Heavy industry has always been the backbone of the American economy. Pennsylvania’s natural resources and geographic advantages enabled the growth of the iron, steel, and glass industries early on-and later allowed manufacturing to flourish. Although many manufacturing jobs have moved overseas in the last few decades, Pennsylvania still maintains its position as an essential part of the U.S. industrial economy.
But this comes with a steep price. The modern factory relies heavily on automated systems and a nonstop production line. Even with the strongest safety precautions in place, sometimes a factory worker will get too close to a machine that slices, welds, compresses, crushes, or shears-and the machine is unable to recognize that it is about to mangle a human body. The risks are even higher, of course, when management skimps on workplace safety procedures.
As a result, heavy industry jobs are among the most dangerous industries in the United States:
- Industrial machinery repair is considered the 12th most dangerous occupation, with 5,300 injuries each year for every 100,000 full-time workers, and a fatality rate of 18.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.
- Structural iron and steel workers hold 18th place of the most dangerous U.S. jobs, with 3,100 injuries and 30.3 deaths each year for every 100,000 full-time workers.
- Industrial machine operators have 20.3 fatal accidents each year per 100,000 workers.
How workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania gives relief
Under state law, Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits are available to an injured worker without regard to who may have been at fault in causing the injury. In exchange for a guarantee that all workplace injuries will be covered, employees have lost their rights to sue their employers or coworkers for negligence. This means that your employer’s worker’s comp insurance will pay for your medical care, therapy, and a portion of your lost income, but you will not get any money for the pain and suffering you experience.
Even if you are a member of a labor union, you may find that the health insurance benefits given under your union contract cannot be used for a workplace injury. You are limited to choosing a Pennsylvania worker’s comp physician from a list compiled by your employer.
In some cases, a Pennsylvania manufacturing worker hurt on the job by someone other than the employer or a coworker can pursue a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent third party. For instance, if a defective production machine caused your injuries, a lawsuit against the manufacturer may be able to get you additional compensation beyond the limits of worker’s comp. Your Pennsylvania injury attorney can advise you if that applies to your situation.
Common Pennsylvania workplace injuries for heavy industry
As Philadelphia Worker’s Compensation, we have learned that any jobsite can have any sort of accident imaginable. Nevertheless, our clients who work as industrial machine operators and factory workers face some medical problems more often than others. These are some of the most common injuries for Pennsylvania industrial workers:
- Amputations. It’s far too easy for a worker to have a limb or a finger caught in machinery that carries on with its industrial process regardless. The resulting injury may lead to a direct limb or digit loss, or a mangled limb may require surgical amputation to save the patient’s life. The greatest threats come from machines that perform rotating, cutting, punching, shearing action, as well as power transmission systems such as pulleys, chains, and belts. Amputations can cause lasting disabilities that merit a lifelong payment under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law.
- Disfiguring injuries. Many factory processes can lead to deep cuts or burns that permanent disfigure a worker. Burns and electrical injuries are among the most common sources of disfiguring scars and keloids, because sources of intense heat and electrical power widely distributed in every factory. Chemical burns and industrial explosions can also be sources of scarring. Pennsylvania workers’ comp covers disfigurement as a specific injury eligible for regular compensation.
- Falls. A factory workplace has numerous opportunities for fall injuries. Spilled industrial solvents and lubricants can contribute to slip and fall incidents that can cause bone fractures and joint damage. The multilevel structure of many factories also enables falls from heights, including ladder falls and falls into operating machinery. Falls to a lower level are by far the most serious accident; statistics indicate that over 80 percent of all fatal falls in the workplace are falls from heights.
- Fatal accidents. Workers’ compensation law allows a spouse, children, or other dependents to obtain death benefits after some fatal workplace accidents in Pennsylvania. Malfunctioning machinery, explosions, electrocution, falls from a height, and being trapped in or trapped by heavy machinery can all cause fatal injuries.
- Head injuries. There is a reason why protective headgear is part of the assigned safety equipment for many factory workers. Falls, falling boxes and containers, and ejected materials from jammed industrial machinery are responsible for too many industrial accidents in Philadelphia and its surrounding towns. Injuries to the head, neck, and spine can require months of rehabilitation and therapy-and sometimes the damage is permanent.
- Hearing loss. Factories are noisy places. Exposure to industrial noise on a regular basis can cause permanent hearing damage. While the danger threshold for regular exposure has been set at 85 decibels, lower levels of noise can also damage hearing after extended periods. Noisy conditions also have been linked to increase stress and elevated blood pressure-and, of course, noise interferes with concentration and the ability to register alarms and warning signals.
- Heavy equipment injuries. Perhaps the greatest risks from industrial machines and heavy equipment in factories are the so-called “trap” accidents. These happen when a body part, hair, jewelry, or clothing is trapped in a mechanical device, or when a person is trapped under or trapped between heavy objects. The result: crushing or breaking injuries, nerve and spinal cord damage, amputation, and sometimes death.
- Joint and muscle injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains and strains are the top workplace injuries, accounting for over 40 percent of the accidents that result in lost work. Injured backs, stress fractures, broken ribs, torn ligaments, and shoulder tears are among the many bone, muscle, and joint injuries common in an industrial shop. Joint and bone injuries that require surgery can be qualifying injuries for workers’ compensation.
- Lifting injuries. Lifting objects in the wrong way is a common cause for factory or industrial injuries to the back. The hazard is not only in poor lifting technique, but also due to too few workers being assigned to lift a heavy item. In addition to back and spinal damage, a factory lifting injury can cause severe damage to the shoulder, arms, elbow, wrist, hands, and knees.
- Repetitive trauma. Repetitive and physically demanding work, day after day, can cause inflammation of nerve tissue and damage to muscles and tendons. The result? Numbness and debilitating pain. Industrial machine operators can suffer carpal tunnel syndrome due to vibration of the arms on a daily basis. Other types of repetitive stress injuries include tendonitis, thoracic outlet syndrome, and De Quervain’s tendinitis-all known to afflict factory workers.
- Workplace toxins and poisons. Danger chemicals are often used in industrial processes. Exposure to even small amounts on a regular basis can cause an occupational disease covered under workers’ compensation procedures. Among the compounds that pose serious risks are asbestos (lung cancer); rare metals and heavy metals (nerve damage, cancer); oils in machine operation (asthma, pneumonitis); and organic solvents (encephalopathy, dermatitis).
Let the Bulldog Lawyers get you the assistance you need and deserve
For over 20 years, the Pennsylvania workers’ comp law firm of Larry Levin and Jay Shor has been fighting for the rights of all employees to get fair recoveries when they are injured at work. With our offices located in Philadelphia, Reading, and Harrisburg, we can provide legal advice to any worker whose benefits are delayed, denied, or terminated too early. Call us today at 866-462-8553 to learn how we can help your case.