Construction Site Accidents
Workers' Compensation : Construction Site Accidents
It’s dangerous to work in a construction site. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more workers are killed while working on construction jobs than in any other occupation despite attempts by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to improve workplace safety. Construction site accidents that cause serious injuries or death can be caused by falls by failing to tie off, chemical spills, explosions, the wrong hand signals to crane operators, scaffolding that collapses due to incorrect erection, faulty or improper or no safety equipment being supplied, dropped or falling objects, defective machinery and tools, welding, excavations, wall or supports collapsing, no breathing apparatus causing asphyxiation, improper training, improper supervision, along with many other failures. These dangers can cause serious injuries including: sprains, fractures, dislocations, burns, loss of an arm or leg, loss of eyesight, spinal cord injuries, head injuries resulting in brain injury, or even death. While all employees are entitled to compensation from workers’ compensation, those benefits often falls short of covering the continued medical bills and future lost wages from not being able to do the same job after treatment is completed. Worse still, the insurance company often times denies the claim for workers’ compensation and leaves your family finances in dire straits causing damage to your credit while creating an uncertain future for you and your family.
If you are injured on a construction site in central Iowa, do not simply accept it as “part of the job.” It’s important to contact an experienced attorney who is familiar with the laws related to accidents, who knows the benefits you’re entitled to, and who is willing to fight for your rights. After all, the insurance companies see you as a cost, and your employer, who must file the paperwork for your compensation, may not be willing to do more than the insurance adjuster offers you. That’s when you should call someone like Steve Lombardi who, with over 26 years of experience, knows how to help you through this process.
The safety regulations set out in 1970s OSHA have gone a long way towards preventing many accidents and fatalities. Although the rates of fatalities decreased during the eighties and nineties, 2004 marked an alarming trend: the number of workplace fatalities actually increased. In 2005, 1,186 construction workers were fatally injured; in 2006, according to the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 5,703 fatal workplace injuries. Most injuries came from construction (1,226). As experts point out, however, the increase is somewhat negated by the fact that there are simply more workers in construction. If you’re one of the injured workers, then statistics are meaningless when it comes to paying your mortgage or rent, truck payment, utility and grocery bills. Worker injuries increasing or decreasing isn’t important when it’s you that is injured.
Recently, OSHA has moved to update safety standards and equipment regulations, recognizing that much of the equipment has changed since OSHA’s inception. Cranes, for example, are built now using hydraulics, but the regulations described “crawler cranes” that do not use hydraulics. Crane operators using older models could “feel” the machine starting to tip and accommodate, but they don’t get the same sort of response from hydraulic equipment. In the early part of the twenty-first century, several attempts were made at developing new standards for operating cranes.
Currently, 15 states require crane operators to be licensed by a company that is also licensed. Iowa is not included on the list, nor are crane operators required to be certified. Even though there are many crane operators working on construction sites who argue that licensing by a full-time, nonprofit organization is necessary (because the days of "we've been doing it that way for 20 years and never had an accident" are past), some states and the federal governments resist mandating certification laws. When you are injured due in part to an improperly operated crane what the State or Federal governments have failed to do matters little, because your bills are due now; not in ten years.
Many states did not initially mandate certification or frequent inspections. Severe accidents, however, often force politicians to act for changes needed to protect you and your family from financial ruin. Washington illustrates one such example. In November 2006, a 210-foot crane being used to construct a new building collapsed in downtown Bellevue, WA, killing one person and damaging three buildings. While the collapse was caused by a faulty construction design, not operator error, Washington passed legislation to mandate crane inspections, load tests, operator certification, and inspections of any non-standard bases. Washington’s crane-safety laws are now some of the strictest in the nation. But why should it take a worker’s life to cause change?
Unfortunately, legislation such as this is not being passed at a national level but is left for the states to decide. To compound the problem, according to LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, OSHA’s budget has been cut for five years straight. While overall better standards have been developed, there are also many states where those safety standards are not mandated, and the lack of funding suggests that the improvements may not be as effective as hoped. So who works to help you?
