What your employer should do to protect you from toxic exposure

Hazardous and toxic chemicals are a fact of life in many Pennsylvania workplaces. With proper precautions, the health risks to the workforce can be kept to a minimum. The Centers…

Hazardous and toxic chemicals are a fact of life in many Pennsylvania workplaces. With proper precautions, the health risks to the workforce can be kept to a minimum.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several suggestions for workers looking to protect themselves from toxins. They include:

  • Substitution. Swapping a dangerous substance for one that performs a similar task but is less hazardous to humans.
  • Isolation. Putting a barrier between the material and the worker. For example, using machine guards, electrical insulation, glove boxes and remote controlled equipment.
  • Ventilation. Diluting the concentration of the chemical in the workplace by letting in clean air, or capturing the chemical in the workplace atmosphere and removing it.
  • Administrative control. Management can instill practices, like limiting access to hazardous area and adjusting work schedules, to reduce the risk of illness.
  • Protective equipment. Using devices like a ventilator, mask and protective clothing to reduce exposure.

Education is a key safety measure. Employers at workplaces where hazardous chemical or toxins are present are legally required to disclose information about those materials to employees. Many times, the employer provides “Material Safety Data Sheets,” or MSDS, to workers. An MSDS informs readers of proper procedures for working with hazardous chemicals. Things such as toxicity, health effects, what to do in case of a spill or leak, and first aid procedures is often all included.

Workers who get exposed to dangerous chemicals may suffer severe health effects, possibly for the rest of their lives. Returning to work after a chemical spill may not be an option, at least for a while. Workers’ compensation can help make up for the lost income and other costs.

Tendinitis can be the result of repetitive work tasks

Tendinitis is a painful, debilitating condition that can affect nearly any part of the body. It perhaps receives the most attention when a star athlete comes down with it, but…

Tendinitis is a painful, debilitating condition that can affect nearly any part of the body. It perhaps receives the most attention when a star athlete comes down with it, but anyone can develop tendinitis, especially if their job involves repetitive tasks.

Thick cords called tendons connect our muscles to our bones. Over time, work like carpentry, house cleaning or painting can inflame or irritate a tendon, causing pain in the affected area. The pain can gradually increase, or can appear without warning.

Common sites of tendinitis include:

  • Elbow
  • Shoulder
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Achilles tendon
  • Base of the thumb

When tendinitis affects the shoulder, it can cause loss of motion. This is known as “adhesive capsulitis” or frozen shoulder.

Obviously, pain in any of these body parts would make everyday tasks more difficult. It can force the sufferer to take time off work to receive treatment and recover. People who can tie their tendinitis to their jobs may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

One risk factor for tendinitis is taking on a new physical task too quickly. This applies to sports as well as workplace activities. WebMD recommends building up your activity level slowly, to give your body time to adjust. Limit your number of repetitions at a time and avoid exerting full force.

Once tendinitis develops, rest, ice and anti-inflammatory drugs may help. If they do not, physical therapy, steroid injections and even surgery may be necessary. Symptoms such as high fever, swelling, redness, warmth or inability to move the affected area could be signs of a more serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Commonwealth Court denies benefits for holiday party accident

A big factor in many controversial workers’ compensation cases is whether the injured person was doing something that was in the course of his or her work duties at the…

A big factor in many controversial workers’ compensation cases is whether the injured person was doing something that was in the course of his or her work duties at the time of the accident. When an employer can convince the administrative law judge that the injury occurred outside of the victim’s work duties, the victim will not receive workers’ comp benefits.

In an example, a woman who suffered broken bones and cuts when she fell down the stairs outside of a workplace holiday party has been denied workers’ compensation by Commonwealth Court. The accident occurred during a party for the staff of state Sen. Michael Stack, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor-elect.

A supporter of Stack threw the party in December 2010. The party took place at a private venue, according to an article by PennLive. While leaving the party, the woman slipped and fell on the stairs, suffering fractures, cuts and other injuries.

She filed for workers’ compensation, arguing that attending the party was within the scope of her job. The party was intended to boost morale among Stack’s staff, and attending furthered Stack’s interests, she said.

The Pennsylvania Senate contested the claim, which denied by the state Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. The Senate argued that going the party was not mandatory, pointing out that staffers were required to use vacation time or compensatory time to attend. Commonwealth Court upheld that ruling earlier in January.

The plaintiff, who worked as a receptionist, was laid off from Stack’s staff in May 2011. Her current physical condition is not known.

Pennsylvania’s workers’ comp appeal board turns 100 in 2015

It has been 100 years since Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board came into existence. It has gone through many changes in that time, but it remains the next place to…

It has been 100 years since Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board came into existence. It has gone through many changes in that time, but it remains the next place to go for injured workers whose initial claim for workers’ compensation gets denied.

In 1915, the Workmen’s Compensation Board came into existence to hear petitions and appeals arising from decisions made by Workmen’s Compensation Referees. The first thing that readers probably have noticed is that the committee’s name refers to “workmen” only. It was not 1996 that the Board’s name changed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, recognizing that women can and do get hurt on the job.

For nearly 60 years, the Board acted as the final finder of fact in any workers’ compensation case. It could set aside a referee’s decision for any reason, substitute its own findings and draw its own conclusions from the evidence on the record.

