Category Archives: Workplace Safety

Do Employees’ Forced Smiles At Stores Cause Mental Distress?

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Most Nebraskans and Iowans can probably sing a jingle from a regional grocery chain that promises “a helpful smile in every aisle.” But helpful smiles may have a hidden cost for employees.

A summary of 95 medical studies showed that forced cheerfulness by employees lead to psychosomatic issues like trouble sleeping, headaches and chest pain as well as decreased job satisfaction. This so-called emotional labor has also been linked to aggression in the workplace.

Retail and service industry employees are usually required to be cheerful to encourage customers to return. These pressures are likely becoming more acute as certain sectors of retail employment have declined and online giant – and burgeoning monopoly – Amazon has barged into the grocery business with their acquisition of Whole Foods.

Unfortunately, U.S. employment laws are not equipped to deal with the day-to-day mental strains placed on retail workers. Workers compensation laws generally do not compensate purely mental injuries. Workplace bullying or harassment is only legally actionable if the harassment is severe or pervasive and motivated by an unlawful factor like race, religion, nationality, sex, disability, etc. 

But employees have the power to work together, even if they aren’t in a union, to address these conditions through protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Recently a group of employees at a Target in rural Virginia banded together to help fire a manager who had been sexually harassing employees. Granted sexual harassment may be different than forcing an employee to be cheerful when dealing with the public, but by working together employees can address unreasonable rules and requirements by an employer.

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.

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Lincoln Vital Signs 2017 Report Omits Workplace Injury Statistics

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Why were workplace injury statistics left out of Lincoln Vital Signs report?

The 2017 Lincoln Vital Signs report produced by Prosper Lincoln was an interesting and wide- ranging report about demographics and the economy in Lincoln. (Anyone who is interested can read the entire report by clicking here.) But the exclusion of information about workplace safety in Lincoln was puzzling and possibly telling.

In a report chock full of statistics about safety and the workforce in Lincoln, there was no mention about the number of workplace injuries and/or deaths in Lincoln. The Nebraska Workers Compensation Court tracks workplace injuries and deaths statewide.  In Fiscal Year 2016, the last year statistics were available, there were nearly 40,000 reported workplace injuries in Nebraska and 40 reported workplace deaths. By a rough estimate, nearly 6000 of those workplace injuries would have taken place in Lincoln and roughly six of those workplace deaths would have taken place in Lincoln.

By way of comparison, from 2006-2016 Lincoln averaged roughly six homicides per year. In short being killed on the job and being killed in a murder are as about as common in Lincoln. In fact, last year a convenience store clerk was murdered on the job in northwest Lincoln.

There is an old adage that goes “Measure what counts and what counts is measured.” If workforce deaths and injuries aren’t measured in Propser Lincoln’s “Vital Signs” does that mean that workplace safety doesn’t count in Lincoln, Nebraska because it wasn’t measured?

It might be harsh to conclude that workplace safety doesn’t matter to groups like Prosper Lincoln, but if you look at who is behind Prosper Lincoln you can see why concerns about workplace safety may have been excluded. Propser Lincoln is heavy on voices from the business community, government, academia and the non-profit sector. There aren’t a lot of voices for employees who are part of Propser Lincoln. I believe that many of these people, some of who I am friends with, are for the most part well-meaning but live in such a white-collar world that the idea of getting hurt at work is almost far-fetched. Maybe this cloistered mindset explains why a supposedly comprehensive report about Lincoln’s economy excludes information about workplace safety. Maybe the same mindset explains ignoring fairly well-publicized links between work injuries and poverty.

City and local governments can take actions to promote workplace safety. Many cities have taken actions to protect convenience store clerks and and other retail workers who work overnight shifts.  Sometimes occupational safety and public safety are thought of as separate topics, but protecting retail workers is something that comprises both public and occupational safety. Protecting retail workers from violence in Lincoln would be a good first step, counting workplace fatalities and injuries within the City of Lincoln would be another.

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.

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What Was The Big Deal About The Eclipse?

