A warehouse is a large building dedicated to the storage of goods. Warehouses are also equipped for moving goods into and out of the warehouse. Today we usually associate warehouses with huge big-box and online retail operations, which are constantly moving products manufactured overseas into warehouses in the U.S.
The products are stored in these warehouses until they are purchased by consumers and are then retrieved for delivery. Some big-box retail stores are organized as warehouses where customers retrieve the product they wish to buy from the large shelving on which it is stored. Even our neighborhood grocery stores are warehouses where food products are stacked on shelves for our selection.
Reportedly, over two million warehouse workers are currently employed in the U.S. Their average age is 39, and 21.7% of all warehouse workers are women, while 78.3% are men. Most of them are employed in the retail sector.
What Are Warehouse Accidents?
Warehouses can be dangerous places. Warehouse accidents include any accident that occurs in a warehouse facility, including warehouse-style retail stores, and is related to the facility’s operation. These types of accidents can involve several factors due to the variety of items, shelves, and activities typically found in a warehouse.
Some warehouses are refrigerated, and working in freezing temperatures can present a hazard. Generally speaking, workers in most warehouses are very active during their shifts, so if a warehouse is not air-conditioned, heat-related injuries such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke are issues.
In addition, bringing products into a warehouse, shelving them, removing them later, and staging them for loading onto delivery vehicles introduces still more hazards. Increasingly, warehouses incorporate robots and robotics into their operations, which introduces a new type of hazard and stress to the jobs of warehouse employees.
What Are Some Common Warehouse Accidents?
Warehouse accidents can involve several types of incidents, such as the following:
- Slip and fall accidents;
- Injuries inflicted by falling objects;
- Injuries resulting from dangerous structures;
- Injuries related to the use of forklifts and other machinery
- Fires, explosions, and chemical spills, related to the fact that toxic and volatile substances are stored in the warehouse;
- Rack and shelving collapses;
- Distress related to temperatures, i.e., extreme heat and cold.
What Kind of Injuries Result from Warehouse Accidents?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that slips and falls are one of the most frequent kinds of accidents, both on the job and away from it. Each year in the U.S., more than 300,000 people suffer disabling injuries from falling.
Slips and falls can be fatal; in fact, they are second only to automobile accidents in frequency, and they cause nearly 12,000 deaths a year. These accidents can also lead to severe injuries, some with permanent health consequences. Of course, the most serious injuries occur when a worker falls from a height, which can happen in a warehouse where shelving may reach great heights, and falling can have catastrophic effects.
Among the injuries that warehouse workers have suffered are chemical burns, broken bones, traumatic brain injury, and spinal fractures. Of course, other injuries are possible.
What Are the Legal Remedies For Warehouse Accidents?
If a person who works in a warehouse believes that their working conditions are unsafe and that the measures taken to protect workers are not sufficient, they can file a complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has enacted many regulations that apply to the operation of warehouses.
If an employee files a complaint, it will initiate an investigation by OSHA. Employees do not have to fear that their employment will be terminated if they file a complaint; state and federal whistleblower protection laws prevent employers from engaging in retaliatory firings.
Most people injured in a warehouse will be employees who work there. If they are injured in the course and scope of their employment, they would normally turn to the workers’ compensation system in the state in which they work.
What Damages Can I Recover under Workers’ Compensation?
A person injured on the job can recover lost earnings caused by their inability to work after the injury. Most states pay this benefit in the form of a weekly stipend. The compensation for lost potential earnings depends on where the person claims workers’ compensation. It also depends on whether a person’s disability is total or partial, as well as temporary or permanent.
If a person is recovering from their injury and expects to return to their previous employment, their disability is temporary only. If a person’s health condition is stable, but improvement is not expected, their disability is permanent.
If a person’s disability is total, they would be unable to work in any job. If a person’s disability is partial, they may be able to engage in some employment.
So, there are four possible ways to characterize a person’s situation and, based on that, to determine their workers’ compensation benefits as follows:
- Temporary total disability;
- Temporary partial disability;
- Permanent total disability;
- Permanent partial disability.
If a person’s disability is temporary, they could receive benefits for 3 to 7 years. If their disability is permanent, they could receive benefits for the rest of their life. Usually, you are awarded 60% of your average weekly wage from before you were injured, which is capped at $1,000 per week in most states.
Other items that are reimbursed by workers’ compensation are as follows:
- Medical Treatment: Workers’ compensation compensates a person for all the reasonable and necessary medical care they receive for their injury. Reimbursement for the cost of traveling to and from medical appointments can also be recovered;
- Benefits for Permanent Impairment: Most states establish a specific amount for a monetary award to be paid for permanent and severe injuries. So, for example, an injured worker may receive a payout of $100,000 for the permanent loss of a limb. This is an example only. The amount is going to depend on the injury and the state;
- Vocational Rehabilitation: If a person is disabled permanently and cannot do the work they did before being injured, they can use workers’ compensation to pay the cost of retraining for new employment in a new line of work. This retraining benefit can be especially helpful if a person is not eligible to receive lifetime benefits but will need to return to some work.
What Are the Options If I Am Not a Warehouse Employee?
If a person is not employed in a warehouse but is injured in one, they would probably seek damages through a personal injury lawsuit. An award of compensatory damages in a personal injury lawsuit would provide reimbursement for such items as the cost of medical care, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, and other related expenses.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with a Warehouse Accident Claim?
Warehouse accidents involve serious injuries and a complex mix of injury and employment laws. If you were injured in a warehouse accident during your employment, you want to consult a workers’ compensation lawyer about your case.
If you were injured in a warehouse but were not employed there, you want to consult a personal injury lawyer near you for help. Your attorney can determine what grounds you have for your claim, whether it is negligence or strict product liability. Your lawyer can represent you fully in all phases of a lawsuit if that should be necessary.