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Why We Have Worker Safety Standards In America

Worker safety is important for our families, our communities and the long-term economic growth of our nation. A recent scaffold collapse in China highlights the importance of workplace safety standards. According to CNN, a scaffold/work platform built to help workers repair a Chinese power plant recently collapsed, killing at least 74 people. The New York Times also reported the tragedy, describing the scene more graphically:

Dozens of workers were crushed to death under an avalanche of scaffolding, cement and steel rods in southeast China.

The New York Times article continues by describing other recent huge Chinese industrial accidents including (1) an explosion at a chemical warehouse killing 173 people; and, (2) a landslide at a construction site killing at least 73 people. In China,

tens of thousands of work-related deaths still occur in mines and factories, at building sites and on the roads every year.

Do we have needless workplace injuries and deaths in America? Yes. But, we don’t suffer the same huge number of workplace accidents in this country. And, we certainly don’t have the same number of catastrophic events with mass injuries and deaths.

Why do we suffer fewer workplace tragedies? Needless industrial tragedies were commonplace in America over a 100 years ago. The early history of industrial cities like Birmingham reveals a disregard for worker safety that was once commonplace in our country. In the steel mills and other plants of early Birmingham, workers were frequently left maimed and disabled with no basic help.

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Alabama and other states enacted workers’ compensation laws to provide basic medical and disability benefits to hurt workers. I have been handling workers’ compensation claims for over twenty years. It has been difficult to watch the recent trend of our legislature and court weakening these benefit laws. Because benefits are too little for hurting families, our law firm philosophy is to fight hard to get our clients all the compensation legally available to them.

In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, the Federal government has also enacted important workplace safety standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces important safety regulations. These standards for industrial and construction sites help prevent needless events like scaffold failures, trench collapses, electrocutions and chemical explosions. Each of the mass Chinese workplace tragedies I mentioned earlier was easily preventable through basic safety standards.

Are our OSHA safety standards always followed? No. Does the system catch all unsafe workplaces? No. The system is far from perfect. Over the years of our law practice, we have helped many clients hurt when companies failed to follow basic safety standards. A few examples:

  • Two electrical workers struck by a crane at a Decatur plant because management refused to perform basic lock out/tag out steps for the crane’s power source.
  • A boilermaker hurt and disabled in a gas explosion at a plant because the facility did not perform basic steps to keep two volatile chemicals from mixing.
  • A Huntsville construction worker who fell and suffered a disabling injury when his mobile platform was struck. The general contractor failed to conduct any activity hazard analysis on the site exposing all the workers to significant safety risks.
  • A Decatur construction worker injured in a fire because the general contractor ignored fire prevention standards and even failed to have working fire extinguishers.

These examples all share a common cause — the primary employer or contractor neglected simple safety standards. These examples also share a common result — the accident caused a valued worker to suffer tremendous personal injury and long-term disability. Safety standards are not always followed. But, regular inspection and enforcement efforts by OSHA and other agencies help keep our workplaces much more safe.

We need basic workplace safety standards. In prior articles, I’ve asked whether or not workplace safety is truly a priority? The cost of severe injuries, disabilities and deaths from workplace accidents is a tremendous burden on families and their communities. In anotherĀ prior article, I noted a study showing the yearly cost of work-related illnesses and injuries in our country is over $250 Billion. Our firm will continue to fight for our clients hurt on the job. We believe hurt workers need a strong advocate to obtain all the compensation available for themselves and their families. We also believe in advocating for better safety in all areas — the workplace, on our highways and with the products we use daily.