Author Archives: Leonard Jernigan

Tile and Granite Company Fined – Silica Dust Exposure

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

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone of Vancouver, Wash. has been fined $261,000 for failing to protect workers from exposure to silica dust and other health hazards associated with stone slab grinding. 

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for multiple instances of “failure to abate” serious violations after a follow-up inspection found that the employer had not corrected violations that it was cited for in November 2014.

An L&I inspection found that employees were exposed to silica quartz dust at more than three (3.4) times the permissible limit during stone slab grinding operations. Over time, breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis (a disabling lung disease), as well as lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis and airway diseases.

The employer was cited for seven “failure to abate” serious violations. These are violations that the company had been previously cited for but had not corrected, including:

  • Failing to use feasible controls to reduce employee exposure to silica dust — $40,500.

  • Not developing a written respiratory protection program to protect employees from inhaling silica dust — $40,500.

  • Failing to provide fit testing for workers required to wear full-face respirators — $40,500.

  • Not providing effective training for employees who wear full-face respirators —$40,500.

  • Not providing noise and hearing protection training to affected employees — $22,500.

  • Not providing annual hearing tests for workers exposed to excess noise — $22,500.

  • Failing to develop, implement and maintain a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program for employees using a variety of chemicals — $40,500.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone was also cited for two “failure to abate” general violations, each with a penalty of $2,700. These violations were for not providing medical evaluations for employees who wear full-face respirators, and for not creating a list of chemicals used in the workplace.

In addition, L&I cited the company for two serious violations that were not associated with the 2014 inspection. One of the citations was for not ensuring that employees who wear full-face respirators don’t have facial hair. Respirators may not seal properly on workers with beards or other facial hair. The company was also cited for not providing appropriate respirators for employees grinding stone slabs. Each violation has a penalty of $4,050.

Serious violations are cited for hazards where there’s a possibility of serious injury or death. General violations are the lowest-level citation, involving safety issues where there is no possibility of serious injury or death.

The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. 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.

For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

Photo credit: The Worlds of David Darling

New Testing Reveals Hidden Dangerous Chemicals in Popular Halloween Costumes and “Trick or Treat” Bags

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from workers-compensation.blogspot.com

Study Finds Costumes and Party Supplies Sold by Top Retailers Contain Hazardous Additives

(Ann Arbor, MI) — A study released today by the Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org project has found elevated levels of toxic chemicals in popular Halloween costumes, accessories and party supplies. The nonprofit Ecology Center tested 106 Halloween products for substances linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The products were purchased from top national retailers including CVS, Kroger, Party City, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens.

Media Resources:

“We found that seasonal products, like thousands of other products we have tested, are full of dangerous chemicals,” said Jeff Gearhart, HealthyStuff.org research director. “Poorly regulated toxic chemicals consistently show up in seasonal products. Hazardous chemicals in consumer products pose unnecessary and avoidable health hazards to children, consumers, communities, workers and our environment.”

HealthyStuff.org tested Halloween products for chemicals based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (vinyl/PVC plastic), phthalates, arsenic, and tin (organotins).

Some products contained multiple chemical hazards, including a Toddler Batman Muscle Costume whose belt contained 29% regulated phthalates, 340 ppm tin, and lead in the lining of the mask at 120…

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

MSHA commemorates 10-year anniversary of Sago Mine disaster

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from www.msha.gov

ARLINGTON, Va. – Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main today issued the following statement on the 10-year anniversary of the Sago Mine disaster:

“On Jan. 2, 2006, at approximately 6:30 a.m., the Sago coal mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia, exploded with 29 miners underground. Although 16 successfully escaped, 12 miners lost their lives and one was seriously injured.

“Two other disasters followed that year – the Jan. 19 Aracoma Alma Mine fire in West Virginia that killed two miners, and the Darby Mine explosion in Kentucky on May 20 that killed five miners. All three of these fatalities were pivotal in the passage of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006.

“Among its provisions, the MINER Act called for the establishment of emergency response plans by every mine operator, better trained and more readily available mine rescue teams, enhanced technology to facilitate two-way communication between surface and underground personnel, and stronger seals between active and abandoned areas. It also added post-mine emergency protections for miners, such as oxygen devices that are more accessible, refuge shelters and lifelines.

