Recent Declines in Construction Site Safety Lead to Injuries and Deaths

February 27, 2013
 

Over the past year, jobsite injuries have been regularly making the news. According to the New York Daily News, it turns out that workplace accidents actually increased in New York by 31 percent from 2011 to 2012, while the New York Buildings Department cut its number of worksite inspections by nearly 40 percent in the past three years. An article in PR Web echoed these figures, calling for more oversight in the construction industry. What do these numbers mean for you? If you or someone you know works in the construction industry, it turns out that jobsites may not be as safe as we'd like to think.

What Sparked the Investigation into Jobsite Accidents?

The New York Daily News introduced concerns about jobsite-accident increases by summarizing some of the newsworthy injuries over the past year.

For example, last spring, a steel beam at a warehouse in Harlem had a crack that was in "plain view," as it was "visibly sagging, in danger of collapse." Breeze Demolition, the contractor, continued to work despite having knowledge of the decaying beam, and the buildings department received no report concerning the potential danger at the construction site. The following morning, Juan Vincente Ruiz, a 69-year-old laborer, arrived to work in the building's basement. While he chipped away at a brick wall with a sledgehammer, the floor overhead gave way due to the decaying steel beam. The accident was fatal. Ruiz died of "massive head trauma."

More recently, USA Today reported the injury of seven construction workers when a crane collapsed in Queens. The crane was 35 stories high. Although there were no fatalities, dozens of workers had been at the site when the crane fell, and three of the injuries were serious. New York Crane and Equipment Company, the owner of the crane, was involved in a 2008 accident where a crane collapsed and killed two workers on the Upper East Side. James Lomma, the company's owner, was charged with criminally negligent homicide and later acquitted.

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2010 and 2011, construction fatalities jumped from 28 to 40 in the New York Metro area alone. And since the buildings department is conducting fewer worksite inspections--the number of inspections dropped from 244,000 in 2009 to only 141,000 in 2012--there is less accountability for wrongdoing. In fact, "notices of violations dropped by 6,600 from 2011 to 2012."

More Inspections Needed to Prevent Injuries and Deaths

The New York Buildings Department has been relying on contractors to police themselves, but the statistics show that this isn't working. Tony Sclafani, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, indicated that his agency has encouraged workers and employers to "take proper safety precautions at all times." Yet, worksite accidents and injuries have noticeably increased in the city.

Statistics show that when contractors are tasked with being the "eyes and ears" of jobsite safety, the "end result is injury and even death." The involvement of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has resulted in significant investigations in the aftermath of some of these accidents, but that involvement isn't preventative. In fact, OSHA has issued fines at numerous construction sites in the city, but it doesn't seem to have had a deterrent effect on current contractors who are often "blind and deaf" to the safety hazards at their construction areas.

While an increase in inspections seems to be the only solution, it's important to keep in mind that construction companies, site owners, developers, and other related parties bear the responsibility for worker safety. If you have been injured at a construction site or in a workplace accident, contact an experienced attorney today to discuss your case.

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