Our thoughts and good wishes are with the 8 workers who were injured because of the collapse of scaffolding at a construction site at McDowell High School in Marion this week. That incident has triggered an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the North Carolina Department of Labor. According to the Asheville Citizen Times, it could take weeks or months before the investigation determines whether workplace violations contributed to or caused this incident.
Fines for workplace safety violations are supposed to act as a deterrent to make sure companies will provide a safe work environment for employees. However, a 2008 investigative report by The Charlotte Observer found declining inspections and weak enforcement of regulations in North Carolina. In addition, it found that fines for violations in North Carolina can sometimes be minimal. The report showed that fines for serious violations in North Carolina were often half the national average.
A report this year by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health titled North Carolina Workers Dying For A Job, found that in cases where workers died on the job and the employer was cited for at least one violation, the median fine was $3,250.
Beam Construction, head of the project at McDowell High School where these 8 workers were injured, was fined $1,300 in 2009 for a violation deemed serious by the Department of Labor. The Asheville Citizen Times reports that the violation, one of five against Beam Construction that year, was for “duty to have fall protection.” Three of the five citations were dropped in an informal settlement.
The report from the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health also estimates that far more workers die on the job in North Carolina each year than are reported by the N.C. Department of Labor. The report estimates that at least 83 workers died on the job in 2011 while the NC Department of Labor put the number at 53. Part of the reason for the difference according to the report is that The NC Department of Labor does not count vehicle accident and workplace violence related deaths nor does it count the deaths of the self-employed.
Meantime, what about the workers hurt in this scaffolding collapse? Depending on their injuries they may not be able to work for days, weeks, months or ever again. The type of injury they have determines which of the three type of Workers Compensation Benefits they may be eligible for. These may include weekly checks for missed work, coverage for medical expenses and payment for permanent injury.
North Carolina Lawmakers made extensive changes recently in workers compensation laws including limiting how long a person may receive workers compensation benefits. The limit for temporary total or temporary partial disability compensation is 500 weeks. However, an injured worker may qualify for extended or other compensation under certain circumstances.
If you have been injured at work and have questions call Grimes Teich Anderson LLP today at 800-533-6845. There is no fee to discuss your case and, exclusive of case costs, there’s never a fee unless you’ve been paid.