Tag Archives: OSHA

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.”

Is Cancer a Compensable Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Sometimes prospective clients ask whether they developed cancer as a result of their job. Most claims arise from accidents and obviously cancer is a slowly developing process. However, cancer can be an occupational-related disease for which medical and disability benefits may be awarded under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. A doctor must give his or her medical opinion to a reasonable degree of medical probability that the patient was at an increased risk of developing the disease (i.e. cancer) as compared to the general population, and did in fact develop the disease as a result of exposure to a cancer causing substance at work.


Case in point:  in September, a Texas firefighter was awarded workers’ compensation benefits after he developed lung, colon, and liver cancer. In the firefighter’s case, he had been a firefighter for over 20 years and was exposed to “carcinogens such as firetruck exhaust, heat, smoke, and chemicals.” The Texas administrative law judge awarded benefits, but keep in mind “Texas has a presumptive disability law that says firefighters and other first responders are presumed to have developed cancer while on the job under certain conditions.” Unfortunately, North Carolina does not have this presumption for our first responders and firefighters, and the burden of proof is more difficult in this state.


Here is a link to the OSHA website containing standards that apply to substances that are classified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens according to the National Toxicity Program.

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: https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/HassellConstruction_1031127_0722_15.pdf

Original Article 7/22/15 posted on WorkersCompensation.com.

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.

Workers’ Comp Programs Further Injure Injured Workers

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

Those of us who represent injured workers have known for a long time that workers’ compensation does not restore an injured worker to his pre-injury wage or status.  Two reports released in March show how workplace injuries have failed injured workers and leave them deeper in debt.  OSHA released a report indicating the changes in workers’ compensation programs have made it much more difficult for injured workers to receive benefits or medical expenses.  Although employers pay insurance premiums to workers’ compensation insurance companies who are supposed to pay benefits for medical expenses, employers provide just 20% of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries through workers’ compensation according to the OSHA report. 

This “cost shifting” is borne by the taxpayer.  As a result of this cost shifting, taxpayers are subsidizing the vast majority of the income and medical care costs of injured workers.  After a work injury, injured workers’ incomes average more than $30,000 lower over a decade than if they had not been injured.  Additionally, very low wage workers are injured at a disproportionate rate. 

Another report by ProPublica and National Public Radio found that 33 states have workers’ compensation laws that reduced benefits or made it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for benefits.  Those hurdles, combined with employers and insurers increasing control of medical decisions (such as whether an injured worker needs surgery) reduced the worker’s likelihood of obtaining the medical care needed.

Overall, injured workers who should be paid under workers’ compensation are receiving less benefits and their medical care is being dodged by insurers and paid for by taxpayers through Medicaid and Medicare, or by increased insurance premiums for all of us through group health insurance rate increases.

Our general sense that injured workers are faring poorly is borne out by the research.

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

Whistleblower Protection for Reporting Fraud? Must File OSHA Complaint within 30 Days

AARP reports that Dr. Farid Fata in Michigan has been accused of prescribing unnecessary chemotherapy treatments to his patients, including some who didn’t even have cancer. Dr. Fata’s nurse, Angela Swantek, noticed that medications were being administered improperly and patients were in the chair longer than necessary, which created more money for the doctor. Dr. Fata allegedly bilked Medicare for $91 million. Ms. Swantek was afraid of retaliation because Fata “oversees my license.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) has a Whistleblower Protection Program that protects workers from adverse action by employers (such as firing or laying off, blacklisting, demotion, denial of benefits, intimidation, threats, and/or reduction of pay or hours) for exercising their rights under OSHA. An employee has the right to file an OSHA complaint, participate in an inspection, talk to an inspector, seek access to employer exposure and injury records and raise a safety or health complaint with the employer. If your employer does discriminate or retaliate against you, you have the right to file a retaliation complaint with OSHA.

No specific form is required to file a complaint but you can: (1) send a letter to OSHA (to find the contact information for your nearest OSHA office go to www.osha.gov/html/RAmap.html); (2) call the OSHA area office located nearest to you; (3) download and send a completed Notice of Whistleblower Complaint Form to your OSHA area office (www.whistleblowers.gov/whistleblower_complaint.pdf); or (4) file an online complaint (https://www.osha.gov/whistleblower/WBComplaint.html). However, your discrimination complaint must be filed with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged retaliation.

Filing a Safety and Health Complaint with OSHA

One of our clients worked as an auto body repairman and he was exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace. This exposure resulted in the development of pancreatic cancer and his subsequent death, yet he never knew he could have called in OSHA to inspect his worksite.

Employees have a right to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) provides workers and their representatives the right to file a complaint and request an OSHA inspection of their workplace if they believe there is a serious risk or if their employer is not following OSHA standards. The Act allows complainants the right to request that their names be kept confidential from their employers. Although OSHA recommends that employees attempt to resolve safety and health issues by first reporting them to their work superiors, a worker can file a complaint at any time. You can get a form at www.osha.gov/oshforms/osha7.pdf.

OSHA provides the following options for filing a complaint:

 (1)    Download and fax or mail the complaint form to your local OSHA office;

 (2)    File an online complaint (www.osha.gov/pls/osha7/eComplaintForm.html);

 (3)    Telephone your local OSHA area or regional office.

Written complaints that are signed by workers and submitted to their closest OSHA area office are more likely to result in an onsite OSHA inspection than complaints submitted online. North Carolina’s Raleigh office can be contacted at 4407 Bland Road, Somerset Park, Suite 210, Raleigh, North Carolina 27609 (telephone 919-790-8096; fax 919-790-8224). Contact North Carolina’s regional office at 61 Forsyth Street, SW, Room 6T50, Atlanta, Georgia 30303 (telephone 678-237-0400; fax 678-237-0447). To find other OSHA offices call 800-321-6742 or go to www.osha.gov/html/RAmap.html.