Ironworker and Steelworker Injuries
Structural iron and steel workers install iron or steel beams, girders and columns to form buildings, bridges and other structures. They are commonly referred to as ironworkers or steel workers. Ironworkers perform physically demanding and dangerous work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), structural iron and steel workers held about 58,100 jobs in 2012.
About 44 percent were employed in the foundation, structure and building exterior contractors industry and about 23 percent were employed in nonresidential building construction. Iron and steel workers often work at higher elevations and are exposed to the elements. They face the risk of suffering serious or even fatal injuries.
Dangers Faced By Ironworkers on the Job
Ironworkers face numerous dangers while at work. In 2010, ironworkers topped the list of “America’s Top 10 Dangerous Jobs” list compiled by CNN. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the percentage of injuries to ironworkers is among the highest when compared to other occupations.
Often, ironworkers are required to assemble, erect and install large structures and typically work with heavy materials and sharp equipment. Ironworkers in New York City and elsewhere need to be physically fit and agile as they work and maintain their balance on high elevation scaffolding and platforms on sites such as skyscrapers or bridges. In New York, ironworkers are required under the law to use safety equipment such as harnesses and nets.
There are several types of injuries that iron and steel workers may suffer on the job:
Falls: Falling is one of the most prevalent dangers to ironworkers. If working several feet above the ground, ironworkers run the risk of losing their balance, slipping or tripping and falling. They can lose footing on surfaces made slick by rain or ice. They may trip and fall on construction site debris. They may even fall as a result of defectively or improperly installed scaffolding. These types of falls can result in death or catastrophic injuries such as brain and spinal cord trauma.
Amputations: Contact with sharp objects and equipment bring with them the danger of cuts and amputations. Metal shears used to cut iron or steel can result in catastrophic amputation injuries. Faulty power tools can also cause severe laceration injuries that could lead to amputations.
Head injuries: Falls often result in head injuries such as traumatic brain injuries or concussions. Recent studies have shown that concussions have the potential to cause permanent brain damage.
Broken bones: Fractures or broken bones are common injuries suffered by construction workers who fall. In some cases, broken bone injuries can become career threatening.
Burn injuries: Since iron and steel workers do a lot of welding on the job, they face the risk of suffering burn injuries. In addition, sparks that fly into eyes can cause serious damage or even loss of vision. Ironworkers are required to wear protective goggles, clothing and gloves to prevent these types of injuries.
Muscle injuries: Ironworkers are required to move heavy objects and equipment. Lifting and bending can lead to strained muscles or back injuries.
Struck-by injuries: Ironworkers can also become injured as a result of being struck by objects. These incidents tend to involve victims who are hit by construction materials such as rebar falling from elevations.
Impalement: There is the danger of workers getting impaled on unguarded ends of rebar or on forklift tines.
Common Causes of Ironworker Injuries
There are many factors that may cause or contribute to ironworkers getting seriously injured in construction site accidents. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), ergonomic injuries constituted 43 percent of ironworker injuries. Examples of ergonomic injuries among ironworkers include knee bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, elbow injuries and rotator cuff injuries. Other common causes of injuries include falls (19 percent), struck-by (17 percent) and caught in-between (5 percent). Here are just a few examples of the types of situations that may lead to major injuries for iron and steel workers.
- Collapse of unsecured open web steel joists.
- Lack of fall protection or fall arrest equipment.
- Collapse of steel columns, retaining walls or decks.
- Injuries from falling objects, tools and materials.
- Crushing injuries during hoisting and rigging operations.
- Electrical injuries and hazards.
- Impalement from unprotected projections.
- Heat illnesses.
- Toxic exposure to chemicals and other contaminants.
- Falls during installation of decking.
- Scaffold collapses.
Employers, whether they are a large construction company, a contractor or sub-contractor, are responsible for providing a safe environment for workers. They have a responsibility to scout the work area carefully for hazards such as loose power lines. They are responsible to ensure that employees not only have the necessary training to do their jobs, but also safety training. Workers must be provided with safety equipment such as helmets, goggles, gloves and vest. Anyone who is working above the ground must be provided with safety harnesses, which help prevent catastrophic falls. After any workplace accident, it is important to determine whether the accident occurred as a result of a safety violation.
Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigate workplace accidents. However, these investigations can take months or even years to complete. It is important for injured workers to have an experienced lawyer on their side who will stay abreast of the official investigation and ensure that their legal rights and best interests are protected.
