safety

You Should Know: Praising the Organizations That Make a Difference

These Justice Organizations Lead the Fight to Protect the Safety, Rights of All Americans

Every year for the Justice Served Awards issue, we celebrate injured people and their families who have stepped up to make America a safer, more just nation. This year, we’re shining a bright light on the organizations that tirelessly support and advocate for all Americans.

Center for Justice and Democracy

Located at New York Law School, the Center for Justice & Democracy is the only national consumer organization in the country exclusively dedicated to protecting the civil justice system. It investigates and exposes attacks on judges, juries, injured consumers and attorneys by powerful corporations and special interests. The Center also raises public awareness and support for the civil justice system and combats the dangerous campaign behind the so-called “tort reform” movement. The Center believes that “America’s civil justice system is one of the only places left in America where individual citizens can successfully challenge powerful industries and institutions and hold them accountable.”

Public Citizen

Founded in 1971 and based in Washington, D.C., Public Citizen “serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital.” The organization champions citizens’ interests before Congress, the executive branch agencies and the courts. Through its five policy groups – Congress Watch, the Energy Program, Global Trade Watch, the Health Research Group and the Litigation Group – Public Citizen fights to make sure government works for the American people and not corporate power.

Consumers Union

Consumers Union is the policy and action division of Consumer Reports magazine. It works with its activists and alongside subscriber input to pass consumer protection laws in states and in Congress. It holds dangerous and unsafe corporations accountable and celebrates those who put their consumers first. Consumers Union has helped pass consumer protection laws for healthcare, financial services, the food and agriculture industry, clean energy, the auto industry and more.

Consumer Federation of America

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy and education. Nearly 300 diverse state and national advocacy groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Workplace Fairness

Workplace Fairness is a nonprofit organization working to preserve and promote employee rights. It believes that fair treatment of workers is sound public policy and good business practice. Workplace Fairness also supports and creates comprehensive, unbiased information about workers’ rights in order to empower employees everywhere. With this information, Workplace Fairness educates workers and organizations and advocates for fairness through awareness and public policy.

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ProPublica

Founded by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street JournalProPublica is an independent nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. These investigations shine a light on exploitation and work to create positive change. ProPublica is nonpartisan organization that works to adhere to strict standards of journalistic impartiality. It does not ally with any politicians or advocacy groups in order to provide an unbiased look at businesses, government, unions, education systems, healthcare organizations and the media.

The Leapfrog Group

The Leapfrog Group is a national nonprofit organization focused on improving the quality and safety of American health care. Its Leapfrog Hospital Survey program collects and transparently reports hospital performance, empowering purchasers to find the highest-value care and giving consumers the lifesaving information they need to make informed decisions. The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, Leapfrog’s other main initiative, assigns letter grades to hospitals based on their record of patient safety, helping consumers protect themselves and their families from errors, injuries, accidents and infections.

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Safe Kids Worldwide

Safe Kids Worldwide is a global organization dedicated to protecting kids from unintentional injuries, the number one cause of death to children in the United States. Safe Kids does this through research reports, education and awareness programs and safety focused public policy. Since 1988, the work of Safe Kids has helped reduce the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury by 60 percent.

 

This article appeared in our August 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

You Should Know: Watchful Parents Can Prevent Playground Injuries

School’s out for summer, and kids are bursting to get outside and hit area playgrounds. No surprise then that June is a particularly dangerous month for playground injuries. Before you let those kiddos loose, learn how adults are the key to playground safety with tips on equipment, clothing and safe behavior.

Adult Supervision Is the Number One Way to Prevent Playground Injuries

Seventy-five percent  of playground injuries take place on public playgrounds.

Seventy-five percent of playground injuries take place on public playgrounds.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 200,000 children age 14 or younger are treated in emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries. More than 10 percent of these are traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and the rate of TBIs is rising.

Because public playgrounds are numerous and easily accessible, most kids spend their time on these rather than private playgrounds. Thus, the largest percentage of playground injuries take place on public facilities. Monkey bars and climbing equipment are responsible for the highest number of injuries.

But despite the risks, we know kids love playgrounds and benefit from the exercise and social interaction. The good news: Adults can play a key role in keeping kids safe on their favorite playgrounds with these tips and resources:

Keep Your Kids Safe With These Tips

  • Areas underneath the equipment, known as fall surfaces, should be made of soft material such as wood chips, mulch, sand or rubber.
  • Inspect equipment for any piece (especially metal) that may be hot from the sun.
  • Watch for hazards or protrusions like bolts, hooks, stumps or rocks that could trip or cut children.
  • Look for neglected maintenance, such as rusty or broken equipment.
  • Make sure kids wear safe clothing. No loose scarves or hoodies with drawstrings, as these can become a strangulation hazard if entangled with equipment. Shoes should be comfortable for play and protect feet, like sneakers. Tie long hair back as well.
  • Make sure there are strong and sturdy guardrails to prevent falls.
  • Your children should be using age-appropriate equipment. Read all playground signs for warnings and instructions.
  • Most importantly, the best way to prevent injuries is parental supervision. Talk to your kids about appropriate playground behavior before you visit the playground and watch them while you’re there.

More Resources for Safe Playgrounds

To ensure your local playground is safe, the National Recreations and Parks Association has a network of Certified Playground Safety Inspectors (CPSI). The CPSI certification program provides comprehensive and up-to-date training on playground safety issues, including hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management methods. To find your local CPSI, click here.

A thorough playground safety checklist and ranking tool, created by the National Program for Playground Safety, can be found here. If you see safety hazards or poorly maintained equipment, reach out to the owner as soon as possible. In most cases, this will be a school or park district. 

Keeping our kids safe while out on the playground is an issue we can all get behind, and one that benefits the community as a whole. So let’s all get out there and have some fun!

This article appeared in our June 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

You Should Know: Pedestrians Pay the Price for Distracted Driving

Bikers, Walkers Threatened By Increase In Distracted Driving

April showers have given way to May flowers, encouraging walkers and bicyclists to get out and enjoy the weather. Long walks and leisurely bike rides can be a perfect way to soak up the sun, but busy streets with distracted drivers can be an accident waiting to wreck a lovely day. Unfortunately, when drivers are distracted, pedestrians and bikers often pay the price. This month, you should know how to keep yourself safe while you enjoy the spring season.

Use marked crosswalks :  Eighty-two percent  of pedestrian deaths occur outside the crosswalk.

Use marked crosswalksEighty-two percent of pedestrian deaths occur outside the crosswalk.

More Cars, More Walkers and Bikes, More Distractions = Higher Traffic Deaths

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2016 in traffic accidents. In 2015, more than 800 bicyclists lost their lives in motor vehicle-involved crashes. Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent between 2014 and 2015, bicyclist deaths by 13 percent – both more than any other category of traffic-related fatalities, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

The cause of this deadly trend has been greatly debated, with different groups pointing to a stronger economy and hence more cars on the road, more people walking to work or for recreation, and distraction due to the skyrocketing use of smartphone technology. Meanwhile, most efforts to prevent distraction are focused on motor vehicle drivers and passengers rather than pedestrians and bicyclists.

Teens Account for 25 Percent Increase in Pedestrian Deaths Over Past Five Years

Bicycle fatalities have risen sharply for adults (especially men) 20 years or older since 1975. Click for larger image.

Even if a person is not behind a wheel, they can be at risk if walking while talking on a cell phone or listening to music through headphones. Among kids, teens account for 50 percent of all pedestrian deaths in the United States, and unintentional pedestrian traffic injuries are the fifth leading cause of fatalities for ages 5 to 19. Older teens have accounted for a staggering 25 percent increase in pedestrian injuries in the past five years. Over half of all adults have been involved in a distracted walking encounter.

Tips To Stay Safe

Walking or bicycling are healthy for both people and the environment. Perhaps that is why we’ve seen a 60 percent increase in commuter biking during the past decade. But while bicycle deaths among children have thankfully decreased by 88 percent since 1975, deaths among bicyclists age 20 and older have more than tripled. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind that will increase your chances of arriving safely at your destination, whether on foot or by pedal!

  • Look left, right and left again before crossing the street
  • Make eye contact with drivers of oncoming vehicles to make sure they see you
  • Be aware of drivers even when you’re in a crosswalk; vehicles have blind spots
  • Don’t wear headphones while walking or biking
  • Never use a cell phone or other electronic device while walking or biking
  • If your view is blocked, move to a place where you can see oncoming traffic
  • Never rely on a car to stop
  • Only cross at designated crosswalks (82 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur outside crosswalks)
  • Wear bright and/or reflective clothing, especially at night
  • Always wear a helmet while biking
  • Walk in groups, if possible
  • Follow all traffic laws and road signs, and signal to turn

This article appeared in our May 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

Teens 50% of All Pedestrian Deaths, Ages 5 to 19 

Traffic deaths are up 6 percent since 2010, pushing U.S. road fatalities to the highest level in a decade. However, the percentage increase in pedestrian deaths is far outpacing those on the road, jumping 25 percent from 2010 to 2015. Walkers on smartphones, bicyclists ignoring traffic rules, coupled with distracted driving, are a deadly combination. 

Teens, who are much more likely to walk distracted with a mobile device, make up 50 percent of all pedestrian deaths ages 5 to 19.

Our recommendations: 

Make sure your children understand the importance of looking both ways before they step out onto a roadway. Point out the traffic lights to them and explain their significance. Also, if an intersection is equipped with a pedestrian light, point that out to them and make sure they understand what the illuminated symbols mean. Stand on the corner for a full cycle of the light and pedestrian signal to make sure your children understand how they work and who has the right-of-way when. Never cross against the light with your children even if there is no one coming or if others are doing it. You do not want to teach your children bad habits or to take unnecessary risks. Impress upon your children that even if they have the right of way they should still look and be cautious because you can never assume that drivers are paying attention. It only takes one misstep. And finally read our May newsletter and discuss it with your children. Stay safe out there.

Guy W. Crabtree is a partner with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, in Durham, NC.

You Should Know: Unregulated E-Cigarettes Mask Hidden Dangers

E-cigarette use among teens tripled from 2013 to 2014, alarming health officials.

E-cigarette use among teens tripled from 2013 to 2014, alarming health officials.

E-cigarette use has skyrocketed in the last few years. About 10 percent of U.S. adults now vape, as the practice is called, almost four times more than the 2.6 percent reported by the government in 2013. And that growth means big business: Sales are estimated at $3.5 billion for 2015 versus $2.5 billion in 2014 and are projected to grow 25 percent annually through 2018.

E-cigarettes use a heating element to vaporize liquid nicotine that is then inhaled by the smoker. Many smokers view e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, avoid some of the health hazards caused by regular cigarettes, or as an alternative to smoking in public places that ban the practice.

Click to enlarge infographic.

Click to enlarge infographic.

No Regulations or Warnings

So far e-cigarettes are entirely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a fact that surprises many users. Both the vaporizing devices and the nicotine-based liquid itself are unregulated, so manufacturers create and disperse products with no oversight. There are already more than 500 different brands of e-cigarettes, with over 7,700 flavors of nicotine liquid. The amount of nicotine in the liquid, as well as other dangerous chemicals or carcinogens, are not monitored and are not required to be represented accurately on the packaging. Nevertheless, research cited by the American Lung Association highlights the significant health risks posed by the nicotine and other hazardous chemicals found in e-cigarettes.

Use Triples Among Teens

The fastest growing segment of e-cigarette users are teens and young adults. Between 2013 and 2014, e-cigarette use tripled from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent for teens, followed by an increase among middle schoolers from 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent during the same period.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed extreme alarm at the findings, pointing out the harm nicotine exposure can pose to brain development among young people along with the potential for long-term addiction. Public health advocates also fear that unregulated advertising in print and on television by e-cigarette companies is making the product look “cool” and is driving increased use among young users.

Not Working to Help Smokers Quit

For those hoping that e-cigarettes might help them stop smoking entirely, a new study suggests that the opposite may be true. Researchers in California found that e-cigarette users were less likely than those who never used e-cigarettes to quit or cut down on smoking cigarettes. “We hypothesize that maybe [users] are getting higher doses of nicotine, and so it becomes less likely they’re able to quit,” reported the researcher.

Many vapers also practice dual use, meaning they smoke traditional cigarettes but then use e-cigarettes where traditional smoking is banned. This makes it more likely that people addicted to nicotine can get a fix whenever they have the desire, thus actually increasing the amount of nicotine they are ingesting every day.

Exploding E-Cigarettes Cause Serious Injuries

Another serious problem with e-cigarettes can now be added to the list of hazards. A growing number of users have been injured by e-cigarettes that explode due to unstable lithium-ion batteries. Recently a 29-year-old California man suffered a broken neck, facial fractures, burns to his mouth and shattered teeth after an e-cigarette exploded while he was using it.

Although these incidents are rare, federal officials report 25 such incidents between 2009 and 2014. Because there are so many makers of e-cigarettes and none are regulated, shoddy manufacturing practices can go unchecked. Federal transportation officials have already banned e-cigarettes from packed luggage for fear of explosions inside the luggage hold. 

 This article appeared in our January 2016 "You Should Know" e-newsletter. 

