Category Archives: Workplace Safety

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.”

Number of Workplace Fatalities Higher In 2014

According to a recent article published by the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace fatalities have increased from 4,585 in 2013 to 4,679 in 2014. This is the highest number of workplace fatalities since 2008 when 5,214 deaths were reported to the Department of Labor.

The most shocking rise in workplace deaths occurred in the oil-and-gas industry. There were 142 workers that died in the oil fields in 2014 which was 27% higher than the 112 workers that died in the fields in 2013. Other industries that saw a sharp incline in the number of employee deaths include construction, agriculture, manufacturing and mining. Female employee deaths also rose 13% from the previous year, mostly due to road accidents and homicides.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued the following statement: “Far too many people are still killed on the job — 13 workers every day taken from their families tragically and unnecessarily. These numbers underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees as the law requires.”


Read more here: 

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Workplace Fatalities Likely at Highest Level Since 2008 from Secretary of Labor on Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2014


Recovering From A Torn Ligament: The Story of Tommy John

A sports agent called me recently about a baseball player who was about to have “Tommy John surgery” and asked whether it would be covered under workers’ compensation. I had heard about this surgery for years but never knew much about it, so I asked Elayna Slocum, a paralegal in my office, to do some research.

Tommy John was a professional pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who, in 1974, damaged his ulnar collateral ligament (a thick band of tissue similar to a very strong rubber band that works with the lateral collateral ligament to stabilize and strengthen the elbow). Throwing activities place unusual levels of stress on the elbow, making injury to the area more likely in baseball players, but it also seen in other sports such as softball, football, tennis and golf. In 1974, this type of injury was considered to be a career-ending event for a professional baseball pitcher. However, Tommy John decided to have an Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction (UCLR), a procedure that was experimental at the time, to replace the injured ligament with a tendon from his other arm. Less commonly, a donor tendon may be utilized in lieu of the patient’s own tendon.

He was not expected to be able to pitch again, but after a year of rehabilitating his arm, the results were extraordinary. John was able to return to pitching in 1976 and went on to pitch professionally for thirteen more years. Thus, the UCLR procedure became commonly known as “Tommy John surgery.” Many athletes who have had this procedure report feeling that their arm is actually stronger than prior to surgery. The vast majority make a complete recovery and yes, it should be covered by workers’ compensation.

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We’re Having A Worldwide Heat Wave: How You Can Stay Safe

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

A few weeks ago, I read about a crisis occurring in Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, a week-long heatwave killed more than 1,200 people and in India, the heat killed close to 2,200. Tens of thousands more were treated at area hospitals for heatstroke. It appears that the combination of prolonged temperatures above 100 degrees combined with power outages had a devastating impact on people.

As I read the news while sitting in the comfort of my air conditioned home, I thought briefly about the fact that we are all so lucky that events such as this rarely happen in this country. We have the resources and the alternatives available if we lose power or if we don’t have air conditioning during a heat wave. The City regularly opens up cooling centers or keeps City pools open longer so that residents are able to combat some of the more severe heat of the day.  However, not all of us are lucky enough to work inside where it is cool or engage in work activity that is not strenuous. What about those who work outside, or do heavy labor without the benefit of air conditioning? How do they protect themselves from the extreme heat that may be a part of their everyday work?

I was surprised to find out that each year, hundreds of people die due to heat-related illnesses and thousands more become ill. Outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to heat stress.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor Blog, thousands of employees become sick each year and many die from working in the heat. In 2012, there were 31 heat-related worker deaths and 4,120 heat-related worker illnesses. Labor-intensive activities in hot weather can raise body temperatures beyond the level that normally can be cooled by sweating. Heat illness initially may manifest as heat rash or heat cramps, but can quickly escalate to heat stroke if precautions aren’t taken.

I am always surprised when I see firefighters on days with extreme heat fighting fires or see construction workers, road workers, or landscapers outside in the day-time heat engaged in strenuous physical. I often wonder how they are able to work without collapsing. The answer is that many of these workers become used to the extreme heat and are acclimated to it. Heat illness disproportionately affects those who have are not used to working in such extreme temperatures, such as new or temporary workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers. It recommends providing workers with water, rest, and shade, and for them to wear light colored clothing and a hat if possible. OSHA advises that new workers or workers returning from vacation should be exposed to the heat gradually so their bodies have a chance to adapt. However, even the best precautions sometimes cannot prevent heat-related illness.   According to WebMD, signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, headaches, excessive sweating, extreme thirst, and hot skin. If you have signs of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat, rest, and drink plenty of water. Severe heat illness can result in heat stroke. Symptoms of heat stroke include convulsions, confusion, shortness of breath, decreased sweating, and rapid heart rate, and can be fatal, so please be aware and seek immediate medical attention if you have any of these symptoms.      

For those who work outside in the boiling heat, heat illness can be prevented. However it can also kill so please be careful and remember – water, rest, and shade. 

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.   

1,00 Walmart, J.C. Penney, And The Children’s Place Employees Dead After Building Collapse

On April 24, 2013, an eight-story factory, known as The Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh came tumbling down killing 1,100 workers and leaving 2,500 injured. This number includes workers and their children that were in the onsite nursery at the time the building collapsed. The most disturbing part is that the employers knew that the building was unsafe before it collapsed. In fact, the day before the accident, the building was evacuated due to structural cracks that could be seen throughout the building. The next day workers were ordered to return to work as usual.

