The first emotion many of us experience when we encounter a work zone on the road is annoyance. Preoccupied with our children, our commute, or other life concerns, we may not stop to think about the human beings who are building or repairing the roadways that we all use daily.

Such a reaction can be understandable, especially if we are running late for an important appointment or to pick up a family member. Still, it’s essential that we keep the safety of the workers in mind. For that reason, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is spotlighting work zone worker safety in 2017 from April 3 through 7 during National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), an annual reminder that the FHWA has been sponsoring since 1999.

This year’s slogan, “Work Zone Safety is in Your Hands,” reminds all of us to prevent traffic accidents by taking responsibility for our actions as drivers in work zones. Work zone workers experience the risk of death or serious injury from vehicles that do not obey the rules of the road when they are traveling through such zones.

Do You Know the Numbers?

According to national data, 2014 saw 607 deadly work zone crashes, resulting in 669 fatalities. Texas had the greatest number of fatalities with 143; California was second with 64; and, perhaps surprisingly considering its relative size, Florida was third with 60 work zone deaths. Traffic fatalities in SC totaled 823 during 2014, with 9 of them occurring in a work zone.

Of the 607 fatal crashes in 2014:

  • Speed was a factor in 28 percent of crashes.
  • Alcohol played a part in 25 percent of crashes.
  • Fatalities occurred more often on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
  • Fatalities occurred more often from May through September.

But we don’t have to go back as far as 2014 to learn about local fatalities. During March, 2017, two SCDOT workers were killed in Aiken County as the result of a hit-and-run, with a third worker injured in the same incident. The driver that authorities believe is responsible for the fatalities has been charged.

As We Said in the Beginning . . .

You might wonder what it’s like to be in the shoes of a work zone worker. Recently, an average day for a Georgia DOT worker was highlighted in a story that brought this comment from GA District Communications Officer Kyle Collins: “Imagine what it would feel like to have a car go by 65-75 miles an hour, when you’re working a foot or inches away.”

Now consider the amount of focus and concentration it would take to do your job yet remain aware of cars whizzing by mere inches away. You would need to make sure you never take a wrong step, while keeping in mind that some drivers may be breaking the rules when it comes to speed limits.

SC does enforce higher penalties for work zone speeding violations, which are known as work zone enhancements. These enhancements are $75 to $200 in fines, up to 30 days in jail, or both.

What Can I Do?

Perhaps you are empathizing with those who keep our roads in good repair and are asking yourself what you can do. We have some suggestions for preventing accidents in work zones:

  • Obey the reduced speed limit for the zone.
  • Expect delays and allow enough time to reach your destination.
  • Obey all posted signs until you leave the work zone.
  • If there is a flagger, obey their signals.
  • Be patient. Remember that the work zone delay was not created to annoy you.
  • If the work zone along your route is unexpected, stay calm. Trying to save a few minutes is not worth putting your—or someone else’s—life at risk.

Listening hard. Working harder.

Should you or a loved one become involved in an accident, the Louthian Law Firm can help you navigate the complexities of South Carolina’s laws, deal with the insurance companies, and assist you in obtaining the compensation you deserve for your medical bills, repair bills, lost income, and any other financial costs that the accident caused. Where appropriate, we’ll also seek compensation on your behalf for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses.

For a free evaluation of your work injury case, call our lawyers today at 1-803-454-1200. If you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.

In what amounts to permanent health care for first responders and others who worked for months, even years, at the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act extension was passed at the end of 2015 and signed into law by the President. The $8.1 billion reauthorization of the Zadroga Act, as it is commonly known, increases the benefits time period to 75 years in order to cover those with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

What Is the Zadroga Act?

A New York City Police Department officer, James Zadroga died in 2006 of a respiratory illness that was directly linked to his rescue and recovery work following the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center. The Act, named for him, established the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program. It was initially signed into law in early 2011 and was up for renewal in 2015.

Many people, including entertainer Jon Stewart, a NYC-area resident, lobbied for the Act to be reauthorized and extended to cover the long period of time it often takes for asbestos-related illnesses, especially mesothelioma, to appear.

Why Such a Long Extension?

Mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer directly linked to contact with asbestos, is an insidious disease. It can show up as much as 50 years after exposure. It’s been repeatedly demonstrated that mesothelioma and other cancers have developed in many 9/11 workers. It only makes sense to extend health care coverage to 75 years so that every one of these brave men and women will be covered should they fall prey to the disease. Some first responders have already given their lives for their service at the 9/11 site: searching for victims, assisting the injured, and recovering the identifications and bodies of those who were killed.

Ray Pfeifer, a retired New York firefighter with stage four renal cancer linked to the time he worked at Ground Zero, asked of lawmakers, “What took ’em so long? The heartache everyone had to endure, it was horrible. I am so happy that thousands of first responders will rest easy and know that they are finally taken care of.”

