Articles Posted in Safety

2017-heating-300During these cold and frigid days of winter, some of us are reaching for space heaters. If you can, first try to keep warm other ways: reach for blankets or an extra layer of clothing. But if you must use a space heater, use it with caution and make sure you use it properly. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters are involved in 32 percent of home heating fires and 79 percent of home heating fire deaths in this country. They are the second leading cause of home fire deaths behind smoking.

There have been several heartbreaking stories this winter. In Baltimore, six children were killed in a devastating fire last month. Officials are still investigating, but say it may have been sparked by a space heater. Just a few days ago, a 50-year-old Fall River woman tragically died after a space heater fire ignited her home.

According to the State Fire Marshal’s office, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 133 space heater fires from 2006 to 2015, resulting in 9 civilian deaths and 22 civilian injuries. Some 31 fire service members suffered injuries.

The Today Show aired a segment this morning, which shows just how quickly space heater fires can ignite. We encourage you to watch it.

Safety Tips for Properly Using a Space Heater

Three Feet Rule. Keep space heaters 3 feet away from all furniture and people. Put them in the center of the room.

Plug in to Wall. Plug space heaters directly into the electrical socket on the wall. Many extension cords cannot handle the strong level of electricity passed on from a space heater.

Beware of Automatic Switches. These switches are helpful, but are not a substitute for you turning off your heater yourself, unplugging it and putting it away.

Turn Space Heaters Off Properly. Turn off space heaters before you go to bed when no one can monitor them. Turn it off anytime you cannot supervise it.

Keep Space Heaters Away from Water. Do not use space heaters near sinks or in bathrooms.

Create a Fire Escape Plan. Family members should all know how to properly evacuate the home and be aware of all the routes.

Check Your Fire Alarm Once a Month. This is always a good idea, but extra important during the winter months.

Inventory Your Home. Because half of all home heating fires occur during December, January and February, now is a good time to walk through your home and look for hazards. Look outside, too. Make sure your home’s outside furnace vent is clear of snow. A blocked vent can put your family at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Take Extra Precautions if Children Are in Your Home
Take extra precautions if you live with children. Establish a child-free (and pet-free) zone if you set up a space heater. Keep children as far away from the space heater as possible at all times. Also keep toys away. When finished, turn the space heater off and unplug it. Put it in a safe place which it out of reach of children.

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bike-lane-200.jpgThis is National Bike Month, when cyclists gather for events and rides all over the country. In Massachusetts, the busiest time is during Bay State Bike Week, which began last weekend. Cyclists from Boston to Springfield to Cape Cod are being encouraged to pedal to and from work in the name of fitness and reducing traffic congestion on the roads.

But along with the fun, Bike Month is a time to ask ourselves and lawmakers if we can make the roads safer to prevent personal injury to bicyclists.

While Boston has been called a world-class cycling city in recent years, safety advocates say we can do better. This month, the League of American Bicyclists dropped the state’s ranking from third to sixth in its 2013 Bicycle Friendly State Rankings, offering these and other suggestions to state officials:

Safe Passing Law. Adopt a safe passing law with a minimum distance of three feet to address bicycle safety.

Vulnerable Road User. Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for motorists that injuries or kill bicyclists or pedestrians.

Cell Phone Ban for Drivers. Pass a cell phone ban for all drivers. Currently, Massachusetts bans all drivers from texting while driving but only bans drivers under 18 from talking on their cell phones and driving.

Bicycle Riders Manual. Create a statewide bicycle riders manual with laws, state bike routes and laws for cyclists.

MassBike, the state’s leading advocacy group for cyclists, has been seeking passage of a vulnerable road users bill that increases penalties for drivers who injure or kill a bicyclist or others defined as a vulnerable road user. MassBike first filed a bill with the Massachusetts Legislature in 2011 and refiled a few months ago for the start of the new legislative session.

Under the bill, drivers found guilty of crimes such as motor vehicle homicide or hurting or killing a person while driving drunk would face double the normal fines if the victim is considered a vulnerable road user.

The bill defines vulnerable road users as “a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, wheelchair, non-motorized scooter or any non-motorized vehicle, or a person riding a horse.”

Additionally, the bill would require violators to take a traffic class and perform 100 hours of community service related to road safety. There would be special penalties for drivers who harass vulnerable users with their vehicles. Meanwhile, victims would be given guidelines for filing civil lawsuits against drivers who assault or threaten them.

