Operation Hang Up Campaign Targets Distracted Drivers in New York

Earlier this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the success of Operation Hang Up. During the first 12 hours of the campaign, over 150 tickets were issued to drivers for using hand-held electronic devices. The initiative began Monday, April 23 and will run through Sunday, April 29. The goal of the campaign is to prevent distracted driving in New York by targeting drivers who use their cell phones or other mobile devices while driving.

This is the second Operation Hang Up campaign in New York; the first occurred during the Thanksgiving holiday over which New York State Police issued more than 800 tickets to drivers. Governor Cuomo explained the goal of initiative, “Operation Hang Up is designed to send a strong message to motorists across New York State that driving and using a hand-held device simply do not mix.”

Operation Hang Up is funded through a Distracted Driving Enforcement Grant provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The funds allow for more police patrols to focus on identifying distracted drivers. The NHTSA attributed over 3,000 fatalities in 2011 to distracted driving.

New York passed a law last July which made the use of a mobile device for activities like texting while driving a primary offense. This gives police the right to stop motorists for the behavior even if they are not violating any other traffic laws.

So far in 2012, over 65,000 tickets have been issued to New Yorkers for using a handheld electronic device while driving. Counties with the most citations include: Kings County with 12,895, New York County with 12,022 and Queens County with 11,554.

Source: WBNG News, “Cuomo Outlines Second ‘Operation Hang Up’ Campaign to Target Distracted Drivers,” April 24, 2012.

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Re-thinking Our Approach to Lead Exposure in Children

I. Measuring the Harm

There is no safe level of lead exposure in children. According to a preliminary 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current standards for measuring blood lead level (BLL) in children are inaccurate and misleading. Furthermore, addressing the harm retroactively is not nearly as important as preventing it. The report, which is subject to revision, contains significant insights and recommendations. This article highlights some of the CDC’s principal findings and proposals.

BLL is measured in micrograms per 1/10 liter of blood. Previously, a BLL of 10 was considered to be the “blood lead level of concern,” the point at which corrective interventions are triggered. In the very young, a BLL of 10 has been associated with attention deficits and learning problems. Recent studies, however, indicate that, even at lower levels, childhood lead exposure affects not only learning and IQ, but the functioning of the cardiovascular, immunological and endocrine (glands that secrete and release hormones into the bloodstream) systems.

The CDC now recommends elimination of the term, “blood lead level of concern.” Focusing on intervention after the exposure has occurred is an unproductive way to safeguard children’s health. Once the damage is done, it is likely irreversible. We can try to address learning problems in lead-exposed children through enrichment programs such as Head Start. But, since there is no safe threshold of exposure, the only acceptable strategy is to prevent the harm before it occurs. By use of a reference value, a BLL of 5 in children ages 1-5, we can measure lead exposure in specific populations and direct our public health and primary prevention efforts where they are needed most. The CDC proposes that this reference value be reevaluated every four years to assess changes in various populations.

There are approximately 450,000 U.S. children with BLL’s above 5. In recent decades, we have made progress in reducing childhood BLL’s. But racial and economic disparities persist. BLL’s continue to be higher in non-Hispanic black children. Differences in housing quality, nutrition, and environmental conditions dictate differing levels of lead exposure among U.S. children.

II. Sources of Exposure

The CDC describes lead as a “multi-media pollutant.” The principal source, lead-based paint, exists in 35 percent of all U.S, housing units. More than a fifth of these units contain significant hazards, and low income households are more likely to live in homes with lead paint than families with higher incomes. Although the use of lead paint was restricted in houses built after 1978, 3 percent of homes constructed 1978-1998 continue to have lead paint hazards.

Soil, dust and water can also be contaminated with lead. Further sources of exposure are 1) Lead mines, smelters and battery recycling plants. 2) Lead-glazed ceramic pottery 3) Folk remedies, medicines and herbs containing lead. 4) Cosmetics such as kohl, surma and certain spices. 5) Hobbies or work activities which use lead and track it into the home and 6) Lead-painted toys and children’s jewelry, usually imported from outside the U.S.

Home renovations often disturb painted surfaces and produce lead-containing dust and debris. In some communities, home renovations are responsible for one-third to one-half of childhood lead poisonings. The Environmental Protection Agency has certified 600,000 home renovators trained to understand the need to maintain paint in intact condition to prevent deterioration and dispersal. Certified abatement contractors are specialized in methods of enclosure, encapsulation and paint removal. Because lead-contaminated dust is invisible and can remain behind after building repairs, the CDC recommends additional testing after cleanup activities.

III. Lead and Children’s Health

Lead exposure can occur in utero. For pregnant and lactating women, the CDC recommends initial and follow-up screening. Further, immigrant, refugee and internationally-adopted children should be tested upon their arrival in the U.S. In their home countries, they may have been exposed to lead-contaminated medicines, folk remedies, toys, cosmetics and ceramic ware.

Maintaining a well-balanced diet with essential vitamins and minerals is vital to child health. Iron deficiency has been linked to higher BLL’s, and both conditions can contribute to lower IQ. Certain vitamins and minerals, notably calcium, iron and vitamin C, can actually minimize the absorption of ingested lead into the body.

Significant stores of lead can remain in the bone for decades and can be released back into the bloodstream. For this reason, blood testing alone will not measure whether lead abatement interventions have been successful. Environmental testing of soil and dust is a better indicator of effective intervention. Another troubling aspect of lead exposure is the role of epigenetic mechanisms in controlling how genes operate and express themselves. This new area of study examines how lead exposure can alter DNA and the regions that surround it. Although these alterations do not involve mutations to the DNA sequence itself, they can potentially be transferred to the next generation, affecting the development of the brain and other organ systems.

IV. Prevention Strategies

Primary prevention of childhood lead exposure is critical, and that means eradicating lead from home environments. Educating parents as to safe housing choices and renovation practices, as well as how to recognize and minimize lead hazards, is crucial. On the state and local levels, lead-safe housing laws and sanitary codes provide clear, objective standards for compliance. Property owners should be mandated to conduct annual visual inspections for signs of moisture problems, water damage and deteriorated paint. At the barest minimum, peeling paint and deteriorated building materials must be repaired in accordance with lead-safe work practices. Specifically, dust and debris must be contained, controlled, and cleaned up to remove any lingering threat of exposure to children.

One of the goals of CDC’s Healthy People 2010 Initiative is to eliminate childhood lead poisoning. As part of its ongoing effort, CDC has joined with agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. The key components of this interagency strategy include identifying and controlling lead paint hazards, identifying, treating and monitoring children with elevated BLL’s, and researching ways to continually improve prevention of childhood lead exposure.

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If You are Injured on the Job

If you are accidentally injured at your place of work and in the course of your employment, Workers Compensation guarantees you medical care and cash benefits. These benefits are paid by your employer’s insurance carrier. Workers Compensation is considered the exclusive remedy for workplace injury and, in general, you cannot sue your employer or a fellow employee if you are hurt on the job.

There are several exceptions to this rule. States may vary as to the type of lawsuits they allow but, for the most part, you can sue outside the Workers Compensation system in the following instances:

Intentional Conduct By Employer or Fellow Employee

If your employer or a co-employee hurts you on purpose, you may be able to sue for compensation above and beyond what Workers Compensation might provide you. The act must be intentional rather than negligent. In other words, it must be willful rather than careless, or even reckless, and the person who injures you must consciously intend the result of his act. For example, if you are having a disagreement with the owner of your company and he pushes you and causes you to fall and injure yourself, you may be able to sue him for damages.

If Your Employer Does Not Have Workers Compensation Insurance

If your employer is uninsured, you may have the choice of suing him in civil court for costs incurred by your injuries. This may give you the chance to recover more money than Workers Compensation might allow. On the other hand, you have the burden of proving that your employer was at fault in causing your injury. In a Workers Compensation claim, you do not have the burden of proof and can receive benefits regardless of who is at fault.

If You Are Injured By A Third Party

On occasion, a person other than your employer might be responsible for causing an on-the-job injury. For example, the owner of the building site or a subcontractor might be at fault for the circumstances causing the injury. Or, you may be hurt by a defective product or equipment or by a toxic substance.

If you decide to bring a lawsuit in cases like these, you may apply for and receive Workers Compensation benefits while legal action is pending. If you do receive payment from a third party, it will be necessary for you to reimburse the Workers Compensation program for the amount you received minus the share of fees and expenses from the proceeds you received. You do not have to pay anything out of pocket.

