Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

A new analysis by Construction Dive asks whether the construction industry has fought the spread of Covid-19 as well as conventional wisdom would suggest.

As the article notes, a potpourri of academic research, public health data, and media reports indicate that the industry has not fared so well. There have been concerning outbreaks across the country, with construction workplaces having the third highest number of outbreaks in Washington and Michigan, and the second highest number of clusters in Nashville, Tennessee. Meanwhile academic research indicates that Texas construction workers are five times likelier to be hospitalized as a result of Covid-19 than workers in other sectors, and a CDC study found that construction sites had the second highest number of cases in Utah.

While construction sites have generally been deemed essential workplaces, experts believe that their mitigation efforts—health screenings, PPE, social distancing—may not be enough to protect workers and communities from the spread of Covid-19. As an official at the Centers for Disease Control told Construction Dive, ““Outbreaks in construction sites may be very common… Capturing data on workplace outbreaks has been challenging for a lot of health departments, so national level data is not available.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently released a list of its most common Covid-19 citations in construction and other industries, in order “to help employers understand which OSHA standards have been cited most frequently during COVID-19 related inspections.” The document was based on data OSHA maintains regarding its citations and inspections, which it states it initiated after complaints, referrals, or fatalities in various industries, including: “hospitals and healthcare, nursing homes and long term care settings, and meat/poultry processing facilities.”

According to OSHA’s data, the most common citations dealt with respiratory protection. Workplaces were cited for failing to provide a medical evaluation before a worker used or was fit-tested for a respirator; omitting information in workers’ medical evaluations; failing to perform appropriate fit tests; failing to ensure fit tests whenever a different respirator face piece was use; and failing to administer a fit test using a standard protocol.

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Last week Construction Dive, a publication focused on the construction industry, rounded up a number of construction sites across the country that have experienced Covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began. As Construction Dive notes, there is no national body tracking outbreaks by industry, but local news sources have kept an eye on their communities, including construction workplaces.

In April, according to Construction Dive, there were at least two Covid-19 clusters centered in a construction site at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. The clusters affected seven workers, and the construction site “was shut down for disinfecting after each outbreak.” Continue reading

A new study published online in JAMA Network Open finds that construction workers may be at high risk of Covid-19 infection. Conducted by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the Santa Fe Institute, the study asked whether construction work is associated with increased community transmission of Covid-19 as well as disproportionate fatalities in US construction workers. It examined hospitalization data in central Texas, finding that “construction workers had a nearly 5-fold increased risk of hospitalization in central Texas compared with other occupational categories.” Its authors conclude that this does not mean construction work must be halted, but that workplaces should take seriously the necessary safety measures and paid sick leave policies to protect vulnerable essential workers.

As the study notes in its introduction, early in the pandemic policymakers across the US differed in their views on the essentiality of construction work: “Boston, New York, and San Francisco severely restricted allowable projects. Other cities and states deemed commercial and home construction essential. Most of the nation’s 7.3 million construction workers remained employed throughout April and May of 2020, representing 4.5% of the labor workforce, ranging from 1.8% in the District of Columbia to 10.5% in Wyoming.” The authors note that because construction workers operate in close physical proximity to each other, construction sites have a higher than average risk of Covid-19 transmission. And because “Latinx populations are overly represented among construction and essential industries,” they have higher rates of exposure too, which are “compounded by prevalent high-risk comorbidities and lack of access to health care.” According to the authors, the combination of these risks is probably partly responsible for the higher rates of COVID-19 infection and fatality in Latinx communities.

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Even as overall traffic levels fell over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of crashes and fatalities at work zones has risen, according to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Workers patching potholes, striping roads, directing traffic or building highways are more at risk than ever,” it states, “as drivers zoom through work zones or are preoccupied chatting or texting on their phones.”

These trend in spite of a steep reduction in vehicle miles traveled: 40% in April 2020 (compared to April 2019) and 26% in May, per federal data. The report goes on to state that work zone crews continue to deal with reckless motorists even as traffic volume resumes. It cites a series of instances in Michigan, in which “vehicles struck three county employees in a state contractor” over the course of a single week, killing two of those victims. Pew stresses that motorists and passengers also suffer the consequences of reckless driving, noting that of the 672 fatal work zone crashes with 755 deaths in 2018, only 124 of those deaths were among the work zone crews. Of the 123,000 work zone crashes in 2018, it said, 45,000 people suffered injuries.

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How can construction sites maximize safety during the Covid-19 pandemic? A new column in the Philadelphia Business Journal offers lessons and best-practices from Philadelphia-area job ites.

According to the column, that city’s chapter of the General Building Contractors Association started putting together safety protocols early in the pandemic, and took input from other industry stakeholders like the Building Trades Safety Committee, Med-Tex Services, and the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. The coalition met via weekly digital conferences to identify key safety issues and how to deal with them. Said one member of the group, “In a matter of weeks, the group put together a program that every building trades member and contractor in the region, or anywhere in the country, could use.”

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Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data show that 81% of construction worker injuries that result in emergency room visits involve a ladder, according to a recent report by Construction Dive. As falls are a leading cause of construction site injuries in the United States, experts are interested in studying how to make them safer. That’s why the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has given a grant of $1.8 million to Kurt Bescorner, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, “to develop safer ladder designs and explore individual risk factors for ladder falls.”

Bescorner’s research “will focus on measuring friction as the pathway for the ladder and individual to influence slip and fall risk,” according to a press release by the university. He said in a statement that “A slip happens when there is insufficient friction between the shoe surface and ladder rung, but little is known about how ladder design or an individual’s body affects slip and fall risk.”

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A July 27 report by Construction Dive detailed some of the heftiest citations levied against construction job sites in Q2 2020 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which inspects workplaces for safety compliance and takes enforcement action against violators. OSHA’s Q2 citations include actions for fall safety, the improper use of hydraulic excavators, and a fall resulting in death. They range from $134,937 to $234,642.

The largest action was taken against Columbus, Ohio contractor Alejandro Vasquez Gallegos. OSHA inspections found alleged safety violations including “workers on roofs without sufficient fall protection, employees without safety glasses and workers using ladders improperly,” according to Construction Dive. The inspectors observed these violations at two separate construction sites. It proposed fines of $141,222 and $95,420, totaling $236,642. The contractor has not contested these citations.

The second largest action was taken against Pacific, Missouri firm Unnerstall Contracting Co. LLC. According to OSHA records and Construction Dive, a December 2019 inspection found that one of the firm’s workers sustained an injury when a trench collapsed, and OSHA subsequently issued the firm “four serious and three willful citation violations,” with proposed fines totaling $224,459. OSHA also added Unnerstall to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. OSHA records docuent allegations that the firm failed to properly protect its trenches, permitted water to accumulated in the trench floor, did not offer a safe exit path from the trench, failed to protect employees from struck-by hazards, and permitted employees to ride in heavy equipment buckets. The firm is contesting OSHA’s citations.

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The New York City Department of Buildings issued 550 violations of COVID-19 safety protocols to construction sites across the city, according to a recent report by Crain’s New York. Data released by the city shows 213 violations found in Brooklyn construction sites, 167 violations found in Manhattan construction sites, 124 violations found in Queens construction sites, 42 violations found in Bronx construction sites, and four violations found in Staten Island construction sites, Inspectors doled out the most citations on their first day of inspections, July 8, issuing a total of 30 on that date, and 29 on July 9.

Department of Buildings inspectors routine examine New York construction sites to ensure compliance with safety protocols. These include the maintenance of a COVID-19 communication plan, the appointment of a staffer with oversight over safety issues, the maintenance of a cleaning log, contact tracing procedures, and elevator signage, as Crain’s explains. Sites provide workers with the means to perform hand hygiene—whether by washing or using hand sanitizer—and construction site workers are also required to wear face masks when they cannot maintain social distancing. Violations of COVID-19 safety protocols can result in construction companies or contractors receiving fines of as much as $5,000. Failure to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols could also lead to the city issuing work stoppages to the sites in noncompliances.

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Amid a long-running construction boom in New York, the Department of Buildings (DOB) sent a message to construction companies and contractors by cracking down on habitual offenders with a round of “surprise inspections.” The DOB’s new commissioner took action against the construction industry during his first few days on the job. “Every worker should be thinking about safety first,” Acting Buildings Commissioner Thomas Fariello told WNYC, “It’s not just a saying, it’s real.”

The DOB has been roundly criticized for failing to protect the workers in New York’s most dangerous industry. In April, three construction workers died while on the job. In the same month, the DOB delayed implementing new safety regulations for the second time since the law passed City Council in 2017. The city-run agency said it had insufficient resources to draft and enforce the regulations.

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