Another bill proposed by MassBike is the Bicycle Lane Bill, which would make it a violation for a car to park or stand in a marked bike lane. Boston and some other communities have bans, but MassBike seeks a statewide ban.

Read about other bills filed and supported by MassBike.

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The fire on April 26, 2013 at 87 Linden Street in Allston, the second serious fire in less than two years on the same block, is a tragic reminder of what can happen with overcrowded, substandard student housing.

The Fire Marshall will now investigate the cause of the Allston fire. In addition, The Boston Inspectional Services Division should examine whether the unit was overcrowded in violation of the Boston Zoning Ordinance, and whether housing codes and accessibility codes were violated. Enforcement of city ordinances is,
unfortunately, inconsistent, and usually after the fact. Knowing this,
landlords and realty companies frequently violate these ordinances in the name of profits. The victims are often unsuspecting college students. As a result,
students, who pay high rents, are subjected to increased risks from their overcrowded housing.

The law in Massachusetts governs how homes must be safely maintained in order to prevent personal injury to occupants of the property. In Boston, zoning ordinances require building owners to declare whether their properties are single-family or multi-family units. In either case, under Boston’s zoning ordinances, under the definition of “family,” no unit may be occupied by more than four unrelated students unless the building meets much stricter building requirements.

It is also generally illegal for a landlord to create bedrooms in basements, and it may be against code to create a bedroom in an attic. No matter how it is configured, every house or apartment must have working smoke detectors throughout the unit.

Once a unit exceeds the four unrelated-occupant threshold, it technically becomes a rooming house, which makes it subject to very strict fire-prevention regulations under M.G.L. c. 148, Sec. 26I and other regulations. For example, a rooming house must have walls and ceilings made from fire-rated materials to slow flames in the event of a fire. Smoke detectors must be in every bedroom,
and must be interconnected. Even more important, every boarding house must have a working sprinkler system. Boarding houses must also meet accessibility guideline and provide multiple means of egress for upper floors, which may include fire escapes.

Real estate brokers and leasing agents share responsibility for student overcrowding and exposure to risk from substandard housing. A quick look at any leasing agent’s website will reveal scores of units available for student occupancy which are intended to house more than four unrelated individuals. Leasing agents collect a single month’s rent, sometimes more, for their services. Since they also take the responsibility to collect signatures on leases, they know exactly how many students will be in the unit. Leasing agents simply cannot claim ignorance of the laws regarding overcrowding.

Who May Be Liable
It is our firm’s opinion that violations of the boarding house rules are evidence of negligence and may create liability for the responsible landlord.
We also believe that knowing and willful violations of the boarding house rules by real estate companies or leasing agents may subject them to liability as well. Violations of these standards may also be violations of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which may subject landlords and their leasing agents to multiple damages and attorneys’ fees.

Other Cases
Injuries and death from substandard housing may also lead to criminal charges against landlords. For example, in January 2012, two absentee landlords were convicted of manslaughter after a fire in an illegal apartment in Quincy led to the deaths of three tenants. The landlords were accused of wantonly violating building and fire codes.

The question of the enforceability of rooming house regulations is also pending at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In that case, civil claims were brought against a Worcester landlord for violation of the Worcester zoning bylaw. In that city, no more than four unrelated persons can occupy a home. The city brought the violation because there were more than four students in the unit. The decision in that case is expected to be handed down in the next few weeks.

Update: The City of Boston later cited the owner of the two-family structure, Anna Belokurova, for running an illegal rooming house and not obtaining the permits needed to create bedrooms in the basement, according to The Boston GlobeRead more.

Related:

Woman killed, firefighters and occupants injured in raging Allston fire, Boston Herald.

One dead, 15 injured in Allston house fire, The Boston Globe.

Jury finds landlords guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Quincy apartment fire, The Patriot Ledger.

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Buckyballs

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has moved a step closer to taking two dangerous magnet toys out of the hands of children.

On April 12, six retailers voluntarily recalled Buckyballs and Buckycubes. The stores included Barnes & Noble, Brookstone, some Hallmark stores, Marbles the Brain Store and Think Geek.

