OSHA Says Temporary Staffing Firms and Host Employers Share Responsibility for Worker Safety

texas-refineryThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken steps to protect the safety of temporary workers that include joint shared responsibility between the hosting employer and the staffing firm. Under OSHA regulations, temporary staffing firms can be held responsible for unsafe working conditions at the companies in which their employees perform duties. This could lead to significant fines and penalties for temporary agencies that do not maintain strict compliance with OSHA requirements. For workers who have sustained serious injuries on the job, retaining the services of an experienced Houston work injury attorney can ensure a fair settlement and adequate compensation both in and out of the courtroom.

Requirements for Temporary Staffing Companies

To stay on the right side of OSHA regulations, temporary staffing firms must perform a fair amount of due diligence on their client companies:

  • Temp firms must check on the working conditions and environment of each company to which they send workers. If safety violations are identified, they must be corrected by the host employer before workers are sent to these locations.
  • A one-time check is not enough to ensure worker safety. Temporary staffing agencies must make regular checks and maintain communication with their client companies to determine that safety standards are being met.
  • Claiming ignorance of the conditions in which workers are asked to perform their duties will not serve as a mitigating factor in determining responsibility.
  • Host employers must provide the same safety training and equipment for temporary workers as would be available to full-time employees in the workplace.

By assigning joint responsibility to staffing agencies and the host employers they supply, OSHA hopes to create safer conditions for temporary workers and to reduce the incidence of serious accidents in the workplace.

An Ongoing Problem

In 2011, the federal Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries began tracking the number of contract workers who lost their lives on the job. According to the 2013 figures released by this department of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), temporary contract worker deaths accounted for approximately 17 percent of all workplace deaths nationwide. Many of these deaths could have been avoided with the proper use of safety equipment and normal precautions in the working environment. For instance, 31 percent of the fatal accidents involving contract workers were due to falls. When used properly, fall arrest and protection equipment could have prevented this tragic loss of life.

Protecting Texas Workers

According to figures released by the BLS in late 2014, Texas ranked first in the nation in 2013 workplace fatalities with 493 people losing their lives on the job during that year. Oil and gas energy companies were especially prone to contractor injuries or deaths. Lack of proper safety equipment and training are considered key factors in these accidents, many of which occurred during the first days or weeks of employment in these high-risk environments. By holding both the staffing agencies and the direct workplace employers responsible for ensuring that workers are well versed in safety procedures and that they perform their duties properly and with the right equipment, OSHA hopes to ensure greater protections for contract workers in Texas and across the U.S.

For victims and their families, working with an attorney who specializes in Houston wrongful death cases can help in achieving closure and in holding employers responsible for their failures and negligence in the working environment. A qualified and knowledgeable Houston personal injury attorney can provide expert representation and guidance in navigating the various legal requirements involved in reaching a settlement or in taking Texas corporations to court. By entrusting your case to these skilled and dedicated professionals, you can ensure the most positive outcome possible for your workplace injury or wrongful death claim.

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When Railroad Chemical and Oil Spills Occur, Who Pays?

train-crossingAfter any major train accident or derailment, government agencies and watchdog organizations assess the degree to which local biosystems have been affected. This is especially true for accidents involving oil spills; the long-term environmental effects of these incidents can persist long after the official investigation has concluded. Train accident lawyers are often integrally involved in determining who must pay for injuries, losses and environmental damage caused by railroad collisions and derailments. Even when railway companies are held responsible, they may pay only a small percentage of the actual cleanup costs and damages. Here are some factors that can affect who pays for environmental remediation and financial damages after an oil train accident.

Lack of Financial Resources and Insurance Coverage

In July 2013, an unattended train loaded with crude oil and owned by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) derailed in the heart of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The accident claimed the lives of 47 people and resulted in millions of dollars in damage to property. MMA contractors participated in the cleanup during the first few days after the accident. The failure of MMA to pay these workers, however, resulted in the cessation of these efforts. The insurance held by MMA was woefully inadequate to cover the damages sustained by victims, families and businesses in Lac-Mégantic; one court document listed the coverage held by MMA at $25 million, a far cry from the estimated $200 million required for full remediation of the environmental damage done to this community. Ultimately, MMA filed bankruptcy, leaving the Canadian government on the hook for the cleanup costs resulting from this tragic derailment.

Passing the Buck

The Quebec government ultimately sought compensation for cleanup costs from Canadian Pacific Railway, claiming that the railroad company was the primary contractor responsible for the shipment of crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to a refinery located in New Brunswick. Canadian Pacific Railway disavowed any responsibility in the incident; nonetheless, the minister of environmental affairs maintained that the company and other affiliated business entities would be held responsible for the negligence and failures of MMA and for the cleanup necessitated by this avoidable accident. These arguments echo the claims made by Southern Pacific more than 20 years earlier in relation to the catastrophic Sacramento River chemical spill; the railroad company argued at that time that the financial responsibility for the train wreck should be shared with the manufacturers and end users who contracted with Southern Pacific to transport metam sodium pesticide by rail.