“While the legislation put into place increased protections for miners, we know that our work is not done and more actions are needed. MSHA has been working hard to address the lessons learned from Sago and other mining tragedies to ensure that all miners can put…

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

Things to Remember (A Work In Progress)

In  1995 I started to write down some “Things to Remember” and I’m still working on it. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig loves it.
  2. If you want to get out of a hole, stop digging.
  3. You are responsible for your own happiness.
  4. Surround  yourself with positive people.
  5. Lend money to a friend and lose a friend.
  6. Say thank you to those who deserve to be thanked.
  7. If you ever find yourself at a boring dinner party, ask people to describe their most embarrassing moment.
  8. At the end of your career, the time spent with friends and loved ones will provide the best memories.
  9. “ I would gladly give up all that I have for the love of a faithful wife.” J. Paul Getty
  10. “I never forget a face, but in your case I’m going to make an exception.” Groucho Marx

The Wages of Jobs Being Added

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether job growth in the U.S. labor market has been concentrated in low-wage jobs, middle-wage, and/or high-wage jobs. To get at the answer, let’s look at how the distribution of wages has changed over time, starting with the Great Recession.

Job losses during the Great Recession were profound, but they were not felt equally across the wage distribution. Figure A shows the average monthly change in employment between 2007 and 2009 by wage level. The blue bars show the actual change in employment by wage level, and the purple line is a benchmark showing what the employment loss would have been at each wage level if job loss had been evenly distributed.* Notably, this means the purple line is a reflection of the 2007 wage distribution. In 2007, around half of workers earned $17 or less per hour, so it might be expected that around half of jobs lost would be lost by workers who earned $17 or less per hour. But Figure A shows that workers who earn $17 or less per hour made up a disproportionately high share of the losses, since most of the blue bars for those wages extend far below the purple line. In particular, very low-wage jobs — in this case jobs that pay $10 per hour or less – saw strongly disproportionate job loss , as did lower-middle-wage jobs — in this case, jobs that pay $13-$16 per hour. On the other hand, very high-wage jobs – jobs that pay around $50 per hour or more – saw job

[Click here to see the rest of this post]

Call “Reform” What It Is: Death By A Thousand Cuts For Workers’ Rights

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

This week I attended the 20th anniversary of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG) in Chicago. I am a proud past president of this group – the only national Workers’ Compensation bar association dedicated to representing injured workers.  

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I have seen their rights and benefits shrink under the guise of “reform”. After the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, which killed almost 150 women and girls, workplace safety and Workers’ Compensation laws were enacted. For the next half century or so, many protections and safeguards were implemented. However, many of these reforms were not sufficient, and in 1972, the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws, appointed by then-President Nixon, issued a report noting that state Workers’ Compensation laws were neither adequate nor equitable. This led to a decade when most states significantly improved their laws. 

Unfortunately, there has once more been a steady decline in benefits to injured workers, again under the guise of reform. One major argument is that many workers are faking their injuries or they just want to take time off from work. There was even a recent ad campaign in which a young girl was crying because her father was going to jail for faking an injury. Workers’ Compensation fraud does exist, but the high cost of insurance fraud is not as a result of workers committing fraud.

A colleague of mine compiled a list of the top 10 Workers’ Compensation fraud cases in 2014 in which he noted that the top 10 claims of fraud cost taxpayers well more than $75 million dollars with $450,000 of the total amount resulting from a worker committing insurance fraud. That leaves $74.8 million as a result of non-employee fraud, including overbilling and misclassification of workers. We are told that insurance costs are too high; yet, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) in 2014, estimates show that private Workers’ Compensation carriers will have pulled in $39.3 billion in written premiums, the highest since they began keeping data in 1990. More premiums result in higher net profits. Despite this, many states have implemented changes in their Workers’ Compensation systems aimed at reducing costs to the employer. The end results, however, is that fewer benefits are given to the injured worker and more profits go to the insurance companies.

In New York, one of the reform measures increased the amount of money per week to injured workers but limited the amount of weeks they can receive these benefits with the idea that they will return to work once their benefits run out. Additionally, limitations have been placed on the amount and types of treatment that injured workers may receive. Again, this is with the notion that once treatment ends, injured workers miraculously are healed and will not need additional treatment. In reality, those injured who can’t return to work receive benefits from other sources from state and federal governments at the taxpayer’s expense.  This is what is known as cost shifting, as those really responsible to pay for benefits – the insurance companies who collect the premiums from the employers – have no further liability. The reformers of 100 years ago would be appalled at what is happening to injured workers and their families today. It is time that those who are generating profits at the expense of injured workers do what is fair and just – provide prompt medical care and wage replacement to injured workers for as long as they are unable to work.

