Over the last year, we’ve all worried about COVID-19. The pandemic has affected every part of our lives. Family. Health. Work. Social Activities. Many families are struggling with the loss of a loved one. Many businesses and industries have also been devastated. But, one industry seems to be booming around Huntsville. That industry? Road construction.
A quick Google search produces numerous articles detailing the growth boom across northern Alabama. Many businesses and government agencies are planning moves to the Huntsville area. An al.com article in June 2020 notes how Huntsville started the last decade as the 4th largest city in Alabama but is expected to become the largest city within the next two years.
With growth comes increasing infrastructure demands. That means new construction. You can see new hotel and parking deck construction projects all around our office in downtown Huntsville. At its heart, infrastructure means roads. Throughout the Huntsville, Decatur and Athens area, you also see almost constant road construction. Road crews are working to build the additional infrastructure needed for expected growth. These crews have remained busy throughout the pandemic.
If you are curious about local roadway projects, the City of Huntsville provides a map on its website HERE. The broader Huntsville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization also provides a map of current and planned projects.
Highway Workers Suffer A Higher Rate Of Car Crash Injuries In Alabama
A 2019 article details that 73% of highway contractors in Alabama reported a vehicle crashed into their work zones during the prior year. That’s a huge problem. The national average is a terrible 67%. Yet, Alabama is even worse.
Statistics don’t tell us the human story. Last year, our office resolved an accident case where a construction worker in Madison suffered a permanent and disabling brain injury when struck by a car. Following the crash, the worker spent almost a month in intensive care at Huntsville Hospital. He’s now at home. But, he will never work again. He requires nursing care. His family had to modify their home to accommodate his needs. The driver who hit him had very little liability insurance. While we were successful in winning lifetime work comp benefits and in making the work comp carrier pay for his care and home modifications, his health was priceless compared to the benefits available. If we can stop any injury by following safety procedures, we should.
Any industry that suffers injury-related accidents on the majority of its work sites faces a real safety issue. Any industry (and there are many) where workers put their lives on the line simply doing their job, deserves proper safety planning. We need to plan and prepare for these workers to perform their jobs safely. We need to plan and prepare for the drivers navigating these work zones to do so safely.
Highway Work Zones Require Safety Protection
Some road construction areas look chaotic. They should not be. A few simple steps can help improve safety and reduce the likelihood of serious injury. Here are a few important safety steps:
- Designate A Job Site Safety Officer. I’ve seen too many injuries on construction sites where the contractor did not designate a person for this specific role. In those cases, it’s often unclear who is responsible. When roles are unclear, the frequent result is that nobody handles the task. When that happens, potential safety issues are missed.
- Designate A Site Specific Safety Plan. Several years ago, I tried a construction injury case where the general contractor produced thousands of documents involving production and payment. Yet, not a single page included a site specific safety plan. The company was concerned with one thing — getting paid. The company did not plan for the unique tasks or equipment on the site. As a result, my client fell over 20 feet and suffered disabling personal injuries. Plan for the specifics of your site.
- Start Each Day With A Full Team Safety Meeting. A safety plan that nobody sees or implements is worthless. Each day, the contractor should have a short meeting with the entire crew to discuss the tasks expected.
- Control Traffic Flow. Flaggers. Barrels. Cones. Signs. On a busy highway, drivers have very little time to understand and react. Construction contractors need to plan for traffic so that vehicles flow safely around the site.
- Ensure All Workers Have A Clean Line Of Sight. Road construction crews work around moving cars. They need a clean line of sight so they can see oncoming traffic. Drivers need to see crew members as well.
- Provide Personal Protective Equipment. Over the last twenty years, I’ve been constantly amazed at how often contractors fail to provide or require protective equipment. Often, it’s very simple equipment that could easily save lives. Workers deserve proper safety equipment.
Alabama Construction Workers Are Entitled To Compensation For Their Personal Injuries
Work zone accidents and injuries raise unique issues. If injured, you may have several different legal claims.
You will likely have a workers’ compensation claim against your employer. In Alabama work comp situations, the employer picks the treating doctor. You need legal counsel who understands how to navigate the system for medical benefits under our comp laws. Knowledge of the medical benefit system is key to getting the treatment you need for healing and rehabilitation.
On some construction sites, you may have more than one contractor. You may be injured because another contractor or its employees acted negligently. In most situations, the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act prohibits you from suing your own employer for money beyond work comp benefits. But, you may have a claim against another company. You are absolutely allowed to sue other negligent parties. Multi-contractor sites often present issues related to safety rules and safety planning. Again, you need legal counsel who understands the safety rules applicable to employers on these sites.
Third, you may have a claim against the driver who struck you. You may have a car accident injury claim. Did the driver act negligently? Did the driver act recklessly? Was the driver distracted by his or her cell phone? Car accident claims in this situation often require investigation and a knowledge of complicated subrogation law which impacts your recovery. When you are hurt on the job and sue someone outside your employer, our courts often refer to this as a third-party claim. The last thing you need is a billboard or television lawyer who quickly settles your car accident case only to learn you must pay all your proceeds over to the work comp insurer or some health insurer! A lawyer who understands the unique rules applicable to these claims can best maximize the recovery you receive.
If you have questions about the relationships or claims on a construction site, let us know. We are happy to answer your questions or provide strategic advice.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps people across Alabama following a serious personal injury. Consultations are always free and confidential.