According to a recent regional news release from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a maker of granite countertops in Acton, Massachusetts has exposed employees to repeated safety hazards while violating worker safety regulations.
The company was cited for safety violations in 2014 following a finding of six specific infractions and was fined $8,500. Employer was also required to submit proof to OSHA that the dangerous working conditions likely to cause an on-the-job injury were corrected. The employer allegedly did not submit this report, and OSHA reopened its investigation.
The specific safety violations involved the company failing to provide a safe working environment for its employees. OSHA found that workers were routinely at risk for hearing damage and hearing loss, being crushed, exposure to hazardous chemicals, eye injuries, hand injuries, head injuries and many other types of injuries. Many of the problems were based upon employer’s alleged failure to provide helmets, hearing protection, chemical resistance clothing and gloves, as well as structural problems such as stairwells without handrails. They found a program with forklift operator training, improperly labeled hazardous chemicals, and even locked or otherwise blocked emergency exits. The blocking of emergency exits is a major safety violation and, unfortunately, employers use emergency stairways to store products and equipment on a regular basis. If a fire actually occurred, this could cost lives. When OSHA performed the second investigation, they found 22 specific safety violations and assessed a fine of around $90,000.
Since the workers’ compensation system in Massachusetts is a no-fault system, it is not necessary to prove that employer was negligent in any way following a workplace injury or illness to file a claim. In fact, even if there is fault, a worker who is eligible to claim workers’ compensation benefits is generally precluded from filing a civil personal injury lawsuit in civil court, because workers’ compensation is considered an exclusive remedy. It does not matter if worker decided not to file a workers’ compensation claim, because the test is whether worker is eligible to collect workers’ compensation, not whether he or she actually applies for benefits.
However, there are two situations where an injured employee can file a claim for workers’ compensation and can also file a personal injury case in civil court. The first, and most common, exception is when a negligent third party causes an injury. For example, if a worker is hit by a car driven by someone who is not an employer or fellow employee, the worker can generally file a workers’ compensation claim and then file a civil car accident lawsuit against the at-fault driver. However, since workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy, employee will have to reimburse employer for any workers’ compensation benefits following a civil settlement. This is generally not a problem, because civil damages including pain and suffering, which is not included in a workers’ compensation claim.
The second exception to the general rule is that if an employer is engaged in seriously negligent conduct constituting a willful and wanton disregard for workers’ safety, and that disregard caused an on-the-job injury, that may allow worker to file a claim for workers’ compensation and then file a civil personal injury lawsuit against employer.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.
Acton based granite countertop manufacturer exposes employees to new and recurring safety hazards after failing to correct violations Mass-Granite Inc. faces additional $87K in OSHA penalties for 29 violations, November 5, 2015, OSHA Regional News Release
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Elevator Mechanic Killed when Falling Down Shaft, Jan. 24, 2015, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog