ARTICLE BY JAMES LO ESQ. of THE LAW OFFICES OF JAMES LO ESQ, PC
“The Hazards of Construction and How To Keep Workers Safe in a Dangerous Environment”
With the ongoing surge of new construction occurring in buildings, stores and homes throughout New York, many Chinese workers are finding ample work opportunities and enjoying economic prosperity. However this rosy picture is not without a dark side. Each year, many workers are seriously injured and even killed in construction accidents since construction sites can be very dangerous places. The accidents are made even worse by unscrupulous employers who take advantage of Chinese workers thinking they can pay them less and have less concerns for them when it comes to keeping them safe at a construction site.
There are many potentially dangerous things that could go wrong at a construction site that could put a worker at a big risk. Some of the risks faced by workers include falling from ladders or scaffolding at dangerous heights, being injured when lifting or moving heavy equipment, materials and supplies, being hurt while working with dangerous tools and equipment, working with electricity or hazardous materials, and being hit in areas with moving equipment and machines. Adding to these dangers are bosses who either fail to train the workers, instruct workers to perform dangerous tasks without proper training or proper safety equipment, or simply disregarding basic safety procedures at a jobsite.
Fortunately the laws in the United States protect the worker and promote workplace safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA is the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. Under federal law, a worker, regardless of immigration status, is entitled to a safe workplace. The employer must provide a workplace free of known health and safety hazards. If a worker has concerns, he or she has the right to speak up about them without fear of retaliation, or without fear that the worker will not get paid. The worker also has the right to:
- Be trained in a language he or she understands
- Work on machines that are safe
- Be provided required safety gear, such as gloves or a harness and lifeline for falls
- Be protected from toxic chemicals
- Request an OSHA inspection, and speak to the inspector
- Report an injury or illness, and get copies of the worker’s medical records
- See copies of the workplace injury and illness log
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses
- Get copies of test results done to find hazards in the workplace
Far too many workers do not complain about unsafe conditions at the job site, either because of fear of being reported to authorities since they are illegal and do not have legal immigration status, fear of retaliation, fear of being fired from the job or not getting paid, etc. And then the unthinkable happens – unsafe work conditions cause serious construction accidents, many of which result in workers becoming serious injured or killed. Medical bills and other out of pocket expenses for ongoing medical care and treatment become enormous and cause suffering, worry and financial hardship for the injured worker and their families.
In New York, the law favors and protects workers and emphasizes workplace safety, even for those workers who do not have legal immigration status. Therefore it is important to educate workers about their rights as well as workplace safety to avoid accidents and what to do in the event that a construction accident does occur. If an accident does happen, it is crucial that the injured worker contact a competent attorney who has experience in construction accidents so that not only can steps be taken to ensure that the worker’s hospital and or medical bills get paid, but that the injured worker is receives the proper medical care and that he or she receives the just financial compensation they deserve for their suffering and other losses.
For all workers, especially those who speak little to no English and are more likely than others to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers at construction sites, some helpful tips include but are not limited to the following:
- Be sure you are properly trained whenever you begin a new job or start to operate a new piece of equipment or machinery you never used.
- Report anything that you see at the worksite that appears unsafe or dangerous to your boss, the general contractor, the property owner and anyone in charge of the jobsite.
- Refuse to do anything on the jobsite that you consider or know is unsafe.
- Make sure you have working and appropriate safety gear and equipment before you start a job or task.
- Do not work in unsafe conditions, such as when it is too windy, raining or snowing and these conditions could cause a worksite to become very unsafe.
- Before you start the job, find out the exact street address of the construction site. If you cannot understand English, take many photographs of the worksite building or house, as well as the street signs and any other characteristics of the site of area. In many cases, the owner of the property will be responsible for workplace safety and if an accident does occur at the construction site.
- Before you start the job, find out the name and address of your employer and supervisor is. You can do this by asking him or her, taking photographs of signs on the construction fences or elsewhere on the jobsite, taking photographs or writing down the year, make, model and especially the license plate number of the vehicle which took you to and or from the job site. The more information the better as it will help you later on to identify who your employer is to file a Workers Compensation Claim. Workers Compensation claim is a no-fault system (meaning it does not matter who is at fault for the accident) that provides wage replacement benefits and lifetime medical care for work-related injuries and illnesses. All for-profit employers and most not-for-profit employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover all their employees. Workers compensation insurance covers all health care related to a workers injury, cash benefits of two-thirds your average weekly wage, up to a maximum, and travel expenses to and from health care appointments. There are many details and a time period after your accident in which you must apply for workers compensation, so it is urgent that an injured worker speak to a competent attorney who has experience in handling Workers Compensation cases.
- Before you start the job, or soon after you start, take photographs of any unsafe conditions you might see at the site, and report them to your boss. Keep the photographs for yourself.
- Before you start the job, or soon after you start, find out the names of all persons and any companies, corporations or entities who are performing work at the construction site. This especially includes who the general contractor of the job site is. The general contractor is generally responsible for the day-to-day oversight of a construction site, the management of the different subcontractors, vendors and trades, and the communication and coordination throughout the course of the construction and building project. This is important since in New York, the general contractor is responsible for the safety of the workplace. If you do not know who the general contractor is, at the least get the name or names of your supervisor and what company he or she works for.
If you are involved in a construction accident, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced attorney immediately, in order to advise you on and to protect your rights. You must know that the people or parties are likely to have insurance companies fight for them and therefore it is critical that you have an attorney fight for you. The Law Offices of James Lo Esq., PC has been fighting for justice on behalf of clients injured or killed due to someone else’s fault, and has recovered millions of dollars on their behalf. For a free initial consultation, please call (718) 567-7999.