Author Archives: Leonard Jernigan

Major Asbestos Violations Result in Fines for Two WA Companies

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

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited two employers for violations that exposed workers to asbestos during the demolition of a Seattle apartment building. Asbestos can cause cancer and other fatal illnesses.

An L&I investigation into the Seattle project found a total of 19 willful and serious safety and health violations. As a result, together the businesses have been fined a total of $379,100.

Partners Construction Inc., of Federal Way, was cited for a total of 14 willful and serious violations and fined $291,950. Asbestos Construction Management Inc., of Bonney Lake, was fined $87,150 for five willful and serious violations.

The violations were for asbestos exposure to workers, asbestos debris left on site and other violations that occurred during demolition of an apartment building in the Fremont neighborhood. The three-story, five-unit apartment building was originally constructed with “popcorn” ceilings, a white substance containing asbestos fibers, as well as asbestos sheet vinyl flooring.

Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material that can lead to asbestosis, a potentially fatal disease, as well as mesothelioma and lung cancer. Removal of asbestos-containing building materials must be done by a certified abatement contractor who follows safety and health rules to protect workers and the public from exposure to asbestos. The contractor must also ensure proper removal and disposal of the asbestos materials.

Partners Construction Inc., a certified asbestos abatement contractor at the time, was hired by the building owner to remove the asbestos before the apartment building was demolished.

After several weeks, Partners provided the building owner with a letter of completion indicating that all asbestos had been removed. When L&I inspectors responded to a worker complaint, the inspectors found that the removal work had not been done and approximately 5,400 square feet of popcorn ceiling remained throughout, as well as asbestos sheet vinyl flooring.

Partners came back to finish the abatement work; however, due to a prior history of willful violations, L&I was in the process of revoking Partners’ certification to do asbestos abatement work. In May, Partners was decertified and went out of business.

A new company, Asbestos Construction Management Inc. (ACM), owned by a family member of the Partners owner, took over the job using essentially the same workers and certified asbestos supervisor as Partners, and sharing the same equipment.

A subsequent L&I inspection of ACM found many of the same violations as in the Partners’ inspection. L&I has initiated decertification action against ACM.

The employers have 15 business days to appeal the citation.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citations, please contact Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

 Photo credit: avlxyz / Foter / CC BY-SA

Ebola Outbreak: Are You Prepared And Protected?

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

I have been carefully following the Ebola outbreak, both the cases in the United States and those around the world. I am saddened to see anyone suffer from this horrible virus, but the preventable infections, including the infection of multiple health care workers in Dallas, are particularly alarming. Health care workers are on the front lines of our fight against this deadly disease and their bravery should be recognized. They are an infected patient’s first point of contact with a hospital and are in close contact with infected patients during their struggle, often having to work with blood and bodily fluids, the primary methods of transmittal. 

The lack of preparation on the part of some of our healthcare institutions has been extensively covered in the news. According to reports from Dallas, the hospital where the first patient was admitted had a complete absence of protocols for caring for patients with Ebola. This lack of preparation has put thousands of people at risk of infection and at least potentially contributed to in the spread of the outbreak in the United States from one patient to at least three. But the failure lies not only with local hospitals, it is also due to a slow and uncoordinated effort by our Federal government.

Even if existing protocols had been followed in Dallas, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, admits that the Federal guidelines are inadequate. The Centers for Disease Control is revising its protocol for the treatment of Ebola patients, but the recommended steps will take time to fully implement. The CDC’s current protocol was originally developed by the World Health Organization for the treatment of infected patients in facilities in rural Africa, not in busy American hospitals.

Even before the comprehensive protocols are developed and implemented, our health care workers should to be trained on the basics and given the proper equipment for their own protection. For example, nurses must be trained in and practice the complicated and tedious getting in and out of hazmat suits. Training must happen quickly, as the situation could become dire – as of today we only have 4 hospitals in the United States that are fully equipped with a pre-trained staff. Those hospitals can treat a total of 9 Ebola patients. We are just not equipped for a large domestic Ebola outbreak.

Further, as this CNN video below explains, health care workers are not the only ones at risk. Because Ebola can survive on surfaces like doorknobs, tables and fabrics long after an infected person has touched them, many locations may need to be disinfected in the coming weeks as the true extent of the outbreak becomes known. Just last week a group of airline cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport went on strike because of the possible health risks of cleaning surfaces touched by Ebola-infected passengers. Like health care workers, the workers who are in charge of the disinfection process should follow the Federal guidelines once they are released.

