In Alabama, where many industries rely on ladders and scaffolding, accidents are an unfortunate and often devastating reality for workers. Whether it’s a painter touching up a two-story residence, an electrician repairing an overhead line, or a construction worker assembling a high-rise building, the danger of a debilitating fall is ever-present. From broken bones and concussions to life-altering spinal cord injuries, the aftermath of these falls can be catastrophic.
Thankfully, most Alabama workers who find themselves victims of these accidents are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. This critical support system is designed to provide financial relief for medical bills, lost wages, and other burdens that injured workers shouldn’t have to bear alone.
Unfortunately, navigating the complexities of a workers’ compensation claim can be daunting. This article will help you understand your rights after an accident with a ladder or scaffolding and explain how to file a claim for maximum workers’ comp benefits.
Ladder accident statistics
Ladder accidents are common occurrences in the workplace and at home. In 2017 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 500,000 people were treated for ladder-related injuries across the U.S., and more than 300 people died from their injuries.
When looking at these accidents in the workplace, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were 22,710 nonfatal injuries attributable to ladder accidents in 2020. The highest number of such injuries (5,790) occurred in the occupations of installation, maintenance, and repair, while construction occupations accounted for 5,370 ladder injuries.
In that same year, there were 161 deaths from ladder-related accidents at work. Most of those (105) involved movable ladders.
The annual cost to the U.S. economy from ladder injuries is estimated to exceed $24 billion, according to the CDC. Those costs include productivity loss, medical, legal, liability, and pain and suffering expenses.
Common jobs that require work on ladders or scaffolding
- HVAC technicians
- Maintenance workers
- Home inspectors
- Solar panel installers
- Drywall installers
Most common injuries that result from ladder and scaffolding accidents
Injuries resulting from working at height accidents tend to be catastrophic in nature and often require lifelong medical care. The most common injuries after falls from ladders or scaffolding include the following:
- Bruises and contusions
- Internal bleeding
- Internal organ damage
- Crushed or compressed limbs leading to amputations
- Death (in severe cases)
While these injuries can vary in severity from minor to life-threatening, they are not always immediately evident, despite many of them requiring immediate medical attention.
Alabama worker dies after fall from scaffolding
Death can result from falls from scaffolding, even when they’re not from great heights. Such was the case in January 2023, when a 59-year-old Huntsville, Alabama, man fell from a 20-foot construction scaffold at an Old Monrovia Road construction site. Investigators are looking into the incident but suspect that the man may have suffered a medical emergency before he fell.
This case illustrates that scaffolding and its use must employ protective features that prevent falls, regardless of the worker’s missteps or poor scaffold design. This includes, at a minimum, protective harnesses and barriers.
Should I go to the ER if I fell off a ladder?
If you fall off a ladder, it’s important to assess your condition carefully so you don’t delay treatment for a potentially life-threatening injury. Here are some guidelines that can help you decide whether to seek emergency care:
- Severity of injuries. If you’ve sustained significant injuries, such as head trauma, loss of consciousness, severe pain, or an obvious fracture or dislocation, you should go to the emergency room (ER) immediately.
- Abdominal pain. If you’re experiencing significant pain in your abdomen after the fall, it could be an indicator of internal injuries, which require immediate medical attention.
- Severe pain. If you’re in significant pain, especially if it’s increasing or unmanageable despite over-the-counter pain relievers, you should seek medical care.
- Signs of concussion. If you hit your head during the fall and are experiencing symptoms like dizziness, confusion, memory loss, severe headache or loss of consciousness, you should go to the ER, as these may be signs of a concussion or other serious head injury.
- Signs of shock. Symptoms of shock can include rapid breathing, a fast but weak pulse, low blood pressure, and pale or clammy skin. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
- Inability to move or bear weight. If you’re unable to move a limb or bear weight on an arm or leg after a fall, it could be an indication of a fracture or serious sprain.
- Uncontrolled bleeding. If you’re bleeding heavily and cannot control the bleeding with direct pressure, you need to go to the ER.
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain. If you’re having trouble breathing or are experiencing chest pain after the fall, it could indicate a serious injury like a rib fracture or lung contusion, which requires immediate medical care.
If you’re unsure about the severity of your injuries, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention.
What are the top reasons for ladder and scaffolding accidents at work?
Ladder and scaffolding accidents at work can happen for a number of reasons and are often preventable. Safety hazards include:
- Lack of training. Workers who aren’t properly trained on the safe use of ladders and scaffolding have an increased risk of accidents.
