The Law Offices of Lyndon R. Helton, PLLC
THE LAW OFFICES OF
Lyndon R. Helton, PLLC
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Hickory NC Personal Injury Law Blog

Lawsuit alleges discrimination in workers' compensation benefits

A class-action lawsuit brewing on the West Coast could be of interest to injured workers in North Carolina. The lawsuit claims that the workers' compensation system discriminates against women. Benefits were reduced for injured female workers because they were considered more statistically prone to the types of injuries that they endured after years on the job due to their gender.

Medical evaluators for workers' compensation claims often clearly recommended that women's permanent disability benefits be reduced because of their gender. Women in the lawsuit saw benefit reductions of up to 80 percent less than what an injured male in the same situation would have received.

The cost of workplace injuries in North Carolina

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) falls are the most common cause of work-related death after transportation related fatalities. Liberty Mutual estimates that each year $15.57 billion is spent on injury claims related to falls, which is about 25 percent of the $61 billion spent on all claims annually. Injuries related to tripping or slipping without a fall accounted for another $2.35 billion each year or 3.8 percent.

As injuries that occur at home may impact how workers perform on the job, OSHA also pays attention to how injuries can be prevented in the home. According to the National Safety Council, falls were the third leading cause of death caused by unintentional injury, and 52 percent of such injuries occurred at home. Only 13 percent of such injuries occurred at work. The first step to prevent falls from happening is to identity potential hazards and work to eliminate them.

Workplace safety practices with welding fumes

Some North Carolina workers risk exposure to welding fumes while they are on the job. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, both fusion and pressure welding types result in potentially toxic exposures. Within the fumes that are produced by the different types of welding are both gas and metal byproducts that can cause lasting harm.

People may be exposed to arsenic, hydrogen fluoride, argon, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, beryllium, carbon dioxide and more if they do not take appropriate safety measures. OSHA recommends that workers always use respiratory equipment when they are welding. Their employers need to install good exhaust ventilation systems in indoor welding areas and should never ask employees to weld in unventilated, confined spaces. For outdoor welding areas, workers should remain upwind of the fumes if at all possible. Surfaces on which the various toxic substances might build up should be cleaned often.

OSHA reminds employers of summer temperature risks

Outdoor workers in North Carolina who do not have regular access to drinking water and shaded areas are at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. This is the message being pushed heavily by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in a campaign designed to cut down on the 2,630 American workers who developed a heat-related illness in 2014.

While workers who develop heat related illnesses are sometimes able to rejoin the workforce after a short period of rest, the consequences of heat stroke can be fatal. OSHA is urging employers to review their orientation and training programs and use resources like animated videos and illustrations to make improvements. The safety agency's focus on training is a result of their investigations into heat-related incidents that have often involved workers with only a few days of experience.

How nurses can stay safe in North Carolina

According to OSHA, there were 253,700 reports of workplace injury or illness related to health care workers in 2011. That translates to 6.8 injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time workers. Typically, injuries occur when a worker falls or overexerts himself or herself while on the job. Illnesses generally occur because of interactions with allergens or coming into contact with needles that carry infectious materials.

The good news is that there are many ways in which nurses and other health care workers can keep themselves safe while at work. First, they should take care to stay away from sharp objects or understand how to handle them with care. Each year, there are 385,000 injuries reported that were caused by such objects, and hospitals now use needles with caps on them as part of the Needlestick Prevention and Safety Act.

The Department of Labor proposes new mining regulations

Workplace safety advocates in North Carolina and around the country will likely be in support of new mining regulations proposed by the Department of Labor on June 7. The proposal was made in light of 122 mining industry fatalities between 2010 and 2015 and the widespread disregard of current regulations by mine operators. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, violations of current safety standards were linked to more than 60 percent of these fatalities.

If implemented, the new regulations would protect mine workers by requiring their employers to inspect workplaces prior to work commencing and inform miners of any potentially unsafe conditions. The new rules would also require mine operators to keep records of these inspections listing the dates of all inspections, reports of any unsafe conditions that were noticed and details of any corrective action that was subsequently taken. Under the proposed regulations, a competent individual would be required to sign and date this examination record at the end of each shift.

Improving safety at work

Workplace safety is a major cause for concern in North Carolina as well as across the globe. Worldwide, around 6,300 people are killed on the job every day. However, there are many things employers can do to help improve safety in their workplaces in a cost-efficient manner.

One mistake some employers make is adding too much administration. Instead of doing so, employers should consider developing improved safety systems. They should also make safety a concern for all of the employees rather than making it the job of a single department. This can be accomplished by providing all employees with regular safety training and good safety equipment.

Slaughterhouse injuries may be underreported

North Carolina has a thriving meat and poultry processing industry. A report issued by the Government Accountability Office in April 2016 shows that slaughterhouses around the country are less dangerous for workers than they used to be. However, there are concerns that injuries to meat and poultry workers may be underreported.

According to the GAO report, 151 meat and poultry workers died on the job between 2004 and 2013. While that number is better than it was a decade ago, the injury rate for industry workers is still higher than that of other manufacturing occupations and the independent agency believes some slaughterhouse injuries go unreported. For example, the report found that sanitary workers who are injured or killed in meat processing plants are not always counted by the meat industry because many are employed by outside contractors. It also found that slaughterhouse medical personnel sometimes send injured workers back to the processing line without seeing a doctor. As a result of these and other reporting discrepancies, the agency believes the government needs to do a better job collecting safety data from meat companies.

Most common workplace injuries

Most North Carolina employees know that there are certain risks that they face, no matter what their occupation. In May, a major workers' compensation insurance company provided a five-year report to see where the injuries were occurring and why workers were being injured.

According to the report that the insurer released, the most common workplace injuries tended to be simple. For example, strains and sprains from lifting and lowering objects were common. These injuries, in addition to bruises and inflammation, accounted for about 33 percent of all the reported injuries. Slips and falls accounted for about 16 percent of the injuries. Injuries caused by the workers being struck by objects and cumulative trauma that resulted from repeated overuse were even less common. Tool accidents rounded out the top five most common causes of workplace injuries.

New accident reporting regulations

Over the next two years, many companies in North Carolina and throughout the country will be required to comply with new injury reporting standards. While most employers are already required to report on-the-job injuries, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to publicly post injury data from companies that are in certain high-hazard industries. The agency hopes that the reporting requirements will work in much the same way that public posting of health department restaurant ratings encourage cleaner kitchens.

Opponents say that the measure will punish workplaces that have unfortunate accidents or worker injuries that employers are not responsible for, such as heart attacks. They also have expressed concern that the reporting will result in the release of proprietary information and believe that the new reporting regulations violate the previous policy of no-fault accident reporting.

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Hickory, NC 28601

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Hickory, NC 28603

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