Category Archives: OSHA

Two worker deaths lead to criminal charges for Omaha corporation

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A memorial for two workers killed in Omaha in 2015. The employer is facing criminal charges.

An Omaha business is facing federal criminal charges in connection with the death of two employees in 2015.

Adrian LaPour and Dallas Foulk were killed on April 14, 2015 due to a fire in started by chemicals in a rail tanker car that they were cleaning. They were working for Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services which had a long history of OSHA violations.

The criminal charges in this case stem from obstructing the investigation of the accident and violating federal safety rules rather than the death of the employee. In the rare cases where employers are prosecuted for workplace deaths, those types of charges are typical. Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted in 2016 for violating federal mine safety rules in connection with the death of 29 miners in West Virginia in 2010.

The charges provided some sense of psychic justice for the longtime girlfriend of one the victims. That sense of psychic justice is often missing in work injury cases where an employer is at fault. Workers compensation benefits are limited, OSHA fines are often almost laughable and negligence cases may be difficult to prove. Even if a family can get a sizeable amount of money for a workplace death of a loved one, money is not a perfect substitute for the loss of a loved one. A criminal prosecution can help address emotional needs in a way a civil or administrative sanction can’t.

Criminal prosecutions also deter wrongful conduct by corporations and their owners.  Rod Rehm practiced criminal law in the 1970s and 1980s before focusing on workers compensation and personal injury cases. He has spoken out in favor prosecuting employers for manslaughter in connection with workplace deaths and criminal prosecution for employers who don’t carry workers compensation insurance. I commend Nebraska’s  U.S  Attorney,  Joe Kelly, for exercising his prosecutorial discretion and charging the owners of Nebraska Railcar Cleaining Services.

h/t to www.fairwarning.com for their reporting.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in criminal law, Nebraska, OSHA, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .

EPA, USDA rule change proposals could impact workplace safety

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Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (left) with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (center) at a meeting in Lincoln last month

Regular readers of this blog know that workplace safety is regulated by the state and federal governments  But even within the federal government, agencies besides OSHA regulate workplace safety. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have proposed rule and procedure changes that could have an impact on workplace safety.

The USDA has proposed relaxing rules about line speeds in pork plants. Employee advocates have opposed the change because of the well-known link between line speed and musculo-skeletal injuries. In a relatively rare bit of good news, under public pressure the USDA rejected proposed rule changes that would have speed up lines in poultry plants. Public pressure for workers can be effective even in the Trump administration.

The EPA has proposed delaying implementation of two Obama era-rules regarding the prevention of chemical plant explosions  and rules on training workers who are exposed to agricultural chemicals. (5)

The rules concerning exposure to farm chemicals are particularly concerning from a workplace safety perspective. Chemical exposure injuries can take years to manifest and that delayed manifestation can make it more difficult for employees to collect workers’ compensation benefits.

The delays in implementation of the chemical plant and chemical handling training rules have both been subject to court challenges. If the USDA approved an increase in line speed for pork plants, that change would likely be challenged in court as well. Though the Supreme Court is viewed as friendly to business, the court is open to arguments that the actions of administrative agencies can violate the constitutionally-mandated separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch.  In other words court challenges to changes in USDA and EPA rules could succeed. 

The chemical safety rules are also an example of how delay of a rule or implementation of a rule can effectively kill a rule.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been the target of well-deserved criticism of his administration of the agency. But, as pointed out by Mike Elk of Payday Report, the Obama administration slow-walked some chemical safety rules which them vulnerable to repeal and delay by the Trump administration.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in EPA, Nebraska, OSHA, USDA, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

Wisconsin Workplace Deaths on the Rise

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Good piece from Charlie Domer. Unfortunately, workplace deaths are on the rise across the country.

There is a bad trend in Wisconsin: Deaths on the job are on the rise.

Specifically, OSHA (on December 18, 2017) issued a release that there were five Wisconsin worker deaths in the last 22 days!:

  • (Madison):  On November 27, 2017, a 26 year old employee was abrasive blasting and cut his inner thigh (femoral artery) with the abrasive blasting nozzle.  Reference OSHA’s Abrasive Blasting web page for safety and health related information regarding abrasive blasting operations.
  • (Eau Claire):  On December 1, 2017, a 60 year old employee working on a logging site was struck by a backing forwarder (skidder) machine.  Reference OSHA’s Logging web page for safety and health related information regarding logging operations.
  • (Milwaukee Area Office):  On December 5, 2017, a 32 year old employee was struck in the head when an approx. 50 lb. part being worked on flew out of a CNC machine. 
  • On December 5, 2017, a 59 year old employee was struck in the abdomen by a piece of wood that had kicked back from a table saw.  Reference OSHA’s Woodworking web page for safety and health related information regarding woodworking operations.
  • (Milwaukee Area Office):  On December 9th, 2017, a 36 year old employee was struck-by a materials van and pinned between the van and loading dock the van was being backed up to. Employers are encouraged to review dock areas to identify hazards and take necessary corrective actions.  Reference OSHA’s e-Tool on Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift) for information on dock safety.