Government Agencies Typically Take the Hit

Both in Canada and in the U.S., state and federal agencies are most likely to end up bearing the brunt of costs for cleanups after train derailments. The Superfund program was established primarily to deal with unremediated toxic waste in industrial environments but has increasingly been called upon to manage the aftermath of oil train spills and other railroad accidents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also involved in both the practical aspects of cleanup and the determination of fault in derailments and spills. These government efforts are funded by taxpayer dollars and may reduce the financial resources available for other programs and services.

If you or someone you love has been affected indirectly or directly by the environmental effects of oil and chemical spills in the workplace or closer to home, seeking legal counsel can provide added help in seeking compensation for these injuries and losses. A Houston work injury attorney can offer real support in the courtroom setting and in out-of-court negotiations with insurance adjusters and employers, allowing you to achieve a fair settlement. This can allow you and your family to ensure that those responsible for spills and derailments pay at least a small amount of the damages caused by their negligence and neglect.

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10 Deadly Distractions While Driving

auto-accidentEven a momentary distraction can lead to devastating consequences when you are driving. Keeping your eyes and thoughts on the road as well as your hands on the steering wheel are the best ways to stay safe. However, since you are only in control of your own driving habits, there is still risk from other drivers. If you are involved in an accident with a distracted driver, you should consider contacting a local Houston auto accident lawyer to help with your case. While there are too many potential distractions to list them all, the following ten dangerous driving distractions are among the deadliest.

1. Daydreaming and Zoning Out

Being mentally absent in general is the primary reason cited in most car accidents. Next time you are driving and start to worry about work or your social life, remember that none of those problems are as important as paying attention to the road and how you are driving.

2. Texting or Talking on a Mobile Device

Your risk of having an accident multiplies greatly when you use your smartphone while driving, no matter how you use it or for how long. To help curb people’s tendency to drive and text, U.S. highways have installed signage encouraging drivers to pull off the road before even touching their phones.

3. Gawking at Wrecks and Runners

You can live without seeing the drama on the side of the road; in fact, you may not live if you look too long. Of course, sometimes human nature gets the best of you. If another driver is looking at a bikini-clad beachgoer and causes a fender bender, you probably want to get a Galveston car accident lawyer on the case.

4. Looking After a Child

If your child is throwing a tantrum in the back seat, you need to pull over until that distraction passes. The only thing that should be demanding your attention while you are driving is the road.

5. Reaching Across the Vehicle

While GPS devices are the main culprits when it comes to drivers reaching across the car, other items such as headphones can also tempt you to make this deadly error in judgment. If reaching for something makes you lose sight of the road, pull off and park first.

6. Conversing and Gesturing

People who move their hands when they talk are generally considered to be more personable, but it is a terrible habit for driving. Besides the possibility of letting go of the steering wheel while gesturing, talking to passengers provides a mental distraction as well.

7. Eating and Drinking

During those several seconds spent unwrapping your cheeseburger, a lot can happen that can cause an accident. Drinking, especially from a screw-top bottle, is doubly dangerous since it takes both your eyes off the road and your hands off the steering wheel.

8. Adjusting the Stereo, Vents and Views

All those little buttons in your car can be confusing. If you need to reposition your seat and mirrors or are unfamiliar with the car’s controls, pull over and put it in park before you try to figure it out.

9. Smoking and Vaping

That cloud of smoke or vapor can make it hard to see the road, and it is never a good idea to take either of your hands off the steering wheel, which you have to do to smoke or vape.

10. Reacting to Sudden Movements

No one can predict when a squirrel or deer will cross your path. If hitting something has given you whiplash or worse, you may need to call a Houston personal injury attorney to get your insurance to cover your medical expenses.

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Better Oil Train Safety Possible By Focusing On The Tracks

train-tacksAging roadways and crumbling bridges have been publicized for years, but weak rail lines have received far less attention. Rail systems are one of our oldest national transportation networks and one of the busiest in the world. The increasing frequency of accidents and derailments, especially those that involve oil tankers, has many FELA attorneys and public safety advocates concerned.

In August 2015, the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (AII) published a 22-page white paper that recommends better track inspections, high-tech sensors and more efficient safety practices to improve rail safety in the 21st century. This comes after officials in the United States and Canada announced they would require more durable specifications and better brakes for new tanker cars. The Federal Railroad Administration requires monthly inspections of all crossings, switches, signals and other devices, but these requirements might not be adequately enforced. There are few penalties for companies that fail to comply with these rules and new directives that will be introduced in the Positive Train Control initiative at the end of the year.

According to FELA railroad injury accident lawyers, the problem might be that the rail industry is mostly self-governed because safety regulations are not enforced. An op-ed published in the New York Times argued that federal safety standards are far too low. For example, more than three-quarters of railroad ties can be defective in a 39-foot section of track where the speed limit is 10 miles per hour. On the best tracks where trains can travel 80 miles per hour, half of the crossties can be rotten or missing.

