We were recently watching a documentary on the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and were cringing at the footage of construction workers who were working without any safety equipment at all, even while working on the 605 foot Space Needle. No harnesses! No lifelines… no guardrails… no scaffolding. We were relieved to see that they at least wore hard hats. Amazingly, there were no construction fatalities during the construction of the Space Needle. According to a retired construction worker who worked on the Space Needle, the most serious injury suffered was a broken leg. There was obviously a cloud of good luck over Seattle during the 407 days it took to build the Space Needle.
Today’s construction workers do not seem to be blessed with the same good fortune. A recent study found that falls from roofs accounted for one-third of fall related construction fatalities from 1992-2009. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the roofing industry are three times more likely to experience fatal work related injures than other construction workers. A surprising finding was that roofers working for small companies employing 10 or fewer and at residential construction sites have a disproportionately higher number of falls than those working on other types of construction sites.
Our own Vermont workers’ compensation law practice has seen many examples of construction falls first hand. We are currently assisting several injured workers who have suffered severe injuries due to falls at work. Our clients have fallen from roofs and scaffolding. Some have fallen due to faulty equipment and some have fallen into unprotected openings. Their injuries are varied but they are almost always serious. As you can imagine, falls from roofs can result in traumatic brain injuries, herniated discs, shoulder injuries, leg injuries, and crushed and broken bones. But these people are not just statistics in the Bureau of Labor Statistics data banks. They are real people who are dealing with the devastating effects permanent injuries have on their lives and their families.
People injured in falls at work are almost always eligible for workers’ compensation benefits and, in some cases, the injured worker may also have a personal injury action against a third-party.Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are responsible for providing workers a safe workplace. OSHA has the authority to set and enforce standards of worker safety. OSHA also provides training, education and assistance in work safety matters. Recognizing the almost epidemic number of construction falls, OSHA has begun a Stop Falls campaign and has set up a webpage with information regarding fall prevention. It contains detailed diagrams and illustrations about how to prevent work related falls and also contains facts about construction site falls. The motto of the Stop Falls campaign is “PLAN ahead to get the job done safely, PROVIDE the right equipment, and TRAIN everyone to use the equipment safely.”
As a workers’ compensation attorney, it is frustrating because many of our clients’ falls could have been prevented. Compliance with safety regulations and enforcement of OSHA regulations would greatly reduce the number workers’ compensation injuries that result from these types of accidents. To report a work safety violation in Vermont, go to the Vermont Department of Labor website at Vermont Safety Complaint.
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