Tag Archives: OSHA

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.

Are Forklifts Dangerous?

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Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm, in North Carolina. He writes about forklifts in the workplace. It is important to be properly trained on any equipment that a person is required to use at work. Forklifts are a fairly common piece of equipment in many business environments, including manufacturing, construction, retail, and other places. Thoughts are with the victims of the forklift incidents in the tragic examples that Mr. Jernigan gives. Please ask for training if you haven’t gotten it on each piece of equipment, and be aware of your right to safely operate equipment at your workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) covers forklifts under the section called Powered Industrial Trucks, and you have to be certified to operate these lifts. The smaller ones you see weigh up to 7,000 pounds and they are so dangerous some experts consider them “inherently dangerous.” It is in violation of federal law to operate a forklift if under the age of 18, and OSHA requires that you be specifically trained. See 29 CFR 1910.178. If operated properly, a forklift is no more dangerous than any other piece of heavy machinery. However, if the operator is not properly trained and certified bad things can happen. We now represent a young man who was allowed to operate a forklift without any certification and the forklift turned over on him and crushed him, damaging several internal organs and his spine. He survived, but he is partially paralyzed from the waist down. He will have a lifetime of pain. He has lost the use of both feet. Other examples are workers being crushed when a forklift accidentally runs into them. The human body cannot withstand a crush impact from a 7,000 pound machine. If the lifts on the forklift are elevated with a heavy load, the potential for a tip-over is greatly increased, even if the operator is moving slowly. Never underestimate the power of a forklift. For more information go to osha.gov and review Powered Industrial Trucks.

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.

Has Online Filing Added to OSHA Whistleblower Backlog?

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OSHA’s recent decision to allow employees to file whistleblower cases online has led to a large increase in filings and has added more delay to claims that were already backlogged before online filing. According to OSHA investigators, this increase in filings hasn’t been met with a proportionate increase in staff. One investigator estimated it takes over 400 days for OSHA to conclude investigating claims.

The delay created by the backlog hurts investigations for many reasons. Witnesses become unavailable, and recollections of events change. Unscrupulous employers also can use the delay to hide or destroy documents and intimidate witnesses.

Of course, employees who feel they have been retaliated against oftentimes have the option of filing a state or local fair employment agency claim on the basis of retaliation. Employees might also have the option of filing for retaliatory discharge without filing a fair-employment claim, as is oftentimes the case if they are fired for filing workers’ compensation. However, this summer the U.S. Supreme Court likely made many types of retaliation cases more difficult to win with their decision in the Nasser case. The court ruled in Nasser that employees claiming retaliation cases under federal Title VII must prove that exercising their rights under Title VII was a “but for” cause of their termination.

But under whistleblower laws under OSHA – such as the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which protects interstate truckers, and Dodd-Frank, which protects workers in the financial services industry – an employee must only show that their report of illegal conduct was a contributing factor to their termination.

Employees with a retaliation case should consult with an experienced employment attorney to determine the best forum for any wrongful-termination case.

Harvest Time Reminds of Need for Grain Handling Safety

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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.

Former President of Chemical Company Sentenced for Federal Crimes Related to Employee Deaths

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Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from ehstoday.com. Mr. Jon Gelman is a respected colleague who focuses on workers’ compensation in New Jersey.

As the post points out, it is unusual, but not unheard of, for an employer to be charged and sentenced for Occupational Safety and Health Act violations. In fact, in 2012, I wrote about a situation that happened at a Nebraska grain elevator that caused a worker’s death and resulted in a misdemeanor charge, including a $100,000 fine and 2 years of probation for the employer.

The article below is important for a number of reasons. First, two truck drivers, Joey Sutter and Charles Sittig, died as a result of chemical exposure to hydrogen sulfide through their work. Next, the company’s former president, Matthew Lawrence Bowman, was sentenced to serve 12 months in federal prison and also fined $5,000, according to the article. As president of his company, Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) of Port Arthur, Texas, Bowman even directed some of the violations. And these actions were “criminally negligent,” according to John M. Bales, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.

