Employees in today’s economy know how fortunate they are to have a job. With unemployment rates rising, employers have the advantage. They can set the terms of employment, and if a prospective employee is unhappy with the proposal, someone else will gladly work under the conditions offered.
While employees are protected by various state and federal laws, those laws are constantly changing. With employers focused on keeping costs of projects low, workplace safety has become a major issue, especially preventing many various types of construction accidents, which can cause serious injuries or death. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a new directive to protect those who work in one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations.
New OSHA Directive for Roofers
Residential roofing may not be one of the first occupations that people consider to be potentially dangerous, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it ranks among the top 10. There are 34.7 fatalities for every 100,000 roofers across the United States.
According to OSHA, many of those deaths are the result of falls from roofs. Each year, over 40 workers die as a result of a fall from a rooftop. OSHA felt that these deaths were preventable if safety restraints were properly in place, which replaces an earlier directive on the matter.
In 1995, OSHA permitted those working on residential construction projects to circumvent certain safety requirements. Specifically, builders were not required to have fall protection requirements in operation because companies argued that these safety restraints were not feasible. While this directive was originally intended as a temporary fix to address the concerns of builders and construction companies, no changes had been made until this most recent action.
OSHA now believes that safety concerns should override any issues that companies may have. The new directive calls for guardrails, safety nets or other preventative measures be in place when workers will be performing activities more than six feet above the ground or other layers of a home. Businesses that provide roofing services will have six months to comply with this rule.
Protecting Employees in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has also taken steps to assist those who are injured on the job. With the economy struggling, many employers are reluctant to hire new permanent employees. In many different occupations, employers are hiring independent contractors to help fill in when extra help is necessary. These contract employees are not considered as actual employees, and are not entitled to any benefits that employers may provide.
Often, the exact employment relationship can be rather murky, especially in the construction industry. The Pennsylvania Legislature recently passed the Workplace Misclassification Act. The law will punish construction companies who incorrectly label workers as independent contractors rather than employees.
To be considered an independent contractor under the act, three specific factors must be met. The worker must have a contract to perform the specific services requested, must be free from control or direction while performing the services, and must be engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.
If these criteria are not met, labeling a worker as an independent contractor may subject the employer to civil and criminal penalties. If the employer is found to be in repeat violation of this act, the penalties substantially increase.
The act also contains a provision which allows the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Commerce to request that a court issue a stop-work order at a particular job site. This order can be directed toward those employees who have been misclassified, or, could be for the entire project if it is found that the majority of workers have been misclassified. Those companies that violate the stop-work order face additional sanctions and penalties in addition to the costs associated with having a project delayed.
The law is designed to protect those workers who are forced to accept employment as independent contractors. Employers know that if an independent contractor relationship is in place, the contractors will not be entitled to recover workers’ compensation or other benefits if the worker is injured on the job. While these cost saving measures may help an employer’s bottom line, the workers are left exposed to occupational hazards with no ability to recover if they are injured.
Both the federal directive and Pennsylvania law are designed to protect workers at the job site. If you have been injured while on the job, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss how to proceed with your claim. You have a limited amount of time available to bring your claim, so be sure to discuss your situation as soon as possible.
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