Every day in Alabama, roofers brave heights and extreme weather conditions to ensure our homes and buildings are adequately protected. Unfortunately, the inherent risks associated with roofing make it one of the most dangerous occupations in the state, leading to numerous serious injuries and fatalities every single year.
Fortunately, many roofers in Alabama qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, which cover medical expenses and lost wages after an injury. This article will help you understand if you’re entitled to benefits and how to file a claim. We’ll also explain the legal options for injured workers who don’t qualify for these benefits.
Roofing industry statistics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are approximately 131,980 workers employed in the roofing industry across the U.S., of which around 900 work in Alabama.
Unsurprisingly, workers in this industry suffer a high number of injuries each year, largely due to fall risks. In fact, the BLS reports that in 2016, roofers had the highest rate of non-fatal falls among workers who use ladders or scaffolding, with a rate of 86.9 per 10,000 full-time workers.
Painters, construction workers and maintenance workers collectively came in second that year with a rate of 75 non-fatal falls for every 10,000 workers. These rates far exceeded the average non-fatal fall rate for all workers, of only 5.1 per 10,000 workers.
Residential roofers who work on sloped surfaces are the most at risk of fatal falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roofing deaths accounted for 43% of fatal falls (874 out of the 2,013) in the construction industry between 2011 and 2017.
Roofers had the highest rate of death from falls (36 per 10,000 employees) of any occupation—a rate 10 times greater than all other construction jobs combined.
Most common roofer injuries
Roofers are exposed to various occupational hazards not only because they work at heights but also due to the nature of the materials and tools they use. Falls pose the most serious risk and can result from slipping on the roof, tripping over equipment, or stepping through fragile materials like skylights. Common injuries that result from falls include:
Other common injuries associated with roofing include the following:
- Eye injuries. Flying debris, nails, or even splashes of chemicals can lead to eye injuries, which is why wearing protective goggles is crucial.
- Electrocutions. This can occur if a roofer comes into contact with overhead power lines or if tools are not properly grounded.
- Hearing loss. Constant exposure to the loud noise of machinery and tools without proper ear protection can result in occupational hearing loss over time.
- Repetitive motion injuries. Tasks such as hammering nails and lifting shingles can lead to repetitive stress injuries, including conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Strains and sprains. Carrying heavy roofing materials, bending, stretching and maintaining awkward positions can strain muscles and ligaments, leading to these injuries.
- Cuts and abrasions. Roofers often use sharp tools like knives and cutters to trim shingles and other roofing materials. Slips with these tools or handling rough materials can lead to cuts.
- Burns. Roofers who use hot tar or work with torch-down applications can suffer burns.
- Puncture wounds. Nails, screws and other sharp objects are commonly used in roofing, and accidental punctures can occur.
- Heat-related illnesses. Working under the blazing Alabama sun, especially in summer, can expose roofers to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Toxic exposure. Some roofing materials and adhesives release toxic fumes, especially when heated. Inhaling these can lead to respiratory problems and other health issues.
Underage roofer falls to his death in Alabama
In a tragic situation, a 15-year-old boy fell to his death after reporting for a roofing job in Alabama in July 2019. Witnesses stated that the boy fell 40 feet and that workers were not using safety harnesses at the time of the accident.
After an OSHA investigation, it was determined that the 2 companies involved in the roofing project were liable. Both received citations for failing to protect their workers and exposing them to fatal falls. They were also cited for hiring untrained workers.
What are the eligibility requirements for workers’ compensation in Alabama?
Roofers and other workers in Alabama who suffer job-related injuries often seek out workers’ compensation. However, it’s important to understand the eligibility requirements to secure coverage and benefits.
Only employers who have 5 or more full- or part-time employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance in Alabama. Additionally, workers must also be classified as employees; freelancers and independent contractors aren’t eligible for benefits under workers’ comp.
To be awarded workers’ comp benefits, a worker’s injury must be directly related to their work or work environment. This includes injuries from one-time accidents as well as occupational diseases and illnesses like asthma and certain cancers that develop over time.
Another important point: Injured workers don’t have to prove their employer was responsible for their injury to get workers’ compensation benefits. In most cases, an eligible worker can get workers’ comp benefits even if the accident that caused their injury was their fault.
