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Report raises concerns about construction-related work injuries amid economic growth

According to a recent study, many construction workers in the South may not be covered by medical insurance or even legally-required workers' compensation insurance.

The study is called "Build a Better South: Construction Working Conditions in the US South." It was conducted by the Partnership for Working Families, the Workers Defense Project and a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The researchers looked into working conditions for 1,435 construction workers in Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston and Miami. Nashville had the highest injury rate.

The six cities were chosen because they were considered "the engines of growth in the South" and are home to some of the largest, most important construction markets. In 2013, nearly 1 million construction workers were employed there, accounting for 43 percent of the construction workers in the five states. Moreover, an estimated 1 in 4 of all construction workers employed in the South work in one of the six cities.

The economic recovery since the Great Recession had some negative consequences. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 900 construction workers lost their lives on the job in 2015, or one construction-related death every nine hours, on average. The "Build a Better South" report is an effort to document critical issues for construction workers in the region and to guide possible solutions.

Two to three hundred workers were surveyed in each of the six cities. They were recruited on randomly-selected residential building, commercial building and heavy construction sites. The researchers also performed in-depth interviews with some workers and their employers. Because just 3% of survey respondents indicated that were members of a labor union, the survey's findings are almost entirely reflective of work experience in a non-union setting.

Among the findings were that one in seven of the workers had been injured during their career. Yet of those injured in the 12 months before the survey, only five percent had access to workers' compensation insurance that fully covered their injuries. In Tennessee, fewer than 1 in 5 workers had sufficient workers' comp, despite the fact that Tennessee requires workers' comp insurance for all employers with five or more employees.

Some workers didn't even have the most basic of safety protections in place, such as access to drinking water and rest breaks, even though these are required by federal law.

Ultimately, the report concludes that "few construction workers have a good job in the industry" due not only to frequent, uncompensated injuries but also to low wages, wage theft, ineffective enforcement of existing laws and regulations and other issues. The report recommends, among other things, prioritizing safe working conditions, investing in training and focusing dollars on enforcement of laws like the workers' compensation insurance mandate in Tennessee.

If you are injured on the job, there are various laws that might apply and legal avenues of potential compensation available. For instance, you might have a case for workers' comp benefits, you might have a case against your employer for something other than workers' comp, you may have a case against the property owner, or you may have the case against a product manufacturer if some piece of equipment or machinery was involved in your injury. Contact an experienced attorney right away to discuss your options.

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