Tara Reck, Managing L&I Attorney at Reck Law PLLC - Workers' Compensation Attorneys

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 36)

Preventing Work Injury and L&I Claim Occurrences Among Young Workers

A catastrophic work injury is devastating and life-changing event. This is especially true when we talk about first-time or young workers that suffer an injury on the job. In fact, these are some of the most gut wrenching and challenging cases I handled during my career as a workers’ compensation attorney. Fatal work accident injury incidents are always emotionally difficult. However, they are significantly harder when they involve our younger workers.

 

Work injury among teen workers

According to studies, workers between the ages of 16 and 20 sustain more cases of injury at work than older workers. I previously wrote about some of these work injury examples. Consequently, Washington State employers that employ a higher percentage of young workers are likely to experience higher workplace injury rates. If you look around, young employees are part of the labor force in many common industries such as retail, hospitality, and the service industry. Moreover, we often see younger individuals taking jobs in health and fitness, childcare, and the automotive industry.

 

Some researchers suggest that young workers incur more work injury occurrences because they take more safety risks. Others attribute it to lack of experience and knowledge. Regardless of why it happens, we can all agree that improving safety and reducing the chances for workplace injury is an important goal.

 

How to reduce L&I claim and workers’ compensation claim incidents for young employees

Employers are always responsible for teaching their workers about work safety. However, additional resources such as the SAFEME app can help as well. For example, this application supplements employer safety education and targets younger workers. It aims to educate members of our younger labor force about how to work safely. The app is free. It’s available online and also for iPhone and Android.

 

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) helped to fund, develop and support the SAFEME application. Furthermore, in recent news, the Washington Retail Association secured a grant to translate the SAFEME app to Spanish and provide 24 training lessons. This work safety app is quickly becoming a useful resource for both employers and workers. I applaud this initiative and wholeheartedly hope that it will lead to safer work practices for employees in Washington State.

 

Fatigue is a Major Cause of Work Injury and Workers’ Compensation Claims

The Washington State Labor Council and the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) recently held a seminar concerning Workers’ Compensation matters. I attended the seminar as it covers several topics that relate to my area of practice. The final segment included an important reminder about work safety: Fatigue is dangerous!

 

Fatigue can lead to work injury or workplace accident

According to the US Department of Labor, long, extended, and irregular work hours cause work fatigue. In fact, fatigue is a very serious workplace safety concern, especially during COVID-19. These days, workers are juggling so much and working under irregular circumstances. Furthermore, recent statistics show that fatigued working conditions and tired labor workers are currently at an all-time high.

 

Simply put, working longer irregular hours causes mental and physical stress. Consequently, these undesirable and stressful work conditions increase the risk for illness and workplace injury. More explicitly, loss of sleep and fatigue dramatically impact work safety in several ways:

1) Reaction time – If you sleep 6 hours or less, your reaction time can change from a quarter of a second to 4 seconds. Too often, this can mean the difference between making a lifesaving split-second decision and not.

2) Judgement and decision-making – workers that sleep 90 minutes less than usual are less alert. Specifically, this sleeping habit change can reduce alertness by 30%. Therefore, it becomes more difficult for workers to make good decisions. For example, in a high-risk work environment, it impacts the worker’s ability to recognize danger quickly and avoid work hazards.

3) Impairment – Fatigue from lack of sleep can cause more impairment than from drinking. Hence, fatigue-impaired workers cannot think clearly or critically.

 

Heavy equipment work injury as a result of fatigue

Workers operating dangerous or heavy equipment while experiencing fatigue is a recipe for disaster. It’s particularly concerning for people working as truck drivers under their commercial driver license (CDL). Realistically speaking, fatigue is a frequent factor in serious motor vehicle accidents. Just imagine an 18-wheel commercial truck and its driver, no matter how experienced, driving under exhaustion. Similarly, fatigue is a known contributor to errors in patient care and it increases workplace injury occurrences in the healthcare industry.

 

Interestingly, according to the US Department of Health, fatigue played a significant role in the following major accidents:

  • The 2005 BP oil refinery explosion
  • 2009 Colgan air crash
  • Space shuttle Challenger explosion, and
  • Nuclear reactor accidents across the country

 

Worker health is top concern and priority

On top of increasing workplace accidents, occupational illnesses, and injuries, fatigue reduces the overall health of workers. Fatigue causes heart disease, stomach and digestive problems, and musculoskeletal disorders. Not to mention reproductive issues and depression. It can also contribute to some cancers (including breast and prostate cancer), sleep disorders, obesity, and worsening of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and epilepsy.

