Articles Posted in Your Health & Recovery

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If you are a Massachusetts worker whose work entails repetitive action involving the hands, you may start to experience pain in your wrist and hands. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed. This is the nerve that runs from your forearm through your wrist into your hand. The median nerve relays messages that allow you to move muscles around the base of the thumb. If anything crowds or compresses this nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, the swelling can irritate and crowd the nerve, causing symptoms.

Other risk factors can increase the likelihood that you develop carpal tunnel syndrome in response to repetitive work. Among these are smaller carpal tunnels (an anatomical issue), gender (women are more likely to develop it), inflammatory or other medical conditions like obesity and kidney failure, and fluid retention. Studies conflict as to whether work conditions all by themselves can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. However, anecdotally, a number of people with risk factors who work long hours as computer scientists or journalists do develop carpal tunnel syndrome and experience fading symptoms when the work is reduced or more breaks are taken.

If you experience symptoms in your wrist and hand, you should see a physician as soon as possible. He or she may conduct a physical exam, testing the feeling in your fingers and your muscle strength. He may also take an X-ray. He may also conduct an electromyography test or nerve conduction study. Your doctor might also refer you to a specialist, if it seems like another medical disorder is causing the compression of your nerve. 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 →

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Spring is officially here and fertilizer is being used regularly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently partnered with the Agricultural Retailers Association and the Fertilizer Institute in order to get retailers, distributors, producers, and others in the fertilizer industry to make sure they are safely storing and handling ammonium nitrate. Safe handling of any potentially explosive material is of critical importance to employee safety.

OSHA defines as “explosive” any chemical compound, mixture or device that has a primary or common purpose of functioning by explosion unless otherwise classified by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It includes dynamite powder, squibs, small arms ammunition, smokeless propellant and more. “Commercial explosives” are those used for commercial and industrial operations.

Last April there was an ammonium nitrate explosion in West Texas that claimed 15 lives, 12 of which were those of emergency response personnel. United States Geological Survey seismographs registered the factory explosion as having the magnitude of a 2.1 earthquake. In that case, OSHA cited owners of a fertilizer company with 24 serious safety violations for exposing workers to the dangers of chemical burns and inhalation hazards. Continue reading →

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The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration recently cited a Korean-style spa located out of state after a 68-year-old worker died there. This style of spa is known for the high temperatures it maintains as the style of its saunas. The worker was responsible for setting up the sauna. Although the spa was not in Massachusetts and there aren’t that many Korean-style spas in the United States, this style is becoming more and more popular. The citation has bearing on all saunas here and elsewhere.

OSHA’s local director in charge of the citation noted that all saunas should guard against employees getting too much heat exposure in order to prevent future similar happenings. Among the things the director noted was that a sauna should have an employee rotation schedule. This would ensure that no one worker has prolonged exposure to heat. Employers should also make sure they know of emergency procedures and also that they know about medications and medical conditions that increase the threat of heat-related illnesses.

The sauna in this case cooperated with the investigation. There were eight serious and one less serious health and safety violations. A serious violation occurs when an employer knows or should know of a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm. Continue reading →

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In the midst of winter in Massachusetts, the danger to public safety is the cold and snow. However, extreme weather of all kinds should be kept in mind when planning out work schedules and tasks. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the postal service with a serious safety violation. A letter carrier in Medford, Massachusetts had died from heat-related causes in July.

The OSHA area director explained that heat stress fatalities may be prevented if you know how to recognize symptoms and respond to them properly. Though the postal service knew this information, it had not communicated it to all employees. Thus, the letter carrier likely didn’t know what his symptoms indicated.

The letter carrier had collapsed after walking five hours in 94-degree weather and died the next day from heat stroke. The heat index exceeded 100 degrees and his mail pouch weighed around 35 pounds. There was a heat advisory from the National Weather Service in effect. Continue reading →

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The recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows 7.3% of nursing home workers suffered nonfatal injuries or illnesses in the workplace in 2012. This figure was much higher (over 13%) in facilities operated by state governments. For some people this high figure was not news. OSHA has previously reported that as far back as 1993, 17 one of every 100 nursing home employees suffered an on-the-job injury or illness that led to the need to stay home from work. However old the problem is, nursing home injuries are an important issue to Massachusetts and other states and are only likely to become more critical because the nursing home industry is growing fast.

People are living longer and longer. Within forty years, there will be 70 million people over the age of 65 and 9 million over the age of 85 —three times the people over age 85 today. The sick and elderly spend less time in hospitals and more time in homes. OSHA believes that the numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics most likely represent only a small fraction of the actual number of nursing home injuries. Many workers don’t report injuries — they quit or use their sick time or suffer in silence.

