Missouri Court of Appeals affirms award to employee injured in workplace fall

November 8, 2012

1289968_up.jpgRecently, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, upheld a decision awarding workers' compensation benefits to a Missouri employee injured in a workplace fall.

The claimant, Jason Pope, was injured while working as an entry-level technician for Gateway to the West Harley Davidson. Pope's on-the-job duties included inspecting, washing and test driving motorcycles. He was also responsible for driving motorcycles into interior showrooms for overnight storage.

On March 17, 2010, Pope had just finished moving motorcycles into an upper-level showroom and was descending a staircase when he fell and fractured his ankle. The injury required surgery followed by seven months of medical treatment and physical therapy. He was unable to work for a period of nine weeks, and he incurred nearly $21,000 in medical expenses.

Pope filed a workers' compensation claim, but it was initially denied. An administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that Pope had not proven that his injury arose "out of and in the course of his employment," which is a requirement of Missouri workers' compensation law. Even though he was wearing his work boots and carrying his helmet when he fell, the ALJ determined that Pope would have been equally exposed to the same risk of injury in his non-employment life.

However, the Missouri Labor and Industrial Commission disagreed, overturning the ALJ's ruling and granting benefits to Pope. The Commission found that Pope's injury occurred while he was acting in the scope of his employment: i.e. walking down the stairs while wearing boots and carrying a helmet. Thus, there was a direct, causal connection between the injury and Pope's employment.

Gateway to the West Harley Davidson and its insurer, the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association Services Corporation, appealed the Commission's decision. The appeal cited two recent decisions made by the Missouri Supreme Court:

Johme vs. St. John's Mercy Healthcare. The Supreme Court denied workers' comp benefits to a St. John's employee after she tripped on her shoe and fell, fracturing her hip and pelvis, while making coffee in a workplace kitchen.

Miller vs. Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. The Court denied benefits to a road construction worker who suffered a knee injury as he walked briskly to his truck.

However, the Court of Appeals denied the appeal, affirming the Commission's decision to award Pope benefits. The Court noted a key difference between Pope's claim and the claims involving Johme and Miller: "Because the service department was on the first floor, Pope was required to descend the staircase connecting the upper and lower showrooms," the ruling said. "Pope was wearing his work boots and carrying his work-required helmet as he descended the stairs. Unlike Miller and Johme, these facts support a finding that Pope was injured because he was at work, not simply while he was at work."

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Construction workers at increased risk of fatal workplace falls in Missouri and nationwide

October 25, 2012

file0001782063673.jpgA Mississippi construction worker has died of multiple blunt force injuries after he was hospitalized for nearly a week following fall at a construction site. The Clarion Ledger reports that 43 year-old Stacy Andrew Washington was on the job at Baptist Health System at the time of the incident. Washington was reportedly wearing a harness, but the harness broke, causing Washington to fall five stories to the ground. "It was a massive fall, so you could only image," Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart told the Ledger. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched an investigation into the incident.

On October 23, OSHA revealed its list of the top ten most common safety violations in 2012. The list, presented at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo, demonstrates that fall protection is a major workplace safety concern throughout the U.S.

Top 10 OSHA safety violations in 2012:

1. Fall protection (general requirements) - 7,250 violations
2. Hazard communication - 4,696 violations
3. Scaffolding - 3,814 violations
4. Respiratory protection - 2,371 violations
5. Ladders - 2,310 violations
6. Machine guarding - 2,097 violations
7. Powered industrial trucks - 1,993 violations
8. Electrical (wiring methods) - 1,744 violations
9. Lockout / tagout - 1,572 violations
10. Electrical (general requirements) - 1,332 violations

In 2011, 4,609 American workers were killed on the job, which means about 90 workers died every week, and about 13 died each day. Of 2011 worker fatalities in private industries, 17.5% were employees in the construction industry. According to OSHA, "the leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites were falls, followed by electrocution, struck by object, and caught-in/between. These 'Fatal Four' were responsible for nearly three out of five (57%) construction worker deaths in 2011." Of the "Fatal Four," falls accounted for the largest amount of deaths in the construction industry, with 35% of construction fatalities attributed to falls.

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OK appeals panel upholds decision granting workers' comp benefits to state representative

October 18, 2012

file000495587744.jpgAn Oklahoma appeals panel has upheld a ruling that awarded workers' compensation benefits to a state representative who was injured in a car crash. According to The Oklahoman, the panel determined that Rep. Mike Christian is entitled to benefits for his injuries, but reduced the award from $61,560 to $51,300.

