Category Archives: Workplace Safety

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.

Thanksgiving Celebration Offers Time to Reflect

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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

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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.

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.

 

OSHA Enforcement Cases Involving Temps On the Rise

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

I am so glad to see that temporary workers are being included more in OSHA enforcement. It is just frustrating that it took an injury to a worker in New Jersey for one of the companies in the article below to be inspected through “a referral from the Maplewood Fire Department,” according to the article.

Our firm’s blog has included articles focused on temporary workers and their special challenges when it comes to workers’ compensation in 2012 and earlier this year.

The short article below that is today’s focus came from a business and industry publication, so I think it serves to put its readers on notice for OSHA’s renewed focus “on the safety of temporary workers.”

Generally speaking (with exceptions for some agricultural jobs), temporary workers qualify for workers’ compensation, though that coverage does not replace wages from your main job if the temporary job is a second job. Workers’ compensation laws and systems vary by state, so if you or a loved one is injured on the job, please speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney about your specific situation.

Today’s post shared from OshOnLine.com illustrates a new enforcement effort by OSHA that will improve the work environment for all Americans.OSHA’s emphasis on the safety of temporary workers is being driven home by a series of enforcement actions. The latest case announcement on June 19 involved the Macon, Ga., facility of a company named California Cereal Products Inc., which OSHA has cited for exposing full-time and temporary workers to electrical, fall, and noise hazards, with proposed penalties totaling $40,600. OSHA opened an inspection last December based on a complaint.

“The employer has failed to protect full-time and temporary workers from easily identified workplace hazards that can result in death or permanent disability,” said Bill Fulcher, director of OSHA’s Atlanta-East Area Office.

The case against beverage bottling company Maplewood Beverage Packers LLC and temporary employment agency Corporate Resource Services Corp. in Elizabeth, N.J., also began with a December 2013 investigation, but it started with a referral from the Maplewood Fire Department after a temporary worker was injured falling from a ladder. OSHA has proposed $182,270 in penalties. “Host employers and staffing agencies are jointly responsible for ensuring worker safety and health,” said Kris Hoffman, director of OSHA’s Parsippany Area Office. “Employers must protect all workers from job hazards-both permanent and temporary workers.”

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

Workers’ Comp Covers Heat Injuries

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The Great Plains is nearing the calendar start of summer. Please be aware of the heat and what its effects can be on workers, on children and the elderly, and on pets. No one is safe in a closed-up car, for example.

Prolonged exposure to excessive heat and humidity can result in injuries and diseases covered by the workers’ compensation laws. Workers with heat exhaustion, strokes, heart attacks and skin conditions may be entitled to lost-time benefits, medical expenses and permanent disability benefits if the condition is serious.

It also appears that extreme weather is going to continue into this summer season, with some damage already to homes, crops and property. When storms do come, be sure it’s someone’s job to keep the crew safe from sudden weather, regardless of the industry. Enjoy the summer, and contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if there are questions about a specific incident that occurred at work.

It has been a roller coaster of a May here on the Great Plains. Nebraska and Iowa have both been hit with weather extremes. For example, “Two days after Lincoln recorded a record low temperature and less than two weeks after the city saw significant snow, thermometers soared Tuesday.” And I saw on Facebook via Radio Iowa News, that “Sioux City reports 106 on Tuesday afternoon, beating the old record of 97, set in 2001.” Because the Journal Star says this is the earliest Lincoln’s ever hit 100 degrees (a new record), I will go out on a limb to say that we’re done with freezes for a while, which makes me think about the next season: summer and heat.

Did you know that heat issues can be covered by workers’ compensation? But prevention is preferred, so here are some links with lots of resources for those who work outside, no matter the weather, and also for those who play, garden, golf, exercise, and enjoy the outdoors. In addition, just like one’s body adjust somewhat to cold, the body also adjusts to heat, so a person who spends the summer in the air conditioning will have less tolerance for the heat than someone who spends all day outdoors. In addition, pay attention to prescription medicines, as some can cause sunburn or heat problems quicker than a person not taking that medication would experience them. The heat can also affect folks who may not be considered the traditional “outside” worker, as, for example, if one is unloading cargo from a truck to a warehouse in 100 degree heat, it can be much hotter than that in both the truck and warehouse.

One term that is mentioned on a regular basis in the media once the humidity kicks in is the “heat index,” which is defined as followed, according to http://www.weather.com/outlook/health/fitness/tools/heat: “The Heat Index is the temperature the body feels when heat and humidity are combined.” Of course this means that what it feels like isn’t the actual temperature, as it only felt like 95 when it was 100 recently because of a “dry heat.”

