Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Farming and Workers Compensation

Farming employes a number of factors such as machinery, an assortment of trained and unskilled labor, usually livestock, and numerous other tasks...with wide open opportunities for worker injury.

The leading cause of death on the job for farm workers is machinery – specifically, motorized vehicles. This is followed by falls, as farms typically employ large structures that must be loaded and unloaded. Animals also pose a risk to those handling livestock.

States with a heavy concentration of farms see more fatal accidents than those that have few.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scary Stuff: Injured at Work? What Next?

Probably one of the most frightening things to happen at work (next to being fired or laid off) is to be injured at work.

A million things are running through your mind (providing you're still conscious) about getting paid, supporting your family, paying your bills, and just what is going to happen next.

All your friends and in-laws have opinions or advice but is it the right advice?

Probably not.

You're probably scared but don't want to admit it.

That's okay, a good workers comp lawyer will know how to advise you. It might not be in your comfort zone but it's the best thing you can do for you and your family.

Listen why.

Friday, December 26, 2008

workers compensation and dangerous pesticides

The poor farmworker

Farming often employs unskilled laborers in the application and management of pesticides. This lack of training is illustrated by the large number of pesticide-related illnesses in the agricultural sector as opposed to other industries which also employ pesticides but which observe stricter controls.

The majority of those sickened by pesticides on a farm are out in the fields where they receive none of the protections afforded to workers in other agricultural roles.

Chemical pesticides have the greatest impact on worker health as they build up in the human body to dangerous levels when farm workers are faced with repeated exposure. The negative effects that pesticides can impart on humans range from skin irritation to respiratory disorders to brain dysfunction, along with a long list of other serious symptoms.

Protective clothing and breathing masks can also be helpful, as they can prevent pesticides from being absorbed through the lungs and the skin. Immediately washing after working in a field that has been sprayed with pesticides can also lessen some of the harmful chemical effects.

Death at Work: Are You at Risk?

Death and work should never be in the same sentence.

People go to work to feel productive, to accomplish tasks, to gain new insights, to support themselves and their families, to set goals and get ahead in the world while improving their quality of life.

Some people love their jobs and some are looking for another job. Nobody wants to die on the job.

It's the responsibility of employers to make the workplace as free from danger and risk as possible.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

People die the most from vehicle or transportation incidents. Vehicles (cars and trucks) are prevalent which could account partially for why people die the most from vehicle related incidents.

Heavy machinery also accounts for the second highest number of job related deaths.

And the third reason is rather shocking...find out what the third highest cause of workplace death is; how your job field ranks; and how to get help for workers compensation or wrongful death accidents.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Workers Compensation and Tendonitis

What is tendonitis?

Tendonitis occurs when specific body parts are overused which introduces stiffness and pain, usually around joints, which is associated with a swelling of the tendon due to it becoming irritated from constant repetitive motion.

What jobs cause tendonitis?

Awkward, repeated actions such as manufacturing and construction jobs performed with the arms, shoulders and back can generate the level of strain required to induce tendonitis. Jobs in the public utilities sector may also cause tendonitis.

Support staff such as call centers and data entry also see a high rate of the condition due to the use of keyboards which can irritate the tendons in the wrist and forearms.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Suing Your Employer

You have been injured at work.

Will your employer have your best interest in mind? Probably not, if your absence or injury is costing them money.

What's the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family?

Hire a workers compensation lawyer and here's why.

They have their lawyers and you will need one too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Workers Compensation and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss escapes gradually.

The majority of permanent hearing loss disabilities suffered in the workplace are found in manufacturing. Construction work follows in second place.

In order to avoid permanent damage to the ears, workers should limit the amount of time exposed to loud noises. Otherwise, hearing protection like ear plugs or over the ear noise blocking headsets is required or both will provide the ultimate level of insulation against heavy industrial sounds.

Installing noise shields around equipment or insulate control areas where workers congregate in order to provide a degree of muffling when equipment is in operation is another option. This is a step most motorized vehicles are required to take by law, and the effectiveness of this legislation in preventing hearing loss is reflected in the statistics from the transportation industry.

The bottom line is that exposure to loud sounds above a certain threshold for extended periods of time will result in permanent hearing damage -- and -- there is no recovery.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ahead of the Curve: Fastest Growing Jobs

The top seven jobs with the brightest futures in terms of growth are all tied to the information industry.

Some of these positions serve the massive IT infrastructure for the global economy, while others such as software engineering and design positions produce products which either improve the quality of the digital experience or seek to profit from its existence.

Support positions are being increasingly farmed out overseas to take advantage of the low cost of labor in Asian economies, and a number of software development roles are following.

The service industry is projected to grow along with these other positions. Nursing and customer service jobs will be created in order to assist the expansion of the medical industry and corporate growth respectively. Third-party computer support is also predicted to boom as more and more people require assistance with increasingly complex laptops and personal computer systems.

Current economic uncertainty makes these projections shaky, especially in terms of the professional industry. Yet, they provide an interesting basis for an evaluation of the future job market.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is Your State a Dangerous Place to Work?

Which state has the highest number of workers compensation related injuries and deaths?

Are all states created equally as far as the number of workers compensation injuries?


Would you be surprised to learn that the midwest is a dangerous place to work. West Virginia, Kentucky, and the Great Lake states have a high degree of mining and mining is a very dangerous occupation. West Virginia accounts for more than half of the mining injuries compared to all the other states combined.

Lung cancer, respiratory disorders, and lung diseases like mesothelioma are associated with specific occupations with repeated exposure to chemicals found in mining and agriculture. Farmers, farm workers, and miners have a high preponderance of work related injuries.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Workers Compensation and Stress

Are you stressed out? Join the club. Nobody is immune to stress but some occupations are more prone to stress.

Stress detrimentally affects your physical, mental, and emotional well being.

So what jobs are the most stressful?

Jobs managing people

Jobs assisting people like customer service and computer support

Jobs that require sales and commissions to succeed like mortgage brokers and real estate agents

Jobs that manage money like stockbrokers (especially in this crummy economy)

Jobs like bus drivers and air traffic controllers

How does your job rank for stress?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Death in the Workplace: Are You at Risk?

Are you at risk for dying at work?

It's a shocking concept but -- yes -- it does happen.

People go to work for many reasons but none of them are related to dying.

What kinds of jobs lead to workplace injury?

The leading cause of death at work deals with vehicles and transportation incidents. Vehicles (cars and trucks) are very prevalent so that makes sense.

Heavy machinery is the second leading cause for death in the workplace.

But the third cause is shocking! Find out what it is. Find out how your job ranks for dying in the workplace. Find out what you can do about filing a workers compensation claim or a wrongful death claim.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Workers Compensation and Lung Disease

You gotta breathe. Unfortunately, some jobs are more toxic than others.

Breathing toxic chemicals, fumes, and dust particles may cause life long lung diseases that are without cures.

Mining and manufacturing and agriculture (pesticides) and the construction/building industry all raise health concerns regarding toxicity and lung disease. Ongoing chemicals used for car repair, painting, and other crafts and or service jobs may cause cancer.

Asbestos has been a not so silent killer of thousands of men and women who made certain building materials especially insulation and linoleum. Thousands of asbestos lawsuits have been filed and large claims paid. An entire generation of people didn't know they were suffering from an asbestos related lung disease called mesothelioma -- until it was too late.

Have you or a loved one acquired a lung disease from your job?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Workers Compensation: Are You at Risk?

What kinds of jobs have the most workers compensation claims?

Construction workers? Police officers? Meter readers? Ambulance drivers? Truck drivers? Computer data entry personnel? UPS workers? Bank managers? Meat packers? Auto makers?
Roofers? Gardeners? Nurses? Teachers? Coaches? Janitors? Car sales? Cab drivers? Wait staff?
Veterinarian techs? Social workers? TV anchors? Graphic designers? Sous chefs? Car mechanics? Chemists? Miners? Newspaper reporters? Pilots? Postal workers? Farm hands? Grocery stockers?

You will just have to find out...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Workers Comp and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, CTS

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome might not be as serious as falling from a scaffold or breathing toxic fumes but carpal tunnel sydrome (also known as CTS) can affect your earning power and quality of life.

People who do repetitive movements or spend their days on a keyboard are the most affected by CTS. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a certain nerve in the arm is compressed at the wrist.

Administrative support and computer data entry and certain repetitive factory or line work are the most affected by carpal tunnel.

Have you or someone you know been negatively impacted by CTS? Consider learning more and receiving a no-cost to you consultation with a New Jersey or Pennsyvania lawyer. Never trust your employer to do its best for you regarding workers compensation.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Workers Compensation and Hepatitis B

Did you know that you can contract hepatitis B from your job?

Employees and contractors most at risk are people who work within the healthcare industry in a hospital or medical setting and EMTs.

How does hepatitis B occur?

Healthcare workers may come in contact with infected people's blood or body waste such as touching a needle prick or blood spurting or explosive bodily fluids.

If this has happened to you or someone you know, don't push it to the back of your mind. Be proactive and find out what you can do about getting workers comp for hepatitis B.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Woman Arrested on Alleged Workers Compensation Fraud

A 49-year-old Nassau County, New York woman fraudulently collected $20,000 in workers compensation when in fact she was employed elsewhere in the restaurant business.

The woman claimed that she suffered burns, as well as leg and back injuries while employed as a hotel attendant in 2003. . If convicted, she could serve up to four years in prison.

What do you think will happen? What is the solution to avoid this kind of fraud if indeed she is found guilty? Do you need a workers comp lawyer?

Source: New York State Insurance Department

Friday, October 3, 2008

Paying Back Workman Compensation Benefits

Winning a lawsuit may require paying back workman's comp.

You mean I have to pay them back? This is a common response that many people who were injured in a worksite related accident will exclaim when it comes to their workmen's compensation benefits. Yes, is possible that if you sue your employer and win you may be required to pay back some or all of your workmen's compensation benefits. This is just how the law works in some states. But, they should not necessarily preclude anyone from seeking a file a construction site accident lawsuit. While the following numbers are purely hypothetical, they do illustrate the potential benefits that outweigh any negatives associated with refunding workman's comp payments.

The bottom line is that if you settle a lawsuit for a half a million dollars and you are required to pay back $30,000 in workman's comp benefits you are obviously ahead of the game! Yet, there are those who would be averse to making the payments based on principle. After all, they were hurt and they deserve their workmen's comp benefits. Well, at least in theory they are deserved. The law, however, is another matter and it is the law that must be abided by.

If the law states that you must pay back potions of workmen's compensation payments then you are obligated to make these refunds. If not, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the state. Again, there will be those who will be an extreme disagreement of this law. But, unless the legislature and governor decide to change the laws then you must abide by these laws. There is no way around that! If you have received payments from workmen's compensation and are filing a construction site accident related lawsuit, then it would be best to discuss the issues surrounding this with your attorney. This way you can make sure that you were in full compliance with the law. That will avoid any problems in future and allow your litigation to move forward smoothly.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

California Fines Auto Body Shops Without Workers’ Comp Insurance

The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency is cracking down on employers that violate the state’s labor laws. Recently, investigators from the Economic Employment Enforcement Coalition issued 41 citations for labor violations – with fines totaling more than $226,000 – in a recent sweep of 28 San Diego auto body businesses.

The enforcement actions, conducted on April 9 and 10 in conjunction with Bureau of Automotive Repair authorities, uncovered serious violations, including:

  • Employment of a minor under the age of 18 without proper permits and certification at one shop;
  • Failure to pay overtime at four shops;
  • Failure to pay minimum wage at two shops;
  • Failure to keep records and post labor notices as mandated by law at 16 shops;
  • Failure to maintain workers’ compensation insurance at 18 shops.

As in most states, California employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover employees who are injured on the job. But as this sweep proves, many employers do not have workers’ compensation insurance. They’re often not found out until a worker is hurt and applies for benefits or through enforcement actions such as this one.

Failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance is fraud, plain and simple. This is a form of workers’ compensation fraud – not having the appropriate coverage – is more common than you might think. In fact, it’s much more prevalent than fraud among employees. And the consequences of such actions can be detrimental to injured workers, who are counting on workers’ comp benefits to pay their medical bills and reimburse them for lost wages.

"These shops failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance, and that’s a violation we take very seriously," EEEC Director David Dorame said in a statement. "In these cases, we issue work stop orders and send employees home until the business proves an active policy is in place to cover workers. By targeting enforcement against illegal operators, we help level the playing field for law abiding businesses."

A complete list of the violations and the businesses cited is available from the California Department of Industrial Relations via email at Communications@dir.ca.gov.

The Economic Employment Enforcement Coalition is a creation of the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration in California. The multi-agency task force is charged with enforcing California’s labor laws. It also holds workshops statewide to educate business owners and workers about those laws and regulations.

According to the EEEC: “Businesses engaged in the underground economy deprive the state and legitimate businesses of millions of dollars each year, and in many cases, pass the cost on to the consumer. “

The EEEC uses unannounced enforcement sweeps, as with the automotive businesses, to catch companies that aren’t following the rules when it comes to the state’s labor laws and treatment of employees. The agency has some particular types of companies and industries in its sights because they’re most likely to flout the laws. These include garment, agriculture, construction, pallet, auto body, car wash and restaurant businesses.

According to the EEEC, “These industries have been identified as having a high incidence of workplace violations and a lack of regulatory compliance.” Rule-breaking may include failing to pay appropriate employment taxes, avoiding labor and licensing laws, ignoring workplace safety and health regulations and failing to carry workers’ compensation insurance for employees.

Employees are encouraged to report these violations directly to the Economic Employment Enforcement Coalition.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints can call the toll-free California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757, available in English and Spanish.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What is OSHA?