 

In addition to the possibility of Ebola infection, working in extraordinarily difficult conditions is highly stressful and the complicated new procedures could lead to injury. We urge all workers to be extremely cautious when training on and implementing new procedures.

If you are a Health Care worker involved in an accident or occupational injury, please consult us regarding your financial and medical rights. Workers are entitled to know about their rights under the law, whether it is from a traumatic injury or from occupational conditions due to repetitive activity at work over time. There are deadlines to filing a claim so please contact Pasternack, Tilker, Ziegler, Walsh, Stanton & Romano, LLP as soon as you can.  

Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Accounts and Supplemental Coverage

When an injured worker is a Medicare beneficiary due to age or disability, a Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside (WCMSA) account is usually required as part of a settlement.  The funds in a WCMSA are set-aside in order to pay for future medical or prescription drug services related to the work related injury, illness, or disease that would normally be covered by Medicare. Once the funds in a WCMSA have been used appropriately, then Medicare will start paying for Medicare-covered services related to the work-related injury, illness, or disease. The WCMSA cannot be used to pay for any medical items or services that Medicare does not normally cover.

Workers’ compensation insurance provides 100% coverage of medical treatment for accepted workers’ compensation medical conditions. Medicare, however, requires an 80/20 sharing of medical costs. Without a Medicare supplemental (also called “Medigap”) insurance policy, the injured worker would be required to pay significant co-pays and deductibles.  Supplemental insurance is not required by Medicare, but may be helpful to cover the cost sharing required by Medicare, especially if the beneficiary has other medical conditions that are not related to the work injury, illness or disease. However, the premiums for such supplemental coverage cannot be paid out of the WCMSA funds.

While Medicare does not provide coverage for prescription medications, WCMSA funds can be used to pay for medications related to the work injury, illness or disease. If there is a likelihood that the injured worker will exhaust the funds in their WCMSA, then purchasing a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan may be advisable to prevent the injured worker from having to pay full price for their medications once the WCMSA funds are exhausted. However, the financial benefit of having this coverage should be weighed against the cost of plan (2013 national average was $30.00 per month) since the WCMSA funds cannot be used to pay for the plan itself.

For more detailed information about WCMSAs and supplemental coverage, visit www.Medicare.gov.

Changes in OSHA’s Incident-Reporting Rules

Starting January 1, 2015 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will enact new changes in its workplace incident reporting rules. These rules will increase the amount of reporting when it comes to hospitalizations caused by workplace injuries, as well as increase accountability and transparency among employers. According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the new requirements will “help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing [workplace injuries and deaths].”

Here are the changes that will soon be in place:

  • Employers must notify OSHA within 24 hours of a workplace injury that led to in-patient hospitalization, amputations or loss of an eye.
  • Employers must notify OSHA of workplace death within eight hours of the incident.
  • More industries will be required to keep OSHA 300 injury and illness records, which will be made available on OSHA’s website. Some of these industries include: specialty food stores, bakeries, automobile dealers, museums, activities related to real estate, and more.
  • All employers must follow these requirements, including those who have been exempt from keeping OSHA records.

If you’d like to learn more about OSHA’s new record keeping and reporting rules, visit the following websites for more details:

https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping2014/reporting.html  https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping2014/OSHA3744.pdf http://www.riskandinsurance.com/ratcheting-reporting-rules/

 

Did You Fail To Register To Vote?

In North Carolina, you can no longer register to vote on the same day that you vote.  That means if you were not registered to vote by October 10 you will not be allowed to vote in the November 4th election. If you have not voted in recent elections, or you have moved or changed your name, you must register or update your registration with an Official Registration Form to ensure you are able to vote in the next election.

  • To check your voter registration status go to www.ncsbe.gov/webapps/voter_search/
  • If you are not registered to vote, go to www.ncsbe.gov to fill out the online registration form. If you can’t access the form online you can get a copy from the County Board of Elections, Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Services or Employment Security Commission.
  • Mail your application (with your original signature, not a copy) to your County Board of Elections. To find your local County Board of Elections go to www.ncsbe.gov/webapps/CBESearch/ and click on your county of residence.
  • 1-2 weeks after mailing in your application you should receive a voter registration card. If you don’t receive it, call your local County Board of Elections.

