By Tim Mullahy
Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Liberty Center One
Having a safe workplace is a fundamental right for all workers in the U.S. In order to provide a base of standards and regulations to protect employees, Congress established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Department of Labor.
Due to the high level of safety hazards in its normal course of work, the construction industry has its own Directorate of Construction and system of compliance within OSHA to address health and safety issues for workers.
Construction workers who are injured at work or that have concerns about the health and safety of their work environment have several rights under OSHA. Whether you are in the private or public construction sector, in most cases you are entitled to these benefits in every US jurisdiction regardless of who your employer is.
If you experience work-related construction injuries, you should take the following steps:
- seek medical attention as soon as possible
- file an injury report with work site manager or employer
- write down the events surrounding your injury as soon as you are able while the details are fresh
- take note of any witnesses to the event and acquire their contact information when possible
- collect as much photographic evidence as you are able to, including the scene of the accident, specific points of interest on the site to support your claims, and your injuries
- keep records of all the names, dates and interactions with people involved in your case, including employer staff, medical personnel, OSHA representatives, and, if part of a union, union representatives
- file a workers compensation insurance claim, if applicable
You should note that the employer is responsible for reporting injuries to OSHA. When you report your claim and the employer fills out the required form, make sure to review the form for accuracy and always ask for a copy for your records.
OSHA vs. Workers Compensation Insurance
OSHA provides specific safety and health standards, guidelines, and regulations for the construction industry. In the event of any injury or violation, an employer might be fined under OSHA rules and regulations. The employee, however, does not receive any direct financial compensation or reward for their injuries through this process.
Workers compensation insurance is the means under which an employee receives financial reimbursement for injuries received at work. It is important to file a personal injury claim as soon as possible. The coverage generally includes medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation, but does not include things like pain and suffering or other punitive damages.
OSHA does not affect workers compensation insurance. While the reporting processes appear the same or similar, the claims are filed for different reasons. One is for enforcing workplace safety rules (OSHA), and the other is for financial compensation for injuries (workers compensation insurance).
If you are injured on a construction site, you are entitled to workers compensation benefits. Workers compensation is a no-fault form of insurance, meaning if you received an injury on the job that impacts you financially, you can receive some form of payment regardless of who is at fault.
These programs help workers receive necessary funds as soon as possible without having to go through a lengthy court case. They also level the playing field for workers who might not have the financial means to pursue a lawsuit against an employer.
Construction Workers Can Sue for Job Injuries
One of the rights that workers give up through a workers compensation program in most cases is the right to sue an employer for negligence as a cause of injury. OSHA violations alone are not enough to establish the right to sue an employer. Construction workers, however, do have some alternatives if they wish to pursue a civil action against an employer.
Suing For Violating OSHA Rules
In some cases, a construction worker can file an OSHA claim against a railroad carrier for reasons that stem from construction injuries or the filing of a complaint. For instance, if the carrier retaliates against the worker in some way for reporting an injury or hazard, that is a violation of OSHA rules.
Construction workers have won punitive awards through OSHA in this way for emotional distress, disciplinary or termination retaliation, legal threats, forcing an employee to work against doctor’s orders, or denying access to medical care.
In 2017, some of the top cited construction violations were failure to meet general requirements surrounding fall protection, issues with scaffolding, and dangerous conditions in situations that require ladders. Compliance managers are needed on construction sites to make sure that all tools, machinery, and safeguards are in place before work begins. By ensuring that the work-site is up to OSHA standards, a company can avoid potential lawsuits and keep its employees strong and healthy enough to complete the project.
Under OSHA, compliance officers have implemented many programs that motivate contractors to provide safe and reliable conditions for their workers. Various tools, such as bulletins which inform staff of important health and safety issues, or a system of recognition and motivation for teams who successfully implement safety programs, can be used.
When all OSHA regulations are followed, contractors and workers are able to perform their jobs more efficiently and successfully. By checking that job sites and companies tick all the boxes, compliance officers are able to give these teams the piece of mind needed to work their best.
Tim Mullahy is the Executive Vice President and Managing Director at Liberty Center One, a new breed of data center located in Royal Oak, MI. Tim has a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry.