Category Archives: Worker Safety

Space Needle Construction Photos Released

Seattle Times staff reporter  Erik Lacitis writes that a previously undisplayed collection of 2,400 photos documenting the building of the Space Needle is now available to the public. Just go to the Seattle Public Library’sGeorge Gulacsik Space Needle Photograph Collection to view them.  An exhibit at the Space Needle itself includes photos from the collection and other material about building the structure. It’s included in tickets to the observation deck. The collection includes the early drawings of the Space Needle as it went through various artistic renditions.

Despite the danger, there were no bad mishaps during the building of the Space Needle and it received a state award for no days lost to injury.

Gulacsik, who died in 2010, was a graphic artist and industrial photographer contracted by John Graham & Co., architects for the project. Week in and week out, Gulacsik would take the legendary Leica DRP 35-mm camera he owned and drive to where the Space Needle was being built.

He began taking his historic pictures in April 1961 as the giant 30-foot-deep hole for the foundation was being dug. He ended in January 1962 as the workers spray-painted “Galaxy Gold” on the roof, getting it ready for the Seattle World’s Fair that would open three months later.

Read Lacitis’s full article for a close look at the working conditions and workers’ stories of the building of the Space Needle.

Port of Bellingham Ordered to Pay Injured Ferry Worker

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter writes that the Port of Bellingham has been ordered to pay $16M in damages to an Alaska Ferries employee injured in 2012.

The verdict was returned Friday, April 1st, after a nine-day trial before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman. Jim Jacobsen, one of the attorneys representing the employee, Shannon Adamson, and her husband, Nicholas, of Juneau, said the eight-member jury deliberated about five hours before deciding the case.

The jury found the port negligent for failing to fix a control panel that operated the passenger gangway ramp at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, even though evidence at the trial showed the port knew the panel was faulty and officials there knew of a previous, similar accident in 2008.

The Bellingham Herald’s Samantha Wohlfeil reported in September of 2014 that the Port of Bellingham Commission had settled a dispute over insurance coverage and was then able to go forward with repairs to the passenger ramp – two years after the accident that injured Ms. Adamson.


Photo Credit: THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Four Employers Cited in Fatal Bonney Lake, WA Bridge Collapse

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited and fined four construction contractors for workplace safety hazards on a Bonney Lake bridge project last April that turned fatal.

Part of the structure being demolished fell onto traffic below, killing Josh and Vanessa Ellis and their eight-month-old son, Hudson, when their vehicle passed under the overpass. See the KIRO-TV story about this tragic event here.

L&I has jurisdiction over worker safety, which is what the agency investigation focused on.

WHH Nisqually Federal Services, of Tacoma, was the general contractor for pedestrian improvements on the SR 410 overpass. WHH Nisqually contracted with HighMark Concrete Contractors of Buckley to do the concrete work. HighMark Concrete contracted with Staton Companies of Eugene, Ore., to remove a portion of the existing bridge. Staton hired Hamilton Construction of Springfield, Ore., to cut the concrete barrier. All four companies had workers on site.

“Demolition is one of the most hazardous operations in construction,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director for the L&I Division of Occupational Safety & Health. “Preparing and following a specific safety plan that anticipates the worst case conditions is critical. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in this case.” 

Staton was fined $58,800 for one “willful” and two “serious” violations for exposing workers to danger while demolishing the concrete barrier on the overpass. Staton oversaw the cutting of the concrete barrier by its subcontractor, but failed to provide a demolition plan to the subcontractor. The investigation found that Staton had concerns about the possibility of the barrier falling down during cutting, yet still continued with the work.

Staton was cited for a willful violation for not ensuring a workplace free from recognized hazards. The company demolished the concrete barrier without following procedures in the demolition plan it developed. It was also cited for a serious violation for exposing workers on a lower level to the possibility of an unplanned collapse, and another serious violation for not ensuring the concrete barrier was secured or braced to prevent collapse during cutting.

Hamilton Construction was fined $14,700 for three serious violations for exposing workers to essentially the same hazards as Staton Companies. However, none of the violations was found to be willful.

WHH Nisqually was fined $8,400 for two serious violations for not ensuring a workplace free from recognized hazards and for exposing workers on the lower level to the possibility of an unplanned collapse.

Highmark Concrete Contractors was fined $4,900 for one serious violation, also for not ensuring a workplace free from recognized hazards.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard of 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 employers have 15 business days from receipt of the citation to appeal.

