How to receive workers’ compensation after a scaffolding accident
Georgia workers’ compensation laws protect most workers from the consequences of an accident or illness that happens on the job—including construction workers. Scaffolding accidents are all-too-common causes of construction worker injuries.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 3.5 million people work in the American construction industry. Construction work, particularly jobs that take place high above the ground on scaffolding, can be extremely dangerous. As much as 10 percent of construction workers will suffer an on-the-job accident in their career.
Considering that approximately 65 percent of the construction industry works on scaffolding, basic scaffolding safety and training can undoubtedly help reduce the 4,500 injuries and 60 deaths that happen on construction sites each year.
Common causes of scaffolding accidents
Scaffolding falls are the leading work-related injury in construction. Further, failing to follow scaffolding safety requirements is the third leading safety violation on construction sites. Sadly, a majority of these scaffolding accidents are preventable.
Other common causes of scaffolding injuries include:
- Failure to comply with safety standards. OSHA publishes detailed safety standards, requirements and regulations specifically for scaffolding.
- Failure to install commonly used safety devices, including safety ropes and harnesses, safety helmets and netting to break scaffolding falls, which are the predominant cause of scaffolding injuries.
- Defective scaffolding. A defect can result from improper design or manufacturing, or improper assembly on the construction site.
- Poor maintenance. Scaffolding consists of many interdependent pieces that are usually assembled on the job site. Individual parts are exposed to the weather, and they may suffer wear and tear from use. As such, scaffolding should be regularly inspected and immediately repaired or replaced as needed.
- Inadequate worker training. Workers should be properly trained to avoid the risks of working on scaffolding.
- Failure to protect from falling objects. Construction workers on or below scaffolding are exposed to falling construction materials, tools and debris from upper levels.
- Exposure to fellow worker negligence. Scaffolding workers may work alongside other workers who are not trained or who are negligent.
- Hazardous weather conditions. High winds can threaten to push workers off scaffolding, or cause the scaffolding structure itself to collapse. Extreme heat can cause workers to overheat and pass out when on scaffolding, or wet and rainy conditions could cause a worker to slip and fall.
- Builder negligence. Builders must establish and maintain OSHA safety standards, but they sometimes fail to follow the rules.
Most scaffolding injuries come from falls, which are exacerbated when they happen from extraordinary heights. Common injuries include broken or severed limbs, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and internal organ damage.
What if you are a construction subcontractor?
Most major construction projects are operated by a general contractor, and served by a myriad of subcontractors with different specialties. Some subcontractors can have numerous employees, while others have a few employees or are sole proprietors.
In Georgia, most employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance if they employ 3 or more full-time or part-time employees. However, some simply fail to comply with the law and don’t have the required workers’ compensation coverage.
If you are an independent contractor—not an employee—performing services pursuant to a contract with the general contractor and you get hurt while performing work on scaffolding, you may have questions about your rights.
In Georgia, your relationship with the general contractor is regulated by statutory law. Unfortunately, independent contractors typically aren’t eligible for recovery under the general contractor’s workers’ compensation coverage. However, you can instead bring a third-party personal injury civil lawsuit against the general contractor and/or possibly scaffolding manufacturer.
What’s more, Georgia law provides that employees may be considered a “statutory employee” of the general contractor. In that case, a subcontractor might be eligible for benefits from the general contractor.
The “statutory employee” classification is not a black and white matter. If a workers’ compensation claim is challenged, the court will consider all facts and circumstances to determine if an injured construction worker is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits from the general contractor.
Injured construction worker claims against third parties
In Georgia, workers’ compensation coverage is a no-fault system, meaning that benefits are paid out regardless of whether the employer, the employee or anybody else is at fault. However, among other limitations, certain damages (e.g. pain and suffering) are not compensated by workers’ compensation.
Suppose the proximate cause of a scaffolding accident is the fault of a third party, not the employer or the employee? For example, say there’s a collapse from faulty scaffolding, a defective negligent manufacturing process or materials of the scaffolding manufacturer.
Does an injured employee have recourse against the third-party scaffolding manufacturer?
Yes. But in such third-party cases, the injured worker will have to prove the plaintiff was negligent and is liable for their damages. For instance, a scaffolding manufacturer can be sued by the employee or employer under product liability laws, or sued by a deceased employee’s relatives under wrongful death laws.
What to do after a scaffolding accident
If you are a victim of a scaffolding injury, you need to take the following steps:
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Report the event to your employer as soon as possible (but no later than 30 days).
- File a workers’ compensation claim with your employer.
- Consult a workers’ compensation attorney.
Following a scaffolding accident resulting in serious injuries or death, construction workers and their families can benefit from the professional guidance of a veteran lawyer with a specialty in workers’ compensation cases to navigate this complex process. These workers’ compensation claims are complicated and often require an attorney with extensive knowledge and experience. The best time to engage an attorney is as soon as possible after the injury.