Maxfield & Oberton Holdings of New York City, the importer and distributor, refused to issue a recall last year, prompting the CPSC to file a lawsuit against the company in July to stop sales. The rare legal action – one of just four taken by the CPSC in the past 11 years – resulted in the company discontinuing its products in October. It stopped doing business in December. 

The product was manufactured by Ningo Prosperous Imp. Exp. Co. Ltd. of Ningbo City in China.

Buckyballs and Buckycubes vary in size and color, but they are essentially a ball or cube of small powerful magnets. They were sold in containers of 10 to 216 magnets that can become loose. The first of the two products was introduced in the U.S. in March 2009. Since then, over three million sets of magnets have been sold in U.S. retail stores and online. 

Maxfield & Oberton initially marketed Buckyballs to children, calling it “an amazing toy.” It later rebranded the magnet toys as an adult desk toy and stress reliever. 

But while the magnets were being marketed to adults, the CPSC was still receiving reports that children were swallowing them. It has received 54 reports of injuries, all but one requiring medical treatment.

CPSC Complaint

The CPSC’s July 25, 2012 complaint alleged that the magnet products had defective labeling and warnings, defective design, and posed a substantial product hazard. 

The CPSC began working with the company on labeling three years ago, when the magnets were labeled for use by children “Ages 13+.” The agency said the magnets should have been marketed for age 14 and up.

Maxfield & Oberton changed the labeling and agreed to a voluntary recall of 175,000 magnet toys, but the CPSC said the injuries continued. In its complaint, it states, “…labeling and warning labels cannot guard against the foreseeable misuse of the product and prevent the substantial risk of injury to children.”

Company officials did not agree with the CPSC’s action. In October, they posted a statement on their website that read in part: “We’re sad to say that Balls & Cubes have a one-way ticket to the Land-of-Awesome-Stuff-You-Should-Have-Bought-When-You-Had-the-Chance.” 

Dangerous Toy

Over the past few years, the CPSC set up a Magnets Information Center on its website to educate the public about the danger of swallowing magnets.

The risk is that if a child ingests more than one of the powerful magnets, they can become attracted to each other while in the intestines, pinching tissue and damaging the intestinal walls. This can result in a wide range of symptoms, including vomiting, abdominal pain, infection and death. Surgery is often required and becomes more complicated because the magnets can stick to the metal surgical tools.

And in some cases children ingested more than one or two. CBS News reported the case of a 3-year-old Oregon girl who swallowed 37 Buckyballs. The CPSC complaint details cases of other young children who have swallowed numerous magnets.

Related:
CPSC administrative complaint
Recall information for consumers

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Dumbells

If you exercise at a health club, you may not be aware that Massachusetts law protects you in many ways from unlawful club contracts.  But many local health clubs – yours may be included – are regularly violating the law.

Health clubs are serving larger numbers than in the past. Over 50.2 million Americans now hold gym memberships, a 10 percent increase over the past three years, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

The industry has been known to make it challenging for members to cancel or put their memberships on hold. Sometimes, after you sign the cancellation agreement, they require you to pay until month’s end, then another full “last month.” In addition to monthly membership fees, many are also now adding new fees for “annual” memberships and equipment maintenance. Some are even charging cancellation fees up to $200. This is still legal in Massachusetts, though not at all consumer friendly.

But did you notice the fees clearly posted the last time you visited your gym? If not, your gym is violating the law. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation recently inspected 15 local health clubs and found none were displaying fees or informing consumers of their right to cancel within three days, according to WBZ-TV. The office is referring the results to the state Attorney General’s office.

Health clubs cannot ask a member to sign a waiver of liability but, surprisingly, many still do. While waivers of liability, also known as releases, are generally enforceable in Massachusetts, G.L. c. 93, Sec. 80 specifically states, “No contract for health club services may contain any provisions whereby the buyer agrees not to assert against the seller or any assignee or transferee of the health club services contract any claim or defense arising out of the health club services contract or the buyer’s activities at the health club.”

This means gyms have a duty to properly maintain their premises and equipment and make sure they are being used in a safe manner, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. If they do not, and they were negligent, they may be responsible for your damages. If you have been injured in a Massachusetts gym, the court should find the liability waiver void. Over the years, our injury lawyers have successfully challenged these agreements.