For the next election, don’t wait until the last minute to be sure you are properly registered and remember that in 2016 you must produce a photo ID. Acceptable forms of photo ID in 2016 will be:

  • N.C. driver’s license, learner’s permit or provisional license
  • N.C. special ID card for non-drivers
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. military or veterans ID
  • Tribal card from federally or state recognized tribe
  • Out-of-state driver’s license (only valid if voter registration occurred within 90 days of the election)

All IDs must not be expired when voting in 2016, except for voters over age 70 who will be able to present an acceptable, expired ID so long as it was unexpired on the voter’s 70th birthday. Military and veterans’ IDs will also be acceptable even if they have expired.

Can A Gout Attack Be Triggered By Workplace Trauma?

Gout is a form of arthritis characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, redness and tenderness in joints. Gout occurs when sharp, needle-like urate crystals, formed from high levels of uric acid in the blood, accumulate in a joint, causing inflammation, swelling and intense pain. Uric acid is found naturally in the body, as well as in certain foods, and sometimes the body either produces too much uric acid or the kidneys do not filter enough uric acid out of the blood, leading to a gout attack.

While obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise are the most common causes of gout, there are other interesting potential causes as well. According to Lawrence Brent, MD, head of the division of rheumatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, a gout attack can be triggered by injury. In a 2010 article on the subject, Dr. Brent wrote that, “Injury doesn’t have to be severe. Just twisting your ankle or foot might trigger an attack of gout.”  This appears to be because urate crystals form more readily in an injured joint, regardless of whether the injury was recent or not.  Even an older injury that has resulted in osteoarthritis can be a trigger for gout attacks. There may also be a correlation between medications that are often taken for injury or arthritis and a gout attack, as aspirin, narcotics and diuretics can can cause a rise in uric acid levels in the blood and result in a gout attack.

For more information on the causes of gout, go to www.everydayhealth.com/gout/what-triggers-your-gout-attacks.aspx

Beware of Medicare Scams

            It’s open enrollment season for Medicare, and that means increased risk of scams. Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their policies from October 15 to December 7. So during this time, be on the lookout for identity thieves, calling to get your information by posing as government agents. Don’t answer any calls or give any information to anyone claiming they need to “verify” your Medicare number (which is usually the same as your Social Security number) in order to issue you a new card. There are no actual plans to issue new Medicare cards and “Medicare will never call you and ask for your personal information, such as your Medicare number, over the phone. Never,” says CMS spokesman Aaron Albright.

             Take precautions. As a general rule, never give out your account numbers. Medicare, Bank Account or otherwise. Additionally, monitor your records carefully for unusual activity, including your Medicare Summary Notice that you should receive quarterly. Don’t fall for offers of free supplies in exchange for your credit card number for shipping charges.

             Be careful during this open enrollment season through December 7 and be on the lookout for scammers.

 For more information, check out the source of this article by Sid Kirchheimer from AARP called “Beware of the Fall Frauds” located at http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2014/medicare-open-enrollment-scams.html.

Photo Source: http://www.ivhp.com/Site/DontbeaVictimofMedicareScams.aspx

Are Uber Drivers Getting Their Tips?

A U.S. federal judge recently ruled that a ride-sharing service must face a lawsuit alleging that the company has been pocketing tips meant for the drivers (Detroit Free Press, September 19, 2014). Uber Technologies is a smartphone-summoned car service based in San Francisco that has been charging a 20% surcharge on rides. Uber was founded in 2009 and is currently in 35 countries and more than 100 cities. It is valued at $18.2 billion and is the most valued ventured-back company in the world.

Filed in January, the class-action suit alleges that Uber has been keeping a “substantial portion” of the gratuity as additional revenue rather than sharing with its drivers. This lawsuit also accuses the company of misleading customers about the true cost of its service. The complaint characterizes Uber’s practice as unfair and deceptive because Uber keeps most of the surcharge and it’s not a gratuity.

Uber, Lyft and other car-booking companies have been facing a growing number of legal challenges. In Chicago, cab drivers sued the city claiming that these smartphone-summoned services are not subject to the same regulations governing conventional taxi companies. In Connecticut, Uber and Lyft have also been accused of racketeering by taxi and livery operators who accuse the companies of preying on established businesses and cutting legal corners by partnering with affiliated drivers instead of owning cars. That way, these companies claim they are different from taxi dispatchers and shouldn’t be forced to comply with existing regulations, such as driver background checks and liability insurance.