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Kettle Falls, WA Cedar Mill Fined More Than $150,000 for Safety Violations

Kettle Falls cedar mill fined more than $150,000 for safety violations in connection with worker injury

The Columbia Cedar mill in Kettle Falls has been fined $151,800 for safety violations after a worker was seriously hurt while trying to clear bark from a hopper.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for one willful violation and 28 serious violations of workplace safety regulations.

The willful violation involved multiple instances of employees working in close proximity to exposed and unguarded chain sprockets on chain conveyors, a hazard that can cause permanent disabling injuries. The one willful violation carries a penalty of $52,000.

L&I initiated the inspection after learning that in June 2014 an employee had suffered a serious injury and was hospitalized after becoming entangled in a rotating shaft meant to move bark in the back of a hopper. The investigation found the equipment had no guarding installed to protect employees.

Along with the willful citation, the employer was cited for several serious violations related to machine/equipment guarding, and for not ensuring “lock-out/tag-out” procedures were used to prevent machinery from starting up or moving during service or maintenance by workers.

There were several additional serious violations involving fall/overhead hazards, hand-held tools, personal protective equipment and forklift training.

The employer was also cited for failing to report the hospitalization of an injured worker. By law, all employers are required to report to L&I within eight hours any time a worker is hospitalized or dies due to work-related causes.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal the citation, and has notified L&I that it plans on doing so. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

 

How Companies Like Walmart Are Fighting to Keep Workplace Injuries Secret

Today’s post was shared by Mother Jones and comes from www.motherjones.com

Andrew Francis Wallace/ZUMA

Nearly four years ago, while lifting pallets of blankets during an overnight stocking shift at Walmart, Barb Gertz began to notice a dull pain in her arms. She kept on lifting and stocking, but by the time her lunch break rolled around she could no longer raise her arms. Her doctor told her she had tendinitis in her biceps, and that it was most likely caused by her job. Walmart disagreed. The retailer contested Gertz’s workplace-injury claim—and won.

If Gertz had worked in a factory, she could have bolstered her case with evidence from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s national database of manufacturing workplace injuries. But no such database exists for retail workers like Gertz. A new regulation that OSHA is scheduled to finalize this year would change that. OSHA wants to create a public database of workplace injury and illness data from all industries, not just manufacturing. This would help workers, the government, researchers, and journalists identify companies with safety problems. But the trade groups that represent some of America’s biggest chains—including Walmart, Target, and McDonald’s—are fighting back hard.

The National Retail Federation—a group that represents Walmart, McDonald’s, and The Container Store—spent $2.4 million lobbying on this measure and other issues between January and September of last year. In a letter to OSHA last March, the group complained that the rule would require…

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CES 2015: Quell Promises Pain Relief with New FDA-Approved Gadget

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.techtimes.com

Quell

Quell is a new gadget that promises pain relief. It attaches to a user’s calf and emits electronic signals that boost the body’s opiate production.
(Photo : Business Wire)

A new gadget revealed at CES 2015 promises to provide pain relief through technology. The device, dubbed Quell, attaches to the user’s calf and stimulates the body’s opiate production to relieve pain from various ailments.

When most people think of pain relief, they think of some sort of pill ingested internally, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or similar over the counter product. For more serious pain, there are prescription medicines available, but they can be highly addictive, have many serious side effects, and have a large potential for abuse.

Quell promises an external source of pain relief. The unit attaches to the user’s calf, which the makers of the Quell consider a "virtual USB port," and electrodes stimulate the wearer’s body to release pain-relieving opiates. The sensory nerves it stimulates send neural pulses to the brain that trigger the release of endogenous opioids, the pain-relief response that blocks pain signals in the spine. The process is called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation technology, also known as TENS. There are already over-the-counter TENS systems such as the one made by Icy Hot, but these are very low-powered and low-tech compared with Quell.

Quell is also much more expensive, but manufacturer NeuroMetrix, a health-care company that develops…

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Wage and Hour Division

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from www.dol.gov

Executive Order

On February 12, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13658, “Establishing a Minimum Wage for Contractors,” to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for workers on Federal construction and service contracts. The President took this executive action because boosting wages lowers turnover and increases morale, and will lead to higher productivity overall. Raising wages will improve the quality and efficiency of services provided to the government. The Executive Order directed the Department of Labor to issue regulations to implement the new Federal contractor minimum wage.

The Department published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register on June 17, 2014. The NPRM proposed standards and procedures for implementing and enforcing Executive Order 13658 and invited public comment on the proposed provisions. The Department received many comments from a variety of interested stakeholders, such as labor organizations; contractors and contractor associations; worker advocates, including advocates for individuals with disabilities; contracting agencies; small businesses; and workers.

After carefully considering all timely and relevant comments, the Department has published a final rule to implement the provisions of Executive Order 13658. The final rule issued by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez is an important milestone in raising the minimum wage for workers on Federal contracts.

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Injured Worker Stakeouts: Do Private Investigators Commit Fraud?