OSHA Overview

There are a multitude of federal agencies that are involved in many facets of overseeing federal rules and regulations. Yet, despite the prevalence of these agencies many people in the United States are completely unaware these agencies exist. Also, they may be unaware of what function these agencies serve. Even relatively mundane agencies such as OSHA exist relatively under the radar of the population. This is somewhat unfortunate considering that OSHA greatly aids in making sure workplace rules and regulations are met.

OSHA stands for the Occupational and Safety Health Administration. As the name would imply, this is an office that oversees workplace rule enforcement. The primary purpose is to maintain the safety of working in a particular environment. This is a serious matter. If a workplace proves to be unsafe it may become a life threatening environment for the employees. Sadly, many employers simply do not care about the health and welfare of people who work for them. This is where OSHA comes into play.

Some employers simply will not comply with safety rules and regulations unless they are compelled to do so. Usually, such compelling involves the threat of sanctions against the employer. This is where OSHA steps in as it has jurisdiction over enforcing a number of workplace related rules. As a result, many workplaces are much safer.

But, what can a person do if they have a grievance and are unsure of how to approach OSHA? One method would be to consult with legal counsel. An experienced Pennsylvania workplace attorney can greatly aid in making sure grievances are addressed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Latinos Face Greater Workplace Dangers

Latino workers are much more likely to die or be hurt on the job than any other racial or ethnic group. And the number of workplace injuries and workplace deaths among Latinos is climbing every year, according to a new report from the AFL-CIO, entitled Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect:

In 2006, fatal injuries among Latino workers increased by seven percent over 2005, with 990 fatalities among this group of workers, the highest number ever reported.

The total number of fatal workplace injuries in the United States was 5,840, an increase from the year before. On average, 16 workers were fatally injured and another 11,200 workers were injured or made ill each day in 2006. These statistics do not include deaths from occupational diseases, which claim the lives of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 more workers each year.

The fatality rate among Hispanic workers in 2006 was 25 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. Since 1992, when data was first collected in the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the number of fatalities among Latino workers has increased by 86 percent, from 533 fatal injuries in 1992 to 990 deaths in 2006. Among foreign-born workers, job fatalities have increased by 63 percent, from 635 to 1,035 deaths.

“It’s clear that the workplace safety net has more holes than fabric, and it is costing too many American workers their lives,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Our nation’s workplaces have gotten more dangerous, not safer, under President Bush. Congress and the next President must take real action by strengthening the OSHA Act with tougher civil and criminal penalties, addressing increasing risks for Hispanic and immigrant workers, increasing funding for OSHA, and fully implementing the provisions of the MINER Act.”

The construction sector had the largest number of fatal work injuries (1,239, up from 1,192 in 2005), followed by transportation and warehousing (860), and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (655). In the construction sector, there was a gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic workers. In 2005, the death rate for Hispanic construction workers was 12.4/100,000 full time workers compared to 10.5/100,000 non-Hispanic construction workers.

The report also examined OSHA staffing levels, finding that to inspect each workplace once, it would take federal OSHA 133 years with its current number of inspectors. The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 63,913 workers. This compares to a benchmark of one labor inspector for every 10,000 workers recommended by the International Labor Organization for industrialized countries.

The Death on the Job report [was released to coincide with] Workers Memorial Day, which commemorates workers who were killed or injured in the past year. Community and union members around the world will gather at hundreds of events to remember local workers and draw attention to the problem of unaddressed workplace hazards.

The full Death on the Job Report is available online from the AFL-CIO
Other reports on this topic are also available, including the AFL-CIO report Immigrant Workers at Risk: The Urgent Need for Improved Workplace Safety and Health Policies and Programs (2005).

Go to: http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/upload/immigrant_risk.pdf for the report in English, or http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/upload/immigrant_risk_spanish.pdf for the report in Spanish.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Hampshire to crack down on wrongly classified independent contractors

Calling employees independent contractors is one way companies avoid buying workers’ compensation insurance and paying benefits for injured workers. Often, companies are misclassifying employees to cut their costs. Not only is this patently unfair to injured workers, who deserve protections under the law, but it could also be considered fraudulent.

New Hampshire has launched an investigation into this commonplace practice after receiving a rash of complaints about employees misclassified as independent contractors, particularly in construction businesses. The New Hampshire Labor Commission, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue and the state attorney general’s office are involved in the investigation. New Hampshire, as do other states, has a 12-point checklist that is used to determine whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor.

Some key distinctions between employees and independent contractors:

  • Independent contractors can come and go as they please, while employees have regular work hours
  • Independent contractors are generally paid more than employees

Though independent contractors make more per hour than employees doing the same job, businesses have a financial incentive to hire contractors. They don’t have to pay these people benefits or carry workers’ compensation insurance to protect them in case of an on-the-job injury.

According to John Jackson, business representative for New Hampshire’s Carpenters Local 118, a construction company can save up to 30 percent of its labor costs by illegally classifying employees as independent contractors – enough to give it the edge over honest companies in bidding wars.

The case of Celso Mena is just one example of what happens when a so-called independent contractor is injured on the job. Mena fell six feet from scaffolding and nearly severed his foot. Mena was hired as an independent contractor by a drywall subcontractor and even purchased an insurance policy that allowed him to work on the construction site as an independent contractor. But that insurance policy excluded Mena from making a claim as the owner of his own construction business.

  • But the labor board ruled that by law Mena should never have been classified an independent contractor because he had a supervisor on site and was required to report to the job at a certain time every day – both characteristics of an employee.
  • Mena had surgery after the accident to reconstruct the bone in his foot, but hasn’t been able to walk without crutches since. Mena’s total compensation has yet to be calculated, but he will continue to receive 60 percent of his wages as long as he remains on disability.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Problem in Ohio Industrial Commission Add to Workers’ Compensation Backlog

A "climate of fear" among employees within the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the Ohio Industrial Commission may be affecting their ability to process workers’ compensation and make decisions on whether injured workers are entitled to benefits, contributing to a backlog of cases.

A recent audit, as well as a series of investigative articles by the Columbus Dispatch revealed that the backlog of workers’ compensation cases awaiting decision grew as employees of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation grew increasingly unhappy and fearful about their own working conditions.

In a story published in February, The Dispatch found that a backlog of injured-worker cases grew last year as employees filed dozens of union grievances on workplace issues. Many of the 111 union grievances filed in 2007 alleged retaliation and unequal application of policies such as timekeeping, pregnancy leave and outside employment.

An audit of the agency by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, revealed some shocking information:

  • More than 90 percent of employees of the Ohio Industrial Commission complained about retaliation and other management issues.
    Half of those interviewed said they had experienced some type of discrimination.
  • Two of the Industrial Commission employees were "visibly shaking and trembling" when interviewed, the report said. Another cried. Seven were "very hesitant to speak."
  • The report was strongly critical of the management of the 500-employee agency, which hears appeals of Bureau of Workers' Compensation decisions and all cases involving compensation for permanent disabilities.
  • The report dealt specifically with the Industrial Commission's handling of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints, but it also noted a climate of fear and retaliation. Employees were "frantic" as soon as the Department of Administrative Services launched its inquiry, fearing retaliation if they participated in the process, the report noted.
  • The Ohio inspector general's office, which investigates reports of wrongdoing and other problems in state government, also is probing the commission. That report is expected today.

The commission's chairman, Gary DiCeglio, a former union official whom Gov. Ted Strickland appointed in July, said he can't identify the source of alleged retaliation.

  • "There's never been one person who's said, 'It's happened to me,' " DiCeglio said. "I've asked where, but I've never come up with a showing in this instance. Please tell me who's doing the retaliation and where."
  • DiCeglio said the commission has nearly worked through the backlog, while labor-management issues have improved. DiCeglio and other Industrial Commission officials met in mid-February with leaders of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association to try to iron out the disputes.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Montana Cutting Workers’ Comp Rates for Some Businesses

Working safer is paying off in Montana.

For the second year in a row, the Montana State Fund is cutting workers' compensation insurance rates. The average savings will be 3 percent, but some businesses, including day care centers, grain elevators and oil and gas lease operators, will see their rates drop by a third. However, other businesses, including manufacturers of fireproofing materials and taxidermists, face rate increases of 25 percent to 37 percent.

Laurence Hubbard, the State Fund president, said the cut shows Montana's businesses have been safer and are working to return their injured workers to work quickly. He also said the State Fund has worked on safety programs and managing injured-worker claims to help cut costs.

"This is great news for our businesses," said Joe Dwyer, chairman of the State Fund board of directors. "In comparison with other states, Montana has been ranked as having the fifth-highest workers' compensation rates in the nation due to the high cost of injury claims. This reduction is a positive step toward changing that for the better."

The new rates go into effect July 1. Workers’ compensation rates are calculated based on a company’s safety performance and how dangerous the work is.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Hidden Cost of Reporting a Workplace Injury

An attorney-blogger at Injury Board talks about what can happen when workplace safety programs pit workers against their coworkers.

The blogger is not against safety and training programs that keep workers safe and prevent injuries. But he does point out that sometimes workers may face a harrowing choice – inform a superviser of an injury and lose a bonus for consecutive injury-free days or keep quiet. What’s more, injured workers may face peer pressure from their coworkers to keep quiet if there’s a chance that bonuses could be affected.

It’s interesting food for thought:

Rewarding workers for exercising proper safety techniques, attending safety meetings or offering recommendations for improving safety practices all sounds good, right? But, here’s where worker safety incentive programs can become a problem. In these programs, the employer rewards its employees for the company having gone so many days, weeks or months without a workplace injury, or without any lost time days. The rewards may take the form of monetary compensation, awards or recognition for having reached a predetermined goal as established by the employer.

What’s the downside you ask? While workers may be encouraged to report all injuries, the reporting of an injury, regardless of how minor can cause a break in the run of consecutive injury-free days from work and, perhaps more importantly for some, no reward ($$) from the employer. By following the rules and reporting all injuries, a worker risks incurring the anger of co-workers who have been informed by their employer that they will not receive a prize.

Here’s the dilemma: Report the injury and lose the reward, or don’t report the injury and risk potentially serious consequences by way of a reprimand, suspension or something worse for having failed to follow company policy. The situation becomes much more problematic down the road, if what seemed like a minor back strain that the worker chose not to report out of fear of turning the co-workers against him is later diagnosed by a doctor as a herniated disc for which surgery is needed. Now the worker has a huge problem because the workers’ compensation claim resulting from the workplace accident will likely be denied by the employer and workers’ compensation insurance company because there is no record of the worker having reported the accident to the plant nurse, supervisor, or anyone else in a managerial capacity.

What now is the worker to do if he has been taken off work by his doctor for an accident and condition that the employer has denied is work-related but prevents him from working and generating income, and which requires an operation? The problem is greatly magnified if the injured worker lacks health insurance, lacks short or long-term disability benefits, or lacks a second household income with which to pay for medical care, groceries and rent.

Worker safety programs are intended to bring workers together by providing them with a reward for having an injury free workplace. Programs that implicitly encourage the under reporting of injuries are wrong. It is simply unfair to place an employee in the position of having to forego a bonus because his friend and co-worker has suffered an injury on the job. Instead of uniting workers, the safety incentive programs may well have the unintended consequence of dividing them.

Friday, August 1, 2008

California Mans Faces 54 Years in Prison for Workers’ Comp Insurance Scam

An insurance agent in California who sold businesses scam workers’ compensation insurance has been charged with 153 felonies, including forgery, grand theft, identity theft and insurance fraud.

For four years, Anthony David Medina operated Prompt Insurance Agency in Newport Beach. Calif. During that time, he collected more than $2.5 million from 18 business owners, including restaurants, plumbing and painting businesses, and other service- oriented businesses, according to the California Department of Insurance. These companies believed they were paying Anthony David Medina to secure workers’ compensation and general liability insurance; instead, he is accused of pocketing the money.

Medina is accused of failing to take out insurance policies for many of the businesses and charging the victims more than the stated premiums. In some instances, he is accused of forging documents to finance insurance policy premiums instead of paying the full amount up front to the insurance company, despite the fact that the victims had paid him the total cost of the policy premium.

Anthony David Medina was charged with 153 felony counts including 86 counts of forgery, 33 counts of transacting as an insurance company without a certificate of authority, 19 counts of grand theft, five counts of filing false tax returns, four counts of willfully failing to file a tax return, four counts of identity theft, two counts of insurance fraud, and sentencing enhancement allegations for excessive taking more than $50,000 and $150,000.

Medina was arrested at a business in Oxnard, Calif., and is being held on $2.9 million bail. To post bond he must prove that the money is from a legitimate source. Medina faces a maximum sentence of 54 years and four months in state prison if convicted on all counts.

Medina's wife, Vanessa Chaverri, was arrested at a Ladera Ranch, Calif., home, and is charged with five felony counts of filing a false return. She is being held on $436,000 and must prove the money is from a legitimate source before posting bail. Chaverri faces a maximum sentence of six years in state prison if convicted.

Because of Medina’s alleged fraudulent actions, some injured workers were unable to collect workers’ compensation benefits. And several businesses experienced other losses that should have been covered by insurance but were not because no policies were in effect.

In some cases, employees who had been injured at work did not receive the workers' compensation benefits they were due because their employer did not have the workers compensation insurance they had paid Medina to secure. Many of the business owners had to pay for employee workers' compensation care that should have been covered by insurance.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Virginia Shipyard Has Good Workplace Safety Record

Another company is being singled out for its commitment to workplace safety and preventing worker injuries.

With so many stories about workplace injuries, workplace deaths and irresponsible employers, it’s always nice to hear about employers that are doing right by their employees by keeping them safe on the job.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is getting a high workplace safety rating by the federal government.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the shipyard's employees have maintained a commitment to workplace safety and health. Their efforts have resulted in low injury and illness rates.

The shipyard, which employs over 4,000 workers, first achieved the status in 2005.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Workers’ Comp Costs Higher in Louisiana than Other States

The costs associated with workers’ compensation claims in Louisiana are higher than average. A study of workers’ compensation in 14 states by the Workers Compensation Research Institute revealed that costs per claim are 28 percent higher than the median of the other states studied.

