Every year, thousands of construction workers, in both the private and public sectors, risk their personal safety so that we all may enjoy the buildings and other structures that we use on a regular basis and sometimes take for granted. Construction workers understand the inherent danger of their work, but such dangerous conditions can be mitigated with effective safety regulations and safe construction equipment.
This article discusses the various types of construction accidents and types of construction worker injuries, further suggests various means through which both construction workers and their employers can mitigate the workers’ risk of injury, and identifies forms of potential legal compensation for injuries suffered on the job.
Construction Worker Injury Statistics
The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with ensuring a safe and healthy work environment for working people by establishing and enforcing safety standards and providing research, training, education, outreach, and employer/employee assistance. OSHA has jurisdiction over most private sector employers and employees, as well as some public sector employers and employees in all 50 states and various territories under federal authority.
According to OSHA, 5,250 workers died on the job in 2018: on average, more than 100 a week or more than 14 deaths every day. OSHA has identified the so-called “Fatal Four;” in other words, the four most common causes of death on the job site:
In the calendar year 2018, 1,008, or 21.1% out of 4,779 worker fatalities in private industry were in construction. As such, one in five worker deaths last year were in construction.
From a different perspective, OSHA has detailed the 10 most frequently cited standards violations in fiscal year 2018:
For construction workers, this information is likely not all that surprising. It is dangerous work. Still, it does not have to be as dangerous as it is. In fact, business owners have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment. According to the OSHA ACT of 1970, Section 5:
Furthermore, OSHA believes that progress is being made. Specifically, OSHA states:
Types of Construction Accidents
Naturally, construction accidents come in a wide variety of types and severity. Some of the most common, aside from the “Fatal Four,” include:
The wide variety of construction accidents is indicative of the inherent danger in and around construction sites. The average worker is typically preoccupied with doing a good job. Their focus tends to be on the job at hand, not the myriad of dangers surrounding them at any given moment.
Defective equipment is one of the leading causes of construction accidents, and is generally categorized as manufacturing defects, including lack of quality control and/or inferior materials, design defects, such as poor or lack of safety features, and defective warnings. These types of defects can be further compounded by lack of proper training, lack of proper upkeep and repairs, and poor documentation and/or maintenance procedures.
On a construction site, defects can critically affect essential equipment, such as scaffolding, forklifts, cranes, tools, and other machinery. Accidents caused by defective equipment are utterly blameless for the construction worker, yet it is the worker that suffers. Workers have a critical self-interest in reporting defective equipment to management, and management has an absolute duty to remove, replace or repair defective equipment. Simply eliminating this type of accident can make the workplace significantly safer.
Defective equipment is prevalent enough in the workplace (and other places, such as homes) that it warrants its own area of the law known as product liability, where legal responsibility arises for defectively manufactured products, even if the manufacturer did not fail to use due care or was not reckless. In other words, even if a manufacturer was not negligent in producing a product, if use of the product caused injury to the user, the manufacturer will still be liable for the user injury. In this, product liability is a species of a broader area of law known as strict liability.
To assign fault without intent or negligence is exceptionally rare in the law, demonstrating how seriously the law views defective equipment and the injuries or deaths such can cause.
Types of Construction Worker Injuries
The inherent dangers of construction work can be manifested by a wide variety of injuries, including:
Obviously, some of these injuries are profoundly serious, and many are literally life changing. The stakes regarding construction worker injuries simply could not be any higher. Therefore, it is incumbent upon both employers and employees to work together for the common safety of all. Almost literally, no precaution should be considered unnecessary.
How to Protect Yourself from Construction Accidents
Construction accidents are serious enough to take self-protection precautions beyond what workers may normally take. In other words, workers and management should adopt a “zero tolerance” for accidents, including:
It is important to understand that management and even co-workers may not all place a priority on safety. It is up to each individual to prioritize safety. Peer pressure can be a dangerous influence, but safety, both personally and collectively, should be every worker’s number one concern.
Construction Work Injury Claims
Construction workers may, despite even the strictest of precautions, suffer injuries on the job. Construction workers who suffer an injury on the job have legal options. These include workers’ compensation claims and civil lawsuits.
Workers’ compensation claims requirements vary from state to state, so injured workers need to investigate the rules of their own state, but all workers’ compensation claims have a couple of things in common. First, these claims are like strict liability claims, in that they do not generally require a person to prove that the employer was negligent, or otherwise caused the injury. If a person is injured during work, they may file a claim. Second, all employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Individuals may also be entitled to file a legal claim in civil court. Again, the law varies from state to state, but generally civil claims are more difficult, but potentially more rewarding, than workers’ compensation claims. Typically, these legal claims take the form of negligence lawsuits, in which it must be proven that someone else had a duty to act in a safe manner regarding an activity, that this duty was breached by negligent activity, and that any injuries were caused by that breach of duty.
Nonetheless, remember that a valid product liability claim may be available if any injuries were the result of equipment that was defectively manufactured, defectively designed, or defectively marketed, with insufficient warnings.