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The total solar eclipse skirted just south of our Lincoln office on Monday.  The once or twice in a lifetime event was a tourist draw for Nebraska and all around eastern Nebraska today there was a semi-festive atmosphere surrounding the eclipse. (When the eclipse passed over Lincoln around 1 p.m., the cloud cover combined with the eclipse created the temporary appearance of a severe storm coming in at dusk)

In and of itself the eclipse is interesting and even awe-inspiring, but I am not sure it completely explains why people are so fascinated by the event. I believe that part of the attraction of the eclipse is that it gives people an excuse to get away from work on a Monday – especially a Monday in summer.

I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. Americans work hard.

Among citizens of the so-called G-7 nations (U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy), Americans put in the most hours at work among the citizens of these wealthy nations. The average American put in 1783 hours on the job in 2016 in comparison to just 1363 for the average German worker.

The average American worker logged roughly two more weeks on the job than their counterpart in Canada. The average American worker also logged 70 more hours than their notoriously hard-working Japanese counterpart.

Earlier this year, the Heinz Corporation announced it was giving its employees a vacation day on Super Bowl Monday. Corporate America realizes that American workers work hard and some companies realize that giving people a little  extra time off isn’t going to hurt the bottom line. And whether it’s a solar eclipse, the Monday after the Super Bowl or “Black Friday” hard working Americans are going to take some deserved time off from work if they are able.

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.

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A More Dangerous And Demanding Future For Retail Employees?

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Walmart announced last week that it started a pilot program where store employees will deliver packages from stores on their way home from work. If this practice is adopted company wide and adopted by the retail industry as a whole, it will change the nature of retail employment.

As written about on this blog before, delivery and warehousing jobs tend to have more physical injures than traditional retail clerk jobs. If employee delivery becomes a regular part of retail employment, then retail jobs should become more hazardous. One positive part about Walmart using employees to make deliveries would be the fact that those employees should be covered by workers’ compensation if they are injured while delivering packages. Fed Ex has faced legal challenges for misclassifying their delivery drivers as independent contractors. Uber, who has also faced challenges on how they classify their drivers, also has a package delivery service.

Delivery jobs tend to be more physically demanding than retail clerk jobs and can also subject employees to DOT requirements. If package delivery becomes an expected part of retail employment, retail jobs will have more physical and occupational requirements. This could mean in the future that retail jobs may not be a fallback option for workers from other physically demanding occupations who become unable to do their old jobs because of injuries or health problems.

The rise of online shopping has greatly reduced the number of stores of traditional retailers. This decline in so-called “big box” stores lead to a parallel reduction in retail employment. Jamelle Bouie pointed out in Slate that this collapse in retail employment has harmed women, people of color and urbanites who tend to work in retail. Bouie points out, I think correctly, that retail employees tend to be disrespected in part because of gender and race. Bouie also states the decline in retail employment has received much less attention than declines in employment in other sectors like manufacturing and mining that tend to employ more white males.

In contrast to traditional retail workers, delivery drivers tend to be paid better. UPS delivery drivers seem to enjoy a certain level of prestige, respect and even a mystique within the workforce. (11) Maybe some of that respect will rub-off on retail workers if they become delivery employees.  On the flip slide, competition from largely non-unionized and lower-paid retail workers may cut into pay and benefits that delivery drivers and their unions have fought for over the years.

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.

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Reversing OSHA Rules Will Undercut Workplace Safety

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President Trump recently signed a Congressional resolution revoking an Obama administration OSHA rule that required employers to retain records of work injuries for five and that prohibited retaliation against workers for reporting injuries. The revoked OSHA rule would have also limited drug testing of employees who reported injuries.

Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project and a former OSHA official criticized the action because limiting the amount of time an employer must retain records about injuries because it doesn’t provide enough information to identify recurring safety issues.

At least in Nebraska, employers are required to file First Reports of Injury with the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court. The information contained in those reports serves a similar function to OSHA logs and would allow workers, unions, attorneys and or regulators to identify recurring safety problems. Those reports are also public records. I recently testified against an insurance industry supported bill in the Nebraska legislature that would have made those reports confidential records.

