Accidents can occur on construction sites when employers fail to properly train workers, fail to adequately supervise operations, and do not pay strict attention to required safety protocols. Construction accidents can be serious because the nature of the work exposes workers to hazardous conditions that can cause significant injuries.
If you or someone you know was injured on a construction site, even if your employer has workers’ compensation coverage, another party may also be responsible for your damages. It is always worth speaking to an experienced construction accident lawyer in a free consultation to find out more about your legal rights.
Falls are still the leading cause of injuries and death to workers in the construction industry. Falls can occur from roofs, ladders, and scaffolding, among other locations. Falls typically happen when proper safety equipment is not installed, is not used, is not used properly, or is used but defective. Employers must comply with fall protection regulations when workers are working six or more feet above a lower level.
2. Stairways and Ladders
Stairways and ladders are two significant fall hazards at a construction site, and employers are required to install fall protection systems where they are used. There are size requirements for stairways that will be used only during construction, as well as regulations concerning the use of railings. Ladders must be secured and free of any material that would cause slipping on the rungs.
Falls from scaffolding cause an estimated 4,500 injuries and 50 fatalities each year. A scaffolding accident can be caused by a planking or platform giving way, worker loss of balance, inadequate fall protection, or a worker being struck by a falling object. Fall protection is required when an employee is working on scaffolding more than 10 feet above a lower level.
Worker exposure to electricity at construction sites can result in electric shock, electrocution, and severe burns from fires and explosions. In 2020, 126 workers died from contact with electricity. Close to 45 percent of those fatally exposed to electricity worked in the construction industry. The work activities associated with the highest percentage of fatal accidents included constructing, repairing, and cleaning.
5. Trenching and Excavation
Excavating and working in trenches exposes an employee to trench cave-in, falling loads, incidents involving mobile equipment, and environmental hazards. Trenches five or more feet deep require a protective system unless the trench is through stable rock. Trenches that are at least 20 feet deep require protective systems designed by professional engineers.
6. Highway Work Zones
Nationwide, fatalities in highway work zones have averaged 123 workers annually over the last 20 years. During the 10-year period between 2011 and 2020, Texas averaged the highest annual rate of highway construction site deaths in the U.S., at 143. The most common cause of injury and death was being struck by a vehicle. Construction laborers made up the largest group of workers killed.
7. Construction’s Fatal Four
OSHA has identified four situations that consistently result in the most fatal accidents at construction sites. Known as the ‘fatal four,’ the following situations are associated with the greatest risk of a fatality accident:
- Caught in or between
What All Employers are Required to Do
To facilitate a safe work environment at a construction site, OSHA has specific requirements employers must implement to protect workers in various circumstances. OSHA also has general requirements for all employers at all construction sites:
- Keep working conditions free of known dangers
- Floors in work areas must be kept clean and dry if possible
- Provide required personal protection equipment to workers at no cost
- Use the language workers understand to train them about job hazards
Why Construction Site Accidents Continue to Happen
OSHA recently published its annual list of top workplace safety violations for 2022. The number and type of violations indicate employers are not complying with safety requirements – particularly for the kinds of hazards that can result in the most fatal injuries at construction sites.
The top 5 safety violations were:
- Inadequate fall protection – 5,260 violations
- Failure to adequately communicate the nature of toxic hazards – 2,424 violations
- Failure to provide respiratory protection – 2,185 violations
- Unsafe ladders – 2,143 violations
- Unsafe scaffolding – 2,058 violations
Inadequate fall protection has been the most often cited workplace violation for over 10 years. Yet falls continue to be a leading cause of injury and death at construction sites.
It has been suggested OSHA is not doing enough to ensure employer compliance with critical worker safety regulations. More inspections are needed, and penalties must be stricter and consistently enforced to encourage employers to meet the required safety standards. However, it would take greater resources to accomplish all that would need to be done to make construction sites safer for workers. OSHA’s effectiveness may be hampered by budget and staffing constraints.
Employer Liability for Construction Site Accidents
In Texas, employers can manage the risk of being sued by an injured employee by purchasing workers’ compensation insurance, choosing to self-insure, or face the risk of a direct lawsuit.
Having workers’ comp can limit an employer’s financial exposure to economic damages only. A personal injury lawsuit, however, gives an injured worker the opportunity to collect all damages available by law – including damages for the pain, suffering, and mental anguish associated with an injury.
Employers can use insurance to limit their liability for injuries that occur due to reasonable risks inherent in the operation of the business. But when employers put employees at unreasonable risk with disregard for their safety, insurance does not provide coverage, and an employer can be sued directly for gross negligence.
OSHA violations can be used as evidence but are not necessary to prove employer liability. The nature of the injury and what the employer knew about the danger and the risk of injury to employees will be important factors when assessing liability. Employers who know of dangerous conditions at a construction site and fail to take proper measures to protect workers from injury can be liable for the damages caused by accidents.
The Future of Construction Site Accidents
Between 2020 and 2021, construction sites had the highest number of preventable fatal work injuries of any industry, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). NSC has been an advocate for worker safety for over 100 years and is on a mission to end preventable fatal accidents in all workplaces. The goal of the organization’s Work to Zero initiative is to use technology solutions to eliminate all preventable workplace deaths by 2050.