Workers’ Comp for Construction Injuries: Know Your Rights
There are a lot of reasons to want to work in the construction industry, especially for the young and able-bodied. Not least among these is the compensation: as a construction worker, even an entry level laborer, you stand to earn an hourly rate significantly higher than the national average. Specialized workers earn significantly higher than that, and often eclipse the pay rate of the people who will eventually work in the office buildings they help to erect.
Another positive aspect of the construction industry is the potential for mobility. Construction workers are needed absolutely everywhere. Most industries in the United States require their employees to be geographically centered on the location of production or distribution, and anyone who hopes to work in those industries must relocate. Not so with construction; skilled workers can find employment almost anywhere.
That said, there is a big elephant in the room when it comes to construction work: the frequency of injury and death among construction workers.
Part of working a construction job is navigating hazardous worksites on a daily basis. If strict safety precautions aren’t observed by the employer, construction sites can be fantastically dangerous places to work. In 2004, workers in the construction industry made up only 7.7% of the United States’ workforce but accounted for 22.2% of the nation’s work-related fatalities.1
Work injury lawyers are well-versed in statistics like this, but, by the time you seek their professional services on behalf of yourself or a loved one, the injury has taken place, and you’re gearing up for a fight. Knowing your rights and understanding your employer’s obligation is half the battle.
How Construction Injuries and Fatalities Occur
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an average week in 2015 saw the deaths of 93 workers in the construction industry, or roughly 13 deaths per day, all year long.2 On top of that, roughly one in ten construction workers are injured on the job every year.
Any work accident attorneys worth their salt will be familiar with these statistics and use them to your advantage, but knowing how and where injuries are most likely to occur on a job site goes a long way toward preventing construction-related accidents.
OSHA identifies the following as the most likely causes of death on a work site:
- Falls – Almost 39% of the total construction deaths in 2015 were caused by falls from roofs, scaffolding, or other elevated work spaces.
- Struck by Object – With the number of specialized tools in use and heavy machinery in play, being struck by objects at work accounted for 9.6% of construction deaths.
- Electrocutions – Dealing with exposed live wiring and being accidentally electrocuted led to 8.6% of construction site fatalities.
- Caught in-between – This includes construction employees who died as a result of being compressed by vehicles, objects, collapsing structure, equipment, or material, and it accounts for 7.2 percent of construction deaths.
The “Fatal Four” listed above were directly responsible for the deaths of 602 workers in 2015, more than half of all the construction worker deaths that year.3 Among the most frequently cited OSHA standards violations on work sites last year were fall protection, scaffolding safety requirements, ladder violations, and machinery and machine guarding citations.4
This illustrates that, more often than not, the most egregious causes of workplace fatality for construction workers and laborers could have been avoided if employers simply followed safety regulations and implemented proper safeguards against injury and death. This is where worker’s compensation insurance comes in.
What Is Worker’s Compensation Insurance?
There are many common misconceptions about worker’s comp insurance. Since each case involves so many variables, the specifics of your personal claim are best discussed with a knowledgeable work injury attorney to make sure nothing is out of place or missing. However, the basics are pretty simple, albeit misunderstood.
- Worker’s comp is insurance purchased by employers. It is designed to help employees recoup lost wages and medical expenses following a work injury, and to compensate families should the employee die from work-related As such, a worker’s comp claim is not a lawsuit. In fact …
- Worker’s comp is designed to cut down on lawsuits. If every single person who was injured at work had to sue their employer in order to receive medical and wage-replacement assistance, our legal system would grind to a complete and utter halt. That said, going over your claim with a worker’s compensation attorney will help make sure that you get your due, as worker’s comp law is very complicated and designed to protect employers.
- Worker’s comp is mandatory in most states. There’s a good chance that, during the hiring process for your job, you opted in to worker’s comp coverage. This precludes you from suing your employer for normal work-related injuries, instead, covering you with the assured, limited protection of worker’s comp on the job site. This is known as the “compensation bargain.”
When it functions properly, worker’s comp is a godsend to construction workers who are injured on the job site, as most will be during their career. However, it does entail a complicated set of legal precedents designed to limit the liability and payout for employers, and any misstep in filing or incorrectly executed paperwork in the claims process can cause lengthy delays in compensation for the injured party.
What to Do if You’re Hurt at Work
You should never hesitate to file a claim if you are injured at work, and any discouragement toward doing so on the part of an employer should be taken up with a work injury attorney. Remember, employers are required to pay for worker’s compensation insurance because, in many states, it is the worker’s only recourse for recovering lost wages and medical costs. If you’re injured on the construction site, it is important that you take the following steps.
- Report your injury in writing, and do so right away. Make sure to keep duplicate records of every communication between you and your employer pertaining to your workplace injury. A clear paper trail documenting your injury and your attempts to clearly communicate its severity to your employer will protect you should the case end up in court.
- Request a claim form immediately. When a construction accident occurs, your employer is required to offer a worker’s comp claim form as soon as they become aware of the accident, whether as party/witness or in writing. Keep a copy of the claim as part of your paper trail, and consult a work injury lawyer if you have any questions when it comes to completing the form. Your employer has no obligation to provide benefits until the form is completed.
- File your claim, and stay on top of it. The sooner you get your claim form filed, the sooner your benefits will come through. Any delays in the filing process will likely cause delays in the execution of your benefits. Worker’s comp insurance is its own industry, with a massive bureaucracy and plenty of loopholes, so filing quickly and following through on any requisite forms and inquiries will help guarantee your compensation arriving in a timely manner.
Most employers in the construction industry take very good care of their workers. It is in their best interests to do so, after all; without manpower, construction sites would grind to a halt, and the company’s bottom line would suffer greatly.
If you are injured on a construction site, it’s important to understand that worker’s compensation is your right. You aren’t hurting the company or doing anything wrong by pursuing a claim; in fact, the opposite is true. Worker’s comp insurance alleviates construction companies from shouldering the massive burden of workplace injuries that would render any one company insolvent. It works in their favor, so it is in their best interests to work with you and make sure you get the benefits you need to get well and get back to work.
Each worker’s comp claim is different from the next, and the specifics of yours may not be cut and dry. In this instance, it behooves you to seek professional assistance. Work injury lawyers will help you navigate the murky waters of worker’s comp law, extending their specialty to help figure out the best way to get your benefits. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it; the alternative may be much more costly and detrimental to your long-term health than you realize.