Construction’s fatal four: Preventing common deadly accidents

Contextual

Four types of incidents are accountable for the majority of construction site deaths in New Jersey, and each is preventable.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, New Jersey's private construction industry had more fatal accidents than any other sector in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Twenty-two people lost their lives that year. Of those incidents, falls were accountable for the majority of worker deaths.

This is a trend that can be seen across the country. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that in 2016, construction site accidents accounted for 21.1 percent of all workplace fatalities in the private industry. In fact, the issue is so serious that OSHA has categorized the incidents into what has been dubbed as the "fatal four." Here, we take a look at each type of accident and how it could be prevented.

Falls

Just as evidenced in the 2015 New Jersey data, falls are responsible for more construction site deaths than any other type of incident. OSHA reports that in 2016, 38.7 percent - or 384 fatalities - were due to falls. This could happen when a worker falls off a roof, scaffolding or ladder, for example.

Preventing a fall requires a few steps, such as using the proper fall arrest system. Guardrails and safety nets should be installed whenever possible. There are requirements, per OSHA, for each of these systems. For example, the top rail of a guardrail should be able to withstand 200 pounds of force. Employers should always research and abide by these requirements.

Struck-by events

A struck-by event refers to an incident in which a worker is hit. This could mean that an object falls from a construction site onto a worker, or a nail gun misfires. Preventing these types of accidents - which caused 93 deaths in 2016 - is highly specific to the task at hand. One key is to ensure workers are wearing the proper safety equipment, from goggles and helmets to gloves and steel-toed boots. Rigging equipment must always be property secured, and an employer should regularly perform maintenance on equipment used to move items around a site.

Electrocutions

The risk of an electrocution may not always be obvious. Many times, power lines are grounded, and a worker may be unaware that they are under the surface where they are operating digging machinery. Even above-ground power lines pose a threat.

Every employer should have a site thoroughly inspected to clearly identify where power lines are. Any electrical equipment used should be properly insulated, and workers should have the appropriate safety gear on at all times. Failing to take these measures could result in serious injury or death, as evidenced by the 82 construction site workers who died in 2016.

Caught-in or between events

Lastly, a caught-in or between incident is one that occurs when a worker is trapped, such as in a collapse or a crushing accident. In 2016, 72 workers died as a result of these events. A trench that has not been appropriately shored or machinery that has not been turned off could easily turn into a tragedy.

Taking the time to ensure that equipment has safety guards on is essential. Even simple worker awareness could prevent an incident, as people on-site should always be aware of moving equipment. Also, OSHA warns against working in a trench that is 5 feet or more deep that has not been adequately protected.

Seek legal representation to protect your rights

Any New Jersey construction worker who has sustained a work-related injury or any surviving loved one of a construction worker who has died from such harm should seek legal advice from an experienced workers' compensation attorney about all potential legal remedies.

Of course, the injured construction worker should immediately file a workers' compensation claim for all benefits he or she is entitled to under the law such as medical costs, compensation for permanent disability or wage replacement during temporary disability. Surviving family members should discuss workers' compensation death benefits with a lawyer.

Workers' compensation is normally the exclusive remedy against the employer, with very narrow exception. For example, it may be possible to sue a construction employer in a personal injury suit if the injury was caused by the employer's "intentional wrong" or in a federal maritime claim, if appropriate.

Finally, workers' compensation does not prevent lawsuits against responsible third parties such as the sellers, distributors or manufacturers of defective or dangerous products like vehicles or heavy equipment that may have contributed to worker injury. Another example of a third-party suit would be against an owner of construction premises who allowed a dangerous condition to exist that contributed to the injury.

Do not delay in contacting a legal representative so as not to miss any legal deadlines.

With offices in New Jersey, the attorneys at Willis & Gresek Counsellors at Law represent injured workers in workers' compensation claims and third-party lawsuits across New Jersey.