Construction is a physically taxing and potentially dangerous line of work. According to New Jersey’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry has the highest fatality rate in the state. In addition, the construction industry reported nonfatal injuries and illnesses at a rate of 2.1 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has safety standards that worksites must comply with. But when an employer violates OSHA standards, what does this mean for the injured worker? Read on to learn more about construction accidents and OSHA violations.
Understanding the Risks
Construction sites are dynamic environments, swarming with heavy equipment, electric wiring, scaffolding, and different kinds of hazardous materials. Despite safety regulations, accidents still occur, often resulting in injuries or fatalities. Sadly, many of these accidents are preventable if safety policies are followed and construction equipment is maintained.
What Is OSHA and Who Does It Protect?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, often shortened to OSHA, is the federal agency that regulates workplace safety in the US. OSHA serves most private sector employers and employees, as well as federal employers and employees. Workers who aren’t covered by OSHA include those who work for state or local governments, as New Jersey has its own OSHA-approved standards to protect these workers. OSHA also doesn’t cover those who are self-employed or work in an industry whose jobs require regulation by a separate federal agency, such as the Federal Aviation Administration.
Construction Accident Causes: the Fatal Four
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported over 5,000 fatal work injuries in the US in 2021. Of those deaths, nearly 20% occurred in construction. OSHA has identified what are known as the “Fatal Four,” which are the leading causes of construction deaths and may be caused by OSHA violations.
According to the BLS, falls are the leading cause of construction fatalities and are responsible for 35% of all work-related deaths. Falls may be caused by unstable scaffolding, poor maintenance of work areas, unprotected openings, improper safety equipment on elevated surfaces, or improper use of ladders. Proper safety training and equipment, such as harnesses and personal protective equipment, can greatly reduce the number and severity of falls at construction sites.
Struck by Object
Another dangerous situation at a construction site can happen when a worker is struck by an object. If proper safety measures aren’t observed, an employee may be struck by a moving vehicle, masonry, falling tools, building materials, or other objects. Brain injuries as well as injuries to the head, neck, and back can result. These can render a construction worker unable to work for an extended period or even leave them permanently disabled.
Electric wiring is common with most construction jobs, but when handled improperly, it can cause serious injury or even death. This can happen when a worker comes into contact with high-voltage wires. When workers fail to establish a ground fault or improperly handle wires, electric shock and burns can leave them with amputated limbs, scarring, disfigurement, and death.
This occurs when workers become wedged between objects. This is especially dangerous on construction sites due to the workers handling heavy machinery. Unsafe access, egress, and spoil-pile placements, as well as improperly maintained trench and protective equipment, make these injuries particularly severe.
Common OSHA Violations
There are several common OSHA violations that cause injury on New Jersey construction sites. These include the following:
- Scaffolding safety violations. When employees work at heights or near scaffolding, contractors must follow established guidelines to avoid an OSHA violation.
- Hazardous situations or materials. Workers must be properly warned of what hazardous conditions or materials are present on site and how to work with them. Safety protocols may be different depending on the material and should be closely followed.
- Respiratory hazards. OSHA requires employers to protect workers from contaminants such as dust, fumes, sprays, gasses, mist, and vapors. If working in an environment where these contaminants are present, employers should ensure everyone is equipped with a properly certified respirator.
- Ladder regulations. Contractors may ignore regulations concerning ladders. For example, they may not comply with weight restrictions, place ladders in precarious positions, or not adequately train workers on their use.
- Eye and face protection. Employers must ensure that workers wear appropriate protective gear to protect them from flying debris, radiation, or dangerous chemicals or gasses.
When employers fail to comply with OSHA standards, they can dramatically increase the risk of injury to employees.
Protecting Your Rights After a Construction Injury
Workers’ compensation covers basic medical costs and temporary wages if you suffer a work-related injury. However, it often doesn’t cover extensive damages that can occur in severe construction accident cases. In New Jersey, if a worker is covered by workers’ compensation, they generally can’t pursue a claim against their employer. However, in some specific circumstances, you may be able to bring a separate personal injury lawsuit against your employer. If the employee was intentionally harmed and the employer is responsible, an injured worker can pursue a civil lawsuit.
In addition, a worker can file a claim for injuries caused by third parties. However, it is important to remember that if you also receive workers’ compensation benefits as a result of the injury, your employer’s insurance carrier can place a lien on any recovery to recover a portion of the monetary award to offset any benefits paid.
If you are a construction worker injured on the job, here are the steps you can take to help protect your rights.
- Seek medical attention. Your health is the most important consideration, so make sure you get proper medical care after the accident.
- Document and report the accident. If able, take pictures of the accident site and document whatever you can. Report it to your employer as soon as possible.
- Document your injuries. To ensure you are fully compensated for your injuries, it is important to keep all medical records related to the accident as well as any documentation detailing what treatment or rehabilitation you may need in the aftermath.
One of your first steps should be to contact a personal injury attorney in New Jersey with experience in construction accidents and OSHA violations. It is important to do so as soon as you can to ensure your rights are fully protected.
Construction injuries can change your life in an instant. If you have been injured in one and don’t know where to turn, contact the attorneys at Glugeth & Pierguidi, P.C. We have served clients in personal injury matters for over thirty years and won millions on behalf of our clients. No matter the case, we provide honest, dedicated, and professional representation to help them through tough times. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, it is best to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to explore your legal options. We have offices in New York and New Jersey and offer free consultations to potential clients. Call one of our offices to set up an appointment, or fill out our online contact form to get started today.