We’re used to thinking of the construction and mining industries as some of the most dangerous industries, as they involve dramatic accidents and fatalities: cave-ins, falls from very high places, asbestos or other toxic exposures, electrocutions and amputations. But dramatic accidents are not the only kinds of accidents that lead to serious long-term injuries. Repetitive motion, for example, can cause debilitating conditions over time. Continue reading →

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Just before Labor Day, U.S. Healthworks, an operator of 208 medical centers nationwide that treat industrial injuries released its list of top workplace injuries. The most common type of injury was the back injury. There were nearly two times as many back injuries as finger cuts, which are the second type of injury. Next in line were shoulder sprains, sprained necks, and injuries to the legs and knees. These injuries are covered by worker’s compensation.

Rather than waiting to get injured, there are preventative measures workers can take to avoid certain injuries, particularly back injuries and cuts. Among lifestyle changes that can be made as a preventative measure against back injury are stopping smoking, avoiding stress, sleeping in improper positions and losing weight if you are obese. Weight-loss exercise may help on the last point because additional weight adds stress to the back of an overweight person.

The Mayo Clinic also advises there are three major reasons for bank pain at work: force, repetition and posture. If you exert too much force by lifting heavy objects, this can cause injury. You should be careful to learn to lift objects properly, particularly if you work in a job that requires repetitive lifting. You should use your core, lifting with your knees, not with your back. If you need to ask for help, ask for help rather than lift an object that is too heavy for you. Continue reading →

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Pain management is a difficult and potentially controversial area in workers’ compensation in Massachusetts and elsewhere because it is believed that long-term use of opioids can delay returning to work and increase the cost of a claim. On the other hand, some work injuries are so severe, and cause such incredible pain, that many workers feel they have no choice but to take opioids. If you have been severely injured, you should be aware of some recent studies regarding opioid use and pain management.

Recently, the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) released new findings that almost 80% of injured workers around the U.S. received at least a single opioid prescription and many received prescriptions over a period of 6-12 months after the initial injury.

For the WRCI study, Long-Term Use of Opiods, opioid use was studied in close to 300,000 workers’ compensation claims and 1.1 million associated prescriptions in these states from 2006-2009 (last prescriptions filled in 2011): Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Continue reading →

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OSHA recently ordered a Massachusetts-based commercial motor carrier to reinstate a former employee and pay him back wages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages after an investigation. The investigation concluded that an organization and its owner improperly retaliated against an employee who refused to drive hours that exceeded those permitted under statutory regulations for motor carriers. That statute (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations) set forth that a driver on duty had to have 34 hours of rest before driving again.

The driver who was retaliated against in this instance refused to drive from Quincy to Milford for more than his allowed hours without rest. OSHA’s regional administrator explained that an employer may not retaliate by taking an adverse action against an employee who is following the laws associated with his or her work.

Although this citation only affected a specific motor carrier, it is important to understand that public policy disfavors employees being forced to press beyond statutory regulations. Laws such as the statute mentioned above are put in place for purposes of worker safety. Driving an excessive number of hours increases the risk of serious injury not only to the driver and all passengers, but other motorists on the road as well. Even if you do not get in an accident with another vehicle, driving for long periods of time can place a strain on your back and other muscles, causing strain and injury. Continue reading →

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It is common for people in Massachusetts and elsewhere to associate workers’ compensation injuries with single, traumatic events. For example, it may seem obvious that workers’ compensation is owed if a construction worker falls off the roof of a house on which he is working because the employer failed to provide any safety systems. On the other hand, repetitive strain injuries are less clear-cut.

Repetitive motions can place serious strain on the neck, as well as the muscles, nerves and tendons in hands and shoulders. Often, it’s office workers who get repetitive strain injuries from typing or performing other similar repetitive actions. Sometimes this type of injury is so severe, a worker can no longer perform his or her job duties as a result of the injury. Other times, rehabilitation is possible. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has some sound advice on how to avoid repetitive stress injuries in the workplace.

Some common risk factors for an increased likelihood of developing a stress injury are poor posture, heavy lifting, and repetitive motion. Other times, a change in work conditions increases the likelihood of stress injuries. These are changes including such things as speeding up the line in a factory. When factory production is sped up, workers may be required to perform a limited number of tasks, but perform them faster than ever while being watched by employers via video or electronic surveillance. This can cause a repetitive stress injury. Continue reading →