These recent workplace deaths are in the same year as the devastating plant explosion in Cambria, Wisconsin, on May 31, 2017, resulting in the death of 5 workers and injuring many more.  OSHA proposed a $1.8 million fine related to this fatal explosion.

Sadly, these workplace deaths are on the rise in our country as a whole.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its latest report on fatalities in the workplace, with data through 2016.  Unfortunately, the number of fatalites is the highest ever since 2008.  An informational chart can be found here.

While employers indicate there are ever-increasing safety measures at workplaces, accidents–even catastrophic ones–still happen.  And they are happening with more frequency.

Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, there are no pain and suffering damages for those family members left behind by the deceased worker.  A dependent (generally a surviving spouse or children under the age of 18) can bring a claim for death benefits–which are four times the worker’s annual earnings.  This amount can be (and can feel) woefully inadequate following a worker’s death.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in OSHA, Workplace Deaths, Workplace Fatalities and tagged , , , .

Recalling the Forgotten Provision of the ‘Grand Bargain’

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grand-bargainThe Oklahoma and Florida supreme courts both overturned anti-worker changes to their state workers’ compensation laws based in whole or in part on their state constitutions. Workers’ compensation laws, for the most part, are state laws. This post seeks to explain why workers’ compensation laws are state laws and what that could mean for workers’ compensation laws in the future.

The vast majority of workers’ compensation attorneys and industry observers know the term “Grand Bargain.” In the “Grand Bargain,” employees gave up the right to sue their employers in tort for work injuries in exchange for defined benefits regardless of fault.

Workers’ compensation laws emerged roughly a century ago. However, Congress did not have the power to enact the “Grand Bargain” because of how the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Commerce Clause. In 1895, the court held in United States v. E.C. Knight that manufacturing was not commerce. In 1918, the court overturned a law prohibiting child labor on similar grounds and additionally held that the effects of child labor did not have enough of an impact on interstate commerce to justify regulation.

The Supreme Court did uphold the constitutionality of workers’ compensation laws in the case of New York Central Railroad v. White. However, the court upheld workers’ compensation laws based on a state’s so-called “police powers” under the 10th Amendment.

During the New Deal era in the 1930s, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the interstate commerce clause changed so that workers’ compensation laws could have been enacted by the federal government. But by then, most states had workers’ compensation laws, so a general federal workers’ compensation law was unnecessary.

‘Federalization’ in the Post-New Deal Era

In the 1970s, Congress passed laws regarding occupational safety (Occupational Safety and Health Act) and employee benefits (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) under its authority granted by the interstate commerce clause. But neither OSHA nor ERISA were intended to interfere with state workers’ compensation laws.

The 1970s also saw an ultimately failed effort to impose federal minimum standards on state workers’ compensation. It was in this era that the term “federalization” and the concerns about the impact of federal laws on state workers’ compensation systems emerged.

Federalization re-emerged as an issue in the 2000s when concerns arose that the costs of workers’ compensation injuries were being shifted onto Medicare, and the federal government tried to fashion remedies to shift the cost back onto the workers’ compensation system. The effect of the Affordable Care Act on workers’ compensation was another federal issue that was hotly debated in workers’ compensation circles.

Finally in President Obama’s second term, OSHA issued many rules about medical care and drug testing  that could have affected workers’ compensation laws. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and other elected leaders also wrote a letter to the Secretary of Labor pointing out the failure of state-based workers’ compensation systems.

Conventional wisdom is that the election of Donald Trump paired with a Republican Congress will end the Obama era efforts at federalization of the workers’ compensation system. There is probably a fair amount of truth to this idea, but the Trump era may not spell the end of federalization of workers’ compensation.

In the 2010s “sharing economy,” companies such as Uber and Lyft emerged. The business model of these companies is premised on workers being independent contractors. However, this has created litigation and uncertainty for these companies. In 2015, the Democratic-aligned Brookings Institute hosted a discussion about the “reforming” labor laws for companies like Uber. Though workers’ compensation laws are traditionally state-based laws, there is no constitutional prohibition on designing workers’ compensation systems at a federal level. Unfortunately, it seems as some Democrats could find common ground with Donald Trump and House Speaker Ryan to amend ERISA and the Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt Uber drivers and other sharing economy workers from laws such as workers’ compensation.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Legislation, OSHA, United States Supreme Court, Workers' Comp Basics, Workers' Compensation, Workers' Compensation Reform and tagged , , , , , .

Top 10 OSHA Citations of 2016: A Starting Point for Workplace Safety

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Today’s blog post comes from the U.S. Labor Department’s blog at blog.dol.gov and was written by the director of enforcement programs at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The article below is a good big-picture reminder of workplace hazards that are documented “safety and health violations” through OSHA. There are some important quotes in the blog post, but instead of choosing a couple, you are encouraged to read and think about the entire relatively short article. A special focus should be to consider the top 10 citations list and see if you are exposed to any of these hazards at your job. Or if you’re in a position to influence others within the workplace, I would encourage you to make sure your co-workers know about whatever safety efforts you have in place to avoid and prevent at-work injuries so you don’t have your business’s citation on the list in the future.

