We have all looked forward to Spring this year, waiting for those snowbanks to finally melt so we can drive and walk and ride our bikes more easily. But we will face other challenges soon as construction projects return to the roads.
National Work Zone Awareness Week is now being observed by safety officials across the country. The annual campaign is held at the start of construction season to encourage safe driving through highway work zones and construction sites. The goal is to protect drivers, passengers, construction workers and others from injuries.
- Drivers and passengers are at the greatest risk in a construction zone, accounting for an average of 85 percent of the deaths in highway work zone crashes, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).
- In 2010, 576 people died in work zone crashes, the equivalent of one work zone fatality every 15 hours in this country, according to FHA.
- Construction workers face many risks on highway work zones. In 2013, 105 construction workers died at road construction sites in this country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other injuries are not included in this figure.
- Transportation accidents accounted for 66 percent of roadway work zone fatal occupational injuries in 2013. In 69 percent of these cases, a pedestrian worker was struck by a vehicle. Backing vehicles out accounted for 27 of the 48 pedestrian vehicular accidents.
Safety Reminders for Drivers
- Move Over. It’s the law in Massachusetts and most other states. Make sure you move over when you see construction signs and lights. And if additional room is not available, slow down.
- No Speeding. In Massachusetts, you can face double the original fine for speeding in a work zone and cause a serious car accident.
- No Distracted Driving. Pay extra attention to the roads as you travel through work zones; reduce distractions in your car from information systems and passengers.
- No Cell Phone Use. Eliminate distracted driving. Do not use your cell phone to text, check e-mail or social media. If you need to use your phone, use a hands-free system.
- Expect the Unexpected. You may not have any notice of a work zone until you are stuck in it. Be patient and be prepared to follow the signs and traffic cops and flaggers. This may mean not following the traffic signals at times.
- Pay Attention to the Signs and Look for Alternate Routes. Look for signs which direct you to detour routes and share other important information. Do not use your GPS until you are safely outside of the construction work zone.
- Mass511. The state’s traffic information system may help you avoid construction areas. Visit the webpage or call.
Safety Reminders for Pedestrians
- Use crosswalks in construction areas if it is safe to do so. If not, follow pedestrian pathways which have been marked by the construction operation.
- Watch how traffic flows before you step out into the street. You may be able to identify a safer path.
- If you know you will be walking through a work zone, consider carrying a neon glow vest and wear it as you cross a street. You want to stand out to road traffic, police officers and flaggers and the construction crew.
Safety Reminders for Cyclists
- Cyclists want to learn about roadway construction ahead of time. After all, there is nothing much worse than a mile of recently milled black top to shake your fillings loose. Call the local town or city hall or call the Mass511 service.
- Some of the cycling clubs in the Boston area also do a good job of alerting members of safety issues. One popular source of information is the Charles River Wheelmen’s safety articles. Look for cycling clubs in your area and ask if they offer a members forum or a newsletter.
Safety Reminders for Construction Workers
- Be vigilant about following OSHA and other safety procedures of your profession.
- If you are working on foot, make sure you are always aware of any vehicles around you and where there are flaggers and traffic cops.
- National Work Zone Awareness Week.
- Highway Work Zone Accidents, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A new report shares hard numbers for Massachusetts workers. In 2013, 50,000 workers were seriously injured on the job and 48 others were killed in workplace accidents. An estimated 480 workers also died from occupational disease, such as cancer from workplace exposure to hazardous materials.
The 2014 “Dying for Work in Massachusetts” report has been released by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, which organize the annual Workers’ Safety Memorial Day. On April 28, workers, families of victims, advocates and state officials gathered at the Massachusetts State House for the 26th annual observance.
48 Workers Killed in 2013. The construction industry remains one of the most dangerous, with 11 workers killed in construction accidents in 2013. Workplace falls killed nine workers, causing one-fifth of all occupational fatalities in Massachusetts. Nine other Massachusetts workers were killed by machines and equipment. Workplace violence took the lives of five more workers, including a teacher, a police officer, a livery driver and two store workers.
