Workplace accidents can happen in any industry, but some businesses 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 engaged in 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 a category that the opens in a new windowOccupational 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 an object: With heavy equipment and materials constantly in motion, workers are at risk of getting struck by moving or falling objects and being 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 these hazards:
- 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 the following:
- 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 as a result of 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. 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 the following:
- 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 who 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 victims 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.
Seeking Workers’ Compensation
Experiencing an injury on a construction site can be a traumatic and confusing experience. However, it cannot be a time for the injured party to panic. There are several steps that injured workers should take to ensure their own health and to protect their rights and access to their full Workers’ Compensation benefits. In the immediate aftermath of an accident, a victim should do the following:
- Seek medical help: If the injury is severe enough, the victim—or, if the victim is too incapacitated, a coworker—should immediately dial 911. Even if the injury does not appear to be that significant, it is still a good idea for the person to get themselves checked out by a doctor. They should first consult with their employer because they will have a list of doctors that are pre-approved for Workers’ Compensation, and then go to the doctor soon as possible.
- Report the accident: If immediate medical attention is not required, the victim should report the accident to their supervisor as soon as they can to confirm proper documentation of the incident. If the victim needs to go to the hospital right away, once they can do so, they should return to work and report the accident to their supervisor.
- Collect records: The victim should hold on to all copies of any medical records they obtained as a result of the accident. They should keep their bills and receipts for all doctors’ visits, medical tests, procedures, and treatments. The more evidence collected, the less likely they can be denied during a Workers’ Compensation claim.
- Obtain evidence: It is important for the victim to document their accident and collect any evidence in case there is a dispute over the actual incident. The person should take a picture of the scene of the accident as well as the equipment or tools they were using at the time the accident took place. They should also keep a copy of their time cards. If the injured worker is unable to take any pictures, they should have a trusted coworker do it.
Taking immediate steps in the aftermath of an accident at work can alleviate potential headaches later. The victim will be able to submit all their information to their employer, who will have little flexibility to deny any Workers’ Compensation claims.
Benefits for Injured Victims in California
The state provides for a number of benefits for those victims injured on the job so that they can recover, receive proper medical attention, and not find themselves in significant financial hardship. When a person is hurt at work, the benefits to which they are entitled include compensation for the following:
- Medical bills: If the person needs medical attention for their injures, Workers’ Compensation will pay for those expenses, including the costs of seeing a doctor taking any tests, and any other treatments required as a result of the injury. Victims should be sure to maintain a comprehensive record of any medical expenses they incur and notes and records from their doctors.
- Temporary disability benefits: These are expenses that the victim will receive for any short-term expenses should they be unable to return to work. This category is for those who have received an injury but can fully recover.
- Permanent disability benefits: These benefits are for those victims who have suffered significant or permanent injuries. This could include blindness, hearing loss, or loss of a limb or appendage. A doctor will be able to quantify that expense as part of a Workers’ Compensation claim.
- Supplemental job displacement benefit: If a victim is unable to return to their previous job because of the injury, this benefit will pay for them to undergo training or take classes to learn a new skill to find a new career. Those receiving permanent disability benefits are eligible for this benefit so long as they were injured after 2004. Those injured after 2013, who already received their Supplemental job displacement benefit, are also eligible to receive a one-time payment under the Return-to-Work Supplement Program.
- Death benefits: The victim’s spouse, children, or other dependents can collect on this benefit should the victim die because of the injuries they sustained at work.
Specific Benefits Available in Workers’ Compensation
The state of California offers a generous program, with some companies even offering additional benefits should a person get hurt at work. As part of their benefits, those injured at work are entitled to receive two-thirds of their pretax gross wage. Along with that, some companies also offer a Disability Leave with Pay program, which makes up the difference in a person’s salary loss. In other words, through both of those programs, a person could be injured at work and still be drawing their usual salary while recuperating at home.
In 2018, the maximum allowable amount a person could receive was $1,215.27 per week for a total disability. There is also a minimum amount as well: $182.29 per week. Both numbers are adjusted annually to compensate for changes in the economy.