Gyms also cannot ask members to sign up for terms longer than 36 months or require that members agree to financing that lasts longer than one month beyond the membership period. Members cannot be required to agree to monthly automatic withdrawals from a bank account.

If you are joining a gym, the best thing you can do is read the fine print on your member agreement before signing. Research the organization online through your local Better Business Bureau website.

Consumer remedies for health club violations are limited. No health club will be permitted by the courts to enforce an illegal contract. A consumer may bring claims under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, G.L. c. 93A, but damages will usually be  nominal, although attorneys’ fees would be available.

Recent Court Ruling

The possibility of class actions was virtually eliminated by the recent ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court in Tyler v. Michaels Stores, Inc., 464 Mass. 492 (2013). An invasion of a consumer’s rights may be a violation of G.L. c. 93A, but unless the consumer has suffered a separate, identifiable harm arising from the violation, there will be no remedy. This case put a disappointing crimp into collective consumer action to prevent violations of the Consumer Protection Act, leaving overworked state officials to take up the slack.

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pumpkin_web.jpgHalloween is a much-anticipated night for children across Massachusetts, who are excited about dressing up as ghosts and goblins, going trick-or-treating and attending costume parties. Parents have a responsibility to protect children by talking to them beforehand about appropriate behavior and dangers to avoid. Here, the Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at Breakstone, White & Gluck of Boston offer tips to help parents and all adults keep the Halloween experience safe and fun for our youth:

  • Never let young children go trick-or-treating without adult supervision.
  • Take children for a test run of the trick-or-treat walking route during daytime hours.
  • Remind children to look both ways before crossing the street and to utilize crosswalks when possible.
  • Parents and children should always walk on sidewalks.
  • Children should carry flashlights or glow sticks and wear reflective tape.
  • Watch out for trick-or-treaters! Drive below the speed limit in residential areas and do not pass stopped vehicles in the roadway.
  • Inspect treats before consumption. Discard all homemade goods and candy that poses a choking hazard.
  • At your home, leave candles, pumpkins and lanterns in a place where no one can trip and injure themselves.
  • Make sure costumes are flame-resistant and will not cause children to fall or trip.
  • Click here for information on safe costumes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A New Warning About One Type of Halloween Candy
A new government warning issued this week caught many by surprise as families prepare for Halloween. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported there is a link between black licorice and an irregular hearth rhythm. If you’re 40 or older, eating two ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia.

The FDA says black licorice contains the compound glyrrhizin, which can cause the body’s potassium levels to fall. This can trigger abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, edema, lethargy and congestive heart failure.

The good news? Licorice lovers can enjoy their candy in moderation. And if you have ever enjoyed too much licorice and experienced health problems, they are unlikely to reoccur unless you once again eat more than the recommended licorice limit. The FDA says all health complications end when black licorice consumption stops.

Click here for more information about the FDA’s Oct. 25, 2011 warning about black licorice.
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schoolbus.jpgA new pilot program shows drivers in three Massachusetts communities are failing to stop for school buses, a violation of state law and a safety concern as students prepare to head back to school.

The program is underway in Medford, Quincy and Seekonk, where school buses have been equipped with video cameras behind the vehicle’s long stop-sign arm. The cameras capture the license plates of cars which violate the law and cause school bus accidents.

In Medford, the cameras captured 112 motor vehicle violations in 105 days, according to The Boston Globe. Some 57 violations were recorded over 55 days in Quincy while Seekonk had 45 violations over 53 days.

Under Massachusetts law, drivers cannot be issued citations based solely on video evidence. A police officer or bus driver must observe the violation and testify to it. Fines start at $250 and drivers with two or more offenses can have their license revoked.

Massachusetts is one of many states that allow traffic cameras, but they are currently only used to catch toll-evading drivers on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Proposed legislation aims to prevent school bus accidents by allowing cities and towns to submit video footage as evidence.

Drivers can keep children safe and avoid motor vehicle citations by paying close attention this September. The Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck offer these safety tips to prevent school bus accidents:

  • State law requires drivers to stay at least 100 feet behind a school bus at all times.
  • Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street, especially in areas with no sidewalks.
  • Watch for children playing at bus stops.
  • Yellow flashing lights signal the bus is slowing down to stop.
  • Red flashing lights and an extended arm indicate the bus is stopped to let children on or off.
  • Do not start driving again until the stop arm folds back up and the bus starts moving.
  • Do not attempt to pass a school bus.
  • Watch for children when backing out of your driveway. If you see children, ask them to move to the sidewalk until you drive away.