  • Welcome to OSHA’s Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers
    There is a lot of information on here, and looking through some of it is a reminder that employers should expect and encourage workers to be safe when it comes to working in the heat. Employers should make an effort to encourage this safety focus by both talking about and acting on recommendations to help employees be safer and more productive.
  • Using the Heat Index: A Guide for Employers
    “Water. Rest. Shade. The work can’t get done without them.” This quote from the website is a very useful safety reminder. It looks like there are lots of opportunities through these links for conversations to occur between workers and employers about taking heat index into account when planning work.
  • NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topics: Heat Stress
    This site includes an overview; types of heat stress; recommendations for employers; recommendations for workers; and many other links that share resources and research about being in the heat.
  • Heat Safety Tool
    Although I’m generally easily amused, I am sincerely happy to say that there’s an app for that! Because so many people are connected with mobile technology, I am looking forward to downloading this app on my phone for the summer for personal use.
  • OSHA Quick Card
    Here’s a Quick Card resource from OSHA that folks can print out for reference points. And as neat as mobile apps are, from a practical perspective, paper does make a better fan.

So regardless of why you’re outside, enjoy, take care, and be safe!

What’s the Connection Between Worker Safety, Employer Profit, and Voting?

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A recent newspaper article about a Nebraska lawyer fighting against imposing OSHA regulations on small businesses and farms that handle grain illustrates an age-old conflict between Worker (human) safety and Business (corporate) profit. The lawyer argued OSHA compliance is too expensive for small businesses and farms.

I couldn’t disagree more. From my point of view, worker safety is immeasurably more valuable to society than business profit. Human beings are the most important component of any activity, including business. Viewing safety as a cost ignores the cost to the human beings who are burned and maimed by grain explosions, whether they happen at a small business/farm or a huge corporate grain facility.

Farms in Nebraska and Iowa are not required to provide workers’ compensation for their employees. This is justified on the grounds that farms can’t survive such government intervention. I find this an interesting argument from businesses that have long received subsidies from the government. It seems that farm profits are more important than the human beings who do the work to earn those profits.

Our society needs more laws to protect human beings from injury and to compensate them if injured for the profit of others. Candidates for public office need to be asked what matters more to them: Is it human beings or profits that matter more?

Justice Louis Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote long ago: “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”  

If we keep electing representatives who favor the concentrated wealth, then human beings will likely be protected less. These are scary times as the divide between the “haves” and “have nots” continues to grow. Ballots are the only way to tell our representatives that the health and welfare of human beings is paramount. Voting is essential, or we will see more and more concern for profit and less and less concern for human beings.

Remember Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28

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The writers of this blog spend a lot of time encouraging readers to reflect by thinking about the lives of others who are less fortunate, where each individual reader has been, and where they are headed. We often encourage advocates for workers’ rights and safety. This encouragement does sometimes come at the expense of business profits. But keeping workers safe is always the right thing to do.

Observing Workers’ Memorial Day on Monday, April 28, is one way to take the time to reflect, act as an advocate, and help workers and their loved ones. This AFL-CIO fact sheet included the thought-provoking quotation below, along with some specific points that encourage action.

“This year we will come together to call for good jobs in this country for all workers. We will seek stronger safeguards to prevent injuries and save lives. We will stand for the right of all workers to raise job safety concerns without fear of retaliation, and for the freedom to form unions and speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.”

By reflecting on the risks that all workers take and acting to promote safety, we think Workers’ Memorial Day will be even more successful. And most importantly, all of our loved ones will have safer workplaces.

There are many resources to access to find out more about Workers’ Memorial Day events near you. Today’s blog post was written a couple of weeks in advance of the events so people can plan ahead to attend.

Here are some links, along with the specific information for Nebraska and Iowa:

Iowa

Nebraska has three separate events available to the public this year. 

  • USMWF’s 5K Family Fun Run/Walk Fundraiser
    Sunday, April 27, 1:30 p.m., Registration Starts
    Holmes Lake Park, Lincoln
    via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm to sign up, learn about fees, and get more details about the event
  • Nebraska’s 3rd Annual Safety Expo
    Monday, April 28, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
    IBEW Local 265 Union Hall, 6200 S. 14th St., Lincoln
    Via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm
    The event is free, but space is limited, and registration is required by printing out or emailing this form http://www.usmwf.org/safety_expo_form.pdf As of April 9, there were still spaces available to attend.
  • 5th Annual Workers’ Memorial Day Candlelight Vigil
    Monday, Apr. 28, 7 p.m.
    Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln
    via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm This event is also free, and no registration is needed.
    According to the Lancaster County Democratic Party, via email in 2013, “representatives from State, Federal, United Support Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF), Unions, Co-workers, Employers and the community come together and honor the men and women that have been injured or killed in a preventable work related incident.”

Please see the websites below for more general details about Workers’ Memorial Day: http://www.workermemorialday.org/WMD2014.htm