Because safety regulations are not fully enforced, more construction workers are getting hurt. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ publication “Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days away from Work, 2006,” 40,510 construction laborers took time off work for non-fatal injuries and illnesses. Despite updates to 30-year-old regulations regarding machinery and despite attempts to increase workers’ and employers’ awareness of safety regulations, not enough is being done to ensure the safety of workers on construction sites.
With all the risks you take by working on a construction site, the one thing that is not a risk is hiring Steve Lombardi to represent your interests. We work for you not for well-paid lobbyists. If you have been injured in a construction site accident, he will apply his 26 years of experience and knowledge about labor laws, workers’ compensation, construction site accidents, and the court system to fight for your rights. You can reach Steve Lombardi, of Lombardi Law in Des Moines, Iowa, at 515.222.1110.
CRANE FALLS AND ACCIDENTS
This is a work related accident that demonstrates several issues surrounding personal injury and how the law weaves a common thread between workers’ compensation and personal injury. The Kansas City Star on its dot.com website reported a crane toppled onto a railroad track in Iowa killing the 27 year old crane operator. The operator apparently worked for A.M. Cohron & Son, Inc. of Atlantic, Iowa. They were doing work on an overpass bridge of the railroad tracks. At the time they were moving a beam.
Now I know nothing about this man or the company he worked. The fact that a worker died will trigger an OSHA investigation by IOSH. The work related accident with a worker being injured or killed should trigger action on the part of the workers’ compensation insurance company. The employer is required to report this accident and work related death to the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health division. The workers compensation insurance company is required to file a First Report of Injury with the Division of Workers’ Compensation, a part of Iowa’s Workforce Development Division.
Any dependents of the operator are entitled to Iowa workers’ compensation benefits. Chapter 85. Those may be automatically paid by the workers’ compensation insurance company; but then again they may not. Some times it depends on what the employer knows about its employee’s personal life – such as whether or not he was married and had dependent children. Employers don’t always know that an employee is married or has dependent children or parents.
The operator’s estate is entitled to ambulance, rescue, emergency care and hospital services without regard to any dollar limit; so long as the charges are reasonable and necessary. The estate is also entitled to funeral and burial expenses within the limit set by the Iowa legislature. (Currently $7,500.00.)
Your employer must pay for all reasonable and necessary medical care required to treat your injury. This includes reasonable and necessary travel expenses for treatment. Mileage for use of a private car is reimbursed at 48.5 cents per mile. (85.27)
Under certain circumstances, if you are required to leave work for medical treatment, you may receive payment of lost wages. (85.27)
A medical care provider cannot seek payment of charges for treatment from you while a contested case proceeding or a dispute as to the reasonableness of a medical treatment fee is pending before the Workers' Compensation Commissioner. (85.27)
Death Benefits (85.28, 85.31, 85.42, 85.43, 85.44)
If you were dependent on someone who had died as a result of an on the job injury, you may be eligible to receive death benefits. A surviving spouse may receive death benefits for life or until remarriage. Dependent children are entitled to death benefits until age 18 or, if actually dependent, age 25. Other persons may qualify for death benefits if they were actually dependent upon the deceased worker. If a surviving spouse remarries and the deceased worker has no dependent children at the time of the remarriage, the surviving spouse is entitled to a two-year lump sum settlement. In addition to the weekly death benefits, the deceased worker’s employer (or its insurance carrier) must pay burial expenses of up to $7500.00.
And the operator’s estate and spouse, if any would also be entitled to make a claim against any third party that is at fault or partially at fault for the accident occurring. At this point it is nearly impossible to say what that liability could be without an investigation. This type of claim requires legal representation. Insurance company adjusters who promise to give you a fair shake should not be trusted to follow with any promises."