The recently revoked OSHA rule also would have prohibited retaliation against employees who report OSHA violations. Nebraska already has anti-retaliation laws that protect employees who claim workers’ compensation benefits that would cover many cases where an employer would have to record an injury for OSHA. My opinion is that the OSHA General Duty clause which states that employers have a duty to provide a workplace free of recognizable hazards provides additional anti-retaliation protections to Nebraska employees through our state whistleblower statute. But the revocation of the OSHA anti-retaliation rule may weaken those protections.

The OSHA record keeping/anti-retaliation rule was revoked through the Congressional Review Act. You can read more about that law works here. Congress and President Trump have also revoked an executive order that would have prevented employers who violated fair employment laws from obtaining federal contracts. You can read more about that rule here.

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.

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Welders Exposed To Increased Risk Of Parkinson’s Even If Manganese Within Legal Limits

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Welders have an increased risk of Parkinson’s even if manganese exposure is within legal limits according to a recent article in the on-line journal Neurology, which is the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Welders who did flux core arc welding in confined spaces were particularly vulnerable to Parkinson’s according to the study. Workers in Nebraska who would attempt to get compensation for manganese exposure would face problems if the onset of symptoms happened after an employee stopped working. A court case in Nebraska held that an employee who didn’t experience symptoms of an occupational disease until after he retired was not entitled to be compensated because he wasn’t earning wages when the injury manifested. Welders and others who are exposed to manganese on a regular basis should recognize the early symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors, difficulty sleeping, constipation and loss of smell and report these symptoms to their doctors and employers as soon as possible so they can be treated under workers compensation and receive workers compensation disability benefits.

The study comes on the heel of a final flurry of OSHA rule making at the Obama administration. In May 2016 OSHA finally adopted a silica exposure rule for workers exposed to sand particles which can cause lung problems. Earlier this month OSHA lowered exposure thresholds for berrylium which is another pulmonary hazard, particularly for construction workers.

The example of beryiluim could explain why exposure to manganese levels at supposedly safe levels can lead to occupational disease. Those supposedly safe levels of exposure may not actually be safe. Another explanation about why supposedly safe levels of manganese lead to Parkinson’s could be found in the practices of the coal industry. Howard Berkes of NPR and Ken Ward Jr., author of the excellent Coal Tattoo blog for the Charleston (WV.) Gazette Mail teamed up to report on how coal companies would fudge coal dust level testing to make it appear that miners were exposed to much lower levels of coal dust than they were actually exposed.

OSHA’s rules could also be reversed by Congress under the Congressional Review Act. In 2001, the OSHA ergonomics rule that would have reduced musculo-skeletal injuries was reversed under this law.

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.

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Truck Parking: A Forgotten Piece of Infrastructure

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truck parkingWhile bridge collapses make for dramatic footage and almost everybody encounters the more mundane danger of potholes, truck parking is not an infrastructure issue that most people think about, but it is a very important issue for over-the-road truckers.

Lack of truck parking is a safety issue for many reasons. Lack of parking for truckers makes it harder for them to find a place to sleep, which leads to more accidents. Additionally, drivers are forced to park in unsafe locations, like the shoulders of roads, which can lead to even more safety hazards.

I travel quite often on I-80 (which generally follows The Oregon Trail) when I travel between Lincoln and central Nebraska to meet with and represent my clients in places like Grand Island, Hastings, Kearney, Lexington and North Platte. I like the fact that Nebraska has plenty of places to stop for personal comfort, check email or even take a quick nap. But even in a state like Nebraska, where hospitality to overland travelers is an integral part of our state’s history, I still see safety issues with truck parking. The parking lots in many trucks stops are very rough from the weight of the trucks. This can lead to slip and fall injuries. Stops need to be well-maintained so that they remain safe.

Unfortunately, many urban areas are less friendly toward truck parking, which forces rural areas to bear more of the burden of truck parking. President Donald Trump has announced a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan. Hopefully, sufficient and safe truck parking will be part of that infrastructure plan.

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.

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