Archive for the ‘Workplace Deaths’ Category

Workers’ Compensation for Undocumented Workers: A New Blog Series

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Today we begin a new series on the blog about the process of applying for workers’ compensation in North Carolina if you are an undocumented worker.

Despite what your employer, the insurance company or coworkers may have told you, if you are hurt at work, you are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits regardless of your immigration status.  These benefits include lost wages and medical treatment, as well as death benefits for family members of workers killed on the job.

Workers’ compensation cases involving undocumented workers can be challenging, and the other side will do everything they can to deny benefits. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced team of attorneys and paralegals working on your behalf. We have an entire bilingual team here at the Deuterman Law Group who are qualified to represent undocumented workers and who will work to get them the full range of benefits they are entitled.

In this multi-part series, we will cover the following:

  • An undocumented workers’ rights under the law
  • Whether you can be fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • Whether you can be deported for filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • How immigration status affects a workers’ compensation claim
  • Your rights to an interpreter in court and for medical appointments
  • What happens if you’ve worked using a different name or a borrowed Social Security number
  • Where to get medical treatment if you’ve been injured on the job
  • The importance of medical treatment
  • What to do if the company denies you are an employee
  • Determining whether you were an employee or an independent contractor
  • What happens if your employer doesn’t carry workers’ compensation insurance
  • The role of our firm investigator plays in collecting evidence for your workers’ comp claim
  • How to prove employment when no official records exist
  • What to expect during a workers’ compensation claim hearing or mediation
  • Death benefits available to the families of workers killed on the job
  • Wrapping up your claim and collecting your benefits

N.C. workplace fatalities decline in 2013

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Workplace deaths in North Carolina declined by 39 percent in 2013, according to new statistics from the N.C. Department of Labor.

In 2013, 23 North Carolinians died in accidents on the job, compared with 38 in 2012 and 53 in 2011. That represents a two-year decline of 57 percent. These statistics do not include deaths that resulted from workplace violence or traffic accidents.

The workplace deaths all occurred among laborers, working in high-risk industries including construction, agriculture and manufacturing. Younger workers are more likely to be injured and die in workplace accidents because of their inexperience and failures by employers to provide adequate training and safety precautions. Injury rates are often higher among Hispanic workers because many work in high-risk jobs like construction and agriculture.

In reporting workplace fatalities, the Department of Labor does not identify the deceased workers. All 23 people killed on the job in 2013 were men. Twelve of them were white, 10 were Hispanic and one was black. They ranged in age from 18 to 65. Their average age was 44.

“These were fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, co-workers and friends,” Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. “I believe North Carolina is benefiting from increased awareness of safety and health in both private industry and the government, but we must do better.”

I must agree with Berry. Though these men worked in high-risk jobs, they did not need to lose their lives simply because they went to work.

In every case, I’m certain these deaths were preventable had better safety measures and better worker education been implemented. We also need to do a better monitoring of company’s safety records and penalizing those businesses that are lax or negligent when it comes to safety. And for companies that ignore safety rules and regulations, putting profits before people, the penalties should be even harsher.

Eleven of those killed last year in North Carolina died when hit by a vehicle or falling object and six were killed in falls, according to the Labor Department. Three died after being caught in machinery; two inhaled toxic fumes, and one was electrocuted.


Durham manhole deaths raise issues about workplace safety on public projects

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Local governments may soon be required to review a company’s workplace safety record before awarding them contracts for public works projects.

The change is being considered following the deaths this summer of two Durham construction workers. Luis Castaneda Gomez and Jesus Martinez Benitez died while working in a manhole along U.S. 70 in Durham.

Despite a spotty safety record, their employer, Triangle Grading and Paving, had been awarded a contract for a water line project by the City of Durham. The company had been investigated 31 times and fined $217,000 for workplace safety violations since 1997, according to the News & Observer and NBC-17.

Emergency responders said Gomez and Benitez likely suffocated because there wasn’t sufficient oxygen in the manhole, according to NBC-17. News reports also indicated that standard safety procedures weren’t followed; workers did not use a gas detector or appropriate safety harnesses before entering the manhole.

Because Gomez and Benitez died on the job, their families applied for death benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, where they likely argued that their deaths resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of their employment with Triangle Grading and Paving.

However, their claims were denied by Builders Mutual, their employer’s workers’ comp insurance company. The insurance company said their deaths did not arise out of their employment and that the men’s presence in the manhole was a “deviation from [their] job duties and responsibilities,” according to news coverage.

An appeal is likely in the works, but the recovery of death benefits will only begin to touch upon compensating these families for their tremendous losses.

Tragedies like this one underscore the need for better workplace protections and safety measures. It seems in this case, the system failed Gomez and Benitez because safety rules apparently weren’t followed. And the city of Durham did not review their employers’ safety record before awarding the work contract. On top of that, the Gomez and Benitez families are left to wade through the workers’ compensation system due to the denial of their death claims by the insurance company.

