Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cancer Risk, Workplace Carcinogens and a Government Report

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

Our law firm recently completed successful litigation involving eight families against various chemical companies. A member of each family got cancer from working at a local plant where industrial solutions were used to make rubber products.

Stating the obvious, cancer is universally bad, regardless of how much money a person has; what their religious or political views are; how old they are; or how/where/why they got cancer. That being said, I think workers especially need to be aware of the dangers and exposures to carcinogens that can occur because of chemicals in the workplace. According to a United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, “Carcinogens are agents that can cause cancer. In industry, there are many potential exposures to carcinogens. Generally, workplace exposures are considered to be at higher levels than for public exposures. Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) should always contain an indication of carcinogenic potential.” 

Respected colleague Jon Gelman from New Jersey shares his thoughts on the subject in this blog post at http://workers-compensation.blogspot.com/2012/10/romney-regulation-risk-of-cancer.html. And I thank him for sharing the op-ed resource from a recent Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. 

According to the Times piece, lobbyists associated with the chemical industry want to “shoot the messenger” by limiting or getting rid of the U.S. government’s Report on Carcinogens. Because if workers don’t know about carcinogens in their workplace, they won’t get cancer? Or more accurately, at least they won’t be able to tie that cancer to their workplace? Tell that to the American Cancer Society, whose web site includes a page specific to carcinogens and uses various sources, both national and international, to determine what carcinogens are.

Mr. Gelman also mentions in his blog post that certain lobbyists and politicians want to limit the regulation of these chemicals, which the Times story calls “scientific consensus” for their listing as cancer-causing carcinogens. It’s very challenging for consumers to know what substances, either naturally occurring or made by humans are safe to eat and use. To take that confusion into the workplace by limiting the information available to workers to be as safe as possible in their jobs, especially when long-term consequences like cancer are a possibility, is a shame.

Real Danger Comes With Winter Weather

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Winter weather can make work much more dangerous. Some of the hazards associated with working in snowy or stormy weather include:

  • Driving accidents due to slippery roadways
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Slips and falls due to slippery walkways
  • Hypothermia and frostbite due to the cold weather exposure
  • Being struck by falling objects such as icicles, tree limbs, and utility poles
  • Electrocution due to downed power lines or downed objects in contact with power lines
  • Falls from heights (e.g. falls from roof or skylights while removing snow)
  • Roof collapse under weight of snow (or melting snow if drains are clogged)
  • Burns from fires caused by energized line contact or equipment failure
  • Exhaustion from working extended shifts
  • Dehydration
  • Back injuries or heart attack while removing snow
  • Potential hazards from down power lines include:
  • Electrocution by contacting downed energized lines, or contacting objects, such as broken tree limbs, in contact with fallen lines.
  • Falls from heights.
  • Being struck or crushed by falling poles, towers or parts thereof, tree limbs, ice accumulation on lines, towers and poles.
  • Being injured in vehicular accidents when responding to an emergency situation.
  • Burns from fires caused by energized line contact or equipment failure.

Workers are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits should they get hurt at work. The benefits include temporary compensation when out of work and under treatment, medical treatment and permanent disability benefits. Workers should consult an attorney at once if they sustain a work-related accident.

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman in New Jersey have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses. Jon is a prolific author, public speaker and educator on the topic of workers’ compensation law.

National Constitutional Museum

National Constitutional Museum

When most Americans visit Philadelphia they go to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall where the U.S. Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787 by our founding fathers. 42 individuals signed the Constitution in this room after vigorous debate for months. At the other end of Independence Mall sits the impressive National Constitutional Museum and on the front of the building the words “We The People” are prominently displayed. In this facility there is a “theater in the round” where a live actor makes a presentation about the Constitution and the beginning of our democracy. This museum also has a room called Signers’ Hall (see photo attached) which has life-sized bronze statues of the 42 signers, including George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. When you stand next to these statues you notice the relatively small height of these men.

The museum also has a display showing Supreme Court briefs involving a workers’ compensation case out of Pennsylvania, which passed a law allowing insurance companies additional time in which to review medical treatment decisions. The claimant alleged a constitutional violation and a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Court disagreed.

