Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

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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The deadliest industry in New York is becoming even more dangerous with injuries caused by construction accidents increasing a hefty 221 percent in the last five years. According to CBS New York, deaths in the construction industry alone increased by 33 percent in the same time period. Just last month, three New York construction workers died while on the job. In SoHo, a worker was crushed by a crane. The other two workers died from falling debris at their worksite.

According to the local news station, there are two primary causes of the increase in workplace injuries. First, New York City is experiencing a construction boom. Gary Labarbera, President of NYTC Building and Construction Trades Council, told CBS News that despite a “busy, robust construction market… there shouldn’t be anywhere near this many fatalities.” The second (and related) reason involves contractors who are “willing to underbid to the job” and then “cut corners everywhere they can find,” says bricklayer Jerry Gozdyra. Unfortunately, these contractors and construction companies often undercut the safety of their workers. “It’s always been a dangerous profession, but deadlines and pressure from when you [have to] get [the work] done sometimes cause you to take risks. If you’re given the time and proper equipment you have a better chance of working safely,” masonry restoration specialist Christine Azzoli told the local news channel.

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A new government report on the construction industry shows serious defects in compliance across the state. Released by Senator James Skoufits, he says the report shows that, “Firefighters are going to die. Tenants are going to die if the state and local officials do not start prioritizing code enforcement.” According to the Senator’s ‘bombshell’ report, the problems with regulating the industry are widespread and involve everyone from the executive branch to the local municipalities.

Released in August 2019, the report details serious dangers with the state’s construction industry. According to NBC New York, the report specifically faults:

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Amid widespread noncompliance and mounting accidents in New York’s most dangerous industry, City Council ‘tweaked’ its construction safety laws last month. The law originally passed in 2017 in the aftermath of several serious and preventable construction accidents has failed to put a dent in the number of construction worker deaths, which continue to increase each year. The law requires all construction workers in the city to receive at least 30 hours of safety training by Dec. 1 2019, according to City & State New York. By Sept. 1, 2010, the number of training hours required increases to 40 hours. 

The bold and controversial law has largely languished since it passed, according to the newspaper. The Department of Buildings has pushed back the deadline for worker training several times after failing to implement the standards and programs required by the training courses. The government agency says that the City Council has made the problem worse by continually revising the law since 2017. Allegations of widespread fraud have been reported in the news, describing a black market for safety training certificates and online courses that lack adequate identity verification policies. 

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New York police went undercover this month to catch speeding drivers in Westchester by posing as highway construction workers. According to CT Post, the police officers disguised themselves and then staked out work zones on I-684 in what they named “Operation Hard Hat.” The ‘operation’ was apparently successful, with almost 50 tickets issued to drivers in just a couple days. The police say the tickets issued to motorists included traffic violations from talking on the phone while driving to speeding. However, the most common citation involved a violation of New York’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to either move out of the lane closest to construction workers or, if that is not possible, slow their vehicle down to a crawl while passing through the work zone.
Under New York law, fines are doubled for motorists when their violation occurs in a work zone. The “work zone trap” set up by New York police in disguise is an increasingly popular way of responding to the increase in car accidents occurring in work zones. Last year, more than 700 crashes in New York occurred in a work zone. These crashes led to 329 injuries and 13 fatalities, according to CT Post. The New York Transportation Commissioner applauded the efforts by Westchester police, saying “The Success of Operation Hard Hat is imperative – it protects our transportation workers and raises awareness to the serious issue of work zone safety.”

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