Factory workplace accidents, also commonly known as manufacturing accidents or industrial accidents, are a tragic fact of life for many Georgia communities. However, in spite of what most manufacturing companies would like people to believe, these are not freak occurrences, or the unavoidable cost of industry. They happen, almost invariably, because someone prioritized higher profits over a safe workplace.
If you’ve suffered a factory injury or lost a loved one to an industrial accident, someone may already have tried to scare you away from pursuing legal action, or even collecting the benefits you’re already owed. After an accident, more than ever, your employer is not on your side, so it’s vital that you talk to a qualified professional about your rights as soon as possible.
Manufacturing accidents come in many forms, from explosions, electrocutions, and chemical leaks to the more universal workplace mishaps of slipping and falling or being struck by falling objects. Employers and property owners should be anticipating and taking steps to prevent all of these accidents and more, and The Stoddard Firm has experience fighting for people injured in countless different scenarios.
One of the leading causes of industrial accidents, however, is harmful contact between workers and machines. Typically, this means someone being caught in or struck by part of a machine. These types of factory accident cases give the survivor or family extra options for compensation, because factory equipment is supposed to be designed to make it difficult or impossible for accidents to occur. When it isn’t, the provider of the defective factory equipment shares product liability for any resulting injuries or deaths.
Below, we’ll go into some more detail on the causes of factory workplace accidents and the rights of survivors. If at any time you’d prefer to discuss you case directly with an Atlanta factory accident attorney, feel free to reach out by phone or chat for a free consultation.
Georgia’s Factory Workers Face Threats to Life and Limb Every Day
Approximately 270,000 people are currently employed in Georgia’s many plants, factories, and factory farms, performing the hands-on production work that keeps them running. Every day, these workers carry out physically demanding labor in close proximity with heavy machinery, toxic chemicals, and other serious hazards, under conditions controlled by employers who rarely show regard for human life. Many workers will end up with repetitive stress injuries and environmental illnesses at some point in their careers, and every work shift holds the danger of a sudden, catastrophic industrial accident.
In January of 2021, a nitrogen leak in a Gainesville meat packing plant killed six workers and injured at least 11 more. As if it weren’t bad enough that the accident happened in the first place, survivors and community members report that the workers were then forced to sign blank papers that their employer could fill in later, and intimidated when they tried to seek care or compensation.
A month earlier, in a West Virginia location of the Georgia-based company, Optima Chemical, an explosion killed one plant worker and hospitalized two others.
Just over a year before that, a worker was pulled into a machine and killed in a South Georgia paper mill. He was reportedly attempting to clear a conveyor belt jam, and the power to the machine had not been shut down.
To say that Georgia’s factory workers deserve better is putting it lightly. Unfortunately, most large companies don’t respond to any incentive except a threat to their bottom lines. By holding manufacturers accountable for their employees’ deaths and injuries as often and as thoroughly as possible, survivors can create a financial incentive to improve safety, while gaining the resources to fund their own recovery processes.
Factory Accidents Keep Happening for the Same Preventable Reasons
As of 2019, the last available year of data not severely affected by the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19, there were over 15.7 million people working factory jobs in the U.S, accounting for just shy of 10% of the workforce. However, factory workers suffered 15% of the work-related injuries and illnesses recorded that same year.
Those numbers don’t include fatal injuries or illnesses. The death count for U.S factory workers in 2019 isn’t yet available, but the figure has hovered in the low-to-mid 300s for the past decade. That’s less than 10% of all workplace fatalities, but still far too many, especially when you consider that factory worker deaths are almost always pointless, horrific, completely avoidable accidents.
Worse, factory accidents, both fatal and nonfatal, are often the same types of accidents over and over again, caused by the same safety violations.
KPA, a private organization that assists other companies with safety compliance, compiled a list of the top five OSHA violations found in factories in 2019. While KPA itself mainly works with mid-sized companies, its findings would be most reflective of the big companies with the highest volume of workers and inspections.
Those top five citations are:
- Missing or inadequate machine guards, allowing workers to come in contact with dangerous parts of the equipment.
- Missing or inadequate lockout/tagout mechanisms and procedures, allowing machines to start up unexpectedly while being serviced.
- Lack of hazard communication.
- Lack of respiratory protection.
- Unsafe electrical wiring.
These are very basic safety regulations that companies can easily abide by, yet the numbers show that they often don’t. There’s also another safety principle that’s even more basic, and that companies are even more likely to ignore: don’t work faster than you can work safely.
The paper company Georgia-Pacific is a shining example of how important this concept is. As detailed by ProPublica, when the company was acquired by Koch Industries, its new executives implemented a range of programs intended to improve its poor safety record. None conclusively worked, and the problem grew even worse. The one thing that had a clear, positive correlation with safety was a slowdown in factory production — something that happened only because of economic circumstances, not by the company’s choice.