In 2009, Christian was involved in a collision with a truck as he commuted to the State Capitol in a private vehicle. The incident left him with injuries to his neck and spine, but more than a year passed before he filed a workers' comp claim for the accident.

Ordinarily, Oklahoma employees - like Missouri employees - are unable to collect workers' comp benefits for injuries they sustain when commuting to and from work. However, Oklahoma state law identifies a few exceptions - including, notably, when an employer reimburses an employee for travel costs. Oklahoma legislators are entitled to travel expenses for one round trip to the Capitol per week, so Christian maintained that that exception applied to him, even though he waived reimbursement.

Lawyers for the state's insurance company, Comp Source Oklahoma, argued that Christian was not on the job at the time of the accident, and he was therefore ineligible for workers' comp benefits. In court, they pointed out that Christian's wife was in the vehicle with him at the time of the crash. "Because claimant was commuting with his wife, who was to continue on to her place of employment in their personal vehicle, he could not have claimed mileage for the trip even if he had not waived his right since the trip did not serve a public purpose," attorney Kristi Bynum Russell said at the hearing.

In July, a trial judge agreed with Christian, finding that the accident caused an 18% permanent partial disability to Christian's cervical spine and an 18% permanent partial disability to his lumbar spine. The judge ordered Comp Source Oklahoma to pay Christian $342.00 every week for 180 weeks, for a total award of $61,560.

On Friday, an appeals panel comprised of three judges upheld the award. The ruling did not include a comment on the decision itself, or on the panel's reduction of the award amount. Comp Source Oklahoma is expected to continue the appeals process to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

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Parking garage collapses, bringing five stories of concrete down on construction crew

October 11, 2012

file9821238774587.jpgOn Wednesday, three workers were killed, one is presumed dead, and at least 10 others were injured when an under-construction parking garage "pancaked" on a Florida college campus. According to The Miami Herald, the incident happened at Miami Dade College's West Campus. A crew comprised of 17 electricians, welders, painters and other employees were working on the garage when it collapsed, bringing down five stories of concrete.

Two workers - 48 year-old Carlos Hurtado Demendoza and 60 year-old Jose Calderon - were killed instantly. A third worker, 53 year-old Samuel Perez, died in the hospital after emergency responders were forced to amputate his legs to free him from the rubble more than 12 hours after the collapse. A fourth worker, 53 year-old Robert Budhoo, is still missing and is now presumed dead.

Update, October 15: This evening, investigators discovered the body of an adult male buried in debris at the accident site. Because of the instability of the accident site, it will likely take emergency workers several days to retrieve the body, but it is believed to be Budhoo.

One of the survivors, 27 year-old Anthony Williams, said the sound of the garage collapsing was "like an earthquake, like someone put a stick of dynamite in it." Williams only survived because he made an instinctive decision to jump from the second floor.

Local law enforcement officials and investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are working to determine what caused the massive collapse. According to The Sun Sentinel, a crane was moving a large wall panel at the time of the incident, and there have been reports that a crane may have bumped the structure in the days leading up to the collapse. However, the head of the company that contracted the crew says that incident may be completely unrelated. "I don't have the full confirmation of that. It's my understanding, an incident where the crane bumped a column, it didn't cause any damage to the column," Bill Byrne, President and CEO of Ajax Building Corp., told reporters. "The crane was repaired and inspected and was recertified. The engineers, it's my understanding, looked at the column, deemed it, it was perfectly fine."

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Missouri workplace injuries must arise "out of and in the course of employment" to be compensable

file000790174640.jpgA California appeals court has ruled that the state is not liable for a crash caused by a state employee who was driving to work after a medical appointment for a work-related injury.

The case involved Linda Gadbois, who was a cook employed by the California prison system. In April 2008, she was injured on the job at Avenal State Prison (AVP) and sought medical treatment through the prison's workers' compensation network. However, Gadbois was not happy with her original doctor, so she selected a different provider from a list supplied by AVP. On the morning of May 28, 2008, Gadbois was scheduled to work, but she was authorized to take time off to attend an appointment with her new doctor. After the appointment, she called AVP and told her supervisor she was on her way to work. She died in a fatal car crash soon afterward.

Kenneth Fields, the other driver involved, was seriously injured in the collision. Ultimately, Fields filed a personal injury lawsuit against Gadbois's estate and the state of California. The suit argued that Gadbois was "acting within the scope of her employment" when she caused the crash, and thus the state was also liable for his injuries. This kind of argument is known as respondeat superior, which is a common-law doctrine "that holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency."