 

Photo credit: KIRO-TV

 

Workers’ Comp Covers Work-Related Motor Vehicle Accidents

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

Do you drive a company vehicle as part of your job?

Many find themselves in the situation where they travel regularly, or on a special errand from time to time, as part of their job. 

In the unfortunate scheme of things, if you are involved in an accident while driving, whether it is your fault or not, you are covered by and entitled to workers’ compensation benefits just as any other employee who suffers an accident on the premise of an employer.

More importantly, if the cause of the accident was not due to negligence of your own, but that of a third party, you have a right to bring a third-party negligence action against the party responsible for causing the vehicle accident. This right is separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits that you are entitled to. Further, you also potentially have the right to bring an underinsured motorist coverage claim under your employer’s motor vehicle coverage as well as your own underinsured motorist vehicle coverage. These, too, are separate and distinct from the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to. 

It is important to note that the employer would have a subrogation right to be reimbursed for workers’ compensation benefits paid on your behalf against that of any third-party negligence claim where you obtained a recovery. However, as underinsured motorist coverage is typically viewed as contractual benefits in nature, there is no subrogation right from your employer if underinsured benefits are obtained in Nebraska.

If you or someone you know was injured in a motor vehicle accident that arose out of and in the course of one’s employment, there are significant issues to be aware of in order to obtain a recovery that meets your needs. If you have any questions or uncertainty when dealing with this point of law, please seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help steer you in the best course of action.

The Right to a Safe Workplace

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

Under federal law, every employee has the right to a safe workplace. If you believe your workplace is dangerous and changes in safety policy are ignored, you can request an inspection from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Workers’ compensation, which is regulated on a state-by-state level, covers medical bills, lost wages, disability and vocational rehabilitation services for employees injured on the job. If you have any questions regarding these benefits, please contact an experienced lawyer in your area.

 If you believe you work in an unsafe work area, here are some tips to be aware of to make sure your workplace is as safe as possible, and you protect yourself from significant injury:

  1.  Know the hazards in your workplace.
  2. While in a seated position, keep your shoulders in line with your hips. Use good form when lifting.
  3. Injuries occur when workers get tired. Take breaks when you’re tired.
  4. Do not skip safety procedures just because it makes the job easier or quicker. Using dangerous machinery is the one of the leading causes of work injuries.
  5. Be aware of where emergency shutoff switches are located.
  6. Report unsafe work areas.
  7. Wear proper safety equipment.

If you are injured due to an unsafe workplace, and you are unsure of the benefits that you are entitled to, contact an experienced attorney in your area.

How Safe Is Healthcare for Workers?

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

The issue raised by Mr. Rehm was investigated thoroughly in a book given to us by a client, an injured nurse who contributed her story to the effort under a pseudonym: Back Injury Among Healthcare Workers, published by Lewis Publishers. It is a great resource, providing case-studies, statistics and suggestions for improvements for workers in the healthcare field.

The article that today’s blog post is based upon is an in-depth look at how one state’s OSHA office interacts with a sector of the healthcare community: hospitals. Like Iowa, but unlike Nebraska, Oregon is one of 27 states or U.S. territories that has an OSHA office at the state level

The “Lund Report: Unlocking Oregon’s Healthcare System” article talks extensively about nuances within ways that OSHA offices, whether state or federal, can measure the safety of healthcare providers like hospitals and nursing homes. 

As evidenced in previous blog posts about senior-care workers and lifting injuries, I have continuing concerns for the safety of healthcare workers. 

According to the in-depth article, “A Lund Report review suggests that in Oregon, regulators are de-emphasizing attention to hospital employee safety, despite national data showing that healthcare workers are injured in the U.S. each year at rates similar to farmers and hunters. Most Oregon hospitals have not been inspected by the state Occupational Safety and Health Division in years. And when on-the-job hazards are detected, Oregon’s OSHA office levies the lowest average penalties in the country.”

Should workers get lost as the patients are the focus of these healthcare institutions? Should regulation and inspections or fines by such groups as OSHA be the driving force toward workplace safety for healthcare employees?

It seems to me that healthcare administrators’ emphasis on profit is more important than proper concern for their employees – the nation’s caregivers. And if you or your family member is the healthcare worker who gets hurt on the job, this lack of focus on the worker is more than just a philosophical argument.

Bangladesh Building Collapse Highlights Need for Safety Inspections

Bangladeshi Workers Protest Deaths

    The total number of workers killed or injured in the collapse of a building in Savar, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013 is not yet known, as rescuers continue to search for survivors.  As of Sunday, April 28th, the count was at least 377 dead.  Many of those killed were workers at clothing factories housed in the building, known as Rana Plaza, where fire broke out in the wreckage of the building, temporarily suspending rescue efforts as of April 24.  Efforts will restart with the aide of heavy equipment, which had previously been avoided in an effort to not injure those still buried in the rubble.  There no longer are assumed to be any victims remaining alive, although hundreds remain unaccounted for. The death toll surpassed a fire five months ago that killed 112 people and brought widespread pledges to improve worker-safety standards. But since then, very little has changed in Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch reported on the building collapse, noting that it knows of no cases in which the Bangladeshi government has ever prosecuted a factory owner over the deaths of workers.

    USA Today reported on the tragedy with the news that Mohammed Sohel Rana, the fugitive owner of the illegally-constructed building, was apprehended by a commando force while trying to flee to India.  Rana was returned to Dhaka to face charges of negligence. Rana had been on the run since the building collapsed Wednesday. He last appeared in public Tuesday in front of the Rana Plaza after huge cracks appeared in the building. Witnesses said he assured tenants, including five garment factories, that the building was safe. Hours later, the Rana Plaza was reduced to rubble, crushing most victims under massive blocks of concrete.

    Human Rights Watch reported on the building collapse, noting that it knows of no cases in which the Bangladeshi government has ever prosecuted a factory owner over the deaths of workers. Many factory owners in Bangladesh are parliamentarians or members of the main political parties. In an interview with a government minister in 2011, the minister told Human Rights Watch that it would be “impossible” to improve workers rights so long as factory owners were senior members of political parties. 

    According to the Human Rights Watch report, Bangladesh has notoriously poor workplace safety inspection mechanisms. The Ministry of Labour’s Inspection Department, responsible for monitoring employers’ adherence to Bangladesh’s Labour Act, is chronically under-resourced. In June 2012, the Inspection Department had just 18 inspectors and assistant inspectors to monitor an estimated 100,000 factories in Dhaka district, where the Rana building is located. The garment sector alone employs an estimated 3 million workers. 

    According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs, workers in the Bangladeshi garment factories are primarily women – 75 to 90 percent – and children ranging in age from eight to fourteen years.  Most of the children are girls with an average age of just over 13 years.  Working conditions are described in the USDOLreport as follows:

        Garment factories are located in multi-storied buildings throughout Dhaka including Mirpur, Malibagh and Rampura districts (allegedly one of the worst areas), and the Free School District area. Working conditions in general in Bangladesh are far below western standards. On a par with other factory settings, garment factories are often dimly lit, with poor ventilation, and open for very long hours. However, some factories operate with good lighting and are not overly hot or crowded. The workers, mostly female, work without a break during their shift. Too often the factory doors are locked. Sometimes guards with keys stand by the locked gate; other times no one able to unlock the iron grating is near. Many times the locked gate is the only entrance or exit to a factory. The workers, including children, are frequently locked into their work place at the beginning of the morning shift and not let out until the end of the workday, and in some cases not until the next day. Overtime hours occur during peak periods in the production cycle when manufacturers are rushing to fulfill their export quotas. AAFLI’s 1994 survey of garment factories found that, like adult workers, children typically work 10 to 14 hours a day, with a half-day off on Friday.

    The similarities  are chilling to the working conditions of American garment workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory prior to the tragic fire on March 26, 1911 that forever bears the same name. The horrific deaths from the Triangle fire, witnessed through photographs printed in the news media around the world, spurred a swift and aggressive response by workers and labor activists. Their response led to the establishment of many of the protective organizations American workers now rely on, including the workers’ compensation system, the American Society of Safety Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

    As with the Triangle fire, this should be a call to action as well as a time for reflection.  We, as consumers, are tied to the businesses in Bangladesh that supply garments to American companies.  That connection gives us the power to effect change in the working conditions of the Bangladeshi factories by insisting that American corporations purchase garments for sale in the US from safety-inspected factories that meet minimal international standards for basic worker protection.

 

 

 

Photo credit: dblackadder / Foter.com / CC BY-SA