Although no amount of prison time or fines can bring the drivers back to their loved ones, it is good to see someone being held at least a little bit accountable for the dangers of this company’s practices.

Matthew Lawrence Bowman, the former president of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) finally had his (sentencing) day in court. Bowman pleaded guilty on May 9 to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). It is rare for individuals to be prosecuted and sentenced to violations of the OSH Act.Bowman admitted to not properly protecting PACES employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas resulting in the death of truck driver Joey Sutter on Dec. 18, 2008. In addition, Bowman admitted to directing employees to falsify transportation documents to conceal that the wastewater was coming from PACES after a disposal facility put a moratorium on all wastewater shipments from PACES after received loads containing hydrogen sulfide. He was sentenced to serve 12 months in federal prison on Oct. 28 by U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone. Bowman was also ordered to pay fines in the amount of $5,000.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher called the sentence “a just punishment” for Bowman’s actions, which placed workers “at unacceptable risk and had fatal consequences.”

“The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who violate the laws enacted to ensure the safety of workers handling hazardous materials and to prevent the kind of tragedies that…

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How Safe Is Healthcare for Workers?

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injured nurseThe article that today’s blog post is based upon is an in-depth look at how one state’s OSHA office interacts with a sector of the healthcare community: hospitals. Like Iowa, but unlike Nebraska, Oregon is one of 27 states or U.S. territories that has an OSHA office at the state level.

The “Lund Report: Unlocking Oregon’s Healthcare System” article talks extensively about nuances within ways that OSHA offices, whether state or federal, can measure the safety of healthcare providers like hospitals and nursing homes.

As evidenced in previous blog posts about senior-care workers and lifting injuries, I have continuing concerns for the safety of healthcare workers.

According to the in-depth article, “A Lund Report review suggests that in Oregon, regulators are de-emphasizing attention to hospital employee safety, despite national data showing that healthcare workers are injured in the U.S. each year at rates similar to farmers and hunters. Most Oregon hospitals have not been inspected by the state Occupational Safety and Health Division in years. And when on-the-job hazards are detected, Oregon’s OSHA office levies the lowest average penalties in the country.”

Should workers get lost as the patients are the focus of these healthcare institutions? Should regulation and inspections or fines by such groups as OSHA be the driving force toward workplace safety for healthcare employees?

It seems to me that healthcare administrators’ emphasis on profit is more important than proper concern for their employees – the nation’s caregivers. And if you or your family member is the healthcare worker who gets hurt on the job, this lack of focus on the worker is more than just a philosophical argument.

What Football Can Teach White-collar Employees About Layoffs, Severance

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With football season upon us, I would like to use football to explain some common situations that employees face.

I get a lot of calls from white-collar professionals who have long careers with a company but then are laid off a few months after a new boss is hired. This happens a lot in football when a general manager/athletic director replaces a head coach and the head coach fires the previous coach’s assistant coaches. White-collar employees in middle-management positions are essentially the equivalents of assistant coaches in football. In the world of football, it is assumed that a new head coach can bring in his new assistants. The same assumption holds true in the business world.

Assistant coaches are oftentimes “bought out” of their employment contracts. Sometimes white-collar professionals have employment contracts, but more often than not they do not. Sometimes professionals are offered severance agreements, but unless there is an employment contract, that severance is not a buyout. Employers are also under no obligation to offer severance. If severance is offered, that doesn’t necessarily mean that an employer wrongfully terminated the employee.

Of course, no employee can be terminated because of age, disability, sex, race, nationality, or in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity like filing for workers’ compensation or filing with OSHA. But even if there is some appearance of wrongful motivation on behalf of the employer, the employer can still defeat a potential lawsuit if they have a legitimate business reason for terminating the employee. Going back to a football analogy, if the new head coach wants to switch an offensive or defensive scheme, they have the right to hire the person they choose. The fact the new hire might be less effective than the old hire is not a decision that a court will second guess in a wrongful termination. Sure, if there is something else wrongful going on, it is something a court or a jury could consider, but in a case where there is a recent change in management, employees will have difficult time overcoming the assumption that the new boss just wants to “put in their team.”