Click here for the state law on driving near school buses in Massachusetts.

Click here for The Boston Globe article about the new pilot program.
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Boston has a new bicycle sharing program, implemented on July 28th, and it is off to a great start. The program, which is known as Hubway, stations bicycles throughout the city at terminals. You can rent a bike for a short period of time, or become a member and have a year of privileges.

Nicole Freedman and David White at the Government Center Hubway Station in Boston

Hubway is another step in making Boston a bicycle-friendly city. The city, under the inspiration of Mayor Menino and with the guidance of Olympic cyclist and Bicycle Program Director Nicole Freedman (shown at right with David White, at the Government Center Hubway Station), has expanded its bicycle lanes and its bicycle parking, and it now has added convenient bicycle rentals. 

Hubway deploys 600 bicycles at around fifty stations around the city. A bike can be picked up at one station and parked at another, making the program convenient for commuters, students, and tourists. There is even an phone application called Spotcyle which gives up-to-the-minute data on which terminals have bikes or available parking docks.

Every year, Massachusetts families and organizations come together to honor the men and women who are killed and injured while on the job. This year, on April 28, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and the Greater Boston Labor Council are co-sponsoring Workers’ Memorial Day and are publishing the 2011 report: Dying for Work in Massachusetts: Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces.

“It is critical that Massachusetts employers improve the safety of their workplaces to protect their workers. The high rate of death and injury on the jobsite is still taking a horrible toll on Massachusetts workers and their families. It is also unfortunate that enforcement continues to suffer budget cuts,” said Boston personal injury lawyer David White.

As stated in this sobering report, its purpose is to “highlight the fact that work continues to kill and maim workers in epidemic and alarming numbers. The saddest aspect to this loss in lives and limbs is that work-related injuries and illness are preventable.”

The report describes in clear detail the tragedy facing Massachusetts workers and their families. In 2010 alone, 47 Massachusetts workers lost their lives while on the job. (Breakstone, White and Gluck has the privilege and honor of representing the family of one of these deceased workers in their claim for his pain and suffering and wrongful death while on the job.)

The top three causes of fatalities among Massachusetts workers in 2010 were transportation (12 deaths: drivers or workers on roads involved in motor vehicle accidents and plane/helicopter crashes), falls (9 deaths: half being construction site accidents), and commercial fishing (4 deaths).

On Workers’ Memorial Day, we honor the fallen by demanding stronger workplace health and safety protections under the Occupational Health & Safety Administration, because it is every person’s right to be safe in their own work environment.

Join us on Thursday April 28, 2011 from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. outside the Massachusetts State House as we mourn for the dead and fight for the living.

Breakstone, White & Gluck is a proud sponsorof MassCOSH, an organization with a great reputation for protecting workers and improving workplace safety. 

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UPDATE

Jonathan’s Sprouts of Rochester, MA, has widened the recall of its sprout products due to Salmonella contamination. The recall now includes all sell-by dates, including its conventional, organic, and bulk products. The recall includes other sprouts, such as radish, dill, and gourmet mix. Check below for stores where these products were sold. Do not eat them! Return them to the store for a refund.

More information: FDA Recall Press Release.

 

ORIGINAL POST

The USDA has found Salmonella, a dangerous bacteria related to food poisoning, in Jonathan’s Alfalfa Sprouts products.

alfalfa.jpgSalmonella, if ingested, can cause serious and sometimes fatal illness and infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. The symptoms of Salmonella include fever, diarrhea (possibly bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

 

Jonathans Sprouts has issued an immediate recall of the following effected products:

  • Jonathan’s 4oz Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Jonathan’s 4oz Alfalfa with Radish Sprouts
  • Jonathan’s 4oz Gourmet Sprouts
  • Jonathan’s 4oz Alfalfa with Dill Sprouts
  • Jonathan’s 8oz Alfalfa Sprouts
Only these products with a sell-by date of 4/23/11 are affected by the recall.  If you have purchased any of these defective products, you are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
The recall affects the following stores in Massachusetts: A&P, Grand Union, Stop & Shop, Shaws, Hannaford, Donnelans, Foodmaster, Truccis, and Roche Brothers.

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