Normally, employees are normally considered outside the scope of their employment when they're commuting to or from work: thus, injuries sustained during these commutes this concept is known as the "coming and going rule." But Fields' argued that Gadbois, in driving to work from a medical appointment for a work-related injury, was actually acting within the scope of her employment.

However, the appeals court disagreed. After reviewing the case, the court concluded that Gadbois's employer was not liable for Fields' injuries. The ruling points out that Gadbois requested the appointment of her own accord; that AVP did not require her to drive to the appointment; and that driving was not connected to her regular job duties.

Here in Missouri, an employee must prove that an injury "[arose] out of and in the course of employment" to receive workers' comp benefits. In 2005, section 287.020.3(2) of Missouri law was amended to read as follows:

"An injury shall be deemed to arise out of and in the course of the employment only if:

• (a) It is reasonably apparent, upon consideration of all the circumstances, that the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the injury; and

• (b) It does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life."

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EMS worker killed in ambulance/semi crash: Driver charged

September 27, 2012

206474_need_an_ambulance.jpgAn emergency medical technician has been formally charged in connection with a fatal North Carolina crash that killed his coworker. The Charlotte Observer reports that Jonathan Cory Brown has been charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle for causing the collision, which resulted in the death of 43 year-old Belinda Gale Rivers.

Brown and Rivers both worked as EMTs for the Sandhills Ambulance Service, which is based in Cheraw, South Carolina. On the morning of the crash, they had dropped off a patient at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and then turned around to return to South Carolina. According to police, Brown was driving and Rivers was in the front passenger seat when their ambulance collided with a tractor trailer at the intersection of Venus Street and U.S. 74 in Monroe. Rivers was thrown from the ambulance and pinned under the vehicle: she was pronounced dead at the scene. Brown remains hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries, and the driver of the tractor trailer was uninjured. No patients were in the ambulance.

Following an investigation of the crash, police determined that Brown caused the crash when he attempted to turn onto the highway. "Witness accounts and evidence show that the ambulance entered the intersection at Venus and 74 while the stoplight was emitting a steady red light," Monroe Police Department Chief Debra Duncan told WCNC News. He will appear in Union County Court on December 6.

The criminal charge against Brown was announced on the same day as Rivers' funeral service. Her colleagues attended the service wearing their company shirts, and several emergency vehicles reportedly lined the road between the church and the funeral home to honor Rivers' memory. In addition to her work for Sandhills, Rivers also volunteered for several local rescue services. Her family asks that memorial donations be made to two such services: the Cheraw Rescue Squad or the Chesterfield Rescue Squad. For more information, click here.

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Are American workplaces becoming safer for employees?

September 20, 2012

767585_safe_steps_3.jpgIn recent years, safety conditions have improved dramatically in American workplaces, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual report on workplace deaths reveals that 4,609 employees died in 2011 workplace accidents, which represents a 1.7% decline from 2010, when 4,690 workers died. What's more, there's a 22% decline between last year and 2001, when 5,915 employees were killed. Encouragingly, workplace deaths have consistently decreased every year since 1994, when 6,632 fatalities were reported.

So, what factors explain the improved conditions and the reduction in fatal injuries to workers? First, authorities cite a collaborative effort from businesses, employees and industry organizations to make safety a priority and address potential hazards. "[Increasingly] employers value their workers. Not only is that the right thing to do, but it's expensive to replace them," Brian O'Donel told CNN. O'Donel is an industrial safety expert for Robson Forensic, which provides expert witnesses for civil litigation cases.

In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has enacted new rules and regulation that establish clearer guidelines about safety standards and requirements, O'Donel said.

The annual report also indicated that workers in the fishing industry have what is considered America's most deadly job, with 40 fishermen killed on the job in 2011. However, the most common dangerous activity in the workplace is driving. Traffic accidents caused nearly 25% of all work-related deaths, and 759 employees in the trucking industry died in 2011 crashes. While it's true that many more truckers died than fishermen last year, the fishing industry's fatality rate is approximately 121 deaths per 100,000 employees, which is five times the fatality rate for truckers.

The private mining industry also reported a 10% reduction in on the job deaths, while coal mining deaths dropped dramatically, with 43 deaths reported in 2010 and 17 reported in 2011.

