An Atlanta firefighter was injured on November 28 when a piece of roofing material struck him in the leg while fighting an office fire. This injury is a reminder of the dangerous jobs that firefighters perform and illustrates one of the many hazards they face. It also serves as an example to illustrate the relationship between public employees and workers’ compensation law.
Public Employees and Workers’ Compensation
Public employees are eligible for workers’ compensation. In fact, unlike private employees, they are prohibited from opting out of workers’ compensation by contractual alternatives.
The Private Option
The Georgia Code does permit workers and employers to negotiate contractual alternatives to workers’ compensation as long as the alternative arrangement provides at least as much protection for the workers as that required in approved workers’ compensation policies. These arrangements are generally self-insured and must provide all the data to the board of workers’ compensation that approved insurers are required to provide. These substitute systems may be terminated by the board of workers’ compensation if not in compliance with the requirements of the law. They also are designed to specifically preserve the employer’s immunity from tort damages. Contracts regarding these substitute arrangements are presumed to be valid.
Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, public employees in Georgia may not contract with their employers to enter into alternatives to workers’ compensation, and the presumption of validity of such contracts does not apply. This means that firefighters, and all other public employees, are awarded standard workers’ compensation, and that municipalities, counties, and the state, must carry standard workers’ compensation insurance policies.
Occupational Hazards of Firefighting
Firefighting comes with a widely known set of occupational risks ranging from burning and suffocation to crushes, falls, and strains. This is not to mention the health risks associated with prolonged smoke inhalation.
Burn injuries can happen in many occupations, but they are a particularly acute risk in firefighting, as a major part of the job is to deal with open and often uncontrolled flames on a regular basis. Firefighters wear special suits to protect them from burns, but it cannot provide absolute protection, especially when running into burning buildings. The job is still fraught with risk.
Speaking of protective gear, even this can generate risks for firefighters. The suits, helmets, and other safety equipment worn or carried by firefighters is heavy, and constitutes an often unavoidable ergonomic hazard. In addition to carrying victims and injured co-workers, firefighters can also suffer strain injuries simply from the constant and repetitive act of carrying their own equipment. These can be sudden due to exertion, or they can occur through long-term wear on the body and joints.
Falls are another frequent hazard firefighters face. They must frequently climb ladders or ascend to the roofs and upper floors of burning buildings. Such buildings are by definition unsound, and firefighters have been killed and injured while being on roofs or floors that have collapsed.
Related to the fall hazard is the “struck-by” hazard associated with the rapid structural deterioration that occurs in a fire, such as happened in this case. When a fall hazard is present on the roof, a struck-by hazard is present below. Here, the fireman was hit by falling debris from the roof, causing his injury.
All of these hazards reflect why firefighters are revered in our culture. It takes a unique person to walk into a burning building to help others get to safety. Without workers’ compensation a fireman’s injuries may not be compensable under the old “assumption of risk” doctrine. However, due to the major reforms of workers’ compensation, firefighters are now guaranteed recovery for their injuries.
Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today
If you have been injured on the job, you are entitled to workers’ compensation. It does not matter how hazardous your job was, or even if the accident was partly your fault. As long as you are an employee, you are owed reasonable compensation for your medical needs and for any time off you are required to take. Contact the attorneys at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers today for a free case review. We specialize in workers’ compensation and can assist you with any challenges your case presents. Do not get the runaround trying to resolve the case yourself. Let us cut through the red tape for you to get a quick and efficient settlement.