Category Archives: Worker safety

NYTimes: 2 Years, 31 Dead Construction Workers. New York Can Do Better.

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

On Dec. 23, on the Upper East Side of New York City, yet another construction worker died. His name has not yet been released, but he was the 31st to die on the job in the city in the past two years. He was working on a nonunion work site, as were 28 of the 30 others. Fabian Para, who worked nearby, explained that “he was on the third floor, and he was wearing a harness but wasn’t hooked to a cable, and when he fell, he just went down.”

Just three weeks earlier, Wilfredo Enriques fell to his death at the old Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. Deaths 27 and 28 occurred on Nov. 22, when a steel beam fell four stories at a Queens job site, crushing George Smith and Elizandro Enriquez Ramos. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the workers’ deaths were a “tragedy” and that “we need to know, of course, right away whether it was mechanical, or was it human error? We don’t know yet.”

Actually, we do know; it is abundantly clear: We are in the midst of a public health epidemic brought on by inadequate safety regulations and public inattention. Construction-safety lapses happen because it pays for companies to run the risk of letting them happen. When the dead are largely foreign born and, in many cases, undocumented, no one much cares.

Spending in the construction industry is at a record high. And yet many contractors can’t be bothered to pay for training programs and safety measures, even those required by law, such as installing “fall protection” systems like nets and railings. The federal agency tasked with enforcing such safety protocols, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is severely understaffed. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of building permits issued in New York City jumped by more than 18 percent, but the number of OSHA inspectors for all of New York State dropped by more than 13 percent (as of 2014, there were only 71 left in the state).

Because there are so few inspectors, only a small fraction of construction sites are ever inspected. When sites are inspected, not surprisingly, OSHA finds a high level of violations. And even when sporadic inspections lead to fines for violations, the fines are too small to deter misconduct. According to records kept by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit group that lobbies for worker safety, of the city contractors that were inspected from 2009 to 2014, 73 percent had at least one “serious” OSHA violation, mostly of “fall protection” standards — precisely the violation responsible for the most deaths.

Predictably, the number of construction injuries and fatalities has soared. The Department of Buildings recorded a 250 percent increase in construction injuries from 2011 through 2015, with construction fatalities increasing each year as well.

Read the full story on NYTimes.com

Photo credit: pennstatenews via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Port of Bellingham Ordered to Pay Injured Ferry Worker

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

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter writes that the Port of Bellingham has been ordered to pay $16M in damages to an Alaska Ferries employee injured in 2012.

The verdict was returned Friday, April 1st, after a nine-day trial before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman. Jim Jacobsen, one of the attorneys representing the employee, Shannon Adamson, and her husband, Nicholas, of Juneau, said the eight-member jury deliberated about five hours before deciding the case.

The jury found the port negligent for failing to fix a control panel that operated the passenger gangway ramp at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, even though evidence at the trial showed the port knew the panel was faulty and officials there knew of a previous, similar accident in 2008.

The Bellingham Herald’s Samantha Wohlfeil reported in September of 2014 that the Port of Bellingham Commission had settled a dispute over insurance coverage and was then able to go forward with repairs to the passenger ramp – two years after the accident that injured Ms. Adamson.


Photo Credit: THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

NPR: Coffee Workers’ Concerns Brew Over Chemical’s Link To Lung Disease

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristen Wolf, from Causey Law Firm.

Heard on Morning Edition, April 15, 2016.

Step into Mike Moon’s Madison, Wis., coffee roasting plant and the aroma of beans — from Brazil to Laos — immediately washes over you.

Moon says he aims to run an efficient and safe plant — and that starts the minute beans spill out of the roaster. He points to a cooling can that is “designed to draw air from the room over the beans and exhausts that air out of the facility. So it is really grabbing a lot of all of the gases coming off the coffee,” he explains.

Why are these gases so worrisome? Because they contain a chemical called diacetyl — a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process that, in large concentrations, can infiltrate the lungs and cause a severe form of lung disease.

You might remember hearing about diacetyl several years ago, when a synthetic version of the chemical, which is used to give a buttery flavor to certain snack foods, was implicated in causing severe lung problems among workers at a microwave popcorn facility.

Now it looks like that chemical could affect the coffee world as well. People at home grinding or brewing up a pot need not worry, but the chemical could pose a danger to people working in commercial coffee roasting plants.

Read the rest of the story here…

 

Photo credit: Nic Taylor Photography viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Workers’ Comp Covers Work-Related Motor Vehicle Accidents

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

Do you drive a company vehicle as part of your job?

Many find themselves in the situation where they travel regularly, or on a special errand from time to time, as part of their job. 

In the unfortunate scheme of things, if you are involved in an accident while driving, whether it is your fault or not, you are covered by and entitled to workers’ compensation benefits just as any other employee who suffers an accident on the premise of an employer.

More importantly, if the cause of the accident was not due to negligence of your own, but that of a third party, you have a right to bring a third-party negligence action against the party responsible for causing the vehicle accident. This right is separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits that you are entitled to. Further, you also potentially have the right to bring an underinsured motorist coverage claim under your employer’s motor vehicle coverage as well as your own underinsured motorist vehicle coverage. These, too, are separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to. 

It is important to note that the employer would have a subrogation right to be reimbursed for workers’ compensation benefits paid on your behalf against that of any third-party negligence claim where you obtained a recovery. However, as underinsured motorist coverage is typically viewed as contractual benefits in nature, there is no subrogation right from your employer if underinsured benefits are obtained in Nebraska.

If you or someone you know was injured in a motor vehicle accident that arose out of and in the course of one’s employment, there are significant issues to be aware of in order to obtain a recovery that meets your needs. If you have any questions or uncertainty when dealing with this point of law, please seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help steer you in the best course of action.