The fatal accident has some state and local government officials questioning why a company with so many workplace safety violations was awarded a government contract. Unfortunately, this could be standard practice because of a loophole in N.C. law.

Information about the number of times a company has been investigated, cited and fined by the N.C. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division is easily available for public review. But there’s no provision in state law that requires city and county officials to review these records before awarding government contracts.

The law requires only that government contracts be awarded to “the lowest responsible bidder.”

Many local governments, including the City of Durham, do not check companies’ safety records when considering bids.

One state lawmaker wants to change that.

N.C. Rep. Paul Luebke, a Democrat representing Durham, told NBC-17 said he will work to change state law so that a company’s safety record must be considered as part of the public bid process. However, no legislation on this issue could be introduced until 2013.

Current laws, employers not doing enough to protect America’s Workers

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“Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” a new report from the AFL-CIO blames weak health and safety laws, inadequate enforcement and weak penalties for the more than 5,000 workplace deaths that occur annually and the 50,000 deaths that result annually from occupational illnesses.

The report’s timing and findings are particularly relevant now in the wake of deadly mining accidents in West Virginia and industrial accidents in Washington and Connecticut that claimed dozens of workers’ lives.

Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO Safety and Health director, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, “The vast majority of workplace deaths and injuries could be prevented if protective safety and health measures were followed. But the fact is that for too many employers, the safety of workers is secondary, taking a back seat to production. For some employers, there is a total and blatant disregard for workers. Worker safety requirements and other worker protections are totally ignored.”

You can download a complete copy of the “Death on the Job” report here. You may also want to consider asking your lawmakers to support the passage of the Protecting America’s Workers Act. The new legislation would:

  • Extend the law’s coverage to workers currently excluded;
  • Strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations;
  • Enhance anti-discrimination protections; and
  • Strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.


Men at much greater risk for workplace deaths, injuries

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Men face a disproportionate risk of dying or being injured on the job, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The reason is simple: men are more likely to work in dangerous injuries such as construction (90 percent male) and manufacturing (70 percent male), where the bulk of workplace accidents and deaths occur. Female-dominated industries such as health care and education have fewer incidents of deaths and injuries.

Approximately 7% of fatalities in 2008 were women, leaving men accounting for a whopping 93% of all workplace fatalities. Men were over 13 times more likely to die while on the job compared with women according to the report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Writer Katie Kelley has some thoughts on what these statistics mean for men and women in the workplace when it comes to compensation.


Could renewable energy save workers’ lives?

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Could going green and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels reduce workplace injuries?

Quite possibly, according to a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin compared workplace injury risks for workers in renewable energy industries compared to traditional fossil fuel industries.

Their findings? Switching to renewable energy could prevent 1,300 worker energy deaths over the next decade and also reduce the number of workplace injuries for the industry.

Jobs, such as mining, that associated with the energy industry are extremely dangerous and account for thousands of workplace deaths, workplace injuries and occupational illnesses every year. For instance, only agriculture is more dangerous and deadly than mining.

[Researchers] examined the human health risks associated with traditional fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, relative to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass. Wind and solar energy appeared to offer less risk of workplace injury and death than traditional fossil fuel industries, as the dangerous energy extraction phase is minimized or eliminated in wind or solar energy production. Biomass, comprised of biofuels, organic waste, and wood derived fuels, currently accounts for more than half of US energy renewable consumption and does not appear to offer a significant safety benefit to US workers relative to fossil fuels.

“The energy sector remains one of the most dangerous industries for US workers. A transition to renewable energy generation utilizing sources such as wind and solar could potentially eliminate 1300 worker deaths over the coming decade,” says Dr. [Steven] Sumner.

A common rap against renewable energy is that it is more costly to produce. But this new research actually shows that when the hidden costs of energy production (worker injuries and deaths, environmental costs, etc.) are taken into account, those savings evaporate.

Risk of workplace injury and death among energy workers is a hidden cost of energy production, known as an externality of energy. Externalities of energy production include a whole host of problems from damage to the general environment to adverse effects on human health caused by pollution to injury and death among workers in the energy sector.

The researchers reviewed the occupational cost of energy production in the traditional and new energies and noted that while fossil fuel energies have historically been priced lower than renewable energies, the additional hidden costs, or externalities of energy, especially adverse effects on human health have often not been taken into account.





Rise of deaths at work in North Carolina disturbing

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Just got a tweet about the rise of workplace deaths in North Carolina after three years of consistent decline. We’ve also noticed a rise in the number of workers’ compensation calls at the office as well. I’d like to monitor this more to see whether or not the current conditions in our economy are magnifying these circumstances.