OSHA Reports that Cost of Work-related Injuries are Shifting to Employees

Many decades ago, OSHA created workplace safety standards to help employees avoid injuries from dangerous working conditions. Despite these standards, each year more than 3 million workers are seriously injured or killed while on the job. Because Workers’ Compensation fails to cover all the costs of injury, some low-wage workers (who have a disproportionate rate of injury and have more hazardous occupations than other workers) are slipping below the poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four), and the financial burden of work-related injuries is shifting from those who created the unsafe work environment to the families and workers who are injured. In 2012 alone work-related injuries and deaths cost $198 billion, according to the National Safety Council.

According to a recent report by OSHA, Workers’ Compensation only covers about 21% of lost wages and medical costs, so injured workers and their private insurance policies are then forced to cover on average 63% of the injured worker’s medical bills. Taxpayers are picking up the final 16% of work-related injury costs.

The solution to this inequality is for companies to create a workplace that prevents injuries and illnesses from occurring in the first place. OSHA believes that the reason for the majority of work-related injuries and fatalities is due to a combination of the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, the rising usage of temporary workers, and workers from different companies that are forced to work together at the same jobsite despite differences in training.  About 4,500 workers are killed on the job every year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Three million serious occupational injuries and illnesses are reported annually and OSHA suspects that this figure is only a fraction of the unreported number of injuries and fatalities on the job.

Read more about the cost of failing to protect workers here: http://1.usa.gov/1zJOFCC

Hockey Players Face Deadly Threat from Skate Blades

Detroit Red Wings forward Drew Miller

Original Article here: http://www.newsobserver.com/sports/nhl/carolina-hurricanes/article17954633.html

Hockey players, while focusing on speed and precision, must simultaneously be aware of the ever-present threat posed by the sharp blades attached to the bottom of their ice skates. While fans watch the players skate so effortlessly on the ice, they sometimes fail to realize that these skates could easily destroy a career and even endanger a player’s life.

Ice skate blades are sharp enough to cut through muscles, tendons, arteries and can cause facial injuries resulting in serious scarring or even death. Detroit Red Wings forward Drew Miller was cut on both sides of his right eye requiring 60 stitches.  Zach Redmond, a Colorado Avalanche hockey player, was accidently cut on the inside of his right leg, severing his femoral artery and vein. Thanks to quick action by fellow Avalanche player Anthony Peluso and Assistant Coach Perry Pearn, who applied a tourniquet before he was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery, he avoided bleeding to death.

Because of Kevlar cut-resistant socks, there has been some improvement in the number of injuries caused by skate blades. These socks protect a player’s calf muscles and Achilles tendons. Some players choose not to wear them due to the extra body heat that these socks create, but others have been fortunate enough to avoid injury due to the sock’s protection. Hockey is a dangerous game, and ice skates are one of the many hazards faced by players in every game.

N.C. Workplace Deaths Being Under-Reported

The News & Observer recently published an article exposing the under-reporting of workplace deaths by the North Carolina State Department of Labor. The Department reported only 23 deaths for 2013 and for 2014, the Department reported 44 deaths. However, even 44 deaths is significantly less than the 243 workplace deaths reported by the Department in 2001. In a 2009 press release by the Department of Labor, NC was “one of the safest states to work.” However, according to the N&O, this reduction in reported fatalities is due to a change in methodology, not safety.

In 2006 the N.C. Department of Labor began reporting only the deaths that the Department had authority to investigate. That policy change excluded independent contractors (self-employed workers) as well as any death that falls under federal jurisdiction. Federal jurisdiction includes the death of a federal employee, any worker who dies while working on a military base or at a federal facility, any death in the mining industry, and any death that occurs around open waters including firefighters and divers. The State’s total also excludes laborers at small farms, owners of unincorporated companies, most workers who die on roads, and many workers who died months or years after the injury that eventually killed them.

