In March, a roofer working on a house in Merrimack Valley suffered critical injuries when he fell headfirst off a ladder. The worker was wearing a safety harness, but was not clipped into a safety rope. Standard practice at that site was not to attach to the safety rope until a worker reached the roof. The injured worker was carrying materials up a ladder, stepped incorrectly on rungs between the second and third floors, and landed on his head. His coworkers were not nearby. Officers who arrived on the scene found him bleeding with strained breathing.
Injuries arising from roofing practices are very common in workers’ compensation cases. The U.S. Bureau of Labor has found that the work-related injury rate for roofers is higher than the injury rate in most other occupations. Roofing work is strenuous, involving climbing, bending, and heavy lifting. In another case in March, a steelworker fell twenty feet from the roof. Although he and his coworker (who also fell) were wearing safety harnesses, his safety harness snapped.
Falls are the most common reason for worker fatalities on construction sites in the United States. Every year, an average of between 150 and 200 workers die and over 100,000 experience injuries as a result of these falls. As a result, OSHA regulations surrounding ladder use and fall protection are comprehensive. OSHA recognizes that falls arise from complex human and equipment-related issues.
Among the detailed OSHA rules are specific instructions for fall protection systems. To avoid falls, employers are supposed to use proper construction and installation of safety systems, supervise employees, use safe work procedures, and train workers in selection, use and maintenance of fall protection systems. OSHA mandates fall protection at these areas: roofing, holes, ramps, runways, walkways, excavations, hoist areas, formwork, unprotected sides and edges, bricklaying, concrete erection, among others.
Before sending out roofers and other construction workers who may be exposed to falls to perform their work on a particular site, employers are required to assess the site to see if all the surfaces have enough structural integrity to support workers. If the potential is to fall 6 or more feet from an unprotected side or edge, for example, the employer must put in place a guardrail system, safety net system or personal fall arrest system. Alternatively employers must put in place a warning line system plus a guardrail system or a warning line system plus a safety net system, or a warning line system and a personal fall arrest system, or a warning line system and safety monitoring system.
Each of the fall protection systems must also meet detailed criteria to be OSHA-compliant. For example, personal fall arrest systems (such as the harnesses involved in the accidents described above) involve an anchorage, connectors, a body harness or belt, and other forms of protection such as a deceleration device. If a harness system is involved, it is expected to limit the arresting force on the worker to 1800 feet and limit a fall so that the employee cannot free fall more than 6 feet or hit the ground. OSHA mandates that fall protection systems must be inspected before use.
If you have suffered an injury in the workplace, we can help you resolve the legal issues that arise in this context so that you can rest and recover. If you are concerned about your employer’s workers’ compensation coverage, ask the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneysat Kantrovitz & Associates what you should do. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.