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PBS: California Reports Thousands of Workers Exposed to Elevated Lead Levels

The highest lead levels were found in the blood of people who work with guns and ammunition, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

More than 6,000 California workers in munitions, manufacturing and other industries have elevated levels of lead in their blood that could cause serious health problems, according to a recent report from the state’s public health agency.

The report, containing the results of tests conducted between 2012 and 2014, comes as the state’s workplace health and safety agency, Cal/OSHA, is considering a major update of its safety standards for workplace lead exposure for the first time in decades. The current standards are based on 35-year-old medical findings, which at the time did not recognize the dangers of even low-level exposure to lead. More recent science shows chronic, low-level lead exposure can cause lasting harm.

“It doesn’t surprise me. This is a huge problem,” said Doug Parker, executive director of Worksafe, a worker health and safety advocacy organization based in Oakland. “Clearly, there haven’t been adequate actions taken” by some employers, he said.

READ MORE: 7 things you didn’t know about lead

Lead is a naturally occurring element. The soft gray metal and its various compounds have been used in many products, including pipes, paint, batteries, ammunition, industrial equipment and gasoline. Workers can be exposed to lead in the form of dust, either inhaled or swallowed, or by handling lead-tainted items.

Most public health actions have focused on protecting children from lead exposure and quickly treating those who are exposed, since the metal can severely impair their development.

But adults also can face serious health problems from lead exposure, including heart disease, reproductive problems, cognitive difficulties and kidney failure. Some workers exposed to lead dust in the workplace have unwittingly carried it home on their clothes, exposing their families to it.

The authors of the report examined data from the California Occupational Blood Lead Registry, which tracks workplace exposures. From 2012 to 2014, 38,440 workers had their blood tested for lead, and 6,051 workers were identified with an elevated level of 5 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter (about 3.3 ounces) of blood. Most of these workers were men between the ages of 20 and 59 and had Hispanic surnames. Many lived in Southern California, particularly in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The California Department of Public Health, which released the report last month, did not make an expert available for comment.

About 14,000 of the workers had two or more blood lead tests, which showed about a fifth of them had elevated blood lead levels, according to the report. More than one elevated blood test suggests chronic exposure linked to health problems, the researchers noted.

[Read the rest of the PBS article here.]

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NYTimes: Lower Back Ache? Be Active and Wait It Out, New Guidelines Say

Dr. James Weinstein, a back pain specialist and chief executive of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System, has some advice for most people with lower back pain: Take two aspirin and don’t call me in the morning.

On Monday, the American College of Physicians published updated guidelines that say much the same. In making the new recommendations for the treatment of most people with lower back pain, the group is bucking what many doctors do and changing its previous guidelines, which called for medication as first-line therapy.

Dr. Nitin Damle, president of the group’s board of regents and a practicing internist, said pills, even over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, should not be the first choice. “We need to look at therapies that are nonpharmacological first,” he said. “That is a change.”

The recommendations come as the United States is struggling with an epidemic of opioid addiction that often begins with a simple prescription for ailments like back pain. In recent years, a number of states have enacted measures aimed at curbing prescription painkillers. The problem has also led many doctors around the country to reassess prescribing practices.

The group did not address surgery. Its focus was on noninvasive treatment.

The new guidelines said that doctors should avoid prescribing opioid painkillers for relief of back pain and suggested that before patients try anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants, they should try alternative therapies like exercise, acupuncture, massage therapy or yoga. Doctors should reassure their patients that they will get better no matter what treatment they try, the group said. The guidelines also said that steroid injections were not helpful, and neither was acetaminophen, like Tylenol, although other over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen could provide some relief.

“Many people with chronic back pain tend to shut down, avoiding their usual activities, afraid of making things worse…”

Dr. Weinstein, who was not an author of the guidelines, said patients have to stay active and wait it out. “Back pain has a natural course that does not require intervention,” he said.

In fact, for most of the people with acute back pain — defined as present for four weeks or less that does not radiate down the leg — there is no need to see a doctor at all, said Dr. Rick Deyo, a spine researcher and professor at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., and an author of the new guidelines.

“For acute back pain, the analogy is to the common cold,” Dr. Deyo said. “It is very common and very annoying when it happens. But most of the time it will not result in anything major or serious. ”

Even those with chronic back pain — lasting at least 12 weeks — should start with nonpharmacological treatments, the guidelines say. If patients still want medication, they can try over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin.

Scans, like an M.R.I., for diagnosis are worse than useless for back pain patients, members of the group said in telephone interviews. The results can be misleading, showing what look like abnormalities that actually are not related to the pain.

Measures that help patients get back to their usual routines can help along the way, as Sommer Kleweno Walley, 43, of Seattle, can attest. Last spring, she slipped on the stairs in her house and fell down hard, on her back.

“After a couple of hours I could barely walk,” she said. “I was in real pain.”

She saw a physical therapist, but the pain persisted. Eleven days later, she showed up at the office of Dr. Christopher J. Standaert, a spine specialist at the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center. She expected to receive an M.R.I., at least, and maybe a drug for pain.

But Dr. Standaert told her an M.R.I. would not make any difference in her diagnosis or recovery and that the main thing was to keep active. She ended up getting anti-inflammatory medication and doing physical therapy. A few months later, her back stopped hurting.

[Read the rest of the NY Times article here.]

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How Long Should Injured Pro Athletes Get Workers Comp?

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from baltimore.cbslocal.com.

NOTE: In Washington State’s workers’ compensation system, any injured worker receives time loss compensation benefits until they recover medically to the point that they are again able to return to “reasonably continuous, gainful employment,” regardless of projected retirement age. There is no provision for long-term lost earning capacity and the monetary benefits paid for permanent impairment are quite limited. kc

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 01: Center Jeremy Zuttah #53 of the Baltimore Ravens lays injured against the San Diego Chargers during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.
BALTIMORE, MD – NOVEMBER 01: Center Jeremy Zuttah #53 of the Baltimore Ravens lays injured against the San Diego Chargers during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Should injured pro athletes be allowed to earn worker compensation benefits until they are 67 years old, like other workers, even if their athletic careers normally would have ended more than 30 years earlier?

That issue is being debated between the Chicago Bears and the NFL Players Association in the Illinois Legislature as one unlikely element of a compromise proposal to end a nearly two-year-long fight over the state’s budget.

The Bears are leading other Chicago sports franchises in backing a measure that would reduce a former player’s ability to tap into workers compensation after a career-ending injury. They want to cap certain payments to athletes at no older than 35 or five years after their injury. Currently they can claim benefits up to age 67, like other workers.

Neither the teams nor players’ advocates will say how much money is at stake. They agree it is not a relatively big pot — while theoretically some could claim millions, most if not all athletes settle their claims for reduced sums up front, the players association says.

Only a handful of pro players filed for the benefit here in the past four years, although the association would not identify them or describe their individual cases.

But one…

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Workers’ comp attorney praises Wisconsin governor for proposed elimination of review board

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from madisonrecord.com

CHICAGO – An Illinois workers’ compensation attorney is saluting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for his proposal to eliminate an independent review board that handles work comp cases.

Keefe believes Illinois should take notes on Walker's budget proposal.
Keefe believes Illinois should take notes on Walker’s budget proposal.

Keefe believes Illinois should take notes on Walker’s budget proposal. | Shutterstock

Eugene Keefe, a partner with Keefe, Campbell, Biery and Associates, believes Illinois should learn from Walker.

“The problem we have in Illinois is we have too much government,” Keefe told the Record.

In Walker’s 2017-19 budget plan, the governor has proposed $593 million in tax and fee cuts including the defunding of the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC) by 2019.

By defunding the LIRC, the governor believes he will save about $3.2 million over a two-year span.

“Scott Walker is a genius in my opinion,” Keefe said. “He has cut annual spending by like $5 billion a year.”

“In Illinois, we’ve gone the other way,” Keefe continued.

The LIRC is a three-member board that is responsible for reviewing appeals of disputed workers’ compensation claims.

“Walker, by getting rid of the board, is saying ‘we don’t need that much government,’” Keefe said.

In Illinois, workers’ compensation claims go through five levels of hearings and appeals.

“All of those processes cost Illinois taxpayers a lot of money,” Keefe said.

According to…

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Six Questions You Should Answer Before You Become a Whistleblower

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

Whistleblowers have helped expose some of the biggest corporate scandals of the 21st century, including Enron and the Bernie Madoff scandals. Whistleblowers usually expose themselves to a real personal risk by opposing wrongdoing. These risks often include getting fired from their job. If you are thinking about blowing the whistle on illegal conduct at work, here are six questions you should ask yourself:

1.         Are you really opposing unlawful or illegal activity? Lawyers who defend companies against whistleblower claims often may paint whistleblowing as mere disagreement about management style or philosophy. As a matter of law, a whistleblower also must have good faith or honest belief that they are opposing illegal conduct. If you are thinking about bringing a whistleblower complaint, it would be a good idea to do a little research. Whistleblowers.gov is a great resource for the various industries that are covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration whistleblower statutes. Most experienced employment attorneys are also willing to do some free consultation for prospective whistleblowers as to whether they are opposing illegal conduct.

2.         Does someone in upper management at your company know about your complaints? This can be intimidating, but in my experience, you will have a stronger case if you bring up your concerns to someone higher up in management than your direct supervisor or worksite manager. This puts the company on notice about the unlawful conduct, and it bolsters your credibility as someone who was concerned enough about the potentially illegal conduct that they reported it to someone within the company who could act on it. Likewise, if someone with authority at your company is on notice of the potentially illegal conduct and that person doesn’t take action, that can bolster your possible case. Sometimes firms will have an “ethics” hotline or will refer you to human resources. I don’t think it hurts to report through those channels, but I think you should also report the unlawful conduct to someone who has the actual authority to change the practice that you are challenging.

3.         Can you frame your complaint as a business problem and suggest solutions to the problem of unlawful conduct and be reasonable in how you report the misconduct? I cribbed this idea from a post from the excellent SkloverWorkingWisdom blog written by attorney Alan Sklover. All things being equal in an employment law case, the party who is most reasonable is going to win. This fact tends to disadvantage employees, because it’s hard to keep a level head when you are being mistreated or being asked to participate in unlawful conduct at work. But do your best to be level headed and objective when you bring up your complaints to management. Like the point in the last paragraph, if the employer ignores your practical solution to the potentially unlawful conduct, then you have bolstered your possible case.

4.         Will other employees will join you in your complaints? Whistleblowers tend to get tarred as tattletales. If co-workers are joining you in your complaints, the case becomes more credible. If you make a legitimate complaint as a group, you also gain protection of the National Labor Relations Act for engaging in protected concerted activity, as well as under any whistleblower law that you might be bringing a case under.

5.         How strongly can you support your claims? To win any whistleblower retaliation case, you must have evidence to prove your case. In most cases, this requires written evidence that often takes the form of emails that implicate possible wrongdoers. If a case gets into litigation, then in theory, such documents must be disclosed. That does not always happen in practice. Additionally, having documents will help a lawyer determine if you have a possible claim and how strong your possible claim could be.

Employees may have concerns about revealing confidential documents and/or be concerned that their employer may take legal action against them for revealing company information. Many whistleblower laws protect certain types of information from being deemed confidential. Employers are also somewhat reluctant to act against whistleblowers, because this can invite more retaliation litigation. But potential whistleblowers should be aware of possible legal liability for disclosing company information, so an employee should be very careful about how they choose to share company information. Attorney-client communications, even those communications involving prospective clients are confidential. By consulting with an attorney, a prospective whistleblower can get some guidance as to whether they are risking legal liability by disclosing information.

Evidence can also take the form of witness testimony, which is why it is helpful if you have a group of employees opposing potentially unlawful conduct.

6.         Are you willing to change jobs or relocate? Even if what you think is a valid whistleblower complaint is merely a dispute with a manager over something that it isn’t illegal, the fact for you is that if you are doing something or working in an environment that you don’t like, you are almost setting yourself up to fail. This is probably even more true if you have a valid whistleblower claim. Studies show that it is easier to find a job while you are still employed. Even with anti-discrimination laws, employers have broad discretion to fire employees under the “employment at-will” doctrine. The underappreciated flip side of employment at-will for employees is that they can quit without cause or notice. If you are in a dysfunctional or even hostile work environment, it’s smart to take advantage of the ability to quit freely if you have another job lined up.

CSB Releases New Safety Video Detailing Investigation into 2013 Fatal Fire and Explosion at the Williams Olefins Plant in LA

Today’s post was shared by WC CompNewsNetwork and comes from www.workerscompensation.com

Washington, DC (WorkersCompensation.com) – The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a safety video of its investigation of the June 13, 2013 explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, Louisiana, which killed two workers and injured an additional 167. The deadly explosion and fire occurred when a heat exchanger containing flammable liquid propane violently ruptured.

The CSB’s newly released 12-minute safety video entitled, “Blocked In,” includes a 3D animation of the explosion and fire as well as interviews with CSB investigator Lauren Grim and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. The video is based on the CSB’s case study on the Williams incident and can be viewed on the CSB’s website and YouTube.

Chairperson Sutherland said, “Our investigation on the explosion at Williams describes an ineffective process safety management program at the plant at the time of the incident. We urge other companies to incorporate our recommendations at their facilities and to assess the state of their cultures to promote safety at all organizational levels to prevent a similar accident. ”

The CSB’s investigation found many process safety management program deficiencies at Williams, which set the stage for the incident. In particular, the CSB found that the heat exchanger that failed was completely isolated from its pressure relief valve.

In the video, Investigator Lauren Grim said, “When evaluating overpressure…

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NPR: DACA Recipient Sues U.S. Government After He Is Detained By Immigration Authorities

“My hope is that ICE and federal government say the truth, which is that a mistake was made here,” – Mark Rosenbaum, attorney for Mr. Ramirez

A 23-year-old man who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents in Seattle on Feb. 10 says his constitutional rights have been violated, and he is suing the U.S. government for his release.

Daniel Ramirez Medina, who is currently being held by immigration authorities in Tacoma, Wash., is registered with the U.S. government under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

His appears to be the first arrest by ICE of a DACA recipient. 

According to court documents, Ramirez was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. when he was about 7 years old.

In 2014, Ramirez was approved to stay in the U.S. under DACA. He paid a fee to register with the government, underwent an extensive background check and was granted a work permit.

On May 5, 2016, his DACA status was renewed a second time. The renewal stated, “Unless terminated, this decision to defer removal action will remain in effect for 2 years from the date of this notice.”

Ramirez’s lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part, was filed on Monday. The complaint alleges Ramirez was asleep at his father’s home in Seattle when agents arrived with an arrest warrant for the father.

From the complaint:

“Following his arrest, Mr. Ramirez’s father granted the ICE officers permission to enter his home so that he could inform his two sons about his arrest. When the ICE agents entered the home, they asked Mr. Ramirez, ‘Are you legally here?’ Mr. Ramirez replied, ‘Yes, I have a work permit.’ On the recommendation of his brother (a DACA recipient who was also then present), Mr. Ramirez declined to answer additional questions at that time.” …

“The ICE agents then took Mr. Ramirez to a processing center in Seattle, Washington. When he again informed them about his work permit, one of the ICE agents stated: ‘It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country.’ At this point, the ICE agents had Mr. Ramirez’s wallet, which contained his work permit, which clearly identified him as a DACA recipient with a ‘C-33’ code, which reflects a work authorization issued pursuant to DACA. Despite this fact, Mr. Ramirez was questioned further, fingerprinted, booked, and taken to a detention center in Tacoma, Washington.”

 

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DOE Declines to Exercise Option to Extend Contract with Penser North America

Penser North America has held the contract to manage workers’ compensation claims on behalf of the Department of Energy for workers injured or disabled while working at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Penser’s current contract is set to expire in September.  Penser has indicated their plan to respond when DOE issues a request for proposals later this year with the hope to continue to provide services to DOE in this capacity.

KING5 thoroughly investigated the handling of workers’ compensation claims by Penser in their series “Sick and Forgotten at Hanford.” KING5 reported finding mishandling of workers’ compensation claims, using “unfair tactics to get claims denied.”  Listen to the KING5 podcast here. KING5 reported on the DOE’s rejection of the option to extend Penser’s contract – read the full article for more details.

 

Photo credit: KING5.com

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Truck Parking: A Forgotten Piece of Infrastructure

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

While bridge collapses make for dramatic footage and almost everybody encounters the more mundane danger of potholes, truck parking is not an infrastructure issue that most people think about, but it is a very important issue for over-the-road truckers.

Lack of truck parking is a safety issue for many reasons. Lack of parking for truckers makes it harder for them to find a place to sleep, which leads to more accidents. Additionally, drivers are forced to park in unsafe locations, like the shoulders of roads, which can lead to even more safety hazards.

I travel quite often on I-80 (which generally follows The Oregon Trail) when I travel between Lincoln and central Nebraska to meet with and represent my clients in places like Grand Island, Hastings, Kearney, Lexington and North Platte. I like the fact that Nebraska has plenty of places to stop for personal comfort, check email or even take a quick nap. But even in a state like Nebraska, where hospitality to overland travelers is an integral part of our state’s history, I still see safety issues with truck parking. The parking lots in many trucks stops are very rough from the weight of the trucks. This can lead to slip and fall injuries. Stops need to be well-maintained so that they remain safe.

Unfortunately, many urban areas are less friendly toward truck parking, which forces rural areas to bear more of the burden of truck parking. President Donald Trump has announced a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan. Hopefully, sufficient and safe truck parking will be part of that infrastructure plan.

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Age Discrimination Claims in Workers’ Compensation Settlements?

Today’s post comes from guest author Anthony L. Lucas, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

When an employee settles a workers’ compensation claim, the employer often wants to terminate the employee and is cautious because of potential age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. 621 et seq. (2015), prohibits companies with 20 or more employees from discriminating against a person (40 years of age or older) because of his or her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

An individual who has been discriminated against because of his or her age may be entitled to back pay, reinstatement, hiring, promotion, front pay, liquidated damages, and court costs and attorney fees.

To avoid potential discrimination claims after a workers’ compensation settlement, the employer often seeks an ADEA waiver at the same time. For an ADEA waiver to be enforceable, it must:

  • Be in writing and understandable;

  • Specifically refer to ADEA rights or claims;

  • Not waive an individual’s future rights or claims;

  • Be in exchange for valuable consideration in addition to anything of value to which the individuals is already entitled;

  • Advise the individual to consult with an attorney before signing the waiver;

  • Provide the individual with a certain amount of time to consider the agreement:

    • 21 days for individual agreements

    • 45 days for group waiver agreements

    • A “reasonable” amount of time for settlements of ADEA claims

  • Provide a period of at least 7 days following the execution of the agreement, in which the agreement is not effective or enforceable, in which the individual may revoke the agreement.

Some termination agreements may not be enforceable, and the individual may have a valid claim to pursue under the ADEA.

Published by Causey Wright