The construction industry routinely poses significant hazards to workers – whether they are involved in new construction, remodeling, repair work or other projects. Most construction activity at residential buildings, bridge erection, roadway paving, trenching, demolition, ironworking, steelworking or painting, etc. tends to expose the workers to serious dangers such as falling from scaffolds, ladders or rooftops, getting injured by unguarded machinery, electrocution or getting struck by tools, equipment or debris at the construction site among others.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that sets safety standards for workplaces including construction sites, which see the highest rates of workplace fatalities in the United States each year. OSHA aims to ensure that workers operate in a safe and healthy environment by setting and enforcing standards, by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers are required to comply with all OSHA safety standards that are applicable to their industries. They must also comply with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH), which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious as well as recognized hazards.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction accident as a result of a safety violation on the part of a construction company, general contractor, sub-contractor, building owner, managing agent, etc., it is important that you understand your legal rights and options.
Construction’s “Fatal Four”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4,674 workers died in workplace accidents during the calendar year 2017. Of those 971 or 20.7 percent were in construction. That means one in five worker deaths during the year 2017 was in construction. The leading causes of private sector worker deaths, excluding highway collisions, in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck-by objects, electrocution and caught in/between accidents.
These “Fatal Four” were responsible for more than half (59.9 percent) of all construction deaths in 2017, according to BLS reports. Eliminating these “fatal four” would save 582 workers’ lives in the United States every year not to mention prevent hundreds of severe and/or disabling injuries. In 2017, falls accounted for 39.2 percent of total deaths in construction. Struck-by objects accounted for 8.2 percent, electrocutions 7.3 percent and caught in/between, 5.1 percent.
How OSHA’s Standards Help
Here are some of the areas where OSHA’s safety standards have helped curtail injuries and fatalities at construction sites.
Fall Prevention and Safety
There is no question that falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths, particularly at construction sites. OSHA standards require employers to set up the workplace and prevent employees from falling off scaffolding or walls and into holes.
Construction workers must be provided with fall safety devices such as harnesses, guardrails, toe boards, handrails, etc. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of 4 feet in general industry workplaces, 5 feet in shipyards, 6 feet in the construction industry and 8 feet in long-shoring operations. Also, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.
Here are additional precautions that must be taken at a workplace under OSHA safety standards to prevent falls:
• Guard any floor holes using a railing, toe board or floor cover to prevent accidental falls.
• Provide guardrails and toe boards around every elevated open-sided platform, floor or runway.
• Guardrails and toe boards must also be provided near dangerous machinery or equipment to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
• Other types of fall protection include a safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and handrails.
A majority of construction workers operate on scaffolds or temporary platforms that are erected at construction sites. Some of the common dangers workers face as they operate on scaffolds include falls from elevation due to lack of fall protection; scaffolding collapse; being struck by falling tools, work materials or debris; and electrocution due to the proximity of the scaffold to overhead power lines.
A scaffold is essentially an elevated temporary work platform. Scaffolds may be “supported,” which means they have one or more platforms supported by rigid, load-bearing structures such as poles, legs, frames or outriggers. Scaffolds may also be “suspended,” which means the platforms are suspended by ropes or other non-rigid overhead support. Other types of equipment such as scissor lifts and aerial lifts can also be regarded as types of supported scaffolds.
OSHA’s construction scaffolding requirements were originally adopted in 1971 and remained relatively unchanged until 1996 when the agency introduced performance-based standards that provided guidelines and specified some requirements. Under revisions made in November 2016, companies are required to comply with certain key safety standards that include worker training, fall protection and working a safe distance away from energized power lines.
When OSHA revised its standard for scaffolds in 1996, BLS reported that 25 percent of workers who were injured in scaffolding accidents had received no scaffold safety training. To prevent this, OSHA strengthened training requirements. Under the revised standards, companies must have each employee who performs work while on a scaffold trained by a person who is qualified in the subject matter to recognize the hazards associated with the type of scaffold that is being used. “Qualified” means someone who has a degree, certificate or professional standing in the subject matter.
Companies are responsible for providing fall protection and ensuring its use. Employers are required to have a competent person determine whether fall protection is necessary and feasible for employees who are erecting or dismantling supported scaffolds.
Ladder and Stairway Safety
Ladders and stairways are a major source of injuries and fatalities at construction sites. OSHA requires construction companies and contractors to provide ladders for a number of workplace conditions. Here are some of the OSHA safety guidelines that apply to all ladders:
• Maintain ladders and keep them free of oil, grease and other slip-and-fall hazards.