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors (the topic of another investigation by the N&O) not only results in employers cheating the workers’ compensation system by failing to obtain insurance, but it also results in inaccurate data reported by the Department of Labor. This under-reporting is not due to increased safety and enforcement by our State, it is due, in part, to employer fraud of misclassifying workers.

Read more here.

Facebook Postings Hurt Workers’ Compensation Claims

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

While Facebook is extremely popular and used by over a billion people every day, no Facebook posting has ever helped an injured worker in a workers’ compensation claim. On the contrary, use of a Facebook page poses real dangers for injured workers pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.

Since Facebook is a public site, anything posted can be used by respondent insurance companies in claims denial. Even the most benign postings (birthday parties, family gatherings, etc.) can pose problems. For example, a grandparent lifting a 30 pound grandchild when doctors have imposed a 10 pound lifting limit could damage a claim. Additionally, nothing prevents an Administrative Law Judge from looking at a Facebook page.  Even innocent posts may be subject to misinterpretation. A picture of the worker riding a motorcycle or fishing taken prior to the injury but posted afterward could place the seed of doubt in an ALJ’s mind that the worker is not as limited as he claims. The best advice is to be extremely careful about what is posted because “friends” are not the only one who can access your Facebook page.

Examining Workers’ Compensation Costs to Employers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey 1991 – 2014 (Credit: Sisi Wei/ProPublica)

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Business and insurance interests are bombarding state legislatures every day of the week to take workers’ rights away by complaining how most states’ workers’ compensation systems are too expensive.

Recently, ProPublica and NPR produced a very detailed explanation of the state of workers’ compensation, focusing, rightly so, on injured workers. This article, which was the first in the series, included an interactive graphic that showed that even though business are complaining about rising premius, workers’ compensation insurance coverage is generally at its lowest rate in 25 years, “even as the costs of health care have increased dramatically,” according to the article.

As examples, using the average premium cost to the employer per $100 of workers’ wages, Nebraska employers paid $1.93 in 1988, while they actually paid $.15 less for the premium in 2014, for a total of $1.78 per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart. Iowa was more dramatic, with the price of workers’ compensation insurance $2.79 per $100 of workers’ wages in 1988. It went down $.91 to $1.88 per $100 of workers’ wages in 2014.

By scrolling down in the article, a person finds another graphic that shows how employer costs have risen for other categories, but have fallen for workers’ compensation. Most notably, the cost of workers’ compensation insurance coverage (per $100 of workers’ wages) went from $2.71 in 1991 to $2.00 in 2014. During the same timeframe, the cost of health insurance went from $8.55 to $12.52 and the cost of retirement benefits went from $5.50 to $7.29, all per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart in the article.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore and Trucker Lawyers are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Six attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 90 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska and Iowa in state-specific workers’ compensation systems. 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), and the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA).  We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

“Cost-Shifting” Exposed: How Injured Worker Medical Care Decisions Are Made (And Who Pays)

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Medical coverage is a topic on everyone’s mind. Obamacare, while controversial, has started a real dialogue in this country regarding health care. Regardless of whether you are in favor of the current law, most Americans want affordable health care for themselves and their families.

Many employers pay for a substantial amount of their workers’ premiums as a benefit to them, and take this into consideration when making salary decisions due to the high cost, thereby leaving workers to pay for all or some of their medical coverage. Sometimes insurers pay for benefits that are not their responsibility because the proper entity refuses to pay. This is known as cost shifting. As a practitioner in the field of Workers’ Compensation, this idea of cost shifting has become an all too common occurrence. 

By way of background, as a result of social reform, most states enacted some form of Workers’ Compensation legislation in the early 20th Century. In exchange for timely payment of medical and indemnity benefits, workers gave up the right to sue their employers. In 2007 in New York, there was a series of further reforms that led to compromise between labor groups, the insurance industry and the Business Counsel. There was an increase in the amount of weekly benefits to injured workers to conform with the State average weekly wage (now a maximum of approximately $800 per week) in exchange for a limit on the amount of weeks an injured worker is entitled to receive these benefits.  Additionally, medical treatment guidelines have been introduced with the premise that they would streamline costs and get injured workers faster and more effective medical care. These guidelines are based upon the principles of Evidence Based Medicine (EBM), which is the use of clinical trials and data to determine whether a specific treatment should be recommended for a specific diagnosis.  It is sometimes referred to as “cookbook” treatment. 