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Have you noticed a suspicious vehicle lurking in your neighborhood lately, or is there a stranger that seems to be everywhere you go? If you have an active workers’ compensation claim, then you may not be imaging things. More and more, we are seeing insurance companies willing to spend thousands of dollars to hire private investigators to conduct clandestine surveillance of an injured worker’s daily activities and documenting these activities with video cameras. This type of surveillance often comes as a shock to our clients.

When these situations arise, the question we hear most often is, “Can they do that? Is this legal?” The answer is yes. Private investigators may photograph or video people in their private residences so long as they are clearly visible to the general public and there is no expectation of privacy. They can also conduct a full background investigation and obtain information about any other claims you made for personal injuries or if you have ever been charged with a crime.

While there are honest private investigators in the field, there are also those who will cheat. One investigator deflated an injured worker’s tire and then videotaped the person “working” to fix the flat tire. Another investigator reported talking on the phone to someone who told him that an injured worker was working while also receiving workers’ compensation benefits. A follow up done by our firm proved that the person with whom the investigator claimed to have talked has a serious hearing impairment and could not use the telephone.  

Injured workers need to be aware that surveillance can happen in any case. It has become part of the workers’ compensation system. By the way, if you do notice a suspicious car parked near your home, call the police.

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What Does Supreme Court’s Warehouse Workers’ Ruling Mean?

Today’s article is a re-post from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that contracted warehouse workers for Amazon did not have to be paid for time spent waiting to clear through an anti-theft security screening after their shifts. Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that time spent in an after-work security screening was not integral and indispensable to the primary activity of a warehouse worker, therefore not covered under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. So what does that mean for you?

First of all, this should mean that any worker who has to go through a security check after work will not have to be paid by their employer for the time that process takes. However other pre- and post- workday activities should still be covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Donning and doffing safety equipment is still compensable because such safety equipment helps an employee work safely. Call-center workers still should be paid for time spent booting up and logging into a computer and phone because a call-center employee is unable to do their job if they are not logged into their phones and computers. Employees should also consult with a lawyer about state wage and hour law as state law may be friendlier to employees.

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Pacific Topsoils Fined $199,000 for Safety Violations Related to Death of 19-year-old

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited an Everett company for multiple safety violations related to the death of a worker last July. Nineteen-year-old Bradley Hogue was killed by a rotating auger while working inside the hopper of a bark-blower truck at a Duvall home.

Pacific Topsoils has been cited for two willful and 14 serious violations, with penalties totaling $199,000. The employer has also been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.

“The loss of this young man’s life is a tragedy that could have been prevented if the employer had followed basic safety and health rules that protect workers from moving machinery,” said L&I Assistant Director Anne Soiza. “We hope this citation and the penalties serve as a deterrent so that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Following the July incident that killed Hogue, L&I issued a bark and mulch-blower hazard alert to warn others in the landscaping business of the danger of working in hoppers while the equipment is running.

The L&I investigation found that Pacific Topsoils’ workers were regularly assigned to clear jams in the bark-blower truck hoppers while the hoppers were operating. This exposed them to three very hazardous elements: a floor conveyor belt, two rotating-screw conveyors (angled augers) and a rotating stir rod. Exposure to any of these parts of the equipment could potentially result in entanglement, causing severe crushing injuries or death.

Working in and around this type of extremely hazardous equipment requires “lockout/tagout” safety procedures to prevent machinery from starting up or moving during service or maintenance by workers.

The employer was cited for two willful violations. The first was issued for not ensuring lockout/tagout procedures were regularly used; it carries a penalty of $56,000. The second willful violation was issued for not training the employees in the proper use of those critical procedures; it carries a $52,000 penalty.

Additionally, working in the hopper of bark-blower trucks exposed workers to “confined space” hazards. Confined spaces, like hoppers, are areas large enough to accommodate a worker, but aren’t designed for continuous employee occupancy and have limited ways to enter or exit.

When a confined space has one or more hazardous characteristics, such as moving machinery or a potential for engulfment that may harm workers, it’s considered a “permit-required” confined space. That means employers must control access to the area and use a permit system to prevent unauthorized entry. Anyone working in or around a permit-required confined space must be trained and there must be safety measures and rescue procedures in place.

Twelve of the serious violations cited were for failure to implement safe work practices when entering a permit-required confined space. Two other serious violations were cited for not having an effective accident prevention program and for failure to document lockout/tagout procedures. Each of these violations carries a $6,500 penalty.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

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

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

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State Laws Determine Worker’s Rights: Work Comp Benefits, Process Vary by State

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Many workers are hired in one state but are required to attend orientation or participate in a hiring process in another state because their potential employer is principally located and doing business there. Once they are hired and accept the job, they are then required to work in another state for various reasons. In these situations, many workers do not realize that a different state’s laws could apply to their workers’ compensation claim if they are injured in a state that is

  1. different from where they were hired,
  2. different than where they accepted the job,
  3. different from where their employer is principally located or performing work, or
  4. even different than where they currently live. 

If you have been injured in another state, you may be eligible to have your workers’ compensation benefits determined by another state’s laws. This is important, as the benefits you could be entitled to are different in every state. In certain respects, the differences are significant in terms of the amount of weekly benefits, permanent benefits, or type and duration of medical care you may be able to receive.