In addition to these benefits, victims are eligible for up to $10,000 to cover any medical expenses they may incur because of their accident until the time when a claim is either accepted or denied. As for the supplemental job displacement benefit, a victim could receive as much as a $6,000 voucher to undergo retraining.
For death benefits, a victim’s family can receive up to a total of $320,000 in compensation if the accident occurred after 2006. For funeral expenses, a victim’s family can receive up to $5,000 if the injury took place prior to 2013. After that, they can receive $10,000.
Do Victims Need to Prove Negligence?
California is a no-fault state, meaning that an accident need not be the result of any negligence on the employer’s part. All the victim must do is prove that they suffered the accident while performing their duties at work. That is why it is imperative for all victims to collect vital information, such as their time cards, to prove that they were actually working at the time and date of the accident.
There are some benefits of the no-fault system. Chief among them, it eliminates the need for a victim to have to prove negligence, which makes it much easier for them to collect benefits quickly. They just need to prove the accident happened, which simple medical records will do; and demonstrate the financial cost associated with the injury, which will come from any bills the victim can submit.
On the other hand, although it will be easier for victims to receive compensation for their injuries, the amount they collect will not be as high as it could be in a personal injury lawsuit. In exchange for the simpler method for collecting on benefits, the state also eliminates any pain and suffering compensation the victim can request. The state allows only for concrete medical expenses that the victim can verify. In addition, instead of specifically providing for lost wages, the state opts for its temporary disability benefits, which essentially compensates a victim only partially for their lost wages.
Third-Party Liability for Construction Accidents
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, there may be other legal options for injured construction workers. There may be third parties 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 the following:
- General contractors
- Subcontractors, such as those working for 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 the third 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 because 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, the victim 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 a worker was injured in a construction accident or suffered from an illness caused by construction site exposure, a catastrophic injury lawyer should be contacted immediately.
Often, to underpay or even avoid paying benefits, insurance companies will try to minimize the severity of an injury or argue that it happened outside of work, or they may delay paying medical bills, which can impact treatment plans. The insurance company may also try to pressure the victim to return to work before they have fully healed to lessen their lost income benefits. Having an experienced lawyer by the victim’s side can help ensure that benefits are paid out in full and in a timely manner.
Slip and Fall Lawsuits
Slipping and falling can happen just as easily at a place of employment as it can at home or on the street. A worker can slip on a wet floor, lose their balance on an unstable structure, or even disembarking from a machine. What makes these accidents more challenging for the victim is they will sometimes generate the most pushback from employers or their Worker’s Compensation insurance.
These types of injuries can also be worrisome because they might be more severe than they initially appear. A person may start to slip and catch their balance, or even stumble a bit. They might think they did not get hurt, but in reality, there could be a minor injury that may be exacerbated through inaction. Regardless of the innocence of the fall, it makes sense for a person to get checked out by a doctor to ensure that they are fine.
Under these circumstances, there might be some trepidation from the employer to believe the claims that a serious injury has taken place. They might attempt to deny a claim, saying that the person is still healthy enough to return to work. The employer’s insurance might also have a difficult time believing the story, asserting that the injury the person sustained does not rise to the level necessary to justify Worker’s Compensation. They might even accuse the person of attempting to exploit the system just to pay their medical bills. Therefore, it is important for a person to chronicle their injury and medical expenses.
If a person is still getting resistance from their employer or their insurance company, it might be time for them to consult with an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney who can help the injured worker deal with the situation and advocate for them.
Los Angeles Catastrophic Injury Lawyers at ACTS Law Provide Comprehensive Representation to Injured Construction Workers
If you were injured on a construction site, do not hesitate to contact the Los Angeles catastrophic injury lawyers at ACTS Law. We will conduct a thorough investigation into the details of the accident and determine who is responsible for your injuries. Protecting your rights is our top priority, and we will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at or contact us online.
With offices located in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.