Construction sites are often places filled with all sorts of hazards, which is why the law says it is up to the contracting or construction company to provide a safe work environment for its employees while working on the site. Despite these provisions, accidents do happen on job sites, and for the most part, if you are working on a construction site, your employer can be liable for damages. The brunt of the responsibility to keep you safe on the job falls squarely on their shoulders.
However, in many instances, to save money and avoid the expense of liability, your employer has several ways they can try to escape the blame if you have been injured. If you were injured in an accident on a construction site, you should hire an construction site accident injury lawyer to argue your case, as there are many ways the defense could claim it was you who is to blame.
Who Is Liable?
Not long ago, workers built American cities without proper safety measures to ensure their health and livelihood. The law did little to protect them, and workers could easily be replaced, and those who had been injured were left to fend for themselves, either being at the mercy of their families or even charities if they were lucky. Labor laws were created to protect workers’ rights, to ensure they had safe work environments, proper training, and adequate safety equipment to do their jobs.
The term safe working environment is often loosely and broadly interpreted. However, if all provisions were in place, it should not be a coin toss whether you might die or be maimed on any given work day. State and Federal regulations are in place for a reason: to protect workers’ welfare. People should not have to risk life and limb every day to bring home a paycheck and support their families. In the past, the interests of the companies building high rises, ships, roads, and railroads considered human life less important than the money they could make for each job.
Labor laws hold companies responsible for training skilled employees, providing adequate safety equipment, and providing a safe work environment. Negligence leads to workplace injuries and is typically due to a company cutting corners or being lax in its observance of the law.
OSHA regulations might seem inconvenient to some, but they protect workers from minor and major injuries. Labor laws restrict any number of things, such as: how many hours per day an employer is allowed to let employees work, dangers are indicated with signs, personal protection gear is worn at all times, and the rights of the employees are prominently displayed. Failure to do so is on the employer.
Types of accidents
Construction zones are dangerous places, especially without the proper training and infrastructure to ensure workers’ safety.
Here are some ways that accidents can happen on the job.
- Falling from height: Falls from a height higher than the person’s body length can be very dangerous. Slipping and falling on scaffolds, platforms, and upper levels of structures are responsible for many accidents. The results could be broken bones, spinal injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and even loss of life or limb due to impalement or severing body parts.
- Falling object: When objects fall from a great height, they build up a lot of kinetic energy, which can overwhelm personal protection gear such as hard hats and protective clothing. Head injuries are most common with falling object accidents, leading to permanent cognitive damage, broken bones, and even death.
- Eye injury: Eye injuries occur from metal fragments coming out of a cutting project to a chunk of rebar coming off during a hammer strike. Proper eye protection helps, but it is not 100 percent foolproof.
- Vehicle accidents: Workers need to know how to work alongside heavy equipment and other vehicles and proper operation if that is their job. This is why operators must be tested and licensed to run these vehicles. The company must enforce these rules and conduct proper background checks before letting someone operate a vehicle on a job site. Vehicles must also be regularly maintained and have functional safety lights, sirens, and mechanical fail-safes such as brakes and kill-switches if equipped.
- Hazardous materials: From hot asphalt to propellant to flammable gases and electricity used in welding, and acids and other caustic chemicals used on site, again, proper handling procedures and containment practices must be strictly enforced by the employer to ensure the safety of its workers. A job site must have appropriate ventilation to dispel toxic fumes, drainage for noxious chemicals, and even standing water if necessary.
- Burns and explosions: In the same vein as hazardous materials handling, sometimes accidents involve dealing with environments that carry the potential for burns and explosions. A ruptured gas line, faulty welding equipment, fuel spills, and even explosives used in demolition can result in injuries without proper training or protective gear.
- Pulls and strains: Back braces, belts, and enforcing lifting and carrying procedures limit strains and back injuries. Slipped disks, hernias, and muscle pulls can leave an employee out of commission for a long time, and not providing the training or the safety equipment to workers falls on the company.
Every day, you go to work and do the job you were hired to do. You wear protective gear, follow the rules of the job site, and in exchange for the services you provide, your employer pays you. When an employee is doing an assigned task per their job description, they should be covered and protected from harm. Your assigned tasks are what you are hired to do, and part of your documentation should show that these are not only the duties assigned but also the duties you are trained and authorized to do.