In a complaint filed July 21, 2015 family members of some of the employees who were killed claim that the building’s owner failed to comply with the building codes that could have prevented the deaths of so many innocent workers. The plaintiffs in the suit are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for negligence and wrongful death.

The plaintiffs claim that the reason that the retailers could supply “garments at such a low cost was because the subcontractors often operated substandard and unsafe factories which put garment workers at significant risk of severe personal injury or death.” A few of the U.S. based employers that were located in this building are Wal-mart, The Children’s Place and J.C. Penney.

Read more here:

Original Article posted on



Texas Trench Collapse Results in $400k OSHA Fine and 16 Safety Violations

On July 22, 2015, Hassell Construction Co. was cited by OSHA for 16 safety violations (including 6 egregious willful violations) and given a whopping $423,900 fine. Hassell Construction Co. is a construction company based in Richmond, Texas with about 150 employees that construct water and sewer lines around Houston, Texas. The employer was given 15 business days to comply with each citation, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Houston South area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the OSHA Health Review Commission.

These citations were given after a trench that was 8 feet below the ground collapsed in February crushing an unsuspecting employee. Luckily, the worker was dug out by his co-workers using their bare hands. The minute the worker was freed from the trench, the trench collapsed a second time.

According to OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas, John Hermanson, “Hassell Construction knew its trenches weren’t safe, but still put its workers in harm’s way.” Due to the fact that trench cave-ins such as the one in February are completely preventable OSHA has also placed the construction company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program which often inspects employers and mandates follow-up inspections to ensure that they are complying with the law. In North Carolina, a similar incident allowed the employee to sue the employer directly and overcome the exclusivity provision of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. Woodson v. Rowland. 373 S.E.2d 674 (1988).

Read about the citations here:

Original Article 7/22/15 posted on

“Experts Provide Tips to Become More Resilient”

Original post titled “Bounce Back” in Time Magazine June 1, 2015 (subscription required).

For almost two decades, Dr. Stephen Southwick, professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, and Dr. Dennis Chaney, Dean at Ichan School of Medicine, have been studying what makes some people “bounce back” faster than others after a traumatic or stressful experience. Their main conclusion is that having a set of learned skills, not a disposition or personality type, helps people thrive during and after hard times.

Some tips to help strengthen your resiliency are:

  1. develop a core of set beliefs that nothing can shake,
  2. try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened,
  3. try to maintain a positive outlook, and
  4. take cues from someone who is especially resilient.

Other helpful tips are to attempt to face your fears instead of running from them, and remember not to beat yourself up over or dwell on the past.

While all of these tips can help strengthen your ability to bounce back during a particularly tough time, finding the one that works for you is the key to being able to bend rather than break. Whether that is finding an exercise plan that works with your life style (exercise helps the development of new neurons which are damaged by stress according to Southwick) or facing your fears for the first time, there are several ways to strengthen your mind to be able to cope better with stressful events.

Read more about training the brain to be more resilient in the June 2015 issue of Time magazine.


Tragic Cannery And Construction Site Deaths Highlight Need For Safety Enforcement

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

I was horrified when I recently read about a worker for a tuna company who was killed when he was cooked to death at the company’s California canning factory. According to the New York Daily News, the worker, Jose Melena, was performing maintenance in the 35-foot oven when a co-worker failed to notice he was still in the oven and turned it on to begin the steaming process of the tuna. The co-worker assumed Melena had gone to the bathroom. 

While there apparently was an effort to locate the worker, his body was not found until two hours later when the steamer was opened after it completed its cooking cycle. As an attorney, my clinical instinct shifts my focus to the mechanics of the accident and to fault. There are so many unanswered questions.  Why didn’t anyone check the machine before it was turned on? Why wasn’t the machine immediately shut down when they realized the worker was missing? As a person with feelings and emotions, I think of the horror and pain he must have gone through and the loss experienced by his family and friends as a result of his death. It is almost too awful to imagine. 

While this terrible tragedy occurred in 2012, it appears the reason that the story is currently newsworthy is that the managers were only recently charged by prosecutors in the worker’s death for violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) rules. Closer to home, more recent and just as unfortunate were the cases of the construction worker in Brooklyn who fell six stories from a scaffold while doing concrete work and a restaurant worker who was killed in Manhattan when a gas explosion destroyed the building he was working in. 

These stories highlight why safety procedures are so important. In some cases, there are no proper safety precautions in place. In others, there are safety measures in place but they may not have been followed. In rarer cases, crimes are committed that result in workplace fatalities. The failure to follow or implement proper safety procedures was a calculated risk, a terrible misstep, or a downright criminal act. In the case of the worker who died when he fell from a scaffold, there has been speculation that he may not have been attached properly to his safety harness. In the tuna factory death, the managers were charged with violating safety regulations; they face fines as well as jail time for their acts. In the gas explosion, there are allegations that the explosion was caused by workers’ illegally tapping into the restaurant gas line to provide heat for upstairs tenants. Prosecutors were trying to determine criminality; whatever the final outcomes, it appears that in these three instances the deaths were preventable. 

According to OSHA rules, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. They must provide their employees with a workplace free of serious hazards and follow all safety and health standards. They must provide training, keep accurate records, and as of January 1, 2015, notify OSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related impatient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.  

While this may seem like a small step, anything that results in creating higher standards for employers or encouraging them to keep safety a priority is always a good thing. These three examples are only a small percentage of the workplace deaths that occur each year. While not every death is preventable, everyone is entitled to go to work and expect to leave safely at the end of their shifts.  

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.