Commercial fishing accidents killed two fishermen. MassCOSH considers this to be the most dangerous single occupation in Massachusetts. Since 2000, 60 people have died in this work.
The figure also includes nine firefighters who were killed by work-related cancers and heart disease and three servicemen who died in the War in Afghanistan.
Occupational Disease. MassCOSH reports on occupational disease which can develop after an employee is exposed to hazardous materials and dangerous dust. Because symptoms do not immediately present, some conditions are left untreated. Statewide, 480 workers died from occupational disease last year, while another 1,800 were diagnosed with cancers for the first time.
Immigrant Workers. More immigrants died at work last year. In 2012, nine percent of on-the-job deaths were immigrants. In 2013, this figure increased to 19 percent – or nine workers. MassCOSH reports the state’s immigrant workers come from all over the world, including Sir Lanka, El Salvador, India, Angola, Vietnam, Ireland, Cape Verde and Algeria.
Older Workers Face Greater Risk. Workers over age 40 were also at greater risk. The average age of workers who died was 49. The majority – 56 percent – were age 50 or older. Workers over age 60 accounted for 17 percent workplace deaths and construction accident deaths.
OSHA Would Need 123 Years to Fully Investigate in Massachusetts. MassCOSH says OSHA lacks proper funding to investigate and with current resources, would need over 123 years to investigate every Massachusetts workplace under its jurisdiction.
Fines Are Too Small. MassCOSH says fines do little to deter companies from taking safety risks. In 2013, OSHA investigated the deaths of four workers in Massachusetts. All but one settled for $10,000 or less, with an average fine of $6,577.
To learn more, read the MassCOSH annual report, “Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces.” Page 9 is an “In Memoriam” tribute to the workers who died in 2013.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
The Boston injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck support MassCOSH in its work to strengthen laws for worker safety. Our attorneys have over 100 years combined experience representing injured individuals in Massachusetts, including those who have been seriously injured or killed in construction accidents. If you or a loved one have been injured, it is important to learn your rights. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1277 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
A new pilot study measures the physical and emotional toll on New England’s construction workers – and researchers say more investigation is needed.
Construction workers face a high risk of physical injury on the job. In 2011, these workers accounted for 12 percent of all workplace deaths in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Construction accidents and injuries can happen when employers or construction site managers are negligent in complying with OSHA and other safety regulations, fail to properly staff a job or do not provide the necessary training.
The new study from Harvard School of Public Health shows 20 percent of the construction workers surveyed showed signs of being at risk for suicide. More than 40 percent had suffered one or more workplace injuries in the prior month.
The study was published online Oct. 1 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers say the findings show more detailed studies are needed to provide a better understanding of the high frequency of construction injuries and how they relate to mental distress. Researchers also want to focus on increasing literacy rates among construction workers and preventing suicide and suicide attempts.
In August 2012, the researchers surveyed 172 New England construction workers whose average age was 41 years old. They were questioned about psychological distress, depression, anxiety, job satisfaction, musculoskeletal use, injuries and alcohol and tobacco use.
Of these workers, 75 percent had experienced musculoskeletal pain over the past three months. In the month prior, 42 percent had reported one or more work injuries. When researchers followed up by phone with workers who fit the criteria for depression, 20 percent showed signs of being at risk for suicide. Some 16 percent reported they were distressed but the majority – nearly 60 percent – had sought no professional help.
When proper precautions are not taken, construction workers face numerous risks for physical injury and death. The most common causes are falls, electrocution, being struck by an object and being caught in or between equipment and buildings, according to the BLS. Nearly three out of every five construction workers are killed by one of these causes.
Here in Massachusetts
Here in Massachusetts, construction workers face the same risks. In 2012, 32 workers died on the job, including six construction workers, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), which reports figures annually each spring.
Over the summer, the state saw three tragedies. In August, a tree worker died from burn injuries in Holliston, after coming into contact with live wires. A week earlier, another tree worker suffered serious electrical burns in Chelmsford when he was hit by branches and live wires. In July, a 26-year-old construction worker was killed at a Plymouth construction site when a concrete form collapsed and crushed him beneath wooden frames.