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The American Workplace: Hazardous to Life and Health?

According to data released by the U.S, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of work-related deaths in 2010 remained roughly the same as in 2009. There is some good news in the private construction sector, where workplace fatalities declined 10 percent from 2009 to 2010 and 40 percent since 2003. Fatal falls are down 42 percent since 2007 and fatal injuries resulting from being struck by objects or equipment have also decreased.

Even though construction site deaths may have declined, this does not necessarily mean that the workplace is safer. The economy plays a role in work-related fatality statistics. If fewer people are employed or people are working fewer hours, this may account for some reduction in workplace injuries and deaths. We must bear in mind that, in 2010, nearly 5,000 employees died because of work-related injuries. Even one workplace death is too many if it could have been prevented.

Generally, an employee cannot sue his employer for accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment. In such cases, the employee’s remedy is Workers Compensation. In other instances, however, someone other than the employer may be responsible for causing a work-related injury. When this occurs, the employee may be able to sue the third party for damages not covered by Workers Compensation. The employee may, for example, seek compensation for lost wages, disability, and pain and suffering,

A construction site is a beehive of activity where several different subcontractors may be working at the same time. If they are careless, or negligent, they may create a number of possible hazards for workers at the site:

Being struck by construction vehicles such as cranes, forklifts or dump trucks.

Falling from scaffolding which has not been properly secured.

Being struck by falling tools or building debris.

Falling into an unsecured elevator shaft or from a poorly secured roof.

Falling into a trench or being injured when unstable trench walls collapse.

Workers Compensation cannot punish third party construction site contractors for inadequate safety controls and dangerous working conditions. It is very important that an injured worker discuss possible third party claims with a knowledgeable attorney. Together, they can help to ensure that the right people are held responsible for dangerous working conditions and make worksites safer for all employees.

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Police Misconduct in the News

Complaints of police misconduct in the New York area are on the rise. Criminal cases involving police officers in 2011 included indictments or convictions for ticket-fixing, planting drugs on people, false arrest, warehouse robbery and gun smuggling. Reports of citizen harassment by police have also resulted in several high-profile lawsuits. Recently, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint in Federal District Court against two NYPD officers. The complaint alleged that the officers, acting under the Taxi/Livery Robbery Inspection Program (TRIP) were routinely detaining and searching livery cab passengers without suspicion of any unlawful activity. Nearly every person stopped and searched was black or Latino.

The TRIP program was designed to protect livery cab drivers who, as a group, are at increased risk of being robbed and murdered. By displaying a decal on his car window, a driver consents to being pulled over by police officers seeking to check on his well-being. The plaintiff passengers in the lawsuit are not challenging the legality of the stop itself but are objecting to the way police treated them after the stop.

In January, 2012, the FBI arrested a Connecticut police sergeant and three of his officers on charges of conspiracy, false arrest, excessive force and obstruction of justice. The indictment described years of mistreatment of individuals, mainly Hispanic, by police officers who then tried to cover it up. A Justice Department report issued in December, 2011found that police officers in East Haven, Connecticut, a largely Hispanic community, had engaged in biased policing, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and use of excessive force. Each of the four officers arrested faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on the conspiracy charge. Two of them are charged with the more serious crime of obstruction which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

A recent New York Times article reported on strained relations between police and neighborhood residents in East New York’s 75th Precinct. Although the numbers are vastly lower than 20 years ago, the area had the city’s highest rate of murders and robberies in 2011. At the same time, neighborhood residents experience the most aggressive level of stop and frisks of any precinct in the city. Of the 26,938 people detained and searched in 2010, 75 percent of them were black. Even without outright allegations of police misconduct, people in the neighborhood feel uncomfortable talking to police. In the Linden Houses, a large public housing complex, residents often feel harassed when witnessing frequent stop and frisks of teenagers. In January, 2012, police officers shot and killed a resident while responding to reports of an armed robbery. Residents worry about police shooting first and asking questions later. They also wonder how they can rely on the authorities in an emergency in an atmosphere of mutual distrust. These tensions illustrate the difficulty of balancing public safety issues against the need to safeguard the constitutional rights of community residents.

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