Based on this evidence, it is clear that traveling on these fragile tracks is risky even with next-generation tanker cars. Defective and missing railroad ties are not the only critical problems. The nation’s railways are threatened by aging bridges. One of the most infamous is the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad Bridge that travels through Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The wooden trestles on either side of the bridge were built in 1897. Today, freight trains and oil tank cars rumble over the bridge past the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater and recreational paths that are used by families and joggers.

Railroad companies are not the only ones to blame for deficient maintenance programs and infrequent inspections. The Federal Railroad Administration only employs 76 inspectors who are responsible for reviewing reports and determining which areas require repairs. Some 100,000 railroad bridges are scattered across the country, and each structure must be inspected annually. With such a small number of qualified engineers, it is no surprise that oversight has been so lax. If officials ever catch up, a significant number of costly repairs can be expected.

In the case of the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad Bridge, federal inspectors said that it was safe although crossbars were missing and dangling from the bridge. The company that operates the bridge said it would make $2.5 million in repairs voluntarily. This announcement was only made after an online expose revealed the weathered state of the structure.

Maintaining and inspecting this extensive network of rails and bridges is a gargantuan task, but it needs to be done to ensure the safety of railroad workers and people who live and work near these transportation corridors. Train accident attorneys and leaders at the AII recommend using technology to improve safety. This includes installing track integrity sensors, ballast integrity sensors and gage restraint measurement systems that transmit real-time data and have the potential to prevent deadly rail accidents.

In the past 16 months, five American oil trains have exploded, but there were no fatalities. Former National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman suggests that the industry has a “tombstone mentality” and will not be pressured to act until the tombstones that have been seen in Canada cross the border.

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Motorcycle Accidents and the Role of the Personal Injury Lawyer

motorcycle-accidentsStatistics recently released by the Governors Highway Safety Association indicate that fewer motorcycle fatalities occurred in 2014, the second straight year in which these accidents declined. While this is good news, much more must be done to reduce the risks to motorcyclists on U.S. streets and highways. Over the past 10 years, the total number of fatality accidents has declined by 28 percent; motorcycle accident deaths, however, have risen by 26 percent during that same time frame. According to records released by the Texas Department of Transportation, 463 people lost their lives in motorcycle crashes in 2014; 2,022 more sustained serious injuries in these accidents. Consulting a Houston personal injury attorney can provide added support for those injured through the negligence of others on Texas streets and highways.

High Risks for Motorcyclists

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 80 percent of all motorcycle accidents result in injuries or fatalities to motorcyclists. A number of factors contribute to this statistic:

  • Motorcycles provide no exterior protection for riders in a crash, increasing the severity of injuries sustained in even a mild impact.
  • The other vehicle in a motorcycle collision is typically much larger and heavier. This can result in more severe injuries at any speed.
  • Because motorcycles have no safety belts, riders are often thrown clear of the accident and may sustain further injuries upon hitting the ground or other objects in their path.
  • Not all motorcyclists wear helmets. Failure to wear an approved protective helmet can cause severe head trauma during an accident.
  • The size and performance capabilities of motorcycle engines have been steadily increasing, resulting in higher potential speeds that can cause more serious injuries in a collision or crash.

Figures compiled and released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicate that 42 percent of all motorcycle crashes in 2013 were single-vehicle accidents. Depending on the circumstances and contributing factors, it may be possible to obtain compensation for injuries or damages sustained in these accidents.

Causes of Motorcycle Accidents

A June 2010 study released by the NHTSA examined the causes of motorcycle accidents over a three-month period. Some of the most common contributing factors to these crashes included the following:

  • Inexperience on the part of the motorcyclist
  • Defective equipment on at least one of the vehicles involved in the accident
  • Roadway conditions
  • Driver negligence or error on the part of one or more parties to the accident
  • Loss of control due to excessive speed
  • Failure to see or properly identify the motorcycle on the part of other drivers
  • Use of drugs or alcohol by one or more drivers in the accident

Because of the number of variables that may be in play at the time of any accident, motorcycle crashes must be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine fault and to establish legal responsibility for the injuries and damages caused by these serious traffic incidents.

Protecting the Legal Rights of Injured Motorcyclists

Recent Watch for Motorcycles and Share the Road Safely campaigns have sought to raise awareness of motorcycles on U.S. roadways. The failure of other motorists to notice motorcyclists is a contributing factor in many accidents. Collisions with much larger vehicles, including 18 wheeler trucks, can cause devastating injuries for motorcycle riders. In many cases, driver fatigue can be a significant contributing factor to accidents involving tractor-trailer trucks. Working with an experienced 18 wheeler accident lawyer can help victims of motorcycle accidents ensure that they are fairly compensated for their injuries after an accident involving one of these large commercial trucks.

By working with a qualified Houston auto accident lawyer, victims of motorcycle accidents can more effectively pursue their legal claims and can achieve a fair settlement for the injuries and damages sustained in these crashes. An experienced attorney can provide the support and legal acumen needed to achieve the best possible outcomes for clients both in courtroom proceedings and in negotiations with insurance companies.

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