Then in 1972, the law was amended to reduce the Board’s power. Workers’ comp referees were now under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Labor and Industry, instead of the Board’s. Also, from then on the Board could only change or overturn a referee’s decision if that change was based on competent evidence. Since it was no longer the final finder of fact, the Board’s name changed to the Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board. It kept that name until it later received the gender-neutral moniker we mentioned above.

Being denied a workers’ compensation claim can seem discouraging at first, but it is not the end. Many people with legitimate claims get turned down at first, but prevail on appeal.

Forklifts can cause serious injury to warehouse workers

Just because working in a warehouse does not put you near active manufacturing equipment does not mean that you are completely safe from accidents on the job. A warehouse full…

Just because working in a warehouse does not put you near active manufacturing equipment does not mean that you are completely safe from accidents on the job. A warehouse full of heavy boxes on high shelves poses many potential dangers, especially if management does not make the safety of its workforce a top priority.

Working in a warehouse often means using a forklift to carry inventory from place to place. Forklifts are useful pieces of equipment, but they can also place the user and nearby co-workers at risk.

Like with any wheeled vehicle, if conditions are not right, the driver is at an increased risk of getting into an accident. This is especially true when the operator is working in limited light or in an overly noisy environment. Other risk factors include aisles that are too narrow and lack of sufficient safety devices.

A worker hit, pinned or run over by a forklift can suffer injuries to their back, head, shoulder, or virtually any other body part. Depending on how serious the injury is, it may make it impossible to keep working while it heals. Workers’ compensation can help pay medical bills and lost wages.

So can a third-party lawsuit. Many times, forklift accidents are the result of a defective part on the machine or substandard maintenance by an outside company. When a party that is not the employer contributes to a workplace injury, that party may have to pay at least some of the victim’s damages.

Since every injured worker’s experience is different, a discussion with a workers’ compensation attorney can help victims better understand their options.

Pennsylvania worker awarded workers’ comp for robbery PTSD

When a worker suffers emotional or psychological trauma on the job, he or she may require mental health treatment before he or she can return to work. Though post-traumatic stress…

When a worker suffers emotional or psychological trauma on the job, he or she may require mental health treatment before he or she can return to work. Though post-traumatic stress disorder and similar conditions are very real, victims sometimes have a hard time obtaining workers’ comp if their work-related injuries are purely mental.

Some of this may be based on lingering ignorance about mental illness. It may also be partially due to the fact that a mental disorder cannot be seen on an X-ray or blood test.

A Pennsylvania man who developed PTSD after the liquor store he worked at was robbed has won a potentially important legal victory. The Commonwealth Court recently reversed itself and ruled that the man was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

He was the manager of a state liquor store that was the scene of a robbery in April 2008. A masked man entered the store, pulled a gun on the manager and duct-taped him to a chair. It was the only time the man was robbed in more than 30 years working in liquor stores.

He has been unable to return to work since due to PTSD, for which he receives Social Security Disability benefits. He also applied for workers’ compensation and was approved, but the state liquor board and its insurer appealed. The case went to trial and the manager prevailed, but his employer appealed again and the Commonwealth Court narrowly voted to deny the benefits.

The appellate court reasoned that robberies regularly occur at liquor stores, so that being present while a robbery is taking place is a “normal working condition” while working at such a store.

The plaintiff appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Before the Court considered the case, it ruled in a somewhat similar case that workers’ compensation officials must consider the specific circumstances of an individual claim before they rule what the claimant’s “normal working conditions” are.

The case went back to the Commonwealth Court. Applying the new rule, the judges ruled unanimously in the manager’s favor late in December.

OSHA tries to limit toxic chemical exposure on the job

Ever heard the old saying “better living through chemistry”? Industrial chemicals have an important function, but they are often hazardous to human health. Producing, handling or using these substances could…

Ever heard the old saying “better living through chemistry”? Industrial chemicals have an important function, but they are often hazardous to human health. Producing, handling or using these substances could cause serious illness, burns or other trauma, unless the employer follows the law and makes workplace safety a priority.

Among the possible consequences of exposure to hazardous chemicals and similar substances include cancer, irritation, sensitization, fires and chemical burns. To minimize the risk of these workplace injuries occurring, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has several regulations in place that employers must follow.

For example, OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard requires workplaces where toxic chemicals are present to properly inform their employees of the risks associated with these substances. Manufacturers and importers must evaluate the hazards of the relevant chemicals and create labels and safety danger sheets for their workforce who is exposed, and train them on those risks as well as what to do to protect themselves.

Working with chemicals generally means that some of the stuff will get into the air. Inhaling too much could cause serious health problems. OSHA has established “permissible exposure limits,” or PELs, for maximum levels that workers can be exposed. Most PELs are based on an eight-hour time-weighted average, though OSHA also has ceiling and peak limits.

Besides these federal regulations, state agencies may also contribute rules to limit workplace chemical exposure. These regulations may be stronger than the federal version, or they may follow OSHA’s guidelines.

Despite these rules, chemical exposure still happens at many workplaces, and workers become terribly ill or hurt. They may be out of work for a long time recovering.