Iron and steel are the backbone of buildings, bridges and other major structures. As ironworkers and steel workers hoist, maneuver, weld, rivet and bolt heavy columns and plates, it is important that they take the necessary safety measures. Falls are a serious hazard for ironworkers. It is essential that these workers get trained in a fall prevention program. They must make sure that they are wearing appropriate fall protection gear each and every time they work at heights. Make sure all of your fall protection gear is compatible, preferably from a single manufacturer.
Get training in your hoisting equipment and procedures. Inspect the hoisting gear and line each time you use them. Make sure that the load is even and securely fastened. Never operate a hoist if it is unsafe or if it is a shifting load. Practice worksite communication techniques often. Protect yourself and coworkers from falling objects. Make sure that the materials you are working with are properly secured. Use tool lanyards to ensure that they will not fall.
Always wear your hardhat and personal protective equipment including safety shows, goggles, gloves, life jackets, etc. If you are an ironworker, you also need hearing protection. In addition, as you are often exposed to the heat and cold, wear layers of appropriate clothing to protect yourself from the elements.
Workers’ Compensation and Third Party Claims
Injured ironworkers and steel workers may not be able to return to their jobs for a long time. Some may never be able to return to their physically demanding jobs as a result of their injuries. Injured victims can seek workers’ compensation benefits, which cover medical expenses and a portion of wages lost during recovery. However, in many cases, workers’ compensation is not nearly enough to adequately compensate an injured worker for the costs of the injuries, lost wages and pain and suffering. In many cases, including those involving injuries to iron and steel workers, there may be other avenues of recovering compensation in addition to workers’ compensation.
There are cases where ironworkers can file what is known as a “third-party claim.” These are claims that are filed against parties other than employers for significant money damages. Examples of third parties that may be responsible for an on-the-job accident include general contractors, sub-contractors, property owners, manufacturers of defective products, etc. For example, an iron or steel worker may become injured due to a defective, malfunctioning power tool. In such a case, the manufacturer of the faulty tool can be held liable. In another case, for example, an ironworker may suffer serious injuries after falling off a scaffold. If that incident was caused by a defective scaffold or poorly constructed scaffold, the entity responsible can be held accountable.
Compensation for Ironworkers
Injured ironworkers can seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to:
- Medical expenses: These include emergency room costs, hospitalization, surgeries, cost of medication, medical devices, etc.
- Lost wages: This includes all income that was lost as a result of the injury and the time the worker had to take off work to recover.
- Rehabilitation: Any type of therapy that is needed for the worker to regain the strength and mobility and return to the job. Ironworkers must be strong and agile to do their jobs. This means that a serious injury will put them out of work for months or even years. Rehabilitation including physical therapy can be extremely costly. Many of these types of expenses may not even be covered by the worker’s health insurance.
- Lost future income: If the worker has suffered catastrophic injuries such as a traumatic brain injury or limb amputation, he or she is also entitled to damages for lost future income and loss of his or her livelihood.
- Past and future pain and suffering: This includes the physical and emotional pain caused to the victim as a result of the injuries.
- Wrongful death: When a worker suffers fatal injuries on the job, his or her family can file a wrongful death claim seeking compensation for damages such as lost future income, pain and suffering, medical expenses, funeral costs, etc.
Reporting Unsafe Workplace Conditions
An unsafe worksite can have a tremendous impact on the life of an iron or steel worker. If you work at an unsafe construction site, you have the right to report those conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Act allows employees to withhold their names from their employers while filing a complaint – to help avoid retaliation.
OSHA will respond to the complaint with either an on-site or off-site investigation. Employees may also file a discrimination complaint if their employers retaliate against them for refusing to work in unsafe conditions or for exercising their rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. If you or your co-workers are facing unsafe conditions at the worksite, call your local OSHA office or (800)-321-OSHA (6742).
If You Have Been Injured
If you are an iron or steel worker who has been injured in a worksite accident, it is important that you report the incident to your supervisor right way. Get a copy of the incident report. Don’t decline medical attention at the scene. Go to the emergency room and a doctor if you have been injured – even if you believe that your injuries are minor. File for workers’ compensation benefits.
Make sure you go to an employer-specified doctor. Your employer may require you to see a certain doctor or physician. Keep a detailed record or log of all your expenses. Maintain a journal with specific details about your recovery process. Immediately after an accident, contact a New York personal injury lawyer who has experience handling workers’ compensation cases and third-party claims. Choose an attorney who has a successful track record with construction accident cases involving iron and steel workers.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction accident, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Our law firm recovered $3,375,576 for a construction worker who was injured on the highest construction case settlements in New York job – one of the in 2010, and the worker was an undocumented (“illegal alien”) person.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.
Other TOLL FREE phone numbers for us are:
1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES
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