Author Archives: Anthony L. Lucas

Falls Cause Rising Number of Brain Injuries in Older Adults

According to the latest report from the CDC, from 2007 to 2013, the rate for traumatic brain injuries that resulted in emergency department visits, hospitalizations, or deaths increased 39 percent. Traumatic brain injuries contribute to about 30 percent of all injury deaths. It was initially believed that the increase in brain injuries was caused by rising awareness of sports-related head injuries in children and young adults. However, after researchers reviewed the data, they found that the biggest driver in the increase of brain injuries was due to older adults.

The rate for reported brain injuries for elderly Americans increased 76 percent from 2007 to 2013, much greater than any other age group. This increase is believed to be due to falls. Many times they are not reported, and according to Dr. Lauren Southerland, an Ohio State University emergency physician “what may seem like a mild initial fall may cause concussions or other problems that increase the chances of future falls – and more severe injuries.

To address fall-related brain injuries, the CDC has developed the STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents and Injuries) initiative to help primary care providers address their patients’ fall risk. The CDC has also launched a HEADS UP awareness campaign to help individuals recognize, respond to, and minimize the risk of concussion or other serious brain injury.

Occupational Skin Diseases

Occupational skin diseases are one of the most common occupational diseases. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that in the United States more than 13 million workers are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through their skin. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, over 15% of the reported occupational diseases were skin diseases.

 

These diseases include, but are not limited to, contact dermatitis (eczema), allergic dermatitis, skin cancers, and infections. Contact dermatitis, which has symptoms of painful and itchy skin, blisters, redness, and swelling, is the most commonly reported occupational skin disease. Workers in food service, cosmetology, health care, agriculture, cleaning, painting, mechanics, and construction industries and sectors are at risk of developing these diseases.

 

This type of occupational disease is clearly preventable. To control and prevent exposure to chemicals that cause occupational skin diseases, OSHA recommends that employers switch to less toxic chemicals, redesign the work process to avoid the splashes or immersion, and have employees wear protective gloves and clothing.

Distracted Driving – A Workplace Hazard

The dangers of distracted driving prompted OSHA to launch a Distracted Driving Initiative in 2010. The initiative’s primary focus has been to encourage employers to prohibit their employees from texting while driving for work.

One in ten traffic-related fatalities involved distraction in 2015 (the most recent year for statistics) according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The U.S. Government Website for Distracted Driving defines distracted driving as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” These activities include, but are not limited to, texting, using a cell phone, eating, drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, using a navigation system, and adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player.

Texting while driving is one of the more dangerous distractions because it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver. Although it is illegal to text while driving in 46 states, many drivers, especially younger drivers, have admitted to texting while driving. According to OSHA, drivers who text while driving focus their attention away from the road for an average for 4.6 seconds, which at 55 mph is equivalent to driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

To learn more about distracted driving and to take the pledge to drive phone-free, visit www.distraction.gov.

Redact Social Security Numbers

Many states have enacted laws to protect the disclosure of an individual’s social security number and other personal identifying information due to a rise in identity theft; however, the practice of collecting the information by agencies has continued, and agencies that collected social security numbers before January 1, 1975 are still allowed to do so. See The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a (2015).

In North Carolina, for example, when filing an initial claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission, an injured worker is required to provide his or her social security number on the form. The North Carolina Industrial Commission is required under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 132-1.10 to take steps to prevent an individual’s social security number from becoming public. However, an individual’s social security number can become publicly available when an injured worker appeals a decision by the North Carolina Industrial Commission and he or his attorney fails to redact the information from documents filed with the court, as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 132-1.10(d). Rules 9(a)(4) and 9(d)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure also require that social security numbers be deleted or reacted from any document in the record on appeal and copies of exhibits.

Until agencies begin using alternate identifiers, attorneys should examine every document carefully before filing it with the court to redact or remove social security numbers.

Traffic-Related Occupational Fatalities Up 9%

In 2015 (the most recent year for statistics), traffic-related fatalities saw the largest percentage increase in nearly five decades. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 35,092 traffic-related fatalities in 2015, a 7.2 percent increase from 2014. Of the 35,092 traffic-related fatalities, 1,264 were occupational fatalities.

Traffic-related fatalities made up the largest category of occupational fatalities in 2015 and were up 9 percent from 2014. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 more than one out of every four occupational fatalities was the result of a roadway incident. Nearly half of the occupational traffic-related fatalities involved a semi, tractor-trailer, or other tanker truck.

Human factors contribute to the majority of crashes. Almost one out of every three fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding, and one out of every ten fatalities involved distraction. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Director, Dr. Mark Rosekind, “The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled.”

Age Discrimination Claims in Workers’ Compensation Settlements?

