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

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.