In New York, the Court of Appeals recently ruled by a 4-3 margin that any treatment not specifically included and pre-authorized is presumptively unnecessary. In other words, if a treatment requested is not within the medical treatment guidelines, it is denied. This takes the decision making out of the hands of the treating physician who is really in the best position to determine what treatment would be most beneficial for patients. In order to overcome this presumption, the doctor now must engage in what has been seen in most cases as an exercise in futility to request a variance to overcome this presumption.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) reported that the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board received 202,643 variance requests in the first 10 months the guidelines were implemented. A quarter of the requests were rejected by the Board immediately. The rest can lead to protracted litigation. As a result, in many instances injured workers will now shift the cost to another party, such as their own private insurance, Medicare or even worse, pay for the treatment out of pocket. It is the path of least resistance. We all pay an additional price for medical costs borne by group health insurance carriers, Medicaid, and Medicare that should in fact be paid by Worker’s Compensation insurers. This cost shifting may increase Workers’ Compensation insurance profits, but it hurts both the employers’ and the employees’ bottom line. Injured workers don’t stop needing treatment just because their medical claim is denied. Someone has to pay for the cost of lost time and medical treatment. It is time that the proper party step up and take responsibility.

 

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

Kettle Falls, WA Cedar Mill Fined More Than $150,000 for Safety Violations

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Kettle Falls cedar mill fined more than $150,000 for safety violations in connection with worker injury

The Columbia Cedar mill in Kettle Falls has been fined $151,800 for safety violations after a worker was seriously hurt while trying to clear bark from a hopper.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for one willful violation and 28 serious violations of workplace safety regulations.

The willful violation involved multiple instances of employees working in close proximity to exposed and unguarded chain sprockets on chain conveyors, a hazard that can cause permanent disabling injuries. The one willful violation carries a penalty of $52,000.

L&I initiated the inspection after learning that in June 2014 an employee had suffered a serious injury and was hospitalized after becoming entangled in a rotating shaft meant to move bark in the back of a hopper. The investigation found the equipment had no guarding installed to protect employees.

Along with the willful citation, the employer was cited for several serious violations related to machine/equipment guarding, and for not ensuring “lock-out/tag-out” procedures were used to prevent machinery from starting up or moving during service or maintenance by workers.

There were several additional serious violations involving fall/overhead hazards, hand-held tools, personal protective equipment and forklift training.

The employer was also cited for failing to report the hospitalization of an injured worker. By law, all employers are required to report to L&I within eight hours any time a worker is hospitalized or dies due to work-related causes.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal the citation, and has notified L&I that it plans on doing so. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

 

McCrory’s Fraud Statistics Questioned by Experts

Governor Pat McCrory

According to N.C. Governor Pat McCrory, workers’ compensation claims cause the state to spend about $150 million per year. He claims that research by CorVel, the state’s administrator for state employee claims, shows that roughly 40% of the workers’ compensation claims are related to abuse or fraud.

When attorneys, professors, and state employee representatives questioned this number, State Personnel Director Neal Alexander and McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis were unable to provide any statistical support for this claim.

It is uncertain why the Governor would make a serious allegation of this nature without the numbers to back it up, but if the goal is to cut fraud and abuse in the system he may want to start with evaluating why so many employers are “gaming” the system by misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, and not providing any workers’ compensation coverage at all. Taxpayers often end up footing the medical bills for disabled employees because the state has no uninsured fund.

An investigation by The News & Observer newspaper revealed last year that N.C. was losing approximately $467 million a year in lost tax revenue because of employer misclassification. That is real and tangible fraud, and legislation is needed to give state agencies the tools to go after these cheaters. 

For more information please read this article on WRAL by Mark Binker and Cullen Browder.