Working in construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in South Florida. While certain aspects of the job are inherently dangerous, many of the dangers of construction work can—and should—be mitigated with adequate safety precautions.
Unfortunately, it is clear that many companies do not do what is necessary to protect their construction workers. In fact, all 10 of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) most-frequently cited safety violations involve failures in the construction industry. When companies put profits before safety, they deserve to be held accountable, and the workers and families who suffer the consequences deserve to recover just compensation.
How Common Safety Violations Lead to Accidents on South Florida Construction Sites
If you’ve been injured on a construction site or lost a loved one in a fatal construction site accident, it is important that you hire a lawyer to investigate. If the accident was preventable, you may be entitled to a significant financial recovery. Here is an overview of how the 10 most common safety violations can lead to serious and fatal construction site accidents in South Florida:
1. Inadequate Fall Protection
According to OSHA’s statistics, more than one-third of all fatal accidents on construction sites involve falls to a lower level. As OSHA states, “When working from heights, employers must plan projects to ensure that the job is done safely. . . . When estimating the cost of a job, employers should include safety equipment, and plan to have all the necessary equipment and tools available at the construction site.”
Among other safety measures, OSHA also instructs that construction companies should:
- Guard floor holes with guardrails and toe boards or a floor hole cover
- Install guardrails and toe boards around elevated open-sided platforms, floors, and runways
- Install temporary stair railings and handrails as required
- Provide construction workers with safety harnesses, lines, and other personal protective equipment as necessary
- Keep walking surfaces clean, dry, and free of other known dangers
Even if a fall from height isn’t fatal, it can still cause devastating injuries. Non-fatal falls often leave construction workers with broken bones, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and other severe forms of trauma. Treatment can be incredibly expensive; and, even if they qualify for workers’ compensation, construction workers can lose income if they are unable to work during their recovery (workers’ compensation typically only covers up to two-thirds of workers’ lost wages).
2. Inadequate Hazard Communication
Hazardous chemicals can cause severe burns, internal injuries, and chronic illnesses. Pursuant to OSHA regulations, all hazardous chemicals must be appropriately labeled, and construction workers must be made aware of safety risks in language they can understand. From welding to plastering pools, and from installing insulation to painting, a variety of construction jobs involve exposure to potentially harmful substances, particulates, and fumes.
As OSHA states, “All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers, and train them to handle the chemicals appropriately.” This obligation frequently goes overlooked on construction sites. If workers aren’t aware of the risks they face, they have virtually no way of protecting themselves—and this is through no fault of their own.
3. Inadequate Respiratory Protection
Inadequate respiratory protection is also a major problem in the construction industry. In the words of OSHA, “Respirators protect workers against insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, and sprays. These hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment, diseases, or death.”
Not only must companies provide respiratory protection to construction workers who perform dangerous jobs, but they must also provide protection to those who work in their vicinity. When particulates, fumes, and gases are in the air, they spread quickly and indiscriminately. Too often, companies ignore these “invisible” risks, and construction workers may only find out days, weeks, or months later that they are suffering from a work-related medical condition. Sadly, in some cases, this discovery comes too late for treatment to be effective.
4. Scaffolding Violations
Each year, there are dozens of scaffolding-related deaths in the United States. As OSHA notes, “[a]ll of these can be controlled by compliance with OSHA standards.” Non-fatal scaffolding accidents are also extremely common, and the vast majority of these accidents are preventable as well. This includes scaffolding accidents that involve:
- Improper scaffolding assembly
- Planking or supports giving way
- Slip and trip accidents on scaffolds
- Inadequate fall protection
- Inadequate protection from falling objects
Working on scaffolding presents obvious risks. Despite this, many companies still don’t do what is necessary to protect workers. Whether intentional (i.e., knowingly failing to supply necessary safety equipment) or inadvertent (i.e., hiring a supervisor who performs an inadequate inspection), these failures are entirely unjustified, and they are failures for which companies deserve to be held fully accountable.
5. Ladder Violations
Although OSHA regulations establish stringent safety requirements for ladders, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the ladders on most construction sites. Many construction workers are forced to ascend and work from ladders that are damaged, too short, too long, or not properly stabilized and supported.
