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

OSHA cited contractor twice before fatal North Carolina accident

Workers for Associated Scaffolding were taking down a scaffold on a glass and steel building going up in downtown Raleigh when it collapsed and killed three men and injured another. Over the past decade, the company had received two citations from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration for serious safety violations in the state before this deadly accident.

The citations had concerned scaffold access equipment and the storage of welding materials. OSHA and the State Department of Labor plan to investigate the accident.

Overview of occupational illnesses and injuries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses found that in 2013, 1,162,210 workers and state and local government employees took one or more days off work. Almost 3 million private sector workers are affected in North Carolina, together with other states in the U.S. each year.

The severity of a workplace injury or illness is measured by the median number of days away from work. In 2013, almost 100 injured workers out of 10,000 employed in the private sector missed days from work, with eight being the median number lost workdays. Although workplace problems such as this are down from 20 years ago because of better health and safety practices, hazardous workplaces are found in areas not commonly considered dangerous.

Hazard alert issued for stone countertop workers

Workers in North Carolina who are involved in the manufacturing, finishing and installation of stone countertops may be at risk for crystalline silica exposure. In February 2015, OSHA along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a joint hazard alert about crystalline silica exposure.

The hazard alert was issued after reports came out that dozens of workers in Spain and Israel had been exposed to unsafe levels of crystalline silica while they were manufacturing stone countertops. The workers had developed an incurable, disabling and sometimes fatal disease of the lungs called silicosis. Lung transplants were required to treat 10 of the workers in Israel.

Using a nail gun safely in North Carolina

While a nail gun can make any nailing task easier, it can also make that task more dangerous. Among apprentice carpenters, 40 percent were hurt at least once by a nail gun during their four years of training. Another 20 percent were injured twice during that period while 10 percent were hurt three or more times during the four-year training period.

Many of the injuries occurred to the hands and fingers, but it was also common to see nail gun injuries to the knees, legs and feet. Some injuries were severe and led to damaged organs, broken bones and nerve damage. Nail gun injuries also led to long-term injuries such as blindness, paralysis or even death. Of those who were injured, most were injured while doing sheathing or framing work on a residential construction site.

Facts and help regarding workplace back injuries

Because many warehouse and factory jobs in North Carolina and throughout the country require employees to move and lift heavy inventory, back injuries are common. In fact, during 2013, there were more than 100,000 of these types of work-related injuries amounting to $15 billion in company costs, according to statistical reports. To improve safety at the workplace, a new company has developed a device for employees to wear that will detect when the employee is lifting an object and which muscles are being used in the movement. It will then provide the employee with feedback regarding how the movement was made. The company believes that the devices will help users to avoid a work-related injury.

Although employers should train workers how to handle heavy boxes to avoid back muscle injuries, it can be easy for employees to disregard that training when they are under time restraints, for example. This new product can serve to warn employees of any potential danger for injury while they are working by reminding them to use correct lifting techniques. Moreover, it supplies companies with valuable data through observation of employee activities over a period of time, which helps keep managers updated to any necessary safety improvements. In turn, employees may be less prone to suffer on-the-job injuries.

The risk of hydrogen sulfide in work environments

For many North Carolina industrial workers, specifically those who work with natural gas or oil, hydrogen sulfide contamination is a serious and constant risk. If the ambient air becomes contaminated with hydrogen sulfide, workers could suffer serious injuries or even die as a result. While many safety organizations have developed standards to help keep workers safe and healthy, it is recommended that companies perform their own risk assessments and testing procedures.

There are a certain number of dangers associated with hydrogen sulfide. The gas can be detected at about .13 ppm. At 10 to 100 ppm, workers may begin to experience throat and eye irritation. After an hour of exposure, workers may experience headaches, nausea and vomiting, among other symptoms. Workers are at risk for falling unconscious when levels reach between 700 to 1,000 ppm. Finally, workers can instantly succumb when levels reach more than 1,000 ppm.

Hearing loss resulting from workplace conditions

As North Carolina residents may know, workers in the manufacturing sector are susceptible to many injuries as a result of their jobs, with a significant one being hearing loss. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hearing loss accounts for one out of nine injuries recorded in that occupation. Areas included in the manufacturing category include primary and fabricated metals, wood, furniture and transportation. A hurdle in addressing hearing loss in manufacturing is that, although it may happen quickly due to a sudden loud noise, it frequently occurs gradually, and the worker may be unaware that he or she has suffered a hearing impairment.

The problem is that in order to be counted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it is necessary that the hearing loss is a direct result of the effects of noise at work. In addition, the degree of hearing loss the worker suffers must be sufficient enough to categorize the worker as hearing impaired.

How vibration may be dangerous in the workplace

Vibration is not commonly known to be one of the greater occupational hazards facing employees in North Carolina and elsewhere. It can sometimes be overlooked in risk assessments, but authorities such as the Journal of the American Medical Association assert that vibration exposure is responsible for a substantial portion of the occupational injuries and lost-time accidents in America.

One of the first types of vibration-related occupational injuries that was detected occurred in quarry workers who used heavy pneumatic tools to chip stone. Their hands developed a previously unknown condition where the fingertips turned white and blood flow in the extremities was lost. In extreme cases, the fingertips had to be amputated. Researchers eventually traced Vibration White Finger Disease to the constant shaking that their arms endured during their workday. This is now known as hand-arm vibration exposure.

North Carolina workers have the right to be safe

Despite certain work environments being known for occupational hazards, employers are obligated to keep employees safe from injury while working. The failure of some employers to implement necessary safety measures has contributed to the ongoing incidents of workplace injuries.

For example, most trench-related deaths resulted from inadequate protection from cave-ins, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An unprotected trench poses significant risk to the employee's life and should be modified and outfitted with a protection system appropriate for the specific working environment to reduce the risk of injury or death.

Federal machine testing for workplace safety

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maintains two laboratories that are used to study workplace safety for protection of workers in North Carolina and throughout the country. This includes machine safety. While machines increase workplace efficiency, they also introduce a number of new hazards. The High Bay Laboratory researches large equipment safety as does the Safety Engineering Laboratory.

At the High Bay Laboratory, in operation since 1995, researchers study the safety of machinesused in agriculture, construction and industry. In addition to test equipment, the laboratory uses an Advanced Dynamic Anthropomorphic Manikin, similar to a crash test dummy, in various simulations. The ADAM is wired throughout its system for collecting and transmitting data in tests for protective fall equipment and other safety measures. The Safety Engineering Laboratory conducts a number of tests including ambulance impact tests and research around farm tractor roll-overs. It has equipment to simulate a fire engine cab and a long-haul truck cab that can be used to assess various safety factors including accommodation for individuals. These test cabs contain the working components that would be found in their real-life counterparts.

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Hickory, NC 28601

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Hickory, NC 28603

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