How does Alabama define an independent contractor?
In Alabama, an independent contractor is generally defined as someone who is in an independent trade, business or profession in which they offer their services to the public but are not subject to the control or direction of another party in regard to the means and methods for accomplishing their work.
The key distinction between an independent contractor and an employee in Alabama is the degree of control that the hiring party has over the work being done.
What criteria are used to determine if a worker is an employee vs an independent contractor?
Here are some common factors that may be considered in determining whether an individual is an independent contractor or an employee in Alabama:
- Work control. While employees work under a supervisor or manager, independent contractors work independently.
- Payment. Employees are paid hourly or annual salaries. Independent contractors send invoices to employers for the work they perform for them.
- Use of tools and equipment. Employees use tools and equipment provided by their employer, while independent contractors use their own tools and equipment.
- Taxes. Independent contractors are responsible for their own self-employment taxes, and the hiring party does not withhold taxes from their pay.
- Benefits and protections. Independent contractors generally do not receive benefits from the hiring party, and they are not covered by employment and labor laws that protect employees, including workers’ compensation.
- Permanency of relationship. An independent contractor’s relationship with the hiring party is typically not permanent but is for a defined period or project.
- Liability for completion of task. Independent contractors are responsible for the satisfactory completion of a job or project and can be held contractually liable if they fail to complete a job as required.
What are my legal options if I’m injured as an independent contractor?
In Alabama, independent contractors are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. However, there are other legal avenues they can take if another party is liable for their injury:
- Third-party liability claims. If a third party, such as a homeowner, tool manufacturer or another contractor, is responsible for the injury due to negligence or faulty equipment, the injured roofer might be able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against them.
- Homeowner’s insurance claim. If working on a residential property, the homeowner’s insurance might cover certain injuries. It’s worth exploring if the homeowner’s policy provides any liability coverage for injuries sustained on their property.
It’s always advisable for injured independent contractors to consult with a legal professional to evaluate the specific details of their situation and determine the best course of action.
What should a roofer do if they think they’ve been wrongly classified as an independent contractor?
Depending on the circumstances, a roofer who is a regular employee might wrongly be classified as an independent contractor. Some employers make an honest mistake by misclassifying an employee, while others do it deliberately as a way to try to cut corners and avoid paying benefits.
If you believe you’ve been misclassified as an independent contractor by your employer, you should reach out to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can help determine your employment status and pursue the appropriate compensation after an injury.
What workers’ comp benefits are available to roofers who are classified as employees?
Roofers who are considered employees can recover workers’ comp benefits after suffering injuries on the job. Those benefits include the following:
- Medical benefits that cover all necessary medications, surgeries, hospitalizations, doctor’s appointments, rehabilitation, medical supplies and equipment
- Lost wage benefits that cover two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage while they’re out of work recovering
- Death benefits that cover funeral expenses and lost income for the family members of a worker who dies as a result of their work-related injury or illness
What steps should workers take to file a workers’ compensation claim in Alabama?
There are certain steps injured Alabama workers should take when filing a workers’ compensation claim. They include the following:
- Seek medical attention. It’s crucial to see a doctor as soon as possible after an injury. This helps establish a connection between your injury and your job, which is essential for a successful workers’ comp claim. Except for emergencies, you’ll be required to see an employer-approved physician.
- Report the accident. In Alabama, you have 5 days after an injury to notify your supervisor or manager, preferably in writing. However, you may have up to 90 days to provide notice in certain limited circumstances, so check with an attorney if you miss this 5-day deadline.
- Your employer files a report. Your employer will then file a First Report of Injury Form that describes in detail your injury and how it occurred. If your employer refuses to do this, you can contact a workers’ compensation attorney or the state’s Workers’ Compensation Ombudsman Program.
Contact an Alabama work injury attorney for help with your claim
If you’ve been injured as a roofer in Birmingham, whether as an employee or as an independent contractor because of someone else’s negligence, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Nomberg Law Firm. We can help determine your employment status and pursue compensation from the appropriate party, either through a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
Our firm offers free consultations, and you never owe us any money unless we win your case, so contact our office today to get started.