This summer, a local construction worker in Woburn died when a 2,000-pound boulder fell and landed on top of him. He was working on the Woburn Public Library’s foundation as part of a multi-billion dollar renovation project. The cause is still under investigation by the Massachusetts State Police and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The construction worker was a husband, father of two daughters, a son and friend of many in his community. He was the ninth workplace death in 2017.
“We are deeply upset to hear about the death of another young construction worker,” Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOCH) Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Bozan said in a statement. “Every year we work with families who lost a loved one on the job. For many of us, we read about worker deaths in a passing paragraph in the news, but these families are affected by these tragedies for the rest of their lives.”
When compared to other states, Massachusetts has a low rate of workplace injuries below the national average. The most recent Occupational Safety and Health Statistics Program found that the State had 79,800 work-released injuries or illness. The majority of the injuries came from the private sector workforce. Of that number, 29,000 cases resulted in days away from work, and 6,800 cases forced a job transfer or restrictions on working ability. They might just look like numbers, but those numbers are people.
“Serious workplace injuries are far too common,” wrote Arbill CEO Julie Copeland on the company blog. “4,405 workers were killed on the job in 2013 while millions more suffered serious non-fatal injuries. Every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home. 3.3 million people suffer a workplace injury from which they may never recover.”
Arbill has been promoting workplace safety for more than 70 years, as well as being an industry leader for the education of workers about the proper protective equipment and their rights.
Workers Compensation in Death
Massachusetts workers are protected against costs incurred from an injury when the injury happens while on the job. The regulations that govern the payouts and the review process are overseen by the Massachusetts State Department of Industrial Accidents. In most cases, the Workers Compensation system will cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages from a workplace injury.
In the event of a death, death benefits can be paid out to dependents such as spouses and other family members, according to Section 31 of the Worker’s Compensation Law. Compensation for the widow or widower, for as long as they remain unmarried, can be up to two-thirds of the weekly wage of the worker.
Section 33 of the law adds “In all cases, the insurer shall pay the reasonable expenses of burial” up to a certain amount.
Worker’s Compensation can also cover medical expenses and care the injured worker received before they died that was the result of a workplace injury.
Common Workplace Injuries
“Of the 10 most common injuries on the job, the majority are those random incidents that can happen to anyone and at any time,” Copeland said.
Arbill’s Top 10 Most Common Workplace Injuries for the US were:
- Overexertion Injuries
- Falling From Heights
- Reaction Injuries (incurred while falling or slipping)
- Falling Object Injuries
- Walking Into Injuries (such as walls, cabinets, tables, etc.)
- Vehicle Accidents
- Machine Entanglement
- Repetitive Motion Injuries
- On the Job Violent Acts (from other employees or customers)
Locally, in Massachusetts, the list isn’t much different in the private sector.
- Overexertion and reaction injuries – 34.5%
- Falls, Slips, and Trips – 27.2%
- Contact with Objects or Equipment – 24.3%
- Workplace Violence – 5.6%
- Transportation Accidents – 4.2%
- Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments – 4.1%
- Fires and Explosions – 0.1%
The majority of injuries were in the service industry, transportation, and construction.
Construction Injuries Top Fatalities Lists
Accidents like those in Woburn have been on the rise with 2016 marking a 10-year high in the rate of workplace-related fatalities. Just 32 died in 2012 – seeing the death rate double in just four years.
The latest MassCOSH study showed that 70 Massachusetts workers died in 2016. 62 died on the job, many in construction and the rest were firefighters who died from “occupational illnesses”.
In a Boston Globe article, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health Co-Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb said “the rise in deaths reflects the increase in workers employed by subcontractors and staffing agencies that are less invested in worker safety.”
Responsibility of Employers Regarding Safety
“Not only is it the employer’s responsibility to ensure a safe work environment, each employee also has a responsibility to themselves to take caution when on the job,” Copeland said. Organizations like OSHA and the Massachusetts State Department of Industrial Accidents are in place to protect employers and employees. OSHA violations against employers can incur large fines for companies and are usually violations because they threaten either employee or public safety. Even if negligence is not involved, Worker’s Compensation can cover workplace injuries and costs. When negligence is involved, it’s even more important to discuss the situation with a lawyer.