Anyone who suffers a work-related injury can consult the free pamphlet: Questions and Answers About Workers’ Compensation Law For Injured Workers.
Iowa Workforce Development
Division of Workers’ Compensation
1000 East Grand Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
Current events often times demonstrate how one accident can be both a workers' compensation benefits case and a personal injury lawsuit. When a death is involved several layers of investigation should be involved in preserving evidenced.
Many who aren't familiar with the construction industry are probably wondering: what exactly is a trench? A trench is a confined space utilized in construction projects. As can easily be seen by the aforementioned examples, trench collapses occur more often than many know. In fact, trench collapses are responsible for the deaths of approximately 30 construction workers each year and have been responsible for some of the nation's deadliest construction incidents; and considering that soil weighs between 2,000 to 3,000 pounds per cubic yard, it's no wonder why these incidents often result in serious injury and/or death. What's worse, many of the deaths caused by trench collapses occur when other workers climb in in attempt to save other workers.
The construction industry is widely regarded as 'high-risk'; however, contractors and employers have a responsibility to protect theiremployees. In order to ensure a safe work environment is maintained, a set of safety guidelines have been developed which must be met in situations where trenches are involved. However, meeting these guidelines does not necessarily ensure an accident won't occur.
General safety rules require that trenches over five feet deep utilize one of these safety precautions: sloping, shoring, or using a steel cage or trench shield. In addition, each trench must have a way out, be it a ladder or a ramp. All trenches must abide by the OSHAs rules unless the trench is in a stable rock or the trench is less than five feet deep and there's little reason to expect a cave-in.
And OSHA isn't the only source for trench safety information; in addition to training CDs and awareness programs, there's a full, in-depth excavation safety glossary which details and defines the various aspects of excavation and trench safety. Many other websites are also dedicated to informing workers of problems and safety precautions pertaining to trench safety.
One should research such websites before working in a trench; however, research alone is not enough. Workers should also make sure all equipment is in good condition and mark utilities before digging.
CONSTRUCTION WORKER FALL
Under OSHA guidelines, a fall protection plan is required when there is leading edge work being performed 6 ft. above the ground and conventional fall protection equipment (such as personal fall arrest systems, guardrails, and safety nets) create a greater hazard or are impractical. The fall protection plan is to be prepared by a “competent person” specifically for the site, and must contain reasons why conventional fall protection systems are infeasible or more hazardous.
A fall protection plain contains a number of sections. First, a fall protection plan should contain a statement of company policy which discusses the responsibilities employers and the purpose of the fall protection plan. The statement of company policy should also discuss the areas and activities of the project where non-conventional means of fall protection are necessary. The areas where a fall protection plan applies are known as “controlled access zones,” and only trained and experienced employees should be authorized to enter.
Following the statement of company policy should be a section outlining the fall protection systems which will be used on the project. There are a number of fall protection systems available, such as: positioning device systems, warning line systems, and safety monitoring systems.
Next, the fall protection plan should contain a section outlining the reasons why conventional fall protection systems were hazardous and/or impracticable. This section should discuss the individual fall protection systems that were initially considered and discuss in detail the reasons why each system was hazardous or impracticable.
Finally, the fall protection plan should state who is responsible for implementation and enforcement of the protection plan, how changes to the plan will be made, and what happens if an accident occurs. Changes to the protection plan will be approved by the person who authored the construction plan, and all employees should be trained on any new procedures. If an accident should occur, an investigation should occur and the plan reviewed to determine if changes need to be made to prevent other accidents from occurring.
FOOT PROTECTION AND DEATH
It is the employer’s responsibility to determine if there are hazards within the workplace that require the use of foot protection in order to prevent injury. In order to determine what hazards are present within the workplace and what type personal protective equipment (PPE) is required, a hazard assessment should be completed by a competent person. After the employer has assessed the workplace for possible hazards, the hazard assessment should be documented by identifying the person who completed the assessment, and the date the assessment was completed.
