Every person who is hired in Massachusetts is covered by the Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Act, regardless of where he or she lives or is injured. In today's mobile society, employees often are assigned to out-of-state locations or travel out of state in furtherance of their employers' work. If one is injured during such a trip, or while working at a foreign site, employers and insurers often attempt to misinform the injured worker that she or he must file in the state where the injury occurred. Pursuit of a claim under these circumstances may be very difficult, as it would involve traveling to attend proceedings in other states.
Millions of Americans visit their dentists routinely for check-ups and teeth cleanings. Typically, such visits are without complications, but occasionally, serious issues with treatment may lead to claims of malpractice. One incident garnered national attention when a three-year-old died after visiting her dentist. According to an article from the Huffington Post, the family of the deceased child is now suing the dentist office for improperly administering anesthesia that resulted in serious brain damage and death to the child. This incident has sparked a national discourse analyzing pediatric dentistry practices and the precautions that dental professionals should take with young patients.
A recent OSHA News Release reports that Joseph P. Cardillo & Son Inc., an excavation and utilities contractor out of Wakefield, Massachusetts, has been cited for willful and serious violations of OSHA's excavation safety standards. The company faces $144,000 in fines for its failure to ensure that its workers, who were installing water mains in a trench six feet, 8 inches deep in Milton, were provided cave-in protection and a ladder to exit the trench, which exposed the workers to falling debris.
As OSHA's local area director observed, "The proposed fines reflect both the gravity of the hazards and that the employer knowingly refused to comply with using required safeguards... These workers could have been crushed and buried in seconds beneath tons of soil and debris, without any escape options. This risk is unacceptable, and this employer has been cited previously for the same hazards."
The Massachusetts Public Health Council has approved new regulations regarding nursing home care in the Commonwealth, slated to take effect in March 2014. Prior to these regulations, there were no training requirements for staffers handling dementia patients, and many nursing home residents went unattended or without quality care. The new regulations require better care for nursing home residents, impose new requirements for care givers handling dementia patients, and set a minimum standard of care at all licensed nursing homes in Massachusetts.
The regulations impact the Dementia Special Care Unit (DSCU) law. Advocates for the changes often emphasized that, on average, 60% of nursing home residents have some form of dementia. Many nursing homes lack employees trained in caring for Alzheimer's patients, special requirements for meaningful activities for those patients, and specifications for physical environment modifications to promote safety and quality of life. Despite this, many nursing homes have been able to take advantage of a statutory loophole that allowed the facilities to claim they specialized in Alzheimer's disease care. The new regulations address each of these areas.
According to a recent OSHA press release, four deaths have occurred in the first five weeks of 2014 as a result of workers' falls from cell towers. The disturbing statistic follows a final tally of thirteen similar fatalities in 2013, and has OSHA increasingly concerned for cell tower employees' safety.
As the OSHA article explains:
"Of the 13 communication tower-related fatalities that occurred in 2013, the majority were a result of falls. OSHA requires employers to provide adequate fall protection equipment, train employees how to use the safety equipment and ensure that they use it properly and consistently. In the past few months, tower workers have also been injured or killed by falling objects, the structural collapse of towers and equipment failures."
A recent article from the New York Times has highlighted the medical concerns associated with "morcellation," a surgical procedure designed to remove fibroid tumors from the uterus or to remove the entire uterus as part of a hysterectomy. The procedure involves minimally invasive techniques to cut uterine tissue into small pieces to be removed through small incisions. While the procedure is lauded for its short recovery time and reduced risk of blood loss and infection, many doctors are becoming increasingly concerned that morcellation may have serious consequences for their female patients.
Two articles recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggest that the morcellation procedure can cause irregular growths on internal organs. The rotating blade often used in the technique sprays fibroid and uterine tissue around the site of the operation, spreading tissue debris throughout the abdomen. The fragments of tissue act like seeds when in they come in contact with other internal organs, taking hold and growing on various organs in a patient's body. The growths can cause tremendous internal pain and may result in infection and bowel obstruction. These complications often require additional surgery, and may have much more drastic consequences.
According to a recent OSHA news release, OSHA has cited Packaging Corporation of America, a box manufacturer, for two repeat violations of workplace safety standards at the company's manufacturing plant in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, following inspection in December 2013. Specifically, OSHA found that workers at the facility faced crushing, struck-by, and caught-in machinery hazards related to setting up a press. Under OSHA regulations, before performing any machine maintenance, machines must be powered off and their power sources locked out to avoid worker injuries and fatalities should the machine become energized unexpectedly. Additionally, OSHA found that workers were exposed to becoming caught in operating conveyor belts on the same machine, which lacked protective guarding. Although no injuries resulted from these violations, the company had been cited for similar violations at its location in Opelika, Alabama, resulting in a citation for repeat violations.
As recently discussed by WebMD, statistics released in a new study show that the number of highchair-related injuries has risen steadily over the past decade. The study focused on the period between 2003 and 2010, the years preceding the adoption of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Since the Act went into effect in 2011, millions of highchairs have been recalled for defective design or manufacture. While researchers attribute some recent highchair injuries to parents and caregivers misusing products, defective design was found to be the major cause of injuries.
The study appeared in Clinical Pediatrics, and revealed that thousands of children suffer injuries from highchairs each year. The injuries are often serious, as the study found over 9,500 children require emergency care because of falls, cuts, and other injuries resulting from highchair use. Between 2003 and 2010, the number of highchair-related injuries increased by 22%.
We like to believe that today's hospitals always strive to have state-of-the-art facilities in order to provide the best care to patients. But, as hospitals modernize by adopting new technologies, sometimes such innovation actually hinders the performance of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. As recently discussed by NPR, one such technology is the coded alarm system that is used at most top tier hospitals across the country. Although meant to serve as a notification system for hospital staff, the constant alarm noise often desensitizes caregivers to the coded messages and causes them to miss patient emergencies. The problem is termed "alarm fatigue," and it has been blamed for hundreds of injuries and deaths annually across the nation.
To the untrained ear, the constant beeps and buzzes emitted by various hospital systems can seem meaningless. However, hospital equipment is strategically placed throughout hallways and waiting areas as a coordinated notification system designed to alert doctors and nurses to patient emergencies. For example, a three-beep burst is a crisis alarm notifying attending hospital staff of a patient emergency, while two long beeps is a warning to staff that a patient may have malfunctioning equipment. A patient may be hooked up to various monitors that send different messages to coordinated machines, which then convey the coded messages to staff. Such automatic alarms may convey something as innocuous as a dying battery in a specific piece of equipment, or it may signify a life-or-death-type emergency that requires immediate attention.
Earlier this month, Safetynewsalert.com issued its "watch list" regarding OSHA trends expected in 2014. Among the top ten items listed were undertakings which may be of particular interest to workers who may risk common workplace injuries or illnesses, as well as to their employers.
For example, a potential revision to OSHA's injury and illness reporting requirements would require employers to report all work-related fatalities and all work-related inpatient hospitalizations to OSHA within eight hours, as well as all work-related amputations within 24 hours. Presently, OSHA requires only that employers report within eight hours any workplace incident that causes the death of an employee and any incident that requires the hospitalization of three or more employees. OSHA would also update the industries that are exempt from those reporting requirements.
For those workers who face exposure to chemicals - either accidentally or as part of the hazards of their jobs - OSHA intends to gather information about process safety management and prevention of major chemical incidents, in advancing President Obama's executive order on improving chemical safety.
Winter storms cause more than slippery roads and prolonged commutes. Snow can also present many dangers that are often overlooked. Snow shoveling has become one of the most common causes of injury during the winter, especially in New England. In the wake of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling in Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., property owners are expected to clear snow and ice from their residential or commercial properties in order to maintain their premises free of such dangerous conditions - whether resulting from natural or unnatural accumulations - which are likely to result in serious injury to visitors. The possible dangers to visitors may be met by the potential dangers to property owners and to workers who are employed by property management companies or local businesses to remove the dangerous conditions. A recent study has shed light on the number of injuries that are actually attributed to snow shoveling accidents.
The Boston Globe reports that the American Journal of Emergency Medicine published a study regarding snow shoveling-related accidents, which showed that, on average, more than 11,500 snow shoveling injuries occur each year. According to the study, the most common injury diagnoses were soft tissue injuries, accounting for 55% of the total injuries recorded. Lacerations accounted for 16% of the total number of injuries, and fractures accounted for 7%.