Even companies that make grand claims about their commitment to safety will almost always choose production and profit over human life and health, and that means cutting corners where possible and pushing people to work faster than is safe.
Factory Employees Are Entitled to Workers’ Compensation
Victims of factory workplace injuries can generally get coverage for their medical care and a portion of their lost income through workers’ comp. The deadline for filing a workers’ comp claim is one year after the date of the injury, unless the employer has been arranging treatment for the worker directly. In that case, the deadline is one year from the end of that treatment.
Workers’ comp claims produce results much faster than civil litigation and often faster than standard insurance. The downside is that the compensation available through workers’ comp may not cover all expenses, and unlike compensation awarded by a judge and jury, it will not include anything for pain or lost enjoyment. Workers’ comp also offers payouts to the families of workers killed on the job, but these are much smaller than an average wrongful death settlement for an industrial accident.
With some exceptions for the most extreme forms of negligence, employees and families who are eligible for workers’ comp are not permitted to sue the employer. If the workers’ comp claim is denied, only then does suing become an option. However, one of the great things about workers’ comp is that filing a claim does not require you to waive any rights you would otherwise have. So, even if you’re interested in filing a lawsuit, there’s no disadvantage to filing for workers’ comp if you can in the meantime.
Factories Are Sometimes Responsible for Independent Contractor Safety as Well
Not everyone who performs work in a factory is a direct employee of the company that owns it. Services such as electrical work, maintenance, and even daily cleaning are often performed by subcontractors.
Injured factory workers who are not factory employees cannot collect workers’ comp, at least not through the company that owns the factory. Factory owners will typically argue that the safety of private contractors is their own responsibility, or the responsibility of the smaller businesses that officially employ them. However, businesses do have legal responsibilities to anyone they invite onto their property, including private contractors performing work there.
If you were involved in a factory workplace accident while performing contractor work, you may be able to file a personal injury suit based on premises liability. The official deadlines for filing civil suits are more forgiving than those for workers’ comp claims, but it’s always best to get started as soon as you can, before evidence can be lost or destroyed.
When Industrial Accidents Involve Faulty Machines, Survivors Have More Options for Compensation
When a factory worker is injured, even if the factory is clearly in violation of OSHA regulations, it’s important to look beyond just the factory owner to form a complete picture of the accident and its causes. Designers, manufacturers, and installers of factory equipment rarely receive the same scrutiny as factory owners, but they too play a vital role in determining the safety of factory workplaces.
In fact, one of the most widely accepted strategic models for workplace safety, the hierarchy of controls, emphasizes that safety-oriented engineering is much more effective at protecting workers than safety policies are. For example, it’s a good idea for a supervisor to make sure that there is no power flowing to a machine before allowing a worker to clean inside it, but designing the machine so that it’s impossible to access the inside and turn it on at the same time is even better.
Though the factories themselves have much to answer for, most of those top five OSHA citations could be partially the fault of machine manufacturers as well. Factory machines should come with safety guards, built-in lockout systems for safe cleaning and maintenance, thorough hazard warnings, and of course, safe electrical wiring, but that doesn’t mean they always do.
If faulty equipment played a role in the factory accident that hurt you or your loved one, you can sue the equipment manufacturer for compensation, on the grounds of product liability. You can do this at the same time as collecting workers’ comp, if you’re eligible, and it’s also an option if you’re a private contractor.
The Factory Accident Lawyers at the Stoddard Firm Can Help You Get the Compensation You Deserve
After a factory accident happens, your response makes a big difference to your chances of getting fair compensation and holding the negligent parties accountable. If you are the direct victim, take these actions as quickly as you can after the incident.
- Report the accident to your employer in a timely manner.
- Get the medical care you need, whether or not your employer approves. As well as preventing your condition from getting unnecessarily worse, this helps establish a record of your injuries.
- If possible, take pictures of the accident site and make a list of coworkers who witnessed the accident.
- Do not discuss fault or sign anything.
- Acquire qualified legal representation as soon as possible.
Family members of fatal factory accident victims should also refuse to sign any agreement without speaking to legal counsel first.
At The Stoddard Firm, we have extensive experience in employment law, personal injury law, premises liability, product liability, and wrongful death. We’ll perform a thorough investigation to identify whose negligence led to the factory accident and how. If you’re interested in accepting an out-of-court settlement, we’ll negotiate to get you the best deal, and if you want to go to court, we’ll make sure the judge and jury understand exactly how the accident will affect the rest of your life, so you get full and fair compensation.
To discuss the details of your unique case in a free consultation with a Georgia factory accident lawyer in the Atlanta area, just give us a call at 678-RESULT or reach out through our online chat function.