Each state has its own constitution, usually modeled after the U.S. Constitution, and the Pennsylvania claimant may have had a claim for a due process violation under its state constitution. As more and more changes are made to Workers’ Compensation Acts across the country, there may be more constitutional challenges, both state and federal. A visit to the National Constitutional Museum helps individuals, as well as lawyers, appreciate and understand the history of this country and the development of our unique constitutional system, and I encourage all readers to visit this unique museum.

10 Things To Do If You Get Hurt At Work

If you are hurt at work make sure to follow these guidelines to protect your rights

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

When you’re injured at work in New York, people often ask what they should do immediately following the accident. There are several basic things you should do to protect your rights under New York State Workers’ Compensation Law.
  1. Report the accident to your supervisor/employer as soon as is possible. Under NYS law you have 30 days to give your employer notice of the accident. Report the injury to your supervisor and be clear about how it happened and that it happened at work.
  2. Follow up with your employer to ensure they have prepared an accident report. If a report is not being prepared, you should write a letter stating the circumstance of the accident for your Supervisor. If you can, send your letter by email or have your supervisor sign a note that acknowledges receipt. A paper trail is always helpful.
  3. When you receive a copy of the accident report, or any paperwork from your employer or its insurance carrier, be sure to make copies for yourself. Keeping your own file is always helpful in the long run. You should bring that file with you to hearings to show your attorney and the judge, if needed.
  4. If you are a member of a union, you should tell your shop steward of the injury as well. Be sure that you report to the shop steward who you gave notice to, when you gave it, and ask what your union policy is on Workers’ Compensation injuries.
  5. Keep a log of<!–more–> all significant contacts you make along the way. Note your doctor visits, conversations in adjusters, and any documents received.
  6. If you are out of work because of your injury, you need to see your doctor every 45-90 days (depending on your injury). The reports that your doctor submits to the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board is the evidence required to support your continuing disability. Without those reports your treatment may be obstructed and any indemnity payments you’re receiving may be stopped.
  7. When you visit the doctor remember to be clear and discuss in detail the circumstances of your injury. Everything from what job you do, to where you were hurt, to the mechanics of the injury (For example: Did you fall backwards? Sideways? Land on your knees? Your back? Some other way?)
  8. If your doctor says you can return to work in a lighter capacity, be sure to get a letter that lays out what physical restrictions you have. You should keep a copy for yourself and provide copies to your employer.
  9. Do not be afraid to follow up with your doctors to get copies of the medical reports they are submitting to the Board. Up to date medical evidence is an essential component of a workers’ compensation claim. You do not want to leave your fate to the efficiency and prowess of others to prepare, scan, and upload documents to State computer programs.
  10. If your doctor tells you that treatment has been denied, discuss the need for treatment with your doctor and ask if he/she needs you to sign a “variance” request to affirm you would like to bring the issue to the Board.

Sometimes the “smell test” is most applicable. If something doesn’t smell right don’t be afraid to consult your attorney (or retain one if you haven’t already). There are a number of moving parts in these cases — doctors, adjusters, independent medical consultants, physical therapists, judges, your lawyers, insurance company lawyers — that asking questions and doing your best to get a firm grasps on the status of your claim is only going to help you as you recover from your injury.

The Origins of Workers' Compensation in the United States

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm.

Today’s post is a film on the history of workers’ compensation, presented by the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group at the National Symposium on the 40th Anniversary of the National Commission on Workers Compensation, which in 1972 found the state workers’ compensation systems to be inadequate and unfair.

This film is a great reminder that the workers’ compensation systems we work under today were created to correct issues with unsafe workplaces and the effects of injuries on the job during a time when workplace safety was not yet a reality.  We need to remember our history, lest the lessons hard-won be forgotten.

READER REVIEW: "Love and Fatigue in America"

Today’s post comes from guest author Unidentified, Usually by Choice from Causey Law Firm.

Love and
Fatigue in America
“, by Roger King,
2012 (Terrace Books, University of Wisconsin Press) with
introductory remarks.

 

CFIDS/CFS/ME: same disease, different names.

 

CFS:   Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

CFIDS:   Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction.

ME:   Myalgic Encephalopathy.

 

Almost all concerned (researchers, clinicians and persons living with the condition) believe these to be poor names, but, lacking a clear-cut etiology for the disease processes, they have become the current standards.

There are, at this moment, thousands upon thousands with this disease.  It robs one’s life of livelihood, relationships, self-esteem and one’s total sense of worth. The common reply to one’s stating illness with it is, “you don’t look sick”. Lovely. Yes, all the lab tests were regular or near enough. Don’t worry. Yes, it’s just a case of mononucleosis. Yes, your lymph nodes are quite swollen. Give it time. 


It is a disease of morbidity, not mortality (though there have been many, many suicides), and one that costs in every way at every level: for the person with the condition, their workplace, and society at large.
The losses are vast and great yet remain nearly invisible.

This disease came about in the US at the time of GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) in the 1980′s. Mostly women were affected and early on it was called the “Yuppie Disease” because so many professional people came down with CFIDS/CFS/ME. A flurry of activity responded at first from CDC to NIH to private clinics and labs and the American Association of CFIDS. But within a few years with no etiology discovered, research dollars almost dried up as did the belief in general, that it indeed existed and was not just “mental”.

Since there has been scant progress or general media reporting on the disease, let alone research projects being funded enough to produce significance, the disease slipped away from public view for many years with no new books being published.  It was thought by many that CFIDS/CFS/ME was off the radar. But now, Stanford University, with a very diversified group of researchers, along with The National  Institutes of Health, are coming very close to finding, at least in one subset, a possible causal link. Coincidently, one of the first books to be published in many years about CFIDS/CFS/ME, or by a person with CFIDS/CFS/ME, has recently been published. Though called a novel, it definitely reads more as autobiographical.

The novel, “Love and Fatigue in America”, 2012 is by English novelist, researcher and scientist, Roger King who came to America in 1991 to teach at a university in Spokane, WA and who was struck down by CFIDS/CFS/ME soon thereafter. It is a tale that is depressingly known to those who have CFIDS/CFS/ME, but it carries one along easily, at times with humor and interesting characters, as Mr. King drives his route through much of America, all the while enduring the constant trials of disease, in search of “home” – a place to love and to be horizontal.

In the end, Mr. King finds his place, geographically, and over the course of more than a decade seems to come to terms with the disease and its horizontal outcomes. He admits that it was only because he had saved money and sold his sail boat that he could do what he did, and cites that only a few people with CFIDS/CFS/ME are that lucky but, when they are, they can write, publish and have some sort of life and livelihood.

Most interesting, Mr. King succinctly lists the benefits of being ill with CFIDS/CFS/ME in the chapter titled, “The Benefits of Illness”. Most revealingly, he lists the costs of CFIDS/CFS/ME (which seem to outweigh the benefits) in the chapter entitled “The Cost of Illness”.

Reviewed in The New Yorker, April 30, 2012, it was said that the disease “…brings into relief many of America’s follies and excesses, most notably our health-care system, which King portrays as antiquated, bureaucratic, and inhumane.” The book was also reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly 2012, among others.

For more information about CFIDS/CFS/ME online visit:

www.CFIDS.org

www.nih.gov

www.chronicfatigue.stanford.edu

www.cdc.gov

NFL Bounties – Intentional Injuries

NFL players can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits

The injury rate in the NFL is 100 percent. If you stay around long enough you will have multiple injuries. This high “natural” injury rate makes it hard to understand how a team could give awards to players who injure other players, but that’s just what the New Orleans Saints did, and now appeals are being filed against rulings that impose penalties for those acts. Most NFL players are high wage earners and have an average of five years in the league. They don’t need opposing players intentionally trying to hurt them. It’s already dangerous enough out there on the field.

