Construction industry on the rebound, but so are worker deaths

Construction is picking up again after a few slow years in during the economic downturn. While this is good news for construction workers and for the overall economy, it is tinged with bad news as well: Fatal work-related accidents among construction workers are on the rise, according to the AFL-CIO.

After several years of steady decline, the fatality rate in the U.S. construction industry jumped to 9.9 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2012, the AFL-CIO report shows. The year before, the construction industry rate was substantially lower at 9.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. Often, fatalities among construction workers are caused by falls.

Minimizing falls by reducing ladder use

Across all industries, about one in every five workplace fall injuries involves a ladder. In 2011, a total of 113 workers were killed in falls from ladders, and 34,000 more were injured seriously enough to require emergency medical treatment, according to a study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. To help minimize falls at construction sites and other work areas, NIOSH researchers recommended using alternatives to ladders whenever possible.

Although some ladder use is inevitable in many building projects, there are ways to cut down on unnecessary ladder use even if it cannot be completely eliminated. For instance, it is often possible to complete some or all of the work at ground level, or to provide workers with alternative means of elevation, such as scaffolding or aerial lifts.

When ladders must be used, they should be appropriately matched to the job, location and the physical characteristics of the worker. In addition, ladders should be equipped with proper safety accessories, and all workers should be trained in ladder safety.

Injured workers are entitled to benefits regardless of fault

The Wisconsin workers' compensation system follows a no-fault structure, which means that injured workers are generally entitled to benefits regardless of who is at fault for causing an injury or illness. In other words, there is typically no need to prove that the employer acted negligently in order for the worker to obtain benefits.

In fact, in most cases, workers are even entitled to receive benefits for injuries that result from their own mistakes or carelessness. The tradeoff is that Wisconsin workers are barred from suing their employers for work-related injuries and illnesses except under certain limited circumstances.

If you or a family member has been hurt on the job or suffered a work-related illness in Wisconsin, a lawyer with a background in workers' compensation law can advise you of your legal rights and help you understand the options that are available for your specific situation.