While some construction workers get lucky, ladder falls on construction sites are extremely common. Similar to other types of falls, ladder falls frequently result in life-altering or life-threatening injuries. When construction workers are forced to carry equipment or materials up ladders instead of having them carried by a crane or lift, this increases the risk of a serious or fatal fall. Failure to guard the base of a ladder (often due to having too few workers onsite) increases the risk of ladder falls as well.
6. Failure to Control Hazardous Energy
Failure to control hazardous energy presents risks for all workers on a construction site. Once the electrical system on a construction site has been connected to power, there is a very real risk that control failures will lead to serious or fatal accidents. While companies should ensure that their employees follow appropriate hazardous energy control procedures, many fail to do so.
Failure to follow appropriate lockout/tagout procedures can also lead to accidents when workers are conducting repairs and maintenance on construction equipment. Here, too, OSHA provides clear guidance, yet many construction companies simply do not do what is necessary.
Electrocutions from other causes are also very real risks for construction workers. Standing water, light-duty extension cords, damaged extension cords, poorly-maintained tools and equipment, and a variety of other issues can (and do) lead to electrocution accidents on construction sites on a regular basis.
7. Powered Industrial Truck (Forklift) Safety Violations
Federal standards govern both the operation of powered industrial trucks (forklifts) and the protection of workers operating in the vicinity of forklifts. OSHA has even published sample daily checklists that companies can use to ensure that their forklifts are as safe as possible. Some examples of OSHA’s guidance regarding safe forklift operation include:
- Ensuring that workers operate forklifts according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Ensuring that forklifts’ seatbelts are operable and in good condition
- Ensuring that workers never exceed a forklift’s rated load
- Ensuring that forklift loads are always stable and balanced
- Ensuring that forklift operators have adequate visibility
- Providing adequate training to forklift operators
- Performing routine maintenance on forklifts to ensure that they are operating efficiently
While these are all simple steps that can save lives, many construction companies simply don’t bother. They don’t put in the effort to keep their workers safe, and they take their chances that nothing will go wrong. This is a common theme among preventable construction accidents, and unfortunately it does not appear to be a theme that will be changing any time soon.
8. Inadequate Training
Construction companies cannot simply hire people and send them to work—especially in trades that require special knowledge or skills. They have an obligation to ensure that their employees are adequately trained, both so that they can avoid injuring themselves and so that they can avoid causing accidents that result in harm to others.
Unfortunately, this is yet another area where construction companies often put profits before safety. When workers are in training, they aren’t on the jobsite, and this means that work isn’t getting done. Many companies seek to limit this “lost” time as much as possible, and in some cases they will forego training entirely—especially when a project is behind schedule.
Of course, training is essential for job safety. This includes training regarding skilled trades, use of tools and equipment, use of safety equipment, and fall prevention. Without adequate training, workers don’t know when they are putting themselves (or others) at risk for injury. Failure to provide adequate training is a leading cause of construction site accidents, and it is a cause that is entirely preventable.
9. Failure to Supply Appropriate Eye and Face Protection
According to OSHA, “[t]housands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection.” For this reason, OSHA regulations require that, “[e]ye and face protection . . . be provided whenever necessary to protect against chemical, environmental, radiological or mechanical irritants and hazards.” These include flying dust and debris, welding arcs, fumes, and other hazards that are common on construction sites.
Similar to ladders, OSHA regulations establish several specific requirements for eye and face protection on construction sites. Yet, relatively few companies come close to meeting their obligations. Some companies provide only basic glasses and goggles that fall far short of OSHA’s requirements, and some do not provide their workers with any eye or face protection at all.
10. Machinery Failures and Missing Machine Guarding
“Moving machine parts have the potential to cause severe workplace injuries, such as crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns, or blindness. Safeguards are essential for protecting workers from these preventable injuries.” As a result, OSHA requires that, “[a]ny machine part, function, or process that may cause injury [on a construction site] must be safeguarded.”
The safety failures that often lead to machinery-related accidents are similar to the types of failures discussed above. From inadequate maintenance to ignoring safety concerns entirely, numerous issues can (and do) lead to machinery accidents on construction sites ranging from large commercial buildings to single-family homes.
When construction companies put their workers at risk unnecessarily, workers and their families can seek financial compensation under Florida law. If you believe you may have a claim for a construction site accident in South Florida, we encourage you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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Our lawyers have helped many individuals and families in South Florida recover financial compensation for serious and fatal construction site accidents. To discuss your legal rights with an experienced construction accident lawyer in confidence, please call 305-445-0011 or request an appointment online today.