What happens when OSHA gets involved in a construction accident case

What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace safety on construction sites. Officials conduct inspections on worksites to enforce administration standards and publish reports detailing workplace safety. OSHA is a federal agency, but most states collaborate with it to create state-specific plans. These states create standards that apply to federal and state workers. States that choose not to create independent plans must comply with federal OSHA standards. These only apply to private workers. Massachusetts does not have a state plan with OSHA, therefore OSHA federal regulations apply to private workers.

What happens when OSHA gets involved in a construction accident?

When an accident occurs on a construction worksite, workers typically file a claim for workers compensation. This is a no-fault remedy where no negligence needs to be shown for a worker to recover. In other words, even if your employer used the utmost care, you can still recover from the workers compensation fund. OSHA representatives may come to a worksite following an accident to determine if the employer followed the standards of the administration. A violation of OSHA standards can be strong evidence of negligence on the part of your employer. A court is more likely to find the employer at fault for the workers injury, which will allow them to recover in a personal injury case in addition to workers compensation.

The depth of OSHA investigations typically depends on the seriousness of the accident. Any incident that results in any fatality or leads to the hospitalization of multiple workers is considered high priority. Employers are required to report serious accidents to OSHA within eight hours. These incidents will often prompt an immediate investigation. Inspectors will begin by researching any history of accidents on the worksite and review the employer’s operations. Representatives will set up a phone interviews with the employer and will then visit the site and document any hazards.

Workers may also file a written complaint with OSHA if they believe their employer is not following standards. OSHA staff will determine if the complaint is worth inspecting. They will evaluate the likelihood that there is a violation of their standards or another hazard. If OSHA has reason to know that the employer is fixing the hazard, they may not find it necessary to investigate. Inspections will often be limited to hazards listed in the complaint, but other readily observable violations may be recorded as well. Because of the way it prioritizes reports, it may take a while for OSHA to investigate.

These are the OSHA classifications for prioritization:

  • Category 1: These reports require an OSHA inspection. They typically involve fatalities, the hospitalization of more than two workers, the injury of a minor, multiple injuries or offenses, and any imminent danger.
  • Category 2: These reports encourage but do not require an OSHA inspection. They involve hazards employees are exposed to, temporary worker injuries or illnesses, government referrals, worksites with prior inspection history, whistleblower claims, and injuries involving chemical exposures and heat stress.
  • Category 3: An inspection is not warranted for these reports. These involve reports that do include anything in the above categories.

What happens if OSHA finds a violation?

If OSHA finds a violation at a construction site it can have serious consequences on the employer. OSHA will send a letter to the employer asking what the cause of the violation was and why the conditions were present. The way an employer responds could significantly impact their consequences. An employer may be determined to have willfully ignored the hazard. This provides an avenue for workers to sue for personally injury instead of a traditional workers compensation claim.

If you or a loved one has been injured on the job and if you feel that the safety standards were not met, call the workplace injury lawyers of Altman & Altman LLP for a free initial consultation.

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