 

To summarize, fatigue is both dangerous and expensive.  We all need to do our part to reduce fatigue in the workplace. Workers must get proper rest. When they do, they are more efficient, safer to themselves and their surroundings, and they are healthier. We are all very busy right now. On top, we are under a lot more stress than usual. However, we must do our best to not let these conditions impact the importance of rest and good sleep.

What if I Disagree With a Decision in My L&I Claim or Workers’ Compensation Claim?

In Washington State, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) if the claim administrator for a state-funded claim. For a self-insured employer claim, the administrator is typically a third-party administrator (TPA). In every workers’ compensation claim, the claim administrator makes many decisions. These decisions include whether to allow a claim, the claim accepted-conditions, treatment authorization, payments of benefits, and more. Some decisions are favorable to the person that suffered the work injury. But, some are not. Whenever a claim administrator makes an unfavorable decision that impacts work injury claimants’ right to benefits, the administrator must inform them about their protest or appeal rights. However, in reality, you can protest or appeal any written decision you disagree with.

 

Protest a decision in an L&I claim

It is common to file a protest for an L&I claim the first time a claim administrator makes an unfavorable decision. Here, for the protest to be valid, you must submit it to L&I within 60 days. At minimum, an L&I claim protest must be in writing and state what you disagree with. If L&I gets a protest, then they must issue another decision. In most cases, L&I will base its decision on preponderance of the evidence. Simply put, it means that after considering all the evidence, the decision should be what is more probably true than not.

 

If strong evidence supports the decision is wrong, then L&I may change or reverse the decision. Otherwise, L&I will issue a new decision affirming that the previous decision is correct. If you have a work injury claim and you disagree with the new decision, you may appeal to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (BIIA).

 

Appealing a decision in my L&I claim

Like protests, you must file an appeal within 60 days. The BIIA website has instructions and an online form making filing an appeal very easy.  In fact, the BIIA is a separate agency in Washington State. It employs Industrial Appeals Judges (IAJ) to help mediate and hear evidence to resolve disputes. In time, the burden of proof is on the appealing party as it must present evidence to show the decision is wrong. Therefore, it means the appealing party must present their evidence first.

 

To meet the burden of proof, the evidence must show the decision is more probably incorrect than correct. On top, the appealing party presents the evidence through witness testimony. Very frequently, people with a work injury claim ask me if they can submit medical or other records instead of testimony. Unfortunately, the appeal process does not permit it in most cases (if not all). The law and procedure require us to present the evidence through testimony. Consequently, it allow each party to ask the witness questions.

 

I disagree with L&I decision – do I need an attorney?

After a work injury, people with a workers’ compensation claim are not required to have an attorney to protest or appeal a decision. The term for those who don’t have an attorney is pro se, meaning they represent themselves. Practically speaking, protests are less challenging.  Protests happen at the L&I level and it’s not uncommon to not involve a workers’ compensation attorney. However, appeals are more difficult. With BIIA, L&I always employs an attorney from the office of the Assistant Attorney General. Self-insured and other employers also usually have an attorney.

 

Before BIIA, civil rule of procedure or the Washington State Administrative Code governs most procedures and rules. Attorneys know how to follow these rules. They can be confusing or difficult for a pro se individual. Moreover, attorneys with relevant experience also know how to evaluate the evidence and present testimony. Therefore, it’s usually a good idea to have an L&I attorney for an appeal.

 

Important conclusions

One of the biggest mistakes I see is waiting too long to hire a workman’s comp attorney. Appeals to the BIIA follow strict timelines. Hence, the longer you wait to hire a workers’ comp attorney, the less time the attorney has to prepare. Furthermore, attorney calendars may already be booked, and they may be too busy to take your case.

 

In summary, work injury claimants can protest or appeal any written decision L&I makes in their claim.  Remember, there is a 60-day time limitation for filing a protest or appeal.  To change the decision, you will need evidence to show that the decision is wrong. Finally, if you have an L&I claim or a workers’ compensation claim and you are considering filing an appeal, then you should speak with an experienced L&I attorney sooner than later.

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