Workplace violence also appears to be on the decline. Businesses reported a 5% drop from 2010: last year, 788 employees were killed in violent on-the-job incidents, with 458 of those employees being murdered. Most workplace homicides were connected to "disputes between workers or assaults by husbands and domestic partners," CNN reports. However, about one-third were linked to attempted robberies.

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OSHA Programs aim to reduce work injuries in Missouri and elsewhere

September 10, 2012

609764_playing_it_safe.jpgIn 2010, over three million American workers were injured and 4,690 were killed on the job, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As workers' compensation lawyers, we know these incidents can be costly, both personally and financially.

The 2011 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index found that the direct cost of the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2009 was $50.1 billion in U.S. workers' compensation costs. That's almost one billion dollars per week.

"This money would be better spent on job creation and innovation. Injury and illness prevention programs are good for workers, good for business and good for America," said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Injury and Illness Prevention Programs are designed to intervene in workplace environments where dangerous or unsafe conditions could potentially cause serious injury or even death. They aim to reduce the number and severity of preventable workplace accidents, which account for many of the nation's most common on-the-job injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) says each employer must (1) "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; and (2) comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act." The Administration urges employers to develop proactive programs that identify safety violations and potential hazards to workers. OSHA officials conduct informational seminars, interactive workshops and various training programs to help ensure the proper education of workers nationwide.

What makes an Injury and Illness Prevention Program successful?

• Management leadership
• Worker participation
• Hazard identification
• Hazard prevention and control
• Education and training
• Program evaluation and improvement

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PA construction worker dies after falling 8 stories from roof

September 2, 2012

159890_men_on_roof.jpgLast week, a construction worker was killed when he fell eight stories from the roof of a Thomas Jefferson University Hospital building. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the 39 year-old man, who has not been identified, worked for Palmer Masonry Restoration, based in Somerton, PA. He apparently slipped and fell, and he was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is currently investigating the incident. Investigators are working to determine what the man was doing prior to his fall, and what kind of fall protection system he was using. Palmer Masonry Restoration has declined to comment on the incident, but the company has no prior record of safety violations with OSHA. Palmer's website says all employees must undergo 30 hours of OSHA construction safety training, along with training in fall protection, suspension scaffolding and aerial lift training, before going on the job.

Here are a few facts about workplace falls, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• In 2009, 605 workers died and an estimated 212,760 more sustained serious injuries in workplace falls to a lower level or to the same level, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.

• Workers in the construction industry have the highest incident rate of fall-related fatalities: falls cause one out of every three construction deaths Workers in health services and wholesale/retail industries have the highest incident rates of non-fatal workplace falls.

• In addition, workers in healthcare support, building maintenance/cleaning, transportation, material moving, and construction/extraction jobs are at the highest risk for workplace falls.

• Annually, workplace falls cost an estimated $70 billion in workers' compensation and medical expenses nationwide.

To help address the increased risk of workplace falls in construction workers, OSHA has announced a new 2012 fall prevention campaign to raise awareness about the dangers facing these employees, and to ensure employers have appropriate protections in place for their employees. "When working at heights, everyone needs to plan ahead to get the job done safely, provide the right equipment and train workers to use the equipment safely," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, in an OSHA news release.

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Office workers at increased risk for "chair disease, study finds

539382_work_work_work.jpgWe tend to think about workplace injuries in connection with jobs involving physical labor, but that isn't always the case. While it's true that many on-the-job injuries occur in workers with physical responsibilities, recent research released by the University of Sydney found that office workers are also at a surprisingly high risk of injury and illness.

"The problem is nearly everything can be done at the desk now - communication, library research, file retrieval, even meetings," said Dr. Karin Griffiths, lead author of the study. "It doesn't matter how good the chair is, it is not going to address the health problem of what some researchers are calling 'chair disease'."

In the study, researchers surveyed approximately 1,000 workers from six different government departments. Among their findings: employees who reported the most hours working on the computer also reported the highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries. 85% of employees who spent over eight hours a day at the computer experienced neck pain, while 75% suffered from shoulder pain and 70% reported lower back pain. What's more, these workers were also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Those in senior and managerial jobs proved to be especially vulnerable, the study found, because they were the most likely to spend extended time at the computer.

597620_office__workstation.jpgIn addition, modern developments in workplace design appear to do little in the way of prevention. Office employees who reported the use of ergonomic chairs, standing desks and good posture were just as likely to suffer medical problems. "Workstation design has come a long way since the '80s and they are good changes," Dr. Griffiths said. "But what I also found was the proportion of people reporting symptoms has not changed much despite this, which means workstation design is not enough to keep up with health issues that arise from paperless, IT-dominated offices."

