Category Archives: Workplace Safety

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Race

North Carolina needs a Commissioner of Labor who is fair to workers. Certainly cooperation between employers and employees is key. However, when thousands of workers are not being paid their duly-earned wages, we have a problem.


In 2014, the News & Observer published an article entitled “For Many Workers Cheated out of Wages, NC Department of Labor Offers No Help.” The article stated that “[f]or at least 2,011 workers, more than half of the 3,694 who asked for help in the past fiscal year, the agency took no action. Employers didn’t get fined. No one was charged with a crime for not compensating the workers’ time and labor.” When Berry ran for office in 2000, her campaign platform centered on how “[g]overnment should tread lightly in the lives of people and business . . . [w]hen her agency must get involved, Berry favored working in consultation with businesses rather than confronting them.” (see N&O article from 2014, and from 2015 “At NC Department of Labor, Little Help for Unpaid Workers”).


Fast-forward to 2016. Cherie Berry is now being criticized for accepting “improper contributions” from corporate executives who have cases pending before her agency. Berry accepted $20,000 from at least four companies which were recently being investigated by the Labor Department. In particular, one donor, Ronald Cameron, is chairman and CEO of Montaire Farms which investigated for a workplace fatality. Berry responded to the criticism by saying that “everyone gets treated the same.”


Former Raleigh mayor, Charles Meeker, is running against Berry for Labor Commissioner. Meeker’s campaign focuses on improving worker safety, accurate classification of workers, and making sure that workers are paid what they are owed. Meeker also would like to remove Berry’s photo from all elevators and, in its place, put up photos of working people. Both candidates deserve serious consideration. I encourage you to evaluate them and be sure to vote for the candidate of your choice.


Scientology And Workplace Safety

I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, just casually walking down Montgomery Street when I saw a  sign on the sidewalk that said: “Church of Scientology – All are Welcome.” I had just read Lawrence Wright’s book, “Going Clear” which told in chilling detail the inside story of this “religion” and  I quickly went the other way. The legal system plays a prominent role in the book, particularly the twenty year legal war  (1973 – 1993) that the IRS had with the church trying to prove that it was not a bona fide religion in order to collect $1 billion in back taxes. Turns out that was hard to do, especially when the church was throwing money at law firms “to harass and discourage rather than to win.” According to Wright, the church filed 200 lawsuits against the IRS and 2,000 individual suits by church members, overwhelming government lawyers until the IRS finally yielded. The church is now recognized as a valid religion. Tom Cruise gets to deduct his contributions, I presume. In 1991 the church also went after Time Magazine for a story they didn’t like and at one time had a reported annual litigation budget of $20 million and over 100 lawyers, just to fight Time.

What really caught my attention was the story about Daniel Montalvo. According to the book, his parents became Scientologists when he was five and by age eleven he worked full-time ( eventually from 8 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.) for the church for about $36 a day. He shoveled asbestos from an old hotel without a mask and rarely saw his parents. He attended  school one day a week, on Saturday. When he was fifteen he operated scissors lifts and other heavy equipment. He also began working in a book production facility where he operated a machine with a guillotine-like blade that sliced through book pages, and one day he accidently sliced off his index finger. “He was instructed to tell the  admitting nurse that he had injured himself in a skateboarding accident. The doctors were unable to reattach the finger.” Wright doesn’t mention the workers’ compensation system, but I have a feeling a claim was never filed.

Tile and Granite Company Fined – Silica Dust Exposure

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

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone of Vancouver, Wash. has been fined $261,000 for failing to protect workers from exposure to silica dust and other health hazards associated with stone slab grinding. 

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for multiple instances of “failure to abate” serious violations after a follow-up inspection found that the employer had not corrected violations that it was cited for in November 2014.

An L&I inspection found that employees were exposed to silica quartz dust at more than three (3.4) times the permissible limit during stone slab grinding operations. Over time, breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis (a disabling lung disease), as well as lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis and airway diseases.

The employer was cited for seven “failure to abate” serious violations. These are violations that the company had been previously cited for but had not corrected, including:

  • Failing to use feasible controls to reduce employee exposure to silica dust — $40,500.

  • Not developing a written respiratory protection program to protect employees from inhaling silica dust — $40,500.

  • Failing to provide fit testing for workers required to wear full-face respirators — $40,500.

  • Not providing effective training for employees who wear full-face respirators —$40,500.

  • Not providing noise and hearing protection training to affected employees — $22,500.

  • Not providing annual hearing tests for workers exposed to excess noise — $22,500.

  • Failing to develop, implement and maintain a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program for employees using a variety of chemicals — $40,500.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone was also cited for two “failure to abate” general violations, each with a penalty of $2,700. These violations were for not providing medical evaluations for employees who wear full-face respirators, and for not creating a list of chemicals used in the workplace.

In addition, L&I cited the company for two serious violations that were not associated with the 2014 inspection. One of the citations was for not ensuring that employees who wear full-face respirators don’t have facial hair. Respirators may not seal properly on workers with beards or other facial hair. The company was also cited for not providing appropriate respirators for employees grinding stone slabs. Each violation has a penalty of $4,050.

Serious violations are cited for hazards where there’s a possibility of serious injury or death. General violations are the lowest-level citation, involving safety issues where there is no possibility of serious injury or death.

The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

Photo credit: The Worlds of David Darling

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