Local media reports that a worker at the Sea Watch International Seafood Co. in New Bedford, Massachusetts was killed early in the morning on January 17, 2014 when he became tangled in a shellfish shucking machine at the fishery. According to reports, 35-year-old Victor Gerena was attempting to flush out the machine when he became entangled in a rotary turbine engine. It took approximately one hour to dismantle the machine and free the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
The fatal accident occurred less than four months after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) once again renewed its Local Emphasis Program (LEP) for the fishing processing industry in the Massachusetts and Maine areas. According to OSHA Directive Number CPL-2-1.26A, effective October 1, 2013, the purpose of the LEP is to schedule and conduct inspections in the fish processing industry "to address the hazards associated with fish processing, including but not limited to: machine guarding, lockout tagout, confined space, and other serious safety and health issues, and to ensure that employers establish adequate safety and health programs in accordance with applicable regulations." The LEP applies to establishments that are engaged in, among other things, shucking and packing fresh shellfish.
A new study again confirms that cell phones are the most dangerous and distracting devices to use while driving. The study measured the effects of various distractions that commonly impact a driver's ability to competently navigate roads. The study tested the most common distractions drivers typically face. The use of a cell phone during vehicle operation multiplied the risk of crashing more than any other distraction presented. While drivers commonly use their cell phones, the potential consequences remain catastrophic and deadly.
The study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, highlights the danger of many common distractions drivers face. The orchestrators of the study installed various sensors and cameras in the cars of 209 study participants. Of those participants, 49 were new drivers between the ages of 16 and 17 years old, and 167 of the drivers were adults with a wide range of driving experience. The various devices revealed the most impairing distractions, ranking the distractions according to the multiple which they increased a driver's likelihood of crashing.
The motivation behind conducting this study is rooted in statistics. While only 6.4% of the driving population is between the ages of 15 and 20 years old, that age group accounts for 10% of all motor vehicle traffic deaths, and 14% of all car accidents resulting in injuries. These percentages are generally attributed to the fact that inexperienced and younger drivers are more prone to distraction. This study tends to confirm that theory.
One of the purposes of the Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Act is to regulate the relationship between the injured employee and the employer's workers' compensation insurer, in an effort to "reduce the delay in payment of benefits to employees." That concept was emphasized in a recent decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court regarding a dispute between two workers' compensation insurers as to which was responsible for payment of the injured employee's benefits.
In Gary Bolduc's Case, the employee suffered a back injury on the job in November 2002, resulting in a prolonged absence from work and a workers' compensation claim. Liberty Mutual, the employer's workers' compensation insurer at that time, paid the claim. The employee returned to work for the employer when he was able to do so, but injured his back at work again in May 2008. By that time, Travelers was the employer's workers' compensation insurer. Liberty Mutual initially treated the employee's 2008 claim as a recurrence of his 2002 injury, and paid additional benefits, including an increased average weekly compensation rate. The employee then filed a claim against Liberty Mutual for surgical benefits, as well as a new claim against Travelers for medical and weekly payments.
Landowners have a legal obligation to maintain their properties in a reasonably safe condition for guests. Poorly maintained premises can cause serious personal injury and give rise to premises liability claims.
The most common premises liability claims arise from slip-and-fall type injuries. Recently, a slip-and-fall injury gave rise to a negligence suit against a local hotel. In Matouk v. Marriott Hotel Services, Inc., the plaintiff sued a Marriott Hotel in Cambridge, alleging that the hotel was negligent for having installed a railing outside of a bathtub - out of reach of the plaintiff, who was a guest at the hotel. The plaintiff had been standing in the shower, which had no bath mat. When she reached for a towel on a nearby towel bar located within the shower, she slipped. The absence of a nearby handrail prevented her from bracing herself or preventing her fall. The plaintiff alleged that the safety measures provided by the hotel for the shower were inadequate. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the Marriott was negligent in "a) designing, construction and maintenance of a bath tub floor which fell below reasonable standards of slip resistance; b) failure to provide a bath mat or similar item to prevent slipping; c) failure to install reasonable fall protection in the form of a rigid shower door enclosure with cross rail or grab bar; and d) placement of a towel and holder in an unreasonable area."