Can you imagine the uproar if management at a business told workers they should intentionally hurt other workers of a competitor? The idea of intentional injuries is reprehensible and in North Carolina our state Supreme Court ruled in Woodson v. Rowland (1991) that if an employer knowingly places an employee in a position where the employee is substantially certain to be seriously injured or cause death, then the employer can be sued in civil court by the employee or the survivors of the employee. The workers’ compensation statute, with limited benefits, is the exclusive remedy for employees, except for this one exception.

It is hard to find a case that rises to the extremely high standard set forth in Woodson. Here are two examples that didn’t quality:

  1. A 17 year-old boy was pulled into a pallet shredder and crushed to death. Although there were 11 safety violations by the employer and the machine’s guards had been removed, no civil action was allowed.
  2. A man lost his left leg when he fell into an auger with inoperable safety switches. No civil claim was allowed.

This is a tough standard. Employers gave up liability defenses when they accepted the workers’ compensation system and one of the most powerful things they got in exchange was the waiver of the right of an employee to seek damages in civil court, before a jury. The NFL, as an employer, is no different than other employers in this respect. Given the serious injuries sustained by professional football players, the NFL should not complain when compensation claims are filed, usually because of career ending injuries.

6 Tips To Combat Worrying, Stress & Anxiety

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

Worry is increasingly pervasive in our society as insecurity about the economy and safety, nationally and personally, grows daily. Worry is compounded in the daily lives of those who are injured or disabled, as they struggle with the added burdens of medical costs and loss of income, all of which engenders a bleak outlook on their future.

“At its worst, [toxic] worry is a relentless scavenger roaming the corners of your mind, feeding on anything, never leaving you alone.”  This was the description of “worry” by Edward M. Hallowell, MD, in Worry, 1997, with a 2002 introduction. (This study is still considered the “bible” in lay literature and often quoted in scientific research.) Long ago, Dr. Charles Mayo said, “Worry affects circulation, the glands, the whole nervous system and profoundly affects the heart.” Indeed, worry appears to be, at worst, of genetic origins, and to a lesser degree a learned or environmental response.

Hallowell defines worry as two types: toxic worry and good worry.  He likens toxic worry to a virus, insidiously and invisibly attacking you and robbing you of your ability to work, your peace of mind and happiness, your love and play. On the other hand, good worry, or adaptive worry, is necessary to avoid real danger and life-threatening situations.

Worry is categorized as part of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in most lay and scientific literature. The National Institute of Mental Illness (NIMH) defines GAD as people who go through the day filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even though there is little to provoke it. NIMH literature states that people with GAD anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about health issues, money, family problems or difficulties at work. GAD is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about everyday problems for at least six months. Worry, as part of GAD, is commonly treated with medication and cognitive therapy.

The everyday worry of the disabled or injured worker is direct, with anxiety and fear over money, physical abilities, medical care, vocational options, housing, food, and family disintegration. It does prey upon so many, compounding their physical health problems and environmental lives.

The physical reactions to excessive fear and anxiety (worry) initiate a chain or cascade of pathological events by stimulating the amygdala area of the brain (fight/flight response), releasing neurotransmitters to the cortex. There, the fear or anxiety, whether real or imagined, is analyzed in detail and the analysis is returned to the amygdala where, in normal situations, the fear response is shut off by amino-butyric acid (GABA). GAD worriers may not have high enough GABA levels to shut off this pathway. Consequently, there are constant marked secretions of glucocortocoids and catecholamines that increase blood sugar levels. Marked levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine dilate blood vessels in skeletal muscles and other adrenergic (adrenal) stimulations that in turn create modifications in breathing, increased temperatures, sweating, decreased mobility of the stomach, bowels, and intestines, constrictions of the sphincters in the stomach and intestines.

The scientific literature is now implicating constant stress, such as constant work stress or toxic fear and anxiety, in causing large weight gains in the midriff area which can greatly exacerbate orthopedic injuries, particularly of the spine or knees, and can lead to increased incidences of diabetes and cancer.

Simply said, constant fear and anxiety result in debilitating amounts of stress hormones like cortisol (from the adrenal glands) and hormones that cause blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) to rise significantly. This process, if not shut off or modulated, can cause premature coronary artery disease, short-term memory loss, digestive problems, and suppression of the natural immune system. Continue reading