We at the Louthian Law Firm believe that these heroes and their families should be supported, and that any worker who develops mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos in the workplace should be fairly compensated.

South Carolina has no oil or gas reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. So we don’t have to worry about the hazards to health and the environment caused by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Right?

Actually, while the direct consequences of fracking — such as leaching of toxic chemicals into groundwater — are not going to be a problem for residents of the Palmetto State, indirect consequences of the fracking process could be.

Fallout from Fracking in South Carolina

Fracking is a method of releasing oil or gas trapped between layers of shale. It is done by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock to break (or fracture) it and free the oil or gas. There are an estimated half-million fracking wells in the U.S., a rapidly expanding industry that calls for huge amounts of water and sand… and that’s where South Carolina enters the picture.

The demand for the particular kind of sand used in fracking has mirrored the explosive growth of the alternative method of drilling for oil and gas themselves. According to Environmental Working Group, composed of scientists, policy experts and others concerned about public health: the number of frac sand mines in operation has increased by 145 percent over the last decade.

Most of the frac sand mining in the U.S. is concentrated in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but a report released in September 2014 by the Civil Society Institute’s Boston Action Research group identified 12 additional states where the fine-grained sand is available, including South Carolina.

South Carolina Counties Most At-Risk – Including Richland

Frac Sand SilicaA map included with the report shows a belt of counties across South Carolina that are rich in quartz sand, or silica. McCormick, Greenwood, Edgefield, Saluda, Newberry, Lexington, Fairfield, Richland, Lancaster, and Chesterfield counties are likely areas to be tapped to provide some of the billions of pounds of frac sand needed for fracking wells in other states.

A single fracking well can use as much as 10,000 tons of sand. An October 2014 report by McClatchy estimated 95 billion pounds of frac sand would be used by the end of that year, up 30 percent from the previous year.

Silica – The New Asbestos?

Some people think the economic benefits of such mining must be weighed against the potential hazards. They speculate that silica will become the new asbestos — that is, that diseases caused by silica dust will affect workers and others long after the initial exposure, resulting in large numbers of workers comp claims and mass torts, similar to those brought about by asbestos. (Read more about asbestos litigation.)

No Cure

Silica-related lung disease is incurable and can be fatal. In 2011-12, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied airborne silica at 11 fracking sites and found that workers’ exposure exceeded the NIOSH criteria at every one of them.

OSHA issued a Hazard Alert for all workers exposed to silica during the fracking process, noting that breathing silica can cause a number of health problems:

  • Silicosis, a lung disease where trapped silica particles cause inflammation, scarring and breathing difficulties
  • Lung cancer
  • Tuberculosis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Autoimmune diseases.

Other sources have linked silica dust to emphysema, bronchitis, anemia, hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, and heart problems.

fracking-silica

The Danger Is Regulated, Right? Wrong.

Although silica exposure is a well-known danger for miners and construction workers, there is no federal air quality standard for silica outside the workplace, leaving residents near frac sand mines, processing operations and truck routes at risk, especially children, older adults and those who have respiratory diseases.

Six states — California, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont and New York — developed their own standards, but an analysis by the Environmental Working Group concluded that four of the six state guidelines were insufficient to protect children and other vulnerable segments of the population.

The Health Problems are Just Starting to Surface

It may take many years for the symptoms of silicosis to appear but much less time for other health problems to surface. Victoria Trinko, a farmer from Chippewa County, Wisconsin, described her experience in a statement to the Environmental Working Group:

“I am a retired speech clinician raising beef cattle on the farm my father bought in 1936… The third sand company in the Town of Cooks Valley began construction and operation in the spring of 2011 and is located within 1/2 mile northwest of my farm… [That summer and fall] I made comments at the town meetings about the dust billowing from the Chippewa Sands mine site… I could feel dust clinging to my face and gritty particles in my teeth… In April of 2012, within 9 months of the construction of this silica sand mine, I developed an intermittent sore throat and raspy voice… I was diagnosed with asthma due to my environment and use an inhalant and nasal spray twice a day to alleviate my breathing symptoms… I have not opened my windows since the fall of 2012… I continue to wear a mask while outside for any length of time, especially if the wind is out of the northwest and I am close to the road where trucks are hauling silica sand at an estimable rate of one truck every 3 minutes or less from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, 5-6 days per week.”

In April 2014, the first fracking trial in the U.S. resulted in a $3 million verdict for a Texas family sickened by toxic chemicals used in wells near their home. While it was the first such trial, it won’t be the last. And it’s likely that victims of businesses supporting the fracking industry, e.g., silica mining operations, will also be held to account for the harm done to area residents.

Concerned? Talk With Us to Find Out More.

If you have questions about silicosis or other health problems that could be due to breathing silica particles mined for hydraulic fracturing, call the Louthian Law Firm in Richland County, South Carolina, at (803) 454-1200.