Working on a construction site is often a two-way street when it comes to keeping workers safe. Compliance with the worksite rules is the worker’s responsibility, and the Defense will argue that a worker was injured due to various factors to avoid liability.
Here are some ways a company might try to avoid the blame.
- Recalcitrant employee: Employees who refuse to wear Personal Protective Equipment such as appropriate clothing, belts and braces, hard hats, or protective eyewear.
- Culpable conduct: Horseplay, pranks, or inappropriate conduct is an argument the company can use to establish blame on the victim.
- Off-limits area: If the area was unsafe for untrained or against anyone other than specialized employees, the Defense could argue that an injured worker was willingly outside the limits of an area where they were protected.
Projects Not Covered
Employees working on different tasks other than assigned duties who are injured could find themselves in a precarious situation. Doing work outside of what they were supposed to do can leave an injured worker open to liability.
Here are some projects which might not be covered by employer liability in construction.
- Personal projects: If you are using site equipment for personal use, you might not be protected by the law.
- Off-hours working: If you have come to the site off-hours without supervision, you might be leaving yourself vulnerable to liability.
- Cleaning or maintenance: These tasks might not be typical of your assigned duties and might not be protected.
- Surveying/Inspection: A third party is usually responsible for these activities, and it could be argued they are not part of your assigned tasks.
- Excavation: A different type of operation—usually handled by a third party—you should be cautious of being assigned these tasks if they are outside your training or experience.
- Not an authorized worker: If you are not supposed to be working on the job site, you might not be protected by the law.
The majority of what a company will be liable for in a workplace accident is from cutting corners. PPE is expensive, and maintaining guard, scaffolding, and the time it takes to train employees drains resources from companies that cut into profit margins. Cutting corners to save money is no reason to endanger employees’ lives.
Even supervisors who throw up their hands and claim they cannot force anyone to wear safety equipment or perform their duties in a manner that ensures the safety of others is just an excuse, and a pretty thin one at that. Supervision should ensure not only the quality of work being done, but also protect the safety of everyone on a job site.
Being lax on requiring PPE or following OSHA rules and regulations might save a little bit of time and improve profits slightly as a result, but saving a few pennies and nickels at the cost of human life or safety is inexcusable.
What to Do if You Are in a Workplace Accident
Though you might not think clearly at the time, after an accident at work:
- Get Help Immediately: Administering first aid as soon as possible can help prevent further injury or complications.
- Report the incident to Human Resources or a Supervisor: Even if the injury is minor, the first step in protecting your rights is to notify your supervisor or HR. They will need to file the incident with Workers’ Compensation, regardless of how incidental it may seem. This begins an integral part of the process, which is documentation.
- Document Everything: If you can, record video, take pictures of the scene of the accident, get statements from witnesses, and document when the paperwork was filed. Get copies of all reports, medical records, and receipts. This is extremely important in protecting your rights.
- File the paperwork for Workers’ Compensation: Part of the documentation process may seem a little overwhelming, what with all the paperwork involved. But filing the paperwork protects your rights as a worker.
- Attend all required doctor’s appointments: Your recovery is also your responsibility. You should listen to your doctor, especially if they tell you whether or not you are fit to return to full work duties. Failure to comply with your medical treatment might give your employer reason to argue whether you were even injured. You could find yourself in a predicament regarding allegations of faking the severity of your injuries.
- Go to Physical Therapy: Though it might be a hassle to travel to appointments and physical therapy might be painful and time-consuming, it is a provision that will help you regain your motility and get back on your feet without lasting physical limitations. A workplace injury might also result in post-traumatic stress, and through counseling, you can work to overcome anxiety, depression, or other mental roadblocks toward your recovery.
Contact an Attorney at Finkelstein & Partners Today
An attorney can help protect your rights if you are injured in the workplace. The company and its insurer will look for ways to avoid the burden of responsibility when paying compensation for your injuries. The same mentality behind cutting corners regarding employee safety is dictating their motives when it comes to footing the bill for your medical treatment, compensation, and compliance with the law.
You can bet that an employer will explore any options at their disposal to shift the blame to you, the victim, and avoid culpability for negligence if you are injured.
Hiring a New York personal injury attorney can help protect your rights if you have been injured at a construction site. Contact a personal injury attorney if you have been injured in an accident at the workplace. Your employer should be held liable for their negligence if you are hurt. Your livelihood and ability to work may depend on it.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.