Medical research indicates that the problem isn't just sitting: it's that many of us sit wrong. Sitting places almost twice as much stress on the spine as standing does. Sitting and slouching - or leaning forward with your earlobes in front of your shoulders - is even worse. When employees spend extended hours hunched over a keyboard over a period of months or even years, the consequences can be even more painful.

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OSHA officials: Illinois company cited for 5 safety violations connected to asbestos

244234_asbestos.jpgThis week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited an Illinois company for five safety violations connected to asbestos. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Johnson Controls Inc. in Kankakee is facing fines totaling $59,400 for the violations. After an investigation of the company's work on an AT&T building, OSHA officials determined that Johnson Controls failed to meet the following safety standards:

• "perform air monitoring and conduct exposure assessments";
• "use appropriate engineering controls and work practices, including having a competent person supervising the work";
• "establish barriers or [use] impermeable drop cloths; require employees to wear appropriate respirators and use protective clothing";
• "properly dispose of material containing asbestos";
• "implement a training program for employees performing Class II asbestos work"

The company received four serious violations and one repeat violation. Serious violations are issued "when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known." Repeat violations are issued "when a company has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility" within a five year time period. OSHA officials report that Johnson Controls was previously cited for failing to train employees working with asbestos in 2007.

"Johnson Controls has a responsibility to provide training and safety equipment such as respirators to workers tasked with performing asbestos work," said Gary Anderson, director of OSHA's Calumet City Area Office, in a recent news release. "Repeat violations demonstrate a lack of commitment to worker safety and health. OSHA is committed to protecting workers on the job, especially when employers fail to do so."

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Extreme heat continues to plague Missouri, putting outdoor workers at risk

1347671_sunset.jpgThis summer, Missourians have endured unprecedented heat and drought. In July, Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency due to the extreme weather conditions, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate all 114 Missouri counties as primary natural disaster areas. According to the Blue Springs Examiner, 29 people have died in Missouri as a result of heat-related illnesses this year, and the state has received 1,078 reports of emergency room visits connected to heat. And those numbers are expected to grow.

"The high temperatures and dry conditions across the state are taking their toll on Missourians," said Gov. Nixon in a recent press release. "Our farmers are suffering tremendous losses in crops and livestock, and we're seeing more heat-related deaths and emergency room visits, particularly among seniors. In addition, we continue to see a high risk of fire from tinderbox conditions, and we are monitoring how the drought is affecting public water supplies and distribution."

Heat exhaustion strikes thousands of outdoor workers in an average summer, but in such severe conditions, these workers are especially vulnerable to illness and injury. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is reminding employers that they have an obligation to protect employees from heat-related risks. "If you're an employer of outdoor workers, I urge you to take [heat warnings] very seriously and understand that you have a responsibility to keep workers safe," wrote Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA, on the department's official blog. "That means providing workers regular access to water so they can stay hydrated. It means scheduling regular break periods in the shade or indoors. It means training workers on the signs of heat illness--and what to do if they see a co-worker showing signs of dehydration or heat stroke."

To combat the dangers associated with heat, employees should drink plenty of water, rest in the shade, report heat symptoms early and understand what steps to take in an emergency. OSHA's website also provides numerous safety tips - and an app that functions as a heat safety tool.In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has partnered with OSHA to provide a heat watch for workers:

Excessive Heat Outlook: Will occur when the potential exists for excessive heat during the next 3 to 7 days.

Excessive Heat Watch: Indicates conditions are favorable for excessive heat during the next 12 to 48 hours.

Excessive Heat Warning: When excessive heat is expected during the next 36 hours.

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SUV falls 40 feet down elevator shaft in bizarre Manhattan accident: 2 workers injured

Thumbnail image for 368123_up.jpgLast week, two garage attendants were injured on the job when a 4,500-pound Lexus SUV fell approximately 40 feet down an elevator shaft in Manhattan. According to the Wall Street Journal, a trained parking attendant drove the SUV into a vehicle elevator on the 5th floor, but the elevator car was not there: it was down on the building's first floor. After entering the lift, the vehicle plunged down the shaft, flipping upside down and landing on top of the elevator car.

