Construction Accidents Major Risk to American Workers

February 22, 2013

1195997_peering_out_of_construction.jpgThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently cited a New York roofing company for fall hazards at job sites. The agency affirms that construction site falls are the leading cause of death in the industry.

The New York company, A.M. Stern, Inc., was fined $160,000 by OSHA for failing to provide adequate falling protection and training to workers. Falls at construction sites are entirely preventable, and because of the high fatality rates associated with construction site falls, OSHA is cracking down on fines and citations. Stern has repeatedly failed OSHA inspections at a work site in Fairport. OSHA inspectors showed up at the job site twice in 2012 and observed Stern employees at serious risk of falling 15 to 20 feet off unprotected edges on the roof. Stern was also cited for failing to warn employees of falling hazards.

The company was fined for similar violations in 2008 after inspections at a Geneseo worksite. Federal laws require workers to be properly trained, warned, and protected against falling hazards on worksites, specifically from heights of six feet or more. Prevention begins in the earliest stages of worksite planning, as the cost of adequate equipment must be included in the contractor's budget. Plans must include how employees will travel vertically up the structure, providing for ladders, temporary scaffolds, and aerial lifts.

Workers are also required to be protected from exposed ledges, such as those Stern is being fined for. Fall arrest systems must be implemented at the site to protect workers, and all equipment must be properly maintained and used. Safety nets may provide adequate protection from falls, and guard rails must be provided at all locations along building perimeters and internal openings. Equipment must be regularly maintained and repaired, and parts must be promptly replaced when broken, worn, or damaged.

Federal laws also require workers to be trained in fall hazard safety, and specific training is required for employees working on scaffolds. The leading causes of construction fatalities is by falls, followed by struck by an object, electrocution, and stuck-betweens. In 2011, more than 250 construction workers died from falls, and nearly 75 were killed from being stuck by an object.

One of these cases recently occurred at a construction site in the Chicago loop. The employee was working in an elevator shaft when a metal stair rail, weighing about 85 pounds, fell from the 30th floor and struck the worker on his head and neck. Although the man was wearing his hard hat, he sustained traumatic injuries to his brain along with numerous spine fractures.

The man filed a lawsuit against the general contractor and several subcontractors for negligence. He alleged that the protective barriers in the elevator shaft were inadequate and did not comply with OSHA standards. Had the OSHA standards been followed, the abandoned metal rail would not have fallen in the first place, and the elevator shaft would have been adequately protected. The lawsuit settled for $1.8 million.

In another New York City OSHA violations incident, a crane operator had his license suspended after he tried to life a load more than twice the crane's capacity. The crane collapsed into the first floor of the building at the Queens worksite, injuring seven workers. A similar crane accident killed nine people in 2008, again in New York City, after two rigs collapsed. This 2008 accident led to the implementation of numerous new OSHA safety measures.

State and federal workers' compensation laws protect employees who were injured on the job or developed a work-related illness. Work accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have extensive experience working with these types of cases, and can guide you through the legal process to obtain the maximum financial assistance you need for medical bills and recovering lost wages.