To stay on top of important Workers’ Compensation happenings, please visit the Facebook page of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP and “Like Us.” That way you will receive the latest news on your daily feed.

 

 

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.

 

OSHA Fines Nebraska Railcar Almost $1 Million after Explosion

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

The incident referred to in this article was extremely tragic, as two workers were killed in April. Now OSHA has found that Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services knew “that moments before the blast, an air quality check indicated a serious risk of an explosion. OSHA says that despite the warning, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services sent two employees into the railcar to work without monitoring the air continuously for explosive hazards as required, nor providing the employees with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators.”

Sympathies continue to go to the loved ones of both Dallas Foulk and Adrian LaPour.

Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program and fined $963,000 for “seven egregious willful, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious, and one other than serious safety and health violations.”

In addition, the article said the EPA is doing an investigation regarding the company’s hazardous-waste disposal.

For those who argue that businesses have safety and the best interests of their workers in mind, please read the article linked to above, and really think about that philosophy, especially when an explosion led to workers dying. Then read the quote from the article below and ask yourself about workplace safety again.

“This company has regularly failed to use appropriate equipment and procedures to keep their employees safe, and in this case it had tragic consequences,” Jeff Funke, OSHA Area Director in Omaha, said in a written statement. “The company needs to immediately reevaluate its procedures for entering and cleaning railcars.”

Work Comp Fraud? What Fraud?

Despite what the media portray, workers’ comp fraud is extremely rare.

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

Workers are not “getting rich” from worker’s compensation! Accordingly, fraudulent behavior in work comp is very rare—like the one bad apple spoiling the bunch—but often highly publicized. (Because, let’s face it, seeing a surveillance video of someone bowling or water-skiing is far more memorable than a thousand images of an injured worker struggling to get out of bed in the morning or walk a city block).

Under Wisconsin’s nationally-recognized model, a worker who suffers an on-the-job-injury receives workers’ compensation benefits without regard to fault. By virtue of the work comp system, injured workers cannot sue their employers or receive jury awards. Instead, injured workers are eligible for lower, defined benefits, like lost wages and medical expenses—again, we’re not talking about “pie in the sky” numbers that would incentivize bad behavior!

“Fraud” is minimal to non-existent

  • In the last published study, Dept. of Workforce Development (DWD) concluded that public perception of workers’ compensation fraud is exaggerated. In a six year span, the amount of prosecuted fraud was less than one in 20,000 work injuries…or 0.0001%.1

Industry insiders don’t think this is a big deal

  • Rick Parks, the President/CEO of Society Insurance: “From the view of thousands of claims over decades, fraud is minimal in Wisconsin”2 
  • Chris Reader of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce: despite the “sensational stories,” fraud is “few and far between” in the system.3

Current law already allows criminal prosecution for alleged “fraud”

  • Worker’s Compensation Division already has an existing fraud hotline for the public. Also, a carrier can report an alleged fraudulent claim to the DWD. After an investigation, DWD can refer to district attorney for prosecution of criminal insurance fraud. Thus, if there is fraudulent behavior, under current law, there can be a crime found.

Independent Medical Examinations provide protection against “fraud”

  • Insurance carriers can require an injured worker to be seen by a handpicked independent medical examiner, or IME. If questions exist about a worker’s injury, symptoms, or disability, the IME can provide an opinion—allowing a carrier to deny the worker’s claim.

“Fraud” goes both ways

  • We want fair competition in the marketplace and in business. Misclassifying employees or workplaces results in “stolen” premium dollars and an unfair business advantage. Likewise, limiting or under-reporting work injuries undermines the fairness and credibility of our efficient work comp ratings process and system.

 

—–

1 Department of Workforce Development, Annual Report for Calendar Year 1999 Allegations of Worker’s Compensation Fraud (annual average of 3 prosecuted cases out of 60,000 injuries).

2 Senate and Assembly Committees on Labor, Informational Meeting, 7/31/13: WisconsinEye at 3:18:30.

3 Senate and Assembly Committees on Labor, Informational Meeting, 7/31/13: WisconsinEye at 2:13:00.