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Federal court upholds charge of willful violations

Employers in Connecticut, especially those in construction and other highly hazardous industries, may want to know about a recent ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The case is entitled Martin Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor.

In 2015, an HVAC contractor in Georgia fell through an unguarded skylight on the flat roof of the warehouse he was working on and subsequently died from his injuries. Though the onsite foreman had fall protection equipment, the employees did not use it; the foreman himself testified that it was the company's practice not to use such equipment on flat roofs.

OSHA had cited the employer for a willful violation of its fall protection safety codes. For violations to be willful, it must be shown that employers either consciously disregarded standards that they knew about beforehand or showed such reckless indifference to employee safety that they would not have cared if an action violated standards.

The courts in an earlier ruling supported this classification, but the employer appealed the decision, claiming unfamiliarity with the codes. The court of appeals did not accept the argument, ruling that the unfamiliarity resulted in inadequate training and that employers cannot use inadequate training as a defense against code violations. All employers are therefore encouraged to improve training, time-consuming though it may be.

As for injured workers themselves, they may be able to receive damages under workers compensation law. To claim benefits, they must report their workplace injury to their employer and then prove that the accident indeed took place during work. This could be harder in some cases than others; victims may want a lawyer to assist with each step of the filing process. Lawyers might hire investigators, medical experts, and other specialists in the effort to help clients be reimbursed for their medical bills, lost wages and other losses.

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