Articles Posted in Workplace Accidents

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Angel Reyes Blog - Falling Profits Affect Industry's Safety Policies

According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of workplace fatalities, those who died as a result of a job-related accident, is rising and at it’s highest level since 2008. The data shows that approximately 4700 people died from work-related accidents in 2014, the most recent year statistics were gathered, up from the 4500 or so deaths a year earlier. The largest increase in the fatality rate in terms of demographic was the death rate for female workers which almost doubled from 8% to 13% of all workplace accidents. This trend toward increasing workplace fatalities is troubling for OSHA officials who fear that increases in their safety enforcement efforts money are not having the desired effect of reducing work-related fatalities.

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Angel Reyes Blog - Companies in Texas and Oklahoma are opting out of their state's worker's compensation plans

Companies in Texas and Oklahoma are opting out of their state’s worker’s compensation plans in record numbers in an attempt to save money on insurance premiums. Rewriting the worker’s compensation policies for large companies like Walmart and Costco has afforded companies lower premiums, but in some cases it’s the injured workers themselves who are paying the price for all that savings.

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08152014The construction industry employs workers all over Texas. But safety conditions for workers have stagnated over the years, and workers are at risk of injuries that are often catastrophic.

1 in 5 American Workplace Fatalities Occurs in the Construction Industry

Every day, somewhere in the United States, at least two construction workers die from fatal injuries sustained in workplace accidents, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As many as one in five work-related fatalities in the country occur in the construction industry.

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11212014The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is investigating the cause of an oil platform explosion around 3 p.m. on November 20 that claimed the life of one worker and injured three others. Chauntra Rideaux, spokeswoman for the bureau, said the injured workers were brought to a medical facility for treatment. No word has been released on their conditions.

According to a statement from the bureau, the platform, owned by Houston-based company Fieldwood Energy, was not in production at the time of the explosion. Damage was limited to the area and there was no indication that any oil spills or leaks occurred. The platform is used to manufacture oil and natural gas and is located about 12 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion of 2010, oil platform safety in the Gulf of Mexico has been scrutinized heavily by authorities. Injuries suffered on offshore oil platforms are often more serious or fatal due to the time it takes for victims to be transported to medical facilities.

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latinos-injured-in-workplace-300x200In 2013 more than 4,400 American workers suffered fatal injuries. Of these incidents, 797 Latinos lost their lives on-the-job. While there are inherent risks on construction and extraction sites, Latino workers also face a bigger dilemma because they’re not fully aware of the rights and resources afforded to them through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and workers’ compensation, respectively.

Work Safety: An Uphill Battle for Latino Workers

According to a recent analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latino workers over-populate some of the country’s most dangerous industries. In fact, nearly one in three workers in the construction and natural resource extraction industries is Latino. This is a 23.7 percent increase since 2003.

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workplace-injuries-300x200The state of Texas has the highest rate of on-the-job deaths when compared to any other state in the country. According to the Dallas Morning News, workers are 12% more likely to be killed on the job than a worker doing the same job in any other state. While excess deaths among the labor industry are an issue across the country, Texas’ high rate of deaths should be possible to avoid.

As a right-to-work state, laborers can work in Texas without needing to join a union. For many workers, this provides more opportunities to be hired for work. However, a union has the power to require all workers be trained and all jobs they work meet every safety requirement. When workers are not part of a union, it is much more difficult for them to make demands from any sort of job. Many are treated as independent contractors so there is no required minimum hourly wage, no overtime, no required safety training or equipment, and no compensation for on-the-job injuries. Texas has the sixth lowest rate of union membership of any state in the country.

Economy May Be Linked To Unsafe Work Conditions

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08152014A demolition crew was trapped inside the wreckage of a house they were taking down when the structure collapsed on August 14. Three men, including the owner of the house, were working on demolishing the home located in Gregory, Texas when the structure reportedly became unstable.

According to police Sgt. David G. Martinez, one of the men suffered fatal injuries while another was taken to Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial with serious injuries. He was listed in critical condition but stabilized after his arrival. The homeowner at first refused treatment but was later taken to the hospital with undetermined injuries, according to reports.

Crews investigated the wreckage and according to Fire Chief Juan Jimenez, the men had removed most of the walls of the structure and the wooden house collapsed in on them.

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07112014One construction worker is dead and two others were injured when a ceiling collapsed at a building renovation. According to reports from Haltom City Police Department, the accident occurred in the old Hawks Electronics building on the 5700 block of Airport Freeway early morning July 10.

Deputy Chief Fred Napp of the Haltom City Fire Department confirmed that the building was not occupied by tenants and was under construction. His crews will examine the building and call in experts to assess the structural integrity before work on the renovation is allowed to resume.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner first identified the victim as 28-year-old Julio Menendez of Dallas, but after reporters from Telemundo 39 spoke with the victim’s family, he was properly identified as 32-year-old Luis Gonzalez. Gonzalez, a Guatemalan citizen, was allegedly using a fake ID listing the address of a store near where he was living.

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Plant_Explosion_Investigation_1-300x207Karl Magerheimer owns a family bounce house business for which Texas law requires him to carry $1 million in liability insurance. Of course, kids get hurt by bounce houses that are not properly secured and flip over. So this law is not unreasonable.  Other businesses required to have insurance covering injuries, deaths and property damage include home exterminators, air conditioning repairmen, tow truck drivers and many more.

Conversely, plants that house and mix dangerous materials like West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas are a different story.  On April 17, 5 people were killed and 200 more were injured due to fire and explosion of mammoth proportions in West. Three state agencies couldn’t explain why NO liability insurance coverage was required for such companies.  Additionally, the Texas Department of Insurance reported that it only oversees insurance companies and the amusement ride industry.  According to insurance spokesman Jerry Hagins, “We don’t make law.  We implement law.”

The tragedy in West, Texas brings to light how flawed the system truly is in regard to insurance coverage.  During a hearing last week of the House homeland and security and public safety committee, this issue was discussed.  As is standard protocol with any governmental agency, change will be super-slow.  Joe Pickett, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the committee, said it was “too late in the legislation session” to get anything done in a timely manner.  “We don’t even have enough information,” he said.  Pickett called for a mid-June hearing to give all agencies and lawmakers more time for information.

There is apparently no governmental list of which businesses must have liability coverage.  However, most businesses carry liability coverage as standard industry practice.  In the case of West, Texas, the fertilizer company had only $1 million in coverage.  What’s worse, if the plant is found negligent, its policy would only pay $100 million in property losses that were estimated by the Insurance Council of Texas.  So why did West Fertilizer only carry $1 million in coverage when there was such potential for hazardous disasters?  We have no answers from either the company or its insurer to date.  The awful explosion literally took down hundreds of homes and structures in a 35-block radius.  Imagine the magnitude of 35 blocks!  The cause of the blast is yet to be determined, but it is speculated that the plant’s storage of ammonium nitrate, which is widely used as a crop fertilizer and part of an explosive mixture in mining, is the culprit.  West stored around 270 tons of this hazardous substance last year – one of the largest stores in Texas.

Two negligence suits have been filed against West Fertilizer on behalf of its victims by Tyler attorney Randy C. Roberts, who said his clients are in a real bind.  $1 million dollars is a drop in the bucket for compensation of their losses

Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council, sounded like he was making excuses by saying that $1 million is a common amount for commercial property coverage, and that explosions triggered by ammonium nitrate don’t happen frequently.  In the defense of West Fertilizer and its insurance company, he claimed that they may have balanced that fact against the risks. He went on to say that lawmakers do not like to tell businesses how much insurance to purchase.

Really?  Then why are amusement ride owners required to have proof of minimum insurance and an annual safety inspection?  In fact, the amounts are at least $1 million per incident for bodily injury and $500,000 for property damage.  Additionally, the Department of Agriculture has similar requirements of residential and business pest companies, with at least $200,000 in liability for bodily injury and property damage.

According to the Dallas Morning News, no one in our state government keeps a centralized list of businesses required by law to have liability coverage.  But here is a list the publication identified:

[table]

BUSINESS MIN. AMOUNT*
*combined bodily injury and property damage per occurrence

**insurance required by law but amount not proscribed

Amusement ride operators $1.5 million
Elevator/escalator contractors $1.5 million
Electricians $600,000
Residential appliance installers $600,000
Emergency medical services providers $500,000
Tow trucks (non-accident work) $300,000
Structural pest control $300,000
Used automotive parts recyclers $250,000
Emergency/personal fall alarm responders $200,000
Air conditioning (lowest level) $200,000
Substance abuse treatment facilities** N/A

[/table]

NOTES: Certain companies, such as those handling hazardous waste, must show proof of financial responsibility to cover third parties. Combative sports like mixed-martial arts and boxing provide surety bonds and medical coverage.

SOURCES: Departments of Insurance, Agriculture, Licensing and Regulation, and State Health Services; and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Reyes | Browne | Reilley has recovered millions of dollars for victims and their families from commercial premises, industrial and construction site accidents. If you or someone you know suffered injuries this or any other type of accident, please call us for a complementary consultation. You are under no obligation to use our services. Call us today at 214-526-7900, or submit the short case review form on the right.

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shutterstock_111007946-300x300One primary reason that industrial and manufacturing companies don’t take better precautions? Why, money of course. Most companies are in the business of making money, period. And the risk to their workers becomes secondary to that goal. West, Texas… anyone?

Below is a great article I found on The Huffington Post:

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