Workplace accidents are common and often result in serious or traumatic injury. While some accidents may be unavoidable, others are the unfortunate result of employer negligence or poor occupational safety standards, practices or policies.
Injuries, illnesses and deaths caused as a result of inadequate safety measures in and around the workplace can be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. It is your right by law to work in a safe, secure and healthy working environment. Employment law specialists and workplace safety lawyers help ensure that companies are in compliance with the standards set forth by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). They are also skilled at helping the victims of workplace accidents evaluate their legal options, file a complaint against their employer or file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
Workplace Safety and Employer Responsibilities
Employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their workplace and meeting OSHA's standards. Employers that fail in this duty may face serious repercussions.
According to OSHA, some of the more important responsibilities of employers include:
- Providing a safe, secure workplace free from serious hazards recognized by OSHA
- Ensuring that employees have safe equipment, tools, materials, etc.
- Ensuring that equipment, tools, materials, facilities, etc., are properly maintained
- Reporting any fatal workplace accident to OSHA within eight hours
- Reporting any workplace accident resulting in hospitalization of three or more employees to OSHA within eight hours
- Acknowledging and correcting OSHA citations before lapse in deadline
- Providing employees with training and/or medical examinations when required in accordance with OSHA standards
- Compiling detailed records of all accidents, injuries, illnesses and deaths that occur in the workplace
- Posting OSHA citations at or around the area where the violation occurred
Employers failing to comply with OSHA standards can be penalized or held accountable in a court of law. Employees are encouraged to report employer noncompliance to OSHA and to speak with an employment lawyer. Employment laws protect employees who report their employers to OSHA from discriminatory repercussions such as workplace harassment or wrongful termination.
Although OSHA standards primarily target employers, they also stipulate certain employee responsibilities. Employees are responsible for observing the OSHA protocols set in place by employers, while acting in a safe, professional manner. Failure to adhere to these protocols may limit or negate employer liability.
In accordance with OSHA standards, it is recommended that you observe the following rules:
- Inform your employer about hazardous workplace conditions
- Report job-related accidents, injuries, deaths or illnesses to your employer immediately
- Comply with all safety/health rules and regulations set forth by your employer
- Wear/use all protective clothing and equipment while working
- Familiarize yourself and comply with OSHA standards
- Exercise your rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act in a responsible manner
Workplace Safety and Health
Regardless of where you work or what you do, you are faced with a variety of direct and indirect occupational hazards. Although some workplaces and professions have significantly higher safety risks than others, workplace safety and health should be a priority for all employers and employees.
Miners are faced with some of the most hazardous working conditions of any profession. Confined spaces, explosives, poor air quality, cave-ins, fires and extreme noise are but a few of the hazards miners cope with on a daily basis. In comparison, office workers have significantly fewer workplace hazards to contend with, but may, for example, be faced with asbestos exposure from old insulation, vision problems caused by poor office lighting or a host of other safety and health issues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the more common workplace hazards include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Confined spaces
- Respirable silica
- Poor ventilation
- Electric/magnetic fields
In accordance with OSHA standards, employers are required to ensure that employees are protected from the hazards they may face in their respective areas of employment. Failure to do so is considered to be both negligent and potentially criminal.
Workplace Accidents and Workers' Compensation
Regardless of the steps taken to protect employees, workplace accidents will inevitably happen.
Workplace accidents, injuries and illnesses are monitored by the Department of Labor through a yearly Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). In 2006, there were 4.1 million nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses reported to OSHA, occurring at a rate of 4.4 incidents per 100 full-time employees. Although this is the lowest workplace injury/illness rate reported since 1972, it is still a significant number.
If you are injured as a result of an accident in the workplace or if you contract an occupational illness/disease, you may be entitled to receive workers' compensation to offset lost wages, medical bills, rehabilitation and other expenses.
Federal employees are covered through four federal workers' compensation programs: The Federal Employment Liability Act, the Merchant Marine Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act and the Black Lung Benefits Act.
Most workers' compensation laws are established at the state level. Most states have liability limitations that apply to both employers and employees. Injuries or illnesses caused as a result of a workplace accident or hazardous condition may be covered under your state's workers' compensation laws.
Workers' compensation is designed to eliminate unnecessary litigation. However, in some cases personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits are necessary. Contact an employment law specialist to determine your best course of action.
Workplace Accidents and the Legal Ramifications
Employers are responsible for the safety and health of their employees within the workplace. Failure to comply with OSHA standards or workers' compensation laws is criminal and can be grounds for personal injury litigation. Employment lawyers can help guide employees through the process of understanding their rights and, if necessary, filing a personal injury lawsuit.
If you feel that your workplace is unsafe, your employer negligent or your workers' compensation coverage inadequate, you might consider setting up a consultation with an employment lawyer to discuss your situation and better evaluate your options.
* United States Department of Labor
The families/dependents of those killed as a result of a workplace accident may be afforded coverage under workers' compensation.
In 2007, a total of 5,488 fatal work injuries were reported in the United States.
Source: United States Department of Labor