You Should Know: America’s 2015 Top Safety and Justice Stories

It was a busy year for those who fight for the health, safety and legal rights of all Americans. While this short list is by no means exhaustive, here are some of the top stories we were watching in 2015:

1. Forced Arbitration Is Forced Injustice

Many Americans are signing away their right to a day in court.

Many Americans are signing away their right to a day in court.

There’s a legal land mine buried deep in thousands of consumer and employment contracts called a “forced arbitration” clause that threatens our right to hold major corporations accountable for wrongdoing. This loophole prohibits Americans from taking companies to court and instead forces them into secretive arbitrations, which are typically stacked in favor of the company. An investigation by The New York Times has focused renewed scrutiny on the harm caused by forced arbitrations in claims of medical malpractice, sexual harassment, hate crimes, discrimination, theft, fraud, elder abuse and wrongful death. You can join others in petitioning Congress to ban forced arbitration right here.

2. Food That Sickens Rather Than Nourishes

Major cases of food contamination at Chipotle Mexican Grill and Blue Bell Ice Cream this year illustrate the growing problem of foodborne illness. According to a new report from the American Association for Justice, 48 million people fall sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and at least 3,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Questionable production techniques and cost-saving measures, combined with weak state and federal oversight, threaten to make the situation worse. Litigation helps shed light on dangerous practices and hits companies back hard with large financial penalties and damaged reputations.

3. Cost Savings Creates Deadly Defect in Guardrails

Trinity Industries installed 220,000 guardrails throughout the country that may spear cars on impact.

Trinity Industries installed 220,000 guardrails throughout the country that may spear cars on impact.

Trinity Industries modified its highway guardrails to save money but instead created a deadly hazard, all of which didn’t come to light until it was sued by a whistleblower and those who suffered injuries as a result of the defect. Rather than slow down a vehicle when impacted, the Trinity guardrails spear through the passenger compartment. A federal judge recently ordered the company to pay $663 million in penalties for concealing the design modification from federal officials. At least 14 lawsuits blame the guardrails for causing injuries in crashes, including five deaths, according to The New York Times.

4. Exploding Airbags Seriously Injure Motorists

Airbags made by Takata and installed in vehicles from 12 different automakers can explode when deployed, injuring or even killing occupants. A report published in The New York Times alleges that Takata knew of the defects for years but failed to take action. Since then the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recalled 19 million vehicles in the United States, fined Takata for failing to cooperate with its investigation and handed down a record civil penalty of $200 million.

5. New Regulations Protect Nursing Home Residents

Proposed regulations would improve nursing home safety.

Proposed regulations would improve nursing home safety.

The federal watchdog for nursing home safety has proposed sweeping new regulations designed to improve patient care and safety for more than 1.5 million Americans living in long-term care facilities. Such regulations are long overdue, according to patient safety advocates, family members and nursing home lawyers, who report numerous cases of abuse and neglect. If the regulations are finalized, “unnecessary hospital re-admissions and infections would be reduced, quality care increased and safety measures strengthened,” according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

6. VW Trumps GM as Most Untrustworthy Car Maker

The scandal at Volkswagen over rigged emissions in more than 11 million cars worldwide reminds Americans once again that car manufacturers are often willing to jeopardize the health and safety of consumers to protect their profits. News of the VW scam comes just over a year after GM admitted it had covered up a defect in an ignition switch that has been blamed for at least 124 crash deaths. Both companies might have gotten away with their misconduct if not for a wrongful death lawsuit (in the case of GM) or a chance discovery by a small research team at West Virginia University (in the case of VW). Meanwhile, some in Congress are considering a bill that would bail out VW: learn more and tell Congress to vote no here.

7. Defective Products Create “House of Horrors”

Toxic drywall, failing sprinklers, leaking windows and even bursting toilets ... these are just a few of the defective and dangerous products that are featured in the “House of Horrors,” an informative infographic from the American Association for Justice. Each case demonstrates how consumers have fought back against shoddy manufacturers through class-action lawsuits, a right that is threatened by forced arbitration clauses as discussed above.

8. Toys Still Injuring Kids

Nearly 260,000 kids visit emergency rooms each year for toy-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And sadly, 11 children under the age of 12 died while playing with toys in 2014. The most common injuries include poisoning, choking, ingesting magnets or falling from riding toys. While regulators, safety advocates and the parents of injured children have succeeded in ridding store shelves of many unsafe toys, too many still get through. Learn more.

 This article appeared in our December 2015 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.