Worker safety is far too often a one-way street. Following a major injury or workplace death, families are left to pay the long-term price. On the other hand, the cost to companies is often small and short-term.
The latest Congressional proposal is a prime example of unfairness for workers. Our leaders are currently proposing massive spending for infrastructure. Who pays for the infrastructure improvements? We do. The money comes from taxes paid by workers. Don’t get me wrong — We need infrastructure improvements. I support improving our failing roadways and bridges. It takes both money and labor to accomplish that task. While using our tax money for the work, Congress also wants to use our labor with no regard for worker safety. How? Certain leaders in Congress are proposing to alter Federal law in an effort to provide greater protection for their construction industry friends. That’s wrong.
I’ve already seen the worst when it comes to safety on Federally-funded projects. I previously represented a steel worker who fell over 20 feet on a construction site at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. My client lived. But, the fall left him permanently disabled. After being hired in that case, we began a thorough investigation. What we found was beyond disturbing. We discovered a general contractor with no regard for site safety. We discovered a general contractor with no safety plan for the equipment or process at issue. Interestingly, the general contractor advertised its “safety awards” on its corporate website. These fake safety awards looked pretty on the internet – with pictures of nice trophies. Yet, at trial the contractor’s executive admitted its fake safety awards just considered the safety of site management (not the actual laborers). It was all a sham. We also learned that safety is really not a factor when hiring site contractors.
Congressional leaders are now proposing Federal standards for fall-related injuries on infrastructure sites with any Federal funding. That’s basically every major infrastructure site in every state. What road or bridge project does not use some Federal dollars? This proposal would alter any state tort laws that impose strict liability for falls. This proposal would also alter any state tort laws to impose a comparative liability standard.
Last month, the Center for Justice and Democracy (CJD) sent a letter to Congress opposing this vast Federalization of state tort law. Here is what the CJD said:
H.R. 3808 directly tramples on a state’s right to decide what’s best for its workers and residents regarding the responsibility of local contractors and building owners to ensure safe construction sites. It would overturn traditional state common law and interfere with a state’s right to establish tort remedies, one of the most basic and traditional of state functions. Please oppose this harmful legislation.
Numerous worker and safety groups signed the CJD letter. Fall risks are a leading cause of injuries and deaths on construction sites. It’s a topic we’ve addressed on this blog several times.
On large projects, fall risks can easily be prevented by a general contractor that makes site safety a primary goal. Unfortunately, too many large contractors care more about production. These companies take their supervisory authority seriously when it comes to setting deadlines and pushing various subcontractors for maximum work. Yet, they often neglect the same supervisory authority over site safety. Although neglecting that role, these contractors quickly try to blame the worker or another subcontractor for any serious accident or injury.
Safety of our workers should be a primary goal for our Congressional leaders. Yet, it is not. Corporate immunization for wrongdoing seems to be their primary concern. Don’t forget — The same officials who campaigned on a platform of reducing Federal authority are readily proposing an expansion of that authority to immunize corporate wrongdoing. The hypocrisy should be evident to all.
Alabama workers’ compensation laws and our tort laws governing negligence for a personal injury provide important protections for injured workers. These protections are necessary for working Alabama families. They are also necessary to provide accountability for companies that create unsafe workplaces.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, our lawyers have represented injured men and women across northern Alabama for many years. We have frequently handled cases involving severe injuries or deaths on construction and industrial projects. These cases can involve complex issues related to workers’ compensation benefits as well as damages for a personal injury. We have prepared these cases from the initial investigation, through a trial and even on appeal. If you have questions, we are happy to discuss the issues with you.