Falling from heights is a leading cause of lost time for workers. While many workers fall while on the same level, such as when a worker slips and falls on a slick surface, falls from heights generally cause more serious injuries some of which may be permanent. The risk of dying due to falling from heights is dramatically higher than falling on the same level. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), falls from heights are the second leading cause of work fatalities – after motor vehicle accidents.
Falls from heights include falling from ladders, scaffolds, construction platforms, and machines and equipment that lift workers into the sky.
Which types of workers are most likely to cause falls to lower levels?
Some of the most dangerous occupations for falls from heights include the following:
- Construction work. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers. Workers can fall from scaffolds, cranes, trucks that raise tree workers to the highest parts of the trees, the roofs of homes and buildings, and due to many other reasons. Common types of construction workers who may fall to lower levels include roofers, painters, plumbers, landscapers, electricians, and many other types of contractors and subcontractors.
- Retail and warehouse work. Workers in these industries often have to climb ladders, stand on stools, and take other steps to store and retrieve inventory and goods located at high levels.
Other industries known for a high risk of falling from heights include manufacturing, agriculture, and other jobs.
What types of injuries do falls from workplace heights cause?
Many employees who fall from heights suffer severe injuries that may require surgery and usually require long-term rehabilitative care. Many workers lose weeks or months for treatment for their injuries. Some workers become permanently disabled.
Some of the common types of injuries workers who fall from heights suffer, according to the National Safety Council, include:
- Fractures, including, but not limited to severe ankle fractures
- Sprains, strains, and tears
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Amputations/loss of limb
- Spinal cord damage including the possibility of paralysis
- Back, neck, and shoulder pain
- Hip pain
In the most tragic cases, a worker dies due to falls to lower levels.
How can the risk of falling from heights be reduced?
Some of the safety measures employers and employees need to consider include:
- Fulling planning the job before doing any work. The plan should review what work will be done, who will do the work, what machines and tools will be used, what safety equipment is needed, and what other steps can be taken to reduce the risk of falls.
- “For example, in a roofing job, think about all of the different fall hazards, such as holes or skylights and leading edges, then plan and select fall protection suitable to that work, such as personal fall arrest systems (PFAs).”
- Reviewing any guidelines from OSHA to reduce the risk of falls to lower levels. The most important of these, is of course, that if the area in which you are working is six feet up or higher, you should have a qualified fall protection system and be tied off to proper anchorage with a safety harness and line at all times.
- Training the managers and workers about the possible risks of falls and how to manage those risks.
Other safety measures that employers and employees should take including:
- Inspecting all the equipment needed for the job before the workers use the equipment including ladders, harnesses, ropes, and scaffolds.
- Understanding the weight limits for ladders and scaffolds
- Understanding when it’s too windy or inclement to use ladders and scaffolds
- Using railings and guardrails
- Promptly cleaning areas with debris and areas that are wet
- Working on even ground as much as possible
- Having the workers use proper fall protection per OSHA Regulations
What benefits can workers who fall from heights receive?
In North Carolina and Virginia, workers are generally entitled to the following workers’ compensation benefits, assuming you have an accepted claim:
- Payment of medical bills. Workers’ compensation should pay for all your ER care, hospitalizations, surgeries, doctor visits, rehabilitative therapy, medications, and other medical care related to your work injury.
- Temporary disability benefits. Employees who are injured on the job should receive 2/3rds of their average weekly wages (some caps and limitations may apply) for up to 500 weeks while held out of work by his or her doctor, until the worker is released to his or her pre-injury work.
- Permanent partial disability benefits. Many workers who fall from heights have permanent injuries of specific body parts, even if the worker is able to return to full duty. These workers may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits which generally afford some additional benefits of the 2/3rds payment of the average weekly wage, even after the injured worker has returned to work. In order to receive this benefit, after reaching maximum medical improvement, the body part must receive a permanency rating by a qualified healthcare provider and your authorized treating physician. The rating is expressed as a percentage of impairment, which then translates into a number of weeks you are to be paid benefits.
Death Benefits for Workers Compensation in NC and VA
In the unfortunate event that the fall results in the death of the worker, there are death benefits available to the surviving dependents.
Generally, death benefits in North Carolina are paid in the following amounts to the eligible beneficiaries (the spouse, minor children, and people who qualify as dependents of the worker).
- Funeral and burial expenses up to $10,000
- 2/3rds of the decedent’s average weekly wages (subject to certain limits) for a minimum of 500 weeks. Minor children receive their share of the benefits up to the time they turn 18. It may be necessary for someone to be appointed the guardian ad litem of the child(ren) if the other parent is deceased or is otherwise unqualified.
- The widow/widower receives 2/3rds of the decedent’s average weekly wages until they die or remarry.
In Virginia, the death benefits are comparable to North Carolina. The funeral and burial expenses should be paid up to $10,000. The spouse, children, and dependents receive 2/3rds of the decedent’s average weekly wages for up to 500 weeks. The children receive benefits until they reach 18, unless they can show they are enrolled in school.
Experience matters. At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer has helped thousands of workers obtain strong recoveries. He’s been fighting for workers for 30 years. He’ll work with your doctors to show the type and severity of your injury. He’ll fight for all the compensation you deserve. To speak with a respected workers’ compensation lawyer, call lawyer Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295 or fill out my online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
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