MassCOSH is starting to collect new data on other risks to construction and other workers. In its most recent “Dying for Work” publication, it reported 320 Massachusetts workers died from occupational diseases. It estimated asbestos exposure caused over 90 deaths that year.
Construction workers struggle with pain, stress from injuries, Harvard School of Public Health.
Dying for Work in Massachusetts, April 28, 2013, MassCOSH
Fifty eight workers lost their lives on the job last year in Massachusetts. The average fine in closed investigations into those deaths was less than $7,000.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released the figure in its annual report at Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28. In “Dying for Work in Massachusetts,” the group reported firefighters and construction workers again account for the majority of workplace deaths in Massachusetts. The group called for reforms such as strengthening OSHA regulations to prevent construction accidents and passing new state laws to protect temporary workers.
“It is deplorable that so many workers still die or are severely injured in workplace accidents,” said Boston personal injury lawyer David White of Breakstone, White & Gluck. “Employers must be held accountable when they fail to follow safety requirements and cause injuries or deaths.”
Breakstone, White & Gluck is a proud sponsor of MassCOSH, an organization with a great reputation for protecting workers and improving workplace safety.
In 2011 in Massachusetts, the average fine in the death of a worker was $6,490. MassCOSH said this low cost encourages employers to disregard OSHA regulations.
The group noted there is no consistent trend in the number of worker deaths. But in 2011, the number of workers lives’ lost rose 11, up from 47 in 2010.
Thirteen firefighters died in 2011, two as the result of injuries sustained while responding to fires. Another firefighter was crushed while performing routine vehicle maintenance. Ten others died due to work-related cancer and heart disease.
Construction accidents accounted for eight wrongful deaths. Deaths were also reported in the human services and commercial fishing industries.
MassCOSH reports workers are dying in four ways: motor vehicle accidents and incidents; construction falls; workplace violence and drowning. Falls from ladders, roofs and trees accounted for 20 percent of all workplace deaths. Construction accidents were involved in 14 percent of workplace deaths, including three men who were killed in electrocutions and explosions.
The advocacy organization for workers’ rights is calling on state and federal lawmakers to make a number of changes. These include:
Proposed Changes at the Federal Level:
- Strengthen OSHA regulations, with one measure including criminal prosecution.
- Overhaul OSHA’s system for regulating toxic chemicals.
- Better protect immigrant workers by increasing the number of bilingual investigators.
- Improve whistleblower protections.
Proposed Changes at the State Level:
- Full implementation of Executive Order 511, so all state agencies have committees which ensure national health and safety standards are being met.
- Make improvements to Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws so coverage is provided to all injured workers.
- Pass the “Temporary Worker Right to Know Law,” which would increase state oversight and ensure that temporary workers are provided written notice of job assignments, supervisors, wages and other key details.
Ruling Confirms Rights of Injured Workers to Bring Third Party Claims Against General Contractor after Receiving Workers’ Compensation Insurance
The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today affirmed the right of an employee of an uninsured subcontractor to bring third party claims against the general contractor, even if the general contractor has made workers’ compensation payments pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 18. The case was an important victory for workers injured in construction accidents.
The case arose from an explosion on a residential construction site. The explosion killed a worker and seriously injured his son, who was also working at the site. Both men were employed by Great Green Barrier Co., which did not have workers’ compensation insurance. As a result, pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 18, the general contractor, Henry C. Becker Custom Building Ltd., was liable for the workers’ compensation obligations. This obligation arises under the policy in Massachusetts that a general contractor is responsible to hire only subcontractors which have workers’ compensation insurance available for their employees.
The defendant argued that the statutory scheme prevented the plaintiffs from making third party claims once they had accepted lump sum workers’ compensation settlements pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 23, which ordinarily bars workers from maintaining negligence claims against their employers if they have accepted workers’ compensation benefits. While this argument had persuaded the trial court, which granted summary judgment for the defendant, the ruling had been overturned by the Appeals Court. Wentworth v. Henry C. Becker Custom Bldg. Ltd, 76 Mass.App.Ct. 507 (2010).
The SJC granted further appellate review and affirmed the Appeals Court ruling, which reversed the summary judgment for the defendant.