All components of overall costs per claim were higher in Louisiana than in the other study states – medical payments per claim, indemnity benefits per claim with more than seven days of lost time, and benefit delivery expenses per claim.

The average medical payment per claim in Louisiana was 44 percent higher than the 14-state median for claims arising in 2003 with experience through the first quarter of 2006. This was largely due to higher-than typical prices for nonsurgical physician services and for hospital outpatient services, as well as more-frequent physician office visits and diagnostic tests, and more visits to physical/occupational therapists, according to another WCRI study, The Anatomy of Workers’ Compensation Medical Costs and Utilization in Louisiana, 6th Edition.

Indemnity benefits per claim with more than seven days of lost time in Louisiana were 19 percent higher than the 14-state median for 2003/2006 claims. This was driven by longer average duration of temporary disability, as might be expected in a wage-loss state. Under a wage-loss benefit system, workers are compensated only if they experience wage-loss or loss of earning capacity, and most indemnity benefits are paid as temporary disability benefits. Permanent partial disability benefits are paid only for injuries listed on the state’s schedule.

Expenses per claim for delivering medical and indemnity benefits to injured workers in Louisiana were among the highest of the 14 study states, the WCRI study reported. One of the major drivers of this result was that the average payments per claim to defense attorneys in Louisiana were among the highest of the 14 states in the study.

This suggests that Louisiana may have a more complex or lengthy dispute resolution process. Another factor was that the average medical cost containment expense per claim was 39 percent higher than the 14-state median.

Despite the higher average cost per claim in Louisiana, growth in total costs per claim moderated in the latest three study years, averaging about 2-4 percent per year after growth of 10-11 percent per year in the two previous years, the WCRI report said.

For more information on the other states studied by the WCRI, visit http://www.wcrinet.org/

Friday, July 11, 2008

Increasing Payments for Disabled Workers in California Will Make a Difference

As California considers additional changes to its workers’ compensation system, it’s important to consider what’s at stake.

In this case, workers are asking for an increase in benefits for the permanently disabled. Even if the increase is approved, permanently disabled workers in California still will struggle because the benefits available to them are much lower than in other states.

As writer Sue Borg, the president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, so eloquently explains, disabled workers are simply asking for consideration for all they’ve lost:

The permanent disability compensation awarded in the workers compensation system is the only compensation most injured workers receive for losing the ability to do many things that we all take for granted each day, and for facing a lifetime of pain and suffering. Had these Californians been injured outside of the workplace they would have received much greater compensation for the life-long effect of their injuries. But, when the California Constitution created a “complete system of workers’ compensation” injured workers lost the ability to sue their employers for greater damages. In return, the Constitution requires that the “complete system of workers’ compensation includes adequate provisions for the comfort, health and safety and general welfare of any and all workers and those dependent upon them for support to the extent of relieving from the consequences of any injury or death incurred or sustained by workers in the course of their employment. . .”

Borg, who participated in a news conference in support of the worker’s compensation changes, relates the story of Gloria Navarro, a once vibrant home health care worker who was injured on the job who now walks with a cane and struggles with great pain to do simple tasks.

Gloria Navarro’s life was shattered when she tripped and fell on a loose patio deck board on the job as a home health aide, caring for a homebound diabetic. Gloria landed face first on a glass table and bounced to the ground. She injured her head, face, tooth, hips and ankle.

She has suffered through two surgeries, now must walk with a cane, and lives in pain. She will never be able to do her home health care job again. Gloria is consumed with worry about how she will survive.

Under Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration, Gloria’s permanent disability compensation would be reduced from about $70,000 to under $3,000.

Gloria Navarro is just one example of how injured workers are treated under this Governor’s administration, and her situation is in stark contrast to the deep clover in which the insurance industry finds itself.

The Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB), an insurance company research group, “Summary of December 31, 2007 Insurer Experience” (released March 31, 2008 ) reveals that between 2004 and 2007 injured workers received $26 billion in benefits while insurance carriers earned $28.6 billion in profits. An additional $19.1 billion went to insurance companies to cover expenses. All this while Gloria, and so many others, must wonder how she will survive following her work-related injury.

Navarro’s case, as compelling as it is, is just one of many. In California (and in other states), thousands of injured workers struggle to live and to make ends meet on inadequate benefits. When the issue of workers’ compensation reform comes up, as it does every so often in most states, the question shouldn’t be how to save businesses money. The question should be, 'What can each state do to make sure that injured workers like Gloria Navarro are able to live well and with dignity while receiving proper medical care and treatment for their injuries?'

The proposed 16 percent increase in permanent disability payments won’t accomplish that, but it’s a start.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Keeping Immigrant Workers Safe on the Job

Some things to consider in this excerpt from the AFL-CIO report, Immigrant Workers at Risk: The Urgent Need for Improved Workplace Safety and Health Policies and Programs:

Today, immigrant workers in this country face an epidemic of workplace injury and death. In fact, immigrant workers are at far greater risk of being killed or injured on the job than native-born workers. Overall, workplace fatalities among foreign-born workers increased by 46 percent between 1992 and 2002. Fatalities among Hispanic workers increased by 58 percent over the same period.

Foreign-born workers are likely to toil in high-risk occupations, work in the unregulated, “informal” economy and often fear reporting workplace injuries. Many are not aware of their legal rights to safety and health on the job and to workers’ compensation if they are injured.

The AFL-CIO report, Immigrant Workers at Risk: The Urgent Need for Improved Workplace Safety and Health Policies and Programs, examines how these factors contribute to the alarming rates of injury and death on the job among immigrants and discusses the detrimental economic effects of such workplace injuries and death across society.

Among the report’s key findings:

· Although the share of foreign-born employment increased by 22 percent between 1996 and 2000, the share of fatal occupational injuries for this population increased by 43 percent.
· Fatal work injuries in six states accounted for 64 percent of all fatalities for foreign-born workers between 1996 and 2001: California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
· Nearly one in four fatally injured foreign-born workers was employed in the construction industry.
· Less than one-third of the costs of occupational illnesses and injuries are paid for by employer-funded workers’ compensation—with taxpayers picking up nearly 20 percent of the tab through Medicaid and Medicare. Injured workers and their families pay the largest share.
While much needs to be done to improve the working lives of immigrants, Immigrant Workers at Risk includes examples of successful outreach by unions and community groups to educate immigrant workers on worksite hazards and provide them with information about their legal rights on the job. The report also includes examples of current efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to educate foreign-born workers, and notes the areas in which OSHA must improve to protect more successfully immigrant worker safety and health.

