With a construction worker in Beaufort, NC getting killed on May 23, it’s starting to feel like there are too many people dying on the job these days.
A lot of recent worker deaths and injuries have occurred on the highway. For just two recent examples, a woman driving on I-95 near Lumberton two weeks ago plowed into two road workers who were getting ready to open up the highway, killing one. Back in April in Raleigh, two DOT employees narrowly escaped death when a driver crashed into the back of a construction vehicle on the shoulder.
While these deaths are terrible, they were more likely because of the added presence of non-worker drivers, who are known to be distracted, tired or impaired. But building construction site deaths are another issue. Construction sites are heavily regulated by federal and state Occupational Safety and Health regulations. If somebody dies on a building construction site, it’s not an accident. It’s because someone was negligent.
Construction sites are supposed to be inspected every day. No, they aren’t inspected by a government employee, we don’t have enough safety inspectors for that! But there is supposed to be an employee on every job site, depending on its size, who is trained and certified in the safety measures that have to be in place before construction can move forward for the day. So the first thing to ask is, what went wrong?
With the May Beaufort death, a 42-year old man from Blounts Creek fell off the roof of a construction site just before 8 AM. According to WITN, witnesses on the scene said the worker had just been lifted up to the roof before falling. Here are just a few questions to ask:
- Was he supplied by his employer with all the personal protective equipment that he needed to prevent a fall?
- Was he wearing the equipment before he was hoisted up there?
- Was someone rushing to get the job started?
- When he reached the top, what was supposed to happen next to keep him safe?
- And who was watching to see that safety rules were being followed?
Back in March, three construction workers died and one was seriously injured when a “mast climber” was being taken down at a construction site in Raleigh. The mast climber tore from the side of the building and collapsed, and a mobile scaffolding platform went hurtling to the ground. Again, we ask:
- Who exactly was in charge of the safety of those workers?
- When was the last time the security of the mast climber was checked?
- Did someone feel that the system wasn’t safe, and perhaps didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to be the one to slow down the project?
- Who made the plan to dismantle the mast climber while workers were anywhere in the vicinity of it coming down if they didn’t have to be?
Those are the Whys. Then there are the Whats. What happens to the worker’s family after the worker is killed on the job? Who is going to pay the medical bills and survivor’s benefits? The first thing you may think about is workers’ compensation benefits. Employers normally don’t owe the deceased worker’s family anything more than that in North Carolina. But in many of these construction fatalities, there are multiple companies, both contractors and subcontractors, on the job site, and it’s important to look closely for the responsible party, or parties.
If some company other than the deceased workers’ employer was negligent, then that company can be held liable in court. That is very important because workers’ compensation benefits are limited to wage loss and medical bills. So if a company that was not the deceased workers’ employer was negligent, that company can be made to pay for all the family’s losses, including for any pain and suffering the worker experienced before he died.
Workers’ compensation benefits are limited by NC law and almost never fully compensate the family of the deceased for their loss. So we always ask, who else was in a position to prevent this death, but didn’t?
Finally we ask what can be done to prevent another death from occurring in this same way? For that, anyone who knows about a serious injury on the job should report it to the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the NC Department of Labor. This state agency is in charge of investigating and keeping track of workplace fatalities statewide, although the department has faced criticism for not enforcing safety laws more aggressively.
Please be safe out there. If you have any concerns about the hazards of your job, report them immediately to the person in charge of safety. No one wants to see the loss of a life on the job.