- Overloading. Exceeding the weight limit of ladders and scaffolding with too many workers or too much equipment can cause them to collapse.
- Failure to use safety equipment. Not using guardrails, toe boards, or safety harnesses while working on scaffolds can lead to preventable falls.
- Lack of maintenance and inspection. Using ladders and scaffolding that are damaged or have not been inspected regularly for wear and tear can lead to malfunctions and injuries.
- Manufacturers’ defects. Accidents can also be caused by intrinsic flaws in the design or manufacturing of the ladders or scaffolding, making them inherently unsafe, even when used as intended.
- Not securing ladders and scaffolding. Failing to anchor or secure ladders and scaffolding to prevent movement can cause them to fall.
- Ignoring environmental conditions. Working during adverse weather conditions, such as high winds, rain or snow, can make ladders and scaffolding slippery and unstable.
- Rushing or taking shortcuts. Workers who are rushing may not take the time to set up equipment properly or may take risks that lead to falls.
- Distraction and lack of focus. Not paying attention to the task at hand or being distracted by a phone or other workers can lead to mistakes and falls.
- Improper setup. Setting up ladders and scaffolding on uneven or unstable surfaces can lead to tipping or collapse.
These reasons highlight the importance of careful selection, regular inspection, proper use, and maintenance of ladders and scaffolding, as well as the need for thorough training and adherence to safety guidelines and regulations to prevent accidents at work.
Alabama workers’ compensation
Alabama has a state-administered workers’ compensation system to protect workers after a work-related accident or injury. It’s a no-fault insurance program in which an injured worker doesn’t have to prove that their employer is at fault for their injury. However, the trade-off is that the employee cannot collect from the employer certain damages (e.g., pain and suffering) that can be awarded in personal injury lawsuits.
Only full- and part-time employees are covered by workers’ comp. Independent contractors are not covered. Also, injuries are covered only if they’re incurred in the ordinary course of the worker’s employment duties.
An injured worker can also sue third parties who are responsible for the accident that caused their injury. For example, ladder or scaffolding manufacturers might be held liable for defective equipment.
Those third-party claims would require the injured worker to prove all of the elements of a personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant’s breach of their duties to the plaintiff was the proximate cause of the injuries. Third-party claims will require the help of a work injury attorney with considerable experience in personal injury law.
Types of workers’ compensation benefits
Alabama workers’ compensation benefits include the following:
- Payment of all medical, surgical, and rehabilitation expenses, including medications and supplies
- Recovery of lost wages, which is limited to two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage
- Death benefits for surviving families, including funeral expenses and lost income
Filing an Alabama workers’ compensation claim
Some employers, and many insurance companies, look for grounds to deny workers’ comp claims. Payment of claims increases employers’ insurance premiums and erodes insurance company profits. Therefore, an injured worker should meticulously comply with the claim-filing procedures to ensure their right to benefits.
These are the necessary steps to follow:
- You should see a doctor immediately after your injury.
- You must report the accident to your employer or their representative within 5 days after the accident in most cases.
- Your employer will file a First Report of Injury Form with the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Department.
- Your employer’s insurance company will approve or deny your claim. If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal. You should contact an experienced work injury attorney to help you with the process and protect your rights.
Tips for preventing ladder and scaffolding accidents
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has the responsibility to ensure workers’ safety from occupational injuries. They perform workplace inspections and recommend fall prevention measures and other safety protocols. If those protocols were adopted and enforced, most falls from heights involving ladders and scaffolding could be avoided.
Some of those fall-prevention measures include the following:
- Select the right ladder for the task.
- Do not use worn or damaged ladders or scaffolding equipment.
- Place ladders on firm, level ground in a location that does not impede pedestrian or vehicle traffic.
- Train workers on the safe use of ladders or scaffolding.
- Employ safety systems attached to ladders and scaffolding to prevent falls.
Additionally, workers should maintain 3-points of contact with the ladder using 3 of their 4 hands and feet at all times. Also, they should never step above the second-highest step on a step ladder or the fourth-highest rung on an extension ladder.
Contact an Alabama work injury attorney for help after a ladder or scaffolding accident at work
If you’ve been injured at work in a ladder or scaffolding accident, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Nomberg Law Firm. We can handle all the paperwork and negotiations with your employer’s workers’ comp insurance company to ensure you get the compensation you need to pay for your medical care and lost wages until you’ve reached a full recovery.
Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more.