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  • Fall Injuries in Construction

    Construction is a vast industry, employing nearly 10 million workers nationwide and contributing billions of dollars each year to Pennsylvania’s economy. Construction work is often dangerous, killing or injuring thousands of American construction workers each year, many from falls.

    Many construction accidents and injuries are preventable. An employer could be at fault for not providing protective safeguards or adhering to federal laws enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A third party could be found liable for their actions or inactions, such as a property owner or manager, contractor, subcontractor, or manufacturer whose equipment fails.

    Whatever the cause, a construction accident can negatively alter a worker’s life, health, and financial security. Our Philadelphia construction accident lawyers know this from helping hundreds of injured construction workers recover compensation for their losses.

    Construction Falls

    Falls are the leading cause of accidents on construction sites. More than one in three construction worker fatalities occur due to falling. Laborers who work 6 or more feet above ground are at risk for severe injury or death if they fall.

    The following are common causes of fall-related construction injuries or death.

    Inadequate Fall Protection

    OSHA requires employers to protect their workers at a construction site adequately. Construction sites require protective equipment and devices at 6-feet or higher elevations.

    Common construction fall protection includes:

    • Harnesses, also known as personal fall arrest systems.
    • Guardrails, required on scaffolding, scissor lifts, and other enclosed platforms.
    • Safety nets, designed to deflect and absorb the energy of a fall to reduce the likelihood of injury.

    These safety devices must also meet strict OSHA regulations. For example, guardrails must be a minimum of 42 inches. Many accidents are a result of noncompliance with OSHA standards, such as lack of guardrails, missing harnesses, and no safety nets.

    Many construction site falls also occur due to a lack of or defective protective equipment, including:

    • Malfunctioning buckles on harnesses.
    • Loose or faulty hooks or other harness parts.
    • Worn harness straps.

    Falls can also happen due to errors that render protective devices ineffective, such as:

    • Falls from scaffolding due to improperly installed guardrails.
    • Improper rigging and placement of safety nets.
    • Scaffolding collapse.

    Employers who fail to protect workers from falls may be liable for injuries and deaths on a construction site. Third parties may also be found negligent.

    Falls From Roofs

    OSHA reports that falls from roofs account for one-third of fatal falls among construction workers. Roofs under construction are particularly dangerous due to:

    • Unguarded edges: Falls through openings, such as unfinished portions of the roof and skylights that do not have guardrails around them.
    • Falls along the part of the roof under construction: Many falls also occur because a worker lacks protective gear or a supervisor, safety manager, or contractor made mistakes in directing work or securing protective equipment.

    Falls From Scaffolding

    OSHA reports that nearly two out of three construction workers frequently perform at least part of their work on scaffolding, and almost 4,500 workers are injured each year in scaffold-related incidents.

    Common scaffold hazards include:

    • Lack of proper guardrails, mid-rails, and toeboards on all open sides of the scaffold.
    • Scaffold collapse caused by improper construction, defective equipment, or exceeded load capacity.
    • Active electrical lines which could be contacted by other building materials or equipment.
    • Untrained workers.
    • Weather incidents that render a scaffold unsafe but an employer does not stop work.

    Falls From Ladders

    Ladders are not safer than other lifting equipment simply because they are closer to the ground. They can still cause traumatic injuries.

    Supervisors and safety managers should train employees not to trust their weight on a ladder without inspecting it for defects. OSHA requires defective ladders to be taken out of service. Other OSHA ladder safety guidelines include:

    • Ladders must support at least four times the maximum intended load.
    • Do not use a stepladder as a straight ladder; always use the right ladder for the job.
    • Do not lean while on a ladder; move the ladder over if something is out of reach.

    Other causes of ladder falls include lack of inspection and maintenance, allowing defective, broken, or worn ladders to be used on the job site, and rungs that break while a worker is on the ladder.

    Falls From Aerial Lifts

    Aerial lifts are standard equipment at construction sites because they work well in lifting people and equipment when properly operated. Unfortunately, untrained workers may be operating the lifts, causing workers to fall from the bucket or platform.

    In addition, many aerial lifts are set up on uneven ground, making the lift sway, tilt, or tip, potentially causing unsecured workers to be thrown to the ground. Mechanical failures can injure or kill workers as well.

    Slips, Trips, and Falls

    Construction site surfaces quickly become crowded with workers, tools, and materials. When workers have limited room and many hazards in the way, the likelihood of a fall increases. Even a mistake such as leaving a tool on a platform where another worker would not expect it can cause a fall.

    Other common hazards include:

    • Environmental factors such as rain, ice, snow, or mud that could cause slipping.
    • Waste and debris scattered around the worksite, such as tools, building materials, power cords, sawdust, grease, paint, and remnants from wood, cement, metal, or rebar.
    • Surface defects such as potholes, uneven sidewalks, temporary walkways, or ruts leftover from the wheels of heavy machinery.
    • Scaffolding, lifts, and other defective or unmaintained equipment. For example, a loose board or raised nail can quickly become a fall hazard.

    Lack of Training

    An employer or its subcontractor must ensure that employees are trained in how to do their jobs and practice safety. They must do this training in the language that workers understand. Too often, a manager or subcontractor will hurry through training or not ensure that workers know about hazards they may encounter.

    Lack of Protective Equipment or DevicesCauses Fall Injuries

    Some employers or contractors simply do not budget for or provide safety equipment, such as personal protection equipment and jobsite safeguards. They may be trying to save money or complete a job more quickly. Some may have protections but not up to OSHA guidelines. OSHA standards exist to be followed.

    Other Causes of Construction Falls

    Any number of construction site conditions can cause accidents. Other causes include:

    • Unprotected or unmarked ledges.
    • Wall openings.
    • Floor holes.
    • Inclement weather that causes roofers and other workers to fall.
    • Lack of handrails or stair rails.
    • Unguarded elevator shafts.
    • Unmarked trenches and excavation sites.

    What Are Common Injuries in a Construction Fall?

    Even a fall from a 6-foot ladder can cause serious injury to a worker. Many injuries will require hospital stays, surgeries, time off work, months of rehabilitation, therapies, and potential loss of the ability to work.

    Workers should take any injury seriously, even if they are not immediately in pain or disabled. Some injuries take time to surface or are aggravated by something else. Other injuries develop into chronic, painful conditions over months or years. Always seek medical attention after a fall at work, no matter how minor.

    Common injuries from construction site falls include the following:

    • Spinal cord injuries.
    • Paralysis.
    • Fractures and broken bones.
    • Amputation.
    • Severe burns or abrasions.
    • Permanent disabilities.
    • Internal bleeding.
    • Soft tissue damage.
    • Hand, wrist, arm, leg, and foot damage.
    • Traumatic brain injuries.

    Can I Sue if I am Injured in a Fall at Work?

    Every workplace accident is different. Many accidents will fall under the domain of Workers’ Compensation benefits. These benefits generally cover medical expenses and a percentage of lost wages. Workers’ Compensation also shields employers from liability.

    It can be a good idea to hire a lawyer to help you submit Workers’ Compensation claims or appeal a decision. Your lawyer may also present other options when your employer is the only liable party.

    However, in the construction industry, a fall is often the result of a third party’s negligence. It could be the employer’s contractor or subcontractor, a property owner or manager, or even the manufacturer or supplier of a defective device, product, or power tool. When a third party is liable for a fall, an injured worker may have solid grounds for a lawsuit.

    Employees injured in a construction accident should always speak with a lawyer about the circumstances to determine if they have a valid third-party claim. For example, if an employer gave a worker a defective safety harness, the worker may be able to file a products liability lawsuit against the harness manufacturer if they are injured.

    Sometimes, multiple contractors are responsible for an accident and injuries. An experienced lawyer can help determine the specific liability of each party to help decide from whom to obtain compensation for damages.

    A violation of OSHA regulations causes many construction falls. In Pennsylvania, OSHA violations that cause injury can lead to a finding of negligence per se or an inference of negligence. Negligence per se does not require the injured worker to prove that their injuries were caused by negligence, making it easier for a plaintiff to win a case.

    What Are OSHA Fall Protection Guidelines?

    OSHA has many safety requirements employers must meet when construction workers work at high, elevated positions, including the following.

    • General protection: Employers are responsible for providing fall protection systems and ensuring that all site surfaces have the strength and structural integrity to support workers before employees work on these surfaces. Also, employers must provide fall systems when employees are working higher than 6 feet above another surface.
    • Unprotected sides and leading edges: OSHA requires the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems if there is an unprotected side or leading edge with a drop of 6 feet or more. A toeboard must also be installed around unprotected edges.
    • Hoist areas: Employees who work in a hoist area must be protected from falling 6 feet or more by using a guardrail or personal fall arrest system.
    • Holes: Covers, guardrail systems, or personal fall arrest systems must be used to protect workers from falling through holes or skylights 6 feet or more above lower levels.
    • Excavation: Employees at the edge of an excavation site 6 feet or more in depth must be protected by a fence, barricade, or guardrail system if the excavation site is not obvious.
    • Dangerous Equipment: Guardrail systems or equipment guards must be erected to prevent employees from falling onto dangerous equipment less than 6 feet below them. Also, guardrail systems, toeboards, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems are required when employees work 6 feet or higher above such equipment.

    What if I am Injured in a Construction Accident?

    If you are injured in a fall or other construction accident, the following are essential steps.

    Seek Medical Care

    Even if you feel your injury is minor, visit a doctor. Minor injuries can turn into significant conditions over time. Also, not seeking medical care signals to insurers that you are not injured and may give them cause not to pay benefits.

    After Fall InjuriesNotify Supervisors

    Notify your employer as soon as possible, providing the date, location, type and extent of injury, and how it happened. Follow employer guidelines for providing supervisors with a First Report of Injury.

    Employers that do not receive the notice may deny benefits by claiming they did not know an employee’s injury was due to a workplace accident.

    Follow Doctor’s Orders

    You must do everything a medical provider tells you to do and keep all appointments. An insurer could accuse you of not trying to get better if you do not do what you are supposed to do and potentially deny a claim.

    Also, document everything related to your injury, such as medical appointments, bills, therapies, and rehabilitation. This information may come in handy later.

    Contact a Philadelphia Construction Accident Lawyer

    Workers often miss out on benefits because they do not fully understand their legal rights. Even if you receive Workers’ Compensation benefits, a lawyer can help you follow all necessary procedures for filing workers’ compensation claims.

    A lawyer can also investigate the circumstances of your accident to determine if you might have a valid third-party claim. If so, they will help you seek additional compensation for damages. Workers should be aware that Workers’ Compensation litigation is complex, which is why it is critical to have a lawyer.

    Philadelphia Construction Accident Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Will Fight on Your Behalf if You Have Fall-Related Injuries Due to a Construction Accident

    If you have been injured in a fall-related construction accident, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. Our Philadelphia construction accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are happy to answer your questions. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. With offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.