When an employee settles a workers’ compensation claim, the employer often wants to terminate the employee and is cautious because of potential age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. 621 et seq. (2015), prohibits companies with 20 or more employees from discriminating against a person (40 years of age or older) because of his or her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

An individual who has been discriminated against because of his or her age may be entitled to back pay, reinstatement, hiring, promotion, front pay, liquidated damages, and court costs and attorney fees.

To avoid potential discrimination claims after a workers’ compensation settlement, the employer often seeks an ADEA waiver at the same time. For an ADEA waiver to be enforceable, it must:

  • Be in writing and understandable;

  • Specifically refer to ADEA rights or claims;

  • Not waive an individual’s future rights or claims;

  • Be in exchange for valuable consideration in addition to anything of value to which the individuals is already entitled;

  • Advise the individual to consult with an attorney before signing the waiver;

  • Provide the individual with a certain amount of time to consider the agreement:

    • 21 days for individual agreements

    • 45 days for group waiver agreements

    • A “reasonable” amount of time for settlements of ADEA claims

  • Provide a period of at least 7 days following the execution of the agreement, in which the agreement is not effective or enforceable, in which the individual may revoke the agreement.

Some termination agreements may not be enforceable, and the individual may have a valid claim to pursue under the ADEA.

Increase in Work-Related Fatal Injuries in 2015 – North Dakota the Highest

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, in 2015 the number of work-related fatal injuries increased nationally. There were 4,836 work-related fatal injuries in the United States and 150 work-related fatal injuries in North Carolina compared to 4,821 in 2014.

After the oil-and-gas industry’s sharp increase in work-related fatal injuries in 2014, the industry saw a 38 percent drop in 2015. The occupation with the most reported work-related fatal injuries was “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers” with 745. However, logging workers had the highest work-related fatal injury rate at 132.7 per 100,000 workers.

North Dakota reported the highest work-related fatal injury rate at 12.5 per 100,000 workers and Rhode Island recorded the lowest rate at 1.2 per 100,000 workers. North Carolina’s 2015 work-related fatal injury rate was 3.4 per 100,000 workers, with a total of 150 fatalities. In 2014, North Carolina had 137 work-related fatal injuries.

 

2015 Fatal Occupational Injuries Counts and Rates by State of Incident

 

Count

Rate per 100,000 Workers

Alabama

70

3.7

Alaska

14

4.1

Arizona

69

2.4

Arkansas

74

5.8

California

388

2.2

Colorado

75

2.9

Connecticut

44

2.6

Delaware

8

1.9

District of Columbia

8

2.4

Florida

272

3.1

Georgia

180

4.3

Hawaii

18

2.6

Idaho

36

4.8

Illinois

172

2.9

Indiana

115

3.9

Iowa

60

3.9

Kansas

60

4.4

Kentucky

99

5.5

Louisiana

112

5.8

Maine

15

2.5

Maryland

69

2.4

Massachusetts

69

2.1

Michigan

134

3.1

Minnesota

74

2.7

Mississippi

77

6.8

Missouri

117

4.3

Montana

36

7.5

Nebraska

50

5.4

Nevada

44

3.5

New Hampshire

18

2.7

New Jersey

97

2.3

New Mexico

35

4.1

New York

236

2.7

North Carolina

150

3.4

North Dakota

47

12.5

Ohio

202

3.9

Oklahoma

91

5.5

Oregon

44

2.6

Pennsylvania

173

3.0

Rhode Island

6

1.2

South Carolina

117

5.6

South Dakota

21

4.9

Tennessee

112

3.7

Texas

527

4.5

Utah

42

3.2

Vermont

9

2.9

Virginia

106

2.8

Washington

70

2.1

West Virginia

35

5.0

Wisconsin

104

3.6

Wyoming

34

12.0

 

 

 

Total

4,836

3.4

 

 

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work

Hundreds of individuals have been exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide while at work, including 150 employees at Middleville Tool and Die in Michigan when a hi-lo vehicle malfunctioned emitting carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide fumes, and 3 construction workers in Berkley, California who were operating a gas power washer inside a building. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a dangerous risk for workers.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and poisonous gas that results from the incomplete burning of natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, and other carbon-containing materials. Workers may be exposed to harmful levels of carbon monoxide in boiler rooms, warehouses, petroleum refineries, steel production, blast furnaces and coke ovens.

Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, chest pain. Within minutes and without warning, large amounts of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness, suffocation, and death. If caught early, carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed; however, there may be permanent brain and heart damage from the lack of oxygen to the organs during the exposure.

There are several measures employers can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning including installing effective ventilation systems that remove carbon monoxide from work areas and installing carbon monoxide monitors with audible alarms. To be safe, employees should report any situation to their employer that might cause carbon monoxide to accumulate and be alert to any ventilation problems.

If you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning move to an open area with fresh air and call 911. For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, read the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet.