From 2014 to 2015, the number of deaths in New York City’s construction industry climbed to 18—six more than the year before. No matter who you are or what you think, you can agree that this is a sharp increase in the number of people who lost their lives at work. The increasing number of job site deaths in New York City and around the country has shined a spotlight on job site safety and employer negligence. This new focus on safety and employer liability has caused many construction companies to re-evaluate their safety programs.
In July 2016, a Brooklyn construction company owner was indicted on manslaughter charges after a worker died on one of his job sites. The construction company owner had received regular warnings and fines since 2011 for his company's safety policies, but he still failed to make the required changes. Now that an employer has been indicted on such serious charges, the entire construction industry is starting to pay attention.
Since this is a topic of growing importance, and one that can get employers in a lot of hot water if they are ignorant of the laws, we will go over the basics of employer liability and how to establish a safety program that will keep your workers safe and keep you out of trouble.
Understanding Employer Liability
Understanding employer liability means understanding how a construction company is expected to reduce worker accidents and focus on job site safety. According to OSHA, an employer is responsible for identifying and preparing for hazards that are present on any job site. The employer is required to provide the proper safety equipment and protective gear, as well as ensuring that a current safety policy is in effect that thoroughly enforced.
Employers need to be aware that there are various types of violations that have different penalties and they range from:
- Other than serious violations: with a proposed penalty of up to $12,471 for each violation
- A serious violation, where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard: with a mandatory penalty of $12,471 for each violation
- Willful violation (a violation an employer knowingly commits): with a penalty of $124,709 for each willful violation
- Repeat violation: with a fine from $124, 709 for each similar violation
- Failure to abate prior violation: with a civil penalty of up to $12, 471 for each day the violation continues beyond the prescribed abatement
Unfortunately, not all employers are meeting those duties. One area of safety some employers are neglecting is doing a complete hazard assessment of a job site and using that assessment to keep workers safe. Hazard assessments are normally required by OSHA, but some employers treat them as optional, which puts employees at risk.
The most cited violations on work sites are:
- Fall protection
- Powered industrial trucks
- Hazard communication
- Respiratory protection
- Machine guarding
- Electrical wiring methods
The construction industry is beginning to realize that companies need to take safety seriously if they want to avoid large fines and potential legal battles. As I state on my website, BanvilleLaw.com, when it comes to legal battles, construction workers have every right to compensation after a workplace injury.
The companies that are habitual safety abusers are a very small minority, but even small or occasional oversights are a problem—it only takes one incident to cause serious injury to a worker.
The Makings of a Good Safety Program
The key to a good safety program is developing and utilizing a comprehensive hazard assessment for each job site. Each job is different, which means that your hazard assessment template should be flexible. But there are certain critical elements that need to be included in every hazard assessment if it is going to have value for your workers and your organization.
A good hazard program utilizes MSDS sheets so that every worker understands the hazards that onsite materials present. It’s also valuable to get information and input from employees who have real-world experience with those materials; they can sometimes identify hazards that would otherwise be overlooked. A general study of employee experience and where accidents normally happen in any given situation can offer workers the accurate safety information they need.
Each job site presents its own unique hazards, but common ones such as chemical and biological issues should be identified before work begins. It’s important to prepare for harmful vapors that can be generated on a job, as well as giving the proper kind of attention to situations that could result in serious cuts or other injuries.
If your job site includes confined spaces, then noise and gasses need to be taken into account. Before asking an employee to work in a confined space with odorless and colorless gas, there needs to be comprehensive safety procedures in place to ensure their protection.
A better hazard assessment results in a stronger safety program that keeps workers healthy and reduces the instances of employer liability issues. With the spotlight shining brightly on safety, construction companies all over the country are starting to pay more attention to hazard assessments and the kind of preliminary work that goes into keeping workers safe. Don’t wait until someone gets injured on your work site, perform an adequate hazard assessment to protect your workers and yourself.