Firefighters on the scene were forced to use Jaws of Life to take the door off the vehicle and extricate Stephen Morales, the parking attendant who was driving the vehicle. He was taken by ambulance along with a second attendant, Angel Rosa, who was in the elevator car at the time of the incident. "It felt like it was a bomb," Rosa told the New York Times. Remarkably, Morales and Rosa escaped serious injury: both men are listed in stable condition at New York Presbyterian-Cornell University Medical Center.

Emergency responders from the New York Fire Department closed the garage and the surrounding block while they attached cables to the totaled SUV, which was wedged in the elevator shaft at a steep angle. It took about two hours for firefighters to drag the vehicle out of the shaft and onto the street.

Two days after the incident, the New York Police Department announced that Morales had been charged with driving without a license and aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle: apparently, he was driving with a suspended license when the incident occurred. However, prosecutors have since announced that they do not plan to pursue a case against him, and the charges were subsequently dropped.

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Black lung diagnoses skyrocket in recent years, research shows

file000221585972.jpgThe number of coal workers who suffer from black lung disease is on the rise, with diagnoses doubling in the last decade, according to a joint investigation conducted by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

Formally known as coal workers' pneumoconiosis, black lung disease is caused by inhaling coal dust. With prolonged exposure to the dust, a worker's lungs will actually shrivel, harden and turn black. Federal lawmakers attempted to combat the problem over 40 years ago: in 1969, Congress passed a law requiring that dust be controlled, setting strict limits on exposure, and developing an enforcement system to hold mining companies accountable for workplace conditions. In the years after the law was passed, black lung disease rates dropped dramatically, but recent data indicates that black lung is becoming a problem once again. Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reviewed recent medical data, and their conclusions were nothing short of alarming:

• Between the 1970s and the 1990s, the proportion of miners whose X-rays showed signs of black lung fell from 6.5% to 2.1%. In the 2000s, it jumped to 3.2%.

• Between the 1980s and the 2000s, cases of the disease's most severe form have tripled, nearly reaching disease rates in the 1970s.

• Since 1970, black lung has contributed to the deaths of over 70,000 coal miners, with workers' compensation payments in excess of $45 billion.

"This is clearly a public health epidemic," said Scott Laney, NIOSH epidemiologist. "This is a rare disease that should not be occurring."

This resurgence of black lung disease isn't news to safety advocates. In 1995, NIOSH recommended that dust limits be cut in half, and the secretary of labor created a committee to address the problem of black lung. The committee suggested a number of reform measures, sharply criticizing the existing standards: "The committee believes that the credibility of the current system of mine operator sampling to monitor compliance with exposure limits has been severely compromised," their report said. "One of [the] highest priorities should be to take full responsibility for all compliance sampling." In response to these concerns, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) developed a new guideline, but the rule died before it became final.

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Nail salons and chemical overexposure: The risks facing Missouri workers

55175_nails.jpgThe summer months bring increased business to beauty salons across the United States. Summertime reigns as the busiest season for nail technicians in the U.S., with more than 375,000 people working in salons daily. However, many of these workers are not aware of the hazardous chemicals they are exposed to every day and the health risks they pose. Chemicals from nail polishes, glues, removers, and salon products can be detrimental to technicians' health. Without taking certain safety steps, nail technicians could face long term health risks from workplace exposure.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides a list of hazardous chemicals commonly used in nail salons, which notes that employees are exposed to many chemicals, including methacrylic acids and acetates. Chemicals present in salons pose potent hazards and when mixed together, they can become even more dangerous. Employers must work to prevent chemical exposure by properly ventilating the salon and keeping potential dust or chemicals away from breathing zones. Employers can remove dangerous chemicals from breathing zones by using fans and other technologies that provide air circulation. The good news is that workplace illnesses connected to nail salons are largely preventable, provided the appropriate safety precautions are taken.

Also, nail salon owners are urged to reduce usage of products that contain certain hazardous chemicals, and seek out products that are acid free and "3-free" (those made without the "toxic trio": toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate). Reducing the number of chemicals present in the salon automatically decreases the risk of exposure. Another way to protect employees from overexposure is to diligently schedule breaks and allow appropriate time off from all types of chemical exposure. Lastly, always handle chemicals with care. Remember to keep bottles tightly sealed when not in use, and properly dispose of all chemicals.

Chemical overexposure can cause serious health-related consequences for nail technicians. Some studies have linked musculoskeletal disorders, skin problems, respiratory irritation, and headaches to work-related chemical exposure in nail salons. There are more than 10,000 nail products regularly used that do not have EPA safety approval, so the risks of future health problems are high.

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