Where foot protection is required, the employer must select foot protection that will protect each worker from injuries that could be caused by hazards identified in the hazard assessment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require that all footwear purchased after July 5, 1994 comply with the American National Standard for Personal Protection-Protective Footwear established by the American National Standards Institute.
Although not required to do so, many employees will provide their own protective footwear. However, where employees pride their own foot protection, it remains the employer’s responsibility to see that the footwear complies with OSHA standards and regulations.
There are a number of factors that should be taken under consideration when selecting proper protective footwear. Footwear should be comfortable, provide ample to room, and fit snugly around the heel and ankle when lace. Also, boots should be fully laced and it is important to remember that high-cut boots help provide support to protect against ankle injury. Most importantly, protective footwear should be selected so that it will protect against the specific hazards identified within the hazard assessment; whether the hazard is chemicals, heat, electric shock, or sharp objects.
Again, the employee is not required to provide his or her own face or eye protection. However, an employee may, if he or she so desires, provide their own protective equipment so long as it is adequate.
IRON AND STEEL WORKER SAFETY - DEATH
Violations that OSHA found included “a pattern of improper fall protection systems, flammable materials stored incorrectly, risks of electrical shock, faulty equipment and problematic record-keeping. The conditions prevailed at various parts of the site and in projects run by subcontractors as well as general contractor Perini Building Co.”
Alexandra Berzon does a nice job of exploring safety issues at those constructin sites. Read her latest article, After 6 die, OSHA finds violations, Summer sweep by federal, state agencies uncovered dozens of serious problems at the Las Vegas Sun Newspaper.
The comments I find pretty interesting. Here are three that show the level of frustration the iron workers feel with the lack of serious safety enforcement they see being applied.
COMMENT: Emmitt Nelson, a former construction manager for Shell Oil who has conducted research for the Construction Industry Institute, said he's troubled that the 34 safety inspectors employed by Perini and others employed by subcontractors didn't spot and fix the safety problems before OSHA inspectors got to them.
I believe the issue at hand is that the 34 safety inspector's perini has employed,just aren't that good,to say the least.When i was both an ironworker and a safety Rep at the city center project,perini's people were never seen,unless there was an accident,they were less than versed in their own safety policy,let alone knowing the standards,bringing up any issue's with them was like pulling teeth,it was the "not in my yard so i'm not worried about it" scenario,even though it's their jobsite.They lacked in leadership skills all the way around from the top to the bottom,and the biggest thing i found were their basic disdain for the worker's,and, wanting to create animosity in the field for the worker's.
COMMENT: Did OSHA go through the site with a seeing eye dog? 42 companies on site and only 42 violations! And even then, they were either dismissed or the fines reduced. On a multi-billion dollar project, who cares about $66k?
If workers are waiting to be protected by Nevada OSHA, they will be waiting one long, long time. When you have 6 fatalities and then are still allowed to negotiate a $6800 fine down to $2200, why should Perini change anything?
And the unions are not without blame here either. Just try taking some disciplinary action like sending a guy home or banning him from the jobsite for safety violations and see how fast they are at the front door complaining!!
COMMONET: This is par for the course for the federal government - find problems only when they obviously exist and after the harm has been done. Same thing with the $50 billion pyramid scheme just uncovered. Finding it when they guy was starting it up is apparently too much to ask. Just be happy they didn't let it grow to $500 billion.
For more on this subject see, Is the Republican Party Dead? No, but the Wizard of Oz is alive and well. November 30, 2008 - 08:54 AM
Construction Site Safety: Preventing Falls July 03, 2008 - 11:33 AM by Brooks Schuelke.Falls Prevalent At Construction Sites Posted by Jane Akre Friday, November 21, 2008 12:07 PM EST
Construction Site Safety – Trench boxes stop collapsing trenches from trapping workers November 22, 2008 - 08:59 AM