Articles Posted in Dangers in the Workplace

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An insurance company may try to hedge its financial bets by claiming an immediate set-off for  future benefits it may be obligated to to pay, such as lost wages or medical bills, when an injured worker receives a settlement from a third party. However, the insurer is only entitled to a set-off for compensable benefits and not for either non-compensable expenses or even for compensable expenses if they are not foreseeable.

A Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected a motion by EastGuard  Insurance Company for such a set-off and affirmed the trial court’s allocation of funds from settlement of a worker’s claim for on-the-job injuries and award of the full amount allocated for the claimant’s pain and suffering.

The court rejected EastGuard’s motion because it offered only “equivocal evidence” of the potential for compensable future expenses for lost wages and medical expenses for management of the worker’s pain resulting from his injuries. Continue reading →

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In adjudicating a claim for injuries  at work, a court must decide not only whether the injuries in fact occurred at work but also whether the allegedly responsible party was the worker’s employer. If so, the workers’ compensation system provides the sole remedy, and the civil courts have no jurisdiction.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court in a recent case ruled that the estate of a counselor killed by a resident at the mental health facility where she worked could not sue the directors of the nonprofit that administered the facility for wrongful death and punitive damages. This was despite the claim that the directors were responsible because they voted to adopt policies and procedures that allegedly led to the counselor’s death.

The court’s rationale for dismissing the case for lack of civil jurisdiction was that the board of directors acted as the counselor’s employer, and, under the exclusive remedies provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the individual directors were immune from suit for injuries sustained by the counselor in the course of her employment. Continue reading →

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A Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that the widow of an injured worker was entitled to benefits under the workers’ compensation laws following her husband’s suicide due to depression caused by an injury to his right, dominant hand on his job as a drywall taper with New England Finish Systems of Salem, New Hampshire. The employee  was unable to do routine tasks around his home, pursue sports or hobbies, or have any hope of being able to work again. He had limited education and believed he needed full use of both hands to return to drywall work.

The court affirmed the finding of the administrative law judge (ALJ) to order payment of benefits because the employee’s suicide resulted from his injury-related depression, and there was a direct, unbroken causal relationship between the  injury and the employee’s despair and his tragic taking of his own life.

The Appeals Court also agreed with the ALJ that Dr. Martin Kelly, the plaintiff’s medical expert, presented compelling testimony that the employee’s suicide did not result from psychological problems that he had suffered before the accident, as had been claimed by the insurer, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, to justify discontinuing his benefits on that basis, leaving the employee’s wife and three children with no financial resources less than a year before he killed himself. Continue reading →

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Summer is a busy time for construction in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England. In the rush to get things done while the weather conditions are good, some employers fail to provide adequate protections against hazards. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a construction company after a worker was hit by a partially suspended load of sewer pipe that was 12 feet long and falling to the bottom of an unprotected trench 13 feet deep. An excavator was moving the pipe. Two other workers were inside the unprotected trench installing a new sewer system.

The worker suffered a broken vertebra. OSHA cited the construction company and proposed $110,400 in fines for 11 safety violations, involving failing to protect against struck-by hazards and trench cave-in hazards. Ten serious violations were issued due to inadequate training, lack of adequate markings on rigging equipment, permitting an excavator to operate within 10 feet of energized overhead power lines, and lack of head protection.

OSHA also issued a willful violation for failing to make sure that workers were protected from cave-in when working in a trench deeper than five feet. All excavations five feet or deeper are required to be protected from collapse. Moreover, construction companies are not supposed to permit exposed and unprotected gas and water lines in a trench.

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Recently the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the death of a sanitation supervisor at a fish processing plant. The supervisor died after getting caught in a shucking machine with rotating parts. The supervisor’s employer was cited for seven safety violations, including failure to put into effect basic safety procedures for workers who service or clean machines.

The OSHA director explained that it was a death that could have been prevented by implementing safety practices. A citation was issued for the company’s failure to implement lockout/tagout procedures to protect workers who cleaned machinery. Other violations included the failure to provide lockout devices, not periodically inspecting the procedures to make sure the requirements were being met, and failure to train those employees affected in lockout/tagout procedures. Workers were exposed to falls and were not trained in chemical hazard communication methods.

A temporary employment company that sent temporary workers to the plan was also cited for lack of lockout/tagout procedures, lack of chemical hazard communication, and exposing workers to hazards in connection with ladders. The company had a supervisor on site who knew that the working conditions were not good for employee safety. Continue reading →

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It can be important to be alert to not only the danger of falling in work spaces, but also the danger of falling objects. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a workplace in which a 46-year-old employee died as a result of being crushed by a 12,000-pound steel bridge arch beam. He had been spray painting the beam before it fell on him.

OSHA discovered that the bridge company that employed him had failed to make sure that the beam that fell and similar beams were sufficiently braced to prevent falling when workers painted them. The area director explained that the death wouldn’t have occurred if the employer had made sure that the beams were secured appropriately.

There were also a number of other hazards. The workers cleaning and painting the beam didn’t have adequate respiratory protection while working in the midst of spray paint vapors. They were wearing half-face respirators but didn’t have the right respirator filters. They were not evaluated by the employer to determine medical fitness to use them and did not know about the hazards of the chemicals associated with spray paint.

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Massachusetts manufacturers who work with fine metal powders should take special precautions to protect their workers. Failure to do so can lead to serious injuries or even death. Although employees can bring workers’ compensation claims for their losses, there is no excuse not to take precautions against the known risks of fire and explosions.

Recently OSHA cited a 3D printing company for one willful and 9 serious violations of workplace safety standards. It inspected the company after an explosion and fire. In the fire, a company worker received third degree burns. OSHA learned that the company failed to prevent and protect the workforce from fire and explosion hazards that resulted from combustible metal powders that were used in the 3D printing.

The powders involved were based on titanium and aluminum alloys. When these are in fine powder form, it is very easy for them to catch fire or explode. The company in this case did not take away known sources of ignition, nor did it follow pertinent instructions from equipment manufacturers. It did not alert the fire department to the workplace presence of hazardous materials. Furthermore, it had put its workstation and the flammable powders near the area with the explosion potential. Continue reading →

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Recently the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a Massachusetts construction company long after a 51-year-old roofing employee fell 17 feet and died while doing work at a condominium. OSHA issued the citation because the construction company had failed to offer fall protection and guard rails that would have prevented the fall. OSHA’s area director found this was a needless loss of a worker’s life. Though there were guardrails present at the site, they were not in use.

The four scaffolds that the construction company’s employees worked did not have guardrails and that roofers, like the decedent, were working without a fall arrest system. Moreover, there were no guardrails for the walkboards that workers used to get from one scaffold to another. The construction company had also failed to train workers about how to spot hazards and work with less risk on scaffolds. Because of these conditions, OSHA cited the construction company with 2 willful violations for not having fall protection and 5 serious violations for the remaining hazards.

What is a “willful violation”? It’s occurs when somebody shows knowledgeable and voluntary disregard or indifference for what the law requires him or her to do with respect to worker safety and health. Serious violations occur when there is very likely that death or a serious physical injury will happen because of a danger that an employer knew or should have known about. Continue reading →

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Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued findings that workers at a Massachusetts manufacturing plant risked being crushed in machinery, or caught inside it. The company makes coated fabrics and adhesives for the health care industry. $93,200 were proposed in fines for serious and repeat violations.

OSHA’s inspection found that the company had not properly trained workers to use lockout/tagout procedures that would protect those workers who performed maintenance on manufacturing machines. The lack of these procedures made the machines’ moving parts dangerous. A machine can sometimes turn on while it is being maintained or serviced. OSHA cited the company for similar hazards in 2010 and it received 2 repeat violations that resulted in $65,000 in fines.

Workers at the company were exposed to serious dangers from damaged steel storage racks and an unmarked crane lift, machinery that wasn’t guarded, an exit that was obstructed and a defective power cord. These conditions gave rise to citations for seven serious violations and fines of $26,200. The company was also cited for 2 non-serious violations with fines of $2000 as well as failure to properly record injuries. While failing to record injuries may not seem serious it can result in lost workdays. OSHA also conducted an inspection that focused on facilities that have more injuries and fatalities than the average. Continue reading →

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Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a company in the Midwest for failing to assess worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust, failing to give workers appropriate eye protection and improper ladder caging. This hazard can affect workers at iron foundries in Massachusetts. The danger of inhaling silica particles is developing a disabling respiratory disease like silicosis.

OSHA started inspecting last fall and assessed proposed penalties of $50,600. Back in 2012, an inspection at a different plant for the same company resulted in 28 violations and more than $133,000 in penalties.

OSHA has recently proposed a new silica standard that would be more protective of workers. It believes this will save 700 lives every year and prevent 1600 new silicosis cases. Silicosis occurs naturally and is the main part of sand. Continue reading →