Welding is a specialized skill. Unfortunately, it's also a dangerous one – one recent study shows that nearly 500,000 workers suffer welding and cutting injuries each year. Given that a welding injury can cause permanent damage, disability, or even death, it's important that injured workers receive compensation for their injuries. But in a world of negligent employers and stingy insurers, all too often, that's not the case.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a welding accident, do not suffer in silence. Employees have rights, and negligent employers must be held accountable for their actions to make safer workplaces and prevent additional injuries in the future. Call the construction accident lawyers of Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, today at (212) 986-7353. Tell us about your case and we can talk about your options and work to ensure your rights are protected.
Every construction site is governed by federal and state laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, which demands a safe workplace for everyone. Given the hazards of welding – from burns to eye damage to chronic illnesses – it is vital that the right training and protection be in place on the job site. However, even the safest workers can suffer welding accidents. A severe welding accident could lead to the inability to work, the need for vocational rehabilitation, or even hospitalization and expensive medications. The consequences of such an incident could affect your entire family, depriving your children of a parent and the financial support you would have provided if you had not been injured. If your employer fails to protect you while you're on the job, they could be on the hook for all of these expenses and more.
While welders can sustain general injuries that are risks for anyone in a construction site, some injuries are specific to welding:
- Electric shocks: Not only are opportunities for electric shocks quite common, but they can be deadly. These shocks can come from the welder itself, or from wires and metal items being welded together. Even a relatively minor shock can cause serious injury and have long-term consequences.
- Fire and explosions: Welders run extremely hot and can reach surprising distances, creating opportunities for serious burns. Chemicals and flammable items in the area can also catch on fire, or explode and cause additional injury.
- Eye injuries: The intense heat of a welder also means there is a great deal of radiation, as well as ultraviolet and infrared light. These can cause "sunburns" on the eyes and damage retinas, resulting in pain and even blindness. Sparks and hot metal particles are also commonly ejected from the welding area and can cause serious eye trauma.
- Hearing injuries: Welding creates excessive noise, and long-term exposure to it can cause irreparable damage to the employee’s hearing. Debris and particles from welding can also strike the ear and cause injuries, including hearing loss.
Welding itself produces potentially toxic fumes, and using a welder on a painted surface can produce even more. Inhaling these fumes often results in respiratory illness and sometimes permanent neurological damage. In particular, OSHA points to these heavy metals as being extremely dangerous:
- Manganese is a chemical element that it is usually found in iron and similar metals. It is used in several different industries and is particularly common in construction and manufacturing. Since it is found in many different metals, welders can be exposed to it every day without even realizing it. People are actually exposed to manganese quite often, usually through dietary intake, and the liver and kidney eliminate excess amounts of it from the body. The risk from manganese comes when it is breathed in, since this bypasses the liver and kidney and excess amounts are not removed as usual. Inhalation of manganese vapors is common for welders and can lead to adverse health effects, including damage to the kidney, liver, lungs, and even the central nervous system. Chronic exposure to manganese can take years to develop but often results in symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, including body tremors, muscle rigidity, slow movement, and poor balance.
- Cadmium is a soft metal that is somewhat similar to zinc and mercury and has a low melting point, which makes it useful in many different manufacturing industries. Welders often encounter cadmium in metal alloys or when dealing with something that has been coated through electroplating or similar processes. Cadmium is toxic and should not be consumed or inhaled for any reason. Minor inhalation exposure often results in flu-like symptoms including chills, fever, and muscle aches and pains. Acute exposure to high levels of cadmium over a short time can cause lung damage. Chronic exposure, characterized by low levels of inhalation over an extended time period, can cause kidney, lung, and bone disease.
- Arsenic is a metalloid that can cause serious damage to the human body when inhaled or ingested. Welders are most likely to be exposed to arsenic dust in worksites that have hazardous waste, mining or excavation, or in older buildings with arsenic-treated wood. Arsenic exposure can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, numbness in extremities, and eventually, organ disease, heart failure, and cancer.
- Lead is a dense heavy metal that acts as a neurotoxin to the human body. It collects in soft tissue and bones after touch or inhalation exposure, and even “low” levels can damage the nervous system, the heart, and the brain. Lead exposure is one of the most common occupational chemical hazards in construction-related work, and lead is still found in many painted surfaces.
Personal protective equipment and proper training are the best ways to avoid most serious injuries associated with welding. All employees who use a welder should be provided with protective gear (including a ventilator) and trained how to use the gear safely and appropriately. If an employer fails to provide welding employees with the right equipment and a safe environment, that employer may be liable for any injuries that occur.
- Personal Protective Equipment: Heavy leather gloves can protect against potential electric shocks and heat from the welder itself. Leather and flame-resistant fabrics should be worn, with long sleeves and pants to cover the entire employee’s body. A full helmet should be worn with additional ear protection, sometimes including a respirator in enclosed areas, and additional eye protection as needed.
- Safety Training: This includes how to inspect the welder before use to ensure it is safe to use and not damaged, and how to handle it during work. Anyone else in the area should keep a safe distance around the welder and behave appropriately at the worksite.
While many welding accidents are avoidable with proper equipment and training, injuries can still occur. Immediately following the accident, seek medical attention for your injury. Once you receive appropriate medical treatment, report the incident to your employer. After an accident, do not sign anything offered to you. Give an honest report of what happened, but do not take responsibility for the accident. You may believe you did something wrong only to later find you acted properly and blame rested elsewhere. Contact an experienced workplace injury lawyer to make sure your rights are protected and to determine if you deserve compensation for your injuries and suffering.
Though laws exist to keep employers accountable for welding accidents, most employers are not quick to offer fair compensation to workers who sustain welding injuries. Instead of entering into a frustrating, tooth-and-nails competition with an insurance company or employer, hire a New York welding accident attorney and take advantage of his specialized industry knowledge, community connections, and track record to get the financial compensation you deserve.
No amount of money can make up for lost time or lost ability. However, the services of an experienced New York construction accident attorney can make the difference between financial uncertainty and a stable future. The lawyers at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, have extensive experience with workplace welding accidents. Think you have a claim? Call today at (212) 986-7353 for your case consultation. It's free and completely confidential.