The AFL-CIO makes 13 recommendations that it says significantly would improve safety and health protections for immigrant workers:

· Codify OSHA policy so that the agency does not refer cases involving undocumented workers to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
· Ensure through interagency agreement or legislation that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency will not represent itself as OSHA.
· Strengthen whistle-blower and anti-retaliation provisions to protect all workers, regardless of their immigration status, who exercise job safety rights and raise job safety concerns.
· Enhance outreach, training and education programs for immigrant and Hispanic workers to inform them of job safety rights, job hazards and available protections.
· Require OSHA to provide materials, publications and information in the primary languages of major immigrant worker populations.
· Ensure OSHA requires employers to provide safety and health training in a language understood by their employees.
· Expand language capabilities of OSHA inspectors and other personnel to facilitate communication with and outreach to immigrant workers.
· Require a targeted enforcement program for industries, employers and operations when immigrant workers are at high risk of injury or illness.
· Require OSHA to develop local emphasis programs when immigrant workers are at high risk for injury or illness.
· Strengthen OSHA criminal and civil penalties.
· Require OSHA to issue a final standard mandating that employers must pay for personal protective equipment required by OSHA standards.
· Ensure all workers have access to workers’ compensation when injured on the job, regardless of immigration status, and that workers are not penalized for filing workers’ compensation claims.Mandate that NIOSH expand research programs to address the safety and health problems of immigrant and Hispanic workers.

The full 26-page AFL-CIO on immigrant worker safety is available online.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Clothing Manufacturers Fined for Breaking California Labor Laws

California’s crackdown on businesses that are violating the state’s labor laws has hit the garment industry.

According to a press release and news reports, investigators with the Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition (EEEC) issued 35 citations against 21 clothing manufacturers in Los Angeles. The charges center on unsafe working conditions, which could lead to workplace injuries and even death. Several companies also were cited for failing to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which provides for lost wages, medical treatment and other benefits for workers who are injured or killed on the job.

Three teams of EEEC investigators visited 21 garment manufacturers and found that all of the businesses inspected had safety hazards, while 18 of the 21 were found in violation of California labor laws. Thirty-five citations were issued totaling $163,200.

“Our effort is to root out California’s underground economy by targeting businesses that avoid labor, tax and licensing laws, safety and health regulations and carry no workers’ compensation insurance,” said EEEC Director David Dorame. “By targeting enforcement against illegal operators, we help level the playing field for law-abiding businesses and their employees.”

The enforcement actions uncovered serious safety hazards and investigators spoke with an employee who recently had his finger amputated as a result of an accident involving a pleating machine. Three pleating machines were red-tagged for not having the proper guarding. Safety hazards found also included:

· Exposed moving parts on the belt/pulley and chain drive
· Unguarded pulleys
· Locked or blocked exit door
· Electrical panel boxes with live wires exposed
· The sweeps exposed the following labor violations:

· Failure to keep records and post labor notices as mandated by law
· No workers’ compensation insurance
· Failure to keep accurate records for three years as required for garment manufacturers
· Failure to register as a garment manufacturer

The EEEC, a project of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is tasked with enforce California labor laws and educating businesses and workers about those laws and regulations. The Coalition is conducting a series of sweeps with the aim of catching companies that are violating labor laws.

The Coalition’s members include the Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s Department of Industrial Relations (Division of Occupational Safety and Health; Division of Labor Standards Enforcement) and the Employment Development Department, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Contractors State License Board.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Nail Technicians are Employees, Not Independent Contractors

A group of nail salons in Sacramento, Calif., were fined recently for not carrying workers’ compensation insurance on nail technicians. The salons classified the manicurists as independent contractors, but under state law they are clearly employees.

I’d venture that this is happening in states other state in nail salons, hair salons and other service-related industries.

Here’s the low-down on the situation in California, from the Sacramento Bee:
In recent sweeps of 17 beauty and nail salons in Sacramento, the state Division
of Labor Standards and Enforcement issued 16 citations to shop owners for
illegally classifying workers as independent contractors.

The DLSE fined employers $1,000 for each employee not covered by workers' compensation insurance and additional penalties for cash payment of wages without proper documentation of withheld taxes and other deductions. In Sacramento County, the fines totaled $61,000.

The DLSE carried out the two-day enforcement raids in nine other counties in Northern California and the Bay Area, including Placer County.

Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet said labeling workers independent contractors allows employers to avoid payroll taxes.

"It goes directly to the underground economy, and it gives employers who are not complying with the law an unfair competitive advantage over someone who is complying with the law," Bradstreet said.

In addition, workers do not receive the benefits and labor protections that they
would be entitled to under state laws, she said.

Workers classified as "employees" are protected by minimum wage law and laws mandating breaks, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, disability insurance and Social Security.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Calculating the Cost of Disability

In an article about workers’ compensation reform in Wyoming the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune poses the question, “What's a leg worth? $15,000? $20,000?”

Is the loss of an arm worth more to a welder or to a parts delivery person?

If a workplace accident results in a serious back injury, should compensation cover the degenerative effects throughout the body as a person ages?

Under Wyoming's workers' compensation program, it's the job of a claims analyst to apply a fixed standard when determining fair compensation for a workplace injury. Yet the results may differ greatly due to the complex nature and consequence of individual circumstances.

There’s a move afoot to change how payments for permanent disabilities are calculated in Wyoming.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Paramedics Challenged During Imperial Sugar Fire

Emergency workers who responded to the Imperial Sugar Fire in Port Wentworth, Georgia were unprepared for the injuries that they encountered.

The fire, which occurred as the result of a buildup of combustible dust, killed 13 plant workers and has resulted in several lawsuits by families of killed and injured workers.

It was the state of Georgia’s worst industrial accident.

Eight people died in the explosion, but five others died after being transported to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Georgia. Four others are still being treated at the burn center for horrific injuries they sustained in this industrial accident that by most accounts could have been prevented if the company had done more to reduce the amount of combustible dust inside the sugar refinery.

The firefighters, paramedics and EMT who responded to the industrial disaster had never encountered the types of burns and injuries that the victims suffered, but they did a good job with initial treatment and triage, a burn center official said.

Here’s an excerpt of her assessment from the Savannah newspaper:

They did an outstanding job with triage, transport and initial burn-victim care,
said Jeanne Haid, an instructor from the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta,
where 20 victims were treated after the sugar-refinery explosion Feb. 7 in Port

The assessment and management of burn patients during the first 24 hours of post-event injury is most critical, Haid told nearly 40 paramedics, nurses, physicians and other first responders gathered Saturday in Garden City to learn just how critical the first hours are after a burn injury.

Haid and other educators from the Augusta burn center, along with the Grady Health System Burn Center in Atlanta and DeKalb Technical College, shared information on their best practices.

"One of the things you have to watch for is infection," Haid said. "Sugar-refinery people had a high
infection rate."

Saturday's workshop organizer - Don W. Williams, firefighter outreach liaison for the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation in Atlanta - said the Advanced Burn Life Support class helps initial responders assess and stabilize patients with serious burns.

The Atlanta burn foundation and the Southeastern Firefighters' Burn Foundation help to promote burn education. The two groups also support burn-care facilities and survivors in their recovery.

"The psychological is much worse than the physical, and the physical is unbearable," Williams said of how burn victims describe their pain. "A burn injury lasts a lifetime and affects the entire family."

The 8-hour course dealt with many types of burns, including smoke inhalation injury, shock and fluid resuscitation, wound management, electric injury, chemical injury and pediatric patient care.