If you have concerns about workplace safety at your job, OSHA’s website has a lot of informative resources. If you or a loved one have been hurt on the job, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for advice and help.

a worker climbs a piece of scaffolding wearing proper fall protection
a worker climbs a piece of scaffolding wearing proper fall protection

Every October, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration releases a preliminary list of the 10 most frequently cited safety and health violations for the fiscal year, compiled from nearly 32,000 inspections of workplaces by federal OSHA staff.

One remarkable thing about the list is that it rarely changes. Year after year, our inspectors see thousands of the same on-the-job hazards, any one of which could result in a fatality or severe injury.

More than 4,500 workers are killed on the job every year, and approximately 3 million are injured, despite the fact that by law, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their workers. If all employers simply corrected the top 10 hazards, we are confident the number of deaths, amputations and hospitalizations would drastically decline.

Consider this list a starting point for workplace safety:

  1. Fall protection
  2. Hazard communication
  3. Scaffolds
  4. Respiratory protection
  5. Lockout/tagout
  6. Powered industrial trucks
  7. Ladders
  8. Machine guarding
  9. Electrical wiring
  10. Electrical, general requirements

It’s no coincidence that falls are among the leading causes of worker deaths, particularly in construction, and our top 10 list features lack of fall protection as well as ladder and scaffold safety issues. We know how to protect workers from falls, and have an ongoing campaign to inform employers and workers about…

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in OSHA, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , , , .

How to File a Safety and Health Complaint

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Today’s post was shared by the U.S. Department of Labor and comes from www.osha.gov

 

How to file a complaintIf you suspect an OSHA violation has happened at work, it’s important to report it by following the steps listed at the website below. If you have questions about reporting a violation, please contact us, and we can help point you in the right direction. In addition, many of OSHA’s inspections occur because of injuries, so if you or a loved one is injured at work, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer who can make sure the appropriate OSHA reports, as applicable, are considered in your case.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gives employees and their representatives the right to file a complaint and request an OSHA inspection of their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or their employer is not following OSHA standards. Workers do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated in order to file a complaint.

Complaints from workers or their representatives are taken seriously by OSHA. OSHA will keep your information confidential.

[Click here to see the original post]

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in OSHA, Workplace Claims, Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , .

What Does this Improper Medical Treatment Sanction from OSHA Mean?

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BoheadFor the first time ever, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently sanctioned a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant for providing improper medical treatment for employees suffering from overuse injuries. While the hazards of meatpacking work to employees is common knowledge and the packing industry is frequently sanctioned for unsafe work practices, the sanction against Pilgrim’s Pride for failing to provide medical care to their workers in Florida indicates OSHA is opening a new front in the battle for a safe workplace.

While OSHA’s sanctioning Pilgrim’s Pride for providing inadequate medical care to their injured workers is novel, their action is consistent with law that states access to prompt and appropriate medical care is crucial to pursuing a workers’ compensation claim. OSHA sanctioned Pilgrim’s Pride for failure to make timely and proper referrals to specialists for orthopedic injuries when employees sought treatment at company first-aid or nursing stations. According to OSHA, delays in treatment can lead to permanent injuries.

The fact that OSHA deems inadequate medical care to be a violation of its regulations could also mean that employees have a statutorily protected right to oppose inadequate medical care. In Nebraska, this would mean that employees could possibly sue their employers under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act. Celeste Monforton, a professor of public health at George Washington University, noted in her post that employers use company health clinics not only to delay treatment but to discourage employees from seeking medical care. Some employers go so far as to discipline employees who do not get permission from their employer to seek outside medical treatment. A recent case in an Illinois federal court stated such policies were illegal.

While Nebraska does not have any case law similar to Illinois about such policies, there is a strong argument to make that such policies would be illegal under Nebraska law and under the law of any state that prohibits retaliation against employees for filing workers’ compensation claims. Policies that require notification and permission to seek medical treatment from employers could also run afoul of Nebraska’s laws allowing employees to choose their own doctors. One Nebraska court has hinted that the right to pick a doctor is a legally protected activity.

Monforton also pointed out that Pilgrim’s Pride could be committing medical malpractice by failing to provide proper care and having nurses treat injured employees without proper medical supervision.

However, packinghouses have some reason to believe that they are immune from medical malpractice suits filed by their employees against their employee health nurses. The legal shorthand for this is called the exclusive remedy. In practice, this means that an employer who provides medical treatment in a negligent manner to an employee who is treating for a work injury can only be sued in workers’ compensation court.

Of course, there are some ways around the exclusive remedy for medical care. The first exception would be that if employee health was outsourced. This would allow an employee to sue that provider directly and could also allow for a civil conspiracy or civil RICO claim.

There may also be other exceptions as well. For example, Nebraska has a Meatpacking Industry Workers Bill of Rights that states that workers employed at covered meatpacking houses have a right to a safe workplace and the right to seek benefits, including workers’ compensation. If an employer does not provide adequate medical care or provides negligent medical care, that could certainly violate the public policy behind the Meatpacking Industry Workers Bill of Rights and warrant a tort case against the packinghouses under the public policy of the state of Nebraska.