If an accident happens at your job, and if you see a coworker being injured, your statement or testimony could determine if your coworker qualifies for workers’ compensation. You and your injured coworker may both need the advice of a Raleigh workers’ compensation attorney.
Some lines of work, like construction, are naturally more hazardous than other occupations, but at any jobsite, you may witness an on-the-job accident and injury. According to the National Safety Council, a workplace injury happens about every seven seconds in the United States.
A total of 5,333 workers died as the result of a work-related injury in the United States in 2019. Thousands more are seriously injured each year. Workplace injuries range from minor scratches and bruises to catastrophic injuries such as spinal cord damage and traumatic brain injuries.
If you are asked to testify or to make a statement about a workplace accident that you witnessed, it’s important for you to know your legal rights. If you continue reading, you will learn what those rights are, and you will also learn what steps to take after a job-related accident happens.
When a Workplace Accident Happens, What Steps Should You Take?
In the first moments after a work-related accident, the most important thing that you can do is to remain calm and think clearly. Take these steps when an accident happens at your place of work:
- Summon medical assistance at once and render first aid as appropriate.
- If necessary, shut down any dangerous machinery or equipment.
- Do not move anything unless you have to, and do not start cleaning up the accident site.
- Be careful. Adding to your coworker’s injuries is the last thing you want to do.
- Notice and remember details like what time it was and who was present.
- Report the incident promptly to a manager, foreman, supervisor, or HR department.
Employees who witness accidents in the workplace can make an important contribution to future job site safety. After employers interview these witnesses to identify the root causes of accidents and injuries, they may use that information to prevent similar accidents in the future.
What Are Your Rights as a Workplace Accident Witness?
That is what happens with ethical employers, but with unethical employers, it is often a different story. Unethical employers may try to avoid any responsibility for an accident by bullying or intimidating accident witnesses into transferring the fault for the accident onto the injury victim.
You have the right to tell the truth, as you saw it, to anyone who is investigating a workplace accident, without fearing retaliation from your employer. Your employer cannot cut your hours, demote or terminate you, take your benefits, or create a hostile work environment in retaliation.
If you meet with an independent or outside investigator, you have the right to speak to that person without your supervisor being present. If you belong to a union, you can probably request representation or provide an oral or written statement instead of merely answering questions.
What Else Should You Know If You Witness a Workplace Accident?
If you provide CPR or first-aid to anyone who is injured, you should know that the law will not protect you if you act recklessly or carelessly in any way. You could be sued for damages in civil court or even charged with a crime if you make the situation worse or further injure the victim.
Witnessing a traumatic event, especially if the result of that event is serious injuries or fatalities, can traumatize many people, so you may suffer your own psychological injury by witnessing a workplace accident, and you may qualify to seek damages for the infliction of emotional distress.
What If No One Saw Your Workplace Accident and Injury?
If no one witnesses the work-related accident that injures you, you may still qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, but it may be more difficult to prove your eligibility. In or near the Raleigh area, you will need the advice and services of a Raleigh workplace injury attorney.
If no one sees the accident that injures you, seek medical attention at once, and report the accident to your manager, supervisor, foreman, or human resources department as quickly as possible. When you report the accident, be as detailed as possible, but do not admit any fault.
Be thorough and fully explain your symptoms to the doctor. Be careful not to exaggerate or mislead your doctor. Your medical exam, your test results, and your doctor’s statement may become valuable evidence if your application for workers’ compensation benefits is denied.
How Does Workers’ Comp Work?
State law requires all North Carolina businesses with three or more employees to carry workers’ compensation insurance (or qualify as self-insured employers) in order to provide benefits to injured workers. Employers who don’t comply with North Carolina law face stiff legal penalties.
If you are injured at work, you may file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and receive medical treatment as well as partial reimbursement for your lost wages. However, determining the exact benefits you may be entitled to can be exceedingly complicated.
Do not fail to apply for workers’ comp benefits because you feel that you may have had partial responsibility for your injury. Unless you were engaging in horseplay or you were intoxicated, you probably qualify for benefits, but you do need to have an attorney’s advice from the start.
How Will a Workers’ Compensation Attorney Help?
A Raleigh workers’ compensation attorney will help you complete the application for benefits and ensure that no mistakes or misunderstandings delay your payments. If your application for workers’ comp benefits is rejected, your attorney will appeal that decision on your behalf.
Injured workers are often uncertain if they qualify or uncertain about how to file a claim for workers’ comp benefits. In and near the Raleigh area, the wisest option is having the counsel of the right North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney from the very beginning.
You may also contact a Raleigh workers’ compensation lawyer if you have witnessed a workplace accident for advice regarding your own legal rights, obligations, and options.
The actions you take as an accident witness may not only determine whether your coworker receives workers’ compensation benefits, but your statements and testimony could actually make your workplace safer and keep you and your other coworkers from suffering similar injuries.