Later, several volunteers, including Jimmy Sheldon of Southside Fire & Emergency Services in Savannah, applied makeup to simulate burn injuries for those in the class to identify.

The sugar-dust explosion Feb. 7 was the state's largest industrial burn incident and sent the largest number of patients at one time to the Augusta burn center, Haid said.

The Port Wentworth disaster killed a total of 13 workers - eight died in the explosion, and five died at the Augusta burn center.

Four remain there - three listed in critical condition, and one in good condition. Two others are being treated at the inpatient rehabilitation unit at nearby Doctors Hospital.

Haid said the hospital began preparing for mass casualties after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, then fined-tuned its burn treatment in responding to the sugar-refinery incident.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Protecting Vegas Construction Workers is Government’s Business, NY Mayor Says

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a call to action to government officials in Las Vegas and in the state of Nevada that they’re responsible for ensuring that workers remain safe on the job.

In the past 17 months, 10 construction workers have died while working on projects along the famed Las Vegas strip.

Two months ago, after a string of tragic construction fatalities shook New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave an address to the city’s building inspectors.

“Your job is to save lives,” Bloomberg said. “That means that it’s your duty to make sure that anyone reporting to any construction job ... shouldn’t have to worry about going home safely that night.

“And let me make it as clear as I can: Simply shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘Well, after all, construction work is a dangerous occupation,’ is behavior that will not be tolerated from anyone.”

In Clark County, where 10 construction workers have died in accidents on the Las Vegas Strip in the past 17 months, no one has uttered words as forceful as Bloomberg’s. But last week, local officials did begin to question whether government could do more to protect workers. New York City is one place they can look for answers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Texas Business Owner Gets Probation, Fine for Workers’ Comp Fraud

A Texas businessman has been convicted of workers’ compensation fraud after lying about the number of people his company employed.

A Travis County district court ordered Jerry Don Calicutt, owner of ZIPCO
Services Inc., to serve 18 months probation and perform 100 hours of community
service. The court also ordered Calicutt to pay $61,461 to Texas Mutual
Insurance Company and a $4,000 fine.

ZIPCO Services Inc. is an oil and
gas contractor located in Kilgore, Texas. Calicutt misrepresented the size of
ZIPCO's operations and number of employees to Texas Mutual Insurance Company.
Because workers' compensation insurance premium is based in part on payroll, the
scheme allowed the company to pay less premium than it actually owed.

This is a fairly common type of workers’ compensation fraud – much more common than fraud committed by employees illegally collecting benefits. When companies lie about the number of employees they have or misclassify employees as independent contractors, their workers’ compensation insurance rates go down. This gives them an advantage over honest companies who end up paying more for their workers’ compensation coverage.

Safe businesses receive financial rewards in Colorado

Businesses in Colorado with strong safety record are receiving dividends on their workers' compensation insurance.

Pinnacol Assurance, a provider of workers’ compensation insurance, is rebating $525,480 to businesses throughout Morgan County, Colo., for example. These companies are receiving performance dividends based on their track record of employee safety.

This is the fourth consecutive year that Pinnacol has issued the general dividends, funneling a total of $227 million back to Colorado businesses.

This rebate program, administered by an insurance company proves that workers’ compensation isn’t necessary to lower costs or workers’ compensation premiums. Companies can cut their costs by keeping their employees safe.

Check Out BulldogLawyers.com for More Workers Compensation News from Around the Nation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Falls to Blame for a Quarter of Massachusetts Workplace Deaths

The Boston Herald ran an article about workplace deaths and injuries to coincide with Workers’ Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor people who have been killed on the job.

Eighty people died in Massachusetts last year from workplace-related injuries, nearly a quarter of them in falls, according to statistics released Monday by the AFL-CIO and a coalition of labor groups.

The groups compiled the data to commemorate the 21st annual Workers’ Memorial Day on Tuesday. They want more staffing at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as stiffer penalties for employers allowing unsafe workplaces.

Friday, June 13, 2008

California Considers Increasing Benefits for Workers with Permanent Injuries

Permanently disabled workers in California may soon be eligible for higher workers’ compensation benefits, if new reforms are passed, but some workers’ rights advocates say the increase is too small to help most seriously injured workers.

Californians permanently injured on the job would get an average 16 percent increase in disability payments under new rules proposed by the state Division of Workers' Compensation.

The formula proposed is based on new data that links wage losses to the type of injury suffered by the worker. The formula calculates payments to disabled workers based on estimates of how much they would earn if they weren't permanently injured.

Division Director Carrie Nevans said the new formula is based on a review of how wage losses relate to injuries under the worker compensation formula in use since

"We've been studying how those two factors intersect ... and now have enough data and analysis to support this increase," Nevans said in a statement.

The proposed formula would bring larger increases for workers who suffer the highest wage loss and increase benefits for some of the most common and serious injuries like those to the back, wrist, hand and ankle, Nevans said. The proposed formula would also eliminate age as a factor in setting benefits.

What would the 16 percent increase in benefits mean for an injured worker:

  • The average payment for a permanent shoulder injury would increase from $7,693 to $8,153
  • The average payment a hip injury would increase from $14,490 to $15,755.
  • The average payment for an ankle injury would increase from $6,003 to $7,521.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Preventing Injuries Will Help Companies Save on Workers’ Compensation

A recent seminar for business owners in Maine is worth mentioning. The topic of discussion was how much workers' compensation can cost in terms of productivity and overall corporate profitability.

That’s a reminder that workers’ comp costs can be controlled through innovative return-to-work programs and stringent safety measures.

The key to reining in workers’ compensation costs is not by cutting worker benefits. To really save money on workers’ compensation, companies must prevent workplace injuries. Most workers’ comp insurance premiums are tied to claims.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Calculating the Cost of Disability

In an article about workers’ compensation reform in Wyoming the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune poses the question, “What's a leg worth? $15,000? $20,000?”

Is the loss of an arm worth more to a welder or to a parts delivery person?

If a workplace accident results in a serious back injury, should compensation cover the degenerative effects throughout the body as a person ages?

Under Wyoming's workers' compensation program, it's the job of a claims analyst to apply a fixed standard when determining fair compensation for a workplace injury. Yet the results may differ greatly due to the complex nature and consequence of individual circumstances.

There’s a move afoot to change how payments for permanent disabilities are calculated in Wyoming.

Workplace Safety in High Tech Fields

Dangers may be lurking for workers in the high-tech nanotechnology industry, according to bloggers over at the Pump Handle, which is focused on public health issues.

An international survey published in the May issue of Environmental Science and Technology addressed precisely this question: are nanomaterials firms and laboratories installing adequate, nano-specific environmental health and safety (EHS) programs, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, exposure monitoring and product stewardship programs?

The results of the survey?

Workplace monitoring and nanospecific waste disposal were uneven and were only associated with the subset of organizations believing in special risks. A majority of organizations expressed a need for more toxicological information and EHS guidance.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Preventing Injuries Will Help Companies Save on Workers’ Compensation

A recent seminar for business owners in Maine is worth mentioning. The topic of discussion was how much workers' compensation can cost in terms of productivity and overall corporate profitability.

