Companies are required by law to create and maintain safe and healthy work environments for their workers. But sometimes they fall short of this goal. It is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s mission to establish and ensure federal safety standards are being met, but OSHA is a relatively small office that faces an uphill battle: It has just 2,200 inspectors for a nation of 130 million workers.
According to OSHA’s own statistics, more than 4 million people are victims of a serious job-related injury or illness each year. In 2014, nearly 5,000 workers were killed on the job — that’s about 13 every day. What’s worse, most of these injuries and deaths could have been prevented by adhering to guidelines set in place by the federal government.
What Constitutes a Workplace Injury?
OSHA’s definition of a workplace illness or injury is as follows: “If an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness. Work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment.”
What Are the Most Common Types of Workplace Injuries?
Falls from heights: Deaths in the construction industry most commonly fall into a few categories, referred to as the “Fatal Four”: Falls, electrocutions, struck by object, and caught in/between. Falls from heights are by far the leading cause of death of the four, accounting for 40 percent of all construction workers’ deaths in 2014. Injuries can include everything from broken bones and lacerations to severe burns, paralysis, and traumatic brain injury. Beyond high-rise construction sites, falls from heights may also include those from ladders, scaffolding, roofs, or as the result of defective stairs, flooring, or as a result of a coworker’s mistake.
Excavation accidents and trench collapses: Trench collapses and cave-ins are avoidable altogether if the site is secured by having such measures in place as trench boxes, air-quality tests, barriers around the trenching area, and mandatory hard hats. Still, each year about 100 workers are killed and another 1,000 suffer serious injuries in the form of broken bones, head injuries and asphyxiation.
Electrocution: Live wires are a constant danger to construction and overhead power line workers alike. These injuries can be grouped into four main categories: electric shocks, burns, falls stemming from electric energy, and fatal electrocutions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports nearly 3,000 instances of non-fatal electrical shocks each year; OSHA estimates that electrical-related fatalities claim at one worker every day, making it the sixth-leading cause of workplace deaths in the United States.
Electrocution cases are among the most complicated ones to prosecute, however, as they pertain to negligence as opposed to strict or product liability. Attorneys must prove that “reasonable or ordinary care” was not taken on behalf of the power company.
Faulty respirator: Respirators are vitally important to those who work in environments laden with harmful airborne substances or environments that are oxygen deficient. These workers’ jobs range from forestry to textile manufacturing to oil and gas extraction. OSHA cites workers who use the wrong type of equipment as “one of the most frequent errors made in respiratory protection.” Improperly maintained or inspected respirators are also serious problems. Worse, symptoms for black-lung disease, silicosis and asbestosis may not appear for several years after the initial exposure takes place.
How Can I Recognize the Signs of an Unsafe Work Environment?
Federal law requires that all work environments remain free from known health and safety hazards, from using machines that are regularly maintained and in good repair, to wearing appropriate protective gear, to sufficient protection from toxic chemicals.
In 2015, OSHA’s five most frequently cited standards found to be in violation were: fall protection, hazard communication, scaffolding, respiratory protection, and the control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout).
If any of these are lacking, you may file a confidential complaint to OSHA and request an inspection. Whistleblower protections are also in place to protect workers from retribution.
What Are My Rights Concerning Workplace Injuries?
If you are injured on the job, it is in your best interest to report it to your employer as soon as you can — the acceptable time frame varies from state to state — and then file your workers’ compensation claim to formally notify your employer, your employer’s insurance company, and the courts about your injury.
As always, be familiar with your rights as a worker. These can differ depending on jurisdiction, but in general, they include conditions such as the right to file a claim without fear of retaliation from your employer, your right to pursue medical treatment and disability pay, and your right to an attorney.
And also be aware that some employers might try encourage you to take an incentive rather than filing a workers’ compensation claim at all. This is against the law.
How Can the Dysart Law Firm Help in Cases of Workplace Injuries?
Workplace injuries are common but complicated cases that affect more than 3 million people each year. Attorneys at Dysart Law Firm are knowledgeable about the laws in Missouri and Illinois, and they can speak with you about what constitutes the legal definition of “reasonable or ordinary care” – and whether your workplace failed to meet the federally mandated standards.
Those in Missouri or Illinois who feel their loved ones have experienced pain and suffering in workplace-injury cases have a right to seek financial restitution in a civil lawsuit. The Dysart Law Firm, P.C., offers free, no-obligation consultations to victims and their families who wish to learn more about their rights under the law.
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