Workplace accidents can happen in any industry, but some are more prone to serious injury than others. Construction workers face numerous workplace hazards that cannot always be avoided, and strict protocols must be followed to prevent accidents. Construction accidents can cause devastating injury and may be fatal.
Construction accidents are far more common than one might think. An estimated 10 percent of construction workers suffer from a work-related injury. Many of these injuries occur early in a construction worker’s career when they are less experienced; approximately 60 percent of construction injuries occur during the first year of employment. Construction accidents also tend to be more frequently fatal than other industries; one in five workplace fatalities is related to construction work.
Construction Site Risks
Whether they are working on a major commercial development or a single home renovation, workers in the construction industry regularly handle heavy or dangerous machinery, work at extreme heights or underground, handle electrical wiring or equipment, and interact with potentially dangerous substances. There are numerous ways a catastrophic injury can occur, but most injuries fall into what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) refers to as the fatal four:
- Falls: Construction workers work on scaffolding, ladders, rooftops, and cranes; if any of those elements fail or the worker is knocked off balance, they can suffer a serious fall
- Electrocution: Construction or demolition can leave exposed wires and worksites may use generators or power tools than can cause electric shock, electric burns, or arc flashes
- Struck-by object: With heavy equipment and materials constantly in motion, workers are at risk of getting struck by moving or falling objects and severely injured
- Caught in-between: Machinery that tips over, trucks that are backing up, or walls that collapse can pin workers between two surfaces and cause severe trauma
The following are the most commonly fatal construction accidents, but there are many other risks that construction workers face daily, including:
- Exposure to hazardous chemicals, including asbestos, silica, or lead, which can cause chronic health conditions
- Trench collapses or accidents within trenches
- Scaffold collapses
- Fires or explosions
- Gas leaks
- Elevator shaft accidents
- Forklift, crane, or hoist accidents
- Defective machinery, tools, or vehicles that can fail when used
- Sudden loud noises or prolonged noise exposure
- Slip and fall accidents
- Lifting heavy objects
- Exposure to severe weather conditions
Types of Construction Injuries or Illnesses
Construction accident injuries can range from relatively minor to catastrophic, or even deadly. Common work-related construction injuries include:
- Cuts or lacerations from protruding nails, raw materials, or equipment
- Eye injuries, such as those caused by welding or grinding shrapnel
- Fractures or broken bones
- Electric shock or electrocution
- Repetitive motion injuries
- Hearing or vision loss, either partial or total
- Chemical burns or skin irritation
- Amputation of extremities, either onsite or after the fact due to tissue damage
- Spinal cord injuries, which can cause partial or total paralysis
- Head injuries ranging from concussions to severe brain trauma
- Respiratory distress from inhaling dangerous substances
- Illnesses caused by toxic exposure
- Muscle or joint strains, sprains, or tears
- Heat stress or heat stroke, which can lead to internal organ damage
- Hypothermia or frostbite
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
When a construction-related injury occurs, the injured worker or site visitor should seek medical attention immediately. Many construction injuries are catastrophic and require urgent care, and it is important to get a complete diagnosis shortly after the injury occurs. The injury should also be reported to the worker’s supervisor or site manager, and any evidence at the scene should be preserved so that it is clear how the accident occurred; this can include witness statements if anyone else was present for the incident.
It is not just construction workers who are at risk for construction-related injuries. Visitors to the site or even pedestrians walking nearby may be in danger if hazards are not properly addressed. Falling debris or collapsing scaffolding on a building’s exterior can cause serious injury, and roadway construction that is not properly marked can cause auto accidents.
OSHA Regulations on Construction Sites
Construction companies have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees and other worksite visitors. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established safety standards that employers must meet to protect employees from preventable injuries and illnesses. This includes hiring qualified workers, properly training workers to use equipment and perform their duties safely, providing all of the necessary protective equipment, and addressing all worksite hazards. OSHA conducts regular inspections to ensure that these standards are being upheld and that employers are eliminating workplace hazards.
Not all hazards on a construction site can be avoided. Heavy machinery, dangerous tools, and large vehicles are needed to complete the job. If the hazard cannot be eliminated, employers need to make sure that workers and visitors are aware of the hazard and take the necessary precautions to avoid injury. Violating OSHA regulations can result in severe penalties and put employees in harm’s way. Common OSHA violations on construction sites include:
- Faulty ladders
- Inadequate or unsafe scaffolding
- Failure to provide proper protective gear for falls, respiratory hazards, and eye protection
- Failure to properly maintain equipment or vehicles
- Insufficient warning for known hazards on-site
Workers’ Compensation for Construction Injuries
Construction workers that are injured or become ill while on the job are eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. Workers’ Compensation covers all medical costs for treatment related to the injury, as well as lost income while they are out of work recovering; if the worker suffers from some form of temporary or permanent disability as a result of the injury or illness, they may be eligible for additional compensation. Workers must thoroughly document the circumstances of the accident and the treatment they received to make sure they get all the benefits to which they are entitled. There is no Workers’ Compensation coverage for pain and suffering, but families can recover death benefits if the worker’s injury or illness proves fatal.
Employers are required to carry Workers’ Compensation benefits to cover any potential injuries or illnesses. Workers’ Compensation is a no-fault system, meaning that the employer need not have acted negligently for the worker to receive compensation. However, this is the only type of compensation that an employee can receive from their employer in the event of an injury or illness. A construction worker cannot sue their employer for additional compensation, even if the employer’s negligence contributed to the accident.
Third Party Liability for Construction Accidents
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, however, there may be other legal options for injured construction workers. There are many third parties that may be working on the construction site who may have to operate heavy machinery, assemble critical structures, or drive vehicles. If they fail to follow safety procedures, their negligence can cause catastrophic injuries. These third parties can include:
- General contractors
- Subcontractors, such as scaffolding companies
- Construction site owners or developers, if not the employer
- Design professionals, such as engineers and architects
- Equipment designers, manufacturers, or vendors
- Truck drivers
Typically, a general contractor is responsible for overseeing work site safety, but each vendor’s contract will have stipulations outlining their safety responsibilities on the site. Violating these rules, as well as any OSHA regulations, could make them liable for injuries that occur as a result.
To successfully argue a personal injury case against a third party on a construction site, the injured worker would have to prove that that party had an obligation to act reasonably and safely in their role on the site, that they failed to do so, and that the worker was injured as a direct result of their negligence. Damages in a personal injury lawsuit can include medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If the worker died as a result of their injuries, their family may be able to pursue a wrongful death suit against the person or entity that caused the injury.
Defective Product Lawsuits
The third party does not need to be on the work site to contribute to construction site accidents. If there was a defective product involved in the worker’s injury, they may be able to bring a products liability lawsuit. A piece of machinery or safety equipment may have an inherent flaw that makes it a hazard, in which case the designer may be liable for the resulting injuries. The manufacturer may also be held liable if the product was assembled incorrectly, and the company who sold or distributed the product may be responsible if the product is marketed in such a way that its dangers are hidden.
Construction has inherent dangers, but many construction injuries can be avoided if the proper precautions are taken. Still, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are more than 150,000 construction-related injuries each year, many of which are catastrophic or fatal. If you or a loved one was injured in a construction accident, or suffered from an illness caused by construction site exposure, contact a catastrophic injury lawyer right away.
Often, insurance companies will try to downplay the severity of an injury or argue that it happened outside of work to avoid paying out benefits, or they may delay paying medical bills, which can impact treatment plans. They may also try to pressure you to return to work before you have fully healed to lessen your lost income benefits. Having an experienced lawyer by your side can help ensure that benefits are paid out in full and in a timely manner.
Los Angeles Catastrophic Injury Lawyers at Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP Provide Comprehensive Representation to Injured Construction Workers
If you were injured on a construction site, contact an experienced Los Angeles catastrophic injury lawyer at Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP today. We will thoroughly review the facts of your case and fight for the compensation you rightfully deserve. With offices conveniently located in Los Angeles and San Diego, we help injured construction workers and their families throughout southern California. Call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online for a free consultation.