workers’ Comp

Please continue to be safe this harvest and avoid dangerous shortcuts! Because all loved ones deserve to have their workers come home to them.