• Don’t load ladders beyond their maximum intended load or the manufacturer’s stated capacity.
• Ladders should be used only on stable and level surfaces.
• Ladders should not be used on slippery surfaces unless secured or provided with slip-resistant feet to prevent accidental movement.
• Ladders that are placed in areas such as passageways, doorways or driveways must be secured.
• The areas around the top and bottom of ladders should be kept clear.
• Ladders should not be moved, shifted or extended while in use.
• Workers should use ladders that are equipped with nonconductive side rails to prevent electrocution hazards.
• Workers should be trained to use at least one hand to grasp when climbing and to not carry objects or loads that may cause loss of balance and falling.
• Workers should be provided with fall safety devices when they work on ladders and stairways.
Ladders that are defective and need repairs must immediately be marked defective or tagged with “Do Not Use.” They should not be used until they have been repaired. Fixed ladders with structural defects must also be withdrawn from service until repaired. Ladder repairs must restore the ladder to a condition meeting its original design criteria before it is returned to use.
The rules covering stairways and their components generally depend on how and when stairs are used. Here are some of OSHA’s requirements relating to stairway safety:
• Stairways that will not be a permanent part of the building under construction must have landings that are at least 30 inches deep and 20 inches wide at every 12 feet or less of vertical rise.
• Stairways must be installed at least 30 degrees and no more than 50 degrees from the horizontal.
• Variations in riser height or stair tread depth must not exceed 1/4 inch in any stairway system.
• Doors and gates opening directly onto a stairway must have a platform that extends at least 20 inches beyond the swing of the door or gate.
• Stairway parts must be free of dangerous projections such as protruding nails.
• Slippery conditions on stairways must be corrected right away.
• Workers must not use spiral stairways that will not be a permanent part of the structure.
Construction Safety Violations in New York
A recent report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health identified a serious increase in construction worker fatalities in New York State and New York City as well as a spike in safety violations at 90 percent of construction sites where a fatality was reported. The report said construction companies and contractors routinely violate OSHA safety standards with impunity.
The report also states that 80 percent of the construction deaths happened on non-union sites. Latino workers form the majority of fall fatalities – 57 percent in 2015. The report found that employers who violate health and safety laws also cause worker fatalities and that Latino and immigrant construction workers die at a disproportionate rate due to falls and employers’ willful violations of health and safety laws. In these cases the building owner and manager and the general contractor are often at fault.
What Are Workers’ Rights?
When it comes to construction site injuries and fatalities, there are a number of parties that may be held liable. Injured workers can seek workers’ compensation benefits. However, in cases where parties other than the employer or co-employees have been found negligent (careless) or to have caused or contributed to the injury, victims can file what is known as a third-party claim seeking compensation for damages.
Examples of third parties include general contractors, sub-contractors, property owners and/or managers, manufacturers of defective machinery, makers of faulty protective devices, etc. An experienced construction accident lawyer in New York City will be able to thoroughly assess each claim to determine all potentially liable parties.
Construction site accidents often leave workers with debilitating injuries that may prevent them from working in the future or even earning a livelihood. These accidents may result in severe injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord trauma that can cause paralysis, multiple broken bones, internal organ damage, etc. Many victims are left with serious injuries that require extensive treatment and rehabilitation therapies, which may cost a significant amount of money. Often, health insurance policies don’t cover these types of costs requiring victims to pay out of pocket for continuing their treatment.
What Steps Should Workers Take?
If you have been injured in a construction accident, there are a number of steps you would be well advised to take:
• Report the incident to a supervisor right away. Make sure it is recorded and get a copy of the report for your records.
• Get medical attention, treatment and care for your injuries. Doing so not only gives you a good shot at a quick and full recovery, but also creates documentation with regard to the nature and extent of the injuries you may have sustained.
• Try to get as much evidence as possible from the accident scene including contact information for eyewitnesses. If any equipment was involved in your accident, be sure to preserve it. Your construction accident lawyer can also help preserve evidence that may prove crucial to your case.
• File a workers’ compensation claim in time.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a construction accident, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you. Our law firm recovered $3,375,576 for a construction worker (an undocumented immigrant) who was injured on the job – one of the highest construction case settlements in New York that year. Also, one of our clients obtained a verdict for $43,940,000 and another of our clients got a verdict for $23,500,000, both in medical malpractice cases.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury and medical malpractice cases in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case. We have recovered many millions of dollars for victims of construction site accidents.
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1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES
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