The right to choose your family physician to treat you for your injury or the amount and duration of the disability benefits you may be entitled to are significantly different in every state. Let’s consider a few pairs of cities:

  • Omaha, Nebraska & Council Bluffs, Iowa
  • Sioux City, Nebraska & Sioux City, Iowa
  • Nebraska City, Nebrsaka & Harlan, Iowa

These cities in different in Iowa and Nebraska border each other, and a great number of residents from one are employed and work in the other. If you are injured in one state but live in another, and depending on where you were hired or where you were when you accepted the employment, you may have a Nebraska or Iowa workers’ compensation claim, or even both. 

Nebraska

If your employment or your accident has any ties to the state of Nebraska, your employer is required to file a First Report of Injury with the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. When this occurs, it is common for the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court to actually mail you a copy of your own First Report of Injury that was filed with the court by your employer. Just because a First Report of Injury was filed in Nebraska and just because the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court sends you a copy does not mean you are limited to Nebraska for the benefits that you may be entitled to. 

Iowa

It is also normal for an insurance carrier of the employer to mail you a letter that says, “Your employment agreement, whether in writing or made in person, required your accident to fall under Iowa law,” or some other state’s law. Generally, no one has the right to decide for you which state your case can be determined in. It is a question of each state’s laws that determine where your claim can be processed.

Nebraska and Iowa

As a matter of general practice, if your accident occurred in that state, your claim and benefits can be determined based on that state’s laws. Other things like where your employer is principally located or where your employer regularly performs work can determine if you have a claim in each state. Further, your contract of hire or where you accepted the employment can also play a part, as well as where you were residing at the time of your accident in relation to where your employer was performing work, can also determine which state you may have a claim in. 

These things, as well as what type of benefits each state allow, could make it possible for you to file in both states.

Time Periods to File in Each State

Each state has a certain time period in which to file a claim or action in the compensation court. 

  • In Nebraska, you have two years from the date of accident OR two years from the date of any payment (weekly disability check, medical bill, mileage, prescription) in which to file an action in the compensation court. 
  • In Iowa, a person has two years from the date of accident OR three years from the date of payment of a weekly disability benefit check in which to file an action in the compensation court.  

Beware, however, that payment under one state’s laws may not save your claim in another state. For example, a payment under Iowa law will count toward a payment in Nebraska. However, a payment under Nebraska law will not count toward a payment under Iowa law.

Award, Order or Settlement Agreement for Benefits

It is important to note as well that an award, order or settlement can affect your right to file a claim in another state. 

For example, if one obtains a Court Award, Order or Settlement in Nebraska, this would prevent you from obtaining any benefits in Iowa, if you had the option of pursuing benefits in both states. 

On the other hand, if the same person obtained a Court Award, Order or Settlement in Iowa, a person could still pursue additional benefits in Nebraska that are different than what was provided in Iowa.

In both states, the insurance carrier would be entitled to a credit for what they paid in the other state, but you would still have the opportunity to pursue different and additional benefits in the other states, potentially.    

Summary

The differences in law issues are often very complex. Whatever your situation is, if you think there might be any question as to which state’s laws apply to your case, you should speak to an experienced attorney who can advise you about the laws in each applicable state.

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Happy New Year, from Causey Law Firm

The only constant is change.

Causey Law Firm has grown and changed in the past year, our first full year in our new offices.  The firm celebrated my 25th anniversary with Jay Causey. We welcomed Jane E. Dale as our newest attorney and Arlene Oglove rejoined the firm as a workers’ compensation paralegal. The list of CLF children grew with the birth of Francesca Severini’s daughter.  Through all of the hard work and struggle has run a vein of pure joy.

As we set our sights for 2015, we wish you and your families a Happy New Year!

Photo credit: Wonderlane / Foter / CC BY

11 New Products Added to List of Goods Produced by Child labor, Forced labor

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

A nine-year-old girl sits on a cracked floor in the suffocating heat and humidity of a five-story garment factory. She is almost finished trimming loose threads from shirt sleeves when her 11-year-old friend comes to collect the sleeves, which will be sown into shirts. As they briefly share a laugh, the supervisor smacks their heads and screams at them to get back to work. This day is not much different from any other.

Boy harvesting scallions, Mexicali, Mexico (Stolen Childhoods)
Boy harvesting scallions, Mexicali, Mexico (Stolen Childhoods)

A twelve-year-old boy walks between the long rows of vanilla orchids on a large plantation, hand-pollinating the flowers. He works in sweltering heat during school breaks, and reports to the fields each day after school, working until late at night.

Another boy kneels next to a wooden loom many times his size, reaching up to weave yarn through its threads.  When he finishes, he will eat a meager meal and go to sleep next to the loom, alongside the seven other boys who also live and work there. He is only 10 years old, but he can barely remember his parents through the fog of the drugs his employers provide to keep him docile. Four years ago, his impoverished family took an advance payment from a recruiter in exchange for his labor, and he has remained bonded to this loom ever since.

Although the details of their exploitation may differ, the stark reality of the estimated 168 million child laborers and 21 million forced laborers around the world are the same:  their lives are…

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Published by Causey Law Firm