That’s a reminder that workers’ comp costs can be controlled through innovative return-to-work programs and stringent safety measures.

The key to reining in workers’ compensation costs is not by cutting worker benefits. To really save money on workers’ compensation, companies must prevent workplace injuries. Most workers’ comp insurance premiums are tied to claims.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Workplace Safety in High Tech Fields

Dangers may be lurking for workers in the high-tech nanotechnology industry, according to bloggers over at the Pump Handle, which is focused on public health issues.

An international survey published in the May issue of Environmental Science and Technology addressed precisely this question: are nanomaterials firms and laboratories installing adequate, nano-specific environmental health and safety (EHS) programs, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, exposure monitoring and product stewardship programs?

The results of the survey?

Workplace monitoring and nanospecific waste disposal were uneven and were only associated with the subset of organizations believing in special risks. A majority of organizations expressed a need for more toxicological information and EHS guidance.

Workers’ Comp Commissioners in Connecticut Regularly Take Fridays Off

Workers compensation commissioners in Connecticut may be contributing to the case backlog that they’ve been tasked to reduce.

A Connecticut newspaper, the Journal Inquirer, discovered that many workers’ compensation commissioners are leaving the office early on Fridays – or not bothering to show up at all – but they’re still being paid for a full day’s work.

In a telephone survey that Journal Inquirer reporters conducted on three nonconsecutive Fridays in March and April, nearly all of the 12 commissioners assigned to the panel’s six regional offices were said to have left for the day by 1:30 p.m.

The “trial” commissioners serve five-year terms and are paid between $140,779 and $145,780 per year, while the Workers’ Compensation Commission chairman, who acts as chief administrator and does not try cases, is paid $155,779 annually.

By custom and tradition, the “trial” commissioners, who are charged with ensuring that workers get prompt payment of lost-time work benefits and medical expenses for on-the-job injuries, are supposed to use Friday afternoons to read briefs and write their opinions in the cases they’ve heard.

When reporters asked to speak with various commissioners, they were told they were “gone for the weekend,” “gone for the day,” “not available,” “not in for the day,” “back Monday” or some other excuse that put them out of the office when they should have been working.

During the survey, which occurred over a two-month period, only one commissioner took a reporter’s phone call. And he indicated that he was retiring that day.

When quizzed about the absences, the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro said the commissioners were probably taking personal time or had refused to take reporters’ phone calls to avoid ex-parte communications. But that explanation didn’t hold up upon further scrutiny by the reporters.

“With respect to anyone not there on a Friday afternoon, as long as they have accredited that time — meaning either to their personal leave time or their vacation time — if they have done that, they are meeting their obligations and requirements,” he said.

However, when pressed Mastropietro acknowledged that none of the absent commissioners had requested time off.

This happened time and again and on several Fridays throughout March and April. The commissioners seem to have made it a habit to put in an abbreviated work week. That could be affecting injured workers who are awaiting a commission decision so they can begin receiving workers’ compensation benefits. It’s most certainly affecting workflow at the Workers’ Compensation Commission in Connecticut.

The Commission is facing a backlog of cases – a situation that’s been exacerbated turnover. Since 2006, the commission has had to replace seven of its 15 members because of retirement or death. Two commissioners have just recently retired in April.
At least one employee has lodged a complaint about the number of commissions suffering from the “Friday flu.”

Meanwhile, one commission employee, who requested anonymity, said regional office staffers had complained to their bosses about the early exits on Fridays — and, in one instance, lodged a whistleblower complaint challenging the hours a supervisor claimed to have worked.
To read more about the Hartford Journal Inquirer investigation, visit Hartford Business online at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/news5214.html. Or visit the newspaper Web site at http://www.journalinquirer.com/articles/2008/04/18/connecticut/doc4807543e80f4e202382654.txt

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lessons Learned from Maine’s Costliest Workers’ Compensation Injuries

The Maine Department of Labor SafetyWorks! Program, which provides workplace training and education for companies and their employees, is taking a look at the state’s 100 costliest workers’ compensation cases with an eye toward prevention.

A workshop, which is open to all workers within the state, will examine the causes and outcomes of the costliest workers’ compensation claims in the state. The discussion will focus on case management and long-range prevention. While the class is free and open to all workers, it’s designed for those who administer workers' compensation and disability prevention programs. For details about the course, follow this link. And for information about SafetyWorks!, visit the program’s Web site.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Risk of On-the-Job Injury High for Hispanic Hotel Workers

A university and a labor union are joining forces to keep Hispanic hotel workers safe while at work. These employees are at increased risk for being hurt on the job.

Hotel workers suffer higher injury rates than service workers overall. Housekeeper, in particular, are at risk for musculoskeletal disorders. This group is predominantly female, and many of these housekeepers are immigrants.

This study and suggestions for reducing these types of workplace injuries were presented at a public health conference in Washington, D.C. The full presentation on workplace injuries involving hotel housekeepers is online.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Companies may face million-dollar fine in deaths of five workers

The U.S. Department of Labor recently proposed fining two companies more than $1 million for federal workplace safety violations following a fire that resulted in the deaths of five workers.

The fire took place Oct. 2 at the Xcel Energy hydroelectric plant near Georgetown, Colorado. Five workers were trapped in a tunnel and died from asphyxiation. RPI Coating Inc., the California company that hired the five workers, was cited by the Department of Labor for using unsafe electrical equipment. Xcel Energy was cited for failing to install carbon monoxide alarms and other violations.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Improving Benefits for Injured Workers in Connecticut

The Hartford Courant does a good job of explaining why workers’ compensation reforms that would increase and extend payments are necessary.

Present law is arbitrary and unfair. It places a restrictive cap on wage-loss awards, regardless of the severity of the injuries or long-range economic impact upon workers and their families. Current law also unduly prevents scarring awards for most work injuries unless they occur to the head, face or neck.

To read the entire opinion piece, written by the former president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, click here.

Tax rebates for Social Security Disability Recipients

As part of an economic stimulus package, American taxpayers are set to get tax rebate checks this year.

People who receive Social Security Disability are also eligible for rebates, if they meet certain requirements.

According to the IRS:

To receive a payment, taxpayers must have a valid Social Security number, $3,000 of income and file a 2007 federal tax return. IRS will take care of the rest.

But it’s a little more complicated than that for people who aren’t working and collecting a paycheck.

To qualify, people must have at least $3,000 in any combination of qualifying income from retirement, disability or survivors’ benefits from the Social Security Administration; disability compensation, disability pension or survivors’ benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs; Tier 1 benefits from Railroad Retirement, certain combat pay and earned income from wages, salaries, tips or net earnings from self-employment that are includible in taxable income.

Individual taxpayers will receive up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples), and parents will receive an additional $300 for each eligible child younger than 17.

Retirees, disabled veterans and low-wage workers who usually are exempt from filing a tax return must do so this year in order to receive a stimulus payment.

For more details on the tax rebates, visit the IRS online.